Yosemite > Library > Tribes of Calif. > General Facts >
|Next: Appendix • Contents • Previous: Pai-u'-ti|
It has been the melancholy fate of the California Indians to be more vilified and less understood than any other of the American aborigines. They were once probably the most contented and happy race on the con tinent, in proportion to their capacities for enjoyment, and they have been more miserably corrupted and destroyed than any other tribes within the Union. They were certainly the most populous, and dwelt beneath the most genial heavens, and amidst the most abundant natural productions, and they were swept away with the most swift and cruel extermination.
Pity for the California Indian that he was not a Christian born, instead of a “Gentile”, as the good God made him, for therefore he was written down by the Jesuit padres near to the lowest levels of humanity, that the more conspicuous might appear that self-sacrificing beneficence which reached down to pluck him up to salvation. Pity for him that his purple-tinted and snowy mountains were ribbed with silver and fat with gold-dust, for thereby he became to the American a vagabond thief and a liar, “uncanny and repulsive”. Pity for him that his shining valleys, lying warm and genial in the sun, were capable of making the greedy wheat-grower rich in seven good harvests, for thereby he became to him “a mean, thieving, revengeful scoundrel, far below the grade of the most indifferent white”.
It is small concern to pioneer miners to know aught of the life-story, customs, and ideas of a poor beggar who is so fatuously unwise as to complain that they darken the water so he can no longer see to pierce the red-fleshed salmon, and his women and children are crying for meat. And when, persisting, he is shot down and lies stark and stiff in the arid gulch, where the pitiless sun of California shakes above him the only winding-sheet that covers his bloody corpse, he is not prolific in narration of his people’s legends and traditions. Dead men tell no tales.
Besides that, the California Indians, above all others, are a shy, foxy, secretive race, who will not impart whatever information they possess until confidence has been grounded on long acquaintance, and even then not completely unless one shows sufficient regard fir them to learn their language. This singular secretiveness has kept the great body of the whites in profound ignorance of their ideas, whatever they may have observed of their customs.
The multitude of tongues is another serious obstacle. One may spend years in acquiring an Indian tongue, then ride a half-day’s journey and find himself adrift again.
It is frequently difficult also to clear away the débris created by the white man during twenty years and get down to the bed-rock of the old tribal organization. So morally feeble and self-abnegative were they that their tribes crumbled under the touch of the pale-face, and their members were proud to group themselves about some prominent pioneer and call themselves by his name. They frequently accounted it greater honor to be called Bidwell’s Indians or Reading’s Indians, or so, than Winton or whatever the vernacular title might happen to be. Then, again, it is seldom that a tribe call their neighbors by the name the latter themselves use; and there are some tribes that have no name taken from their own language, as they have adopted the one bestowed by their neighbors.
Physically considered the California Indians are superior to the Chinese, at least to those brought over to America. There is no better proof of this than the wages they receive for labor, for in a free and open market like ours a thing will always eventually fetch what it is worth. Chinamen on the railroad receive $1 a day and board themselves; Indians working in gangs on public roads receive seventy-five cents a day, sometimes $1, and their board, the whole equal to $1.25 or $1.50. But on the northern ranches the Indian has $1.50 to $2 a day and his board, or $1 a day when employed by the year. Farmers trust Indians with valuable teams and complicated agricultural machinery far more than they do the Chinese. And the Indian endures the hot and heavy work of the ranch better than even the Canton Chinaman, who comes from a hot climate but wants an umbrella over his head. The valley Indians are more willing to labor and more moral now than the mountain Indians, because the latter have better opportunities to hunt game and can pick up small change and old clothes about the mining towns.
There is a common belief among the prejudiced and ignorant that the Indian is such an enormous eater as to overbalance his superior value as a laborer over the Chinaman. This is untrue. It is the almost universal testimony of men who have employed them and observed their habits to any purpose, that when they first come in from the rancheria with their stomachs distended from eating the innutritious aboriginal diet, for a day or two they eat voraciously until they become sated on our richer food; and after that they consume no more than an American performing the same labor.
I am inclined to attribute something of the mental weakness of the California aborigines to the excessive amount of fish which they consumed in their native state; also, perhaps, to the quantity of bitter acorns they ate. It is generally accounted that fish is rich in brain-food, but it is an indisputable fact that the grossest superstitions and lowest intellects in the race are found along the sea-coast.
