ONE MILLION NATIVE AMERICANS OCCUPIED PRESENT UNITED STATES IN 1500 SPOKE OVER 100 DIALECTS
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
The Native American population of the entire continents of the Americas, North and South, from the frozen ocean to Cape Horn, did not exceed five million in number at the beginning of the 16th Century. Within the present domain of the now United States, at the time of Columbus' discovery, an estimate has been given that one million Indians inhabited the Nation.
The Native Americans of this country seemed to have all come from the same original stock excepting some on the borders of the Gulf of Mexico. These Indians had high cheekbones and broad faces, heavy dark eyes, jet-black hair, which was limp and incapable of curling because of its peculiar structure, and skins of a dull copper color.
They spoke more than one hundred dialects, or peculiar forms of expressing language, all springing, obviously from a common origin. They were all customarily silent in society, and could endure a great mental physical suffering without visible emotion.
Their plan of government was simple, there being few violators of the law. Their theology or religious system was as simple as their civil government. They believed in a great "good spirit" and an "evil spirit," each being supreme within its circle. They made their God the sun, moon, stars, meteors, fire, water, thunder, wind, and everything else, which seemed to be superior to 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, which were conveyed from one generation to another.
Their dwellings were rude huts made of poles leaning toward the center, and covered with bark or the skins of beasts. The men engaged in war, hunting and fishing, while the women did all the domestic drudgery. The women also bore all the 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, planted, cultivated, and gathered the scanty crops of corn, beans, potatoes, melons and tobacco, wherever these harvests were raised.
In winter the skins of wild beasts formed the clothing of these people, and in summer the men wore only a wrapper around the loins. They sometimes tattooed themselves, pricking the skin in lines to form shapes or objects. They made these tattoos permanent by coloring matter put in the punctures. These 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 deer hide, which was called "wampum." These collections were used in transfers, in treaties, and for 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 corsets of hides, for protection.
The civil governor of a tribe of nation was called a Sachem; the military leader was called a Chief. These individuals were naturally proud and arrogant, and had great respect for personal dignity and honor. It was an offensive act to ask a Chief or Sachem his name, simply because it implied that he was unknown.
Elevated as wee their conceptions of the dignity of the men, they utterly degraded the women to the condition of miserable 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 of 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. So far was she removed from a position of equality with the opposite sex, that there was no society for the development of those cleansing qualities of the woman.
The workings of the mind of the Indian were the same everywhere. He subjected his body to the control of his will. He was schooled in tactfulness, and taught to be silent, because it was necessary in a society where the sharp weapon was the quick response to an insulting word. He was also trained to accept physical endurance as a virtue. Insensibility to pain was significant for a most sturdy manhood. It was regarded as an evidence of weakness or cowardice for an Indian to allow his expression to be changed by surprise or suffering. All his muscles and nerves were hardened against fear or pain.
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