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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. — 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
dental pictography, or a mode of biting figures on the soft and fine inner layers of the bark of the betula papyracea, specimens of which are herewith exhibited. This pretty art appears to be confined chiefly to young females. The designs presented are imitations of flowers, fancy baskets, and human figures. There are so many abatements to the amenities of social life in the forest, that it is pleasing to detect the first dawnings of the imitative and aesthetic arts.

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

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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

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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

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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
medicine-man. A species of cress, which is found in the dark recesses of the forest, and is of a very acrid nature, is used for blistering purposes, and prepared by bruising up the leaves and mixing them with grease, forming a blistering plaster equal in its effects to Spanish flies. Another method of blistering, particularly for any affection of the head or eyes, is to apply a coal of fire either to the forehead, temples, or, more frequently, to the back of the neck and shoulders. This severe cauterization is borne by the patients with the utmost fortitude, and the sore kept open till relief is obtained. Running sores and ulcers are healed by a salve, composed of grease and the ashes made from burning the hairs of the tiger-cat (which are supposed to possess great healing powers). Nettle roots and leaves are boiled in water, and the tea drank as a tonic; so is also a tea made from the bark of young hemlock. The polypodium falcatum, or sickle leaf polypod, or liquorice fern, is a very valuable alterative, in much repute among the natives for scrofulous complaints, and as an antisyphilitic. This fern grows upon old trees and decayed logs; it has a root resembling the sweet flag, a decoction of which is used. It

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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

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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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