Traditionally, the very beginning of the United States’ history is considered from the time of European exploration and settlement, starting in the 16th century, to the present. But people had been living in America for over 30,000 years before the first European colonists arrived.
When Columbus landed on the island of San Salvador in 1492 he was welcomed by a brown-skinned people whose physical appearance confirmed him in his opinion that he had, at last, reached India, and whom, therefore, he called Indios, Indians, a name which, however, mistaken in its first application continued to hold its own, and has long since won general acceptance, except in strictly scientific writing, where the more exact term American is commonly used. As exploration was extended north and south it was found that the same race was spread over the whole continent, from the Arctic shores to Cape Horn, everywhere alike in the main physical characteristics, with the exception of the Eskimo in the extreme North (whose features suggest the Mongolian).
Origin and Antiquity
Various origins have been assigned to the Indian race. The more or less believable explanation is following. At the height of the Ice Age, between 34,000 and 30,000 B.C., much of the world’s water was contained in vast continental ice sheets. As a result, the Bering Sea was hundreds of meters below its current level, and a land bridge, known as Beringia, emerged between Asia and North America. At its peak, Beringia is thought to have been some 1,500 kilometers wide. A moist and treeless tundra, it was covered with grasses and plant life, attracting the large animals that early humans hunted for their survival. The first people to reach North America almost certainly did so without knowing they had crossed into a new continent. They would have been following game, as their ancestors had for thousands of years, along with the Siberian coast and then across the land bridge.
The most marked physical characteristics of the Indian race type are brown skin, dark brown eyes, prominent cheek bones, straight black hair, and scantiness of beard. The color is not red, as is popularly supposed, but varies from very light in some tribes, as the Cheyenne, to almost black in others, as the Caddo and Tamari. In a few tribes, as the Flatheads, the skin has a distinct yellowish cast. The hair is brown in childhood but always black in the adult until it turns gray with age. Baldness is almost unknown. The eye is not held so open as in the Caucasian and seems better adapted to distance than to close work. The nose is usually straight and well shaped, and in some tribes strongly aquiline. Their hands and feet are comparatively small. Height and weight vary as among Europeans, the Pueblos averaging but little more than five feet, while the Cheyenne and Arapaho are exceptionally tall, and the Tehuelche of Patagonia almost massive in build. As a rule, the desert Indians, as the Apache, are spare and muscular in build, while those of the timbered regions are heavier, although not proportionately stronger. The beard is always scanty but increases with the admixture of white blood. The mistaken idea that the Indian has naturally no beard is due to the fact that in most tribes it is plucked out as fast as it grows, the eyebrows being treated in the same way. There is no tribe of “white Indians”, but albinos with blond skin, weak pink eyes, and almost white hair are occasionally found, especially among the Pueblos.
Major Cultural Areas
From prehistoric times until recent historic times there were roughly six major cultural areas, excluding that of the Arctic (see Eskimo), i.e., Northwest Coast, Plains, Plateau, Eastern Woodlands, Northern, and Southwest.
· The Northwest Coast Area
The Northwest Coast area extended along the Pacific coast from Southern Alaska to Northern California. The main language families in this area were the Nadene in the north and the Wakashan (a subdivision of the Algonquian-Wakashan linguistic stock) and the Tsimshian (a subdivision of the Penutian linguistic stock) in the central area. Typical tribes were the Kwakiutl, the Haida, the Tsimshian, and the Nootka. Thickly wooded, with a temperate climate and heavy rainfall, the area had long supported a large Native American population. Salmon was the staple food, supplemented by sea mammals (seals and sea lions) and land mammals (deer, elk, and bears) as well as berries and other wild fruit. The Native Americans of this area used wood to build their houses and had cedar-planked canoes and carved dugouts. In their permanent winter villages, some of the groups had totem poles, which were elaborately carved and covered with symbolic animal decoration. Their art work, for which they are famed, also included the making of ceremonial items, such as rattles and masks; weaving; and basketry. They had a highly stratified society with chiefs, nobles, commoners, and slaves. Public display and disposal of wealth were basic features of the society. They had woven robes, furs, and basket hats as well as wooden armor and helmets for battle. This distinctive culture, which included cannibalistic rituals, was not greatly affected by European influences until after the late 18th cent. when the white fur traders and hunters came to the area.
