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PERSONAL INCIDENTS AND IMPRESSIONS OF THE RED RACE, DRAWN FROM NOTES OF RESIDENCE AND TRAVEL IN THE INDIAN TERRITORIES.
DOMESTIC CONDITION OF THE TRIBES AND CONSTUTION OF THE INDIAN FAMILY.
Imqcirt II.—What is the domestic condition and organization of the Indian family t Is the tie of consanguinity strong, and what characteristic facts can be stated of it T How are the domestic duties arranged? What are the rights of each inmate of the lodge? How is order maintained in so confined a space, and the general relations of the family preserved? Are the relative duties and labours of the hunter and his wife, equally or unequally divided? Who builds the lodge, and how is it constructed?
There is a very striking agreement, in the condition-, relative duties and obligations, of the Indian family, among all the tribes of whom I have any personal knowledge, in North America. Climate and position, the abundance or want of'the means of subsistence and other accidental causes, have created gradations of condition in the various tribes, some of whom excel others in expertness, in hunting and war, and other arts, but these circumstances have done little to alter the general characteristics, or to abridge or enlarge the original rights and claims of each inmate of the lodge. The tribes who cultivated maize in the rich sub-vallies and plains of the Ohio and Mississippi, had fuller means of both physical and mental development, than those who were, and still are, obliged to pick a scanty subsistence, among the frigid, and half marine regions in the latitudes north of the great lakes. There are some peculiar traits of manners, in the prairie-tribes, west of the Mississippi, who pursue the bison on horse back, and rely for their subsistence greatly, on its flesh, and the sale of its skin. The well fed Muscogee, Cherokee, or Choctaw, who lived in the tunny vaUies of upper Georgia, Alabama, and Tennessee, the robust Osage, revelling in the abundance of corn and wild meat, south of the Missouri, and the lean and rigid Montaignes, Muskeego, and Kenisteno, who push their canoes through waters choked with aquatic weeds, and wild rice, present very different pictures of home and comfort, within their lodge doors. But they really present the same idea, the same sentiments, and the same round of duties and obligations, of father and mother, sister and brother, wife and husband. The original type of the human family among them, is well preserved, better, indeed, than was to have been expected in a state of barbarism, and among branches of the race who have been so long separated, and subjected to such severe vicissitudes. It would be useless, in this view, to draw a parallel between the relative condition of the members of a family, within, and without the pale of civilization. Nothing of the kind could be done, without showing up pictures of want in the hunter-life which are wholly unknown in the agricultural state. It cannot perhaps, in fair justice, be said that the tie of consanguinity, in the man of the woods, is stronger, than in civilized life. But it is in accordance with all observation to say, that it is very strong, that its impulses beat with marked force, and are more free from the intertwined ligaments of interest, which often weakens the tie of relationship in refined and affluent society.
The true idea of matrimony, in Indian life, is also well set forth and acknowledged, although it has come down through ages of plunder and wandering, degraded in its condition, shorn of its just ceremonies, and weakened in its sacred character. I have observed that polygamy, among the northern tribes, is chiefly to be found, among bands who are favourably located, and have the best means of subsistence. But even here it is not reputable ; it may often increase a man's influence in the tribe or nation, but there are always persons in the wildest forests, who do not think the practice right or reputable. In the worst state of Indian society, there are always some glimmerings of truth. If the conscience of the IJcd man may be compared to a lamp, it may be said to have rather sunk low into its socket, than actually to have expired. The relation between husband and wife, in the forest, are formed under circumstances, which are generally uniform. Various incidents, or motives determine a union. Sometimes it is brought about by the intervention of friends; sometimes from a sudden impulse of admiration; sometimes with, and sometimes against the wishes of the graver and more prudent relatives of the parties. Where the husband is acceptable, and has not before been married, which covers the majority of cases, he comes to live for a while after marriage, in the lodge of his mother-in-law; and this relation generally lasts until the increase of children, or other circumstances determine his setting up a lodge for himself. Presents are still a ready way for a young hunter to render himself acceptable m a lodge. There are some instances, where considerable ceremony, and the invitation of friends, have attended the first reception of the bridegroom, at the lodge; but these are in most cases, what we should denominate matches of state, or expediency, in which the bravery, or other public services of a chief or leader, has inclined his village to think, that his merits deserve the reward of a wife. Generally, the acceptance of the visitor by the party most interested, and her mother and father, and their expressed, or tacit consent, is the only preliminary, and this is done in a private way. The only ceremonial observance, of which I have ever heard, is the assigning of what is called an abbinos, or permanent lodge seat, to the bridegroom. When this has been done, by the mother or mistress of the lodge, who governs these things, he is received, and henceforth installed as a constituent member of the lodge and family. The simple rule is, that he who has a right to sit by the bride, is her husband.
The lodge itself, with all its arrangements, is the precinct of the rule and government of the wife. She assigns to each member, his or her ordinary place to sleep and put their effects. These places are permanent, and only changed at her will, as when there is a guest by day or night. In a space so small as a lodge this system preserves order, and being at all times under her own eye, is enforced by personal supervision. The husband-has no voice in this matter, and I have never heard of an instance in which he would so far deviate from his position, as to interfere in these minor particulars. The lodge is her precinct, the forest his.
