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]

Fish and meat were cooked by laying the fish on a framework of sticks built over a fire, and hanging the meat on sticks before the fire. Corn and squashes were roasted in the ashes. Dried corn was also ground between stones, mixed with water, and baked in the ashes. Such as knew how to make clay pots could boil meat and vegetables. [6]

CANOES. - In moving from place to place the Indians of the East traveled on foot or used canoes. In the northern parts where birch trees were plentiful, the canoe was of birch bark stretched over a light wooden frame, sewed with strips of deerskin, and smeared at the joints with spruce gum to make it watertight. In the South tree trunks hollowed out by fire and called dugouts were used. In the West there were "bull boats" made of skins stretched over wooden frames. For winter travel the Northern and Western Indians used snowshoes.

After the Spaniards brought horses to the Southwest, herds of wild horses roamed the southwestern plains, and in later times gave the plains Indians a means of travel the Eastern Indians did not have.

INDIAN TRAILS. - The Eastern Indians nevertheless often made long journeys for purposes of war or trade, and had many well-defined trails which answered as roads. Thus one great trail led from the site of Boston by way of what is now the city of Springfield to the site of Albany. Another in Pennsylvania led from where Philadelphia stands to the Susquehanna, then up the Juniata, over the mountains, and to the Allegheny River. There were thousands of such trails scattered over the country. As the Indians always traveled in single file, these trails were narrow paths; they were worn to the depth of a foot or more, and wound in and out among the trees and around great rocks. As they followed watercourses and natural grades, many of them became in after times routes used by the white man for roads and railroads.

Along the seaboard the Indians lived in villages and wandered about but little. Hunting and war parties traveled great distances, but each tribe had its home. On the great plains the Indians wandered long distances with their women, children, and belongings.

WORK AND PLAY. - The women did most of the work. They built the wigwam, cut the wood, planted the corn, dressed the skins, made the clothing, and when the band traveled, carried the household goods. The brave made bows and arrows, built the canoe, hunted, fished, and fought.

Till a child, or papoose, was able to run about, it was carefully wrapped in skins and tied to a framework of wicker which could be carried on the mother's back, or hung on the branch of a tree out of harm's way. When able to go about, the boys were taught to shoot, fish, and make arrows and stone implements, and the girls to weave or make baskets, and do all the things they would have to do as squaws.

For amusement, the Indians ran foot races, played football [7] and lacrosse, held corn huskings, and had dances for all sorts of occasions, some of them religious in character. Some dances occurred once a year, as the corn dance, the thanksgiving of the Eastern tribes; the sun dance of the plains Indians; and the fish dance by the Indians of the Columbia River country at the opening of the salmon-fishing season. The departure of a war party, the return of such a party, the end of a successful hunt, were always occasions for dances. [8]

INDIAN RELIGION. - The Indians believed that every person, every animal, every thing had a soul, or spirit, or manitou. The ceremonies used to get the good will of certain manitous formed the religious rites. On the plains it was the buffalo manitou, in the East the manitou of corn, or sun, or rain, that was most feared. Everywhere there was a mythology, or collection of tales of heroes who did wonderful things for the Indians. Hiawatha was such a hero, who gave them fire, corn, the canoe, and other things. [9]

WARFARE. - An Indian war was generally a raid by a small party led by a warrior of renown. Such a chief, standing beside the war post in his village, would publicly announce the raid and call for volunteers. No one was forced to go; but those who were willing would step forward and strike the post with their tomahawks. Among the plains Indians a pipe was passed around, and all who smoked it stood pledged to go.

The weapons used in war were like those used in the hunt. Though the Indians were brave they delighted to fight from behind trees, to creep through the tall grass and fall upon their enemy unawares, or to wait for him in ambush. The dead and wounded were scalped. Captive men were generally put to death with torture; but captive women and children were usually adopted into the tribe.

INDIAN WARS IN VIRGINIA. - The first Europeans who came to our shores were looked on by the Indians as superior beings, as men from the clouds. But before the settlers arrived this veneration was dispelled, and hostility took its place. Thus the founders of Jamestown had scarcely touched land when they were attacked. But Smith brought about an alliance with the Powhatan, and till after his death there was peace.

Then (1622), under the lead of Opekan'kano, an attack was made along the whole line of settlements in Virginia, and in one day more than three hundred whites were massacred, their houses burned, and much property destroyed. The blow was a terrible one; but the colonists rallied and waged such a war against the enemy that for more than twenty years there was no great uprising.

