« ПредыдущаяПродолжить »
While for music came the play
Cheerily, then, my little man,
John G. WHITTIER.
VI. THE AMERICAN INDIANS.
1. The Indians were savages, but seldom degraded savages. They lived by hunting, fishing, and agriculture. Their farming, however, was of the rudest kind. For weapons they had bows and arrows, hatchets made of flint, and heavy clubs.
The Indian believed in a strict division of duties. He did the hunting, the fighting, the scalping; his wife did the work. She built the wigwam, or hut of bark. She planted and hoed the corn and tobacco. She made deerskin clothes for the family. When they moved, she carried the furniture on her back. Her housekeeping was simple. She kindled a fire on the ground by rubbing two dry sticks rapidly together; then she roasted the meat on the coals, or boiled it in an earthen pot. There was always plenty of smoke and dirt; but no one complained. House-cleaning was unknown.
2. The most ingenious work of the Indians was seen in the moccasin, the snow-shoe, and the birch-bark canoe. The moccasin was a shoe made of buckskin, — durable, soft, pliant, noiseless. It was the best covering for a hunter's foot that human skill ever contrived.
The snow-shoe was a light frame of wood, covered with a network of strings of hide, and having such a broad surface that the wearer could walk on top of the snow in pursuit of game. Without it the Indian might have starved in a severe winter, since only by its use could he run down the deer at this season.
3. The birch-bark canoe was light, strong, and easily propelled. It made the Indian master of every lake, river, and stream. Wherever there were water-ways he could travel quickly, silently, and with little effort. If he liked, he could go in his own private conveyance from the source of the Ohio to the Gulf of Mexico, or from the mouth of the St. Lawrence to the Falls of Niagara.
4. Politically, the Indian was free. Each tribe had a chief, but the chief had little real power. All important matters were settled by councils. The records of these councils were kept in a peculiar manner. The Indian could not write, but he could make pictures that often did as well. The treaty made by the Indians with William Penn was commemorated by a belt made of “wampum," or strings of beads. It represented an Indian and a white man clasping each other by the hand in token of friendship. That was the record of the peace established between them.
5. But quite independent of any picture, the arrangement of the beads and their colors had a meaning. When a council was held, a belt was made to show what had been done. Every tribe had its “wampum” interpreters. By examination of a belt they could tell what action had been taken at any public meeting in the past.
6. The beads of these “ wampum” strings had another use: they served for money, a certain number of them representing a certain fixed value. But the Indian rarely needed these beads for this purpose. The forest
supplied him and his family with food, clothes, and medicine. Under such circumstances a pocket full of money would have been as useless to him as to a bear. 7. Socially, the Indian had less liberty than the white
He was bound by customs handed down from his forefathers. He could not marry outside his tribe. He could not sit in whatever seat he chose at a council. He could not even paint his face any color he fancied; for a young man who had won no honors in battle would no more have dared to decorate himself like a veteran warrior than a private soldier in the United States army would venture to appear at parade in the uniform of a major-general.
8. Each tribe had a “ totem,” or badge, to designate it. The “ totem was usually the picture of some animal. Among the Iroquois the figures of the Bear, Turtle, and Wolf were the coats-of-arms of the first families ” of the Indian aristocracy. The “ totem was also used as a mark on gravestones, and as a seal. The old deeds of land often bear these Indian marks, just as a grant of land made now by the United States has the government seal appended to it.
9. The Indian usually believed in a Great Spiritall-powerful, wise, and good; but he also believed in many inferior spirits, some good and some evil.
Often he worshipped the evil spirits most. He reasoned in this way: The Great Spirit will not hurt me, even if I do not pray to him, for he is good; but if I neglect the evil spirits, they may do me mischief.
10. Beyond this life the Indian looked for another.
There the brave warrior who had taken many scalps would enter the happy hunting-grounds; there demons would flog the coward to never-ending tasks.
It has sometimes been said that “the only good Indian is a dead Indian”; but judged by his own standard of right and wrong, the red man was conscientious. He would not steal from his own tribe, he would not lie to his friends, he did not become a drunkard till the white man taught him.
11. The Indian rarely expressed his feelings in words, but he frequently painted them on his face. You could tell by his color whether he meant peace or war, whether he had heard good news or bad. He sometimes laughed and shouted; he seldom if ever wept. From childhood he was taught to despise pain. A row of little Indian boys would sometimes put live coals under their naked arms, and then press them close to their bodies. The game was, to see which one would first raise his arms, and drop the coal. The one that held out longest became the leader. If an Indian lad met with an accident, and was mortally wounded, he scorned to complain; he sang his “death-song,” and died like a veteran warrior.
12. Generally speaking, the Indians tortured their captives. They wanted to see how much agony they could bear without crying out. The surest way for a prisoner to save his life was to show that he was not afraid to lose it. The red man never failed to show his respect for courage. An instance is found in the case of General Stark of New Hampshire. He was taken prisoner by the Indians (1752) and condemned to run