The New International Encyclopædia/Indians, American

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INDIANS, American. The name applied first by Columbus and his immediate successors to the natives of the newly discovered islands and mainland of America, under the mistaken impression that these regions were a part of the outlying coast of Asia. The name most frequently used by scientific writers, especially in Europe, is simply American, while the term Amerind has recently been suggested as a substitute. Recent authorities class the Eskimo with the yellow rather than with the red races; the reader will find them treated under Eskimo.

Granting the existence of a group of characteristic races which may be termed American, the problem of their origin remains unsolved. It is almost certain that no common origin for all of them can be assumed, but that various sources of population and centres of dispersion must be considered. Failing accurate knowledge of the geological conditions existing in earlier epochs, the most probable sources of immigration were Asia by way of the northwest coast of North America, Europe by way of Greenland, and the general region of Polynesia by way of South America. There are correspondences in physical types and cultures which tend to support particularly the idea of Asiatic and Polynesian relations. However, the theory of the Americas as an independent centre of origin has much in its favor, and must be taken into account. For example, the Eskimo, who form a strikingly homogeneous group wherever found, would appear from the evidence to have occupied, in former times, the territory in the neighborhood of Hudson Bay, and to have spread from that focus north and east and west, following the Arctic coastline, and it is unquestioned that the Asiatic group of Eskimo is of American origin. In short, the problem is complex and deals with a very remote period, which prevents satisfactory treatment. The most popular explanation is, of course, that of Asiatic origin, based upon the striking similarities in type and culture which are evident to even superficial observation. It must be remembered, however, that any relation is mutual, and it is quite as easy to argue for an Asiatic origin from America as for an American from Asia.

A striking characteristic of the race is the marked uniformity of physical type throughout the two continents of North and South America. In general the color is brown, frequently with reddish tint, light in some tribes and dark in others. The hair is glossy black, either straight or slightly wavy, and baldness is almost unknown. The beard is usually scanty, and is seldom allowed to grow, although a light mustache is somewhat common. The check-bones are prominent; the nose usually good, and in some tribes strongly aquiline; the eyes dark and apparently small, from being held less open than in the white man. In cubical brain capacity and structural development the Indian holds a middle place between the white man and the negro. In mental capacity, physical strength and endurance, as well as in vital force to resist or overcome disease, he is far below the white man.


Dress. As became tribes largely made up of hunters, the dress was generally of skins, so fashioned as to combine the greatest protective warmth with the least incumbrance of weight. From the Arctic Circle to the Rio Grande or farther, except in California and the adjacent region, the native dress was usually of buckskin, consisting, for the men, of a shirt, G-string, or breech-cloth, leggings, and moccasins, and for the women, of a short-sleeved tunic, waist-cloth or apron, belt for knife and sewing-awl, with leggings and moccasins, generally made in one piece. The warrior's shirt was frequently fringed with scalp-locks. In cold weather and on ceremonial occasions a decorated robe was worn, while in warm weather or when engaged in active exertion the men were usually stripped to the G-string. The young children went entirely naked in warm weather. Among the plains tribes the investiture of a boy with the G-string occurred when he was about ten years old, and was an occasion of good-natured rejoicing in the family, as indicating that he was now considered old enough to accompany his older relatives on hunting or war expeditions. The Gulf tribes and those of the Southwest wore turbans of bright-colored woven stuff; but elsewhere, except in the extreme North, the head was usually bare. Some tribes west of the Rockies went practically naked. On the northwest coast the woman's dress was often of bark fibre. The Eastern moccasin was made in one piece; the plains moccasin had a separate sole of rawhide.

East of the Mississippi the men usually shaved the whole head, excepting for a crest along the top and a long scalp-lock plaited and decorated with various trinkets. This scalp-lock, the prize and trophy of the victor in battle, was universal east of the Rocky Moimtains, and over a great part of the country westward, but seems to have been unknown in California. On the plains the men generally wore their hair its full length, in two long braids hanging down over the shoulders in front, with the scalp-lock behind. The Osage and Pawnee shaved the head, excepting the scalp-lock, while the Wichita and Apache let the hair flow loosely down the back. The Pueblo, Piute, and most of the California tribes usually wore it cut off in front above the eyes and at the shoulder-level behind. The Navaho bunched it into club shape. Women usually wore it flowing loosely. Those of the Sioux and Cheyenne wore it neatly braided at the sides. The Pueblo women cut it off at the shoulders and rolled it at the sides, while among the Hopi the unmarried women were distinguished by an extraordinary butterfly arrangement of the hair on each side of the head.

Head-flattening was practiced by the Choctaw and some of the Carolina tribes, and throughout most of the Columbia region. Labrets of bone were used by many tribes of the northwest coast. Nose pendants were common with a few tribes (hence the Nez Percé), while ear pendants with both sexes were almost universal. Tattooing was widespread, reaching its highest development among the Haida and others of the northwest coast, and the Wichita of the southern plains. Excepting with the tattooed tribes, painting was an essential part of full dress, colors and designs varying according to the occasion or the particular “medicine” of the individual.

Necklaces of shells, turquoise, mussel pearls, or, among the Navaho, of silver beads, were worn, with breastplates and gorgets of shell or bone and bracelets of copper wire. Feathers and small objects supposed to have a mysterious protecting influence were worn in the hair, and the dress itself was profusely decorated with shell heads, elk-teeth, porcupine-quills, antelope-hoofs, and similar trinkets.

