The Utes, the Spanish, and Silver

The Ute Indians, for whom the state of Utah is named, had an aboriginal homeland which included much of the present-day states of Colorado and Utah as well as portions of New Mexico and Arizona. The Utes were never a single, politically unified tribe, but were made up of about a dozen politically autonomous bands. The Utes first became aware of the European invasion in the seventeenth century when they began to acquire trade items from the Spanish in New Mexico.

The Spanish moved into New Mexico after their conquest of Mexico and Peru, where they had discovered great wealth in the form of gold and silver. As they moved north, they continued to look for gold and silver and to pursue any rumors about these precious metals.

In 1765, Don Juan María Antonio de Rivera was commissioned to lead an exploring expedition to search for silver deposits in the mountains north of Santa Fe and to verify the existence of the Colorado River and its canyons. The Spanish had heard stories from the Ute about silver deposits and in one instance a Ute man had brought a lump of virgin silver ore to the blacksmith at Abiquiú.

Since the Ute were sensitive to the appearance of Spanish military, the expedition had no armed escort and disguised themselves as traders.

On his first entrada, Rivera followed a trail known as the Navajo War Trail, or the Ute Slave Trail, which runs into present-day Colorado and Utah. Near the present-day town of Bayfield, Colorado they found ruins of an ancient town and what appeared to have been a smelter where gold was separated from ore.

Near present-day Durango, Colorado, they encountered a Ute camp under the leadership of a man they called El Capitán Grande. Here they talked with the daughter of the man who had taken the lump of silver to Abiquiú. She gave them directions to the location of the silver. However, the Spanish explorers were unable to locate the silver source.

With the guidance of a Ute whom they called Capitán Asigare, the Spanish traveled to the Dolores River near the present-day town of Dolores, Colorado. From here, Asigare had them send out a small party to contact the Payuchi Ute under the leadership of Chino. Chino told them that he would show them the river crossing if they returned in the fall.

The Spanish returned to Santa Fe and reported to the governor. In the fall they began the second entrada. They traveled back to Colorado and made contact with Chino. With their Ute guides, the Spanish started out to find the river crossing. Clell Jacobs, in an article in the Utah Historical Quarterly, reports:  “It is apparent the Utes wanted to make the trip so difficult and dangerous that Rivera would become discouraged and disheartened, give up his quest, and return to Santa Fe without finding the crossing and without making contact with the people on the other side of the river.”

The Ute guides led the Spanish on a circuitous and difficult route to the camp of the Tabejuache Ute under the leadership of Tonampechi near present-day Moab, Utah. Tonampechi attempted to discourage further exploration, but was unsuccessful. The expedition continued to the Colorado River. Two of the Ute guides were then sent across the river to contact the people on the other side and to invite them to trade. The guides returned with five Sabuagana Ute warriors who told them that some of the people were hiding from the Spanish because they feared Spanish reprisals for having killed some Spanish years earlier.

While the Spanish went back to New Mexico unsuccessful in their attempt to find mineral wealth in Ute territory, for the next two centuries the Utes would continually have to deal with European and American greed for gold and silver.

Huron Government and Law

Long before the European invasion of North America, five Iroquoian-speaking tribes formed a powerful confederation known as the League of Five Nations. The idea for this confederacy came from the prophet Deganawida who had been born to the Huron. The Huron, an Iroquoian-speaking nation, however, never joined the League of Five Nations.

The name Huron was given to them by the French and means “rough, boorish.” They call themselves Wendat, Guyandot, or Wyandot which means “islanders.” Their traditional territory was north of the Lake Simcoe region of Ontario. Their homeland is often referred to as Huronia in many of the historical accounts.

Like the other Iroquian-speaking Indian nations, the Huron were farmers with a slash-and-burn agriculture which was supplemented by some hunting and fishing and by the gathering of certain wild plants for both food and fiber. Corn, beans, and squash provided about two-thirds of the Iroquois caloric intake. By 1630 it is estimated that the Huron, with a population of about 21,000, were harvesting 189,000 bushels of corn from 7,000 acres.

The basic foundation of Huron society, like that of other Iroquois nations, was the clan system. Iroquois society is divided into matrilineal clans which are named after certain animals. Among the Huron there were eight matrilineal clans: Turtle, Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Deer, Hawk, Porcupine, and Snake. The clans were exogamous, meaning the people had to marry outside of their own clan. Children belonged to their mother’s clans.

The Huron were a confederacy of four major tribes: Bear, Rock, Barking Dogs, and White Thorns (also known as Canoes). The people called their confederacy Wendat or People of the Peninsula. The major reason for the formation of the Huron confederacy was protection against common enemies. They were given the name Huron by the French.

There were three levels of government among the Huron: village, tribe, and confederacy. At the village level, clan chiefs organized councils in which older men and women expressed their opinions on matters concerning the village.

Each Huron village council met frequently, often daily, to discuss village affairs. According to anthropologist Bruce Trigger in his book The Huron: Farmers of the North:  “Often there was little business to transact, and the meeting took on the characteristics of an old boys’ club.”

Religion professor Henry Bowden, in his book American Indians and Christian Missions: Studies in Cultural Conflict, reports:  “The council was not so much a governing body as a sounding board for canvassing attitudes and pointing out the popular choice on specific matters.”  Discussions would be continued until consensus was evident.

Among the Huron there were two kinds of chiefs: (1) civil chiefs who were concerned with everyday life and peace, and (2) war chiefs who were concerned exclusively with military matters. Being a Huron chief required both time and an expenditure of wealth. Anthropologist Elisabeth Tooker, in her book An Ethnography of the Huron Indians, 1615-1649, writes:  “Chieftainships, then, were partly elected and partly inherited: a chief was elected from among the relatives of the deceased chief.”

The person who was elected was usually not the child of the deceased chief, but was more often a nephew or a grandson.

In her book Chain Her by One Foot: The Subjugation of Native Women in Seventeenth-Century New France, Karen Anderson reports:  “It would appear that Huron clan leaders had little ability to control the behavior of either women or men who chose to disobey or to not follow the decisions that had been taken in council.”

The Huron recognized four main classes of crime: (1) murder and wounding and injury, (2) theft, (3) witchcraft, and (4) treason. Murder placed an obligation on the relatives to avenge the killing. Reparation payments helped alleviate the possibility of blood feuds. Anthropologist Bruce Trigger notes:  “Huron law did not permit society as a whole to punish individuals.”

Among the Huron, material gifts were often used as a way of restoring peace and mending the social fabric following a crime, such as murder or physical injury. The guilty party (including both the individual and the clan) would pay the victim’s family. According to Henry Bowden:  “Thirty presents was the usual indemnity for killing a man, but the murder of a tribeswoman called for forty gifts.”

In 1649, the Iroquois, well-armed with guns supplied by Dutch traders, attacked and destroyed the Huron. Historian Ian Steele, in his book Warpaths: Invasions of North America, writes:  “Archeologically and anthropologically, the Huron can be regarded as exterminated in 1649 because their sites were abandoned and their culture structures destroyed. Historically, however, many of these people survived the calamity.”

 

Indian Issues in 1965

In 1965, Indian concerns centered around a number of issues, including the hunting and fishing rights which had been guaranteed in treaties; land claims often related to fraudulent treaties; Indian education; dams whose reservoirs destroyed traditional Indian lands; religious freedom; and the relationships with the states. Some of the events related to these issues are briefly described below.

Fishing and Hunting Rights:

In Oklahoma, a loose-knit confederation calling themselves Five County Northeastern Oklahoma Cherokee Organization came together to discuss their treaty-guaranteed hunting and fishing rights. A number of additional issues—disputes over taxation, discrimination in health and social services, and fraudulent land sales—soon emerged from the discussions.

At Frank’s Landing on Washington’s Nisqually River, a group of Indians called attention to their battle for Indian fishing rights by holding a “fish-in”. The event lasts for only a half-hour and ends with 6 Indians in jail. Yakama/Cherokee writer Sidney Mills described the event this way in Red Power: The American Indians’ Fight for Freedom:  “19 women and children were brutalized by more than 45 armed agents of the State of Washington.”

The Yakama, as well as several other tribes, had declined to support the “fish-in” movement. However, when Washington state fish and game officials arrested a dozen Yakama elders for fishing in their usual and accustomed places along the Columbia River, the situation changed. Young Yakama put on their Marine and Army uniforms, shouldered M-1 rifles, and patrolled the river banks.

In Wisconsin, a member of the Bad River Chippewa was arrested for illegally netting fish in Lake Superior. The treaty rights defense was rejected by the court. Concerned about fishing, hunting, and gathering rights, the tribal council passed a resolution in response to the conviction which stated:  “that the Bad River Band of Lake Superior Chippewa Indians do hereby oppose any and all bills introduced in Congress or any acts of Congress to create within the original boundaries of the Bad River Reservation any part or parcel of the so-called Apostle Islands National Lake Shore.”

In Michigan, Keweenaw Bay Band of Chippewa tribal chairman Bill Jondreau was arrested for illegal possession of four lake trout. State law required that he throw the dead lake trout back into the water and Jondreau found it difficult to waste fish. Jondreau stood on his tribe’s treaty rights—article 2 of the 1854 treaty—but was convicted.

Education:

The Haskell Institute became the Haskell Indian Junior College. The curriculum was expanded to include courses in business and training courses in secretarial, the building trades, electronics, and service occupations.

In Washington, the Head Start program for preschoolers was established in Neah Bay on the Makah Reservation. It was initially a summer program.

In Arizona, the Lukachukai Demonstration School was founded on the Navajo Reservation with funding from the Office of Economic Opportunity.

