Great Plains Indian Law: Background

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Map of Native American language families

Welcome back to our discussion of Friedman, Leeson, and Skarbek’s Legal Systems Very Different from Ours. Today we’ll be looking at the legal systems of three plains Indian tribes: the Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne.

(Take note of the map. We’re going to need it.)

I had previously been under the impression that these groups had started as farmers who adopted the horse when the Spanish arrived. This is the account given by the authors:

Faced with a sudden opportunity for progress, the chance to stop scratching in the dirt as primitive agriculturalists and turn into noble savages hunting buffalo… the Indian tribes living on or near the Great Plains seized the opportunity.

So the Comanche hail from the Uto-Aztecan language group–these folks included, as you can tell from the name, both the Aztecs of Mexico and the Utes of the Great Basin. (Utah is named for the Utes.) The Comanche themselves appear to have hailed from the Great Basin, an arid region that’s mostly too dry for agriculture. As Wikipedia notes: 

Different ethnic groups of Great Basin tribes share certain common cultural elements that distinguish them from surrounding groups. All but the Washoe traditionally speak Numic languages, and tribal groups, who historically lived peacefully and often shared common territories, have intermingled considerably. Prior to the 20th century, Great Basin peoples were predominantly hunters and gatherers.

“Desert Archaic” or more simply “The Desert Culture” refers to the culture of the Great Basin tribes. This culture is characterized by the need for mobility to take advantage of seasonally available food supplies. The use of pottery was rare due to its weight, but intricate baskets were woven for containing water, cooking food, winnowing grass seeds and storage—including the storage of pine nuts, a Paiute-Shoshone staple. Heavy items such as metates would be cached rather than carried from foraging area to foraging area. Agriculture was not practiced within the Great Basin itself, although it was practiced in adjacent areas (modern agriculture in the Great Basin requires either large mountain reservoirs or deep artesian wells). Likewise, the Great Basin tribes had no permanent settlements, although winter villages might be revisited winter after winter by the same group of families. In the summer, the largest group was usually the nuclear family due to the low density of food supplies.

In between the Great Basin and the Aztec empire lie the Pueblos, built by the various Pueblo peoples. Interestingly, most of them do not speak an Uto-Aztecan language; some of the Pueblo languages are quite isolated. The Navajo language, likewise, is related to languages spoken way up in Canada, rather than other local languages.

The history of this region of the country post-1492 follows the Spanish, not English colonists. The Spanish conquered the Aztecs, as is rather famously known, then moved north into the Pueblos of Arizona and New Mexico in the 1540s. The Pueblos were the biggest settlements in the southwestern US in those days–California was inhabited primarily by hunter-gatherers and didn’t attract much settlement until the Spaniards developed better routes across the Pacific ocean (the need for which partially drove the Opening of Japan in the late 1800s), the Great Basin of Utah and nearby states was too dry for many permanent settlements before irrigation and wells were dug, and without horses, the Great Plains were nearly uninhabited.  The first Spaniards who crossed them found them horrifyingly vast and empty.

On the other side of the Great Plains lay the Mississippian people, who, like the Puebloans, built towns and cities, as well as monuments like Serpent Mound in Ohio–but these folks were beyond the normal reach of the Spanish empire. To the far north were other peoples, like the totem-pole carving denizens of the lush Pacific northwest but this was Russian territory at most, and generally left to its own devices.

In those days, the peoples of the Great Basin were mostly nomadic hunter gatherers, occasionally trading with farmers and pastoralists from the south and moving with the seasons. Their only “draft animal” was the dog, which pulled sleds (travois) laden with their belongings over the ground; this is not a terribly effective way to move.

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Comancheria, prior to 1850

The Pueblos revolted against Spanish rule in 1680. The revolt was successful, and about 2,000 Spaniards and their slaves were driven from the territory and their domesticated animals–including horses–were variously slaughtered, captured, or lost to the wilds. The horses took easily to what had formerly been their native habitat, and by the mid-1700s, the Comanches had them.

Gone were the days of puttering around with puny, dog-drawn sleds; for the next hundred years these fearsome warriors were the lords of the southern plains, the quintessential horseback riding, tipi-dwelling, buffalo hunting anarchists of American lore.

According to Wikipedia:

Their original migration took them to the southern Great Plains, into a sweep of territory extending from the Arkansas River to central Texas. The earliest references to them in the Spanish records date from 1706, when reports reached Santa Fe that Utes and Comanches were about to attack [16]. In the Comanche advance, the Apaches were driven off the Plains. By the end of the eighteenth century the struggle between Comanches and Apaches had assumed legendary proportions: in 1784, in recounting the history of the southern Plains, Texas governor Domingo Cabello recorded that some sixty years earlier (i.e., ca. 1724) the Apaches had been routed from the southern Plains in a nine-day battle at El Gran Cierra del Fierro ‘The Great Mountain of Iron’, somewhere northwest of Texas. There is, however, no other record, documentary or legendary, of such a fight [17].

They were formidable opponents who developed strategies for using traditional weapons for fighting on horseback. Warfare was a major part of Comanche life. Comanche raids into Mexico traditionally took place during the full moon, when the Comanche could see to ride at night. This led to the term “Comanche Moon”, during which the Comanche raided for horses, captives, and weapons.[18] The majority of Comanche raids into Mexico were in the state of Chihuahua and neighboring northern states.[19]

comanche_osage_fight
Comanche–Osage Fight by George Catlin, 1854 (Comanche on the right.)

The Comanche were such effective warriors that they nearly turned the tide against Spanish colonization:

The Comanche–Mexico Wars was the Mexican theater of the Comanche Wars, a series of conflicts from 1821 until 1870 which consisted of large-scale raids into northern Mexico by Comanches and their Kiowa and Kiowa Apache allies which left thousands of people dead.[1] The Comanche raids were sparked by the declining military capability of Mexico in the turbulent years after it gained independence in 1821, plus a large and growing market in the United States for stolen Mexican horses and cattle.[2]

By the time the United States army invaded northern Mexico in 1846 during the Mexican–American War the region was devastated. The largest Comanche raids into Mexico took place from 1840 until the mid-1850s, thereafter declining in size and intensity. The Comanche were finally defeated by the U.S. in 1875 and forced onto a reservation.

(Their defeat was due in large part due to the decimating effects of disease; their population appears to have dropped from about 20,000 people to just a few thousand. Today, they number about 17,000 people.

So that’s where the Comanche came from. How about the Kiowa?

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3 Kiowa men, hand colored photograph, 1898

The Kiowa speak a Tanoan language, not an Uto-Aztecan language like the Comanche. Most of the other Tanoan speakers are Pueblo peoples, who built permanent towns and raised corn in New Mexico, but the Kiowa were hunter gatherers from around the Black Hills of western Montana/South Dakota. They were driven from their homelands by the Sioux and other tribes, migrated south, obtained horses, and moved into the flat parts of Colorado, Kansas, Oklahoma, northern Texas, and parts of New Mexico. According to Wikipedia, they numbered about 3,000 people in those days and 12,000 today.

This leaves us with a mystery: the historic geographic spread of the Uto-Axtecan language family was split by the Pueblos; the historic geographic spread of the Pueblo-based Tanoan family was split by the Great Basin-dwelling Utes and their linguistic cousins. In other words, each language family was split by the other.

How did the Kiowa begin their journey so far from the other members of their language family? Wikipedia frustratingly notes:

There is apparently no oral tradition of any ancient connection between the peoples. Scholars have not determined when the peoples were connected so that the common linguistic elements could have developed.

Archaeology offers many tantalizing clues, but I wish we had more genetic data (many American Indian tribes are officially disdainful of genetics and see nothing to be gained by participating in genetics research, which may be true for them but is frustrating to me.)

The Wikipedia page for the Kiowa language says:

Although Kiowa is most closely related to the other Tanoan languages of the Pueblos, the earliest historic location of its speakers is western Montana around 1700. Prior to the historic record, oral histories, archaeology, and linguistics suggest that pre-Kiowa was the northernmost dialect of Proto-Kiowa-Tanoan, spoken at Basketmaker II Era sites. Around AD 450, they migrated northward through the territory of the Anasazi and Great Basin, occupying the eastern Fremont culture region of the Colorado Plateau until sometime before 1300. Speakers then drifted northward to the northwestern Plains, arriving no later than the mid-16th century in the Yellowstone area where the Kiowa were first encountered. The Kiowa then later migrated to the Black Hills and the southern Plains, where the language was recorded in historic times.[3]

(Basketmaker II is from roughly 50-500 AD.)

The full history is likely to be complicated. Corn was domesticated in southern Mexico around 9,000 years ago and soon spread to both South America and the Mississippian cultures of the eastern US. The ancestors of the early Pueblo peoples adopted it, but the Aztecs were still hunter-gatherers when they conquered the Valley of Mexico around 1250 AD. Perhaps the same pressures that sent the Aztecs into the Valley of Mexico also drove the Kiowa north–or perhaps the events were entirely unrelated, separated by hundreds of years. History is frustratingly silent.

At any rate:

The introduction of the horse to Kiowa society revolutionized their [hunter-gatherer] way of life. They acquired horses by raiding rancheros south of the Rio Grande into Mexico, as well as by raiding other Indian peoples who already had horses, such as the Navajo and the various Pueblo people. With the horse, they could transport larger loads, hunt more game over a wider range and more easily, and travel longer and farther. The Kiowa became powerful and skilled mounted warriors who conducted long-distance raids against enemies. The Kiowa were considered among the finest horsemen on the Plains. A man’s wealth was measured primarily by the size of his horse herd, with particularly wealthy individuals having herds numbering in the hundreds. … The Kiowa considered it an honor to steal horses from enemies, and such raids often served as a rite of passage for young warriors. …

In the early spring of 1790 at the place that would become Las Vegas, New Mexico, a Kiowa party led by war leader Guikate, made an offer of peace to a Comanche party while both were visiting the home of a mutual friend of both tribes. … The two groups made an alliance to share the same hunting grounds and entered into a mutual defense pact and became the dominant inhabitants of the Southern Plains. …  In addition to the Comanche, the Kiowa formed a very close alliance with the Plains Apache (Kiowa-Apache), with the two nations sharing much of the same culture and participating in each other’s annual council meetings and events.

Note: the Plains Apache do not speak a language related to Kiowa or Comanche–their language is from the Athabaskan family, which is spoken primarily in Canada and by the Navajo. The Plains Apache were apparently never very numerous–only about 400 people at the time.