Another erroneous impression generally prevails among Americans as to their physique, because they have seen only the wretched remnants of the race, the inferior lowlanders, whereas the nobler and more valorous mountaineers were early cut off. On the Round Valley Reservation the Pit River men wear shoes averaging five and six in size, the women two and three. The Potter Valley men are, however, a little larger in the feet; their shoes run from seven to ten, averaging eight and nine; the women of the same tribe range from four to seven, averaging five and six. The men’s hands are as small and handsome as their feet, and so are the women’s when young, but the hard and unremitting toil of after-life makes their hands grow large, coarse, and ugly.
Old pioneers, especially on the upper waters of the Trinity and the higher foot-hills of the Sierra, have frequently spoken with enthusiasm of giants they had seen in early days weighing one hundred and eighty, two hundred, even two hundred and fifty pounds; tall, fine fellows, not gross, but sinewy, magnificent specimens of free and fighting savagery. On the other hand the desiccation of body in old age, especially in the women, is something phenomenal. In a wigwam near Temecula I have seen an aged man who certainly would not have weighed over fifty pounds, so extraordinarily was he wasted and shrunken. Many others have nearly equaled him. This fact accounts for the repulsively wrinkled appearance of the aged, that which has made them so odious in the eyes of superficial writers and the fastidious tourists. There is probably no other race so excessively fat in youth and so wasted in old age.
All of them emit an odor peculiar to themselves as that of the Chinese is to them. Although they are filthy in their wigwams and in their apparel, yet of the many hundreds I have seen there was not one who still observed the aboriginal mode of life that had not white teeth and a sweet breath. This is doubtless due to the fact that before they became civilized they ate their food cold; when they drink hot coffee and eat hot bread they are liable to toothache and offensive breath like ourselves.
There is another singular and apparently paradoxical fact connected with their habits of body. Though they are so generally uncleanly about their lodges and clothing, there is no nation, unless it was the ancient Romans, who bathed oftener than they. They were almost amphibious, and rival the Kanakas yet in their capacity to endure prolonged submergence. They had no clothing to put off and on, and they were always splashing in the water. They never neglected the morning bath, and many of them do not to this day, though pestered with clothing.
And never since the fatal hour when Adam and Eve tied about then the fig-leaves in Eden has clothing been a symbol so freighted with evil portent as to these people. On excessively hot days they would lay off the miserable rags of civilization which hampered and galled their free-born limbs; and then would come colds, coughs, croups, quick consumption, which swept them off by thousands.
It is a curious fact which has frequently come under my observation, and has been abundantly confirmed by the pioneers, that among half-breed children a decided majority are girls. There is a reason for this which would be a proper subject of explication in a medical work but not in these pages. Suffice it to say that the Indian women thus chosen for wives were generally the finest and most ambitious of their race, while their white husbands were the lowest of theirs. The above-named fact certainly seems to indicate that the California Indian is not without a certain aggressiveness of vitality.
It has been said that the two cardinal tests of national greatness are war and women—prowess in one and progress in the other. Tested by this ordeal, the California Indians seem to fall short. They certainly were not a martial race, as is shown by the almost total absence of the shield, and the extreme paucity of their warlike weapons, which consisted only of bows and arrows, very rude spears, slings, and stones and clubs picked up on the battle-field. It is unjust to them to compare their war record with that of the Algonkins. Let it not be forgotten that these latter tribes gained their reputation for valor, such as it is, through two long and bloody centuries, wherein they contended, almost always in superior force, with weak border settlements, hampered with families, and enfeebled by the malarial fevers which always beset new openings in the forest. Let it be remembered, on the other hand, that after the Republic had matured its vast strength and developed its magnificent resources, it poured out hither a hundred thousand of the picked young men of the nation, unincumbered with women and children, armed with the deadliest steel weapons of modern invention, and animated with that fierce energy which the boundless lust for gold inspired in the Americans, and pitted them against a race reared in an indolent climate, and in a land whore there was scarcely even wood for weapons. They were, one might also say, burst into the air by the suddenness and the fierceness of the onslaught. Never before in history has a people been swept away with such terrible swiftness, or appalled into utter and unwhispering silence forever and forever, as were the California Indians by those hundred thousand of the best blood of the nation. They were struck dumb; they crouched in terror close around the few garrisoned forts; if they remained in their villages, and a party of miners came up, they prostrated themselves and allowed them to trample on their booties to show how complete was their submission. Let a tribe complain that the miners muddied their salmon-streams, or steal a few pack-mules, and in twenty days there might not be a soul of them living.
