The Fall of the Indian

An Electronic Edition · McLellan, Isaac

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Full Colophon Information

By Brandon Sobel

The nineteenth-century poet Isaac McLellan was famous not only for his literary skills but also for his love of the pursuit of game. He became a minor celebrity during his lifetime, allowing him to live at and hunt in a variety of locations, including New York, Boston, and in various locations around Europe. These travels allowed him to meet with some of the other famous literary figures of his time, including his life-long friends Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Nathaniel Parker Willis (Wildwood, 11).

McLellan was born 1806 in Portland, Maine. Shortly after his birth, his family relocated to Boston. At the age of 13, McLellan studied at the prestigious Phillis Academy and later at Bowdoin College with the likes of Nathaniel Hawthorne and others who would become distinguished writers (Wildwood, 11). After finishing his studies, McLellan practiced law in Boston for several years, where he kept up a correspondence with N.P. Willis, who had become the editor of the newspaper Monthly Magazine (Wildwood, 11). This connection would later lead to McLellan publishing in Monthly Magazine, Weekly Pearl, The New England Magazine, and Knickerbocker. Similarly, he also had become an editor for the Daily Patriot (Wildwood, 12).

It was during this time that McLellan wrote “The Fall of the Indian” for his first collection, also entitled The Fall of the Indian. The critics writing for the North American Review were quite impressed with the work, claiming: “Mr. McLellan… may attain an enviable rank among the masters of the art” (407). Others remarked on the sense of loss one can feel in the poem, the intense admiration and apologetic veneration McLellan exhibited for Native Americans.

McLellan’s premier poem showcases a larger issue at play within the United States in the nineteenth century. “The Fall of the Indian” is rather not an ode to the life and struggles of the indigenous people of the country, but a claim by McLellan of their “disappearance” by perpetuating the ideology that Native Americans were either savages or silent wanderers incapable of higher civilization, doomed to extinction (Hagen, 16). This dogma originates from the first encounters of Columbus with the Natives. Columbus would later write that the Natives were uncivilized, hostile, and depraved (Berkhofer, 6-7). This assertion, which was later confirmed in the travel writings of other early modern explorers such as Amerigo Vespucci, would influence the Europeans’ attitudes towards the Natives since they were, for most, the only source of information (Berkhofer, 8). This would establish the mindset within the European culture that the Natives were violent, unsophisticated, and coarse.

However, it was not until the 19th century that the myth of the disappearing Indian began to become commonplace and the idea of America as a symbol of tomorrow began to take hold. Furthermore, many began to incorporate the concepts of individualism and liberalism, ideals that many thought central to the American identity. This made the frontier an important icon in an emerging ideology that held that it was America’s destiny to expand westward, placing settlers at odds with the Natives. While some argued for an incorporation of the “red man” into American society, others believed that Indian tribalism, which was thought to be at direct odds to the newfound American democracy, made such an incorporation impossible (Berkhofer, 154-155).

Around the time when “The Fall of the Indians” was written, relocation efforts of Native populations had begun. In 1827, the state of Georgia, where the Cherokee nation was based, wrote a decree that all land within the state was state-owned (Berkhofer, 159). A few years later, the Cherokee nation would be forced off their land in what is now known as the Trail of Tears.

In this context, McLellan chose to portray the removal of the Natives as an unavoidable necessity of history. It was a common belief in the United States that western expansion was a God-given right, a belief known as Manifest Destiny. In Native Americans, Mexicans, and Manifest Destiny: How Cultural and Ethnic Stereotypes Eased the Way for Westward Expansion, Jeffrey Millflin explored how literature played an important role in shaping this ideology. Despite the fact that acts of Native violence were relatively rare, popular literature and other media vilified Native Americans, dwelling on Indian treachery and glorifying the U.S. army’s wars of extermination and genocide. In these depictions, Native Americans were often presented as primitive, barbarous, and untrustworthy. When Indians were depicted positively, they were made to play the role of noble savages. As most Americans had little exposure to actual Native Americans, these stereotypes turned into commonly held notions. This would follow with many agreeing with the Native removal and American westward expansion (Millflin, 67-68).

