Popular Science Monthly/Volume 35/October 1889/Anthropology at Washington

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1060340Popular Science Monthly Volume 35 October 1889 — Anthropology at Washington1889James Howard Gore



THE early voyagers to America, coming from the civilized countries of Europe, were perhaps more surprised at the native inhabitants whom they found than at the broad rivers, boundless forests, or vast plains. The Indians, with their curious customs and various costumes, produced dissimilar impressions upon their different beholders. But all found that the most interesting portions of the reports which they sent back to their homes were the descriptions of the strange people whom they had seen; the report being in some cases accompanied with specimens of their handiwork, and in a few cases by living captives. The stimulated curiosity regarding America, and the feeling that there could be nothing too unusual to come from this almost fabulous land, prompted men to weave a large amount of fiction into their statements concerning the people of the New World, and by skillful alterations to make the work of these savages appear more startling or ingenious. Hence, many early books describing the aborigines of America are of no value, and the illustrations of industrial arts are unreliable. The meeting with new customs did not cease with the thorough acquaintance with the first tribe who greeted the foreigners, nor was all of interest known at the time when an independent government was established for the infant colonies. Almost each day's journey westward brought the explorer, if not into the center of a new tribe, at least into a new community, whose customs differed from those of the people who had surrounded him the day before. Should the wanderer be permitted to return to the seat of his government, his tales of strange scenes and adventures would be listened to with as much interest as the Spanish or English reader had given to the written stories a century previous. Thus, during the most advantageous period for careful observation of the unaffected customs of the Indians, the visitors were hunters or traders who used their opportunities in collecting miraculous stories for the ears of those who awaited their return, and the number of such stories required of each new one, as the price of its acceptance, that it be more exciting than its predecessors.

When an intelligent foresight suggested the systematic exploration of new territories, the first step was taken in the establishment of institutions which are now the pride of America. Though it was the desire to know more of the mineral and agricultural resources of the undiscovered portions of our country that started the first expeditions westward, still the intelligent men who were in charge brought back much of interest and value to the ethnologist. These expeditions increased in number and usefulness, and their reports are still sources of interesting information. The objects which were brought back to serve as models for the illustrations soon formed a nucleus for collections which are now studied by anthropologists of all countries.

The wisdom of investigating the customs of the Indians of North America, and of preserving specimens of their work, has made itself so apparent that we have in the United States three institutions doing more toward collecting information about its native people than is or has been done by any other country of the world. These are, the Smithsonian Institution and the allied National Museum, the Bureau of Ethnology, and the Army Medical Museum.

The Smithsonian Institution and the National Museum.—The will of Smithson in founding this institution contained but one proviso regarding its organization, that it was to be "for the increase and diffusion of knowledge." The museum feature was purely incidental: specimens were sent, accompanying questions that were addressed to the institution; they were preserved, and with the collection of birds brought by Baird from the Pacific Railroad expedition formed the beginning of a museum. These objects, growing rapidly in number at the return of each expedition, were taken care of in the Smithsonian building, until the large gifts received from many foreign governments and private exhibitors at the Centennial Exposition in 1876 made it necessary to erect a separate building, which is now known as the National Museum.

Prof. Goode, who was wisely placed in charge of the collection, secured at once the assistance of volunteer curators to supplement the museum staff, and with their co-operation elaborated and perfected a scheme which may be called, in its fruition, an Anthropological Kindergarten. Prof. Goode considers as the central point Man, and aims to illustrate as far as possible the development of everything that contributes to his welfare, comfort, or amusement, that is hurtful or beneficial to him, or that affects his moral or aesthetic nature. No monstrosity finds a place, nor does any object of sentimental association receive a welcome.

The first successful attempt to embrace the whole science of anthropology under one systematic classification was made by Prof. O. T. Mason. Its adoption as the basis for the Smithsonian exhibit at the Centennial gave to it the importance it deserves. It is, with such modifications as its practical application have suggested, now followed in the National Museum, where Prof. Mason has charge of the department of anthropology, and has given to the Anthropological Society of Washington its principal divisions.

The science of anthropology is now divided between the National Museum and the Army Medical Museum, in contiguous buildings, as follows: All specimens belonging to the biological side of the science, collected by the National Museum, are placed in the Army Medical Museum. This includes anatomy, physiology, embryology, anthropometry, and kindred topics.

On the other hand, all specimens illustrative of languages, arts, sociology, customs, beliefs, etc., of man, gathered by the army, are deposited in the National Museum. In this way, the two institutions work in harmony, and do not duplicate each other's work.