It is not to this record that we should go to form any fair opinion of the California Indians’ prowess, but rather back to those manuscript histories of the old Spaniards, every whit as brave and as adventurous as ourselves, who for two generations battled so often and so gallantly, and were so often disastrously beaten by “los bravos Indios,” as the devout chroniclers of the missions were forced against their wills to call them. The pioneer Spaniards relate that at the first sight of horsemen they would flee and conceal themselves in great terror; but this was an unaccustomed spectacle, which might have appalled stouter hearts than theirs; and this fact is not to be taken as a criterion of their courage. It is true also that their battles among themselves, more especially among the lowlanders of the interior—battles generally fought by appointment on the open plain—were characterized by a great deal of shooting at long range, accompanied with much voluble, Homeric cursing; but the brave mountaineers of the Coast Range inflicted on the Spaniards many a sound beating. It is only necessary to mention the names of Marin, Sonoma, Solano, Colorado, Quintin, Calpello, and the stubborn fights of the Big Plains, around Blue Rock, at Bloody Rock, on Eel River, and on the Middle Trinity, to recall to memory some heroic episodes
And it is much to the credit of the California Indians, and not at all to be set down to the account of cowardice, that they did not indulge in that fiendish cruelty of torture which the Algonkin races practiced on prisoners of war. They did not generally make slaves of female prisoners, but destroyed them at once.
But if on the first count they must be allowed to rank rather inferior, in the second, I think, they were superior to the Algonkin races, as also to the Oregon Indians. For the very reason that they were not a martial race, but rather peaceable, domestic, fond of social dances, and well provisioned (for savages), they did not make such abject slaves of their women, were far less addicted to polygamy (the Klamaths are monogamists), and consequently shared the work of the squaws more than did the Atlantic Indians. The husband always builds the lodge, catches all the fish and game and brings most of it home, and brings in a considerable portion of the fuel. In a company of fifty-seven who passed through Flealdsburgh, there were twenty-four squaws riding on horseback and only three walking, while there were thirteen braves riding and seventeen walking. The young boy is never taught to pierce his mother’s flesh with an arrow to show him his superiority over her, as among the Apaches and Iroquois; though he afterward slays his wife or mother-in-law, if angry, with very little compunction. But there is one fact more significant than any other, and that is the almost universal prevalence, under various forms, of a kind of secret league among the men, and the practice of diabolical orgies, for the purpose of terrorizing the women into obedience. It shows how they were continually struggling up toward equality, and what desperate expedients their lords were compelled to resort to to keep them in due subjection.
The total absence of barbarous and bloody initiations of young men into secret societies was a good feature of their life. They show sufficient capacity to endure prolonged and terrible self-imposed penances or ordeals, but these seldom take any other form than fasting, and that principally among the northern tribes. In their liability to intense religious frenzy, or rather, perhaps, a mere nervous exaltation and exhaustion, resulting from then passionate devotion to the dance, they equal the African races. The same religious bent of mind reveals itself in the strange, crooning chants which they intone while gambling.
As they were not a race of warriors, so they were not a race of hunters. They have extremely few weapons of the chase, but develop extraordinary ingenuity in making a multitude of snares, traps, etc. At least four-fifths of their diet was derived from the vegetable kingdom.
If there is one great and fatal weakness in the California, Indians, it is their lack of breadth and strength of character; hence their incapacity to organize wide-reaching, powerful federative governments. They are infinitely cunning, shrewd, selfish, intriguing; but they are quite lacking in grasp, in vigor, and boldness. Since they have mingled with Americans they have developed a Chinese imitativeness, and they take rapidly to the small uses of civilization; but they have no large force, no inventiveness. Their history is painfully deficient in mighty captains and great orators. But I venture the assertion that no Indians on the continent have learned to copy after civilization in so short a time. I will give a few instances. Shasta Frank, a Wintūn, born and bred to savagery, was a perfect gentleman in the neatness and elegance of his dress, in his manners, and in his speech. For instance, having inadvertently said “setting “, he instantly corrected himself with “sitting”. He gave me a brief account of his language, which delighted me by its accuracy, clearness, and philosophic insight. I was told of another Wintūn who had become a book-keeper and was drawing a good salary as such. Matilda, a Modok woman, living in the wildest regions of the frontier, showed me a portfolio of sketches, made by herself with a common pencil upon letter-envelopes and such casual scraps of paper, which were really remarkable for their correctness. She would strike off, at first sight, an American, an Englishman, a German, a Chinaman, or any odd and eccentric face she happened to see, with a fidelity and expressiveness that were quite amusing. If she had ever had any advantages, she would have been heard of iii the art-world. The pioneers acknowledge that they speedily acquire a subtileness of cheating in card-playing which outwits even themselves, and would have done honor to the “heathen Chinee”. Again, it is the testimony of the reservation agents that the Indian children pick up simple Sunday-school melodies and the like with the facility of the plantation pickaninny down South.