McLellan’s poems participated in the construction of this myth of the disappearing noble savage. This can be seen as early as the first line, which states, “The glory of the Indian is no more!” Similarly, the second verse begins with the line: “The innumerable tribes have passed away!” This, of course, belied not only the fact of the continued presence of Native Americans but also the significant accommodations that many Native nations had made to the new historical realities by adopting new forms of governments and notions of sovereignty that might have facilitated an integration within the political structure of the United States.

If McLellan’s poem denies Native Americans a presence and future within the United States, he celebrates their past as great hunters—a past to which white Americans such as himself are now heirs. For example, in verse 3, 7, 11, and 15, he writes: “In their eternal grandeur, were thine own, And the everlasting hills were thine;” “Hung o’er them with the Darkness and the Storm;” “…he would take, his bow and rattling quiver, and for food, Hunt the wild animal, or cast his line…and his garb, Was skin of shaggy bear, or howling wolf;” “Most simple was the Indian’s worship then; Without the vain parade, and dazzling show” (Verse 3, 7, 11, 15). This stanza lays out a general stereotype of the “Indian” as a hunter who wandered through the woods. Yet, the true Native Americans were very diverse, spawning massive civilizations with distinct cities and extremely efficient and advanced farming practices for the era. McLellan is reducing Native American history to a few European/American produced stereotypes, most notably that of the ‘disappearing Indian’. At the heart of the nineteenth-century ideology of Manifest Destiny, this myth has obscured the continued history of Native Americans within the United States even up to this day. While many today believe that Native Americans have disappeared, their numbers in fact run in the “tens of millions,” if one counts Natives the same way one counts other racial groups, such as those of African descent (Berry, 55).

McLellan passed away in 1899 at the end of the Indian Wars. Today, while the military conflict has subsided, the struggle of the Native American survival is still ongoing. Remembering this genocidal chapter in American history in which McLellan played a role is the first step toward remedying the marginalization of Native Americans today. His poem is not a historical chronicle of the “fall of the Indian;” rather, it is a poetic construction of the ideology of Manifest Destiny and of the tragic myth of the noble ‘disappearing Indian’ that masks the American historical realities of nineteenth-century genocide and twentieth-century ethnocide. Still today, popular American culture celebrates this myth of the disappeared Noble Savage masking an American history of genocide. Take, for example, the name of Washington’s NFL Football Team. “Redskins” is a historically fraught term. In 1898, Webster’s Collegiate Dictionary defined this term as “often contemptuous.” In fact, the term was originally used as a synecdoche to count dead Indian bodies for the collection of bounties that local white settler communities frequently placed on the murder of Native Americas. By using this term, Washington’s football team perpetuates the myth that Native Americans were savages. Indeed, the original lyrics for “Hail to the Redskins,” the team’s fight song composed in 1937, included the phrase “scalp ’em, swamp ’em.” …” While “scalp ‘em” was later changed to “beat them,” the name of the team was never changed, despite repeated protests and controversies. Still in the early 1960s, game day programs included cartoons of angry little Indians. There have been many legal fights regarding the name, yet little progress has been made (Shapira, 2016). By remembering how literature participated in the creation of these stereotypical representations during the nineteenth century, we can better understand more recent forms racism and ethnocide.



Berkhofer, Robert F. The White Man’s Indian : Images of the American Indian from Columbus to the Present. 1st ed. ed., Knopf, 1978.

Berry, Brewton. “The Myth of the Vanishing Indian.” Phylon (1960-), vol. 21, no. 1, 1960, pp. 51–57.

Mclellan, Isaac. Fall of the Indian. 1830.

Mifflin, Jeffrey. “Native Americans, Mexicans, and Manifest Destiny: How Cultural and Ethnic Stereotypes Eased the Way for Westward Expansion.” Journal of the West, vol. 56, no. 1, 2017, pp. 65–68.

Revolvy, LLC. “‘Isaac McLellan’ on” Trivia Quizzes,

Shapira, Ian. “A Brief History of the Word ‘Redskin’ and How It Became a Source of Controversy.” The Washington Post, 19 May 2016.

Sparks, Jared, et al. The North American Review. Vol. 33, 1831.

Wildwood, Will. “A Memoir of Isaac McLellan.” Poems of the Rod and Gun; or, Sports by Flood and Field .