TRIBES: Abenaki, Algonkin, Beothuk, Delaware, Erie, Fox, Huron, Illinois, Iroquois, Kickapoo, Mahican, Mascouten, Massachuset, Mattabesic, Menominee, Metoac, Miami, Micmac, Mohegan, Montagnais, Narragansett, Nauset, Neutrals, Niantic, Nipissing, Nipmuc, Ojibwe, Ottawa, Penacook, Pequot, Pocumtuck, Potawatomi, Sauk, Shawnee, Susquehannock, Tionontati, Wampanoag, Wappinger, Wenro, Winnebago.
· The Plains Area
The Plains area extended from just North of the Canadian border, South to Texas and included the grasslands area between the Mississippi River and the foothills of the Rocky Mts. The main language families in this area were the Algonquian-Wakashan, the Aztec-Tanoan, and the Hokan-Siouan. In pre-Columbian times there were two distinct types of Native Americans there: sedentary and nomadic. The sedentary tribes, who had migrated from neighbor ing regions and had initially settled along the great river valleys, were farmers and lived in permanent villages of dome-shaped earth lodges surrounded by earthen walls. They raised corn, squash, and beans. The foot nomads, on the other hand, moved about with their goods on dog-drawn travois and eked out a precarious existence by hunting the vast herds of buffalo (bison) – usually by driving them into enclosures or rounding them up by setting grass fires. They supplemented their diet by exchanging meat and hides for the corn of the agricultural Native Americans.
The horse, first introduced by the Spanish of the Southwest, appeared in the Plains about the beginning of the 18th cent. and revolutionized the life of the Plains Indians. Many Native Americans left their villages and joined the nomads. Mounted and armed with bow and arrow, they ranged the grasslands hunting buffalo. The other Native Americans remained farmers (e.g., the Arikara, the Hidatsa, and the Mandan). Native Americans from surrounding areas came to the Plains (e.g., the Sioux from the Great Lakes, the Comanche and the Kiowa from the west and northwest, and the Navajo and the Apache from the southwest). A universal sign language developed among the perpetually wandering and often warring Native Americans. Living on horseback and in the portable tepee, they preserved food by pounding and drying lean meat and made their clothes from buffalo hides and deerskins. The system of the coup was a characteristic feature of their society. Other features were rites of fasting in quest of a vision, warrior clans, bead and feather art work, and decorated hides. These Plains Indians were among the last to engage in a serious struggle with the white settlers in the United States.
TRIBES: Arapaho, Arikara, Assiniboine, Bidai, Blackfoot, Caddo, Cheyenne, Comanche, Cree, Crow, Dakota (Sioux), Gros Ventre, Hidatsa, Iowa, Kansa, Kiowa, Kiowa-Apache, Kitsai, Lakota (Sioux), Mandan, Metis, Missouri, Nakota (Sioux), Omaha, Osage, Otoe, Pawnee, Ponca, Sarsi, Sutai, Tonkawa, Wichita.
· The Plateau Area
The Plateau area extended from above the Canadian border through the plateau and mountain area of the Rocky Mts. to the Southwest and included much of California. Typical tribes were the Spokane, the Paiute, the Nez Perce, and the Shoshone. This was an area of great linguistic diversity. Because of the inhospitable environment, the cultural development was generally low. The Native Americans in the Central Valley of California and on the California coast, notably the Pomo, were sedentary peoples who gathered edible plants, roots, and fruit and also hunted small game. Their acorn bread, made by pounding acorns into meal and then leaching it with hot water, was distinctive, and they cooked in baskets filled with water and heated by hot stones. Living in brush shelters or more substantial lean-tos, they had partly buried earth lodges for ceremonies and ritual sweat baths. Basketry, coiled and twined, was highly developed. To the north, between the Cascade Range and the Rocky Mts., the social, political, and religious systems were simple, and art was nonexistent. The Native Americans there underwent (since 1730) a great cultural change when they obtained from the Plains Indians the horse, the tepee, a form of the sun dance, and deerskin clothes. They continued, however, to fish for salmon with nets and spears and to gather camas bulbs. They also gathered ants and other insects and hunted small game and, in later times, Buffalo. Their permanent winter villages on waterways had semi subterranean lodges with conical roofs; a few Native Americans lived in bark-covered long houses.
