Wlliam Gilmore Simms
The Simms Review (Vol 8: No 2) >> Native American Representation in Simms's The Yemassee >> Page 39

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Page 39

Secondary Scholarship | 2000
Transcription race. Some Indians, for instance, insist on wearing the teeth of their enemies
around their necks (Yemassee 266). This display of physical retribution also
satisfies the Indian's revenge. "The vengeance of the red man never sleeps, and is
never satisfied while there is still a victim" (8), states the narrator at the outset of
The Yemassee. The closing scene reads, "The war had begun; and in the spirit and
with the words of Yemassee battle, the thirst for blood was universal among the
warriors" (316). In a more philosophic context regarding the nature of retribution
and bloodshed, Simms writes:

the young Nero wept when first called upon to sign the warrant
commanding the execution of a criminal. But the ice once broken,
he never suffered to close it again. Murder was his companion
blood his banquet–his chief stimulant licentiousness–horrible
licentiousness. He had found out a new luxury. The philosophy
which teaches this, is common to experience all the world over. It
was not unknown to the Yemassees. Distrusting the strength of
their hostility to the English, the chief instigators of the proposed
insurrection, as we have seen, deemed it necessary to appeal to this
appetite, along with a native superstition. Their battle-god called
for a victim, and the prophet promulgated the decree. (257)

Prophets are similarly present for Sanutee; it appears that a call to the traditional
ways is the only resort left for attaining some chance of salvation. Appeals
through the old songs are made as well. But the Indian cannot fight against the
physical aggression of the colonizer. The call to the past is futile, and the hope to
recollect the glory of the past only makes the Indian's awareness of defeat more
In nearly all instances of violence in The Yemassee, one can ultimately
identify the colonizer as instigator, the first cause in the set of events which made
up the process of colonizing North America. The physically superior force
dominated the action and outcome of this general movement. But the clashing,
uncompromising philosophies of the native and the colonizer persuaded the
colonizer to resort to genocide because the two ideologies were incompatible. The
Indian by and large refused to accept the terms of the Euroamericans because
Native Americans would neither serve as slaves nor compromise their culture.
The Yemassee concerns the eventual resort to genocide against the American
native. Charles S. Watson states that "Simms's depiction of the Indian's tragedy
follows the classic pattern of a physical defeat, evoking pity, along with a spiritual
victory, evoking awe" (159). But Matiwan, the mother of Occonestoga, is
childless in the end and wonders whether she is in "the Blessed Valley of the
Good Manneyto" (413); this portrait evokes neither reverence nor wonder. While