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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. — 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
amulets and charms were carefully re-deposited. These articles of cherished value, left by the deceased person, consisted of medals, or pieces of sea-shells formed into segments and circles, or beads of the same material; sometimes of entire shells, bones, animals' claws,
sculptured pipes, ornaments made of red steatite, and of other soft or fissile stones, domestic or warlike utensils, or articles of copper. Relics, and articles of this kind exhumed from their graves and mounds, have been figured in prior pages. 833 One of the ancient ossuaries referred to exists on the small island of Mennisais, one of the Michilimackinac group. 834 These antique ossuaries have sometimes given rise to the opinion that great battles had been fought at these localities, and the slain promiscuously buried. But such an opinion is controverted by the discovery of these carefully and deliberately deposited mementoes. The large size and number of the sepulchral bone trenches, found in the west and north, such as the noted depositories at Beverly, Canada West, are often a matter of surprise. 835 Such ossuaries would appear to have been the charnel-houses of entire districts. There are localities in the Mississippi valley where the bones have been walled in with flat stones, as on the lands above the Battery Rock, on the Ohio. In other places, it would seem that the thigh-bones and tibia have sometimes

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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
Indian doctor, or medicine-man, after it is found that all their applications of simples have failed. The doctors are supposed to possess different powers; one excels in removing the Skookum, or evil spirit, which is thought to prey upon the vitals, causing death; and another professes to be endowed with the faculty of driving away the spirits of the dead, that are believed to be always hovering round their friends on earth, ready at all times to carry them to the land of spirits."

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
medicine man to mamoke To-mah-na-was, or work spells, to drive away the memelose, or dead people, who, she said, came to her every night.

"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,

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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
deceased was then taken into the woods, a

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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?
We can hardly see, by reason of the water that runs from our eyes.
Many years have you lived with us, and have often told us words of wisdom.
We are not poor, neither were you poor.
We had plenty of food, and plenty of clothing:
Then, why did you leave us for the land of the dead?
Your limbs were stout, and your heart was strong.
You should have lived with us for many years longer, and taught us the deeds of the olden time.’

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"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
sepulchre among the tribes of that part of the Pacific coast, the same gentleman gives the following account: — "At the expiration of a year, the bones are taken out of the canoes, and, after being wrapped in new white cotton cloth, are enclosed in a box and buried in the earth, usually under the canoe; but, in some instances, they are gathered into a sort of family burying-ground.

"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

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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

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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
Grave creek and Rogue river mountains — an area of not less than 3600 square miles, much of which is already settled by the whites. Of this tract, the Indian title is extinguished to 800 square miles by the treaty with the Cow creek band.

"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

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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."

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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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