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American Indians


Marlyce Cleem

People today have begun to dig out parts of their storyfrom the earth itself. Ancient bones of men and animals, stone tools, andthe charcoal of campfires give us the hints of how they lived. The formsof rocks and the traces left by water and ice help to show the dates. Butwe can never know the whole story. The Indian past is a mystery thousandsof years long, and modern scientists are working like detectives to findthe answer. This is what they have found so far.

Indian men and women each had their own work and did notbother each other. Men did most of the hunting and took part in the wars. Men helped a little with the crops, but women did most of the work, ifthere was any. In the Pueblo tribe, the men did all the farm work, becausethere was no hunting. When they found a place for a home the women, usuallybuilt it. They cooked, took care of the babies, and did nearly all thework in the house, as pottery and basketry. Indians from the plains hadtheir women carry back the meat their husbands had killed, butcher it, anddress the skins to make leather.

When the men weren't hunting, they didn't do anything,while the women kept on with their work. People often called the Indianmen lazy, because they were not used to the kinds of work the white mendid.

The Indian child spent the first year of his life on acradleboard. This was a flat piece of wood as long as the baby. Sometimesit had a sun protector made of buckskin. The baby was tied to the boardon some grass or bark. The mother could then carry him on her back whileshe worked. The babies don't seem to mind and it has been proven that itdoesn't hurt their health.

The child had quite a few other children to play with. They usually lived with their relatives. The house might have more thanjust a father and mother, but it also had grandfather, grandmother, unclesand aunts with all their children. The small children played with no clotheson at all. They helped bring sticks for the fire, and they learned to respectolder people. When they were eight years old they were wearing clotheslike their parents. Then the boys went with their fathers and the girlsstayed home with their mothers.

When the boys were about fourteen, they went out into thedesert or into the forest to be told about their future life. A girl usuallystayed with an old woman for about six months. After this there was a ceremony,dance or feast, and then she was ready to be married.

Boys and girls did not pick their own partners. The parentsor the whole family chose the mates. In some tribes, a girl can live withher husband's family, or a man can live with his wives people. The familymade sure the new husband or wife would be hard working and well behaved. Gifts were exchanged by both families.

The wedding was very simple, sometimes there was none atall. In some tribes the husband had to show respect for his mother-in-lawby never meeting her face to face or speaking to her. The wife carriedmessages between the two, so there wouldn't be any quarreling.

Some Indian tribes were divided into clans. A clan wasa group of people all descended from the same ancestors. Some tribes hadfather-clans.

Other tribes counted descent through the mother. Thenit was the boys who went away when they married, and their children belongedto the wives clan. All the clan members, thought of themselves as brothersand sisters. They never married each other, and they were always glad tohelp other people.

Sometimes a tribe was divided, with some of its clan inone half and the rest in the other. These divided clans helped eachother in ceremonies and played games against each other. No one could marrywith someone in his half, but would have to choose someone from anotherhalf.

Only a few eastern groups like the Iroquois and the Cherokeehad a real tribal government.

These little groups of tribes were sometimes villages. They usually had a leader whom we call a chief. He had others to helphim, but he was not like a king, who could make the people do as he wanted. He was more like a father or a teacher.

The real power was in the council, which usually includedall the men in the tribe. When they weren't hunting, they meet every nightand talk over the problems of the village. They never took action unlessthey all agreed. If some disagreed they just dropped the subject.

White people had a hard time understanding this. Theyalways expected the chief to answer for all his people. And they couldnot wait for a council to agree. The Indian groups were so small that theyknew what the people wanted, by talking it over at the nightly meetings,instead of having elections.

They needed a different plan when it came to war. Theleader usually appointed a war chief. Some groups chose a war chief onlywhen they needed him. Some let him volunteer. Some. kept a permanent warchief and a permanent peace chief, though the war chief had nothing to doexcept when trouble came up. The whites could not believe that the Indianswere a peaceful people and would not obey the war chief except when theywere planning a fight.