Dwellings and House-Building. North of the Pueblo region the general house plan may be described as circular. Among the Haida and others of the Alaskan coast, and extending down to the Columbia, the prevailing type was of boards, painted with symbolic designs and with the famous heraldic totem-poles, carved from cedar-trunks, standing at the entrance. Along the Columbia were found great communal houses. California had several distinct types, of which the dug-out and the dome-shaped clay-built house, entered from the top, were perhaps most common. The Piute, Apache, Papago, and others of Nevada and Arizona had the wikiup, an elliptical structure covered with reed mats or grass. The Navaho hogân was a circular house of logs, covered with earth, and entered through a short passageway. The square-built stone or adobe dwelling of the Pueblo marked the northern limit of the Mexican culture area. These pueblos, as they were called by the Spaniards, were aggregations of continuous rooms occupied by different families, so that the whole village sometimes consisted of but a single house, sometimes several stories in height. The roofs were flat, a projection of the lower wall within the room served for seats and beds, and the fireplace was in one corner, instead of in the centre, as was almost universal elsewhere. For better security against the wild tribes, the outer walls of the lower story were often without doors or windows, entrance being gained through trap-doors in the roof by means of ladders, which were pulled up at night. For the same reason, many of the pueblos, especially in ancient times, were placed upon high mesas, or on shelves on the sides of almost inaccessible cliffs, whence the name ‘cliff-dwellers.’ The prevailing type on the plains was the conical skin tipi (a word of Sioux origin), no other being so easily portable and so well adapted to withstand the violent winds of the treeless prairies. The Pawnee, Arikara, Mandan, and one or two other tribes living close along the Missouri River built earth-covered log houses, somewhat like those of the Navaho, but much larger. The Wichita in the south built stationary houses of grass thatch laid over poles. About the upper lakes was found the bark-covered tipi, while east and southeast was the wigwam, a rectangular structure of stout poles, overlaid with bark or mats of woven rushes, and in general form closely resembling a rounded wagon top. Among the Iroquois it became the communal ‘long house.’ In the Gulf States were found houses, either rectangular or circular, of upright logs plastered over with clay.

The Pueblo villages had underground kivas, or public rooms, where the men of the various secret orders made their preparations for the great ceremonials. It corresponded somewhat to the medicine lodge of the plains tribes, built of green cottonwood branches for the celebration of their annual sun-dance, while among the Gulf tribes its place was supplied by the circular log ‘town house.’ Some of the Eastern and Southern tribes had also dead-houses, temples, and public granaries. In general, an Indian village was a scattering settlement, but with many of the Eastern tribes the more important towns were compactly built and strongly stockaded.

Food, Agriculture, Hunting, Fishing. Excepting on the plains and in the frozen north, agriculture was the chief dependence of most of the tribes. Those on the coast, including the Haida, were naturally fishermen. Those of the upper lakes and about the head of the Mississippi planted little, but gathered large quantities of wild rice and cranberries, besides sugar which they boiled from the sap of the maple. The equestrian plains tribes, excepting the corn-planting Pawnee and Arikara, were hunters pure and simple. Those of the Columbia were salmon-fishers, root-diggers, and berry-gatherers. Those of California and the Sierras were chiefly acorn and seed eaters. The Navaho, since the Spanish mission period, have lived principally by the flesh of their sheep and goats, while the predatory Apaches were expert in preparing the edible roots and petals of various desert plants. The Pueblos may be considered as purely agricultural, raising large quantities of corn, beans, squashes, and other vegetables, as well as chile and native tobacco. The tobacco was also cultivated by the Arikara and others of the upper Missouri, and by most of the Eastern tribes. Wild plums, pecans, mesquite beans, the tubers of the pomme blanche, and the seed-berries of the wild rose, were gathered and eaten by the buffalo-hunting tribes of the plains. Agriculture furnished more than half the food supply of the Iroquois, the Atlantic coast and Gulf tribes, corn standing first in importance. In the arid Southwest irrigation was essential to success, and the Indians were skillful in utilizing the scanty water-supply in this manner.

Almost every animal of the plains and forest was hunted for its flesh, skin, horns, teeth, or sinew. On the plains the great game animal was the buffalo, after which came the elk, deer, and antelope. Very few Indians of this region ate the meat of birds or fish, although not averse to eating the horse or dog, while the Navaho and Apache refused to eat or even touch the bear, for some occult religious reason, and had an almost equal horror of fish. The Eastern Indians used fish, flesh, and fowl indiscriminately, only being careful not to put two kinds into the same pot. Salt procured from natural deposits or by boiling the water of saline springs was in general use on the plains and in the Southwest, as well as among some tribes of the Ohio Valley. In the Gulf States lye was used as a substitute.

Domesticated Animals. The horse and dog appear to have been the only animals regularly domesticated, although various birds were sometimes kept in confinement for the sake of the feathers, or possibly in some cases for their flesh. The Indian pony is commonly supposed to have descended from animals brought over by the Spanish conquerors; but some of the Western tribes stoutly assert that the horse was theirs long before the white man ever came. However that may be, it is now so much a part of the religious ceremonial, and daily life of the plains tribes that it is difficult to imagine a time when they were without it. Dogs frequently took the place of horses as light-burden carriers, and were likewise esteemed a choice article of food. The Caddo are said by other Indians to have trained their dogs to follow the trail of raiding enemies, possibly a trick learned from association with the French. The animal's main usefulness was as a vigilant sentry. From animals originally introduced by the Spanish Franciscans over two centuries ago, the Navaho now have more than 400,000 sheep and goats, from the wool and flesh of which they derive almost their whole subsistence.

Industries and Arts. Aside from his food-procuring occupations, the Indian had quite a number of industries and arts, both economic and æsthetic. Having only accidental knowledge of any metal but native copper, his tools were made of stone, bone, shell, or wood.

From stone he fashioned his knife, hammer, axe, spearhead, and arrow-point, as well as his pipe and gaming disk. Flint was the material commonly used for cutting tools in the East and obsidian in the West. Pipes were of great variety and sometimes of great beauty, being one of the most important adjuncts of ceremonial functions. The Navaho and Pueblos were expert in drilling turquoise for necklaces and ear-pendants. The black slate carving of the Haida and other northwest coast tribes is probably not excelled by any primitive people. Pots, bowls, mortars, and pestles were also fashioned from stone. Arrowheads, knives, skin-dressers, sewing-awls, and fishing-hooks were frequently made from bone. Shells were also shaped into cutting tools, but were in more constant demand for gorgets and for the celebrated wampum beads, which were in universal use in the East for dress ornamentation and for weaving into record belts. The Eskimo and Aleut were expert carvers in walrus ivory, depicting whole hunting scenes upon a single tusk, with great beauty of execution. Mortars, bowls, clubs, masks, and sacred images for ceremonial occasions were made of wood. The Pueblos carved wooden figurines to represent their traditional mythologic characters, and distributed them to the children as dolls at their symbolic dances. Besides the immense carved totem-poles, the northwest coast tribes hewed great canoes from cedar-trunks, always painted and carved in characteristic style. The wooilen dug-out canoe of the Atlantic tribes was a similar affair.