There is a curious feature of aboriginal character, which is manifested more particularly in their games. An Indian seems to be very little chagrined by defeat. I have often watched young men and boys, both in native and American games, and have never failed to remark that singularly lymphatic good-nature with which everything is carried forward. American boys will contend strenuously, and even fight, for nice points in the game, down to a finger’s breadth in the position of a marble; but Indian youths are gayly indifferent, jolly, easy, and never quarrel. They appear to be just as well pleased and they laugh just as heartily when beaten as when victorious. Everything goes on with a limp and jelly-like hilarity, which makes it extremely stupid to an American to watch their contests very long. When engaged in an athletic game, it is true, they exert themselves to their utmost, and accomplish truly wonderful feats of agility and bottom; but they do all this purely for the physical enjoyment and the satisfaction of the animal spirits, not for the joy of conquest at all, so far as anybody can perceive. They never brag, never exult.
An Indian will gamble twenty hours at a sitting, losing piece after piece of his property, to his last shirt, which he takes off, hands to the winner, and emerges naked as he was born; yet he exhibits no concern; he passes through it all, and comes out with the same gay and reckless stoicism. There is not a tremor in his voice, not a muscle quivers, his face never blanches; when he takes off the shirt, his laugh is just as vacuously cheerful and untainted with bitterness as it was when he commenced. Ile borrows another, throws himself on his face, and in five minutes he sleeps the untroubled, dreamless sleep of an infant. It is difficult for a white man to comprehend how one can be so absorbed in the process and so indifferent to the result.
There is another notable defect in their character, that is their lack of poetry, of romance. Though a very joyous and blithe-hearted race, they are patient, plodding, and prosaic to a degree. This is shown in their names, personal and geographical, the great majority of which mean nothing at all, and when they do have a signification it is of the plainest kind. The burden of their whole traditional literature consists of petty fables about animals, though some of these display a quaint humor and an aptness that would not do discredit to Aesop. And it must always be borne in mind that they are forbidden by their religious ideas to speak of the dead, which fact may account for the almost total lack of human legends.
There is not even enough poetry in them to make them tawdry in dress. There is hope of gaudy savages who are thoroughly wasteful and thoroughly devoted to beauty, as they understand it. But these are not wasteful enough even to have feasts, that is, downright, gluttonous “feeds”. Their feasts, such as they are, are not held for the purpose of eating, pure and simple; they merely carry to a common rendezvous a store of provisions a little better than the every-day allowance, which they endeavor to make hold out as long as possible, in order that they may enjoy the dance for many days, which is the one great object of desire, while the feast is secondary. Food is gambled away recklessly, but not thrown away, though civilized men and women are apt to consider their prodigal hospitality as little better than sheer wastefulness All Indians are “cousins” when they come to a camp hungry.
I have said that they are not tawdry in their dress. Young Indians who have mingled with the whites a few years show uniform good taste in their dress, especially in the northern counties; and even old Indians are never seen with those grotesque medleys of all conceivable objects, pepper-casters, patent-medicine labels, oyster-cans, and the like, heaped about their necks, such as may be seen in the interior of the continent.
Mention was made above of their ready adaptation of themselves to the uses of civilization. Who would ever have seen an Algonkin brave offer to go to work for his conquerors? In 1850-’51, before the Indians of the Sacramento Valley had any knowledge whatever of civilization, an adventurous pioneer went to the Upper Sacramento and commenced chopping wood on the banks, for which he received $16 a cord. Sometimes it was necessary to carry the wood a few rods to cord it up close to the water, and he had no trouble in getting Indians to do this work for him for a pittance of flour and bacon. The headman of the village, distinguished only by a feather or a green sprig in his hair, would lay three or four sticks on the back of each squaw or brave, to the number of thirty or forty, then take a stick himself, and with great importance and gravity march with the procession to the river.
