How The Indians Lived
 

 
 

BEFORE the white people settled America it was inhabited by many tribes of the people we call Indians. They were called Indians because the first discoverers believed America to be a part of India. The Indian is of a brown or copper color, with black eyes and straight hair.

In what is now the United States the clothing of the Indians was mostly made of deerskin. A whole deerskin was thrown about the shoulders, a strip of the same material was hung about the loins, and the leggings worn in winter were also of deerskin. Some of the Southern Indians wore mantles woven from the fiber of a plant which now grows in gardens under the name of  " Spanish bayonet," but which in that day was called " silk-grass." The women wore deerskin aprons. Women of the Northern tribes wore mantles of beaver skins. Shoes, or moccasins, were of deerskin, sometimes embroidered with porcupine quills or shell beads.


The Indian warriors were fond of staining their faces in stripes, spots, and splashes of red, yellow, and blue. Some of the Virginia Indians wore bears' or hawks' claws, and even living snakes, dangling from their ears; and sometimes, also, the savage Indian warrior would wear the dried hand of his dead enemy in the same way. The use of such ugly adornment was to make the savages seem as fierce and terrible as possible. Both men and women decorated themselves with beads, which they made from seashells. These were called " wampum," and were worn in strings, or wrought into belts, necklaces, and bracelets. Wampum was also used among them as money, and as presents in making treaties between the tribes.

The Indian warriors were fond of staining their faces in stripes, spots, and splashes of red, yellow, and blue. Some of the Virginia Indians wore bears' or hawks' claws, and even living snakes, dangling from their ears ; and sometimes, also, the savage Indian warrior would wear the dried hand of his dead enemy in the same way. The use of such ugly adornment was to make the savages seem as fierce and terrible as possible. Both men and women decorated themselves with beads, which they made from seashells. These were called " wampum," and were worn in strings, or wrought into belts, necklaces, and bracelets. Wampum was also used among them as money, and as presents in making treaties between the tribes.

Indian houses, or wigwams, were mere tents of bark or of mats, supported by poles. Among the Indians of the Western prairies, skins of animals were used to cover the Indian houses. Indian wigwams were not divided into rooms. The inmates slept on the ground, or sometimes on raised platforms. The fire was built in the middle of the wigwam, and the smoke found its way out through an opening at the top. In some tribes long arbor like houses were built of bark. In these there were fires at regular intervals. Two families lived by each fire.

The Indians had very little furniture. There were a few of cookery, mats and skins for bedding. Some tribes had for household use wooden vessels, which they made by burning and scraping out blocks of wood, little by little, with no other tools than shells or sharp stones. These Indians cooked their food by putting water into their wooden kettles and then throwing in heated stones. When the stones had made the water hot, they put in it whatever they wished to cook. Other tribes knew how to make pots of earthenware ; and yet others cut them out of soapstone. Vessels of pottery and soapstone could be set over the fire. Often fish and meat were broiled on sticks laid across above the fire ; green corn was roasted under the ashes, as were also squashes, and various roots. Indian corn, put into a mortar and pounded into meal, was mixed with water and baked in the ashes, or boiled in a pot. Sometimes the meal was parched and carried in a little bag, to be eaten on a journey.

A few tribes near to salt springs had salt, the rest used leaves of several sorts for seasoning.

For tilling the ground the Indians had rude tools ; their hoe was made by attaching to a stick a piece of deer's horn, or the shoulder-blade bone of an animal, or the shell of a turtle, a bit of wood, or a flat stone. They raised Indian corn, beans, squashes, and tobacco. They prepared the ground by girdling the trees so as to kill them ; sometimes they burned the trees down. Some tribes had rude axes for cutting small trees; these were made of stone. The handle of the stone ax was formed by tying a stick to it, or by twisting a green withe about it. Sometimes an Indian would split open a growing young cutting tools, tree and put the ax into the cleft ; when the tree had grown fast around the ax he would cut it down and shorten it to the proper length for a handle. The Indians had no iron. For knives they had pieces of bone, sharp stones, and shells.

The Indian procured fire Making fire by twirling the end of a stick against another piece of wood. To give this twirling stick a quick motion, he wrapped a bowstring about it, and then drew the bow swiftly to and fro.

The most remarkable product of Indian skill was the canoe; this was made in some tribes by burning out a log, little by little, and scraping the charred parts with shells, until the " dugout " canoe was sufficiently deep and rightly shaped. Many canoes made in this way, without any other tools than shells and sharp stones, would carry from twenty to forty men. The Northern tribes constructed a more beautiful canoe, of white birch bark, stretched on slender wooden ribs, and sewed together with roots and fibers. Such canoes were made water-tight by the use of gums.


Among the Indians, the hardest work fell to the women. Hunting, gambling, and making war, were the occupations of the men. The male Indian was from childhood trained to war and the chase. Game and fish, with such fruits, nuts, and roots as grew wild in the woods and swamps, were the principal dependence of the Indians for food. As they suffered much from hunger and misery, the population of the country was always thin. Moreover, the continual wars waged between the  Indians, the hardest work fell to the women. Hunting, gambling, and making war, were the occupations of the men. The male Indian was from childhood trained to war and the chase. Game and fish, with such fruits, nuts, and roots as grew wild in the woods and swamps, were the principal dependence of the Indians for food. As they suffered much from hunger and misery, the population of the country was always thin. Moreover, the continual wars waged between the various tribes, in which women and children as well as men were slain, kept the red men from increasing in numbers. Large tracts of country were left uninhabited, because tribes at war dared not live near to one another, for fear of surprise. In all the country east of the Mississippi River there were but a few hundred thousand people ; hardly more than there are in one of our smallest States, and not enough, if they had all been brought together, to make a large city.

 

Website: The History Box.com
Article Name: How The Indians Lived
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina

Source:

BIBLIOGRAPHY: A History of the United States and Its People by Edward Eggleston; American Book Company-New York 1899
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