INDIAN MUTABILITY --- INDIAN HABITS AND USAGES --- INDIAN DWELLINGS --- MANNER OF CONSTRUCTING THEM --- THEIR USES --- INDIAN TOWNS --- HOW BUILT AND FORTIFIED --- SOCIAL USES --- INDIAN TOWNS --- HOW BUILT AND FORTIFIED --- SOCIAL USAGES --- DRESS AND ORNAMENTS --- LAW OF MARRIAGE --- LICENSE --- EXPERIMENTAL MARRIAGES --- FAMILY DISCIPLINE --- HOME EMPLOYMENTS --- GAMBLING UNIVERSAL --- DANCES AND FEASTS --- THE WAR DANCE --- RELIGION AND SUPERSTITION --- STATED ANNUAL FESTIVALS --- MEDICAL FEASTS --- DREAMS --- WIZARDS AND WITCHES --- BURIALS --- WAMPUM --- HOSPITALITY.
We purpose giving in this chapter some of the more prominent features of Indian domestic and social life, which furnish the best index to their true character. The Indian, viewed as a distinct branch of the human family, has some peculiar traits and institutions which may be advantageously studied. They furnish the key to those startling impulses which have so long made him an object of wonder to civilized communities, and reveal him as the legitimate product of the conditions attending his birth, his forest education, and the wants, temptations and dangers which surround him. They show him also to be as patient and politic as he is ferocious.
"America, when it became know to Europeans, was, as it had long been, a scene of wide-spread revolution. North and South, tribe was giving place to tribe, language to language; for the Indian, hopelessly unchanging in respect to individual and social development, was as regarded tribal relations and social haunts, mutable as the wind. In Canada and the northern section of the United States, the elements of change were especially active. The Indian population which, in 1535, Cartier found at Montreal and Quebec, had disappeared at the opening of the next century, and another race had succeeded, in language and customs widely different; while in the region now forming the State of New York, a power was rising to a ferocious vitality, which, but for the presence of Europeans, would probably have subjected, absorbed or exterminated every other Indian community east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio."1
Hence we shall see that their habitations were not characterized by that durability and permanency which is manifest in stable communities. This mutability was governed primarily by success or non-success in war, or the fear of ambitious neighbors, for not unfrequently whole nations, or fragments of nations, submitted to expatriation to save themselves from extermination; and secondarily by the mode of Indian life. They subsisted generally by hunting and fishing. Their agriculture was usually of the most primitive character; and when, in the course of years, the fertility of their small clearings became exhausted, not conversant with the art of refertilization, they removed to and cultivated new fields. The scarcity of game and fuel also necessitated their removal to localities where it was more abundant.
Usually, however, they had large central villages, which exhibited in a more marked measure the elements of permanency. Thus the Iroquois, though living at different times in various localities in the State, retained their central habitations in or near localities where the whites first found them. Of the Iroquois, who subsisted mainly by the chase, the Senecas, who occupied the most fertile portion of the State, brought agriculture to the highest degree of perfection, and had the best houses. When General Sullivan passed through their country with his army in the fall of 1779, thousands of acres had been cleared, old orchards of apples, pears, peaches and other fruits existed, and evidences of long cultivation abounded.2
Their dwellings differed in shape and size, and, though rude, were generally built with considerable labor and care.3 They are generally about thirty feed square and of the same height.4 The sides were formed of hickory saplings set in two parallel rows and bent inward, thus forming an arch. Transverse poles were bound to the uprights and over the arch. The whole was covered with bark, overlapping like shingles, and held in place by smaller poles fastened to the frame with cords of linden bark. An open space about a food wide extended the whole length of the ridge and served the double purpose of window and chimney. At each end was an enclosed space, for the storage of supplies of Indian corn, dried flesh, fish, etc., which were kept in bark vessels. Along each side were wide scaffolds, some four feet from the floor, which, when covered with skins, formed the summer sleeping places, while beneath was stored their firewood gathered and kept for dry use. In some cases these platforms were in sections of twelve to fourteen feet, with spaces for storage between them. Five or six feet above was another platform, often occupied by children. Overhead poles were suspended for various uses, to make and dry their fish and flesh, and hold their weapons, skins, clothing, corn, etc. In cold weather the inmates slept on the floor, huddled about the fires, which ranged through the center of the house. In their larger structures the sides usually consisted of rows of upright posts, and the roof, still arched, formed of separate poles. The door consisted of a sheet of bark hung on wooden hinges, or suspended by cords from above. Generally they were lined with a thick coating of soot, by the large fires maintained for warmth and for cooking. So pungent was the smoke, that it produced inflammation of the eyes, attended in old age with frequent blindness. Their wolfish dogs were as regular occupants as the unbridled and unruly children. The Iroquois preserved this mode of building in all essential particulars till a recent period, and it was common and peculiar to all tribes of their lineage.
Says Parkman, to whom and to the Colonial Documents we are indebted for the foregoing description:-
"He who entered on a winter night beheld a strange spectacle: The vista of fires lighting the smoky concave; the bronzed groups encircling each, cooking, eating, gambling, or amusing themselves with idle badinage; shrivelled squaws, hideous with three-score years of hardship; grisly old warriors, scarred with Iroquois war-clubs; young aspirants, whose honors were yet to be won; damsels gay with ochre and wampum; restless children, pell-mell with restless dogs. Now a tongue of resinous flame painted each wild feature in vivid light; now the fitful gleam expired, and the group vanished from sight, as their nation has vanished from history."5
The Indian towns were generally but an irregular and confused aggregation of Indian houses, clustered with little regard to order, and covering from one to ten acres. They were often fortified, and a situation favorable to defense was always chosen-the bank of a lake, the crown of a difficult hill, or a high point of land in the fork of confluent rivers. These defenses were not often constructed with any mathematical regularity, but made to conform to the nature of the ground.6 Frequently a precipice or river sufficed for a partial defense --- and the line or embankment occurred only on one or two sides.
