Gateway to the Classics: Indian History for Young Folks by Francis S. Drake
Indian History for Young Folks by  Francis S. Drake

What We Know about the American Indian

Few young people who live east of the Mississippi River have ever seen an Indian. Nearly all are familiar with pictures of him, or have read stories about him. Most of these stories are highly colored, and represent him as more or less than human, and not at all as he really is. Even those who have made a study of the Indian differ widely in their estimate of him.

Perhaps you will ask how it happens that the Indians are now aliens and paupers in a land of which they were once the undisputed possessors? It is easy to see how it all came about, but it is a story by no means creditable to the white man. In the first place, the European sovereigns claimed their lands by right of discovery. Precisely as though you should claim another boy's sled because it was the first time you had seen it, and then should wrest it from him because you were the stronger. This is just what the white man did to the Indian: in plain language, robbed him.

It is true that in some cases lands were bought of the natives, but the Indian had no idea of exclusive ownership in land, and supposed he was giving the white man only an equal privilege in it with himself. The price paid was often insignificant enough. For the territory now covered by the great city of New York the Indians received twenty-four pounds—about one hundred and twenty dollars—a sum which would now buy little more than a square foot of it.

One way to cheat the Indian out of his land was this: a tract of territory granted by the Delawares to William Penn fifty years before was to extend in a given direction as far as a man could walk in a day and a half, and from this point eastwardly to the Delaware River. The Indians justly complained that, instead of walking, the men appointed by the proprietors ran. Not only did they run, but they had previously cut a path through the forest and removed whatever could hinder their swift passage. This was not all. Instead of running the northern line direct to the Delaware, the plain meaning of the deed, the proprietors inclined it so far to the north as to form an acute angle with the river.

By these fraudulent methods they gained possession of many hundred thousand acres of valuable land which the Indians had no intention of surrendering, and from which they were compelled immediately to remove. This and other injuries and aggressions ended in a terrible border war, in which the French joined the Delawares against the English.

When the Indian turned upon his white oppressor, the effort was made to crush and exterminate him. By alternate wars and treaties he was pushed back from his ancient seats, until at length, cooped up in reservations under the eye of the military, he is fed and clothed by the government, having no rights as a citizen.

To this state of things there are some notable exceptions. In the Indian Territory the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles, known as the Five Civilized Tribes, live under a government of their own; in New York the remaining Iroquois, having become civilized, are citizens; in New Mexico the Pueblo Indians are semi-civilized; and in Michigan and North Carolina there are a few Indians not on reservations. All these are self-supporting.

Is it to be wondered at that the Indian has made no greater progress in civilization? If white men had been treated as he has been, and placed beyond the necessity of labor, they would quickly become worthless vagabonds. It will not do to assume the inherent inferiority of the red men. We must remember that, like them, our British ancestors were savages, who painted their bodies, clothed themselves in the skins of wild beasts, and lived in rude huts in a country covered with forests and swamps.

The folly and wickedness of most of our Indian wars is only too apparent when we reflect that the injury the Indian could inflict upon the innocent settlers on our border was many times greater than we could possibly inflict upon him, and that simple justice and honesty in our dealings with him would have prevented them altogether.

It was a blunder—the first of a long series in our dealings with them—to call the natives "Indians." On discovering America, Columbus supposed he had reached India, the object of his voyage. Indeed, the great navigator died in ignorance of the fact that he had discovered a new continent. To this day the lands he first saw are known as the West Indies.

It is supposed that this country was inhabited by an earlier race of men called Mound Builders from the earthworks of various forms and sizes found in the valley of the Mississippi and elsewhere.


Christopher Columbus.

In Wisconsin many of these mounds are in the form of gigantic animals. The builders must have been familiar with the mastodon, or elephant, judging from the "Big Elephant" mound found a few miles below the mouth of the Wisconsin River. It is 135 feet long, and well proportioned. One in Adams County, Ohio, represents a serpent 1000 feet long, its body gracefully curved, and its open jaws about to swallow a figure shaped like an egg.

The great mound of Cabokia, opposite St. Louis, is 90 feet in height and 700 feet in length. Unity of design and mathematical precision of construction appear in all these works, most of which are of a defensive character, and in which are represented the square, the circle, the octagon, and the rhomb. They have gate-ways, parallel lines, and outlooks; and it is evident that they are the results of the labors of a vast number of men directed by a single governing mind having a definite object in view. At Newark, Ohio, a fortification exists which covers an area of several miles, and has over two miles of embankment from two to twenty feet high.


Newark Earthwork.

The present native race has neither knowledge nor tradition respecting these singular remains. Their builders have left us no other record than the mounds themselves, and the tools and ornaments, some of them of copper, and the tastefully moulded pottery found in them.

A probable conjecture about tins mysterious people is that they were village Indians of New Mexico, and that some of these earthworks were the foundations of their long houses, in which great numbers of them lived, and that they were finally driven off by fierce savage hordes from the West and North. Their houses, being of wood, long since disappeared.

Let me now tell you what the Indian is like. Picture to yourselves a man with straight black hair, a scanty beard, small black eyes, high cheek-bones, large thick lips, a narrow forehead, and a reddish-brown or cinnamon complexion, and you have a tolerably correct idea of how the North American Indian appears. Though divided into seven or eight stocks or families, each speaking a different language, the Indians throughout the United States have a common physical likeness and similar manners and institutions.


A North American Indian.

The principal of these great divisions or families are:

Algonkins;  found throughout the eastern portion of the country, from Nova Scotia to North Carolina, and west to the Mississippi. They covered sixty degrees of longitude and twenty degrees of latitude, and numbered 90,000—more than one-third of the entire Indian population.

Iroquois, or Five Nations;  in western and central New York, and, farther north, the Hurons, or Wyandots.

