Some “Amazing” Ceremonies

During the nineteenth century, some European and American explorers witnessed American Indian ceremonies which they found amazing. When these outside observers attempted to describe what they had seen to others, they were often met with disbelief, skepticism, and even ridicule. Four of these “amazing” ceremonies are described below.  


In the nineteenth century, the Mandan were an agricultural people who lived in permanent villages along the Missouri River in what is now North Dakota. Since they lived in permanent villages, they were often trade centers and attracted traders from both English and Canadian companies (Hudson’s Bay Company and North West Company) and American companies.

Artist George Catlin, who had painted numerous portraits of Indians who had visited Washington, D.C., felt that the American public was ignorant about Native Americans. He made a journey up the Missouri River to paint the portraits of the Indians and to record their ways. He sought to show the public, through his paintings, a true picture of Indian life. He wrote that

“nothing short of the loss of my life, shall prevent me from visiting their country, and of becoming their historian.”

Four Bears

Catlin’s portrait of Mandan chief Four Bears is shown above.

In 1832, Catlin spent time in the Mandan villages, painting portraits and pictures of their ceremonies. Here he witnessed the Mandan Okipa ceremony. This was a four-day ceremony to ensure that the buffalo remain plentiful and that catastrophes be averted. It was a ceremony which reinforced the relationship between the supernatural and the people. The ceremony reenacted the creation of the earth and the history of the Mandan people.

During this ceremony, some of the men would fast. They would then have wooden skewers placed in their chests so that they could be suspended from the poles in the Okipa lodge by thongs which were fastened to the skewers. Afterwards Catlin wrote:

“Thank God, it is over, that I have seen it, and am able to tell the world”

The public, however, refused to believe Catlin’s account of this ceremony.


Catlin’s painting of the Okipa ceremony is shown above.


At the time when they were first encountered by the Europeans, the Chippewa (who called themselves Anishinabe and who are also known as Ojibwa) were living in the Great Lakes area. One of the Chippewa ceremonies was, and still is, the Spirit Lodge or Shaking Tent. A small lodge is constructed by the medicine man and his helpers. After the medicine man has entered the structure, usually by crawling through a small gap in the bottom, the tent will begin to shake violently. Voices of the spirits-voices which are easily distinguishable from that of the medicine man-will then be heard. The people on the outside of the lodge will ask questions-sometimes about health, the future, finding lost objects-which the spirits answer through the medicine man.

For outsiders, the Spirit Lodge ceremony is sometimes seen as some type of magic trick or illusion. In 1858, on the Chippewa White Earth Reservation in Minnesota, a skeptic wagered a large amount that a medicine man would not be able to perform satisfactorily. A small lodge was erected, the medicine man stripped to a breech cloth, was securely tied, and left in the lodge. A committee of reliable people monitored the lodge. After some loud thumping noises within the lodge, the medicine man told the skeptic to go to a house to get a certain rope. The skeptic went to the house, found the rope, and returned with it. He opened the lodge and found the medicine man, untied, smoking his pipe. There was no rope in the lodge-it was the one the skeptic had found in the house. The skeptic paid the wager.


By the beginning of the nineteenth century, the Cheyenne, who had been an Eastern Woodlands tribes living in the Great Lakes area two centuries earlier, were living on the Northern Plains of Montana and the Dakotas. By the mid-point in the century, the Cheyenne had divided into two tribes: the Northern Cheyenne who stayed on the Northern Plains and the Southern Cheyenne who had migrated south.

In 1867 Northern Cheyenne medicine man, Ice, conducted a ceremony in which he disappeared. The ceremonial area was prepared by digging a hole large enough to hold him and then a tipi was erected over it. With members of one of the warrior societies guarding the outside of the tipi, Ice and some others conducted a ceremony inside the tipi. Ice, whose hands were tied behind his back, then got into the hole and had the others place large stones in the hole so that he was totally covered over. Everyone then left and Ice sang a song. When they came back into the tipi and removed the rocks, Ice was not present. They put the rocks back in the hole and after a while they heard him call to them. They returned inside the tipi, removed the rocks, and found Ice inside the hole.


The Hopi have lived in their agricultural villages in what is now Northern Arizona for many centuries. The Hopi villages have a complex ceremonial cycle to spiritually assist the growing of their crops. In November, they have a sixteen-day Wuwuchim Ceremony in which they ask for the germination of all forms of life.


While taking notes in a Hopi kiva during the 1897 Wuwuchim Ceremony, anthropologist Jesse Walter Fewkes was warned by the elders to go home and lock his door because Masauwuh, a god who carries a flaming torch, was coming. Later, in his locked house, Fewkes was visited by a tall man who simply appeared in the house. The stranger lit a cigarette with a flame from his mouth. The two-Fewkes and the stranger-played like children all night. Fewkes related this story to the Hopi elders in the morning and then quickly left the Hopi mesas.


The Hopi village of Walpi is shown above.

“marrying land & people to Jehovah”

( – promoted by navajo)

What’s the main point?

Denials Of The Genocide Of Native Americans

There are many other examples of denial by perpetrators who wish to escape negative reactions to their deeds. More troubling are the later denials by people not directly involved in the genocidal events but who appear to have ideological reasons for their denials.

Jacobs: Response Healed The Land From Native Curse (You Tube)

Is it that members of the New Apostolic Reformation engage in genocide denial, by inferring American Indians in one area deserved to be exterminated, since they were “cannibals?”


Genocide denial by members of the New Apostolic Reformation is a means to an end. That end is stripping tribes of their soverign right to educate their children about their culture, stripping tribes of their soverign right to make their own art and music, stripping tribes of their soverign right to govern themselves and to report the hard truth to the public.


… and the Seven Mountains campaign are promotional tools to market their methodology for taking Christian dominion over:  arts; business; education; family; government; media; and religion.

– snip –

Many of the evangelical “Reconciliation” programs popularized over the last decade are an outgrowth of the apostles’ SLSW efforts to remove demons including “generational curses” which they claim obstruct evangelization of specific ethnicity groups.  These activities have political significance not apparent to outsiders.  For instance, Senator Sam Brownback worked extensively with leading apostles in pursuing an official apology from the U.S. Senate to Native Americans.  However, the NAR advertised this Identificational Repentance and Reconciliation a SLSW method to remove demonic control over Native Americans, evangelize tribes, and curiously, as a required step in their spiritual warfare progress in  criminalizing abortion.

In short, they’re still after the land.


So and it says, “And the nations shall no longer flow to him, and the walls of his structure will fall down.”  And we decree that those walls – we just agree with the scripture.  And then we say,  “And My people will come out of her.” So we feel like we are literally standing in front of this prison house and we are divorcing Baal here, we are marrying the land and the people to Jehovah. And we are opening the prison doors and letting the people out, taking the hoodwink off of them, that veil that the Masons have put on them, and taking the shackles off their legs and letting them go free.  So we believe that we are changing that atmosphere above the town and allowing the people then to make a clear choice for God and we’re calling them out in that area.

And a few good doses of genocide denial will help speed the process.


Denial of genocide is the final stage of genocide. It is what Elie Wiesel has called a “double killing.” Denial murders the dignity of the survivors and seeks to destroy remembrance of the crime. In a century plagued by genocide, we affirm the moral necessity of remembering.

Stripping tribes of their soverign right to educate their children about their culture, stripping tribes of their soverign right to make their own art and music, stripping tribes of their soverign right to govern themselves and to report the hard truth to the public are their goals. Perhaps it is difficult to see the threat, since they are “a small religious group plotting world domination.” However, what is small to the non – indian population is not as small to the indian polulation.


…The number of Americans identifying themselves as exclusively Native American or Alaska Native increased 18.4% in the past ten years, and the number identifying themselves as exclusively Native Hawaiian or other Pacific Islander increased 35.4%.

The Census reports the total population of the US as just under 309 million.  Native Americans/Alaska Natives comprise 0.9% of the total, or roughly 2.78 million people.  Native Hawaiians/Pacific Islanders comprise 0.2% of the population, or roughly 618,000 people.

Furthermore, issues such as extreme poverty make the threat larger.


Texas Governor Rick Perry’s prayer event “The Response last weekend raised plenty of eyebrows for coming on the heels of much presidential speculation, and for featuring a number of pastors with some controversial views. On her program tonight, Rachel Maddow tried to find the common thread among these pastors, and she argues it is not that they have all “just had a moment where they said something that sounded strange.” They are members of the New Apostolic Reformation, she argued: a small religious group plotting world domination.

– snip –

This information she got from an extensive article in the Texas Observer that explained the group was out to take over the government in order to make the world ready for the Rapture. Their goals, Maddow explained, were to conquer “the seven mountains of society: family, religion, arts and entertainment, media, education, business, and government.” That last one, she argued, was Perry’s domain to conquer.

So they will use genocide denial ignorantly yet apathetically as to its effects. But when they say Jesus will save your soul, they mean be anywhere you want – as long as it isn’t here. That, is the main point.


147th Anniversary of the Sand Creek Massacre of Nov. 29th, 1864

Chief Black Kettle:

I want you to give all these chiefs of the soldiers here to understand that we are for peace, and that we have made peace, that we may not be mistaken by them for enemies.

A Cheyenne cemetery is in the same direction as where my mother told me she watched gypsies camp through her west window as a girl, about ½ mile from that house. I have reverently walked though that Cheyenne cemetery as early as ten, looking at the headstones and wondering who they were and where they came from. I did not know then, that in that cemetery were descendants from the Sand Creek Massacre.

The Approaching Genocide Towards Sand Creek

Simultaneously, Roman Nose led the Dog Soldiers in battle while Black Kettle strove for peace.


“…Roman Nose made his record against the whites, in defense of territory embracing the Republican and Arickaree rivers. He was killed on the latter river in 1868, in the celebrated battle with General Forsythe.

Roman Nose always rode an uncommonly fine, spirited horse, and with his war bonnet and other paraphernalia gave a wonderful exhibition. The Indians used to say that the soldiers must gaze at him rather than aim at him, as they so seldom hit him even when running the gantlet before a firing line…”

Why did Roman Nose and the Hotamitanio (Dog Soldier Society) feel the need to defend their sovereignty and way of life? The answers to that one question rest in at least the following: the Great Horse Creek Treaty (1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie), volunteer soldiers, John Chivington, white encroachment with the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858, the “renegotiation” of the “Great Horse Creek Treaty” at Fort Wise, the Civil War soldiers who encroached on promised land, and the murder of Lean Bear.

The first core point is that hunting rights and land claims were not surrendered in the Great Horse Creek Treaty (1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie).


The following are facts with regard to the 1851 TREATY OF FORT LARAMIE, known as the “Treaty of Long Meadows” to the N/DN/D/Lakota and the “Great Horse Creek Treaty” to the Cheyenne;

1. It is a sacred document, unanimously agreed upon by each camp of each band, of each of the seven signatory nations. During the three week long 1851 Treaty gathering, the sacred White Buffalo Calf Canunpa (misnomer “Peace pipe”) of the N/DN/D/Lakota, the Four Sacred Arrows of the Cheyenne, as well as the most sacred items of each of the other nations were present during the historic signing.

2. It is a unifying document among the seven allied nations to forever protect their sacred homelands.

Second of all, the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858 brought white encroachment by ways of pony express riders, telegraph wires, stagecoaches, and more and more military forts whose soldiers (at least in the Sand Creek Massacre) included volunteer soldiers under the command of Col. John Chivington.(1)

To illustrate, here is a poster from 1864 that portrays the recruitment of volunteer soldiers, which helped to result in the California terrorist attacks. That was the same year as the Sand Creek Massacre.





The 1849 agreement between California territorial and federal governments provided $1,000,000 for the arming and supply of persons who would seek out and destroy Native American families.

I don’t know if such posters were in or near Colorado, but John Chivington who led the “Bloody Third” scorned Indian children.


COL. JOHN CHIVINGTON: Ex-Methodist Minister, Heroic Indian Fighter, 1864

“Nits make lice,”
he was fond of saying, and of course, since Indians were lice, their children were nits. Clearly, Chivington was a man ahead of his time: it would be almost a century later before another man would think of describing the extermination of a people “the same thing as delousing”: Heinrich Himmler. [LN477]

Clearly, Roman Nose had a more than sufficient reason to defend his people.

Matters continued becoming worse for the Cheyenne and Arapaho as the white encroachment increased dramatically with the Pike’s Peak gold rush of 1858, despite the land being promised them in the Great Horse Creek Treaty (1851 Treaty of Fort Laramie). The Territory of Colorado was then “declared” a decade after that treaty, and politicians wanted to “renegotiate” the Great Horse Creek Treaty at Fort Wise. It was far from a compromise, it was theft.



The said chiefs and delegates
of said Arapaho and Cheyenne tribes of Indians do hereby cede and relinquish to the United States all lands now owned, possessed, or claimed by them, wherever situated, except a tract to be reserved for the use of said tribes located within the following described boundaries, to wit:…”

Some “negotiation…” 38 of the 44 Cheyenne chiefs did not sign it.

Dee Brown. “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.” p. 69:

“…When the Cheyennes pointed out that only six of their forty-four chiefs were present, the United States officials replied that the others could sign it later…”(1)

Adding still more misery, were facts that hunting was scarce on this land tract, nor was it suited well to farming. Also, the white encroachment from the Pike’s Peak gold rush escalated, while Civil War soldiers roamed onto their grounds. Then, Chivington, the butcher of Sand Creek, began his campaign of extermination and genocide.


In the spring of 1864, while the Civil War raged in the east, Chivington launched a campaign of violence against the Cheyenne and their allies, his troops attacking any and all Indians and razing their villages. The Cheyennes, joined by neighboring Arapahos, Sioux, Comanches, and Kiowas in both Colorado and Kansas, went on the defensive warpath.

Chief Black Kettle was promised complete safety by Colonel Greenwood as long as he rose the U.S flag above him.(1) Black Kettle persisted in his calls for peace in spite of the continuing exterminations and the shooting of Lean Bear.

(All bold mine)


Lean Bear, a leading peacemaker who had previously met with President Abraham Lincoln in Washington, D.C., was shot from his horse without warning by U.S. troops during a Kansas buffalo hunt.
The troops were acting under orders from Colonel John M. Chivington who commanded the military district of Colorado: “Find Indians wherever you can and kill them” (The War of the Rebellion, 1880-1881, pp. 403-404).

Perplexed by the continuing genocide, Black Kettle sent for Little White Man, known as William Bent.Almost prophetic, both agreed in their meeting that a war was about to be born if nothing changed. Black Kettle’s peaceful attempts tragically failed, even though he took his people to Sand Creek, fully expecting peace.His last effort for peace was raising the U.S. flag just prior to the massacre.


“…Though no treaties were signed, the Indians believed that by reporting and camping near army posts, they would be declaring peace and accepting sanctuary.

However on the day of the “peace talks” Chivington received a telegram from General Samuel Curtis (his superior officer) informing him that “I want no peace till the Indians suffer more…No peace must be made without my directions.”

Chivington, the Butcher of the Sand Creek Massacre:

COL. JOHN CHIVINGTON: Ex-Methodist Minister

“Nits make lice,”

he was fond of saying, and of course, since Indians were lice, their children were nits. Clearly, Chivington was a man ahead of his time: it would be almost a century later before another man would think of describing the extermination of a people “the same thing as delousing”: Heinrich Himmler. [LN477]



“the Cheyennes will have to be roundly whipped — or completely wiped out — before they will be quiet. I say that if any of them are caught in your vicinity, the only thing to do is kill them.” A month later, while addressing a gathering of church deacons, he dismissed the possibility of making a treaty with the Cheyenne: “It simply is not possible for Indians to obey or even understand any treaty. I am fully satisfied, gentlemen, that to kill them is the only way we will ever have peace and quiet in Colorado.”

(It is worth noting also that the Fuhrer from time to time expressed admiration for the “efficiency” of the American genocide campaign against the Indians, viewing it as a forerunner for his own plans and programs.)

Unaware of Curtis’s telegram, Black Kettle and some 550 Cheyennes and Arapahos, having made their peace, traveled south to set up camp on Sand Creek under the promised protection of Fort Lyon. Those who remained opposed to the agreement headed North to join the Sioux.

The Sand Creek Massacre of November 29, 1864

Black Kettle and his people had every reason to expect complete safety from their bloodshed after agreements for peace were made and the Dog Soldiers left to join the Sioux. Nonetheless, Chivington’s troops advanced on the Cheyenne and Arapaho near dawn. The sound of those approaching hooves must have sounded ominous.