The division of anthropology in the National Museum is organized into departments of the Arts and Industries of Mankind, in which are included, in their several sections, medicinal plants; foods and textiles; fisheries (showing methods of taking and utilizing marine animals); naval architecture (starting with the bark boat, the skin boat, the raft, and the dug-out, and tracing the evolution of naval architecture to the ocean steamer); graphic arts; history and numismatics; and land transportation (beginning with the simplest device for locomotion and transportation, and ending with the railroad);—Ethnology, in which is included the fullest collection of American pottery in the world;—and Prehistoric Archæology, in a magnificent collection, occupying the entire upper story of the Smithsonian building. The American portion was classified by the late Dr. Charles Rau. The European collection, founded by Mr. Thomas Wilson, is arranged according to the chart of De Mortillet.

As avenues of publication the Museum has the "Reports," "Miscellaneous Collections," and "Contributions" of the Smithsonian Institution, and its own "Proceedings," "Bulletin," and "Transactions."

For obtaining collections, it relies upon gifts and deposits, which are often very liberal; the material collected by officers of the army and navy, Hydrographic Bureau, Coast Survey, Geological Survey, Bureau of Ethnology, consular service, etc., which are given to it by law; gifts turned over by public expositions and fairs at their close; and international exchanges. The material thus accruing is received as fast as the staff of the Museum can attend to it.

The Bureau of Ethnology.—The bureau, as at present constituted, was organized in 1879, when an appropriation of twenty-five thousand dollars was made by Congress for "the prosecution of ethnologic researches among the North American Indians." During each of the succeeding years an equal or larger appropriation has been made, the amount up to the present time aggregating three hundred thousand dollars. This amount has been expended for field and ofiice work. The force officially connected with the bureau, and constituting its staff of workers, consists of specialists trained in the several lines of research, each working independently in his own field, but each giving assistance, and receiving assistance from every other, as the lines of investigation touch and overlap each other. The whole is under the direction of Major J. W. Powell. Results of great value are derived by stimulating and guiding research on the part of collaborators in different parts of the country who are not officially connected with the bureau.

Of the researches at present conducted by the bureau, the most important are probably those in linguistics. Owing to the breaking up of the tribal system and the consolidation of the smaller with the larger tribes, to the adoption by the Indians of civilized manners and pursuits, and to the extinction in some portions of the country of the language with the Indians who spoke them, the Indian languages are fast disappearing from the face of the earth. Accordingly, a large share of the time and labor of the bureau force has been, and will continue to be, devoted to the record and preservation of aboriginal languages. Each year one or more trained linguistic scholars are dispatched to remote parts of the country, charged, as their prime duty, with the task of collecting as much as possible of the speech of obscure tribes. To facilitate their work, and to aid and encourage linguistic students in all portions of the country, a special work has been prepared by the director, entitled "Introduction to the Study of Indian Languages."

Comparatively little time can be devoted at present to the analysis and study of the languages collected. The pressing need of the moment is their preservation for the use and study of future scholars. Nevertheless, the study is by no means wholly neglected, as will be apparent from the fact that monographs are now being prepared upon the Dakota languages, by J. Owen Dorsey; upon the Klamath language, by A. S. Gatschett; upon the Tuscarora language, by J. N. B. Hewitt; and upon Cherokee, by James Mooney.

Much has been accomplished in the direction of a comparison of vocabularies and the classification of the tribes by language. A book embodying the final results of this study, by Major Powell, which has been many years in progress, will soon appear. The number of distinct linguistic families occupying the territory north of Mexico at the time of the discovery was, so far as known, sixty, while the languages included in these probably numbered not less than three hundred. A colored map has been completed, and is now ready for publication, setting forth the areas occupied by the linguistic families.

Another important work, now far advanced toward completion, is a "Dictionary of Tribal Names," in charge of Mr. H. W. Henshaw. In this will be assembled, under each of the linguistic families, all the tribes composing it. Short, succinct historical and descriptive accounts will appear under the head of each family and tribe, while cross-references will refer to the proper names of each tribe the vast body of synonyms which have crept into literature since the earliest published accounts. It is calculated that the above material will fill a volume of about one thousand pages.

Mounds.—The important work of the exploration of the mounds east of the Mississippi Valley is under the charge of Cyrus Thomas, whose investigations cover a period of six years. The first of the three volumes which will contain his final report is now ready for the press. A very large number of mounds in several States have been surveyed, photographed, and explored, with a view to ascertain their nature, purposes, and contents, and a considerable body of facts pertaining thereto has been gathered.