Dakotas, or Sioux;  west of the Algonkins, and extending from the Saskatchewan River to southern Arkansas, and from the Mississippi to the Rocky Mountains.

Muskokis, or Appalachians;  all the south-eastern part of the United States, extending west to the Mississippi. They embraced the Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, Seminoles, Uchees, and several other small tribes.

Shoshonis, or Snakes;  this division forms six groups, extending over parts of Idaho, Utah, Wyoming, Oregon, Nevada, Montana, Arizona, Texas, California, and New Mexico.

Besides these are the Athabascas, Yumas, and New Mexican Pueblos. The first are, perhaps, the most numerous, inhabiting Alaska, Canada, and a part of Oregon. The Yumas inhabit Arizona and California. The Pueblos (village Indians) speak six different languages. The wide diversity of tongues in these twenty-six towns in New Mexico, of similar habits and social life, is a most singular circumstance.

Ali these great families were divided into numerous tribes and clans, and these again into smaller tribes, bands, and villages. They are now distributed among one hundred reservations, and more than half of them wear citizen's dress. Some of these reservations are very extensive; that of the Sioux, in Dakota, is larger than the State of New York. The Indian Territory, with a population of 76,585, of whom more than one-fourth are yet uncivilized, contains some thirty-five tribes or parts of tribes.

Having shown you how the Indian appears, I will now tell you what he is.

The characteristic traits of the Indian are such as are common to all barbarous races. Ambitious, vindictive, cruel, envious, and suspicious, he is also sagacious, warlike, and courageous, and, at the same time, excessively cautious. Revenge is with him a sacred duty. Treacherous and deceitful to his foes, he prefers to slay his enemy by a secret rather than an open blow.

On the other hand, he loves liberty passionately; will brave famine, torture, and even death in the pursuit of glory; is strongly affectionate to his family; hospitable to the extent of sharing his last morsel with a stranger, though famine stares him in the face; faithful in friendship, he will lay down his life for his comrade, and never forgets a kindness. He is grave, dignified, and patient, and possesses a stoicism that enables him to control his emotions under the most trying circumstances. His out-door life and habitual self-control keep him from all effeminate vices. He uses tobacco for smoking only, and, before the white man came, was happily ignorant even of the existence of intoxicating drinks.

The superiority of Indian hospitality to that of the white man was, no doubt, truly stated by Canassatego, a chief of the Six Nations, in a conversation with an English friend:

"If," said he, "a white man enters one of our cabins, we all treat him as I do you; we dry him if he is wet, we warm him if he is cold, and give him meat and drink that he may allay his thirst and hunger, and we spread soft furs for him to rest and sleep on. We demand nothing in return. But if I go into a white man's house in Albany and ask for victuals and drink, they say, 'Where is your money?' and, if I have none, they say, 'Get out, you Indian dog?'"

Out of many instances of Indian humanity I select that of Petalashara, a distinguished Pawnee brave. The son of a chief, he had, at the age of twenty-one, earned from his tribe the title accorded to the celebrated French soldier, Marshal Ney, "the bravest of the brave."

A female captive was about to suffer torture at the stake in accordance with Indian custom. A large crowd had, as usual, gathered to witness the horrible scene.

The brave, unobserved, had stationed two fleet horses near at hand, and silently waited the moment for action. The flames were about to envelop the victim, when, to the astonishment of all, Petalashara was seen severing the cords that bound her, and, with the swiftness of thought, bearing her off in his arms; and then, placing her upon one horse, and himself mounting the other, he bore her safely away to her friends and country. Such an act would have endangered the life of any ordinary warrior; but such was his sway over the tribe that no one presumed to censure the daring act.

Though not the equal of the white man in bodily strength, the Indian was his superior in endurance and fleetness of foot. Some of their best runners could make seventy or eighty miles in a day through the unbroken wilderness. A close observer of natural phenomena, in the densest forest the Indian could travel for miles in a straight line, and could note signs and sounds the white man could not perceive. His temperament is poetic and imaginative, and his simple eloquence possesses great dignity and force.

A little anecdote will give an idea of his native wit and shrewdness. A half-naked Indian was looking on at some workmen in the employ of Governor Dudley, of Massachusetts.

"Why don't you work and get yourself some clothes?" asked the governor.

"Why don't you work?" retorted the son of the forest.

"I work head-work," said Dudley, pointing to his head.

The Indian said he was willing to work, and agreed to kill a calf for the governor. Having done so, he came for his pay.

"But," said the governor, "you have not dressed the calf."

"No, no," said the Indian; "I was to have a shilling for killing him. Am he no dead, governor?" Finding himself out-witted, the governor gave him another shilling for dressing it. It was not long before the Indian came back demanding a good shilling in place of a bad one which he claimed that the governor had paid him. The governor gave him another. Returning a second time with still another brass piece to be exchanged, the governor, convinced of his knavery, offered him half a crown if he would deliver a letter for him. The letter was directed to the keeper of the prison, and ordered him to give the bearer a certain number of lashes.

The Indian suspected that all was not right, and, meeting a servant of the governor, induced him to take the letter to its address. The result of the Indian's stratagem was that a severe whipping was administered to the unfortunate servant. The governor was greatly chagrined at being a second time out-witted by the Indian. On falling in with him some time after, he accosted him with some severity, asking him how he had dared to cheat and deceive him so many times.

"Head-work, governor; head-work," was the reply. Pleased at the fellow's wit and audacity, the governor freely forgave him.



Perhaps some of my younger readers may wonder how people could exist in a wilderness where there were no houses to live in, no markets where they could buy food, and no stores in which clothing and other necessary articles could be procured. If they look into the matter, they will find that the Creator had provided whatever was required by their simple mode of life, and that they had no artificial wants. For these they were indebted to the white man.

