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A Further Contribution to the Study of the Mortuary Customs of the North American Indians by H.C. Yarrow

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not until this pile of earth was removed and the original
surface exposed to view that a probable conjecture of its
original design could be formed. About 20 feet square of the
surface had been leveled and covered with bark. On the
center of this lay a human skeleton, over which had been
spread a mat manufactured either from weeds or bark. On the
breast lay what had been a piece of copper, in the form of a
cross, which had now become verdigris. On the breast also
lay a stone ornament with two perforations, one near each
end, through which passed a string, by means of which it was
suspended around the wearer's neck. On this string, which
was made of sinews, and very much injured by time, were
placed a great many beads made of ivory or bone, for I
cannot certainly say which. * * *

_Mounds of stone._--Two such mounds have been described
already in the county of Perry. Others have been found in
various parts of the country. There is one at least in the
vicinity of Licking River, not many miles from Newark. There
is another on a branch of Hargus's Creek, a few miles to the
northeast of Circleville. There were several not very far
from the town of Chillicothe. If these mounds were sometimes
used as cemeteries of distinguished persons, they were also
used as monuments with a view of perpetuating the
recollection of some great transaction or event. In the
former not more generally than one or two skeletons are
found; in the latter none. These mounds are like those of
earth, in form of a cone, composed of small stones on which
no marks of tools were visible. In them some of the most
interesting articles are found, such as urns, ornaments of
copper, heads of spears, &c., of the same metal, as well as
medals of copper and pickaxes of horneblende; * * * works of
this class, compared with those of earth, are few, and they
are none of them as large as the mounds at Grave Creek, in
the town of Circleville, which belong to the first class. I
saw one of these stone tumuli which had been piled on the
surface of the earth on the spot where three skeletons had
been buried in stone coffins, beneath the surface. It was
situated on the western edge of the hill on which the
"walled town" stood, on Paint Creek. The graves appear to
have been dug to about the depth of ours in the present
times. After the bottom and sides were lined with thin flat
stones, the corpses were placed in these graves in an
eastern and western direction, and large flat stones were
laid over the graves; then the earth which had been dug out
of the graves was thrown over them. A huge pile of stones
was placed over the whole. It is quite probable, however,
that this was a work of our present race of Indians. Such
graves are more common in Kentucky than Ohio. No article,
except the skeletons, was found in these graves; and the
skeletons resembled very much the present race of Indians.

The mounds of Sterling County, Illinois, are described by W.C.
Holbrook[20] as follows:

I recently made an examination of a few of the many Indian
mounds found on Rock River, about two miles above Sterling,
Ill. The first one opened was an oval mound about 20 feet
long, 12 feet wide, and 7 feet high. In the interior of this
I found a _dolmen_ or quadrilateral wall about 10 feet long,
4 feet high, and 4 1/2 feet wide. It had been built of
lime-rock from a quarry near by, and was covered with large
flat stones. No mortar or cement had been used. The whole
structure rested on the surface of the natural soil, the
interior of which had been scooped out to enlarge the
chamber. Inside of the _dolmen_ I found the partly decayed
remains of eight human skeletons, two very large teeth of an
unknown animal, two fossils, one of which is not found in
this place, and a plummet. One of the long bones had been
splintered; the fragments had united, but there remained
large morbid growths of bone (exostosis) in several places.
One of the skulls presented a circular opening about the
size of a silver dime. This perforation had been made during
life, for the edges had commenced to cicatrize. I later
examined three circular mounds, but in them I found no
dolmens. The first mound contained three adult human
skeletons, a few fragments of the skeleton of a child, the
lower maxillary of which indicated it to be about six years
old. I also found claws of some carnivorous animal. The
surface of the soil had been scooped out and the bodies laid
in the excavation and covered with about a foot of earth;
fires had then been made upon the grave and the mound
afterwards completed. The bones had not been charred. No
charcoal was found among the bones, but occurred in
abundance in a stratum about one foot above them. Two other
mounds, examined at the same time, contain no remains.

