OUR WILD INDIANS
by COLONEL RICHARD IRVING DODGE
HABITS OF THE INDIANS OF THE GREAT WEST
Collecting Activities Search Engine
the American Indians - The Defect of Writers on the Indians - Wonderful Diversity of the
Indian Language - Curious Facts and Tendencies - The Effect of War - StupendousVanity -
Invention of Dialects - The Passion for War - The Crafty andBloodthirsty Apaches - The
Cheyennes and Arrapahoes - A Marvellous Alliance - The Sign Language - Estimates of
Population - Superstitious Dread of being Counted - Indian Extermination - Nomadic
Proclivities - The Winter Encampment - Home Attachments - Love for an Old Encampment -
Cherished Memories - Home Sickness - Mental Peculiarities - Acute Perceptions
- Ill-Directed Efforts - Indian Schools - Indian Orators - How they Rehearse their
Speeches - Swaying a Savage Audience.
discussion of the origin of the American Indians is out of place and unnecessary, until
scientific men have finally agreed as to the origin of the human race. Suffice to say here
that the Indian is, to my mind, an evidence of the unity of races. Wherever we find them,
savages have something in common each with the other, and the most civilized races have
not so far outgrown their ancestry as to have entirely gotten rid of every savage trait.
Supposing the Western continent to have been originally uninhabited by man, there is no
physical or geographical reason why it should not have been peopled from Asia or
elsewhere. Even before the days of David, people went down to the sea in
ships; the winds blew then as now, and a succession of adverse storms might have
peopled America, from any one of the earlier maritime nations of the Eastern world.
of the Welsh Indians: Settlers in North America before 1492
by William L. Traxel
the very many customs which the Indians have in common with the ancient Jews are evidences
that the Lost Tribes have been found, or whether the fair complexion, blue
eyes, similarity of language and coracle of the Mandans, prove that the Welsh
expedition under Madoc really settled on the banks of the Ohio, it is not my purpose to
is to give a minute and accurate account of the manners, customs, habits, social life, and
modes of thought of the wild Indians of the present day.
admirable writers have preceded me on this subject. Chief of all, and, illustrating and
ennobling his theme with both pen and brush, is Catlin. But the supreme defect of Catlin,
and, indeed, of almost all writers on the Indian, is, that they have contented themselves
with externals; giving page after page, illustration after illustration, to portraiture of
dress, dances, ceremonies; but scarcely a word to government, religion, character, social
Catlin and His Indian Gallery (Hardcover)
who, of all other writers, has had the most perfect opportunities, is, of all others, most
remiss in this particular, and, however much the reader may enjoy his vivid descriptions
and graphic illustrations of scenes and incidents, it is impossible to finish his book
without a feeling of dissatisfaction.
We see the
Indian in a thousand curious and picturesque scenes, but we see him as we see the actor on
the stage. However beautiful the dress and faultless the delineation, we do not know him.
Our natural curiosity is not gratified by even a glimpse of his every-day character, or
peep into the scenes of his every-day life.
In my own
reading I have found this to be the one great lack of all writers on the Indian, and to
supply this lack, to the extent of my ability, is the purpose and intent of these pages.
the Indian languages have been derived from one, or from several roots, must, and probably
will be determined by the eminent philologists who are now making this subject their
great number and infinite dissimilarity have always excited the marvel of all who have had
cause to look into the matter, either by contact with Indians, or through books. language,
more or less imperfect, but amply sufficient for all the needs of an illiterate people,
and differing in every essential particular from every other language. This wonderful
diversity can only be accounted for by a knowledge of the Indian character and habits.
and so far as we can know from history and tradition, has always been the pleasure and
passion of the Indian. With or without cause, tribes occupying lands adjacent to each
other were almost constantly on the war-path.
tribe, with vanity not entirely aboriginal, believed in its own infinite superiority, and
disdained to learn even a few words of its enemys language, though this might easily
have been done through prisoners. This warlike disposition, and the necessity for widely
extended domains (entailed on all people who live solely by the chase) kept the tribes far
apart. There were no intermarriages, no social intercourse, no intermingling of any kind,
except that of mortal strife. There was no disposition, and little opportunity to learn
anything of the language of their neighbors, and thus to adopt words and phrases not
properly belonging to their own language.