The strong alliance of southern plains nations kept the invading Spanish from gaining a strong colonial hold on the southern plains and eventually forced them completely out of the area, pushing them eastward and south past the Rio Grande into present day Mexico. …

The Kiowa were notable even among plains Indians for their long-distance raids, including raids far south into Mexico and north onto the northern plains. Almost all warfare took place while mounted on horses.

These “raids” involved not just stealing horses, but also raping, torturing, and murdering people. The fact that the area was full of extremely hostile Indians who liked to torture people for fun was why the Mexican government thought it was a good idea to let a bunch of Americans come settle in their Texas territory and deal with the Indians for them.

The Kiowa kept plenty busy:

Enemies of the Kiowa include the CheyenneArapahoNavajoUte, and occasionally Lakota to the north and west of Kiowa territory. East of Kiowa territory they fought with the PawneeOsageKickapooKawCaddoWichita, and Sac and Fox. To the south they fought with the Lipan ApacheMescalero Apache, and Tonkawa. The Kiowa also came into conflict with Indian nations from the American south and east displaced to Indian Territory during the Indian Removal period including the CherokeeChoctawMuskogee, and Chickasaw. Eastern tribes found that Indian Territory, the place they were sent, was already occupied by plains Indians, most notably the Kiowa and Comanche. 

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Cheyenne Woman, 1930, from the Edward S. Curtis collection

The Cheyenne speak a tongue from yet another language family, the Algonquian (which is part of the broader Algic family), found across most of eastern Canada and the north eastern American coast along the Atlantic. The famous Squanto of the Wampanoag spoke an Algonquin language.

The history of the Cheyenne is thankfully better documented:

The earliest known written historical record of the Cheyenne comes from the mid-17th century, when a group of Cheyenne visited the French Fort Crevecoeur, near present-day Peoria, Illinois. The Cheyenne at this time lived between the Mississippi River and Mille Lacs Lake in present-day Minnesota. The Cheyenne economy was based on the collection of wild rice and hunting, especially of bison, which lived in the prairies 70–80 miles west of the Cheyenne villages.[11]

According to tribal history, during the 17th century, the Cheyenne had been driven by the Assiniboine … from the Great Lakes region to present-day Minnesota and North Dakota, where they established villages. The most prominent of the ancient Cheyenne villages is Biesterfeldt Village, in eastern North Dakota along the Sheyenne River. The tribal history also relates that they first reached the Missouri River in 1676.[12] A more recent analysis of early records posits that at least some of the Cheyenne remained in the Mille Lac region of Minnesota until about 1765, when the Ojibwe defeated the Dakota with firearms — pushing the Cheyenne, in turn, to the Minnesota River, where they were reported in 1766.[13]  …

By 1776, the Lakota had overwhelmed the Cheyenne and taken over much of their territory near the Black Hills. In 1804, Lewis and Clark visited a surviving Cheyenne village in North Dakota.

According to what I believe is oral history recorded in Wikipedia, a Cheyenne prophet named Tomȯsévėséhe (“Erect Horns”) received a vision which convinced the tribe to abandon their agricultural was and become plains nomads.

The Cheyenne occupied the plains north of the Comanche and Kiowa, though they sometimes came south. Their lifestyle was similar to the others’ and they fought with/raided from pretty much everyone around, though they eventually allied with their neighbors against the US.

Okay, guys, I’ve been working on this for hours and I haven’t even gotten to the actual legal systems yet, so we’re going to have to call it quits until I get some more time. (To be fair, the authors covered three different groups in this chapter, which makes for triple the background work.) For now, a quick summary:

The Comanche, Kiowa, and Cheyenne (and Plains Apache) hail from four different language families. It is rare in the modern world to find so many different language families in such close proximity to each other.

Native American history is complex, with many population movements that are not well understood or documented.

The Comanche are descended from primarily hunter-gatherers, the Kiowa were related to agricultural peoples and might have done agriculture at some point in their past, and the Cheyenne were directly descended from agriculturalists who purposefully decided to adopt a nomadic lifestyle.

These differences in their origins might account for some of the differences in governance of their societies, despite the similarities they developed due to leading similar lifestyles dependent on hunting buffalo and stealing horses.

See you next week.

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A few meandering thoughts on Native Americans, Domestication, and Potatoes

While researching last week’s post on “stupid things people do,” I came across a post on weird flute customs found in both Melanesia and a few little tribes in the Amazon rainforest: Gender Ideology Reflected in Flute Symbology of Various New Guinea and South American Cultures:

Specifically, throughout New Guinea and three Central Brazilian cultures, (Mundurucus, Kalapalo, and Kamayura), the flute is endowed with very similar powers and meaning. Each region considers their flutes sacred. They are stored in the men’s homes and females are forbidden to see or play them. In the event that women disobey this order, they can be subject to gang rape or other punishment. Spiritual associations with this instrument are present in all but the culture of the Kalapalo Indians. Ancestral communication is often achieved through the music of flutes as well. However, most importantly, a gender power struggle is represented by the flute, the rituals, and the ceremonies in which the instrument is used.

Of course, sometimes people make claims about parallels that do not exist, and we should be careful about believing claims about other cultures without reading the relevant source material, but assuming it’s true, it’s interesting.

There is a small trace of Melanesian DNA that shows up in the genomes of certain hunter-gatherers in the Amazon; perhaps there is a real cultural link–or perhaps it’s just random.

IMO, the peopling of the Americas will ultimately turn out to have been more complicated than we currently think of it, but unfortunately, we don’t have many DNA samples from Native Americans (because they think geneticists are out to get them). Until that changes, our coverage of Native American genomes is scanty and drawn largely from ancient burials (most of which are controlled by local tribes that don’t allow DNA testing) and from non-American Indians from places like Canada or Mexico.

Even this view, in the Tweet, is probably wrong–if people entered via the Bering Strait, why is the oldest archaeological site at the extreme other end of both continents? Did people run straight to Tierra del Fuego, then turn around and head back up to Montana?

At any rate, I’m not sure how this is “deep roots.” This is their only roots, since they’re from here. Of course, while Native Americans who’ve been here for 12,000 years have “deep” roots, Science would like you to know that “There’s no such thing as a pure European“:

In fact, the German people have no unique genetic heritage to protect. They—and all other Europeans—are already a mishmash, the children of repeated ancient migrations, according to scientists who study ancient human origins. New studies show that almost all indigenous Europeans descend from at least three major migrations in the past 15,000 years, including two from the Middle East. Those migrants swept across Europe, mingled with previous immigrants, and then remixed to create the peoples of today.

Imagine telling the Cheyenne that they aren’t a distinct people with a heritage to protect just because their ancestors got conquered by another Native American tribe 15,000 years ago. Just imagine the sheer, idiotic audacity of it.

But pomo griping about newspaper headlines aside, it seems to me that the level of technological civilization in the Americas was actually pretty high prior to Columbus’s arrival. For example, the civilizations of Mesoamerica, like the Olmecs, were literate and had developed writing and counting systems over two thousand years ago. The cities of the Inca, Maya, and Aztecs, were of course large and impressive. The Natives of America, now oddly more obscure, also had impressive settlements and built large structures like Serpent Mound, Ohio. We tend not to think of them as particularly settled and civilized because by the time white settlers encountered them, their towns had already been destroyed by disease and predation by other tribes who’d gotten horses from the Spaniards.

(The stereotypical horse-riding, tipi-dwelling Indian following herds of buffalo across the Great Plains only emerged after Columbus’s arrival, because horses came from Europe.)

Since the Americas were actually settled pretty late in the scheme of human evolution, I suspect that most Indian groups were actually pretty smart (relatively speaking,) but their technological progress was retarded by a lack of good draft animals. Not because, as some have suggested, domesticable animals simply didn’t exist in the Americas–they do–but because they didn’t have them. Domestication takes time; sneaking up on animals you want to eat is tricky. Cochran has suggested that parasites might have been involved in getting aurochs to be more docile around humans, allowing us to domesticate them and turn them into cattle; the Native Americans hadn’t had the time yet to develop similar parasitic relationships with the local bison. Given another 10 or 40,000 years, though, they might have had time enough to domesticate more of the local fauna.

If the Indians could have adopted old world beasts of burden without losing 90% of their population to epidemic and plague and then getting conquered, there could have been some interesting results a few thousand years down the line.

There’s a similar case in Russia, but more successful.

One of the mysteries (to me, at least, and maybe it’s just ignorance) of European history is why Russia enters so late onto the international. The whole country was apparently founded by the Vikings, the Kievan Rus, which is just one of the weirder bits of historical trivia, and then doesn’t do much of interest until Napoleon invades; then they become important in European politics.

Russians aren’t stupid; Russia has produced plenty of works of art, literature, architecture, etc.

Of course, part of the answer lies in the fact that Russia has an enormous frontier to its east that occasionally spawned barbarian tribes, and so before Russia could do anything on the west, needed to secure the east–and frankly, conquering a bunch of nomadic tribes in Siberia was probably easier than trying to conquer Germany, so Siberia it was. Once Russia had Siberia, then it moved on to conquering Europe.

But my other thought was more mundane: potatoes.

Wheat evolved in the Fertile Crescent–Iraq. It does well in warm climates. It does not do well in cold climates.

Russia is cold.

But potatoes grow really well in central and eastern Europe.

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map of potato production

Sure, they aren’t always immune to the local fungi, but when they aren’t blighted, they do really well.

The introduction of a crop that grew well provided the population with more calories more easily, allowing more people to dedicate themselves to non-farming jobs, allowing eastern European countries to become more internationally significant.

Sometimes, a low state of development is just that–the locals just aren’t very good at things like building cities or writing books–and sometimes its due to a lack of local resources, easily changed by the introduction of something new, like horses or potatoes.

What Happens to a Nation Defeated?

 

Rank Race Per capita income (2015 US$)
1 Asian 34,399[1]
2 White 32,910[1]
3 Native Hawaiian and Other Pacific Islander 21,168[1]
4 Black or African American 20,277[1]
5 American Indian and Alaska Native 18,085[1]
6 Some other race 16,580[1]

From Wikipedia, List of US ethnic groups by per capita income.

No matter how you do the math, Native Americans are one of America’s poorest groups. (Indian Americans, by contrast, are one of our richest groups.) According to USA Today, America’s second poorest county is Alaska’s Kusilvak Census Area, which is 92.5% Native American (the poorest, in Alabama, is majority black.) The third poorest county is Apache County, Arizona, where 73% of the population is Native American, (though this list is a little weird because apparently they are only looking at the poorest counties per state).

