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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


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