There are not lacking instances which show that the California Indians have a sense of humor that the grave, taciturn Iroquois did not possess. The Nishinam of Bear River have several cant or slang names for the Americans, which they use among themselves with great glee. One is the word boh, “road”, hence, perhaps, derivatively, “road-maker” or “roadster”, which they apply to us in a humorous sense, because we make so many roads, which to the light-footed Indians seem very absurd, indeed. Another is ka'-kīn, “spirit”, which is given in compliment to the subtle and mysterious power the American possesses of doing many things beyond their comprehension. Perhaps as common an appellation as any is chu'-pup, “red” or “red-faced”. Here we have a reversal of the traditional “Paleface” of the eastern dime-novel. But the most humorous name they give us, and the one which amuses them most, is wóhah, which is formed from the “whoa-haw” that they heard the early immigrants use so much in driving their oxen. Let an Indian see an American coming up the road, and cry out to his fellows, “There comes a wóhah!” at the same time swinging his arm as if driving oxen, and it will produce convulsive laughter. At Healdsburgh they call a locomotive toot-toot-toot. A Chinaman is called by the Nishinam, chó-li-i, which means “shaved head”. There are other names which they apply to us, which are very amusing, but they will not bear translation.
Felicitously characteristic of one feature of Indian life, as well as humorous within itself; was the remark of an observing old man, “Injun make a little fire and set close to him; white man make a big fire and set ”way off.”
Frequently their humor is of the kind that may be called unconscious, and is none the less pleasing on that account. One day I applied to an Indian for certain information, and he began to give me the desired names in “American”. I interrupted him, and told him I wanted him to talk Indian talk. At that he pulled a black, scowling face, and said, “Guess mebbe bimeby all white man want to learn to talk Injin talk.” To any one knowing the peculiar relations which exist between many whites and the aborigines, the satire of this remark is delightful.
They are great thieves, whenever it is safe to be so. Like ill-mannered white people, to use the mildest phrasing, they are fond of borrowing small articles, knives, pipes, pencils, and the like, which they will presently insert into their pockets, hoping the owner may forget to ask for them. One means of protection which old pioneers advised me to take, was, in journeying anywhither, always to keep at my tongue’s end the names of several prominent citizens of the vicinity, to impress the savages with the belief that I was well acquainted there, had plenty of friends, and ample means of redress if they did me any wrong. They are strongly attached to their homes, and they have learned by tough experience that if they commit any thievery it will be the worse for them, and that it will go hard but the whites will burn their rancherias and requite the stealing double. Hence they are proverbially honest in their own neighborhood; but a stranger in the gates who seems to be friendless may lose the very blankets off him in the night. They resemble the fox, which never steals near its nest.
The northern tribes are much the most miserly and given to hoarding treasure, and none of them do a white man the smallest service without expecting payment. For instance, Ta'-kho Kol'-li, chief of the Ta-ta-ten', refused to count ten in his language unless I paid him for the service in advance. Once I was sitting with three stalwart and sinister-looking Yurok on a rugged promontory, waiting for the tide to ebb; and when lunch-time arrived we fell to—they on their dried smelt, I on some sandwiches. They had no claim on me, and therefore asked for nothing; but presently I commenced talking with one about Indian matters, and in an instant the crafty savage perceived the drift, saw he had established a claim, and said, “Me talk you Injun talk, you give me piece of bread and meat.” No Indian in Southern California ever thought of driving such petty bargains as this.
White men who have had dealings with Indians, in conversation with me have often bitterly accused them of ingratitude. “Do everything in your power for an Indian,” they say, “and he will accept it all as a matter of course; but for the slightest service you require of him he will demand pay.” These men do not enter into the Indian’s ideas. This “ingratitude” is really an unconscious compliment to our power. The savage feels, vaguely, the unapproachable elevation on which the American stands above him. He feels that we had much and he had little, and we took away from him even his little. In his view giving does not impoverish us, nor withholding enrich us. Gratitude is a sentiment not in place between master and slave; it is a sentiment for equals. The Indians are grateful to one another. Sambo did not feel that he was stealing when he took his owner’s chickens; it is very much so with the Indian.
