Vice President Charles Curtis

Indian citizenship and participation in American politics involves more than just voting: it also involves having Indians elected to public office. One of the first Indians to be elected to national office was Charles Curtis.

Curtis was born in 1860 near present-day North Topeka, Kansas. His mother was a descendent of Kansa (also called Kaw) chief White Plume. White Plume was the son of an Osage chief and had been adopted into the Kansa. Later, Curtis’s tribal affiliation would be listed as Kansa (or Kaw) or as Kansa-Osage.

In 1863, following the death of his mother, he was placed in the home of his paternal, non-Indian grandmother, Pamela Hubbard Curtis. In his biography of Curtis in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians, William Unrau writes:

“A stern person who insisted that the Methodist Church and the Republican Party [were] the keys to salvation, she exerted a considerable influence on Curtis’s education.”

At age 6, he went to live with his Kaw grandmother, Julie Gonville Pappan, on the Kaw reservation in Kansas. He attended the Friends Mission School. When the Kaws were later removed to Indian Territory he was returned to the home of his paternal grandmother.

Following high school, Curtis read law under Topeka attorney Aderial H. Case and was admitted to the Kansas Bar at the age of 21. He soon entered politics as a Republican. In 1885 he was elected county attorney for Shawnee County and his political career began. Shawnee County at this time was dry and as county attorney, he shut down most of the bootleg bars in the county.

In 1892 was elected to Congress and began the first of eight terms in the House of Representatives. With regard to his political campaigning, William Unrau writes:

“His small talk of local affairs, family, and the weather was rendered all the more effective by his penetrating eyes, his engaging smile—and his Indianness, at a time when most whites nostalgically anticipated the demise of Indian America.”

Like many others of this era, Curtis felt that Indians had to be assimilated into American culture. Assimilation meant that traditional cultures and languages had to be destroyed. Sociologist Laurence French, in his book The Qualla Cherokee: Surviving in Two Worlds, writes:

“In Congress, Curtis used his Indian heritage as a mandate to speak for all American Indians in Indian Territory. Few American Indians saw him as their spokesperson.”

William Unrau writes:

“He championed the rights of Indian orphans and women even as he advocated the interests of the oil, gas, and coal companies that were cheating tribal governments of their natural resources.”

In 1898, Curtis wrote a bill to extend the provision of the Dawes Act over Indian Territory (now Oklahoma). The Act—commonly known as the Curtis Act—stipulated that tribal governments would continue to exist only to issue allotment deeds to tribal members and to terminate any other tribal business. The Act is officially entitled “An Act for the Protection of the People of Indian Territory and for other purposes.” In his book The Dawes Commission and the Allotment of the Five Civilized Tribes, 1893-1914, Kent Carter reports:

“The ‘protection’ part of the proposed legislation was intended to help all of the unfortunate whites (many from Curtis’s state, Kansas) who had entered Indian Territory, whether invited or not, but who had no voice in government, no schools, and no protection against criminals.”

One of the tribes for which the Curtis Act would have major impact was the Cherokee. The Cherokee objected to the bill and sent a delegation to Washington to testify but they were not allowed access to the rooms where committees were debating the bill. Corporate representatives, on the other hand, had free access to the committees.

While in the House, Curtis worked on a number of committees, including the Committee on Territories, the Committee on Way and Means, the Committee on Public Lands, and the Committee on Indian Affairs. His work for assimilation, allotment, and detribalization led to opposition by many of the tribal leaders in Indian Territory. Overall, his work set the stage for Oklahoma statehood in 1907.

With the 1902 Kaw Allotment Act, the Kaw Nation was officially dissolved. Since Curtis had not moved with the Kaw to their reservation in Indian Territory, his name had been removed from the tribal roles in 1878. He was returned to the tribal roles in time to share in the allotment of the Kaw reservation. As enrolled members of the tribe, Curtis and his three children received a total of 1,625 acres in Oklahoma.

In 1907, Curtis was elected to the United States Senate. He was defeated for re-election, but ran again in 1914 and served in the Senate until 1929.

While in the Senate, he attempted to prohibit the Indian use of peyote (a sacrament used by the Native American Church). His efforts on this matter, however, failed to pass.

In 1921, he supported the Secretary of the Interior’s efforts to minimize the sovereignty of Pueblo tribal governments. In his profile of Curtis in Notable Native Americans, George Abrams reports:

“Curtis was philosophically and politically antagonistic to some forms of traditional American Indian tribal government.”

In 1928 he made an unsuccessful bid for the Republican presidential nomination. However, he ran as Herbert Hoover’s vice-president and was elected. At the inauguration in 1929, he had an Indian jazz band perform. William Unrau writes:

“As vice president, Curtis called for improving the life of American Indians, yet he provided no details as to how this was to be accomplished.”

George Abrams puts it this way:

“During his tenure, Curtis spoke for American Indians whenever the occasion arose. He has generally been viewed as having served a rather lackluster tenure of vice president.”

When he retired from public elected life in 1934, having been defeated for re-election, he had served longer in Washington, D.C. than any active politician. He was the last vice-president to wear a beard or mustache while in office.

In addition to promoting Indian assimilation, Curtis was also a strong supporter of women’s suffrage and Prohibition. He died in 1936.

Treaty Rock and the Coeur d’Alene Indians

Long before the European invasion of North America, the Coeur d’Alene, who call themselves Schitsu’umsh, occupied a territory that included parts of eastern Washington, northern Idaho, and western Montana.

According to their tribal history:

“We were lake and rivers people who had permanent encampments along these waterways but also followed the natural cycle of life. We followed this sacred cycle, not only for survival but, to live live harmoniously with nature and to respect the delicate balance between creation and our ceremonial and spiritual way of life.”

The water ways that sustained the people included Coeur d’Alene Lake, Spokane River, Coeur d’Alene River, and St. Joe River. These waterways formed an aboriginal super highway between the villages and their resource areas.

Things began to change when the fur traders of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the North West Company began to enter their territory at the beginning of the nineteenth century. The traders brought the people new goods. Then came the missionaries in the 1840s who sought to make the Indians into European Christians. The Catholic Jesuits establish a mission at Cataldo.

In 1859, the Coeur d’Alene signed a treaty with the United States at the Cataldo Mission. Two years later, the United States established a road across Coeur d’Alene territory to connect Fort Benton in Montana with Fort Walla Walla in Washington.

In 1871, German immigrant Frederick Post met with Coeur d’Alene Chief Moses Seltice to negotiate the rights to a parcel of land. Treaty Rock symbolizes the verbal agreement between these two men that allowed Post to use 200 acres of tribal land on the Spokane River to start a mill. There was no formal treaty signed at Treaty Rock nor was any money exchanged for the land. Oral tradition indicates that Post promised to provide the tribe with lumber, but there is no record of that agreement being kept.

Post carved his name and the date in the rock to acknowledge the agreement. There are also pictographs on the rock done in red ochre. According to the Coeur d’Alene tribal history:

“Treaty Rock, as it is known in written history, is a special place for both the Coeur d’Alene people and the residents of today. It represents a moment in time when great change occurred and affected both a growing nation and a people that had been on these lands for thousands of years.”

The Political Organization of the Omaha Indians

In the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the Omaha Indians were living in what is now Nebraska where they were a farming people who engaged in buffalo hunting. The Omaha fields would be planted in May and tended until the corn was well established, usually late June or early July. Then the entire village would leave on the summer buffalo hunt and return to harvest the corn in September and October.

One of the principle features of Omaha social organization was the patrilineal clans. These clans were named, and membership was through the father, that is, each person belonged to the father’s clan.

The Omaha had a central government which was composed of a council of seven chiefs who were overseen by two principal chiefs. Decisions made by the council had to be unanimous. Each of the chiefs was the leader of a clan which possessed a pipe. The number seven is a sacred number because it is made up of the four cardinal directions plus up, down, and the place in the center where all directions meet. Noting the importance of the two pipes in Omaha government, ethnographers Alice Fletcher and Francis La Fletche, in their 1911 book The Omaha Tribe, wrote:

“The retaining of the two Pipes as the supreme or confirmatory authority within the council rather than giving that power to a head chief was consonant with the fundamental idea embodied in the tribal organization.”

Attending the Omaha council meetings in an ex oficio capacity were the keeper of the Sacred Pole, the keeper of the Sacred Buffalo Hide, the keeper of the two Sacred Tribal Pipes, the keeper of the ritual used for filling the two pipes, and the keeper of the Sacred Tent of War. According to Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche:

“None of these five keepers had a voice in the decisions of the council, the responsibility of deciding devolving solely on the Seven Chiefs who composed the council proper.”

At the Omaha council meetings, one of the members would raise an issue or question. It would then go around the circle, starting with the man next to the man who had introduced the issue. The matter would pass around and around the circle until all came to an agreement. It was not uncommon for an entire day to be spent in deliberation in this fashion. In making a decision, ethnographers Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche report:

“All must accept it and then carry it through as one man. This unity of decision was regarded as having a supernatural power and authority.”

In addition to the seven clan chiefs and the two principal chiefs, there were two other orders of chiefs among the Omaha. There were an unlimited number of lower chiefs known as Brown Chiefs (Ni’kagahi xu’de) and a higher and more limited number of Dark Chiefs (Ni’kagahi sha’be). To become a dark chief, there were seven grades which a man had to pass through. The first of these was to obtain the materials for the staff carried by the leader of the buffalo hunt. The seventh grade involved the giving of gifts to maintain peace in the tribe. When a man had done a hundred of these acts of gift giving, he was eligible to join the Night Blessed Society and to have his daughter tattooed.

Law

With regard to law, accusations of serious wrongdoing, such as murder, were not taken lightly. Many of the tribes safeguarded the social order with some form of punishment. Among the Omaha, for example, there was in the Tent of War a staff of ironwood which had a rough end. Rattlesnake poison was placed on this rough end and a person who was guilty of a major offense would be prodded with the stick, usually resulting in the offender’s death. This punishment was decided on by the council and carried out by a trustworthy man. One of the offenses punished in this way was making light of the authority of the chiefs.

Among the Omaha, deliberate murder was punished by banishment for four years. During this time the murderer had to camp outside of the village and was to communicate to no one. The offender was also required to wear a special garment which was not to be removed during the period of banishment. After the chiefs passed the sentence of banishment, they would take the Sacred Pipes to the murder victim’s family. They would present the family with gifts and ask that they not seek any further punishment on the murderer’s family.

War

Among the Omaha, the true function of war was to protect the people from outside enemies. Ethnographers Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche report:

“Aggressive warfare was to be discouraged; any gains made by it were more than offset by the troubles entailed.”

It was, however, difficult to stop the young men from going to war. However, there were steps that had to be taken. A younger man would go to one of the keepers of a war bundle and invite him to a ceremonial feast. By obtaining the permission of the war bundle keeper, the leader of the war party was relieved of any responsibility should a member of the party be killed. Chiefs were required to use their influence for peace and could not initiate war parties.

During the nineteenth century, Omaha war parties tended to be small: 10-15 warriors. The war party would usually leave the village at night. The warriors would wear no feathers or ornaments. When returning from a successful battle, the war party would light a fire near the village to signal their return.

Among the Omaha there were two classes of war parties: (1) those undertaken to capture horses and other valuables, and (2) those undertaken as revenge for attacks by other tribes.

The Omaha recognized six grades of war honors which could be taken from the body of an enemy:

  • Striking an unwounded enemy with the hand or with the bow. This was the highest war honor and only two warriors could take this honor from the same person.
  • Striking a wounded enemy with the hand or bow.
  • Striking a dead enemy with the hand or bow.
  • Killing an enemy.
  • Taking a scalp.
  • Severing an enemy’s head.

Among the Omaha, warriors who were recognized for their bravery were allowed to wear a Crow Belt bustle: two trailers of hide covered with feathers hung from the belt and eagle wing pointer feathers protruded upward from the base of the bustle. In an essay in Painters, Patrons, and Identity: Essays in Native American Art to Honor J.J. Brody, Aaron Fry describes the bustle:

“The main body of the bustle was made of an eagle skin with head and tail still attached; the eagle was associated with the destructive powers of the Thunder Being and the destructive nature of war. A wolf tail was tied to the right side of the skin; a stuffed crow skin was tied to the left.”