But in 1644 Opekankano (then an old and grizzled warrior) again led forth his tribes, and in two days killed several hundred whites. Once more the settlers rallied, swept the Indian country, captured Opekankano, and drew a boundary across which no Indian could come without permission. If he did, he might be shot on sight. [10]

EARLY INDIAN WARS IN NEW ENGLAND. - In New England the experience of the early settlers was much the same. Murders by the Pequot Indians having become unendurable, a little fleet was sent (1686) against them. Block Island was ravaged, and Pequots on the mainland were killed and their corn destroyed. Sassacus, sachem of the Pequots, thereupon sought to join the Narragansetts with him in an attempt to drive the English from the country; but Roger Williams persuaded the Narragansetts to form an alliance with the English, and the Pequots began the war alone. In the winter (1636-37) the Connecticut River settlements were attacked, several men killed, and two girls carried off.

DESTRUCTION OF THE PEQUOTS. - In May, 1637, a force of seventy-seven colonists from Connecticut and Massachusetts, led by John Mason and John Underhill, marched to the Pequot village in what is now the southeast corner of Connecticut. Some Mohicans and Narragansetts went along; but when they came in sight of the village, they refused to join in the attack. The village was a cluster of wigwams surrounded by a stockade, with two narrow openings for entrance. While some of the English guarded them, the rest attacked the stockade, flung torches over it, and set the wigwams on fire. Of the four hundred or more Indians in the village, but five escaped.

KING PHILIP'S WAR. - For thirty-eight years the memory of the destruction of the Pequots kept peace in New England. Then Philip, a chief of the Wampanoags, took the warpath (1675) and, joined by the Nipmucks and Narragansetts, sought to drive the white men from New England. The war began in Rhode Island, but spread into Massachusetts, where town after town was attacked, and men, women, and children massacred. Roused to fury by these deeds, a little band of men from Massachusetts, Plymouth, and Connecticut in the dead of winter stormed the great swamp fortress of the Narragansetts, destroyed a thousand Indians, and burned the wigwams and winter supply of corn. The power of the Narragansetts was broken; but the war went on, and before midsummer (1676) twenty villages had been attacked by the Nipmucks. But they, too, were doomed; their fighting strength was destroyed in two victories by the colonists. In August Philip was shot in a swamp. These victories ended the war in the south, but it broke out almost immediately in the northeast, and raged till the summer of 1678.

During these three years of war New England suffered terribly. Twelve towns had been utterly destroyed, forty had been partly burned, and a thousand men, besides scores of women and children, had perished. As for the New England Indians, their power was gone forever. [11]

INDIAN WARS IN NEW NETHERLAND. - The Dutch in New Netherland were on friendly terms with the Iroquois, to whom they sold fire-arms; but the Tappans, Raritans, and other Algonquin tribes round about New Amsterdam were enemies of the Iroquois, and with these the Dutch had several wars. One (1641) was brought on by Governor Kieft's attempt to tax the Indians; another (1643-45) by the slaughter, one night, of more than a hundred Indians who had asked the Dutch for shelter from their Mohawk enemies. Many Dutch farmers were murdered, and a great Indian stronghold in Connecticut was stormed one winter night and seven hundred Indians killed. [12] After ten years of peace the Indians rose again, killed men in the streets of New Amsterdam, and harried Staten Island; and again, after an outbreak at Esopus, there were several years of war (1658-64).

IN NORTH CAROLINA some Algonquin tribes conspired with the Tuscarora tribe of Iroquois to drive the white men from the country, and began horrid massacres (1711). Help came from South Carolina, and the Tuscaroras were badly beaten. But the war was renewed next year, and then another force of white men and Indians from South Carolina stormed the Tuscaroras' fort and broke their power. The Tuscaroras migrated to New York and were admitted to the great Iroquois confederacy of the Five Nations, which thenceforth was known as the Six Nations. [13]

IN SOUTH CAROLINA. - Among the Indians who marched to the relief of North Carolina were men of the Yam'assee tribe. That they should turn against the people of South Carolina was not to be expected. But the Spaniards at St. Augustine bought them with gifts, and, joined by Creeks, Cherokees, and others, they began (in 1715) a war which lasted nearly a year and cost the lives of four hundred white men. They, too, in the end were beaten, and the Yamassees fled to Florida.

The story of these Indian wars has been told not because they were wars, but because they were the beginnings of that long and desperate struggle of the Indian with the white man which continued down almost to our own time. The march of the white man across the continent has been contested by the Indian at every step, and to-day there is not a state in the Union whose soil has not at some time been reddened by the blood of both.

