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Notes of Henry Schoolcraft

This work contains all the original papers laid before Congress respecting the History, Antiquities, Languages, Ethnology, Pictography, Kites, and Superstitions of the Indian tribes of the United States. Congress having granted the copyright to the Author, he is enabled to present a private edition, with all the original opulence of type and illustration.

In preparing it for this purpose, some generalizations were required. A title, more expressive of the research necessary to promote the general object of the inquiry, has been prefixed. Full indices are given. The volumes of “Information” laid before the National Legislature, were prepared under official requirements, which are, in a measure, no longer imperative. These initial inquiries, embracing the first series of five volumes, were necessarily devoted to Tribal Histories, the traditions of particular families and tribes, dialects and languages, their vital and industrial statistics. Other traits invited study. Their manners and customs, although often described, were often described inaccurately. Their oral imaginative legends, prior to the Algic Researches, were untouched. Their pictography and mnemonic symbols, so much used in their inscriptions and secret societies, were a sealed record. Their rites and ceremonies, superstitious and religious, constituted subjects of which the rationale has not even been attempted.

To accumulate facts on these topics is to present the man in a new light. Why an Indian acts, in peace and war, contrary to the plainest maxims of European induction, could scarcely be guessed at, without a careful examination of these subjects. They disclose his theory of the effects of necromancy on the world of matter and mind his ideas of the nature and mode of action of a Deity, and of the admitted power and influence of their prophetic and forest priesthood. It is these aboriginal dogmas in their philosophy that have raised Indian armies to oppose the introduction of civilization. For opposing these, Prideaux, Braddock, Howe, Butler, Davies, and Holmes, successively fell. It is this influence of Indian opinion that has ever paralyzed the labors of the pulpit and the missionary press. The bodies of Tecumseh and Manahooc fell in battle, in the late war, to oppose the general spread of truth west of the Alleghanies, as those of Opechanganough and Pometacomet had previously fallen in early Virginia and struggling New England. It was the power of the Indian priesthood the Meda and the Wakan which was the hardest to oppose. They governed tribes and councils.

To the statist and politician, the Indian mind has been ever an enigma. To deal with a hundred and fifty tribes of savage men, now crowded between the Mississippi and the Pacific to vote, year by year, millions of money for their benefit and amelioration and to employ an entire Bureau of the Government, and a large corps of agents of every class to apply these sums, without knowing their principles of action, or even a certainty of their real condition, numbers, and character, was to labor to no practical end. To supply this confessed want of reliable data, Congress, after an unsuccessful and shifting course of policy of seventy years, commencing in 1776, directed the present body of information to be published. Not to have taken a full and comprehensive view of the Indian Man, in all his relations of language and ethnography, would have been utterly to disappoint expectation. It was the Indian mind, and its idiosyncrasies, rather than his exterior character that was most needed. To evolve the facts, tribal histories were indispensable. They were the only mode of approaching it; the chain of inquiries, dropped in one volume, has been resumed and continued in another, by the simple thread of figures and other diacritical marks. In this manner the investigation has been carried forward chronologically, through the groups of tribes recognized in the respective eras of Spanish, French, Swedish, Dutch, British, and American rule.

Attempts to trace the general Indian history required a severer and more recondite study, and in this very little aid could be derived from tradition. It is conceived that all Indian tradition, of over three centuries, is of no historical value. Unlike inquiries in other lands, which have been occupied by aboriginal races, there are no cuneiform records, as at Nineveh and Babylon, to decipher. There is no broken arch, nor fallen column, to study. For the ancient connection of the tribes with the nations of Europe, Asia, and Polynesia, our only means of study are their languages, antiquities, and other purely ethnological testimonies. The syntax and plan of thought of a people may remain, when the sounds of the language have almost wholly changed. We find this true of nearly all our American tribes, in whom the order of thought constitutes a trait of coincidence almost as uniform as their physiology. Testimony derived from arts is important. In all the tribes, from the Straits of Magellan to the Arctic, there has been found no trace of the simple disc of the potter s wheel, or the chock and whir, by which the engraving of antique gems, and other lathe-power, was effected. Prior to the advent of Manco Capac, metallurgy was at the rudest point in Peru, and artizans there, as well as in Mexico, prior to Quetzalcoatl, were without the blowpipe, crucible, or a metallic solder. Subsequently, arts arose walls were accurately built, and stones fitted, without cement, however, of any kind; but the true arch was never discovered.

