Wednesday, March 30, 2011

The Red Man: A Poem by William W. Phelps

I found a poem by William W. Phelps, printed in The Latter-day Saints' Messenger and Advocate 1/3 (December 1834): 34. The poem itself is taken from a letter that was written by Phelps from Liberty, Missouri, on 6 November 1834 and addressed to Oliver Cowdery. Despite some of the archaic terminology (e.g., "red man") that would by no stretch of the imagination be acceptable or politically correct today, I think it does give us an interesting glimpse of the way in which early Latter-day Saints viewed Native Americans. So, without further delay:

O stop and tell me, Red Man,
Who are ye? why you roam?
And how you get your living?
Have you no God; - no home?

With stature straight and portly,
And decked in native pride,
With feathers, paints, and broaches,
He willingly replied: -

"I once was pleasant Ephraim,
When Jacob for me pray'd;
But oh! How blessings vanish,
When man from God has stray'd!

Before your nation knew us,
Some thousand moons ago,
Our fathers fell in darkness,
And wander'd to and fro.

And long they've liv'd by hunting,
Instead of work and arts,
And so our race has dwindled,
To idle Indian hearts.

Yet hope within us lingers,
As if the Spirit spoke: -
'He'll come for your redemption,
And break your Gentile yoke:

And all your captive brothers,
From every clime shall come,
And quit their savage customs,
To live with God at home.'

Then joy will fill our bosoms,
And blessings crown our days,
To live in pure religion,
And sing our Maker's praise."

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