DqWIx3JU4AA-lE4Wikipedia organizes its list differently, with Zieback County, home of the Cheyenne Indian reservation, coming in 6th. Buffalo and Oglala counties come in 13th and 14th, respectively.

Studies of inter-generational mobility tell a similar story–while the struggles of blacks and Appalachians are well known, Native American reservations stand out in their quiet poverty.

Meanwhile, SAT and ACT scores for Native Americans have been plummeting for the past eight years, which does not bode well for the next generation’s job prospects.

Meanwhile…

prevalence-of-ami-samhsa

On average, Native Americans suffer from mental illness at the same rates as women, and significantly higher rates than African Americans (who are similarly poor and probably have better access to mental health diagnostic services, since they tend to live in cities.) Only mixed-race people are suffering more.

Of course, a high percent of this statistic might be alcohol abuse.

According to the APA [pdf]:

Relative to the US as a whole, AI/ANs:
• Are more likely to live in poverty: more than twice as many AI/ANs live in poverty than total US population (26% vs 12%)
• Have a lower life expectancies: life expectancy among AI/ANs is 6 years lower than the U.S. average; infant mortality is higher than the US population
• Have twice the rate of violent victimization twice that of African Americans and more than 2 ½ times that of whites.
• Die at significantly higher rates from tuberculosis, diabetes, and unintentional injuries and die from alcohol‐related causes 6 times the national average. …

• AI/ANs experience serious psychological distress 1.5 times more than the general population.
• The most significant mental health concerns today are the high prevalence of depression, substance use disorders, suicide, and anxiety (including PTSD).
• AI/ANs experience PTSD more than twice as often as the general population.  Although overall suicide rates among AI/ANs are similar to whites, there are significant differences among certain age groups…

suicidebyrace
The suicide data supports the mental illness data, suggesting that the low rates of mental illness among Asians, blacks, and Hispanics is not due to cultural norms of not seeking mental healthcare (unless not seeking avoiding mental healthcare is protective against suicide.)

These are sad statistics.

The APA tries to blame high rates of mental health problems among the Indians on historical oppression–as though African Americans didn’t also suffer historical oppression. Historical oppression tends to be a terrible explanation for anything.

If you’re worried about the APA’s methods, here’s another study, of Native American women who were seen by primary care doctors in Albuquerque, NM. The study found lifetime prevalence of many disorders at alarmingly high rates:

Alcohol abuse: 28.2%
Mood disorder: 48%
PTSD: 33.3%
Anxiety disorders: 63%

(Note: the rates of disorders currently suffered, rather than over one’s lifetime, are lower.)

This study seems like it is trying hard to get high numbers (or people who are already being seen by doctors may have more mental health problems than average,) but there are enough other studies showing high mental illness rates for Native Americans that it probably isn’t that far off.

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Comancheria, prior to 1850

Slate Star Codex has an interesting review of a book on the Comanche, Empire of the Summer Moon:

Empire of the Summer Moon was a book about the Comanche Indians. They were not very advanced by “civilized” standards. … They just rode around on horses hunting buffalo and starting wars. But they were really, really good at it. …

These raids were probably the most disturbing part of the book. On the one hand, okay, the white people were trying to steal the Comanches’ land and they had every right to be angry. On the other hand, the way the Comanches expressed that anger was to occasionally ride in, find a white village or farm or homestead, surround it, and then spend hours or days torturing everyone they found there in the most horrific possible ways before killing the men and enslaving the women and children. …

And throughout the book’s description of these events, there was one constant:

All of the white people who joined Indian tribes loved it and refused to go back to white civilization. All the Indians who joined white civilization hated it and did everything they could to go back to their previous tribal lives.

There was much to like about tribal life. The men had no jobs except to occasionally hunt some buffalo and if they felt courageous to go to war. The women did have jobs like cooking and preparing buffalo, but they still seemed to be getting off easy compared to the white pioneer women or, for that matter, women today. The whole culture was nomadic, basically riding horses wherever they wanted through the vast open plains without any property or buildings or walls. And everyone was amazingly good at what they did …

Scott quotes a couple of other commentators who noted the same thing. including a paper by the Omohundro Institute of Early American History and Culture:

“By the close of the colonial period, very few if any Indians had been transformed into civilized Englishmen. Most of the Indians who were educated by the English – some contemporaries thought all of them – returned to Indian society at the first opportunity to resume their Indian identities. Ont he other hand, large numbers of Englishmen had chosen to become Indians – by running away from colonial society to join Indian society, by not trying to escape after being captured, or by electing to remain with their Indian captors when treaties of peace periodically afforded them the opportunity to return home.”

And Benjamin Franklin:

“When an Indian Child has been brought up among us, taught our language, and habituated to our Customs, yet if he goes to see his relations and makes one Indian Ramble with them, there is no perswading him ever to return. But when white persons of either sex have been taken prisoner young by the Indians, and lived a while with them, tho’ ransomed by their Friends, and treated with all imaginable tenderness to prevail with them to stay among the English, yet in a Short time they become disgusted with our manner of life, and the care and pains that are necessary to support it, and take the first good Opportunity of escaping again into the Woods, from whence there is no reclaiming them.”

It’s a really interesting post and you should read the whole thing.

Now I know that idealizing the “noble savage” is a well-known and obvious failure mode. But I was struck by this and by the descriptions of white-Comanche interactions in the book. Whites who met Comanches would almost universally rave about how imposing and noble and healthy and self-collected and alive they seemed; there aren’t too many records of what the Comanches thought of white people, but the few there are suggest they basically viewed us as pathetic and stunted and defective.

What does it mean to live the good life? To be healthy and happy? Does it require riding around on horseback and torturing people? Do lower levels of civilizational complexity offer people more day-to-day freedom (you can’t get fired from a job of cattle-raiding just because you stayed out too late drinking and woke up late the next morning, after all)?

Or is there something else going on?

Cahokia Aerial_HRoe_2015
An illustration of the Cahokia Mounds Site in Illinois.

I doubt the Comanche were nomadic, horse-riding hunters before whites showed up in North America, if only because there were no horses back then. Many of the iconic, nomadic Plains Indian tribes began as farmers in the towns and proto-cities of the Mississippian mound builder cultures, eg, Cahokia. These communities raised corn, squash, and beans, built monumental architecture, and were largely wiped out by a combination of disease and newly nomadic guys on horseback between their discovery by the Spaniards and the arrival of the English/Americans. Many of the survivors also acquired horses and adopted a mobile lifestyle.

Many of the Indians around Albuquerque, New Mexico, were also farmers who built rather famous towns, the Pueblos, and never turned to nomadic horse-raiding. So regardless of what made people happy in 17 or 1800, I don’t think it’s anything so simple as “Native Americans aren’t adapted to cities but they are adapted to riding horses.”

Of course the Indians have lost their traditional ways of life, whether nomadic or settled, depriving them of traditional ways of achieving status, happiness, etc., but this is equally true of blacks and Hispanics (who tend to be part Indian, albeit from different tribes than the ones in the US,) yet they have much lower rates of mental illness.

I suspect the cause has more to do with lack of opportunities in rural areas and alcohol abuse really messing up not just the people who drink, but everyone who loves them and depends on them.

The Hamatsa Society

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Wow. This is an great photograph. Photo by Edward S. Curtis, 1914

The Wikipedia page about Hamatsa is very interesting. 

The Kwakwaka’wakw are an indigenous group from the Pacific North West Coast (ie, British Columbia.) During the long, dark, wet winters, tribe members traditionally entertained themselves via ceremonies put on by different “secret societies.” These were documented back in the 1880s by Franz Boas, the famous anthropologist. (Modern Kwakwaka’wakw society is probably pretty different, given that life has changed a lot in the intervening 140 or so years.)

According to Wikipedia’s version of Boas’s account, there were four main societies: The war society (Winalagalis), the magical society (Matem), the society of the afterlife (Bakwas) and the “cannibal” society (Hamatsa). 

Hamatsa was the most prestigious. Whether or not they practiced literal cannibalism or something that just sounds like cannibalism remains a matter of debate, because their rituals were pretty secret. 

In defense of the “it’s just a symbolic ritual” argument, the transubstantiation of the Eucharist into the body and blood of Christ, followed by the congregation eating it, sounds a lot like cannibalism and has surely confused some folks over the centuries, but no serious Christian literally believes they are committing cannibalism. 

In defense of the “it’s totally real cannibalism” argument, real cannibalism is a thing that sometimes happens and that some anthropologists have been quick to cover up or downplay because they don’t want to say anything bad about other peoples. 

Here is Wikipedia’s account of the Hamatsa initiation rite: 

In practice the Hamatsa initiate, almost always a young man at approximately age 25, is abducted by members of the Hamatsa society and kept in the forest in a secret location where he is instructed in the mysteries of the society. Then at a winter dance festival to which many clans and neighboring tribes are invited the spirit of the man-eating giant [Baxbaxwalanuksiwe]  is evoked and the initiate is brought in wearing spruce bows and gnashing his teeth and even biting members of the audience. Many dances ensue, as the tale of Baxbaxwalanuksiwe is recounted, and all of the giant man-eating birds dance around the fire.

Finally the society members succeed in taming the new “cannibal” initiate. In the process of the ceremonies what seems to be human flesh is eaten by the initiates. Boas describes the hamatsa initiate as eating actual human flesh without chewing. After the ceremony, the initiate is forced to drink large amounts of sea water to induce vomiting, thereby voiding the body of potentially harmful toxins. All persons who were bitten during the proceedings are given expensive presents, and many gifts are given to all of the witnesses who are required to recall through their gifts the honors bestowed on the new initiate and recognize his station within the spiritual community of the clan and tribe.

Based on this account, if I may be so bold as to suggest anything after reading just a few paragraphs on Wikipedia, the ceremony sounds not pro-cannibalism, but anti-cannibalism. Cannibalism is the wild state from which the initiate is removed; he eats human flesh (or symbolic flesh) but is then made to vomit it up; he bites people, but then he apologizes. He goes from feral man-eater to civilized member of the society. 

The picture at the top of the post was taken by Edward S. Curtis, an amazingly talented photographer who documented Native Americans and life generally in the American West in the late 18 and early 1900s. 

