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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
PRITCHARD, who has so elaborately investigated the natural history of the races of men, places but little reliance on manners and customs, as a means of drawing a comparison between the ancient condition of a people and their modern development. Lord Bacon, speaking of civilized and refined nations, refers to their changing customs, "as if they were dead images and enigmas." An astute writer, who flourished during the early part of the seventeenth century, and had travelled extensively among the Indian tribes of this continent, speaks of their manners and customs as being fallacious sources upon which to rely for any historical proofs. "The manners very soon degenerate by means of commerce with foreigners, and by the mixture of several nations uniting in one body, and by a change of empire always accompanied with a new form of government. How much more reason is there to believe such a sensible alteration of genius and manners amongst wandering nations become savage, living without principles, laws, education, or civil government, which might serve to bring them back to the ancient manners. Customs are still more easily destroyed. A new way of living introduces new customs, and those which have been forsaken are very soon forgotten. What shall I say of the absolute want of such things as are most necessary to life? and of which, the necessity of doing without, causes their names and uses to perish together?" 826
It appears to have been too frequently the object of travellers to glean details bordering on the marvellous, and illustrations of a picturesque character, with which
to amuse, rather than instruct, the readers of their journals, and by this gloss to divert public attention as much as possible from their inability, or failure, to procure and disseminate sound and reliable information. Geographical phenomena, the means of subsistence, and the natural history of countries, exert an important influence on customs. Nations, as they are near to, or distant from, the equator, require or reject the use of clothing. A tribe living where bears and wolves abound, would acquire skill in catching those animals. Sea-coast tribes are ichthyophagi. As the arts of a rude people pass away with them, the evidences of such arts must be sought in the relics of their mounds, tumuli, and sepulchres. Thus ossuaries and places of sepulture become, as it were, evidences of osteology, and present a subject for the study of archaeologists. A wrought shell, a pipe, a wedge of copper, a bone awl, thus become evidences of some consequence. Having placed on record the various customs of the tribes, as regards hunting,
The effects of climate and geographical location on the manners and customs of the Indians must always have been considerable. Tribes living under the equator, or within the tropics, have need of but little or no dress. Where the banana, the yam, and other tropical fruits, furnished the spontaneous means of subsistence, only a small amount of labor was required. The ancient Caribs, who resided in a country possessing a delicious climate, and on a soil which produced all that was required to support existence, went almost entirely naked, and loitered away life in idleness; while the Athapascas, of the Arctic latitudes, were compelled to wrap their feet in furs, and to rely on the forests for their entire supplies of animal and vegetable food. There were no generic differences between these tribes, either mentally or physically. A Carib, transferred to the northern confines of British America, would envelop his body in warm clothing; and an Athapascan, who emigrated to St. Domingo, would throw by his elk-skin coat, coarse woollens, and moccasins, and soon fall into the effeminate manners of the subjects of Queen Anacoana.
The Spaniards introduced the horse into Mexico in 1519. In 1538, both the horse and the hog were introduced into Florida. How long did it require to diffuse these species over all the habitable parts of the continent? A drove of hogs had been driven through Florida by De Soto, to sustain his army under exigencies. Coronado adopted the same precaution in 1541, by driving flocks of sheep into New Mexico, under the protection of his army. Many of these were taken by the celebrated seven tribes of Cibola, against whom he waged war with the view of compelling them to reveal the location of treasures of gold. The information they furnished had led him thither in search of cities said to be renowned for progress in the arts; that progress, however, only existed in his own imagination, which drew largely on the traditionary fables of Tejou. 828 Thus the Navajoes and Moquis obtained the breed of sheep which have so multiplied in their hands; whence have originated the false and extravagant theories regarding their condition and origin. 829
The horse multiplied so rapidly on the plains and savannahs of Mexico, that all the tribes of Indians, east, west, and north of that province, soon supplied themselves with this efficient auxiliary to man in his journeys and labor. The predatory tribes west of the Missouri carried this animal with them to the north, and introduced it among the Dakotahs and Assinaboines, whence it found its way in to Oregon through the passes of the Rocky mountains. A singular and marked result attended the possession of the horse by the outgoing tribes of the Shoshonee stock, which is indigenous to the broad range of the Rocky mountains a barren region abounding in rugged peaks and defiles, possessing a very limited flora and fauna, and but few resources. These Indians are compelled to live on roots and larva. Driven by the Pawnees and Crows from the open country at the foot of the mountains, they at times venture down their gorges to seek the buffalo; but they have always evinced a pusillanimous character, and have been generally pronounced to be the lowest and most degraded of all the tribes. Yet, the tribes of this inferior stock, who successfully emigrated to, and made their home on, the plains of Texas, where they are known by the Spanish name of Comanches, have been improved, both in their spirit and character, by the possession of the horse; and have acquired so much skill in its management, that they are regarded as the Arabs of the plains. Those portions of the Shoshonee stock who descended the Lewis or Snake river into Oregon, have also progressed in the social scale by the use of the horse; whilst the bands and septs inhabiting the interior of California still retain their grovelling habits, are footmen, and dwell in caves and in excavations in the earth.