WHAT WE OWE TO THE INDIAN. - The contact of the two races has greatly influenced our language, literature, and customs. Five and twenty of our states, and hundreds of counties, cities, mountains, rivers, lakes, and bays, bear names derived from Indian languages. Chipmunk and coyote, moose, opossum, raccoon, skunk, woodchuck, tarpon, are all of Indian origin. We still use such expressions as Indian summer, Indian file, Indian corn; bury the hatchet, smoke the pipe of peace. To the Indians we owe the canoe, the snowshoe, the toboggan, lacrosse. Squanto taught the Pilgrims how to plant corn in hills, just as it is planted to-day, and long before the white man came, the Indians ate hominy, mush, and succotash, planted pumpkins and squashes, and made maple sugar.


1. The Indians were divided into tribes, and the tribes into clans.

2. Each tribe had its own language or dialect, and usually lived by itself.

3. Members of a clan traced descent from some common imaginary ancestor, usually an animal. The civil head of a clan was the sachem; the military heads were the chiefs.

4. As the clans were united into tribes, so the tribes were in some places joined in confederacies.

5. The chief occupations of Indian men were hunting and waging war.

6. Their ways of life varied greatly with the locality in which they lived: as in the wooded regions of the East or on the great plains of the West; in the cold country of the North or in the warmer South.

7. The growth of white settlements, crowding back the Indians, led to several notable wars in early colonial times, in all of which the Indians were beaten: - 
  In Virginia: uprisings in 1622 and in 1644; border war in 1676. 
  In New England: Pequot War, 1636-37; King Philip's War, 1675-78. 
  In New Netherland: several wars with Algonquin tribes. 
  In North Carolina: Algonquin-Tuscarora uprising, 1711-13. 
  In South Carolina: Yamassee uprising, 1715-16.


[1] Read Fiske's Discovery of America, Vol. I, pp. 85-94, 141-146.

[2] The sign or emblem of this ancestor, called the totem, was often painted on the clothing, or tattooed on the body. On the northwest coast, it was carved on a tall pole, made of a tree trunk, which was set up before the dwelling.

[3] Scientists have grouped the North American tribes into fifty or more distinct families or groups, each consisting of tribes whose languages were probably developed from a common tongue. East of the Mississippi most of the land was occupied by three groups: (1) Between the Tennessee River and the Gulf of Mexico lived the Muskho'gees (or Maskoki), including the Creek, Choctaw, and Chickasaw tribes. (2) The Iroquois (ir-o-kwoi'), Cherokee', and related tribes occupied a large area surrounding Lakes Erie and Ontario, and smaller areas in the southern Appalachians and south of the lower James River. (3) The Algonquins and related tribes occupied most of the country around Lakes Superior and Michigan, most of the Ohio valley, and the Atlantic seaboard north of the James River, besides much of Canada.

[4] Read Fiske's Discovery of America, vol. I, pp. 72-78.

[5] The manner of drying was called "jerking." Jerked meat would keep for months and was cooked as needed. Sometimes it was pounded between stones and mixed with fat, and was then called pemmican.

[6] Fire for cooking and warming was started by pressing a pointed stick against a piece of wood and turning the stick around rapidly. Sometimes this was done by twirling it between the palms of the hands, sometimes by wrapping the string of a little bow around the stick and moving the bow back and forth as if fiddling. The revolving stick would form a fine dust which the heat caused by friction would set on fire.

[7] A game of football is thus described: "Likewise they have the exercise of football, in which they only forcibly encounter with the foot to carry the ball the one from the other, and spurn it to the goal with a kind of dexterity and swift footmanship which is the honor of it. But they never strike up one another's heels, as we do, not accounting that praiseworthy to purchase a goal by such an advantage."

[8] One who was with Smith in Virginia has left us this account of what took place when the Powhatan was crowned (p. 42): "In a fair plain field they made a fire before which (we were) sitting upon a mat (when) suddenly amongst the woods was heard ... a hideous noise and shouting. Then presently ... thirty young women came out of the woods ... their bodies painted some white, some red, some black, some particolor, but all differing. Their leader had a fair pair of buck's horns on her head, and an otter's skin at her girdle, and another at her arm, a quiver of arrows at her back, a bow and arrows in her hand. The next had in her hand a sword, another a club ... all horned alike.... These fiends with most hellish shouts and cries, rushing from among the trees, cast themselves in a ring about the fire, singing and dancing.... Having spent near one hour on this masquerade, as they entered in like manner they departed."

[9] Read Longfellow's Hiawatha.

[10] Thirty-one years later another outbreak occurred, and for months burning and scalping went on along the border, till the Indians were beaten by the men under Nathaniel Bacon (p. 94).

[11] Read Fiske's Beginnings of New England, pp. 128-133, 211-226, 235-236.

[12] Read Fiske's Dutch and Quaker Colonies, Vol. I, pp. 177-180, 183-188.

[13] Read Fiske's Old Virginia and her Neighbours, Vol. II, pp. 298-304.