The Indian woman was a capable skin-dresser. Sinew was used for thread, and certain women were professionals in the work of cutting and fitting. Among the Pueblos and Navaho weaving had reached a high state of development, the material used having been originally a native cotton, and later wool. The art of feather-weaving was found with the Gulf tribes, while everywhere east of the Mississippi beautiful mats were woven from grass and rushes and stained in bright colors from native dyes. (See Blanket.) Basketry was found almost everywhere except upon the plains, where rawhide boxes formed a substitute. The materials used were wood or cane splits, rushes, maguey fibre, and grass. The art reached its highest development in California, the Pomo baskets being unrivaled in any part of the world for closeness of weaving, intricacy of design, and beauty of shape and decoration. (See Basket.) Akin to weaving and basketry was the art of decoration with beads and porcupine-quills, the most beautiful specimens being the cradles and colored sashes, on some of which months of labor were expended. Pottery was made by all the sedentary and semi-sedentary tribes of the Eastern timber region and the Southwest, the coil process being everywhere used. In the East the vessel was usually decorated with stamped patterns. Among the Pueblos and adjacent tribes figures in various colors were painted upon the smooth exterior and afterwards fixed in the firing process. Almost without exception the potter, basket-maker, weaver, and skin-dresser was a woman. The only metal really in use north of Mexico at the time of the discovery appears to have been copper, which was obtained native in small quantities in the Southern Alleghanies and in greater quantities from mines along the shores of Lake Superior. It was not smelted, but hammered into a great variety of useful and ornamental objects which passed from tribe to tribe in regular trade. Mica was quarried in western North Carolina for use in mirrors and gorgets, and beads and other small objects hammered out from gold nuggets or meteoric iron have been found in some of the Southern mounds. In the Southwest the Navaho have learned the smelting and forging arts from the Mexicans, and have now many expert silver-workers and blacksmiths, making beads, buttons, wrist-guards, rings, and belts from silver coins which they melt and shape in forges and molds of their own construction.

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War. As in the tribal stage warfare is the chronic condition, so to the Indian war was the chief glory, scorn of death the highest virtue, and cowardice the greatest crime. Among extreme Northern tribes the principal weapons were the knife, club, and lance. To these were added farther south the bow and arrow, and the hatchet or tomahawk. The bow and arrow were practically universal, but the lance and shield as a rule were used only by the equestrian tribes of the open plains and the desert Southwest, the timber people finding them a hindrance to active movement. Aside from the shield, defensive armor was not commonly used, excepting among tribes of the Alaskan coast, who had protective cuirasses of ivory plates, wooden slats, or of a very tough hide. The bow was selected wood, frequently reënforced with sinew along its entire length, and strung with a sinew cord. The Gulf tribes had also blowguns of cane for hunting. The club was of stone or wood, in the latter case being sometimes supplemented with a piercing blade of flint or iron. The shield of the plains warrior was of the toughest buffalo-hide, cut and decorated according to the spirit dream of the maker, and given to the recipient under the most solemn vows of lifelong tabus and sacred obligations.

In some tribes the direction of all that pertained to war belonged by hereditary right to certain clans or towns. Thus among the Creeks the privilege belonged to the people of the so-called ‘red towns,’ while on the other hand the ‘white towns’ had sole direction of peace negotiations. The prairie warriors had military orders with different degrees, the member being advanced from one to another by gradual steps. Thus the Kiowa had six orders, beginning with the ‘Rabbits’ or boys in training, and ending with a select body of ten tried and veteran warriors.

Service in any particular expedition was entirely a matter of individual choice, and the authority of the leader rested solely upon the voluntary obedience of his followers. On the plains the invitation was usually given by sending around a war-pipe, which every volunteer was expected to smoke. The going and the home-coming were attended with numerous ceremonies, and a successful campaign was celebrated with the scalp-dance, in which the women carried the captured scalps and sang the praises of the victors.

Indiscriminate massacre was the ordinary rule; but prisoners were frequently taken, either for torture, slavery, or adoption into the tribe. In the East the decision of the prisoner's fate was usually left to the women. If adopted, he was taken into a family and became thenceforth a full member of the tribe. If condemned to death, he met his fate with all the courage of his Indian training. On the plains captives were seldom tortured, but were more often taken into the tribe, being rarely, however, so completely admitted to membership as in the East. Along the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California regular slavery existed. The practice of scalping the slain enemy was probably universal north of Mexico, excepting among certain tribes of California, the scalp being kept as a trophy or offered in sacrifice to some tribal medicine. It was not, however, the only or even the chief evidence of the warrior's courage. His standing depended upon the number of his coups or brave deeds against the enemy, of which careful record was kept in the tribe. A man was entitled to ‘count coup’ (French, a stroke) not only for killing or scalping an enemy, but also for being the first to touch an enemy in the charge, for rescuing a disabled comrade, or for stealing a horse from a hostile camp. Thus three warriors might count coup upon a single slain enemy—viz. the one who killed him, the one who first touched the body with his coup-stick or weapon, and the one who secured the scalp. In many tribes it was customary to feast upon the flesh of one of the slain enemy after a notable victory.