Land Claims:

 In New Mexico, the Indian Claims Commission (ICC) ruled that Taos Pueblo held aboriginal title to Blue Lake, a sacred area taken from them by Presidential proclamation in 1906. The ICC found that not only had the government illegally extinguished the Taos’ aboriginal title to the land, but in addition the government had cheated the Indians out of more than $300,000 in compensation. Historian Andrew Graybill, in article in the New Mexico Historical Review, reports:  “Although pleased with the findings, the Indians declined to accept a financial settlement, planning as before to use the ruling as leverage to win title to the land.”

In Seneca Nation of Indians versus U.S., the Court of Claims ruled that the Indian Claims Commission Act did not cover pre-1790 claims.

In Washington, the Palouse on the Yakama and Colville Reservations were awarded $593,000 by the Indian Claims Commission. Clifford Trafzer and Richard Scheuerman, in their book Renegade Tribe: The Palouse Indians and the Invasion of the Inland Pacific Northwest, report:  “But most of the Palouse Indians did not celebrate a victory when they learned the outcome of the Indian claims case, for the Indians had won money, not the return of their lands.”

The Indian Claims Commission awarded 27 cents per acre to the Southern Paiute for lands taken in Utah.

 The Shoshone on the Wind River Reservation in Wyoming were awarded $120,000 to compensate them for gold taken from their land by miners.

 In Confederated Salish and Kootenai Tribes versus the United States the court held that the government surveys in 1892 for the Flathead Reservation in Montana were in error and that 10,586 additional acres should be included in the reservation.

Dams:

In Tennessee, the Cherokee opposed plans to build the Tellico Dam on the Little Tennessee River. The new reservoir would flood many historic Cherokee sites, including Chota which had been the Cherokee capital. A delegation of Eastern Cherokee as well as other citizens’ action groups presented a petition opposing the dam to Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas.

 Kinzua Dam was completed and 10,000 acres of the Seneca’s Allegany Reservation was flooded. The Seneca were left with only 2,300 acres which were flat enough to use. The newly created reservoir required 3,000 Seneca graves to be relocated. According to political scientist Sharon O’Brien, in her book American Indian Tribal Governments: “The Army Corps of Engineers had unceremoniously unearthed the remains of Cornplanter and three hundred of his descendants, moved them to a newly constructed Indian-white cemetery, and flooded the old burial ground.”

Religion:

In South Dakota, Jesuit priests said mass in the dance arbor of the Sioux Sun Dance put on by Frank Fools Crow on the Pine Ridge Reservation. The mass was done at the request of elder Jake Herman.

In South Dakota, piercing was once again allowed at the Sun Dance on the Sioux Pine Ridge Reservation.

In the Drug Abuse Control Acts, Congress listed peyote as forbidden along with other psychedelic drugs.

The Nevada state legislature reconsidered its prohibition on peyote. Testimony by members of the Native American Church convinced the legislature that the Native American Church should be allowed to use peyote under the provisions of religious freedom guaranteed by Nevada’s constitution.

The States:

 North Carolina granted the Haliwa recognition as an Indian community.

The State of Maine created a Department of Indian Affairs.

In Texas, the state legislature created the Commission for Indian Affairs and transferred control and management of Indians to it.

 In Montana, the Appeals Court in Colliflower v. Garland found that:  “it is pure fiction to say that the Indian courts functioning in the Fort Belknap Indian community are not in part, at least, arms of the federal government. Originally, they were created by the federal executive and imposed upon the Indian community, and to this day the federal government still maintains a partial control over them.”

The Tribes:

In California, the Karuk Tribe of California was incorporated to preserve the traditional knowledge of the people. Any person who was one-eighth Karuk or more was able to join.

In Oklahoma, Clifton Hill and other Creek leaders for the Creek Centralization Committee began to advocate for the formation of a real Creek government. The office of principal chief since 1906 had been filled by puppet leaders appointed by the U.S. President. The committee drafted a new constitution and by-laws. Clifton Hill explained:  “We have been fifty-eight years without representation and we do not want a drugstore Indian for a chief. We want a free election, a free voice, just like any other tribe.”

In Oklahoma, the Inter-Tribal Council of the Five Civilized Tribes—Cherokee, Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creek, Seminole—recommended that a new Indian hospital be constructed at Tolihina as soon as possible. The Council also recommended that Indian hospitals provide dental care for all Indians regardless of age.

In Texas, attorney Tom Diamond began an inquiry on the status of the Tigua. He was told by anthropologists that the Tigua were extinct. The Tigua, however, maintained that their culture still exists. Historian Jeffrey Schulze, writing in the Southwestern Historical Quarterly, reports:  “The problem was that while Tigua culture had not died out, it had changed and, most significantly, been kept hidden from and perhaps ignored by the surrounding community.”

In Texas, Andy Abierta, the governor of Isleta Pueblo met with the Tigua in El Paso. The Tigua are Tiwa-speaking people who split off from Isleta following the 1680 Pueblo Revolt.

In California, Mary Yee, the last native speaker of Barbareño, a Chumash language, died. With her death, the Chumash languages no longer had any native speakers.

In North Carolina, Eastern Cherokee leader Osley Saunooke died from diabetic complications. He had served two terms as the Principal Chief of the Eastern Cherokee and had been the world super heavyweight wrestling champion.

Art:

In Washington, D.C., the first American Indian Performing Arts Festival was held. The festival had two component parts: (1) a performing arts program, and (2) an Indian arts and crafts exhibition. The exhibit of Indian art, held at the Department of the Interior’s art gallery, included both older objects on loan from museums and collections throughout the United States and recent works by students at the Institute of American Indian Arts. The performing arts program was written and directed by Cherokee artist Lloyd Kiva New.

Ancient America: Great Basin Oregon, 12,900 to 9,000 Years Ago

About 12,900 years ago there was an abrupt change in climatic conditions known as the Younger Dryas which marked the beginning of cooler conditions in the Great Basin area of present-day Oregon. This climatic change marks the beginning of what archaeologists call the Fort Rock Period which dates from 12,900 years ago to 9,000 years ago. During this time, the American Indians in this region focused their economic activities on the natural resources (plants and animals) found in and around shallow wetland settings.

In their book Oregon Archaeology, Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins report:  “The period from about 12,900 to 9,000 years ago was one of continued slow drying during which localized shallow-water lakes and marshes with fringing grasslands replaced the previously vast and deep pluvial lakes of the Pleistocene era.”

During this period, human population increased, but remained thinly distributed across the landscape for most of the year. The large game that was utilized by the people included deer, mountain sheep, antelope, and bison. According to Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins:  “People followed seasonal rounds that took them to many varied locations, sometimes covering long distances, as shown by the common occurrence at archaeological sites of obsidian artifacts made of stone from distant sources.”

During the winter, the people tended to live in caves and rockshelters near lakes and marshes. In the summer, the people would migrate to higher elevations where they would hunt large game and collect nuts, roots, and berries.

Fort Rock Cave:

Fort Rock Cave (35LK1) is located on a low volcanic ridge about 1.5 miles west of Fort Rock State Park. The cave, which faces southwest, is about 20 meters deep and 10 meters wide. This site was first excavated by Luther Cressman and a University of Oregon crew in 1938. Below a layer of volcanic ash from the eruption of Mount Mazama, they found sagebrush bark sandals. The sandals were later radiocarbon dated to 10,500 to 9,300 years ago. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins report:  “After his excavations artifact collectors relentlessly mined the cave, removing an undetermined number of additional sandals and no doubt other materials.”

Later excavations also found a mano which was associated with the preparation of pine and grass seeds for food.

Connley Caves:

The Connley Caves site (35LK50) is located about 10 miles south of Fort Rock. The site is composed of eight rockshelters. The site is located near Paulina Marsh and archaeologists working at this site uncovered large quantities of waterfowl bones which were dated to 13,000 to 9,000 years ago. The pine trees which were in this area during this time were Pinus edulis or Pinus monophylla.

During the Fort Rock Period, the Connley Caves were occupied primarily during the winter. The site provided good access to both marsh resources (waterfowl, fish, cattail, bulrush) and to the resources in the wooded hills surrounding the caves (bison, elk, deer, grouse).

Cougar Mountain Cave:

 Cougar Mountain Cave site (35LK55) was totally excavated in 1958 by John Cowles, an avid artifact collector. While a great many artifacts were uncovered, there is a lack of precisely recorded information on artifact associations and a lack of radiocarbon dates. However, the artifacts are similar to those found at Fort Rock Cave and Connley Caves. The artifacts include stone tools (knives, scrapers, abraders, drills, pipes), bone tools (needles, awls, beads), wooden artifacts, basketry, and sandals. One of the tule sandals was radiocarbon dated to 9530 years ago. Melvin Aikens, Thomas Connolly, and Dennis Jenkins report:  “Sagebrush bark sandals were fairly common and frequently muddy, which may indicate wintertime occupation.”

Paulina Lake:

The Paulina Lake site (35DS34) is located about 25 miles northwest of Fort Rock in the Newberry Volcano National Monument. The site is on the boundary between the Great Basin and Plateau culture areas. One of the interesting features of this site is a storage pit which was about one meter in diameter and about 45 centimeters deep. Grass pollen suggests that this pit was probably grass-lined. Pollen also showed the presence of mock oranges (Philadelphus) and willow weed (Onagraceae).

Kenneth Ames, Don Dumond, Jerry Galm, and Rick Minor, writing on the prehistory of the Southern Plateau in the Handbook of North American Indians, report:  “The site also produced a well-defined structure, either a wickiup or windbreak, with a series of radiocarbon dates averaging to 9500 B.C. This is the earliest structure anywhere in the Plateau culture area.”

