Indian Rebellions at the California Missions

While it is not uncommon for some textbooks to give the impression that the California Native Americans passively accepted the missions, Spanish domination, and conversion to Christianity, this was not the case. In fact, the initial reception of the Franciscans by the California Indians was anything but hospitable. Resistance to the Spanish Franciscans was organized by village chiefs and influential shamans and this resistance was expressed through attacks on both the Spanish soldiers and the Franciscan missionaries. During the first years of the Franciscan mission program the overt hostility of the Indians slowed the rate of the establishment of the new missions and created a reliance on soldiers to protect the Franciscans.

By Spanish law the process of converting Indians into Christians was to take ten years and was to involve four stages: (1) misión (mission) which was to include initial contact and the explanation of the importance of God and the King, (2) reducción (reduction) which was to reduce the Indians’ territory by bringing them into a segregated community centered around a church, (3) doctrina (doctrine) in which the Indians would receive instructions on the finer points of Christianity, and (4) curato (curacy) in which the Indians would become tax-paying citizens.

In 1771, Spanish Franciscans founded the San Gabriel Mission in the Los Angeles basin. The new mission was given the name La Misión del Santo Príncipe El Arcángel, San Gabriel de Los Temblores. Shortly after the mission was established, it was attacked by Indians. The two attacks were triggered by the rape of a Kumi.vit woman by the soldiers who were assigned to protect the Franciscans. One chief was killed and the Spanish soldiers placed his head on a pole as an example to other Indians who might wish to rebel against Spanish authority.

In 1769, the Spanish Franciscans established La Misión San Diego de Alcalá in the homeland of the Kumeyaay Indians. In 1775, the Kumeyaay revolted, burned the mission and killed one of the priests.

Fearing reprisals from the nearby Spanish presidio, the attackers quickly fled into the interior, taking with them some booty in the form of clothing, trinkets, and religious icons. Spanish troops were called out to capture the ringleaders.

The Spanish priests blamed Satan for the uprising against the San Diego Mission. Father Francisco Palóu wrote:  “The enemy, [Satan] envious and resentful, no doubt because the heathen in that territory were being taken away from him, and because the missionaries, with their fervent zeal and apostolic labors, were steadily lessening his following, and little by little banishing heathenism from the neighborhood of the port of San Diego, found a means to put a stop to these spiritual conquests.”

From an Indian perspective, the rebellion against the oppression of the Spanish mission was the result of forced labor and the rape of several Kumeyaay women. The Indians viewed the Spanish priests as shamans and held them responsible for the disease and misfortune which was befalling them. Thus, the killing of the priest—an evil shaman in the eyes of the Indians—and the removal of sacred objects from the mission was a way of cleansing the land of the spiritual evil that was growing on it.

Spanish investigation revealed that at least fifteen villages took part in the rebellion, including several so-called Christian villages. Leaders of the insurrection were identified as Oroche of Macate, Francisco of Cullamac, Rafael of Janat, and Ysquitil of Abusquel.

In 1776, the Spanish Franciscans selected a number of Ohlone and Costanoan Indians to be flogged and threatened with execution. The action was intended to stop any resistance to their missionary activities.

In that same year, Indians attacked the San Luis Obispo Mission and set fire to the roofs of the buildings.

In 1785, Toypurina (Gabrielino) convinced Indians from six villages to participate in a revolt against the San Gabriel Mission. Toypurina was a medicine woman who was considered to have supernatural powers. At the attack on the Mission, she killed people with her magic, but the priests and soldiers had been warned and the insurgents were arrested. At her trial, Toypurina denounced the Spanish for trespassing on and destroying Indian lands. Another Indian leader, Nicolas Jose, spoke out against the Spanish prohibition of traditional Indian ceremonies. Most of the Indians were sentenced to 20 lashes and Toypurina was deported to the San Carlos Mission. The public flogging of the Indians involved in this revolt was a ritual designed to restore Spanish domination, a common practice throughout Spanish America.

The Mission Indians often rebelled against the Franciscan missionaries with their feet: they ran away from captivity. In 1795, over 200 Costanoan staged a mass escape from Mission Dolores and 280 Indian “converts” fled from the San Francisco Mission.  The following year, another 200 Indians fled from the San Francisco mission. In 1798, 138 Indian “converts” fled from the Santa Cruz Mission. In 1805, 200 Indian “converts” fled from the San Juan Bautista Mission.