Nothing produces a more immediate effect upon the customs of the Indians, than the introduction of domestic animals. All the stock-raising habits of the North American tribes, as developed in their attention to the rearing of the horse, domestic cow, hog, and sheep, date back only to the period of the discovery and conquest of the country. Among the tribes of the great lake basins, extending thence to the sources
of the Mississippi, and to the forest regions east of that river, the canoe has supplied the place of the horse. The same remark applies also to the country situate north of latitude 40°. In all this part of America hay must be cut for the horse, and he must be housed during the winter. Those of the tribes living on the Atlantic coasts, at the era of the establishment of the colonies, navigated the rivers in canoes formed from solid trees, hollowed out by the alternate use of fire and stone picks. In the latitudes in which flourished the betula papyracea, sheets of the outer rind of that tree, spread over a frame-work of cedar, furnished the common facilities for conveyance and transportation. Yet, when the Shawnees and various tribes of the Algonquin stock removed from the north to the interior latitudes of Kanzas, they abandoned the art of fabricating the bark-canoe, and relied solely on horses.
The flora of the United States has also greatly affected the Indian customs. When the exploratory ships of Raleigh first visited the coasts of Virginia, they there procured the potato, which was thence introduced into Ireland and England. The Powhatanic tribes, in whose territories this valuable tuber grew, had never thought of cultivating it. The females sought it in the forests, as the Assinaboines
The tribes are much given to imitation of each others' customs. Some of the Iroquois dances have been deemed very characteristic of that family; but it is found that one of the most noted of their war dances has been derived from the Dakotahs. 831 The Algonquins of the lakes, who are forest tribes, invariably bury their dead; while the Dakotahs, of the plains of the Mississippi, place the remains of their deceased friends and relatives on scaffolds. It has been observed that, for many years past, the Chippewas of Lake Superior and the Upper Mississippi, and also the Sauks and Foxes, who anciently practised the same mode of sepulture, have adopted the Dakotah custom of placing their dead on scaffolds. The dead are placed in canoes by the Chinooks of the Pacific coast. See Plate herewith. 832
While their mental habits are remarkably permanent, many changes in the external customs of the Indian tribes are constantly occurring, in accordance with their varying positions and circumstances. Nor can it be inferred, from the constitution of hunter society, that changes which are adopted on the Mississippi, on the great lakes, and on the western prairies, may not be found to have previously existed, under the same circumstances, among affiliated nations residing on the banks of the Yenissee, Lena, and Obi, where the Mongolic and Tartaric races predominate.
Chapter II. Fluctuations of Customs Among the Mississippi Valley, and Pacific Coast Tribes.
TRIBAL changes in the mode of disposing of the dead, from interment to exposure on scaffolding, have been mentioned; and, it is believed, result from the military element in the Indian character, which seeks to preserve, by sepultural display, the memory of the brave exploits of the departed. But this is not the most important change in their sepultural customs which has taken place since the discovery of the continent. No fact is better known than the former existence of the custom of permitting the body to decay in charnel-lodges, or other situations, above ground, and of subsequently interring the bones, with public ceremony, in trenches; accompanying this duty with pious rites, in which the inhabitants of entire villages participated. In these ultimate rites, the
been placed in trenches in short piles, as on the banks of the Merrimack, in Missouri. 836 The Indians never carried stones, for sepulchral purposes, a long distance. Habit slowly altered among the tribes, but may be supposed to have been sometimes affected by density of population, or to have given way before the necessity of labor, or some prime difficulty. They placed their dead in caves where the country was cavernous: parts of Kentucky, Tennessee, and Mississippi, affording great advantages for this mode of depositing the dead. The earth of these caverns, being strongly impregnated with nitre, frequently produced the effects of embalming. The individual enclosed in wrappings of bark, found in the Mammoth Cave of Kentucky, was an instance of exsiccation.
Along the shores of the Pacific, where a canoe constitutes the principal personal property of an Indian, the deceased owner is placed in it, and the vessel deposited in the forks of trees, until the flesh has resolved itself into its elements, when the bones are carefully buried. This method of depositing the dead is shown in the accompanying Plate. 837 The Indian has a peculiar regard and respect for his dead; and whatever other traits he lacks in this world, he makes important provisions, according to his creed, for the convenience of his friends in the next. The rites of sepulchre are always performed with exact and ceremonious attention. Their belief is, that the spirits of the dead, though unseen, are present on these occasions, and are very scrupulous that the rites should be duly performed. The ritual of canoe burial, as practised by the Chinooks, at the mouth of the Columbia, is given by my correspondent, Mr. James G. Swan, in the following words:
"When a chief, or person of consequence, either male or female, is taken sick of any fatal disease, recourse is had to the
The same observer, who was present at the burial of an aged female of rank, at Shoalwater Bay, in Washington Territory, gives the following graphic account of what occurred:
"She had been sick some time of liver complaint, and finding her symptoms grew more aggravated, she sent for a
"Towards night the doctor came, bringing with him his own and another family to assist in the ceremonies. After they had eaten supper, the centre of the lodge was cleaned up and fresh sand strewn over it. A bright fire of dry wood was then kindled,
and a brilliant light kept up by occasionally throwing oil upon it. I considered this to be a species of incense offered; for the same light could have been produced, if desired, by a quantity of pitch knots which were lying in the corner. The patient, well wrapped in blankets, was laid on her back, with her head slightly elevated, and her hands crossed on her breast. The doctor knelt at her feet, and commenced to sing a refrain, the subject of which was an address to the dead, asking them why they had come to take his friend and mother away, and begging them to go away and leave her. The rest of the people in the lodge then sang the chorus in a low, mournful chant, keeping time by knocking on the roof overhead with long sticks they held. The burthen of the chorus was to beg of the dead to leave them.
