The Indians that I saw that evening were small in stature; their limbs, as far as could be seen under their clothes, were thin and far from muscular; their skin, instead of being of the copper-red colour that is generally supposed, was dark bronze so that at first sight it seemed very much like that of mulattoes. Their shiny, black hair fell with a peculiar stiffness over neck and shoulders. Their mouths were generally disproportionately large, and the expression of their faces ignoble and vicious. Their physiognomy told of that profound degradation that can only be reached by a long abuse of the benefits of civilisation. One would have said they were men from the lowest mob of our great European cities. And yet they were still savages. Mixed up with the vices they got from us, was something barbarous and uncivilised that made them a hundred times more repulsive still. These Indians carried no arms; they wore European clothes, but they did not use them in the same way as we do. One could see that they were not at all made for their use, and they found themselves imprisoned in their folds. To European ornaments they added articles of barbarian luxury, feathers, enormous earrings and necklaces of shell. These men’s movements were quick and jerky, their voices shrill and discordant, their glances restless and savage. At first sight one was tempted to think that each of them was but a beast from the forest, to whom education had given the appearance of a man, but who had nonetheless remained an animal. These weak, depraved beings belonged however to one of the most renowned tribes of the ancient American world. We had before us, it is sad to say it, the last remnants of that famous Confederation of the Iroquois, who were no less well known for manly wisdom than for courage, and who long held the balance between the two greatest European nations (329–330).
Tocqueville’s perceptions were shared by most Euro-Americans who encountered Native Americans in the trek westward. The Iroquois he saw at Buffalo were essentially a displaced people, their indigenous culture decimated by long decades of subtle and outright warfare with various waves of European usurpers. The entrepreneurs, settlers, and soldiers streaming west carried with them a genocidal process, which had been refined to machine-like precision.