Of two other mounds, opened later, the first was circular,
about 4 feet high, and 15 feet in diameter at the base, and
was situated on an elevated point of land close to the bank
of the river. From the top of this mound one might view the
country for many miles in almost any direction. On its
summit was an oval altar 6 feet long and 4 1/2 wide. It was
composed of flat pieces of limestone, which had been burned
red, some portions having been almost converted into lime.
On and about this altar I found abundance of charcoal. At
the sides of the altar were fragments of human bones, some
of which had been charred. It was covered by a natural
growth of vegetable mold and sod, the thickness of which was
about 10 inches. Large trees had once grown in this
vegetable mold, but their stumps were so decayed I could not
tell with certainty; to what species they belonged. Another
large mound was opened which contained nothing.

The next account relates to the grave-mounds near Pensacola, Fla., and
was originally published by Dr. George M. Sternberg, surgeon United
States Army:[21]

Before visiting the mound I was informed that the Indians
were buried in it in an upright position, each one with a
clay pot on his head. This idea was based upon some
superficial explorations which had been made from time to
time by curiosity hunters. Their excavations had, indeed,
brought to light pots containing fragments of skulls, but
not buried in the position they imagined. Very extensive
explorations, made at different times by myself, have shown
that only fragments of skulls and of the long bones of the
body are to be found in the mound, and that these are
commonly associated with earthen pots, sometimes whole, but
more frequently broken fragments only. In some instances
portions of the skull were placed in a pot, and the long
bones were deposited in its immediate vicinity. Again, the
pots would contain only sand, and fragments of bones would
be found near them. The most successful "find" I made was a
whole nest of pots, to the number of half a dozen, all in a
good state of preservation, and buried with a fragment of
skull, which I take, from its small size, to have been that
of a female. Whether this female was thus distinguished
above all others buried in the mound by the number of pots
deposited with her remains because of her skill in the
manufacture of such ware, or by reason of the unusual wealth
of her sorrowing husband, must remain a matter of
conjecture. I found, altogether, fragments of skulls and
thigh-bones belonging to at least fifty individuals, but in
no instance did I find anything like a complete skeleton.
There wore no vertebrae, no ribs, no pelvic bones, and none
of the small bones of the hands and feet. Two or three
skulls, nearly perfect, were found, but they were so fragile
that it was impossible to preserve them. In the majority of
instances, only fragments of the frontal and parietal bones
were found, buried in pots or in fragments of pots too small
to have ever contained a complete skull. The conclusion was
irresistible that this was not a burial-place for _the
bodies_ of deceased Indians, but that the bones had been
gathered from some other locality for burial in this mound,
or that cremation was practiced before burial, and the
fragments of bone not consumed by fire were gathered and
deposited in the mound. That the latter supposition is the
correct one I deem probable from the fact that in digging in
the mound evidences of fire are found in numerous places,
but without any regularity as to depth and position. These
evidences consist in strata of from one to four inches in
thickness, in which the sand is of a dark color and has
mixed with it numerous small fragments of charcoal.

My theory is that the mound was built by gradual accretion
in the following manner: That when a death occurred a
funeral pyre was erected on the mound, upon which the body
was placed. That after the body was consumed, any fragments
of bones remaining were gathered, placed in a pot, and
buried, and that the ashes and cinders were covered by a
layer of sand brought from the immediate vicinity for that
purpose. This view is further supported by the fact that
only the shafts of the long bones are found, the expanded
extremities, which would be most easily consumed, having
disappeared; also, by the fact that no bones of children
were found. Their bones being smaller, and containing a less
proportion of earthy matter, would be entirely consumed. * *

At the Santa Rosa mound the method of burial was different.
Here I found the skeletons complete, and obtained nine
well-preserved skulls. * * * The bodies were not,
apparently, deposited upon any regular system, and I found
no objects of interest associated with the remains. It may
be that this was due to the fact that the skeletons found
were those of warriors who had fallen in battle in which
they had sustained defeat. This view is supported by the
fact that they were all males, and that two of the skulls
bore marks of ante-mortem injuries which must have been of a
fatal character.