The Indians had little fights, when they were moving withother tribes. During these fights, they would sneak up on a village orcamp, wait until the people were all asleep, and make a sudden attack. They burned the houses and killed everyone they met, even women and children. Then they went before their own men could be killed. Some groups tookscalps or hostages to show what they had done.

The European settlers who came to America thought the Indianswere savages. They thought the Indians were cruel people.

The Indians had to make quick raids, or they would losetheir own few men. They usually had no time to choose whom they would killand who they would not kill. They were not trying to rule the enemy ortake his land, like the white man was. All they wanted was to scare himaway so he would leave them in peace. They found it hard to believe thata number of scalpings and burnings would not scare the white man away. They didn't know how many white people there were.

Many tribes took captives and treated them in differentways. The Northwesterners used them as slaves, for they could feed themand use them in housework. Some of the eastern tribes used them in farmwork.

The Iroquois and some of the southern tribes kept womencaptives, but sometimes tortured the men they took as a revenge on the enemy. They expected the same torture themselves, and even believed that deathby torture would help a man get into a special warrior's afterlife. Butwhen a man seemed unusually brave, they often gave up the revenge and adoptedhim into the tribe. Other tribes, especially the wanderers, could not botherwith captives. The people of the tribes often brought home a head or ascalp to show that they had killed an enemy.

Most groups had a grand victory dance around the scalpor the captive. If scalps were to be kept, they were often purified bya ceremony. Sometimes the victorious warriors were purified also. Theymight have to fast and undergo a ceremony before the would accept them againinto their group.

The Indians had other interests besides fighting. Menoften went on trading expeditions. America has many trails over which Indiansbrought shells from the Pacific, macaw feathers from Mexico, or copper fromthe Great Lakes. Some of the roads and railroads of today cross the sametrails of the Indians, because they cross the mountains at the lowest places.

All of the Indians, both young and old, played games. Women played as much as the men, but they played separately with differentgames.

Many of the games were athletic sports. Southwestern Indianswere good at racing, and would run over a thirty mile course. Sometimesthey ran in teams, with each team kicking a ball of wood with their barefeet. They had relay races also.

Another athletic game was hoop and pole. The players rolleda hoop along the ground then they threw a stick at it. The modern gameof lacrosse came from this game.

There were quieter sports such as hand games. One or moreplayers would hold marked sticks in their closed fists and the other sideguessed where a certain stick was. There were many different ways of playingthis game, some would hide a stone in a moccasin or a bean in a pile ofsand.

Many games were played with dice. These were not madeof ivory, but marked sticks were thrown into the air. One dice game wassomething like Parcheesi. A circle of stones was laid out on the ground,with four openings. Two or four men played. Each used a littler stone fora counter. The player threw the dice, then moved his counter. If he stoppedon the same stone as another player, the other was killed and had to gohome.

Women's games were like the men's. They ran races, andplayed with dice. They bet on their games, just like the men. Women playedwith women and men with men. Children played all the games that the olderpeople played. They made a game of imitating their parents. Little boyshad arrow shooting contests while their fathers cheered. Little girls madedolls of sticks or bones, and played house.

Indians did not believe in one God, or Heaven and Hell. To most of them, the world was filled with power.

Many tribes taught their children to go out into some.lonely place to fast and pray. Some animal or plant might appear and praisetheir bravery. Plains Indians sometimes cut off a finger joint in sacrifice.

The farming tribes held their ceremonies in honor of thecorn. All summer long they had dances to call the rain and to help theplants grow. Most of the time, the men only danced. The Pueblos stilldo some of these dances.

Indian ceremonies were conducted by priests. They calledthe medicine man a priest.

The Indians of long ago had many different standards ofliving than the Indians of today.


Colliers Encyclopedia Volume II Pages 646,647,648.

Comptons Encyclopedia Volume 7 Pages 109, 110, 113, 114,118,119, 123.

Encyclopedia Britannica Volume 12 Page 207.

World Book Encyclopedia Volume 9 Pages 37l7, 37l8, 3719,3720.

, 113, 114,118,119, 123.

Encyclopedia Britannica Volume 12 Page 207.

World Book Encyclopedia Volume 9 Pages 37l7, 37l8, 3719,3720.