Though not by any means a warlike people, and therefore generally laying very little stress on the taking of scalps, they have the usual treachery, revengefulness, and capacity for rancorous hate of all savages. I have before me as I write a terrible memento, and one that opens up a dark and bloody picture of savage life. It is only a stone, a longish stone, rudely blocked out to be made into a pestle, with which a Nishinam woman beat out her sister’s brains, while the husband of the murderess looked on. But, worse still, a niece of the murdered woman, in addition to this aunt, lost at various times her mother, a cousin, and a brother, all cut off in cold-blooded murder by her own tribe, and that before they became acquainted with the Americans, and while they were living in “primitive innocence”. It is not pleasant to think of these things, and they dispel whole volumes of the romantic nonsense written about aboriginal Arcadias. Still, we must not judge savages by our standard, but bear always in mind that revenge is taught to them as a virtue from the baby-basket to the grave, and that anything which will secure the getting of that revenge is justifiable.
Notwithstanding all that has been said to the contrary by false friends and weak, maundering philanthropists, the California Indians are a grossly licentious race. None more so, perhaps. There is no word in all their languages that I have examined which has the meaning of “mercenary prostitute “, because such a creature is unknown to them; but among the unmarried of both sexes there is very little or no restraint; and this freedom is so much a natter of course that there is no reproach attaching to it, so that their young women are notable for their modest and innocent demeanor. This very modesty of outward deportment has deceived the hasty glance of many travelers. But what their conduct really is, is shown by the Argus-eyed surveillance to which women are subjected. If a married woman is seen even walking in the forest with another man than her husband she is chastised by him. A repetition of the offense is generally punished with speedy death. Brothers and sisters scrupulously avoid living alone together. A mother-in-law is never allowed to live with her son-in-law. To the Indian’s mind the opportunity of evil implies the commission of evil. He cannot comprehend the case of Joseph and Potiphar’s wife, or else he is totally incredulous. If a brother and a sister should chance to dwell together a short time after their parents’ death, and are reproached for it, the ready answer is, “Well, what of it'? You Americans do it”, mentioning some citizen whose bachelor household is presided over by his sister, and against whose fair reputation not the faintest breath of suspicion was ever blown. They cannot understand such a case, and refuse to believe in the blamelessness of the parties.
But while they thus carefully avoid the appearance of evil, the daily conversation of most of them, even in the presence of their wives and children, is as foul as the lowest white men indulge in when alone together. It is a marvel that their children grow up with any virtue whatever. Yet they far less often make shipwreck of body and soul than do the offspring of the civilized, because when the great mystery of maturity confronts them they know what it means and how to meet it.
Marriage frequently takes place at the age of twelve or fourteen. Parents desire to marry their children young, to remove them from temptation, and they willingly provide them with food for a year or two, so as to lighten the matrimonial yoke. Since the advent of the Americans the husband often traffics in his wife’s honor for gain, and even forces her to infamy when unwilling; though in early days he would have slain her without pity and without remorse for the same offense.
In making the following assertion, I do it not unaware that it may be stoutly challenged. With the exception, perhaps, of a few tribes in the northern part of the State, I am thoroughly convinced that a great majority of the California Indians had no conception whatever of a Supreme Being. True, nearly all of them now speak of a Great Man, the Old Man Above, the Great One Above, and the like; but they have the word and nothing more. Vox, et praeterea nihil. This is manifestly a modern graft upon their ideas, because this being takes no part or lot in their affairs; is never mentioned in the real and genuine aboriginal mythology or cosmogony; creates nothing, upholds nothing. They have heard of the white man’s God, and some of them have taken enough interest to translate the word into their own language, as Po-koh', Lūsh, Sha, Ko-mūs', Kem'-mi Sal'-to, and the like; but with that their interest ceases. It is an idea not assimilated, and to become assimilated the whole of their ancient system of legends and theogony (if the word can be used where there are no gods) would have to be overthrown. By long acquaintance one may become so familiar with even a California Indian as to be able to penetrate his most secret ideas; yet when you ask him to give some account of this being he can tell nothing, because he knows nothing. “He is the Big Man Above”; that is the extent of his knowledge. But ask him to tell you about the creation of the world, of man, of fire, and of familiar objects, and his interest is aroused; instantly this fabulous being disappears, and the coyote comes forward. The coyote did everything, made everything. That is what his father told him, and his father’s father told him. If this Great Man had any existence in early days, why does he not appear sometimes in the real aboriginal legends? It is no argument against this theory that the names for the Supreme Being above given are purely Indian words. There are pure Indian words in many languages for such terms as “wheat”, “rye”, “iron”, “gun”, “ox”, “horse”, and a hundred others which they never heard of until they saw Europeans. They are very quick to invent names for new objects.
