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The Red Man's Continent, A Chronicle of Aboriginal America by Ellsworth Huntington

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Canada together with northern New England and the region south of
Lakes Huron and Superior. At its northern limit the forest looks
thoroughly forlorn. The gnarled and stunted trees are thickly
studded with half-dead branches bent down by the weight of snow,
so that the lower ones sweep the ground, while the upper look
tired and discouraged from their struggle with an inclement
climate. Farther south, however, the forest loses this aspect of
terrific struggle. In Maine, for example, it gives a pleasant
impression of comfortable prosperity. Wherever the trees have
room to grow, they are full and stocky, and even where they are
crowded together their slender upspringing trunks look alert and
energetic. The signs of death and decay, indeed, appear
everywhere in fallen trunks, dead branches, and decayed masses of
wood, but moss and lichens, twinflowers and bunchberries so
quickly mantle the prostrate trees that they do not seem like
tokens of weakness. Then, too, in every open space thousands of
young trees bank their soft green masses so gracefully that one
has an ever-present sense of pleased surprise as he comes upon
this younger foliage out of the dim aisles among the bigger

Except on their southern borders the great northern forests are
not good as a permanent home for man. The snow lies so late in
the spring and the summers are so short and cool that agriculture
does not prosper. As a home for the fox, marten, weasel, beaver,
and many other fur-bearing animals, however, the coniferous
forests are almost ideal. That is why the Hudson's Bay Company is
one of the few great organizations which have persisted and
prospered from colonial times to the present. As long ago as 1670
Charles II granted to Prince Rupert and seventeen noblemen and
gentlemen a charter so sweeping that, aside from their own powers
of assimilation, there was almost no limit to what the "Governor
and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay"
might acquire. By 1749, nearly eighty years after the granting of
the charter, however, the Company had only four or five forts on
the coast of Hudson Bay, with about 120 regular employees.
Nevertheless the poor Indians were so ignorant of the value of
their furs and the consequent profits were so large that, after
Canada had been ceded to Great Britain in 1763, a rival
organization, the Northwest Fur Company of Montreal, was
established. Then there began an era that was truly terrible for
the Indians of the northern forest. In their eagerness to get the
valuable furs the companies offered the Indians strong liquors in
an abundance that ruined the poor red man, body and soul.
Moreover the fur-bearing animals were killed not only in winter
but during the breeding season. Many mother animals were shot and
their little ones were left to die. Hence in a short time the
wild creatures of the great northern forest were so scarce that
the Indians well-nigh starved.

In spite of this slaughter of fur-bearing animals, the same
Company still draws fat dividends from the northern forest and
its furry inhabitants. If the forest had been more habitable, it
would long ago have been occupied by settlers, as have its
warmer, southern portions, and the Company would have ceased to
exist. Aside from the regions too cold or too dry to support
any vegetation whatever, few parts of the world are more
deadening to civilization than the forests of the far north. Near
the northern limit of the great evergreen forest of North America
wild animals are so rare that a family of hunting Indians can
scarcely find a living in a thousand square miles. Today the
voracious maw of the daily newspaper is eating the spruce and
hemlock by means of relentless saws and rattling pulp-mills. In
the wake of the lumbermen settlers are tardily spreading
northward from the more favored tracts in northern New England
and southern Canada. Nevertheless most of the evergreen forests
of the north must always remain the home of wild animals and
trappers, a backward region in which it is easy for a great fur
company to maintain a practical monopoly.

Outliers of the pine forest extend far down into the United
States. The easternmost lies in part along the Appalachians and
in part along the coastal plain from southern New Jersey to
Texas. The coastal forest is unlike the other coniferous forests
in two respects, for its distribution and growth are not limited
by long winters but by sandy soil which quickly becomes dry. This
drier southern pine forest lacks the beauty of its northern
companion. Its trees are often tall and stately, but they are
usually much scattered and are surrounded by stretches of scanty
grass. There is no trace of the mossy carpet and dense copses of
undergrowth that add so much to the picturesqueness of the
forests farther north. The unkempt half-breed or Indian hunter is
replaced by the prosaic gatherer of turpentine. As the man of the
southern forests shuffles along in blue or khaki overalls and
carries his buckets from tree to tree, he seems a dull figure
contrasted with the active northern hunter who glides swiftly and
silently from trap to trap on his rawhide snowshoes. Yet though
the southern pine forest may be less picturesque than the
northern, it is more useful to man. In spite of its sandy soil,
much of this forest land is being reclaimed, and all will some
day probably be covered by farms.

Two other outliers of the northern evergreen forest extend
southward along the cool heights of the Rocky Mountains and of
the Pacific coast ranges of the United States. In the Olympic and
Sierra Nevada ranges the most western outlier of this northern
band of vegetation probably contains the most inspiring forests
of the world. There grow the vigorous Oregon pines, firs, and
spruces, and the still more famous Big Trees or sequoias. High on
the sides of the Sierra above the yuccas, the live oaks, and the
deciduous forest of the lower slopes, one meets these Big Trees.
To come upon them suddenly after a long, rough tramp over the
sunny lower slopes is the experience of a lifetime. Upward the
great trees rise sheer one hundred feet without a branch. The
huge fluted trunks encased in soft, red bark six inches or a foot
thick are more impressive than the columns of the grandest
cathedral. It seems irreverent to speak above a whisper. Each
tree is a new wonder. One has to walk around it and study it to
appreciate its enormous size. Where a tree chances to stand
isolated so that one can see its full majesty, the sense of awe
is tempered by the feeling that in spite of their size the trees
have a beauty all their own. Lifted to such heights, the branches
appear to be covered with masses of peculiarly soft and rounded
foliage like the piled-up banks of a white cumulus cloud before a
thunderstorm. At the base of such a tree the eye is caught by the
sharp, triangular outline of one of its young progeny. The lower
branches sweep the ground. The foliage is harsh and rough. In
almost no other species of trees is there such a change from
comparatively ungraceful youth to a superbly beautiful old age.

The second great type of American forest is deciduous. The trees
have broad leaves quite unlike the slender needles or overlapping
scales of the northern evergreens. Each winter such forests shed
their leaves. Among the mountains where the frosts come suddenly,
the blaze of glory and brilliance of color which herald the
shedding of the leaves are surpassed in no other part of the
world. Even the colors of the Painted Desert in northern Arizona
and the wonderful flowers of the California plains are less
pleasing. In the Painted Desert the patches of red, yellow,
gray-blue, white, pale green, and black have a garish, almost
repellent appearance. In California the flame-colored acres of
poppies in some places, of white or yellow daisylike flowers in
others, or of purple blossoms elsewhere have a softer expression
than the bare soil of the desert. Yet they lack the delicate
blending and harmony of colors which is the greatest charm of the
autumn foliage in the deciduous forests. Even where the forests
consist of such trees as birches, beeches, aspens, or sycamores,
whose leaves merely turn yellow in the fall, the contrast between
this color and the green tint of summer or the bare branches of
winter adds a spice of variety which is lacking in other and more
monotonous forests.

From still other points of view the deciduous forest has an
almost unequaled degree of variety. In one place it consists of
graceful little birches whose white trunks shimmering in the
twilight form just the background for ghosts. Contrast them with
the oak forest half a mile away. There the sense of gracefulness
gives place to a feeling of strength. The lines are no longer
vertical but horizontal. The knotted elbows of the branches
recall the keels of sturdy merchantmen of bygone days. The acorns
under foot suggest food for the herds of half-wild pigs which
roam among the trees in many a southern county. Of quite another
type are the stately forests of the Appalachians where splendid
magnolia and tulip trees spread their broad limbs aloft at
heights of one hundred feet or more.

Deciduous forests grow in the well-balanced regions where summer
and winter approach equality, where neither is unduly long, and
where neither is subject to prolonged drought. They extend
southward from central New England, the Great Lakes, and
Minnesota, to Mississippi, Arkansas, and eastern Texas. They
predominate even in parts of such prairie States as Michigan,
Indiana, southern Illinois, and southeastern Missouri. No part of
the continent is more populous or more progressive than the
regions once covered by deciduous forests. In the United States
nearly sixty per cent of the inhabitants live in areas reclaimed
from such forests. Yet the area of the forests is less than a
quarter of the three million square miles that make up the United

In their relation to human life the forests of America differ far
more than do either grass-lands or deserts. In the far north, as
we have seen, the pine forests furnish one of the least favorable
environments. In middle latitudes the deciduous forests go to the
opposite extreme and furnish the most highly favored of the homes
of man. Still farther southward the increasing luxuriance of the
forests, especially along the Atlantic coast, renders them less
and less favorable to mankind. In southern Mexico and Yucatan the
stately equatorial rain forest, the most exuberant of all types
of vegetation and the most unconquerable by man, makes its
appearance. It forms a discontinuous belt along the wet east
coast and on the lower slopes of the mountains from southern
Yucatan to Venezuela. Then it is interrupted by the grasslands of
the Orinoco, but revives again in still greater magnificence in
the Guianas. Thence it stretches not only along the coast but far
into the little known interior of the Great Amazon basin, while
southward it borders all the coast as far as southern Brazil. In
the Amazon basin it reaches its highest development and becomes
the crowning glory of the vegetable world, the most baffling
obstacle to human progress.