Ruins.—Aboriginal remains of this class are chiefly confined to the Territories of Arizona and New Mexico. Their examination is in charge of Victor Mindeleff, who is now preparing an extensively illustrated work upon them. Each visit to these regions results in the discovery of hitherto unknown groups of these interesting ruins. A large number have been photographed and surveyed so carefully that models of many of them have been made to a scale, and are now on exhibition in the National Museum. Careful examination of the methods of architecture of the ruins connects them closely with the existing pueblos, among the present inhabitants of which indeed have been found exact traditions of the former occupancy of these ruins by their ancestors, while the causes that led to their abandonment are often known.

Sign-Language and Pictography.—The collection and study of the material for a monograph on these subjects is in charge of Colonel Garrick Mallery. Nowhere, perhaps—at least in modern times—has the sign-language been so extensively used as in America. The collection of the gestures employed in different parts of the country, and their comparison with those used in other parts of the world, have involved great labor, but are now nearly completed. The study of pictographs is a natural correlative to that of gesture-language, the latter being an earlier form of the preceding. Various portions of the United States have been visited, and a large number of pictographs have been photographed or sketched. These occur in the form of petroglyphs or rock-carvings, of paintings on the hides of animals, and etchings on birch-bark. Colonel Mallery's final report upon the above subject may be looked for at no distant day.

Mythology.—The number of myths current among any one Indian tribe is surprising; and, as they differ to a greater or less degree even among tribes of the same locality and are quite distinct in different regions, their total number in the country at large is enormous. As ideas of a religious or superstitious character are known to be very enduring, it has been thought by some that myths may prove an important adjunct in the work of classifying tribes. They are also important as constituting the philosophy of savagery and barbarism, and by their study we arrive more closely than in any other way at primitive ideas of the nature of things, of the forces of nature, and of primitive methods of reasoning. No opportunity has been lost by the bureau assistants to collect Indian myths in their purity, and a vast body of them are now awaiting study.

Photography.—The director of the bureau has been fully alive to the importance of recording the physical appearance, features, and methods of dress of the Indian in his primitive condition, and to this end full use has been made of the camera. The collection of photograjjhs of Indians from all parts of the country, taken either in their homes or upon the occasion of their periodical visits to Washington, is now very large, and constitutes a body of ethnologic material, the value of which it would be difficult to overestimate.

Arts and Customs.—Although the rapid settlement of the country, and the introduction of habits and implements of civilization, have effected great change in the arts and customs of the Indians, yet among many tribes the old ways of life have been by no means abandoned, and primitive habits and modes of thought still flourish. Investigators sent out by the bureau are required to note the details of the every-day life of the Indians, and to describe such of their primitive arts as still survive as well as those that are borrowed from civilization and modified in accordance with the Indian ideas. Especial attention has been paid to their mechanical operations and appliances, particularly to the making of pottery and textile fabrics, to the ideas and methods of medicinal practice, etc. Here, again, photography has done good work in retaining, uninfluenced by a writer's subsequent imagination, the exact method of using the different implements and materials. Very large collections of pottery, clothing, and implements of various sorts have been made and are deposited in the National Museum.

Of the publications of the bureau the annual reports consist of an account of the current year's operations by the director, together with papers upon a variety of topics by the bureau assistants and by collaborators. These reports are usually liberally illustrated, and are intended to include subjects of a popular character, or those which from their nature are likely to interest a large class of readers. Up to the present time four volumes of the reports have appeared, and the matter for Vol. V is ready.

The contributions to North American ethnology are quarto volumes appearing at irregular intervals, and are in the nature of monographs upon special subjects, to which many of the papers in the annual reports are preliminary. They constitute the most important series published by the bureau, and contain the ripened studies of the scholars by whom they were written. Of these, three volumes have appeared, and two are ready for the press. A third class of publications embraces the bulletins which are intended to be the vehicle of publication of short articles upon various subjects, the speedy appearance of which is desired. So far five such bulletins have been published.

During the progress of investigations, which are ultimately to be published in the form of monographs, it is the custom to issue, as widely as occasion requires, circulars intended to call attention to special subjects being investigated, and to invite correspondence and to elicit information from specialists and investigators in all parts of the world. Occasionally the importance of the subject has warranted the issuance of such documents in the form designed for the finished work, with the view of setting forth the facts gathered and the progress made in the study. The latter publications, however, are looked upon only in the nature of proof-sheets, being intended for the temporary use of collaborators, and are to be recalled and destroyed when the final reports are published.

The Army Medical Museum.—The anthropological investigations which are fostered by this institution are on the biological side. The large collections of skeletons, and especially of crania, make it possible to secure valuable data in anthropometry. Drs. Billings and Matthews have been alive to the richness of the material at their disposal, and their studies in skull measurements and composite photography of crania will be among the most valuable contributions of the United States Government to anthropology.