Amusements. The leisure of the Indian was taken up with athletic contests, games, dances, feasts, and story-telling. The ball-play was the chief athletic game everywhere east of the plains, as well as among some tribes of the Pacific Coast, the ball being handled with netted sticks somewhat resembling tennis rackets. From this game are derived the lacrosse and racquet of Canada and Louisiana. Next in importance in the East was the game known to the old traders as chunkee, played with a circular stone disk or wheel, and a pole curved at one end in the fashion of a shepherd's crook. The wheel was rolled by one of the contestants, while the other tried to slide the stick after it in such a way that the wheel would lie within the crook when both came to a stop. The plains tribes had a very similar game in which a netted wheel took the place of the stone disk. Foot-racing was common among the agricultural tribes, and horse-racing on the plains. The Wichitas had grand ceremonial races in which every person old enough to run participated. Dice games were universal.

A favorite pastime of the plains women was the awl game, played with marked sticks which were thrown down upon a stone set in the middle of a blanket, tally being kept by advancing an awl along certain marks around the margin of the blanket. Shinny and football were also played by the women. Hunt-the-button games were played within the tepee during the long winter nights, the players accompanying the movements of the hands with songs intended to distract the attention of the other side. Games of divination were also found among many tribes.

Dances, frequently preceded by purification rites and usually followed by feasting, were either social or ceremonial, and of great variety. Many were pantomimic, the performers wearing masks or other costumes intended to symbolize various animals or mythic characters, whose cries and actions they imitated.

Musical instruments were the drum, flageolet or flute, eagle-bone whistle, rattles of various kinds, and even a notched stick rubbed in saw fashion with one end resting upon a gourd for a sounding-board. The rattle was most commonly used in doctor's incantations and in the peyote ceremony, the whistle in the sun dance, and the flute to accompany the songs of the young men while riding about at night. There were songs for every occasion, lullaby, work, love, gaming, medicine, war, and ceremonials.

Religion and Mythology. To the Indian every animal, plant, and object of nature was animated by a spirit, beneficent or otherwise, according as it was propitiated or offended. Certain of these were regarded as especially powerful or active, as the sun, fire, and water among the elemental gods, the buffalo, eagle, and rattlesnake among the animals, and the cedar, cottonwood, corn, tobacco, and peyote among plants. The number four was peculiarly sacred, as having reference to the cardinal points. Colors had symbolic meanings, and sometimes also sex and local abiding-places. Thus with the Cherokee the red gods of victory lived in the Sunland or east, while the blue spirits of disaster dwelt in the north. Spirits were propitiated and implored with prayer, sacrifice, vigil, and fasting, and the purificatory sweat bath usually preceded every important ceremony. There was no overruling ‘Great Spirit,’ excepting as certain gods were of more frequent importance than others. Among the plains Indians the spirit buffalo was all-important, while with the agricultural tribes the rain-gods took precedence. The sun and its earthly representative, fire, were everywhere venerated. Certain tribes had tribal ‘medicine’ or palladiums, with which the nation's prosperity was supposed to be bound up and around which centred their most elaborate ceremonial. Thus the Kiowa had their Taime image of stone, the Cheyenne their sacred arrows, the Omaha their great shell. Each man had also his own secret personal medicine.

The priest was also a doctor, medicine and religion being so inseparably connected in Indian idea that there was usually but one word to designate both. The priests were frequently organized into cult societies, and there were also brotherhoods bound together by certain secret rites. Great stress was laid upon dreams and sacrifice. Among the Pawnee, in former times, a captive girl was annually sacrificed to the goddess of fertility. The cannibalistic practices of the Eastern tribes after a victory, and the cannibal feasts of the Northwest coast, in which a slave was the usual victim, were also more or less sacrificial in motive. With these exceptions human sacrifice was rare, such bloody rites as those of the Aztecs being unknown in the North. There were special ceremonies for girls at puberty, and for young men on first taking rank with the warriors. Among the great religious ceremonials may be noted the green-corn dance of thanksgiving for the new crops, among the Eastern tribes; the sun dance and the more recent ghost dance of the plains tribes; the salmon dance of the Columbia region, and the celebrated snake dance of the Hopi of Arizona. To these may be added the peyote cult of the Southern plains. Tribal religions were sometimes subject to revival or revolution as new prophets arose from time to time. Thus the religion of the ghost dance, which has practically superseded the old beliefs and ceremonial forms of the plains tribes, had its origin in Nevada about fifteen years ago.

Each tribe had its genesis tradition and its culture hero—usually a great trickster and frequently an anthropomorphic animal—together with giants, dwarfs, fairies, witches, and various monsters, as well as animal tribes and chiefs, concerning all of whom there was a great deal of myth and folk-lore. Certain stories must be told only in winter, and others only at night, in order not to offend the chief personages concerned.

Social Organization. Government was based upon the gentile or clan system everywhere excepting among certain tribes of the plains and the Pacific region, notably the Kiowa and Klamath. Under this system the tribe was organized into certain clans or gentes, the members of each clan being considered as so closely related to each other that intermarriage within the clan was forbidden. Children usually belonged to the mother's clan and descent was in the female line. Chiefship and certain civil and religious functions inhered in particular clans. Captives or other aliens must be adopted into a family and clan in order to become members of the tribe. These clans were commonly known by the name of some class of animals, e.g. bear, beaver, wolf, etc.; more rarely by plant or other designations. In other words, the clan was distinguished by a totem, as it is now universally called, and the totemic practices were inseparably tied up with their religious rituals and social organization. See Totemism.

Among the plains tribes generally the clan system was either absent or quiescent, the unit being the band, each band having its own appointed place in the camping circle at the great tribal gatherings, as for instance the annual sun dance.

In exceptional cases tribes combined into confederacies, sometimes accidental and temporary, at other times built up in steady pursuance of a definite policy, as among the Iroquois and Creeks.

Land was the common property of the clan, tribe, or confederacy, excepting in certain tribes of California and the northwest coast, where it is asserted that individual ownership existed. Game, timber, and other natural products were also free, and hospitality was so much a cardinal virtue that it might almost be said that everything which was not hedged in by some sacred tabu was common property within the tribe and might be had for the asking, or without it if there seemed need. While this system almost eliminated the individual pauper, it killed ambition and hindered advancement by making it impossible for any man to rise far above the general level. Accumulation was impossible, and even what property he might possess was usually destroyed at his death. The niggard was rated with the coward, and in some tribes a man rose to the highest rank of distinction by giving away all that he owned. Along the Lower Columbia and the northwest coast this public surrender of the savings of a lifetime was a recognized tribal custom known as the pot latch.

