Indians (I)

If the British tradition sees walking as a kind of recovery, while the American tradition is about walking as discovery, maybe the real American way is more about covery–covering up past crimes. The boundless American future has always been predicated on the emptiness of its past, specifically, the pre-Columbian emptiness of the North American landscape.  The New World, it was once said, lacked history and inhabitants: terra nullius. The old world walker can wander Druid wonderways, trace an ancient pilgrimage, or tramp castle-to-castle down the Danube. If an American pedestrian wants to contemplate ruins, or wonder who walked this path before him, he has to consider the American Indians.

Herbert Welsh’s obituary in the New York Times (June 31, 1941) left no doubt that he had spent his life thinking of them: “FRIEND OF INDIANS”

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“The Red Man,” as the Times obituary writer was not ashamed to call him in 1941, had been driven West across the continent, but not from the pages of The New Gentleman of the Road. Stopping in in Milford, Pennsylvania in 1924, and feeling nostalgic about an eariuer excursion, Welsh wrote:

I have another and less pleasant recollection of that summer spent in Milford, in the form of a little monument, a shaft of gray stone, set up through the enthusiasm and energy of a Presbyterian pastor, then resident in the town, to record the virtues of Tom Quick, one of the early settlers of that region. If I remember correctly, — I am open to correction, — this pioneer of Anglo-Saxon civilization had, by his trusty rifle, the old muzzle-loader pea-ball pattern, caused the death of no less than 40 Indians — men, women, and children. He lay in wait for them and picked them off from behind bushes or trees on every convenient opportunity. This was under lex talionis, — lawyers will amend my Latin, if it needs the same, — as Tom’s father had been shot by an Indian. My white brother seems to have gotten more than even with his adversary. I can understand Tom Quick’s feeling and his method of expressing it, but what has always puzzled me was to understand the school of theology to which the Presbyterian pastor belonged who felt called on to raise a monument to a hero of that type.

TMBtquick
1889 “Tom Quick the Indian Slayer”

The Tom Quick Monument, destroyed by vandals–heroes of Welsh’s type, perhaps– in 1997, was recently restored. Progressive thinkers have added an interpretive plaque, explanation, if not an excuse, for the benighted, earlier, commemoration of  “a hero of that type.” I want to see it for myself, because it is somewhat hard to figure out on the Web just what it looks like today. (A postmodern species of Robert Musil’s “invisible monument.”)

An indefatigable fundraiser, Welsh’s travel memoir also recorded meetings on his walk with donors to, and supporters of, the Indian Rights Association he had founded in 1882.  Welsh visited the Sioux Reservations that year, and recorded his impressions in Four Weeks Among some of the Sioux Tribes of Dakota and Nebraska. Trained as an artist, Welsh evinced a Romantic faith in the potential of the Indians to acquire “civilization.” I won’t try to explain all his complex opinions about the Native Americans here. That is well done in a dry, but exhaustive, book, The Indian Rights Association: The Herbert Welsh Years 1882-1904 (1985).  The historian William T. Hagan highlighted this line from Four Weeks:

The Indians at Rosebud quite unconsciously presented to us a series of brilliant pictures, with a touch of the Orient about them, which might have inspired the genius of a Delacroix or Decamp.

Eugène Delacroix, Les Natchez 1835 (Metropolitan Museum of Art)
Les Natchez 1835

I note not merely the Romanticism, but the literal Orientalism, with which Welsh quite unconsciously observed the Natives. The Indian Rights Association was assimilationist, and committed to Christian education and private ownership of land among them.

The IRA had been founded…

… with the object of acquainting the people of our country with the actual condition and needs of the Indians, and of so enlightening public sentiment as to ensure adequate support for legislative and executive measures for securing and protecting the just rights of the Indians, and maintaining the government’s faith plighted to them in treaties.

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Delaware Nation Map of The Walking Purchase 1737

That faith in treaties did not seem much on Welsh’s mind as he strolled the banks of the Delaware River, where a shameful, if non-violent appropriation of Native land by the Quaker State had taken place in 1737: the infamous Walking Purchase.

The Delaware (Lenni Lenape) Indians of Pennsylvania were convinced by Thomas Penn, a son of William, that the white folks had found an old deed. In 1686, Penn said, his ancestors and the Indians’ had agreed to sell the Quakers a tract of land upland from the Delaware River, “As far as a man can walk in a day and a half.” I pick up the story from Harry Emerson Wildes (The Delaware, 1940)

All was ready for official measurements. The “Walking Purchase” was to made in the fall of 1737. There was a difference in in point of view, however, as to the methods to be used. According to Indian interpretation, a friendly party of whites and Indians would set out, strolling leisurely in gentlemanly fashion, until thirty-six hours had elapsed. There would be frequent rests for food and smoking, and the day would be limited to the time the sun was visible.

Sounds like the kind of walk up the Delaware that I would enjoy.