To be able to wear the Crow Belt, a warrior had to be the first to strike an unwounded enemy in battle; to be the first to touch a fallen, live enemy; to be the second to touch a fallen, live enemy; and then to repeat all three of these deeds of valor. The Crow Belt, originally created when the Omaha, Osage, Quapaw, and Kansa were living as one tribe, represents the mythic relationship between the warriors and their patrons, the wolf and the crow.

Gender Among Northern Plains Indians

The Northern Plains include what is now North and South Dakota, Eastern Montana, northeastern Wyoming, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. In general, the Indian nations of the northern Plains can be divided into two major groups: (1) the buffalo hunters and (2) the agricultural nations along the Missouri River in the Dakotas.

In traditional Northern Plains Indian life, men and women often had different roles. Most frequently, the men took on the roles of hunters and warriors, while the women were involved with gathering plants and with the home. In the agricultural tribes, the women worked the fields and therefore they owned the crops, the fields, agricultural implements, and the lodges.

While there was division of labor by gender, this was not a rigid division. It was not uncommon for women to be warriors. Among the Indians of the Northern Plains, the role of warrior was an alternative which was open to women. According to anthropologist John Ewers, in article in Skeletal Biology in the Great Plains: Migration, Warfare, Health, and Subsistence:

“There is ample evidence that a number of women of many tribes joined raiding parties and took active parts in them.”

John Ewers also points out:

“What is known of these woman warriors does not suggest that they were sexual deviants.”

With regard to the Cheyenne, George Bird Grinnell, in his book The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Lifeways, reports:

“While it was not common for women to go on the warpath with men, yet they did so sometimes, and often showed quite as much courage and were quite as efficient as the men they accompanied.”

Most of the Plains Indian nations also recognized a third sex, generally referred to as a Two-Spirit or, in the older literature, a berdache. There were some boys who preferred the company of girls and who eventually dressed as girls. Among the Crow, at about the age of 10-12 a young boy might take on female clothing and female work. The male Two-Spirit was accepted as a third sex and might “marry” a man. Edwin Thompson Denig , writing in his 1856 book Of the Crow Nation, says:

“He is not to be distinguished in any way from the women.”

Among the Blackfoot, the behavior of the Two-Spirit was attributed to being inhabited by spiritual forces. The Two-Spirits were in great demand as wives because of their physical strength and their artistic abilities.

Writing about the Sioux, historian William Nester, in his book The Arikara War: The First Plains Indian War, 1823, says:

“Homosexual men were allowed to don female dress and live at the camp’s edge.”

He goes on to say that they

“believed that the dual nature of the transvestite (winkte) gave him great spiritual power, and they both respected and feared him for it.”

The Two-Spirits also had important ceremonial roles. According to anthropologists Wendell H. Oswalt and Sharlotte Neely, in their book This Land Was Theirs: A Study of Native Americans:

“in the Sun Dance certain rituals could be performed only by a berdache.”

With regard to the Hidatsa, ethnologist Alfred Bowers, in his book Hidatsa Social and Ceremonial Organization, reports:

“Since the berdaches were viewed as mystic possessors of unique ritual instructions secured directly from the mysterious Holy Woman, they were treated as a special class of religious leaders” and “The berdaches comprised the most active ceremonial class in the village.”

Among many of the Plains tribes, the Two-Spirit was felt to have strong curing powers. Among the Cheyenne, for example, war parties often included a Two-Spirit whose job was to care for the wounded. In addition, the spiritual powers of the Two-Spirits were felt to bring good luck. According to anthropologist Walter Williams, in his book The Spirit and the Flesh: Sexual Diversity in American Indian Culture:

“Their presence on war parties was also desired because of their special spiritual powers.”

Large war parties were seldom without a Two-Spirit.

While much of the literature about the role of the Two-Spirit or berdache in Northern Plains cultures focuses on men, there were also many instances of women who wore men’s clothing and took men’s roles. Some of these women married other women, some were warriors, and some were chiefs. Among the Blackfoot, women who took on the aggressive roles of men were referred to as “manly hearted women.” They would usually begin to take on these roles as teenagers when they would join war parties. They would wear male dress, marry women, and often obtain leadership positions as warriors and/or spiritual leaders.

Joseph LaFlesche, Omaha Chief

From the viewpoint of non-Indians, particularly government officials in the nineteenth century, a progressive Indian leader was one who advocated the assimilation of Indians into “mainstream” American culture. One of these progressive Indian leaders was Joseph LaFlesche.

Joseph LaFlesche was the son of a French fur trader and a Ponca woman. When he married an Omaha woman he was formally adopted into the Omaha Elk clan and was thus considered to be Omaha. When his adopted father, Omaha chief Big Elk, died in 1853, many people considered Joseph LaFlesche as principal chief of the Omaha.

While many Omaha considered Joseph LaFlesche a chief, and even the principal chief, the Americans and Joseph LaFlesche considered Logan Fontelle to be the principal chief. Historian Judith Boughter, in her book Betraying the Omaha Nation, 1790-1916, reports:

“Because his father was a French trader and he was never adopted into the tribe, Logan Fontelle probably did not qualify for chieftainship.”

Logan Fontelle was killed by a Sioux war party in 1855.

Joseph LaFlesche favored adopting American ways. For example, he refused to allow his four daughters to be tattooed in the Omaha fashion as he wanted them to be able to freely mingle in Euro-American society. He also encouraged the Omaha to build houses in the American style.

One aspect of American society which Joseph La Flesche opposed was alcohol. In 1856, together with the Indian agent for the reservation, he established an Indian police force for the purpose of eliminating alcohol on the reservation. This police force was headed by Ma-hu-nin-ga (No Knife).

In 1857, the Presbyterians, with the encouragement of Joseph LaFlesche, established a mission day school for the Omaha. The children were all given English names. The LaFlesche children attended this school.

At this same time, a group of Omaha under the leadership of Joseph La Flesche began to build American-style, two-story frame houses. For this reason, the other Omaha referred to them as “Make-Believe White Men.”

In 1858, chief Joseph La Flesche organized a great council of the Omaha because of rumors that the government was planning to reduce the size of their reservation. The council reaffirmed their commitment to the Americanization program, and strenuously opposed any reduction in the reservation.

The Omaha reservation in Nebraska had been established in 1854 when the Omaha ceded all of their lands west of the Missouri River to the United States. As a part of this treaty, the United States was to protect the Omaha from attacks by other tribes, particular the Sioux.

In 1860, a Sioux war party under the leadership of Little Thunder attacked the Omaha within sight of the Presbyterian mission. As a result of this attack, many Omaha left their villages. Joseph LaFlesche and other Omaha leaders met with the Indian Agent and demanded that their treaty’s clause which called for the United States to protect them from raids by other Indian nations be honored.

In exchange for ceding much of their land to the United States, the Omaha were to receive an annual annuity payment. In 1862, Joseph La Flesche began asking why most of their annuity was paid in paper money while the more rebellious tribes received theirs in gold and silver. According to historian Judith Boughter:

“He considered the practice unfair, since it made a $7,000 difference in the Omahas’ yearly income and since the government expected its payments in coin.”

In 1865, the United States asked the Omaha to sell 100,000 acres of their reservation in Nebraska to provide a new home for the Winnebago. In the treaty, negotiated by Joseph La Flesche, Standing Hawk, Little Chief, Noise, and No Knife, the Omaha were to receive $50,000 to be used by their Indian agent to improve their reservation. The Omaha were also to be provided with a blacksmith, a shop, a farmer, and mills for 10 years.

In 1866, the Indian agent for the Omaha Reservation accused chief Joseph LaFlesche with producing discord among the tribe, leaving the reservation without permission, lending money at usurious rates, encouraging the tribal police to inflict unfair punishments, and refusing to allow people to deal with licensed traders. The agent called for him to be deposed as tribal chief and to be banished. LaFlesche’s protector, the Presbyterian mission school superintendent, was then dismissed. LaFlesche and his family hastily fled from the reservation.

A few months later, the Indian agent agreed to allow LaFlesche to return to the reservation, but only if he agreed to be subordinate to the agent. Historian Judith Boughter reports:

“LaFlesche did return home, but he never again held a seat on the tribal council and apparently was recognized as a leader only among his band of followers in the young men’s party.”

Joseph LaFlesche had several wives and at least ten children. With Mary Gale, he had five children, including Susette LaFlesche (Bright Eyes) who became an Indian activist and Susan LaFlesche who became the first Indian woman physician. With Elizabeth Esau, he also had five children, including Francis LaFlesche, who became an ethnographer.  Joseph LaFlesche died in 1888.

Choctaw Migrations

The Choctaw, at the time of European contact, were a loosely organized confederacy composed of three distinctly different divisions: Okla Falaya (Long People), Okla Tannap (People of the Opposite Side), and Okla Hannalia (Sixtown People). The people were living in more than 100 autonomous villages.

While the Choctaw, like the other Indian nations in Eastern North America, were sedentary farmers, they also have traditions which tell of times when they lived elsewhere. Choctaw oral tradition speaks of a time when they had lived to the northwest. However, their population increased and the game grew scarce which forced them to seek a new home.

Their migration was led by Chahta (also spelled Chah-tah) who carried a magical staff. Each night when they camped, he would place the staff upright into the ground. In the morning, he would inspect it and then he would lead the people in the direction in which the staff leaned. At the ancient mound of Ninih Waiya (“Leaning Mountain”) near present-day Philadelphia, Mississippi, the staff remained upright in the morning. Thus it was here that the Choctaw settled. It was in this country that the Choctaw established their government.

According to one version of the story, a group of people led by Chikasa, Chahta’s brother, had camped on the other side of the creek. There was a heavy rain and flooding, following which the staff was still upright indicating that this is where the people were to stay. However, Chikasa’s party had proceeded on, not knowing that the promised land had been found. Arthur DeRosier (1970: 7) writes:

“Many Choctaws maintained that this was how they and the Chickasaws became separate, though kindred, nations.”

The Choctaw migration story tells that the people traveled for 43 years and that during this migration they carried the bones of the ancestors. Choctaw historian Donna Akers (1999: 67) writes:

“Many of the people carried so many bones that they were unable to carry anything else. Some were so overloaded that they would carry one load forward a half day’s journey, deposit it, and then return for the remainder.”

The task of carrying the bones was a sacred duty.

Another oral tradition says that the people emerged from the underworld at Ninih Waiya. The first to emerge were the Creek, who dried themselves in the sun and then went east. Next to emerge were the Cherokee who tried to follow the Creek but got lost and settled in the north. The third group to emerge was the Chickasaw who followed the Cherokee. The last group to emerge was the Choctaw who settled near the mound.

Another variation of the story tells that the Choctaw were the first to settle near Ninih Waiya following their migration. After a while, however, there were some internal disputes and some of the younger warriors and hunters abandoned the people to settle in distant regions. Tom Mould (2003: 115) writes:

“Thus, from the body of the Choctaw nation had sprung those other nations which are known as the Chickasaws, the Cherokees, the Creeks or Muscogees, the Shawnees, and the Delawares.”

There is also a Choctaw migration story that tells of the people coming from the bosom of a magnificent sea which is considered to be the Gulf of Mexico.

Horse-Mounted Buffalo Hunting on the Northern Plains

The Northern Plains include what is now North and South Dakota, Eastern Montana, northeastern Wyoming, and the Canadian provinces of Alberta and Saskatchewan. For the Indian nations who called this region home, the single most important animal was the buffalo (technically bison, but commonly called buffalo). The buffalo provided them with food, clothing, shelter, and tools. For many of the Indian peoples, buffalo was “real food” and the meat from other animals was considered inferior.

Writing about the Blackfoot in his book The Blackfeet: Raiders on the Northwestern Plains, anthropologist John Ewers says:

“So long as there was buffalo available, these Indians needed no other meat.”

The buffalo provided the Blackfoot with more than 100 specific items of material culture.

Nineteenth century Indian trader Edwin Thomson Denig writes in Five Indian Tribes of the Upper Missouri: Sioux, Arickaras, Assiniboines, Crees, Crows of the Sioux use of the buffalo:

“Every part of this animal is eaten by the Indians except the horns, hoofs, and hair.”

