Monday, August 1, 2011

Native American Canoes

American Indians
Frederick Starr
D. C. Heath & Co., Publishers
Boston, New York, Chicago

Hunting And Fishing.

To the Indian hunting and fishing were serious business. Upon the man's success depended the comfort and even the life of the household. Game was needed as food. The Indians had to learn the habits of the different animals so as to be able to capture or kill them. Boys tried early to learn how to hunt.
Clark tells of an Indian, more than eighty years old, who recalled with great delight the pleasure caused by his first exploit in hunting. “When I was eight years of age,” he said, “I killed a goose with a bow and arrow and took it to my father's lodge, leaving the arrow in it. My father asked me if I had killed it, and I said, ‘Yes; my arrow is in it.’ My father examined the bird, fired off his gun, turned to an old man who was in the lodge, presented the gun to him and said, ‘Go and harangue the camp; inform them all what my boy has done.’ When I killed my first buffalo I was ten years old. My father was right close, came to me and asked if I killed it. I said I had. He called some old men who were by to come over and look at the buffalo his son had killed, gave one of them a pony, and told him to inform the camp.” Such boyish successes were always the occasion of family rejoicing.
[pg 047]
To the Indians of the Plains the important game was buffalo; and for buffalo two great hunts were made each year,—a summer and a winter hunt. Sometimes whole villages together went to these hunts. Few cared to stay behind, for fear of attack by hostile Indians. Provisions and valuables which were not needed on the journey were carefully buried, to be dug up again on the return. At times the people of a village went hundreds of miles on these expeditions. Baggage was carried on ponies in charge of the women. At night it took but a few minutes to make camp, and no more was necessary in the morning for breaking camp and getting on the way.

In journeying they went in single file. Scouts constantly kept a lookout for herds. When a herd was sighted, it was approached with the greatest care: everything was done according to fixed rules and under appointed leaders. When ready for the attack, the hunters drawn up in a single row approached as near as possible to the herd and waited for the signal to attack. When it was given, the whole company charged into the herd, and each did his best to kill all he could. All were on horseback, and armed with bows and arrows. They tried to get abreast of the animal and to discharge the weapon to a vital spot. One arrow was enough to kill sometimes, but usually more were necessary. A single successful hunter might kill four or five in a half hour.

