PreColumbian Civilization

THE number of human inhabitants of the entire continent of America, from the Frozen Ocean to Cape Horn, did not exceed five million, it is supposed, when Columbus sailed from Spain; and that within the present domain of our Republic-THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA-there were only a little more than one million souls, or one to each three and a half square miles of territory. The people of the latter region seemed to have all come from the same original stock, excepting some on the borders of the Gulf of Mexico. They had high cheek bones and broad faces; heavy dark eyes; jet black hair, lank and incapable of curling because of its peculiar structure; and skins of a dull copper color. They spoke more than a hundred dialects, or peculiar forms of expressing language, all springing, evidently, from a common root. They were all taciturn or habitually silent, in society, and could endure great mental or physical suffering without visible emotion. Their plan of government was simple, and there were very few transgressors of the law. Their theology or religious system was as simple as their civil government. They believed in a great GOOD SPIRIT and a great EVIL SPIRIT, each supreme in its sphere; and they deified, or made God, the sun, moon, stars, meteors, fire, water, thunder, wind, and everything else which seemed to be superior the themselves. There were no unbelievers among them. They had no written language, excepting rude picture-writings made on rocks, barks of trees or the dried hides of beasts. Their historical records were made upon the memory from parent to child, as were their legends, and so transmitted from one generation to another. Their dwellings were rude huts made of poles leaning to a common centre, and covered with bark or the skins of beasts. The men were engaged in war, hunting and fishing, whilst the women did all of the domestic drudgery. The women also bore all burdens during long journeys; put up the tents, or the wigwams, as their dwellings were called; prepared the food and clothing; wove mats for beds, and planted, cultivated, and gathered the scanty crops of corn, beans, peas, potatoes, melons and tobacco, wherever these products were raised. In winter the skins of wild beasts formed the clothing of these rude people, and in summer the men wore only a wrapper around the loins. They sometimes tattooed themselves, that is, pricked the skin in lines to form shapes of objects, and making them permanent by coloring matter put in the punctures; and they were generally ornamented with the claws of bears, the pearly parts of shells, and the plumage of birds. Their money consisted of little tubes made of shells, fastened upon belts or strung on little thongs of deers' hide, which was called wampum. These collections were used in traffic, in treaties, and in giving tokens of friendship. Their weapons of war were bows and arrows, tomahawks or hatchets, war-clubs, and scalping knives. Some wore shields of bark, and also corselets of hides, for protection.

The civil governor of a tribe or nation was called a Sachem; the military leader was called a Chief. They were naturally proud and haughty, and had great respect for personal dignity and honor. It was offensive to a Chief or Sachem to ask him his name, because it implied that he was unknown. Red Jacket, the great leader of the Seneca nation, was once asked his name, in court, in compliance with the legal form. He was very indignant, and replied: "Look at the papers which the white people keep most carefully"-(land cession treaties)-"they will tell you who I am."

Elevated as were their conceptions of the dignity of the men, they utterly degraded the women to the condition of abject slaves. They made them beasts of burden and mere objects of convenience. They were never allowed to join in the amusements of the men, but were permitted to sit, with their children, as spectators around the fires at war-dances or the horrid orgies after a victory. The husband had absolute control of the body and destiny of the wife, even to the taking of her life; and so far was she removed from a position of equality with the opposite sex, that there was no society for the cultivation of those refining qualities of woman which give the chief beauty and charm to civilized communities.

The mental characteristics, or the workings of the mind of the Indian, was the same everywhere. He subjected his body to the control of his will. He was schooled in taciturnity-taught to be a silent man-because it was necessary in a society where the sharp weapon was the quick response to an unguarded or insulting word. He was trained, too, to accept physical endurance as a virtue. Apparent insensibility to fear or pain was significant of most sturdy manhood. It was regarded as an evidence of weakness or cowardice for an Indian to allow his countenance to be changed by surprise or suffering. And so his nerves and muscles were steeled against fear or pain, and made absolute slaves to his will. An Inca or King of ancient Peru, caused some of his warriors to be instantly put to death because they had shown some surprise at the appearance of Pizarro's cavalry, the horse being a novelty and wonder to that people. "Coward!" exclaimed Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, when he saw one of his followers startled by muskets fired in the gloom of night by the English garrison at Detroit, and instantly cleaved his head with a tomahawk. "Squaw!" cried Cornstalk, the leader of the Shawnoese in the battle of Point Pleasant, when he saw one of his warriors hiding behind a clump of bushes, and immediately ordered him to be dressed in a petticoat and to carry a pappoose-an Indian baby. The brain of the Indian seemed to be cast in a poetic mold. In his simple language-too poor to allow a profusion of words-he would express ideas in elegant and poetic forms, his figures of speech being drawn from the objects of nature around him. What he lacked in words, would be supplied by those figures. "I stand in the path," said Pontiac, haughtily, to the commander of a British force that marched into his country, signifying that he held kingly dominion over all that region, and defied the intruder's power. When Red Jacket, the Seneca chief, who became intemperate in his later years, saw all of his eleven children die one after another with consumption, he regarded the calamity as a punishment for his sin. To a lady who had known him many years before, and who, ignorant of his misfortune, enquired of his family, the old chief, with bowed head replied: "Red Jacket was once a great man, and in favor with the Great Spirit. He was a lofty pine among the smaller trees of the forest. But after years of glory he degraded himself by drinking the fire-water of the white man. The Great Spirit has looked upon him in anger, and his lightning has stripped the pine of its branches." At a council at Vincennes, over which Governor Harrison presided, Tecumtha, the great Shawnoese warrior, made a speech. When it was ended, it was observed that no seat was provided for him. An officer handed him one saying, in the foolish phraseology of talk with Indians, "Your father [meaning Harrison] requests you to be seated in this chair." "My father!" said the chief scornfully, whilst his eyes flashed with indignation. Wrapping his broad blanket around him, and assuming the most haughty attitude, the continued: "My father is the Sun, and the Earth is my mother. I will recline upon her bosom." And then he seated himself upon the ground.

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