66. How the Indians looked;
the Clothes they wore. Let us now learn
a few things about the Indians as they were before
their habits and mode of life had been changed by
contact with white men.
The heads of the Indians were always
bare. It was customary for them to allow one
tuft of hair to grow longer than the rest. This
was called the “scalp lock.” When
a fight had been finished, this lock served as a convenience
to the victor. It enabled him to remove handily
the scalp from the head of a dead enemy, and to carry
it easily away as a trophy of triumph.
The Indians had the curious custom
of smearing their faces and their bodies with red
paint. On great occasions, such as the holding
of a tribal council or a war dance, they painted themselves
a more brilliant red. The bright color was believed
to give a formidable aspect. They decked themselves
with queer ornaments of many sorts. Around their
necks they wore strings of shining stones, bits of
mica, baubles made of copper, and animals’ teeth
highly polished. Feathers were held in great
esteem. Success in war entitled the victor to
wear eagles’ feathers as a mark of the greatest
distinction. In this love of finery the men were
fully as vain as the women.
The clothing of the Indians was, for
the most part, fashioned out of the dried skins of
animals, such as the deer and the beaver, whose flesh
had been used for food. Unlike that of civilized
people, this clothing was seldom or never changed,
but was worn till it was worn out. If not unwashable,
it was rarely washed. The “noble red man”
was not a model of cleanliness. He had never
heard of soap.
67. What the Indians had to
eat. The food of the Indians varied with
the place and the season, but game and fish were the
principal articles. Their game was chiefly deer,
bears, moose, raccoons, foxes, wild geese, and wild
turkeys. Having no salt nor spices, no bread nor
potatoes, neither milk, butter, nor cheese, their
living must have lacked such relish as we give to
In the settled villages the Indians
cultivated rude gardens. In these they raised
corn, beans, squashes, and tobacco; but, considering
the crudeness of their tools, we must suppose that
the crops were scanty. The squaws used to
cook corn and beans together, making succotash.
Both the dish and the name have come to us from the
Indians. Green corn they used to roast in hot
ashes, very much as we sometimes do now at clambakes
or other outings. Meat they commonly cooked by
thrusting a stick through it and holding it over the
fire; but they sometimes boiled it in rude earthen
pots. Fish they broiled on a frame of sticks.
68. The Indian’s Struggle
for a Living. The principal work of the
Indians was to get food enough. They did not hunt
or fish merely for sport, as men and boys of our time
are apt to do. To the Indian, hunting was the
serious task of providing for his family and himself.
At times the supply became very slight. It was
especially so in the winter. Then they really
suffered from hunger, and were forced to eat ground-nuts
and acorns anything to keep alive.
But when they had had good hunting they would eat
enormously. At times, when game was scarce, different
tribes would have savage fights for the best hunting
Their only drink was water. After
the white man came they learned the use of rum and
whiskey, and would pay a great price for what they
called “fire water.” On the other
hand, the white man learned from the Indian the use
of tobacco. It was a bad bargain both ways.
69. Hardships of the Indian
Women. The Indian warriors occupied themselves
with war and the chase. They looked upon ordinary
labor as degrading, and fit only for women. These
they treated very much as slaves. The squaw did
all the everyday work building the wigwam,
raising the crops, making the clothes, and weaving
bark mats for the beds. On journeys the women
carried their infants, or papooses, on their backs.
With some tribes woman held a higher
place. She had a considerable degree of influence
in public matters, and often decided the question of
peace or war. She could even drive away her husband
if he failed to bring home game or fish enough for
70. The Indians’ Weapons. Indian
wars were conducted in a manner entirely different
from that of civilized nations. The weapons were
the bow and arrow, the hatchet of sharp stone, and
the war club. The bowstring was made of Indian
hemp or the sinews of the deer. The arrowhead
was of sharp flint or bone; its point was often made
of an eagle’s claw or the spur of a wild turkey.
The stone hatchet, called “tomahawk,”
had a long handle and was a powerful weapon.
After the Indians had seen the white
man’s guns, hatchets, and knives, and could
obtain such things for themselves, the use of their
own rude weapons was abandoned.
Gunpowder was for a long time a mystery
to the Indians. At first they thought that it
grew from the ground, like the tobacco plant.