After the killing a lively time ensued. The [pg 048]dead animals were skinned, cut up, and carried on ponies into camp. There the skins were pegged out to dry, the meat was cut up into strips or sheets for drying, or made up into pemmican. Every one was busy and happy in the prospect of plenty of food.
Sometimes, however, no herds could be found. Day after day passed without success. The camp was well-nigh discouraged. Then a buffalo dance was held. In this the hunters dressed themselves in the skins and horns of buffalo, and danced to the accompaniment of special music and songs.
In dancing, they imitated the movements of the buffalo, believing that thus they could compel the animals to appear. Hour after hour, even day after day, passed in such dancing until some scout hurrying in reported a herd in sight. Then the dance would abruptly cease, its object being gained.
Of course many ingenious devices were employed in hunting. Antelope were stalked; fur-bearing animals were trapped or snared. Sometimes all the animals in a considerable area were driven into a central space where they were killed, or from which they were driven between lines of stones or brush, to some point where they would fall over a cliff and be killed in the fall. Such drives used to be common in the Pueblo district. To-day deer are rarer there; so are the mountain lion and the bear. Hunts there are more likely [pg 049]nowadays to be for rabbits than for larger game. These are caught in nets, but are more frequently killed by rabbit sticks, which may be knot-ended clubs or flat, curved throwing sticks, a little like the boomerangs of Australia.
Group of Weapons. (From Originals in Peabody Museum, Cambridge.)
The great weapon for hunting was the bow and arrow. Indian bows ranged from frail, weak things, hardly suitable for a child, to the “strong bow” of the Sioux and Crows, which would send an arrow completely through a buffalo; the most powerful Colt's revolver—so Clark says—will not send a ball through the same animal. The Crows sometimes made beautiful bows of elk horn; such cost much labor and were highly valued. Three months' time was spent in making a single one. Arrows required much care in their making. In some tribes each man made all his arrows of precisely one length, [pg 050]different from all others. This was an aid in recognizing them. Many carried with them a measure, the exact length of their arrows so as to settle disputes. This was necessary to determine who had killed a given animal: the carcass belonged to the man whose arrow was found in it.
Among some eastern tribes, and particularly in the south, where fine canes grow near streams, the blow-gun is used. This consists of a piece of cane perhaps eight or ten feet long, which is carefully pierced from end to end and then smoothed inside. Arrows are made from slender shafts of rather heavy and hard wood. They are perhaps a foot and a half long and hardly more than a quarter or an eighth of an inch thick. They are cut square at one end and pointed at the other; around the shaft, toward the blunt end, a wrapping of thistle-down is firmly secured with thread. This surrounds perhaps three or four inches of the arrow's length, and has a diameter such as to neatly fit the bore of the blow-gun. The arrow is inserted in the tube, and a sudden puff of breath sends it speeding on its way. An animal the size of a rabbit or woodchuck may be killed with this weapon at an astonishing distance.
Among inland tribes, fishing was usually a matter of secondary importance. Fish pieced out the food supply rather than formed its bulk. But along some seacoasts fish is a very important food. The tribes of the Northwest Coast live [pg 051]almost entirely upon fish. The salmon is particularly important among them. These tribes have devised many kinds of lines, hooks, nets, fish-baskets, traps, and wiers. Everywhere the commonest mode of securing fish is and was by spearing.
Birch-Bark Canoe.
Once I went out at night with some Indian boys of Gay Head, Martha's Vineyard, “neeskotting.” These boys have a good deal of Indian blood, but they dress, talk, and act in most ways just like white boys. I think neeskotting, however, is truly Indian. “We rode down to the shore in an ox-cart, carrying lanterns with us. Each boy had a pole, at the end of which was firmly tied a cod-hook. The tide was falling, and the wind was blowing in toward shore. Walking along the beach, with lantern held in one hand so as to see the shallow water's bottom, and with the pole in the other hand ready for use, the boys watched for fish. Hake, a foot or more long, frost fish, lighter colored and more slender, and eels, are the usual prey. The hake and eels rarely come into water less than six inches deep. Frost fish, on the contrary, come [pg 052]close into shore, and on cold nights crowd out on the very beach. When a fish has been seen, a sudden stroke of the pole and a quick inpull are given to impale the prey, and drag it in to shore. It was an exciting scene. Hither and thither the boys darted, with strokes and landings, with cries of joy at success or despair at failure. Finally, with perhaps fifty hake, twenty frost fish, and one shining eel, the bottom of our cart was covered, and we turned homeward.”
“Bull-Boat” or Coracle.
In fishing, hunting, and journeying, the woodland Indians needed some sort of water craft. They had a number of different kinds of canoes. The “dug-out,” cut from a single tree trunk, is still used in many of our Southern streams; the Cherokees in their lovely North Carolina home have them. Along the Northwest Coast, magnificent war-canoes, capable of carrying fifty or sixty persons, were made from single giant logs; these canoes often had decorative bow and stern pieces carved from separate blocks. The birch-bark canoes were made over light wooden frames with [pg 053]pieces of birch bark neatly fitted, sewed, and gummed, to keep out the water. Almost all the Algonkin tribes and the Iroquois used them upon their lakes and rivers; they were light enough to be carried easily across the portages. A few tribes, the Mandans among others, had the light but awkward “bull-boat,” or coracle, nearly circular, consisting of a light framework covered with skin: such were chiefly used in ferrying across rivers.

Native American's Wampum                    
 Massacre on the Wabash, the Miami Indians Defeat of St. Clair