The Fall of the Indian

“And the Chieftain has departed- gone is his hunting ground,

And the twanging of his bow-string is a forgotten sound,

Where dwelt yesterday? and where is the Echo’s cell?

Where has the rainbow vanished—there does the Indian dwell.’[1]



The glory of the Indian is no more!

His star is set! Upon the mountain tops

No longer do the savage nations bow

To the Eternal Spirit, when the Sun

Hangs out his crimson banner in the East;

No more they follow in the autumn day

Their game along the vallies, with the spear,

And the lithe arrows; and no longer light

Their fire upon the cliff, when comes the Eve

To weep around Day’s melancholy urn


The innumerable tribes have passed away!

Even as the silver vapor that is hung

Like a bright crown on Morning’s blushing brow,

Or faded leaves in bleak November’s wood.

No more their step is heard along the vale,

Nor shout upon the mountains, nor the songs

Of their triumphant battles. Their large bow,

And the long, feathered-arrow, have been broken;

The eagle plume into the dust is cast;

The sharp canoe that rocked upon the stream

Is rotting at the river’s lonely marge;

And the rude huts of their forefathers lie

A ruin in the valley; and the graves

Of their dead ancestors have been profaned;

For they were weeds cast forth on life’s rough sea!


Oh! happy were thy people, Indian King!

When these dark woods that stand like giants round,

In their eternal grandeur, were thine own,

And the everlasting hills were thine,

Those wild, magnificent mountains, whose bright peaks,

And vapory cones, forever in the sky

Frown in majestic pomp. Thine were the lakes!

These lonely worlds of waters! beautiful!

When the old trees that fringe their sedgy [2]marge

Were imaged in the motionless abyss,

And the evening star smiled on the silver wave;

Yet grand as the blue ocean, when the Night

Hung o’er them with the Darkness and the Storm


All still and solitary slept the lakes

In those primeval years, save when the wing

Of the far-flying eagle, poised-above

The restless surge, or when the Indian bark[3]
Flew like a painted shaft across the wave.

High was the save spirit then, and free

As the gay breeze that runs along the trees

Sporting in the mountain hoar, or the valley dim,

Rejoicing in its freedom!


When the woods,

Put on their robe blossoms, he would take

His bow and rattling quiver, and for food

Hunt the wild animal, or cast his line

Where the clear brook creeps thro’ the meadow green,

Or sparkles form its rocky basin’s brim

In many a bright cascade: and his garb

Was skin of shaggy bear, or howling wolf

Slain in the darkling[4] forest. But when high

In his bright chariot regal Autumn rode[5],

And from his o’erflowing beaker showered down

With prodigal hand, his many-colored hues

Upon the mossy woods, crimson and gold;

Distaining the maple’s leaf in scarlet dye,

And the oak’s green coronal, like the dawn,

Then gathered he the ripe fruits of the earth,

From the maze-planted glade, or the ear

Of shining corn, full in its rustling husk,

Or the wild-nuts, thick scattered by the wind,

And the rich black grape, whose clusters bend

With their delicious weight, the drooping vine,

Over the lapsing current of the stream.


So pass’d their even days— from year to year

Father and son possessed the land in peace,

And were content and happy. When the sire

Grew old; far-travelled down the vale of years,

And happy on that last bright journey to depart,

That leadeth to the Indian’s paradise,

Then piously the son hearsed him in earth;

And in the wars and councils, filled his place.


Then was the Indian innocent! and his heart

Glowed with a pure devotion as the voice

Of Nature, eloquent, yet inaudible

Sank deep into his soul. E’en the invisible wind

That shook the forests; and the foamy sea

Whose curling waves sport on the yellow beach,

And the round, red moon, whose steady flame

Made bright the Indian’s path upon the hills,

And the innumerable starts the shine,

Like jewels in the midnight firmament,

And the beneficent sun, in whose broad track

The seasons in harmonious order move;

Had each, and all, a lesson for his heart;

Teaching him the existence of a God;

The eternal framer of the Universe;

Who scooped the hollow vallies with his hand,

And to the heaven’s raised the everlasting hills.