There is no law, nor force, to prevent an Indian from decreeing his own divorce, that is to say, leaving one wife and taking another whenever he sees cause. , Yet it often occurs that there is some plausible pretext for such a step, such as if true, would form some justification of the measure. The best protection to married females arises from the ties of children, which by bringing into play the strong natural affections of the heart, and appeals at once to that principle in man's original organization, which is the strongest. The average number of children borne by the women, and which reach the adult period is small, and will scarcely exceed two. On the pay rolls it did not exceed this. Much of this extraordinary result is owing to their erratic mode of life, and their cramped means of subsistence. Another cause is to be found in the accidents and exposure to which young children are liable, but still more to their shocking ignorance of medicine. I once knew a child at three years of age to be killed by an attempt to restore a deranged state of the bowels, by a strong overdose of an astringent tincture of hemlock bark administered by her father. This man, who was called Attack, had strong natural affections, but he was very ignorant even in the eyes of the Indian race, being one of that people living N. E. of lake Superior, who are called variously Gens de Terres, Mountaineers, and Muskeegoes. Wherever the laws of rcproduc tion are relieved from these depressing circumstances, the number of children is seen to be increased.
The chief Iaba-Waddick, who lived on a small bay at the foot of lake Superior, and had abundance of means of subsistence, had fourteen children by one wife. . He was an excellent hunter, and of habits for the most part of his life, strictly temperate; he had married young, and had always had the means of providing his family with adequate clothing and food. Not one of these children died in infancy. He lived himself to be old, and died rather from a complaint induced by constitutional structure, than from a natural decay of vital power.
The duties and labours of Indian life, are believed to be equally, and not, as has been generally thought, unequally divided between the male and female. This division is also the most natural possible, and such as must ever result from the condition of man, as a mere hunter. It is the duty of the male to provide food, and of the female to prepare it. This arrangement carries with it to the share of the male, all that relates to external concerns, and all that pertains to the internal to the care of the female as completely as is done in civilized life. To the man belongs not only the business of hunting, for this is an employment and not a pastime, but the care of the territory, and keeping off intruders and enemies, and the preparation of canoes for travel, and of arms and implements of war. The duties of cooking and dressing meats and fowl, and whatever else the chase affords, carries on the other hand, to the share of the hunter's wife, the entire care and controul of the lodge, with its structure and removal, and the keeping it in order, with all its utensils and apparatus. A good and frugal hunter's wife, makes all this a point of ambitious interest, and takes a pride in keeping it neat and proper for the reception of her husband's guests. She sweeps the earth clean around the fire, with a broom of branches of the cedar constructed for this purpose. This lodge it is to be remembered, is made not of beams and posts, and heavy carpentry, but out of thin poles, such as a child can lift, set in the ground in a circle, bent over and tied at the top, and sheathed with long sheets of the white birch bark. A rim of cedar wood at the bottom, assimilates these birch bark sheets to the roller of a map, to which in stormy weather a stone is attached to hold it firm. This stick has also the precise use of a maproller, for when the lodge is to be removed, the bark is rolled on it, and in this shape carried to the canoe, to be set up elsewhere. The circle of sticks or frame, is always left standing, as it would be useless to encumber the canoe with what can easily be had at any position in a forest country.
Such at least is the hunting lodge, and indeed, the lodge generally used by the tribes north of lattitude 42°. It is, in its figure, a half globe, and by its lightness and wicker-like structure, may be said to resemble an inverted bird's nest. The whole amount of the transportable materials of it, is often comprehended in some half a dozen good rolls of bark, and as many of rush mats which the merest girl can easily lift. The mats which are the substitute for floor cloths, and also the under stratum of the sleeping couch, are made out of the common lacustris or bullrush, or the flag, cut at the proper season, and woven in a warp of fine hemp net thread, such as is furnished by traders in the present state of the Indian trade. A portion of this soft vegetable woof, is dyed, and woven in various colours. Lodges thus constructed are to be still abundantly seen, by the summer visitor, in the upper lakes, at all the principal points, to which the Indians resort, during the height of summer. Such are the posts of Michilimackinac, Sault Ste. Marie, and Green Bay. At Michilimackinac, where it is now difficult to get fresh lodge poles, without going some distance, or trespassing on private rights, the natives who resort thither, of late years, have adopted an ingenious change, by which two objects are accomplished at the same time, and the labour of the females dispensed with in getting new poles. It is known, that the bark canoe, being itself but an enlarged species of wicker work, has not sufficient strength to be freighted, without previously having a number of poles laid longitudinally, in the bottom, as a kind of vertebral support. These poles on landing upon the gravelly shores of that island, are set up, or stacked to use a military phrase, that is tying the tops together and then drawing out the other ends so as to describe a circle, and thus making a perfect cone. The bark tapestry is hung around these poles very much as it would be around the globular close lodges; and by this arrangement, an Indian lodge is raised, and ready for occupation, in as many minutes, after landing, as the most expert soldiers could pitch a tent in.
Before we can affirm that the labour of preparing these barks and mats and setting up, and taking down, the lodge, is disproportionately great, or heavy on the females, it will be necessary to inquire into other particulars, both on the side of the male and female. Much of the time of an Indian female, is passed in idleness. This is true not only of a part of every day, but is emphatically so, of certain seasons of the year. She has not like the farmer's wife, her cows to milk, her butter and cheese to make, and her flax to spin. She has not to wash and comb and prepare her children every morning, to go to school. She has no extensive or fine wardrobe to take care of. She has no books to read. She gets little value on time, which is characteristic of all the race. What she does, is either very plain sewing, or some very pains takjng ornamental thing. When the sheathing and flooring of the lodges are once made, they are permanent pieces of property, and do not require frequent renewal. When a skin has been dressed, and a garment made of it, it is worn, till it is worn out. Frequent ablution and change of dress, are eminently the traits of high civilization, and not of the hunter's lodge. The articles which enter into the mysteries of the laundry, add but little to the cares of a forest housekeeper. With every industrial effort, and such is, somtimes the case, there is much unoccupied time, while her husband is compelled by their necessities, to traverse large tracts, and endure