Collection: Archives Of Aboriginal Knowledge


Kekeenowin: This class of signs is devoted to the forest priesthood. There are two institutions among the North American Indians, which will be found to pervade the whole body of the tribes from the Atlantic to the Pacific, and from the Gulf of Mexico to the Arctic Ocean, however the terms by which they are denoted differ, or the minor rites of the institutions themselves may be modified. They are called in the language from which we adopt most of the aboriginal terms in this treatise, the Medawin, and the Jeesukawin. In other terms, they are the art of medical magic, and of prophecy. Both are very ancient in their origin, and very generally diffused, practiced and believed in. It is impossible duly to consider the pictorial art as existing among them, without some prior notice of these leading and characteristic institutions. For, a very large proportion of both the simple representative and symbolic signs they employ, derive their force and significancy from the relation they bear to these institutions.

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Mammoth Skeletons found in Missouri

Scarcely a year passes that does not add to the number of localities, of the former existence of an animal era in America, attesting great changes. These discoveries are not alone confined to the Mississippi Valley, where they were first made. The borders of the sea-shore in South Carolina; the great marine deposits of Georgia and Alabama; and the clay and alluvial beds of the valleys of the Hudson River, have yielded some of the largest specimens of these antique bones; even the uplands of Vermont have recently given proofs of this kind. But it is to the valley of the Osage, in Missouri, that we are called, more particularly, to look. Speaking of this region, a correspondent remarks: “The great West is affording to the learned and curious a vast and varied field for speculation in the various departments of science. It is filling the museums and cabinets of the world with rare mineralogical and geological specimens, while it is affording still more extraordinary and perplexing problems to the naturalist. “The recent discovery of bones by Messrs. Case and Redman, of Warsaw, in the Osage Valley, transcends anything of the kind yet offered to the public, both in point of number and size. The bones represent a genus of animals long since out of existence. The age in which they lived is so remote, that even tradition does...

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Character of the Indian Race

Of the topics which may be employed to denote the mental character and capacities of the aborigines, the principles of their languages the style of their oratory the oral imaginative lodge lore which they possess and their mode of communicating ideas by the use of symbolic and representative devices, are the most prominent. The two latter have been selected on the present occasion. One reason for this choice is the little information we have heretofore had on the subjects. From a very early age, the Indian of North America has been observed to be a man possessing a flexible and imaginative mythology; to be prone to indulge in theories of cosmogony, in which the want of a true knowledge of the Deity, and a history of much pretensions to consistency, has often been ingeniously supplied by oral relations of the acts of spiritual beings, which constitute a new species of literary machinery, and who supply an outlet for the exhibition of wild poetic feelings, and fantastic theories of the acts and doings of spirits, giants, dwarfs, monsters and men. Another very striking mode of setting forth these beliefs, and exhibiting this miraculous agency, exists in the reflex influence of the curious devices which they have, from the discovery, been found to draw, in a rude way, on scrolls of bark, trees, rocks, and various substances, and which they denominate...

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History of the Muskogee Indians

History of the Muskogee Indians: The following traditions and opinions of their origin, early history, and customs, are from the lips of Se-ko-pe-chi, (Perseverance) one of the oldest Creeks, now living in their new location west of the Mississippi. They were taken down from his narration, by Mr. D. W. Eakins, who was for some time a resident of the territory now occupied by them west of the state of Arkansas, and have been communicated in reply to the printed inquiries issued in 1847, respecting the History, Present Condition, and Future Prospects of the Indian Tribes of the United States.

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Grave Creek Mound Tablet

The Grave Creek Mound tablet has been an object of debate since it’s purported discovery in 1838 – it is considered one of America’s great hoaxes. Henry Schoolcraft in his Archives Of Aboriginal Knowledge discusses the history of the mounds and the tablet up to 1860.

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Indian Tribes of New Mexico

Governor Charles Bent, the author of the annexed memoir, who received his authority from General Kearny, fell before the perfidy of the assassins of Taos. New Mexico will long lament the loss of his experience and knowledge of Indian affairs. An extensive acquaintance with the tribes south of the Arkansas and Red Rivers, reaching to the Rio Grande and the regions west of it, had qualified him to make a just estimate of the character and population of the aboriginal tribes who rove over those vast and undefined plains, and mountain fastnesses. In his estimation of the tribes, the boundaries of New Mexico as known to the Spanish government were exclusively referred to. The subsequent changes made by an Act of Congress, has brought within its extreme western and southern limits, as now established, the elements of a new aboriginal population. Of the region lying in the Valley of the Colorado and north of the Gila, we are too little informed to speak with any degree of precision. The early Spanish adventurers do not profess to have explored it beyond Cibola. Coronada failed in this object of his celebrated expedition. How far the apparently semi-civilized race, to whom the Spanish writers applied the term of “Yumanos,” extended north and west, into that area, we cannot decide. It may be expected that the Boundary Commissioner engaged in running the lines...

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Indian Pictographs

Indian Pictographs: Observations on the Pictographic Method of Communicating Ideas by Symbolic and Representative Devices of the North American Indians. Pictorial and symbolical Representations constitute one of the earliest observed traits in the Customs and Arts of the American Indians. This Art found to assume a systematic Form, among the rude Hunter Tribes of North America, in the year 1820, when it was noticed on the Source of the Mississippi. This Instance given, with a Drawing. The Hint pursued.