During the period from about 10,500 to 8,500 years ago, the site appears to have been used as a summer base camp. Here Indian people processed a broad range of plants and animals. The archaeological data suggests that the people stayed at this site for a good portion of the summer. The data suggests that the population was fairly stable, using the Paulina Lake site during the summer and then using the Fort Rock and Connely Cave sites during the winter.

Buffalo Flats Bunny Pits:

Near the east end of the Fort Rock Basin, on Buffalo Flat are four sites (35LK1180, 35LK1881, 35LK2076, 35LK2095) collectively known as the Buffalo Flats Bunny Pits. The pits are hearths or earth ovens which range from as small as two feet in diameter to as large as 8 to 10 feet across. Most of the identifiable animal bones (98%) found at the sites are jackrabbit. The rabbits were probably collected in large drives, such as those described in the ethnographic literature, then processed and cooked. The sites date to 11,500 to 8,900 years ago.

Dirty Shame Rockshelter:

The Dirty Shame Rockshelter site (35ML65) is in southeastern Oregon on Antelope Creek. Occupation of this site began during the Fort Rock period and was a summer-fall based camp. Among the items uncovered by archaeologists were 10 sandals and sandal fragments, matting, cordage, net fragments, small pressure flakes, a lanceolate projectile point, and a flat rock that served as an anvil. The site has been dated to 10,710 years ago.

Kootenai Origins and Spirituality

The Kootenai (also spelled Kutenai), whose aboriginal homelands straddled the Rocky Mountains and included parts of Western Montana, Idaho, British Columbia, and Alberta, have a unique language and culture. Kootenai is one of a handful of languages in the world which is considered a language isolate: it is not related to any other language. With regard to phonology, Kootenai, unlike most other North American Indian languages, uses pitch. Thus, a rising or falling pitch can change the meaning of a word.

The Kootenai appear to have once lived on the Great Plains east of the Rocky Mountains and then migrated into the Plateau Culture Area. In his Ethnography of the Kutenai, H.H. Turney-High writes:  “There is a strong tradition even at Bonner’s Ferry that the whole body of the Kutenai originated on the Great Plains and at some, to them, very ancient time gradually moved westward.”

Within the Plateau Culture area, the Tobacco Plains area of Montana is the original Kootenai homeland. Once they had a great village in this area and their oral tradition speaks of the Tobacco Plains area as where they “woke up.” One group eventually split off from the Tobacco Plains village and established a village in Fernie, British Columbia. Another band later broke up and settled in the area of Libby, Montana. From the Libby band came the people who settled around Flathead Lake in the Somers, Elmo, Dayton area. According to H.H. Turney-High:  “As soon as peace was made between the Kutenai, Flathead, and Kalispel, the bulk of the Jennings-Libby people moved to Flathead Lake and are the People-of-the-Bay today.”

According to oral tradition, there was a time when one of the Kootenai bands continued to live east of the Rocky Mountains, perhaps in the area of McLeod, Alberta, and were a Plains tribe. However, they suffered an epidemic which reduced their numbers. Knowing that they could not continue to survive on the Plains with their reduced numbers, they migrated across the mountains to join their western cousins. They settled in the southern portion of the Kootenai hunting range where they mingled with Salish-speaking people. According to H.H. Turney-High:  “They are today entirely extinct save for those mixed bloods who claim tunáxa ancestry.”

Healing:

Among the Kootenai, the healers were primarily women who knew the healing powers of the plants and who had had dreams or visions about healing. A long time ago, the spirits told the Kootenai women that they were to form the Crazy Owl Society in order to fight off epidemics. Ethnographer H.H. Turney-High points out:  “Epidemics were considered the result of disobeying the spirits, and the Crazy Owls were supposed to prevent such consequences.”

The spirits would visit one of the powerful women and she would then begin to sing as directed by the spirit. The other women of the Crazy Owl Society would then join her and follow her as she encircled the lodges. When all of the lodges in the camp had been treated, the leader would lead the group to a tree and strike it. When the proper number of trees had been struck, they would run to the west. Ethnographer H.H. Turney-High reports:  “Soon they would leave the ground and run in the air, with the exception of the file-closer, who ran after them on the ground. Eventually they all came to ground, held a council, and adjourned.”

The Kootenai Shamans’ Society was formed by all of the shamans or medicine people who banded together for mutual assistance and joint public service. The oldest and most respected shaman acted as the formal leader of the group.

Blanket Dance:

This is a Kootenai dance which is similar to the Shaking Tent ceremonies found among the Plains Algonquians. According to anthropologist Bill Brunton, in his chapter on the Kootenai in the Handbook of North American Indians:  “It was essentially a ceremonial meeting with various spirits in order to seek assistance from them.”

The spirits often speak in an archaic form of Kootenai and therefore someone must translate for them. The ceremony deals with finding lost articles, healing, and seeing the future. One of the important spirits in this ceremony is the Owl.

Sun Dance:

The Kootenai and the Coeur d’Alene were the only Plateau tribes to adopt this Plains Indian ceremony. Among the Kootenai, the Sun Dance was conducted in the spring. According to oral tradition, the Kootenai obtained the Sun Dance from across the eastern ocean where the Sun Dance spirit lives.

The Kootenai Sun Dance focused on success in hunting. On the last day of the dance, the Sun Dance Chief was given lavish gifts, including horses and food. These were then redistributed to those in need.

Among the Kootenai, the Sun Dance was held in response to a vision. The vision would indicate the location of the ceremony as well as its timing.

In the Kootenai Sun Dance, members of the Crazy Dog Society are instructed to cut 30 lodge poles, twice as long as regular lodge poles, for the ceremony. In cutting down the Sun Dance center pole, both men and women are involved. When this tree falls, it must not touch the ground, but has to fall upon the shoulders of those who have pledged to dance.

Archaeologist Roger Tro, in his University of Montana M.A. Thesis writes:  “Another effect of the Sun Dance, and perhaps the most significant, was that it helped in maintaining a tribal bond between the Upper and Lower Kutenai. This was the only occasion during which these two divisions were consistently together and may easily have been a primary factor in maintaining tribal identity.”

Grizzly Bear Dance:

This was a Kootenai ceremony which was an early spring prayer to insure plenty for the coming year. The spirit of the grizzly bear was honored at the beginning of the berry season as berries are the food of the grizzly bear and through this dance the grizzly bear will show the people how to find other food.

Fir Tree Dance

 This was a Kootenai ceremony which was held only at times of great stress and crises. Musicologist Loran Olsen, in an article in Idaho’s Yesterdays, writes:  “Whenever the people faced famine a Fir Tree Dance was held to bring game back to the region.”

When game was scarce and the people were facing famine, the shamans would set up a long house for this dance. A tree would be set up in the middle of the long house and decorated with gifts. The shamans would then dance and talk to the tree. The fir tree was chosen for this dance since Deer lives in the fir forest.

Death:

Among the Kootenai, the corpse was wrapped in a robe and quickly taken to be buried by two people. Burial was usually in a talus slope. There was no ceremony or feast associated with burial. As a sign of mourning, spouses would cut their hair. If the deceased were a man who had died at home, the lodge poles, fir bough flooring, and tent pegs would be destroyed. If the deceased were a woman who had died at home, then the lodge covering would be destroyed.

Spiritual and Medicinal Plants Used by the Chumash Indians

In 1542, the Spanish explorer Juan Rodriguez de Cabrillo sailed along the coast of California. While he really didn’t discover anything, he did encounter the Chumash Indians who occupied the three northern large islands of the Santa Barbara archipelago and the shoreline from Malibu Canyon to Estero Bay. The Chumash were a coastal people with a maritime lifestyle.

Cabrillo described the Chumash this way:  “They were dressed in skins and wore their hair very long and tied up with long strings interwoven with the hair, there being attached to the strings many gewgaws of flint, bone, and wood.”  Regarding Chumash on Santa Cruz Island he reported:  “They are fisherman; they eat nothing but fish; they sleep on the ground; their sole business and employment is to fish.”

The Spanish noted that there were 10 rancherias (small Indian settlements) on Santa Cruz Island.  In addition, the Spanish mention the names of more than 20 villages on the mainland coast. It is generally estimated that at the time of contact with the Spanish, there were 75-100 Chumash communities with a total population of  20-30,000.

The villages usually contained between 15 and 50 houses roughly aligned along a street. Chumash houses were bowl shaped structures made of poles and covered with thatched tules. Anthropologist A. L. Kroeber, in his 1925 Handbook of the Indians of California describes the structure this way:  “The structure was hemispherical, made by planting willows or other poles in a circle and bending and tying them together at the top.”

The house diameters ranged from four to seven meters. Next to many of the houses were temascal, smaller dome-shaped structures covered with mud which were used as sweat houses.

One of the substances gathered and used by the Chumash was bitumen, a naturally occurring type of tar from the Channel Islands. The Chumash used this as a kind of all purpose glue. Paula Neely, writing in American Archaeology, reports:  “The Chumash gathered naturally occurring bitumen from numerous seeps throughout the islands. They used the gooey substance to waterproof canoes, line baskets used as water bottles, and to plug holes in shells that they used as food containers. They even chewed it.”

On the negative side, the polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbon toxins in the bitumen may have led to major health problems, such as cancer, damage to internal organs, and reproductive impairment. This may have also lead to an overall decrease in Chumash stature of about four inches.

According to the oral history of the Chumash, all of the people originally lived on Santa Cruz Island. One day Xoy split the people into two groups. One group, the ka’ikiku, went over a rainbow bridge to Mount Pinos. The other group, the molmolokiku stayed with Xoy and learned how to make plants and animals for the ka’ikiku to use. Thus the ka’ikiku ask the molmolokiku for guidance in using plants and animals. Many of the plants were used medicinally and spiritually.