U.S. soldiers inevitably chased the defenseless Cheyenne and Arapaho by horse and foot with knives and guns in hand. Their victims had to be positioned before ripping off their scalps, cutting off their ears, smashing out their brains, butchering their children, tearing their breastfeeding infants away from their mother’s breasts, and then murdering those infants. The “Bloody Third” soldiers necessarily had to kill the infants before cutting out their mother’s genitals.

The one question I never saw asked in the congressional hearings was, “Didn’t you disgraceful soldiers realize they were family?”

Kurt Kaltreider, PH.D. “American Indian Prophecies.” pp. 58-59:

-The report of witnesses at Sand Creek:

“I saw some Indians that had been scalped, and the ears cut off the body of White Antelope,” said Captain L. Wilson of the first Colorado Cavalry. “One Indian who had been scalped had also his skull smashed in, and I heard that the privates of White Antelope had been cut off to make a tobacco bag of. I heard some of the men say that the privates of one of the squaws had been cut out and put on a stick…”

John S. Smith…

All manner of depredations were inflicted on their persons; they were scalped, their brains knocked out; the men used their knives, ripped open women, clubbed little children, knocked them in the heads with their guns, beat their brains out, mutilated their bodies in every sense of the word…worse mutilation that I ever saw before, the women all cut to pieces…children two or three months old; all ages lying there.

From sucking infants up to warriors.

Sand Creek being a deliberate massacre is not contested, especially since the “Bloody Third” set the village in flames and took all the evidence back to Washington to hide it.


Letters written by those at Sand Creek From Lt. Silas Soule to Maj. Edward Wynkoop, Dec. 14, 1864:

“The massacre lasted six or eight hours…I tell you Ned it was hard to see little children on their knees have their brains beat out by men professing to be civilized….They were all scalped, and as high as a half a dozen [scalps] taken from one head. They were all horribly mutilated…You could think it impossible for white men to butcher and mutilate human beings as they did there, but every word I have told you is the truth, which they do not deny…I expect we will have a hell of a time with Indians this winter.”


Before departing, the command, now the “Bloody Third”, ransacked and burned the village.
The surviving Indians, some 300 people, fled north towards other Cheyenne camps.

Medicine Calf Beckwourth sought Black Kettle to ask him if peace was yet possible, but Black Kettle had moved out to be with relatives. Leg-in-the-Water replaced him as the primary chief; so, Beckwourth asked Leg-in-the-Water if there could be peace. Principle chief Leg-in-the-Water responded with these powerful words.

Dee Brown. “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.” p. 94:

“The white man has taken our country, killed all of our children. Now no peace. We want to go meet our families in the spirit land. We loved the whites until we found out they lied to us, and robbed us of what we had. We have raised the battle ax until death.”(1)


…despite broken promises and attacks on his own life, speak of him as a great leader with an almost unique vision of the possibility for coexistence between white society and the culture of the plains…

“Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee” by Dee Brown. p. 92.

Chivington and his soldiers destroyed the lives or the power of every Cheyenne and Arapaho chief who had held out for peace with the white men.

Thanks to Meteor Blades from a previous post of this diary

Here are some of the names of those reputed to have been killed at Sand Creek, according to various sources:

Vo-ke-cha/White Hat

Na-ko-ne-tum/Bear Skin or Robe

Na-ko-yu-sus/Wounded Bear

O-ko-che-voh-i-tan/Crow Necklace

No-ko-a-mine/Bear Feathers

Ne-sko-mo-ne/Two Lances

O-ne-mok-tan/Black Wolf

Vo-ki-ve-cum-se-mos-ta/White Antelope

E-se-ma-ki/One Eye

Ne-so-min-ni/Tall Bear

Co-kah-you-son-ne/Feather Head

On-ne-ma(hito)/Tall or Big Wolf

O-ka-cha-his-ta/Heap of Crows –

killed were both a father and son

of the same name,

and the sons wife and children.

O-ko-che-vo-voi-se/Spotted Crow

Ma-pa-vin-iste/Standing Water

Make-ti-he/Big Head

Mah-she-ne-(ve)/Red Arm

No-ko-ist/Sitting Bear


Mak-o-wah/Big Shell

O-ne-ah-tah/Wolf Mule

Ve-hoe/White Man

Oh-to-mai-ha/Tall Bull

Mok-tow/Black Horse

Oh-co-mo-on-est/Yellow Wolf

No-veh-yah/Loser in the Race


Ta-ik-ha-seh/Cut Nose


No-ko-nis-seh/Lame Bear

Oh-tam-i-mi-neh/Dog Coming Up

Why-mih-est/Foot Tracks

One-vah-kies/Bob-Tail Wolf

Mo-ke-kah/Blue Crane


Ni-het/Mound Of Rocks

Vos-ti-o-kist/White Calf

Oh-e-vil/(Morning Star or Dull Knife,

   listed as Black Kettles brother)

Min-ne-no-ah/Whirlwind or Standing Bear

   Mi-hah-min-est/Spirit Walking

Wost-sa-sa-mi/White Crane

Wi-can-noh/Forked Stick


Mah-hite/(Iron ?)

Mah-ki-mish-yov/Big Child

Man-i-tan/Red Paint

To-ha-voh-yest/White Faced Bull

No-ko-ny-u-/Kills Bear

No-ko-nih-tyes/Big Louse

O-ha-ni-no/Man On Hill

Mah-voh-ca-mist/White Beaver

Mah-in-ne-est/Turtle Following His Wife

Mak-iv-veya-tah/Wooden Leg

O-ma-ish-po/Big Smoke

Ne-o-mi-ve-yuh/Sand Hill

Mo-ha-yah/Elk AKA Cohoe

Van-nit-tah/Spanish Woman

O-tat-ta-wah/Blue Horse


Cut Lip Bear

Smoke or Big Smoke

One Eye

Big Man

Cheyenne Chief Left Hand.

Kah-makt/ Stick or Wood;

Oh-no-mis-ta/Wolf That Hears;

Co-se-to/Painted or Pointed Tomahawk;

Ta-na-ha-ta/One Leg;

O-tah-nis-to(te)/Bull That Hears;

O-tah-nis-ta-to-ve/Seven Bulls

Mis-ti-mah/Big Owl

No-ko-i-yan/Bear Shield

Vo-ki-mok-tan/Black Antelope

O-to-a-yest-yet/Bull Neck


Non-ne/Lame Man, White Bear or Curious Horn

O-ne-na-vist/Wolf Horn

Com-sev-vah/Shriveled Leg

O-ne-i-nis-to/Wolf That Speaks or

   Howling Wolf

No-ko-i-kat/Little Bear

O-ne-mi-yesp/Flying Bird

Moh-sehna-vo-voit/Spotted Horse

Ish-ho-me-ne/Rising Sun

Wip-puh-tah/Empty Belly

Mah-oist/Red Sheath


Meh-on-ne/Making Road

O-ko-oh-tu-eh/Bull Pup,

Male Crow O-ye-kis/Man Who Peeps Over The Hill

O-ne-i-kit/Little wolf


Mok-tok-kah/Wolf Road

O-ha-va-man/Scabby Man


A-st-yet/Bushy Head

Ca-sum-mi/Wolf Grey

Kah-i-nist-teh/Standing Skunk

Kast-yah/Lean Belly

No-ko-mi-kis/Old bear

Tah-vo-tuveh/Mad Bull

Vo-tou-yah/Tall Bird

No-ko-se-vist/? Bear

Es-toh/Stuffed Gut

Oh-mah/Little Beaver

Mah-hi-vist/Red Bird

Ve-hoe/White Man

O-ko-che-ut-tan-yuh/Male Crow

E-yo-vah-hi-heh/Yellow Woman

Min-hit-it-tan-yeh/Male Cherry

A-ya-ma-na-kuh/Bear Above

O-kin-neh/Smooth Face

No-ku-hist/(Possibly White Bear)

Ancient America: Moundville, Alabama

Mississippian is a cultural complex whose hearth appears to be in the American Bottom area near the Mississippi River in Illinois. It is characterized by: tempered clay pottery, square houses, and pyramidal mounds. By a thousand years ago, this complex was moving into Alabama.  

About 1050 CE, Mississippian people were building a village at the Moundville Site in west-central Alabama. The village had a well-planned mound-plaza layout and wall-trench architecture. The Moundville residents produced shell-tempered pottery and had some degree of social rank differentiation.

Moundville site

An artist’s rendition of the site is shown above. This is from the Moundville Archaeological Park website.

Moundville was built on a high terrace and was thus immune to flooding. It would eventually grow to contain 32 earthen mounds, 21 of which were truncated pyramids arranged around a single large quadrilateral plaza. Mound A measures 60 by 107 meters and is 6.7 m high; and Mound B measures 59 by 107 meters and is 17.9 m high.

Moundville Mounds

Mound A is shown in the center of the picture above. It is looking from mound J to mound B.

The mounds were built up in stages, somewhat like a layer cake fashion. There would be episodes of destruction in which the structure on top of the mound would be destroyed and burned. Then there would be purification by the burial of the old surface. The continual rebuilding of the mounds was an expressive act and mounds are an aspect of Mississippian expressive culture.

As farmers, the people of Moundville were raising corn, squash, sunflower, chenopod, maygrass, little barley, and beans. About 40% of their calories came from corn. They were also gathering a wide variety of wild foods, including hickory nuts, acorns, persimmon, and grapes.

Meat was obtained by fishing and hunting. While deer was the main animal which they hunted, they also hunted beaver, turkey, rabbit, squirrel, opossum, and turtle. About 25% of their protein came from fish. Upper class people and men tended to eat more meat than other people.

Moundville houses were rectangular wattle-and-daub structures. Two construction techniques were used to build the houses. For some of the houses, the wall posts were individually set in the ground. For other houses, a basin was dug and the walls were set within the basin. In both techniques, flexed poles were used to support the roof.

Moundville was surrounded by numerous very small settlements without mounds, usually called farmsteads. In addition, there were about a dozen single mound sites in the area. These were probably elite residences subordinate to Moundville.

With regard to art, the pottery was often incised with bird effigies. It was not uncommon for a bird to have the head and neck of a heron and the tongue and fanlike tail of a woodpecker. The eagle and the feathered serpent were also common motifs.

moundville pots

Some pottery from the site is shown above.

Moundville Bowl

A bowl from the site is shown above.

About 1200 CE, a palisade was built around the ceremonial center of Moundville and a large number of people moved inside the walls. The population of the center at this time is estimated at 1,000. Moundville was a planned community and grew quickly after the palisade was erected. It eventually sprawled over 370 acres and included 20 mounds.

The Indian people at Moundville were from two different social classes. The elite group made up about five percent of the population and was hereditary. The town was divided into distinct areas for settlement, mounds, and craft production. Craft production continued at Moundville with non-local chert, greenstone, and mica being worked. In addition, craftspeople were working with sheet copper, galena, and various kinds of pigments.

Moundville Engraved Stone

An engraved stone from the site is shown above.

The Indian people at Moundville were practicing head-flattening at this time. Infants were strapped to wooden cradle boards with leather thongs and this resulted in a flattened (elongated) or deformed skull.

About 1250, the population of Moundville began to shrink as the outlying villages increased in size. However, the number of burials within Moundville increased and the town became a necropolis: a large cemetery controlled by the elites who lived on top of the mounds. Moundville residents acted as funeral directors.

By about 1300, the population of the ceremonial center of Moundville declined further. Moundville became an almost vacant ceremonial center occupied primarily by the chiefly elite.

Archaeologists have offered three possible reasons for the depopulation: (1) a conscious decision to empty the center to enhance the sanctity of it, (2) soil depletion and exhaustion of wood resources, and (3) a lessening of the threat of attack with the population dispersing to unfortified towns.

In 1400, two achondropolastic dwarfs-a male who was 50 inches tall and a female who was nearly 47 inches tall-were buried at Moundville. Both had been relatively healthy individuals and were 40-45 years of age at the time of their burial. Both of them showed the flattening to the backs of their skulls, the common result of being strapped to a cradleboard. Both had been functional members of the society and were probably related.

After 1400, many of the mounds at the necropolis of Moundville were abandoned and only a handful of people remained.

Today, Moundville Archaeological Park is a public facility owned by the University of Alabama. It has an onsite museum. Their website describes the museum this way:

Today, the museum combines the latest technology with more than 200 stunning artifacts to describe one of the most significant Native American archaeological sites in the United States. Outside, visitors are greeted by symbols of the Native American culture mounted on enormous wooden heraldic poles. Inside, visitors will find life-size figures displaying the clothing and jewelry of Mississippian cultures, ceremonial feather decorations hand-sewn by Native-American artists, stunning pottery and other artworks placed in display cases that light up when recorded narratives talk about them and three-dimensional, moving depiction of a Native American maker of medicine who appears in a reconstructed earthlodge, taking them on a journey into the afterlife.


Moundville Museum

The Moundville Museum is shown above. The photo is from their website.

Mound and pit

A mound and its barrow pit is shown above. This photo is from the Park’s website.  

Lenni Lenape Culture

The very first treaty which the United States signed with an Indian nation was with the Lenni Lenape (also known as Delaware) in 1778. The treaty allowed American troops to pass through Delaware territory. In addition, the Lenape agreed to sell corn, meat, horses and other supplies to the United States and to allow their men to enlist in the U.S. army. The treaty also stated that if the Lenape decided to, they might form a state and have a representative in Congress. The idea of statehood for the Delaware was suggested by Chief White Eyes.

At the time of initial European contact, the territory occupied by the Lenni Lenape included New Jersey, New York (west of the Hudson River and the western end of Long Island), eastern Pennsylvania, northern Delaware, and northeastern Maryland. The designation “Lenni Lenape” means “True Men.”

What follows below the squiggle is a brief description of the traditional culture of the Lenni Lenape.  


Unlike the European nations in the eighteenth century, the Lenni Lenape were not a monarchy nor were they politically unified. Among the Lenni Lenape there was a confederation of towns and villages. Their government was a participatory democracy, with councils presided over by chiefs, known as sachems, whose authority came from their power of persuasion. The political focus of the Lenni Lenape was the village which was generally inhabited by a few hundred people.

The role of the sachem was often that of a mediator and their primary power lay in their ability to persuade other people through their oratorical skills. They had little power over the warriors and merely acted as spokesmen for their people in dealing with the Europeans.

With regard to the succession of Lenni Lenape chiefs, a chief would usually designate his successor, but this does not appear to have been binding following his resignation or death. Unlike the European kings, a son did not automatically assume his father’s position.


The Lenni Lenape language belongs to the large Algonquian language family. It is thus related to other languages in the area, such as Penobscot, Passamaquoddy, Wampanoag, Massachusett, Narragansett, Mohegan, Pequot, Munsee, and Nanticoke. It is distantly related to the Plains Indian Blackfoot, Cheyenne, Arapaho, and Gros Ventre and even more distantly related to some California languages such as Wiyot and Yurok.


Like the other tribes in the Northeastern United States, the Lenni Lenape were an agricultural people who also engaged in some gathering of wild plants, hunting, and fishing. Like the other Indian people in this region, they raised corn (maize), beans, squash, sunflowers, and other crops. The crops were tended by the women and were not planted in fields which were fenced. Thus, Indian agriculture was often invisible to the English who assumed that agriculture was men’s work and had to be done in fenced fields.

With regard to hunting, the Lenni Lenape hunters preferred to hunt when they were hungry. They felt that hunger would continually remind them of why they hunted. According to their oral traditions, hunting on a full stomach would make the hunter careless and lazy, thinking about home, and not watching for game.

Clothing and Body Adornment:

The Lenni Lenape made blankets from beaver and raccoon skins that were pliable, warm, and durable. By carefully setting the hair or fur in the same way, rain would run off the blanket and not penetrate it. They also made blankets from feathers which were warm and durable. Turkey and goose feathers would be interwoven together with thread or twine made from wild hemp and nettle.

Tattooing was common. Generally animal figures were favored. Some warriors would have tattoos which represented their war exploits. Writing about one such warrior in 1817, Christian missionary John Heckewelder reported:

“On his whole face, neck, shoulders, arms, thighs and legs, as well as on his breast and back, were represented scenes of the various actions and engagements he had been in; in short, the whole of this history was there deposited, which was well known to those of his nation, and was such that all who heard it thought it could never be surpassed by man.”

Record Keeping:

The Lenni Lenape kept records of important information in a number of ways. Wampum belts were one way of recording an event. Song sticks and wooden tablets with engraved symbols were used to record the verses of sacred songs and to record family genealogy. One early Moravian missionary reported:

“they use hieroglyphs on wood, trees, and stones, to give caution, information, communicate events, achievements, [and] keep records.”