Writing of the Choctaws, Bartram,[22] in alluding to the ossuary, or
bone-house, mentions that so soon as this is filled a general inhumation
takes place, in this manner:

Then the respective coffins are borne by the nearest
relatives of the deceased to the place of interment, where
they are all piled one upon another in the form of a
pyramid, and the conical hill of earth heaped above.

The funeral ceremonies are concluded with the solemnization
of a festival called the feast of the dead.

Florian Gianque, of Cincinnati, Ohio, furnishes an account of a somewhat
curious mound-burial which had taken place in the Miami Valley of Ohio:

A mound was opened in this locality, some years ago,
containing a central corpse in a sitting posture, and over
thirty skeletons buried around it in a circle, also in a
sitting posture, but leaning against one another, tipped
over towards the right, facing inwards. I did not see this
opened, but have seen the mounds and many ornaments, awls,
&c., said to have been found near the central body. The
parties informing me are trustworthy.

As an example of interment, unique, so far as known, and interesting as
being _sui generis_, the following description by Dr. J. Mason
Spainhour, of Lenoir, N.C., of an excavation made by him March 11, 1871,
on the farm of R.V. Michaux, esq., near John's River, in Burke County,
N.C., is given. The author bears the reputation of an observer of
undoubted integrity, whose facts as given may not be doubted:


In a conversation with Mr. Michaux on Indian curiosities, he
informed me that there was an Indian mound on his farm which
was formerly of considerable height, but had gradually been
plowed down; that several mounds in the neighborhood had
been excavated, and nothing of interest found in them. I
asked permission to examine this mound, which was granted,
and upon investigation the following facts were revealed:

Upon reaching the place, I sharpened a stick 4 or 5 feet in
length and ran it down in the earth at several places, and
finally struck a rock about 18 inches below the surface,
which, on digging down, was found to be smooth on top, lying
horizontally upon solid earth, about 18 inches above the
bottom of the grave, 18 inches in length, and 16 inches in
width, and from 2 to 3 inches in thickness, with the corners

Not finding anything under this rock, I then made an
excavation in the south of the grave, and soon struck
another rock, which, upon examination, proved to be in front
of the remains of a human skeleton in a sitting posture. The
bones of the fingers of the right hand were resting on this
rock, and on the rock near the hand was a small stone about
5 inches long, resembling a tomahawk or Indian hatchet. Upon
a further examination many of the bones were found, though
in a very decomposed condition, and upon exposure to the air
soon crumbled to pieces. The heads of the bones, a
considerable portion of the skull, maxillary bones, teeth,
neck bones, and the vertebra, were in their proper places,
though the weight of the earth above them had driven them
down, yet the entire frame was so perfect that it was an
easy matter to trace all the bones; the bones of the cranium
were slightly inclined toward the east. Around the neck were
found coarse beads that seemed to be of some hard substance
and resembled chalk. A small lump of red paint about the
size of an egg was found near the right side of this
skeleton. The sutures of the cranium indicated the subject
to have been 25 or 28 years of age, and its top rested about
12 inches below the mark of the plow.

I made a farther excavation toward the west of this grave
and found another skeleton, similar to the first, in a
sitting posture, facing the east. A rock was on the right,
on which the bones of the right hand were resting, and on
this rock was a tomahawk which had been about 7 inches in
length, but was broken into two pieces, and was much better
finished than the first. Beads were also around the neck of
this one, but were much smaller and of finer quality than
those on the neck of the first. The material, however, seems
to be the same. A much larger amount of paint was found by
the side of this than the first. The bones indicated a
person of large frame, who, I think, was about 50 years of
age. Everything about this one had the appearance of
superiority over the first. The top of the skull was about 6
inches below the mark of the plane.