For the Chumash, as for many of the Indian peoples of California, one of the most important spiritual plants was jimsonweed (Datura) which was used to help produce visions. In many of the tribes, it was felt that jimsonweed was so powerful that it should be used only once. However, among the Chumash, John Baker, writing in Sacred Realms: Essays in Religion, Beliefs, and Society, reports:  “Individuals were allowed to use the plant as often as they saw fit, and they could take it right in their own village.”

Use of jimsonweed was seen as important to a person’s life, and higher status Chumash individuals tended to use it more than once in order to gain spiritual power.

Among the Chumash, both men and women used jimsonweed. The first infusion of Datura was usually administered by a paid specialist who was skilled at preparing the plant. In some villages, the initial experience was supervised by five elders. Boys were always initiated alone, but girls were sometimes initiated as a group. After ingesting an infusion of the root of the plant, the initiate would become dizzy and start to tremble. The specialist would then tell the initiate to sleep and to dream. The initiate would generally sleep for 18-24 hours. As the initiate began to revive, the specialist would sing and the elders would ask about the dream and then interpret it.

There were a number of reasons why the Chumash would use jimsonweed after initiation. This would include the strengthening of the bond with the spirit helper, acquiring additional spirit helpers, and acquiring spiritual power in general. Women would use the plant to become immune to danger and to attain courage.

John Baker notes that among the Chumash:  “A person who ingested Datura for visionary purposes might do so in order to communicate with the spirit of a beloved person who had died, or to obtain a glimpse of his or her own future. Datura could also be used to locate lost objects.”

In addition to spiritual uses, jimsonweed was also used medically. Jimsonweed (Datura) was used as an anesthesia when setting bones. In addition, it might be ingested when treating bruises and wounds. John Baker reports:  “Datura was taken internally to ‘freshen the blood’ and to treat alcohol-induced hangovers (a post-contact innovation) and applied externally to treat hemorrhoids.”  Baker also reports: “It is clear that the Chumash use of Datura was based upon a thorough empirical knowledge of the effects of the plant.”

Specialists understood both the dosages needed to achieve different ends as well as the preparation and environmental factors which can influence outcomes.

Among the Chumash, a tea made from the root and rhizomes of Anemopsis californica (commonly called yerba mansa, swamp root or lizard tail) was used as a drink for colds, asthma, and urinary tract disorders. It was also used to wash cuts and sores and for bathing arthritic joints. According to pharmacology professor James Adams and the former director of the Chumash Interpretive Center Frank Lemos in an article in News from Native California:  “This plant has been used for a long time in California and should be investigated by scientists interested in new drugs for the treatment of venereal diseases and asthma.”

For headaches, stomach problems, and arthritis, the Chumash ate the root of hog fennel (Lomatium californicum). In addition, hog fennel seeds were eaten to treat colds and sore throats. Hog fennel root was worn on a necklace or on a belt as a means of repelling rattlesnakes.

Red shank (Adenostoma sparsifolium, also called greasewood or ribbonwood) had a number of medicinal uses among the Chumash. Sore throats, stomach problems, respiratory problems, and colds were treated with a tea made from red shank bark. A tea made from small branches was used for treating toothaches and for washing wounds.

Ephedra californica (commonly called joint fir, Indian tea, and desert tea) was used by the Chumash for purifying the blood and for treating urinary tract infections and venereal diseases. Other California tribes used this plant for stomach problems and backaches. Since one of the active ingredients found in the plant is psuedoephedrine, it was also used as a nasal decongestant and as a stimulant.

The Chumash and the Kumeyaay used an elderberry (Sambucus mexicana) flower tea for treating colds, flu, and fevers. This tea was also used to relieve premenstrual syndrome and dysmenorrhea. The inner bark of the elderberry was used as an emetic and its berries were used as a laxative.

Tlatilco, an Ancient Site in the Valley of Mexico

For most people the mention of ancient Mexico brings up images of the Aztecs, the Mayas, and perhaps the ancient city of Teotihucán. Ancient Mexico, however, also includes some sites which are much older than these and which are not tourist attractions. One of these is Tlatilco in the Valley of Mexico.

For today’s archaeologically-oriented tourist, accustomed to the great ruins of places like Chichén Itzá, Tlatilco is more than a disappointment. In their book Mexico: From the Olmecs to the Aztecs, archaeologists Michael Coe and Rex Koontz write:  “The visitor to the site today will find nothing but a series of huge holes in the ground, surrounded by factories. In actuality, only a tiny fraction of Tlatilco was ever cleared under scientific conditions.”

Like most archaeological sites around the world, the initial excavations weren’t done by archaeologists. The original excavations at the site, started in 1936, were done by workers who were digging for clay to be used in the making of bricks. In 1942, Miguel Covarrubias led the first scientific excavation at the site.

The archaeological record shows that Tlatilco was settled by about 1300 BCE. It might be described as a large village or a small town that spread over an area of about 160 acres. Its location on a small stream near Lake Teycoc provided its residents with easy access to fishing as well as to the waterfowl attracted to the lake. In addition, the refuse at the site show that the residents hunted and consumed deer.

With regard to time period, the era from 1300 to 400 BCE (2000 BCE to 200 CE according to some sources) is generally classified as the Formative or Pre-classic period in Mesoamerica.

One of the features of the site is the presence of underground, bell-shaped pits. While the archaeologists found these filled with rubbish—ashes, fragments of pottery and figurines, animal bones—they originally served for the storage of grain.

Clay, in addition to being used to make bricks, can also be used for making pottery. In their Encyclopedia of Ancient Mesoamerica, Margaret Bunson and Stephen Bunson report:  “The ceramics of Tlatilco are advanced, and zone rocker stamps (tools for making indented designs) were used.”

At Tlatilco, the ancient potters’ art shows many animals: armadillo, wild turkey, frogs, bears, rabbits, opossum, fish, turtles, and ducks. The Tlatilco potters made two kinds of figurines. One of these was large, hollow, and painted red. The smaller figurines were usually solid. Both male and female figurines were made. Michael Coe and Rex Koontz report:  “What an extraordinary glimpse of the Pre-classic aristocrats is provided in their figurines! We see women affectionately carrying children or dogs; dancers, some with rattles around the legs; acrobats and contortionists; and matrimonial couples on couches.”

One of the features of ancient Mexican cultures is the ball game. While archaeologists have not found a ball court at Tlatilco, the figurines show players wearing the traditional protections for the game which suggests that they may have had the ballgame.

Some of the figurines show masked individuals who may have been shamans as well as deformed people. Some of the figurines show two-headed people; heads with three eyes, two noses, and two mouths; and hunchbacks.

Burials provide archaeologists with a great deal of important information about ancient societies. At Tlatilco archaeologists uncovered about 340 burials which were accompanied by offerings, especially the clay figurines. Some of the burial goods, such as marine shells, iron-ore mirrors, and pearl oyster pendants show that long-distance trade was being carried out. The burial of luxury items with children suggests that Tlatilco had a hereditary class system and inherited social inequality.

Margaret Bunson and Stephen Bunson summarize Tlatilco this way:  “Tlatilco is an important archaeological site because its finds demonstrate advances in ceramics during the Early Formative Period.”

 

Blackfoot Sacred Places

By the time fur traders from the Hudson’s Bay Company first made contact with the Blackfoot tribes in 1735, their territory included much of the Northern Plains of present-day Alberta, Saskatchewan, and Montana. There are three Blackfoot tribes: Pikuni (also called Piegan), Kainah (also called Blood), Siksika (also called Northern Blackfoot). The Piegan are currently divided into South Piegan (located in Montana) and North Peigan (located in Alberta). These tribes, while politically independent, shared the same language and many of the same ceremonies.

One of the common accounts of Blackfoot origins often given by non-Indians is that they had been woodland dwellers who entered the Plains and adopted a Plains buffalo-hunting lifestyle just prior to European contact in the eighteenth century. On the other hand, anthropologist Hugh Dempsey, in his chapter on the Blackfoot in the Handbook of North American Indians, writes:  “The belief that they were woodland dwellers who drifted onto the plains from the region of the Eagle Hills in Saskatchewan in the immediate precontact period has been rejected by Indians and some anthropologists.”

Since Blackfoot culture shows almost no influence from the woodland cultures to the northeast, it is generally felt today that the Blackfoot had lived on the Northern Plains for a very long time prior to their contact with the fur traders.

For the Blackfoot, as well as other Plains Indian tribes, there were places which were regarded as particularly sacred. These sacred places were not marked with structures or shrines, but were usually places on the landscape which served as portals to the spiritual world. Some of these sacred places were used for ceremonies, such as the Medicine Lodge (Sun Dance), vision quest, and sweat lodge. Others were places where sacred plants could be gathered. Many of the sites are mentioned in the tribal oral traditions and therefore tend to be invisible for those unfamiliar with these traditions.

A few of the places which are sacred to the Blackfoot are described below.

Chief Mountain:

Chief Mountain is located to the east of Glacier National Park, Montana. It is used as a vision quest and prayer site. The Blackfoot name for the mountain is Niinastoko which means “Father Mountain.” According to Blackfoot elder Long Standing Bear Chief, writing in Spirit Talk News:   “On Chief Mountain, or rather Father Mountain, the Great Holy Being called upon the spirits of the universe to meet and decide what they were to offer in order to make life meaningful to the newest form of life: mankind.”  He goes on to say:  “When you go to the base of Chief Mountain today, you will find cloth of many different colors tied to the trees as offerings to the Source of Life and to the Spirits who continue to contribute to the wellness of mankind.”