Like the other Indian nations of the region, the Lenni Lenape used wampum belts for recording important agreements and for sending messages. A wampum belt with one or two rows of white wampum interwoven with black and running through the middle indicated that two nations were friendly with each other. On the other hand, a black belt with the mark of a hatchet on it in red is a war belt. When this type of belt together with a twist of tobacco was sent to an Indian nation, it was an invitation to join in war.

Many of the tribes in this region used a kind of picture writing known as wikhegan. A hunter or traveler would scratch a series of pictures on a piece of bark and then hide it in the base of a tree. By leaving sticks on the trail, others would know that a wikhegan was hidden nearby and recover it to read the message. The wikhegan was also used in regional maps. These bark maps would show the rivers and streams of the country and would allow those who embarked on a long-distance journey to do so without going astray.

Marriage and Family:

Unlike the eighteenth century Europeans, the Lenni Lenape viewed men and women as equals. Marriages were contracts in which it was understood that both sides were not obligated to live with each other any longer than they were pleased with each other. There was no religious ceremony involved in marriage, and the marriage, as well as the divorce, was seen as a private matter rather than a concern for the entire village.  

Kinship terminology-the names used to designate relationships-was different from that used by the English colonists. For example, the English terms “brother,” “sister,” and “sibling,” refer to people who share the same father and mother. Yet, among Lenni Lenape there was no distinction between what the English would call “sibling” and what the English would call “cousin.”


While warfare was common among the Indian nations of the Northeast, it tended to be individualistic. War leaders led by persuasion, rather than authority and rank.  Warfare tended to be small in scale and there were relatively few casualties. War was conducted for revenge and for personal honor. It was not done to obtain territory, and religious war was unthinkable.

Lenni Lenape warriors would often wear a wooden helmet into battle. They would carry a large wooden war club which was attached to one arm with a thong and a rectangular shield made of wood or moose hide. The shield would cover the body up to the shoulder. Both the shield and the war club were painted with special designs. Warriors would often wear special headbands and red turkey feathers. While on the warpath, they would use a special jargon.


As with other American Indian nations, dreams were an important part of the lives of the Lenni Lenape. It was of vital importance that each human being obtain a personal guardian spirit in order to be successful in their lives. A formal vision quest was therefore done at about 12-14 years of age. During the vision quest, the seekers would abstain from food and water. There are some reports that datura (jimsonweed) was sometimes used to enhance the vision experience. Following the vision quest, a new name would be bestowed reflecting the nature of the vision.

The Lenni Lenape also had sacred dolls which were used in the spring in the Doll Dance. This ceremony was a celebration of fertility as well as good health.

One of the ceremonies among the Lenni Lenape was the Big House Ceremony or Gamwing. This twelve-day ceremony helped to maintain the cosmos and included the sharing of dreams and visions. During the ceremony, the participants would tell of the visions received during their vision quests and sing the songs acquired at this time. Dancing around the fire proceeded in a counter-clockwise fashion.

The Big House itself is a symbolic representation of the world with a central column connecting the sky and the earth and the four walls facing the four cardinal directions.

Among the Lenni Lenape, the Pickwelanoekan or Nighthawk Dance was both a dance of thanksgiving and a petition to the spirits for good health. In this dance, from two to four young men face the singer in a line. Each dancer carries a rattle in his right hand and a nighthawk wing fan in his left. During the dance, they lunge and jump toward the singer.

As with Indians in other culture areas, the sweat lodge was, and continues to be, an important element of spirituality. Among the Lenni Lenape, sweat lodges (also called sweat houses and sweat ovens) were large enough to hold from two to six people. The sweat lodges were generally built on a hillside or slope so that half of the lodge was underground. The portion which protruded would be well covered with planks and earth. The sweat lodges were generally located some distance from the village in an area with ample wood and water. Within the lodge, water would be poured on red hot stones to produce steam which facilitated communication with the spirit world. Separate sweat lodges were built for men and women. The sweatlodge served as both a ceremonial and social center.


As among many other tribes, life and death were seen as a part of an ongoing cycle. Thus, reincarnation was seen as a part of this cycle. After a birth, old women would examine the newborn to check for signs that the baby had lived before. These signs included keeping the body relaxed and the hands unclenched and reacting favorably to places and things associated with the dead relative.

Writing in 1817 about one Lenni Lenape man, Christian missionary John Heckewelder reported:

“He asserted very strange things, of his own supernatural knowledge, which he had obtained not only at the time of his initiation, but at other times, even before he was born. He said he knew that he had lived through two generations; that he had died twice and was born a third time, to live out the then present race, after which he was to die and never more to come to this country again.”

Among the Lenni Lenape, the body of the deceased was buried in a sitting position and grave goods included tools, food, and wampum. In some instances, a post with a pictorial representation of the individual’s accomplishments might be placed at the grave. As with many other tribes, the Lenni Lenape avoided speaking the name of someone who was deceased.

Ancient America: The Vikings

Shortly after the Norse colonization of Greenland under Erik the Red in 986, there were reports by the Viking sea kings of three new lands to the west of Greenland: Helluland (Baffin Island and the northern part of Labrador); Markland (central and southern Labrador); and Vinland (Newfoundland and the Gulf of Saint Lawrence. Over the past fifty years or so, archaeology has revealed over 300 years of sporadic contact between the Greenlandic Norse and various Indian, Inuit, and other Native American peoples, concentrated primarily in the Canadian Arctic.

Viking Map 1

The Sagas:

Archaeology involves much more than just digging holes to find neat stuff to put into museums. While archaeology uses material culture as a means of understanding the past, it also uses oral traditions as well. With regard to the archaeology of the Viking presence in North America, the story begins with oral traditions describing the Viking ventures into this region.

The Icelandic sagas are based on oral traditions. They are stories of events which took place in the period between 930 and 1030, an era known as söguöld (Age of the Sagas) in Icelandic history. The stories describe voyages, migrations, and feuds. The sagas focus on history, particularly genealogical and family history. These are stories from a time when Iceland was a remote, decentralized society with a rich legal tradition.

Sometime after 1190, these stories were written down in Old Norse. They existed in a pure oral form for at least two centuries. In the twentieth century some scholars, trained to trust only written history and only that history which was recorded at the time it happened, refused to look at the Sagas as history, but saw them only as literature, as fictive accounts of a mythical past. On the other hand, some archaeologists have long viewed oral traditions as important data for understanding the past.  In 1960, archaeologists finally uncovered a site in Newfoundland which verified the accounts in the Sagas.

L’Anse aux Meadows:

The only confirmed (that is, accepted by most archaeologists) Viking site in North America is at L’Anse aux Meadows located in Newfoundland. The site was settled about 1000 and was occupied for only about a decade. The site appears to correspond with the Leifsbuðir described in the sagas.

L'Anse site

The archaeological remains of a hall at L’Anse aux Meadows is shown above.

The site contains eights buildings, of which seven were grouped into three complexes. Two of the complexes are composed of a large, multi-roomed hall which is flanked by a small, one-room hut. The third complex, the southernmost, has a third structure: a small, one-roomed house which is larger than the huts but smaller than the halls. The eighth building at the site is a small hut, located away from the others, on the other side of the brook and closer to the shore.

The three large halls at L’Anse aux Meadows are distinctly Icelandic with regard to the number of rooms and their placement, the type of interior walls, and the placement of roof-support posts, doors, and fireplaces. Stylistically, the large halls appear to have been built in the eleventh century.

Each of the three halls contained a workshop. In the southern hall, the workshop was a smithy where iron was forged. Iron production at the site appears to have been limited to a single smelting episode. Only a very small quantity of iron seems to have been produced and this was most likely used to make new boat nails.

The middle hall had a small carpentry shop which faced toward a sedge-peat bog. The archaeologists have found hundreds of pieces of carpentry debris outside of this shop.

L'Anse hall

L'Anse Hall 3

L'Anse doorway

L'Anse inside

L'Anse inside 1

L'Anse Inside 3

Shown above are photos of a reconstructed hall at L’Anse aux Meadows.

The construction of the buildings at the site indicates that they had been built for year-round use. They do not appear to have been seasonally occupied buðir (booths).

Overall, archaeologists estimate that 70 to 90 people lived at the site: 36 to 54 in the two larger halls, about 24 in the smaller hall, and 7 to 14 in the small house and huts.

One of the interesting pieces of information from L’Anse aux Meadows comes from what was not found at the site. At Norse sites with large halls, such as those found at L’Anse aux Meadows, there are usually a number of outbuildings for the animals. While the Vikings are often portrayed in the popular media as warriors, they were actually farmers for whom their cows, sheep, and goats were important to their subsistence. At L’Anse aux Meadows, archaeologists did not find any byres, animal pens, or corrals. If they had domestic animals with them, they must have been left out in the open, or perhaps slaughtered before stabling was required.

The lack of evidence regarding animals suggests that, unlike the Viking efforts in Greenland, this was not a colonizing effort. While the site was occupied year-round, it was not intended to be a self-sustaining colony which depended on farming for its livelihood.

L’Anse aux Meadows was a location from which the Vikings launched parties to explore areas farther away. It appears to have been a base which may have housed three ship crews. Archaeologists have found unequivocal evidence that they went south to warmer, more hospitable areas where butternuts grew on large trees and grapes grew wild.

Butternut trees, a type of North American walnut also known as white walnut, are not indigenous to Newfoundland. The area closest to Newfoundland in which butternuts are found is the Saint Lawrence River Valley. At L’Anse aux Meadows, archaeologists found butternuts and a large butternut burl which had been cut with a metal tool. Since butternuts grow in the same area as wild grapes, whoever picked the nuts and brought the wood back to L’Anse aux Meadows must have come across grapevines as well. Once again archaeology provides proof that the Saga stories of the Norse encountering wild grapes is not a myth, but was based on reality.

L'Anse boat 1

Viking Boat 2

A reconstruction of a small Viking boat at L’Anse aux Meadows is shown above.

Contact With Indians:

The archaeological records do not reveal very much about the interactions between the Vikings and Native Americans. However, there are a number of stories in the Sagas about contact with the Natives whom they called Skraelings, a derogatory term which was used to describe a number of different people. The Native Americans who confronted the Vikings were very different than anyone they had ever encountered. The Indian people who dealt with the Vikings were probably Algonquian-speaking, most likely the ancestors of the Montagnais, Naskapi, and Beothuk.

According to one story, Leif and the other Viking warriors fled their village and cowered behind some rocks when the Skraelings attacked. Freydis Eriksdottir, then nearly nine-months pregnant, tore open her blouse to expose her breasts, then picked up a shield and sword dropped by the fleeing Vikings, and counter-attacked. She succeeded in repelling the attack and defending the brave Viking warriors.

In another story, Karlsefni and his people had sailed to the mouth of the river in an area which they called Hop. According to the Sagas:

And early one morning, as they looked around, they beheld nine canoes made of hides, and snout-like staves were being brandished from the boats, and they made a noise like flails, and twisted round in the direction of the sun’s motion.

Then Karlsefni said, “What will this betoken?” Snorri answered him, “It may be that it is a token of peace; let us take a white shield and go to meet them.” And so they did. Then did they in the canoes row forwards, and showed surprise at them, and came to land. They were short men, ill-looking, with their hair in disorderly fashion on their heads; they were large-eyed, and had broad cheeks. And they stayed there awhile in astonishment. Afterwards they rowed away to the south, off the headland.

Another story in the Sagas describes trade with the Skraelings:

Now when spring began, they beheld one morning early, that a fleet of hide-canoes was rowing from the south off the headland; so many were they as if the sea were strewn with pieces of charcoal, and there was also the brandishing of staves as before from each boat. Then they held shields up, and a market was formed between them; and this people in their purchases preferred red cloth; in exchange they had furs to give, and skins quite grey. They wished also to buy swords and lances, but Karlsefni and Snorri forbad it. They offered for the cloth dark hides, and took in exchange a span long of cloth, and bound it round their heads; and so matters went on for a while.

Stories of encounters with Native Americans who had superior numbers and could hold their own in a fight with the Vikings discouraged permanent Norse settlements in North America.

Other Sites:

Viking Landing

A re-enactment of the Viking landing in North America is shown above.

While L’Anse aux Meadows is the only Viking archaeological site known in North America at this time, the Sagas certainly describe many other possible sites. According to the Sagas, the Vikings and their cattle settled at several of these sites and remained in them at least through the winter.

With regard to the land called Hop in the Sagas:

Karlsefni proceeded southwards along the land, with Snorri and Bjarni and the rest of the company. They journeyed a long while, and until they arrived at a river, which came down from the land and fell into a lake, and so on to the sea. There were large islands off the mouth of the river, and they could not come into the river except at high flood-tide.

With regard to their settlement at Hop, the Sagas say:

They had built their settlements up above the lake. And some of the dwellings were well within the land, but some were near the lake. Now they remained there that winter. They had no snow whatever, and all their cattle went out to graze without keepers.

Map Viking

A map of the Viking world is shown above.

While the last recorded voyage to North America was made by Thorfinn Karlesfni, who was married to Gudrid (the widow of Leif’s brother Thorstein), about 1015, there were numerous hunting and trading expeditions into the area between 1050 and 1350. Some of these expeditions travelled into Hudson’s Bay. The need for timber often motivated the Greenland Norse to make the voyage to Markland. In 1347, one ship drifted off course after having made a trip to Markland and eventually reached Iceland.

Ancient America: Pictographs

Pictograph 8

For thousands of years Indian people left evidence of their presence on the land with rock art: pictographs and petroglyphs. Pictographs are created by painting on rock surfaces with natural pigments while petroglyphs are pecked, carved, or abraded into the surface of the rock.  

Pictographs are usually found under protective ledges or in caves where they have been protected from the weather. In producing pictographs, Indians used natural pigments such as iron oxides (hematite or limonite), white or yellow clays and soft rock, charcoal, and copper minerals. These natural pigments were mixed to produce a palette of yellow, white, red, green, black, and blue. In mixing the powdered mineral pigments into paint, organic binders were used. This included a combination of fluids such as plant juices, eggs, animal fat, saliva, blood, urine, and water. When it is freshly applied, the pigment stains the rock surface: it seeps into microscopic pores by capillary action as natural weathering evaporates the water or organic binder with which the pigment was mixed. Thus the pigment becomes part of the rock. The pigments were generally applied by finger painting.

One of the problems with regard to rock art is attempting to determine what these symbols mean. Symbols are an important part of culture and when they are taken out of the context of the culture in which they were created, it is difficult, if not impossible, to understand what they meant to the people who created them.

Some rock art sites appear to have been associated with the vision quest. Following a vision quest, the supplicants would paint a pictograph to commemorate the experience. Vision quest pictograph sites are usually found in relatively inaccessible, isolated areas. The predominant designs show humans, animals, sun symbols, dots, crosses, and geometric abstracts.

Some rock art sites may have been associated with hunting magic and ceremonies. Among most of the North American tribes, it was felt that animals had spirits controlling their behavior. Therefore, certain rituals would be carried out prior to the hunt in which the animal spirits would be asked to allow that some animals be taken for the good of the human group. Game animal pictographs may often represent ‘hunting magic,’ and be associated with ceremonies conducted either before the hunt to control the animals or afterward to propitiate their spirits.

Some Pictographs:

Shown below are some recent photographs from two different pictograph sites in Western Montana.

Pictograph 1

Pictograph 2

Pictograph 3

Pictograph 4

Pictograph 5

Pictograph 6

Pictograph 7

Pictograph 9

The Environment:

There are a number of pictograph sites along the old buffalo road which the Spokan, Coeur d’Alene, Kalispel, and Kootenai hunters would follow to the buffalo hunting grounds on the Great Plains east of the Rocky Mountains. The area near the sites is resource rich: it has a wetlands area which provided the tribes with tule reeds from which they wove mats, and cattails which provided food as well as baby diapers; a stream which provided fish; and woodlands which provided fuel and small game.

Shown below are some photographs of the area around the pictograph sites.

Pictograph Area 1

Pictograph Area 2

Pictograph Area 3

(We help)

( – promoted by navajo)

I don’t know about you, but I had parents who would pull the “starving children in Africa” thing if I was going to leave food on my plate.

Then one day I came up with something that made them quit. I held out my plate full of leftovers and said,


“well, here, send it to them.”

That shut them both up.  Never again did I hear that stupid expression.

And that brings up Thanksgiving.

Many of us have a lot of leftovers in the fridge. We should be thankful for that.  But  like my parents, you can’t really send your extra food to hungry people.

But you can take out your credit card or checkbook and donate to a food pantry on the Cheyenne River Reservation, where, like on many Indian reservations, hunger is rampant during the winter.


The pantry is being run by an organization called Okiciyap (we help) the Isabel community, founded by Georgia Little Shield, the former director of Pretty Bird Woman House. She was the reason that shelter was so successful, but she couldn’t remain in that stressful position due to poor health.