I continued the examination, and, after diligent search,
found nothing at the north side of the grave; but, on
reaching the east, found another skeleton, in the same
posture as the others, facing the west. On the right side of
this was a rock on which the bones of the right hand were
resting, and on the rock was also a tomahawk, which had been
about 8 inches in length, but was broken into _three_
pieces, and was composed of much better material, and better
finished than the others. Beads were also found on the neck
of this, but much smaller and finer than those of the
others. A larger amount of paint than both of the others was
found near this one. The top of the cranium had been moved
by the plow. The bones indicated a person of 40 years of

There was no appearance of hair discovered; besides, the
smaller bones were almost entirely decomposed, and would
crumble when taken from their bed in the earth. These two
circumstances, coupled with the fact that the farm on which
this grave was found was the first settled in that part of
the country, the date of the first deed made from Lord
Granville to John Perkins running back about 150 years (the
land still belonging to the descendants of the same family
that first occupied it), would prove beyond doubt that it is
a very old grave.

The grave was situated due east and west, in size about 9 by
6 feet, the line being distinctly marked by the difference
in the color of the soil. It was dug in rich, black loam,
and filled around the bodies with white or yellow sand,
which I suppose was carried from the river-bank, 200 yards
distant. The skeletons approximated the walls of the grave,
and contiguous to them was a dark-colored earth, and so
decidedly different was this from all surrounding it, both
in quality and odor, that the line of the bodies could be
readily traced. The odor of this decomposed earth, which had
been flesh, was similar to clotted blood, and would adhere
in lumps when compressed in the hand.

This was not the grave of the Indian warriors; in those we
find pots made of earth or stone, and all the implements of
war, for the warrior had an idea that after he arose from
the dead he would need, in the "hunting-grounds beyond," his
bow and arrow, war-hatchet, and scalping-knife.

The facts set forth will doubtless convince every Mason who
will carefully read the account of this remarkable burial
that the American Indians were in possession of at least
some of the mysteries of our order, and that it was
evidently the grave of Masons, and the three highest
officers in a Masonic lodge. The grave was situated due east
and west; an altar was erected in the center; the south,
west, and east were occupied--_the north was not;_
implements of authority were near each body. The difference
in the quality of the beads, the tomahawks in one, two, and
three pieces, and the difference in distance that the bodies
were placed from the surface, indicate beyond doubt that
these three persons had been buried by Masons, and those,
too, that understood what they were doing.

Will some learned Mason unravel this mystery and inform the
Masonic world how the Indians obtained so much Masonic

The tomahawks, maxillary bones, some of the teeth, beads,
and other bones, have been forwarded to the Smithsonian
Institution at Washington, D.C., to be placed among the
archives of that institution for exhibition, at which place
they may be seen.

Should Dr. Spainhour's inferences be incorrect, there is still a
remarkable coincidence of circumstances patent to every Mason.

In support of this gentleman's views, attention is called to the
description of the _Midawan_--a ceremony of initiation for would-be
medicine men--in Schoolcraft's History of the Indian Tribes of the
United States, 1855, p. 428, relating to the Sioux and Chippewas. In
this account are found certain forms and resemblances which have led
some to believe that the Indians possessed a knowledge of Masonry.


While there is a certain degree of similitude between the above-noted
methods and the one to be mentioned subsequently--_lodge_ burial--they
differ, inasmuch as the latter are examples of surface or aerial burial,
and must consequently fall under another caption. The narratives which
are now to be given afford a clear idea of the former kinds of burial.