Formerly the Indians were clad in the skins of animals; a robe and breech cloth for the man, and a short petticoat for the women. On great occasions, as councils or war-dances, they daubed themselves with paint, the color being varied for joy or grief, peace or war. They also decorated themselves with beads, feathers, porcupine quills, and parts of birds and animals. The women wore their hair long, the men shaved theirs off, except the scalp-lock, which was left as a point of honor.

For food the Indian relied upon the chase, the fisheries, and agriculture. Maize, or Indian corn, was his principal food. It grew luxuriantly without cultivation, was gathered by hand and roasted before the fire; a small supply of it parched and pounded sufficed for a long journey. He also raised beans and pumpkins, and a little tobacco. If all other supplies failed, he had nuts, roots, berries, and acorns, which grew wild. His cooking was simple and without seasoning, usually by roasting over a fire. Baking was done in holes in the ground, and water was boiled by throwing heated stones into it.

Most of the natives lived in cabins or wigwams. These were made by fixing long poles in the ground, bending them towards each other at the top, and covering them outside with bark or skins, and inside with mats. A bear-skin served for the door; an opening in the roof was the chimney. There were no windows. It could be quickly set up and easily removed. Its size was proportioned to the number it was to hold. In these dirty, smoky habitations men, women, and children huddled together. Some of the tribes built permanent villages, with streets and rows of houses; these were generally surrounded with palisades of logs and brushwood. Nearly all the tribes changed their abode at different seasons in pursuit of the various kinds of game.


Zuni Dwellings.

A remarkable exception to the usual form of the Indian dwelling is found among the Pueblo, or village, Indians of New Mexico.

In the face of a line of cliffs extending over sixty miles on the western side of the Rio Grande, between Cochiti and Santa Clara, are seen numerous excavations which had once been human habitations, but which are now in ruins. At a distance they look like a long line of dark spots. They were approached by foot-paths and stairways cut in the rock, which was soft and easily worked, and were in tiers of two, three, four, and occasionally five, rows, one above the other and not far apart. The only entrance was by an arch-shaped door-way, widening until there was room enough within for a single family. Wooden structures in front served as out-door habitations for the women and children.

So numerous are these caves that one hundred thousand persons might have lived at once where only a few hundred of their descendants now dwell. It is wonderful how this region, which is exceedingly desolate, volcanic, and sterile, and in which there are few watercourses, could have sustained such a dense population.


Bowl of Indian Pipe.

The fort-like community houses of the Zuni Indians outwardly present one unbroken wall of hard mud. Their inner faces consist of a series of terraces or houses, piled one above the other, from two to five stories in height. Each tier above is less than the one beneath by the width of one story, and is entered over the roof of the tier below. Formerly the only house-doors were hatchways in the roof; and to enter their habitation the family—babies, dogs, and all—went up an outside ladder to the roof, and down an inside ladder to the floor. Narrow door-ways cut in the rock are now made use of.

The Indian's implements of husbandry were of the rudest kind, yet he had learned many useful arts. He knew the art of striking fire; of making the bow with the string of sinew, and the arrow-head both of flint and bone; of making vessels of pottery; of curing and tanning skills: of making moccasins, snow-shoes, and wearing apparel, together with various implements and utensils of stone, wood, and bone; of rope and net-making from fibres of bark; of finger-weaving with warp and woof the same materials into sashes, burden-straps, and other useful fabrics; of weaving rush-mats; of making pipes of clay or stone, often artistically carved; of basket-making with osier, cane, and splints; of canoe-making—the skin, birch-bark, and that hollowed from the trunk of a tree; of constructing timber-framed lodges and skin tents; of shaping stone mauls, hammers, axes, and chisels; of making fish spears, nets, and bone hooks; implements for athletic games; musical instruments, such as the flute and the drum; weapons and ornaments of shell, bone, and stone.



His most ingenious inventions were the snow-shoe, the birch canoe, the method of dressing the skins of animals with the brains, and the Dakota tent, or tepee, the model of the Sibley army tent. With the snow-shoe he could travel forty miles a day over the surface of the snow, and easily overtake the deer and the moose, whose hoofs penetrated the crust and prevented their escape. The bark canoe, sometimes thirty feet long and carrying twelve persons, was very light and easily propelled. The bark of the tree was stripped off whole and stretched over a light, white cedar frame. The edges were sewed with thongs, and then covered with gum. They varied in pattern, drew little water, and were often graceful in shape. The Iroquois used elm-bark, the Algonkins birch. The Pacific tribes made baskets, some of which were so skilfully woven as to hold water.

In hunting, the bow and arrow, and sometimes the dart or spear, were used. The smaller animals were trapped. When game was plenty it was sometimes driven into an enclosure and killed. The southern tribes used the lasso and stone balls attached to hide ropes. Fish were taken in nets, and with bone hooks, or speared.

Though the Indian believed his own way of life superior to all others, and in accordance with the design of the Great Spirit, and detested civilization, he has been unable to resist its progress. The gun has taken the place of the bow and arrow, and his rude arts and implements have gradually been replaced by those of greater utility and simplicity. The printing-press is already employed by the Cherokees, who publish a newspaper in their own language at Tahlequah; another is issued at Caddo, in the Creek nation, in the Creek or Choctaw tongue. The plough is in very general use among the tribes.


Canoe and House of Southern Indians.

Having no alphabet, the aborigines conveyed their ideas to the eye by means of rude pictures of visible objects engraved upon smooth stones or the bark of trees, and sometimes drawn on the skins of animals. Their records of treaties were kept by strings or belts of wampum made of shells and beads, which was also in use as money. These beads were commonly used for ornament. Ten thousand of then have been known to be wrought into a single war-belt four inches wide.