So long as
a tribe was surrounded closely by powerful and warlike neighbors, it remained intact,
keeping in large villages and under control of one chief. When those neighbors were driven
off, or through their own successes elsewhere moved away, and the tribal territory became
greatly extended, the tribe broke up into bands for the more easy and convenient supply of
food. This was the opportunity of the ambitious sub-chiefs, leaders of bands, who,
preferring to be chiefs of small bands rather than sub-chiefs of large ones, took every
care to prevent any subsequent concentration except when forced to it by war, or by the
imperative demand of the Medicine Chief, the supreme expounder of religious
doctrine and dogma.
moment, there are no less than sixty-six bands of Utes, separated widely in localities,
and speaking languages undoubtedly referable to one root, but so various as to dialect,
that any but the closest observer might with reason insist that they are different
there are thirty-four different bands of Sioux, which were rapidly undergoing the same
process of disintegration of language, until the government unwittingly stopped it, by
concentrating these Indians on reservations.
nineteen bands of Shoshones or Snakes, two bands of which, wandering eastward over the
Rocky Mountains, became entirely estranged from the parent tribe, and are now known as
Bannocks, having lost even their tribal name. They cannot speak or understand a word of
their mother tongue.
twenty-eight bands of Apaches, speaking dialects of the same language, and undoubtedly
off-shoots from the same parent stock; yet, before they were conquered and placed on
reservations, they waged incessant war with each other, and no tribes on this continent
were more bitterly and uncompromisingly hostile, than were these bands of the same tribe,
one to the other.
Apaches were strong in numbers, warlike in spirit, crafty and energetic in action, and
occupied a country almost inaccessible to whites. But for this internecine strife, it
would have cost the United States Government many years of bloody and expensive war to
have subdued them.
thus be seen that his own warlike temperament and disposition to roam have been to the
Indian the causefruitful as Babelof the confusion of tongues. There are other
causes which may not have been without effect, to add to this confusion. The indisposition
or inability of the Plains Indians to learn a spoken language other than their own,
undoubtedly led to the adoption of the sign-language as a medium of communication, and the
knowledge of this, reacting, forever precluded the necessity of learning any oral
years the Cheyennes and Arrapahoes have been the firmest friends, occupying the same
country, living in the same camps, making peace or war with the same enemies at the same
time, and conducting themselves in everything (except inter-marriages) as if they were one
and the same tribe. women, or children of either tribe can hold even the most ordinary
conversation in the language of the other.
this fact yet more remarkable is, that while one language is comparatively easy, the other
is so exceedingly difficult, that even the best interpreters are forced to resort to
these most exceptional circumstances, it would seem inevitable that the easy language
would in time become the common means of communication of the two tribes. Such, however,
is not the case; each tribe uses its own language to communicate with its own people, and
the sign-language to communicate with the people of the other tribe.
white trader invaded the solitudes of the Indian, he took with him, or soon picked up, a
small stock of words which, by his constant use among the tribes have become as it were,
common property; thus squaw, the Narragansett name for woman, the Algonquin
papoose for child, chuck, food, and many other words have become
universal among all the North American Indians east of the Rocky Mountains, when speaking
to a white man, or Indian not of their own tribe.
multitude of languages is a peculiarity of savage life. Let the student remember the
condition, in this respect, of Northern and Western Europe, even as late as the time of
Julius C sar; of Africa and South America at the present day, and (without intending to be
facetious, and with the desire simply to call attention to the tenacity with which
barbarous peculiarities of language hold their grip on human nature,) of England,
Scotland, and Wales, through which, even in this enlightened age, an American can scarcely
travel satisfactorily to himself without an interpreter.
As in all
other matters where mere guess-work forms the basis of argument, authorities differ
extremely as to the probable Indian population of the country now known as the United
States at the time of its first settlement by whites, these estimates varying from three
hundred thousand to three millions. Basing my guess on my knowledge of the warlike
disposition of the Indians; of their natural tendency constantly to split into bands,
which possibly soon became fiercely hostile to each other; of the wide extent of territory
required by each tribe, not only for its food-supply, but for its safety; and of the
almost universal lack of fecundity of their women, I am of opinion that the number of the
aboriginal inhabitants of the territory mentioned has never at any one time much exceeded
half a million of souls.
of Indians has always been, and is now, very greatly overrated. This comes from the vanity
of the individual Indian, who, if asked about his tribe, will tell you that they are as
the leaves on the trees for numbers; and from the interested reports of
agents, who dearly like to feed, on paper, a tribe of a thousand Indians, but which has
actually only five hundred (or less) mouths.
the authority of Major Pilcher, an Indian Agent, estimates the Blackfeet at sixty thousand
(about 1835). There were really, probably, not more than a fourth of that number.