Thomas Penn had other views. He combed the colony for young and wiry woodsmen. Selecting … the best athletes to be found, he trained them well and ordered them to make themselves thoroughly familiar with the route. They were instructed secretly to blaze a trail through the woods, and to clear it of all underbrush.

"Penn's Athletes Win a Province"
“Penn’s Athletes Win a Province”

Penn’s athletes made it into a competition, built their own track, and won. The Lenape were pushed west and landed in Indian Territory, Oklahoma, where Welsh would have found them in the early 20th century. In the early 21st, as late as 2006, the Delaware were asking the United States Court of Appeal, 3rd Circuit for relief from the fraud. They failed, on an interesting interpretation involving sovereignity.

I want to keep the natives in mind as I walk in May, in part because I want to walk and write in the British tradition, and recover something. Do any traces of Ancient America remain along my path?

 

Gifford Pinchot (1865-1946)

19110226-3-weHerbert Welsh and Dorothy Whipple missed the chance to visit Gifford Pinchot when they passed through Milford, Pennsylvania. Pinchot was the first head of the National Forest Service, and considered a founder of  the American conservation movement; Welsh helped found the Society for the Protection of New Hampshire Forests and is almost forgotten.

Alas! that on this visit there was no time to show my young protegee the many interesting and beautiful spots about Milford, the many exquisite cascades formed by streams that filter through the forests and hills to empty into the Delaware. Also there is the famous turreted chateau of the Pinchot family, now the home of Gifford Pinchot, who is noted for his interest and achievements in the line of political reform, but especially at this time for his advocacy of a forest policy for Pennsylvania and the country at large that will turn the balance from a consumption of timber that dangerously exceeds production to the reverse of that alarming state of affairs.

Pinchot’s kind of conservation was less “wild,” less philosophically radical, than that espoused by John Muir (1838-1914).  Pinchot favored bringing the wilderness under the aegis of the federal government and working with the timber and mining companies, the “extraction industries.” Pinchot and Teddy Roosevelt were allies. For the most part, Pinchot’s vision has prevailed over Muir’s.

I am haunted by the kind of deep conundrums these early 20th-century conservationists faced. Preserve, protect, or neglect? Use it, or abuse it? Should wilderness be useful? Scenic? Sublime?  Many wild acres between Pennsylvania and New Hampshire have been protected only by neglect–not preserved because the land is beautiful, but beautiful because it had been forgotten.

Pinchot’s legacy in the Keystone State is secure: as governor when the Pennsylvania Liquor Control Board was created after Prohibition ended in 1923, he stated that the purpose of the Board was to “discourage the purchase of alcoholic beverages by making it as inconvenient and expensive as possible.” In that, he succeeded. Less successfully his compatriot Welsh wanted to end the use of torture by the American military and solve “The Indian Problem” in the West.

But while walkers can see some things that are lost to other tourists, there are other advantages which they must forego if they are ever to reach their journey’s end, and these pleasures were of that order.

Grey Towers Milford, PAPinchot’s home, Grey Towers, is today a National Historical Site. I plan to stop,and contemplate what conservation means a hundred years on.

(Day Nine) Milford, Pennsylvania

imagesAnd we dined delightfully, but most extravagantly, at Fauchère’s at a cost of $4.00, but it was well worth the expense.

This small hotel remains. The Hotel Fauchère is one of the few stopping places about which I can positively state: Herbert Welsh slept here. I also hope to sleep, and eat, here: I am willing to pay more than $4.00.

Here and all throughout this romantic enchanted region I felt like one in a sweet and pleasant dream as the memories of more than thirty years came floating back. That was prior to the time of autos. Mr. Fauchère, founder of the celebrated house that bears his name, a French Swiss, was then alive and in the meridian of his glory as chef of great skill. His table was justly famed all over the country.

If Milford, a hundred years ago, awakened in Welsh a sweet and pleasant nostalgia  for the Gay Nineties and his thirties, what dreams will I dream here? Nostalgia is a longing for something, a home perhaps, in our individual lives or collective history, that may have never existed. On my walk I will be on my way home, but what is this place called “home,” and where, and when?

The Delaware Water Gap,  George Inness
The Delaware Water Gap, George Inness

At the Hotel Fauchère today, guests come to stay in a place that, a hundred years ago or more, was a popular spot to reminisce about the good old days. Oil paintings from the Hudson River School, hanging on the hotel walls, remind us of the romantic longing of an earlier time for an enchanted past, earlier still. Nostalgia does for time what a hall of mirrors does for sight: endless reflection and re-reflection.

In paying my bill to the very courteous and attractive lady in charge of the desk at Fauchère’s hotel she aroused my interest extremely by telling me that she was the granddaughter of its founder. I could see the old man, as she spoke, as I remember him thirty-five years back, standing attired as a true French chef, with his white cap and apron, toward summer evening time, after the labors of the day were over, in his vegetable garden, lovingly regarding those onions, squashes, egg-plants, and the like which his skill on the morrow would transform into delectable dishes for the pleasure of his guests.