In addition to providing food, the buffalo skin was used for clothing and for lodges, the sinews were used for bow strings, and the bones were made into tools.

While the popular image of Indians is that of the horse-mounted buffalo hunter, the horse as we know it today came to this continent with the Europeans. When the horse reached the Plains in the early 1700s, it dramatically changed the Indian ways of life.

After the acquisition of the horse, the buffalo could be hunted from horseback. The Blackfoot would use the straightway chase in which each hunter singled out an animal in the herd, rode along side of it, and killed it at close range. The hunter would then continue on to another animal. The weapons used for buffalo hunting included the bow and arrow and the lance. In hunting buffalo from horseback, the preferred weapon was the bow and arrow, even after firearms became common. The bow was preferred for two reasons: (1) it was difficult to reload a muzzle-loading gun at full gallop, and (2) the hunter could easily reclaim the animals by looking at and identifying their own arrows.

Writing about the Crow in the Handbook of North American Indians, anthropologist Fred Voget reports:

“A man’s average kill was four or five buffalo, but successful hunters might kill 15 buffalo in one hunt, identifying their kill by the marks on their arrows.”

With regard to the bow and arrow, Minette Johnson, writing about the Gros Ventre in her master’s thesis Return of the Native: Buffalo Restoration at the Fort Belknap Reservation, reports:

“The bow and arrow remained the weapons of choice because they could be shot accurately at high speeds and be reloaded easily. The hunters aimed their arrows behind the last rib-bone of the buffalo, so it would penetrate the lungs, killing even the largest of the bulls.”

Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief describes hunting buffalo with a bow and arrow:

“Sometimes when a hunter rode side by side with a buffalo, and shot the animal, the arrow would go clear through. The Indians were very proud and careful of their arrows. They did not wish to break them. That is the reason why they shot them on the side, so that when the buffalo fell the arrow would not be broken.”

With regard to the use of the lance by Cheyenne buffalo hunters, George Bird Grinnell, in his book The Cheyenne Indians: Their History and Lifeways, writes:

“The rider usually ran up on the right side of the animal, and held the lance across his body, the right hand the higher. The buffalo was a little ahead of the horse, and the man, using both hands, thrust with his lance downward and forward.”

While the lance was most commonly used before iron-tipped arrows were common, it continued to be used until the end of buffalo hunting.

Among the Assiniboine, horse-mounted hunters supervised by the Soldiers’ Society and using bows and arrows would surround the buffalo herd. In an hour’s time, 80-100 hunters could kill 100-500 buffalo. The hunter who killed the animal claimed the hide and the choicest pieces of meat. All who aided in the butchering were entitled to a portion of the meat.

Buffalo hunting was generally a communal undertaking. A lone hunter could startle the herd and as a result little meat could be taken. Therefore, most of the tribes had one of the warrior societies supervise the hunters to make sure that no one hunted early. Blackfoot chief Mountain Chief describes what happened when a lone hunter would disobey the warrior society:

“When they got him, they broke his gun, his arrows and bow, broke his knife, cut his horse’s tail off, tore off his clothes, broke his saddle in pieces, tore his robe in pieces, cut his rope into small bits, also his whip. Then they sent him off afoot.”

The Indians of the Northern Plains used fire as a means of modifying the environment to support more buffalo as well as an aid in buffalo hunting. James Philp, in his University of Montana master’s thesis reports:

“It is more likely that Indians, including the Blackfeet, developed seasonal patterns of burning the prairies in association with bison herd movements because the hunter-gatherer economy of the semi-nomadic tribes was centrally focused and largely dependent upon bison and bison ecology.”

From time to time, Indian hunters encountered a white buffalo. For most of the tribes, the white buffalo is considered a powerful spiritual symbol. Among the Mandan, for example, a white buffalo hide was not only good medicine, it was also quite valuable. Among the Mandan, a white buffalo robe would bring 10-15 horses if traded. Historian E. Douglas Branch, in his book The Hunting of the Buffalo, reports:

“Three or four years after the purchase, piety demanded that the skin be offered to the dessication of wind and rain.”

With regard to the Cheyenne vision of the white buffalo, George Bird Grinnell writes:

“Some of them say that the white buffalo belongs far to the north; that it comes from the place where, according to tradition, the buffalo originally came out of the ground.”

If a hunter killed a white buffalo, it would be left where it fell and the hunter would immediately seek out the old man who had the spiritual power to perform the correct ceremony. The hide would then be ceremonially removed and tanned. The hide of the white buffalo was not used, but was given as a sacrificial offering.

A Short Overview of the Ute Indians

The state of Utah is named for the Ute Indians whose traditional territory extended from the southern Rocky Mountains in present-day Colorado, west to the Sevier River in Utah. Their traditional territory extended as far south as the upper San Juan River in present-day New Mexico and as far north as southern Wyoming.

While anthropologists generally classify the Utes as a Great Basin tribe, they were traditionally more of a mountain-dwelling tribe. Carl Waldman, in his book Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, writes:

“The forested slopes of the Rockies offered much more wildlife than the Basin floor and the Basin uplands. And the rivers flowing westward from the Great Divide provided plentiful fish for food.”

With regard to language, the Ute language is a part of the larger Uto-Aztecan language family and within this large language family it belongs to the Southern Numic sub-family which also includes Mohave, Paiute, Kawaiisu, and Chemehuevi.

The Ute were never a single unified tribe. There are several bands of the Ute:

(1) the Weminuche (Weeminuche) or Ute Mountain Ute whose homeland is the San Juan drainage of the Colorado River,

(2) the Tabeguache (also known as Uncompahgre),

(3) the Grand River band,

(4) the Yampa whose homeland is in northwestern Colorado,

(5) the Uintah whose homeland ran from Utah Lake east through the Uinta Basin,

(6) the Muache (Moache) whose homeland ranged south along the Sangre de Cristos as far south as Taos,

(7) the Capote of the San Luis Valley and the upper Rio Grande, (8) the Sheberetch in the area of present-day Moab,

(9) the Sanpits (San Pitch) in the Sanpete Valley in central Utah,

(10) the Timanogots near Utah Lake,

(11) Pahvant who lived in the deserts surrounding Sevier Lake, and

(12) the White River (Parusanuch and Yamparika) in the White and Yampa River systems of Colorado.

Each Ute band had a well-defined territory, but their territorial claims were not exclusive. Attorney Parker Nielson, in his book The Dispossessed: Cultural Genocide of the Mixed Blood Utes, points out:

“Land was viewed as a gift of creation, to be shared in common, and was not an object of private possession.”

Presently, under the administration of the United States the Utes occupy three reservations:

Southern Ute Reservation: located near Ignacio, Colorado, this reservation includes the Mouache and Capote bands.

Ute Mountain Ute Reservation: this reservation includes land in Colorado, New Mexico, and Utah.

Uintah and Ouray Reservation: located near Fort Duchesne, Utah, this reservation is the home of the White River descendants.

The Horse

The domestic horse was brought to North America by the Spanish colonists in New Mexico. Following the Pueblo Revolt of 1680, the horse was traded to other tribes and brought many changes to Native cultures.

For the Ute, the adoption of the horse brought about many changes in their lifestyle. While their food preferences and their migrational patterns remained somewhat the same, with the horse they were able to cover more territory and to be more efficient in the use of the resources of their territory. Historian Richard Young, in his book The Ute Indians of Colorado in the Twentieth Century, reports:

“With increased mobility and the ability to transport food over greater distances, previously disperse family groups now concentrated in large band camps. Hunters ventured far out onto the plains and hunted buffalo much more frequently than in the past; food became more plentiful and hunger less of a concern.”

With the horse came an increase in intertribal conflicts. Richard Young writes of the Ute:

“During the seventeenth century, the previously peaceful Utes often waged war on their neighbors.”

One of the prime objectives of Ute warfare was to obtain horses as well as other loot. In addition, the Ute warriors would often capture Indian women and children who they could trade with the Spanish and other settlers for horses.

Trade

As with Indian nations in other culture areas, trade among the peoples of the Great Basin was well-developed long before the coming of the Europeans. In addition, there was also trade with Indian groups from other culture areas. Regarding the Ute, attorney Parker Nielson writes:

“They bartered with the desert tribes to the west, with the Navajo and Pueblo Indians to the south, and with the Plains Indians as far distant as the panhandle of present-day Texas and Oklahoma.”

The Ute would often trade deer and buffalo hides and meat with the Pueblos for corn and other agricultural products. They would also trade hides with the Spanish and other Europeans for horses, knives, and manufactured articles.

It was not uncommon for trade to revolve around human captives. The Ute, for example, would obtain Indian women and children from other tribes either through raids or through trade with other tribes. They would then trade them to the Spanish settlers for horses. Historian Richard Young writes:

“Hispanic settlers who purchased the captives in this illegal but popular form of trade would then either resell the captives or raise them in their own households.”

Political Organization

Among the Ute, as was typical of many gathering and hunting tribes, the primary political unit was the band. Loosely organized, the band leadership had only a limited, non-coercive authority. In other words, leaders led through their ability to persuade. Membership in Ute bands was easily changed. Historian Richard Young writes:

“Families were free to leave bands, and an individual’s band membership was easily changed.”

As with other Great Basin groups, band membership among the Ute was very fluid. Parker Nielson reports:

“Change of Ute band affiliation was a casual affair in which Utes freely intermarried with or adopted members of other bands and tribes.”

With regard to Ute social organization on a larger scale, anthropologist Bertha Dutton, in her book The Ranchería, Ute, and Southern Paiute Peoples: Indians of the American Southwest, reports:

“Defensive war and the social bear dance were the only activities requiring the cooperation of a tribal unit larger than the family.”

Ute villages generally had two chiefs: a chief spokesman and a civil chief. During times of war there might also be a war chief. As with the other Indian nations of the Great Basin, there were no ruling families and no hereditary titles. Status and prestige were based on individual accomplishments, not on family lineage. With regard to the process of selecting a new chief among the Ute of Colorado, historian Richard Young reports:

“The Weeminuche did not have a hereditary chieftaincy; rather, the chief was chosen for his personal character and abilities, often by his predecessor.”

While nineteenth-century non-Indian politicians seemed to believe that Indian nations were somehow lawless since they didn’t have formal police departments, jails, and courts, all Indian nations did have laws which were based on oral traditions.  Among the Southern Ute, for example, crimes such as stealing and murder were not seen as a concern of the band, but of the family. The primary methods of social control were gossip and ostracism.

Many Indians tribes, particularly the Great Plains tribes, had voluntary associations or warrior societies. These tended to be absent among the Great Basin tribes. The only association among the Southern Ute was the Dog Company that functioned as both a warfare training mechanism and as a young men’s elite. Not all young men joined the Dog Company, as often their families could not spare them. When the camp moved, the Dog Company acted as lookouts and lagged behind as a rear guard.

Frank White, Pawnee Prophet

In 1889, a Paiute prophet known as Wovoka in Nevada died during an eclipse and then returned to life with a message and dance for his people. The word of Wovoka’s vision quickly spread to other tribes and the religious movement known as the Ghost Dance began.

In 1890, Sitting Bull, a Northern Arapaho spiritual leader from the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming, brought the Ghost Dance to the tribes in Oklahoma, including the Comanche.

One of the visitors at an 1891 Comanche Ghost Dance in Oklahoma was Frank White. He sat on the north side of the dance area and ate a lot of peyote. When the Comanche asked him who he was, he said that he was Pawnee. Following the Comanche Ghost Dance, he attended a Ghost Dance among the Wichita. There he once again ate peyote, he watched the dance, and then he joined it.

While dancing, Frank White went into a trance where he saw the stream, the tree, the Messiah, and the village of the people. He saw the people dance, and in his trance he joined them and from them he learned Ghost Dance songs in Pawnee. The English words to the first song he learned are:

The place whence you come,

Now I am longing for.

The place whence you come,

Now I am ever mindful of.

When he woke from the trance he told the people what he had seen. In this way, Frank White became a prophet and the people felt that he had the same power as Sitting Bull, the Arapaho Ghost Dance leader.

When he returned home to the Pawnee he began to teach the doctrine and the songs of the Ghost Dance to the southern bands. He told the people:

“The kingdom is coming soon now, so the people must prepare. This that I have is called ghost dancing. You must stop working because when the kingdom comes you won’t take plows or things like that along. That’s not ours.”