TRIBES: Carrier, Cayuse, Coeur D’Alene, Colville, Dock-Spurs, Eneeshur, Flathead, Kalispell, Kawachkin, Kittitas, Klamath, Klickitat, Kosith, Kutenai, Lakes, Lillooet, Methow, Modoc, Nez Perce, Okanogan, Palouse, Sanpoil, Shushwap, Sinkiuse, Spokane, Tenino, Thompson, Smith, Umatilla, Wallawalla, Wasco, Wauyukma, Wenatchee, Wishram, Wampum, Yakima. Californian: Achomawi, Atsugewi, Cahuilla, Chimariko, Chumash, Costanoan, Esselen, Hupa, Karuk, Kawaiisu, Maidu, Mission Indians, Miwok, Mono, Patwin, Pomo, Serrano, Shasta, Tolowa, Tubatulabal, Wailaki, Wintu, Wiyot, Yaha, Yokuts, Yuki, Yuman (California).
· The Eastern Woodlands Area
The Eastern Woodlands area covered the eastern part of the United States, roughly from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River, and included the Great Lakes. The Natchez, the Choctaw, the Cherokee, and the Creek were typical inhabitants. The northeastern part of this area extended from Canada to Kentucky and Virginia. The people of the area (speaking languages of the Algonquian-Wakashan stock) were largely deer hunters and farmers; the women tended small plots of corn, squash, and beans. The birchbark canoe gained wide usage in this area. The general pattern of existence of these Algonquian peoples and their neighbors, who spoke languages belonging to the Iroquoian branch of the Hokan-Siouan stock (enemies who had probably invaded from the south), was quite complex. Their diet of deer meat was supplemented by other game (e.g., bear), fish (caught with hook, spear, and net), and shellfish. Cooking was done in vessels of wood and bark or simple black pottery. The dome-shaped wigwam and the longhouse of the Iroquois characterized their housing. The deerskin clothing, the painting of the face and (in the case of the men) body, and the scalp lock of the men (left when hair was shaved on both sides of the head) were typical. The myths of Manitou (often called Manibozho or Manabaus), the hero who remade the world from mud after a deluge, are also widely known.
The region from the Ohio River South to the Gulf of Mexico, with its forests and fertile soil, was the heart of the southeastern part of the Eastern Woodlands cultural area. There before c.500, the inhabitants were semi-nomads who hunted, fished and gathered roots and seeds. Between 500 and 900 they adopted agriculture, tobacco smoking, pottery making, and burial mounds. By c.1300 the agricultural economy was well established, and artifacts found in the mounds show that trade was widespread. Long before the Europeans arrived, the peoples of the Natchez and Muskogean branches of the Hokan-Siouan linguistic family were farmers who used hoes with stone, bone, or shell blades. They hunted with bow and arrow and blowgun, caught fish by poisoning streams, and gathered berries, fruit, and shellfish. They had excellent pottery, sometimes decorated with abstract figures of animals or humans. Since warfare was frequent and intense, the villages were enclosed by wooden palisades reinforced with earth. Some of the large villages, usually ceremonial centers, dominated the smaller settlements of the surrounding countryside. There were temples for sun worship; rites were elaborate and featured an altar with perpetual fire, extinguished and rekindled each year in a “new fire” ceremony. The society was commonly divided into classes, with a chief, his children, nobles, and commoners making up the hierarchy. For a discussion of the earliest Woodland groups, see the separate article Eastern Woodlands culture.