An embankment was constructed of the earth thrown up from a deep ditch encircling the town, and palisades, of twenty to thirty feet in height, planted thereon, in one to four concentric rows, those of each row inclining toward those of the others till they intersected. These palisades were cut by the alternate process of burning and hacking the burnt part with stone hatchets,7 from trees felled in the same manner, and were often interlaced with flexible branches, to prevent their destruction by fire, a common effort of the enemy. They were lined to the height of a man with heavy sheets of bark; and on the top, where they crossed, was a gallery of timber for the defenders, together with wooden gutters, by which streams of water could be poured on fires kindled by the enemy. Magazines of stones, and rude ladders for mounting the rampart, completed the provision for defense. The forts of the Iroquois were stronger and more elaborate than those of other Indian nations, and large districts in New York are marked with the remains of their ditches and embankments, some instances of which occur both in Chenango and Madison Counties, and will be more minutely described in connection with the towns in which they are known to exist.
Large quantities of timber were consumed in building these fortifications, and hence clearings of considerable extent were made and opened to their rude cultivation. In that work the squaws were employed, assisted by the children and superannuated warriors; not as a compulsory labor, but assumed by them as a just equivalent for the onerous and continuous labor of the other sex, in providing meats and skins for clothing, by the chase, and in defending their villages against their enemies and keeping intruders off their territories.8 The implement used for tilling the soil was a bone or wooden hoe, (pemidgeag akwut,) and the chief crops, corn (mondamin), beans, pumpkins, tobacco, sunflowers and hemp. There was no individual ownership of land, but each family had for the time exclusive right to as much as they saw fit to cultivate. The clearing process was a laborious one, and consisted in hacking off branches, piling them together with brushwood around the foot of the standing trunks, and setting fire to the whole.
With the Iroquois the staple article of food was corn, "cooked without salt in a variety of different forms, each," says Parkman, "more odious than the last." This, cooked with beans of various colors, were highly esteemed by them, but was more of a dainty than a daily dish. Their bread, which was of indifferent quality, but an article of daily consumption, was made of corn; from which they also made a porridge, called by some Sapsis, by others, Duundare (boiled bread). Venison was a luxury found only at feasts; dog flesh was held in high esteem; and in some of the towns captive bears were fattened for festive occasions.9
These stationary tribes were far less improvident than the roving Algonquins, and laid up stores or provision against a season of want. Their main stock of corn was buried in caches, or deep holes dug in the earth. In respect to the arts of life, also, they were in advance of the wandering hunters of the North. The women made a species of earthen pot for cooking, but these were supplanted by the copper kettle of the French traders. They wove rush mats with no little skill. They spun twine from the hemp, by the primitive process of rolling it on their thighs; and of this twine they made nets. They extracted oil from fish and from the seeds of the sunflower, the latter, apparently, only for the purposes of the toilet. They pounded their maize in huge mortars of wood, hollowed by alternate burnings and scrapings.10 To the woman belonged the drudgery of the household, as well as the field, though it may be questioned if the task was as onerous as it is generally supposed to have been.11 Among the Iroquois there were favorable features in her condition. She had often a considerable influence in the decisions of the councils. To the men, in addition to the duties already enumerated, belonged that of making the implements of war and the chase, pipes, which were often skillfully and elaborately wrought, and canoes. These are of two kinds; "some of entire trees, excavated by fire, axes and adzes,"12 and others were made of bark. Those of the Hurons, and other northern tribes, were made of birch bark; while those of the Iroquois, in the absence of birch, were made of elm, which was greatly inferior, both in lightness and strength.
The dress of both men and women consisted of skins of various kinds, dressed in the well-known Indian manner, and worn in the shape of kilts, or doublets thrown over the shoulders, the men often wearing it only over the left shoulder, so as to leave their right arm free. Formerly these coverings were made of turkey feathers, woven together with a thread of wild hemp;13 but latterly both these and the skins were superceded by a piece of duffels,14 which they obtained in trade from the whites. The rich wore a piece of blue, red or black cloth about "two yards" long, fastened around the waist, the lower seam of which in some cases, was decorated with ribbons, wampum or corals. The poor covered themselves with a bear-skin, and even the rich did the same in cold weather, or it its stead, a pelisse of beaver or other fur, with the hair turned inward. They made stockings and shoes of deer-skins or elk-hides which, says Loskiel, were "tanned with the brains of deer," which made them very soft; and some even wore shoes made of corn husks, of which also they made sacks. The dress which peculiarly distinguished the women, was a petticoat, made of a piece of cloth about two yards long, fastened tight about the hips, and hanging down a little below the knees.15 This they wore day and night. A longer one would have impeded them in walking through the woods and working in the fields. Their holiday dress was either blue or red and sometimes black, hung all round, frequently from top to bottom, with red, blue and yellow ribbons. "Most women of rank," says Loskiel, "wear a fine white linen shift with a red collar, reaching from their necks, nearly to the knees. Others wear shifts of printed linen or cotton of various colors, decorated at the breast with a great number of silver buckles, which are also worn by some as ornaments upon the petticoats." The men also frequently appeared in a white shirt with a red collar, worn over the rest of the clothes. The dress "of the women, according to the Jesuits," says Parkman, in speaking of the Hurons, "was more modest than that of our most pious ladies of France!" The young girls on festal occasions must be excepted from this commendation, as they wore merely a kilt from the waist to the knee, besides the wampum decorations of the breast and arms. Their long black hair, gathered behind the neck, was decorated with disks of native copper, or gay pendants made in France, and now occasionally unearthed in numbers from their graves. The men, in summer, were nearly naked, those of a kindred tribe wholly so, with the sole exception of their moccasins."16