However, just because she had to stop working full time didn’t mean she stopped trying to help her community. Now she and a group of women have formed a 501 c3 (official nonprofit) to run a food pantry and youth programs.


The winters on many Indian reservations are terrible, not just because of the cold, but because of 80-95% unemployment. Here’s what Georgia has said about the situation:

The families around our reservations are on fixed incomes of 260.00 to 460.00 per month. This is per month. The people on the reservation fight to survive each month and the winters are so brutal that this is when we would need the food pantry more then at any other time of the year.

The food pantry has already started working on an ad hoc basis. Right now they are working out of a trailer lent them by a board member, and have obtained some food donations.  

Recently, a 30×60 building was donated but it is currently 30 miles from Isabel, where the project is located.  They have to bring it back to Isabel, and hook it up to utility services.

Here’s the breakout of what that’s going to cost:

Moving the Building      

Transport 30 miles                            $7000.00

Building forms to set building down       $2500.00

Skirting of building and new ramp         $2500.00

Total                                             $12,000.00  

This will be done by a contractor that knows how to transport the building and is a professional and will set and put the building together when it gets to Isabel. The build of the forms will be done by a cement contractor, Jackson’s cement out of Timer Lake SD. The skirting and ramps will be done by volunteers with the SD specification of disability Ramps.


One year Electricity                           $3000.00

One year water and sewer                   $780.00

One year Propane and Tank set up        $1800.00

Hook up to the to Town sewer and

Water pipes                               $2000.00

Total                                               $7580.00

We are requesting a one year utility for the building and when this year is up we should be able to have funds raised and applied for grants to run the building.  We will need to get hooked into the city sewer and water so we will have this done by the city.

Total amount requested  $19,580.00

Notice how they left out a computer and internet service? I rounded the figure to $20,000.

Here’s the group at work already:



Here’s their website Okiciyap, where you can go to get more information.

To donate by credit card, just click on this ChipIn:


If you would prefer to send a check:

Georgia Little Shield, Board Chair


PO Box 172

225 W. Utah St

Isabel SD57633


You can also send clothing donations to that address.

They’re starting from scratch from the grassroots. Lets give them a hand.

No dough, but willingness to help? Write some diaries on this with us!

Also, don’t forget that propane fundraiser that Navajo started….if you can do a little of both that would be great, but we are thankful for any help you can give for either one.

Nobody in the richest country in the world should be hungry or cold. These are small projects yes, but the services they provide makes a big difference in the lives of the people receiving them…and that means that even $5 makes a difference.

Here’s information on donating money for propane and/or propane heaters. The easiest way is to pick up the phone and call the company Navajo is working with, but there are other ways too:


Sherry Cornelius of St. Francis Energy Co.

at  6 0 5 – 7 4 7 – 2 5 4 2


Ask for Sherry or her mom Patsy. Normally a minimum order is $150, but they have an account to accumulate small donations to a minimum order. Credit Cards welcome and they are the only Native owned fuel company on Rosebud.  Rosebud is next to Pine Ridge Reservation and in the same economically depressed condition.

If you’d like to mail a check: [make check payable to: St. Francis Energy Co.]

Attn: Sherry or Patsy

St. Francis Energy Co. / Valandra’s II

P.O. Box 140

St. Francis, South Dakota 57572

NOT tax deductible


We’re grateful for any assistance you can provide this holiday season, whether writing diaries on this or donating. Thank you to Dr. Erich Bloodaxe for starting this up again at DKos on Thanksgiving.

This is a community of helpers, so let’s help (we help).


Famed Artist Fairey Shines Light on Invisible Indians with L.A. Mural


photo credit: Aaron Huey

Tomorrow, Saturday, November 26th, 2011, there is an important event will take place at the intersection of Melrose and Fairfax in West Los Angeles.

Harper’s Magazine Contributing Editor and National Geographic photographer, Aaron Huey and prolific street artist of the Obama HOPE campaign image, Shepard Fairey have collaborated and will produce a 20×80-foot mural THE BLACK HILLS ARE NOT FOR SALE installation before your eyes.

Shepard Fairey Aaron Huey Install

The wall usually rents for $15-20,000 and is being donated.

This is a mockup of the site:

Aaron Huey mockup of install

Melrose and Fairfax is an extremely highly trafficked intersection.

The installation prep work will begin in the morning with gathering elements and erecting the scaffolding. The actual unfolding and pasting of the massive sheets of artwork will likely start at noon. (This is just an estimate.)

I plan to be there about 1 PM and would love to have some fellow Kossacks along side me to watch this important event that raises awareness of American Indians and points to the long history of Broken Promises.

Our message is HONOR THE TREATIES.

NAN line separater

Today is American Indian Heritage Day

NAN line separater

Please share this diary far and wide.

Another installment of our new series:

Invisible Indians

This is the first in a year-long series…
(560+ / 0-)

…being posted at Native American Netroots dedicated to revealing how American Indians – on reservations and in urban environments – are mostly invisible, a product of long-standing U.S. policy and societal ignorance.

by Meteor Blades on Wed Oct 26, 2011 at 03:10:53 PM PDT

Centuries of Genocide: Modoc Indians, Part IV

In case you missed anything…

Part I describes the first generation of Modoc people to contact European-Americans, and the slow war in the Klamath Basin that destroyed the Second Generation. The Ben Wright Massacre is analyzed.

Part II encapsulates the Third Generation’s great crisis and the process leading to the Treaty of 1864, the significance of the Oregon reservation system, and Keintpoos’ years off the reservation before the US Army intervened, concluding with the escalation of tensions into full-blown war. We celebrate Thanksgiving at the end of November: at that time in 1872, Modoc people were fighting US Army from natural trenches in fiercely cold weather.

Part III covers the Modoc War of 1872-1873 as experienced by over 20 Modoc people, President Grant, William Tecumseh Sherman, famous settler Lindsay Applegate, and others. It depicts the assassination of General Canby and the fall of the third generation since contact.

After the war’s conclusion, Keintpoos’ severed skull ended up in the Smithsonian. Brancho and Slolux spent life in prison at Alcatraz Island. Winema died in the Spanish Flu epidemic in 1920. And the Modoc people were halved, and one half was shipped to Oklahoma.


The Modoc who went to Lava Beds were collectively judged as prisoners of war, whether they were involved in hostilities during the War or not. A people of lakes, the Cascade Mountains and the high desert, these Modoc were punished by being transferred to eastern Oklahoma.

Article 7 of a 1994 draft of the United Nations Declaration on the Rights of Indigenous Peoples uses the phrase “cultural genocide” but does not define what it means.[4] The complete article reads as follows:

Indigenous peoples have the collective and individual right not to be subjected to ethnocide and cultural genocide, including prevention of and redress for:

(a) Any action which has the aim or effect of depriving them of their integrity as distinct peoples, or of their cultural values or ethnic identities;

(b) Any action which has the aim or effect of dispossessing them of their lands, territories or resources;

(c) Any form of population transfer which has the aim or effect of violating or undermining any of their rights;

(d) Any form of assimilation or integration by other cultures or ways of life imposed on them by legislative, administrative or other measures;

(e) Any form of propaganda directed against them.

The Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma explains how they ended up at Quapaw, and what happened to them there:

The terrible 2,000-mile winter ride in railroad cars intended for hauling cattle finally ended on November 16, 1873 when 153 Modoc men, women, and children arrived in Baxter Springs, Kansas cold and hungry.

In Baxter Springs, Captain Wilkinson conferred with Hiram W. Jones, Indian Agent at the Quapaw Agency as to where to place the Modoc. It was decided to locate them on Eastern Shawnee land where they would be under the direct supervision of Agent Jones. But Jones’ Quapaw Agency was little prepared to care for 153 persons with little but loose blankets on their backs. With Scarfaced Charley in command and only one day’s help from three non-Indians, the Modoc built their own temporary wood barracks two hundred yards from the agency headquarters. Some were housed in tents. These accommodations were to be their home until June of 1874 when 4,000 acres were purchased for them from the Eastern Shawnee

…Captain Wilkinson remained with his charges until the second week in December. When he left the agency, he reported to the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, “on the cars, in the old hotel used for them at Baxter, I found them uniformly obedient, ready to work, cheerful in compliance with police regulations, and with each day providing over and over that they only required just treatment, executed with firmness and kindness to make them a singularly reliable people.”

Despite their industriousness, poverty and material loss would continue to plague the people:

Agent Jones also found he had no difficulty enforcing the strictest discipline, although one small area of friction had developed. This was the habit of some of the Modoc in gambling, resulting in some instances in losing what few possessions they had. When Scarfaced Charley, who had replaced Captain Jack [Keintpoos] as chief, refused to interfere, Jones appointed Bogus Charley as chief. He remained chief until 1880 when formal Modoc tribal government in Oklahoma came to an end for almost 100 years.

More on the dissolution of the legal tribe in a bit. For now, the hard times after arrival:

The first years following removal to Indian Territory were difficult ones for the Modoc. They suffered much sickness and many hardships due to the corrupt and cruel administration of Agent Jones. During the first winter at the Quapaw Agency, there were no government funds available for food, clothing, or medical supplies. It would be almost a year after removal that funds in the amount of $15,000 were received for their needs.

In Oklahoma, the POW population declined precipitously:

The death rate was especially high among the children and the aged. By 1879, after six years at the Quapaw Agency, 54 deaths had reduced the Modoc population to 99. By the time of the Modoc allotment in 1891, there were only 68 left to receive allotments, and many of them had been born after removal. Had it not been for the gifts of money and clothing from charitable organizations in the east, General William Tecumseh Sherman’s wish not to leave a Modoc man, woman, or child alive so the name Modoc would cease, would have become a reality.

If you do a search of ‘Oregon’ in this Quapaw Agency Census from 1900, you will find some of the surviving Modoc. Modoc people are the only tribe of which I’m aware that were ever shipped to Oklahoma from far west.  Their race is indicated as “In” for Indian. Jennie Clinton, or Stimitchuas, is one of the individuals listed. It is believed that she died at age 89 in 1950, but it’s possible she was born earlier than 1861. (She was of the fourth generation after contact, having some pre-reservation and war memories but ultimately spending her adulthood in the reservation system.)

It Was the Assimilation Era

With first Americans no longer free to roam the country, European-Americans thought that the plight of Indians would be alleviated, and with that alleviation, the Indian problem for European-Americans would be solved, by educating and acculturating Indians to Western life.  Quakers had already established a Quapaw boarding school in 1871, 2 years before Modoc arrival. The school was miles to the northwest of the agency.  Isolated from their families, children would forcibly have their hair cut by missionaries, wear European-American schoolchildren garb, and become literate and converted Christians by the missionaries forbidding their language, Klamath-Modoc.

Modoc people at both the Quapaw Agency, Oklahoma and Oregon reservations displayed a strong interest in education and literacy.  In 1879, Modoc people built a church and school on the Modoc Reservation at Quapaw. Later, Modoc children attended the Carlisle School, the notorious string of Indian boarding schools, in Kansas. The families that sent children there included the Hoods, Hoover, Balls and McCartys. Schonchin John’s stepson Adam McCarty died at Carlisle, and Modoc stopped sending their children to Carlisle.

After the war, the third generation since contact passed into elderhood–if they weren’t already butchered or executed. Modoc War leader Steamboat Frank became the first Indian to become an ordained Quaker.  He died in Portland, Maine in the 1890s. The Fourth Generation became the establishment.  The Fifth Generation grew up speaking English.

Dawes, Curtis and Statehood

In 1887, the Dawes Act changed American Indian life forever. Among the most significant changes, reservation land was broken up into patrilineal, owned parcels. This change furthered the loss of Indian land that began with the early treaties and reservations.  

The plains itself had been established as a vast reservation for tribes from the midwest, south and east. But once tapping aquifers like Oglalla and cattle ranching became feasible (Chicago boomed as an inland rail-port) Indians were further reduced to the Indian Territory–Oklahoma.  But now even Indian Territory was wanted, and especially its natural resources.  Statehood for Oklahoma would mean breaking the power of Indian tribes.

Dawes opened a can of worms that, for the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma, would spiral into a loss of sovereignty and environmental degradation.  An amendment to Dawes, the Curtis Act of 1898, ended the authority of tribal courts and the tribal governments themselves in Oklahoma. (Charles Curtis himself was a Republican congressman of Osage descent, who wanted education, assimilation and opportunity for Indians through his bill, which was later botched by various committees.)  Although Oklahoma’s natural resource history is most associated with its oil-boom perhaps, in the Quapaw area, rich deposits of zinc and lead allowed for a mining boom. Multiple Indian tribes leased out their land. Today, Quapaw area residents contend with a superfund site from those mines and the environmental costs that entails.

In 1909, the US government permitted Oklahoma Modoc to return to Oregon. Twenty-nine did so. Jennie Clinton was among them; she would then divorce and live until 1950 in a cabin on Oregon’s Williamson River.  The remaining forebears of the Modoc Tribe of Oklahoma were (and still are) the smallest group of American Indian people in the region.

This is how the Third and Fourth Generations lived and died in Oklahoma.

Subsequent generations of Modoc history will be described in upcoming diaries.

Idaho’s Weiser Shoshone

In Idaho, an 1867 editorial in a Boise, Idaho newspaper stated:

“This would be our plan of establishing friendship on an eternal basis with our Indians: Let all the hostile bands of Idaho Territory be called in (they will not be caught in any other manner) to attend a grand treaty; plenty of blankets and nice little trinkets distributed among them; plenty of grub on hand; have a jolly time with them; then just before the big feast put strychnine in their meat and poison to death the last mother’s son of them.”

At this time, the Weiser Shoshone, a group of Sheepeater Northern Shoshone, were declared hostile by the Americans because of reports of alleged depredations. The Weiser Shoshone lived in an area about 100 miles north of Boise, near the present-day town of McCall. The army received order to-

“proceed to the Weiser river and destroy the band of hostile Indians now marauding on said river and in its vicinity.”

The army, however, found that the alleged depredations had not been committed by the Weiser Shoshone, but by other Indian groups who had crossed into the area to hunt.  

The army discovered a camp which the Weiser Shoshone under the leadership of Eagle Eye had recently abandoned. They determined that it had been occupied by 75-80 people. In the camp, the army found footprints that measured` 17.5 inches long and this begins a “Bigfoot” legend. According to oral tradition, the Weiser Shoshone had created this legend by using huge stuffed moccasins to make the menacing footprints. We don’t know exactly why they made the footprints: it may have been that they wanted to terrorize the local non-Indians and troops by perpetuating evidence of huge Indians; or it may have been simply a joke; or there may have been some other reason. Whatever their reason, however, the story of a giant Shoshone warrior soon spread throughout the region.

In 1868, the American army captured 41 Weiser Shoshone, including Chief Eagle Eye. While the band had been accused of raiding American settlers, the army found no evidence of plunder among their belongings. They did, however, find a pair of moccasins which were over 16 inches long and which were stuffed with rags and fur.

Eagle Eye was interrogated by the military and the territorial governor about his people’s attitude toward the Americans. The band was then released and they returned to the mountains. Those who talked with Eagle Eye were convinced that his intentions toward the Americans were friendly and that he did not want conflict.

In 1869, a group of Americans visited the Weiser Shoshone camp of Chief Eagle Eye. For over two hours the visitors sat and smoked a peace pipe with the Shoshone. There was no conversation and when the visitors reached the point when they could no longer stand the silence-Indians are more comfortable with silence than are non-Indians-they opened a dialogue. Eagle Eye told the Americans that his people were friendly and that they had no objection to having Americans live in their valley as long as they did not interfere with the Shoshone fishing rights. Eagle Eye also made it clear that they had no intention of being relocated to the Fort Hall Reservation. When the Americans returned to Boise, they reported that the Weiser Shoshone numbered about 70 and that they were well supplied with guns and horses.

For the next five years, the Weiser Shoshone lived in peace in their homeland. However, in 1874 the American government ordered the Weiser Shoshone under the leadership of Chief Eagle Eye to report to the Fort Hall Reservation. Eagle Eye refused this demand and ignored the order.

Two years later, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs was urged by powerful non-Indians in Idaho to have the Weiser Shoshone removed to the Fort Hall Reservation. They urged that troops be dispatched to force the peaceful Shoshone to relocate. The following year, Eagle Eye’s band of Shoshone were removed from their homelands in Idaho and forced to relocate to the Malheur Reservation in Oregon.

The Weiser Shoshone did not like their new life and in 1878 they left the Malheur Reservation in Oregon and returned to their home in Idaho. They found, however, that American settlers had already taken over their old meeting grounds in the Council Valley and that there was no longer a place for them in their old homeland.

