On the Fringes of the Prairie, 1800-1850

Corn Tassel's speech to the United States Congress in 1785

It is a little surprising that when we entered into treaties with our brothers, the whites, their whole cry is more land! Indeed, it once seemed to be a matter of formality with them to demand what they knew we dare not refuse. But on the principles of fairness, and in the name of free will and equality, I must reject your demand (in this proposed treaty).

Suppose I were to ask one of you under what kind of authority, by what law, or on what pretense he makes this huge demand of nearly all the lands we hold between your settlements and our towns.

Would he tell me that it is by right of conquest? No! If he did, I should reply that we had last marched over his territory. Nay, some of our warriors (whom we have not yet had an opportunity to recall or notify of the general treaty) are still in the woods, and continue to keep his people in fear.

If merely marching through a country is sufficient reason to lay claim to it, we shall insist upon your giving up your settlements and moving one hundred miles back towards the east, whither some of our warriors advanced against you in the course of last year's campaign.

Let us examine the facts of your present eruption into our country. What did you do? You marched into our territories with a superior force. Your numbers far exceeded us, and we fled to the stronghold of our extensive woods, there to secure our women and children.

Thus, you marched into our towns; they were left to your mercy. You killed a few scattered and defenseless individuals, spread fire and desolation wherever you pleased, and returned again to your own settlements.

Were we to inquire by what law or authority you set up a claim, therefore, I answer, none! Your laws do not apply in our country, nor ever did. You talk of the law of nature and the law of nations, and they are both against you. Indeed much has been spoken about the lack of what you term civilization among the Indians. Many proposals have been made to us to adopt your laws, your religion, your manners and your customs. But, we confess that we do not yet see the rightness, or practicality of such a step. We should be better pleased with beholding the good effect of these doctrines in your own practices than with hearing you talk about them, or reading your papers to us upon such subjects.

You say: why do not the Indians till the ground and live as we do? May we not, with equal justice, ask Why do the white people not hunt and live as we do? You pretend to think it no injustice to warn us not to kill our deer and other game from the mere love of waste. But it is very criminal in our young men if they kill a cow or a hog for food when they happen to be in your lands. We wish, however, to be a peace with you, and to do as we would be done by. We do not quarrel with you for killing an occasional buffalo, bear or deer on our lands when you need one to eat. But you go much farther. Your people hunt to gain a livelihood by it; they kill our game. Our young men resent the injury, and it is followed by bloodshed and war.

The great God of Nature has placed us in different situations. It is true that he has endowed you with many super advantages. But he had not created us to be your slaves. We are a separate people! He has given each their lands, under distinct considerations and circumstances. He has stocked yours with cows, our with buffalo; yours with hog, our with bear; yours with sheep;, our with deer. He has, indeed, given you an advantage in this, that your cattle are tame and domestic while ours are wild and demand not only a larger space for range, but art to hunt and kill them. They are, nevertheless, as much our property as other animals without our consent, or for something equivalent.

Had Black Hawk been invited to appear before the United States Congress in 1832, the year he started the Black Hawk War, do you think he might have made a similar speech to that of Corn Tassel? The two men were in very similar positions, leaders of their people, trying to protect their people and the land they lived on and hunted on from the wave of white settlements spreading west.


© Illinois State Museum 31-Dec-96