In 1811, Nazario, a Mission Indian cook at the San Diego Mission, was subject to 124 lashes. He then poisoned one of the priests. Since the Indians often viewed the Franciscan missionaries as powerful shamans or witches, it was appropriate in Indian culture to poison them as this was the traditional Indian way of dealing with such people.

In 1812, a group of Indian converts at the Santa Cruz mission murdered a Franciscan missionary because of his plans to punish Indians with a cat-o’-nine-tails with barbed metal on the ends of the leather straps.

In 1824 the Chumash at the La Purísima Mission revolted against the ill treatment and forced labor imposed by the priests and soldiers. The revolt was sparked by the routine beating of an Indian at the Santa Ynez mission.

A force of 2,000 Indians captured La Purísima and were soon bolstered by Indians from Santa Ynez and San Fernando. For more than a month, the Indians who occupied the La Purísima and Santa Ynez missions were able to resist Spanish military attempts to restore order.

The news of the revolt soon reached Santa Barbara and the Indians attacked the soldiers, sacked the mission, and then retreated to the back country.

The Spanish recaptured the missions after four months. The four leaders of the revolt – Mariano, Pacomio, Benito, and Bernarde – were sentenced to 10 years of chain-gang labor.

Another factor in the revolt was the appearance of a twin-tailed comet in the night sky. According to traditional Chumash beliefs, such a sign foretells of great changes which are about to happen.

In 1828, Mission Indians, under the leadership of Yokuts chiefs Estanislao (Stanislaus) and Cipriano, revolted against the Mexicans in the San Joaquin Valley. Among those joining the revolt were refugees from the Santa Cruz, San José, and San Juan Bautista Missions. Estanislao established a fortified village which was ringed with deep trenches. The Indians were successful in repelling three counterattacks by the Mexican army.

In 1829, Mexican troops attacked Estanislao’s stronghold. After several hours of intense fighting, the Mexicans breached the stockade using canon fire. They then retreated for the night. In the morning, the Mexicans found the Indian camp deserted. Thinking that Estanislao and his rebels had fled to another stockaded village about 10 miles away, the Mexicans attacked the village. They set fire to the stockade and shot all who tried to escape. They found that Estanislao was not among the dead.

Estanislao secretly returned to the Mission San José and asked the priest for a pardon. The priest agreed that he could return to the mission if he promised never to raid again.

In 1830, Christian Indians under the leadership of Francisco Jímenez, the Indian alcalde of the Mission San José, attempted to capture some Indians who had run away from the mission and were living with the Ochejamne Miwok. The Miwok repelled the invaders. Jímenez then recruited the aid of some American trappers, including Kit Carson, who fought the Miwok for an entire day, killing many Indians, and burning the village. They took some captives back to the mission.

Later the Sierra Miwok captured about 60 horses from the American trappers. Kit Carson and others chased the Miwok for over 100 miles into the Sierras. They attacked the Miwok camp, killing eight and taking three children captive. They recaptured most of their horses.

In 1833, American fur trappers found a village of Spanish-speaking Chumash living near Walker Pass. This group of Indians were renegades who fled from the Spanish missions during the 1824 revolt. They were raising corn and had horses.

In 1834, the Mexican government secularized the California missions. Mission properties were sold or were given to soldiers who had fought against Spain in the revolution.


Hohokam Platform Mounts

About 2,000 years ago, in what has seemed to some people the inhospitable desert of Central Arizona, Indian people developed a farming culture which utilized extensive irrigation systems. As farmers they raised corn (maize), tepary beans, grain amaranth, agave, and little barley. This ancient culture, called Hohokam by archaeologists, is considered ancestral to the O’odham peoples.

Hohokam history is generally divided into two major periods: Preclassic (from about 200 to 1150 CE) and Classic (from about 1150 to 1450 CE). The Preclassic Period is characterized by clusters of small villages along the canal systems and the construction of ball courts.

Sometime after 1100 CE, the Hohokam ball courts seemed to be less important and the people began constructing platform mounds. These platform mounds took on greater importance and between 1250 and 1350 they grew dramatically in size. During this time, the platform mounds would be composed of thousands of cubic feet of fill. The construction of these mounds required community labor on a massive scale. Some archaeologists have calculated that construction of the larger mounds may have required 50,000 person-hours.

Most of the platform mounds—more than 120 have been identified—were constructed in the Phoenix Basin. The mounds were often built within an adobe compound and some of them are over 3.5 meters (12 feet) high. On top of the mounds there were as many as 30 rooms.

