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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 IV. — A Glance at the Pictography of the North American Indians.

IT was not alone the mechanic arts that determined the ancient status of the Indians; there was also an inscriptive art, which deserves attention: namely, their pictography, or picture-writing. Lord Kingsborough, through the medium of his magnificent royal folios, attracted special attention to the Mexican picture-writings, and gave rise to the expectation that much valuable historical information would be derived from this source. The skill displayed in the execution of the native parchment scrolls, the richness of the coloring, and the systematic method evinced in the arrangement of the devices, presented an attractive feature in the study of the history of Indian mental development; and it was confidently believed that some phonetic key to these writings would be revealed. Time has, however, fully demonstrated the fallacy of this expectation. These carefully drawn and painted scrolls are purely ideographic and representative, containing a system of signs for days and years, and an astronomical calendar, formed from a long series of observations on the sun's recessions, by means of which the true length of the solar year was determined to within the fractional part of a day. The totemic devices of clans or families, as they appear in the pictorial writings, are carefully depicted as the eagle, lotus, serpent, &c. 789 A small circle, or a congeries of circles, are the symbols of times, phases, and quantities. There is no equivalent for digits, and no device by which to denote sounds. Much of the subject matter of the drawings relates to astrological theories and horoscopes, of which a peculiar and anomalous mythology forms a prominent feature. It was, evidently, an art devised and perfected by the native priests, and constituted the employment of a class of hieroglyphists, or rude scriveners, to whom the subject was fully explained beforehand; and where the pictographic art failed, symbolic characters were substituted, when the device became wholly mnemonic. The entire scrolls could never have been read without these verbal interpretations. The Spanish missionaries who accompanied the conqueror, finding the subjects to be designed by the native priesthood to uphold a system of daemonology, promptly denounced

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it, and destroyed the scrolls indiscriminately, without attempting to preserve those portions relating purely to history. It does not appear that the latter constituted any considerable part of their contents. The late Mr. Gallatin, who elaborately examined the Kingsborough collection, found it rather a barren and unfruitful field of historical research. 790 The term "picture-writing" can in truth be only hyperbolically applied to those semi-mnemonic scrolls, for they are a series of paintings, designed to represent natural objects, and not to express sounds.

The system, as it exists amongst the Vesperic tribes, has been more correctly designated pictography. No specimens of it, equalling the beauty of coloring which characterizes the Aztec drawings, have been found among the northern tribes; nor any that indicate achievements in astronomy or arts; but the scrolls of bark, the paintings on buffalo-skins, the inscriptions on trees and
rocks, the
notation of the songs of their necromancers, medas, and priests, and their sepulchral records, display a similar art. It was evidently used by them to perpetuate their war, hunting, sepultural, and mystical songs or triumphs of skill or prowess. It was not the practice of the founders of Canada, New England, or the central and southern colonies, to represent the Indians as possessing an advanced state of art. They were described as active, quick-witted, intelligent races, who were alike notable for their skill and courage in war and hunting. The pictographic element was, however, described. 791 In 1696, when Frontenac inarched an army into the Iroquois country, he discovered a large tree, on one side of which there was a pictographic drawing of his army, with symbolic figures, indicating defiance, and representing the numbers ready to oppose him. 792

This is the highest development of the pictographic art of the Indians, and is called KEKEEWIN, or instructions. The rock inscriptions are called muzzinabiks. Tabular drawings of its elements as employed in the various grades of Indian life, of which it is designed to commemorate the acts, are exhibited in preceding pages, 793 and herewith reproduced. One of the
earliest noticed instances of the use of this art, on the faces of rocks, was found on a massive fragment of greenstone, lying on the shores of the Assonet river, in Massachusetts.[ERROR: no link 794:794] An inscription in the character of the Kekeewin was noticed on the face of an upright tabular rock, at Venango, on the River Alleghany. This has been visited, and a drawing of it is presented in a previous volume, together with a view of the scene. 795 One of the most extensive and complicated instances of

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the muzzinabik inscriptions exists on a tabular limestone rock, on an island in Lake Erie. 796

The simpler forms of pictography are shown on the Indian adjedatiks, or grave posts, which contain the hieroglyphic memorials of their dead. 797 Its application to hunting (with the magic indicia of the medas), 798 to travel, D., to topography, B., and to trade, C, are fully illustrated. 799 Superstitious traditions are evident in the serpent-guarded king, Atatarho, and in the fiery flying heads, and stonish giants. 800 Biography, or personal exploits, are thus handed down to posterity. 801 The application of it to warlike excursions is shown by a copy of a pictograph drawn on the face of a rock on Lake Superior. 802 The mystic arts of the pow-wow, or prophet, are designated. 803 The totemic uses of the art in distinguishing families and tribes, are also shown. 804

The separation of the elementary from the concrete, in language, pictography, and whatever denotes mental development in the hunter races, does not appertain to the hunter state, but is, at once, one of the proofs of the possession of a logical intellect by civilized man. Yet a modified term for the pictographic art is applied to such of their complicated drawings as imply medical, mystical, or necromantic knowledge. These blendings of mystical ideas with actual knowledge are not simply called kekeewins, but ke-kee-(no)-wins. The best-executed specimens of the kekeenowin are those which are applied by the Indians to the notation of their
mystical songs. In their drawings they employ the ideographic art to represent the living, inanimate, or fancied subjects of the song, but so combined with the mnemonic element that he who sings must have been previously familiar, not only with this special branch of Indian attainment in the art of divination and magic, but also with the words of the song: the theme alone appeals to his memory. The earliest illustrations which are presented of this part of the subject, were printed on a hand-press, by the late Mr. Maveric, from the original drawings on tablets of maple-wood, called "music-boards," obtained from the meda-men, resident on the basin of Lake Superior. 805 The devices were ingeniously cut in the wood, and subsequently colored with vermilion, ultramarine blue, and other bright pigments, obtained through the medium of trade.

The Indians possess no art which is so characteristic of their mental traits as these various forms of
pictography and hieroglyphics, the evidences of which are spread from the Atlantic Ocean to the Pacific. They are found on the
sources of the Mississippi, on the elevated plains of


pictographs are found traced on the surface of a tabular stone, on a boulder, on the
scapula of a buffalo, or on the face of an inaccessible cliff. They exhibit the distractions of the savage mind, between the ideas of a deity and a devil; and, among the northern tribes, are most commonly found on sheets of the betula bark, while the prairie tribes west of the Missouri have more generally made use of skins. Frequently the entire history of a chief and of his band, are depicted, in pigments, on a dressed buffalo robe. Specimens of these endeavors to perpetuate their fame, or secure a remembrance among their cotemporaries, as found in various latitudes, and among all the existing stocks, are added, 806 that the wide-spread prevalence of the custom may be perceived.

The subjoined fac-simile of an ancient Indian record of a battle-scene, copied by Dr. A. C. Hamlin from the face of
a rock at Bellows' Falls, Vermont, is one of the recently-developed specimens of the pictographic inscriptions found on the rocks of New England. It is accompanied by a
totemic device from West river, in which the family clan of the Eagle record their location.

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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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