Curtis made a film staring the Kwakwaka’wakw, titled “In the Land of the Head Hunters” aka “In the Land of the War Canoes.” It tells the classic story of jealousy over a woman leading to abduction and war. 

//commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:In_the_Land_of_the_Head_Hunters_(1914).webm?embedplayer=yes

The movie is a little slow, but picks up around halfway through.

According to Wikipedia

In the Land of the Head Hunters has often been discussed as a flawed documentary film. The film combines many accurate representations of aspects of Kwakwaka’wakw culture, art, and technology from the era in which it was made with a melodramatic plot based on practices that either dated from long before the first contact of the Kwakwaka’wakw with people of European descent or were entirely fictional. …

Some aspects of the film do have documentary accuracy: the artwork, the ceremonial dances, the clothing, the architecture of the buildings, and the construction of the dugout, or a war canoe reflected Kwakwaka’wakw culture. Other aspects of the film were based on the Kwakwaka’wakw’s orally transmitted traditions or on aspects of other neighboring cultures. The film also accurately portrays Kwakwaka’wakw rituals that were, at the time, prohibited by Canada’s potlatch prohibition, enacted in 1884 and not rescinded until 1951.[4]

The potlatch was (is) a related ritual involving feasting and gift-giving; a great deal has been written about potlatches–the Wikipedia page probably isn’t a bad place to start if you are unfamiliar with them.

The Canadian government saw them as wasteful because they apparently also involved the destruction of large amounts of property, and so outlawed them. This was an unproductive and stupid law, as Boas pointed out: 

The second reason for the discontent among the Indians is a law that was passed, some time ago, forbidding the celebrations of festivals. The so-called potlatch of all these tribes hinders the single families from accumulating wealth. It is the great desire of every chief and even of every man to collect a large amount of property, and then to give a great potlatch, a feast in which all is distributed among his friends, and, if possible, among the neighboring tribes. These feasts are so closely connected with the religious ideas of the natives, and regulate their mode of life to such an extent, that the Christian tribes near Victoria have not given them up. Every present received at a potlatch has to be returned at another potlatch, and a man who would not give his feast in due time would be considered as not paying his debts. Therefore the law is not a good one, and can not be enforced without causing general discontent. Besides, the Government is unable to enforce it. The settlements are so numerous, and the Indian agencies so large, that there is nobody to prevent the Indians doing whatsoever they like.[24]

On the other hand, the destruction of property at potlatches sometimes included the destruction of slaves, at least among the Tlingit. I don’t know if this happened in every society that held potlatches, but killing slaves is a practice the government certainly had an interest in stopping. 

In Tlingit Slavery and Russian Empire: Indigenous “peculiar institution” as resistance to colonialism, 1741-1867, Adam Bobeck quotes Annie Constance Christensen, Letters from the Governor’s Wife: A View of Russian Alaska 1859-1862:

You ask if those [Tlingit] women were put to death? Forget now which of the many slaves you mean. But of course not. Thank God not one has been sacrificed since Hampus is Governor; he has purchased them free on the C[ompany] account, & one slave woman we purchased by a general subscription for 700 R[oubles] B[anco] or 200 R[oubles] S[ilver] — A few months ago the Indians hada great festival. You must know that the conclusion of building new houses, or Barabors as they call them, is a great fete with them, to which they invite all their neighbors at a great distance… Before parting they give away everything they possess, not only all their provisions, but blankets, in one word everything, so that they are quite, quite poor now. At the end of such a fete it is their custom to sacrifice slaves, but before these strangers arrived, Hampus called 7 or 8 of our Teone or chiefs, & forbade them to kill anyone. He promised to give them now & then some present, & to invite them each year to dinner, besides which positively told them, that the moment they attempted to kill one of their slaves, he would fire upon them & their village. The consequence of this was, that they liberated 19 slaves & gave them as a present to the Company. I went with Hampus to see some of them, & expected to see their faces radiant with joy over their liberty. But you could not have guessed they had been doomed to die. To me it was something wonderful as I gazed at them; one was a pretty little girl of 9 – 11 years old…

A little more googling suggests that the Kwakwaka’wakw did it, too, eg: 

The Kwakiutl [Kwakwaka’wakw] Winter Ceremonial changed when blankets replaced animal skins and human sacrifice. This resulted in the emergence of a secular potlatch sometime after 1862…

From Human Trophy Hunting on the Northwest Coast, an article by Joan Lovisek, in The Taking and Displaying of Human Body Parts as Trophies by Amerindians. It appears that with the arrival of interesting trade goods from whites, the locals had less reason to sacrifice slaves, and so switched (plus they were officially forbidden to do so.) Coppers–large pieces of copper obtained via trade and beaten into a rectangular shape–were sacrificed instead. Luckily for the coppers, they could be repaired and re-sacrificed, and became a kind of currency. 

Of course, destroying goods was never as important as giving them away. 

Greatest Hits: Native Americans and Neanderthal DNA.

Native-American-populations
Source: Ancient Beringians: A Discovery Changing Early Native American History

Over the years, a few of my posts have been surprisingly popular–Turkey: Not very Turkic, Why do Native Americans Have so much Neanderthal DNA?, Do Black Babies have Blue Eyes? and Can Ice packs help stop a seizure (in humans)?

It’s been a while since these posts aired, so I thought it was time to revisit the material and see if anything new has turned up.

Today, lets revisit Native Americans and Neanderthal DNA:

I’m sorry, but I no longer think Native Americans (aka American Indians) have higher than usual levels of Neanderthal DNA. Sorry. Their Neanderthal DNA levels are similar to (but slightly lower than) those of other members of the Greater Asian Clade. They also have a small amount of Denisovan DNA–at least some of them.

Why the confusion? Some Neanderthal-derived alleles are indeed more common in Native Americans than in other peoples. For example, the Neanderthal derived allele SLC16A11 occurs in 10% of sampled Chinese, 0% of Europeans, and 50% of sampled Native Americans. (Today, this gene makes people susceptible to Type 2 diabetes, but it must have been very useful to past people to be found in such a large percent of the population.)

neanderthalmap

And there was one anomalously high Neanderthal DNA measure in Natives living near the Great Slave Lake, Canada. (Look, I didn’t name the lake.)

But this doesn’t mean all Native Americans possess all Neanderthal alleles in greater quantities.

So how much Neanderthal do Native Americans have? Of course, we can’t quite be sure, especially since only a few Neanderthals have even had their DNA analyzed, and with each new Neanderthal sequenced, we have more DNA available to compare against human genomes. But here are some estimates:

beautifulneanderthalDenisovan
Neanderthal and Denisovan contributions to different populations by chromosome (source)

 et al, in The Combined Landscape of Denisovan and Neanderthal Ancestry in Present-Day Humans, report:

Native Americans: 1.37%
Central Asia: 1.4%
East Asia: 1.39%
Oceana (Melanesians): 1.54%
South Asia: 1.19%
Europeans: 1.06%

I have seen it claimed that the high Neanderthal percents for Oceanan populations (that is, Melanesians and their relatives,) could be a result of Denisovan DNA being incompletely distinguished from Neanderthal.

Prufer et al, [pdf] 2017, report somewhat higher values:

East Asians: 2.3–2.6%
Europeans: 1.8–2.4%

While Lohse and Frantz estimate an even higher rate of between 3.4–7.3% for Europeans and East Asians. (They found 5.9% in their Chinese sample and 5.3% in their European.)

The Mixe and Karitiana people of Brazil have 0.2% Denisovan (source); other estimates for the amount of Denisovan DNA in Native populations are much lower–ie, 0.05%.

I found an older paper by Prufer et al with estimates for three Hispanic populations, but doesn’t clarify if they have Native American ancestry:

CLM–Colombians from Medellin: 1.14%
MXL–Mexicans in LA: 1.22%
PUR–Puerto Rico: 1.05%

Since this is an older paper, all of its estimates may be on the low side.

The absolute values of these numbers is probably less important than the overall ratios, since the numbers themselves are still changing as more Neanderthal DNA is uncovered. The ratios in different papers point to Native Americans having, overall, about the same amount of Neanderthal DNA as their relatives in East Asia.

Melanesians, though. There’s an interesting story lying in their DNA.

Favorite Things Redux: Beringian DNA

Map of gene-flow in and out of Beringia, from 25,000 years ago to present

Scientists have long believed that the first humans made it to the Americas by crossing from now-Russia to now-Alaska. When and how they did it–by boat or by foot–remain matters of contentious debate. Did people move quickly through Alaska and into the rest of North America, or did they hover–as the “Bering standstill” hypothesis suggests–in Beringia (or the Aleutian Islands) for thousands of years?

Archaeologists working at the Upward Sun River site (approximately in the middle of Alaska) recently uncovered the burials of three children: a cremated three year old, and beneath it, a 6-12 week old infant and a 30 week, possibly premature or stillborn fetus. The three year old has been dubbed “Upward Sun River Mouth Child,” and the 6 week old “Sun-Rise Girl Child.” Since these aren’t really names, I’m going to dub them Sunny (3 yrs old), Rosy (6 weeks), and Hope (fetus).

They died around 11,500 years ago, making them the oldest burials so far from northern North America. Rosy and Hope were probably girls; cremation rendered Sunny’s gender a mystery. Rosy and Hope were covered in red ocher and buried together, accompanied by four decorated antler rods, two dart points and two stone axes. (Here’s an illustration of their burial.) The site where the children were buried was abandoned soon after Sunny’s death–perhaps their parents were too sad to stay, or perhaps the location was just too harsh.

Rosy and Hope were well enough preserved to yield DNA.

Surprisingly, they weren’t sisters. Rosy’s mother’s mtDNA hailed from haplogroup C1b, which is found only in the Americas (though its ancestral clade, haplogroup C, is found throughout Siberia.) Hope’s mtDNA is from haplogroup B2, which is also only found in the Americas. Oddly, B2’s parent clade, (B), isn’t common in Siberia–it’s much more common in places like Vietnam, Laos, the Philippines, and Saipan. It’s not entirely absent from Siberia, but it got to Alaska without leaving a larger trail remains a mystery.

Since they are found in the Americans but not Asia, we know these lineages most likely evolved over here; the main questions are when and where. If the Bering Standstill hypothesis is correct and the Indians spent 10-20,000 years stranded in Beringia, they would have had plenty of time to evolve new lineages while still in Alaska. By contrast, if they crossed relatively quickly and then dispersed, these new lineages would have had much less time to emerge, and we would expect them to show up as people moved south.

