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An Abridged History of Canada
Chapter III.—The Indian Tribes


The Mound-Builders—Their superior Arts, Manufactures, and Social Organization—Their probable Origin and Fate—The modern Indians, probably an intrusive Asiatic race—Their Physical Aspect—Their Agriculture, Canoes, Wigwams, Dress, and Ornaments—Their Wars, Craft, Cruelty, and Stoicism—Their Councils, Oratory, and Treaties — Wampum Belts—Their Superstitions—The Great Spirit—Burial Customs— Fetiehism—"Medicine-men "— Gambling—Their Alliances —The Fur Trade, etc., etc.—Tribal Divisions—The Algonquins— Hurons—Iroquois—Their present condition.

The name Indians, given to the native races of America, commemorates the illusion of its discoverers that they had reached the shores of the Asiatic continent. A short digression as to the character, manners, and tribal divisions of these races is necessary in order to understand the long and often cruel conflict between the white man and the red for the possession of the New World.

All over this continent, from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico, from the Alleghanies to the Rocky Mountains, are found the remains of an extinct and pre-historic people. These consist for the most part of earthen mounds, often of vast extent and almost countless numbers. Hence their unknown creators are called the Mound-Builders. These mounds were employed for burial, for sacrifice, for temple sites, and for military observation. There were also vast enclosures of earthworks, sometimes miles in extent. Many of these were evidently for military defence against an intrusive race, and formed a line of forts from the Alleghanies to the Ohio. Others were for religious purposes, and often, especially in the Mississippi valley, formed the outlines of gigantic animals, probably the totems or symbols of the different tribes, as the turtle, alligator, eagle, hawk, and like figures. On the Atlantic seaboard and in the valley of the St. Lawrence, these mounds are either altogether wanting or are of far inferior character.

There is also ample evidence of the comparatively high state of civilization of the Mound-Builders, chiefly remains of their art and manufactures, elegant pottery, carved pipes, woven fabrics, and other objects. They also worked the copper mines on Lake Superior, raising huge masses from considerable depths, and forging or casting it into weapons and elaborate ornaments. These were the objects of an active commerce extending from Lake Superior to the Gulf of Mexico.

Long before the discovery of America by Columbus this mysterious people had passed away; for their mounds, graves, and quarries are covered deep by an alluvial deposit in which trees, often of a gigantic size, have grown. They seem to have been a mild and unwarlike race, probably of Asiatic origin, subsisting chiefly by agriculture; and, in Central and South America developing the remarkable civilization of which such wonderful remains have been found in Mexico, Guatemala and Peru. These gigantic structures could only have been erected by a numerous people with a settled social order and with considerable skill in agriculture and the arts.

They were probably driven southward out of the Mississippi valley by a succeeding wave of Asiatic emigration, the progenitors of the present Indian tribes. This intruding race was of a much more fierce and warlike character, and, continuing its nomad life, never attained to a degree of civilization .at all comparable to that of the race it dispossessed.

The Indians of whom we shall have to speak in this history were a tall athletic people with sinewy forms, regular features, straight black hair, scanty beard, dark eyes, and copper-coloured skin. They were capable of much endurance of cold, hunger, and fatigue; were haughty and taciturn in their manners; active, cunning, and stealthy in the chase and in war; but in camp sluggish, and addicted to gluttonous feasts. The women in youth were of agreeable form and feature, but through severe drudgery soon became withered and coarse.

The agriculture of the native tribes, with slight exceptions, was of the scantiest character—a little patch of Indian corn or tobacco rudely cultivated near their summer cabins. Their chief subsistence was derived from hunting and fishing, in which they became very expert. With flint-headed arrows and spears, and stone axes and knives, they would attack and kill the deer, elk, or buffalo. The necessity of following these objects of their pursuit to their often distant feeding grounds, prevented social or political organization except within very narrow limits. The same cause also prevented the construction, with a few exceptions, of any but the rudest and simplest dwellings—conical wigwams of skins or birch bark, spread over a framework of poles. Some of the more settled and agricultural communities had, however, large lodges for public assemblies or feasts, and even for the joint accommodation of several families. Groups of these lodges were sometimes surrounded by palisades, and even by strong defensive works with heaps of stones to repel attack, and reservoirs of water to extinguish fires kindled by the enemy.

The triumph of Indian skill and ingenuity was the bark canoe—a marvel of beauty, lightness, and strength. It was constructed of birch bark, severed in large sheets from the trees, stretched over a slender frame-work of ribs bent into the desired form, and well gummed at the seams with pine resin. Kneeling in these fragile barks, and wielding a short strong paddle, the Indian or his squaw would navigate for hundreds of miles the inland waters, shooting the arrowy rapids, and even boldly launching upon the stormy lake. Where rocks or cataracts interrupted the progress, the light canoe could easily be carried over the " portage " to the navigable waters beyond.