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The Sacred Jeesukawin

The Sacred Jeesukawin: The art of prophecy, or the Jeesukawin, is practiced alone, by distinct and solitary individuals, who have no associates; who at least do not exist, and are never known as societies. Prophets start up at long intervals, and far apart, among the Indian tribes. They profess to be under supernatural power, and to be filled with a divine afflatus. It is, however, an art resembling that of the Medáwin, and founded on a similar principle of reliance, differing chiefly in the object sought. The meta seeks to propitiate events; the jossakeed aims to predict them. Both appeal to spirits for their power. Both exhibit material substances, as stuffed birds, bones, &c., as objects by or through which the secret energy is to be exercised. The general modes of operation are similar, but vary. The drum is used in both, but the songs and incantations differ. The rattle is confined to the ceremonies of the meda and the wabeno. The jossakeed addresses himself exclusively to the Great Spirit. His office, and his mode of address, are regarded with greater solemnity and awe. His choruses are peculiar, and deemed by the people to carry an air of higher reverence and devotion.

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Gold Deposits of California

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1. The discovery of gold in California makes the year 1848 an era in the history of that country. It was accidentally found, in the Spring season, in the diluvial soil, by some persons digging the sluiceway for a mill. Specimens of the various kinds of the metal and its matrix were forwarded to the War Department by the chief military officer in command, in the month of August. These specimens were not received at the War-Office till early in December. I examined them in the library of that office, on the 8th of that month. They consisted of thirteen specimens of various minerals, chiefly gold in some of its metallic forms. 2. Judged by external character, the specimens admitted of being grouped in the following manner: Small masses of native gold, in the separate form of grains and scales, or minute plates, from which all extraneous matter had been cleanly washed. Similar forms of equally fine, and highly colored masses, with the loose residuary iron sand of the washer. Masses of scale-form gold of an ounce or more in weight, but offering no other peculiarity of character. An ovate mass of two ounces weight, having a portion of its original matrix of quartz still adhering.All the scale-form, and lump gold, exhibits, more or less distinctly, the marks of attrition, and of having been carried in its alluvial association...

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Existing Geological Action of the North American Lakes

That species of action which is supposed to have brought the surface of the earth into its habitable condition is comprised in the era of physical revolutions which are long past. By what causes, and according to what laws, these changes were produced, and their effects on the superposition and relation of strata, constitute no small part of the considerations of geology. Seas, rivers, mountains, and plains, are conjectured to have been left by those ancient revolutions, all of which preceded the historical epoch. It has been observed that the post-diluvial action of rivers flowing into the sea, and...

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General Archaeology

There is little in the history of the hunter state of man that can be dignified with the name of monuments. Tribes, who rely on the bow and arrow for their means of subsistence; who cultivate the earth by loosening the soil with the scapula of a stag or bison; who are completely erratic in their habits and customs; and who put up, as a shelter from the elements, buildings of the slightest and most perishable materials, cannot be expected to have left very extensive or striking monumental traces of their past history. This will be found to be the case, in a peculiar manner, it is apprehended, with the antiquarian remains of the branch of the human race, who formerly inhabited the area of the United States. The most antique things in it, appear to be the people themselves. They are the greatest wonder that the continent has produced. These tribes roved through vast forests, in which they can hardly be said to have had a fixed occupancy. They were cut up into many petty independencies, perpetually at war with each other, who did not remain stationary long enough to organize governments capable of commanding labor on public works. To waylay an enemy; to shake his scalp in the air; to follow the tracks of a deer or a bear; to brandish the war-club in the dance; these...

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Schoolcraft’s Opinion of Native American History

1. Native American history, on this continent, is more celebrated for preserving its fables than its facts. This is emphatically true respecting the hunter and non-industrial tribes of the present area of the United States, who have left but little that is entitled to historical respect. Nations creeping out of the ground a world growing out of a tortoise s back the globe re-constructed from the earth clutched in a muskrat s paw, after a deluge, such are the fables, or allegories, from which we are to frame their ancient history. Without any mode of denoting their chronology, without letters, without any arts depending upon the use of iron tools, without, in truth, any power of mind or hand, to denote their early wars and dynasties, except what may be inferred from their monumental remains, there is nothing, in their oral narrations of ancient epochs, to bind together or give consistency to even this incongruous mass of wild hyperboles and crudities. Whenever it is attempted, by the slender thread of their oral traditions, to pick up and reunite the broken chain of history, by which they were anciently connected with the old world, their sachems endeavor to fix attention by some striking allegory or incongruous fiction; which sounds, to ears of sober truth, like attempts at weaving a rope of sand. To impress the mind by extraordinary simplicity, or...

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The Erection of Mounds

It has been perceived by a part of the preceding observations, that the Indian theology recognizes deities of Good and Evil, to one or both of whom they offer sacrifices. These sacrifices, when they are made to propitiate the deity, or avert a calamity, as sickness in the family, which is one of the most common and general modes of affliction in which an Indian s heart is melted into sympathy, these sacrifices, I remark, in such cases often consist of some cherished object in the animate or inanimate creation, hung up at the lodge door, on a high peeled pole, and exposed thus to dangle in the air. Scarlet cloth, which is a favorite color; ribbons, which are bought at a high price; the wings of a bird, or, when the appeal is strong, a small dog, which has first been devoted to the sacrificial knife, are thus offered. Other, and more general objects of request, calamities to be avoided, or luck to be secured, are expressed by some cherished thing, such as a piece of tobacco, which is deemed a sacred plant, thrown into the water or fire, or left upon a rock. Still another mode of making an acceptable offering, is by the incense of tobacco, burned in the pipe, the fumes of which, as they rise and mingle with the air, where gods and spirits...

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