NIU Libraries Digitization Projects
Lincoln/Net Prairie Fire Illinois During the Civil War Illinois During the Gilded Age Mark Twain's Mississippi Back to Digitization Projects Contact Us

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:

Next section

Chapter I. — Value of this Species of Testimony.

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

-- 615 --

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,
fishing, feasting, dancing and worship, and the thousand phases and positions which the Indian assumes in the forest, it will here be sufficient to refer to these instances, and their illustrations. 827

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.

-- 616 --

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

-- 617 --

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
seek the tepia at the present day on the plains of Red River; (for a sketch of which practice see the drawing 830 herewith.) When, in after years, the same root was re-introduced into this country from Europe, the tribes began to cultivate it very extensively; and the potato is so easy of cultivation and so productive, that its use has been disseminated by them throughout a wide latitude.

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.

-- 618 --

Next section

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:
Powered by PhiloLogic