It is said they once sowed some of it in the spring,
expecting to see it take root and grow. They
supposed every white person knew how to make it; and
so, once upon a time, when they had captured two young
girls, they tried to force them to make a supply of
71. How the Indians fought. In
battle, Indians did not come out in fair and open
fight, as is the custom of white men; but their skill
consisted in surprises, shooting from behind rocks
and trees, skulking around at night, and killing the
enemy asleep. Captives in war were frequently
tortured in the most barbarous ways; sometimes they
were tied to trees and were slowly burned to death
or were shot. But it was a high standard of Indian
valor to bear the sharpest pain without flinching,
with never a groan or any sign of suffering.
The Indians, believing as they did
that all animals were protecting or unfriendly spirits,
often addressed them as if they were human beings.
The story is told of an Indian who shot at a large
bear and wounded him. The bear fell and lay whining
and groaning. The Indian went up to him and said:
“Bear, you are a coward, and no warrior.
You know that your tribe and mine are at war, and
that yours began it. If you had wounded me, I
would not have uttered a sound; and yet you sit here
and cry and disgrace your tribe.”
72. The Use made of Wampum,
or Indian Money. Indians had little use
for gold or silver, but they had something in its
place, which they called “wampum.”
This was made of bits of seashells like beads.
The pieces had a hole in the center, so that they
could be strung in long strips or made into belts.
Wampum was used for a long time as
regular money or the medium of exchange between the
Indians and the whites, and even between one white
and another. Strings of it were passed around
for purposes of trade, as we now use coins of silver
and gold. But after a while, as seashells became
plentiful, wampum became almost worthless, and then
the Indians were glad enough to take the white man’s
Among some of the tribes, bands of
wampum were woven into ornamental belts, and these
were decorated with colored beads combined into striking
figures and designs. The wampum belts were often
given as a pledge that the giver would faithfully
live up to certain terms of a treaty.
73. Indian Tools and Snowshoes. As
the Indians had so little to work with no
iron for knives, nor tools of any kind except flinty
stones made sharp and called “hatchets” it
is wonderful how ingenious they were in supplying
their personal wants. They kneaded in oil and
softened with heat the furry skins of animals, and
from these they made excellent garments for winter.
From dried deerskins they fashioned a sort of soft
serviceable shoe called the “moccasin.”
This was wrought from a single piece of the leather.
It fitted snugly to the foot and was tied with strips
of buckskin at the ankle.
The danger of starving in the winter
when the snow was deep led the Indians to invent the
snowshoe. This was made of a light framework of
ash, filled with meshes of rawhide, thus presenting
a broad surface to the snow. By this contrivance
the Indians could travel in winter as easily as in
It is said that an Indian upon snowshoes
could easily travel forty miles a day. Strangely
enough, all the cunning of the white man has never
availed to make anything better for such a purpose.
74. Indians as Hunters. The
Indian contrived ingenious traps for catching bears,
moose, and other sorts of game. One of these devices
consisted of a long and heavy log, carefully balanced
upon a post placed upright in the ground, with a log
attached to one end of it. The roving animal
would approach, and by jumping attempt to get the bait
that was so attractive. The movement would cause
the log to fall, and thus, perhaps, the creature would
Fish were killed by shooting them
with the arrow as they swam; or they were caught with
hooks of bone, or taken in rivers by means of a weir,
or brush fence, fixed across the stream. Sometimes
they were taken in nets woven from the bark of the
elm, and in traps of wickerwork not unlike the lobster
pots now in use.
The Indians had a remarkable faculty,
resembling that of the ventriloquist, whereby they
could imitate the voices of woodland creatures the
hoot of the owl, the cry of the wild turkey, the howl
of the wolf. By this means they could readily
attract animals of various species to a spot where
they might easily kill them. Even hostile Indians
out searching for game were in this manner sometimes
allured to the place of danger.
75. Story illustrating the Indian’s
Keen Observation. It is marvelous what
quick eyes the Indian had to see almost instantly things
that other persons would never see at all. The
story is often told of an Indian who returned one
day to his wigwam and found that a large piece of venison
had been stolen. He looked carefully around, and
then started off for the thief. He asked the
first man he met if he had seen a little old white
man with a short gun and a small dog with a short tail.
Afterwards he explained how he learned all these points.
