The Silent Retreat: Indian Removals as Represented by Hobomok and The Pioneers

The Silent Retreat: Indian Removals as Represented by Hobomok and The PioneersThe historicity of the Indian removals that took place during the 19th century in the United States is one that has been embellished in literature and dramatized in film. The most poignant of the Indian removals came during the presidency of Martin Van Buren, who enforced a treaty that led to the Trail of Tears—a grueling migration that led to the death of nearly 4,000 Cherokee Indians. The policy aimed at pushing Native American tribes to lands west of the Mississippi River is frequently represented as incessantly violent and brutal, and though atrocities did occur, many leaders reluctantly and despondently agreed to treaties and quietly retreated into the wilderness of the west without any bloodshed. The novels Hobomok, by Lydia Maria Child, and The Pioneers, by James Fenimore Cooper, both conclude with the image of a solitary Native American peacefully recoiling from white culture. To some extent, the endings reflect the silent tragedy of the warless—yet coerced nonetheless—flight of thousands of Native Americans during the 1800s, though the dignified departures of Hobomok and Natty Bumpo do not align with the shameful and heartbreaking exit of the majority of Indians during this era. Child concludes Hobomok with the retreat of the novel’s namesake into the wild: [Hobomok] was seldom spoken of; and by the degrees his Indian appellation was silently omitted. But the devoted, romantic love of Hobomok was never forgotten by its object; and his faithful services to the ‘Yengees’ are still remembered with gratitude, though the tender slip which he protected, has since become a mighty tree, and the nations of the earth seek refuge beneath its branches (Chapter XX). The conclusion represents Hobomok’s departure as noble, which seems an unlikely result of the majority of Indian removals during the 19th century. Dishonored by the strong arm of the American government, Native American tribes did not enjoy the same level as respect Child grants Hobomok. Few Indians were revered and remembered to the extent of Hobomok, and most were long forgotten with their displacement. However, Cooper presents a similar instance of respectful Indian flight west in The Pioneers. The romantic novelist ends his story in the same fashion as Child—with the respectful removal of the book’s central Native American figure.[Natty Bumpo] drew his hard hand hastily across his eyes again, waved it on high for an adieu, and, uttering a forced cry to his dogs, who were crouching at his feet, he entered the forest. This was the last that they ever saw of the Leather-stocking … He had gone far towards the setting sun—the foremost in that band of Pioneers, who are opening the way for the march of the nation across the continent (456).Both Hobomok and The Pioneers use Indian removals to express the mutual exclusivity of white American and Native American cultures. Ultimately, Hobomok and Natty Bumpo cannot and will not assimilate into the dominant white society, and therefore have no choice but the leave that world and enter the wilderness. The key distinction between Child and Cooper’s accounts is that the latter author incorporates Natty into the process of Manifest Destiny, while the former expressed the character’s demise at the hand of American westward expansion. Whereas Hobomok disappears into an insignificant existence in the frontier, Natty helps lead the way for frontiersman who will head westward, as part of “the march of the nation across the continent.” In response to the passing of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, United States Senator Edward Everett said the policy’s “evil … [was enormous]. “You cannot explain it; you cannot reason it away,” he told the Congress in 1830. “Our friends will view this measure with sorrow, and our enemies alone with joy. And we ourselves, when the interests and passions of the day are past, shall look back upon it, I fear, with self-reproach, and a regret as bitter as unavailing.” Indeed, the coerced removal of thousands of Native Americans—bloody and bloodless alike—is a part of the nation’s history that many Americans like to forget. A stain on the liberal foundations of the nation, occurrences like the Indian Removal Act in the 19th century, racial segregation through the 20th century and Japanese internment camps during World War II are contentious because they serve as stark contradictions to the American ideology. Child and Cooper addressed the issue of Indian removals years later so as to preserve the passing of a race and eternalize a great American shame to admonish future generations.