DBQ on Native Americans (1857)
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The following reading is taken from
Town’s Fourth Reader,
published in the United States in 1857.
a popular textbook throughout the United States in the
mid-1800s, during a time when white settlers were moving
into the American west.
As you read the text and answer the questions placed
throughout it, imagine that you are a student reading
The Indian, As He Was, and As He Is
Not many generations ago, where you now sit circled with all
that exalts and embellishes civilized life, the rank thistle
nodded in the wind, and the wild fox dug his hole unscared.
Here lived and loved another race of beings.
Beneath the same sun that rolls over your heads, the
Indian hunter pursued the panting deer; gazing on the same moon
that smiles for you, the Indian lover wooed his dusky mate.
Here the wigwam blaze beamed on the tender and helpless,
the council-fire glared on the wise and daring.
Now they paddled the light canoe along your rocky shores.
Here they warred; the echoing whoop, the bloody grapple,
the defying death-song, all were here; and when the tiger strife
was over, here curled the smoke of peace.
Here, too, they worshiped; and from many a dark bosom
went up a pure prayer to the Great Spirit.
He had not written his laws for them on tables of stone,
but he had traced them on the tables of their hearts.
The poor child of nature knew not the God of revelation,
but the God of the universe he acknowledged in every thing
According to this text, Native Americans prayed to whom?
He beheld him in the star that sunk in beauty behind his
lonely dwelling; in the sacred orb that flamed on him from his
mid-day throne; in the flower that snapped in the morning
breeze; in the lofty pine, that defied a thousand whirlwinds; in
the timid warbler, that never left his native grove; in the
fearless eagle, whose untired pinion was wet in clouds; in the
worm that crawled at his feet; and in his own matchless form,
glowing with a spark of that light, to whose mysterious Source
he bent in humble, though blind, admiration.
And all this has passed away.
Across the ocean came a pilgrim bark, bearing the seeds
of life and death.
The former were sown for you; the latter sprang up in the path
of the simple native.
Two hundred years have changed the character of a great
continent, and blotted forever from its face a whole peculiar
people. Art has
usurped the bowers of nature, and the anointed children of
education have been too powerful for the tribes of the ignorant.
According to the text, what group of people brought “the seeds
of life and death” to what is now the United States?
Here and there a stricken few remain; but how unlike
their bold, untamed, untameable progenitors!
The Indian of falcon glance and lion bearing, the theme
of the touching ballad, the hero of the pathetic tale, is gone!
and his degraded offspring crawl upon the soil where he walked
in majesty, to remind us how miserable is man, when the foot of
the conqueror is on his neck.
Imagine that you are a Native American of 1857, reading this
textbook. How might
you react to being referred to as the “degraded offspring (of
the Native Americans of pre-colonial times that) crawl(s) upon
the soil…”? Explain
As a race, they have withered from the land.
Their arrows are broken, their springs are dried up,
their cabins in dust.
Their council-fire has long since gone out on the shore,
and their war-cry is fast dying to the untrodden west.
Slowly and sadly they climb the distant mountains, and
read their doom in the setting sun.
They are shrinking before the mighty tide which is
pressing them away; they must soon hear the roar of the last
wave, which will settle over them forever.
Ages hence, the inquisitive white man, as he stands by
some growing city, will ponder on the structure of their
disturbed remains, and wonder to what manner of person they
belonged. They will
live only in the songs and chronicles of their exterminators.
Let these be faithful to their rude virtues as men, and
pay due tribute to their unhappy fate as a people.
You are living more than 150 years after this text was written.
Based on your knowledge of Native Americans today, how
accurate were the writer’s predictions about the fate of Native
In what ways does the writer seem to be expressing sadness at
the alleged passing of Native Americans, while treating this as
Click here to print. Answer Key: (1) Great Spirit; (2) Pilgrims; (3-5) Answers will vary.
Note to teachers: This reading makes a great conversation piece with students. Discussion questions might include: How does this reading compare or contrast with your notions of what was taught in a 19th-century schoolhouse (for example, from television programs like Little House on the Prairie)? Would Americans of today consider this text to be racist, and why?
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