Therefore I affirm without hesitation that there is no Indian equivalent for “God”. There are numerous spirits, chiefly bad, some in human form, some dwelling in beasts and birds, having names which they generally refuse to reveal to mortals, and haunting chiefly the hills and forests, sometimes remaining in the Happy Western Land. Some of these spirits are those of wicked Indians returned to earth; others appear to be self-existent. There are great and potent spirits, bearing rule over many of their kind; and there are inferiors. All these spirits are to be propitiated, and their wrath averted. There is not one in a thousand from whom the Indians expect any active assistance; if they can only secure their non-interference all will go well. To the California Indians great Nature is kindly in her moods and workings, but these malign spirits constantly thwart her beneficent designs, and bring trouble upon her children. Nature was the Indian’s God, the only God he knew; and the coyote was his minister.
In an article in the Atlantic Monthly, Prof. John Fiske says : “Dr. Brinton has shown that none of the American tribes had any conception of a devil. * * * * * Barbaric races, while believing in the existence of hurtful and malicious fiends, have not a sufficiently vivid sense of moral abnormity to form the conception of diabolism.” If, by the devil, we are to understand a being the opposite and equal of God, this is true. Of course, the thin and meager imagination of the American savages was not equal to the creation of Milton’s magnificent, imperial Satan, or Goethe’s Mephistopheles, with his subtle intellect, his vast powers, his malignant mirth; but in so far as the Indian fiends or devils have the ability they are wholly as wicked as these. They are totally bad, they think only evil; but they are weak, and undignified, and absurd; they are as much beneath Satan as the “big Indians” who invent them are inferior in imagination to John Milton. The true test of a devil is in his usefulness; and the Indians stand much more in awe of theirs than we do of ours.
In his admirable work, “Uncivilized Races of Men”, Mr. J. G. Wood makes the following remark : “I have already shown that we can introduce no vice in which the savage is not profoundly versed, and feel sure that the cause of extinction lies within the savage himself, and ought not to be attributed to the white man who comes to take the place which the savage has practically vacated.” Of other savages I am not prepared to speak, but of the California Indians this is untrue. They smoked tobacco only to a very limited extent, never chewed it, and were never drunk, because they had no artificial beverage except manzanita cider, and that in extremely limited quantities unfermented for a brief season of the year. They had the vice of gambling much more than we, but, as shown above, it had no injurious effect on their health. Great and violent paroxysms of anger were almost unknown; they made no such senseless use as we do of ice-water, and of hot, heavy, and strongly-seasoned food. They had not even the vice of gluttony, except after an enforced fast, which was seldom, because their plain and simple food was easily procured and kept in stores. Licentiousness was universal, but mercenary prostitution was absolutely unknown; hence there were none of those appalling maladies which destroyed so many thousands on their first acquaintance with Americans.
Next, as to the second part of his remark, that the white man “comes to take the place which the savage has practically vacated.” Let us see to what extent the Indians had “vacated” California before the Americans came. In Chapter V it was shown that there were sixty-seven and a half Indians to the square mile for forty miles along the Lower Klamath in 1870. Before the whites came doubtless there were one hundred, but we will take the former figure. Let us suppose there were six thousand miles of streams in the State yielding salmon; that would give a population of four hundred and five thousand. In the early stages of my investigation I was led to believe that wild oats furnished a very large source of supply, but have abandoned that idea as erroneous. In all oak-forests, acorns yielded at least four-sevenths of their subsistence, fish perhaps two-sevenths; on the treeless plains the proportion of fish was considerably larger, and various seeds contributed say one-seventh. There are far more acorns in the Sierra and the Coast Range than on the Klamath, and all the interior rivers yielded salmon nearly as abundantly as that river. I think three hundred thousand might be added to the above figure in consideration of the greater fertility of Central and Southern California; this would give seven hundred and five thousand Indians in the State.