The picture writings of the South came in very rudely, as a succedaneum, to per form the office of letters. It was so imperfect a record as to be just barely better than nothing at all. For it ever depended, in a great measure, like our North American pictography, on living interpreters, who perfectly understood the symbols and ideographic combinations. In Mexico, beside the use of bright, impressive colors, their art was eked out by combinations of circles and dots, and symbols denoting days and cycles. They had originally a week of five days, a month of thirteen, and a year of twenty months making two hundred and sixty days. This astronomical error was finally corrected by noticing the recessions of the sun, and a solar year of three hundred and sixty-five days had been reached at the tune of the Conquest a result which clearly denotes civilization and art to have been indigenous and progressive.

But in the simpler pictography of the Vesperic, or United States tribes, no such precision of time had been attained. They had no exact calendar, counting only phases of the moon, of which twelve, and sometimes thirteen, made the year. They ignored all knowledge of a foreign origin their traditions, at most, but dimly and feebly recognized the discovery of the coasts by Europeans. The Algonquins of the lakes have a tradition of the arrival of the French in the St. Lawrence.1 The Iroquois have a tradition of the first coming of white men to the site of Albany.2 The Lenno Lenapis narrate a reminiscence of the arrival of a ship at the mouth of the Hudson. Chickasaw tradition tells of the landing of a large body of Frenchmen, or foreigners, at or near the present site of Memphis, on the Mississippi, which is sup posed to refer to DeSoto.3 The Creek brass plates, preserved with so much ceremonious respect, appear to refer to the expeditions of the same adventurer.4 If we assume a period of three centuries, it will include these traditionary gleams of Indian history.

To reach a more ancient period, their rock-pictography, in the symbolic character of the Kekeewin, has been examined. One of these old hieroglyphic records, called by them Muzzinabik, is found on the tabular face of a rock near the ancient Venango, in the channel of the Alleghany River.5 Another is figured on the top-face of a rock on an island in Lake Erie.6 Another on a large fragment of greenstone lying in the eastern margin of the Taunton or Assonet River, opposite Dighton, in Rhode Island.7 There are pictographic figures of ancient date on the rocks at Bellows Falls, on the Connecticut, and at West River, Vermont.8 Each of these reveal, more or less fully, triumphs in hunting or war. Each of them is executed in the native symbolic or representative character, and each is of ideographic construction. They relate exclusively to the hunter age. There is, in their text-symbols and devices, no allusion to the arts, costume, or existence at all of the white man. They may, therefore, be considered, together with some minor inscriptions of the same kind, as records of a prior age. There is a single pictograph of old date, on the rocks of the Hudson Valley, which denotes the introduction of the gun among the Indians.9 Another, in the region of the Great Lakes, denotes the arrival of a ship in that quarter.10 The voyages of Hudson in 1609, and of La Salle in 1687, may possibly, not certainly, be thus pictographically denoted.

Mr. Bunsen informs us, that hordes of Turanian lineage overran Northern Asia.11 In their system of pictography, the United States tribes resemble these erratic hordes. Pictorial devices exist on the rocks of the great and widespread valleys of the Obe, Yenesei, and Lena Rivers, which coincide with the pictographic markings so early noticed and long known among the littoral tribes of the Atlantic, the great chain of American Lakes, and the Mississippi Valley. In these simple pictographs, no attempts even, in the American or the Asiatic tribes, were made, to give these forest markings an alphabetic value. There is another point of resemblance in these forest races, in that bowing down of the hunter and warrior mind to a class of ascetic rhapsodists called in America Jossakeeds, who, through the influence of daemons, profess to reveal the will of the Deity. Here, as there, the Sun was regarded as the fundamental object of worship.

On the discovery of the aboriginal tribes of America, this type of Oriental idolatry prevailed from Atacama and Quito to the peaks of the Monadnock and Wombick.12 It was prominently set up and recognized as the ritual of a dynasty, at Cusco, at Mexico, and at Natchez. In Mexico there was engrafted on it the dreadful worship of Huitzilapochtli, to whom human hearts were offered. In the Mississippi Valley, when DeSoto, imitating the successful policy of Capac, announced himself to the Chigantualgas as the messenger or descendant of the Sun, then, was the wily response, “dry up the waters of the Mississippi.” Pictographs of the ancient recognition of this worship have been obtained from the banks of Lake Superior to Massachusetts. Mackenzie testifies to the appeal to the Sun, in solemn ceremonial transactions, by the tribes of British Columbia. And we may appeal to the same recognition of this symbol, in the official history of our treaties and solemn negotiations.

