Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Indian In His Wigwam
Characteristics of The Red Race of America
From Original Notes and Manuscripts
By Henry R. Schoolcraft
New York
Dewitt & Davenport
Tribune Buildings

This is a lengthy book and covers many of the Red Race who are not native to New York State. Pertinent parts of the book will be posted. abjerry
Thanks to Pamela Wozniak and David Collins for loaning this book for the purpose of using it on our website.


THE Indian, who takes his position as an orator, in front of his people, and before a mixed assemblage of white men, is to be regarded, in a measure, as an actor, who has assumed a part to perform. He regards himself as occupying a position in which all eyes are directed upon him, in scrutiny, and he fortifies himself for the occasion, by redoubled efforts in cautiousness and studied stoicism. Rigid of muscle, and suspicious of mind by nature, he brings to his aid the advantages of practised art, to bear him out in speaking for his tribe, and to quit him manfully of his task by uttering sentiments worthy of them and of himself. This is the statue-like and artistic phasis of the man. It is here that he is, truly

" A man without a fear-a stoic of the wood."

All this is laid aside, so far as it is assumed, when he returns from the presence of the " pale-faces," and rejoins his friends and kindred, in his own village, far away from all public gaze, in the deep recesses of the forest. Let us follow the man to this retreat, and see what are his domestic manners, habits, amusements, and opinions.

I have myself visited an Indian camp, in the far-off area of the NORTH-WEST, in the dead of winter, under circumstances suited to allay his suspicions, and inspire confidence, and have been struck with the marked change there is in his social temper, character, and feelings. And I have received the same testimony from Indian traders, who have spent years among them in these secluded positions, and been received by them as friends and kindred. All indeed, who have had frequent and full opportunities of witnessing the red man on his hunting grounds, concur in bearing evidence to his social, hospitable, and friendly habits and manners. Viewed in such positions, the most perfect sincerity and cheerfulness prevail; and their intercourse is marked with the broadest principles of charity and neighborly feeling. The restraint and ever watchful suspicion which they evince at the frontier post, or in other situations exposed to the scrutiny and cupidity of white men, is thrown aside and gives way to ease, sociability and pleasantry. They feel while thus ensconced in the shades of their native forests, a security unknown to their breasts in any other situations. The strife seems to be, who shall excel in offices of friendship and charity, or in spreading the festive board. If one is more fortunate than the other, in taking meat, or wielding the arrow or spear, the spoil is set apart for a feast, to which all the adults, without distinction, are invited. When the set time of the feast arrives, each one, according to ancient custom, takes his dish and spoon, and proceeds to the entertainer's lodge. The victuals are served up with scrupulous attention that each receives a portion of the best parts. While at the meal, which is prolonged by cheerful conversation, anecdote, and little narrations of personal adventure, the females are generally listeners ; and none, except the aged, ever obtrude a remark. The young women and girls show that they partake in the festivity by smiles, and are scrupulous to evince their attention to the elder part of the company. Conversation is chiefly engrossed by the old men and chiefs, and middle-aged men. Young men, who are desirous to acquire a standing, seldom offer a remark, and when they do, it is with modesty. The topics discussed at these public meals relate generally to the chace, to the news they have heard, or to personal occurrences about the village ; or to deeds, " real or fabulous," of " old lang syne ;" but the matters are discussed in a lively, and not in a grave style. Business, if we may be allowed that term for what concerns their trade and government intercourse, is never introduced except in formal councils, convened specially, and opened formally by smoking the pipe. It seems to be the drift of conversation, in these sober festivities (for it must be recollected that we are speaking of the Indians on their wintering grounds and beyond the reach, certainly beyond the free or ordinary use of ardent spirits), to extract from their hunts and adventures, -what-ever will admit of a pleasant turn, draw forth a joke, or excite a laugh. Ridiculous misadventures, or comical situations, are sure to be applauded in the recital. Whatever is anti-social, or untowad is passed over, or if referred to by another, is parried off, by some allusion to the scene before them.

