SARAH HELEN DeKROYFT(1818 - 1915)
Helen De Kroyft attended the New York Institute shortly after going blind. She published a book, A Place in Thy Memory in 1850 which was a collection of letters to family and friends on her feelings and emotions in dealing with blindness and life in general. The book was republished for several dozen editions. In her letters she blames her blindness on the death of her husband that was killed on their wedding day. She cried for several days and caught an eye infection that left her blind.
This passage is taken from A Place in Thy Memory and is her impressions of a visit by an Indian chief to the school.
New-York Institution for the Blind,
June 16, 1849.
The Chief of the Ojibeway tribe, during recent stay in New York, gave us a call. His very tread is majesty, and, while being escorted through the house, he stopped to shake hands with every one, and spoke so tenderly to the little boys and girls, that they were moved even to tears. He told those who held their heads down, that if the Indians had them they would lash them to boards to make them grow straight. When all were assembled in the Chapel, Mr. Chamberlain introduced him. Then Miss Cynthia arose, and in her own sweet voice, welcomed him as follows:
Oh, welcome, thou stranger, our hearts' warm emotions
Are clustering round thee, thou Chief of the brave;
We dream of the hour when with holy devotion,
Thy people first welcomed our sires from the wave.
We love thy harangues, thy war-song and story
Thy pine-wooded forests, so leafless and drear,
The red child of Nature, that bursts forth in glory,
To chase from its covert the fleet-footed deer.
But mostly, we cherish the heart where the spirit
Hath planted its impress, all deathless and bright
For the children of promise by birthright inherit
The fountain of knowledge that gloweth with light.
But, sire, thou wilt leave us; when absent, remember
The hearts who have welcomed thy coming today,
And fondly will pray for the fate of thy people,
Whose children, like spring-time, are passing away.
To which the great Chief replied so beautifully and so affectingly that I can give you no conception of his words. He speaks English imperfectly, but his figures and illustrations are so fine--nearly every sentence had in it some picture from Nature, gathered by her own child. The master spirits of olden time, the thunders of whose eloquence shook the Grecian forum and awed the world, were from the forest; and like them the chief of the Ojibeways studied beneath the broad canopy of the sky, by the light of' the myriad stars, and gathered his imagery amid the cloud-capped hills of the West, where the red man in his native pride follows the buffalo in chase, and where Missouri's waters in prism beauties dash, steers his bark canoe.
Speaking of his brethren of the forest, he said: "Nature has given the Indian a great and good heart, and if you would know what religion and learning would do for him, hold a diamond in the sunbeams and watch its sparkling. True, my people see the glories of yonder sun, and dance with delight when lie comes up from the waves; but a far brighter light shines in upon your minds. You have learned of God and the Bible, and I hope when the shades of night have fallen on the world, and you go to rest, and the angels are leaning over you listening to your whispered prayers, you will not forget the children of the forest. And when the morning breaks may blessings fall upon them like showers of rain drops upon withered flowers."
A fly might as well try to take the altitude of a mountain, as for me to attempt to give you an idea of his eloquence. His object in passing through the country is to excite, if possible, an interest in behalf of his wronged and oppressed people. At the next session of his congress he purposes petitioning Government for a tract of land in the Northwest Territories, which shall be to the Indian an inheritance for ever, to be neither bought nor sold by any nation. Then, with proper efforts, he thinks civilization, agriculture, the arts and sciences, religion and refinement, may be introduced among them with comparative ease.
In the course of his remarks lie exclaimed: "Upon whose grounds do your proud institutions rest? Where dug you the stones of which they are piled, and from whose forests were their timbers hewed? Who welcomed your fathers from the sea, and whose wigwams hid them from the storm, their enemies, and beasts of the wood'? Who smoked with them the pipe of peace, and showed them lakes and streams running like silver currents upon the bosom of the earth, and when their French foes came down from the north with battle-axe and spear, who like the Chief of the Mohawks, harangued his braves, and bared his own breast, and nobly fell in their defense? But oh! we will speak no more of this. Too many of our sires sleep side by side in their angry blood where they fell. The Indian has done evil, but he has sometimes done good; and how much he has been wronged, the Great Spirit and his angels only know. When I look over these grain fields, so far as the eye can reach, my aching heart asks, What has my people received in return? What have the pale faces given in exchange for all these garden scenes? They have taught our lips to thirst for firewater instead of our mountain springs, and our bows and arrows we have laid down for the white man's thunder-sticks, and no more chase the fleet-footed deer, or follow the fox to his hole, or the wolf to his cave; for we are weary and our spirits do fail, and our hearts grow sick and die within us."
The Indian is not all of savage mould; the highly significant names he left upon our lakes and rivers is sufficient index to his perceptions of the beautiful. Who, speaking a language that expresses every shade of thought, could have conceived a morefit appellation for the placid waters of a lake than Winnipiseogee, which means a smile of the Great Spirit? By the light of his own unassisted reason, the Indian has come to know and feel that there is a God, whom he ignorantly but reverently worships; he marks his fierce wrath in the whirlwind, and hears his anger in the waning of the moon, and feels his love in the warmer light of the sun.DeKroyft, S. H. . A Place in Thy Memory. New York: John F. Trow, 1850. p. 181-185