Other Oriental traits of the American tribes have been noticed (Vol. I., p. 27), but none which appear antagonistic to the theory referred to. The Pythagorean doctrine of the transmigration of souls, is certainly recognized in the oral legends of the Algonquins.13 The tribe generally believe in the existence of that duality of the Supreme Power which was recognized in oriental climes under the names of Ormuzd and Ariman. They recognize many subordinate powers of Deity, as guardians of families and totems, but are not polytheists in worship. The Great Spirit appears to be regarded with the unity and character attached, in the old Hebraic ideas, to Jehovah. They are not Buddhists. Of prominent Brahmanitic rites, none are practiced. There is no infanticide, no burning of widows, no sacrifice of bodies to a sacred Ganges. There is no deification of principles. We have no personifications analagous to

Brahma, Siva, and Vishnoo. Ignorio, Hiawatha, and Manabozho, are messengers of the Great Spirit who is the Great EXISTENCE, or Iau, of the Algonquins.

American archaeology has, to the student of history, some interesting traces of the footsteps of a Celtic, a Scandinavian, and a Cimmerian intrusion, prior to the era of Columbus. These have heretofore served perhaps to complicate, rather than to clear up, Indian history, but invite research.

The monuments of these early European foot-prints on the continent are to be sought in the same mausolea, mounds, and barrows; and if the traces of foreign art are not striking, it is rather to be regarded as a proof that the intrusive visits, or voyages, preceded the general spread of letters and civilization, from the shores of the Mediterranean over the west of Europe.

To the five volumes of tribal histories and studies now furnished, it was hoped to have kept pace with the spread of the Union, by adding the ethnographical and statistical desiderata which belong to the aboriginal tribes of New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington. But this task must be left to other hands, and other times and sympathies, to whom the race may appeal, if by nothing else, yet by their miseries, misfortunes, ignorance, and manifest doom, and that indomitable devotion to symbol-worship and idolatry, which the judicial judgments of Jehovah himself, for three or four thousand years, have not been able to break or modify. The modern history of the Indians is confined to the sixth volume. One and all of these volumes are respectfully offered as contributions to the origin, history, and character of an obscure people, heretofore enveloped in gross darkness and mystery.

The names of observers in the field and closet, who have aided me, by correspondence and otherwise, in these inquiries, have been mentioned in the course of the work others are herewith acknowledged.14

H. E. S.
Washington, D. C., July 7th, 1859.


  1. Oneöta. 

  2. Archives, Vol. IV., p. 256. 

  3. Ib., Vol. I., p. 211. 

  4. Vol. I., p. 87. 

  5. Vol. IV., p. 172. 

  6. Vol. III., p. 85. 

  7. Vol. L, p. 108. 

  8. Vol. VI., p. 610. 

  9. Vol. III., p. 73. 

  10. Oneota. 

  11. Phil. Uni. History, Vol. II., p. 211, &c. 

  12. White Mountains, N. H. 

  13. Myth of Hiawatha. 

  14. Charles Stokes, Esq., dec’d, London; Hon. Albert Gallatin, dec’d; C. J. J. Bunsen, Mem. French Inst.; Washington Irving; Col. J. J. Abert, U. S. A.; Dr. Francis Lieber, LL. D., Mem. French Institute; Thomas Ewbank, Esq.; Win. Duane, Esq.; Ramsay Crooks, Esq., dec’d, Pres. Am. Fur Company; Peter Force, Esq.; Brantz Mayer, Esq.; Chas. Whittlesy, Esq.; G. Gibbs, Esq.; Capt. J. Magruder, U. S. N.; Luke Lea, Ex. Com.
    Indian Affairs; Rev. Thomas Hurlburt; Wm. Medill, Ex. Com. Indian Affairs; J. M. Stanley, Esq.; Col. E. Jewett; Charles E. Mix, Esq.; J. D. Andrews, Esq.; M. H. Perley, Esq.; Captain J. M’Cown, U. S. A.; John Frost, LL. D.; Dr. Aug. Hamlin; Mr. John Potts. 

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