All Indians were very much addicted to personal ornamentation, the women more so than the men. In these decorations consisted their wealth, and they were a means also of marking their rank among themselves.17 The men paid particular attention to the dress and adornment of their wives, and thought it scandalous to appear better clothed than they.18 Their robes of fur were often richly decorated on the inside with painted figures and devices, and elaborately embroidered, and were of great value. Much time and labor was bestowed in decorating their faces and bodies with paint and other devices. The latter was frequently covered entirely with black, in case of mourning and was most singularly tattooed with representations of serpents, birds and other creatures. The entire body was thus sometimes covered, and though the operation was severe and painful, at times resulting in death, not a murmur escaped the sufferer. From these decorations they sometimes acquired appellations by which their pride was exceedingly gratified; thus an Iroquois chief, whose breast was covered with black scarifications, was called the Black Prince.19 The face each day received a fresh application of paint, and this was an object of special care if they were going to a dance. Vermillion was their favorite color, and with it they frequently painted the entire head. At other times half the face and head were painted red and the other half black. Near the river Muskingum was found a yellow ochre, which, when burnt, made a beautiful red color. This the Huron warriors chiefly used for paint, and did not think a journey of a hundred miles too great a price to pay for it. Some preferred blue, "because," says Loskiel, "it is the color of the sky, when calm and serene, and, being considered an emblem of peace, it is frequently introduced as such in their public orations." White clay, soot and the red juice of certain berries, were among the agents employed in these fantastic decorations. Some wore a large pearl, or piece of silver, gold, or wampum, suspended from a hole bored in the cartilage of the nose. From their ears, which had been previously distended and lengthened as much as possible, depended pearls, rings, sparkling stones, feathers, flowers, corals, or silver crosses. A broad collar made of violet wampum was deemed a most precious ornament, and the rich even decorated their breasts with it. "It is always necessary," says Father Sebastien Rasles, "to add a small piece of porcelain, which hangs at the end of the collar."20
The hair was worn in various and grotesque fashions, and decorated with silver and other trinkets of considerable weight. The women suffered it to grow without restraint, and thus it frequently reached below the hips. Nothing was thought more ignominious in women than to have it cut off, and this was only now and then resorted to as an act of punishment. They anointed it with bear's grease to make it shine. "The Delaware women," says Loskiel, "never plait their hair, but fold and tie it round with a piece of cloth. Some tie it behind, then roll it up, and wrap a ribband or the skin of a serpent round it. * * * But the Iroquois, Shawanose, and Huron women wear a queue, down to their hips, tied round with a piece of cloth, and hung with red ribbands." The men did not allow their hair to grow long, and some even pulled so much of it out by the roots, that a little only remained around the crown of the head, forming a round crest of about two inches in diameter. This was divided into two parts, plaited, tied with ribbon, and allowed to hang on either side of the head. The crown was frequently ornamented with a plume of feathers, placed either upright or aslant; and the hair at feasts, with silver rings, corals, wampum, and even silver buckles. With some the hair was braided tight to one side and allowed to hang loose on the other; while with others, it bristled in a ridge across the crown, like the back of a hyena.21
It was common to rub their bodies with the fat of bears or other animals, which was sometimes colored, to make their limbs supple, and to guard against the sting of mosquitoes and other insects.
The Iroquois studied dress and ornamentation more than any other Indian nation and were allowed to dictate the fashion to the rest.
The Iroquois married early in life, the men sometimes in their eighteenth, and the women in their fourteenth year. Both marriage and divorce were effected with equal facility and were attended with very little ceremony. The marriage ceremony consisted in the acceptance of a gift from a suitor by the intended wife, and the return on her part of a dish of boiled maize and an armful of fuel.22 Divorces ensued at the pleasure of the parties, for the most trivial causes, and without disgrace to either, unless it had been occasioned by some scandalous offense.23 The man signified his wish to marry by a present of blankets, cloth, linen, and perhaps a few belts of wampum, to the nearest relatives of the object of his desire. If they happened to be pleased with the present and suitor, they proposed the matter to the girl, who generally decided agreeably to the wish of the parents or relatives. If the proposal was declined the present was returned by way of a friendly negative. The woman or girl indicated this desire by sitting, with her face covered with a veil. If she attracted a suitor, negotiations were opened with parents or friends, presents given and the bride taken.
Monogamy was the rule; but polygamy was tolerated, though it mostly obtained among the chiefs. Among the Iroquois and kindred nations "experimental marriages" were common, but were usually of short duration. "The seal of the compact was merely the acceptance of a gift of wampum, made by the suitor to the object of his desire or his whim. These gifts were never returned on the dissolution of the connection; and as an attractive and enterprising damsel might, and often did, make twenty such marriages before her final establishment, she thus collected a wealth of wampum with which to adorn herself for the village dances. This provisional matrimony was no bar to a license, boundless and, apparently, universal, unattended with loss of reputation on either side.24 But notwithstanding this great freedom, the great majority of Iroquois marriages were permanent.
Indian women performed the functions of maternity with a facility almost unknown at the present day; but Schoolcraft bears testimony to the fact that the average number of children borne by them, who reached the adult period, scarcely exceeded two. "Much of this extraordinary result" he ascribes "to their erratic mode of life, and their cramped means of subsistence. Another cause is to be found in the accidents and exposure to which young children are liable, but still more to their shocking ignorance of medicine."
Family discipline was little resorted to. Filling the mouth with water and spurting it over the refractory urchins, or denuding and plunging them into cold water, were the principal means employed.25 The children were always considered the property of the wife, and in case of divorce followed her; though those who had grown up might stay with the father if they chose. Both parents were very desirous of gaining the affection of their children, and hence never opposed their inclinations, that they might not lose it. Their education therefore was not much attended to. The father generally gave the child a name in his sixth or seventh year, and pretended that it was suggested to him in a dream. This was done at a sacrifice, in a song. The same ceremony was performed when an adult person received a name of honor in addition to the former.