Indians have a strong superstitious repugnance to being counted, and this of late years,
(that is since the government has been issuing rations to Indians), is liable to a
suspicion of self-interest, the Indians themselves entirely appreciating the advantage of
getting from the agent five hundred rations for three hundred or less mouths.
of Indians in the United States (exclusive of Alaska), as stated in the last official
report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, is, in round numbers, two hundred and
fifty-three thousand. This is probably at least one-fifth too great, but it will be
impossible to arrive at the exact population so long as the government makes it to the
interest both of the agent and of the Indian to exaggerate their numbers.
Indians have, undoubtedly, greatly diminished in numbers within the last fifty years. This
is not due to unusual wars, nor even to the white mans fire-water (as is commonly
believed), but principally to those great Indian exterminators, small pox, measles, and
cholera, and to that humane policy of the government, which takes Indians from
salubrious mountainous regions, and settles them on reservations in malarious districts,
where they are soon decimated by fever and nostalgia. Speak of Indians as
nomads. They are nomadic, but this peculiar life does not prevent their having
the strongest possible home attachment, and the most ardent love of country. I
have already spoken of the wide extent of territory necessary to the comfortable existence
of even a small tribe. During the spring, summer, and autumn, the tribe roams at will
throughout the whole length and breadth of this territory, wherever it is led by abundance
of grass for their ponies, or food for themselves, the camp being changed as frequently as
necessity or caprice indicates. Within the limits of their territory, and during the
seasons mentioned, Indians are veritable nomads.
encampment is regarded by them as permanent, its location not being changed during the
whole three, four, or five months of cold and bad weather. The spot selected for the
winter encampment one year may be many miles away from that selected the year before or
the year after; but the memory of each is affectionately cherished; a specially good and
happy encampment not unfrequently giving the name to the year.
the limits of their territory Indians never go, except on war or hunting parties; on rare
occasions to pay a visit of ceremony to a neighboring friendly tribe; or on long solitary
journeys, as will be described.
limits of their territory they are nomads, but the territory itself is their
home. Their attachment to it is one of the strongest traits of their character. No people
are more truly lovers of their country, no people suffer more from
home-sickness, when forced to leave it.
capacity of the Indian is of superior order. His perceptive faculties are remarkably
developed, and his reasoning powers are not to be despised, however crude. He is
thoroughly master of all branches of education necessary to the comfort and safety of his
savage life, thus giving evidence of capacity for a higher order of education.
has shown little aptitude for, or devotion to, the rudiments of our civilized education,
is due partly to his excitability of temperament and impatience of restraint, and partly
to the simple fact that those who had charge of his education cared more for their
compensation than for the progress of their pupils, or were impressed with the idea that
the necessities of his soul were paramount to those of his intellect. Until very recently
the efforts at Indian education were so ill-directed, so entirely unadapted to the real
necessities of the problem, as to be absurd.
important question can be decided among Indians without a vast amount of verbiage; and the
faculty of speech-making seems to be even more universal among Red, than White Americans.
Indian is his own reporter, his own newspaper. He is expected and required to sound his
own praises, and to be modest about it would only redound to his discredit.
that he is obliged to speak in public, he spends no little time, not only in the
preparation and elaboration of the matter of his speech, but by frequent rehearsal
satisfies himself in the manner.
every warrior speaks well, some few of them eloquently; but his best efforts are those
addressed to his own people, when seeking to establish his reputation as a warrior and
orator, or when endeavoring to sway his audience to his own views on some contested point
of Indian policy. As a rule, his speeches to white people are trite and commonplace, a
parade of the Indian poverty, as compared to the white mans wealth; and his
peroration is almost invariably a whining and abject appeal to the charity of his hearers.
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