It is not surprising that with the large number of anthropologists, together with such other students as the public and private institutions at Washington contain, a prosperous Anthropological Society should be in operation. This society, organized in 1879, now has an active membership of sixteen hundred. Of the two hundred and more papers that have been presented, more than half were by persons who were in the institutions already described. Four volumes of "Transactions" have been published, and the society is now issuing a quarterly of ninety-six pages.

The following are the titles of the principal papers in the publications of the Bureau of Ethnology:


Vol. I, Washington, 1881:

1. "On the Evolution of Language," by J. W. Powell.
2. "Sketch of the Mythology of the North American Indians," by J. W. Powell.
3. "Contribution to the Study of the Mortuary Customs of the North American Indians," by Dr. H. O. Yarrow.
4. "Studies in Central American Picture-Writing," by E. S. Holden.
5. "Cessions of Land by Indian Tribes to the United States," by C. C. Royce.
6. "Sign-Language among North American Indians compared with that among other Peoples and Deaf-Mutes," by Garrick Mallery.

Vol. II, 1883:

1. "Zuñi Fetiches," by F. H. Cushing.
2. "Myths of the Iroquois," by E. A. Smith.

3. "Animal Carvings from Mounds of the Mississippi Valley," by H. W. Henshaw.
4. "Navajo Silversmiths," by Dr. W. Matthews.
5. "Art in Shell of the Ancient Americans," by W. H. Holmes.

Vol. III, 1888:

1. "Notes on Certain Maya and Mexican Manuscripts," by Cyrus Thomas. 2. "Masks, Labrets, and Certain Aboriginal Customs," by W. H. Dall.
3. "Omaha Sociology," by J. O. Dorsey.
4. "Navajo Weavers," by Dr. W. Matthews.
5. "Prehistoric Textile Fabrics of the United States derived from Impressions on Pottery," by W. H. Holmes.

Vol. IV, 1886:

1. "Pictographs of the North American Indians: a Preliminary Paper," by Garrick Mallery.
2. "Pottery of the Ancient Pueblos," by W. H. Holmes.
3. "Ancient Pottery of the Mississippi Valley," by W. H. Holmes.
4. "Origin and Development of Form and Ornament in Ceramic Art," by W. H. Holmes.
5. "A Study of Pueblo Pottery as illustrating Zuñi Culture-Growth," by F. H. Gushing.

Vol. V, 1887:

1. "Burial Mounds of the Northern Section of the United States," by Cyrus Thomas.
2. "The Cherokee Nation of Indians," by C. C. Royce.
3. "The Mountain Chant; a Navajo Ceremony," by Dr. W. Matthews.
4. "The Seminole Indians of Florida," by Clay Maccauley.
5. "The Religious Life of the Zuñi Child," by Mrs. T. E. Stevenson.


Vol. I, Washington, 1877:

1. "Tribes of the Extreme Northwest," by W. H. Dall.
2. "Tribes of Western Washington Territory and Northwestern Oregon," by George Gibba.

Vol. II. Not published.

Vol. III, 1877:

"Tribes of California," by Stephen Powers, with an Appendix on Linguistics, by J. W. Powell.

Vol. IV, pp. xi-281, Washington, 1881.

"Houses and House-Life of the American Aborigines," by Lewis Morgan.

Vol. V, 1882:

1. "Observations on Cup-shaped and other Lapidarian Sculpture in the Old World and in America," by C. Rau.
2. "On Prehistoric Trephining and Cranial Amulets," by Robert Fletcher.
3. "A Study of the Manuscript Troano," by Cyrus Thomas.


1. "Ancient Inhabitants of Chiriqui, Isthmus of Darien," by W. H. Holmes. Pp. 27, 22 cuts. Washington, 1887.

2. "Work in Mound Exploration of the Bureau of Ethnology," by Cyrus Thomas. Pp. 13. Washington, 1887.

3. "Perforated Stones from California," by H. W. Henshaw, Pp. 34, 16 cuts. Washington, 1887.
4. "Bibliography of the Eskimo Language," by J. C. Pilling. Pp. v-115. Washington, 1887.
5. "Bibliography of the Siouan Language," by J. C. Pilling. Pp. v-87. Washington, 1887.
6. "Indian Textile Fabrics of Ancient Peru," by W. H. Holmes.
7. "Problems of the Ohio Mounds," by Cyrus Thomas.
8. "Bibliography of the Iroquoian Language," by J. C. Pilling.

The three by J. C. Pilling are separate and extended parts of a work which Mr. Pilling first published as proof-sheets of a "Bibliography of the Languages of the North American Indians."