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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


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Chapter II. — Notices of the Aboriginal Remains of Art and Labor in the United States.

THE Toltec and Aztec nations presented to the world the ultimate development of the Indian mind of North America, in the highest perfection of its arts and manners, after the lapse of unrecorded centuries, during which it had occupied a vast and fruitful valley, elevated 7000 feet above the surface of the Atlantic and Pacific oceans, and quite remote from either, enjoying a tropical and delightful climate. The semi-civilization of these tribes excited the wonder of Europe during the sixteenth century, and it has been the subject of the researches, and of the comments of the brightest minds. Any attempt to add to the actual sum of observation may be deemed a work of supereroogation; but, having taken them as a standard of comparison, an endeavor will be made to draw some conclusions therefrom, which have not hitherto been noticed. The accumulative and cumbrous character of their mythology and religion, the abundance of food, and the consequent density of population in the country, led to the building of temples in which their gods could be publicly worshipped, and the functions of their priesthood conveniently administered.

The same state of affairs did not exist among the Vesperic tribes. Though descended from the same ethnologic stock, possessing the same characteristic features, actuated by the same ideas, speaking a language of the same cumulative structure, and forming a portion of the same generic race, yet the religion of these more northerly tribes required neither temples, revenues, taxes, nor a costly priesthood. They were, it is true, impressed with a similar idea of the importance of sacrificial offerings, but they never resorted to human sacrifices. They were still in their more simple, normal state. They introduced the worship of the sun into the northern forests; but they did not attempt to graft thereupon those cruel and inhuman rites which had characterized the offerings to Huitzilapochtli, or other deities of the Mexican pantheon. There existed no necessity for it in their polity, and neither means nor power to raise such immense structures as those of Cholula, where the magnitude of the undertaking was regarded as a proof of the greatness of the sacrifice. Mounds of earth served them as altars on which to

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light their sun fires; on them they sang their wild hymns, and beneath their surface they entombed their great chiefs and kings.

Recognising God in elementary forms, and believing that he appeared to them personally, or to their priests, in the character of wood-demons, or in some form of animated nature, slight and temporary structures, made of poles and bark, sufficed for a shelter, beneath which were performed the mysterious rites of their priesthood. These structures were equally suited for erection in the forests or in the valleys. The summits of isolated hills were frequently chosen for the performance of their simple rites; and when mounds of earth were erected, the invariable presumption is, that the local population was numerous. The tapping of the light hand-drum, or the quick notes of the shishiquon, was sufficient to guide the measures of the dance which preceded or followed these ceremonies; but, if it was a solemn ecclesiastical ceremony, or a periodical national assemblage, the mikwakeek, or heavy drum, was used.

The private skipetagan, or magic arcanum of each professor of the Meda society, was exhibited, and their skill in necromancy, or necromantic media, renewed on these occasions; and the lectures of the leading priests and directors, conjoined with the strict ceremonial observances, which were a feature of these convocations, strengthened and established the faith of the seers, jossakeeds, and professors of the divine arts of magic, medicine, and religion.

The doctrine of the worship of the sun was the structure upon which was based the foundation of their general system; but this luminary was regarded by the United States tribes, agreeably to the revelations of Sagitchiwäosa, as the symbol and representative of intelligence. The fumes of the sacred weed were offered to him; hymns of mystical importance were sung by the medas; and his rising was hailed with a hieratic chant by the priestly classes. No elaborate monuments of stone were needed for the practice, or the perpetuation of such a system; the apex of a mound, or the summit of a conical hill, sufficed. In a valley or on a plain, a few stout pine posts served to mark the sites devoted to those assemblages; where, as at the exhibitions of some occidental caravansera, multitudes assembled to gaze and admire.

In but few places had edifices of a more permanent kind been erected for the accommodation of these public assemblages. The Chegantualguas, at Natchez, had erected a building in which public worship was administered, even as recently as the year 1721; 740 in which, also, an eternal fire was then, though it seems not with rigorous strictness, maintained. We have no positive evidence, and can only conjecture by the apparent astronomical positions, and the enigmatical forms, of the mounds to be found in the West, that the worship of the sun, at the time of the discovery, was still maintained at Marietta, Kaskaskia, Cahokia, and
Grave creek, where the principal mound structures and ruins now exist.

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Owing to the primitive simplicity of the forest rites, which were practised throughout an area extending for thousands of miles over magnificent valleys and plains, no ruins of "temples" were found by the discoverers of this part of the continent. Their rites had not degenerated into the gross systems of idolatry practised at Mexico, Cuzco, and Cholula; and the stipulated fast and feast, the sacred medicine dance, or, more properly, the medawin, was continued down to the settlement of the colonies, and is still one of their prominent institutions.

When a comparison is instituted between the religion of the Aztec tribes and these normal forest rites of the Vesperic tribes, they present the Indian mind in a suggestive point of view. We can observe in the Aztec the same physical features; the same mental traits and idiosyncracies; the same inaptitude to trace effects to their causes; the same surrender of permanent for temporary enjoyment; and the elements of the same word-building languages; but there is a great disparity in the true objects of life and enjoyment; a greater lassitude of moral force; a lack of mental independence; and a greatly diminished degree of personal and military energy. A tropical climate, abounding in fruits, and every means of subsistence, conjoined with a listless and comparatively idle life, demanding no continued exertion, and a long submission to despotic chiefs and priests, seem to have enervated the public mind, and left it a prey to the influence of ambitious rulers, who founded dynasties, exercising a prescriptive and absolute sway. In the time of Cortez, the common Aztec was a slave, who could not even protect his own domestic circle. The despotic sway over the multitude was, in a great measure, the result of the influence of the priesthood; the executive and ecclesiastical races, as we learn from Clavigero, having been either of the same family, or closely connected. The two offices were generally united in the same person, as was manifestly the case with Montezuma and Atahualpa.

The worship of the sun was still the substructure of the Mexican creed, as it was of that of the Vesperic tribes; but, at the era of Cortez, it exercised only a secondary influence. Tribes, after having attained power by following their leaders in battle, set up and worshipped an image of the god of war. Huitzilapochtli was the great idol adored at the era of the Conquest, and to him the sacrifices offered consisted of the hearts of prisoners taken in war, which were torn out of their bodies, while stretched over the sacrificial stone by the sanguinary priesthood, and the body then hurled from the top of their teocalli. (
Plate.) Amongst such a people, temples became the acknowledged location whence emanated the decrees of their rulers and priests. The masses cultivated the soil, raising corn, cotton, seeds, and fruits; but every item was taxed for public purposes with an unsparing hand; every native production of the country, from birds' feathers to gold, was laid under contribution. It is undoubtedly true, though it has never been acknowledged, that, when the Aztecs succumbed to the Spanish yoke, the change was a beneficial one to the former; the government of the Spaniards having been very mild, compared to the tyranny and oppression of the native emperors.

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
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