He said he knew the thief was little, for he had to
pile up some stones to reach the venison; old, by
his short steps; white, by the toes of his tracks turning
out; that he had a short gun, for when it fell to
the ground from where it leaned against the tree,
it made a short mark in the dirt. He knew by the
dog’s track that the dog was small; he knew
that the dog had a short tail, because a short groove
had been “wiggled” in the dust where the
dog had sat while his master was stealing the meat!
76. The Indians were Cruel,
Cunning, and Revengeful. As to character,
the Indian had, like all the rest of us, a good and
a bad side. Though usually silent and moody in
the presence of white men, travelers tell us that
the Indians had lively games when by themselves, and
enjoyed fun and frolic and story-telling like other
people. They were crafty and treacherous, as
well they might be from their constant warfare.
They were cruel and remorseless in
their revenge, and they never forgot a wrong.
Full of cunning, they took pride in ingenious tricks.
They would wear snowshoes with the toes turned backwards,
that the enemy might think they had gone the other
way! In their homes they were filthy, lazy, and
improvident. They were passionately fond of gambling,
after they had learned it of the whites!
On the other hand, they were patient
of hunger, cold, and fatigue, and were wonderfully
brave. They were hospitable to an acquaintance
in need, even sharing the last of their food with
him. They were grateful for benefits, and never
forgot a kindness. Their promise was almost sacred,
and the pledge of their chief was rarely broken.
When the early settlers in this country
treated the Indians kindly, they usually received
kindness in return, as we shall see later in reading
William Penn’s dealings with the Indians in Pennsylvania.
But now and then some rude white man was cruel or
dishonest in dealing with them, and then he learned
that the red man knew what revenge means.
If any serious offense was given to
the Indians they brooded over it, and then, eager
to inflict more harm than they had suffered, instead
of punishing the offender alone, they spent their
revenge upon all they could reach of the white race.
So they sprang suddenly upon peaceful villages and
cruelly killed innocent men, women, and children.
77. Anecdote of Tecumseh. The
true Indian warrior had a certain proud dignity that
challenged respect. At a great council of the
government with the Indians, the famous Indian chief,
Tecumseh, after he had made a speech, turned to take
a seat, when it was found that by accident no chair
had been placed for him. General Harrison instantly
called for one. It was brought by the interpreter,
who said, “The Great Father wishes you to take
a chair.” “My father!” he said
with dignity, as he wrapped his blanket about him
to seat himself in Indian style upon the ground; “the
Sun is my father, the Earth is my mother, and on her
bosom will I repose.”
78. Care and Training of the
Indian Children. The care and training
of Indian children were peculiar. When the little
papoose was very young, it was not fondled nor much
attended to. Quite early it was placed in a small
trough of bark and strapped in with a mat or skin in
front, the little bed being padded with soft moss.
This bit of a cradle was handy to carry around, to
lean against a log, or to hang up in a tree.
As they grew up, they were as happy
as other children. Their parents made toys for
them, and their older mates taught them songs and games.
As soon as they were large enough, each had his share
of work to do. The girls had to help their mothers
to dress skins for clothing, to bring wood and water,
and to work in the rude garden.
79. The Indian Boy’s Early
Training. The Indian boy was early trained
for hunting and war. His first lessons were to
manage his bow and arrows, and then he was taken into
the woods to shoot. He was taught to set traps
for small game, and his father often slyly put some
animal in the snare to encourage the young hunter.
So the boy was taught, not arithmetic
and grammar, but all about birds their
colors, their different whistles and cries, and what
each note means; their food and habits, where they
nest, how they fly, and the best way to shoot them.
His lessons included the study of rabbits and squirrels,
of beavers and foxes, and of all such game.
By the time the Indian boy had seen
twelve or fourteen snows, as the Indian would
say, he could make his own bows and arrows and could
help make canoes. He had received many lessons
about shaping tomahawks and war clubs, and how to
use them. Playing ball was a favorite game with
Indian youth. Catlin, the celebrated authority
on Indian life, tells us that he used to ride thirty
miles to see a ball game, and would sit on his horse
all day to see a match played by six to eight hundred
or even a thousand young Indians.
80. How the Indians buried their
Dead. For the most part the Indians buried
their dead in mounds or in shallow graves, sometimes
prostrate, but often in a sitting posture facing the
east. But some tribes placed the body on a high
scaffold raised on long poles out of the reach of
wild beasts. Beside the body were carefully placed
the weapons of the dead, paints, any favorite trinkets
he used to wear, and food to sustain him on his journey
to the far-off Happy Hunting Grounds.