Taciturn, morose and cruel as the Indians were usually in their hunting and warlike expeditions, in their own cabins and communities they were very social, patient and forbearing; in their festal seasons, when all were at leisure, they engaged in a round of continual feasting, gambling, smoking and dancing. In gambling they spent much of their leisure, and staked all they controlled on the chances of the game, their food, ornaments, canoes, clothing, and even their wives. Various devices were employed, plum stones or pieces of wood, painted black on one side and white on the other, these were put into a wooden bowl, which, being struck heavily upon the ground, caused the balls to bound upward, and the betting was upon the white or black faces that were uppermost when they fell. The game had a peculiar fascination, in which two entire villages sometimes contended, and cases are related where some of the contestants lost their leggings and moccasins, and complacently returned home barefooted through the snow. Some of the Iroquois believed that they would play this game in the spirit land.26
Dancing was both a common amusement and a solemn duty with all Indians, and not a night passed during these periods of leisure without a dance in one family or another to which the youth of both sexes resorted with eagerness. The common dance was held in a large house or in an open field around a fire. A circle was formed and a leader chosen. The women danced with great decorum, even gravity, never speaking a word to the men, much less joking with them, as that would injure their character. They neither jumped nor skipped, but moved one foot lightly backward and forward, till by gradual advances they reached a certain spot, when they retired in the same manner. They kept their bodies straight and their arms hung down close to their sides. The men shouted, leaped and stamped with great violence, their extreme agility and lightness of foot being shown to great advantage. The sole music consisted of a single drum, made by stretching a thin deer skin over an old barrel or kettle, or the lower end of a hollow tree, and beat with one stick. Its sound was disagreeable, and served only to mark the time, which they kept with exactness, even when dancing in great numbers. The intervals between the rounds were enlivened with winging by the drummer. These dances commonly lasted till midnight.
Another kind of dance was attended only by men. Each rose in his turn and danced with great agility and boldness, extolling the great deeds of himself or forefathers in a song, to which the whole company beat time, by a rough, monotonous note, sung with great vehemence at the commencement of each bar.
Other dances were held upon particular occasions, the chief of which was the dance of peace, called also the calumet, or pipe-dance, because the calumet, or pipe of peace, was handed about during the dance. The dancers joined hands and leaped in a ring for some time. Suddenly, the leader let go the hand of one of his partners, keeping hold of the other. He then sprang forward, turned round several times, so that he was encircled by the rest of the company. They disengaged themselves as suddenly, keeping hood of each other's hands during all the evolutions and changes of the dance, which, as they explained it, represented the chain of friendship. A song, composed especially for this solemnity, was sung by all.27
The War Dance, held either before or after a campaign, was dreadful to behold. No one took part in it but the warriors themselves. They affected with such marvelous fidelity the fierce passions which actuated them in their bloody deeds of valor, as to give the shuddering spectator an exact pantomime representation of the scenes in which they had actually engaged --- representations as horrible as lifelike. It delineated the preparations for the war, and all the common incidents attending it --- their arming, departure, arrival in the enemy's country, the encampment, the attack, the struggle, the victory, and lastly the torture of captives.
Clark's Onondaga gives a most thrilling and minute description of this dance, of which the following is an epitome:---
A returning war party, fully armed and hideously painted, with the scalps of the slain suspended from their girdles, rush, with a deafening war-whoop, thrice repeated, to the council-house, and are cordially received by the chiefs and aged men of the nation, to whom they recount in detail, with simulated earnestness and reality, how and where they met the foe, how many they had slain, the fortitude of prisoners under torture, the snares and ambuscades they escaped, the daring feats they themselves performed, and their willingness to again take the war-path. Then follows the war-dance, which, for singularity of effect, and the thrilling animation it imparts to the actors, is not surpassed by any rite of modern times. The fantastic figures painted on their almost naked bodies, the rude head dresses and ornaments, consisting of bells, brooches, rings, a profusion of ear and nose jewels, with deers' hoofs dangling about their ankles, gave the performers a most singular and grotesque appearance. A young brave approaches the securely-bound captive and with great vehemence and earnestness of manner, thus taunts him: "Your glorious deeds are now at an end; you must prepare yourself for torture by fire; no mercy will be shown your character for heroism will be established by the fortitude with which you withstand your sufferings." With a terrific war-whoop, the warriors commenced preparations for the torture of their captive. Their rude music --- the monotous beating of a barrel-head drum --- accompanied with singing, now struck up, and the warriors engaged in a dance of the most frantic character; during which the sweat rolled profusely from their bodies, their breasts heaved from excessive exertion, and with dilated nostrils, and eyes flashing the spirit of the intense passion which wrought them to the utmost frenzy, amid the most horrid grimaces and prolonged war-whoops, they continually brandished their gleaming hatchets and flourished their war-clubs about the head and person of their victim, who stood with the utmost composure and apparent unconcern, singing occasionally his own achievements in war and taunting his captors with their ignorance in the art of torture. This scene of almost inconceivable torture, lasted more than two hours, when the cord which bound the prisoner was cut. Having stood, apparently, on the verge of eternity, and awaited the fatal blow which seemed inevitable, the hope of escape which this liberation seemed to give, sent the stagnating life-blood surging through his veins and animated him with a desperate energy. He bounded like a panther for the opening made only to tempt him but; his merciless tormentors pursued him with increased fury, amid the most terrific yells, till he fell dead beneath their hatchets. The slow and melancholy death-song, chanted by the whole party as they moved solemnly in single file around the prostrated body closed the scene.
It may be of service in this connection to cite a few of the almost innumerable instances of the most revolting and exquisite torture practiced by the Iroquois on their prisoners; premising that these tortures were often protracted and perhaps rendered more agonizing by the effort to extort from the sufferers a cry of pain, for to fail in this was thought to auger disaster to the victors, and was a sweet revenge to their savage victims, whose fortitude was thereby strengthened.
In 1638, a party of 100 Iroquois was met in the forest by 300 Hurons, and defeated. Among the prisoners taken by the Hurons was an Oneida chief named Ononkwaya, who was put to the torture.
"On the scaffold where he was burned, he wrought himself into a fury which seemed to render him insensitive to pain. Thinking him nearly spent his tormentors scalped him, when, to their amazement, he leaped up, snatched the brands that had been the instrument of his torture, drove the screeching crowd from the scaffold, and held them all at bay, while they pelted him from below with sticks, stones and showers of live coals. At length he made a false step and fell to the ground, when they seized him and threw him into the fire. He instantly leaped out, covered with blood, cinders and ashes, and rushed upon the, with a blazing brand in each hand. The crowd gave way before him, and he ran towards the town as it to set it on fire. They threw a pole across his way, which tripped him and flung him headlong to the earth, on which they all fell upon him, cut off his hands and feet, and again threw him into the fire. He rolled himself out, and crawled forward on his elbows and knees, glaring upon them with such unutterable ferocity that they recoiled once more, till, seeing that he was helpless, they threw themselves upon him, and cut off his head.28
In 1649, the Jesuit Jean de Brébeuf, the founder of the Huron mission, was captured with others, by the Iroquois in one of their eruptions into the Huron country, and subjected to the most excruciating torture.