The accompanying sketch was copied from a tree on the banks of the Muskingum River, Ohio. The characters were drawn with charcoal and bear's oil. It describes the part borne in Pontiac's war by the Delawares of the Muskingum, under the noted chief, Wingemund.



No. 1 represents the oldest and main branch of the Delaware tribe by its ancient symbol, the tortoise. No. 2 is the totem, or armorial badge, of Wingemund, denoting him to be the actor. No. 3 is the sun; the ten horizontal strokes beneath it denote the number of war-parties in which this chief had participated. No. 4 represents men's scalps. No. 5, women's scalps. No. 6, male prisoners. No. 7, female prisoners. No. 8, a small fort situated on the banks of Lake Erie, which was taken by the Indians in 1762, by surprise. No. 9 represents the fort at Detroit, under the command of Major Gladwyn, which, in 1763, resisted a siege of three months. No. 10 is Fort Pitt, denoted by its striking position on the extreme point of land at the confluence of the Alleghany and the Monongahela rivers. No. 11 signifies the incipient town near it. The eleven crosses or figures arranged below the tortoise denote the number of persons who were either killed or taken prisoners by this chief; the prisoners are distinguished from the slain by the figure of a ball or circle above the cross-figure denoting a head. Those devices without the circle are symbols of the slain; but four out of the eleven appear to have been women, and of these two were retained as prisoners. It appears that but two of the six men were led into captivity. The twenty-three nearly vertical strokes at the foot of the inscription indicate the strength of the chieftain's party. The inclination denotes the course of their march to the scene of conflict. This course, in the actual position of the tribe, and of the side of the tree chosen to depict it, was northward. As an evidence of the order and exactitude of these rude memorials in recording facts, it is to be observed that the number of persons captured or killed in each expedition of the chief is set on the left of the picture, exactly opposite the symbolical mark of the expedition.



Similar devices upon Indian grave-posts commemorate the family and the deeds of the deceased. The one here represented is that of Wabojeeg, a celebrated Chippewa war-chief. He was of the family of the Addik, or American Reindeer. This fact is represented by the figure of a deer. The reversed position denotes death. The seven transverse marks on the left denote that he had led seven war-parties. The three perpendicular lines below the totem represent three wounds received in battle. The figure of a moose's head denotes a desperate conflict with an enraged animal of that kind. The symbols of the arrow and pipe indicate his influence in war and peace. The Indians mourned their dead sincerely and preserved their remains with affectionate veneration.

The famous Dighton Rock inscription, once ascribed to the Northmen, is now known to be merely the record of a battle between two Indian tribes. The amazement of the vanquished at the sudden assault of the victors is shown by their being deprived of both hands and arms, or the power of resistance. Nothing in the inscription denotes a foreigner, nor is there any figure or sign for any weapon or implement brought by white, men from beyond the sea. This interesting object is situated on the border of the Taunton River.


The Dighton Rock Inscription.

Each tribe had its sachem or civil chief, and regarded itself as a sovereign and independent nation. The form of government was patriarchal. The sachem had no power except through the influence of his wisdom and ability Any one could be a war-chief whose tried bravery and prudence on time war-path enabled him to raise volunteers. The sachem was sometimes a woman. The succession of chiefs was through the female line, a brother or nephew succeeding instead of a son.

As there were no written laws, their government rested on opinion and custom, and these were all-powerful. Each man was his own protector and avenger. Murder was retaliated by the next of kin, and family and tribal strifes thus caused often continued from generation to generation. Each village had its independent government, one long building in each being devoted to festivals, dances, and public councils. The affairs of the nation were transacted only in a general council.

In these assemblies, in which the Indian took great delight, strict order was kept. Seated in a semicircle on the ground, painted and tattooed, the chiefs adorned with feathers, with the beak of the red-bird or the claws of the bear, they smoked in silence, and listened attentively to the speaker. There was no war of words, no discord. They used tobacco in all their important assemblies, and the pipe was the symbol of peace.


Indian Council.

A common emblem, called the totem, consisting of the figure of some beast, bird, or reptile, formed the distinguishing mark of the tribes or smaller clans, serving the same purpose with them as the family name does with us. The tortoise, the bear, the beaver, the turtle, and the wolf were the totems of the "first families." The figure representing the totem of his tribe was tattooed upon the Indian's breast. The spirit of the animal was supposed especially to favor the clan thus represented.

Marriage could not be contracted between kindred of near degree, or families having the same totem. Husband and wife in the same family must be of different clans If the presents of the lover to the father of his intended were accepted, she became his wife, though neither may have spoken to the other, and for a while the husband had a home in her father's lodge. The presents have been known to be returned and the match broken off because there was no powder-horn sent.

A peculiar method of match-making prevails among time Moquis of New Mexico—a simple, happy, and most hospitable people. There the fair one selects the youth who pleases her, and her father proposes the match to the sire of time fortunate swain. Such is the gallantry of the sterner sex in this region that the proposition is never refused. The preliminaries being arranged, the young man on his part furnishes two pairs of moccasins, two fine blankets, two mattresses, and two of the sashes used at the feast, while the maiden for her share provides an abundance of eatables, and the marriage is celebrated by feasting and dancing.


Indian Cradle.

The love of the Indian mother for her off-spring is strong and constant, yet her treatment of her child during infancy seems to us cruel and unfeeling. To the cradle made of thin pieces of light wood, and ornamented with porcupine's quills, beads, and rattles, the infant, carefully wrapped in furs, is securely tied. This bandaged, it is carried by the mother, its back to hers, or, while she works in the field, is suspended from the limb of a tree. In this way the future warrior takes his first lesson in endurance. The patience and quiet of the Indian child in this close confinement are quite wonderful. Children are left pretty much to themselves; their assistance in household labor is voluntary, and they are seldom scolded or beaten.