While the ball courts of the early period were open and seemed to encourage spectators, the platform mounds have limited access. This seems to suggest a major change in Hohokam social organization. Archaeologist Brian Fagan, in his book Elixer: A History of Water and Humankind, writes:  “It is as if Hohokam society became more hierarchical, with only a few individuals having access to the precincts within the enclosures.”

The construction of the platform mounds seems to suggest a change from a relatively egalitarian society to a more stratified society, a society in which an elite group was setting itself apart from other people. The platform mounds seem to be associated with elite activities.

The shift from ball courts to platform mounds suggests that there was a change in religion, in the nature of the Hohokam’s relationships with the supernatural. While the ball courts were built into the ground, the platform mounds seem to reach for the sky. Brian Fagan writes:  “It was as if a few members of society elevated themselves in both material and spiritual terms above everyone else, whereas in earlier times the relationship between the living and the ancestors, with the underworld where humans originated, had been more important. Now, perhaps, the close spiritual relationships were between a few individuals with unusual powers and the water deities of the supernatural realm.”

After 1400, many of the Hohokam towns were abandoned. This may be due to a combination of environmental factors (including the build-up of salt in the soil from irrigation) and civil warfare. According to Gregory Schaaf, the director of the Center for Indigenous Arts and Culture, in his book Ancient Ancestors of the Southwest:  “Pima oral history tradition describes how elite Hohokam leaders became oppressive and locals drove them back to the south, as part of a liberation movement.”

At the beginning of this decline, the population of the Phoenix basin is estimated at 40-50,000. During the next 200 years, it will drop to 5,000.


The Lame Cow War

In the 1840s a massive migration of non-Indians began in which long wagon trains would cross the Great Plains bringing new settlers into Utah, Oregon, and California. The people in the wagon trains were generally oblivious to the fact that they were trespassing on Indian land and using Indian resources. As they crossed the Plains, their oxen, cattle, and horses grazed on the grass, depleting the resources needed for Indian horses and for the bison on which Plains Indian lives depended. Many of the non-Indians viewed Indians as a part of the wildlife, like coyotes and wolves, destined to be exterminated before the relentless push of Manifest Destiny. The Indians, on the other hand, viewed the intruders as thieves stealing grass and game.

In 1845, Joel Palmer, who was leading a wagon train to Oregon, met with a group of about 100 Oglala Sioux at Fort Laramie, Wyoming. One Sioux leader, whose name was not recorded, told Palmer:  “This country belongs to the red man, but his white brethren travels through, shooting the game and scaring it away. Thus the Indian loses all that he depends upon to support his wife and children. The children of the red man cry out for food, but there is no food.”

Ignoring the fact that the Indians had just pointed out that wagons trains like his were stealing from the Indians, Palmer informed them that they were compelled to pass through Indian territory on their way to the coast.

In 1850, the U.S. Army at Fort Laramie tallied the wagon trains that passed through. They counted: 7,472 mules, 30,616 oxen, 22,742 horses, 8,998 wagons, and 5,270 cows. All of these animals were, of course, eating Indian grass for which the tribes were never reimbursed. With regard to the buffalo, generally regarded as a primary food source for Plains Indians, the hunters from the wagon trains would shot buffalo regularly, taking only the choice cuts of meat and leaving the rest for the wolves, coyotes, and buzzards. Unlike the Indians, they had no interest in preserving any meat for future use.

In 1854, a Mormon wagon-train was crossing Wyoming on its way to Utah when it abandoned a lame cow. When a hunting party of Sioux came across the cow on what they felt was their land, they killed it for food. Chief Pretty Voice Eagle explained it this way:  “They had with them a cow which was lame, and they left it. The Indians thought they had thrown it away, and killed it. We killed this cow not for subsistence but because it was lame and we felt sorry for it.”

When the Mormons complained about the killing of the cow, the Indians offered them a horse worth double the cow as a trade, but the Mormons refused and later filed a formal complaint with the army. A young army officer and 20 troops, described by Father De Smet as “armed to the teeth and with a cannon loaded with grapeshot,” were sent out to bring back the Indian responsible for killing the cow. According to Lakota Sioux writer Charles Eastman, in his book Indian Heroes and Great Chieftains: “It would seem that either the officer was under the influence of liquor, or else had a mind to bully the Indians, for he would accept neither explanation or payment, but demanded point-blank that the young men who had killed the cow be delivered up to summary punishment.”