"As the performance proceeded, the doctor got more and more excited, singing loudly and violently, with great gesticulation, and occasionally making passes with his hands over the face and person of the patient, similar to those made by mesmeric manipulators, a constant accompaniment being kept up by the others with their low chant and knocking with sticks. The patient soon fell asleep, and the performance ceased. She slept a short time, and woke refreshed. These ceremonies were repeated several times during the night, and kept up for three days; but it was found that the patient grew no better, and another doctor was sent for, who soon came with his family (some three or four persons), the first doctor remaining, as the more persons they have to sing, the better. Old John, as the last doctor was usually called, had no sooner partaken of food, than he sat down at the feet of the patient, covering himself completely with his blanket. He remained in this position three or four hours, without moving or speaking. He was communing with his To-mah-na-was, or familiar spirit.
"When he was ready, he commenced singing in a loud and harsh manner, making the most vehement gesticulations. He then knelt, on the patient's body, pressing his hands and clenched fists into her sides and breast, till it seemed to me the woman must be killed. Every few seconds he would scoop his hands together, as if he had caught something; then turning towards the fire, would blow through his hands as though he had something in them he wished to cast into the flames. The fire was kept stirred up, so as to have plenty of coals, on which it appeared he was trying to burn the evil spirit he was exorcising. There was no oil put on the fire this time; for the Indians told me they put on the oil to light up their lodge, to let their dead friends see they had plenty, and were happy, and did not wish to go with them. But now, all they wanted was to have the fire hot enough to burn the Skookum, or devil, the doctor was trying to get out.
"The pounding and singing were kept up the same as with the first performance. Old John first sang to his To-mah-na-was to aid him. Then addressing the supposed evil spirit, he by times coaxed, cajoled, and threatened, to induce it to depart; but all was of no avail, for in two days the woman died.
"One of the best canoes belonging to the
short distance from the lodge, and prepared for the reception of the body. These canoes are carved out of a single log of cedar, and are of the most beautiful proportions. Some are of a size capable of holding a hundred persons, with all their arms and accoutrements. The canoe in question was about thirty-five feet long. It was first thoroughly washed; then two large, square holes were cut through the bottom, probably for the two-fold purpose of letting out any water that might collect in the canoe during rain storms, and also to prevent the canoe from ever again being used. Nice new mats of rushes were then placed inside, and on these the corpse, wrapped in new blankets, was laid.
"All the household implements and utensils that had been the property of the deceased were placed in the canoe beside her; care being taken to crack or break all the crockery, and to punch holes through the tin or copper utensils. Blankets, calico dresses, and trinkets, were also placed around the body, which was then covered over with more new mats; and a small canoe, that fitted into the large one, was turned bottom up over all. Four stout posts of cedar plank were then driven into the ground, and through holes, morticed near the top, were thrust two parallel bars, about four feet from the ground. The canoe was then raised up, and firmly secured on the top of the bars, and the whole covered over with mats.
"The object of elevating the canoe was, to keep the wild beasts from tearing the body, and to allow of a free circulation of air, which, by keeping the canoe dry, prevented a rapid decomposition of the wood, which would be likely to take place if the canoe was on the damp earth. Although the majority of canoes I have seen were placed on the horizontal bars, yet it is not a general rule; as, sometimes, two posts formed of forked branches are used, and the canoe rests in the fork. Neither do the coast tribes always use the canoes to bury their dead in; for I have noticed, at the mouth of the Columbia, several instances where boxes made of boards were used instead of canoes.
"After a person dies, and before the body is removed from the lodge, there are no outward signs of grief; but no sooner are the burial rites completed, than they commence singing the death-song, which is simply an address to the spirit of the departed friend or relative, bewailing their loss, and telling of their many virtues.
"The burthen of the song, in the instance just cited, was:
"‘Oh! our mother, why did you leave us?
"This song, with some slight variation, was sung every morning at sunrise, and every evening at sunset, for thirty days; at the expiration of which time, the lodge was pulled down, and the family moved to another part of the bay."