"Brébeuf was led apart and bound to a stake. He seemed more concerned for his captive converts than for himself, and addressed them in a loud voice, exhorting them to suffer patiently, and promising Heaven as their reward. The Iroquois, incensed, scorched him from head to foot, to silence him; whereupon, in the tone of the master, he threatened them with everlasting flames, for persecuting the worshipers of God. As he continued to speak, with voice and countenance unchanged, they cut away his lower lip and thrust a red hot iron down his throat. He still his tall form erect and defiant, with no sign or sound of pain; and they tried another means to overcome him. They led out Lalemant, [an associate missionary, captured at the same time,] that Brébeuf might see him tortured. They had tied strips of bark, smeared with pitch, about his naked body. * * * [They] made him fast to a stake, and set fire to the bark that enveloped him. As the flame rose, he threw his arms upward, with a shriek of supplication to Heaven. Next they hung around Brébeuf's neck a collar made of hatchets heated red hot; but the indomitable priest stood like a rock. A Huron in the crowd, who had been a convert of the mission, but was now an Iroquois by adoption, called out with the malice of a renegade, to pour hot water on their heads, since they had poured so much cold water on those of others. The kettle was accordingly slung, and the water boiled and poured slowly on the heads of the two missionaries. 'We baptize you,' they cried, 'that you may be happy in Heaven; for nobody can be saved without a good baptism.' Brébeuf would not flinch; and, in a rage, they cut strips of flesh from his limbs, and devoured them before his eyes. Other renegade Hurons called out to him, 'You told us that the more one suffers on earth, the happier he is in Heaven. We wish to make you happy; we torment you because we love you; and you ought to thank us for it.' After a succession of other revolting tortures, they scalped him; when seeing him nearly dead, they laid open his breast, and came in a crowd to drink of the blood of so valiant an enemy, thinking to imbibe with it some portion of his courage. A chief then tore out his heart and devoured it. * * * Lalemant, physically weak from childhood, and slender almost to emaciation was constitutionally unequal to a display of fortitude like that of his colleague. When Brébeuf died, he was led back to the house whence he had been taken, and tortured there all night, until, in the morning, on of the Iroquois, growing tired of the protracted entertainment, killed him with a hatchet."29
Says the Jesuit Ragueneau:---
"We saw no part of his body, from head to foot, which was not burned, even to his eyes, in the sockets of which these wretches had placed live coals."30
"Last summer," writes Lalemant in 1643, "two thousand warriors of the Neutral Nation attacked a town of the Nation of Fire, well fortified with a palisade, and defended by nine hundred warriors. They took it after a siege of ten days; killed many on the spot; and made eight hundred prisoners, men, women, and children. After burning seventy of the best warriors, they put out the eyes of the old men, and cut away their lips, and then left them to drag out a miserable existence. Behold the scourge that is depopulating all this country!"31
Prodigality was as much a characteristic of their feasts as their dances and other amusements, with which they were often associated, and like them are supposed to have had their origin in religion.32 They were often participated in by whole villages, sometimes even by neighboring villages, and in this way a vain or ambitious host applied all his substance to one entertainment. Brébeuf relates an instance of this kind which occurred in the winter of 1635, at the village of Contarrea, where thirty kettles were over the fires, and twenty deer and four bears were served up.33 The invitation was simple and consisted in the simple concise summons, "Come and eat." To refuse was a grave offense. Each guest took his dish and spoon and as he entered, greeted his host with the ejaculation, Ho! He then ranged himself with the rest, squatted on the earthen floor or on the platform along the sides of the house, around the steaming kettles. A long prelude of lugubrious singing preceded the feast. The host, who took no share in the feast, then proclaimed in a loud voice the contents of each kettle and at each announcement the company responded in unison, Ho! The attendant squaws then filled the bowls of the guests, who interspersed their feasting with talking, laughing, jesting, singing and smoking, at times protracting the entertainment throughout the day.
When the feast partook of a medical character it was indispensable that each guest should eat all that was served to him, however enormous the quantity, even if he should die. Should he fail, the host would be outraged, the community shocked, and the spirits roused to vengeance. Disaster would befall the nation; death, perhaps, the individual. A vicarious alternative was provided, however; and when one found himself unable to conform to the ridiculous practice, he engaged, when he could, another of the company to eat what remained of his portion, generally rewarding his benefactor with a present. This was the only way of getting out of the dilemma. "In some cases the imagined efficacy of the feast was proportioned to the rapidity with which the viands were dispatched. Prizes of tobacco were offered to the most rapid feeder; and the spectacle then became truly porcine." These feasts were much dreaded, but were never known to be declined.34
The Indians had rude, though positive religious ideas, which were associated with --- almost entirely embodied in --- superstition, that natural concomitant of ignorance. As observed by the early Jesuits, before being contaminated by those of civilized nations, they were in strict accordance, as with other nations, civilized or barbarous, with their mental and moral development, and hence differed in different nations. They evinced, in perfect analogy with the barbaric condition of the Indians themselves, a greater fear of evil than of reverence for good; and hence their devotions consisted more in propitiating evil spirits than invoking the interposition of good. Indeed, and here we realize the beauty of their simplicity, it was deemed superfluous to importune the source of goodness. Analogous to this difference in their religious ideas is their differing cosmogonies.35 The belief in immortality was almost universal, but, though rarely, there were those who denied it;36 even animals were endowed with it, and were deified and worshiped.37 This veneration for the animal kingdom is reflected in the common practice of selecting from it the names by which the tribes were designated.