The officer then fired his cannon into the Indians, killing chief Conquering Bear and a number of men. The Indians defended themselves and the army unit was annihilated. The non-Indian press declared that a state of war existed with the Sioux and called for reinforcements. The focus was not on justice, but on retaliation and punishment. Father DeSmet, the Belgian-born Jesuit who spent 32 years among the Indians and often aided the Americans in holding Indian councils, wrote that a lame cow was   “the origin of a fresh war of extermination upon the Indians which is to be carried out in the course of the present year.”

George W. Manypenny, the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, felt that the whole incident could have been avoided if Indian funds had been used to pay for the cow. In his annual report, Manypenny noted:  “No officer of the military department was in my opinion authorized to arrest or try the Indian for the offense charged against him.”

Mannypenny, while the government official responsible for Indian Affairs, expressed no concern over the depletion of Indian resources nor did he suggest that Indians be compensated for these losses.


Indians and Cancer

In general, American Indians and Alaska Natives appear to have lower rates of cancer than other American groups. However, the death rates among those who have cancer tend to be higher. Among Native Americans, cancer is the third leading cause of death among all age groups and the second leading cause of death among those over 45 years of age.

The Center for Disease Control summarizes the situation this way: “Unique circumstances of culture, location, history, and health care produce unique patterns of cancer occurrence among American Indians and Alaska Natives (AI/AN) in the United States. Many AI/AN live on reservation lands or in remote rural areas, and their primary health care is provided by a tribally operated health program or the Indian Health Service. Rural and urban AI/AN alike experience greater poverty, lower levels of education, and poorer housing conditions than does the general U.S. population.”

In looking at the overall cancer rates among Indians, we should keep in mind a couple of things. First, the reported cancer rates may not be accurate. The Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center notes: “these numbers may be underreported because of past flaws in collecting this information.”

A report from the Yakama Nation: “Information on the exact magnitude of the cancer burden among Native Americans is both incomplete and compromised by significant levels of racial misclassification, underreporting of cancer cases, the reluctance of many Native Americans to provide personal information to researchers or cancer surveillance personnel, and insufficient and underutilized databases, among other problems.”

The rural nature of reservations coupled with the poor, and often culturally insensitive, healthcare facilities mean that cancer screening is less frequently done. It also means that cancer is often not detected at the early, treatable stage, and therefore the survival rate is lower.

For example, Indians over age 50 are less likely than other Americans to have received a colon cancer screening test —such as a fecal occult blood test, colonoscopy or sigmoidoscopy—within the past two years. According to the Indian Health Service, this is due in part because of the lack of resources to perform the routine tests that detect the early warning signs of the disease. Colorectal cancer is highly treatable if caught early enough, but for American Indians it is usually not detected early.

American Indian and Alaska Native women are three times more likely to die of cervical cancer than all other American groups. Once again, this is a cancer that can be treated if found early enough.

American Indians and Alaska Natives are about twice as likely as other groups to have liver cancer and to die from it. There is a correlation between liver cancer and heavy alcohol use, obesity, and diabetes—all conditions which are widespread on the reservations. A number of Indian nations have implemented culturally appropriate programs to deal with alcohol abuse, obesity, and diabetes. The scientific studies have shown that the chances of getting liver cancer are reduced by not smoking, keeping a healthy weight, eating fruits, vegetables and whole grains, exercising regularly, and limiting alcohol consumption. For poor people, a healthy diet is often too expensive.

It has been well-documented that there is a correlation between lung cancer and smoking. While smoking has declined in the United States over the past two decades, American Indians and Alaska Natives are more likely to smoke. At the present time, the smoking rate is estimated at about 31% as compared with about 18% for the general population. Smoking rates tend to be highest in the Northern Plains and in Alaska. Many Indian nations have programs intended to reduce recreational use of tobacco, keeping in mind that tobacco has a long history of spiritual use among Indian people.

In 2002, the President’s Cancer Panel was invited to visit the Yakama Nation in Washington. They reported: “Moving and troubling testimony was received from nearly 40 cancer survivors, family caregivers, physicians and other medical personnel, outreach workers, health care administrators, and cancer researchers. They described in detail an Indian health system hobbled by longstanding, severe underfunding, inadequate infrastructure and staffing, and the maze of complex and arcane requirements of the Indian Health Service (IHS) system. These problems frequently cause needed cancer care to be delayed for months at the patient’s peril—and even denied.”