At this time, the United States was involved with a war against the Bannock and many people had assumed that Eagle Eye and his people had joined with the Bannock. The Boise newspapers reported that Eagle Eye, the chief of the Weiser Shoshone, was surely killed at Birch Creek in the battle with the Umatilla. In fact, Eagle Eye was still very much alive and had not been involved in the fight with the Umatilla. Eagle Eye and his extended family were in the mountains where they spent much of the winter.  

For nearly two decades Eagle Eye and his people continued to live quietly out of the way of the non-Indian invaders, hunting, fishing, and gathering in the old way and working occasionally for wages. For the most part, non-Indians believed that Eagle Eye was dead and thus felt that the Weiser Shoshone no longer existed.

In 1896, Eagle Eye, the leader of the Weiser Shoshone, died. His people gathered together and carried the body of the old chief to the top of Timber Butte. They laid him to rest overlooking the valleys and mountains of the homelands of the Weiser Shoshone. His people continued to live deep in the mountains, out of sight of the non-Indians, until well into the twentieth century. Some eventually moved to the Lemhi Reservation and then to the Fort Hall Reservation.  

Reforming Indian Policy

Following the Civil War, American politicians and influential citizens were acutely aware that there were major problems with the administration of U.S. policies regarding Indians. Congress appointed a special committee to investigate and debate a number of possible solutions.

In 1867, a special committee of Congress chaired by Wisconsin’s Senator James Doolittle reported that Indians outside of Indian Territory (now Oklahoma) were decreasing. With regard to Indian wars with non-Indians, the committee felt that most “are to be traced to the aggressions of lawless white men”. The committee report noted the loss of Indian hunting grounds and that driving the last vestige of the buffalo from the plains will “put an end to the wild man’s means of life”.  

One of the major debates in Congress at this time focused on the Indian Office (now known as the Bureau of Indian Affairs). While the Indian Office was originally a part of the War Department, it had been moved to the Department of the Interior. At this time, there were many who felt that it should be moved back to the War Department as the Army was best equipped to deal with Indians. While commenting on the pros and cons of placing the Bureau of Indian Affairs in the War Department or leaving it in the Department of the Interior, the Doolittle Committee recommended that it stay in the Department of Interior.

Congress also debated whether Indian nations should be approached through negotiations or through the use of military force. In general, the view of using negotiations rather than force prevailed with proponents citing the huge cost of warfare with the Plains Indians. One Senator estimated the cost of killing an Indian at $1 million, while others felt that it would take 10,000 soldiers at least three years to “pacify” the Plains. The alternative to exterminating the Indians was to consolidate them on large reservations, out of the way of “progress” (and railroad lines), and then to “civilize” them.

President Andrew Johnson told Congress:

“If the savage resists, civilization, with the Ten Commandments in one hand and the sword in the other, demands his immediate extermination.”

After debating Indian policies, Congress authorized the creation of a Peace Commission composed of three generals and four civilians to negotiate settlements with the hostile Indians. The Peace Commission was to try to bring together the warring tribal leaders, to determine the causes of their unrest, and to negotiate treaties with them. Congress appointed the four civilian members of the commission and the President appointed the three army officers. All of the Congressional appointees were well-known opponents to the use of force against Indians. The army officers, on the other hand, were vociferous advocates of military force, stating that peace without punishment is impossible.

The charter given to the Indian Peace Commission was rather ambitious: it was to bring about a permanent peace with hostile tribes and the removal of all Indians to reservations located far from settlements, roads, and railroads. The Indians were to be persuaded to locate on reservations. Initially, these reservations were to be large enough to allow the Indians to continue to support themselves with hunting, but as they became more proficient as farmers, the size of the reservations was to be reduced. The government was also to provide the Indians with missionary instruction in Christianity. Non-Indians were to be excluded from the reservation, except for those employed by the government.

Outside of Congress, General Ulysses S. Grant asked General Ely Parker (a Seneca Indian) to develop a reform agenda for the Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA). Parker recommended the establishment and protection of land rights for Indian communities. To deal with the problem of corruption within the Indian service, he recommended that the BIA be transferred from the Department of the Interior to the Department of War. Parker felt that this move would shield the BIA from the influence of land and business interests. In addition, the government should provide money, goods, services, and new opportunities for Indian people in an effort to compensate them for dispossession of their land. Education, he felt, was particularly needed.

Ely Parker also suggested the creation of an oversight committee composed of private citizens. This committee would monitor the acquisition and distribution of goods and rations to the Indians. Parker felt that this oversight committee would instill confidence in Indian people and help ease tensions between them and local non-Indians.

Ely Parker also suggested the appointment of an Indian commission which would include educated Indians which would meet with every Indian community and advocate for general peace. Parker wanted this commission to

“assure the tribes that the white man does not want the Indian exterminated from the face of the earth, but will live with him as good neighbors, in peace and quiet.”

In 1868, the initial report of the Peace Commission on the reasons for Indian hostilities noted that the primary cause for war was injustice. In looking at the almost constant wars with Indians, the Commission then asked:

“Have we been uniformly unjust? We answer, unhesitatingly, yes!”

The report also condemned the cor¬ruption of the Indian Department and noted abundant cases in which

“agents have pocketed the funds appropriated by the government and driven the Indians to starvation.”

The Commission reported that while the United States had pledged to protect Indian nations against American depredations, it had failed to do so.

The Board of Indian Commissioners was created by Congress in 1869. The Board was to be made up of distinguished philanthropists who would serve without pay. The Board was to oversee the purchase and distribution of goods and supplies for the Indian Service (Bureau of Indian Affairs). The men who were appointed to the first Board of Indian Commissioners were wealthy businessmen, most of whom had served with the Christian Commission during the Civil War, and who were motivated, indeed driven, by a sincere Christian philanthropic zeal. None of the members of the Commission were Catholics. The Board developed a reform agenda that focused on confining Indians within increasingly smaller reservations and cultural assimilation by any means necessary. Most of the members of the Commission had no actual experience with Indian communities.

Almost all of the men who were appointed to this first Board had business interests in the dry goods, mineral extraction, and transportation industries. These were the industries that stood to benefit from Indian confinement in the West. Their business interests suggest that perhaps their personal interests influenced their Indian policy work and their support of coercive reservations.

The Board reported:

“The history of the government connections with the Indians is a shameful record of broken treaties and unfulfilled promises.”

The recommendations of the Commissioners included the abandonment of the treaty system and the abrogation of existing treaties. In addition, the “uncivilized” Indians should be seen as wards of the government with the duty of government to

“protect them, to educate them in industry, the arts of civilization, and the princi¬ples of Christianity”.

The Commissioners recommended the establishment of schools to introduce English to every tribe:  

“The teachers employed should be nominated by some religious body having a mission nearest to the location of the school. The establishment of Christian missions should be encouraged, and their schools fostered.”

The report concluded:

“The religion of our blessed Savior is believed to be the most effective agent for the civilization of any people.”

William Welsh, the chairman of the Board of Indian Commissioners, published a book entitled Taopi and His Friends; or, the Indians’ Wrongs and Rights in which he laid out his ideas for Indian reform. He believed that treaties should not be made with Indian tribes and that the large reservations should be broken up. He had great faith in the process of Christianization. He believed that if Indians were to embrace Christian civilization, they had to be dispossessed and held coercively on reservations. If Indians would not go willingly to reservations, they should be forced to go or exterminated.

After Ulysses S. Grant became President, he appointed his friend Ely Parker as the first Indian to become Commissioner of Indian Affairs. Ely Parker had been born with the Seneca name Hasanoanda (Coming to the Front) on the Tonawanda Reservation. He was a member of the Wolf Clan and was the maternal great-great-grandson of the Seneca prophet Handsome Lake. He had served as clerk of his tribal council. The name “Parker” was the family name which his ancestors had adopted from an English captive and the name “Ely” was given to him by an Anglo teacher. He read law for three years, but was denied admission to the bar because, as a Seneca, he was not considered an American citizen.

Ely Parker

Ely Parker is pictured above.

Since the end of the Civil War, Parker had served as Grant’s military adviser on Indian affairs. He had developed a policy agenda which held a notion that the federal government had a responsibility to compensate indigenous peoples for an economic and political system of domination that had dispossessed them of land, resources, opportunities, and political autonomy.

Ely Parker did not view Indian tribes as sovereign nations.  In his annual report as the Commissioner of Indian Affairs he stated:

“The Indian tribes of the United States are not sovereign nations, capable of making treaties, as none of them have an organized government of such inherent strength as would secure a faithful obedience of its people in the observance of compacts of this character.”

Parker also wrote:

“…great injury has been done to the government in deluding this people into the belief of their being independent sovereignties, while they were at the same time recognized only as its dependents and wards.”

Parker believed Native people would assimilate into mainstream culture and society on their own terms and in their own time frame. His experience in dealing with corporations, such as land companies, showed him that when corporations influenced public policy, the Indian people faced injustice, dishonesty, greed, and dispossession.

Parker’s term as Commissioner of Indian Affairs was relatively brief. In 1871, he was investigated by the House of Representatives Committee on Appropriations on charges that he had defrauded the federal government. While the Committee found much to condemn, it found no evidence implicating him in any wrong-doing. Under this cloud of criticism he resigned.

The Board of Indian Commissioners continued to be a major force in influencing Indian policies for several decades. During this time, the government sought to destroy the Indian tribes by breaking up the reservations and to destroy Indian cultures by removing children from their homes at an early age so that they could be raised outside of their tribal cultures. As a result of these policies, Indian wealth in the form of land and natural resources was transferred to non-Indians and American Indians became the poorest group in the United States, a distinction which they continue to hold.

Wodziwob’s Ghost Dance

During the nineteenth century there were a number of religious movements that developed among diverse Indian tribes. One of these, called the Ghost Dance by non-Indians, arose among the Paiute in Nevada.  

In 1868, Paiute healer Fish Lake Joe, also known as Wodziwob, had a dream which empowered him to lead the souls of those who had died in previous months back to their mourning families. Wodziwob already had the power to lay next to a patient, send his soul out, and bring the patient’s soul back to the body, thus restoring life.

The following year, Wodziwob announced his expanded powers to bring back the souls of the dead. Since he already had a reputation for being able to bring back the souls of those who had recently died, his message was favorably received.

He exhorted the people to paint themselves and to dance the traditional round dance. In this dance men, women, and children joined in alternating circles of males and females dancing to the left with fingers interlocked with the dancers on each side. As the dancers stopped to rest, Wodziwob fell into a trance. When he returned he reported that he had journeyed to the land of the dead, he had seen the souls of the dead happy in their new land, and that he had extracted promises from them to return to their loved ones in perhaps three or four years.

The dance was to be performed for at least five nights in succession. The dancers decorated themselves with red, black, and white paint. During the dance, some of the dancers received visions which gave them new songs and which they felt would ultimately restore Indian resources. The new dance quickly spread to the northern California tribes.

Wodziwob’s Ghost Dance religion represented a radical departure from the religious traditions of the Great Basin. It represented a synthesis of the traditional Paiute belief in visions, and the traditional practice of circle dancing associated with antelope charming and other subsistence pursuits. It also seems to borrow from Sahaptian or Salishan Indians of the Plateau and Northwest Coast in the belief in prophets, prophecies, and return of the dead.

In 1870, Wodziwob (also known as Tavibo) was visited by Indians from Oregon and Idaho. The Shoshone and Bannock from Idaho’s Fort Hall Reservation and the Shoshone from Wyoming’s Wind River Reservation became active proselytizers for the new religion and sponsored a number of Ghost Dances. Among those attending these dances were people from the Ute, Gosiute, and Navajo tribes.

At this time, the Ghost Dance also began to move into California. The Modoc brought word of the Ghost Dance to the Shasta.

In 1871, Wodziwob’s Ghost Dance  spread from the Paiute in Nevada to a number of California tribes, including the Washo, Mono, Modoc, Klamath, Shasta, Karok, Achumawi, Northern Yana, Wintun, Hill Patwin, and Pomo. Mono chief Joijoi learned of the Ghost Dance from Moman, a Paiute Ghost Dance leader. Joijoi then sponsored the first Mono Ghost Dance at Saganiu and invited many other tribes to attend. Joijoi then spread the word of the dance throughout California.

The new religious movement revitalized the tribal traditions and molded itself to the local customs. The Ghost Dance was instrumental in reshaping native shamanism and it helped native Californians withstand pressures to adopt Christianity.

In 1871, the Ghost Dance was introduced to the Siletz and Grand Rhonde Reservations in Oregon by the California Shasta.

In 1872, the Ghost Dance diffused from the Paiute in Nevada to the Pomo in California. The new religious movement was brought to the Pomo by Lame Bull, a Patwin prophet and a Southwestern Pomo called Wokox. Among the Pomo, the Ghost Dance became a revivalistic movement that promised its followers that the American invaders would be killed by a natural disaster. Following this, the traditional Indian ways would return again.

In 1872, the Paiute had now been dancing under the direction of Wodziwob for four years. At this time, he had another dream in which he realized that the souls of the dead which he had seen were only shadows. With horror, Wodziwob realized that his prophecy was no more than a cruel trick of the evil witch owl. He confessed his sad disillusion to the Paiutes, and they ceased dancing to attract back their loved ones. Wodziwob died shortly after this.

While the Ghost Dance inspired by Wodziwob’s vision failed to bring back the dead, it did result in a new determination to maintain Indian culture and to establish new ways compatible with the contemporary world. The tribes that incorporated the Ghost Dance worked out new ceremonies, amalgamations of old, borrowed, and newly invented rituals, and made these the center of community life.  

Ancient America: The McKeithen Mounds in Florida

There were a number of ancient American Indian cultures which constructed large earthen mounds in what is now the eastern portion of the United States. Archaeologists have often labeled these as Adena (which originated in the middle Ohio River valley about 500 BCE), Hopewell (which originated in the central Scioto region of Ohio about 200 BCE), and Mississippian (which had developed by 1000 CE along the Mississippi River). None of these three mound building traditions was restricted to a single site, but seemed to influence diverse Indian cultures in a fairly wide geographic region. It was out of the Hopewell tradition that the McKeithen site in Florida seemed to emerge nearly 2000 years ago.  

The McKeithen site in northwest Florida was a village situated next to a stream. The village, which occupied about forty-seven acres, was shaped like a horseshoe and contained three earthen mounds. The village probably had a population of a little more than 100 and subsistence was based on hunting and gathering.

With regard to understanding the subsistence patterns at the McKeithen site, the acid soil at the site means that very little evidence of ancient plant remains was recovered by archaeologists, so there is little detail concerning plant foods. The animal species identified at the site include oyster, mussel, freshwater fish, alligator, turtle, bird, squirrel, and a relatively large amount of deer. All of this suggests a hunting and gathering economy rather than an agricultural economy.

The archaeological evidence shows that Indian people were occupying the site and using a type of pottery known as Weeden Island ceramics by 200 CE. At this time, the Weeden Island ceramics were being used in southern Alabama and southwestern Georgia as well as by Indian people living in Florida.

About 350 CE, the Indian people at the McKeithen site began construction of two earthen mounds.  The two mounds-named A and B by archaeologists-were laid out in such a manner to allow the rising sun at the summer solstice to be observed and calculated from Mound B.

The two mounds are rectangular and fairly low-1 meter and a half meter in height. A rectangular residence or temple was built on top of Mound B. Archaeologists feel that this was probably used by a priest who conducted ceremonies for the dead at the site. This priest was later buried inside the building, the building was burned, and the ashes scattered.

A pine post screen was erected across Mound A. Bodies were temporarily buried here and the graves were marked with posts about two feet in diameter. After some decomposition had set in, the bodies were exhumed. In the area behind the screen, the exhumed human bones were cleaned, treated with red ochre, and prepared for storage in the charnel house. The bones-primarily the skull and limb bones-were bundled for storage.

A third mound, which was circular and less than a meter in height, had a charnel house for the storage of cleaned human remains. The bundles that contained the bones were stored in the charnel house for a time and were later buried in the periphery of the mound.

Each stage of the preparation of the bodies probably involved some ceremonies. Archaeologists have uncovered evidence which suggests that the black drink– an active and powerful diuretic which has been traditionally used to purge and cleanse ritual participants in Southeastern cultures-was used as a part of these ceremonies. Archaeologists also found ceramic vessels, including the hollow figurines of animals, which had been broken and left as offerings on top of the graves containing the bundles of bones.

The triangular plaza formed by the three mounds was found to be devoid of any artifacts. Archaeologists have interpreted this to mean that the plaza was most likely a ceremonial area where people gathered to watch and/or participate in funerary rituals.