Badger-Two Medicine:

 Another area sacred to the Blackfoot is Badger-Two Medicine, an area near the Blackfeet Reservation in Montana. It is an area which contains hundreds of features which are associated with Blackfoot oral tradition and creation. According to Arlene Hirschfelder and Paulette Molin, in The Encyclopedia of Native American Religions:  “For centuries, the Blackfeet have carried out practices in this sacred region that are vital to the Blackfeet culture and people.”

In an article in The Journal of Law and Religion, Jay Vest writes:  “Spiritually, the Badger-Two Medicine is a source for the gathering of traditional Blackfeet ‘medicine power’ and this quality has a significant role in restoring the moral fabric of the Blackfeet Nation.”

The area is endangered by oil and gas exploration which the elders feel will destroy the region’s spirituality.

Sweetgrass Hills:

 The Sweetgrass Hills is an area in Montana which is sacred to the Blackfoot, Gros Ventre, Chippewa-Cree, Kootenai, and Assiniboine. The area is used as a fasting area and ceremonial area. The National Trust for Historic Preservation has placed the Sweetgrass Hills on its list of ten most endangered places. The area is managed by the Bureau of Land Management and there have been attempts to explore the area for gold, oil, and gas.

Writing-on-Stone:

Writing-on-Stone is now a provincial park in Alberta, Canada which is well-known for its large collection of traditional rock art. Along a seven kilometer stretch of the Milk River, sandstone outcrops have been used for petroglyphs (rock carvings). Among the Blackfoot, this place is known as the “place of mystery” and the place “where the ghosts live”. According to Blackfoot elders Bird Rattle and Split Ears, the writings are messages from the spirit world which can be read by medicine men. According to these elders, the messages “which frequently changed overnight, warned of enemies in the area, told them the location of the buffalo herds or strayed horses, and foretold future events.”

Kootenai Fishing and Hunting

The Kootenai (also spelled Kutenai), whose homeland was in the area west of the Rocky Mountains in what is today western Montana, northern Idaho, and southeastern British Columbia, are generally divided into two groups: Upper Kootenai and Lower Kootenai, referring to their position on the drainage of the Kootenay River. The Upper Kootenai lived near the western face of the Rocky Mountains. By the  beginning of the nineteenth century, the Upper Kootenai were more dependent on the annual buffalo hunts while the Lower Kootenai depended more on fish for their subsistence and the buffalo played only a minor role in their economy.

Fishing:

Among the Lower Kootenai, weir fishing was considered a communal affair which was supervised and controlled by the Fishing Chief. According to H.H. Turney-High, in his Ethnography of the Kutenai:  “When the Fishing Chief, or some principal man deputized by him, returned from emptying the traps, he filled his own basket as a measure and gave this to the first lodge in the camp circle, the same to the next, and so on until the fish had been evenly distributed.”

Strangers in the camp received the same share as residents.

The Kootenai used a bone device for fishing. This consisted of two fine pieces of bone which were ground to a sharp point at one end. These two pieces were lashed together and then tied to a line. Bait would then be attached and the line cast out (or lowered through a hole in the ice when ice fishing). When the fish swallowed the bait, the line would be jerked to snare the bone device in the mouth.

Deer Hunting:

 The Kootenai usually conducted the communal deer hunts during the fall and winter, a time when the animals were fat and had heavy fur. The deer would be driven by beaters toward archers who would shoot them. It was possible to obtain the whole season’s supply of venison in a single day.

In level areas where the deer were known to be abundant, the Kootenai would use a fire surround. Some of the hunters would take pine-wood torches and move out in two directions to form a circle, setting fire to the brush and trees along the way. As the deer fled from the fire, they would arrive at the unfired opening where hunters with bows awaited them.

With regard to leadership during the Kootenai deer drives, Claude Schaeffer, in his University of Pennsylvania Ph.D. dissertation on The Subsistence Quest of the Kutenai: A Study of the Interaction of Culture and Environment, reports:  “During the season for holding deer drives, emphasis was placed upon the need for group cooperation rather than individual enterprise. The hunting leader assumed charge of the various activities connected with the drive.”

During this time, no one was allowed to leave camp to hunt alone: to do so would result in a reprimand and possibly banishment.

Among the Upper Kootenai, the meat taken in a hunt, including a communal hunt, belonged to the man who killed it. However, when the hunter turned the meat over to his wife for processing, it then became her exclusive property.

Among the Lower Kootenai, all of the game taken in the communal hunt was turned over to the Deer Chief who then distributed it equally among all of the lodges in the camp, irrespective of whether or not the men in the lodge had been a part of the hunt.

The Lower Kootenai would use a disguise in hunting deer only during periods in which the deer were scarce. The hunter would wear a decoy headdress and conceal his body behind a deerskin robe. Claude Schaeffer reports:  “Aided by his supernatural power, a hunter thus disguised was able to ‘see’ game, even though it was rendered invisible by unfriendly shamans of the adjacent Salish.”

Other Big Game Hunting:

 Among the Kootenai, elk hunting was an individual undertaking. Elk hunting was usually done after they had returned from the buffalo hunt. As the Kootenai did not care for the taste of elk meat, elk were taken primarily for their hides as it made good robes and tipi covers.

Another big game animal hunted by the Kootenai was the woodland caribou. The caribou were the first of the large game animals to reach prime condition in the spring and so were often hunted in April. According to ethnographer H.H. Turney-High:  “They were easy to kill, being so gentle and stupid that the hunter could go right up to them and discharge his arrows without their taking flight.”

The moose was the least important food resource among the Kootenai. Moose were sometimes taken in conjunction with elk and deer hunting, but little attempt was made to specifically hunt moose.

With regard to the Kootenai hunting mountain goats, H.H. Turney-High reports:  “The mountain goat is considered very fine food but, as it is a very wise animal and hard to kill, it remained of minor importance.”

With regard to the hunting of bighorn sheep among the Kootanai, Claude Schaeffer writes:  “Bighorn were hunted in winter by hunters climbing above them and driving them into drifts at lower levels. There the animals were easily stabbed.”

Among the Kootenai, bears, because of their supernatural importance, were taken only as a result of an accidental meeting.

Buffalo:

After the acquisition of the horse in the eighteenth century, some of the Kootenai bands would cross the Rocky Mountains to hunt buffalo on the Great Plains. 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 Flathead would hunt with the Coeur d’Alene, Nez Perce, and Spokane.  The hunt would usually last about four weeks and Kootenai hunters would usually bring back 2-3 horse pack loads of buffalo meat.

For the Kootenai, hunting buffalo meant that they would be traveling in enemy territory. Ethnographer H.H. Turney-High reports:  “Since the bison hunt was undertaken under military conditions, the band moved onto the Plains in warlike formation.”

The Kootenai would travel east of the mountains in the summer with 80 lodges. As a large group they felt that they could repel any attack against them. The hunting party included women and children. During the four-week hunt, many hunters would obtain four or five pack-horse loads of meat.

The Kootenai would usually have two tribal buffalo hunts each year. Each of the hunters limited themselves to killing no more than two buffalo per day as this was as much as could be butchered in a day. According to H.H. Turney-High:  “To kill more would have been a waste of natural resources.”

The buffalo hunt provided the Kootenai with a store of dried meat. The meat would be dried by hanging strips of meat on a fence-like structure around a fire. Some of the meat would be preserved by making it into pemmican. Unlike other tribes who made pemmican by mixing the meat with berries, the Kootenai used wild peppermint. Ethnographer H.H. Turney-High reports:  “It gives the pemmican a strong flavor which they enjoyed as a condiment, but its principal function was to serve as a preservative.”

Unlike some of the Plains tribes, the Kootenai did not use the buffalo’s entrails. According to H.H. Turney-High:  “They say they were never so poor that they had to eat such things, and it is probably true that they had enough vegetable and fruit foods to provide enough vitamins.” He also points out:  “They express great contempt for the Blackfoot for eating raw liver.”

Bird Hunting:

Among the Kootenai, cranes and geese were the preferred birds. Geese were hunted in the summer using the bow and arrow. Ducks were another staple which were taken using a square, moveable net. Fool hens (a grouse) were hunted by knocking them from the branches with a stick or by using a pole which had a noose attached which was then slipped over the bird’s neck.

The Kootenai did not hunt loons, but they watched loon behavior very closely as this would tell them about approaching storms.

Many Plateau tribes also hunted eagles for their feathers. This was done by digging a pit, covering it with brush, and laying a bait of meat on the roofing. Concealed in the pit, the hunter would wait for the eagle to come down for the bait and then seize it by the legs as it landed on the brush covering. Ethnographer H.H. Turney-High, reporting on the Kootenai, writes:  “Only persons with Eagle powers could hope to take the adult bird in this manner, as its powers of resistance are very real.”

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.

Wodziwob experienced a series of visions in which the destiny of the Indian people was revealed to him. In his first vision, which occurred during a fast in the mountains, he saw the earth swallowing up the Americans. In a second vision, he saw the Americans being killed by an earthquake. In a third vision, he was told that only the believers would be resurrected.

He also saw in his visions a new dance. It called for men, women, and children to join in alternating circles of males and females dancing to the left with fingers interlocked with the dancers on each side. The dance was to be performed for at least five nights in succession. During the dance, some of the dancers would receive visions giving them new songs and ultimately would restore Indian resources. The new dance quickly spread to the northern California tribes.

The new spiritual movement was called the Ghost Dance (not be to confused with the Ghost Dance of Wovoka which spread to the Great Plains and resulted in the massacre at Wounded Knee).

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. While the shared core of the ceremony was a dance in which the participants held hands and side-stepped in a sunwise (clockwise) fashion, each of the tribes adopting the ceremony modified it to fit their own cultural traditions.  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.

