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XXXVI - THE NORTH AMERICAN INDIANS.
A PECULIAR race of people, known by the name of the North American Indians, occupied the territory of the United States, before it was visited and settled by Europeans. They were found in all parts of the country, from Maine to Florida, and east and west of the mountains. They were distributed into a great variety of tribes, but in manners, customs, traits of character, and personal appearance were essentially alike. Their complexion was of a reddish brown, or copper color; their hair was black, glossy, coarse, and never curling: the eyes were hazel or black, the cheek bones prominent, the nose broad, and the forehead narrow. They were straight and wellformed; and it was very rare to find any one among them with any personal blemish or defect. They were very active, and capable of enduring great fatigue; but in muscular strength they were generally inferior to the whites.
They dwelt together in small settlements or villages. They had no written laws, and no courts of justice; but each man guarded his own honor and protected his own rights. In each tribe there were one or more men who were possessed of superior power and influence, and were regarded as chiefs, or rulers. Sometimes this rank resided in certain families, and was transmitted from father to son, or from uncle to nephew; but it often happened that an Indian became a chief solely from his personal qualities -- from his bravery in war, or eloquence in council. In their war parties, especially, the most renowned warrior naturally took the lead.
The power of the chiefs, however, was limited. All matters of importance, especially such as related to war and peace, were discussed in public council, in which all the grown men of the tribe had a right to be present, and take part in the business of the meeting. A majority of voices decided the question. These debates were conducted with great order and decorum. The listeners sat in a semicircle on the ground, gravely smoking their pipes, and giving their careful attention to the speaker. There was no interruption, no struggling of two persons
for the right of being heard, and no rude and disturbing noise. The action of the Indian orator was energetie and expressive; his language was bold and figurative; and many among them have shown no mean powers of elow quence.
The occupations of the men were confined to war and hunting; all manual labor was deemed degrading. The Indians were constantly engaged in war, but their wars were never carried on by great numbers at one time. It was very rare that more than forty warriors took the field together; and small parties of six, eight, or ten were common. They did not seek to meet their enemy in open day, and vanquish him in fair fight; but they preferred to take him by surprise. They would lie in ambush for days together, and then steal out upon their unsuspecting foes, and carry death and terror'in their train. Captives taken in war were put to death by the most cruel torments ; but they were sometimes adopted into the tribe of their captors, to take the place of a warrior who had fallen,
As is usual among savages, the hard labors of life devolved upon the women. The use of the axe or hoe was considered beneath the dignity of the male sex. It belonged to the women to plant the corn and gather the harvest ; to make and mend garments and moccasons, to build huts, pitch tents, cut wood, tend horses and dogs ; and on a march to carry the baggage.
The clothing of the Indians was made of skins of various animals, and they wore moccasons of soft leather upon their feet. They were very fond of ornaments, and took great pride in being showily dressed. Indeed, a young Indian chief would often spend more time in dressing and adorning himself than a young lady in preparing for a ball. The wings and feathers of birds, gayly colored shells, porcupine quills stained of different hues, and plates of silver were worn by them. The claws of the grisly bear formed a proud collar for a war chief; and the scalp * of a slain enemy often hung from the stem of their pipes. They wore ornaments in their ears; and a piece of silver was often thrust through the nose. The custom of painting the face was universal. Blue and black paint was used; but red was the favorite color.
All the Indian tribes believed in one Supreme God, whom they called the Great Spirit, and in the immortality of the soul. They had many superstitions, attributing supernatural powers to all serpents, especially the rattlesnake, and paying religious honor to rocks, trees, and striking natural objects. They believed that all the lower animals have immortal souls as well as man; and, in short, that all nature is full of spirits. In many tribes, men had what they called medicine bags, which were filled with bones, feathers, and other rubbish. These bags they kept with great care. Most Indians held some particular animal in reverence, and would never kill it, or eat it when killed. They had great faith in dreams, and believed that the Great Spirit thus spoke to them.
The Indians had the virtues and the vices of savages; and they may be said to have occupied a rather high place on the scale of purely savage life. They were proud, cruel, indolent, and revengeful; but on the other hand, they were hospitable, faithful to their word, and not without domestic affections. Many attempts were made to form schools of Indian children, but they always failed ; partly from the wild instinct of liberty that seemed to dwell in their blood, and partly because their parents would never allow them to be punished or corrected. A teacher would often gather a little tawny-colored flock around him, but, as one of them writes, “all of a sudden my birds flew away.” In former times many of them entered Harvard College, but only one was ever graduated.f Many Indian men
* Scalp, a portion of skin, of a circular form, cut from the top of the head.
+ His name appears in the catalogue as Caleb Cheeshahteaumuck. He was graduated in 1665, and died the next year.
and women were converted to Christianity, and showed by their lives the sincerity of their faith.
There was one vice to which they were almost universally addicted; and that was a passion for ardent spirits, which, in their expressive language, they called fire-water. An Indian who had once drank rum or whiskey seemed ever after to be possessed of a sort of madness; all his ordinary occupations appeared to have lost their former attraction, and every thing was sacrificed for the fatal poison. There were always wicked men among the whites to supply the Indian with intoxicating drinks ; thus enriching themselves and stripping the poor red man of all he had. The use of ardent spirits has been one of the chief causes of the rapid extinction of the Indian race.
XXXVII. - HIAWATHA'S CHILDHOOD.
[This lesson and the next following are from the Song of Hiawatha, a poem founded upon an Indian tradition that a being of more than mortal powers was once sent among them to teach them the arts of peace.]
At the door on summer evenings
song Nokomis * taught him.
* Nokomis is represented as the grandmother of Hiawatha, by whom he is brought up.
Light me with your little candle
* Owlet, the young of the owl.