Except in its evil effects on man, the equatorial rain forest is
the antithesis of the forests of the extreme north. The
equatorial trees are hardwood giants, broad leaved, bright
flowered, and often fruit-bearing. The northern trees are
softwood dwarfs, needle-leaved, flowerless, and cone-bearing. The
equatorial trees are often branchless for one hundred feet, but
spread at the top into a broad overarching canopy which shuts out
the sun perpetually. The northern trees form sharp little
pyramids with low, widely spreading branches at the base and only
short twigs at the top. In the equatorial forests there is
almost no underbrush. The animals, such as monkeys, snakes,
parrots, and brilliant insects, live chiefly in the lofty
treetops. In the northern forests there is almost nothing except
underbrush, and the foxes, rabbits, weasels, ptarmigans, and
mosquitoes live close to the ground in the shelter of the
branches. Both forests are alike, however, in being practically
uninhabited by man. Each is peopled only by primitive nomadic
hunters who stand at the very bottom in the scale of

Aside from the rain forest there are two other types in tropical
countries--jungle and scrub. The distinction between rain forest,
jungle, and scrub is due to the amount and the season of
rainfall. An understanding of this distinction not only explains
many things in the present condition of Latin America but also in
the history of pre-Columbian Central America. Forests, as we have
seen, require that the ground be moist throughout practically the
whole of the season that is warm enough for growth. Since the
warm season lasts throughout the year within the tropics, dense
forests composed of uniformly large trees corresponding to our
oaks, maples, and beeches will not thrive unless the ground is
wet most of the time. Of course there may be no rain for a few
weeks, but there must be no long and regularly recurrent periods
of drought. Smaller trees and such species as the cocoanut palm
are much less exacting and will flourish even if there is a dry
period of several months. Still smaller, bushy species will
thrive even when the rainfall lasts only two or three months.
Hence where the rainy season lasts most of the year, rain forest
prevails; where the rainy and dry seasons do not differ greatly
in length, tropical jungle is the dominant growth; and where the
rainy season is short and the dry season long, the jungle
degenerates into scrub or bush.

The relation of scrub, jungle, and rain forest is well
illustrated in Yucatan, where the ancient Mayas reared their
stately temples. On the northern coast the annual rainfall is
only ten or fifteen inches and is concentrated largely in our
summer months. There the country is covered with scrubby bushes
six to ten feet high. These are beautifully green during the
rainy season from June to October, but later in the year lose
almost all their leaves. The landscape would be much like that of
a thick, bushy pasture in the United States at the same season,
were it not that in the late winter and early spring some of the
bushes bear brilliant red, yellow, or white flowers. As one goes
inland from the north coast of Yucatan the rainfall increases.
The bushes become taller and denser, trees twenty feet high
become numerous, and many rise thirty or forty feet or even
higher. This is the jungle. Its smaller portions suggest a second
growth of timber in the deciduous forests of the United States
fifteen or twenty years after the cutting of the original forest,
but here there is much more evidence of rapid growth. A few
species of bushes and trees may remain green throughout the year,
but during the dry season most of the jungle plants lose their
leaves, at least in part.

With every mile that one advances into the more rainy interior,
the jungle becomes greener and fresher, the density of the lower
growths increases, and the proportion of large trees becomes
greater until finally jungle gives place to genuine forest. There
many of the trees remain green throughout the year. They rise to
heights of fifty or sixty feet even on the borders of their
province, and at the top form a canopy so thick that the ground
is shady most of the time. Even in the drier part of the year
when some of the leaves have fallen, the rays of the sun scarcely
reach the ground until nine or ten o'clock in the morning. Even
at high noon the sunlight straggles through only in small
patches. Long, sinuous lianas, often queerly braided, hang down
from the trees; epiphytes and various parasitic growths add their
strange green and red to the complex variety of vegetation. Young
palms grow up almost in a day and block a trail which was hewn
out with much labor only a few months before. Wherever the death
of old trees forms an opening, a thousand seedlings begin a
fierce race to reach the light. Everywhere the dominant note is
intensely vigorous life, rapid growth, and quick decay.

In their effect on man, the three forms of tropical forest are
very different. In the genuine rain forest agriculture is almost
impossible. Not only does the poor native find himself baffled in
the face of Nature, but the white man is equally at a loss. Many
things combine to produce this result. Chief among them are
malaria and other tropical diseases. When a few miles of railroad
were being built through a strip of tropical forest along the
coast of eastern Guatemala, it was impossible to keep the
laborers more than twenty days at a time; indeed, unless they
were sent away at the end of three weeks, they were almost sure
to be stricken with virulent malarial fevers from which many
died. An equally potent enemy of agriculture is the vegetation
itself. Imagine the difficulty of cultivating a garden in a place
where the weeds grow all the time and where many of them reach a
height of ten or twenty feet in a single year. Perhaps there are
people in the world who might cultivate such a region and raise
marvelous crops, but they are not the indolent people of tropical
America; and it is in fact doubtful whether any kind of people
could live permanently in the tropical forest and retain energy
enough to carry on cultivation. Nowhere in the world is there
such steady, damp heat as in these shadowy, windless depths far
below the lofty tops of the rain forest. Nowhere is there greater
disinclination to work than among the people who dwell in this
region. Consequently in the vast rain forests of the Amazon basin
and in similar small forests as far north as Central America,
there are today practically no inhabitants except a mere handful
of the poorest and most degraded people in the world. Yet in
ancient times the northern border of the rain forest was the seat
of America's most advanced civilization. The explanation of this
contradiction will appear later.*

* See Chapter 5, Aztecs.

Tropical jungle borders the rain forest all the way from southern
Mexico to southern Brazil. It treats man far better than does the
rain forest. In marked contrast to its more stately neighbor, it
contains abundant game. Wild fruits ripen at almost all seasons.
A few banana plants and palm trees will well-nigh support a
family. If corn is planted in a clearing, the return is large in
proportion to the labor. So long as the population is not too
dense, life is so easy that there is little to stimulate
progress. Hence, although the people of the jungle are fairly
numerous, they have never played much part in history. Far more
important is the role of those living in the tropical lands where
scrub is the prevailing growth. In our day, for example, few
tropical lowlands are more progressive than the narrow coastal
strip of northern Yucatan. There on the border between jungle and
scrub the vegetation does not thrive sufficiently to make life
easy for the chocolate-colored natives. Effort is required if
they would make a living, yet the effort is not so great as to be
beyond the capacity of the indolent people of the tropics.

Leaving the forests, let us step out into the broad, breezy
grass-lands. One would scarcely expect that a journey poleward
out of the forest of northern Canada would lead to an improvement
in the conditions of human life, yet such is the case. Where the
growing season becomes so short that even the hardiest trees
disappear, grassy tundras replace the forest. By furnishing food
for such animals as the musk-ox, they are a great help to the
handful of scattered Indians who dwell on the northern edge of
the forest. In summer, when the animals grow fat on the short
nutritious grass, the Indians follow them out into the open
country and hunt them vigorously for food and skins to sustain
life through the long dreary winter. In many cases the hunters
would advance much farther into the grass-lands were it not that
the abundant musk-oxen tempt the Eskimo of the seacoast also to
leave their homes and both sides fear bloody encounters.

With the growth of civilization the advantage of the northern
grass-lands over the northern forests becomes still more
apparent. The domestic reindeer is beginning to replace the wild
musk-ox. The reindeer people, like the Indian and Eskimo hunters,
must be nomadic. Nevertheless their mode of life permits them to
live in much greater numbers and on a much higher plane of
civilization than the hunters. Since they hunt the furbearing
animals in the neighboring forests during the winter, they
diminish the food supply of the hunters who dwell permanently in
the forest, and thus make their life still more difficult. The
northern forests bid fair to decline in population rather than
increase. In this New World of ours, strange as it may seem, the
almost uninhabited forest regions of the far north and of the
equator are probably more than twice as large as the desert areas
with equally sparse population.

South of the tundras the grass-lands have a still greater
advantage over the forests. In the forest region of the
Laurentian highland abundant snow lasts far into the spring and
keeps the ground so wet and cold that no crops can be raised.
Moreover, because of the still greater abundance of snow in
former times, the largest of ice sheets, as we have seen,
accumulated there during the Glacial Period and scraped away most
of the soil. The grassy plains, on the contrary, are favored not
only by a deep, rich soil, much of which was laid down by the
ice, but by the relative absence of snow in winter and the
consequent rapidity with which the ground becomes warm in the
spring. Hence the Canadian plains from the United States boundary
northward to latitude 57 degrees contain a prosperous
agricultural population of over a million people, while the far
larger forested areas in the same latitude support only a few

The question is often asked why, in a state of nature, trees are
so scarce on the prairies--in Iowa, for instance--although they
thrive when planted. In answer we are often told that up to the
middle of the nineteenth century such vast herds of buffaloes
roamed the prairies that seedling trees could never get a chance
to grow. It is also said that prairie fires sweeping across the
plains destroyed the little trees whenever they sprouted.
Doubtless the buffaloes and the fires helped to prevent forest
growth, but another factor appears to be still more important.
All the States between the Mississippi River and the Rocky
Mountains receive much more rain in summer than in winter. But as
the soil is comparatively dry in the spring when the trees begin
their growth, they are handicapped. They could grow if nothing
else interfered with them, just as peas will grow in a garden if
the weeds are kept out. If peas, however, are left uncared for,
the weeds gain the upper hand and there are no peas the second
year. If the weeds are left to contend with grass, the grass in
the end prevails. In the eastern forest region, if the grass be
left to itself, small trees soon spring up in its midst. In half
a century a field of grass goes back to forest because trees are
especially favored by the climate. In the same way in the
prairies, grass is especially favored, for it is not weakened by
the spring drought, and it grows abundantly until it forms the
wonderful stretches of waving green where the buffalo once grew
fat. Moreover the fine glacial soil of the prairies is so clayey
and compact that the roots of trees cannot easily penetrate it.
Since grasses send their roots only into the more friable upper
layers of soil, they possess another great advantage over the

Far to the south of the prairies lie the grass-lands of tropical
America, of which the Banos of the Orinoco furnish a good
example. Almost everywhere their plumed grasses have been left to
grow undisturbed by the plough, and even grazing animals are
scarce. These extremely flat plains are flooded for months in the
rainy season from May to October and are parched in the dry
season that follows. As trees cannot endure such extremes,
grasses are the prevailing growth. Elsewhere the nature of the
soil causes many other grassy tracts to be scattered among the
tropical jungle and forest. Trees are at a disadvantage both in
porous, sandy soils, where the water drains away too rapidly, and
in clayey soil, where it is held so long that the ground is
saturated for weeks or months at a time. South of the tropical
portion of South America the vast pampas of Argentina closely
resemble the North American prairies and the drier plains to the
west of them. Grain in the east and cattle in the west are fast
causing the disappearance of those great tussocks of tufted
grasses eight or nine feet high which hold among grasses a
position analogous to that of the Big Trees of California among
trees of lower growth.