The version of the Ghost Dance that Frank White gave to the Pawnees was not the same one Sitting Bull had given to the Caddos. In addition, the dance had a different focus than Ghost Dance advocated by the Paiute prophet Wovoka.

While White saw himself as a prophet as a new religious movement, he was also respectful of Pawnee culture. He met with the elders and discussed his vision. The elders accepted his vision and were satisfied with him in the role of Ghost Dance prophet.

Frank White, who was of the Kitkahaxki band, began holding regular Ghost Dances and members of the Skiri band were attending. At first, the songs included Arapaho and Wichita songs as well as the Pawnee songs he had learned in his trance. During the dances, people would have visions which explained other ceremonies which they should be doing. In this way, the Ghost Dance began to grow among the Pawnee.

The Ghost Dance doctrine among the Pawnee held that the dead could communicate with the living through the visions brought about during the dance. Hundreds of Pawnee gathered to dance the new dance so that they could see their deceased loved ones. Anthropologist Alice Beck Kehoe, in her book The Ghost Dance: Ethnohistory and Revitalization, reports:

“Then a truly marvelous thing happened: In the visions, people saw not only relatives but also the dead doctors and priests. These leaders instructed the visionaries in the performances of the rituals and healing arts and advised them to carry out the practices as best they could under the reservation circumstances.”

In addition to face painting, the Pawnee Ghost Dance included the use of feathers as hair ornaments. In the trance visions, people usually found themselves associated with either the eagle or the crow and thereafter they wore feathers to symbolize this vision.

At the beginning of each dance a woman would be chosen to bless the dance grounds. She would be seated at the door of White’s tipi with her face painted. For this one day she was holy. At the end of each day of dancing, the dancers moved to the center of the circle and then back out slowly shaking their blankets and shawls. In this way they cast off the burdens of the day.

The United States government became concerned about the growing popularity of the Ghost Dance movement and in 1891 the Indian agent wrote to Frank White and ordered him to cease holding Ghost Dances. In addition, White was ordered to return to the Kiowa or Wichita agency. In an article in Chronicles of Oklahoma, Todd Leahy reports:

“White, however, chose not to leave his people or abandon the Ghost Dance. Moreover, he moved to widen the ceremony’s body of adherents, and in late December 1891 Delawares, Otoes, and Osages attended dances on the Pawnee reservation.”

In 1892 the government realized that the Pawnee were still doing the Ghost Dance and set out to stop it. The Indian agency clerk met with Frank White and told him that he was an impostor and that he was to leave the reservation and never return.  The following morning, over 200 Pawnee, painted with Ghost Dance colors, surrounded the agency and demanded a council. The agent told them that they were following a false Messiah and that the Ghost Dance would not be tolerated. In the words of the agent:

“I plainly told them that the dance could not be tolerated and would not be; that this government would last and assert her power, and that they should be obedient to the law and be good Indians, return to their homes and cultivate their farms and raise something to eat.”

Following the meeting, the Pawnee continued to gather in secret in order to Ghost Dance.

Fearing that the Ghost Dance would interfere with the government’s plan to break up the reservations into allotments, Frank White was arrested remanded to jail. The Pawnee decided to fight to get their prophet back and a party of armed warriors gathered at the railroad station to take him from the marshal. However, the agent sent a telegram and when the train arrived it was filled with soldiers. The Pawnee decide that there were too many soldiers and so the marshal left with White.

While Frank White was away, many Pawnee were persuaded to choose allotments. According to anthropologist Alexander Lesser, in his book The Pawnee Ghost Dance Hand Game: Ghost Dance Revival and Ethnic Identity:

“It must be remembered that in dividing up their land, and selling a good part of it, the Pawnee were doing something which was opposed to the faith and doctrine of the Ghost Dance.”

After several days in jail a writ of habeas corpus was issued. The judge gave White a lecture on the dangers of indulging in the Ghost Dance. He was then released and returned to the reservation.

While Frank White was in jail, William Hunt emerged as a new Ghost Dance leader. Hunt drastically altered the Ghost Dance.  Rather than dancing, Hunt offered a doctrine that included the laying on of hands. White was angered by the new development and demanded that Hunt be arrested and deported for practicing the Ghost Dance. The agent ignored the demand feeling that it was to his advantage to let the Ghost Dance leaders quarrel among themselves.

Among the Pawnee, Frank White was considered to be the sole authentic prophet of the Ghost Dance and its doctrine. Those who had visions reported them to him. White granted permission to use the vision, to wear feathers, to paint the face, and to put on a dance. For conferring these rights, White was usually given gifts.

Frank White did not live up to the ideals of conduct for a spiritual leader among the Pawnee.  He used peyote – which the Pawnee felt made him wise – but he drank whiskey at the same time. According to one of his contemporaries:

“Whiskey and peyote do not mix, they cannot go together. That’s what killed him.”

He died in 1893, but the Ghost Dance that he brought to the Pawnee continued to live.

Dr Susan LaFlesche, Omaha Physician

Susan LaFlesche was the first American Indian woman to become a doctor and to practice Western-style medicine among her own people. She became a doctor at a time when there were only a handful of other Indian doctors trained in western medicine—Charles Eastman and Carlos Montezuma. In addition, it was highly unusual at this time for a woman to become a doctor.

Susan LaFlesche was born on the Omaha Reservation in Nebraska in 1865. Her father was Joseph LaFlesche who had become the principal chief of the Omaha in 1854. Her father was what the Americans called “progressive” as he favored adopting American ways. He refused to allow his four daughters to be tattooed in the Omaha fashion as he wanted them to be able to freely mingle in Euro-American society. He also encouraged the Omaha to build houses in the American style and consequently she grew up in a frame house on a plot of land which was in her father’s name. In his biography of her in Notable Native Americans, Charles Cannon writes:

“Her family was Christian, influential, and respected, and emphasized the importance of education.”

One aspect of American society which Joseph LaFlesche opposed was alcohol. In 1856 he established an Indian police force for the purpose of eliminating alcohol on the reservation.

Joseph LaFlesche was the son of a French fur trader and a Ponca woman. When he married an Omaha woman he was formally adopted into the Omaha Elk clan and was thus considered to be Omaha.

Susan grew up speaking both Omaha and English. One of her brothers, Francis, became an ethnologist with the Bureau of American Ethnography; one sister, Susette, became an outspoken and well-known Indian rights activist; and another sister, Marguerite, became an educator.

Susan’s formal education began in the Presbyterian Mission School on the Omaha Reservation. In 1879, Susan and her sister Marguerite entered the Elizabeth Institute for Young Ladies in Elizabeth, New Jersey.

She returned to the Omaha Reservation in 1882 and worked at the mission school. Among her duties was some of the younger students.

In 1884, Susan and Marguerite enrolled in the Hampton Normal and Agricultural Institute in Hampton, Virginia. Hampton had been established for the education of free slaves and welcomed Indian students. Samuel Chapman Armstrong, the founder of the Hampton Institute, wrote about educating Indian children:

“Savages have good memories; they acquire but do not comprehend; they devour but do not digest knowledge. They have no conception of mental discipline.”

She graduated from Hampton in 1886 and was the salutatorian at the graduation ceremony. She advocated the assimilation of Indians into Euro-American culture:

“We have to prepare our people to live in the white man’s way, to use the white man’s books, and to use his laws if you will only give them to us.”

Susan had always wanted to become a doctor and her teachers encouraged her to go on to medical school. However, the cost of medical school was a significant barrier. The Connecticut Indian Association agreed to pay for most of her education and they persuaded the Indian Office (as the Bureau of Indian Affairs was then called) to continue to provide some support.

The Women’s Medical College of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia admitted Susan as a beneficiary student. It was unusual for women at this time, let alone Indian women, to enroll in medical school. Medical education was strictly segregated by gender. Charles Cannon reports:

“When not busy studying, she exhibited her community-oriented nature by speaking to church groups and visiting the Lincoln School for Indian children near Philadelphia.”

Susan graduated in 1889 at the head of a class of 36 women. She returned to Nebraska as the physician at the government boarding school. She was soon seeing adults as well as children as she spoke their language. When the government physician left, she was placed in charge of the health care for the 1,244 tribal members. In his book Who Was Who in Native American History: Indians and Non-Indians From Early Contacts Through 1900, Carl Waldman reports

“…La Flesche served as the reservation doctor for the Omahas, seeing hundreds of patients and helping stem influenza, dysentery, cholera, conjunctivitis, typhoid, and tuberculosis, all chronic to the reservation.”

In 1891, influenza struck the reservation. Traveling throughout the rural area of the reservation, she treated 114 patients in a single month. Travel from house to house was generally by horse and buggy and often over rough terrain. If the patient was only a mile or two away, she would often walk.

In 1893, she resigned from her position as the government physician to the reservation. Her health had declined to the point where she felt she could no longer do the work required. The following year she became engaged to Henry Picotte (Sioux), the brother of her sister Maguerite’s late husband.

Like her father, she was concerned about the impact of alcohol on the Omaha people. Like many women of this time—both Indian and non-Indian—she became involved with the temperance movement. She wrote:

“Men and women died from alcoholism, and little children were seen reeling on the streets of the town. Drunken brawls in which men were killed occurred and no person’s life was considered safe.”

Her concern for alcohol became much more personal as her husband’s drinking increased. In 1905 her husband died from complications from drinking. She was left as the sole support of an invalid mother and two small children.

The following year, she purchased a house lot in the newly formed town of Walthill, an alcohol-free area, and built a modern home. She moved into this home with her two children and her mother.

Even though she was no longer the government physician for the reservation, she continued to help the people with her medical skills. She was one of the organizers of the Thurston County Medical Association and advocated for a hospital in Walthill. The hospital became a reality in 1913 and was opened for the treatment of both Indian and non-Indian patients.

Susan LaFlesche Picotte died in 1915 at the age of 50. The hospital which she helped to create was renamed in her honor. Charles Cannon writes:

“She was a symbol for many marginalized groups who sought empowerment in the nineteenth century. She was a shining light not only for the Indian rights movement, but for the women’s movement as well. She was ahead of her time as a Native American activist because she was among the earliest Indian leaders to look beyond the interests of her own tribe and address the broad issues facing Native Americans in general.”

Indian Tribes of the Great Basin Culture Area

The Great Basin Culture Area includes the high desert regions between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountains. It is bounded on the north by the Columbia Plateau and on the south by the Colorado Plateau. It includes southern Oregon and Idaho, a small portion of southwestern Montana, western Wyoming, eastern California, all of Nevada and Utah, a portion of northern Arizona, and most of western Colorado. This is an area which is characterized by low rainfall and extremes of temperature. The valleys in the area are 3,000 to 6,000 feet in altitude and are separated by mountain ranges running north and south that are 8,000 to 12,000 feet in elevation. The rivers in this region do not flow into the ocean, but simply disappear into the sand.

With regard to Great Basin ecology, Christopher Chase-Dunn and Helly Mann, in their book The Wintu and Their Neighbors: A Very Small World-System in Northern California, report:

“It is an ecologically sparse environment punctuated by small areas where water, game, and plant life are abundant.”

In her book Indians of the Plateau and Great Basin, Victoria Sherrow reports:

“Summers in a Basin desert can be fiercely hot, the winters bitterly cold. The land is unfavorable for farming and contains little game for food.”

This is an area which seems inhospitable to human habitation, yet Indian people have lived here for thousands of years. This was the last part of the United States to be explored and settled by the European-Americans. In writing about the early Indian settlement of the Great Basin, archaeologist Jesse Jennings, in his book Prehistory of Utah and the Eastern Great Basin, notes:

“Effective human exploitation of the American Desert West requires rather intimate knowledge of a fairly large territory of several hundred square miles, a territory probably encompassing the full range of desert biomes or ecologic communities.”

Language

Linguistically all of the Indian people of the Great Basin, with the exception of the Washo, spoke languages which belong to the Numic division of the Uto-Aztecan language family. The Numic languages appear to have divided into three sub-branches—Western, Central, and Southern—about 2,000 years ago. About a thousand years ago, the Numic-speaking people expanded northward and eastward.