Bartram[23] relates the following regarding the Muscogulges of the

The Muscogulges bury their deceased in the earth; they dig a
four-foot, square, deep pit under the cabin, or couch which
the deceased laid on in his house, lining the grave with
cypress bark, when they place the corpse in a sitting
posture, as if it were alive, depositing with him his gun,
tomahawk, pipe, and such other matters as he had the
greatest value for in his lifetime. His oldest wife, or the
queen dowager, has the second choice of his possessions, and
the remaining effects are divided among his other wives and

According to Bernard Roman,[24] the "funeral customs of the Chickasaws
did not differ materially from those of the Muscogulges. They interred
the dead as soon as the breath left the body, and beneath the couch in
which the deceased expired."

The Navajos of New Mexico and Arizona, a tribe living a considerable
distance from the Chickasaws, follow somewhat similar customs, as
related by Dr. John Menard, formerly a physician to their agency:

The Navajo custom is to leave the body where it dies,
closing up the house or hogan or covering the body with
stones or brush. In case the body is removed, it is taken to
a cleft in the rocks and thrown in, and stones piled over.
The person touching or carrying the body first takes off all
his clothes and afterwards washes his body with water before
putting them on or mingling with the living. When a body is
removed from a house or hogan, the hogan is burned down, and
the place in every case abandoned, as the belief is that the
devil comes to the place of death and remains where a dead
body is. Wild animals frequently (indeed, generally) get the
bodies, and it is a very easy matter to pick up skulls and
bones around old camping grounds, or where the dead are
laid. In case it is not desirable to abandon a place, the
sick person is left out in some lone spot protected by
brush, where they are either abandoned to their fate or food
brought to them until they die. This is done only when all
hope is gone. I have found bodies thus left so well inclosed
with brush that wild animals were unable to get at them; and
one so left to die was revived by a cup of coffee from our
house and is still living and well.

Lieut. George E. Ford, Third United States Cavalry, in a personal
communication to the writer, corroborates the account given by Dr.
Menard, as follows:

This tribe, numbering about 8,000 souls, occupy a
reservation in the extreme northwestern corner of New Mexico
and Northeastern Arizona. The funeral ceremonies of the
Navajos are of the most simple character. They ascribe the
death of an individual to the direct action of _Chinde_, or
the devil, and believe that he remains in the vicinity of
the dead. For this reason, as soon as a member of the tribe
dies a shallow grave is dug within the hogan or dwelling by
one of the near male relatives, and into this the corpse is
unceremoniously tumbled by the relatives, who have
previously protected themselves from the evil influence by
smearing their naked bodies with tar from the pinon tree.
After the body has thus been disposed of, the hogan
(composed of logs and branches of trees covered with earth)
is pulled down over it and the place deserted. Should the
deceased have no near relatives or was of no importance in
the tribe, the formality of digging a grave is dispensed
with, the hogan being simply leveled over the body. This
carelessness does not appear to arise from want of natural
affection for the dead, but fear of the evil influence of
_Chinde_ upon the surviving relatives causes them to avoid
doing anything that might gain for them his ill-will. A
Navajo would freeze sooner than make a fire of the logs of a
fallen hogan, even though from all appearances it may have
been years in that condition. There are no mourning
observances other than smearing the forehead and under the
eyes with tar, which is allowed to remain until worn off,
and then not renewed. The deceased is apparently forgotten,
as his name is never spoken by the survivors for fear of
giving offense to _Chinde_.

J.L. Burchard, agent to the Round Valley Indians, of California,
furnishes an account of burial somewhat resembling that of the Navajos:

When I first came here the Indians would dig a round hole in
the ground, draw up the knees of the deceased Indian, and
wrap the body into as small a bulk as possible in blankets,
tie them firmly with cords, place them in the grave, throw
in beads, baskets, clothing, everything owned by the
deceased, and often donating much extra; all gathered around
the grave wailing most pitifully, tearing their faces with
their nails till the blood would run down their cheeks, pull
out their hair, and such other heathenish conduct. These
burials were generally made under their thatch houses or
very near thereto. The house where one died was always torn
down, removed, rebuilt, or abandoned. The wailing, talks,
&c., were in their own jargon; none else could understand,
and they seemingly knew but little of its meaning (if there
was any meaning in it); it simply seemed to be the
promptings of grief, without sufficient intelligence to
direct any ceremony; each seemed to act out his own impulse.