The Indian dress consisted of skins of wild animals, often ornamented with shells, porcupine quills, and brilliant pigments. In summer little clothing was worn, but the body was tattooed and painted, or smeared with oil. When on a war expedition, the face and figure were bedaubed with startling contrasts of colour, as black, white, red, yellow, and blue. The hair was often elaborately decorated with dyed plumes or crests of feathers. Sometimes the head was shaved, all but the scalp-lock on the crown. The women seldom dressed their hair, and except in youth wore little adornment. Their life after marriage was one of perpetual drudgery. They tilled the fields, gathered fuel, bore the burdens on the march, and performed all the domestic duties in camp.

The Indian wars were frequent and fierce, generally springing out of hereditary blood feuds between tribes, or from the purpose to avenge real or fancied insults or * wrongs. After a war-feast and war-dance, in which the plumed and painted "braves" wrought themselves into a phrensy of excitement, they set out on the war-path against the object of their resentment. . Stealthily gliding like snakes through the forest, they would lie in wait, sometimes for days, for an opportunity of surprising the enemy. With a wild whoop they would burst upon a sleeping village and involve in indiscriminate massacre every age and either sex. Firing the inflammable huts, and dragging off their prisoners, they would make a hasty retreat with their victims. Some of these were frequently adopted by the tribe in place of its fallen warriors; others were reserved for fiendish tortures by fire or knife. One trophy they never neglected, if possible, to secure—the reeking scalp-lock of their enemy. Torn with dreadful dexterity from the skull, and dried in the smoke of the hut, it was worn as the hideous proof of the prowess of the savage warrior. When captured, they were as stoical as iron in the endurance of pain. Amid agonies of torture, they calmly sang _their death-song, hurling defiance at the foe.

Their councils for deliberation were conducted with great gravity and decorum. The speakers often exhibited much eloquence, wit, vigour of thought, and lively imagination. Their oratory abounded in bold and striking metaphor, and was characterized by great practical shrewdness. They were without a written language, but their treaties were ratified by the exchange of wampum belts of variegated beads having definite significations. These served also as memorials of the transaction, and were cherished as historic records, whose interpretation was the assigned task of the wise men of the tribe.

The Indians were deeply superstitious. Some tribes had an idea of a Great Spirit or Manjtou, whose dwelling-place was the sky, where he had provided happy hunting grounds for his red children after death. Hence they were often buried with their weapons, pipes, ornaments, and a supply of food for their subsistence on their journey to the spirit world. Others observed a sort of fetichism —the worship of stones, plants, waterfalls, and the like; and in the thunder, lightning, and tempest, they recognized the influence of good or evil spirits. The "medicine men," or conjurers, cajoled or terrified them by their superstitious hopes or fears. They attached great importance to dreams and omens, and observed rigorous fasts, when they starved themselves to emaciation; and glutton feasts, when they gorged themselves to repletion. They were inveterate and infatuated gamblers, and have been known to stake their lives upon a cast of the dice, and then bend their heads for the stroke of the victor's tomahawk.

In the unhappy conflicts between the English and the French for the possession of the continent, the Indians were the coveted allies of the respective combatants. They were supplied with knives, guns, and ammunition, and the atrocities of savage were added to those of civilized warfare. The profitable trade in peltries early became an object of ambition to the rival nations, and immense private fortunes and public revenue were derived from this source. The white man's "fire water" and the loathsome small-pox wasted the native tribes. The progress of settlement drove them from their ancient hunting grounds. A chronic warfare between civilization and barbarism raged along the frontier, and dreadful scenes of massacre and reprisal stained with blood the annals of the time.

The great Algonquin nation-occupied the larger part of the Atlantic slope, the valley of the St. Lawrence, and the watershed of the great lakes. It embraced the Pequods and Narragansetts of New England, the Micmacs of Nova Scotia, the Abenaquis of New Brunswick, the Montagnais and Ottawas of Quebec, the Ojibways or Chippeways on the great lakes, and the Orees and Sioux of the far west.

The Hurons and Iroquois were allied races, though for ages the most deadly enemies. They were more addicted to agriculture than the Algonquins, and dwelt in better houses, but they were equally fierce and implacable. The Hurons chiefly occupied the country between Lakes Erie, Ontario and Huron, and the northern bank of the St. Lawrence. % Their principal settlement, till well nigh exterminated by the Iroquois, was between Lake Simcoe and the Georgian Bay.

The Iroquois or Five Nations occupied northern New York, from the Mohawk River to the Genesee. The confederacy embraced the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, and was afterwards joined by the Tuscaroras from South Carolina. They were the most cruel and blood-thirsty of all the gavage tribes—skilful in war, cunning in policy, and ruthless in slaughter. They were chiefly the allies of the British, and proved a thorn in the side of the French for a hundred and fifty years.

After the British conquest of Canada, the Indians were gathered into reserves under military superintendents at Grand River, Rice Lake, River Thames, Manitoulin and Walpole Islands, and elsewhere; and were supplied with annual presents of knives, guns, ammunition, blankets, trinkets, grain, implements and the like.* Special efforts have been made with marked success for their education in religion, agricultural industry, and secular learning.


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