Solutions to healthcare concerns among American Indians have been suggested since the 1928 Meriam report. Over and over again, it is apparent that part of the solution is inadequate funding. The federal government spends more for prison healthcare than for American Indians. Virtually every report on reservation health conditions calls for more funding and in response Congress tends to cut this funding in the name of austerity.

The second barrier to adequate healthcare on the reservations is cultural insensitivity. The 2002 report from the Yakama Nation:  “Some Native people also hesitate to engage the health care system, particularly providers outside the IHS system, due to cultural and language barriers. Even within the IHS system, many of the available physicians are foreign nationals who are temporary and are unfamiliar with Native American cultures and beliefs. Building a relationship of trust and mutual respect with the health provider is often extremely difficult under these circumstances. In addition, many non-Indian providers are unwilling to include traditional health practices or Native ceremonies in hospitals or in the course of other cancer care even when it is possible to do so without jeopardy to the patient’s treatment.”

Finally, dealing with cancer is a public health issue and this means involving the public. On the reservations this means tailoring the public health message in culturally appropriate ways. The kinds of public service announcements that seem to work for the general public, may not be effective on the reservation. In addition, it should be kept in mind that there is no generic Indian culture, but rather hundreds of distinct Indian cultures. What works on one reservation may not work on others.



Marriage Among Northwest Coast Indians

The family is a social institution that appears to be universal among humans, though the actual form of the family can vary greatly. One of the foundational aspects of family is marriage which involves the commitment of two or more individuals. With regard to a formal definition of marriage, in Culture as Given, Culture as Choice, anthropologist Dirk van der Elst writes:  “It is impossible to make a single, universally applicable definition of marriage. The reason is simple: marriage has many separate functions, so different societies can emphasize different aspects—and hence not mean quite the same thing by the term.”

For thousands of years prior to the European invasion, Native American people lived along the northern Pacific coast between the Cascade Mountains and the ocean. Here they developed complex cultures characterized by permanent villages and social stratification (that is, there were social classes, including ruling families). As with other peoples around the world, their marriage customs reflected the other aspects of their cultures.

To understand marriage among the First Nations of the Northwest Coast, we must start with the concept of the family. While Europeans have been obsessed with the nuclear family—that is, a family composed of a man and a woman and their children—and feel that this is the foundation of human society, this type of family had little importance for the Northwest Coast Indians.  For the Indian people in this region, family was about a type of extended family known as a clan.

Clans are named extended family units—that is, they include relatives which Europeans call aunts, uncles, cousin, grandparents, and so on—which often are corporate in nature (that is, they will have a formal leader and possess property) and are usually exogamous (requiring marriage outside of the clan). Among the Indian nations of the Northwest Coast, clans were traditionally the most important element of their social organization.

In the traditional pre-European villages each of the houses within the village was associated with an extended clan and each clan had certain privileges, which included fishing, hunting, and gathering rights as well as ceremonial rights (such as ownership of songs and dances).

On the northern part of the coast, among the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian, descent is matrilineal. This means that people belong to the same clan or lineage as their mother. Thus, a village leader’s position would be inherited by his nephew (his sister’s son) rather than by his own son.

Marriage was often a clan concern rather than an individual concern. Marriage united clans and formed the basis for economic and political alliances. Since marriages created alliances between houses and clans, they tended to be arranged by the families with an eye toward lasting political and social consequences. Spouses were expected to be social equals. The actual wedding was celebrated with a potlatch.

Among the Nisg’a (Tsimshian), royalty were expected to marry cross-cousins. A cross-cousin would be the child of the mother’s brother or the father’s sister. In a matrilineal system, this would mean that the cousin would not be in the same clan. Ideally, a royal man would marry his mother’s brother’s daughter, but marrying his father’s sister’s daughter was also a possibility. A royal man could marry a woman, have four children with her, then separate from her, and marry someone else.

Among the Heiltsuk, marriage was called wíná (war) and was always conducted in the style of a war party. The men from the bridegroom’s house would arrive in canoes, feigning an attack. This was the case even when the couple was from the same village. Among the chiefly classes, marriage was usually arranged by the family as it was a means of obtaining status through the transfer of names and the distribution of property. Among commoners, the couple’s wishes were the primary consideration in marriage and less wealth was transferred.