Central Plains Indian Migrations

The Central Plains lie south of the South Dakota-Nebraska border and north of the Arkansas River. It includes Nebraska, Iowa, Kansas, Missouri, southeastern Wyoming, and western Colorado. At the time when the Europeans began their invasion of this area it was the home to a number of agricultural Indian nations such as the Ponca, Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Quapaw, Iowa, Missouria, Kansa (also known as Kaw), Pawnee, and Wichita. Some of the migrations of the tribes of the Central Plains are briefly described below.

Omaha and Ponca:

At one time the Omaha and Ponca lived in the Ohio River valley. They moved onto the eastern portion of the Central Plains in the late 1600s. George Will and George Hyde, in their 1917 book Corn Among the Indians of the Upper Missouri, place the date of their arrival on the Plains at prior to 1700 but not earlier than 1675. According to Will and Hyde:  “The traditions of these tribes tell of their migration northward through the State of Iowa to the vicinity of the pipestone quarry; then west to the Big Sioux River, where they were attacked by enemies and forced to remove to the Missouri River, in South Dakota.”

After moving into the Central Plains, they divided into two groups: Omaha and Ponca. This occurred about 1715. According to archaeologists John O’Shea and John Ludwickson in their book Archaeology and Ethnohistory of the Omaha Indians: The Big Village Site:  “the Ponca tribe may have originated as an Omaha clan that split from the rest of the tribe, a suggestion supported by the fact that the other Dhegiha tribes have a Ponca clan, but the Omahas do not.”

The Omaha settled for a while in South Dakota where they were in close contact with the Arikara, and from the Arikara they adopted many elements of Plains material culture as well as a number of social and ceremonial features. Oral history tells that the Omaha and the Ponca learned to make earth lodges from the Arikara.  However, because of poor corn harvests and conflicts with the Arikara, they moved south into present-day Nebraska. At this time, the Ponca numbered about 3,000 people and set up their camp in three concentric circles. The Omaha set up their camp in two circles.

When the Ponca separated from the Omaha, they left with the Omaha all of the tribe’s sacred objects and ceremonies. For this reason the Omaha refer to the Ponca as “orphans.”

Writing about the Omaha migration, sociologist Russell Thornton, in his book American Indian Holocaust and Survival: A Population History Since 1492, reports:  “Tribal ancestors were originally from the Appalachian Mountains and possibly from as far east as the Atlantic Coast.”

Ethnographers Alice Fletcher and Francis La Flesche, writing in their 1911 book The Omaha Tribe, put it this way:  “The primordial habitat of this stock lies hidden in the mystery that still enshrouds the beginning of the ancient American race; it seems to have been situated, however, among the Appalachian mountains, and all their legends indicate that the people had knowledge of a large body of water in the vicinity of their early home. This water may have been the Atlantic ocean.”

Quapaw, Osage, Kansa:

The Quapaw, Osage, and Kansa lived in the Ohio River area with the Omaha and Ponca. It is estimated that 400 years ago these five tribes were united in language and culture. Linguists refer to the five tribes as the Degiha Siouans. They migrated west to the Mississippi River where the Quapaw went to the south and the Osage and the Kansa went to the north. The name Quapaw comes from uga’xpa which means “with the current” or “downstream”.

Iowa, Otoe, Missouria:

The Iowa, Otoe, and Missouria were at one time a part of the Winnebago. According to Iowa oral tradition, the Iowa once lived with the Winnebago near present-day Green Bay, Wisconsin. They then migrated west toward the Mississippi River. Their migrations took them into Minnesota and Iowa, then south along the Missouri River and eventually into the present-day state of Missouri.

Osage:

With regard to the Osage, Douglas Hurt, writing in Chronicles of Oklahoma, reports:  “Osage oral history tells of their migration from the Appalachian Piedmont or Cheasapeake Bay through the Ohio Valley to present-day Missouri.”

Pawnee and Wichita:

The Pawnee are a Caddoan-speaking group who separated from the other Caddoan groups long before the European invasion and began a migration north from their homelands in present-day Texas. They migrated first into the Red River region of present-day Oklahoma and then into the Arkansas River region of northern Oklahoma and southern Kansas.  By the early 1700s, the Pawnee had begun to divide into four politically autonomous tribes: Skiri, Chawi (Grand), Kitkahahki (Republican), and Pitwhawirata (Tappage). The Skiri (also known as the Skidi, Loup, or Panimaha) migrated north to the Loup River.

The Wichita are also a Caddoan-speaking group who migrated north from their homelands in Texas to the Canadian River in present-day Oklahoma.

Ancient America: Florida, 1 CE to 940 CE

American Indians occupied, utilized, and developed the peninsula known as Florida for thousands of years. Our knowledge of the ancient past—of Florida, from 2,000 years ago until about 1,000 years ago—comes primarily from archaeology. Unfortunately, archaeology tells the story of the past based on material remains, which means that these remains must have endured for more than a thousand of years, then be found, and finally interpreted. As a result our picture of ancient Florida is not complete, but rather a series of seemingly disjointed snapshots. Briefly described below are some of the archaeological findings from Florida from 1 CE through 940 CE.

In 1 CE, the Calusa built a 2.5 mile canal across Pine Island. The canal was 18-23 feet wide and 3.5 feet deep so that it was large enough to handle most Calusa canoes. To control the water flow in the canal, the Calusa used a series of 8 stepped impoundments which functioned like locks and a series of auxiliary channels which diverted excess flow.

By 100, Indian people were occupying Mound Key. The shell mound which they constructed reached a height of 30 feet. Fish and shellfish provided them with a plentiful supply of food.

In 200, Indian people began construction on two canals around the rapids on the Caloosahatchee River. The canals, which were about seven miles long, facilitated fishing and transportation.

In 200, Weeden Island ceramics began to appear at the McKeithen site. The site has three mounds. Philip Kopper. in The Smithsonian Book of North American Indians: Before the Coming of the Europeans, reports:  “The horseshoe-shaped, forty-seven-acre village was located on a low sandy ridge in forest-and-brush country that provided an excellent habitat for the animals and plants upon which the hunting-gathering people depended.”

The population was a little more than 100. Weeden Island ceramics also began to appear at sites in southern Alabama and southwestern Georgia.

In 300, the ancestors of the Calusa and Mayami built a seven-mile system of canals and a large pond in the shape of a baton. The canals were dug using wooden tools and shells. They were an average of 20 feet wide and 4 feet deep and provided easy canoe access to the Ortona village. In addition, the canals bypassed a series of rapids on the Caloosahatchee River.

Along the Gulf Coast area of Florida, Georgia, and Alabama, villages which were exploiting marine fish and shellfish were creating embankments in the shape of rings, horseshoes, and rectangles by the year 300. These embankments seemed to be a way for disposing refuse in an orderly manner outside of the residential area. Within the rings, the villages had a plaza and both platform and burial mounds. On the east side of the burial mounds, the people deposited groups of finely painted ceramics, many of which were effigies of humans, animals, or plants.

In 300, the Weedon Island people began occupying the Crystal River ceremonial site. The ceremonies became more complex.

In 350, Indian people at the McKeithen site began construction of two residential mounds. The mounds were planned to allow the rising sun at the summer solstice to be observed and calculated from Mound B. The two residential mounds are rectangular and fairly low—1 meter and a half meter in height. A residence was built on top of one of the mounds and a pine post screen was erected across the other. In the area behind the screen, exhumed human bones were cleaned, treated with red ochre, and prepared for storage in the charnel house. A third mound, which was circular and less than a meter in height, had a charnel house for the storage of cleaned human remains.

By 400, the Indian people of Weeden Island had developed a new level of cultural complexity and diversity. They showed social stratification in their burials, some of which now included outstanding works of pottery and carving. There was also an expansion of the population.

In 475, the structures on the platform mounds at the McKeithen site were burned and removed. The mounds were capped. While this marked the end of mound use at the village, the village itself continued to be occupied.

In the Upper Apalachicola area of Florida Indian people were raising corn and squash by 500, but were still relying on gathering wild plants and hunting for most of their subsistence.

In 600, Mound A was constructed at the Crystal River site. It was about 30 feet high and served as a temple platform.

In north-central Florida, the culture which archaeologists call Alachua began about 600. There was a migration of people from south-central Georgia who replaced the indigenous Cades Pond people. Alachua appears to be associated with the Ocmulgee culture in Georgia. Archaeologist Jerald Milanich, in his book The Timucua, writes:  “the people of Ocmulgee culture may have been the ancestors of the Timucuan groups in at least a portion of south-central Georgia, but that remains very uncertain.”

In 690, Indian people began construction of Turtle Mound. The mound consisted of two connected cones which were about 35 feet high. The mound covered more than an acre and measured 180 feet by 360 feet. It was constructed from oyster shells. According to Michael Durham, in his book Guide to Ancient Native American Sites:  “The mound towers over the flat terrain and possibly was used as a lookout tower by the peoples of the late St. Johns culture and their successors, the Timucuan Indians of historic times.”

By 940, a Mississippian society began to emerge in the Fort Walton area in northern Florida. According to archaeologist John Scarry, in his chapter in The Mississippian Emergence:  “They were simple chiefdoms, with clear social distinctions between high status and low status individuals—distinctions revealed in residential segregation and the extraction and allocation of community surplus labor.” He goes on to point out:  “The people relied on cleared-field agriculture for a significant portion of their diet.”

Ancient America: Florida, BCE

With exciting new finds coming from the OldVero Ice Age Site in Florida which are providing evidence of human occupation 14,000 years ago, this is a good time to review some of the ancient (before 2,000 years ago) archaeological sites in Florida.

