The fur trade was an important part of the economic history of North America and incorporated American Indian economies into a larger world economy. Furs were valuable, easily portable, and renewable resources. The prime furs—marten, otter, fox—were sold at high prices in the European and Chinese markets. Of less value, but still profitable, were pelts from buffalo, beaver, muskrat, and squirrel.
In North America, linguists generally recognize 58 language families and isolates. Understanding language families is one of the keys to understanding the historical relationships between the Indian groups. The Algonquian language family is a large American Indian language which is found in the Eastern Woodlands, the Plains, and California.
Bands or tribes known collectively as the Apache ranged widely throughout the American Southwest at the time of the first Spanish exploration and invasion. The Apache are Athabascan-speaking and migrated into the Southwest from Canada perhaps as early as 850 CE, but most likely between the late 1200s and early 1400s. In her entry on the Western Apache in the Encyclopedia of North American Indians, Elizabeth Brandt writes:
“Evidence from archaeological sites suggests a date around A.D. 1450 for the entry of Athabaskan peoples into the Southwest, but some scholars call for earlier dates.”
By 1617, four European nations—Spain, France, England, and the Netherlands—were staking their claims in North America through exploration and colonization. Archaeologist Jerald Milanich, in his book The Timucua, describes the reasons for the European expansion into North America:
“The driving force behind these initiatives was a desire for wealth: precious stones or metals, fertile lands suitable for productive plantations, human populations to be sold into slavery, and animals and plants that could be hunted or harvested and exported.”
Throughout the world, different religious and spiritual traditions have used hallucinogenic drugs to enhance the mystical experience. These drugs can trigger the experience of flying or floating. In Southern California, many tribes traditionally used jimsonweed (a part of the nightshade family Datura, also known as toloache and datura) to help produce visions. Most frequently this was used during the initiation of boys into full manhood. During this time the initiates would drink an infusion made from jimsonweed root. The visions received at this time would guide people for the rest of their lives. In recognizing the spiritual power of jimsonweed, the tribes also knew that the plant could be deadly if used incorrectly and thus it was used only in ceremonial context and administered by knowledgeable elders. Even with these cautions, there were occasional deaths from using the plant.
Briefly described below are some of ceremonial uses of jimsonweed by California tribes.
The early nineteenth century was a period in which American Indians came into contact with non-Indian explorers and missionaries.
The Mohave are a Yuman-speaking tribe whose traditional homeland was along the Colorado River. The name “Mohave” is a corruption of their native name Aha-makave which means “beside the water.”
Linguists studying and comparing languages throughout the world have noted that some languages are similar to each other in terms of vocabulary, sound patterns, and grammatical structure. Using these comparisons, they group languages into language families. According to linguists Laurence C. Thompson and M. Dale Kinkade, in their chapter on languages in the Handbook of North American Indians:
“Language families are groups of languages that can be shown to be genetically related, using techniques developed by comparative linguistics.”
In 1817, James Monroe became the new President of the United States. In his book The Removal of the Choctaw Indians, Arthur DeRosier writes:
“America embarked upon a period of intense nationalism which completely dominated Monroe’s administration.”
Arthur DeRosier goes on to say:
“The changing attitudes of the period affected even the handling of the Indian problem and coincided with the emergence of a new policy.”