by Bill Nye
Public Domain Books
I like to read of the Indian orator in the old school books. Most everyone does. It is generally remarkable that the American Demosthenes, so far, has dwelt in the tepee, and lived on the debris of the deer and the buffalo. I mean to say that the school readers have impressed us with the great magnetism of the crude warrior who dwelt in the wilderness and ate his game, feathers and all, while he studied the art of swaying the audience by his oratorical powers.
I am inclined to think that Black Hawk and Logan must have been fortunate in securing mighty able private secretaries, or that they stood in with the stenographers of their day. At least, the Blue Juniata warriors of our time, from Little Crow, Red Iron, Standing Buffalo, Hole-in-the-Day and Sitting Bull, to Victoria, Colorow, Douglas, Persume, Captain Jack and Shavano, seem to do better as lobbyists than they do as orators. They may be keen, logical and shrewd, but they are not eloquent. In some minds, Black Hawk will ever appear as the Patrick Henry of his people; but I prefer to honor his unknown, unhonored and unsung amanuensis. Think what a godsend such a man would have been to Senator Tabor.
The Indian orator of to-day is not scholarly and grand. He is soiled, ignorant and sedentary in his habits. An orator ought to take care of his health. He cannot overload his stomach and make a bronze Daniel Webster of himself. He cannot eat a raw buffalo for breakfast and at once attack the question of tariff for revenue only. His brain is not clear enough. He cannot digest the mammalia of North America and seek out the delicate intricacies of the financial problem at the same time. All scientists and physiologists will readily see why this is true.
It is quite popular to say that the modern Indian has seen too much of civilization. This may be true. Anyhow, civilization has seen too much of him. I hope the day will never come when the pale face and the White Father will have to stay on their reservation, whether the red man does or not.
Indian eloquence, toned down by the mellow haze of a hundred years, sounds very well, but the clarion voice of the red orator has died away. The stony figure, the eagle eye, the matchless presence, have all ceased to palpitate.
He does not say: “I am an aged hemlock. I am dead at the top. The forest is filled with the ghosts of my people. I hear their moans on the night winds and in the sighing pines.” He does not talk in the blank verse of a century ago. He uses a good many blanks, but it is not blank verse. Even the Indian’s friend would admit that it was not blank verse. Perhaps it might be called blankety verse.
Once he pleaded for the land of his fathers. Now he howls for grub, guns and fixed ammunition.
I tried to interview a big Crow chief once. I had heard some Sioux, and learned a few irrelevant and disconnected Ute phrases. I connected these with some Spanish terms and hoped to get a reply, and keep up a kind of running conversation that might mislead a friend who was with me, into the belief that I was as familiar with the Indian tongue as with my own. I began conversing with him in my polyglot manner. I did not get a reply. I conversed with him some more in a desultory way, for I had heard that he was a great orator in his tribe, and I wanted to get his views on national affairs. Still he was silent. He would not even answer me. I got hostile and used some badly damaged Spanish on him. Then I used some sprained and dislocated German on him, but he didn’t seem to wot whereof I spoke.
Then my friend, with all the assurance of a fresh young manhood, began to talk with the great warrior in the English language, and incidentally asked him about a new Indian agent, who had the name of being a bogus Christian with an eye to the main chance.
My friend talked very loud, with the idea that the chieftain could understand any language if spoken so that you could hear it in the next Territory. At the mention of the Indian agent’s name, the Crow statesman brightened up and made a remark. He simply said: “Ugh! too much God and no flour.”
You Heah Me, Sah!
Col. Visscher, of Denver, who is delivering his lecture, “Sixty Minutes in the War,” tells a good story on himself of an episode, or something of that nature, that occurred to him in the days when he was the amanuensis of George D. Prentice.
Visscher, in those days, was a fair-haired young man, with pale blue eyes, and destitute of that wealth of brow and superficial area of polished dome which he now exhibits on the rostrum. He was learning the lesson of life then, and every now and then he would bump up against an octagonal mass of cold-pressed truth of the never-dying variety that seemed to kind of stun and concuss him.
One day Mr. Visscher wandered into a prominent hotel in Louisville, and, observing with surprise and pleasure that “boiled lobster” was one of the delicacies on the bill of fare, he ordered one.
He never had seen lobster, and a rare treat seemed to be in store for him. He breathed in what atmosphere there was in the dining-room, and waited for his bird. At last it was brought in. Mr. Visscher took one hasty look at the great scarlet mass of voluptuous limbs and oceanic nippers, and sighed. The lobster was as large as a door mat, and had a very angry and inflamed appearance. Visscher ordered in a powerful cocktail to give him courage, and then he tried to carve off some of the breast.
The lobster is honery even in death. He is eccentric and trifling. Those who know him best are the first to evade him and shun him. Visscher had failed to straddle the wish bone with his fork properly, and the talented bird of the deep rolling sea slipped out of the platter, waved itself across the horizon twice, and buried itself in the bosom of the eminent and talented young man. The eminent and talented young man took it in his napkin, put it carefully on the table, and went away.
As he passed out, the head waiter said:
“Mr. Visscher, was there anything the matter with your lobster?”
Visscher is a full-blooded Kentuckian, and answered in the courteous dialect of the blue-grass country.
“Anything the matter with my lobster, sah? No, sah. The lobster is very vigorous, sah. If you had asked me how I was, sah, I should have answered you very differently, sah. I am not well at all, sah. If I were as well, and as ruddy, and as active as that lobster, sah, I would live forever, sah. You heah me, sah?
“Why, of course, I am not familiar with the habits of the lobster, sah, and do not know how to kearve the bosom of the bloomin’ peri of the summer sea, but that’s no reason why the inflamed reptile should get up on his hind feet and nestle up to me, sah, in that earnest and forthwith manner, sah.
“I love dumb beasts, sah, and they love me, sah; but when they are dead, sah, and I undertake to kearve them, sah, I desiah, sah, that they should remain as the undertakah left them, sah. You doubtless heah me, sah!”