Tribes

The basic tribes of the Great Basin Culture Area include Bannock, Gosiute, Mono, Northern Paiute, Panamint, Shoshone, Southern Paiute, Washo, and Ute.

The Ute were never a single unified tribe. There are several bands of the Ute:

(1) the Weminuche (Weeminuche) or Ute Mountain Ute whose homeland is the San Juan drainage of the Colorado River,

(2) the Tabeguache (also known as Uncompahgre),

(3) the Grand River band,

(4) the Yampa whose homeland is in northwestern Colorado,

(5) the Uintah whose homeland ran from Utah Lake east through the Uinta Basin,

(6) the Muache (Moache) whose homeland ranged south along the Sangre de Cristos as far south as Taos,

(7) the Capote of the San Luis Valley and the upper Rio Grande,

(8) the Sheberetch in the area of present-day Moab,

(9) the Sanpits (San Pitch) in the Sanpete Valley in central Utah,

(10) the Timanogots near Utah Lake,

(11) Pahvant who lived in the deserts surrounding Sevier Lake, and

(12) the White River (Parusanuch and Yamparika) in the White and Yampa River systems of Colorado.

The Shoshone are often divided into four general groups: (1) the Western Shoshone who lived in central Nevada, northeastern Nevada, and Utah, (2) Northern Shoshone who lived in southern Idaho and adopted the horse culture after 1800, (3) Eastern Shoshone of Wyoming who adopted many of the traits of Plains Indian culture, and (4) Southern Shoshone who live in the Death Valley area on the extreme southern edge of the Great Basin.

The Northern Shoshone groups include the Fort Hall Shoshone, the Lemhi Shoshone, the Mountain Shoshone, the Bruneau Shoshone, and the Boise Shoshone. The Lemhi Shoshone hunted buffalo in western Montana, but depended primarily upon salmon for their subsistence. The Bruneau Shoshone were not a horse people and depended largely on salmon and camas. The Boise Shoshone also used salmon and camas as primary foods and also hunted buffalo in Wyoming and Montana.

Shoshone bands, like other groups in the Great Basin and Plateau Culture Areas, were often named after their dominant food source. Thus mountain-dwelling Shoshone were known as Tukudika (“eaters of bighorn sheep” or sheep eaters). Other Shoshone groups include the Agaidika (salmon eaters), Padehiyadeka (elk eaters), Yahandeka (groundhog eaters), Pengwideka (fish eaters), Kamuduka (rabbit eaters), Tubaduka (pine-nut eaters), and Hukandeka (seed eaters), and the Kukundika (also spelled Kutsundeka; buffalo eaters).

The Shoshone (also spelled Shoshoni) take their name from the Shoshone word sosoni’ which refers to a type of high-growing grass. Some of the Plains tribes referred to the Shoshone as “Grass House People” which referred to the conically shaped houses made from the native grasses. Some Plains groups also referred to them as the “Snakes” or “Snake People”. This term comes from the sign which the people used for themselves in hand sign languages. Drusilla Gould and Christopher Loether, in their book An Introduction to the Shoshoni Language: Dammen Daigwape, write:

“The hand motion made for the sign represents a snake to most signers, but among the Shoshoni it referred to the salmon, an unknown fish on the Great Plains.”

The Shoshone often refer to themselves as newe.

The Bannock, who call themselves Bana’kwut (“Water People”), were called Buffalo Eaters and Honey Eaters by other tribes.

At one time, the Bannock lived in the desert areas of southeastern Oregon. They later migrated into the Snake and Lemhi River valleys where they came in contact with the Shoshone. The two groups shared many cultural elements and their languages are related. In his book The Shoshone-Bannocks: Culture and Commerce at Fort Hall, 1870-1940, Historian John Heaton writes:

“Shoshones spoke Central Numic, whereas Bannocks, who began to intermarry with Shoshones in Idaho in the early eighteenth century, spoke Western Numic.”

With intermarriage, many became bilingual. Today the term Sho-Ban is used to refer to the two tribes.

Bannock culture tended to emphasize war more than Shoshone culture. With regard to the merger of the Shoshone and Bannock, historian John Heaton writes:

“Bannock warriors generally emerged as the most influential leaders of the equestrian Shoshone-Bannock bands.”

The traditional homeland of the Gosiute was south and west of Great Salt Lake. They lived in the Tooele, Rush, and Skull valleys. In his book Basin-Plateau Aboriginal Sociopolitical Groups, Julian Steward feels that the Gosiute are linguistically and culturally Shoshone.

There are fifteen Southern Paiute bands: Chemehuevi, Las Vegas, Moapa, Paranigat, Panaca, Shivwits, St. George, Gunlock, Cedar, Beaver, Panguitch, Uinkaret, Kaibab, Kaiparowits, and San Juan.

In the northern part of the Great Basin, the bands tended to call themselves after a particular food source: “salmon eaters,” “mountain sheep eaters,” and so on. In the south, the band names tended to be geographical.

Migrations

The linguistic and archaeological data seem to suggest that the Numic-speaking people spread into the Great Basin from southeastern California.

The homeland of the Numic-speaking groups in the Great Basin is generally seen as the Death Valley area. Linguistic data seems to suggest that these groups began their migrations from this area into other parts of the Great Basin about 1,000 to 1,500 years ago. In an article in the Utah Historical Quarterly, Catherine and Don Fowler report:

“Archaeological and linguistic evidence indicates that the Numic-speaking peoples spread across the Great Basin sometime after A.D. 1000, displacing or replacing the earlier carriers of the Fremont and Virgin Branch Anasazi cultures in Utah, eastern Nevada, and Northern Arizona.”

In an article in American Antiquity, Angus Quinlan and Alanah Woody report:

“Indications of a late Numic spread into the western Basin can be found in some Numic oral traditions, though other oral histories insist that Numic groups have occupied the Great Basin from the beginning of time.”

One Northern Paiute oral history tells of driving off an earlier group in western Nevada. A Southern Paiute oral tradition tells of an earlier group identified as the “Mukwic” who were responsible for the pictographs in the area.

Buffalo Hunting Among Northern Plains Indians Prior to the Horse

For thousands of years, the Indian nations of the Northern Plains relied upon the buffalo—technically bison, but commonly called buffalo—for food, for clothing, for shelter, and for tools. Before the coming of the horse, buffalo were hunted using either a buffalo jump or a corral.

The corral or impound method involved building a timber corral and enticing the buffalo into it so that they could be killed. Archaeologist Arrow Coyote, in his master’s thesis of the University of Montana reports:

“The corral structure can be made of fences of logs, brush, or piled snow. The idea is to construct the pound carefully to look solid so that bison cannot see ‘daylight’ and try to burst through the fences.”

Enticing the buffalo into the corral was not an easy task, nor was it always successful. It was not uncommon to bring the buffalo into the corral from several miles away.

The Plains Cree were among the most proficient users of the impound method. The Plains Cree used the impound for their winter buffalo hunt. According to anthropologist David Mandelbaum, in his book The Plains Cree: An Ethnographic, Historical, and Comparative Study:

“A pound had to be built under the supervision of a shaman who had been given the power to do so by a spirit helper. Each pound could only be used through one winter; the following year a new one had to be built.”

To make the impound, a thicket was first selected and an area 30-40 feet in diameter was cleared. A wall about 10-15 feet high was then constructed around the clearing. The entrance to the impound was placed to the east and two sturdy trees located about 20 feet apart were used as the entrance gates. A log was then lashed between the two trees at the height of the wall and a ramp constructed from the ground to this log.

At an oblique angle to the entrance of the impound, a chute was built to guide the buffalo. The chute was about 100 yards out and made a sharp turn right before the entrance. With the sharp turn, the buffalo herd would not see the corral until it was too late to stop.

To bring the buffalo into the chute leading to the impound, the hunters would locate a herd and then begin driving it toward the chute by slapping their folded robes against the ground or the snow. The herd would move away from the noise and then settle down to graze again. The men would repeat the action, moving the herd toward the chute. When the herd got close to the entrance of the chute, a single horseman, using a fast horse, would ride out and guide the herd into the chute.

Once inside the impound, the buffalo would mill about in a clockwise fashion and would be shot with arrows. Before butchering the dead animals, the medicine man would sing a song to the spirits. The camp crier would apportion the buffalo, usually giving the fattest carcasses to the men who had helped build the corral. Anthropologist David Mandelbaum writes:

“All who were encamped in the vicinity of a pound were privileged to share in its yield, regardless of whether they had helped build it or whether they belonged to the band that had constructed it.”

The buffalo jump involved luring the buffalo over high precipices along river valleys. To lure the herd to the jump site, a young man, disguised with buffalo horns and robe, would decoy the herd. Grace Flandreau, in her book The Lewis and Clark Expedition, writes:

“The job of decoy, given to the bravest and fleetest of the young men, seems to have been a questionable privilege, his escape from destruction depending entirely on whether he could run faster than the buffalo, and find a foothold under the cliff.”

The animals were usually killed or disabled in the fall. Crow warrior White-Man-Runs-Him describes the buffalo jump this way:

“When we got the buffalo up near the edge of the precipice we would all wave our blankets and buffalo robes and frighten the buffalo and they would run off the steep place, falling into the valley below, one on top of another.”

Buffalo were often hunted in the winter as the large animals could not run fast in the snow. The hunters, wearing snowshoes, could easily approach them at this time. To carry the meat back to camp, sleds were often made from buffalo ribs and hickory saplings.

 

A Brief Overview of the Illinois Indians

Today, the Illinois Indians are known primarily as the Indian nation whose name is used for both a state and a river. Their aboriginal territory was extensive and was situated south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi River. The southern border of their territory was on the Ohio River and the northern border in southern Wisconsin. Anthropologists today sometimes refer to the Illinois as Woodland Algonquians or as Prairie Algonquians.

The Illinois (or Illini) were a confederacy of Algonquian-speaking groups which included the Kaskaskia, Maroa, Tamaroa, Tapouaro, Coiracoentanon, Moingwena, Espeminkia, Chinkoa, Chepoussa, Kahoki (Cahokia), Michigami (Michigamae), Wea, Piankashaw, Peoria, Mascouten, and Miami. According to sociologist Russell Thornton in his book American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492:

“In aggregate, they were one of the largest American Indian groups in the Central United States area at the time of the first European contacts.”

Thornton estimates their population in 1670 at 10,500. These tribes, however, were not politically organized like the Iroquois Confederacy.

With regard to language, the Illinois dialects belong to the large Algonquian language family and more specifically to the Central Algonquian sub-family which includes Shawnee, Sauk, Fox, Kickapoo, Menominee, Potawatomi, Ojibwa, Cree, Montegnais, and Naskapi.

With regard to settlements, Carl Waldman, in his Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, reports:

“They had villages in the wooded river valleys where there was a good supply of drinking water and shelter from the wind and sun. And, in the forests, there abound abundant materials for making things: plenty of wood and bark for shaping houses, boats, tools, and weapons; and for fuel to keep warm in the bitter winters.”

John White, in his entry on the Illinois in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians, reports:

“Their villages were quite large and were located along major rivers, where the people could utilize their large dugout canoes (misuri is the Illinois word for ‘canoe’).”

Among the Algonquian-speaking people of this area, farming was of secondary economic importance (hunting and gathering were of greater importance) and contributed less than half of their food. As with the other Indian farmers of the Northeast, they raised corn, beans, tobacco, and squash. The reduced importance of agriculture was due largely to climatic conditions. Throughout much of the region, the 140 growing-day season made agriculture a risky endeavor. A later spring or an early fall meant that crop failures were a constant possibility. There are, however, microclimates along the Great Lakes which offer more suitable conditions for agriculture and offer a slightly longer growing period.

The Illinois women would plant corn about the first of May and then harvest their first crop at the end of July. There was usually a second harvest in August. In addition to corn, the Illinois also planted beans, squash, and watermelons.

Hunting was an important economic activity and hunting territories were allocated to specific families. While these families did not own the land in the European sense of land ownership, they did have the exclusive hunting rights for a specific area. Game taken by a hunter was generally shared freely among all in the camp or village, including strangers. The purpose of hunting was to feed the people, not just the hunter and the hunter’s immediate family.