The strength of the paternal tie among the Indians is seen in the act of Bianswah, a Chippewa chief, as related by Schoolcraft. In his absence from home his son was captured by a hostile band. On reaching his wigwam the old man heard the terrible news, and, knowing what the fate of his son would be, he followed on the trail of the enemy alone, and reached their village while they were preparing to roast their captive alive. Stepping boldly into the arena, he offered to take his son's place.

"My son," said he, "has seen but a few winters; his feet have never trod the war-path; but the hairs of my head are white; I have hung many scalps over the graves of my relatives which I have taken from the heads of your warriors; kindle the fire about me, and send my son home to my lodge." The offer was accepted, and the old chief suffered torture to save his son.

Filial devotion is finely illustrated in the story of Nadowaqua, the daughter of a chief who lived in the vicinity of Michilimackinac. This chief, known as Le Grand Sable, was able, politic, and brave. He had been a warns friend of the French, and was one of the prominent actors in the memorable capture of old Fort Michilimackinac in 1763, related farther on.

Many years afterwards, when he had become quite aged, he accompanied his relatives, in the month of March, on their annual journey to the forests which yield the sugar-maple. After this season, which is one of enjoyment with the Indians, was over, and they had packed their effects to return, it was found that the old chief was unable to sustain the journey.

His daughter Nadowaqua determined to carry him on her shoulders to his wigwam. For this purpose she took her long stout deer-skin apekun, or head-strap, and, fastening it around his body, bent herself strongly forward under the load, then rose under the pious burden, and took the path to Lake Michigan. It is usual to put down the burdens at fixed points or resting-places on the way. In this manner she brought her father safely to the shore of the lake, a distance of ten miles!

The feat of Æneas in carrying Anchises on his shoulders through the flames of Troy is rivaled here by that of a simple Algonkin woman.


The Indians at home.

Most of the hard work is done by the women, in order that the bodies of the men may be kept supple and active for the purposes of war and the chase. The Indian had no cow or domestic beast of burden, and regarded all labor as degrading and fit only for women. His wife was his slave. With rude implements she cultivated the ground and reaped the harvest, while he amused himself playing, gambling, singing, eating, or sleeping. In their journeys the poles of the wigwam are borne upon her shoulders. Much of her time is occupied in making moccasins and in quill work.

The Indian's amusements were running, leaping, wrestling, paddling, shooting at a mark, games of ball and with small stones, dances and feasts. His chief resource from inactivity was gambling. He would stake his arms, the furs that covered him, his stock of winter provisions, his cabin, his wife, even his own freedom, on the chances of play. Among their field-sports one of the commonest is the casting of stones, in which they attain astonishing skill and precision. Their dances were numerous, and formed part of their religious observances and warlike preparations, as well as merry-makings. The women generally danced apart.

The fleeka, or arrow-dance, practised by the Pueblo Indians in Arizona, is a picturesque performance. One of the braves is led up in front of his friends, who are drawn up in two ranks. Here he is placed upon one knee, his bow and arrow in his hand, when the Malinchi, a handsomely attired young girl, commences the dance. From her right wrist hangs the skin of a silver-gray fox, and bells that jingle with every motion are fixed at the end of her embroidered scarf.

At first she dances along the line in front, and by her movements shows that she is describing the war-path. Slowly and steadily she pursues; suddenly her step quickens; she has come in sight of the enemy. The brave follows her with his eye, and, by the motion of his head, implies that she is right. She dances faster and faster; suddenly she seizes an arrow from hint, and now by her frantic gestures it is plain that the fight has begun in earnest. She points with the arrow, shows how it wings its course, how the scalp was taken and her tribe victorious. As she concludes the dance and returns the arrow to the brave, fire-arms are discharged, and the whole party wend their way to the public square to make room for other parties, who keep up the dance until dark.

Boys were trained from infancy to feats of dexterity and courage, gaining a name and a position only on returning from a warlike expedition. A feast was always given for a boy's first success in the chase. A spirit of emulation and a thirst for glory was awakened in him by stories of the exploits of his ancestors. As soon as he was old enough, he travelled the war-path that he might earn the feather of the war-eagle for his hair, and boast of his exploits in the great war-dance and feast of his band.


A Scalp Dance.

War was the Indian's chief delight and glory, and between many of the tribes it was of constant occurrence. When a war was about to break out, some leading chief would paint himself black all over and retire to the forest. There he remained, fasting and praying, until he could dream of a great war-eagle hovering over him. This was the favorable omen; and, returning to his band, he would call them to battle and certain victory, assuring them that the Great Spirit was on their side.

He would then give a feast to his warriors, at which he would appear in war-paint of bright and startling colors, setting before his guests wooden dishes containing dog-flesh, a great luxury. The chief himself sat smoking, his fast not yet ended.

The war-dance followed. If at night, the scene was lighted up by the blaze of fires and burning pine-knots. A painted post would be driven into the ground, and the warriors, their faces painted in a frightful manner, formed a circle around it. The chief would then leap into the open space, brandishing his hatchet, chanting his exploits, and, striking at the post as if it were an enemy, he would go through all the motions of actual fight. Warrior after warrior would follow his example, till at last the whole band would be dancing, striking and stabbing at the air, and yelling like so many fiends.

Next morning they would leave the camp in single file, discharging their guns one after another as they entered the forest. Halting near the village, they would strip off their ornaments, and hand them over to the women who had followed them for this purpose. They would then move silently on. These parties were generally small, as their warfare was one of patient watchfulness, stealthy approaches, stratagems, and surprises. Following an enemy's trail, they killed him as he slept, or lay in ambush near a village, watching for an opportunity to pounce upon an individual and take his scalp. The scalp-lock was an emblem of chivalry, and was left upon the head of the warrior as a sort of defiance—a way of saying, "Take it if you can." This trophy the warrior hung in his cabin on his return. There was no dishonor in killing an unarmed enemy, or in private deceit and treachery. It was no disgrace to run away when there seemed no chance of success. Torture and the stake enabled the victim to display what the Indian considered a heroic virtue—power of endurance, the triumph of mind over matter. He thought the meaning and intent of war was to inflict all possible pain and injury on his foe.