It is often said that America has no real deserts. This is true
in the sense that there are no regions such as are found in Asia
and Africa where one can travel a hundred miles at a stretch and
scarcely see a sign of vegetation-nothing but barren gravel,
graceful wavy sand dunes, hard wind-swept clay, or still harder
rock salt broken into rough blocks with upturned edges. In the
broader sense of the term, however, America has an abundance of
deserts--regions which bear a thin cover of bushy vegetation but
are too dry for agriculture without irrigation. On the north such
deserts begin in southern Canada where a dry region abounding in
small salt lakes lies at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains.
In the United States the deserts lie almost wholly between the
Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountain ranges, which keep out any
moisture that might come from either the west or the east.
Beginning on the north with the sagebrush plateau of southern
Washington, the desert expands to a width of seven hundred miles
in the gray, sage-covered basins of Nevada and Utah. In southern
California and Arizona the sage-brush gives place to smaller
forms like the saltbush, and the desert assumes a sterner aspect.
Next comes the cactus desert extending from Arizona far south
into Mexico. One of the notable features of the desert is the
extreme heat of certain portions. Close to the Nevada border in
southern California, Death Valley, 250 feet below sea-level, is
the hottest place in America. There alone among the American
regions familiar to the writer does one have that feeling of
intense, overpowering aridity which prevails so often in the
deserts of Arabia and Central Asia. Some years ago a Weather
Bureau thermometer was installed in Death Valley at Furnace
Creek, where the only flowing water in more than a hundred miles
supports a depressing little ranch. There one or two white men,
helped by a few Indians, raise alfalfa, which they sell at
exorbitant prices to deluded prospectors searching for riches
which they never find. Though the terrible heat ruins the health
of the white men in a year or two, so that they have to move
away, they have succeeded in keeping a thermometer record for
some years. No other properly exposed, out-of-door thermometer in
the United States, or perhaps in the world, is so familiar with a
temperature of 100 degrees F. or more. During the period of not
quite fifteen hundred days from the spring of 1911 to May, 1915,
a maximum temperature of 100 degrees F. or more was reached on
five hundred and forty-eight days, or more than one-third of the
time. On July 10, 1913, the mercury rose to 134 degrees F. and
touched the top of the tube. How much higher it might have gone
no one can tell. That day marks the limit of temperature yet
reached in this country according to official records. In the
summer of 1914 there was one night when the thermometer dropped
only to 114 degrees F., having been 128 degrees F. at noon. The
branches of a peppertree whose roots had been freshly watered
wilted as a flower wilts when broken from the stalk.

East and south of Death Valley lies the most interesting section
of the American desert, the so-called succulent desert of
southern Arizona and northern Mexico. There in greatest profusion
grow the cacti, perhaps the latest and most highly specialized of
all the great families of plants. There occur such strange scenes
as the "forests" of suhuaros, whose giant columns have already
been described. Their beautiful crowns of large white flowers
produce a fruit which is one of the mainstays of the Papagos and
other Indians of the regions. In this same region the yucca is
highly developed, and its tall stalks of white or greenish
flowers make the desert appear like a flower garden. In fact this
whole desert, thanks to light rains in summer as well as winter,
appears extraordinarily green and prosperous. Its fair appearance
has deceived many a poor settler who has vainly tried to
cultivate it.

Farther south the deserts of America are largely confined to
plateaus like those of Mexico and Peru or to basins sheltered on
all sides from rain-bearing winds. In such basins the suddenness
of the transition from one type of vegetation to another is
astonishing. In Guatemala, for instance, the coast is bordered by
thick jungle which quickly gives place to magnificent rain forest
a few miles inland. This continues two or three score miles from
the coast until a point is reached where mountains begin to
obstruct the rain-bearing trade-winds. At once the rain forest
gives place to jungle; in a few miles jungle in its turn is
replaced by scrub; and shortly the scrub degenerates to mere
desert bush. Then in another fifty miles one rises to the main
plateau passing once more through scrub. This time the scrub
gives place to grass-lands diversified by deciduous trees and
pines which give the country a distinctly temperate aspect. On
such plateaus the chief civilization of the tropical
Latin-American countries now centers. In the past, however, the
plateaus were far surpassed by the Maya lowlands of Yucatan and

We are wont to think of deserts as places where the plants are of
few kinds and not much crowded. As a matter of fact, an ordinary
desert supports a much greater variety of plants than does either
a forest or a prairie. The reason is simple. Every desert
contains wet spots near springs or in swamps. Such places abound
with all sorts of water-loving plants. The deserts also contain a
few valleys where the larger streams keep the ground moist at all
seasons. In such places the variety of trees is as great as in
many forests. Moreover almost all deserts have short periods of
abundant moisture.

At such times the seeds of all sorts of little annual plants,
including grasses, daisies, lupines, and a host of others, sprout
quickly, and give rise to a carpet of vegetation as varied and
beautiful as that of the prairie. Thus the desert has not only
its own peculiar bushes and succulents but many of the products
of vegetation in swamps, grasslands, and forests. Though much of
the ground is bare in the desert, the plants are actually crowded
together as closely as possible. The showers of such regions are
usually so brief that they merely wet the surface. At a depth of
a foot or more the soil of many deserts never becomes moist from
year's end to year's end. It is useless for plants to send their
roots deep down under such circumstances, for they might not
reach water for a hundred feet. Their only recourse is to spread
horizontally. The farther they spread, the more water they can
absorb after the scanty showers. Hence the plants of the desert
throttle one another by extending their roots horizontally, just
as those of the forest kill one another by springing rapidly
upward and shutting out the light.

Vegetation, whether in forests, grasslands, or deserts, is the
primary source of human sustenance. Without it man would perish
miserably; and where it is deficient, he cannot rise to great
heights in the scale of civilization. Yet strangely enough the
scantiness of the vegetation of the deserts was a great help in
the ascent of man. Only in dry regions could primitive man
compete with nature in fostering the right kind of vegetation. In
such regions arose the nations which first practised agriculture.
There man became comparatively civilized while his contemporaries
were still nomadic hunters in the grasslands and the forests.


When the white man first explored America, the parts of the
continent that had made most progress were by no means those that
are most advanced today.* None of the inhabitants, to be sure,
had risen above barbarism. Yet certain nations or tribes had
advanced much higher than others. There was a great contrast, for
example, between the well-organized barbarians of Peru and the
almost completely unorganized Athapascan savages near Hudson Bay.

* In the present chapter most of the facts as to the Indians
north of Mexico are taken from the admirable "Handbook of
American Indians North of Mexico," edited by F. W. Hodge,
Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology, Bulletin 30,
Washington, 1907, two volumes. In summing up the character and
achievements of the Indians I have drawn also on other sources,
but have everywhere taken pains to make no statements which are
not abundantly supported by this authoritative publication. In
some cases I have not hesitated to paraphrase considerable
portions of its articles.

In the northern continent aboriginal America reached its highest
development in three typical environments. The first of these
regions centered in the valley of Mexico where dwelt the Aztecs,
but it extended as far north as the Pueblos in Arizona and New
Mexico. The special feature of the environment was the relatively
dry, warm climate with the chief rainfall in summer. The Indians
living in this environment were notable for their comparatively
high social organization and for religious ceremonials whose
elaborateness has rarely been surpassed. On the whole, the people
of this summer rain or Mexican type were not warlike and offered
little resistance to European conquest. Some tribes, to be sure,
fought fiercely at first, but yielded within a few years; the
rest submitted to the lordly Spaniards almost without a murmur.
Their civilization, if such we may call it, had long ago seen its
best days. The period of energy and progress had passed, and a
time of inertia and decay had set in. A century after the
Spaniards had overcome the aborigines of Mexico, other
Europeans--French, English, and Dutch--came into contact with a
sturdier type of red man, best represented by the Iroquois or
Five Nations of central New York. This more active type dwelt in
a physical environment notable for two features--the abundance of
cyclonic storms bringing rain or snow at all seasons and the
deciduous forest which thickly covered the whole region. Unlike
the Mexican, the civilization of the Iroquois was young,
vigorous, and growing. It had not learned to express itself in
durable architectural forms like those of Mexico, nor could it
rival the older type in social and religious organization. In
political organization, however, the Five Nations had surpassed
the other aboriginal peoples of North America. When the white man
became acquainted with the Iroquois in the seventeenth century,
he found five of their tribes organized into a remarkable
confederation whose avowed object was to abolish war among
themselves and to secure to all the members the peaceful exercise
of their rights and privileges. So well was the confederation
organized that, in spite of war with its enemies, it persisted
for at least two hundred years. One of the chief characteristics
of the Iroquois was their tremendous energy. They were so
energetic that they pursued their enemies with an implacable
relentlessness similar to the restless eagerness with which the
people of the region from New York to Chicago now pursue their
business enterprises. This led the Iroquois to torture their
prisoners with the utmost ingenuity and cruelty. Not only did the
savages burn and mutilate their captives, but they sometimes
added the last refinement of torture by compelling the suffering
wretches to eat pieces of flesh cut from their own bodies. Energy
may lead to high civilization, but it may also lead to excesses
of evil. The third prominent aboriginal type was that of the
fishermen of the coast of British Columbia, especially the Haidas
of the Queen Charlotte Islands. The most important features of
their environment were the submerged coast with its easy
navigation, the mild oceanic climate, and the dense pine forests.
The Haidas, like the Iroquois, appear to have been a people who
were still advancing. Such as it was, their greatness was
apparently the product of their own ingenuity and not, like that
of the Mexicans, an inheritance from a greater past. The Haidas
lacked the relentless energy of the Iroquois and shared the
comparatively gentle character which prevailed among all the
Indians along the Pacific Coast. They were by no means weaklings,
however. Commercially, for instance, they seem to have been more
advanced than any North American tribe except those in the
Mexican area. In architecture they stood equally high. We are
prone to think of the Mexicans as the best architects among the
aborigines, but when the white man came even the Aztecs were
merely imitating the work of their predecessors. The Haidas, on
the contrary, were showing real originality. They had no stone
with which to build, for their country is so densely forested
that stone is rarely visible. They were remarkably skillful,
however, in hewing great beams from the forest. With these they
constructed houses whose carved totem poles and graceful facades
gave promise of an architecture of great beauty. Taking into
account the difficulties presented by a material which was not
durable and by tools which were nothing but bits of stone, we
must regard their totem poles and mural decorations as real
contributions to primitive architecture.

