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Popular Science Monthly/Volume 33/May 1888/The Future of the American Indian

< Popular Science Monthly‎ | Volume 33‎ | May 1888


IT is quite evident that the history of the American people would be very different from what it is, or from what it will be, had they not on the very threshold of their existence encountered a race of warlike savages, and had not their stability been still further threatened by a later introduction of slave labor from Africa. Had the immigration to this country been strictly confined to members of the Caucasian family, there would undoubtedly exist a mutual feeling of physiological and social harmony—since they all stand on a plane of civilization which is common to the American; but so soon as the latter came in contact with races which were aliens and strangers to the Anglo-Saxon blood, and which were several thousand years behind it in point of civilization, an inevitable clashing of interests began which prevails to this day, and which will continue until the race differences are eradicated. No one, however, who has given serious attention to the political and social questions of this country can fail, even at this day, to perceive that, in spite of statutes and of prejudices, there are influences at work which tend to fuse our heterogeneous population into one common whole. Whether these influences are active so far as the colored or negro race is concerned is not very readily determined, since accurate statistics bearing on this point are wanting; yet indirect evidence, inconclusive as it may be, strongly favors such a view. The remarks in this paper will, therefore, be confined to an inquiry as to how far these influences obtain among our North American Indians, since we possess more reliable data concerning this than that of the negro race.

Quite recently I had the opportunity of making an investigation into the type of respiration as it exists in the Indian female, and I then unexpectedly found that a large proportion of the Indian girls which were examined had white blood coursing through their veins, and that this not only modified the color of their skin, but also had a marked influence on their mode of breathing. It is well known that, as far back as 1774, Boerhaave observed a different type of respiration in civilized man and woman—the former breathing principally with the diaphragm or abdomen, which is called the abdominal type; while the latter breathes principally with the upper portion of the chest, which is called the costal type. This investigation was carried on in the Lincoln Institution of Philadelphia—a school for Indian girls—and was undertaken with a view to ascertain whether the Indian female, who is not accustomed to the wearing of corsets and tight clothing around the abdomen, has the same type of respiration as that which obtains among our civilized females, and in all I examined the chest-movements of eighty-two Indian girls by means of a pneumograph devised by me somewhat after that of Paul Bert. In each case I took an abdominal and a costal tracing. Of the eighty-two girls which were examined, and whose ages ranged between ten and twenty years, there were only thirty-three full-blooded Indians; five were one fourth, thirty-five were one half, and two were three-fourths white. Seventy-five girls showed a decided abdominal type of breathing, three a costal type, and in three both were about even. Those who showed the costal type, or a divergence from the abdominal type of breathing, came from the more civilized tribes, like the Mohawks, Chippewas, etc., and were either one half or three fourths white, while in no single instance did a full-blooded Indian girl possess this type of breathing. This is significant in showing that, so far as the Indian is concerned, the abdominal type is the original type of respiration in both male and female, and that the costal type in the civilized female is acquired through the constricting influence of dress around the abdomen. That which is of still greater importance, however, is the fact that only those girls who were either one half or three fourths white, and who were hence under the greater domination of the inherited characteristics of civilized blood, possessed the costal or an approach to the costal type of respiration.

An examination of the pupils of the Lincoln Institution, therefore, not only shows that a rapid amalgamation is taking place between the white and the Indian races, but that the latter is also acquiring some of the physiological peculiarities of the former. This blending of white and Indian blood is still further confirmed by the varied composition of the Indian male pupils in the Educational Home for Indian Boys in Philadelphia, as is shown by the report of this institution for 1886. From this source we learn that among the one hundred and seven boys there were only thirty-eight full-blooded Indians; of the remainder one was three fourths, sixty-one one half, and seven were one fourth white. Similar testimony comes from the reports of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs. These reports not only show the existence of a very large proportion of mixed bloods among the 250,000 Indian population of this country, but also a marked increase of the former during the years 1885 and 1886—the only years in which a record of the total number of mixed bloods is supplied. Thus, in the year 1885 there were 18,412 and in 1886 there were 20,567 mixed bloods, an increase of more than 2,000 during one year. The pure Indian population for the former year was 259,244, and for the later 247,761, a decrease of over 11,000 during the same time.

