The American Indian: General Information Prior to 1900 Part I

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As became tribes largely made up of hunters, the dress was generally of skins, so fashioned as to combine the greatest protective warmth with the least encumbrance of weight. From the Arctic Circle to the Rio Grande or farther, except in California and the adjacent region, the native dress was usually of buckskin, consisting, for the men, of a shirt, G-string, or breech-cloth, leggings, and moccasins, and for the women, of a short-sleeved tunic, waist-cloth or apron, belt for knife and sewing-awl, with leggings and moccasins, generally made in one piece.

The warrior's shirt was frequently fringed with scalp locks. In cold weather and on ceremonial occasions a decorated robe was worn, while in warm weather or when engaged in active exertion the the men were usually stripped to the G-string. The young children went entirely naked in warm weather. Among the plains tribes the investiture of a boy with the G-string occurred when he was about ten years old, and was an occasion of good-natured rejoicing in the family, as indicating that he was now considered old enough to accompany his older relatives on hunting or war expeditions. The Gulf tribes and those of the Southwest wore turbans of bright-colored woven stuff; but elsewhere, except in the extreme North, the head was usually bare. Some tribes west of the Rockies went practically naked. On the northwest coast the woman's dress was often of bark fibre. The Eastern moccasin was made in one piece; the plains moccasin had a separate sole of rawhide.

East of the Mississippi the men usually shaved the whole head, excepting for a crest along the top and a long scalp-lock plaited and decorated with various trinkets. This scalp-lock, the prize and trophy of the victor in battle, was universal east of the Rocky Mountains, and over a great part of the country westward, but seems to have been unknown in California. On the plains the men generally wore their hair its full length, in two long braids hanging down over the shoulders in front, with the scalp-lock behind. The Osage and Pawnee shaved the head, excepting the scalp-lock, while the Wichita and Apache let the hair flow loosely down the back. The Pueblo, Piute, and most of the California tribes usually wore it cut off in front above the eyes and at the shoulder level behind. The Navaho bunched it into club shape. Women usually wore it flowing loosely. Those of the Sioux and Cheyenne wore it neatly braided at the sides. The Pueblo women cut it off at the shoulders and rolled it at the sides, while among the Hopi the unmarried women were distinguished by an extraordinary butterfly arrangement of the hair on each side of the head.

Head-flattening was practiced by the Choctaw and some of the Carolina tribes, and throughout most of the Columbia region. Labrets of bone were used by many tribes of the northwest coast. Nose pendants were common with a few tribes (hence the Nez Perce), while ear pendants with both sexes were almost universal. Tattooing was widespread, reaching its highest development among the Haida and others of the northwest coast, and the Wichita of the southern plains. Excepting with the tattooed tribes, painting was an essential part of full dress, colors and designs varying according to the occasion or the particular "medicine" of the individual.

Necklaces of shells, turquoise, mussel pearls, or, among the Navaho, of silver beads, were worn, with breastplates and gargets of shell or bone and bracelets of copper wire. Feathers and small objects supposed to have a mysterious protecting influence were worn in the hair, and the dress itself was profusely decorated with shell beads, elk-teeth, porcupine-quills, antelope-hoofs, and similar trinkets.

Dwellings and House-Building

North of the Pueblo region the general house plan may be described as circular. Among the Haida and others of the Alaskan coast, and extending down to the Columbia, the prevailing type was of boards, painted with symbolic designs and with the famous heraldic totem-poles, carved from cedar-trunks, standing at the entrance. Along the Columbia were found great communal houses. California had several distinct types, of which the dug-out and the dome-shaped clay-built house, entered from the top, were perhaps most common. The Piute, Apache, Papago, and others of Nevada and Arizona had the wikiup, an elliptical structure covered with reed mats or grass. The Navaho Hogan was a circular house of logs, covered with earth, and entered through a short passageway. The square-built stone or adobe dwelling of the Pueblo marked the northern limit of the Mexican culture area. These pueblos, they were called by the Spaniards, were aggregations of continuous rooms occupied by different families, so that the whole village sometimes consisted of but a single house, sometimes several stories in height.

The roofs were flat, a projection of the lower wall within the room served for seats and beds, and the fireplace was in one corner, instead of in the centre, as was almost universal elsewhere. For better security against the wild tribes, the outer walls of the lower story were often without doors or windows, entrance being gained through trap-doors in the roof by means of ladders, which were pulled up at night. For the same reason, many of the pueblos, especially in ancient times, were placed upon high mesas, or on shelves on the sides of almost inaccessible cliffs, whence the name "cliff-dwellers." The prevailing type on the plains was the conical skin tipi (a word of Sioux origin), no other being so easily portable and so well adapted to withstand the violent winds of the treeless prairies.The Pawnee, Arikara, Mandan, and one or two other tribes living close along the Missouri River built earth-covered log houses, somewhat like those of the Navaho, but much larger. The Wichita in the south built stationary houses of grass thatch laid over poles. About the upper lakes was found the bark-covered tipi, while east and southeast was the wigwam, a rectangular structure of stout poles, overlaid with bark or mats of woven rushes, and in general form closely resembling a rounded wagon top. Among the Iroquois it became the communal "long house." In the Gulf States were found houses, either rectangular or circular, of upright logs plastered over with clay.

The Pueblo villages had underground KIVAS, or public rooms, where the men of the various secret orders made their preparations for the great ceremonials. It corresponded somewhat to the medicine lodge of the plains tribes, built of green cottonwood branches for the celebration of their annual sun-dance, while among the Gulf tribes its place was supplied by the circular log "town house." Some of the Eastern and Southern tribes had also dead-houses, temples, and public granaries. In general, an Indian village was a scattering settlement, but with many of the Eastern tribes the more important towns were compactly built and strongly stockaded.


Website: The History
Article Name: The American Indian: General Information Prior to 1900 Part I
Researcher/Transcriber Miriam Medina


BIBLIOGRAPHY: From my Collection of Books: The New International Encyclopedia; 1902-1905 Dodd, Mead and Company-New York Total of 21 Volumes
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