Burton’s Racism

Sir Richard Burton’s City of Saints is often quoted as a primary source for conditions along the emigrant/stagecoach trail in 1860. No one I’ve read, however, remarks on his casual racism, as shown in the following passage:

“The half-breed has a bad name in the land. Like the negro, the Indian belongs to a species, sub-species, or variety whichever the reader pleases that has diverged widely enough from the Indo-European type to cause degeneracy, physical as well as moral, and often, too, sterility in the offspring. These half-breeds are, therefore, like the mulatto, quasi-mules. The men combine the features of both races ; the skin soon becomes coarse and wrinkled, and the eye is black, snaky, and glittering like the Indian’s. The mongrels are short-lived, peculiarly subject to infectious diseases, untrustworthy, and disposed to every villainy. The halfbreed women, in early youth, are sometimes attractive enough, uniting the figure of the mother to the more delicate American face ; a few years, however, deprive them of all litheness, grace, and agility. They are often married by whites, who hold them to be more modest and humble, less capricious and less exacting, than those of the higher type: they make good wives and affectionate mothers, and, like the Quadroons, they are more ‘ambitious,’ that is to say, of warmer temperaments than either of the races from which they are derived. The so-called red is a higher ethnic type than the black man ; so, in the United States, where all admixture of African blood is deemed impure, the aboriginal American entails no disgrace some of the noblest of the land are descended from ‘Indian princesses.’ The half-breed girls resemble their mothers in point of industry, and they barter their embroidered robes and moccasins, and mats and baskets, made of bark and bulrush, in exchange for blankets, calicoes, glass beads an indispensable article of dress mirrors, needles, rings, vermilion, and other luxuries. The children, with their large black eyes, wide mouths, and glittering teeth, flattened heads, and remarkable agility of motion, suggest the idea of little serpents.”