About 400 CE, a new level of cultural complexity and diversity appears among the people of northern Florida: the burials after this time show an indication of social stratification. Some groups of people were now buried with more and better grave goods than other people.  

In 475, the structures on the platform mounds at the McKeithen site were burned and removed. The mounds were capped. Mound C was then covered with a six-foot layer of earth. While this marks the end of mound use at the village, the village still continued to be occupied until about 700.


Shown above is a photo from the 1979 archaeological excavation of the site.  

143rd Anniversary of the Washita Massacre of Nov. 27, 1868

The intent to commit genocide at Washita is hidden in plain view, unless key elements are brought together. These are: that the Cheyenne were placed on land where they would starve while promises to avert starvation were broken; that George Bent observed how Civil War soldiers did not harm white women and children by a “code of honor,” while Indian women and children were slaughtered; that Sheridan declared “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead;” and that the War Department did not differentiate between peaceful and warring Indians. Hence, the orders “to kill or hang all warriors.” As the consequence, the intent was to kill all men
of a specific race.

We’ll begin with Custer prior to the Washita Massacre along with the fact that the Cheyenne were forced onto land wherein they would starve.

Part 1: The Intent to Commit Genocide

Custer’s tactical errors of rushing ahead of the established military plans and dividing his troops are well known.


On the verge of what seemed to him a certain and glorious victory for both the United States and himself, Custer ordered an immediate attack on the Indian village.

Contemptuous of Indian military prowess, he split his forces into three parts to ensure that fewer Indians would escape. The attack was one the greatest fiascos of the United States Army, as thousands of Lakota, Cheyenne and Arapaho warriors forced Custer’s unit back onto a long, dusty ridge parallel to the Little Bighorn, surrounded them, and killed all 210 of them.

Yet, what enabled him to get back “on the course” after his court martial in 1867 and his being relieved by President Ulysses S. Grant temporarily in 1876?

The answers to that question are deception, wisely having prevented Washita from being labeled a massacre by halting the slaying of women and children at Washita; thus, sidestepping a full investigation as Sand Creek was (my speculation), and more lies.

Forcing and binding those Native Nations onto land where they could not survive by hunting or agriculture, breaking promises to provide those survival means, and propaganda revolving around the Kansas Raids reset Custer “on the course.” Moxtaveto (Black Kettle) was innocent.

What about the Dog Soldiers, weren’t they somehow to blame? An old Indian joke goes, “When the whites win, it’s a victory; when the Indians win, it’s a massacre.” Let’s look at what occurred amongst the Chiefs after the Sand Creek Massacre and prior to the Kansas Raids to find some answers, in between the “victories” and the “massacres.”

(Bold mine)…

And so, when the Chiefs gathered to decide what the people should do, Black Kettle took his usual place among them. Everyone agreed Sand Creek must be avenged. But there were questions. Why had the soldiers attacked with such viciousness? Why had they killed and mutilated women and children?
It seemed that the conflict with the whites had somehow changed. No longer was it just a war over land and buffalo. Now, the soldiers were destroying everything Cheyenne – the land, the buffalo, and the people themselves.

Why? George thought he knew. He had lived among the whites and had fought in their war. He knew their greed for land and possessions – Their appetite for these things was boundless. But they also obeyed rules of warfare peculiar to them. They waged war on men, and only on recognized fields of battle. In the great life-and-death struggle between North and South even then raging in the East, prisoners were routinely paroled and released or held in guarded camps, where they were fed and cared for. And the whites never warred on women and children who were protected by law and by an unshakable code of honor –

Still Black Kettle counseled peace. A war with the whites, he said, could not be won. The newcomers were too numerous, their weapons too strong. Besides, they had the ability to fight in winter when Cheyenne horses were weak and food was scarce… For Black Kettle, Cheyenne survival depended on peace. War could only bring more Sand Creeks, more deaths, more sorrow – One by one the council Chiefs smoked the red stone war pipe, each recognizing the importance of his decision. When the pipe reached Black Kettle, he passed it on, refusing to smoke. But the others took it up, indicating they would fight.

Hence, the Kansas “Raids” were the only means left available to keep what was promised to them: the ability to survive. The land “given” to them was neither harvestable nor huntable. Those “raids” were the last resort of self defense for survival.

The Last Indian Raid in Kansas


Black Kettle miraculously escaped harm at the Sand Creek Massacre, even when he returned to rescue his seriously injured wife. And perhaps more miraculously, he continued to counsel peace when the Cheyenne attempted to strike back with isolated raids on wagon trains and nearby ranches.
By October 1865, he and other Indian leaders had arranged an uneasy truce on the plains, signing a new treaty that exchanged the Sand Creek reservation for reservations in southwestern Kansas but deprived the Cheyenne of access to most of their coveted Kansas hunting grounds.

Furthermore, General Sheridan never had any intention of peaceful relations with Black Kettle whatsoever.

(Bold mine)

Dee Brown. “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.” P. 169.

In his official report over the “savage butchers” and “savage bands of cruel marauders,” General Sheridan rejoiced that he had “wiped out Black Kettle, a worn – out and worthless old cipher.”

He then stated that he had promised Black Kettle sanctuary if he would come into a fort before military operations began. “He refused,” Sheridan lied, “and was killed in the fight.”

In fact, it is owed to General Sheridan himself the “American aphorism,” “The only good Indian is a dead Indian.” It started as “The only good Indians I ever saw were dead.”

Whether or not Black Kettle strove for peace or the Dog Soldiers fought, they were all as “good as dead.”  The extermination policy set Custer “on the course” to Washita.

(Bold mine)


Given the War Department’s mandate that all Cheyennes were guilty for the sins of the few in regard to the Kansas raids, there is no question that Custer succeeded in this pur­pose by attacking Black Kettle’s village. His instructions from his supe­riors had been “to destroy their villages and ponies; to kill or hang all warriors, and bring back all women and children.”

Part 2: The Approaching Genocide at Washita

Custer was pursuing the snow tracks of Dog Soldiers that would eventually lead to Black Kettle’s village on Thanksgiving Day in a cruel irony. The cruelest irony however, was that Black Kettle and his wife would be slain nearly four years to the day that they both escaped Chivington at the Sand Creek Massacre. Black Kettle’s honesty concerning young men in his village he could not control was of no avail. He and his village were going to be “punished” and broken beyond any immediate or distant recovery.

John Corbin, the messenger from Major Elliot, rode up and informed Custer of two large Indian snow tracks. One was recent. Preparations were then made to pursue the “savages” as covertly as possible. Smoking ceased and weapons were bound to prevent visual or aural detection. In addition, the 7th whispered and paused frequently as they rode slowly towards the future tracks that would lead to Black Kettle’s village. Simultaneously, Black Kettle received dire warnings that he and the others ignored. A Kiowa war party gave the first warning of having seen soldier’s tracks that were heading their direction. It was discounted. Black Kettle’s wife, Medicine Woman, gave another warning that night before the 7th’s arrival of an intuitive nature during the meeting in the Peace Chief’s lodge by firelight. She begged them to move immediately. It too was dismissed. They would move the next day, instead.

Black Kettle had already moved their camp recently, which the returning war party that had helped in the Kansas Raids learned upon their returning. November 25th found this war party dividing into two different directions in order to reach their destinations the quickest. Approximately 139 of them traveled to the big village on the river, while about 11 of them led Custer straight to Black Kettle. A bell around one dog’s neck enabled all the dogs to be located easily by the tribe, and after a Cheyenne baby cried, Custer pinpointed their exact location. He coordinated the attack to begin at dawn from four fronts.

Thompson’s troops would attack to the North East, Myer’s and Custer’s troops positioned to attack to the East and South East, while Elliot would attack to the South.

Custer knew their mobility was greatly hampered in winter time; consequently, that was an important element in the “campaign.”

Part 3: The Genocide At Washita

The sensory components of the genocide at Washita in now Cheyenne, Oklahoma must be held in mind in order to capture the entire breadth of it. These are sound, smell, and sight. For example, the shrill crying of the noncombatant Cheyenne women and children, and the yelling of the charging 7th Calvary with their knives and guns would have been beyond deafening. And the fog with gunpowder smoke must have been worse than any nightmare, while the red blood – stained snow and the smell of death permeated the ground and air.

The Death & Vision of Moxtaveto ( Black Kettle)

A woman dashed into the village to warn Black Kettle of the coming troopers; he hastily snatched his rifle from his lodge and fired a warning shot for all to awaken and flee. If he had attempted to meet the soldiers and ask for peaceful negotiations, that would have been useless; as a result, he then mounted his horse with his wife, Woman Here After, and tried to escape through the North direction. His horse was shot in the leg before bullets knocked him and his wife off the horse and into the Washita River, where they both died together.


“Both the chief and his wife fell at the river bank riddled with bullets,” one witness reported, “the soldiers rode right over Black Kettle and his wife and their horse as they lay dead on the ground, and their bodies were all splashed with mud by the charging soldiers.” Custer later reported that an Osage guide took Black Kettle’s scalp.

Stan Hiog. “The Peace Chiefs Of The Cheyenne.” p. 174

Moving Behind, a Cheyenne Woman, later stated: “There was a sharp curve in the river where an old road – crossing used to be. Indian men used to go there to water their ponies. Here we saw the bodies of Black Kettle and his wife, lying under the water. The horse they had ridden lay dead beside them. We observed that they had tried to escape across the river when they were shot.”

Location of  Black Kettle’s death:


Warriors, eleven who died, rushed out of their lodges with inferior firepower to defend the village. Simultaneously, the overall noncombatants ran for their lives into the freezing Washita River.

Washita River 1868

(Taken with permission)

The words of Ben Clark, Custer’s chief of scouts, brought the truth out after Custer distributed propaganda about one white woman and two white boys as having been hostages in Black Kettle’s village. There were no “hostages, a Cheyenne woman committed suicide. Speculating, here is why.

She didn’t want her son mutilated by Custer or a 7th Calvary soldier; she didn’t want her vagina ripped out and put on a stick, worn, or made into a tobacco pouch. So, she killed her son and herself first.

Jerome A. Greene. Washita. Chap.7. pp. 130-131

There, as the people fell at the hands of the troopers, one woman, in a helpless rage, stood up with her baby, held it out in an outstretched arm, and with the other drew a knife and fatally stabbed the infant – erroneously believed by the soldiers to be a white child. She then plunged the blade into her own chest in suicide.

The 7th hunted them down and murdered them. Although the orders were to “hang all warriors;” it was much more convenient to shoot them. All wounded Cheyenne were shot where they laid.

Osage scouts mutilated women and children. They did a “roundup” of their own by using tree limbs to herd the defenseless Cheyenne women and children back to the village, where the mutilations could continue. Custer halted the slaying of women and children at one point, but he raped them later in captivity.

One Osage scout beheaded a Cheyenne.

Jerome A. Greene. Washita. Chap.7. pp120

They (Osages) “shot down the women and mutilated their bodies, cutting off their arms, legs and breasts with knives.”

The 7th captured the Cheyenne and started bonfires. They burned the 51 lodges to the ground. Winter clothing that was depended upon for winter survival was incinerated in the flames, as was food supplies. Weapons and all lodge contents were burned also, including any sacred items.

Finally, 875 horses were shot, thus stripping away their last means of survival and independence.

Dee Brown. “Bury My Heart At Wounded Knee.” P.170

Late in December the survivors of Black Kettle’s band began arriving at Fort Cobb –

Little Robe was now the nominal leader of the tribe, and was taken to see Sheridan he told the bearlike soldier chief that his people were starving – they had eaten all their dogs.

Sheridan replied that the Cheyennes would be fed if they all came into Fort Cobb and surrendered unconditionally. “You cannot make peace now and commence killing whites again in the spring.” Sheridan added, “If you are not willing to make a complete peace, you can go back and we will fight this thing out.”

Little Robe knew there was but one answer he could give.

“It is for you to say what we have to do,” he said.

American Holocaust

(It is worth noting also that the Fuhrer from time to time expressed admiration for the “efficiency” of the American genocide campaign against the Indians, viewing it as a forerunner for his own plans and programs.)

The Cheyenne women were “transported” by an officer named Romero to the other officers once they were prisoners at Fort Cobb.


Custer “enjoyed one” every evening in the privacy of his tent. Presumably, he stopped raping the Cheyenne women when his wife arrived.


Custer’s wife, Elizabeth (Bacon), whom he married in 1864, lived to the age of ninety-one. The couple had no children. She was devoted to his memory, wrote three books about him, and when she died in 1933 was buried beside him at West Point. Her Tenting on the Plains (1887) presents a charming picture of their stay in Texas. Custer’s headquarters building in Austin, the Blind Asylum, located on the “Little Campus” of the University of Texas, has been restored.

Jerome A. Greene. “Washita.” Chap. 8, p.169.

Ben Clack told Walter M. Camp: many of the squaws captured at Washita were used by the officers…Romero was put in charge of them and on the march Romero would send squaws around to the officers’ tents every night. [Clark] says Custer picked out a fine looking one and had her in his tent every night.”

This statement is more or less confirmed by Frederick Benteen, who in 1896 asserted that Custer selected Monahseetah/Meotzi from among the women prisoners and cohabited with her “during the winter and spring of 1868 and ’69” until his wife arrived in the summer of 1869. Although Benteen’s assertions regarding Custer are not always to be trusted, his statements nonetheless conform entirely to those of the reliable Ben Clark and thus cannot be ignored.”

Further information regarding accurate numbers of deaths, captives and list of names are in Jerome A. Greene’s wonderful book, “Washita.”


We have been traveling through a cloud. The sky has been dark ever since the war began.

Black Kettle

Native Voices: Black Kettle

I did imagine hearing crying voices when I went to the site of the Washita Massacre and before writing Moxtaveto’s (Black Kettle’s) Extermination on November 27, 1868 & a Request. The elders say it’s haunted, like they said they could hear children cry at the Sand Creek Massacre.

To end this, I will quote former Sen. Ben Nighthorse Campbell from the dedication of the Sand Creek Massacre, “If there were any savages that day, it was not the Indian people.”

The Soul

Many religious traditions include the concept of the soul. In some traditions, the human soul is central to the belief system, while in others it is not. In some religious traditions, particularly the Christian tradition which the European colonists and the American government attempted to force upon the indigenous cultures of North America, humans have only one soul. However, in many American Indian religious traditions, humans are seen as having multiple souls.  

Among the Sheepeater Shoshone, there are three kinds of souls. The first of these is the suap or “ego-soul” which is embodied in the breath. The second is the navushieip or “free-soul” that is able to leave the body during dreams, trances, and comas. It is the navushieip that encounters the guardian spirit that becomes one’s ally during life. Finally, there is mugua or “body-soul” which activates the body during the waking hours.

Shoshone Tipi

A Shoshone camp is shown above.

Religious healers used two different methods for curing the sick. For some kinds of sickness they would rely on their intimate knowledge of the curative powers of certain plants. In other kinds of healing, they would remove foreign objects from the patient’s body or go into a trance to restore the patient’s soul.

Among the Sheepeater Shoshone, if a person was sick because the soul had fled, then the medicine person went into a trance to search for the soul. If found during the trance, the soul could be restored to the body and in this way the sick person was restored to health.

Among the cultural traditions of the Atlantic Northeast, humans were seen as having more than one soul. Among the Narragansett, for example, there was one soul that worked when the body was asleep and another soul that would leave the body after death. When the body was asleep, the dream soul-Cowwéwonck-would roam, often appearing as a light, and seek out guardian spirits. The other soul-Míchachunck-was located near the heart and was the individual’s animating force.

Among the Huron, each person has two souls: one of these souls animates the body and one soul extends beyond physical activities. In sleep, one soul communicates with spirits and with other human souls. When this soul returns to the body, dreams are the way in which the soul’s experiences are communicated. From a Huron perspective, it was essential to reenact these dream adventures in order to unify the two souls and make each person whole again. The failure to do this would result in serious illness which could impact the entire village.

According to Anishinabe (Ojibwa, Chippewa) spiritual teachings, human beings have two souls, one of which travels at night and lives the dreams. With two souls, human beings can communicate with both the spirits and the souls of non-human persons. Chippewa elder John Thunderbird explains it this way:

“Your soul dreams those dreams; not your body, not your mind. Those dreams come true.”

He also points out:

“The soul travels all over the world when you dream.”


Around the world, many religious traditions teach that after death the soul is reincarnated. Among the Indians of North America, the concept of reincarnation is found in many tribes. Sioux physician Charles Eastman writes:

“Many of the Indians believed that one may be born more than once, and there were some who claimed to have full knowledge of a former incarnation.”