The war weapons of the Indian were the bow and arrow, the spear, and the club. Until the breech-loading rifle was invented the bow and arrow remained the most effective, as they were the most ancient, means of slaughter of animals in droves. The arrow-point is of chert, hornstone, or flint. Spears were pointed with similar material. The arrow, two and a half feet long, is feathered for about five inches beyond the place where it is held in drawing the bow. The feathers are placed in a form a little winding, thus keeping the tail of the shaft nearly in the rear of the head, and causing a rotary motion which insures accuracy in its course. The war-club, of heavy wood, is usually elaborately ornamented with war-eagle feathers and with painted devices. The prairie tribes use a shield made of raw buffalo hide contracted and hardened by an ingenious application of fire. It is oval or circular in form, is about two feet in diameter, and is worn on the left ann. It is elaborately painted, and decorated with eagle's feathers. It is effectual against arrows, but is not proof against a rifle ball that strikes it squarely.

Their love of freedom and impatience of control made military discipline impossible, and no large body of Indians could be kept together for any length of time. Jealousy, discord, and old feuds were likely at any moment to break out, when the warriors would desert in crowds. They never provided themselves with supplies for a campaign, and could therefore carry out no extended operations. They never attacked unless they could take their enemy at a disadvantage. A campaign against them was no easy matter. They had to be sought in the recesses of the forest with which they were familiar, and which afforded every advantage for their peculiar mode of fighting.

Captives were compelled to run the gauntlet through a double line, composed of the women, children, and young warriors of the village, who, armed with sticks and clubs, struck the prisoners as they passed, and sometimes inflicted severe injuries upon them. Generally they were put to death, sometimes by torture. Occasionally one would be adopted into a family in the place of a deceased brother, son, or husband. The Iroquois and the Creeks often incorporated the tribes they had conquered with their own. In their treatment of female captives, the Indians were more humane than the victorious soldiery of civilized nations.


In Ambush.

The religion of the Indian, like that of other primitive races, had neither temple nor ritual. It had its songs and dances, and its sacrifices, at which animals and human beings were offered, the former as substitutes for the latter. Sun-worship and fire-worship were formerly very prevalent among the aborigines. Their priests and physicians are called medicine-men, or powwows. They profess to heal diseases by jugglery and magic arts, to give good-fortune to the hunter, the warrior, and the lover, or to cause the death of an enemy. In cases of sickness the Indian uses medicinal herbs, but the vapor-bath is his most general and effectual remedy for disease.

Rude and ignorant as he is, and believing in many gods, the Indian yet worships the Great Spirit after a fashion of his own, and believes almost universally in a future life. With the dead warrior is buried his pipe and his manitou, his tomahawk, bow and quiver, his best apparel, and food for his long journey to the abode of his ancestors. By the side of her infant the mother lays its cradle, its beads, and its rattles.

The Indian has no idea of future rewards or punishments. He believes that conflicting powers of good and evil rule over the universe. A spirit dwells in every object—in the beast, the bird, the river, the lake, and the mountain. Every Indian has a manitou, or household god, to consecrate his house; sometimes it is a bird or a bear, sometimes a buffalo, a feather, or a skin. To propitiate the deity he employs some kind of sacrifice or prayer. An Indian lamenting the loss of a child exclaims, "O manitou! thou art angry with me; turn thine anger from me, and spare the rest of my children!" Dreams are regarded by him as divine revelations, and they exert a powerful influence over him.

Great pains have been taken to convert the Indian to Christianity. The Spaniard, the Frenchman, and the Englishman have all tried their hand upon him, but hitherto with small success. His own religion seemed to him best adapted to his condition and manner of life. It was necessary to lift him out of barbarism before he could either understand or appreciate the boon they sought to bestow upon him. "One season of hunting," said the Apostle Eliot, "undid all my missionary work." At present the establishment of schools and the general introduction of the arts and implements of civilization are helping the missionary in his self-sacrificing labors, and a more hopeful prospect seems at last to have dawned upon the race.


A classroom.

But, while in the matter of education something has been done for the Indian, much yet remains to be done. Carlisle, Hampton, and Forest Grove only demonstrate, on a limited scale, what our government ought to do, and what it has bound itself by treaty to do, in behalf of the 60,000 Indian children now growing up in idleness, ignorance, and superstition.

The schools above named supply their pupils with the training and discipline which on their return will serve as a leverage for the uplifting of their people. In aptness, docility, and progress, the red children are fully equal to the white. In these schools they acquire not only the English language and the elementary branches of knowledge, but they also learn useful trades, and in most cases have found, on returning home, suitable employment at the agencies as interpreters, teachers, or mechanics. Money could in no way be so well applied as in the education of our Indian youth, thus lifting them out of barbarism.

Fabulous legends and stories are common among the Indians, and their relation over their camp-fires and in the long winter evenings forms one of their principal sources of amusement. Among them the story of Hiawatha, of Onondaga origin, is best known, as it forms the basis of Longfellow's beautiful poem. A few specimens of their traditions and stories are here given.

Owayneo (the creator), says Iroquois tradition, after making them from handfuls of red seeds, assembled his children together and said: "Ye are five nations, for ye sprang each from a different handful of the seed I sowed; but ye are all brethren, and I am your father, for I made you all. Mohawks, I have made you bold and valiant; and see, I give you corn for your food. Oneidas, I have made you patient of pain and hunger; the nuts and fruits of the trees are yours. Senecas, I have made you industrious and active; beans do I give you for your nourishment. Cayugas, I have made you strong, friendly, and generous; ground-nuts and every generous fruit shall refresh you. Onondagas, I have made you wise, just, and eloquent; squashes and grapes have I given you to eat, and tobacco to smoke in council. The beasts, birds, and fishes I have given to you all in common. Be just to all men, and kind to strangers that come among you."