Source: Ancient Beringians: A Discovery Changing Early Native American Hisotry

Or there could have been multiple migration waves, with different haplogroups arriving in different waves. (There were multiple migration waves, but the others occurred well after Sunny and the others were buried.)

In fact, there are five mtDNA lineages found only in the Americas (A2, B2, C1, D1, and X2a.) With Hope and Rosy, we have now identified all five mtDNA lineages in North American burials over 8,000 years old, lending support to the Beringian Standstill hypothesis.

But were the Upward Sun River children’s families ancestral to today’s Native Americans? Not quite.

It looks like Sunny’s tribe split off from the rest of the Beringians (or perhaps the others split off from them) around 22-18,000 years ago. Most of the others headed south, while Sunny’s people stayed in Alaska and disappeared (perhaps because all of their children died.) So Sunny’s tribe was less “grandparent” to today’s Indians and more “great aunt and uncle,” but they still hailed from the same, even older ancestors who first set out from Siberia.

I have previously favored the Aleutian or at least a much more rapid Beringian route, but it looks like I was wrong. I find the idea of the Bering Standstill difficult to believe, but that may just be my own biases. Perhaps people really did get stuck there for thousands of years, waiting for the ice to clear. What amazing people they must have been to survive for so long in so harsh an environment.

A Digression about the Creek Freedmen

Note: We will be posting only on Mondays and Fridays for a bit. 

As we were reading on Friday in Dago’s Outlaws on Horseback:

It was commonly believed that a mixture of Creek and Negro blood was a dangerous cross, and that the offspring of such a union was sure to be ‘mean.’ It was true enough in the case of Lukey Davis, but there would seem to be little reason to accept it as generally so. For several hundred years there had been a strong infiltration of Negro blood into the Creek tribe, more so than with the Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw. Few Creeks were a hundred per cent Indian. Undoubtedly intermarriage had some effect on Creek culture. That it worked any tribal character change or was responsible for the inflamed criminal instincts of some Creeks, such as those with whom Rufus Buck surrounded himself, must be dismissed as absurd.

Members of the Creek (Muscogee) Nation in OK around 1877. They included men of mixed Creek, European and African ancestry.

EvX: These are two interesting claims: first, that Creeks are heavily mixed, and second, that some people believe this an inauspicious mix. (Our author makes numerous statements throughout the book to the effect of not believing that criminality runs in families.)

This leads us to a modern-day controversy:

The Creek (aka the Muscogee,) were known as one of the “5 Civilized Tribes,” along with the Seminole, Cherokee, Choctaw and Chickasaw, for their high level of cultural sophistication and swift adoption of European technology. The five tribes are descended from the Mississippi Mound Builders Culture whose cities and towns once dotted the south east, before European diseases and Spanish-horse-mounted raiders from the Great Plains brought it down. And like their European neighbors in Georgia, they had slaves:

After the [Revolutionary] war ended in 1783, the Muscogee learned that Britain had ceded their lands to the now independent United States. … Alexander McGillivray led pan-Indian resistance to white encroachment, receiving arms from the Spanish in Florida to fight trespassers. The bilingual and bicultural McGillivray worked to create a sense of Muscogee nationalism and centralize political authority, struggling against village leaders who individually sold land to the United States. He also became a wealthy landowner and merchant, owning as many as sixty black slaves. …

In the summer of 1790, McGillivray and 29 other Muscogee chiefs signed the Treaty of New York, on behalf of the ‘Upper, Middle and Lower Creek and Seminole composing the Creek nation of Indians,’ ceding a large portion of their lands to the federal government and promising to return fugitive slaves, in return for federal recognition of Muscogee sovereignty and promises to evict white settlers. …

In 1805, the Lower Creeks ceded their lands east of the Ocmulgee to Georgia… A number of Muscogee chiefs acquired slaves and created cotton plantations, grist mills and businesses along the Federal Road.

The Seminole tribe fused about this time in Florida from a combination of Creeks, various other local tribes, and runaway slaves:

Led by Chief Secoffee (Cowkeeper), they became the center of a new tribal confederacy, the Seminole, which grew to include earlier refugees from the Yamasee War, remnants of the ‘mission Indians,’ and escaped African slaves.[20]

Many Muscogee refused to surrender and escaped to Florida. They allied with other remnant tribes, becoming the Seminole. Muscogee were later involved on both sides of the Seminole Wars in Florida. …

The Red Stick refugees who arrived in Florida after the Creek War tripled the Seminole population, and strengthened the tribe’s Muscogee characteristics.[34] …

The Seminole continued to welcome fugitive black slaves and raid American settlers, leading the U.S. to declare war in 1817. … In 1823, a delegation of Seminole chiefs met with the new U.S. governor of Florida, expressing their opposition to proposals that would reunite them with the Upper and Lower Creek, partly because the latter tribes intended to enslave the Black Seminole. Instead, the Seminole agreed to move onto a reservation in inland central Florida.

But enough about the Seminoles; let’s get back to the Creek who are called Creek:

At the outbreak of the American Civil War, [Creek Chief] Opothleyahola refused to form an alliance with the Confederacy, unlike many other tribes, including many of the Lower Creeks. Runaway slaves, free blacks, Chickasaw and Seminole Indians began gathering at Opothleyahola’s plantation …

Because many Muscogee Creek people did support the Confederacy during the Civil War, the US government required a new treaty with the nation in 1866 to define peace after the war. It required the Creek to emancipate their slaves and to admit them as full members and citizens of the Creek Nation, equal to the Creek in receiving annuities and land benefits. They were then known as Creek Freedmen. The US government required setting aside part of the Creek reservation land to be assigned to the freedmen. Many of the tribe resisted these changes. The loss of lands contributed to problems for the nation in the late 19th century.

So in 2001, the Creek tribal government changed the rules:

Creek Freedmen is a term for emancipated African Americans who were slaves of Muscogee Creek tribal members before 1866. … Freedmen who wished to stay in the Creek Nation in Indian Territory, with whom they often had blood relatives, were to be granted full citizenship in the Creek Nation. …

The term also includes their modern descendants in the United States. At the time of the war and since, many Creek Freedmen were of partial Creek descent by blood.[1] Registration of tribal members under the Dawes Commission often failed to record such ancestry. In 2001, the Creek Nation changed its membership rules, requiring all members to prove descent to persons listed as “Indian by Blood” on the Dawes Rolls. The Creek Freedmen have sued against this decision. …

Most of the Freedmen were former slaves of tribal members who had lived in both upper and lower Creek territories in the Southeast. In some villages, Creek citizens married enslaved men or women, and had mixed-race children with them. Interracial marriages were common during this time, and many Creek Freedmen were partly of Creek Indian ancestry. …

Beginning in 1898, the US officials created the Dawes Rolls to document the tribal members for [land] allotments; registrars quickly classified persons as “Indians by Blood”, “Freedmen,” or “Intermarried Whites.”…

The peace treaty of 1866 granted the Freedmen full citizenship and rights as Creek regardless of proportion of Creek or Indian ancestry. The Muscogee (Creek) Nation in 1979 reorganized the government and constitution based on the Oklahoma Indian Welfare Act of 1936. It changed its membership rules, requiring that members be descendants of persons listed as ‘Indians by Blood’ on the Dawes Rolls. They expelled Creek Freedmen descendants who could not prove descent from such persons, despite the 1866 treaty, asserting their sovereign right to determine citizenship.[3] Since the Creek changed their membership rules in 2001, they have excluded persons who cannot prove descent from persons listed on the Dawes Rolls as Indians by Blood.

An illustration of the Cahokia Mounds Site in Illinois, part of the Mound Builder Culture

Who belongs? For that matter, who has the authority to determine who belongs? Are you a real goth, or just a poser? A real American? A real Creek? It’s rather silly signalling when we’re talking about teenagers at the mall; it’s a significant question when “belonging” to a group entitles a person to significant benefits. Americans enjoy the benefits of protection by the American Armed Forces, welfare if we need it, and a free trade/free movement zone within the 50 states, for example. Creeks enjoy the benefits of scholarships, housing assistance, health care assistance, and of course culture and community.The Creek likely don’t regard treaties with the conquering US government as actually determining who is a “real” Creek–and money can be a strong incentive for tightening the membership rules.

Here’s an interesting article about the functioning of the Creek Government and its budget:

Today, the Muscogee Nation operates a more than $106 million budget and has more than 2,400 employees. It has tribal facilities and programs across eight districts of the Muscogee Nation and serves more than 60,000 enrolled tribal members.

As for the second claim, that Creek-African mixes were likely to be unpleasant people, if there is any truth to it at all, it was most likely due to which Africans ended up in the Creek Nation and which particular Creeks they married. Many of the whites who crossed into Indian Territory and married into the various tribes seem to have been “difficult” people (often criminals) escaping the US legal system. The same may have been true for blacks who chose to move to Indian Territory, or were sold to the Creeks by white plantation owners. Overall, though, Creeks aren’t genetically that different from related tribes like the Cherokee, so there’s nothing exceptional about a black/Creek mix besides the individuals involved.

Sam Worcester, Cherokee Missionary: Relative or Physiognomy?

Samuel Worcester, 1798-1859

While researching the Trail of Tears and removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from the southeast to Oklahoma, I was brought up short by this photo of Samuel Worcester, of Worcester v. Georgia fame. Sam, born in 1798, was a 7th generation minister and missionary to the Cherokee Indians. When they moved to Oklahoma, he went with them.

And he looks just like my little brother.

My brother who wanted to move to Oklahoma and train to be a missionary. (There’s a relevant school in OK, but it’s expensive.)

If this weren’t a grainy photo from the 1800s, this Sam Worcester could be my long-lost sibling.

I have kin in Oklahoma, though I’m not sure how closely related they are.

But 1798 was a LONG time ago. Depending on exactly when you were born and how quickly your ancestors had their children, you had somewhere around 256 to 512 very-great-grandparents in the late 1700s. A mere 1/256th resemblance is not going to show up like this without constant inter-marriage with other people who also look like your relatives. Of course, Sam and his descendents were in the time and place to do that.

I occasionally see old-stock Americans in the news who are (based on last names) likely 5th or 6th cousins of some branch of the family (including the ones I am related to by law rather than blood) and the resemblances can be uncanny.

(Speaking of family, my brother isn’t the only minister or wanna-be minister in my immediate biological [not adopted] family.)

