Analysis of Catlin’s letters and notes

In Catlin’s text, he discusses the unfortunate impact that the “civilized people,” those who are not Indians and who live outside of the wildness, are having on the plains as a result of their selfish desires and reckless, mindless slaughtering of the buffalo. He goes into detail on how killing such a staple animal to that environment would damage the native lifestyle and how it may evidently lead to the Indian society suffering from starvation.

Catlin early on states, “the further we become separated from the pristine wildness and beauty, the more pleasure does the mind enlightened man fell in recurring to those scenes.” (Catlin, 39) He seems to believe that the further away an individual gets from the wild, the more idealized the idea of it becomes, and the more the person begins to like it.

He demonstrates this idea when he uses the example of the buffalo eventually being brought into a “magnificent park” (Catlin, 42) for the world to see. He sarcastically says the park will hold the “wild and freshness of their nature’s beauty” (Catlin, 42) for the public to view. The individuals would not be viewing nature in its true form, but rather a convenient scene set by people to resemble what nature would be like. It is much easier for someone to say they enjoy the outdoors when there is a food stand 5 feet away from them than it would be for someone stuck in the middle of a forest with nothing to eat.

Catlin says, “His wants are all satisfied, and even the luxuries of life are afforded him in abundance” (Catlin, 42). He believes that nature is the one thing that can provide a person with everything necessary to life. He takes on a similar thought to Emerson who believed everything on this earth was present for some kind of use.

Race certainly plays a factor in this reading. Catlin often refers to the Indians as savages, even though he admits to them being useful of every single resource nature offers. He points out the way white men waste the buffalo simply for their want of the coat and nothing more. Even after bringing up the reckless manner in which these people consume of nature, he does not call them any demeaning names as he openly does with the natives.

Caitlin, George. American Earth: Environmental Writing Since Thoreau. Ch./Art: Letters and Notes on the Manners, Customs, and Conditions of the North American Indians p. 37-45. pub. Penguin 2008

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