In speaking of the general customs regarding
"There are many instances where bones may be found in canoes, where they have laid for many years; but, in these cases, the immediate relatives of the deceased had either died, or gone to some other part of the coast. I endeavored to witness the ceremony of collecting and burying the bones of several Indians; but, as I found the relatives objected, I did not urge the matter. They said they were afraid to have me with them, as the dead were standing round to see the ceremony, and would be angry if a stranger was there. It was formerly the custom, and is now, among the tribes further north, to kill a favorite slave whenever a person of importance dies; or, instead of a slave, a favorite horse; but, where there are any white settlers among the Indians, this custom is abandoned. It has been stated that the Indians of Oregon and Washington always kill the doctors when they are unsuccessful. Instances have undoubtedly occurred, where the relatives of a deceased person have become exasperated with a doctor, and have killed him; but it is not a general practice, nor have I ever known of an instance of the kind from personal observation. An account was also published, of a mummy found in Washington Territory, and afterwards exhibited at San Francisco, causing much learned discussion among the scientific. The real history of that mummy is this: I was engaged, with a friend, in examining some old canoes which were on a narrow and very bluff promontory on the east side of Shoal-Water bay. As we were about to step over what we supposed was an old log, overgrown with moss and bushes, the brush gave way, and we then discovered it to be a large canoe, bottom up; and, on turning it over, we found under it a small canoe, containing the dried carcass of an Indian man, and the skeletons of two children. The body looked precisely as if it had been smoked; and my impression was, that the man was much emaciated at the time of his death, and, having probably been buried during the summer, when there is usually a clear dry atmosphere, and having been placed on this promontory, where there is always a fine breeze, had dried up: and I think I am justified in my impression, when it is recollected that, during the summer months in California and Oregon, meat, when exposed to a current of air in the sun, will dry and not putrify. The idea of any embalming process being used, or the veins being injected with a pitchy substance, as was stated, is simply absurd. The Indians in that section, like all others I ever have heard of, have the same manners
and customs as their ancestors; and, if it ever had been customary to embalm bodies at any period, it would most certainly have been perpetuated by common custom, or handed down by tradition: but, after the most diligent inquiry among the Indians, I found no evidence of such fact. Their universal opinion was, like mine, that the body had dried up. 838
"There is, however, a peculiar preservative quality in the soil around the bay. Being of a very siliceous nature, petrifactions abound; and carnelians, agates, and other precious stones, are found in abundance. I have also noticed that, where bodies have been interred in certain localities, they did not decay. An instance of this kind occurred at my own place. A young Indian, about twenty-five years old, died, and was, at my suggestion, buried by his friends in a large camphor-wood chest, such as are usually brought from China. This chest was placed in a grave about five feet deep, and covered up with sand. The following year the relatives were desirous to remove the bones to their own burying-spot across the bay; and, on opening the chest, the body was discovered to be as fresh as it was when first buried; and, probably, if it had been carried to San Francisco, would have excited the admiration of the quid nuncs quite as much as the mummy did. It is far better, when natural causes can be assigned for any novelty, to cite them, rather than attempt to mystify the minds of the public by speculative theories, which have no foundation in facts.
"When any person dies in a lodge, the family never will sleep in it again; but either burn it up, or, as in the instance I have mentioned, remove it to some other location. This, I believe, is an invariable custom. Sometimes the lodge is immediately destroyed, and at other times remains for a while and is then removed; or, if the boards are not wanted, the lodge will be deserted entirely, and suffered to remain and gradually go to decay.
"Since the whites have settled among the coast tribes, they have induced the natives, in many instances, to bury their dead in the ground; but, when left to themselves, they almost universally retain and adhere to their ancient custom, and bury their dead in canoes."
The fluctuations in the manners, customs, and condition of the Pacific coast tribes, are destined to be more abrupt and striking than they were in the settlements east of the Rocky mountains. All these settlements were, more or less, the effects of causes long operating. But the sudden rush of population to the coasts of California, Oregon, and Washington, was of so resistless a character, that the Indian tribes were dismayed. Driven, with little ceremony, from the permanent points first occupied by the incoming migration, they fled to the smaller valleys and mountain passes. Lacking the necessary physical power of resistance, possessing minds of but feeble capacity, and very low
in arts, mariners, and customs; living on spontaneous productions along the coasts, or in the forests; cunning, treacherous, and revengeful, their efforts to redress themselves, by sudden attacks on the towns and settlements, only involved them more deeply in misfortune, and in a few years aroused against them feelings of hatred, as deep as they were universal. Emigrant miners, who were deeply intent on digging for gold in the auriferous soils of California, could bear but little interruption in their labor; and when reprisals were made on their rapacity, blood was the price of the attempt; and war and discords soon became common along the coasts.
These sudden changes have greatly complicated the Indian affairs on that border. Mr. Palmer, the superintendent in 1854, found the tribes in a state of disturbance, alarm, and distraction, which he essayed to allay by personal conferences: "I visited several bands of the Umpquas. I found many of them wretched, sickly, and almost starving. Their habits being exceedingly improvident, and the winter unusually severe, they have been kept from perishing by the limited assistance afforded by a few humane settlers.
"Through the operation of the law, lately enacted, prohibiting the sale of fire-arms and ammunition to Indians, they can no longer procure game, rendered scarce and timid by the presence of the white man; and the cultivation of the soil, together with the grazing of large herds of domestic animals, has greatly diminished the subsistence derived from native roots and seeds.