Writing in 1817 about one Lenni Lenape man, Christian missionary John Heckewelder reports:

“He asserted very strange things, of his own supernatural knowledge, which he had obtained not only at the time of his initiation, but at other times, even before he was born. He said he knew that he had lived through two generations; that he had died twice and was born a third time, to live out the then present race, after which he was to die and never more to come to this country again.”

Among the Lenni Lenape, some babies are the reincarnation of former relatives. After birth, old women will examine the baby to check for signs that the baby has lived before. These signs include keeping the body relaxed and the hands unclenched and reacting favorably to places and things associated with the dead relative.

Among the Mandan, reincarnation was accepted and it was felt that the child chose its mother. The Mandan also had four souls, the principal soul being seen as a shooting star. At death, this soul could be seen in the sky.  

Mandan Cemetery

A painting of a Mandan cemetery by George Catlin is shown above.

With regard to death among the Gitxsan, Shirley Muldon writes:

“We believe in reincarnation of people and animals. We believe that the dead can visit this world and that the living can enter the past. We believe that memory survives from generation to generation. Our elders remember the past because they have lived it.”

Among the Hopi, the spirits of children who die before they are initiated into a kiva return to their mother’s house to be reborn.

As mentioned above, the Huron feel that each person has two souls. After death one soul stays near the corpse until after the Feast of the Dead and then it is released so that it can be reborn. Some of these souls are resurrected in name-giving ceremonies. The other soul goes to the village of the dead after the Feast.

Spokan Garry

In 1825, Governor George Simpson of the Hudson’s Bay Company conceived the idea of selecting some Indian boys from the Columbia River tribes in present-day Washington and Idaho and sending them east to the Anglican mission school at Red River in Manitoba to be educated. His idea was that these boys could help in “civilizing” the tribes upon their return. Two teenage Indian boys – one from the Spokan in Washington and the other from the Kootenai in Idaho – were sent to the Red River School. The boys are renamed Kootenai Pelly and Spokan Garry. The name “Garry” was taken from the name of one of the directors of the Hudson’s Bay Company and the name “Pelly” from one of its governors. At the school, the boys were taught to read and write both English and French.  

About the Spokan:  

First, a note about spelling: I am using “Spokan” to indicate the tribe in order to avoid confusion with “Spokane” which is the name of a city in eastern Washington. Spokan is often translated as “Children of the Sun.”

The Spokan, a Salish-speaking people, were traditionally composed of three groups: (1) Upper Spokan who occupied the Spokane Valley; (2) Middle Spokan who occupied the Deep Creek and Four Lakes area; and (3) Lower Spokan who occupied the area around the Tchimokaine, Tumtum, and the mouth of the Spokane River. Traditionally, the overall Spokan territory extended from the head waters of the Chimokaine to the mouth of the Spokane River; down the south side of the Columbia as far as the mouth of the Okanogan; south to the head of the Snake River water shed; east to about the line of the present towns of Post Falls and Rathdrum.

As with other tribes along the Columbia River, fishing was an important economic activity. Downstream from Little Falls on the Spokane River, the Spokan would build a rock barrier across the river, and then place a willow-pole fish weir just upstream from this barrier. The fish were then speared and thrown to shore. This fishing site was also used by the Coeur d’Alene, Kalispel, Colville, Palouse, Sanpoil, and Sinkayuse.

While men traditionally fished for the salmon, only the women were able to obtain the lashings that bound the tripod of the fishing weir together. The men, therefore, were unable to build the weirs by themselves. Building fish weirs required the cooperation of women, thus the women had a crucial role in the important salmon fishing.

The salmon was dried in the sun and wind. The dried salmon would be pounded with a stone pestle in an oak mortar until it was finely pulverized. The salmon powder would then be tightly pressed into baskets lined with salmon skin. This dried, powdered salmon would keep for a long time.

The women usually prepared the fish. Once a woman had prepared the fish, it belonged to her and she made the decisions on how it was to be used. When salmon was used in trade, the trade items belonged to the women.

While hunting provided some of the Spokan nutrition, hunting is not always a dependable way of obtaining food. In order to ensure a successful hunt, individual hunters sought out spirit helpers and communal hunts required a hunt chief with experience, as well as an appropriate spirit guide. Before hunting, the men would often go through a sweat bath purification ritual and would make appeals to the animal spirits.

While much of the hunting focused on locally available big game-deer, elk, caribou-the Spokan would sometimes go on a communal buffalo hunt. This meant that they would travel from their home in eastern Washington, across northern Idaho, through western Montana, and cross the Rocky Mountains to the Great Plains. This meant that they would be trespassing into territory claimed by the Blackfoot and the Blackfoot would often object to this. Thus, the buffalo hunt was often an inter-tribal affair as alliances provided some protection against the war parties of the Blackfoot and other tribes. The Kootenai, for example, often joined with the Coeur d’Alene and Spokan for the buffalo hunt. The hunt would usually last about four weeks.

Trade was also a major economic activity for the Spokan. The Spokane Falls area often served as a major trading center. Trading activities were often timed to occur during the fishing harvests. Prior to the coming of the Europeans, common trade items included stone tools from the glass volcanics (obsidian, vitrophyre, and ignimbrite) and marine shells, most commonly dentalium and olivella. The shells were often cut into beads which were then used as trade goods. In addition, manufactured products such as coiled baskets, parfleches, and tanned buffalo hides were brought into the area.

Spokan Garry:

Spokan Garry and Kootenai Pelly returned to the northwest from the Red River School in 1829. Garry’s father, Illim-Spokanee, had died while the boy was at school, so the Spokan greeted him as a leader’s son who should be heard on matters affecting the welfare of this people. Spokan Garry brought with him the Christianity which he learned in school and preached it to the tribes in eastern Washington.

Garry’s preaching influenced leaders in other tribes. Soon after his return, for example, a young Nez Perce-Hol-lol-sote-tote, later known as Lawyer-heard Spokan Garry read from the Christian bible in Salish. Since Lawyer’s mother was Flathead (a Salish-speaking tribe), he was fluent in both Salish and Nez Perce. Lawyer was deeply moved and subsequently became Christian.

Soon after his return to the Spokan, Garry became recognized as a chief and acquired two wives: one from the Umatilla tribe and one from the San Poil tribe. His decision to take a second wife was viewed negatively by non-Indian missionaries.

With regard to his work as a native missionary preaching Christianity to the Indian people in the Upper Columbia area, Garry built a tule mat church and school along the Spokane River. He taught brotherly love, peaceful behavior, and humility. He also served as the translator for one of Francis Heron’s sermons at Fort Colville. In the audience were chiefs from the Spokan, Nez Perce, Coeur d’Alene, Kootenai, Pend d’Oreille, Sanpoil, and Kettle Falls tribes.

In 1836, Garry was involved in a large public Christian worship for the Spokan and Nez Perce at Loon Lake. Spokan Garry translated for the Spokan while a Nez Perce chief who understood some Spokan then translated from Spokan to Nez Perce.  

In 1853, Governor Isaac Stevens met with the Spokan. Stevens wrote of Spokan Garry:

“Garry, the Spokane Chief, is a man of education, of strict probity and great influence over his tribe. He speaks English and French well.”

The treaties “negotiated” (some would say “imposed”) by Governor Stevens led to a great deal of unrest and set the stage for war. In 1854, a large intertribal council in Oregon’s Grande Ronde Valley is called by Yakama leader Kamiakin, Walla Walla leader Peopeo Moxmox, and Nez Perce war chief Apash Wyakaikt (Looking Glass). The tribes spent five days listening to Kamiakin’s account of what was happening to the Indian nations west of the Cascade Mountains. Kamiakin urged a confederacy so that the Americans (suyapos) could be fought with a united front. Kamiakin told the council:

“We wish to be left alone in the lands of our forefathers, whose bones lie in the sand hills and along the trails, but a pale-faced stranger has come from a distant land and sends word to us that we must give up our country, as he wants it for the white man. Where can we go? There is no place left”

Spokan leader Garry, Cayuse leader Stickus, and Nez Perce leader Lawyer felt that the Indians were not strong enough to wage war against the Americans. Among the Yakama, Teias and Owhi (both uncles to Kamiakin, and Teias was also Kamiakin’s father-in-law) opposed war.

The following year, Governor Stevens held a large treaty council at Walla Walla, Washington in which he announced his plans to establish two reservations: one would be located in Nez Perce country and would be for the Nez Perce, Cayuse, Walla Walla, Umatilla, and Spokan, and one in Yakama country for the Yakama, Palouse, Klikatat, Wenatchee, Okanagan, and Colville. The assembled tribal leaders disliked the Stevens’ proposal, so it was modified to include a third reservation: one to be located in Umatilla country for the Umatilla, Cayuse, and Walla Walla.

Following the treaty council at Walla Walla, Governor Stevens met with the Flathead, Pend d’Oreille, and Kootenai at Hell Gate and negotiated the treaty which would establish the Flathead Indian Reservation. In addition to the three tribes, the new reservation, according to Stevens’ vision, would also serve as home to the Coeur d’Alene and the Spokan.

By the end of 1855, the American vision called for the Spokan to leave their homeland and settle on either the Nez Perce or the Flathead reservations. Shortly after the treaties, Americans began their invasion of Spokan country looking for mineral wealth and paying little attention to any Spokan rights.

As a result of the treaties and American violations of Indian rights, war soon swept across the Plateau region. As a result Governor Isaac Stevens held council with some of the Columbia River tribes on the Spokane River in 1855. While the Americans were seeking to prevent the Columbia River tribes from joining the growing anti-American war, they heard the chiefs speak with some sympathy for the hostilities. In the rather stormy council, the Americans were unable to promise the Indians that the American army would not invade their territory. During the council, Spokan Garry told them:

“I think the difference between us and you Americans is in the clothing; the blood and the body are the same.”

As the war spreads, American forces under the command of Major Edward Steptoe were defeated by an intertribal war party with warriors from the Palouse, Coeur d’Alene, Spokan, Yakama, Pend d’Oreille, Flathead, and Columbia. Thus the Spokan were drawn into the war. Following the American defeat, the American forces swept though the Indians’ country from the Cascades to Lake Coeur d’Alene, attacking villages, burning provisions and supplies, taking hostages, and shooting and hanging Indians, with little regard to whether the Indians were actually hostile or friendly. The Americans defeated the Indians at the battles of Four Lakes and Spokane Plains. Two of Spokan Garry’s brothers were killed in these battles.

Following the battles of Four Lakes and Spokane Plains, Colonel Wright directed Spokan Garry to send messengers to chiefs Moses, Big Star, Skloom, and Kamiakin and inform them that they should come in for a conference. Later Colonel Wright reported:

“I warned them that if I ever had to come into this country again on a hostile expedition no man should be spared; I would annihilate the whole nation.”

After signing the treaties with the Spokan and Coeur d’Alene, Colonel Wright adopts a policy to hang individual Indians, demonstrating to the tribes what would happen to them if they ever broke the treaties they had signed.

In 1859, Spokan Garry petitioned military authorities and the Indian agent for a reservation for his people. Brigadier General W. S. Harney forwarded the request to the Secretary of the Interior with the following comment:

“In justice to these Indians this step should be adopted by our government; they already cultivate the soil in part for subsistence, and unless protected in their right to do so, they will be forced into a miserable warfare until they are exterminated.”

No action results from the request.

In 1866, a party of Spokan were hunting buffalo in Montana. During the hunt, they captured several horses from the Blackfoot. In retaliation, the Blackfoot killed a Spokan chief and captured 160 Spokan horses. The horse-poor Spokan then captured some non-Indian horses on their way home. In Missoula, Spokan Garry was arrested, but the Indian agent arranged for his release.

In 1872, the Colville Reservation was established by executive order of President Ulysses S. Grant for the Methow, Okanagan, Sanpoil, Nespelem, Lakes, Colville, Kalispel, Spokan, Coeur d’Alene, Chelan, Entiat, and Southern Okanagan. Once again there was little interest in providing the Spokan with their own reservation.

In 1874, Spokan Garry met with the Commandant of the Department of the Columbia. He was told that the government had no interest in giving the Spokan a reservation and that they should be careful not to make any trouble.

In 1880, the United States government held council with the Colville, Upper Spokan, Okanogan, Coeur d’Alene, and Lower Spokan just above the falls in Spokane. Nearly 4,000 Indians were present at the council and most did not have a reservation. Spokan Garry argued for a reservation for his people. The Americans promised them a new and ample reservation, but did not sign an agreement to that effect.

In 1881, the United States ordered the Spokan to move to a reservation west of the Columbia River or to take allotments. Chief Spokan Garry replied:

“What right have you to dictate to us? This is our country and we will not leave it.”

Instead of forcing the Spokan to move, a reservation is established for them by Presidential executive order.

In 1887, Spokan Garry asked the Indian Department to cede to his people as a reservation the land on both sides of the Spokane River from the city of Spokane to Tum Tum. The request was denied.

At the 1887 Treaty of Spokane Falls, Washington, non-reservation Spokan agreed to give up all claims to lands outside of the Spokane Reservation and to move to the Couer d’Alene Reservation in Idaho or to the Flathead Reservation in Montana. The United States agreed to help them in moving and finding new homes.

In 1888, Spokan Garry was at a temporary fishing camp away from his farm when non-Indians took over his farm and the crops that he had planted. When he returned home, the men told him to stay off. While Spokan Garry filed suit in an attempt to regain his farm, he died in 1892 before a decision was reached. The pattern of non-Indians taking over farms already being cultivated by Indians is fairly common at this time, and the Indians have little legal recourse.

Garry was about 81 years old at the time of his death. During the last years of his life, Garry was homeless and lived in poverty. The crude tent which had been his last shelter from the winter’s snow and  cold became his mortuary.

Spokan Garry

A photograph of Spokan Garry is shown above.

The Navajo and Mexico

In 1821 Mexico obtained independence from Spain. In the Plan of Iguala, Mexico did away with all legal distinctions regarding Indians and reaffirmed that Indians were citizens of Mexico on an equal basis with non-Indians. In what is now New Mexico and Arizona, this means that the various Navajo bands now had to deal with the Mexican government rather than the Spanish government.  

The Navajo were not a unified nation with regard to government. There was no single unified, central government or council: there were dozens of local groups. The basis of traditional Navajo government was kinship. People of experience and wisdom (known as nataani) led the family, band, and clan groups. Each group was autonomous and chose its own leaders by consensus.

In 1822, the newly formed Mexican government negotiated its first treaty with the Navajo. Under the treaty, Segundo was recognized by the Mexican government as the head chief of the Navajo. Since the Navajo did not traditionally have a head chief, it is doubtful that most Navajo recognized him as head chief. The treaty called for an exchange of prisoners and the freedom of the Navajo to travel and trade throughout New Mexico.

Shortly after negotiating its first Navajo treaty, the Mexican government appointed a new governor who ignored the treaty. The new governor sent the Navajo an ultimatum to return all prisoners, to convert to Catholicism, and to resettle in villages around the missions. The new governor seemed unaware that the previous attempts by the Spanish to convert the Navajo and have them settle around the missions had failed.

In 1823, the Mexicans negotiated another treaty with the Navajo. The treaty was signed by two Navajo captains – Batolome Baca and Juan Antonio Sandoval. The treaty required: (1) the Navajo to hand over all prisoners, (2) Navajo prisoners held by Mexico were to be returned unless they wanted to become Christians, (3) the Navajo were to return all stolen goods, and (4) the Navajo were to accept Christianity and settle in pueblos. The peace established by the treaty, according to Navajo oral tradition, was violated before the ink was dry.

In 1824, the Mexican government sent a military campaign through Navajo territory in an attempt to subdue them. Following this campaign, the Mexican government negotiated a treaty with the Navajo that called for a mutual exchange of prisoners. Even though Mexican law prohibited slavery, the use of Indian slaves was common.

For the next decade there was little formal or official contact between the Navajo and the Mexican government. This did not mean there was peace between the Navajo and the Mexican settlers who had invaded Navajo territory. Skirmishes between the two groups were common.

In 1835, a group of Mexican ranchers together with a troop of Mexican soldiers invaded Navajo territory intent on destroying their fields, burning their hogans, killing or scattering their herds, and killing as many Navajo as possible. The Mexicans did not expect the any resistance from the Navaho as they had assumed they would be divided into small groups of raiders who could never make a stand against such a large force. However, the Navajo assembled 200 warriors under the leadership of Narbona. Most were armed with bows and iron-tipped arrows and all were mounted on swift horses. At the Big Bend of the Río Chaco the Navajo ambushed the Mexican force. The Navajo victory was swift and easy. Narbona allowed the Mexican survivors to retreat, taking their dead and wounded with them.