By 11,000 BCE, Indian people were living by hunting and gathering in northern Florida and southern Georgia. The sea levels at this time were 350 feet lower than present. This means that the land mass of present-day Florida was much larger. Water sources, particularly those in deep springs, were important for both human habitation and for the animals which they hunt. At this time, the Indians were hunting mastodon, mammoth, horse, camel, and giant land tortoise.

In 10,030 BCE, Indian people at the Little Salt Spring were hunting turtles and the giant land tortoise, Geochelone Crassicutata. The turtles were killed with a stake and then cooked in the shell. These people were also using an oak throwing stick or boomerang. They also had a deer-antler which had its roots and points cut off and 28 parallel notches cut into it. This is one of the earliest examples of counting time in North America.

In 9000 BCE, Indian people near the Wacissa River killed a Bison antiquus.

In 8500 BCE, people living near Mineral Springs buried their dead near the edge of the springs. One was a man, 30-40 years of age, who was 5’4” tall and weighed about 110 pounds. He had worn and abscessed teeth. Another was the body of a middle-aged female. As the sea level rose at the end of the ice age, so did the water within the spring. By the time the skeletons were discovered by archaeologists, they were under water.

In 7500 BCE, the Archaic Period began with an increase in population and new settlements around freshwater sources. The way of life shifted from nomadic to a more settled form. Artist Theodore Morris, in his book Florida’s Lost Tribes, writes:  “With a settled lifestyle and new animals to hunt, different types of stone tools were made. Trade networks, some encompassing much of the Southeast, sprang up.” During this time, Florida’s climate is growing warmer and wetter.

In 7300 BCE, Indian people left a spear at the Little Salt Spring site.

In 6120, Indian people began burying their dead in the Windover Bog Site. While anthropologists managed to obtain DNA samples from some of the bodies at the site, the mtDNA lineages which were found are not present in any contemporary American Indian populations.

In south Florida, Indian people were living on the dune ridges of Horr’s Island by 5000 BCE.

In south Florida, Indian people began building a large mound with layers of white sand, charcoal-stained sand, and oyster shell on Horr’s Island about 2900 BCE. By 2800 BCE Indian people were living in a year-round settlement on Horr’s Island. Their small houses were made from poles and thatch. The conical sand mound reaches about 6 meters high and was used for burials.

By 2500 BCE, Indians in South Carolina, Georgia, and Florida began making fired pottery. According to archaeologist David Hurst Thomas in his book Exploring Ancient Native America: An Archaeological Guide:  “The earliest ceramic vessels look like flowerpots, remarkably similar to the earlier steatite (stone) bowls from the same area.”

Indian people by 2400 BCE were making sea voyages between South America and the coasts of Georgia and Florida.

In 2400 BCE, Indian people at the Summer Haven site (8SJ46) constructed four circular structures. The people who occupied this site were practicing cranial deformation (a deliberate modification of head shape which begins by binding the head of an infant shortly after birth).

In south Florida, Indian people were living on Useppa Island in the Pine Island Sound by 2000 BCE. They were making fiber-tempered pottery.

Indian people in Florida began making decorated pottery known as Tick Island decorated pottery by about 1600 BCE. The Tick Island decorated pottery resembles the pottery found at Barlovento on Colombia’s northern coast and this pottery, in turn, appears to be derived from the Valdivia pottery of Ecuador.

In 1580 BCE, the Rollings Shell Ring was constructed. It is 7 meters in height (about 23 feet) and 250 meters (825 feet) in diameter. The ring was built up quickly and there are few artifacts within it.

In 1500 BCE, Indian people at the Joseph Reed Shell Ring site (8MT13) were making sand-tempered pottery. This represents one of the earliest intensive uses of pottery in south Florida. According to archaeologists Michael Russo and Gregory Heide, in their chapter in Early Pottery: Technology, Function, Style, and Interaction in the Lower Southeast:  “The pottery at Joseph Reed consists of both sand-tempered and chalky wares at a time when most archaeologists believed these wares were unknown in Florida.”  They go on to report:  “In terms of migration/diffusion, the pottery from Joseph Reed has nowhere to migrate from. It is not tempered with fiber as is the pottery of the site’s nearest contemporaneous pottery-producing neighbors to the north. Thus, a direct connection cannot be made with those neighbors in terms of paste and temper (design and form, however, cannot be ruled out until more data are obtained).”

In 1300 BCE, a type of decorated pottery known as Orange Incised began to appear. Archaeologists note that Orange Incised is similar to the Machalilla pottery found in Ecuador and suggest that this style of pottery diffused northward from South America.

In 1000 BCE, Indian people living along Fisheating Creek were building linear earthworks which were designed to raise living quarters above the floodwaters.

In 1000 BCE, Indian people in the St. Johns River area were making pottery . They were using freshwater sponge spicules in the pottery paste which resulted in a chalky feel. These sponge spicules were an intentional temper which was added during the manufacturing process. The pottery was made with a coiled technique.

People began to occupy a site near the Crystal River in Florida in 537 BCE. The site includes two large temple mounds with ramps, a smaller residential mound, a plaza, and two burial mounds. There appears to have been contact with the Hopewell people in Ohio as evidenced by flint knives and other artifacts.

In 500 BCE, Indian people from the Deptford culture began to occupy the Crystal River site.

In northern Florida, the period which archaeologists call St. Johns I began about 500 BCE. The people were establishing both freshwater and coastal villages. They were also occupying smaller, seasonal camps for fishing and shellfish gathering.

The Timucua began to occupy the sub-tropical areas of Florida about 500 BCE.

In south Florida, Indian people began making a thick, sand-tempered plain pottery by 500 BCE.

The Tequesta were living in the area near present-day Miami, Florida by 500 BCE. They constructed a number of round houses, including a chief’s house or council house, using a post framework.

In 300 BCE, the Crystal River site was established as a ceremonial center. Construction began on Mound F which served as a burial mound. It would eventually rise to a height of 20 feet. About 1,000 people would eventually be buried here.

In 50 BCE, Indian people occupied the Fort Walton site.

In 30 BCE, Indian people along the Crystal River began construction of a series of shell mounds which have astronomical alignments. The mounds and stone pillars can be used to observe the solstices and equinoxes.

California’s War On Indians, 1850 to 1851

In 1850 California was admitted to the United States as its 31st state. As with some other states, Native Americans were not seen as desirable inhabitants of the state. For the first decade of its existence, the State of California carried on a series of privatized wars of extermination against the Native American population. California’s first governor, Peter Burnett, openly called for the extermination of Indian tribes.

In 1850, California passed an Act for the Government and Protection of Indians. The Act stated that while both non-Indians and Indians may take complaints before a justice of the peace, that “in no case shall a white man be convicted on any offense upon the testimony of an Indian.”

In other words, if a non-Indian were to commit a crime, such as murder, rape, or theft, and the only witnesses were Indians, then no conviction would be possible. The act also curtailed Indian land rights.

The Act also allowed non-Indians to obtain Indian children by going before a justice of the peace and securing a certificate which allowed them to have the care, custody, control, and earnings of these children. The illegal sale of Indian children became common and during the next 13 years an estimated 20,000 California Indian children were placed in bondage.

James Parins, in his biography John Rollin Ridge: His Life and Works, explains another ramification of the law:  “if an Indian was arrested on charges of drunkenness and could not pay his fine, a white rancher could pay the amount levied by the court and then set the prisoner to work until the debt was paid. The Indian had no voice in setting the terms of this transaction, those details being left to the judge and the rancher.”

The law empowered non-Indians to arrest Indian adults for loitering and other offenses and then the captives were sold to the highest bidder. Indians had to work for four months without compensation. In other words, this Act opened up the door to involuntary servitude of Indians, a form of slavery in a non-slave state.

In the San Joaquin Valley and in the foothills of California’s Sierra Nevadas, the Miwok and the Yokut, under the leadership of Tenaya, began a war against the miners and settlers who had entered their territory as the result of the Gold Rush. The warriors attacked prospectors and burned James Savage’s trading posts. The conflict was known as the Mariposa Indian War.

In 1850, the governor launched a war against Indians who were accused of stealing stock near the mines in the central part of the state. A state militia of 200 men was called up. The militia encountered about 150-200 Miwok in a steep canyon. While they killed three Indians, the militia was forced to retreat. In a second battle which lasted for five hours, the militia killed 15 Indians. Two of the militia were killed. The one-month campaign in El Dorado County cost more than $100,000. For the militia commanders, the war was very lucrative while it was expensive for the California taxpayers.

 In 1850, the American military began a campaign against the Pomo at Clear Lake in revenge for the killing of two non-Indians the previous year. The Pomo leader Ge-Wi-Lih met the Americans with his hands up to indicate peace, but was shot. The soldiers shot women and children. They also bayoneted babies and burned one man alive. An estimated 135 Indians were killed.

 In 1850, the first American gold miners reached Hupa territory. When the Hupa offered hospitality to the miners, the miners asked them to leave their camp. While some shots were exchanged, the Hupa offered peace. Byron Nelson, in his book Our Home Forever: A Hupa Tribal History, explains:  “Knowing that a pitched battle in their homeland would involve many innocent people, the Hupa hoped to prevent disastrous violence. Instead of taking revenge, they came to restore harmony and offer food to the miners.”

In 1850, the Anglos in the newly created Shasta County gave a friendship feast for the Wintu. The food, however, was poisoned and 100 Wintu died.

Under the Constitution of the United States, Indian tribes are sovereign nations and during the nineteenth century the federal government negotiated treaties with Indian tribes as a way of obtaining their land. In 1851, the United States negotiated 18 treaties with California Indian nations which were supposed to secure legal title to public land and guarantee reserved lands for Indians. The Indian commissioners explained to the non-Indian residents of the state that the government had two options: to exterminate the Indians or to “domesticate” them. They argued that “domesticating” them was more practical.