Among the Kwakwaka’wakw’ (Kwakiutl), the marriage of the eldest children of chiefs was very elaborate and was called “taking-care-of-the-great-bringing-out-of-the-crests-marriage.” Some Kwakwaka’wakw’ noble families sought to retain noble privileges by seeking out marriages within the extended family. Anthropologist Franz Boas, in his book Race, Language, and Culture, explains:  “Marriages are permitted between half-brother and half-sister, i.e., between children of one father, but of two mothers, not vice-versa; or, marriages between a man and his younger brother’s daughter, but not with his elder brother’s daughter, who is, of course, of higher rank, being in the line of primo-geniture or least nearer to it.”

Among some of the Northwest Coast cultures, both polygyny (the marriage of one man to two or more women at the same time) and polyandry  (the marriage of one woman to more than one man at the same time) occurred. Among the Tlingit, for example, a woman of high rank often had more than one husband, but these husbands had to belong to the same clan. Polygyny was also found among the wealthy Tlingit. While a man could marry as many women as he could afford, the first wife always outranked all others in the household.



Hohokam Ball Courts

In the desert area of Arizona, an area now occupied by the greater Phoenix metro area, Indian people were farming corn, beans, squash, and cotton more than 2,500 years ago. Called Hohokam by archaeologists, these people developed a system of irrigation that carried water for many miles to their productive fields which yielded two harvests per year.

In the Phoenix Basin, the Hohokam brought some 70,000 acres under cultivation with their elaborate networks of irrigation canals. Along the canals were interdependent villages whose residents shared the work of constructing, maintaining, and managing the canals. In the larger communities there were basin-like structures which archaeologists have identified as ball courts.

Balls courts were an important part of the ancient civilizations of Mesoamerica (Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras), such as the Maya. In Mesoamerica, the ball game which was played on these courts was often a ceremonial event which tied different communities together.

At about 600 CE the archaeological data shows the contact between the Hohokam and the civilizations of Mexico intensified. This marks the beginning of what archaeologists call the Colonial Period. Imports from the civilizations in Mexico at this time include cast copper bells, macaws (which are valued for their feathers), and mirrors made from bits of iron pyrite. Hohokam communities built ball courts between 700 and 1100 C.E.

While the Mesoamerican ball courts were generally built out of stone, in the Arizona desert the Hohokam built theirs by digging into the desert and piling the soil up on either side. Some of the ball courts were 250 feet (76 meters) in length and 90 feet (27 meters) in width. In some instances they were dug up to 9 feet (nearly 3 meters) into the subsoil.

With regard to the nature of the ball game, archaeologist Brian Fagan in his book Elixer: A History of Water and Humankind, writes:  “Quite what form the ball game itself took remains a mystery, but there is no question that it originated in Mexico, where commoners played a version of the contest that required each side to cast a rubber ball back and forth without touching the ground.”

Archaeologists have uncovered rubber balls similar to those used in Mesoamerica at sites in the Southwest. Historical records from Mesoamerica indicate that the ball games were generally the culmination of a period of feasting, trading, and social activities. Thus archaeologists feel that something similar was happening among the Hohokam. Some feel that the ball games were a way of integrating the various interdependent villages with tournaments between teams from different villages.

Some archaeologists feel that the ball games were associated with trading days or trading fairs. Artisans from many different Hohokam communities could come together for a single trading event in which a great variety of goods would be available. Writing in the journal American Antiquity, David Abbott, Alexa Smith, and Emiliano Gallaga write:  “We can imagine Hohokam potters in the middle Gila River valley packing up loads of their wares, walking one or two days to ballcourt events in the lower Salt River valley, while eager buyers anticipated these merchants’ arrival.”

There is some indication that some Hohokam villages specialized in producing some materials. For example, the Hohokam had a site north of Phoenix for the specialized production of manos and metates from a kind of quartz-basalt known as New River andesite. The manos and metates manufactured here were then traded to Hohokam villages and hamlets in other areas. The ball games would have provided a good opportunity for this type of trade.

At the Hohokam sites, archaeologists have observed that the ball courts were oriented in various directions. This seems to suggest that the different ball courts may have been used to celebrate different events in a ceremonial calendar.

The Hohokam managed to create large public works, such as their canal systems and ball courts, but there is no evidence of any ruling elites. The ball game may have integrated the communities, brought together for feasting, dancing, trade, and sport and in so doing reduced the need for social coercion and a ruling class. In 1100, however, they stopped building the ball courts and began building mounds, suggesting a change in their social and religious organization.