In addition to these three highest types of the red man there
were many others. Each, as we shall see, owed its peculiarities
largely to the physical surroundings in which it lived. Of course
different tribes possessed different degrees of innate ability,
but the chief differences in their habits and mode of life arose
from the topography, the climate, the plants, and the animals
which formed the geographical setting of their homes.

In previous chapters we have gained some idea of the topography
of the New World and of the climate in its relation to plants and
animals. We have also seen that climate has much to do with human
energy. We have not, however, gained a sufficiently clear idea of
the distribution of climatic energy. A map of the world showing
how energy would be distributed if it depended entirely upon
climate clarifies the subject. The dark shading of the map
indicates those regions where energy is highest. It is based upon
measurements of the strength of scores of individuals, upon the
scholastic records of hundreds of college students, upon the
piecework of thousands of factory operatives, and upon millions
of deaths and births in a score of different countries. It takes
account of three chief climatic conditions--temperature,
humidity, and variability. It also takes account of mental as
well as physical ability. Underneath it is a map of the
distribution of civilization on the basis of the opinion of fifty
authorities in fifteen different countries. The similarity of the
two maps is so striking that there can be little question that
today the distribution of civilization agrees closely with the
distribution of climatic energy. When Egypt, Babylonia, Greece,
and Rome were at the height of their power this agreement was
presumably the same, for the storm belt which now gives
variability and hence energy to the thickly shaded regions in our
two maps then apparently lay farther south. It is generally
considered that no race has been more closely dependent upon
physical environment than were the Indians. Why, then, did the
energizing effect of climate apparently have less effect upon
them than upon the other great races? Why were not the most
advanced Indian tribes found in the same places where white
civilization is today most advanced? Climatic changes might in
part account for the difference, but, although such changes
apparently took place on a large scale in earlier times, there is
no evidence of anything except minor fluctuations since the days
of the first white settlements. Racial inheritance likewise may
account for some of the differences among the various tribes, but
it was probably not the chief factor. That factor was apparently
the condition of agriculture among people who had neither iron
tools nor beasts of burden. Civilization has never made much
progress except when there has been a permanent cultivation of
the ground. It has been said that "the history of agriculture is
the history of man in his most primitive and most permanent
aspect." If we examine the achievements and manner of life of the
Indians in relation to the effect of climate upon agriculture and
human energy, as well as in relation to the more obvious features
of topography and vegetation, we shall understand why the people
of aboriginal America in one part of the continent differed so
greatly from those in another part. In the far north the state of
the inhabitants today is scarcely different from what it was in
the days of Columbus. Then, as now, the Eskimos had practically
no political or social organization beyond the family or the
little group of relatives who lived in a single camp. They had no
permanent villages, but moved from place to place according to
the season in search of fish, game, and birds. They lived this
simple life not because they lacked ability but because of their
surroundings. Their kayaks or canoes are marvels of ingenuity.
With no materials except bones, driftwood, and skins they made
boats which fulfilled their purpose with extraordinary
perfection. Seated in the small, round hole which is the only
opening in the deck of his canoe, the Eskimo hunter ties his skin
jacket tightly outside the circular gunwale and is thus shut into
a practically water-tight compartment. Though the waves dash over
him, scarcely a drop enters the craft as he skims along with his
double paddle among cakes of floating ice. So, too, the snowhouse
with its anterooms and curved entrance passage is as clever an
adaptation to the needs of wanderers in a land of ice and snow as
is the skyscraper to the needs of a busy commercial people
crowded into great cities. The fact that the oilburning,
soapstone lamps of the Eskimo were the only means of producing
artificial light in aboriginal America, except by ordinary fires,
is another tribute to the ingenuity of these northerners. So,
too, is the fire-drill by which they alone devised a means of
increasing the speed with which one stick could be twirled
against another to produce fire. In view of these clever
inventions it seems safe to say that the Eskimo has remained a
nomadic savage not because he lacks inventive skill but partly
because the climate deadens his energies and still more because
it forbids him to practice agriculture.

Southward and inland from the coastal homes of the Eskimo lies
the great region of the northern pine forests. It extends from
the interior of Alaska southeastward in such a way as to include
most of the Canadian Rockies, the northern plains from Great Bear
Lake almost to Lake Winnipeg, and most of the great Laurentian
shield around Hudson Bay and in the peninsula of Labrador. Except
among the inhabitants of the narrow Pacific slope and those of
the shores of Labrador and the St. Lawrence Valley, a single type
of barbarism prevailed among the Indians of all the vast pine
forest area. Only in a small section of the wheat-raising plains
of Alberta and Saskatchewan have their habits greatly changed
because of the arrival of the white man. Now as always the
Indians in these northern regions are held back by the long,
benumbing winters. They cannot practice agriculture, for no crops
will grow. They cannot depend to any great extent upon natural
vegetation, for aside from blueberries, a few lichens, and one or
two other equally insignificant products, the forests furnish no
food except animals. These lowly people seem to have been so
occupied with the severe struggle with the elements that they
could not even advance out of savagery into barbarism. They were
homeless nomads whose movements were determined largely by the
food supply.

Among the Athapascans who occupied all the western part of the
northern pine forests, clothing was made of deerskins with the
hair left on. The lodges were likewise of deer or caribou skins,
although farther south these were sometimes replaced by bark. The
food of these tribes consisted of caribou, deer, moose, and
musk-ox together with smaller animals such as the beaver and
hare. They also ate various kinds of birds and the fish found in
the numerous lakes and rivers. They killed deer by driving them
into an angle formed by two converging rows of stakes, where they
were shot by hunters lying in wait. Among the Kawchodinne tribe
near Great Bear Lake hares were the chief source of both food and
clothing. When an unusually severe winter or some other disaster
diminished the supply, the Indians believed that the animals had
mounted to the sky by means of the trees and would return by the
same way. In 1841 owing to scarcity of hares many of this tribe
died of starvation, and numerous acts of cannibalism are said to
have occurred. Small wonder that civilization was low and that
infanticide, especially of female children, was common. Among
such people women were naturally treated with a minimum of
respect. Since they were not skilled as hunters, there was
relatively little which they could contribute toward the
sustenance of the family. Hence they were held in low esteem, for
among most primitive people woman is valued largely in proportion
to her economic contribution. Her low position is illustrated by
the peculiar funeral custom of the Takulli, an Athapascan tribe
on the Upper Frazer River. A widow was obliged to remain upon the
funeral pyre of her husband till the flames reached her own body.
When the fire had died down she collected the ashes of her dead
and placed them in a basket, which she was obliged to carry with
her during three years of servitude in the family of her husband.
At the end of that time a feast was held, when she was released
from thraldom and permitted to remarry if she desired.

Poor and degraded as the people of the northern forests may have
been, they had their good traits. The Kutchins of the Yukon and
Lower Mackenzie regions, though they killed their female
children, were exceedingly hospitable and kept guests for months.
Each head of a family took his turn in feasting the whole band.
On such occasions etiquette required the host to fast until the
guests had departed. At such feasts an interesting wrestling game
was played. First the smallest boys began to wrestle. The victors
wrestled with those next in strength and so on until finally the
strongest and freshest man in the band remained the final victor.
Then the girls and women went through the same progressive
contest. It is hard to determine whether the people of the
northern pine forest were more or less competent than their
Eskimo neighbors. It perhaps makes little difference, for it is
doubtful whether even a race with brilliant natural endowments
could rise far in the scale of civilization under conditions so
highly adverse.

The Eskimos of the northern coasts and the people of the pine
forests were not the only aborigines whose development was
greatly retarded because they could not practice agriculture. All
the people of the Pacific coast from Alaska to Lower California
were in similar circumstances. Nevertheless those living along
the northern part of this coast rose to a much higher level than
did those of California. This has sometimes been supposed to show
that geographical environment has little influence upon
civilization, but in reality it proves exactly the opposite.

The coast of British Columbia was one of the three chief centers
of aboriginal America. As The Encyclopaedia Britannica* puts it:
"The Haida people constituted with little doubt the finest race
and that most advanced in the arts of the entire west coast of
North America." They and their almost equally advanced Tlingit
and Tsimshian neighbors on the mainland displayed much mechanical
skill, especially in canoe-building, woodcarving, and the working
of stone and copper, as well as in making blankets and baskets.
To this day they earn a considerable amount of money by selling
their carved objects of wood and slate to traders and tourists.
Their canoes were hollowed out of logs of cedar and were often
very large. Houses which were sometimes 40 by 100 feet were built
of huge cedar beams and planks, which were first worked with
stone and were then put together at great feasts. These
correspond to the "raising bees" at which the neighbors gathered
to erect the frames of houses in early New England. Each Haida
house ordinarily had a single carved totem pole in the middle of
the gable end which faced toward the beach. Often the end posts
in front were also carved and the whole house was painted.
Another evidence of the fairly advanced state of the Haidas was
their active commercial intercourse with regions hundreds of
miles away. At their "potlatches," as the raising bees were
called by the whites, trading went on vigorously. Carved copper
plates were among the articles which they esteemed of highest
value. Standing in the tribe depended on the possession of
property rather than on ability in war, in which respect the
Haidas were more like the people of today than were any of the
other Indian tribes.

* 11th Edition, vol. XXII, p. 730.

Slavery was common among the Haidas. Even as late as 1861, 7800
Tlingits held 828 slaves. Slavery may not be a good institution
in itself, but it indicates that people are well-to-do, that they
dwell in permanent abodes, and that they have a well-established
social order. Among the more backward Iroquois, captives rarely
became genuine slaves, for the social and economic organization
was not sufficiently developed to admit of this. The few captives
who were retained after a fight were adopted into the tribe of
the captors or else were allowed to live with them and shift for
themselves--a practice very different from that of the Haidas.