None of the commissioners who arranged the California treaties knew anything about California Indians. According to anthropologist Robert Heizer in the Handbook of North American Indians:  “Their procedure was to travel about until they could collect enough natives, meet with them, and effect the treaty explanation and signing. One wonders how clearly many Indians understood what the whole matter was about.”

In the treaty council with the Karok, Yurok, and Hupa, the government promised to give the Indians a protected reservation and gifts if they would agree to wear clothes, live in houses, and become farmers. The government was apparently unaware that these groups had been living in plank houses for millennia.

Signing the treaty for the Hupa are what the Americans call the “head chief” and “under chiefs.” None of these men had formal authority over all of the villages. They were, however, men of great influence.

While these treaties were signed by both Indian and U.S. government leaders, they were not debated in the Senate, thus did not appear in the Congressional Record. For more than 50 years the California treaties were somehow lost or hidden. The ratification of the treaties was opposed by the California legislature and there were rumors that the state representatives managed to have the treaties hidden in the archives of the Government Room in the Capital.

Ensuing legislation deprived California Indians of the rights to their land. The impact on the Indians is immense. Historian Herman Viola, in his book After Columbus: The Smithsonian Chronology of the North American Indians, reports:  “Bereft of homes, unprotected by treaties, the Indians became wanderers, hounded and persecuted by whites.”

Anthropologist Omer Steward writes: “The failure to ratify the treaties left the federal government without explicit legal obligation toward the Indians of California.” During the next 50 years, California Indian population will decrease by 80%.”

In 1851, the Americans destroyed a natural bridge crossing Clear Creek in an effort to keep the Wintu on the western side of the creek. Miners then burned the Wintu council house in the town of Old Shasta and massacred about 300 people. Following the massacre, the Wintu consented to the “Cottonwood Treaty” which gave them about 35 square miles of land.

 In 1851, the Cahuilla, Quechan, and Cocopa under the leadership of Antonio Garra, Jr. in San Diego County revolted against the American federal, state, and local governments. The cause of the rebellion was a state tax imposed on Indian property. Garra attempted to put together a confederacy of several tribes, but was captured by a rival Cahuilla band and turned over to the Americans. He was tried in a paramilitary court, found guilty, and shot.

In 1851, the Modoc raided ranches in the Shasta Valley for horses and cattle. In response, the ranchers organized a party of volunteers to recover the livestock and kill the Modoc. The volunteers killed 20 Modoc men and captured 30 women and children.

In 1851, American settlers burned an Indian village on Mill Creek (possibly a Yahi village) in retaliation for the supposed theft of a cow.

In 1851, the United States paid out more than $1 million in bounties for Indian scalps.

The Gros Ventre

At the time the first European explorers and fur traders were entering the Northern Plains in the late eighteenth and early nineteenth century, the Indian tribe known as the Gros Ventre (Atsina) were living in the Milk River drainage of Missouri River in what is now Montana. Like the other Northern Plains tribes of Montana and Alberta they had developed a lifeway which involved hunting buffalo.

The designation “Gros Ventre” is, of course, French and was given to them by the early French fur traders. Gros Ventre means “big belly” and comes from the Plains Indian sign language in which the sign for the group indicated that they were big eaters. The name they use for themselves would translate as White Clay People. Many of the early English-speaking explorers and fur traders called them Falls Indians or Waterfall Indians. The Blackfoot called them Atsina and this designation has often been used by ethnographers and others.

Prior to the early 1700s, the ancestors of the Gros Ventre were living in the woodlands near the Great Lakes. In the early 1700s they were pushed out onto the Great Plains by the expansion of the tribes involved in the fur trade. On the Plains, they split into two groups with the northern group becoming the Gros Ventre and the southern group becoming the Arapaho.

With regard to language, Gros Ventre is a part of the Plains Algonquian sub-family and is thus related to Blackfoot and Cheyenne. Among the Plains Algonquian languages, there is a great deal of difference between Cheyenne, Arapaho/Gros Ventre, and Blackfoot which suggests that these languages have had a separate existence for a very long time.

The Northern Plains tribes depended on hunting and gathering for their subsistence. The most important game animal on the Northern Plains was the buffalo and for most of the tribes this animal was considered the staff of life. Buffalo hunting was generally a communal effort and individuals were not permitted to hunt buffalo alone. A lone hunter could startle the herd and as a result little meat could be taken. Writing about the Gros Ventre, Minette Johnson, in her thesis Return of the Native: Buffalo Restoration at the Fort Belknap Reservation, reports:  “The bow and arrow remained the weapons of choice because they could be shot accurately at high speeds and be reloaded easily. The hunters aimed their arrows behind the last rib-bone of the buffalo, so it would penetrate the lungs, killing even the largest of the bulls.”

During the nineteenth century, the Gros Ventre had 10-12 bands. The names and composition of these bands changed frequently. The band leaders had a great deal of influence in decisions regarding the movements of the band, but they did not have any directive authority.

Among the Gros Ventre, bands were exogamous, meaning that people generally married someone from a different band. After marriage, the couple would generally live with the husband’s band unless the wife’s family was more prosperous.

One of the interesting features of Gros Ventre social organization in the nineteenth century was the age-graded societies. For the men, this meant that during the course of their lives they moved through a series of societies or lodges which were composed of men of the same age group. The age-graded societies were central to the organization of Gros Ventre society. A young man would join the first ceremonial lodge by making a vow to the Great Mystery and then taking a pipe to an older man. If the older man accepted the pipe, he was then the younger man’s ceremonial grandfather and was responsible for instructing and assisting the young man.

The Gros Ventre had six age-grades: Fly Lodge, Crazy Lodge, Kit-Fox Lodge, Dog Lodge, Drum Lodge, and Old Man’s Lodge. Each of the age-grades was composed of a group of peers who moved through the grades as they aged. According to anthropologist Loretta Fowler in her book Shared Symbols, Contested Meanings: Gros Ventre Culture and History, 1778-1984:  “Members of an age set had a moral obligation to help and encourage one another in battle, disputes, and participation in lodge ceremonies.”

Gros Ventre men would seek power through the vision quest. Loretta Fowler and Regina Flannery, writing in the Handbook of North American Indians, report:  “A man seeking power fasted alone, concentrating his thought and making offerings for one or more days on top of a promontory.”

While many attempted to obtain power in this way, relatively few were successful. According to Fowler and Flannery:  “Gros Ventres thought such power was inherently dangerous and necessitated too many restrictions; parents discouraged children from seeking it, urging other methods of prayer-sacrifice to attain fame and fortune.”

The Gros Ventre have two tribal medicine bundles which are symbols of creation and of their place in the universe. According to anthropologist Loretta Fowler:  “They represented the Gros Ventres’ special relationship with the Supreme Being or Great Mystery Above, a relationship that was the basis for health and happiness.”

The oldest of these bundles is the Flat Pipe which was given to them when the world was created. The ceremonies which were associated with this bundle – traditionally three seasonal ceremonies – provided the Gros Ventre with help for hunting and for obtaining horses. They also provided help in battle and in obtaining wealth.

The Gros Ventres’ Feathered Pipe bundle also represented their special relationship with the Great Mystery Above. The ceremonies associated with this bundle helped them to be successful in their life. The keeper of the Feathered Pipe had some power of weather control as well as the power to protect the people from illness.

Each of the Gros Ventre bundles had its own keeper – a man who was responsible for caring for the bundle and for carrying out the ceremonies associated with it. According to Loretta Fowler:  “The keepers prophesied, cured, and obtained supernatural aid for the Gros Ventres in making war, hunting, and obtaining horses.”

People would vow to cover the pipe – that is, to make a number of offerings to the bundle. When enough offerings had accumulated, the keeper would conduct a sweat lodge ceremony, smudge the offerings, and then take some of them to a sacred place on a mountain or butte. Some of the offerings would be given to those in need.

The importance of the two Gros Ventre pipe bundles is expressed by anthropologist Loretta Fowler (1986: 122):  “Their sacred responsibility for the pipes, in the Gros Ventres’ view, makes them unique among peoples.”  One Gros Ventre elder says:  “Only a Gros Ventre can do pipe ceremonies because they are Gros Ventre ceremonies.”

One of the ceremonies that is found among most of the Plains tribes is the Sun Dance. Speaking more than a century ago, Gros Ventre Chief Running Fisher said of the Sun Dance:   “The sun dance is a custom among the Indians which seeks to elevate a spirit of honor among men as well as women.”

Among the Gros Ventre men did not traditionally take part in the ceremony until they had received recognition as a warrior. According to Running Fisher:  “The men emulate the deeds of their fathers in order that they may take part in the sun dance. And thus this wonderful dance becomes a school for patriotism among the tribes and a stimulus to deeds of valour as well as an incentive to virtue.”

Another traditional Gros Ventre ceremony was the Grass Dance which served as an expression of cultural identity. The high point of the ceremony was the dog ritual. Eight men – two men who were authorized to wear crow belts, the spear (fork) keeper, the spoon keeper, two whip men, and the two assistants to the whip men – danced around a kettle containing cooked puppy. After the dog meat was eaten, there were a series of special dances and the warriors recounted their exploits. At times, the whistle keeper would call for a punishing song in which the dancers would dance to the point of exhaustion.

With regard to sacred areas, the Little Rockies is a mountain area on the southern border of the Fort Belknap Reservation. The Little Rockies are the spiritual center of the Gros Ventre. While this is an important area for vision quests and other ceremonies, the off-reservation portion of the mountains has been impacted by a gold mine.