The Indians' God, whom the Iroquois called Hawenniio (meaning he rules, he is master,) was endowed with attributes akin to their own, but primitively not with that of moral goodness. The Indian language had no word expressive of our abstract idea of deity. The Iroquois had another God, with equal claims to supremacy. Him they called Areskoui, and his most prominent attribute was that of a god of war. He was often invoked, and the flesh of animals and captive enemies was burned in his honor. They had also a third deity, called Tarenyowagon, or Teharonhiawagon, whose place and character is not well defined. In some traditions he appears as the son of Jouskeha, the ruler of the world, and endowed with great influence, for he is was who spoke to men in dreams. Some writers identify him with Hiawatha, to whom the Iroquois ascribe their confederation; while Van der Donck assumes that he is God, and Areskoui, the Devil.38 Beside these they had numerous objects, both animate and inanimate, which were endowed with supernatural powers and supplicated. These the Iroquois called Okies; the Algonquins and other tribes, Manitous. There were local manitous of streams, rocks, mountains, cataracts and forests, which, when they revealed themselves to mortal sight, bore the semblance of beasts, reptiles or birds, in unusual or distorted shapes, their conception betraying, for the most part, a striking poverty of imagination. There were manitous without local habitations, some good, some evil, countless in number and indefinite in attributes. They filled the world and controlled the destinies of Indians, who were held to be under a spiritual rule distinct from that which governs the white man. These were, for the most part, in the shape of animals. Sometimes they took the form of stones, and, though less frequently, assumed human proportions. Each Indian had his guardian manitou, to whom he looked to for counsel, guidance and protection. These spiritual allies, says Parkman, were gained as follows:---
"At the age of fourteen or fifteen, the Indian boy blackens his face, retires to some solitary place, and remains for days without food. Superstitious expectancy and exhaustion of abstinence rarely fail of their results. His sleep is haunted by visions, and the form that most often appears, is that of his guardian manitou, * * *. An eagle or a bear is the vision of a destined warrior; a wolf, of a successful hunter; while a serpent foreshadows the future medicine-man, or, according to others, portends disaster. The young Indian thenceforth wears about his person the object of his dreams, or some portion of it, as a bone, a feather, a snake-skin, or a tuft of hair. This is the modern language of the forest and prairie, is known as his medicine. The Indian yields to it a sort of worship, propitiates it with offerings of tobacco, thanks it in prosperity, and upbraids it in disaster. If his medicine fails to bring the desired success, he will sometimes discard it and adopt another. The superstition now becomes mere fetich-worship, since the Indian regards the mysterious object which he carries about him rather as an embodiment than as a representative of a supernatural power."
The points of the compass and the winds were also personified as manitous. There was a summer-Maker and a Winter-Maker, and the latter was kept at bay by throwing fire brands into the air. The hunter sought to propitiate the game he desired to kill, and was often known to address a wounded bear in a long apologetic harangue. This is also true of the fish, which, says Parkman, "were addressed every evening from the fishing-camp, by one of the party chosen for that function, who exhorted them to take courage and be caught, assuring them that the utmost respect should be shown to their bones. The harangue, which took place after the evening meal, was made in solemn form; and while it lasted, the whole party, except the speaker, were required to lie on their backs, silent and motionless, around the fire." The fish-nets were no less objects of solicitude, and to induce them to do their work effectually, were married every year to two young girls, with a ceremony far more formal than that observed in human wedlock. As it was indispensable that the brides should be virgins, mere children were chosen.39
Though believing in the immortality of the soul, the Indian did not always accompany it with a belief in a state of future reward and punishment; and when such belief did exist, the reward and punishment were sensuous rather than moral. Some, though but few, believed in the transmigration of the soul. They had religious teachers, whose code of morals, says Loskiel, was as severe as their own non-observance of it was universal. To the poor they recommended vomiting among other things, as the most expeditious mode of purification from their sins. "Some," says Loskiel, "who believed in these absurdities, vomited so often that their lives were endangered by it." He pertinently adds, "few indeed persevered in attending to so severe a regimen." Others, he says, recommended stripes as the most effectual means to that end, "and advised their hearers to suffer themselves to be beaten with twelve different sticks, from the soles of their feet to their necks, that their sins might pass from them through their throats." "Even these," he says, "had their willing scholars, though it was apparent that the people became no better, but rather worse by these wretched doctrines."
The Iroquois had five stated annual festivals, each conducted in a manner appropriate to the special event commemorated.
The first was held in the spring, after the close of the sugar-making season, in gratitude for the abundance of sap and quantity of sugar they had been permitted to make. The aged chiefs admonished the young men to rectitude and virtue as the way to merit a continuance of these favors. It was usually closed with dancing, singing and games.
The second was held immediately after corn planting; when thanks were rendered for a favorable seed-time, instructions given for the care and cultivation of the crop, and the great spirit invoked to give it a healthy growth.
The third, called the green-corn feast, was held when the corn was ready for use, and thanks were rendered for this valuable gift, which was prepared and consumed in great quantity and in a variety of ways. Songs and dances entered largely into the ceremonies of the occasion, which were closed by the famous succotash dance. The pipe of peace was usually smoked on these festal days by the head men of the nation.
The fourth was held after the close of the corn harvest, for which thanks were given, and was followed by the usual festivities.
To the preceding festivals, which latterly occupied but one day each, three days each were formerly allotted.
The fifth, the last, and crowning festival of the year, the one to which the greatest importance was attached, was held late in January or early in February, immediately after the return of the hunters from the chase, with their wealth of game and skins, and was celebrated with great pomp and ceremony. When every preparation had been made by managers chosen for that purpose, runners were sent to every cabin in the nation, to give notice of the fact. The fire was extinguished in every cabin, each of which was then visited and purified by persons designated for that purpose, who scattered the ashes, swept the hearth and rekindled the fire. This occupied the first day. On the second the managers, fantastically dressed, visited each house and received the gifts of the people, which consisted of various articles useful for food, incense or sacrifice. This was continued several days, according to the time allotted for the continuance of the festival, during which time the people assembled at the council-house were engaged in various sports. All must give something, or be saluted with a "rub" by the solicitors, which left a mark of disgrace not easily effaced, and be excluded from the sacrificial absolution.
