Wednesday, 23 April 2014


Know Your Indians
True Fact Feature

by A. Hyatt Verrill

From Double Action Western, May 1953, Vol. 20, No. 5. Digitized by Doug Frizzle; April 2014.
This title is a construction just to enable differentiations between subjects in this periodical's column. This particular column had no special title, unlike most of them so far./drf

BEFORE the coming of the white men, the only North American Indians who took scalps were the Iroquois, Muskohegans, Choctaws, Chickasaws and Creeks. None of the eastern Algonquin tribes, or the plains tribes, scalped their slain enemies. But when the white men began offering high bounties for Indians’ scalps, the Indians reasoned that—if the white men prized the scalps so highly—scalps must possess some magic or “medicine”, or must hold or control the spirits of the dead. For this reason they regarded scalps as valuable prizes and surrounded them with ceremonials and mystic rites.
Among the plains tribes, it was not essential that the warrior who killed an enemy should take the scalp. As long as the trophy fell to the victors it was sufficient. The main personal honor was the “coup”, or first to strike an enemy or to touch his body with the “coup stick”. Few tribes took the entire scalp. As a rule, each tribe took a certain part of the scalp—such as the crown, a strip over one ear, the forepart of the head, a strip along the center, etc.
Many white men who were scalped survived, and lived to a good old age. One of my own uncles, who pretended death when his party was wiped out by the Utes, was scalped by the Indians and lived until five years ago. Custer was not scalped. According to the Indian chiefs who took part in the Battle of the Little Bighorn, Custer committed suicide, and a suicide’s scalp was taboo to the Indians.

FEW PERSONS realize how many words of our language are Indian. Tuxedo, caucus, pow-wow, squash, skunk, moose, potato, tomato, chile, tabacco, cigar, maize, muskeg, cayuse, and many familiar words in daily use were borrowed from the Indians.
The Indian greeting. “How” is not—as is generally supposed—the white man’s “How”, but is an Indian word: “Hau” or “Haoh” meaning “it is well”, “all right”, or “good”. “Tomahawk” is not an Indian word, but is a corruption of “Tommy-axe”—the old English term for a small axe or hatchet. The word “Squaw” is a corruption of the Indian “An-a-es— achuah” or “Companion of man”.
THE CONSTITUTION of the United States, drafted by Thomas Jefferson, was modeled after the Constitution of the Six Nations of the Iroquois.
MANY OF the most famous leaders of the Indians were not chiefs. Osceola was never a chief and was half-white; Sitting Bull was not a chief, but a Shaman or Medicine man. Many, such as Iron Tail, Rain-in-the-Face, Lone Man, and others, were war-chiefs but had no political or tribal powers.
THE ONLY North American Indians who have a written language are the Cherokees, whose 86- letter alphabet was invented by Sequoya, an Indian who could neither read nor write.
ALTHOUGH we refer to the Pueblo Indians as if they were all of one tribe, this is not the case. There are four separate races among the Pueblos. The Hopis are of Shoshonean lineage; the Zunis are of the Zunean group: the people of Taos are Tanoan: while the pueblos of San Felipe, Santa Ana, Acoma, Cichiti, Santo Domingo, and Laguna are inhabited by Indians of Keresan stock.
THERE WAS no Apache tribe. the so-called Apaches being a number of distinct tribes and ancestral stocks, who often fought one another. Strangely enough, these Indians spoke a dialect of the Athabascan tongue of our Northeastern Indians. Among the many tribes commonly referred to as “Apaches”, were the Mescaleros, Jicarillas, Chricahuas, Kiowas, Mohaves, Walapais, Maricopas, Yumas,  Havasupais, Cocopas, and others.
THE SIOUX Indians—or Dakotahs, as they called themselves—were a confederation of several tribes: The Oglalas, Brules, Tetons, Yunkipapas, Arikaras, Santees, and Yanktons. who often fought one another. The Lakotahs—or true Siouxs—were originally Indians of the Carolinas and Georgia, where a number of the race—the Catawbas—still remain.

IT WAS VERY seldom that Indians killed or tortured their prisoners of war. Many white men and women, captured by the Indians, refused to be freed, and preferred living with the Indians to life with their fellow whites. A Mrs. Malloy, who was captured by the Mohawks, married and buried three Indian husbands—and insisted that Indians made much better husbands than did the white men. Another white woman, Eunice Williams of Deerfield, Mass., who was captured by the Indians and taken to Canada, married an Indian. Although she occasionally paid short visits to friends and relatives in Deerfield, bringing with her a number of her adopted tribesmen, nothing would induce her to remain among the white people of Massachusetts.

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As an armed forces brat, we lived in Rockcliff (Ottawa), Namao (Edmonton), Southport (Portage La Prairie), Manitoba, and Dad retired to St. Margaret's Bay, NS.
Working with the Federal Govenment for 25 years, Canadian Hydrographic Service, mostly. Now married to Gail Kelly, with two grown children, Luke and Denyse. Retired to my woodlot at Stillwater Lake, NS, on the rainy days I study the life and work of A. Hyatt Verrill 1871-1954.