How the Native American Lived
When America was discovered in its several parts the Indian tribes were found in dissimilar conditions. The least advanced tribes were without the art of pottery, and without horticulture, and were, therefore, in savagery. But in the arts of life they were advanced as far as is implied by its Upper Status, which found them in possession of the bow and arrow. Such were the tribes in the Valley of the Columbia, in the Hudson Bay Territory, in parts of Canada, California, and Mexico, and some of the coast tribes of South America. The use of pottery, and the cultivation of maize and plants, were unknown among them. They depended for subsistence upon fish, bread, roots, and game. The second class were intermediate between them and the Village Indians. They subsisted upon fish and game and the products of a limited horticulture, and were in the Lower Status of barbarism. Such were the Iroquois, the New England and Virginia Indians, the Creeks, Cherokees, and Choctaws, the Shawnees, Miamis, Mandans, Minmtarees, and other tribes of the United States east of the Missouri River, together with certain tribes of Mexico and South America in the same condition of advancement. Many of them lived in villages, some of which were stockaded, but village life was not as distinctive and common among them as it was among the most advanced tribes. The third class were the Village Indians proper, who depended almost exclusively upon horticulture for subsistence, cultivating maize and plants by irrigation. They constructed joint tenement houses of adobe bricks and of stone, usually more than one story high. Such were the tribes of New Mexico, Mexico, Central America, and upon the plateau of the Andes. These tribes were in the Middle Status of barbarism.
The weapons, arts, usages, and customs, inventions, architecture, institutions, and form of government of all alike bear the impress of a common mind, and reveal, in their wide range, the successive stages of development of the same original conceptions. Our first mistake consisted in overrating the degree of advancement of the Village Indians, in comparison with that of the other tribes; our second in underrating that of the latter; from which resulted a third, that of separating one from the other, and regarding them as different races. The evidence of their unity of origin has now accumulated to such a degree as to leave no reasonable doubt upon the question. The first two classes of tribes always held the preponderating power, at least in North America, and furnished the migrating bands which replenished the ranks of the Village Indians, as well as the continent, with inhabitants. It remained for the Village Indians to invent the process of smelting iron ore to attain to the Upper Status of barbarism, and, beyond that, to invent a phonetic alphabet to reach the first stage of civilization. One entire ethnical period intervened between the highest class of Indians and the beginning of civilization.
[Transcriber's Note: Lengthy footnote relocated to chapter end.]
It seems singular that the Village Indians, who first became possessed of maize, the great American cereal, and of the art of cultivation, did not rise to supremacy over the continent. With their increased numbers and more stable subsistence they might have been expected to extend their power and spread their migrating bands over the most valuable areas to the gradual displacement of the ruder tribes. But in this respect they signally failed. The means of sustaining life among the latter were remarkably persistent. The higher culture of the Village Indians, such as it was, did not enable them to advance, either in their weapons or in the art of war, beyond the more barbarous tribes, except as a superior house architecture tended to render their villages and their habitations impregnable to Indian assault. Moreover, in the art of government they had not been able to rise above gentile institutions and establish political society. This fact demonstrates the impossibility of privileged classes and of potentates, under their institutions, with power to enforce the labor of the people for the erection of palaces for their use, and explains the absence of such structures.
Horticulture and other domestic arts spread from the Village Indians to the tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism, and thus advanced them materially in their onward progress toward the higher condition of the Village Indians. Numerous tribes were thus raised out of savagery into barbarism by appropriating the arts of life of tribes above them. This process has been a constant phenomenon in the history of the human race. It is well illustrated in America, where the Red Race, one in origin and possessed of homogeneous institutions, were in three different ethnical conditions or stages of culture.
There are certain usages and customs of the Indian tribes generally which tend to explain their plan of life—their large households, their houses, and their house architecture. They deserve a careful consideration and even further investigation beyond the bounds of our present knowledge. The influence of American civilization has very generally broken up their old plan of life, and introduced a new one more analogous to our own. It has been much the same in Spanish America. The old usages and customs, in the particulars about to be stated, have now so far disappeared in their pure forms that their recovery is not free from difficulty. Those to be considered are the following:
I. The law of hospitality.
II. Communism in living.
III. The ownership of lands in common.
IV. The practice of having but one prepared meal each day—a dinner.
V. Their separation at meals, the men eating first and by themselves, and the women and children afterwards.
The discussion will be confined to the period of European discovery and to later periods while these practices remained. The object will be to show that these usages and customs existed among them when America was discovered in its several parts, and that they remained in practice for some time after these several periods.