Deer and moose were important food sources. Deer was sometimes hunted by a group of hunters using dogs to drive the deer into a V formed by chopped down trees. Sometimes deer were hunted at night when they came to the stream or lake for water. In hunting at night a jacklight was used: this was a torch on a platform in the front of a canoe. The light would cause the deer to pause, momentarily attracted to the light.

In June, after the corn had been hilled, the Illinois would leave their villages for a communal buffalo hunt that would last for six weeks. Young men would surround the buffalo herd on foot and then drive the animals into an ambush. Carl Waldman reports:

“A proven method was to surround a herd with a ring of fire, then, while the animals were trapped, pick them off with bows and arrows.”

Among the Illinois, a man could not marry until he had proven his hunting ability. In addition, he had to accompany several war parties before marriage.

Among the Illinois, boys who showed a preference for implements used by women would be dressed as girls. As adults, these berdaches or Two-Spirits would imitate women in every respect. The berdaches were also respected at major rituals where their advice was highly valued. In war, the berdache would use a club rather than a bow and arrow.

Among the Algonquian people, warfare consisted of raids carried out by relatively small raiding parties. There were two primary reasons for these raids: (1) to avenge a slain member of the tribe, and (2) to gain personal war honors. Warfare tended to be seasonal (war parties did not usually go out during the late fall, winter, and early spring as these were prime hunting times) and carried out at a leisurely pace. The battles were usually very short.

Among the Illinois, warfare was generally against tribes living west of the Mississippi and war parties tended to be small. Charles Callender, in his entry on the Illinois in the Handbook of North American Indians, reports:

“Each raid was led by a recognized war leader, who invited his followers to a good feast before leaving the village at night. A successful raid was carried out without loses.”

If a member of the war party was killed, the leader would have to compensate the family for the death and then lead another raid to avenge the death. A war leader’s career would usually be ended if there were two unsuccessful war parties.

Among the Illinois, as among other Algonquian-speaking tribes, visions were of great importance as visions provide individuals with the guardian spirit or tutelary spirit who will guide them for the rest of their lives. One of the important roles of the guardian or tutelary spirit was to provide cooperation in hunting. Hunting dreams came to both men and women. This spirit can also provide the individual with the ability to make prophesies and/or the power to cure.

As with many other tribes, children would undertake a vision quest in the transition into adulthood. For boys, this would be in the early teen years. An Illinois girl would undertake her vision quest at the onset of menstruation and she would fast to receive a vision which would give her well-being.

Women Warriors Among Northern Plains Indians

The popular media and sometimes history book view of the Northern Plains Indians of the nineteenth century envisions a male warrior, mounted on a horse, wearing a long war bonnet. There are many things wrong with this stereotype, but what is usually missing from the non-Indian descriptions of Northern Plains Indian warfare is the fact that women were often warriors.

During the nineteenth century, most of the non-Indians who observed Indian war parties were blind to the women warriors who rode with them. They simply assumed that any women in the group were there simply to cook and provide sex. The idea that a woman could be a warrior was totally alien to them. They failed to understand that women sometimes rode into battle with their husbands.

The American attitude regarding women, including Indian women, can be seen in 1877 when an American delegation went to Saskatchewan, Canada, to meet with Sioux refugees under the leadership of Sitting Bull. When The One that Speaks Once, the wife of Bear that Scatters, addressed the council, the Americans were insulted and offended by allowing a woman to speak to them in council. As had happened in other councils where women spoke, the Americans left the council and refused to participate with them.

Listed below are a few examples of well-known nineteenth century women warriors on the Northern Plains.

Fallen Leaf

While Fallen Leaf (often called Woman Chief by the Americans) was a Crow warrior, she was actually born to the Gros Ventre nation and was captured by the Crow when she was 12. As a girl, her Crow foster parents allowed her to use the bow and arrow and to guard the horses. Later she learned to shoot a rifle and went on hunts with the men. With regard to her buffalo hunting prowess, Edwin Thompson Denig, writing in 1856 in his Of the Crow Nation, says Fallen Leaf

“could kill four or five buffalo at a race, cut up the animals without assistance, and bring the meat and hides home.”

She counted coup the first time when the Blackfoot attacked her camp. She mounted her horse and rode out to meet them. She shot down one Blackfoot warrior with her gun and shot arrows into two more. Denig writes:

“This daring act stamped her character as a brave. It was sung by the rest of the camp, and in time was made known to the rest of the nation.”

A year later, she led her first war party against the Blackfoot, capturing 70 horses, killing two men including a chief, and taking the gun from a Blackfoot warrior.

After she had counted coup four times in the prescribed Crow tradition, she was considered a chief and sat in the council of chiefs. In addition to being a war leader, she was also a good hunter and had four wives.

Running Eagle

Running Eagle became a Blackfoot (Piegan) warrior after her husband was killed by the Crow. To avenge her husband’s death, she sought help from the Sun and was told

“I will give you great power in war, but if you have intercourse with another man, you will be killed.”

After this she became a very respected war leader and led many successful raids on the large Flathead horse herds west of the Rocky Mountains. It was on a raid in Flathead country when she was killed. She had had sexual relations with one of the men in her war party and for this reason lost her war power.

Tashenamani 

Tashenamani (also calledMoving Robe; She Walks With Her Shawl) was a Hunkpapa Lakota woman who, along with thousands of other Sioux and Lakota, was camped at the Greasy Grass (also known as the Little Big Horn) in July of 1876. When Lt. Col. Custer’s Seventh Cavalry attacked the camp, Tashenamani seized her brother’s war staff and led the counterattack against the attacking cavalry. The warrior Rain-in-the-Face, recalling this attack, said:

“Always when there is a woman in the charge, it causes the warriors to vie with one another in displaying their valor.”

She rode into battle with her face painted crimson as a woman in mourning to avenge the death of her brother One Hawk who had been killed at the beginning of the attack. During the battle she killed at least one soldier: a black interpreter. When he asked her not to kill him, she replied:

“If you did not want to be killed, why did you not stay home where you belong and not come to attack us?”

Tasheamani was the daughter of Crawler and her fight at the Greasy Grass was not her first battle. Several years earlier, when she was 17 years old, she had been a part of a war party against the Crow.

Buffalo Calf Robe:

At the battle of the Rosebud in 1876, American soldiers and their Crow and Shoshone allies attacked a Sioux and Cheyenne camp. The Shoshone and Crow shot the horse of Cheyenne Chief Comes in Sight out from under him. As they were closing in to finish him off, Buffalo Calf Robe (aka Calf Trail Woman), the sister of Comes in Sight, rode into the middle of the warriors and saved the life of her brother. Buffalo Calf Robe had ridden into battle that day next to her husband Black Coyote. The Cheyenne remember this as the most important war honor of the day.

Ehyophsta 

As a Cheyenne warrior, Ehyophsta (Yellow-head Woman) played a prominent part in an 1868 battle with the Shoshone in which she counted coup on one Shoshone warrior and killed another.

A Brief Overview of the Assiniboine Indians

Like most of the Indian nations that are currently associated with the Northern Great Plains, the Assiniboine migrated out on the Plains after the European invasion and its fur trade began pushing Native peoples to the west. The Assiniboine spoke a Siouan language and at one time they had been a part of the Yanktonai Sioux living in the Lake Superior region of present-day northern Minnesota and southwestern Ontario. The Assiniboine split over from the Yanktonai in the 1600s and began their migration west. During the eighteenth century, their migrations brought them into the Northern Plains of Alberta and Montana.

The Northern Plains tribes depended on hunting and gathering for their subsistence. Their annual round was not random nomadism. The bands had to understand the location of the food resources and to time their travels so that they would arrive in specific locations at a time when these resources were available.

The most important game animal on the Northern Plains was the buffalo. In his book Land of the Nakoda: The Story of the Assiniboine Indians, James Long writes:

“To the Assiniboine, the buffalo was more than an animal. It was the staff of life. No other animal gave so much to the people as that great shaggy creature.”

Among the Assiniboine, horse-mounted hunters supervised by the Soldiers’ Society and using bows and arrows would surround the buffalo herd. In an hour’s time, 80-100 hunters could kill 100-500 buffalo. The hunter who killed the animal claimed the hide and the choicest pieces of meat. All who aided in the butchering were entitled to a portion of the meat.

For housing, the Assiniboine used a three-pole tipi (lodge) which averaged about 31 feet in circumference and required 12 hides for a cover. Assiniboine lodges always faced south. The lodges were owned by the women and were set up by them. The tipi was occupied by a nuclear family along with some other relatives, such as a widowed grandmother. Sometimes the Assiniboine lodges were painted with pictures of the war honors of the man who lived there.

The Assiniboine used chokecherry, ash, and scrub oak for their bows. The length of the bow varied and was designed to suit its user. James Long reports:

“On some bows a sharpened prong, made from the horn of an elk, was attached to one end. These were used in battle as bayonets after a warrior had shot away all his arrows.”

Prior to the horse, each Assiniboine family had to have six to twelve dogs, each capable of carrying up to fifty pounds. The dogs were named by the women. James Long reports:

“They spoke to them like persons, either scolded them or praised them whenever the dogs deserved it.”

Among the Assiniboine, a young man would not seek marriage until he had participated in a war party, and ideally not until he had counted coup. A marriage proposal was accompanied by gifts to the bride’s family. If the proposal was accepted, then the woman would simply go to live with the man at his village.

With regard to polygyny, Dennis Smith, in his history of the Fort Peck Assiniboines in The History of the Assiniboine and Sioux Tribes of the Fort Peck Indian Reservation, Montana, 1800-2000,reports:

“A husband wishing other wives often asked permission from his wife’s family to marry one of her younger sisters.”

Among the Assiniboine, families tended to be small: usually only one to three children. Children were generally spaced five to seven years apart. Children would generally continue to breastfeed until about their fourth year. Like other Plains tribes, the Assiniboine did not whip or handle their children roughly.

In general, children were instructed by example, usually by adults of their own gender. Grandparents were often important teachers. Dennis Smith writes:

“Like most Native tribes, Assiniboines instructed primarily in a nurturing and positive environment, in which children were praised for successful accomplishments.”

Assiniboine babies received a name about 3-4 weeks after birth. The name would usually be given by a successful warrior or a holy man. Raymond DeMallie and David Reed Miller, in their entry on the Assiniboine in the Handbook of North American Indians, report:

“Girls’ names were generally kept throughout life, but young men frequently received new names in recognition of their first brave deed.”

The name of a deceased grandfather or other male relative might be given to a warrior who had counted coup many times.

Assiniboine girls were tattooed when they were about 12 years of age. Women’s tattoos were considered to be decorative and included a round spot on the forehead, transverse lines on the cheeks, lines from the mouth to the chin, and rings around the wrists and upper arms. Assiniboine men were tattooed only after having counted coup in battle. Men’s tattoos tended to be elaborate, covering the chest and arms.

In most of the Plains tribes, divorce was easy. A man might simply pick up his things and leave, or his wife might tell him to leave. For the Assiniboine, James Long reports:

“Marriages were dissolved merely by living apart.”

Concerning Assiniboine divorce, Dennis Smith writes:

“Divorce was an accepted practice, and usually older children remained with the husband, and the younger ones returned with the mother to her family.”

The primary political unit among the Assiniboine was the band and there was no political structure which tied the bands together into a tribe. Among the Assiniboine, the chief (huká) was selected by merit rather than heredity. James Long writes:

“A chief’s son was not always the next chief. A person who had made a name for himself in warfare, hunting, and kindness to the poor, was often made next chief.”

James Long summarizes the qualifications for being a chief:

“The requirements were that a chief-to-be must have a good war record, be a successful hunter, possessor of many horses for domestic use, and horses for use as buffalo runners.”

Raymond DeMallie and David Reed Miller report:

“Because generosity was an important qualification for leaders, wealth was a prerequisite for chieftainship.”

As with other Plains groups, the Assiniboine chief acted as the leading member of the band council and had no authority to compel anyone to do anything. The council was composed of men who had achieved success in war or in hunting.

The Assiniboine Soldiers’ Society was composed of warriors appointed by the band council. According to Raymond DeMallie and David Reed Miller:

“The function of the soldiers was to serve as police, maintaining order within the camp and supervising hunts and camp moves.”