Another feature of the Haidas' life which showed comparative
progress was the social distinctions which existed among them.
One of the ways in which individuals maintained their social
position was by giving away quantities of goods of all kinds at
the potlatches which they organized. A man sometimes went so far
as to strip himself of nearly every possession except his house.
In return for this, however, he obtained what seemed to him an
abundant reward in the respect with which his fellow-tribesmen
afterward regarded him. At subsequent potlatches he received in
his turn a measure of their goods in proportion to his own gifts,
so that he was sometimes richer than before. These potlatches
were social as well as industrial functions, and dancing and
singing were interspersed with the feasting. One of the
amusements was a musical contest in which singers from one tribe
or band would contend with one another as to which could remember
the greatest number of songs or accurately repeat a new song
after hearing it for the first time. At the potlatches the
children of chiefs were initiated into secret societies. They had
their noses, ears, and lips pierced for ornaments, and some of
them were tattooed. This great respect for social position which
the Haidas manifested is doubtless far from ideal, but it at
least indicates that a part of the tribe was sufficiently
advanced to accumulate property and to pass it on to its
descendants--a custom that is almost impossible among tribes
which move from place to place. The question suggests itself why
these coast barbarians were so much in advance of their neighbors
a few hundred miles away in the pine woods of the mountains. The
climate was probably one reason for this superiority. Instead of
being in a region like the center of the pine forests of British
Columbia where human energy is sapped by six or eight months of
winter, the Haidas enjoyed conditions like those of Scotland.
Although snow fell occasionally, severe cold was unknown. Nor was
there great heat in summer. The Haidas dwelt where both bodily
strength and mental activity were stimulated. In addition to this
advantage of a favorable climate these Indians had a large and
steady supply of food close at hand. Most of their sustenance was
obtained from the sea and from the rivers, in which the runs of
salmon furnished abundant provisions, which rarely failed. In
Hecate Strait, between the Queen Charlotte Islands and the
mainland, there were wonderfully productive halibut fisheries,
from which a supply of fish was dried and packed away for the
winter, so that there was always a store of provisions on hand.
The forests in their turn furnished berries and seeds, as well as
bears, mountain goats, and other game.

Moreover the people of the northwest coast had the advantage of
not being forced to move from place to place in order to follow
the fish. They lived on a drowned shore where bays, straits, and
sounds are extraordinarily numerous. The great waves of the
Pacific are shut out by the islands so that the waterways are
almost always safe for canoes. Instead of moving their dwellings
in order to follow the food supply, as the Eskimo and the people
of the pine forest were forced to do, the Haidas and their
neighbors were able without difficulty to bring their food home.
At all seasons the canoes made it easy to transport large
supplies of fish from places even a hundred miles away. Having
settled dwellings, the Haidas could accumulate property and
acquire that feeling of permanence which is one of the most
important conditions for the development of civilization.
Doubtless the Haidas were intellectually superior to many other
tribes, but even if they had not been greatly superior, their
surroundings would probably have made them stand relatively high
in the scale of civilization. Southward from the Haidas, around
Puget Sound and in Washington and Oregon, there was a gradual
decline in civilization. The Chinook Indians of the lower
Columbia, beyond the limits of the great northern archipelago,
had large communal houses occupied by three or four families of
twenty or more individuals. Their villages were thus fairly
permanent, although there was much moving about in summer owing
to the nature of the food supply, which consisted chiefly of
salmon, with roots and berries indigenous to the region. The
people were noted as traders not only among themselves but with
surrounding tribes. They were extremely skillful in handling
their canoes, which were well made, hollowed out of single logs,
and often of great size. In disposition they are described as
treacherous and deceitful, especially when their cupidity was
aroused. Slaves were common and were usually obtained by barter
from surrounding tribes, though occasionally by successful raids.
These Indians of Oregon by no means rivaled the Haidas, for their
food supply was less certain and they did not have the advantage
of easy water communication, which did so much to raise the
Haidas to a high level of development.

Of the tribes farther south an observer says: "In general
rudeness of culture the California Indians are scarcely above the
Eskimo, and whereas the lack of development of the Eskimo on many
sides of their nature is reasonably attributable in part to their
difficult and limiting environment, the Indians of California
inhabit a country naturally as favorable, it would seem, as it
might be. If the degree of civilization attained by a people
depends in any large measure on their habitat, as does not seem
likely, it might be concluded from the case of the California
Indians that natural advantages were an impediment rather than an
incentive to progress." In some of the tribes, such as the Hupa,
for example, there existed no organization and no formalities in
the government of the village. Formal councils were unknown,
although the chief might and often did ask advice of his men in a
collected body. In general the social structure of the California
Indians was so simple and loose that it is hardly correct to
speak of their tribes. Whatever solidarity there was among these
people was due in part to family ties and in part to the fact
that they lived in the same village and spoke the same dialect.
Between different groups of these Indians, the common bond was
similarity of language as well as frequency and cordiality of
intercourse. In so primitive a condition of society there was
neither necessity nor opportunity for differences of rank. The
influence of chiefs was small and no distinct classes of slaves
were known. Extreme poverty was the chief cause of the low social
and political organization of these Indians. The Maidus in the
Sacramento Valley were so poor that, in addition to consuming
every possible vegetable product, they not only devoured all
birds except the buzzard, but ate badgers, skunks, wildcats, and
mountain lions, and even consumed salmon bones and deer
vertebrae. They gathered grasshoppers and locusts by digging
large shallow pits in a meadow or flat. Then, setting fire to the
grass on all sides, they drove the insects into the pit. Their
wings being burned off by the flames, the grasshoppers were
helpless and were thus collected by the bushel. Again of the
Moquelumne, one of the largest tribes in central California, it
is said that their houses were simply frameworks of poles and
brush which in winter were covered with earth. In summer they
erected cone-shaped lodges of poles among the mountains. In
favorable years they gathered large quantities of acorns, which
formed their principal food, and stored them for winter use in
granaries raised above the ground. Often, however, the crop was
poor, and the Indians were left on the verge of starvation.

Finally in the far south, in the peninsula of Lower California,
the tribes were "probably the lowest in culture of any Indians in
North America, for their inhospitable environment which made them
wanderers, was unfavorable to the foundation of government even
of the rude and unstable kind found elsewhere." The Yuman tribes
of the mountains east of Santiago wore sandals of maguey fiber
and descended from their own territory among the mountains "to
eat calabash and other fruits" that grew beside the Colorado
River. They were described as "very dirty on account of the much
mescal they eat." Others speak of them as "very filthy in their
habits. To overcome vermin they coat their heads with mud with
which they also paint their bodies. On a hot day it is by no
means unusual to see them wallowing in the mud like pigs." They
were "exceedingly poor, having no animals except foxes of which
they had a few skins. The dress of the women in summer was a
shirt and a bark skirt. The men appear to have been practically
unclothed during this season. The practice of selling children
seems to have been common. Their sustenance was fish, fruits,
vegetables, and seeds of grass, and many of the tribes were said
to have been dreadfully scorbutic." A little to the east of these
degraded savages the much more advanced Mohave tribe had its home
on the lower Colorado River. The contrast between these
neighboring tribes throws much light on the reason for the low
estate of the California Indians. "No better example of the power
of environment to better man's condition can be found than that
shown as the lower Colorado is reached. Here are tribes of the
same family (as those of Lower California) remarkable not only
for their fine physical development, but living in settled
villages with well-defined tribal lines, practising a rude, but
effective, agriculture, and well advanced in many primitive
Indian arts. The usual Indian staples were raised except tobacco,
these tribes preferring a wild tobacco of their region to the

* Hodge, "Handbook of American Indians."

This quotation is highly significant. With it should be compared
the fact that there is no evidence that corn or anything else was
cultivated in California west of the Rio Colorado Valley.
California is a region famous throughout America for its
agriculture, but its crops are European in origin. Even in the
case of fruits, such as the grape, which have American
counterparts, the varieties actually cultivated were brought from
Europe. Wheat and barley, the chief foodstuffs for which
California and similar subtropical regions are noted, were
unknown in the New World before the coming of the white man. In
pre-Columbian America corn was the only cultivated cereal. The
other great staples of early American agriculture were beans and
pumpkins. All three are preeminently summer crops and need much
water in July and August. In California there is no rain at this
season. Though the fall rains, which begin to be abundant in
October and November, do not aid these summer crops, they favor
wheat and barley. The winter rains and the comparatively warm
winter weather permit these grains to grow slowly but
continuously. When the warm spring arrives, there is still enough
rain to permit wheat and barley to make a rapid growth and to
mature their seeds long before the long, dry summer begins. The
comparatively dry weather of May and June is just what these
cereals need to ripen the crop, but it is fatal to any kind of
agriculture which depends on summer rain.

Crops can of course be grown during the summer in California by
means of irrigation, but this is rarely a simple process. If
irrigation is to be effective in California, it cannot depend on
the small streams which practically dry up during the long,
rainless summer, but it must depend on comparatively large
streams which flow in well-defined channels. With our modern
knowledge and machinery it is easy for us to make canals and
ditches and to prepare the level fields needed to utilize this
water. A people with no knowledge of agriculture, however, and
with no iron tools cannot suddenly begin to practice a complex
and highly developed system of agriculture. In California there
is little or none of the natural summer irrigation which, in
certain parts of America, appears to have been the most important
factor leading to the first steps in tilling the ground. The
lower Colorado, however, floods broad areas every summer. Here,
as on the Nile, the retiring floods leave the land so moist that
crops can easily be raised. Hence the Mohave Indians were able to
practice agriculture and to rise well above their kinsmen not
only in Lower California but throughout the whole State.

In the Rocky Mountain region of the United States, just as on the
Pacific coast, the condition of the tribes deteriorated more and
more the farther they lived to the south. In the regions where
the rainfall comes in summer, however, and hence favors primitive
agriculture, there was a marked improvement. The Kutenai tribes
lived near the corner where Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia
now meet. They appear to have been of rather high grade,
noteworthy for their morality, kindness, and hospitality. More
than any other Indians of the Rocky Mountain region, they avoided
drunkenness and lewd intercourse with the whites. Their mental
ability was comparatively high, as appears from their skill in
buffalo-hunting, in making dugouts and bark canoes, and in
constructing sweat-houses and lodges of both skins and rushes.
Even today the lower Kutenai are noted for their water-tight
baskets of split roots. Moreover the degree to which they used
the plants that grew about them for food, medicine, and
economical purposes was noteworthy. They also had an esthetic
appreciation of several plants and flowers--a gift rare among
Indians. These people lived in the zone of most stimulating
climate and, although they did not practice agriculture and had
little else in their surroundings to help them to rise above the
common level, they dwelt in a region where there was rain enough
in summer to prevent their being on the verge of starvation, as
the Indians of California usually were. Moreover they were near
enough to the haunts of the buffalo to depend on that great beast
for food. Since one buffalo supplies as much food as a hundred
rabbits, these Indians were vastly better off than the people of
the drier parts of the western coast.