In Sam Worcester’s case, could the coincidence be physiognomy? Is this just what missionaries look like? Is it time to start believing in reincarnation? Or have I stumbled upon a long-lost relative?

What about you? Have you ever encountered a grainy old photograph that looks just like a loved one?

A little more about Sam:

Worcester was born in Peacham, Vermont on January 19, 1798, to the Rev. Leonard Worcester, a minister. He was the seventh generation of pastors in his family, dating back to ancestors who lived in England. … The young Worcester attended common schools and studied printing with his father.[2] In 1819, he graduated with honors from the University of Vermont.[1]

Samuel Worcester became a Congregational minister and decided to become a missionary. After graduating from Andover Theological Seminary in 1823, he expected to be sent to India, Palestine or the Sandwich Islands. Instead, the American Board of Commissioners for Foreign Missions (ABCFM) sent him to the American Southeast to minister to American Indians.[3]

Worcester married Ann Orr of Bedford, New Hampshire, whom he had met at Andover.[1][2] They moved to Brainerd Mission, where he was assigned as a missionary to the Cherokees in August 1825. The goals ABCFM set for them were, “…make the whole tribe English in their language, civilized in their habits and Christian in their religion.” … Worcester worked with Elias Boudinot to establish the Cherokee Phoenix newspaper, the first among Native American nations.[3]

Ultimately Samuel and Ann had seven children: Ann Eliza, Sarah, Jerusha, Hannah, Leonard, John Orr and Mary Eleanor.[2] Ann Eliza grew up to become a missionary and with her husband, William Schenck Robertson, founded Nuyaka Mission in the Indian Territory.[4]

The westward push of European-American settlers from coastal areas continued to encroach on the Cherokee … With the help of Worcester and his sponsor, the American Board, they made a plan to fight the encroachment by using the courts. They wanted to take a case to the US Supreme Court to define the relationship between the federal and state governments, and establish the sovereignty of the Cherokee nation. No other civil authority would support Cherokee sovereignty to their land and self-government in their territory. Hiring William Wirt, a former U.S. Attorney General, the Cherokee tried to argue their position before the US Supreme Court in Georgia v. Tassel (the court granted a writ of error for a Cherokee convicted in a Georgia court for a murder occurring in Cherokee territory, though the state refused to accept the writ) and Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831) (the court dismissed this on technical grounds for lack of jurisdiction).[7] In writing the majority opinion, Chief Justice Marshall described the Cherokee Nation as a “domestic dependent nation” with no rights binding on a state.[1]

Worcester and eleven other missionaries had met at New Echota and published a resolution in protest of an 1830 Georgia law prohibiting all white men from living on Native American land without a state license.[1] While the state law was an effort to restrict white settlement on Cherokee territory, Worcester reasoned that obeying the law would, in effect, be surrendering the sovereignty of the Cherokee Nation to manage their own territory. Once the law had taken effect, Governor George Rockingham Gilmer ordered the militia to arrest Worcester and the others who signed the document and refused to get a license.[7]

After two series of trials, all eleven men were convicted and sentenced to four years of hard labor… Worcester and Elizur Butler declined their pardons, so the Cherokee could take the case to the Supreme Court. … In its late 1832 decision, the Court ruled that the Cherokee Nation was independent and only the federal government had the authority to deal with Indian nations. It vacated the convictions of Worcester and Butler. …

[However] He realized that the larger battle had been lost, because the state and settlers refused to abide by the decision of the Supreme Court. Within three years, the US used its military to force the Cherokee Nation out of the Southeast and on the “Trail of Tears” to lands west of the Mississippi River. …

After being released, Worcester and his wife determined to move their family to Indian Territory to prepare for the coming of the Cherokee under removal. …

His work included setting up the first printing press in that part of the country, translating the Bible and several hymns into Cherokee, and running the mission. In 1839, his wife Ann died; she had been serving as assistant missionary. He remained in Park Hill, where he remarried Erminia Nash in 1842.[1][2]

Worcester worked tirelessly to help resolve the differences between the Georgia Cherokee and the “Old Settlers”, some of whom had relocated there in the late 1820s. On April 20, 1859, he died in Park Hill, Indian Territory.

Aside from being imprisoned, Worcester lost his house when the state of Georgia just up and gave it to someone else in the 1832 Land Lottery and most of his property when a steamer sank on the way to Oklahoma.

I’ve long wondered how (if) the Calvinism of the North ended up in the South. Perhaps Vermont missionaries were part of the process.

Anthropology Friday: American Outlaws, Bandits, and Stand Watie

Welcome back to anthropology-ish Friday. Today we’re reading Outlaws on Horseback: The Organized Bands of Bank and Train Robbers who Terrorized the Middle West for Half a Century by Harry Sinclair Drago. From the Amazon blurb:

Outlaws on Horseback concentrates on the long, unbroken chain of crime that began in the late 1850s with the Missouri-Kansas border warfare and ended in Arkansas in 1921 with the killing of Henry Starr, the last of the authentic desperadoes. Harry Sinclair Drago shows links among the men and women who terrorized the Midwest while he squelches the most outlandish tales about them.

The guerrilla warfare led by the evil William Quantrill was training for Frank and Jesse James and Cole and Jim Younger. Drago puts their bloody careers in perspective and tracks down the truth about Belle Starr the Bandit Queen, Cherokee Bill, Rose of the Cimarron, and the gangs, including the Daltons and Doolins, that infested the Oklahoma hills. The action moves from the sacking of Lawrence to the raid on Northfield to the shootout at Coffeyville.

The introduction and first chapter have so far been really good, so let’s jump right in (as usual, I’ll be using “” instead of blockquotes for readability):

“I have always treasured my chance meeting with Marshal Nix. It quickened my interest in that controversial chapter of American history dealing with the horseback outlaws of Indian and Oklahoma territories and the little army of U.S. marshals and deputy marshals who hunted them down and finally eliminated them in the most prolonged and sanguinary game of cops and robbers this country or any other ever had known. Roughly speaking, it began soon after the forced removal of the Five Civilized Tribes from their homeland in the Carolinas, Georgia, Florida, Alabama and Mississippi to reservations in the uninhabited wilderness to the west of the state of Arkansas, comprising the eastern third of present-day Oklahoma.”

Sequoyah, inventor of the Cherokee syllabary

EvX: The “Five Civilized Tribes” are the Cherokee, Chickasaw, Choctaw, Creek (Muscogee), and Seminole. According to Wikipedia:

These are the first five tribes that Anglo-European settlers generally considered to be “civilized” according to their own worldview, because these five tribes adopted attributes of the colonists’ culture,[2] for example, Christianity, centralized governments, literacy, market participation, written constitutions, intermarriage with white Americans, and plantation slavery practices. The Five Civilized Tribes tended to maintain stable political relations with the Europeans.

The Cherokee, thanks to the brilliant Sequoyah, had their own syllabary (similar to alphabet) and thus their own Cherokee-language printing industry.

The Seminoles of Florida are notable for never having surrendered to the US government, which could not effectively track and fight them in the Everglades Swamp.

But back to Drago:

It was a land without law, other than the tribal law and courts of the Five Tribes. The only police were Indian police. There were a number of military posts between Fort Smith, Arkansas, and Red River, to the south and west, of which Fort Gibson, some sixty miles up the Arkansas River, at the confluence of the Grand and Verdigris, was the only one of real consequence. The military had no authority to interfere in criminal and civil cases arising among the Indians. In fact, they were expressly forbidden to do so, and this proscription covered mixed bloods of all degree.

“What had become Indian Territory had been known to the criminal element of a dozen Southern and Midwestern states for years. Though it offered a safe refuge for wanted men, few appear to have taken advantage of it. But now, with thousands of “civilized” Indians with their government allotments to prey on, they came from far and near, got themselves adopted into the tribes by marriage and not only proceeded to debauch their benefactors with the wildcat whiskey they brewed in their illicit stills, but plundered and killed with a merciless abandon equaled elsewhere only by the pirates of the lower Mississippi and and the white savages of the Natchez Trace. It was, of course, from those very depth of criminal viciousness that a substantial number of the lawless characters infesting the Territory had come.”

Part of the Natchez Trace

EvX: The Natchez Trace:

is a historic forest trail within the United States which extends roughly 440 miles (710 km) from Natchez, Mississippi, to Nashville, Tennessee, linking the Cumberland, Tennessee, and Mississippi Rivers. The trail was created and used for centuries by Native Americans, and was later used by early European and American explorers, traders, and emigrants in the late 18th and early 19th centuries. …

Largely following a geologic ridge line, prehistoric animals followed the dry ground of the Trace to distant grazing lands, the salt licks of today’s central Tennessee, and to the Mississippi River. … In the case of the Trace, bison traveled north to find salt licks in the Nashville area.[2] … Numerous prehistoric indigenous settlements in Mississippi were established along the Natchez Trace. Among them were the 2000-year-old Pharr Mounds of the Middle Woodland period, located near present-day Tupelo, Mississippi. …

The U.S. signed treaties with the Chickasaw and Choctaw tribes to maintain peace, as European Americans entered the area in greater numbers. In 1801 the United States Army began the trail blazing along the Trace, performing major work to prepare it as a thoroughfare. The work was first done by soldiers reassigned from Tennessee and later by civilian contractors. To emphasize American sovereignty in the area, he called it the “Columbian Highway.” The people who used it, however, dubbed the road “The Devil’s Backbone” due to its remoteness, rough conditions, and the often encountered highwaymen found along the new road.[1]

By 1809, the trail was fully navigable by wagon, with the northward journey taking two to three weeks. Critical to the success of the Trace as a trade route was the development of inns and trading posts, referred to at the time as “stands.” …

The Trace was the only reliable land link between the eastern states and the trading ports of Mississippi and Louisiana. This brought all sorts of people down the Trace: itinerant preachers, highwaymen, traders, and peddlers among them.[1]

As with much of the unsettled frontier, banditry regularly occurred along the Trace. Much of it centered around the river landing Natchez Under-The-Hill, (as compared with the rest of the town) atop the river bluff. Under-the-Hill, where barges and keelboats put in with goods from northern ports, was a hotbed of gamblers, prostitutes, and drunkards. Many of the rowdies, referred to as “Kaintucks,” were rough Kentucky frontiersmen who operated flatboats down the river.[1]

Other dangers lurked on the Trace in the areas outside city boundaries. Highwaymen (such as John Murrell and Samuel Mason) terrorized travelers along the road. They operated large gangs of organized brigands in one of the first examples of land-based organized crime in the United States.[5][6]

Back to Drago:

“The seeds of lawlessness had been planted, and it remained only for the passing years to bring them to flower. The half-breed sons of the white renegades grew to manhood with contempt for tribal laws, which among the Choctaws and Cherokees were strict and severe in their punishments. The invariable aftermath to a quarrel was murder. Usually the killings went unexplained, or, in the Cherokee Nation, were charged to the implacable feud between the No Treaty Party and the Treaty Party that took the lives of so many. …

“The internecine strife that divided the Cherokees was waged up to and through the yeas of the Civil War, and it was responsible for the defeat of the adherents of the Confederacy among the Five Tribes. It also helped to provide the climate for the day of the horseback outlaws.

