CHAPTER VIII. THE INDIANS

Wherever the early explorers and settlers touched our coast, they found the country sparsely inhabited by a race of men they called Indians. These people, like their descendants now living in the West, were a race with copper-colored skins, straight, jet-black hair, black eyes, beardless faces, and high cheek bones.

MOUNDS AND CLIFF DWELLINGS. - Who the Indians were originally, where they came from, how they reached our continent, nobody knows. Long before the Europeans came, the country was inhabited by a people, probably the same as the Indians, known as mound builders. Their mounds, of many sizes and shapes and intended for many purposes, are scattered over the Ohio and Mississippi valleys in great numbers. Some are in the shape of animals, as the famous serpent mound in Ohio. Some were for defense, some were village sites, and others were for burial purposes.

In the far West and Southwest, where the rivers had cut deep beds, were the cliff dwellers. In hollow places in the rocky cliffs which form the walls of these rivers, in Colorado, Arizona, and New Mexico, are found to- day the remains of these cliff homes. They are high above the river and difficult to reach, and could easily be defended. [1]

TRIBES AND CLANS. - The Indians were divided into hundreds of tribes, each with its own language or dialect and generally living by itself. Each tribe was subdivided into clans. Members of a clan were those who traced descent from some imaginary ancestor, usually an animal, as the wolf, the fox, the bear, the eagle. [2] An Indian inherited his right to be a wolf or a bear from his mother. Whatever clan she belonged to, that was his also, and no man could marry a woman of his own clan. The civil head of a clan was a "sachem"; the military heads were "chiefs." The sachem and the chiefs were elected or deposed, and the affairs of the clan regulated, by a council of all the men and women. The affairs of a tribe were regulated by a council of the sachems and chiefs of the clans. [3]

CONFEDERACIES. - As a few clans were united in each tribe, so some tribes united to form confederacies. The greatest and most powerful of these was the league of the Iroquois, or Five Nations, in central New York. [4] It was composed of the Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida (o-ni'da), and Mohawk tribes. Each managed its own tribal affairs, but a council of sachems elected from the clans had charge of the affairs of the confederacy. So great was the power of the league that it practically ruled all the tribes from Hudson Bay to North Carolina, and westward as far as Lake Michigan. Other confederacies of less power were: the Dakota and Blackfeet, west of the Mississippi; the Powhatan, in Virginia; and the Creek, the Chickasaw, and the Cherokee, in the South.

HUNTING. - One of the chief occupations of an Indian man was hunting. He devised traps with great skill. His weapons were bows and arrows with stone heads, stone hatchets or tomahawks, flint spears, and knives and clubs. To use such weapons he had to get close to the animal, and to do this disguises of animal heads and skins were generally adopted. The Indians hunted and trapped nearly all kinds of American animals.

ANIMALS AND IMPLEMENTS UNKNOWN TO THE INDIANS. - Before the coming of the Europeans the Indians had never seen horses or cows, sheep, hogs, or poultry. The dog was their only domesticated animal, and in many cases the so-called dog was really a domesticated wolf. Neither had the Indians ever seen firearms, or gunpowder, or swords, nails, or steel knives, or metal pots or kettles, glass, wheat, flour, or many other articles in common use among the whites.

CLOTHING. - Their clothing was of the simplest kind, and varied, of course, with the climate. The men usually wore a strip of deerskin around the waist, a hunting shirt, leggings, moccasins on the feet, and sometimes a deerskin over the shoulders. Very often they wore nothing but the strip about the waist and the moccasins. These garments of deerskin were cut with much care, sewed with fish-bone needles and sinew thread, and ornamented with shells and quills.

Painting the face and body was a universal custom. For this purpose red and yellow ocher, colored earths, juices of plants, and charcoal were used. What may be called Indian jewelry consisted of necklaces of teeth and claws of bears, claws of eagles and hawks, and strings of sea shells, colored feathers, and wampum. Wampum consisted of strings of beads made from sea shells, and was highly prized and used not only for ornament, but as Indian money.

HOUSES. - The dwelling of many Eastern Indians was a wigwam, or tent-shaped lodge. It was formed of saplings set upright in the ground in the form of a circle and bent together at their tops. Branches wound and twisted among the saplings completed the frame, which was covered with brush, bark, and leaves. A group of such wigwams made a village, which was often surrounded with a stockade of tree trunks put upright in the ground and touching one another.

On the Western plains the buffalo-hunting Indian lived during the summer in tepees, or circular lodges made of poles tied together at the small ends and covered with buffalo skins laced together. The upper end of the tepee was left open to let out the smoke of a fire built inside. In winter these plains Indians lived in earth lodges.

FOOD. - For food the Eastern Indians had fish from river, lake, or sea, wild turkeys, wild pigeons, deer and bear meat, corn, squashes, pumpkins, beans, berries, fruits, and maple sugar (which they taught the whites to make). In the West the Indians killed buffaloes, antelopes, and mountain sheep, cut their flesh into strips, and dried it in the sun. [5]