In retaliation for the Navajo victory, the Mexican army marched against the Navajo the following year. Hearing that the Zuni were allied with the Navajo, the Mexican army arrived at the Pueblo of Zuni to find that the Zuni were not allied with the Navajo. The Zuni turned over two Navajo prisoners.

In 1839, the Mexican authorities negotiated another treaty of peace with the Navajo but the Navajo did not care for the agreement and soon started raiding again. This was the last Mexican attempt at negotiating a treaty with the Navajo. In 1846, the United States acquired New Mexico and, under the Doctrine of Discovery, the right to govern the Indian nations within the territory.

Curtis Navajo


Denying Indian Nations Legal Representation

With the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act (IRA) in 1934, the United States government sought to bring economic development to Indian reservations by making them into a kind of corporation. Under the IRA, tribes could now enter into contracts and, more importantly, they could hire their own attorneys. Following World War II, government policies regarding Indian tribes changed. In order to pay for the reconstruction of Germany and Japan, the United States turned to the Indian reservations, the poorest sector of the country. If the United States could just get out of the “Indian business,” stop worrying about upholding any treaty obligations, and get the Indians to assimilate into American society just like immigrants, then this would free up money which could be spent overseas. Thus the United States began the process of dismantling the Indian tribes.  

In 1950, Dillon S. Meyer was appointed as Commissioner of Indian Affairs. He had previously been in charge of the Japanese-American Relocation Camps during World War II. He ran the Bureau of Indian Affairs as a dictatorship with the goal of destroying Indian cultures and dismantling Indian reservations so that their resources could be developed by private, non-Indian, corporations. He viewed the existence of Indian cultures as “un-American” and a force that weakened the fabric of American society. Indians, according to Meyer, were helpless and unable to elevate themselves into the non-Indian world of mainstream America. From an Indian viewpoint, he was one of the worst, and perhaps the worst, Commissioner of Indian Affairs ever appointed.

While federal Indian policies during the Meyer regime reflected the larger Cold War and the strong anti-Communist sentiments of the time, Blackfoot tribal chairman George Pambrum would charge:

“The Indian Bureau is now using methods of Communist dictatorship against our people. … Stalin could learn a lot about how to run a dictatorship by watching the Indian Bureau.”

One of the major conflicts between Meyer and the Indian tribes stemmed from their desire to obtain legal counsel. One of his first acts was to issue new rules which required that all attorneys who contracted with the tribes had to have his personal approval. In response to the proposed rules, the Association on American Indian Affairs (1951: 1) editorialized:

“The proposed rules, by interfering with free choice of counsel, collide head-on with the due process guarantee of the Federal Constitution.”

In South Dakota, the Standing Rock Sioux attempted to hire their own attorney, to be paid out of tribal funds, to help in the negotiations regarding lands taken in the Pick-Sloan dam projects. The tribe wanted legal counsel which was totally independent from the politics of the Department of the Interior. However, Commissioner of Indian Affairs Dillon Meyer rejected their choice of an attorney and allowed only a one-year contract.

The attorney selected by the tribe, James Curry, was an outspoken critic of the Bureau of Indian Affairs and was one of a number of Indian claims lawyers against whom Meyer had a personal vendetta. The tribe protested Meyer’s decision to the Department of Interior, but the Department of the Interior did nothing as Meyer continued to publicly attack Curry.

In 1951, Dillon Meyer outlined his new Indian policy at a speech before the National Council of Churches. He announced that the private sector or state governments could better serve the Indian people and the time had come to weaken or dissolve the relationship between Indian tribes and the federal government. He asked that religious groups help Indians to assimilate into American society.

Following his “new” policy, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs notified all tribes that money for hiring private attorneys to represent tribal claims would no longer be available. The Commissioner explained that public money was being wasted on private attorneys when government attorneys could perform the same tasks. In other words, when Indians needed to sue the government, then they would have to use government attorneys, attorneys whose primary responsibility was defending the government against such suits. It was evident that Meyer wanted to take Indian litigation hostage and prevent Indians from having access to the court system.

In Nevada, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs denied the Pyramid Lake Paiute the right to hire their own attorney in settling a claim for disputed land on their reservation. Paiute tribal chairman Avery Winnemucca and a three-member delegation traveled to Washington, D.C. to demand a hearing with the Secretary of the Interior. They failed to see the Secretary and to gain support for their cause.

In 1951, the Standing Rock Sioux sent a delegation to Washington to obtain a hearing about their choice in an attorney to represent their interests. For 26 days the delegation camped out in the office of the Secretary of the Interior, lobbied in Congress, and gave interviews to the news media to present their case. Finally, the Secretary of the Interior overruled the Meyer’s decision about the tribe’s contract with the attorney of their choice. This was seen as a victory not only for the Standing Rock Sioux, but for all Indians. It appeared that Indian tribes would have the right to select their own attorneys and to make contracts on their own terms. However, Dillon Meyer managed to circumvent the decision of the Secretary of the Interior by refusing to allow the tribe to spend more than $300 per year for the attorney’s services. It should be pointed out that the money which was used for tribal attorneys was not from federal funds, but from tribal funds: money which they had obtained from leases and other tribal enterprises.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1952 abandoned the Indian reorganization program started in 1934 and set out with enthusiasm to take the government out of the Indian business. The BIA intended to destroy bilateral United States-Indian treaties and to end the government’s commitment to its trusteeship obligations. With no legislative authority, Dillon Meyer made an offer to all Indian tribes to end their federal relationships. In the annual report of the Bureau of Indian Affairs, Meyer wrote:

“If any Indian tribe is convinced that the Bureau of Indians Affairs is a handicap to its advancement, I am willing to recommend to the Secretary of Interior that we cooperate in securing legislative authority to terminate the Department’s trusteeship responsibility to that tribe.”

Like many of the nineteenth and early twentieth century Commissioners of Indian Affairs, Meyer had little understanding of the needs and desires of Indian people or any concern over their culture and well-being.

In 1952, federal representatives from the Army Corps of Engineers and the Bureau of Indian Affairs met with the Standing Rock Sioux and the Cheyenne River Sioux to seek an agreement over lands taken from them under the Pick-Sloan dam projects on the Missouri River. The Standing Rock Sioux asked that they be allowed to spend $500 to have their attorney attend the conference with them. Dillon Meyer refused the request, calling it a “highjacking game.” The Secretary of the Interior, however, overruled Meyer’s decision.

Dillon Meyer’s lack of concern for the legal rights of Indians can be seen again in 1952 when he has a bill introduced to Congress which would authorize BIA law enforcement officers to carry arms, to make arrests, and to engage in searches and seizures for alleged violations of BIA regulations, both on and off the reservation. The proposed bill makes it clear that insofar as Fourth Amendment search-and-seizure rights were concerned, Indians had only a tenuous claim to these constitutional protections. The bill failed to pass.

The BIA also petitioned Congress for blanket authority to terminate trusteeship of land, to veto any tribal expenditures, and to remove tax-exempt status from Indian Country. The BIA also asked that the BIA be exempt from any review or correction in the courts. In other words, Dillon Meyer wanted his friends in Congress to put his agency above the law.

The Commissioner of Indian Affairs is a political appointment and with a new President in 1953, Glenn Emmons was appointed to the position. Emmons, who was from New Mexico, was a staunch supporter of Indian termination. His appointment was supported by the Navajo tribal council. While the conflict of legal representation calmed down somewhat under Emmons, the push by the federal government to get rid of any federal obligations toward Indian nations continued. The BIA continued to obstruct tribal contracts for legal services.


American Indians and European Diseases

There were an estimated 18 million Native Americans living north of Mexico at the beginning of the European invasion. Prior to the arrival of the Europeans, American Indians were remarkably free of serious diseases. People did not often die from diseases. As the European explorers and colonists began to arrive, this changed and the consequences were disastrous for Native American people. The death tolls from the newly introduced European diseases often reached 80-90 percent. Entire groups of people vanished on the tidal wave of disease.  

Aboriginal Health:

If we were to compare the overall health of American Indians in North America with that of Europeans in 1500, we would find that Indians were generally healthier. There are a number of reasons for this.

First, Indians had better diets and they were less likely to face starvation and hunger. The first Europeans to reach North America often commented on the large stature of the Indians. American Indians were larger than the Europeans simply due to better diets. Unlike the Europeans, Indian political leaders did not store their wealth but accumulated prestige by giving food to those in need. No one in an Indian village or an Indian band starved unless all did so.  

Secondly, American Indian populations did not have many of the infectious diseases that were endemic in Europe.  A number of reasons have been suggested for this lack of disease. Some scientists have suggested that Indian people came to this continent through the cold, harsh climate of the north and that this acted as a germ filter which screened out infectious diseases. Others have suggested that Indians were disease-free because of the lack of domesticated animals. Measles, smallpox, and influenza are among the diseases which are closely associated with domesticated animals. Lacking large domesticated animals, there were comparatively few opportunities in this hemisphere for the transfer of infections from animal reservoirs of disease to human beings.

European Diseases:

The diseases brought to this continent by the Europeans included bubonic plague, chicken pox, pneumonic plague, cholera, diphtheria, influenza, measles, scarlet fever, smallpox, typhus, tuberculosis, and whooping cough. The diseases introduced in the Americas by the Europeans were crowd diseases: that is, individuals who have once contracted the disease and survived become immune to the disease. In a small population, the disease will become extinct. Measles, for instance, requires a population of about 300,000 to survive. If the population size drops below this threshold, the virus can cause illness and death, but after one epidemic, the virus itself dies out.

Overall, hundreds of thousands of Indians died of European diseases during the first two centuries following contact. In terms of death tolls, smallpox killed the greatest number of Indians, followed by measles, influenza, and bubonic plague.


The most deadly European disease was smallpox, a disease almost unknown in today’s world but common prior to the twentieth century. Smallpox is caused by a virus that may be airborne or spread by direct contact. There are three forms of smallpox: (1) Variola major which is quite virulent; (2) Variola minor which is comparatively mild; and (3) Variola vaccinae which is also known as cowpox. An attack of any one of these forms will provide immunity against the other two.

Children resist the smallpox virus better than teenagers or adults. In a larger population, smallpox is a constant. Since nearly all children contract some form of smallpox, this means that adults have had the disease and are immune. Smallpox thus becomes a childhood disease with relatively low mortality.

When smallpox strikes a virgin population, such as the Native Americans, the initial death toll is quite high, particularly among adults and elders. As a result a great deal of cultural knowledge, such as how to conduct certain ceremonies, is lost.

Smallpox is a crowd disease. Once it strikes a low density population it soon becomes extinct in that population as it does not have enough hosts. Thus, in American Indian populations, smallpox would strike, the population would plummet, and the disease would die out. The population would begin to recover and about a generation later, smallpox would strike again.

Smallpox first struck American Indians in what is now the United States after 1520. It was not uncommon for Native people to encounter the deadly European diseases long before they encountered European people. For thousands of years, Native American trade routes interconnected the many diverse cultures on this continent. The new European diseases simply followed these trade routes, carried by both the traders and their goods. The smallpox virus can live in cloth, particularly cotton cloth, for many years.

The European diseases devastated many nations and consequently European explorers, particularly in the southeast and northeast, frequently reported finding empty villages and fields. From these reports came the common misconception that North America was only sparsely populated by Indians.  In the Southeast, the Muskogee (Creek) population has been estimated at two hundred thousand before the Europeans arrived on the continent. It had declined to about twenty thousand by the time Europeans actually visited their villages.

Traditional Native American curing techniques were not effective against smallpox and many of the other European diseases. One of the primary ways of dealing with disease among most of the tribes was the sweat bath which actually increased Indian mortality from febrile diseases such as smallpox, measles, and chickenpox.

In most of the American Indian cultures, healing was a part of their religious ceremonies. When their ceremonies failed to cure the new European diseases the faith in the traditional Indian spiritual ways was also damaged. This in turn provided an opening for the Christian missionaries who were immune to the disease. Since Christians didn’t seem to die from smallpox, some Indians began to reason, then it must be the power of their religion that saved them.

Smallpox Inoculations/Vaccinations:

The practice of inoculating people against smallpox was present in India in the eight century and in China by the tenth century. By the seventeenth century the idea had spread to Turkey. By the early 1700s, Europeans understood how smallpox was transmitted and had begun inoculation programs to prevent the disease. In North America, doctors in Boston and in Charlestown began such programs about 1721.

By 1800, the United States had begun smallpox vaccination programs for Indians. In 1802, for example, Indian chiefs visiting Washington D.C. were vaccinated against smallpox using a vaccine that President Jefferson had cultured. In 1804 the Corps of Discovery under the leadership of Meriwether Lewis and William Clark carried with them smallpox vaccine so that they could inoculate the tribes they encountered on their journey to the Pacific Ocean. Unfortunately, the vaccine was ruined soon after they left St. Louis.

In 1832, Congress appropriated $12,000 to vaccinate Indians against smallpox. The Secretary of War was to be in charge of the vaccinations. It was estimated that the appropriated funds were sufficient to vaccinate two-thirds of the country’s Indians. However, the Secretary of War notified the Indian agent for the upper Missouri that no tribes upstream from the Arikara were to be vaccinated. It was felt that the spread of smallpox to the tribes of the Northern Plains, such as the Blackfoot, would aid American military efforts against these groups.

Four years later, the United States Army provided the Mandan with smallpox infected blankets. As a result, the Mandan were almost exterminated. The Mandan, an agricultural people who lived in permanent villages, were key trading partners with the buffalo-hunting nomadic tribes of the Northern Plains. Smallpox soon moved into the Assiniboine in Montana and Saskatchewan. It is estimated that it killed 4,000 of the estimated 10,000 Assiniboine.

The following year, in 1837, the American Fur Company steamboat St. Peters spread smallpox among the tribes of the Upper Missouri. While smallpox infected many of the people on the St. Peters, the captain refused to quarantine the crew and passengers because he did not want to create any delays in the schedule. The epidemic killed at least 17,000 Indian people.

In North Dakota, one of the traders at Fort Union came down with smallpox. The clerk, Charles Larpenteur, understood that the disease posed a great peril to the Assiniboine when they returned to trade in the fall. Therefore, all of the personnel at the post who had not had smallpox were inoculated. Using a medical book as a guide, they scraped pus from a ripened smallpox blister. They then made tiny cuts on the inoculees’ arms, dipped the tip of the lancet in the vial of pus, and rubbed a small amount of pus on the wound. Smallpox, however, still struck the Assiniboine and two-thirds died. Of the 250 lodges at Fort Union, only 30 survived.

The epidemic quickly spread west to the Blackfoot in Montana where it killed 50 percent of the southern bands of the tribe. While most historians claim that the St. Peters spread smallpox unintentionally, many Blackfoot feel that the disease was deliberately spread by the United States.

Smallpox was not eradicated among American Indians until the twentieth century. The last major smallpox epidemic among an American Indian tribe was in 1921 when the disease struck the Indians living in the Pit River, California area. The impact of the epidemic was increased by starvation and lack of medical care. Congress was slow in reacting to this healthcare concern: in 1928, prompted by complaints about the failure of Indian health care in dealing with the smallpox epidemic, Congress launched an investigation into charges of willful neglect. By ignoring the impact of poverty and starvation and its relation to general health conditions, the government shifted attention from its failings by stepping up attacks on shamans and blaming their influences for poor sanitary conditions.

European Views:

The early Europeans were aware that diseases were devastating the American Indian communities. In New England many of the English colonists saw the diseases as evidence of God’s plan for them to settle the area. Regarding the smallpox epidemic of 1633 which killed many Massachusett and Pawtucket, the English governor commented that the disease “cleared our title to this place.”

Many Europeans, both Spanish and English, see the devastating diseases as evidence of God’s wrath directed toward the Indians and evidence of the sinful life of the Indians. Many Protestants, particularly Calvinists, viewed disease as a divine punishment for sin. Since American Indians were heathens-the greatest sin of all-it was natural that God should destroy them with smallpox. Similarly, the Catholic priests in California attributed diseases such as smallpox to tribal sin, especially the cardinal sin of refusing to believe in Christ.

However, there were some Spanish priests who felt that the diseases which were devastating Indian populations were an indication of God’s wrath against the Spanish colonists. They see the depopulation of the Indian communities as depriving the Spanish of their labor force.

Syphilis carried from America to Europeans?:

At one time it was commonly assumed that syphilis originated in the Americas and was initially brought back to Europe by the first Spanish sailors. This assumption was based on the fact that the disease first began to be reported in Europe shortly after Columbus returned from his first voyage to the Americas. However, the archaeological record, in the form of burials in England, has disproved this assumption. At Hull, four skeletons of individuals who had died in the mid-fifteenth century show fully developed tertiary syphilis. This is evidence that the disease was already well established in Europe at least a half a century before Columbus set sail.