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Indians, American

Believing the earth to be a globe, Columbus expected to find India or Eastern Asia by sailing westward from Spain. The first land discovered by him—one of the Bahama [31]

A modern Comanche.

Islands—he supposed to be a part of India, and he called the inhabitants Indians. This name was afterwards applied to all the nations of the adjacent islands and the continent.


There is no positive knowledge concerning the origin of the aborigines of America; their own traditions widely vary, and conjecture is unsatisfying. Recent investigations favor a theory that, if they be not indigenous, they came from two great Asiatic families: the more northern tribes of our continent from the lighter Mongolians, who crossed at Bering Strait, and the more southerly ones, in California, Central and South America, from the darker Malays, who first peopled Polynesia, in [32]

Indian War-clubs.

the southern Pacific Ocean and finally made their way to our continent, gradually spreading over it from the Pacific to the Atlantic. Language fails to connect any of them with the Asiatic families, but their traditions, implements, and modes of life point to such a relationship. It has been suggested

Indian grave-post.

that the Mandans and Chinooks, who are almost white, are descendants of a Welsh colony said to have been lost in the wilds of North America 700 years ago.


There seems to be a physical identity of race throughout most of the continent. Their skin is generally of a dark reddish-brown, or cinnamon, color; they have long, black, and straight hair, prominent cheek-bones, and broad faces; eyes deep-set, full and rounded lips, broad and prominent noses, scanty beard; their heads are generally square, arid their stature about the same as that of other races of the same latitude. Their muscular development is not great, and their hands and feet are small; their skin is thinner, softer, and smoother than that of Europeans; the expression of the men is often noble, and many of the women are handsome. Haughty in deportment, taciturn, stoical, cunning, persevering, revengeful, brave and ferocious in war; cruel towards enemies and faithful towards friends; grateful for favors, hospitable and kind, the Indians of North America are undoubtedly capable of great and rapid development under the genial influence of civilization. Their mental temperament is poetic and imaginative in a high degree, and it is often expressed in great beauty and eloquence of language; but in their present social condition their animal propensities greatly preponderate over the intellectual. The tribes south of California have always been noted for mental development much superior to those of more northern latitudes.


War, hunting, and fishing [33] are the chief pursuits of the men of the more barbarous tribes; agriculture of the semi-civilized. Among the savages found in North America by Europeans, the women performed almost all the manual labor and burden-bearing. They carried on their limited agriculture, which consisted in the production of maize or Indian corn, beans, squashes, potatoes, and tobacco. They manufactured the implements of war, and for hunting and fishing; made mats, and skin and feather clothing, canoes, ornaments of the teeth and claws of beasts, and of shells and porcupine-quills; performed all domestic drudgery, and constructed the lodges of the bark of trees or the hides of beasts. Rude figures of animate and inanimate objects carved in wood or stone, or moulded in clay, and picture-writing on the inner bark of trees or the skins of beasts, or cut upon rocks, with rude ornamented pottery, were the extent of their accomplishments in the arts of design and of literature. The picture-writing was sometimes used in musical notation, and contained the burden of their songs.


They believed in a good and Supreme Being, and in an Evil Spirit, and recognized the existence of inferior good and evil spirits. They believed in a future state of existence, and there were no infidels among them. Superstition swayed them powerfully, and charlatans, called “medicine-men,” were their physicians, priests, and prophets, who, on all occasions, used incantations. Christian missionaries have labored among them in many places, from the time the Spaniards and Frenchmen settled in America until now, and have done much to enlighten them.


There was not a semblance of a national government among the aborigines when the Europeans came, except that of the Iroquois Confederacy (q. v.). Their language was varied by more than a hundred dialects, and they were divided into many distinct families or tribes, under a kind of patriarchal rule. Each family had its armorial sign, called a totem, such as an eagle, a bear, or a deer, by which it was designated. The civil head of a tribe was called a sachem, and the military leader a chief. Those official honors were gained sometimes by inheritance, but more frequently by personal merit. Such was the simple

Indian arrow-heads.

government, seldom disobeyed, that controlled about 1,000,000 dusky inhabitants of the present domain of the United States, which extends over nearly twenty-five degrees of latitude and about sixty degrees of longitude.

Geographical distribution.