"They said, truly, that they were once numerous and powerful, but now few and weak; that they had always been friendly to the whites, and desired them to occupy their lands; that they wanted but a small spot on which they might live in quiet. Many of their number they said had been killed by the whites, in retaliation for wrongs committed by Indians of other tribes, but that they had never offered violence in return. That they should receive the means of subsistence for the few years they will exist, they claim to be but just, in return for lands once yielding them abundant supplies. Presents were made them, and agent Martin instructed to secure them small tracts of land, on which I learn they are now cultivating potatoes, corn, peas, and other vegetables, giving promise that, under the wise and fostering care of the Government, they may become a domestic and agricultural people. The country of the Umpquas is bounded east by the Cascade mountains, west by the Umpqua mountains and the ocean, north by the Calipooia mountains, and south by
"Near the Grave creek hills reside the feeble remnant of several bands, once numerous and warlike. Their constant aggressions and treacherous conduct has brought upon them the heavy hand of vengeance, both of the whites and Indians. They
speak the Umpqua language, and, though so different in character, may be regarded as belonging to that tribe.
"I found the Indians of the Rogue river valley excited and unsettled. The hostilities of last summer had prevented the storing of the usual quantities of food; the occupation of their best root-grounds by the whites greatly abridged that resource; their scanty supplies and the unusual severity of the winter had induced disease, and death had swept away nearly one-fifth of those residing on the reserve. Consternation and dismay prevailed; many had fled, and others were preparing to fly to the mountains for security."
In no part of America have the Indian manners and customs been found in so low a condition. The tribes have no agriculture at all a fact which appears to be in part owing to the abundance of sustenance spontaneously furnished on that coast. Mr. Palmer remarks: "To a sparse, roaming, savage population, no portion of Oregon yields a greater abundance and variety of spontaneous products for their subsistence. Muscles deeply encase the rocks rising from the ocean near the coast; several species of clams abound on the beach, and crabs in the bays; while salmon, herrings, sardines, and other fish, in perpetual succession, visit the streams. The mountains yield a profusion of berries, and the lowlands, in the proper season, swarm with wild fowl."
Chapter III. Indian Theory of the Deification of the Sun.
THE idolatrous and heathen nations of the oriental world held the same views as our aborigines on the subject of the deification of animals, to whom offerings were made. Nor were they less united in their ideas with regard to the mysterious nature of fire and the sun. Both these theories infatuated the American Indians. None of the general customs of the American tribes have so greatly changed as those connected with the external ceremonies of the worship of the sun once so prevalent throughout the continent. The idea of a trinary central seat of heat, light, and life in the sun, was once the general belief of the entire Indian population of America. In Peru it had originally been the worship of the Indians of the old Atacama period, before the era of Manco Capac; but it was reinvigorated by the power and influence of the dynasty of this, apparently, Persian adventurer, or Parsee ecclesiastic, who connected his personal supremacy with the national religion. When Cortez landed in Mexico the theory was there still in vogue, and was recognised by the priesthood, who annually renewed the sacred fire, and thus secured their influence; but its vitality was sapped by a system of horrid human sacrifices to the Mexican Moloch, who was worshipped under the name of Huitzilapochtli.
In the Mississippi valley, the Natchez, or Chigantualgas of the Spaniards, one of the early groups of tribes, practised its prominent rites for at least a decade after the close of the seventeenth century. As late as the year 1721, P. de Charlevoix, the learned envoy sent by the French Court to inspect the American missions, found it in existence among the Natchez, occupying the present area of the State of Mississippi, who had a temple in which the fire was kept burning, and a regularly appointed priesthood, who enforced the system. They received the offerings, dedicated them to the sun, and exacted the fees, or tenths, whether of birds, fish, animals, or other objects.
According to this writer, 839 the Natchez, in their external appearance, did not differ from the other Indians of Louisiana or Canada. Contrary, however, to the custom of these tribes, their government was despotic. The chiefs possessed an absolute sway
over the liberty and property of the people; their manners assumed a greater degree of haughtiness and rapaciousness, founded on the theory of their descent from the sun. The effects of this had been to drive the mass of the population more from the central location, where they were subject to heavy exactions, and to cause them to found new villages. A few years earlier the military strength of the nation had been estimated at 4000 warriors, but it had dwindled to 2000. The ruling chief bore the title of the Sun, and the succession was vested in the female line; as it was with the Iroquois, among whom the son of the nearest female relation of the ruling chief succeeded. The ruling chief had a guard of men called allouez, whose office was, to dispatch or make way with any who resisted his authority, or made himself obnoxious. He required his subjects to salute him thrice every morning with a kind of salaam, and to bring him a portion of what they obtained by hunting and fishing. The Hurons, Charlevoix remarked, as well as the Natchez, believe that they descended from the sun; but they are too jealous of their personal rights to succumb to the Natchez system of external police and government.
A rustic temple, forty feet by twenty, constructed of wood, without any floor, was erected for the worship of the luminary. In this edifice a fire was kept perpetually burning, by means of three massive pieces of wood, which appointed keepers watched in turn. As in Mexico and Peru, the duties and powers of the chief executive and head ecclesiastic were united in one person. Every morning the Sun-chief stood at the door of the temple, facing the east, and addressed the rising luminary thrice; after which he prostrated himself, and then offered the incense of tobacco, by smoking a pipe appropriated to this occasion, blowing the smoke first towards the sun, and then towards the cardinal points, very much after the manner described by Sir Alexander Mackenzie, as practised among the Kenistenos and Assinaboines 840 of Rainy Lake and Lake of the Woods, of the North.
