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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

The Mannerisms And Traits Of The Native Americans In Ohio

Dallas Bogan on 30 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

This week we shall examine the mannerisms and traits of the Native Americans of Ohio. In an address to the Franklinton Centennial by Col. E.L. Taylor, dated September 15, 1897, the Colonel goes into great detail regarding the Ohio Indians. We shall now take from this source.
Ohio was an excellent location for the American Indian. With an ideal climate, the streams plentiful with fish and the forests overflowing with game, the scene was set for habitation. The red deer, the buffalo and elk were found in considerable numbers in certain areas of the State. With these animal resources available, food was furnished for the Indians along with hides that provided covering for their quarters and clothing for their community.
Wild fowl was also found in abundance on the waters at certain seasons of the year. The livelihood of the tribes depended on all these gifts of nature.
All Ohio tribes had essentially the same government or tribal organization. However, they may have differed in many particulars. The social organization of the Wyandotte consisted of four groups: the family, the gens, the phratry, and the tribe.
1. The family was the household and consisted of the persons who occupied one lodge or wigwam.
2. The gens were composed of consanguineous (having the same ancestor or related by blood) kindred in the female line. The woman was the head of the family and "carried the gens," each gens having the name of some animal. The Wyandottes were composed of eleven gentes, namely: Deer, Bear, Striped Turtle, Black Turtle, Mud Turtle, Smooth Large Turtle, Hawk, Beaver, Wolf, Sea Snake and Porcupine.
3. The phratry applied to medical and religious rites and ceremonies.
4. A tribe was a body of kindred and it was deemed necessary, in order to become a member of the tribe, to belong to or to be adopted into a family. Many white captives were often embraced into families and given the kinship.
Military and social governments were virtually separated. A council of women chose the councils and chiefs in the social government from the male members of the gens.
The chiefs of the gentes selected the Sachem, or tribal chief.
Heads of the households and all the leading men of the tribe took part in their grand councils, from which great ceremonies were conducted.
A council was called for by the Sachem and assembled with the purpose that each person was at liberty to express his own opinion as to what was reasonable or best to be done.
If the majority of the tribe agreed that the Sachem should not speak, then his general function was only an announcement of the decision. If an equal portion of sentiment was divided, the Sachem was expected to speak. Once a tribe member had stated his opinion, a reversal meant dishonor.
Avenging wrongs and in times of war was reserved to all male members of each gens. They also had a right as hunters in supplying game to the villages. When in times of need and destitution all game was brought to the camp or village and fairly divided amongst all tribe members.
The military council was reserved for all able-bodied men of the tribe.
Separate property was held by the wife, which consisted of everything in the lodge or wigwam except the implements of war and the chase, which belonged exclusively to the men.
Women of each gens were required to be tillers of the soil. It was beneath the dignity of the hunter or warrior to toil in the fields, or to engage in manual labor other than in battle or the hunt.
Children were required to assist the women in tending the crops, which mainly consisted of corn; also cultivated were beans and peas. And in some parts of Ohio, the Indian had a variety of potato that the white captives say, "When peeled and dipped in coon's fat or bear's fat tasted like our own sweet potatoes."
Nuts and berries were beneficial, particularly the walnut, hickory nut and black haw, all of which were found in most parts of the State.
The Indian's dominant annual event was the green corn festival. For this occasion the hunters supplied the forest game, while the women furnished the corn and vegetables from the fields. They not only filled themselves but paid homage to the Great Spirit for his blessings.
Each year during this festival the council of women of the gens selected the names of the children born during the previous year, and the chiefs of the gens announced their names at the festival. These names were permanent, but an additional name could be earned by some act of bravery or occurrence.
The Ohio tribes customarily recognized and punished crimes such as murder, treason, theft, adultery and witchcraft. If the case was murder it was the duty of the gentile chiefs of the culprit's gens to investigate the facts for themselves, and if they failed to settle the matter, it was then the duty of the nearest relative to avenge the wrong.
Theft was punished by twofold compensation.
Treasonous undertakings consisted of revealing the secrets of medicinal ingredients as well as giving information or support to the enemy, and were punishable by death.
Witchcraft was also sentence by death, either by stabbing, burning or with the tomahawk.
A woman convicted of adultery experienced her hair being cropped, for repeated offenses her left ear was cut off.
When anticipating a war, the Indians usually executed their war dance and then proceeded to their objective point. Rather than move in a large group, each party broke up into small bands and would take a different route to a point of gathering. Reasoning for this was they had to secure for themselves a supply of game, which would be consumed while in battle. It was next to impossible to acquire sufficient game to maintain a large number of warriors.
The warrior's strike would be swift and unexpected against their enemy, subsistence being one of the principle guideline.
Some white captives adopted the ways of the Indian, they acquiring the woodcraft and habits of their captors. Many became established and active foes of the white man. Simon Girty, called the "White Indian," was considered of this class. In his cunning and craftiness, no Indian eclipsed him of these qualities.

The Indian's Survival

Summer seasons found the Indians assembled in their villages. This was the season of war with the white man. During the winter season the villages were practically deserted, as it was their general custom to separate into small parties and live with their relatives, including the old men, women and children.
Temporary home sites were usually selected along a stream of water, or by the side of a lake or spring. Here they would erect a place of encampment where the old men, women and children might endure for the winter.
The assigned hunters would then separate and travel in different directions and choose a place or camp from which to hunt and trap, always keeping a safe distance so as not to interfere with each other.
They would stay in contact with the main camp to which they supplied meat for survival. Changes in the campsites were according to their necessities. At the end of the season they would gather the results of their winter's hunt, if at all successful, and proceed back to the village.
Collecting the fat of the beaver, the raccoon and the bear was customary. This ingredient was then secured into the entrails (inner organs of animals) of large animals that the women had prepared for that purpose, and was carried to their villages for future use.
Sugar was made in the spring of the year when the sap began to run, and this was also put into the entrails of animals for preservation. This sugar was mixed with the fat of the bear and that of other animals and cooked with green corn and other vegetables.
The Indians were often in need of food and many frequently died from hunger and exposure. They had no means of acquiring large hordes of food for future use, and never secured any recourse for doing so. When plentiful, the food would be used with extravagance, but it was not uncommon for the Indian to go days without food of any kind, and, they never seemingly profited from these experiences.
Winter was the worst time. They often saved themselves from starvation by digging hickory nuts, walnuts, and other nuts, out from under the snow.
The Native American was a survivor. He endured for thousands of years before the white man ever appeared on this continent. His pattern of life, primitive as it was, was secured around a never-ending love for the land and its natural treasures.

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This page created 30 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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