There seem to have been only eight radically distinct nations known to the earlier settlers— namely, the Algonquian, Huron-Iroquois, Cherokee, Catawba, Uchee, Natchez, Mobilian or Floridian, and Dakota or Sioux. More recently, other distinct nations have been discovered—namely, the Athabascas, Sahaptins, Chinooks, Shoshones, and Attakapas. Others will doubtless be found. The Algonquians were a large family occupying all Canada, New England, a part of New York and Pennsylvania; all New [34] Jersey, Delaware, Maryland, and Virginia; eastern North Carolina above Cape Fear, a large part of Kentucky and Tennessee, and all north and west of those States east of the Mississippi. Within the folds of this nation were the Huron-Iroquois, occupying a greater portion of Canada south of the Ottawa River, and the region between Lake Ontario and Lakes Erie and Huron, nearly all of the State of New York, and a part of Pennsylvania and Ohio along the southern shores of Lake Erie. Detached from the main body were the Tuscaroras and a few smaller families dwelling in southern Virginia and the upper part of North Carolina. Five families of the Huron-Iroquois, dwelling within the limits of the State of New York, formed the famous Iroquois Confederacy of Five Nations. The Cherokees inhabited the fertile and picturesque region where the mountain-ranges that form the watershed between the Atlantic and Mississippi melt in the lowlands that border the Gulf of Mexico.

The Catawbas were their neighbors on the east, and dwelt upon the borders of the Yadkin and Catawba rivers, on both sides of the boundary-line between North and South Carolina. The Uchees were a small family in the pleasant land along the Oconee and the head-waters of the Ogeechee and Chattahoochee, in Georgia, and touched the Cherokees. They were only a remnant of a once powerful tribe, when the Europeans came, and they claimed to be more ancient than the surrounding people. The Natchez occupied a territory on the eastern side of the Mississippi, extending northeastward from the site of the city of Natchez along the Pearl River to the head-waters of the Chickasaw. They claimed to be older than the Uchees, and, like others of the Gulf region, they worshipped the sun and fire, and made sacrifices to the source of terrestrial light. The Mobilians or Floridians occupied a domain next in extent to that of the Algonquians. It stretched along the Atlantic coast from

Indian tents.

the mouth of the Cape Fear River to the extremity of the Florida peninsula, and westward along the Gulf of Mexico about 600 miles to the Mississippi River. They also held jurisdiction up that stream as far as the mouth of the Ohio. The domain included parts of South Carolina, the whole of Florida, Alabama, and Mississippi, all of Georgia not occupied by the Cherokees and Uchees, and portions of Tennessee and Kentucky. The nation was divided into three confederacies, each powerful and independent, like our separate States. They were known respectively as the Muscogee or Creek (the most [35]

Indian Pappoose and cradle.

powerful), the Choitan, and the Chickasaw. The heart of the Creek family was

Indian picture writing.

in Alabama. Under the general title of Dakotas or Sioux have been grouped a large number of tribes west of the Great Lakes and Mississippi, with whom the earlier French explorers came in contact. These, speaking dialects of the same language, apparently, were regarded as parts of one nation. They inhabited the domain stretching northward from the Arkansas River to the western tributary of Lake Winnipeg, and westward along all that line to the eastern slope of the Rocky Mountains. They have been arranged into four classes: 1. The Winnebagoes, situated between Lake Michigan and the Mississippi, within the domain of the Algonquians. 2. The Assiniboins, or Sioux proper, who formed the more northerly part of the nation. 3. The Southern Sioux, who were seated in the [36] country between the Platte and Arkansas rivers. The Sahaptins include the Nez Perces and Walla Wallas, extending from the Rocky Mountains to the Pacific Ocean, in Oregon and Washington. Beyond these are the more powerful Chinooks, now rapidly melting away. They embraced numerous tribes, from the mouth of the Columbia River to the Grand Dalles. The Shoshones comprise tribes inhabiting the territory around the headwaters of the Columbia and Missouri rivers; the Comanches, extending from

A group of educated Indians.

the head-waters of the Brazos to those of the Arkansas; families in Utah and Texas, and several tribes in California. The Attakapas and Chitemachas, in Texas, have languages that enter into no known group.

Condition of the Indians.

According to the reports of the Indian Bureau, the Indian population in 1891 was 249,273, nearly all of whom were partially or absolutely under the control of the national government. There were 133,382 Indians on reservations, or at schools under control of the Indian Office; 52,065 were included in the five civilized tribes of Indian Territory; there were 8,278 Pueblos in New Mexico and Arizona, and 8,189 Indians east of the Mississippi. Besides these, there were 32,567 taxable and self-sustaining Indians who had become citizens of the United States. The expensive and complicated machinery for the management of Indian affairs has been much in the way of the elevation of the race in the scale of civilization, and has produced much evil by creating irritation, jealousy, and universal lack of faith in the white race. These irritations for a long time kept a large portion of the Indians in a state of chronic hostility, and whole tribes utterly refused all overtures of the government to accept its protection and fostering care. In 1880 it was estimated that the number of potentially hostile Indians was fully 60,000. In 1891 the condition of affairs had been [37] much improved. Among many tribes the introduction of agriculture, schools, and churches had been attended with the happiest results. There were 17,926 pupils enrolled in the schools conducted for the education and training of Indian youth, and these schools were supported at an expense of $1,842,770. Under the influence of better treatment there was a marked tendency in most of the tribes to engage in settled pursuits and accept citizenship. For further details concerning the various tribes, see their respective names.

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