South of the home of the Kutenai, in eastern Oregon, southern
Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and neighboring regions dwelt the Utes and
other Shoshoni tribes. In this region the rainfall, which is no
greater than that of California, occurs chiefly in winter. The
long summer is so dry that, except by highly developed methods of
irrigation, agriculture is impossible. Hence it is not surprising
to find a traveler in 1850 describing one tribe of the Ute family
as "without exception the most miserable looking set of human
beings I ever saw. They have hitherto subsisted principally on
snakes, lizards, roots." The lowest of all the Ute tribes were
those who lived in the sage-brush. The early explorer,
Bonneville, found the tribes of Snake River wintering in brush
shelters without roofs merely heaps of brush piled high, behind
which the Indians crouched for protection from wind and snow.
Crude as such shelters may seem, they were the best that could be
constructed by people who dwelt where there was no vegetation
except little bushes, and where the soil was for the most part
sandy or so salty that it could not easily be made into adobe

The food of these Utes and Shoshonis was no better than their
shelters. There were no large animals for them to hunt; rabbits
were the best that they could find. Farther to the east, where
the buffalo wandered during part of the year and where there are
some forests, the food was better, the shelters were more
effective, and, in general, the standard of living was higher,
although racially the two groups of people were alike. In this
case, as in others, the people whose condition was lowest were
apparently as competent as those whose material conditions were
much better. Today, although the Ute Indians, like most of their
race, are rather slow, some tribes, such as the Payutes, are
described as not only "peaceful and moral," but also
"industrious." They are highly commended for their good qualities
by those who have had the best opportunities for judging. While
not as bright in intellect as some of the prairie tribes whom we
shall soon consider, they appear to possess more solidity of
character. By their willingness and efficiency as workers they
have made themselves necessary to the white farmers and have thus
supplied themselves with good clothing and many of the comforts
of life. They have resisted, too, many of the evils coming from
the advance of civilization, so that one agent speaks of these
Indians as presenting the singular anomaly of improving by
contact with the whites. Apparently their extremely low condition
in former times was due merely to that same handicap of
environment which kept back the Indians of California.

Compare these backward but not wholly ungifted Utes with the Hopi
who belonged to the same stock. The relatively high social
organization of the latter people and the intricacy and
significance of their religious ceremonials are well known.
Mentally the Hopi seem to be the equal of any tribe, but it is
doubtful whether they have much more innate capacity than many of
their more backward neighbors. Nevertheless they made much more
progress before the days of the white man, as can easily be seen
in their artistic development. Every one who has crossed the
continent by the Santa Fe route knows how interesting and
beautiful are their pottery, basketry, and weaving. Not only in
art but also in government the Hopi are highly advanced. Their
governing body is a council of hereditary elders together with
the chiefs of religious fraternities. Among these officials there
is a speaker chief and a war chief, but there seems never to have
been any supreme chief of all the Hopi. Each pueblo has an
hereditary chief who directs all the communal work, such as the
cleaning of the springs and the general care of the village.
Crimes are rare. This at first sight seems strange in view of the
fact that no penalty was inflicted for any crime except sorcery,
but under Hopi law all transgressions could be reduced to
sorcery. One of the most striking features of Hopi life was its
rich religious development. The Hopi recognized a large number of
supernatural beings and had a great store of most interesting and
poetic mythological tales. The home of the Hopi would seem at
first sight as unfavorable to progress as that of their Ute
cousins, but the Hopi have the advantage of being the most
northwesterly representatives of the Indians who dwell within the
regions of summer rain. Fortunately for them, their country is
too desert and unforested for them to subsist to any great degree
by the chase. They are thus forced to devote all their energy to
agriculture, through which they have developed a relatively high
standard of living. They dwell far enough south to have their
heaviest rainfall in summer and not in winter, as is the case in
Utah, so that they are able to cultivate crops of corn and beans.
Where such an intensive system of agriculture prevails, the work
of women is as valuable as that of men. The position of woman is
thus relatively high among the Hopi, for she is useful not only
for her assistance in the labors of the field but also for her
skill in preserving the crops, grinding the flour, and otherwise
preparing the comparatively varied food which this tribe
fortunately possesses.

From northern New Mexico and Arizona to Mexico City summer rains,
dry winters, and still drier springs, are the rule. Forests are
few, and much of the country is desert. The more abundant the
rains, the greater the number of people and the greater the
opportunities for the accumulation of wealth, and thus for that
leisure which is necessary to part of a community if civilization
is to make progress. That is one reason why the civilization of
the summer rain people becomes more highly developed as they go
from north to south. The fact that the altitude of the country
increases from the United States border southward also tends in
the same direction, for it causes the climate to be cooler and
more bracing at Mexico City than at places farther north.

The importance of summer rains in stimulating growth and in
facilitating the early stages of agriculture is noteworthy. Every
one familiar with Arizona and New Mexico knows how the sudden
summer showers fill the mountain valleys with floods which flow
down upon the plain and rapidly spread out into broad, thin
sheets, often known as playas. There the water stands a short
time and then either sinks into the ground or evaporates. Such
places are favored with the best kind of natural irrigation, and
after the first shower it is an easy matter for the primitive
farmer to go out and drop grains of corn into holes punched with
a stick. Thereafter he can count on other showers to water his
field while the corn sprouts and grows to maturity. All that he
needs to do is to watch the field to protect it from the rare
depredations of wild animals. As time goes on the primitive
farmer realizes the advantage of leading the water to
particularly favorable spots and thus begins to develop a system
of artificial irrigation. In regions where such advantageous
conditions prevail, the people who live permanently in one place
succeed best, for the work that they do one year helps them the
next. They are not greatly troubled by weeds, for, though grasses
grow as well as corn in the places where the water spreads out,
the grasses take the form of little clumps which can easily be
pulled up. In the drier parts of the area of summer rain, it
becomes necessary to conserve the water supply to the utmost. The
Hopi consider sandy fields the best, for the loose sand on top
acts as a natural blanket to prevent evaporation from the
underlying layers. Sometimes in dry seasons the Hopi use
extraordinary methods to help their seeds to sprout. For
instance, they place a seed in a ball of saturated mud which they
bury beneath several inches of sand. As the sand prevents
evaporation, practically all the water is retained for the use of
the seed, which thereupon sprouts and grows some inches by the
time the first summer floods arrive.

The Indians of the Great Plains lived a very different life from
that of the natives of either the mountains or the Pacific coast.
In the far north, to be sure, the rigorous climate caused all the
Indians to live practically alike, whether in the Rockies, the
plains, or the Laurentian highland. South of them, in that great
central expanse stretching from the latitude of Lake Winnipeg to
the Rio Grande River, the Indians of the plains possessed a
relatively uniform type of life peculiar to themselves. This
individuality was due partly to the luxuriant carpet of grass
which covered the plains and partly to the supply of animal food
afforded by the vast herds of buffaloes which roamed in tens of
thousands throughout the whole territory. The grass was important
chiefly because it prevented the Indians from engaging in
agriculture, for it must never be forgotten that the Indians had
neither iron tools nor beasts of burden to aid them in overcoming
the natural difficulties in the way of agriculture. To be sure,
they did occasionally pound meteoric iron into useful implements,
but this substance was so rare that probably not one Indian in a
hundred had ever seen a piece. The Indians were quite familiar
with copper, but there is not the slightest evidence that they
had discovered any means of hardening it. Metals played no real
part in the life of any of the Indians of America, and without
such tools as iron spades and hoes it was impossible for them to
cultivate grassland. If they burned the prairie and dropped seeds
into holes, the corn or beans which they thus planted were sure
to be choked by the quickly springing grass. To dig away the
tough sod around the hole for each seed would require an almost
incredible amount of work even with iron tools. To accomplish
this with wooden spades, rude hoes made of large flakes of flint,
or the shoulder blades of the buffalo, was impossible on any
large scale. Now and then in some river bottom where the grass
grew in clumps and could be easily pulled up, a little
agriculture was possible. That is all that seems to have been
attempted on the great grassy plains.

The Indians could not undertake any widespread cultivation of the
plains not only because they lacked iron tools but also because
they had no draft animals. The buffalo was too big, too fierce,
and too stupid to be domesticated. In all the length and breadth
of the two Americas there was no animal to take the place of the
useful horse, donkey, or ox. The llama was too small to do
anything but carry light loads, and it could live only in a most
limited area among the cold Andean highlands. Even if the
aboriginal Americans could have made iron ploughs, they could not
have ploughed the tough sod without the aid of animals. Moreover,
even if the possession of metal tools and beasts of burden had
made agriculture possible in the grass-lands, it would have been
difficult, in the absence of wood for fences, to prevent the
buffalo from eating up the crops or at least from tramping
through them and spoiling them. Thus the fertile land of the
great plains remained largely unused until the white man came to
the New World bringing the iron tools and domestic animals that
were necessary to successful agriculture.

Although farming of any sort was almost as impossible in the
plains as in the dry regions of winter rains farther west, the
abundance of buffaloes made life much easier in many respects. It
is astonishing to see how many purposes these animals served. An
early traveler who dwelt among one of the buffalo-hunting tribes,
the Tonkawa of central Texas, says: "Besides their meat it [the
buffalo] furnishes them liberally what they desire for
conveniences. The brains are used to soften skins, the horns for
spoons and drinking cups, the shoulder blades to dig up and clear
off the ground, the tendons for threads and bow strings, the
hoofs to glue the arrow-feathering. From the tail-hair they make
ropes and girths, from the wool, belts and various ornaments. The
hide furnishes . . . shields, tents, shirts, footwear, and
blankets to protect them from the cold."*

*See Hodge, "Handbook of American Indians," vol. II, p. 781.

The buffalo is a surprisingly stupid animal. When a herd is
feeding it is possible for a man to walk into the midst of it and
shoot down an animal. Even when one of their companions falls
dead, the buffaloes pay no attention to the hunter provided he
remains perfectly still. The wounded animals are not at first
dangerous but seek to flee. Only when pursued and brought to bay
do they turn on their pursuers. When the Indians of an encampment
united their forces, as was their regular habit, they were able
to slaughter hundreds of animals in a few days. The more delicate
parts of the meat they ate first, often without cooking them. The
rest they dried and packed away for future use, while they
prepared the hides as coverings for the tents or as rugs in which
to sleep.