Slavery was a regular institution on the Pacific Coast from Alaska to California, the slaves being prisoners of war, their children and descendants, who thus constituted a permanent slave caste within the tribe, condemned to hard labor, harsh treatment, sale, or death at the will of their masters. Slavery of a milder type seems to have existed among the South Atlantic tribes. In more modern times the Southern Indians followed the example of the colonists, and became the owners of negro slaves.

Numerous societies existed for various purposes, military, religious, and social. The plains tribes had a custom by which two young men mutually agreed to become partners or ‘friends’ through life, the compact being sometimes ratified by a public exchange of names.

Woman, while subject to her husband in ordinary affairs and debarred from certain societies and ceremonies, had yet well-defined rights of her own. She was complete mistress in household affairs, and among the Eastern tribes had either a voice or a representation in councils. With the Iroquois all important questions must be passed upon by a council of the women, who alone had power to declare war. The right of adoption, which meant the decision of a captive's fate, rested also with the women. In general her position was highest in the agricultural tribes. In the division of labor most of the heavy work fell to her share, while the dangerous and arduous undertakings belonged to the man. Polygamy was recognized in most of the tribes excepting the Pueblos.

Burial. The method of disposing of the dead varied with the tribe and environment, inhumation being most common. Some tribes, as the Choctaw and Nanticoke, dug up the corpse after the flesh had had time to decay, and carefully cleaned the bones, to be kept thenceforth in a box in the cabin or deposited in a tribal ossuary. Some of the South Atlantic tribes preserved the mummified bodies in dead-houses. The Hurons exposed the bodies on scaffolds until the annual ‘Feast of the Dead,’ when all the bones were interred in a common sepulchre. Many of the smaller Eastern mounds were evidently built for sepulchral purposes. The Northern plains tribes usually deposited the bodies in trees or upon scaffolds. The Kiowa buried in the rocks. The Aleut of Alaska doubled the body into a compact bundle and laid it away in a sitting posture in a cave. Southward along the coast canoe burial was common. The Piute, Mohave, and others of the lower Colorado region practiced cremation.

Everywhere it was customary to bury or otherwise destroy the property of the deceased at the time of the funeral, and in many Eastern tribes food was placed beside the grave and a fire kept burning for four successive nights, the period supposed to be occupied by the soul in its journey to the land of shades. Laceration of the body and cutting off of the hair on such occasions was very common, especially on the plains, with wailing of the relatives for several weeks thereafter.

Language. The first attempt at classifying the North American languages was made by Albert Gallatin in 1836, the relationships being established chiefly by a comparison of word roots. The beginning of regular systematic research dates from the establishment of the Bureau of Ethnology, under Major J. W. Powell, in 1879. The number of linguistic stocks north of Mexico, as at present recognized by the bureau, is 57, as given below, but it is probable that more extended study will reduce this number by disclosing affinities as yet undiscovered.

Algonquian   Keresan   Shoshonean
Athapascan Kiowan Siouan
Attacapan Kitunahan Skittagetan
Beothukan Koluschan Takilman
Caddoan Kulanapan Tañoan
Chimakuan Kusan Timuquanan
Chimarikan Lutuamian Tonikan
Chimmesyan Mariposan Tonkawan
Chinookan Moquelumnan Uchean
Chitimachan Muskhogean Waiilatpuan
Chumashan Natchesan Wakashan
Coahuiltecan Palaihnihan Washoan
Copehan Piman Weitspekan
Costañoan Pujunan Wishoskan
Eskimauan Quoratean Yakonan
Esselenian Salinan Yanan
Iroquoian Salishan Yukian
Kalapooian Sastean Yuman
Karankawan Shahaptian Zuñian

The necessity for some common means of intercommunication was supplied by trade jargons, chief of which were the “Mobilian language,” and the Chinook jargon, and by the sign language on the plains. Some tribes had made fairly successful attempts at recording their history and mythic traditions by means of pictographs. Of these the best-known are the Walam Olum of the Delaware, and the Kiowa calendars. Intertribal compacts were commemorated among the Eastern tribes by means of symbolic wampum belts. The Cherokee alone had a literature recorded in an alphabet of their own invention.

Population. The theory of a former large Indian population has been found to be erroneous, but on the other hand the frequent assertion that the Indian has held his own, or is even increasing, is equally incorrect. It must be remembered that the Indian of the discovery was a full-blood, while the officially recognized Indian of to-day may be full-blood, mixed-blood, white man, or negro.

The population varied according to the district, being naturally greatest along the coast, and in rich agricultural regions where the means of subsistence were most abundant. The best summarizing of trustworthy early writers would seem to make the original Indian population east of the Mississippi about 200,000. Beyond this we have no reliable data for any large area, although it may be noted that so careful an observer as Powers estimates the Indian population of California just before the gold discovery to have been greater than that of all the rest of the United States together. Some examples may serve to show the terrible decrease in almost every section since the advent of the white man, taking only tribes still in existence, and making no account of tribes and whole linguistic stocks which have utterly disappeared.

In 1701 Lawson crossed the Carolinas from Charleston to Albemarle Sound, meeting in his journey sixteen different tribes. Of these only two have any representatives to-day, viz. the Tuscarora and Catawba. The Tuscarora at that time were estimated at 1200 warriors. They number to-day, all told, perhaps 700, of whom probably not one-fourth could make a valid claim to pure blood. The Catawba, who about the first settlement of Carolina had 1500 warriors, were reduced by 1743 to 400 warriors, in 1775 to about 100 warriors, and now number altogether about 100 souls, of whom hardly a dozen are of pure blood. Furthermore, the Catawba themselves in 1743 represented all that were left of more than twenty broken tribes.

