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About this Item

Title: Memorials of the Red Men

Creator: Walt Whitman [unsigned in original]

Date: July 9, 1846

Whitman Archive ID: per.00605

Source: Brooklyn Daily Eagle 9 July 1846: [2]. Our transcription is based on a digital image of a microfilm copy of the original issue. For a description of the editorial rationale behind our treatment of the journalism, see our statement of editorial policy.

Editorial note: This piece is unsigned. However, Whitman was the editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle when this editorial was written, and it was first attributed to Whitman by Cleveland Rodgers and John Black in Walt Whitman, The Gathering of the Forces: Editorials, Essays, Literary and Dramatic Reviews and Other Material Written by Walt Whitman as Editor of the Brooklyn Daily Eagle in 1846 and 1847 (New York: G.P. Putnam's Sons, 1920). The piece was also included by Herbert Bergman in Walt Whitman, The Journalism. Volume I: 1834–1846 (New York: Peter Lang, 1998). The Whitman Archive editors agree that the style and content of the piece are consistent with other known Whitman writings of this period.

Contributors to digital file: Ruth L. Bohan, Taylor Sloan, and Kevin McMullen

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Memorials of the Red Men.

A great deal is said by American writers and orators about the duty and mission of America, to the future. And yet, when it comes to the scratch, people are not a bit too forward to invest any thing in behalf of the future—even though the profit is shared by the contemporaneous generation. This republic, however, has a mission for the future, comprising a gigantic circle of consequences. Volumes might be filled with them. One of them is to preserve the Memory of the Red Men, the North American 'Indians,' as they are miscalled.

By all means the Government must purchase Catlin's Indian collection 1 —for the National Institute which is to be founded under the Smithsonian bequest. 2 The aborigines 3 of America are truly melting away like the snows of spring. An age or two, and for all that we have of them we shall be debtors to the pen, the pencil, and the chisel of the sculptor. Is it asking too much then, that the government will take measures for the concentrated perpetuity of this great collection?

The Alb. Atlas 4 understands that the gallery can be purchased, at a price which, compared with the years of toil and danger which have been experienced in its creation, is trifling. Its author is now in Europe, where his work has excited great admiration,5 and where alone it has measurably repaid him. Thus far his own countrymen have but poorly recompensed Catlin's devotion to this national subject. The valuable work which he published on the Indians of North America gave but a poor return; and the finely executed English edition of engravings from his gallery, was supplanted in the American market by a spurious work, which being at once plaigarized and inferior in execution was of course afforded at a cheaper rate. 6


1. George Catlin (1796–1872) was an American painter, author, collector and entrepreneur who, like many of his contemporaries following the Indian Removal Act of 1830, believed that the Indians were a doomed and dying race. During the 1830s he made five trips to the western territories in an effort to paint a visual record of their likenesses and daily activities before they disappeared. Over the decades, Catlin's Indian collection grew to include some 400 paintings, 150 artifacts, several scrapbooks, and many books and illustrated portfolios. Catlin first approached the United States government to purchase his collection in 1838; more than forty years would elapse before the collection was eventually gifted to the Smithsonian Institution in 1879, seven years after his death. See Therese Thau Heyman, "George Catlin and the Smithsonian," in George Gurney and Therese Thau Heyman, eds., George Catlin and His Indian Gallery (Washington, DC: Smithsonian American Art Museum; New York: W. W. Norton & Co., 2002), 249–271. Whitman shared Catlin's belief that the Indians were a dying race, and late in his career, in the poem "Yonnondio," demonstrated further solidarity with Catlin's lifelong effort to perpetuate their lives in paint by lamenting that "unlimn'd they disappear." Whitman and Catlin met, probably during the Civil War, at which time Catlin gave him a print of his painting of the Seminole chief, Osceola, which Whitman displayed in his Camden home. See Bohan, Looking into Walt Whitman, 216. [back]

2. The Smithsonian Institution grew out of a generous bequest from James Smithson (1765–1829), an English chemist and mineralogist, who wished "to found at Washington, under the name of the Smithsonian Institution, an establishment for the increase and diffusion of knowledge among men." President James K. Polk signed the legislation into law August 10, 1846 (–history). Today Catlin's paintings are housed in the Smithsonian American Art Museum. [back]

3. According to Webster's Dictionary of 1828, the word 'aboriginal' refers to the first settlers in a country, like "the Celts in Europe, and Indians in America" ( On Whitman's longstanding interest in the Indians and his appropriation of the words "aborigines" and "aboriginal" in his writings, see Folsom, Walt Whitman's Native Representations, 55–98. [back]

4. The Albany Atlas was a semi–weekly newspaper published in Albany, New York, between 1844 and 1853. [back]

5. Following the rejection of his collection by the federal government, Catlin sailed for England in 1839. For the next dozen or so years Catlin traveled extensively, exhibiting his Indian Gallery, often to resounding acclaim, in major European cities, including London, Liverpool, Edinburgh, Dublin, Paris and Brussels. He often supplemented the exhibitions by live Indian performances, which drew both praise and scorn for what many considered his exploitations of the Indians. See Christopher Mulvey, "George Catlin in Europe," in George Catlin and His Indian Gallery, 63-91. [back]

6. While in Europe Catlin produced several books publicizing his collection, among them Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians (1841) and Catlin's North American Indian Portfolio, Hunting Scenes and Amusements of the Rocky Mountains and Prairies of America (1844). On the details of their publishing, see Brian W. Dippie, Catlin and His Contemporaries: The Politics of Patronage (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1990), 68-95. [back]


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