The next account, taken from M. Butel de Dumont,[25] relating to the
Paskagoulas and Billoxis of Louisiana, may be considered as an example
of burial in houses, although the author of the work was pleased to
consider the receptacles as temples.

Les Paskagoulas et les Billoxis n'enterent point leur Chef,
lorsqu'il est decede; mais-ils font secher son cadavre au
feu et a la fumee de facon qu'ils en font un vrai squelette.
Apres l'avoir reduit en cet etat, ils le portent au Temple
(car ils en ont un ainsi que les Natchez), et le mettent a
la place de son predecesseur, qu'ils tirent de l'endroit
qu'il occupoit, pour le porter avec les corps de leurs
autres Chefs dans le fond du Temple ou ils sont tous ranges
de suite dresses sur leurs pieds comme des statues. A
l'egard du dernier mort, il est expose a l'entree de ce
Temple sur une espece d'autel ou de table faite de cannes,
et couverte d'une natte tres-fine travaillee fort proprement
en quarreaux rouges et jaunes avec la peau de ces memes
cannes. Le cadavre du Chef est expose au milieu de cette
table droit sur ses pieds, soutenu par derriere par une
longue perche peinte en rouge dont le bout passe au dessus
de sa tete, et a laquelle il est attache par le milieu du
corps avec une liane. D'une main il tient un casse-tete ou
une petite hache, de l'autre un pipe; et au-dessus de sa
tete, est attache au bout de la perche qui le soutient, le
Calumet le plus fameux de tous ceux qui lui ont ete
presentes pendant sa vie. Du reste cette table n'est gueres
elevee de terre que d'un demi-pied; mais elle a au moins six
pieds de large et dix de longueur.

C'est sur cette table qu'on vient tous les jours servir a
manger a ce Chef mort en mettant devant lui des plats de
sagamite, du bled grole ou boucane, &c. C'est-la aussi qu'au
commencement de toutes les recoltes ses Sujets vont lui
offrir les premiers de tous les fruits qu'ils peuvent
recueillir. Tout ce qui lui est presente de la sorte reste
sur cette table; et comme la porte de ce Temple est toujours
ouverte, qu'il n'y a personne prepose pour y veiller, que
par consequent y entre qui veut, et que d'ailleurs il est
eloigne du Village d'un grand quart de lieue, il arrive que
ce sont ordinairement des Etrangers, Chasseurs ou Sauvages,
qui profitent de ces mets et de ces fruits, ou qu'ils sont
consommes par les animaux. Mais cela est egal a ces
sauvages; et moins il en reste lorsqu'ils retournent le
lendemain, plus ils sont dans la joie, disant que leur Chef
a bien mange, et que par consequent il est content d'eux
quoiqu'il les ait abandonnes. Pour leur ouvrir les yeux sur
l'extravagance de cette pratique, on a beau leur representer
ce qu'ils ne peuvent s'empecher de voir eux-memes, que ce
n'est point ce mort qui mange; ils repondent que si ce n'est
pas lui, c'est toujours lui au moins qui offre a qui il lui
plait ce qui a ete mis sur la table; qu'apres tout c'etoit
la la pratique de leur pere, de leur mere, de leurs parens;
qu'ils n'ont pas plus d'esprit qu'eux, et qu'ils ne
sauroient mieux faire que de suivre leur example.