Wherever the buffaloes were present in large numbers, the habits
of the Indians were much the same. They could not live in settled
villages, for there was no assurance that the buffalo would come
to any particular place each year. The plains tribes were
therefore more thoroughly nomadic than almost any others,
especially after the introduction of horses. Because they
wandered so much, they came into contact with other tribes to an
unusual degree, and much of the contact was friendly. Gradually
the Indians developed a sign language by which tribes of
different tongues could communicate with one another. At first
these signs were like pictographs, for the speaker pointed as
nearly as possible to the thing that he desired to indicate, but
later they became more and more conventional. For example, man,
the erect animal, was indicated by throwing up the hand, with its
back outward and the index finger extending upward. Woman was
indicated by a sweeping downward movement of the hand at the side
of the head with fingers extended to denote long hair or the
combing of flowing locks.

Among the plains Indians, the Dakotas, the main tribe of the
Sioux family, are universally considered to have stood highest
not only physically but mentally, and probably morally. Their
bravery was never questioned, and they conquered or drove out
every rival except the Chippewas. Their superiority was clearly
seen in their system of government. Personal fitness and
popularity determined chieftainship more than did heredity. The
authority of the chief was limited by the Band Council, without
whose approbation little or nothing could be accomplished. In one
of the Dakota tribes, the Tetons, the policing of a village was
confided to two or three officers who were appointed by the chief
and who remained in power until their successors were appointed.
Day and night they were always on the watch, and so arduous were
their labors that their term of service was necessarily short.
The brevity of their term, however, was atoned for by the
greatness of their authority, for in the suppression of
disturbances no resistance was suffered. Their persons were
sacred, and if in the execution of their duty they struck even a
chief of the second class they could not be punished.

The Dakotas, who lived in the region where their name is still
preserved, inhabited that part of the great plain which is
climatically most favorable to great activity. It is perhaps
because of their response to the influence of this factor of
geographical environment that they and their neighbors are the
best known of the plains tribes. Their activity in later times is
evident from the fact that the Tetons were called "the plundering
Arabs of America." If their activities had been more wisely
directed, they might have made a great name for themselves in
Indian history. In the arts they stood as high as could be
expected in view of the wandering life which they led and the
limited materials with which they had to work. In the art of
making pictographs, for instance, they excelled all other tribes,
except perhaps the Kiowas, a plains tribe of Colorado and western
Kansas. On the hides of buffalo, deer, and antelope which formed
their tents, the Dakotas painted calendars, which had a picture
for each year, or rather for each winter, while those of the
Kiowas had a summer symbol and a winter symbol. Probably these
calendars reveal the influence of the whites, but they at least
show that these people of the plains were quickwitted.

Farther south the tribes of the plains stood on a much lower
level than the Dakotas. The Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca,
describes the Yguases in Texas, among whom he lived for several
years, in these words: "Their support is principally roots which
require roasting two days. Many are very bitter. Occasionally
they take deer and at times fish, but the quantity is so small
and the famine so great that they eat spiders and eggs of ants,
worms, lizards, salamanders, snakes, and vipers that kill whom
they strike, and they eat earth and all that there is, the dung
of deer, things I omit to mention and I earnestly believe that
were there stones in that land they would eat them. They save the
bones of the fish they consume, the snakes and other animals,
that they may afterward beat them together and eat the powder."
During these painful periods, they bade Cabeza de Vaca "not to be
sad. There would soon be prickly pears, although the season of
this fruit of the cactus might be months distant. When the pears
were ripe, the people feasted and danced and forgot their former
privations. They destroyed their female infants to prevent them
being taken by their enemies and thus becoming the means of
increasing the latter's number."

East of the Great Plains there dwelt still another important type
of Indians, the people of the deciduous forests. Their home
extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. As we have
already seen, the Iroquois who inhabited the northern part of
this region were in many respects the highest product of
aboriginal America. The northern Iroquois tribes, especially
those known as the Five Nations, were second to no other Indian
people north of Mexico in political organization, statecraft, and
military prowess. Their leaders were genuine diplomats, as the
wily French and English statesmen with whom they treated soon
discovered. One of their most notable traits was the reverence
which they had for the tribal law. The wars that they waged were
primarily for political independence, for the fundamental
principle of their confederation was that by uniting with one
another they would secure the peace and welfare of all with whom
they were connected by ties of blood. They prevented blood feuds
by decreeing that there should be a price for the killing of a
co-tribesman, and they abstained from eating the flesh of their
enemies in order to avoid future strife. So thoroughly did they
believe in the rights of the individual that women were accorded
a high position. Among some of the tribes the consent of all the
women who had borne children was required before any important
measure could be taken. Candidates for a chiefship were nominated
by the votes of the mothers, and, as lands and houses were the
property of the women, their power in the tribe was great.

The Iroquois were sedentary and agricultural, and depended on the
chase for only a small part of their existence. The northern
tribes were especially noted for their skill in building
fortifications and houses. Their so-called castles were solid
wooden structures with platforms running around the top on the
inside. From the platforms stones and other missiles could be
hurled down upon besiegers. According to our standards such
dwellings were very primitive, but they were almost as great an
advance upon the brush piles of the Utes as our skyscrapers are
upon them. Farther south in the Carolinas, the Cherokees, another
Iroquoian tribe, stand out prominently by reason of their unusual
mental ability. Under the influence of the white man, the
Cherokees were the first to adopt a constitutional form of
government embodied in a code of laws written in their own
language. Their language was reduced to writing by means of an
alphabet which one of their number named Sequoya had devised.
Sequoya and other leaders, however, may not have been pure
Indians, for by that time much white blood had been mixed with
the tribe. Yet even before the coming of the white man the
Cherokees were apparently more advanced in agriculture than the
Iroquois were, but less advanced in their form of government, in
their treatment of women, and in many other respects. In general,
as we go from north to south in the region of deciduous forests,
we find that among the early Indians agriculture became more and
more important and the people more sedentary, though not always
more progressive in other ways. The Catawbas, for instance, in
South Carolina were sedentary agriculturists and seem to have
differed little in general customs from their neighbors. Their
men were brave and honest but lacking in energy. In the
Muskhogean family of Indians, comprising the Creeks, Choctaws,
Chickasaws, and Seminoles, who occupied the Gulf States from
Georgia to Mississippi, all the tribes were agricultural and
sedentary and occupied villages of substantial houses. The towns
near the tribal frontiers were usually palisaded, but those more
remote from invasion were unprotected. All these Indians were
brave but not warlike in the violent fashion of the Five Nations.
The Choctaws would fight only in self-defense, it was said, but
the Creeks and especially the Chickasaws were more aggressive. In
their government these Muskhogean tribes appear to have attained
a position corresponding to their somewhat advanced culture in
other respects. Yet their confederacies were loose and flimsy
compared with that of the Five Nations. Another phase of the life
of the tribes in the southern part of the region of deciduous
forests is illustrated by the Natchez of Mississippi. These
people were strictly sedentary and depended chiefly upon
agriculture for a livelihood. They possessed considerable skill
in the arts. For instance, they wove a cloth from the inner bark
of the mulberry tree and made excellent pottery. They also
constructed great mounds of earth upon which to erect their
dwellings and temples. Like a good many of the other southern
tribes, they fought when it was necessary, but they were
peaceable compared with the Five Nations. They had a form of
sun-worship resembling that of Mexico, and in other ways their
ideas were like those of the people farther south. For instance,
when a chief died, his wives were killed. In times of distress
the parents frequently offered their children as sacrifice.

Many characteristics of the Natchez and other southern tribes
seem to indicate that they had formerly possessed a civilization
higher than that which prevailed when the white man came. The
Five Nations, on the contrary, apparently represent an energetic
people who were on the upward path and who might have achieved
great things if the whites had not interrupted them. The southern
Indians resemble people whose best days were past, for the mounds
which abound in the Gulf States appear to have been built chiefly
in pre-Columbian days. Their objects of art, such as the
remarkable wooden mortars found at Key Marco and the embossed
copper plates found elsewhere in Florida, point to a highly
developed artistic sense which was no longer in evidence at the
coming of the white man.

It is interesting to see the way in which climatic energy tended
to give the Five Nations a marked superiority over the tribesmen
of the South, while agriculture tended in the opposite direction.
There has been much discussion as to the part played by
agriculture among the primitive Americans, especially in the
northeast. Corn, beans, and squashes were an important element in
the diet of the Indians of the New England region, while farther
south potatoes, sunflower seeds, and melons were also articles of
food. The New England tribes knew enough about agriculture to use
fish and shells for fertilizer. They had wooden mattocks and hoes
made from the shoulder blades of deer, from tortoise shells, or
from conch shells set in handles. They also had stone hoes and
spades, while the women used short pickers or parers about a foot
long and five inches wide. Seated on the ground they used these
to break the upper part of the soil and to grub out weeds, grass,
and old cornstalks. They had the regular custom of burning over
an old patch each year and then replanting it. Sometimes they
merely put the seeds in holes and sometimes they dug up and
loosened the ground for each seed. Clearings they made by
girdling the trees, that is, by cutting off the bark in a circle
at the bottom and thus causing the tree to die. The brush they
hacked or broke down and burned when it was dry enough.

There is much danger of confusing the agricultural condition of
the Indian after the European had modified his life with his
condition before the European came to America. For instance, in
the excellent article on agriculture in the "Handbook of American
Indians," conditions prevailing as late as 1794 in the States
south of the Great Lakes are spoken of as if typical of
aboriginal America. But at that time the white man had long been
in contact with the Indian, and iron tools had largely taken the
place of stone. The rapidity with which European importations
spread may be judged by the fact that as early as 1736 the
Iroquois in New York not only had obtained horses but were
regularly breeding them. The use of the iron axe of course spread
with vastly greater rapidity than that of the horse, for an axe
or a knife was the first thing that an Indian sought from the
white man. In the eighteenth century agriculture had thus become
immeasurably easier than before, yet even then the Indians still
kept up their old habit of cultivating the same fields only a
short time. The regular practice was to cultivate a field five,
ten, and sometimes even twenty or more years, and then abandon

*Ordinarily it is stated that this practice was due to the
exhaustion of the soil. That, however, is open to question, for
five or ten years' desultory cultivation on the part of the
Indian would scarcely exhaust the soil so much that people would
go to the great labor of making new clearings and moving their
villages. Moreover, in the Southern States it is well known today
that the soil is exhausted much more rapidly than farther north
because it contains less humus. Nevertheless the southern tribes
cultivated the land about their villages for long periods. Tribes
like the Creeks, the Cherokees, and the Natchez appear to have
been decidedly less prone to move than the Iroquois, in spite of
the relatively high development of these northern nations.