“The strife that divided the Cherokee Nation went back to the treaty signed with the federal government that resulted in their removal from their ancestral homeland. Principal Chief John Ross, titular head of the tribe for almost forty years, had refused to sign it, and he and his faction held that those chiefs who had–Stand Watie; Elias Boudinot, his brother; and Major John Ridge–were traitors. Boudinot, Major Ridge and his son, John, were assassinated following the removal. Only death could heal that breach.”

Chief John Ross of the Cherokee, born 1790, photographed near his death in 1866

EvX: For my non-American readers, Drago is referring to the infamous removal of the Cherokee (and other “civilized tribes”) under President Andrew Jackson, memorialized as the “Trail of Tears.” The forced march from their ancestral lands in the southeast US to what is now Oklahoma (formerly, “Indian Territory”) resulted in 13,000-16,500 deaths. According to Wikipedia:

The Cherokee Trail of Tears resulted from the enforcement of the Treaty of New Echota, an agreement signed under the provisions of the Indian Removal Act of 1830, which exchanged Indian land in the East for lands west of the Mississippi River, but which was never accepted by the elected tribal leadership or a majority of the Cherokee people.

Interestingly, Chief John Ross was (according to Wikipedia) only 1/8th Cherokee, the rest of his family being of Scottish ancestry:

As a result, young John… grew up bilingual and bicultural, an experience that served him well when his parents decided to send him to schools that served other mixed race Cherokee. … During the War of 1812, he served as adjutant of a Cherokee regiment under the command of Andrew Jackson. After the Red Stick War ended, Ross demonstrated his business acumen by starting a tobacco farm in Tennessee. In 1816, he built a warehouse and trading post on the Tennessee River north of the mouth of Chattanooga Creek, and started a ferry service that carried passengers from the south side of the river (Cherokee Nation) to the north side (USA). …

Ross first went to Washington, D.C. in 1816 as part of a Cherokee delegation to negotiate issues of national boundaries, land ownership and white encroachment. As the only delegate fluent in English, Ross became the principal negotiator, despite his relative youth. When he returned to the Cherokee Nation in 1817, he was elected to the National Council. …

The majority of the council were men like Ross, who were wealthy, educated, English-speaking and of mixed blood. Even the traditionalist full-blood Cherokee perceived that he had the skills necessary to contest the whites’ demands that the Cherokee cede their land and move beyond the Mississippi River.

Meanwhile:

When Georgia moved to extend state laws over Cherokee lands in 1830, the matter went to the U.S. Supreme Court. In Cherokee Nation v. Georgia (1831), the Marshall court ruled that the Cherokee Nation was not a sovereign and independent nation, and therefore refused to hear the case. However, in Worcester v. Georgia (1832), the Court ruled that Georgia could not impose laws in Cherokee territory, since only the national government — not state governments — had authority in Indian affairs.

I mention Cherokee Nation v. Georgia because it really is a testament to the Cherokees’ level of literacy and sophistication that they knew how to use the American legal system well enough to bring a case before the Supreme Court. But Jackson had enough problems on his hands (the nullification crisis in South Carolina) and decided he didn’t want to simultaneously face down the Georgia militia, so removal proceeded.

The Cherokee themselves were split on what to do. Some Cherokee (the “Treaty Party,” including Stand Watie,) thought they should just cut their losses, sign the treaty, take the $200,000 and leave. Other Cherokee, (the “No Treaty Party,” lead by John Ross,) wanted to stand their ground and use the legal system to defend their rights.

Back to Drago:

Stand Watie, interestingly more Cherokee by DNA% than John Ross

“It followed that when the conflict between North and South began, those two old enemies took sides, John Ross declaring for the Union, and Stand Watie taking the field for the Confederacy. The latter, a redoubtable man and something of a military genius, as made a brigadier general before the struggle was over, and when he surrendered at Fort Towson, in June 1865, he was the lat of the Confederate commanders to lay down his arms. …

“The absurd statement has been made that there were five thousand outlaws running wild in the two territories. There may have been as many as five thousand criminals unapprehended in the country between the Kansas line and the Red River, at one time or another. I believe there were. That would include petty thieves, safe-crackers, murderers, a few rapists and the several thousand who were engaged in the manufacture and sale of whiskey to the Indians, plus the fluctuating and ever-changing number of “wanted” men who regarded that lawless country as only a temporary refuge. Of the genuine horseback outlaws, who did their marauding in gangs, robbing banks and express offices and holding up trains, the acknowledged elite of their lawless world, the like of whom America had never seen before and was never to see again, I can account for fewer than two hundred.

“The argument has been advanced in their favor that they were cowboys… This is sheer nonsense. … Frank and Jesse James and the members of their gang had never punched cattle for a living. That is equally true of Cole Younger and his brothers…

“It has been said many times that it was the lure of easy money, the chance to make a big stake in a hurry, that took so many men into outlawry. Unquestionably the prospect of the rich pickings to be gleaned was of the first importance with them. But only in the beginning. After a few successful forays, the thrill and excitement of sweeping into a town and cowing it with their guns became almost as important to them as money. No one ever put it better than handsome Henry Starr, the most gentlemanly and to me the most intelligent of all horseback outlaws, when he said, after thirty years of robbing banks and being in and out of prison: “Of course I’m interested in the money and the chance that I’ll make a big haul that will make me rich, but I must admit that there’s the lure of the life in the open, the rides at night, the spice of danger, the mastery over men, the pride of being able to hold a mob at bay–it tingles in my veins. I love it. It is a wild adventure. I feel as I imagine the old buccaneers felt when they roved the seas with the black flag at the masthead.

EvX: According to Old West Legends: Henry Starr–The Cherokee Bad Boy:

During his 32 years in crime Henry Starr robbed more banks than both the James-Younger Gang and the Doolin-Dalton Gang put together. He started robbing banks on horseback in 1893 and ended up robbing his last in a car in 1921. The Cherokee Badman netted over $60,000 from more than 21 bank robberies.

Henry Starr was born near Fort Gibson in Indian Territory on December 2, 1873 to George “Hop” Starr, a half-breed Cherokee, and Mary Scot Starr, a woman of Irish decent and one-quarter Cherokee. Mary came from an educated and respectable family, but the Starr side of the family was rife with outlaws. Henry’s grandfather was Tom Starr, an outlaw in his own right. Henry would later say that his grandfather “was known far and wide as the Devil’s own. In all matters where law and order was on one side, Tom Starr was on the other.” …

Back to Drago:

“[Starr’s account] is important only because it partially explains why the confirmed outlaw stuck to his trade until his career ended in a blast of gunfire or the hangman’s noose.

“… none of their predecessors in the game they were playing had succeeded in piling up a fortune and getting away to Mexico or South America to enjoy it. (A few got away, but they always returned, and that was their undoing.) Knowing what the score was, why did they persist in their banditry until they arrived at the inevitable end?

“For several reasons. Not only did they believe they were smart enough to avoid the mistakes that had been the downfall of others, but they held their lives cheaply, which is not difficult to understand. Many of the hailed from Missouri, the cradle of outlawry. Either as children or as grown men, they were products of the bitter, cruel years of border warfare between the proslavery and antislavery factions of Kansas and Missouri, followed by the even bloodier years of guerrilla warfare between Union and Confederate forces… Lee’s surrender at Appomattox did not end the internecine strife in war-torn Kansas and Missouri. It went on for years, and a decade and more passed before it burned itself out.”

EvX: Here we skip forward to matters dealing incidentally with Quantrill, an outlaw. We’ll talk more about Quantrill next Friday:

“[Quantrill] led his men across the line into Indian Territory. This was more or less just a pleasant excursion, its only purpose being to raid the villages of the Upper Cherokees (the [John] Ross faction) and help themselves to the best horseflesh they could find. Preferably that meant tough, wiry animals of pure mesteno strain, and next best, crossbred mustangs which could go and go and go, and which, due to the incessant raiding among the tribes, had changed owners many times since originally being stolen out of Texas. A generation of Cherokees, born in the Territory, had become as adept at stealing horses a the so-called Wild Indians of the Plains. They tried to secrete their extensive herd, but the white invader from Missouri found the and, in the process of taking what they wanted, left a trail of dead Indians in their wake…

“Quantrill and his men had little to fear from Union reprisals. The War Department [this was during the Civil War] had withdrawn its troops from the posts in Texas and Indian Territory soon after the outbreak of hostilities, the announced reason being that it wold be impossible to supply them. It was a mistake; among the Five Civilized Tribes, the faction loyal to the Union felt they had been abandoned. Stand Watie and his Rebel army moved into Fort Gibson and wrought havoc up and down the Texas Road, the main north-south route through the Nations, parts of which were variously known as the Osage Trace, the Shawnee Trail and the Sedalia Trail, until Secretary of War Stanton reversed himself and gathered a force of several regiments of Kansas volunteers and a Missouri battery, accompanied by several hundred Osage tribesmen… and ordered them to retake Fort Gibson.

“Stand Watie, in the face of superior numbers, retired from Gibson without a struggle, but for the rest of the war years, he raided up and down the Texas Road, waylaying wagon trains from Fort Scott, Kansas, from which Fort Gibson had to be supplied. On one occasion… he captured a supply train valued at $1,500,000. …

“The scorched-earth policy Stand Watie pursued devastated the country and resulted in starvation and near-starvation for thousands of Indians. The confederacy strengthened the Cherokee Mounted Rifles, renaming it the Indian Brigade by reinforcing it with several regiment of white Texan volunteers.