The heads of families never failed to carry the first fruits of all they gathered to the door of the temple. The keeper, having first dedicated them, took them to the chief, as his prerogative. Offerings of bread were also made at every full moon; and the corn and other grains, before planting, were first brought to the temple for a benediction. Compare this theory with the blood sprinkled on the planted corn in the sacrifice of Haxta, on the Missouri, in 1838. 841
It is evident, from the description of Charlevoix, that the system was then in its wane, though it had prevailed extensively, and was yet recognised by the Appalachian group of tribes. "The greatest part of the nations of Louisiana," observes M. de Charlevoix, "had formerly the temples as well as the Natchez; and in all these temples a perpetual fire is kept up. It should seem that the Mobilians 842 enjoyed a sort of
primacy in religion over all the other nations in this part of Florida; for, when any of the fires happened to be extinguished, through chance or negligence, it was necessary to kindle them again at theirs. But the temple of the Natchez is the only one existing at present, and is held in great veneration by all the savages inhabiting this vast continent; the decrease of whose numbers is as considerable, and has been still more sudden than that of the people of Canada, without it being possible to assign a true reason for this result. Whole nations have entirely disappeared, within the space of forty years at most, and those who still remain are no more than the shadow of what they were. 843
This numerical decline of the Natchez may be ascribed to the oppressive power of the chiefs, and the consequent decline and extinction of the external rites of the sun-worship in the country. Tradition represents the last Sun of the Natchez to have been an inflated man, who, with a high notion of his descent, office, and position, appears to have neglected the means of preserving his peaceful relations with the French, with whom he waged war. The French under Louis XIV. had other notions of political power, than to yield to a forest king. They extinguished his idolatrous fire, attacked the nation with irresistible impetuosity, killed the greater number of them, and finally drove the remainder to a place of refuge on the Washita river, where monumental evidences of their residence still exist. They were compelled to take shelter in the Creek confederacy, of which they yet constitute an element.
But, although the deification of the sun had, at an early day, been a cardinal principle in the religion of all the Vesperic tribes from the Gulf of Mexico to the Kennebec, the Penobscot, and the St. Lawrence, it had sunk into secondary importance, and its worship was only acknowledged by genuflections, long before the extinguishment of its last altar-fires at Natchez. Evidences that the system had been diffused among the northern tribes, still exist in their inartistic monuments, as also in their traditions and pictographs. The essential rites performed by the Great Sun-chief, at Natchez, namely, the offering of the nicotiana in a State pipe, kindled with sacred fire, were precisely the same as those practised at all public and solemn assemblies of the tribes, from the era of the primary European emigration to Virginia, throughout all periods of our history. No public functionary resident in the Indian country has failed to notice the extraordinary importance attached to these ceremonies by the Indians. We have, personally, witnessed them in the presence of approving thousands, who believed in the sacredness of the rites, at public conferences held in Washington City, Detroit, Michilimackinac, Chicago, St. Louis, at Prairie du Chien, St. Peters, St. Marys, and on the vast steppes at the
manners and customs is ignorant of the great value they attach to the fumes of tobacco, which they regard as an acceptable offering to the Great Spirit. The plant itself is indigenous in tropical latitudes, but it has been cultivated as far north as the climate will permit. Beyond those latitudes, it is carried, as the most valued article of trade, even to the Arctic circle. 844
We have the testimony of Charlevoix, who visited all the tribes in New France, between Quebec and New Orleans, and conversed with the resident missionaries, that the sun worship had prevailed among, and was then believed in by the Hurons, and all the other tribes. 845 It is stated by the respected author of the "Notes to Ontwa," published at Boston, in 1824, that an eternal fire had formerly been kept burning on the island of Chegoimegon, in Lake Superior; and in preceding pages we have given the tradition of another person, an educated half-blood, that the Odjibwas there held stated assemblages for religious and political purposes, under the rule of a MUDJIKEWIS, or first-born son of an established dynasty. 846 The worship of the sun is also described in prior pages, as still existing among the ceremonious practices of the Dakotahs a people who trace their origin to the south. 847
In investigating the superstitious rites of the Indians, the symbol of the sun is frequently seen in their pictographic scrolls, and signs of mnemonic
No system of religion which imposed heavy stated tributes, or trenched greatly on personal liberty, would have been suited to secure the permanent favor of the American tribes, while they were free to migrate ad libitum. In Mexico and South America such systems had been connected with despotic forms of government; and, in truth, had been the veritable means by which such despotisms had been established, both in Peru and Mexico. The very magnificence of the forests, rivers, and lakes of the regions inhabited by the Vesperic tribes, had the effect, as before premised, 850 not only of multiplying tribes and dialects, and of tending to lead them into barbaric and totemic associations, but, conjoined with the vast area of the country which was at their command, it may be considered as having been unfavorable to the growth and development of the Parsaic forms of religion. The Indians, living in vast forests abounding in enormous trees, adopted the belief in wood-dryads, the daemons of the Greeks, whom they propitiate under the name of Monetos, or local spirits, regarding them as subordinate powers of the Great Spirit. As these dryads were generally
thought to be of a malignant nature, the simple offering to them, at consecrated spots, of tobacco, vermilion, red cloth, or any highly valued article, was adopted as the means of appeasing them. Giants, sorcerers, wizards, and other creations of a timid fancy, were supposed to be inspired by these wood-daemons.