What hindered agriculture most in the northern part of the
deciduous forest was the grass. Any one who has cultivated a
garden knows how rapidly the weeds grow. He also knows that there
is no weed so hard to exterminate as grass. When once it gets a
foothold mere hoeing seems only to make it grow the faster. The
only way to get rid of grass when once it has become well
established is to plow the field and start over again, but this
the Indians could not do. When first a clearing was made in the
midst of the forest, there was no grass to be contended with.
Little by little, however, it was sure to come in, until at
length what had been a garden was in a fair way to become a
meadow. Then the Indians would decide that it was necessary to
seek new fields.

One might suppose that under such circumstances the Indians would
merely clear another patch of forest not far from the village and
so continue to live in the old place. This, however, they did not
do because the labor of making a clearing with stone axes and by
the slow process of girdling and burning the trees was so great
that it was possible only in certain favored spots where by
accident the growth was less dense than usual. When once a
clearing became grassy, the only thing to do was to hunt for a
new site, prepare a clearing, and then move the village. This was
apparently the reason why the Iroquois, although successful in
other ways, failed to establish permanent towns like those of the
Pueblos and the Haidas. Their advancement not only in
architecture but in many of the most important elements of
civilization was for this reason greatly delayed. There was
little to stimulate them to improve the land to which they were
attached, for they knew that soon they would have to move.

Farther south the character of the grassy vegetation changes, and
the condition of agriculture alters with it. The grass ceases to
have that thick, close, turfy quality which we admire so much in
the fields of the north, and it begins to grow in bunches. Often
a southern hillside may appear from a distance to be as densely
covered with grass as a New England hayfield. On closer
examination, however, the growth is seen to consist of individual
bunches which can easily be pulled up, so that among the southern
tribes the fields did not become filled with grass as they did in
the north, for the women had relatively little difficulty in
keeping out this kind of weed as well as others.

In this survey of aboriginal America we have been impressed by
the contrast between two diverse aspects of the control of human
activities by physical environment. We saw, in the first place,
that in our own day the distribution of culture in America is
more closely related to climatic energy than to any other factor,
because man is now so advanced in the arts and crafts that
agricultural difficulties do not impede him, except in the far
north and in tropical forests. Secondly, we have found that,
although all the geographical factors acted upon the Indian as
they do today, the absence of metals and beasts of burden
compelled man to be nomadic, and hence to remain in a low stage
of civilization in many places where he now can thrive. In the
days long before Columbus the distribution of civilization in the
Red Man's Continent offered still a third aspect, strikingly
different both from that of today and from that of the age of
discovery. In that earlier period the great centers of
civilization were south of their present situation. In the
southern part of North America from Arizona to Florida there are
abundant evidences that the Indians whom the white man found were
less advanced than their predecessors. The abundant ruins of
Arizona and New Mexico, their widespread distribution, and the
highly artistic character of the pottery and other products of
handicraft found in them seem to indicate that the ancient
population was both denser and more highly cultured than that
which the Europeans finally ousted. In the Gulf States there is
perhaps not much evidence that there was a denser population at
an earlier period, but the excellence of the pre-Columbian
handicrafts and the existence of a decadent sun worship
illustrate the way in which the civilization of the past was
higher than that of later days. The Aztecs, who figure so largely
in the history of the exploration and conquest of Mexico, were
merely a warlike tribe which had been fortunate in the
inheritance of a relatively high civilization from the past. So,
too, the civilization found by the Spaniards at places such as
Mitla, in the extreme south of Mexico, could not compare with
that of which evidence is found in the ruins. Most remarkable of
all is the condition of Yucatan and Guatemala. In northern
Yucatan the Spaniards found a race of mild, decadent Mayas living
among the relics of former grandeur. Although they used the old
temples as shrines, they knew little of those who had built these
temples and showed still less capacity to imitate the ancient
architects. Farther south in the forested region of southern
Yucatan and northern Guatemala the conditions are still more
surprising, for today these regions are almost uninhabitable and
are occupied by only a few sickly, degraded natives who live
largely by the chase. Yet in the past this region was the scene
of by far the highest culture that ever developed in America.
There alone in this great continent did men develop an
architecture which, not only in massiveness but in wealth of
architectural detail and sculptural adornment, vies with that of
early Egypt or Chaldea. There alone did the art of writing
develop. Yet today in those regions the density of the forest,
the prevalence of deadly fevers, the extremely enervating
temperature, and the steady humidity are as hostile to
civilization as are the cold of the far north and the dryness of
the desert.

The only explanation of this anomaly seems to be that in the past
the climatic zones of the world have at certain periods been
shifted farther toward the equator than they are at present.
Practically all the geographers of America now believe that
within the past two or three thousand years climatic pulsations
have taken place whereby places like the dry Southwest have
alternately experienced centuries of greater moisture than at
present and centuries as dry as today or even drier. During the
moist centuries greater storminess prevailed, so that the climate
was apparently better not only for agriculture but for human
energy. At such times the standard of living was higher than now
not only in the Southwest but in the Gulf States and in Mexico.
In periods when the deserts of the southwestern United States
were wet, the Maya region of Yucatan and Guatemala appears to
have been relatively dry. Then the dry belt which now extends
from northern Mexico to the northern tip of Yucatan apparently
shifted southward. Such conditions would cause the forests of
Yucatan and Guatemala to become much less dense than at present.
This comparative deforestation would make agriculture easily
possible where today it is out of the question. At the same time
the relatively dry climate and the clearing away of the
vegetation would to a large degree eliminate the malarial fevers
and other diseases which are now such a terrible scourge in wet
tropical countries. Then, too, the storms which at the present
time give such variability to the climate of the United States
would follow more southerly courses. In its stimulating qualities
the climate of the home of the Mayas in the days of their prime
was much more nearly like that which now prevails where
civilization rises highest.

From first to last the civilization of America has been bound up
with its physical environment. It matters little whether we are
dealing with the red race, the black, or the white. Nor does it
matter whether we deal with one part of the continent or another.
Wherever we turn we can trace the influence of mountains and
plains, of rocks and metals from which tools are made, of water
and its finny inhabitants, of the beasts of the chase from the
hare to the buffalo, of domestic animals, of the native forests,
grass-lands, and deserts, and, last but not least, of
temperature, moisture, and wind in their direct effects upon the
human body. At one stage of human development the possibilities
of agriculture may be the dominant factor in man's life in early
America. At another, domestic animals may be more important, and
at still another, iron or waterways or some other factor may be
predominant. It is the part of the later history of the American
Continent to trace the effect of these various factors and to
chronicle the influence that they have had upon man's progress.


Although many books deal with the physical features of the
Western Hemisphere and many others with the Indians, few deal
with the two in relation to one another. One book, however,
stands out preeminent in this respect, namely, Edward John
Payne's "History of the New World Called America," 2 vols.
(1892-99). This book, which has never been finished, attempts to
explain the conditions of life among the American aborigines as
the result of geographical conditions, especially of the food
supply. Where the author carries this attempt into the field of
special customs and religious rites, he goes too far.
Nevertheless his work is uncommonly stimulating and deserves the
careful attention of the reader who would gain a broad grasp of
the relation of geography to the history of the New World.

Two other good books which deal with the relation of geography to
American history are Miss Ellen C. Semple's "American History and
its Geographical Conditions" (1903) and A. P. Brigham's
"Geographic Influences in American History" (1903). Both of these
books interpret geography as if it included little except the
form of the land. While they bring out clearly the effect of
mountain barriers, indented coasts, and easy routes whether by
land or water, they scarcely touch on the more subtle
relationships between man on the one hand and the climate,
plants, and animals which form the dominant features of his
physical environment on the other hand.

In their emphasis on the form of the land both Semple and Brigham
follow the lead of W. M. Davis. In his admirable articles on
America and the United States in "The Encyclopaedia Britannica"
(11th edition) and in The International Geography edited by H. R.
Mill (1901), Davis has given an uncommonly clear and vivid
description of the main physical features of the New World.
Living beings, however, play little part in this description, so
that the reader is not led to an understanding of how physical
geography affects human actions.

Other good descriptions of the North American continent are found
in the following books: I. C. Russell's "North America" (1904),
Stanford's "Compendium of Modern Geography and Travel," including
the volumes on Canada, the United States, and Central America,
and the great volumes on America in "The Earth and its
Inhabitants" by Elise Reclus, 19 vols. (1876-1894). Russell's
book is largely physiographic but contains some good chapters on
the Indians. In Stanford's "Compendium" the purpose is to treat
man and nature in their relation to one another, but the
relationships are not clearly brought out, and there is too much
emphasis on purely descriptive and encyclopedic matter. So far as
interest is concerned, the famous work by Elise Reclus holds high
rank. It is an encyclopedia of geographical facts arranged and
edited in such a way that it has all the interest of a fine book
of travel. Like most of the other books, however, it fails to
bring out relationships.

As sources of information on the Indians, two books stand out
with special prominence. "The American Race," by D. G. Brinton
(1891), is a most scholarly volume devoted largely to a study of
the Indians on a linguistic basis. It contains some general
chapters, however, on the Indians and their environment, and
these are most illuminating. The other book is the "Handbook of
American Indians North of Mexico," edited by F. W. Hodge, and
published by the United States Bureau of Ethnology (Washington,
1897, 1910, 1911). Its two large volumes are arranged in
encyclopedic form. The various articles are written by a large
number of scholars, including practically all the students who
were at work on Indian ethnology at the time of publication. Many
of the articles are the best that have been written and will not
only interest the general reader but will contribute to an
understanding of what America was when the Indians came here and
what it still is today.

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