"The missing link," connecting man with the lower animals, which Darwin failed to find, is supplied by the tradition of a California tribe of Indians, who refer their origin to the coyote, or wolf. This is the tradition:

The first Indians that lived were coyotes. After they began to burn the bodies of those who died, the Indians began to assume the shape of man, but at first very imperfectly. They walked on all fours, and were incomplete and imperfect in all their organs, in their limbs and joints, but progressed from period to period, until they became perfect men and women.

"In the course of their transition from coyotes to human beings," said the old chief who related this tradition, "they acquired the habit of sitting upright and lost their tails. This is with many of them a source of regret to this day, as they consider the tail quite an ornament; and, in decorating themselves for the dance or other festive occasions, a portion of them always complete their costume with tails."

The tradition of the Mandans is that they dwelt together near an underground lake shut out from the light of heaven. The roots of a grape-vine penetrating this recess first revealed to them the light from the world above. By means of this vine one-half of the tribe climbed up to the surface; the other half were left in their dark prison-house owing to the bulk and weight of an old woman, who by her ponderosity tore down the vine, and prevented any more of the tribe from ascending.

The Osages believe that the first man of their nation came out of a shell, and that this man, when walking on earth, met the Great Spirit, who gave him a bow and arrows and told him to go a-hunting. Having killed a deer, the Great Spirit gave him fire and told him to cook his meat and to eat. He also told him to take the skin and cover himself with it, and also the skins of other animals that he should kill.

One day as the Osage was hunting be saw a beaver sitting on a beaver-hut, who asked him what he was looking for. The Osage answered that, being thirsty, he carne there to drink. The beaver then asked him who he was and whence he came. The Osage replied that he had no place of residence. "Well, then," said the beaver, "as you appear to be a reasonable man, I wish you to come and live with me. I have many daughters, and if any of them should be agreeable to you, you may marry." The Osage accepted his offer and married one of his daughters, by whom he had many children. The tribe give this as a reason for not killing the beaver, their offspring being, as they believe, the Osage nation.

Mondamin, or the Origin of Indian-Corn

An Indian youth who had ever been obedient to his parents, on reaching the age of fifteen prepared to undergo the ceremony of fasting usual at that age. As soon as spring came, he found a retired spot and began his fast. He had often thought on the goodness of the Great Spirit in providing all kinds of fruits and herbs for the use of man, and he now earnestly prayed that he might dream of something to benefit his people, for he had often seen them suffering for want of food.

On the third day he became too weak and faint to walk about, and kept his bed. He fancied, while thus lying in a dreamy state, that he saw a handsome young man dressed in green robes and with green plumes on his head advancing towards him. The visitor said, "I am sent to you, my friend, by the Great Spirit who made all things. He has observed you. He sees that you desire to procure a benefit for your people. Listen to my words and follow my instructions." He then told the young man to rise and wrestle with him. Weak as he was, he tottered to his feet and began; but, after a long trial, the handsome stranger said, "My friend, it is enough for once; I will come again." He then vanished.

On the next day the celestial visitor re-appeared and renewed the trial. The young man knew that his strength was even less than the day before, but as this declined he felt that his mind became stronger and clearer. Perceiving this, the plumed stranger again spoke to him. "To-morrow," he said, "will be your last trial. Be strong and courageous; it is the only way to obtain the boon you seek." He again departed.

On the sixth day, as the young faster lay on his pallet weak and exhausted, the pleasing visitor returned, and as he renewed the contest he looked more beautiful than ever. The young man grasped him and seemed to feel new strength imparted to his body, while that of his antagonist grew weaker.

At length the stranger cried out, "It is enough; I am beaten. You will win your desire from the Great Spirit. To-morrow will be the seventh day of your fast and the last of your trials. Your father will bring you food which will recruit you. I shall then visit you for the last time, and I foresee that you are destined to prevail. As soon as you have thrown me down, strip off my garments and bury me on the spot. Visit the place, and keep the earth clean and soft. Let no weeds grow there. I shall soon come to life, and re-appear with all the wrappings of my garments and my waving plumes. Once a month cover my roots with fresh earth, and by following these directions your triumph will be complete." He then disappeared.

Next morning the youth's father came with food, but he asked him to set it by for a particular reason till the sun went down. When the sky-visitor came for his final trial, although the young man had not partaken of food, he engaged in the combat with him with a feeling of supernatural strength. He threw him down. Stripping off his garments and plumes, he then buried him in the earth, carefully preparing the ground and removing every weed, and then returned to his father's lodge.

Keeping everything to himself, the youth revealed nothing of his vision or trials. Partaking sparingly of food, he soon regained his strength. But he never for a moment forgot the burial-place of his friend. He frequently visited it, and would not let even a wild-flower grow there. Soon he saw the tops of the green plumes coming out of the ground, at first in spiral points, then expanding into broad leaves and rising in green stalks, and finally assuming their silken fringes and yellow tassels.

Spring and summer had passed, when one day towards evening he requested his father to visit the lonely spot where he had fasted. The old man stood amazed. The lodge was gone, and in its place stood a tall, graceful, and majestic plant, waving its taper-leaves and displaying its bright-colored plumes and tassels. But what most excited his admiration was its cluster of golden ears. "It is the friend of my dreams and visions," said the youth. "It is Mondamin; it is the spirit's grain," said the father. And this was the origin of Indian-corn.