Another striking feature of their system of deification was the belief that the Indian Moneto concealed himself, not only under the forms of men who mingled in society, and were familiarly conversed with, but that he frequently assumed the shape of a wolf, deer, bear, elk, bird, tortoise, amphibious animal, or even an insect. Here appears the evidence of a fruitful imagination, corresponding with the ancient forms of deification existing among the nations resident in the valleys of the Euphrates and the Nile. The scale of progression in error would seem to be precisely the same here, as there, descending regularly from the human to the brute species. Bel Amon and Osiris were succeeded by the winged bull, the winged lion, and the sphinx; and these, in turn, by the crocodile, the ibex, the cat, and the calf. The Typhon of the Nile may be said to correspond to the Vatipa of the Amazon; 851 and, agreeably to Mr. Layard, to the Nerig and Siluth, 852 and other night-monsters of the ancient necromancers of Nineveh. Of the clan of evil deities are the Kluneolux of the Iroquois; the Chepian, the Wabéno, and the Manitoosh of the Algonquins; and the Skookum of the Oregonians. Some conception may, perhaps, be formed of these creations of Indian sorcery, by a glance at the annexed plate of the Dance of the Giants. 853
Chapter IV. Existing Characteristic Customs.
IN prosecuting our inquiries regarding a people so prone to adhere to their ancient opinions, and whose mental peculiarities are so firmly rooted, we should scarcely expect to find original manners and customs, but rather experience an emotion of surprise that any fresh traits had escaped observation. Amongst the Chippewas of Lake Superior there exists a very ingenious art of
Amongst the Toltecs, whose imaginative creation comprises many of the ideas of the Vesperic tribes, Cinteotl was the goddess of corn. Our tribes have either not incorporated this personification in their nomenclature, or it has thus far escaped notice; though the inhuman tragedy perpetrated on the Missouri, in 1838 the sacrifice to the corn-power, of Haxta, a captive Sioux girl reveals the idea. 854 This is still more fully developed by the feast of Mondamin, represented in the accompanying drawing. This feast is strictly an offering of first-fruits to the power which has germinated the grain, promoted the growth, and perfected the favorite food of the aboriginal race. The ceremonies commence with the gathering of the ears from the field, which are conveyed to, and piled in heaps in, the lodge. The corn is simply boiled in water, and then served up, in the ear, to the invited guests, after having been duly offered to the Great Spirit, in thankfulness and with an appropriate address. Each guest brings his own dish, and retires backwards to the door, whence he proceeds to his own lodge with the grain he has received. This ceremony of first-fruits is called Busk by the Creeks, and has been previously described. 855
The knowledge and practice of medicine has, from the earliest date, been held in the highest respect by the Indian tribes. Muskikiwin is the term applied to their materia
medica, or to the curative properties of botanical and other remedies; and by means of a personal inflection added to this word, the class of doctors, properly so called, is designated. The curative art must be distinguished from the practices of the MEDAWIN a society of men who profess to give efficacy to their remedies by necromancy. When the office of the latter is sought, a course of ablutions, ascetisms, fasts, and ceremonies, is practised, known only to the initiated. The order consists of three degrees of progress, from the initiate or Ogima, through the Sagima to the Master Meda. Presiding persons, who form essentially a faculty, superintend the admissions and grant the awards of the society. The process of this medico-magic association has been elaborately described in antecedent pages. 856
The number of botanical remedies employed by the Indian doctors of the Muskikiwin, in complaints similar to those for which they are recommended by our physicians, is enumerated by Dr. Zina Pitcher in his valuable observations, heretofore published. 857 The pathological knowledge possessed by the Dakotahs has been described by Dr. Williamson, 858 and that of the Winnebagoes by Dr. Andros. 859 In some instances, the herb-doctors, conforming to the superstitions of the people, employ incantations and rattles, as denoted in Plate XLVI., p. 250, Vol. 1. The yokullah, or black drink, used by the Appalachian tribes, is a strong decoction of the cassina plant, imbibed periodically, and regarded as a panacea or catholicon. 860 The root of the zhigowau, a kind of turmeric, is chewed by the Chippewas, with the view of rousing their courage preparatory to war excursions, or to deaden the effects of pain. Charlevoix states that the Natchez had a "medicine of war," which was drank by them previous to their war excursions. 861
It may be observed of all the tribes, that medical services, if successful, are well rewarded; but if the patient dies, it frequently costs the unfortunate physicians their lives. 862 The responsibility of practising this profession is known to have been great in all ages of their history, and the penalty of failure is, in a great measure, in proportion to the remote position and barbarism of the tribes. A recent observer (Myor. Alvord), in the military service of the government in Oregon, remarks that the massacre of Indian doctors, who were unfortunate in their prescriptions, had taken place in the central parts of the Columbia valley within a short period. 863 It is not to be inferred, however, that equal barbarity is manifested by bereaved Indians along the entire range of the North-West coast, while the respect accorded to doctors in California, Oregon, and Washington, is equally high. In those regions, where the civil power of the chiefs is very circumscribed, and no fixed form of government at all exists, the practitioner of medicine and the Indian priest exert the principal authority.