Religion (we use this term for what concerns the great spirit, sacred dreams, and the ceremonies of the Meda or medicine dance), like business, is reserved for its proper occasion. It does not form, as with us, a free topic of remark, at least among those who are professors of the dance. Thus they cheat away the hours in pleasantry, free, but not tumultuous in their mirth, but as ardently bent on the enjoyment of the present moment, as if the sum of life were contained in these three words, " eat, drink, and be merry." When the feast is over, the women return to their lodges, and leave the men to smoke. On their return, they commence a conversation on what they have heard the men advance, and thus amuse themselves till their husbands return. The end of all is generally some good advice to the children. The company in these ordinary feasts is as general, with respect to the rank, age or standing of the guests, as the most unlimited equality of rights can make it. All the aged and many of the young are invited. There is, however, another feast instituted, at certain times during the season, to which young persons only are invited, or admitted, except the entertainer and his wife, and generally two other aged persons, who preside over the feast and administer its rites. The object of this feast seems to be instruction, to which the young and thoughtless are induced to listen for the anticipated pleasure of the feast. Before this feast commences, the entertainer, or some person fluent in speech, whom he has selected for the purpose, gets up and addresses the youth of both sexes on the subject of their course through life. He admonishes them to be attentive and respectful to the aged and to adhere to their counsels : never to scoff at the decrepid, deformed, or blind : to obey their parents : to be modest in their conduct: to be charitable and hospitable : to fear and love the great Spirit, who is the giver of life and every good gift. These precepts are dwelt upon at great length, and generally enforced by examples of a good man and woman and a bad man and woman, and after drawing the latter, it is ever the custom to say, " you will be like one of these." At the end of every sentence, the listeners make a general cry of haa. When the advice is finished, an address, or kind of prayer to the great Spirit is made, in which he is thanked for the food before them, and for the continuance of life. The speaker then says, " Thus the great Spirit supplies us with food; act justly, and conduct well, and you will ever be thus bountifully supplied." The feast then commences, and the elders relax their manner and mix with the rest, but are still careful to preserve order, and a decent, respectful behavior among the guests.

Let it not be supposed, however, that the Indian's life, while on his wintering grounds is a round of feasting. Quite the contrary ; and his feasts are often followed by long and painful fasts, and the severity of the seasons, and scarcity of game and fish, often reduce himself and family to the verge of starvation, and even death. When the failure of game, or any other causes, induce the hunter to remove to a new circle of country, the labor of the removal falls upon the female part of the family. The lodge, utensils and fixtures of every kind, are borne upon the women's backs, sustained by a strap of leather around the forehead. On reaching the intended place of encampment, the snow is cleared away, cedar branches brought and spread for a flooring, the lodge set up, the moveables stowed away, wood collected, and a fire built, and then, and not until then, can the females sit down and warm their feet and dry their moccasins. If there be any provisions, a supper is cooked. If there be none, all studiously strive to conceal the exhibition of the least concern on this account, and seek to divert their thoughts by conversation quite foreign to the subject. The little children are the only part of the family who complain, and who are privileged to complain, but even they are taught at an early age to suffer and be silent. Generally, something is reserved by the mother, when food becomes scarce, to satisfy their clamors, and they are satisfied with little. On such occasions, if the family have gone supperless to rest, the father and elder sons rise early in the morning in search of something. If one has the luck to kill even a partridge or a squirrel, it is immediately carried to the lodge, cooked, and divided into as many parts as there are members of the family. On these occasions, the elder ones often make a merit of relinquishing their portions to the women and children. If nothing rewards the search, the whole day is spent by the father upon his snowshoes, with his gun in his hands, and he returns at night, fatigued, to his couch of cedar branches and rush mats. But he does not return to complain, either of his want of success, or his fatigue. On the following day the same routine is observed, and days and weeks are often thus consumed without being rewarded with anything capable of sustaining life. Instances have been well authenticated, when this state of wretchedness has been endured by the head of a family until he has become so weak as to fall in his path, and freeze to death. When all other means of sustaining life are gone, the skins he has collected to pay his credits, or purchase new supplies of clothing or ammunition, are eaten. They are prepared by removing the pelt, and roasting the skin until it acquires a certain degree of crispness. Under all their sufferings, the pipe of the hunter is his chief solace, and is a solace often resorted to. Smoking parties are frequently formed, when there is a scarcity of food not tending, as might be supposed, to destroy social feeling and render the temper sour. On these occasions the entertainer sends a message to this effect: " Come and smoke with me. I have no food; but we can pass away the evening very well without it." All acknowledge their lives to be in the hand of the great Spirit; feel a conviction that all comes from him, and that although he allows them to suffer he will again supply them. This tends to quiet their apprehensions; they are fatalists, however, under long reverses, and submit patiently and silently to what they believe to be their destiny. When hunger and misery are past, they are soon forgotten, and their minds are too eagerly intent on the enjoyment of the present good, to feel any depression of spirits from the recollection of the past, or to hoard up anything to provide against want for the future. No people are more easy, or less clamorous under sufferings of the deepest dye, and none more happy, or more prone to evince their happiness, when prosperous in their affairs.
October 29th, 1826.

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