If America was found and lost again once,” Thoreau wrote, “as most of us believe, then why not twice?” Walden calls us to jump out of the boat as we race over the falls of greater and greater materialism. Cape Cod is the book that looks back at the source of it all, that shows us we are not coming from where we thought we were coming from. Here Thoreau ends up looking less like a dead white male and more like the original alternative historian. Especially when it comes to Indians. A passage that stands out as forward- thinking, even by today’s standards, when it comes to Native American treaty rights, is this one, which is also funny, very Mark Twain (who was working as a printer when Thoreau wrote it):
When the committee from Plymouth had purchased the territory of Eastham of the Indians, “it was demanded, who laid claim to Billingsgate?” which was understood to be all that part of the Cape north of what they had purchased. “The answer was, there was not any who owned it. ‘Then,’ said the committee, ‘that land is ours.’ The Indians answered, that it was.” This was a remarkable assertion and admission. The Pilgrims appear to have regarded themselves as Not Any’s representatives. Perhaps this was the first instance of that quiet way of “speaking for” a place not yet occupied, or at least not improved as much as it may be, which their descendants have practicecd, and are still practicing so extensively. Not Any seems to have been the sole proprietor of all America before the Yankees. But history says, that when the Pilgrims had held the lands of Billingsgate many years, at length, “appeared an Indian, who styled himself Lieutenant Anthony,” who laid claim to them, and of him they bought them. Who knows but a Lieutenant Anthony may be knocking at the door of the White House some day? At any rate, I know that if you hold a thing unjustly, there will surely be the devil to pay at last.