It is furthermore evident from these reports that the number of mixed bloods in each agency is very naturally determined by the length of time which the Indians have been exposed to contact with the white race, as is shown by the following table, where are given the names of various agencies, the Indian population in each one, the number of mixed bloods in each, the proportion of mixed bloods to Indian population, and the dates of treaty:

No. NAME OF AGENCIES. Indian popu-
lation in
each agency
in 1886.
Number of
mixed bloods
in each agency
in 1886.
Proportion of
mixed bloods to
Indian popula-
tion of each
agency in 1886.
Date of treaty
—showing the
length of con-
tact between
the white and
1 New York, N. Y. 4,961 2,890 1 to 2 1797
2 North Carolina, N. C. 3,000 1,000 1 to 3 1833
3 Cherokee, Ind. Ter. 22,000 7,633 1 to 3 1833
4 Osage, Ind. Ter. 905 456 1 to 2 1839
5 Green Bay, Wis. 2,000 1,309 1 to 1½ 1848
6 White Earth, Minn. 5,885 1,013 1 to 5 1855
7 Mackinac, Mich. 9,572 5,700 1 to 1½ 1855
8 Colorado River, Ariz. 2,527 2 1 to 1,263 1855
9 Shoshone, Wyom. Ter. 1,800 16 1 to 112 1868
10 Cheyenne River, Dak. Ter. 2,965 158 1 to 18 1868
11 Pine Ridge, Dak. 4,973 445 1 to 11 1868
12 Fort Hall, Idaho. 1,444 30 1 to 48 1868
13 Colville, Wash. Ter. 2,350 35 1 to 67 1872
14 Sac and Fox, Iowa. 380 None. . . . . . . . . . . 1882
15 Pima, Maricopa, and Papasro, Ariz. 12,050 6 1 to 2,008 1883

Note.—It may be stated that the dates of treaties may not be absolutely correct.—Author.

After making due allowance for the remote location of some of the oldest agencies, this table shows very conclusively that the mixed bloods are most numerous in those tribes that have been longest in contact with the white race. This is illustrated by the first seven agencies. Of course this is quite natural, but it demonstrates still further that in the older agencies, like those of New York, Green Bay, and Mackinac, there are nearly as many mixed as pure bloods. This is indeed surprising, for, if we consider the fact of the increase of the mixed bloods in connection with the fact that the pure Indian is probably decreasing in numbers, it is quite evident that the day will not be far distant when the remnant of the once proud American Indian will be incorporated into the white race.

This, then, so far as the American Indian is concerned, is the natural drift of things as best it can be divined at the present time, and that which becomes of absorbing interest to us is the question of the stability of this new product. Will it be better able to resist disease and death than the original Indian stock, or will it, like the latter, tend to disappear because there is a want of harmony between itself and its surroundings? While this question can not be determined positively on account of a lack of reliable statistics, there are reasons for believing that the offspring of such an alliance is stronger and more vigorous than the pure Indian. This is in accord with what might have been expected on a priori grounds alone, for the mixture of a lower with a higher blood will certainly improve the nature of the former, while it will just as certainly impair that of the latter.

The experience of the teachers of the Lincoln Institution confirms the views here expressed, that the mixed Indian is more exempt from pulmonary disease than the pure Indian; and, further, that if the former are attacked by disease, they offer greater constitutional resistance to it than the latter. This view is also confirmed by the large experience of Captain R. H. Pratt, Superintendent of the Carlisle Indian School, who says in his last report:[1] "Our experience is, that the mixed bloods resist disease and death from pulmonary troubles better than the full-bloods; and our best health conditions are found among those we send out into families—due, I think, very largely to the regular occupation and varied diet."

Similar views have been expressed by others[2] who have resided among the mixed or half-breed races in the northwestern part of Canada. These people are said to be strong and hearty, long-lived, and not subject to disease, so long as they remain in their native climate. They regard themselves as the equal of the whites, and look in a patronizing way on the Indian. Their families are usually very large, and the female sex is said to be very handsome.

Quite recently I had occasion to investigate the question whether pulmonary consumption tends to exterminate the American Indian?[3] and I then found that nearly all those Indian agencies which show the lowest consumption rate are precisely those which are shown in the table of this paper to contain the largest number of mixed bloods. Of course, it is just possible that the presence and the absence of pulmonary consumption in certain tribes is purely a coincidence; yet I think, from what has been said concerning the improved physical condition of the mixed Indian, it is quite evident that the greater immunity of these tribes from consumption is due to the fact that they comprise a large element which has a superior power of warding off disease.

These facts and inductions obviously show that Nature steps in and adds more toward a solution of the difficulties of the Indian problem than statesmanship has ever accomplished. Such a process, although at the beginning it acts prejudicially to the interests of the white race, will in the end operate to the advantage of both races. There can be no doubt that the harmony of feeling which it establishes, and the permanency of common interests which it insures, counterbalance all the evils which it ever inflicted. Moreover, these developments also confirm the wisdom of the course of our Government, and that of our philanthropic people who have undertaken to second these efforts of Nature, by educating and training the growing generation of Indians in the ways of civilization and of Christianity.


  1. See Report of Indian Commissioner for 1886, p. 22.
  2. See "Mixed or Half-Breed Races of Northwestern Canada," by Dr. A. P. Reid, "Journal of the Anthropological Institute," 1874, vol. iv, p. 45.
  3. See "New York Medical Journal," for May 7, 1887.