C'est aussi devant cette table, que pendant quelques mois la
veuve du Chef, ses enfans, ses plus proches parens, viennent
de tems en tems lui rendre visite et lui faire leur
harangue, comme s'il etoit en etat de les entendre. Les uns
lui demandent pourquoi il s'est laisse mourir avant eux?
d'autres lui disent que s'il est mort ce n'est point leur
faute; que c'est lui meme qui s'est tue par telle debauche
on par tel effort; enfin s'il y a eu quelque defaut dans son
gouvernement, on prend ce tems-la pour le lui reprocher.
Cependant ils finissent toujours leur harangue, en lui
disant de n'etre pas fache contre eux, de bien manger, et
qu'ils auront toujours bien soin de lui.

Another example of burial in houses may be found in vol. vi of the
publications of the Hakluyt Society, 1849, p. 89, taken from Strachey's
Virginia. It is given more as a curious narrative of an early writer on
American ethnology than for any intrinsic value it may possess as a
truthful relation of actual events. It relates to the Indians of

Within the chauncell of the temple, by the Okens, are the
cenotaphies or the monuments of their kings, whose bodyes,
so soon as they be dead, they embowell, and, scraping the
flesh from off the bones, they dry the same upon hurdells
into ashes, which they put into little potts (like the
anncyent urnes): the annathomy of the bones they bind
together or case up in leather, hanging braceletts, or
chaines of copper, beads, pearle, or such like, as they used
to wear about most of their joints and neck, and so repose
the body upon a little scaffold (as upon a tomb), laying by
the dead bodies' feet all his riches in severall basketts,
his apook, and pipe, and any one toy, which in his life he
held most deare in his fancy; their inwards they stuff with
pearle, copper, beads, and such trash, sowed in a skynne,
which they overlapp againe very carefully in whit skynnes
one or two, and the bodyes thus dressed lastly they rowle in
matte, as for wynding sheets, and so lay them orderly one by
one, as they dye in their turnes, upon an arche standing (as
aforesaid) for the tomb, and thes are all the ceremonies we
yet can learne that they give unto their dead. We heare of
no sweet oyles or oyntments that they use to dresse or chest
their dead bodies with; albeit they want not of the pretious
rozzin running out of the great cedar, wherewith in the old
time they used to embalme dead bodies, washing them in the
oyle and licoure thereof. Only to the priests the care of
these temples and holy interments are committed, and these
temples are to them as solitary Asseteria colledged or
ministers to exercise themselves in contemplation, for they
are seldome out of them, and therefore often lye in them and
maynteyne contynuall fier in the same, upon a hearth
somewhat neere the east end.

For their ordinary burialls they digg a deepe hole in the
earth with sharpe stakes, and the corps being lapped in
skynns and matts with their jewells, they laye uppon sticks
in the ground, and soe cover them with earth; the buryall
ended, the women (being painted all their faces with black
coale and oyle) do sitt twenty-four howers in their howses,
mourning and lamenting by turnes, with such yelling and
howling as may expresse their great passions.

While this description brings the subject under the head before given
--house burial--at the same time it might also afford an example of
embalmment or mummifying.

Figure 1 may be referred to as a probable representation of the temple
or charnel-house described.

The modes of burial described in the foregoing accounts are not to be
considered rare; for among certain tribes in Africa similar practices
prevailed. For instance, the Bari of Central Africa, according to the
Rev. J.G. Wood,[26] bury their dead within the inclosure of the
home-stead, fix a pole in the ground, and fasten to it certain emblems.
The Apingi, according to the same author, permit the corpse to remain in
its dwelling until it falls to pieces. The bones are then collected and
deposited on the ground a short distance from the village. The Latookas
bury within the inclosure of a man's house, although the bones are
subsequently removed, placed in an earthen jar, and deposited outside
the village. The Kaffirs bury their head-men within the cattle
inclosure, the graves of the common people being made outside, and the
Bechuanas follow the same general plan.