Let us take certain limited areas. The pioneers estimate the aboriginal population of Round Valley, when they first visited it, all the way from five thousand to twenty thousand. One thousand white people in it would be considered a very fair population, if indeed it would not crowd it. Mr. Christy estimates that there were from three hundred to five hundred Indians in Coyote Valley near Ukiah; now there are eight white families there, and they think they have none too much elbow-room. General Bidwell states that in 1849 there were at least one thousand souls in the village of the Korusi (Colusa). A Mr. Robinson pointed out to me the site of a village on Van Dusen’s Fork which he thought contained one thousand people in 1850. Several other instances might be adduced if necessary. I saw enough in Northern California to convince me that there is many a valley in that section which once contained more Indians than it will of whites for the next century. The natives drew their stores from wide forests all around and from the waters; the whites depend chiefly on the valley itself.
The very prevalence of the crime of infanticide points to an over-fruitfulness and an over-population.
That they were equal to Europeans in bread-winning strength nobody claims, for they lived largely on vegetable food, and that of a quality inferior to bread and beans. But as athletes they were superior, and they were a healthy, long-lived race. In trials of skill they used to shoot arrows a quarter of a mile, or drive them a half-inch into a green oak. I knew a herald on the Upper Sacramento to run about fifty miles between ten or eleven o’clock and sunrise in September; another in Long Valley, near Clear Lake, ran about twelve miles in a little over an hour. The strength of their lungs is shown by the fact that they would formerly remain under water twice as long as an American in diving for mussels. The extraordinary treatment their women undergo in childbirth at the hands of the midwives shows remarkable endurance. No American could dance as they do, all night for days together, sometimes for weeks. Their uniformly sweet breath and beautiful white teeth (so long as they continue to live in the aboriginal way) are evidences of good health. Smoked fish and jerked venison are eaten without further preparation, and there is a considerable amount of green stuff consumed raw in the spring; but four-fifths of their food is cooked and then eaten cold. An Indian is as irregular in his times of eating as a horse or an ox, which may have an injurious effect on his health or it may not If an Indian can keep free from disease he lasts a long time; but when diseases get hold of him he goes off pretty easy, for their medicines amount to nothing. Mr. J. J. Warner, in a communication to the Los Angeles Star, gives an account of an appalling pestilence which he calls “remittent fever”, which desolated the Sacramento and San Joaquin Valleys in 1833, and reduced those great plains from a condition of remarkable populousness to one of almost utter silence and solitude. Their treatment in the shape of a hot-air bath, followed by a plunge into cold water, added to its fatality, until there was scarcely a human being left alive. But the plains were evidently soon repeopled from the healthier mountain districts, for Captain Sutter and General Fremont, in their day, found tens of thousands there to fight or to feed. It is the testimony of the old pioneers that they were much subject to fevers and lung complaints even in primitive times, especially along the rivers. Being compelled to live near the streams to procure a supply of water, they were exposed to malarial influences. They sometimes threw up mounds for their villages to stand on, but these were rather for a defense against high water than against malaria. The old Indians protest that the present melancholy prevalence of ophthalmia, like some other diseases, is due to American influences, and that in old times they had good eyes. All things taken together, I am well convinced that the California Indians were originally a fruitful and comparatively a healthy and long-lived race. Mr. Claude Cheney, who was among them as early as 1846, on Bear River, states that, although they were rather subject to summer fevers along that stream, large families of children were quite common. They sought as much as possible to avoid the unhealthy lowlands in the dry season by going up into the mountains.
But, after all, let no romantic reader be deceived, and long to escape from the hollow mockeries and the vain pomps and ambitions of civilization, and mingle in the free, wild, and untrammeled life of the savage. It is one of the greatest delusions that ever existed. Of all droning and dreary lives that ever the mind of man conceived this is the chief. To pass long hours in silence, so saturated with sleep that one can sleep no more, sitting and brushing off the flies! Savages are not more sociable than civilized men and women, but less; they talk very fast when some matter excites them, but for the most part they are vacuous, inane, and silent. Kindly Nature, what beneficence thou hast displayed in endowing the savage with the illimitable power of doing nothing, and of being happy in doing it! I lived nearly two years in sufficient proximity to them, and I give it as the result of my extended observations that they sleep, day and night together, from fourteen to sixteen hours out of the twenty-four. They lie down at night-fall, for they have no lights; and they seldom rise before the sun, in summer generally an hour or two after. During the day they are constantly drowsing. When on a march they frequently chatter a good deal, but when a halt is called they all drop on the ground, as if overcome by the heat, and sink into a torpid silence. They will lie in the shade for hours in the middle of the day, then slowly rouse up, commence chattering, and march until night-fall.
|Next: Appendix • Contents • Previous: Pai-u'-ti|