The Iroquoian Language Family

The Iroquoian language family, found in the Eastern Woodlands Culture Area, includes the languages of the League of Five Nations (Oneida, Onondaga, Mohawk, Seneca, and Cayuga), Nottoway, Tuscarora, Cherokee, Huron, Susquehannock.  Some linguists feel that this language family may be a part of the larger Macro-Siouan phylum, which indicates a very distant relationship with Siouan.

With regard to the origins of the Iroquoian language family, there are some who feel that Iroquoian had a homeland outside of the Northeast and thus Iroquoian-speakers are intrusive in the region. However, archaeological data at the present time does not support this hypothesis.

Some linguists feel that Iroquoian has been spoken in the area of central New York state and north-central Pennsylvania for at least four millennia. From here, they suggest, there were migrations first to the south and then to the north and immediate west.

Historical linguists have long noted that some parts of language tend to change faster and earlier than others, while other parts of language tend to resist change. Using a standard word list chosen from the most resistant vocabulary, linguists are able to compare languages within the same language family to determine how long ago two languages shared a common ancestor, how long ago they separated from each other. This process is called glottochronology.

Glottochronology suggests that Southern Iroquoian (Cherokee) broke off about 1800 BCE. Linguist Michael Foster, in a chapter in the Handbook of North American Indians, writes that  “the divergence between Northern and Southern Iroquoian is probably somewhat greater than that between any of the languages of the Germanic or the Romance families, but not so great as that between languages belonging to the separate branches of Indo-European.”

While the Tuscarora were located geographically close to the Cherokee, their language is actually Northern Iroquois. Glottochronology suggests that Tuscarora separated from the Five Nations’ languages about 400 BCE.

Within the northern division of Iroquoian, Onandaga, Cayuga, and Seneca broke off from Mohawk and Oneida between 1,000 and 1,500 years ago. The relationship between Mohawk and Oneida is fairly close with a great deal of mutual intelligibility between the two languages.

With regard to the division of Iroquoian into distinct languages, linguist Blair Rudes, writing in Anthropological Linguistics, reports:  “Among Northern Iroquoian languages, it is fairly certain that the earliest division involved a dialect group comprising the ancestors of the Tuscarora and Nottoway.”

Next came the splitting off of Cayuga and the Wendat languages (Huron and Wyandot). This was followed by the Seneca, then the Onondaga, and then the Oneida and Mohawk.

In the northeastern culture area, Iroquoian and Algonquian people lived next to each other, they traded, they fought, and they intermarried. With regard to language, there was relatively little borrowing between the two language families.

Linguists consider the Iroquoian languages to be polysynthetic, fusional, and incorporating. Floyd Lounsbury, in his chapter on Iroquoian languages in the Handbook of North American Indians,  explains:  “That is to say, words may be made up of a great many component parts, whose relative order is strictly determined; these parts are variable in their phonetic forms (adjusting to variable contexts) and are unintelligible and without meaning if taken out of proper context; and verb forms may incorporate noun roots—as direct objects with transitive verb roots, and as subjects with intransitive verb roots—as well as incorporating subject and object pronominal preference.”

As with other American Indian groups, the Iroquoian-speakers took pride in good oratory. The Iroquoian people appreciated and cultivated skillful language use, particularly in political and ceremonial oratory. Story-telling and snappy repartees were highly regarded skills.

While most American Indian languages did not develop writing, the Cherokee—the most southern branch of the Iroquoian language family—not only developed their own writing system, they also had a higher rate of literacy than their English-speaking neighbors.

In 1821, Sequoia (also spelled Sequoya) developed a syllabary of 86 characters for Cherokee which made it possible for Cherokee to become a written language. Sequoia neither spoke nor read English, but he had seen the English alphabet and so took many of these letters to represent Cherokee sounds. There is, however, no correspondence between the sounds represented in the two languages. The letter D, for example, is pronounced a in Cherokee.

The Sequoia syllabary made it possible for a Cherokee speaker to quickly learn to read and write in Cherokee. It is said that Sequoia could begin teaching his syllabary in the morning and by sundown his students would be literate in Cherokee. Linguist Kenneth Katzner, in his book The Languages of the World, writes:  “That an unlettered hunter and craftsman could complete a task now undertaken only by highly trained linguists must surely rank as one of the most impressive intellectual feats achieved by a single man.”