The tribes of the ancient Iroquois league, with the larger tribes of the Gulf States, the latter now constituting the five civilized tribes of the Indian Territory, seem to form exceptions to the general history of aboriginal extermination, their numbers now being apparently as great as at any previous era. The figures are deceptive, however, for the reason that an overwhelming majority of those now so enrolled are mixed-bloods—sometimes with but an infinitesimal proportion of Indian blood—adopted whites, negroes, or Indians of other tribes. Thus in 1890 the so-called ‘Cherokee Nation’ of 27,000 souls included 2000 adopted whites, 3000 adopted negroes, and about 1500 Indians of other tribes, while those of full Cherokee blood were estimated at not more than one-fifth of the remainder. Since then the rolls have been swelled by the compulsory admission of some 7000 claimants repeatedly repudiated by the tribal Government.

On the plains the decrease has been appalling. The confederated Mandan, Minitarí, and Arikara in 1804 numbered nearly 8000 souls in eight villages. In 1900 they were 110 in one village. The Osage and Kaw at the previous date were estimated on good authority at 6300 and 1380 respectively. In 1900 they numbered 1781 and 217, including all mixed-bloods. The Pawnee numbered over 12,000 in 1834, 8400 in 1847, 3416 in 1861, 1440 in 1879, and 650 in 1900. The Tonkawa were estimated at 1000 in 1805, 700 in 1849, counted 314 in 1861, 108 in 1882, and now number but 51. The confederated Kiowa, Comanche, and Apache have decreased over 10 per cent. since 1890. The Navaho and Hopi, who as yet have remained almost undisturbed, seem to hold their own, but in California the native population has been almost wiped out. All that remain of some twenty tribes of the Oregon coast are now gathered upon Siletz reservation to the number of 482 in 1900, with the record for the year of 22 births and 31 deaths. On the North Pacific coast the Aleuts have dwindled within a century from an estimated 25,000 to a present 2000. The celebrated Haida, with 39 villages and 7000 souls in 1840, are now reduced to two villages with a population of but 600.

The chief destruction has been from changed conditions, new diseases and dissipation introduced by the white man. The present Indian population north of Mexico, according to the best official estimates, is approximately as follows: United States proper, 200,000; British America, 100,000; Alaska, 20,000; or a total considerably under 400,000 souls.


The tribes of Mexico and Central America exhibited every stage of culture from the brutish Cochimí and savage Seri to the civilized Maya, Tarasco, or Aztec, with their highly developed agriculture, architecture, and literature. From the Rio Grande to Panama some thirty linguistic stocks were represented, besides the Arawakan and Cariban tribes of the West Indies. From traditional and other evidence nearly all of the more important tribes of Mexico and Guatemala, including those of Piman, Nahuatlan, and Mayan stock, appear to have migrated from the north. The Otomí and Chinantec, however, appear to have antedated this movement and may properly be considered indigenous. There are shadowy traditions of earlier cultivated races, the Ulmec and Toltec, from whom the ruder Aztec acquired their first civilization, but it is difficult to decide whether these names belong to the domain of history or of myth. The roving tribes of the northern frontier seem to have been akin to the Apache, but have now so completely disappeared that even their affinity is not certainly established. The Comanche and Kiowa, as well as the Apache, made constant inroads from the north, penetrating as far down as Zacatecas. The destruction of the peaceable Carrizo tribes of the lower Rio Grande is chiefly due to these raids.

The tribes of the California peninsula, apparently of Yuman stock, were among the lowest of the human race, possessing every beastly instinct without even the savage virtue of bravery. The Seri of Tiburon Island in the adjacent gulf were but slightly better in the scale, but earned respect by their determined defense of their territory against all intruders. Their southern neighbors, the Yaqui, were as much noted for their fighting qualities as for their superior industry and reliability. The Tarumari and other Piman tribes of the Sierra Madre, as far south as Jalisco, differ but little in general habit of life from the northern Pueblos. Physically they are dark and rather undersized. The Otomi of the central plateau were but little inferior in culture to the Aztec, by whom they had been subjected. The Chichimec of the same region, so long the subject of ethnologic conjecture, are now known to have been a definite people of distinct stock.

The Nahuatlan tribes which constituted the nucleus of the ancient Aztec Empire dwelt chiefly in the present states of Mexico and Puebla, the Aztec proper having their capital on the site of the present city of Mexico. Detached offshoots of the same stock were found as far south as Costa Rica. The empire included many tribes or nations of diverse stocks, but not all the cognate Nahuatlan tribes, even in the central territory, were under the rule of the Aztec, their bitterest enemies in fact being their neighbors and kinsmen, the Tlasealtec.

By reason of their military importajiee, the Aztec have been somewhat overrated. Their general culture, while high in itself, was not superior to that of the Tarasco or Zapotec, and was inferior to that of the Maya. In their social organization they had passed the matriarchal stage and reckoned descent and inheritance in the male line. The national prosperity rested upon agriculture. Land belonged to the clan and marriage was regulated by gentile laws. In architecture they had reached a high stage of advancement, the pyramid of hewn stone being one of the most characteristic features. They knew the secret of bronze, and were skillful workers in gold and copper, but stone implements continued in common use, particularly obsidian for cutting purposes. Their dress was of native cotton, woven and dyed in brilliant colors. They had an extensive pantheon with orders of priests and priestesses, and a ritual ceremonial, impressive but cruel and bloodthirsty in character, thousands of human victims being annually sacrificed to the god of war, and their flesh afterwards eaten by the multitude. Children of the higher classes were educated in public schools, where boys studied military science, writing, history, and religion, and girls were taught cooking, household work, weaving, and morals. There was a large native literature preserved in books written upon parchment or maguey paper, 24,000 bundles of this fibre being exacted as an annual tribute from the conquered tribes. The characters were ikonomatic, or partly ideographic, partly phonetic, upon the principle of the rebus. Their calendar recognized 365 days in the year.

