Native American Geography

When the white man came, early in the sixteenth century, to make permanent settlements in our country, he found the inhabitants, as we have observed, speaking about a hundred different dialects. But there were only eight radically distinct nations. They are known as the Algonquins, Huron-Iroquois, Cherokees, Catawbas, Uchees, Natchez, Mobilians or Floridians, and Dakotahs or Sioux. Algonquin was a name given by the French to a large collection of families north and south of the great lakes, who speaking dialects of the same language, seemed to belong to the same nation. These inhabited the territory now included in all Canada, New England, a part of New York and Pennsylvania, the States of New Jersey, Delaware, Maryland and Virginia, Eastern North Carolina above Cape Fear, a large portion of Kentucky and Tennessee, and all north and west of these States eastward of the Mississippi River. Within the folds of the Algonquin nation were the Huron-Iroquois in Canada, New York, Pennsylvania and Ohio; a few families in Southern Virginia and upper North Carolina, and the Iroquois Confederacy in the State of New York.

The Cherokees inhabited the picturesque and fertile region in the upper part of Georgia and its vicinity, where the mountain ranges that form the watershed between the Atlantic Ocean and the Mississippi River melt into the lowlands which border the Gulf of Mexico. They were called the mountaineers of the South, and were the most formidable of all the foes of the conquering Iroquois. Their neighbors on the were the Catawbas, who dwelt upon the borders of the Yadkin and Catawba rivers on both sides of the boundary line between North and South Carolina. The Iroquois made incursions into their country, but they never brought the Catawbas under the yoke of that confederacy. The Uchees were only the remnant of a once powerful people. They were living in the beautiful land in Georgia between the sites of Augusta and Milledgeville, along the Oconee and around the head-waters of the Ogeechee and Chattahoochee. They claimed to be the descendants of a people more ancient than those around them, and they had no traditions, as all the others, had, of having migrated from another country.

The Natchez, who occupied a territory east of the Mississippi stretching north-eastward from the site of the City of Natchez, along the borders of the Pearl River to the head-waters of the Chickasahaw River, claimed to be an older nation than the Uchees. Like the other Indians of the Gulf region, they were fire and sun worshippers, and made sacrifices to the great luminary. The Mobilians or Floridians occupied a very large territory that bordered on the Gulf of Mexico. It stretched along the Atlantic coast from the mouth of the Cape Fear River to the extremity of the Florida peninsula, and westward to the Mississippi River. They also held jurisdiction up that stream to the mouth of the Ohio River. Their domain included the States of Florida, Alabama and Mississippi, all of Georgia not occupied by the Cherokees and Uchees, and portions of South Carolina, Tennessee and Kentucky. The nation was divided into three confederacies, known respectively as the Creek, Choctaw and Chickasaw.

Under the general title of Dakotas or Sioux, have been grouped a vast number of tribes west of the Mississippi River and the great lakes, with whom the earlier French explorers came in contact. They spoke, apparently, dialects of the same language, and were regarded as one nation. They inhabited the vast domain stretching northward from the Arkansas River to the western tributaries of Lake Winnepeg, and westward along that line to the eastern slopes of the Rocky Mountains. These have been arranged in four classes, namely, the Winnebagoes, the Assinniboins or Sioux proper, the Minetarees and the Southern Sioux.

Such was the general geographical distribution of the Indians when European settlements were begun among them. They were not stationary residents of a fixed domain; nor, with the exception of the Iroquois Confederacy, was there the semblance of a national government amongst them. They had wandered for centuries, and some of them had evidently traversed the whole continent. Yet they were not a nomadic race, or a people seeking pasture for cattle, living in tents, and having no fixed home for a month at a time. Neither were they agriculturists, steadily cultivating the soil. The horse, cow, sheep and swine were unknown to them. They had never tamed the buffalo nor the stately elk for labor or food; nor had they sheared a fleece from the great-horned Rocky Mountain sheep. Like primitive man, the Indian was a hunter and fisher, and depended for his sustenance chiefly upon the chase and the hook.

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