In 1722, Samuel Shuttle, the governor of Massachusetts, declared total war on the Abenaki. Part of the concern of the English colonists was the presence of Jesuits among the Abenaki. The colonial Puritans were vehemently anti-Catholic and particularly anti-Jesuit. Father Sebastian Rasles had strongly encouraged the Abenaki to defend their lands and themselves against the English colonists.

The English colonists viewed North America as a vast wilderness, ignoring the fact that the park-like environment they encountered was, in fact, carefully managed by Native Americans. They viewed the Indians as savage nomads, ignoring the fact that Native agriculture had fed them; ignoring the fact that Indian people lived in permanent villages and raised a variety of crops. The English felt that it was their God-given duty to “tame” the wilderness by exterminating all animals they didn’t like and for this reason they encouraged the killing of coyotes, wolves, and, of course, Indians.

To encourage the killing of these “wild” and “dangerous” animals, the colonial government established a bounty system. To get paid the bounty, hunters had to provide proof of the kill: for this they submitted coyote skins, wolf skins, and red skins (usually the scalps or heads of the Indians they had killed). Some colonists earned their livings through bounties.

In January 1725, Captain John Lovewell organized a militia group to hunt Indians. With the bounty set at £100, Lovewell and his militia members saw killing Indians for the bounty as a way to get rich. In his book The Forgotten America, Cormac O’Brien describes Lovewell’s decision to hunt Indians this way: “A farmer with little to do in the winter but fight off boredom, he decided to raise a company of volunteers, go off into the woods, and cash in on the government’s offer of scalp money.”

The group set out to attack the Abenaki village of Pigwacket (near present-day Fryeburg, Maine), but they changed plans when they came across the tracks of an Indian party heading south. They followed the tracks and came across and Indian camp.

At about 2:00 AM on February 20, the sixty-two English bounty-hunters formed a semi-circle around the sleeping camp. Lovewell fired first and the others followed. One surviving Abenaki man jumped up and began to run and the English set their attack dogs on him. The English stormed the camp, clubbing to death any who had survived the volley of bullets and then scalping all of them. They then took the Abenaki guns (which were of French manufacture and considered quite valuable) and other souvenirs.

When the militia arrived in Boston, they proudly displayed ten scalps which they hoisted on poles for all to see. They were greeted as heroes. They were paid £1,000 by the General Court and they sold their booty for another £70. At this time, this was a lot of money.

Having found bounty hunting for “red skins,” Lovewell decided to raise yet another militia and to enrich himself even further. By spring, Lovewell had signed up 46 men for another bounty expedition hunting Indians for profit and fun. Among those who joined the expedition was Jonathan Fry, a twenty-year-old graduate of the Harvard Divinity School. Fry was to be the group’s chaplain, seeking God’s help in their slaughter of Indians.

Once again, the initial target was the Abenaki village of Pigwacket which was believed to be friendly to the hated Catholic Jesuits. They set out in April, in good weather. On Sunday, May 9, just a short distance from an Indian village, Fry called the men together for a prayer service. The service, however, was interrupted by a gunshot. The English rushed to the shore of a pond where they saw a lone Indian hunting ducks.

Lovewell told his men to leave their blankets and gear so that they could move in quickly to kill the Indian. They quickly surprised the hunter who was carrying some dead ducks and two muskets. The hunter fired one of the muskets, which had been loaded with shot for duck hunting, and wounded two of the English militia. Fry and another man returned fire, killing the hunter. Fry, the group’s chaplain, then scalped him so that he could claim the bounty.

While the English were busy killing and scalping the Abenaki duck hunter, a party of Abenaki under the leadership of Paugus, a Mohawk who had become an Abenaki war leader, were in canoes. When they heard the gunfire, they put ashore and happened to find the English camp. They concealed themselves and waited for the English to return.

The English returned to their camp, basking in the victory over the lone hunter. As they became aware of the fact that their blankets and gear were missing, the Abenaki opened fire. As the battle raged, the surviving English took refuge on a small peninsula on the pond. From here their accurate rifle fire could hold off the Abenaki.

Among those killed in the battle were the English leader Lovewell, the Abenaki leader Paugus, and the Abenaki spiritual leader Wahwah. Twenty of the English bounty hunters survived.

The Battle of Saco Pond, as it was later called, became glorified in American history and literature. In 1820, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow wrote “The Battle of Lovewell’s Pond” and in 1824, the Reverend Thomas Cogswell wrote “Song of Lovewell’s Fight.” In the histories and in the literature glorifying the battle, however, the initial cause—hunting Indians for their bounty—was generally omitted.