In Southern Mexico were the Tarasco, Totonaco, Zapotec and Mixtec, all populous and civilized nations equal in culture to the Aztec, if not superior. They built houses of cut stone, brick, and mortar, planted fields and orchards, worked gold and copper—the Tarasco wearing complete body armor of wood plated with copper or gold—made beautiful inlaid pottery, and wove cotton garments and roles of bright-colored feathers. They had elaborate ritual religions, accompanied sometimes by human sacrifice, with calendar systems and hieroglyphic literatures like those of the Aztec tribes. The Totonaco, who practiced circumcision and head-flattening, claimed to have built the pyramid ruins of Teotihuacan, a few miles northwest from the city of Mexico. The wonderful ruins of Mitla are claimed by the Zapotec.

Passing by the ruder Zoque, Mixe, and Chinantec, and the more advanced Chiapanec, in Oaxaca and Chiapas, we enter the territory of the highly civilized Mayan tribes, who held the whole peninsula of Yucatan, with large portions of Tabasco and Chiapas and most of Guatemala, and had an outlying colony in the Huastec of Vera Cruz. Their principal nations, besides the Maya proper in Yucatan, were the Quiche and Cakchiquel of Guatemala. There is evidence that the ancient builders of Palenque and Copan, already in ruins at the time of the conquest, were of the same stock. The Maya proper had at one time formed a powerful confederacy, which, however, had broken up into a number of independent States before the arrival of the Spaniards, by whom they were conquered in detail, the last free remnant being driven from their citadel of Chan Santa Cruz by Mexican troops only as late as 1900, after a stubbornly contested war of several years. When first known, the great cities Mayapan, Uxmal, and Chichén-itzá, now in ruins, were flourishing centres of dense populations, which had attained the highest point of native American civilization. In government they retained a modified clan system, with an hereditary chief ruler, assisted by a council from his own clan. They were preëminent in architecture, building palaces, pyramids, and cities of cut and polished limestone, set in mortar and covered with figures and hieroglyphic inscriptions. Strange as it must seem, all this was done without metal tools, gold and copper being used only for ornamental purposes. Agriculture was the principal industry, the common lands being portioned out by the village chiefs. Honey and wax were obtained from domesticated bees, and an active commerce was carried on by sea along the southern Gulf coast as far as the island of Cuba, copper disks and cacao-beans being used as currency. Their intricate calendar, with its cycles of 20, 52, and 260 years, has been the subject of much scholarly interest, as also their remarkable hieroglyphic records, written upon parchment or maguey paper, or carved or painted upon the walls of their ruined cities, and for which as yet there is no interpreter. The cognate Cakchiquel and Quiche were similar to the Maya in culture, differing only in dialect and extent of territory and influence. The great Popol Vuh, a native compendium of the ancient mythology and history of the Quiche, translated by Brasseur de Bourbourg, has been characterized as “one of the most valuable monuments of ancient American literature.”

Honduras, Salvador, Nicaragua, and Upper Costa Rica were occupied by tribes of different stocks, some of them of considerable advancement, others, particularly along the east coast, mere savages. The Xinca, on the Guatemala-Salvador frontier, are believed to have been a remnant of the pre-Mayan tribes. The Carib, on the Honduras coast, were exiles from the Antilles. The Mosquito, Ulva, and Rama, farther south along or near the coast, were all wild tribes of different degrees of savagery. The Ulva also have the custom of head-flattening. The Guatuso of northern Costa Rica were an agricultural but brave and savage people, now near extermination, owing to the cruelties of the rubber-gatherers. South of their territory were found tribes of higher culture grade, the northern outposts of the civilized Chibchan tribes of Colombia.

The whole of the West Indies, with the exception of two or three sporadic settlements from Florida in the Bahamas, was held by tribes of the two great South American stocks, Arawakan and Cariban, the former being indigenous, while the latter were recent invaders, who, at the time of the discovery, had as yet colonized only the southern islands. The Arawakan tribes were peaceful and agricultural, skillful weavers, wood-carvers, and stone-polishers, but unable to withstand the inroads of the more savage Carib.

Below is given a list, from north to south, of the linguistic stocks of Mexico, Central America, and the islands, so far as present limited study enables us to classify them, the Mexican portion being according to the latest researches of Dr. Nicolas Leon. The first five are extensions from the United States; the Cariban, Chibchan, and Arawakan are mainly in South America:

Yuman (Lower California, etc.).
Athapascan (Chihuahua, etc.).
Tañoan (Chihuahua).
Coahuiltecan (Tamaulipas, etc.).
Maratinian (Tamaulipas).
Serian (Sonora).
Matlaltzincan (Mexico and Michoacan).
Tarascan (Michoacan).
Totonacan (Vera Cruz).
Zapotecan (Guerrero, Oaxaca).
Chinantecan (Oaxaca).
Huavean (Oaxaca).
Zoquean (Oaxaca, Chiapas).
Chiapanecan (Chiapas, Nicaragua, Costa Rica).
Xincan (Guatemala).
Cariban (Honduras and islands).
Lencan  (Honduras).


Our acquaintance with the ethnology of South America is still very imperfect, for the reason that vast areas are yet unexplored, while in some regions brought under Spanish or Portuguese dominion so much confusion has been wrought by the migration, disintegration, or complete extermination of tribes that the writings of early missionaries or travelers help little to clear up the difficulties. Here, as wherever else the uncivilized man confronts the European, we find the same steady march toward extinction, brought about originally by wholesale massacres and cruelties at the hands of the white conqueror, and later by the new diseases which followed in his wake.

As in North America, we find also on the southern continent the phenomenon of vast areas occupied by tribes of some half-dozen linguistic stocks, differing little in habit and all upon nearly the same culture plane, with other areas of mountainous or otherwise difficult country held by a multitude of small stocks with habits almost as widely variant as their languages. In general we may group the tribes by three great regions, viz. the Andean, the Amazonian, and the Pampean, the first being the mountainous territory extending along the Pacific coast from the isthmus to about 35° south, in Central Chile; the second, the whole interior stretching eastward from the summit of the Cordillera to the Atlantic, with the exception of the Chaco; and the third, comprising the Chaco forest and the grassy plains of the Pampas, between the Andes and the Paraná River, together with Southern Chile, and stretching southward to Cape Horn.

