This Week in History: September 29 — October 5

Fort William Fri­day Octo­ber 13th 1833
My Dear Mary

I owe you a let­ter of more than a year stand­ing, and I know not now but I had bet­ter allow inter­est to accu­mu­late than attempt  to liq­ui­date the debt. In fact there is so lit­tle in this coun­try that could prove inter­est­ing to you (  I know your taste is not  Sav­age) that it is not with­out reluc­tance I take up my pen: and  but for our con­sid­er­a­tion I would pro­cras­ti­nate a lit­tle longer  —  Name­ly that it brings fresh my rec­ol­lec­tion the pleas­ant  evenings I passed with you in Decem­ber and Jan­u­ary last: and I  can now indulge the delu­sive idea that I am seat­ed in your room  on Wal­nut Street enjoy­ing the agree­able soci­ety it always  con­tained, and look­ing on the only Broth­er and Sis­ter that  inhab­it the same con­ti­nent as myself. Can you imag­ine to your­self how agree­able such dreams are? No, ’tis impos­si­ble. We can only  know plea­sure by con­trast and you who have no alloy to mix with  pure hap­pi­ness can­not pos­si­bly appre­ci­ate the feel­ings of one  whose whole life is bus­tle and anx­i­ety with­out a com­pan­ion (I  don’t mean a wife) to share it. To fan­cy myself trans­port­ed from  fif­teen hun­dred miles beyond the bounds of civ­i­liza­tion, leav­ing  all my cares behind, and enter­ing the most agree­able and  accept­able Soci­ety that I can imag­ine, pro­duces a sen­sa­tion that  it beg­ging words to describe; just call to mind the hap­pi­est  moments of your life, then that twice told, can enable you to  form some idea of what I should feel if I could pass one evening  with you at this time, and what I now expe­ri­ence in writ­ing you  notwith­stand­ing the immense dis­tance we are apart –

[Pg. Break] As I write vol­umes to Hugh you prob­a­bly have a pret­ty good knowl­edge of what a per­son sac­ri­fices who embarks in this  life, and yet I might say to you it is not with­out some enjoyment

” — this our life exempt from pub­lic haunt
“Finds tongues in trees, books in the run­ning brooks
“Ser­mons in stones and good in every thing”

Roam in what direc­tion we may, nature in all her beau­ties (and  some of her defor­mi­ties) meets our eye and should our soli­tude be inter­rupt­ed, it is only by a son of nature who affords quite as  good a sub­ject for con­tem­pla­tion as the scenery he con­tributes to diver­si­fy; and I can assure you there are times when such are my feel­ings that I would scarce exchange a walk in the vicin­i­ty of  Fort William with an unso­phis­ti­cat­ed Son of the Prairie that I  might hap­ly meet,  and with whom I could only “talk by signs”,  for a prom­e­nade in Ches­nut Street on a fine sun­ny day when all  the fash­ion and beau­ty of the city are on the move. My taste you  will say is bar­barous– I con­fess it else I would not now be  writ­ing you from the Mouth of the Yel­low Stone

I could tell you so many excel­lent sto­ries in praise of the  Indi­ans that you would be led to admire them. And for our trust  in their char­ac­ter (and sor­ry I am to record it) for which I  can­not offer an excuse; and that is their bar­barous treat­ment of  the ____[?] sex. Fash­ion it as I may I can­not pal­li­ate this  offense: to one who has not been accus­tomed to see our pret­ty  Girls in the States wait­ed on from time to time they become  mar­riage­able until they get a hus­band, and if they man­age him  prop­er­ly ever after, it is hard to look at the poor crea­tures in  this coun­try– Youth, Beau­ty– I had almost said refine­ment but  they poss­es nei­ther that nor intel­li­gence–  noth­ing can exempt  them from drudgery. Even the daugh­ter of a chief if she works to  get a hus­band (and they all do) must show that she is capa­ble of  dress­ing Buf­fa­lo Robes–  pack­ing wood and if occa­sion requires  pack­ing a heavy bur­den a days march whilst the detestable men  step ahead encum­bered only by their gun and bow and arrows
[Pg. Break] I have fre­quent­ly had the Indi­ans boast to me that  they were not poor for they had two, three or four wives (tell it not in Goth) who could dress Buf­fa­lo Robes to pur­chase what they might require. A Nabob in the Old Domin­ion could not speak of  his human stock with more indif­fer­ence than an Indi­an does of his wives; nor is this all. They will dis­pose of their daugh­ters for a gun or a Horse or any oth­er arti­cle they may require with­out  regard to their feel­ings, but I must add the Lady, like a true  daugh­ter of Eve will have her own way, and if her Father’s choice does not please her, she sel­dom fails to choose for her­self  after­wards in which she is jus­ti­fied by the Cus­toms of her Nation
I intend the first leisure to smoke sev­er­al pipes of Tobac­co —  (I am indebt­ed to Knicker­backer for the plan) explain­ing, at  the risk of being laughed at, the dif­fer­ence between our  treat­ment of  the sex and theirs
You per­ceive the bad exam­ple dai­ly set before me oper­ates as it  ought, in pro­duc­ing the great­est ven­er­a­tion for the ladies I have the mis­for­tune to be so far removed from. The more I see of  these Sav­ages the more glar­ing appears the injus­tice. No dan­ger  that like vice.

Seen too oft famil­iar with the face
We must endure, then tru­ly them embrace”

But if some hus­bands had a prece­dent such as I could fur­nish  then, Lord help their wives — there­fore the less they know of  Indi­an usage the better.
I hope you have been able to enter­tain my friend Sub­lette as  agree­ably as you did last sea­son, I trust how­ev­er your fair  friends  are not as fas­ci­nat­ing as they thus were, or I shall  expect an addi­tion­al part­ner in our concern
When I left St Louis your sis­ters spoke of the two of them going to Phi­la, but all being anx­ious to live with “Sis­ter Mary” they  had not deter­mined whose should be the hap­py lot — please  present my respects to them
Is it not pro­vok­ing to be placed so as to not expect a let­ter  before June or July next —  this is indeed one of the great­est  griev­ances — I find in this coun­try — Could I expect to hear  from you and Hugh  and a few of my oth­er friends once a month,  then would I be the hap­pi­est amongst the self-exiled — as that  is denied me, I shall do myself the plea­sure of sub­scrib­ing  myself your most sin­cere and most devot­ed friend and Brother

Robert Camp­bell