Shingebiss: A Chippewa Allegory

"There was once a poor man called Shingebiss, living alone in a solitary lodge on the shores of a deep bay, in a large lake. Now this man, as his name implies, was a duck when he chose to be, and a man the next moment: it was only necessary to will himself the one or the other. It was cold winter weather, and this duck ought to have been off with the rest of his species towards the South, where the streams and lakes are open all winter, and where food is easily got; but the power he had of changing himself into a man when he wished, made him linger till every stream was frozen over, and the snow lay deep over all the land.

"The blasts of winter now howled fiercely around his poor wigwam, and he had only four logs of wood to keep his fire during the whole winter. But he was cheerful, manly, and trustful, relied on himself, and cared very little for anybody, beyond treating kindly all who called on him; and as he always had something to offer them to eat, he was treated with much respect and consideration by his people.

"How he managed to live nobody knew. It was a perfect mystery to every one. The ice was very thick on the streams and the weather was intensely cold; yet, on the coldest day, when every one thought he must starve and freeze, he would go out to places where flags and reeds grew up through the ice, and changing himself to a duck, pluck them up with his bill, and, diving through the orifice, supply himself plentifully with fish.

"The hardihood, independence, and resources of Shingebiss vexed Kabibonocca, the god who sends cold and storms, and he determined to freeze him out and kill him for his obstinacy. 'Why,' said he, 'he must be a wonderful man; he does not mind the coldest days, but seems to be as happy and content as if it were strawberry time. I will give him cold blasts to his heart's content.' So saying, he poured forth tenfold colder winds and deeper snows, and made the air so sharp that it cut like a knife. Still the fire of Shingebiss, poorly supplied as it was, did not go out. He did not even put on more clothing—for he had but a single strip of skins about his body—while walking on the ice in the coldest days, carrying home loads of fish.

"'Shall he withstand me?' said Kabibonocca one day; 'I will go and visit him, and see wherein his great power lies. If my presence does not freeze him, he must be made of rock.' Accordingly, that very night, when the wind blew furiously, he came to his lodge door and listened. Shingebiss had cooked his meal of fish and finished his supper, and was lying on his elbow, singing this song:

"'Windy God, I know your plan,

You are but my fellow-man.

Blow you may your coldest breeze,

Shingebiss you cannot freeze.

Sweep the strongest winds you can,

Shingebiss is still your man.

Heigh for life, and ho for bliss,

Who so free as Shingebiss!'

"The hunter knew that Kabibonocca was at his door, but affected utter indifference, and went on singing. At length Kabibonocca, not to be defeated in his object, entered the wigwam and took his seat, without saying a word, opposite to him. But Shingebiss put on an air of the most profound repose. Not a look or change of muscle indicated that he heard the storm or was sensible of the cold. Neither did he seem aware of the presence of his powerful guest. But taking his poker as if no one were present he stirred the embers to make them burn brighter, and then reclining as before again sang,

"'Windy God, I know your plan.'

"Very soon the tears ran down Kabibonocca's face, and increased so fast that he presently said to himself, 'I cannot stand this; the fellow will melt me if I do not go out.' He went, leaving the imperturbable Shingebiss to the enjoyment of his song, but resolving, at the same time, that he would put a stop to his music. He then poured forth his very fiercest blasts, and made the air so cold that it froze up every flag orifice, and increased the ice to such a thickness that it drove Shingebiss from all his fishing-grounds. Still, by going a greater distance and to deep water, he contrived to get the means of subsistence, and managed to live. His four logs of wood gave him plenty of fire, and the few fish he got satisfied him, for he ate them with cheerfulness and contentment. At last Kabibonocca was compelled to give up the contest, and exclaimed, 'He must be some monedo (spirit). I can neither freeze him nor starve him. I will let him alone.'"

The Great Snake of Canandaigua Lake

"Nundowaga Hill, which looks down upon the waters of Canandaigua Lake, was once completely encircled by an enormous snake. The people of the hill, alarmed for their safety, resolved one day, in solemn council, that the snake must die on the following morning.

"Just as the day was breaking, the monstrous reptile was seen at the base of the hill, closing every avenue of escape, its huge jaws wide open just before the gate-way. Vigorously did the whole tribe assail it, but neither arrows, spears, nor knives could be made to penetrate its scaly sides. Some of the frightened people endeavored to escape by climbing over it, but were thrown violently back, rolled upon, and crushed. Others, in their mad efforts, rushing into its very jaws, were devoured. Terrified, the tribe recoiled, and did not renew the attack till hunger gave them courage for a last desperate assault, in which all perished and were swallowed, except a woman and her two children, who escaped into the forest, while the monster, gorged with its horrible feast, was sleeping.

"In her hiding-place the woman, by a vision, was instructed to make arrows of a peculiar form, and taught how to use them effectually for the killing of the destroyer of her tribe. Believing that the Great Spirit was her teacher, she made the arrows, and carefully following the directions she had received, she confidently approached the yet sleeping monster, and successfully planted the arrows in its heart. The snake, in its agony, lashed the hill-side with its enormous tail, tore deep gullies in the earth, broke down forests, and rolling down the slope, plunged into the lake. Here, in the waters near the shore, it disgorged its many human victims, and then, with one great convulsive throe, sank slowly to the bottom. Rejoiced at the death of her enemy, the happy woman hastened with her children to the banks of the Canesedage Lake, and from them sprung the powerful Seneca nation."

The Indians affirm that the rounded pebbles, of the size and shape of the human head, to this day so numerous on the shores of the Canandaigua Lake, are the petrified skulls of the people of the hill, disgorged by the great snake in its death agony.

 Table of Contents  |  Index  |  Home  |  Next: Early European Intercourse with the Indians
Copyright (c) 2005 - 2023   Yesterday's Classics, LLC. All Rights Reserved.