Preparations were made on the day preceding the last for the great sacrifice, which was to take place on the succeeding one. The offerings which had been collected were presented separately by the giver to the master of ceremonies, who, with the utmost gravity, uttered a short ejaculatory prayer, to which those present made a hearty response. These gifts as they were returned were hung around the council room. The sins of the people, which were supposed to have been concentrated in the managers, were transferred by them to two individuals clad in white, who, in turn, transferred them to two white dogs, which had been previously fantastically painted with red figures, decorated with small belts of wampum, ribbons and feathers, and killed by strangulation. These were then taken to the council-house and laid upon a platform, the whole proceedings being characterized by the most devout solemnity. They were subsequently carried with formal ceremony to the fire, which had been kindled outside the house, and around which the multitude gathered. Each in turn was thrown upon the fire, the act being preceded by prayer and song. Basket of herbs and tobacco were thrown upon the fire at intervals and the whole consumed.40
An Indian community swarmed with sorcerers, medicine-men and diviners, whose functions were often united in one person. The former, by charms, magic songs and feasts, and the beating of drums, professed poser over spirits and those occult influences inherent in animals and inanimate things. The Indian mind, so prone to mysticisms, was largely influenced by these deceivers. The doctors knew how to cure wounds, and treated simple diseases successfully, but were not skilled in the practice of medicines. The general health was due more to their habits than to acknowledge of remedies. One method of treatment was the sweating bath, which was literally an earthen oven, around which heated stones were placed to raise the temperature. Into this the patient crawled, and after remaining under perspiration a certain length of time, was taken out and immersed suddenly in cold water, a process well calculated to "kill or cure." The oil obtained from beavers was used by them in many forms and for various purposes. It was a remedy to which the Dutch attached much value. But they relied far more on magic than natural remedies. Diseases, they believed, resulted from supernatural causes, and hence supernatural and extremely ludicrous curative agencies were resorted to. They beat, shook, pinched and bit their patients, and sought to expel the evil spirits by deafening noises and various incantations. These, together with dances, feasts, dreams, an unearthly din in the cabin of the invalid, kept up for hours, and sufficient to make the well sick, strewing ashes about the hut, and rolling one of their number in skins, were the principal remedies.
The diviners, or prophets, had various means of reading the secrets of futurity, and wielded an immense influence with the people, who, apparently, were incapable of abstract thought. For the spiritual and purely aesthetical they cared nothing; but directed their study chiefly to physical phenomena, with which they were so intimately associated, referring their causes to a supernatural agency. Hence their mind was a fruitful field for the mystic arts of divination.41
The sorcerers, medicine-men and diviners did not usually exercise the functions of priests, says Parkman. Each man sacrificed for himself to the powers he wished to propitiate. The most common offering was tobacco, thrown into fire or water; scraps of meat were sometimes burned to the manitous; and on a few rare occasions of public solemnity, a white dog, the mystic animal of many tribes, was tied to the end of an upright pole, as a sacrifice to some superior spirit or to the sun, with which the superior spirits were constantly confounded by the primitive Indian.
Among the Iroquois, and, indeed, all the stationary tribes, there was an incredible number of mystic ceremonies, extravagant, puerile, and often disgusting, designed for the cure of the sick or for the general weal of the community. Most of their observances seem originally to have been dictated by dreams, and transmitted as a sacred heritage from generation to generation. They consisted in an endless variety of dances, masqueradings, and nondescript orgies; and a scrupulous adherence to all the traditional forms was held to be of the last moment, as the slightest failure in this respect might entail serious calamities.
Dreams were the great Indian oracles, and were implicitly obeyed. They believed them to be direct emanations from the Great Spirit, and as such were immutable laws to them. From this source arose many of their evils and miseries. In them were revealed their destiny and duty; war and peace, health and sickness, rain and drouth, were all revealed by a class of professional dreamers and dream interpreters.
Wizards and witches were the great bane of the Iroquois, and objects of utter detestation. Murder might be condoned, but witchcraft was punishable with death in all cases. Any one might kill a witch on sight with impunity. They believed that witches could transform themselves at will into any one of the wild animals or birds, or even assume the shape of logs, trees, rocks, &c., and, if forms invisible, visit public assemblies or private houses, and inflict all manner of evils. The delusion was at one time so prevalent and their destruction so great as to seriously lessen the population.42
The Indians never destroyed rattlesnakes, because they believed them to be the offspring of the devil, who they thought, would revenge the act by preventing their success in hunting.
Indian burials were attended with solemn ceremonies, and differed somewhat in the method of conducting them. The most ancient mode of burial among the Iroquois was first to place the corpse upon a scaffold, some eight feet high, and allow it to remain there till the flesh fell off, when the bones were interred.43 How long this method prevailed is not known, but latterly, and from their first association with the whites, a more commendable one prevailed. The corpse was clad, usually in the best attire of the deceased. The grave, usually about three feet deep, was lined with bark, into which the body was laid. Then were deposited in the bark coffin a kettle of provisions, deer skin and the sinews of the deer (to sew patches on the moccasins, which, it was believed, would wear out in the long journey to the spirit land,) bows and arrows, a tomahawk, knife, and sometimes, if he was a distinguished person, a gun. These were deemed indispensable to a prosperous and happy journey to the Indian's land of shades. The final covering was then placed over the whole, and the grave filled with earth. This done the Indian women kneeled down by the grave and wept. The men were silent for a time, but eventually set up a doleful cry, chanted the death dirge, and all silently retired to their homes. It was formerly customary for the friends to visit the grave before sunrise and after sunset for twelve successive days, but this practice has been abandoned.
The practice of putting into the grave certain articles designed to promote the journey of the deceased to the great hunting ground was common to all Indian nations, and often very costly ornaments and trinkets belonging to the deceased were buried with them. The face and hair of the corpse were sometimes painted red, to obscure the palor of death, and give it an animated appearance, and the obsequies were celebrated with all the pomp of savage splendor. With the Natchez it was customary for the mourning friend to name the degree of relationship he sustained toward the deceased, and the nearest relatives continued this ceremony for three months.