In addition to the Soldiers’ Society, the Assiniboine also had a number of men’s societies which were closely associated with war and which also had spiritual or sacred significance. The No Flight Society had two lances which they carried into battle. These would be thrust into the ground and the society’s members would not retreat until the enemy had been vanquished. The Buffalo Bull Society was composed of middle-aged men and leaders.

The Assiniboines also had a number of women’s societies, including the Dance Without Robes Society and the Female Elk Society.

Among the Assiniboine, war parties intent on raiding for horses were fairly small (12 warriors or less) and the warriors would leave on foot. Leaders of horse raiding parties usually fasted to obtain a vision of a successful raid. According to James Long:

“When a war leader had a suitable vision, he called a number of able warriors to his lodge and told them of his intentions.”

They would then pick the warriors they wanted to accompany them. The actual raid was usually carried out under the cover of darkness. The war party would travel in single file with the war leader taking the lead and young men on their first raid traveling in the rear.

Regarding an Assiniboine raid, James Long writes:

“When a war party raided a camp to take horses, everyone had to look out for himself. The group agreed to meet at a certain place and, if all went well, they gathered there to plan the return home. But if the enemy found out about the raid, then each one pursued the best course he knew.”

Assiniboine war parties organized for revenge were usually larger and might have 100-300 warriors.

The Assiniboine warriors would make offerings to the wolf before a war party and they would sing wolf songs. Assiniboine warriors would often wear wolf skins for camouflage. However, the wolf hat was generally worn only by the scouts. Archaeologist James Keyser, in article in American Indian Art, reports:

‘Among all of these groups, serving as a scout was a position with well-defined responsibilities worthy of a war honor when successfully performed.”

 

A Brief Overview of the Creek Indians

The designation “Creek” is a European concept which emerged during the eighteenth century to designate the Indian people who were living along the creeks and rivers in Alabama, Georgia, and northern Florida. While these people have a cultural continuity which reaches back to the mound building cultures of this area, the concept of a Creek “Nation” or “Confederacy” is something which did not emerge until after the European invasion. In reality, the Creek were several autonomous groups.

Archaeologist Cameron Wesson, in his chapter in Between Contacts and Colonies: Archaeological Perspectives on the Protohistoric Southeast, reports that during the time period of the first European contact, the Creek

“were a confederacy that encompassed several distinct ethnic groups, including elements of the Alabama, Apalachee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Hitchiti, Koasati, Natchez, Shawnee, Tunic, Yamasee, and Yuchi.”

According to historian Colin Calloway, in his book The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities:

“The Creek confederacy was a voluntary association of towns or, in Muskogee, italwa, bound together by custom and mutual interest and not by centralized coercion.”

Creek towns did not have physical boundaries in the manner of European towns: the towns were a group of people who were associated with a particular political or ceremonial center. The concept of town when applied to the Creek was perhaps closer to the European concept of tribe. Each town was autonomous and had its own ceremonial fire.

In addition, the Creek villages were characterized by two distinct and mutually unintelligible languages: Muskogee and Hitchiti. In addition, there were Creek towns in which the dominant language was Shawnee, Koasati, Alabama, or Yuchi.

The Yuchi joined the Creek confederacy in the early eighteenth century. In his biography The World’s Richest Indian: The Scandal Over Jackson Barnett’s Oil Fortune, historian Tanis Thorne reports:

“Within the Creek confederacy, the Yuchi maintained their distinct language, customs of patrilineal descent, and other cultural traditions in their own politically autonomous communities.”

The Creek confederacy is generally divided into two large geopolitical divisions: the Lower Creek towns along the Flint and Chatahoochee rivers and the Upper Creek towns along the Coosa and Tallapoosa branches of the Alabama River.

The “foreign” tribes which were incorporated into the Creek Confederacy included: Okchai, Osochee, Pakana, Tomahitan, Tukabahchee, and Wetumpka.

Migrations

The Creek (Musgokee) oral tradition speaks of their origin as being far to the west.  According to the oral tradition, there was a long migration which brought them across the Mississippi River and into the areas which are today known as Georgia and Alabama. While settled here, they also ranged into Tennessee, South Carolina, and Florida. After the American government forced removal on them, they re-established themselves outside of the Southeast in what is now Oklahoma.

Archaeologist Charles Jones, writing in his 1873 book Antiquities of the Southern Indians, Particularly of the Georgia Tribes. reports:

“When questioned as to their origin, the Muscogees responded that the prevailing tradition among them was, that their progenitors had issued out of a cave near the Alabama River.”

Maine Indians and Early European Explorers and Fishermen

While the Indian nations in what is now Maine may have had some limited contact with Europeans as early as 1480, regular contact began in the sixteenth century and intensified during the first half of the seventeenth century. During this time, the Indians began to incorporate aspects of European culture, such as trade goods, into their own lifestyles. These early contacts were with four broad categories of Europeans: fishermen, explorers, missionaries, and colonists.

Fishermen

By 1519, European fishing boats were trading with the Micmac in Maine and the Maritime Provinces. By 1524, ships were crossing over from Europe in increasing numbers, first to fish offshore for the great schools of cod, and eventually to trade with natives for furs.

During the early part of the seventeenth century, English ships scouted the coast from Maine to Cape Cod, trading with Indians and gathering sassafras roots which were prized in Europe as a treatment for syphilis. In 1602, off the coast of Maine, the crew of an English ship saw people in a European boat – described as a Biscay shallop – sailing toward them. They assumed that the eight men in it must be Europeans. However, all were Indians. The Indians, using a piece of chalk, drew a map of the Maine coast for the newly arrived English sailors.

Sailing shallops could be fairly large: up to 12 tons and forty feet in length. Many had more than one mast. Regarding the adaptation of this craft by Indian people, the Jesuit missionaries noted that the Souriquois handled them “as skillfully as our most courageous and active sailors in France.” Some writers feel that the Indians had acquired the shallops from the Basque fishermen who had a history of fishing in the area.

There are a number of other reports of Indians using the European shallops. In 1606, for example, the Souriquois under the leadership of Membertou raided other Indian villages using sailing shallops. The following year, the English on their way to establish their colony on the Kennebec River encountered two sailing shallops being used by Souriquois under the leadership of Membertou. The Souriquois offered skins for trade and the English noted that the Indians seemed to be using a lot of French words.

Explorers:

Giovanni da Verrazano, an Italian working for the French, explored the North America coast from the Carolinas northward to Maine in 1524.  In Maine, Verrazano found that the Indians were not particularly friendly. They appeared to have already had some contact of an unpleasant sort Europeans, perhaps Europeans who were fishing off the coast. While Verrazano did not speak any Indian languages, he concluded:

“We think they have neither religion nor laws.”

According to Barbara Mann, in her essay in Debating Democracy: Native American Legacy of Freedom:

“What Verrazano, and all European observers after him, meant by lack of ‘any law’ in Native America was the absence of any controlling church-state hierarchy.”

The following year, a Spanish expedition led by the Portuguese pilot Estévan Gomes landed near the River of Deer in Maine and took 58 Indians captive.

In 1580, the English adventurer John Walker landed in Penobscot Bay. He took about 300 moose hides from an unattended building. In their chapter in American Beginnings: Exploration, Culture, and Cartography in the Land of Norumbega,  Bruce Bourque and Ruth Whitehead report:

“It may be inferred that such a large concentration in a single structure meant that the hides were intended not for the local population but for export, ultimately to Europeans; but Walker provided no further clue as to their intended destination.”

In 1602, the English explorer Bartholomew Gosnold landed at “Savage Rock” (Cape Elizabeth) where he encountered some Micmac. Geographer G. Malcolm Lewis, in his chapter in North American Exploration. Volume 1: A New World Disclosed, reports:

“From aspects of their dress and a few of the words they spoke, they appeared to have had some previous contact with Europeans.”

The European explorers found that the Indians were wearing large copper breastplates and European costumes including shoes, waistcoats, breeches, and hose. The following year, English explorers under the leadership of Martin Pring encountered a group of Indians near present-day Saco. They reported that some of the Indians had brass breastplates which were a foot long and about half a foot wide.

In 1604, the French explorer Samuel de Champlain sailed up the Penobscot River. Near the site of present-day Bangor, he made contact with the Wabanaki under the leadership of Bashabes. From Bashabes the French learned a great deal about the interior of Maine. Bashabes, wanting French partnership in the fur trade, provided Champlain with guides. While the French were looking for the fabled Indian city of Norumbega, they found that the city was a myth. The French did, however, gain a great deal of information about the interior between Kennebec Basin and the St. Lawrence. Getting around the language barrier, the Indians drew maps on sand and bark for the French.

The French next explored Saco Bay where they saw and recorded on their chart an Indian corn-growing settlement. On the Saco River they were met by Indians who painted their faces black and red. The Indians were a farming people who raised corn, beans, squash, pumpkins, grapes, and tobacco. Champlain’s Etchemin guides called the people at this village Archmouchiquois and they called the village Chouacoit. The area surrounding the village contained many small hamlets.

In 1609, Henry Hudson met with Indians in Penobscot Bay. The Indians told him that they traded with the French. A few days later, two French shallops filled with Indians sailed into the harbor bringing many beaver skins and other furs for trade. Hudson was not equipped for trade, so he simply resorted to force to obtain the furs. His men captured one of the shallops and took the Indian furs.

In 1614, John Smith, the former commander at Jamestown, led two ships in search of gold and whales along the coast of Maine. They did some trading with the natives and engaged in a few skirmishes. Like other European explorers, they captured some Indians to sell into slavery.

Disease

One of the unintended consequences of contact between Europeans and Indians was epidemic disease which often decimated the Indian populations. In 1610, an epidemic struck the Souriquois at La Have taking at least 60 lives.

The first of three epidemics struck the Indians of New England in 1616. It is estimated that 75% of the population died between 1616 and 1619.  The epidemics swept from Cape Cod to the Kennebec River in Maine. The epidemics started after an English party wintered at the mouth of the Saco River. While it is not known what the actual diseases were, various historians have suggested bubonic plague, smallpox, and hepatitis A as possibilities.

A new disease which produced bloody vomiting broke out among the Abenaki in 1646. This outbreak may have contributed to Jean-Baptiste’s missionary success.

Southeastern Indian Hunting

While the Indian nations of the American Southeast were an agricultural people, they used hunting to supplement their diet. Just as these nations held their agricultural lands in common, so too were hunting territories held in common. While agricultural lands were assigned to clans or family lineages, there was no assignment of use rights for hunting lands.

In general, the most important animal in the Southeast was the deer whose flesh was used as food; its skin was used for clothing; its horns were made into arrow points; its hooves were made into rattles; its sinews used for sewing and binding; and its bones were fashioned into a variety of articles. A typical Creek family, for example, needed about 25-30 deerskins per year. The white-tailed deer provided 50 to 90 percent of the protein eaten.

Hunters would range as far as 300 miles from their towns while hunting for deer. While these extended hunts were conducted by men, they were accompanied by women and by some children. These hunts were usually conducted in the winter – beginning in November or December and ending in February or March.

During the rutting season – September through November – deer would be hunted using a technique in which a deer-head decoy was used to attract bucks into range. There were, however, two drawbacks to this technique: (1) rutting bucks are very aggressive and sometimes would attack the hunters, and (2) the decoys were so realistic that hunters were sometimes accidentally shot by other hunters.

Communal hunts, which could involve as many as 300 hunters, would use a fire surround to force the deer into a small area where they could be easily shot. In using this technique, an area up to five miles in circumference would be set on fire.

Before the coming of the Europeans, the primary big game hunting weapon was the bow and arrow, which was very accurate up to 40 yards. Some hunters could hit targets at 100 yards. The bows resembled the English longbow and were five to six feet in length. The arrows were tipped with bone points or with garfish scales. To provide greater accuracy, the arrows were fletched (feathered), often using turkey feathers. Hunters usually protected their wrists with bowguards made from leather or bark.

Another important game animal was the black bear. The bear provided both food and skins. In addition, Indians extracted an oil from the fat of the bear which was used in both cooking and curing. Bears were usually hunted in the winter while they were hibernating. The hunters would set fire to the bear’s den—usually a hollowed out tree—and then shoot it as it emerged to escape the fire.