Most simple was the Indian’s worship then;

Without the vain parade, and dazzling show,
With which man mocks his Maker; He knelt down

In the solitary wood, when the Day sent

His earliest flame along the dewy mist;

And again, when the Twilight’s transient flame

Crimsoned the glassy pool. How could his heart

Partake not of the deep religion of the woods,

And in the gloomy wilderness worship not!

For like a great Cathedral, were their depths,

Awful and dim, and in the gloom of night

Peopled with spectres of their ancient kings

And chieftain’s long-departed.


Dim were their aisles

And venerable, with the slow decay

Of ages:— There like pillars rose the trees,

Drooping in lifeless beauty, closely clasped

By the pale clambering ivy: like a bride

Clinging to her lover, and mantled thick

By mosses, glorious ad the regal velvet,

High above those motionless columns, rose

The leafy roof, a noble canopy!

How solemn in such wilderness, the voice

Of human worship! There no empty pomp,

Nor blaze of jewelry, nor flash of plumes,

Nor glitter of gay equipage, nor sound

Of idle laughter, ever led away

The worshipper’s affections from his God


There only came the Savage, to build up

His rude and simple altar, and there place

His offerings, the simple fruits of earth,

And kneel to the great Spirit of his tribe.

There all was still, save bubbling of the brook

That gaily o’er its stony channel leaped;

Or when the mighty organ of the wind

Raised up that tuneful anthem, which has rung

Since the Creation day; or when the hoof

Of the unwieldy buffalo shook the earth;[6]
Or the wild fawn tripp’d through the shadowy glade

Or pass’d from tree to tree, the lonely bird.


Happy those golden days, no more to be!

The years of the Indian freedom. Then he walked,

A king upon his native hills, unawed

Save by the God of thunders[7]; then his heart

Was all untainted by the fellowship

Of civilized man. Then in quiet slept

His simple nature, undisturbed, unvexed

By wild and wicked passion, and mad rage,

And the tumultuous tempest of revenge!

War was no frenzied pastime to him then;

His hand bore not the fearful stain of blood;

And he rejoiced not then with savage joy

In the calamities of human-kind.

He sharpened then his arrow but to slay

The animal that howled around his hut,

Or drive back to the desert some wild Tribe

Or hostile savages, seeking to lay waste.

His native valley and his pastures green.


He loved his children then; and when the God

Of the resplendent Morning[8] reached his throne

Above the mountains, clad in robes of light,

Then would he lead his boy to the sea shore,

Where the smooth beach stretched far its shelly road,

And strengthen his young sinews, in the race,

Or in rude buffets with the ruffian wave.

And well he loved to teach him how to bend

His stripling bow, and aim his mimic shaft.

And when the curling smoke above his roof,

Glowed in the yellow twilight he would sit

Before his cabin door, to watch his sports,

And hear his innocent and merry laughs,

All the gay glee of childhood’s mirthful day!


Happy the Indian then! His bark was cast

Upon the bright, unruffled stream of Life;

And down that noiseless river he was borne

Unvexed by misery’s blast, or passion’s wave!

Life’s shore was bright with flowers; on its marge

The merry hours danced by, and Pleasure threw

Her flowery chaplet in his peaceful course,

And sang her siren song. Unto his eye

The end of Life’s bright river, where its wave
Emptieth in Eternity, was all light,

And everlasting sunshine and deep bliss.

It seems a Country beautiful to see;

A garden where the rich, wild Indian flowers,

Lived in eternal bloom; and where dark woods,

Dim and interminable, ever shook

To the Great Spirit’s[9] voice, and to the tread

Of warriors and great kings, whose bones were laid

In their last earthly dwelling ‘neath the sod

Of the weed-covered burial place, ages since.


Many a long year hath passed away,

Since the last tribe of Indians were o’erthrown

And vanquished here in fight. They were a tribe

Once mighty in the land; but they fell at length;
And to the stranger left their ancient realm.

How sorrowful their hearts! when to their dead

The last, sad melancholy rite was paid.

They buried their old men and the young boy,

And the gigantic chieftain, in their last,

And the narrow house! They placed his shattered spear

At the dead hunter’s side, and the tough bow,

The unerring arrow, and the plaited shield,

Upon their scarred and battle-beaten breasts,

And lifted up their melancholy hymn,

And then departed!