TRIBES: Acolapissa, Asis, Alabama, Apalachee, Atakapa, Bayougoula, Biloxi, Calusa, Catawba, Chakchiuma, Cherokee, Chesapeake Algonquin, Chickasaw, Chitamacha, Choctaw, Coushatta, Creek, Cusabo, Gaucata, Guale, Hitchiti, Houma, Jeans, Karankawa, Lumbee, Miccosukee, Mobile, Napochi, Nappissa, Natchez, Ofo, Powhatan, Quapaw, Seminole, Southeastern Siouan, Tekesta, Tidewater Algonquin, Timucua, Tunica, Tuscarora, Yamasee, Yuchi. Bannock, Paiute (Northern), Paiute (Southern), Sheepeater, Shoshone (Northern), Shoshone (Western), Ute, Washo.
· The Northern Area
The Northern area covered most of Canada, also known as the Subarctic, in the belt of semi arctic land from the Rocky Mts. to Hudson Bay. The main languages in this area were those of the Algonquian-Wakashan and the Nadene stocks. Typical of the people there were the Chipewyan. Limiting environmental conditions prevented farming, but hunting, gathering, and activities such as trapping and fishing were carried on. Nomadic hunters moved with the season from forest to tundra, killing the caribou in semi-annual drives. Other food was provided by the small game, berries, and edible roots. Not only food but clothing and even some shelter (caribou-skin tents) came from the caribou, and with caribou leather thongs the Indians laced their snowshoes and made nets and bags. The snowshoe was one of the most important items of material culture. The shaman featured in the religion of many of these people.
TRIBES: Calapuya, Cathlamet, Chehalis, Chemakum, Chetco, Chilluckkittequaw, Chinook, Clackamas, Clatskanie, Clatsop, Cowich, Cowlitz, Haida, Hoh, Klallam, Kwalhioqua, Lushootseed, Makah, Molala, Multnomah, Oynut, Ozette, Queets, Quileute, Quinault, Rogue River, Siletz, Taidhapam, Tillamook, Tutuni, Yakonan.
· The Southwest Area
The Southwest area generally extended over Arizona, New Mexico, and parts of Colorado and Utah. The Uto-Aztecan branch of the Aztec-Tanoan linguistic stock was the main language group of the area. Here a semi-nomadic people called the Basket Makers, who hunted with a spear thrower, or atlatl, acquired (c.1000 B.C.) the art of cultivating beans and squash, probably from their southern neighbors. They also learned to make unfired pottery. They wove baskets, sandals, and bags. By c.700 B.C. they had initiated intensive agriculture, made true pottery and hunted with bow and arrow. They lived in pit dwellings, which were partly underground and were lined with slabs of stone – the so-called slab houses. A new people came into the area some two centuries later; these were the ancestors of the Pueblo Indians. They lived in large, terraced community houses set on ledges of cliffs or canyons for protection and developed a ceremonial chamber (the kiva) out of what had been the living room of the pit dwellings. This period of development ended c.1300, after a severe drought and the beginnings of the invasions from the north by the Athabascan-speaking Navajo and Apache. The known historic Pueblo cultures of such sedentary farming peoples as the Hopi and the Zuni then came into being. They cultivated corn, beans, squash, cotton, and tobacco, killed rabbits with a wooden throwing stick, and traded cotton textiles and corn for buffalo meat from nomadic tribes. The men wove cotton textiles and cultivated the fields, while women made fine polychrome pottery. The mythology and religious ceremonies were complex.
TRIBES: Apache (Eastern), Apache (Western), Chemehuevi, Coahuiltec, Hopi, Jano, Manso, Maricopa, Mohave, Navaho, Pai, Papago, Pima, Pueblo (breaking into: Acoma, Cochiti, Isleta, Jemez, Laguna, Nambe, Picuris, Pojoaque, Sandia, San Felipe, San Ildefonso, San Juan, Santa Ana, Santa Clara, Santo Domingo, Taos, Tesuque, Zia), Yaqui, Yavapai, Yuman, Zuni. Am strongly thinking about