The Seminole prized both bear meat and the oil extracted from the fat. Whenever a bear was seen, a hunting party would be organized and the animal would be tracked to its hiding place and killed.

While the bison was not as important to the Southeastern Indians as it was to the Plains Indians, it was still an important animal. Prior to the coming of the Europeans, there were moderately large bison herds in Tennessee.

The meat from deer and bison was dried over a fire. Meat dried in this fashion could be kept for several months without spoiling. Often a smoky fire, fueled by green hickory wood, was used. This gave the meat a smoked flavor.

Other important game animals included beaver, otter, raccoon, muskrat, opossum, squirrel, and rabbit. Small game and birds were often hunted with a blowgun. A hollowed piece of cane, 7 to 9 feet in length, would be used to make the blowgun. The darts were made of hardwood and would be 10 to 22 inches in length. The blowguns were accurate up to about 60 feet. No poison was used on the darts and larger animals were usually shot in the eye.

Turkeys provided an important source of both food and feathers. Both the Timucua and the Apalachee used circular fire drives in taking turkeys.

Another important and abundant bird was the passenger pigeon (now extinct) which was hunted at night during the winter. The hunters would use torches to blind the passenger pigeons which were roosting in the trees. The birds would then be knocked down with long poles.

The Indian people along the Mississippi flyway and the coastal plain also took advantage of the immense number of waterfowl. Waterfowl were usually hunted from the middle of October until the middle of April.

Along the coastal plain, the Indian people also used turtles, terrapins, alligators, crawfish, crabs, clams, mussels, and oysters for food. Among the Yamasee, turtles were considered a prize food, not only for its flesh and eggs, but also for the fact that its seasonal appearance was unfailing. Among the Timucua, alligators were hunted by thrusting a long pole (about ten feet long) down their throats. The reptile would then be flipped over on its back and arrows shot into its soft belly.

The Seminole would “fire-hunt” alligators: they would use a burning torch which would dazzle the animal. The bewildered alligator would then be speared by a hunter in a canoe. Alligator hides were placed on scaffolds to dry.

Some Florida groups, such as the Tekesta and the Seminole, also hunted manatee, a large herbivorous aquatic mammal. In the winter, the Tekesta would hunt manatee from canoes. Hunters would harpoon the manatee as they rose to the surface for air.

Among the Creek, hunting included a number of rituals which enabled the hunters to show respect for the animals. According to historian Joel Martin, in his book Sacred Revolt: The Muskogees’ Struggle for a New World:

“Native hunters did not kill game animals, consume the meat, or take the skin without carefully considering their actions.”

Prior to the hunt, the hunters would ask for the support of the spirits of the hunt and they would sing songs to draw the animals closer.

Hunters often burned the undergrowth in small patches of forest. Regularly burning the vegetation resulted in a managed environment that supported a fairly large number of deer. According to historian Daniel Usner, in his book Indians, Settlers, and Slaves in a Frontier Exchange Economy: The Lower Mississippi Valley Before 1783:

“These controlled fires both enhanced the nutritional quality of the plants that deer browsed on and eased the passage for the animals through the woods.”

This artificially stimulated the number of deer in the area.

In South Florida, historian James Covington, in his book The Seminoles of Florida, reports:

“Every spring the Seminoles set the dry grass and trees on fire so that new growth would attract the deer and turkeys.”

Colonists and Missionaries in Maine

By the beginning of the seventeenth century, the French and English were turning from the exploration of what is now Maine to establishing colonies and converting the Indians to Christianity. The Europeans assumed that Christianity gave them superior rights to both land and resources. The idea that the Native peoples of Maine might any rights seldom occurred to the European.

Colonists

The first European attempt to establish a colony in Maine came in 1604 with the arrival of French colonists who attempted to settle on the Sainte Croix River. The settlement soon moved to the present-day Annapolis-Royal in Nova Scotia.

The English established a trading camp on the Kennebec River in 1605. The expedition was funded by Sir Ferdinando Gorges, captain of the Port of Plymouth. At the end of the trading season, the English kidnapped five Abenaki and took them to England to turn them into guides and interpreters. The Abenaki captives were not to be sold into slavery, but they were exhibited as curiosities. They were also studied by Gorges, who wished to learn more about the new land to the westward and its inhabitants. Among those taken by the English was Tisquantum, also known as Squanto, who later becomes an important figure in Massachusetts history.

In 1607, the Virginia Company established the colony of Sagadohoc on the Kennebec River. The party included 120 men and Skidwarres, one of the Abenaki who had been kidnapped in 1602. Skidwarres was supposed to serve as the trusted interpreter-liaison between the English and the Abenaki. However, as soon as he made contact with the Abenaki, he simply slipped into the crowd and returned to his people.

The purpose of the new colony was to find precious metals and spices, establish a fur trade with the Native Americans, and show that New World forests were a limitless resource for English shipbuilders. Concerned about the possibility of a French attack, the colonists built an earthenwork fort, which they called Fort St. George. The fort was fortified with eight cannons.

In one instance, five Abenaki, including Skidwarres and the leader Nahaneda, showed up at the fort. They joined the colonists for both food and church services. They had to endure public prayers both morning and evening. They told the English that King James was a good king and that his God was a good God, but that Tanto (their own deity) had commanded them to avoid contact with the English.

The English soon managed to anger their Abenaki neighbors so that trade between the two groups had to be suspended. There were a number of minor skirmishes in which 11 colonists were killed. According to historian Ian Steele, in his book Warpaths: Invasions of North America:

“The English bungled their opportunity to establish influence with the Abenaki.”

In 1608, the English abandoned their colony on the Kennebec River. The re-supply ships from England found that the colonists had successfully traded with the Indians for furs, gathered the herbal cure-all sarsaparilla, and built and launched a 50-foot ship. However, the colony’s leader upon discovering that he was the heir to an immense fortune decided to return to a lavish castle in England.

Missionaries

Part of the motivation for the European invasion of North America was to acquire converts to their religion. The Jesuits arrived in New France in 1611 and began to learn the native languages as a way of carrying their message to the people. Unlike other Europeans, the Jesuits did not want land or furs: they asked only to live in an Indian household that they might study the language. While the Jesuits were well-liked because of their quiet manners, the Indians felt that these men were poorly educated because they had not learned that God made all religions, and they came here to tell the people who already believed in a Creator that such a One exists.

In 1611, Jesuit missionaries attempted to establish a mission on Mt. Desert Island. However, an English ship arrived and captured the entire settlement. James Moore, in his book Indian and Jesuit: A Seventeenth-Century Encounter, writes:

“English paranoid attitudes toward Catholics, especially Jesuits, and their current fears generated by alleged plots to undermine the English government, placed the missionaries in special jeopardy.”

Two years later, the French priests built a mission for the Penobscot at Bar Harbor, Maine.

In 1635, the Capuchin Catholics established a small church at Pentagoet to proselytize among the Penobscot. The priests learned the local language.

In 1642, Charles Meiaskwat, a Montegnais lay preacher, visited the Abenaki at Norridgewock. The following year, an Abenaki from Norridgewock went to Quebec with Charles Meiaskwat so that he could be converted to Christianity. As a convert he was given the name Jean-Baptiste and he returned to his people to proselytize. Three years later, Jean-Baptiste returned to Quebec claiming that he had 40 potential converts at Norridgewock and asking that a black robe (Jesuit priest) be sent to instruct them.

In 1646, the French Jesuit Gabriel Druillettes began working with the Abenaki. He emphasized steady prayer and quiet nurturing of the sick which contrasted to the traditional religion which was quite animated. On one occasion he offered Mass with a fervent beseeching of God to relieve the hunger of his traveling party. Right after Mass, the Abenaki killed three moose. This impressed the Indians with his apparent ability to deliver results.

In a typical Jesuit approach to the Indians, Druillettes learned the Abenaki language. He impressed many Indians, and his visit established a link between the Abenakis and Quebec that would continue for many years.

Huron History, 1535 to 1648

The Huron, an Iroquoian-speaking people whose traditional homeland was north of the Great Lakes, were a confederacy of four major tribes: Bear, Rock, Barking Dogs, and White Thorns (also known as Canoes). The people called their confederacy Wendat or People of the Peninsula. They were given the name Huron by the French.

The first contact between the Huron and the Europeans was with the French explorer Jacques Cartier in 1535. At the palisaded Huron town of Hochelaga, the French were greeted by about a thousand Huron men and women. The French did not care for the Huron food – cornbread, beans, peas, and cucumbers – because it was not salted.

In 1609, some Huron warriors joined French explorer Samuel de Champlain and a mixed group of Montagnais and Algonquin warriors. While Champlain wanted the warriors to keep watch at night, they refused. Instead, they conducted a shaking tent ceremony and consulted the spirits about the nearness of any enemies. The spirits indicated that no enemy were near and so the warriors slept.

At the northern shore of what is today called Lake Champlain, the combined French, Montagnais, Algonquin, and Huron forces encountered a Mohawk war party massed in battle formation and wearing wooden body armor. The French firearms killed several Mohawk leaders and the Mohawk retreated. In an article on the French and Indians in Attitudes of Colonial Powers Toward the American Indian, Mason Wade reports:

“This exploit sealed the alliance of the French with the Algonkians and the Hurons and fixed their deadly enmity with the Iroquois.”

In 1611, the Huron confederacy sent presents to the French along with word that they wished to establish an alliance with them independent of the French alliance with the Algonquin. The Algonquin, however, opposed this and managed to delay the French response to the request.

In 1611, Samuel de Champlain arranged for a young Frenchman to live among the Huron and learn their language and culture.

A formal trading alliance between the French and the Huron Confederacy was negotiated in 1614. With this agreement, the Huron allied themselves with the French.

The following year, Huron warriors accompanied Samuel de Champlain into Iroquois territory in what is now New York. They captured three Iroquois men, four women, three boys, and a girl. Champlain complained when the Huron cut off one of the women’s fingers as a demonstration of the torture that lay ahead. The Hurons agreed not to torture the women.

Near present-day Fenner, New York, the French-Huron party attacked an Iroquois fort. After the initial attack, the Huron warriors withdrew. Champlain then convinced the warriors to build large wooden shields for protection and a large moveable platform which overlooked the Iroquois palisades. While the plan had initial success, the Huron warriors, unused to the discipline expected by European military leaders, broke ranks and attempted to set fire to the palisades. The Iroquois, however, simply poured water into the troughs which formed their fire defense system and the fires were quickly extinguished. Champlain was hit twice by arrows and was severely wounded. The Huron retreated carrying their wounded, including Champlain, in improvised baskets.

The Iroquois, who had been trading with Dutch traders in New York, sent emissaries north to propose peace and trade with the French. This would allow them to play the two European powers against each other with regard to trade. While the French were concerned that the Iroquois would convince the Huron to start trading with the Dutch, they agreed to the peace in 1622.

In 1623, the French sent a party of French traders to winter with the Huron to make sure that they continued to trade with the French rather than with the Dutch.

As the European demand for furs increased during the seventeenth century, both the Iroquois and the Huron began to expand westward in search of new furs and new Indian trading partners. This expansion brought about some violent conflicts between the Huron and the western Indian nations such as the Winnebago (Ho Chunk) and Ottawa. In addition, conflict between the Huron and the Iroquois also increased.

In 1642, a party of 36 Huron and 4 French under the leadership of Father Isaac Joques was attacked by an Iroquois war party. The priest and 21 others were captured. The Mohawk, one of the nations of the Iroquois League of Five Nations, later killed Father Joques in the manner reserved for sorcerers because he was suspected of started an epidemic.

In 1648, the Seneca and the Mohawk, both members of the Iroquois League of Five Nations, set out to destroy the Huron trading network. The Seneca, armed with firearms obtained from the Dutch, attacked the Huron town of Teanaostaiaé. Three hundred of the 2,000 inhabitants of the town were killed and 700 were taken captive. The following year, the Iroquois, supplied with 400 guns and unlimited ammunition on credit by the Dutch, attacked and destroyed the Huron. This marked the end of the Huron confederacy. Many of the Huron people took refuge with other Indian nations in the Great Lakes area. A new nation, however, the Wyandot, composed of Huron refugees as well as other Indian refugees, soon emerged, but did not challenge the Iroquois supremacy.