“But it is not with the four bitter years of the war itself that this narrative is principally concerned; it is with the poverty, the starvation, the memory of the wanton killing and cruelty it left behind, all of which unmistakably made the ground fertile for the generation of outlaws who were to follow, such a Henry Star, Sam Starr, Rufus Buck, Cherokee Bill, his brother Clarence and a score of others. ”

EvX: Note that Drago generally favors environmental explanations for the emergence of outlawry in the post-Civil War period.

Coincidentally, I first heard about Stand Watie–a rather obscure historical figure–the day before I picked up this book. There is a movement afoot in Oklahoma, inspired by the recent vogue for tearing down Confederate monuments, to rename Stand Watie Elementary.

Regardless of which side you favored in the War Between the States, Stand Watie sounds like an unpleasant person who killed or almost killed thousands of his own people. But Oklahoma, in a rare display of sanity, has noted that renaming schools costs money, and Oklahoma’s education budget is pretty tight.

See you next Friday for a full discussion of Quantrell’s Civil War depredations.

Not quite Forgotten Treasures: Part 2, Cahokia

Illustration of Cahokia Mounds, Illinois

It took almost 400 years between Columbus’s arrival in the New World and the complete military domination of the USA by the invaders–but it happened.

The Americas before Columbus arrived were a place of amazing contrasts–from the igloo-dwelling, hunter-gathering Eskimo to the literate, city-building, cannibal Aztecs. At the southern tip of of Patagonia lies the Tierra del Fuego–so named because the nearly naked locals opted to cope with their frigid climate by carrying fire everywhere.

The oldest still-occupied towns in the US are the Acoma and Taos Pueblos of New Mexico, built nearly a thousand years ago (though today the vast majority of residents live in newer housing with electricity and running water built nearby the historic pueblos.) But the oldest overall is Cahokia, occupied between 600 and 1400 AD:

Cahokia was the largest and most influential urban settlement of the Mississippian culture that developed advanced societies across much of what is now the central and southeastern United States, beginning more than 1000 years before European contact.[5] Today, Cahokia Mounds is considered the largest and most complex archaeological site north of the great pre-Columbian cities in Mexico. …

Cahokia became the most important center for the peoples known today as Mississippians. Their settlements ranged across what is now the Midwest, Eastern, and Southeastern United States. Cahokia was located in a strategic position near the confluence of the Mississippi, Missouri and Illinois rivers. It maintained trade links with communities as far away as the Great Lakes to the north and the Gulf Coast to the south, trading in such exotic items as copper, Mill Creek chert,[13] and whelk shells.

Mill Creek chert, most notably, was used in the production of hoes, a high demand tool for farmers around Cahokia and other Mississippian centers. Cahokia’s control of the manufacture and distribution of these hand tools was an important economic activity that allowed the city to thrive.[14]Mississippian culture pottery and stone tools in the Cahokian style were found at the Silvernale site near Red Wing, Minnesota, and materials and trade goods from Pennsylvania, the Gulf Coast and Lake Superior have been excavated at Cahokia. Bartering, not money was used in trade.[15]

Although it was home to only about 1,000 people before c. 1050, its population grew rapidly after that date. According to a 2007 study in Quaternary Science Reviews, “Between AD 1050 and 1100, Cahokia’s population increased from between 1400 and 2800 people to between 10,200 and 15,300 people”.[16] an estimate that applies only to a 1.8 km2 high density central occupation area.[17] Archaeologists estimate the city’s population at between 6,000 and 40,000 at its peak,[citation needed] with more people living in outlying farming villages that supplied the main urban center. … If the highest population estimates are correct, Cahokia was larger than any subsequent city in the United States until the 1780s, when Philadelphia’s population grew beyond 40,000.[18]

Monk’s Mound, Cahokia

Like many early cities, Cahokia has distinctive, flat-topped pyramids, (here called “mounds”)–probably not because pyramids are magical or because the Cahokians were in contact with Egyptians or aliens, but because it’s the easiest large shape to build. The Cahokians lacked good stone build with and draft animals to haul materials over long distance, so Cahokia’s 120 mounds were built largely of compacted earth:

To achieve that, thousands of workers over decades moved more than an “estimated 55 million cubic feet [1,600,000 m3] of earth in woven baskets to create this network of mounds and community plazas. Monks Mound, for example, covers 14 acres (5.7 ha), rises 100 ft (30 m), and was topped by a massive 5,000 sq ft (460 m2) building another 50 ft (15 m) high.”[4]

Monks Mound is the largest structure and central focus of the city: a massive platform mound with four terraces, 10 stories tall, and the largest man-made earthen mound north of Mexico. Facing south, it is 100 ft (30 m) high, 951 ft (290 m) long, 836 ft (255 m) wide and covers 13.8 acres (5.6 ha).[24] It also contains about 814,000 cu yd (622,000 m3) of earth.[14] The mound was built higher and wider over the course of several centuries through as many as ten separate construction episodes, as the mound was built taller and the terraces and apron were added.[24]

Since the mounds are made of dirt and it rains in Illinois, erosion is an issue.

Excavation on the top of Monks Mound has revealed evidence of a large building, likely a temple or the residence of the paramount chief, which would have been seen throughout the city. This building was about 105 ft (32 m) long and 48 feet (15 m) wide, and could have been as much as 50 ft (15 m) high. It was about 5,000 sq ft (460 m2).

A large flat plaza located adjacent to Monks Mound was a place where games and public rituals took place.

Reconstructed piece from Etowah Indian Mounds, Georgia

The Cahokians (and Mississippians in general) had mastered the art of copper working, producing fine ritual art like the dancing warrior to the left. Copper can be worked and shaped while still cold; the Mississippians had not learned how to make bronze nor smelt iron.

The Cahokians also built a Stonehenge-style “Woodhenge”:

a ceremonial area with a 412 feet (126 m) in diameter circle of 48 upright wooden posts.[1] Archaeologists date the placement of at least one of the posts to approximately 950 CE.[2] Archaeological research has shown that four of the posts were at the cardinal locations of north, south, east and west, the eastern and western posts marking the position of the equinox sunrise and sunsets. Four other posts in the circle were shown to be at the summer solstice sunrise and sunset and the winter solstice sunrise and sunset positions.

Woodhenge, Cahokia

If you make your sundial big enough, it can double as a clock–a useful trick for a society with a priestly class that wants to do special ceremonies on specific dates.

Woodhenge was eventually dismantled (and moved elsewhere), and the site converted to a cemetery. Some of the burials were of wealthy individuals–perhaps rulers–but most appear to be victims of mass human sacrifice:

A large rectangular pit was dug into the southeast corner of the mound and a mass burial of 24 women was made in it….

A small platform was constructed near the southeastern ramp and four young males with their arms interlocked and missing their hands and skulls were laid out on the platform.[6] Some researchers have concluded that the four men may represent the four cardinal directions.[11]

In a pit excavated next to these four men were placed the bodies of a large group of young women. This mass grave contained the remains of 53 females ranging in age between 15–30 years of age, arranged in two layers separated by matting.[4][6][8] The young women show evidence of having been strangled before being arranged in neat rows in the pit.[11] Analysis of bones and dental traits of these women have led archaeologists to believe these individuals were not from the same social class and ethnic group as other individuals interred in the mound. …

Next to this mound to the southwest another mass burial was made.[4] This burial is the most grisly found at the site, containing 39 men and women who appear to have been violently killed. … The victims were then killed and thrown over the edge of the pit. These people showed signs of meeting a violent end, including several being incompletely decapitated, some with fractured skulls and others with fractured jawbones.[6] The evidence shows that some of these individuals were buried alive: “From the vertical position of some of the fingers, which appear to have been digging in the sand, it is apparent that not all of the victims were dead when they were interred – that some had been trying to pull themselves out of the mass of bodies.”[4] The presence of arrowheads in the back of some of these victims, coupled with the beheadings and other evidence of violent death, has led some researchers to conclude that these victims show evidence of warfare or were even the losers of a rebellion against the rulers of Cahokia … On top of them were the remains of 15 elite individuals laid out upon litters made from cedar poles and cane matting .[6] Radiocarbon dating of the cedar poles used for the litters in the top layer burials in this pit determined that this burial was made approximately 100 years after the woodhenge circle had been constructed, or in approximately 1030 CE.[4]

Lovely people.

Since the Mississippian culture had not entirely disappeared by the time European chronicles arrived in the area, we actually have an account of a royal Mississippian burial accompanied by ritual sacrifice. According to Wikipedia:

Upon the death of “Tattooed Serpent” [of the Natchez,] in 1725, the war chief and younger brother of the “Great Sun” or Chief of the Natchez; two of his wives, one of his sisters… his first warrior, his doctor, his head servant and the servant’s wife, his nurse, and a craftsman of war clubs all chose to die and be interred with him, as well as several old women and an infant who was strangled by his parents.[14] Great honor was associated with such a sacrifice, and their kin was held in high esteem.[15] After a funeral procession with the chiefs body carried on a litter made of cane matting and cedar poles ended at the temple (which was located on top of a low platform mound); the retainers with their faces painted red and accompanied by their relatives dressed up in their finest garments, were drugged with large doses of nicotine and ritually strangled. Tattooed Serpent was then buried in a trench inside the temple floor and the retainers were buried in other locations atop the mound surrounding the temple. …[14]

Artsist’s conception of Watson Brake

Cahokia is only one of the Mississippian people’s many settlements–at least 85 similar sites have been discovered, and that’s just the Mississippians. Other cultures also built mounds, such as the Watson Brake site in Louisiana, built around 3500 BC. (Perhaps these were really all the same culture, but archaeologists classify them as different ones.) The Mississippian sites are generally distinguished by:

  1. Earthen pyramids or mounds
  2. The development of large-scale, corn-based agriculture
  3. Shell-tempered pottery
  4. Large trade network extending from the Rockies to the Atlantic, Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico
  5. Social hierarchy and centralization of political power, with cities like Cahokia dominant over smaller towns
  6. A particular style of art and artifacts, reflecting Mississippian religious beliefs and lifestyles

Though Cahokia itself was abandoned around 1300 AD, Early European explorers such as Hernando de Soto encountered other Mississippian peoples and made records of them:

De Soto observed people living in fortified towns with lofty mounds and plazas, and surmised that many of the mounds served as foundations for priestly temples. Near present-day Augusta, Georgia, de Soto encountered a mound-building group ruled by a queen, Cofitachequi. She told him that the mounds within her territory served as the burial places for nobles.

But like Etzanoa, by the time the Europeans returned, the settlements had been abandoned, most likely due to diseases caught from the French and Spanish.