"In all the Indian tribes," says a recent correspondent, who has spent several years
in that quarter, "the doctor, or medicine-man, holds a rank second only, and at times superior, to the chiefs. The arts they employ, the magic they use, and the varied information they must necessarily acquire, can be obtained only by persons possessing natural gifts, and after severe trials by fasting and privation. I am of opinion, from what I have observed, that the principal powers by which these doctors obtain such influence among the tribes are those of mesmerism, and the stronger the physical energies to exert the magnetic development, the greater is the person possessing them considered.
"When young men or women are approaching maturity, it is customary for them to prepare themselves for the duties of life by an ordeal of fasting, by which means they are enabled to determine their future career, and ascertain whether or not they are qualified to act as doctors (for, with these tribes, female operators are quite common). A young man, who had passed through the ceremony of the fast, thus related it to me: ‘When my father thought I was old enough to seek my To-mah-na-was (or guardian spirit), he told me his views, and wished me to prepare myself. I thought over the matter for three days, (klone sun nika wawa kopah nika tumtum; or, three days I talked with my heart). At last, when I had concluded, I took with me my axe and my wooden bowl, and getting into my canoe, I paddled up the Whilapah river to the foot of that black-looking hill which you see (pointing to a bluff hill about six miles up the river), and, having hauled up my canoe, I filled my bowl with water and went up to the top of the hill, where I built a fire. For three days and three nights I kept my fire blazing brightly, and did not sleep at all, nor did I eat. At sunrise, I washed myself all over with water from my bowl and dried myself by the fire. I kept awake by singing and calling to my To-mah-na-was, and by dancing and jumping over and through the fire. The third day I saw everything appear as if it was surrounded by the sea, and in that sea were the different kinds of To-mah-na-was. Those that we first see are not the medicine To-mah-na-was it takes many more days before they appear; but I was faint, and I only saw an inferior spirit; but he has made me a canoe-builder and a hunter. If I could have remained longer, I should have been a doctor.’ By this, it appears that it is only those that possess the requisite natural gifts who can become doctors.
"These fasts are the most sacred act of the Indian's life. Like the tribes east of the Rocky Mountains, the impressions received during these ceremonies remain fixed on the mind and are never obliterated in after life. The name of the To-mah-na-was, or guardian spirit, is never mentioned to the dearest friend. And it is only by hieroglyphic drawings of whales, lizards, porpoises, or birds, that an idea can be formed of what the image of the spirit is like, or the shape in which it was presented to the mind of the seeker. The same feeling of dread is felt at the idea of pronouncing the name of a dead friend. Years must elapse before any one is allowed to speak the name of the departed; and this feeling of respect for the dead is even carried so far, that the
survivors change their own names for fear the spirits of the dead may be attracted at hearing the familiar sounds spoken which they loved to hear while dwellers on the earth.
"As soon as a young person ascertains the fact of possessing the power of exerting the magnetic influence, instruction in various forms of the so-called magic, or power of working spells, is imparted by some old doctor, as a professor of mesmerism might instruct a pupil. As I have stated in an article on burials, this gift is of various grades. Hence we find that some are simple magnetizers, possessing the power to put their patients to sleep; others are clairvoyants, and profess not only to read the nature of internal disease by ocular inspection, but to know the forms of simples to be used to work a cure.
"The Indians draw their tropes and figures from surrounding objects. Thus the doctors on the coast, surrounded by marine productions, find in figures of whales, sharks, porpoises, seals, sea-slugs, snails, and reptiles, suitable objects with which to personify and clothe their ideas of skookums, or devils, who are supposed to be the bad spirits who prey on the vitals of the sick, causing death. The canoe among these tribes is the coffin.
"But with the interior tribes, travelling on horseback, and chasing the buffalo, deer, elk, and other animals, different ideas are associated; and with them, as with the coast tribes, familiar objects are made use of. A diseased liver, supposed by the coast Indians to be caused by a crab gnawing the afflicted part, is charged by the dweller of the interior to the malignant spirit in the shape of a frog or a turtle. These people bury their dead either in the ground, or in boxes perched on poles, or in forks of trees; while among the Digger tribes of California the funeral rites are performed by burning the corpse to ashes. A knowledge of simples seems to be pretty general, and they are always resorted to in cases of sickness, before calling in the
is a sweetish bitter, and is thought to be nearly equal to sarsaparilla. The polopody of the ancients, found upon the oak, was formerly held in high repute as a cure for madness.
"The bryonia alba, or white bryony, having a root of the most intense bitterness, is occasionally, but rarely, used in fever cases. The root of the wild celery, possessing an agreeable aromatic odor, is used as a medicine, and is in great repute as a charm to attract the salmon during the fishing season. The heads of spears and barbs of fishhooks are rubbed with this fragrant root, which is supposed to be particularly grateful to the olfactories of the dainty salmon. The roots and leaves of the cow-parsnip, and the young leaves of the yellow dock, are used both as food and for medicinal purposes. There are undoubtedly many other useful and valuable remedies, which have not come under my observation.
"The doctors have different forms of working their spells, or performing their magnetic operations; but, as all that I have seen tend to the same end, the description I have given in the form of burial used by the Chinooks, will be sufficient to illustrate their general method." 864
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
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