In the Andean region we find the highest culture, represented by the Chibcha, Yunca, Aymara, and above all the Quichua, whose empire extended nearly two thousand miles along the coast and made its influence felt even among the wild tribes of the Upper Amazon and the Chaco border. In nearly all these nations we find a firmly established system of government, with social distinetions clearly defined; careful and successful agriculture, including irrigation and the use of manures; superior pottery, with curious designs found nowhere else; weaving of cotton and the hair of domesticated animals; beautiful metal-work in gold, silver, and bronze; and an architecture with such enduring monuments as the stupendous ruins of Gran Chimu, Paucartambo, and Tiahuanaco. So far as can be learned the various governments were based upon the clan system, even in Peru, where the Inca himself was but the executive officer of a council of the gentes. Of the various religious systems the best known is that of the Quichua, whose great god was the Sun, after whom came their culture hero, the white and bearded Viracocha. The dead were buried in the ground, deposited in stone sepulchres, or mummified and preserved thus in temples and caves. Anything in the nature of a hieroglyphic system appears to have been unknown, the nearest approach having been the quipu records of the Quichua. The descendants of these cultured Andean nations still number many millions, in fact constituting the bulk of the population over large areas, and although in theory accorded equal civil rights, they are yet, like aboriginal races elsewhere, in a state of practical vassalage to the dominant race of the conqueror.

The tribes of the Amazonian region, the Orinoco, and the Paraná, were all in various degrees of savagery, although nearly all sedentary and more or less agricultural in habit. Cannibalism prevailed extensively, the word itself being derived from the name of the fierce Carib tribe. The custom still exists on some of the southern headstreams of the Amazon. Living mainly under the tropics, many tribes were entirely naked, and tattooing and body-painting, although occasionally found, were rare. Labrets were worn by a number of tribes. Scalping was unknown, but several tribes, notably the Mundurucú, preserved the heads of their slain enemies. The blowgun and poisoned arrow were general throughout the Upper Amazon and Orinoco regions, curari poison constituting a chief article of intertribal trade, government was of the loosest, and confederations were almost unknown. The prevailing religious form was a crude animism, apparently several degrees lower than that of the North American savages. Throughout this vast area the tribes which have not disappeared are still nearly in their primitive condition, excepting where devoted missionaries have gathered them into villages, chiefly in Peru, Bolivia, and Paraguay. The Jesuit missions among the Guarani are recognized as the most successful ever established in America. At one time they contained over 300,000 Christianized Indians, the basis of the modern civilized States of Paraguay and Uruguay.

The tribes of the northern and central Pampean region, including the Chaco and Pampas sections of Argentina, are warlike equestrian nomads and hunters, living in tents of skin, subsisting almost entirely upon meat, and in other respects also very similar to our own plains tribes, but superior in the possession of herds of cattle and sheep, as well as horses, and in a certain skill in iron-working. The Araucanians of Southern Chile, an extension of one of the most important Pampean stocks, have successfully maintained their independence both against the Inca emperors and the conquering Spaniard. The Patagonians resemble their northern neighbors of Argentina, but represent a somewhat lower grade of culture. Like them, they are brave fighters and of fine physique. The natives of bleak Tierra del Fuego are in perhaps the lowest stage of culture found in South America, occupying the merest temporary shelters, going almost naked even in coldest weather, and having no apparent tribal forms or ceremonials. On the other hand, they are skillful hunters and daring fishermen.

Below is given a tentative list of the existing South American linguistic stocks, numbering approximately sixty so far as present very deficient knowledge permits a classification, Brinton being the chief authority:

Alikulufan (Tierra del Fuego).
Andaquian (Colombia).
Arauan (Brazil).
Araucan or Aucanian (Argentina, Chile).
Arawakan (Brazil, Venezuela, etc., and islands). 
Atacameñan (Chile).
Aymaran (Peru, Bolivia).
Barbacoan (Ccdomliia).
Betoyan (Colombia, Venezuela).
Canichanan (Bolivia).
Carajan (Brazil).
Cariban (Brazil, Venezuela, Guiana, islands),
Caririan (Brazil).
Catamareñan (Argentina).
Cayubaban (Bolivia).
Changuinan (Colombia).
Charruan (Uruguay, etc.).
Chibehan (Colombia, Costa Rica).
Chiquitan (Bolivia).
Chocoan (Colombia).
Chonekan or Tzonecan (Patagonia).
Churoyan (Colombia).
Cocanucan (Colombia).
Cunan (Colombia).
Guahiban or Guayban (Colombia).
Guaraunan (Venezuela).
Guaveuran (Argentina, etc.).
Itonaman (Bolivia).
Jaruran or Yaruran (Venezuela).
Jivaroan (Ecuador, etc.).
Laman (Peru).
Lulean (Argentina).
Mainan (Ecuador, etc.).
Matacoan (Argentina, Paraguay).
Mocoan (Colombia).
Mosetenan (Bolivia).
Movinian or Mobiman (Bolivia).
Onan (Tierra del Fuego).
Otomacan (Venezuela).
Paniquitan (Colombia).
Panoan (Peru).
Payaguan (Argentina).
Peban (Peru, Ecuador, etc.).
Piaroan (Salivan?)—(Colombia, Venezuela).
Puinavian (Colombia).
Puquinan (Peru).
Quichuan or Kechuan (Peru, Ecuador, etc.).
Salivan (Piaroan?)—(Venezuela).
Samucuan (Bolivia).
Tacanan (Bolivia).
Tapuyan (Brazil, Colombia).
Ticunan (Brazil).
Timotean (Venezuela).
Tupian (Brazil, Bolivia, etc.).
Yahganan (Tierra del Fuego).
Yuncan (Peru).
Yusucasan (Bolivia).
Zaparoan (Ecuador).