For many a year

They journeyed through the wilderness, crossing

The torrent on the hills; and traversing plains

And difficult mountings, seeking still,

The country of setting sun.— Often times

The waters of our dim and misty lakes

Were ploughed by their sharp shallops; oft the eye

Of the far herdsman, on his lonely hill,

Had caught the glitter of his birchen bark,

Traversing those mighty inland seas.

After the lapse of many moons, they paused,

Upon the mountains; there to build their camp,

And call those hills their own. The gloomy pines

On that wild spot, had never heard the voice

Of their white conquerers;— free, as was the deer,

Or the ferocious animal, could be

The Indian’s footstep there.


It was a night

Of the Autumnal Season, and the Moon,

Traversing the broad, blue sea above,

Like their own curved canoe, filled all hills

And vallies round about, with silver light.

They gazed abroad and smiled; deeming the moon,

Was a bright peaceful image of the life

That they might lead hereafter. And they spoke

Of their lost battles and their wasted tribe,

And of those brethren who had gone to rest,

‘After life’s fitful fever;’ and they mused,

On their long travel in the wilderness,

And on the coming seasons that would bring

Peace to their fallen race. But e’en then

The wing of Death o’erhung them, and their Cheif,

Grew faint and feeble, and as death drew near,

His dying hymn, thus trembled on his lip.


‘I know by this strange chillness, that my Sun

Of life is to its setting, drawing near;

I know that when this autumn night is done,

My fainting spirit shall not linger here,

Brethren! I hasten to that distant land,

To banquet with the mighty spirit-band.

‘Broad are the pleasant pastures there, and fleet

The bounding deer-heads in their prairie plains,

And swifter still, the Indian kings, that meet,

To hunt them there, and joyous the wild strains,

Poured by their bugles and their war horns clear,

When the Tribes muster with the bow and spear.


‘My race is bored in the Wilderness!

Gone from the earth!— and now my hour is near;

Thrice pleasant is the thought that I shall press,

The green turf-hillock, in my mountain land.

My fathers call me from their blissful place,

I join them soon— farewell my fallen race’


Thus died the last great chief; and of his tribe

But few poor relics in the land are left.

A few unto the Setting Sun have gone,

And in the wild, their lonely wigwam[10] built.


Yet sometimes in the gay and noisy street

Of the great City,[11] which usurps the place

Of the small Indian village, one shall see

Some miserable relic of that race,

Whose sorely-tarnished fortunes we have sung.

Yet how debased and fallen!   In his eye

The flame of noble daring is gone out,

And his brave face has lost its martial look.

His eye rests on the earth, as if the Grave

Were his sole hope, his last and only Home.

A poor thin garb is wrapped about his frame,

Whose sorry plight but mocks his ancient state!

And in the bleak and pitiless storm he walks,

With melancholy brow, and shivers as he goes

His pride is dead; his courage is no more;

His name is a bye-word; all the Tribes

Who called this mighty Continent of their own,

Are homeless, friendless Wanderers on Earth!

[1]This stanza also appears in the preface of Hope Leslie, by Catharin Marie Sedgwick and appears to originate from this text. Hope Leslie was released in 1828, two years prior to The Fall of the Indian

[2] Any of a family (Cyperaceous, the sedge family) of usually tufted monocotyledonous marsh plants differing from the related grasses in having achene and solid stems.

[3] A North American dogbane (Apocynum cannabinum) with milky juice, tough fibrous bark, and an emetic and cathartic root.

[4] Growing darkness, night appears to be coming.

[5] Possibly a reference to Notos/Auster, the Greek/Roman god of the South wind that brought with him the wet winds of autumn.

[6] The buffalo hunting was beginning to drive this species to extinction.

[7] Some Native American civilizations have had a long history with God of Thunders, including, but not limited to, the gods named Aktzin, Yupaat, and Thunderbird.

[8] Perhaps a reference to Apollo, Greek god of the sun.

[9] The Great Spirit is a non-theistic deity believed in by some Native American tribes that is intertwined with the universe yet is also personally involved with all living things.

[10] Dome shaped hut or tent.

[11] An American city

Full Colophon Information

Genre: Poetry
Subjects: Native Americans
Period: 1800-1850
Location: British America
Format: verse