With the Delawares, says Loskiel, "the first degree of mourning in a widow consists in her sitting down in the ashes near the fire, and weeping most bitterly; she then rises and runs to the grave, where she makes loud lamentations, returning again to her seat in the ashes. She will neither eat, drink, nor sleep, and refuses all consolation. But after some time she suffers herself to rise, drink some rum, and receive some comfort. However, she must attend to the second degree of mourning for one whole year, that is to dress without any ornaments, and wash herself but seldom. As soon as she appears decent, combs and anoints her hair, and washes herself clean, it is considered a sign that she wishes to marry again." The Nanticokes, he says, have the singular custom of disinterring the remains after three or four months, and having cleaned and dried the bones and wrapped them in new linen, to re-inter them. A feast was provided for the occasion, consisting of the best they could afford.
Colden says the custom was to make a large round hole, in which the body was placed in a sitting posture. It was then covered with timber, to support the earth, which was heaped up in a round hill.
"At intervals of ten or twelve years," says Parkman, "the Hurons, the Neutrals, and other kindred tribes, were accustomed to collect the bones of their dead, and deposit them, with great ceremony, in a common place of burial. The whole nation was sometimes assembled at this solemnity; and hundreds of corpses, brought from their temporary resting places, were inhumed in one capacious pit. From this hour the immortality of the soul began. They took wing, as some affirmed, in the shape of pigeons; while the greater number declared that they journeyed on foot, and in their own likeness, to the land of shades, bearing with them the ghosts of the wampum-belts, beaver-skins, bows, arrows, pipes, kettles, beads, and rings buried with them in the common grave. But as the spirits of the old and of the children are too feeble for the march, they are forced to stay behind, lingering near their earthly villages, where the living often hear the shutting of their invisible cabin-doors, and the weak voices of the disembodied children driving birds from the corn-fields."
Cleared areas were chosen for this sepulcher. The ceremonies attending the event lasted for days and were very imposing. The subsequent discovery of these immense deposits of bones have elicited much curious inquiry on the part of those not familiar with the facts. Father Brébeuf saw and fully explained one of these burials in 1636.
Wampum, or Zewant, served the Indians as a currency, as an ornament, and as the public archives of the nation. It was, therefore, an important factor in all their civil, social, political and religious affairs. It was of two kinds, purple or black, and white, both being used as a measure of value, the black being estimated at twice the value of white. The purple wampum was made from the interior portions of the common conch, (venus merceneria,) and the white from the pillar of the periwinkle. Each kind was fashioned into round or oval beads, about a quarter of an inch long, which were perforated and strung on a fibre of deer's sinew, but latterly on linen thread, after it was discovered. The article was highly prized as an ornament, and as such constituted an object of traffic between the sea coast and interior tribes. It was worn in various ways, upon the clothing and in the form of necklaces, bracelets, collars and belts; and when these strings were united, it formed the broad wampum belts, by which solemn public transactions were confirmed. As a substitute for gold and silver coin, its price was fixed by law, though its value was subject to variations, according to time and place. Three purple beads, or six white ones, were equal to a stiver with the Dutch, or a penny with the English, each equal to two cents United States currency. The price of a string six feet long, denominated a fathom of wampum, ruled at five shillings in New England, and was known to reach as high as four guilders in New Netherland.
Previous to the advent of the Europeans wampum was made largely of small pieces of wood equal size, stained black or white. Its manufacture from shells was very difficult, and although much time was spent in finishing it, it presented a very clumsy appearance, owing to the want of proper tools. The Dutch introduced the lathe in its manufacture, polished and perforated it with exactness, and by supplying an article far superior to that previously in use, soon had the monoply of the trade, which they found very advantageous. The principal place of manufacture was Hackensack, N. J., and the principal deposit of sea shells, Long Island. Imitations in glass and porcelain soon became abundant.
The most important use to which wampum was applied, however, was in confirming compacts and treaties between nations, both Indian and European, for which purpose it took the place of feathers, which had been previously employed. Every speech and principal part of a speech was made valid by a string or belt of wampum, the value of which was determined by the gravity of the subject under consideration. The color of the wampum was of no less importance than its other qualities, as it had an immediate reference to the things which it was meant to confirm; thus a black belt implied a warning against evil, or an earnest reproof, and if it was marked with red and had the added figure of a hatchet of white wampum in the center, it signified war. Black or purple always signified something grave, if not of doubtful import; while white was the symbol of peace. It was necessary that the answer given to a speech be confirmed by strings and belts of the same size and number as those received. The Indian women dexterously wove these strings into belts of wampum, and skillfully wrought into them elaborate and significant devices, suggestive of the substance of the compact or speech, and designed as aids to memory. These strings and belts of wampum became the national records, and one or more old men were charged with their safe keeping and interpretation. At certain seasons the Indians met to study their meaning, as it was customary to admit to these assemblies the young men of the nation who were related to the chiefs, a knowledge of these documents was thus transmitted to posterity. The figures on wampum belts were, for the most part, simply mnemonic; so also were those carved on wooden tablets, or painted on bark and skin, to preserve in memory the songs of war, hunting or magic. The Hurons had, however, in common with other tribes, a system of rude pictures and arbitrary signs, by which they could convey to each other, with tolerable precision, information touching the ordinary subjects of Indian interest.
The Indian standards of value were the hand or fathom of wampum, and the denotas, or bags, which they themselves made for measuring and preserving corn.
Hospitality among the Indians was proverbial, not only among their own race, but was extended also with the greatest freedom toward strangers. They regarded it as a sacred duty, from which no one was exempt. Whoever refused relief to any one, committed a grievous offense, and not only made himself an object of detestation and abhorrence, but subjected himself to the liability of revenge from the offended person. Loskiel relates a remarkable instance in which the war-like intent of a party of two hundred Huron warriors, who had taken the war-path against the Delawares, were dissuaded from their purpose by the generous hospitality tendered them by the latter.44