The following description of Damara burial, from the work quoted above
(p. 314), is added as containing an account of certain details which
resemble somewhat those followed by North American Indians. In the
narrative it will be seen that house burial was followed only if
specially desired by the expiring person:

When a Damara chief dies, he is buried in rather a peculiar
fashion. As soon as life is extinct--some say even before
the last breath is drawn--the bystanders break the spine by
a blow from a large stone. They then unwind the long rope
that encircles the loins, and lash the body together in a
sitting posture, the head being bent over the knees.
Ox-hides are then tied over it, and it is buried with its
face to the north, as already described when treating of the
Bechuanas. Cattle are then slaughtered in honor of the dead
chief, and over the grave a post is erected, to which the
skulls and hair are attached as a trophy. The bow, arrows,
assagai, and clubs of the deceased are hung on the same
post. Large stones are pressed into the soil above and
around the grave, and a large pile of thorns is also heaped
over it, in order to keep off the hyenas, who would be sure
to dig up and devour the body before the following day. The
grave of a Damara chief is represented on page 302. Now and
then a chief orders that his body shall be left in his own
house, in which case it is laid on an elevated platform, and
a strong fence of thorns and stakes built round the hut.

The funeral ceremonies being completed, the new chief
forsakes the place and takes the whole of the people under
his command. He remains at a distance for several years,
during which time he wears the sign of mourning, i.e., a
dark-colored conical cap, and round the neck a thong, to the
ends of which are hung two small pieces of ostrich-shell.
When the season of mourning is over, the tribe return,
headed by the chief, who goes to the grave of his father,
kneels over it, and whispers that he has returned, together
with the cattle and wives which his father gave him. He then
asks for his parent's aid in all his undertakings, and from
that moment takes the place which his father filled before
him. Cattle are then slaughtered, and a feast held to the
memory of the dead chief and in honor of the living one, and
each person present partakes of the meat, which is
distributed by the chief himself. The deceased chief
symbolically partakes of the banquet. A couple of twigs cut
from the tree of the particular eanda to which the deceased
belonged are considered as his representative, and with this
emblem each piece of meat is touched before the guests
consume it. In like manner, the first pail of milk that is
drawn is taken to the grave and poured over it.


Natural or artificial holes in the ground, caverns, and fissures in
rocks have been used as places of deposit for the dead since the
earliest periods of time, and are used up to the present day by not only
the American Indians, but by peoples noted for their mental elevation
and civilization, our cemeteries furnishing numerous specimens of
artificial or partly artificial caves. As to the motives which have
actuated this mode of burial, a discussion would be out of place at
this time, except as may incidentally relate to our own Indians, who, so
far as can be ascertained, simply adopt caves as ready and convenient
resting places for their deceased relatives and friends.

In almost every State in the Union burial caves have been discovered,
but as there is more or less of identity between them, a few
illustrations will serve the purpose of calling the attention of
observers to the subject.

While in the Territory of Utah, in 1872, the writer discovered a natural
cave not far from the House Range of mountains, the entrance to which
resembled the shaft of a mine. In this the Gosi-Ute Indians had
deposited their dead, surrounded with different articles, until it was
quite filled up; at least it so appeared from the cursory examination
made, limited time preventing a careful exploration. In the fall of the
same year another cave was heard of, from an Indian guide, near the
Nevada border, in the same Territory, and an attempt made to explore it,
which failed for reasons to be subsequently given. This Indian, a
Gosi-Ute, who was questioned regarding the funeral ceremonies of his
tribe, informed the writer that not far from the very spot where the
party were encamped, was a large cave in which he had himself assisted
in placing dead members of his tribe. He described it in detail and drew
a rough diagram of its position and appearance within. He was asked if
an entrance could be effected, and replied that he thought not, as some
years previous his people had stopped up the narrow entrance to prevent
game from seeking a refuge in its vast vaults, for he asserted that it
was so large and extended so far under ground that no man knew its full
extent. In consideration, however, of a very liberal bribe, after many
refusals, he agreed to act as guide. A rough ride of over an hour and
the desired spot was reached. It was found to be almost upon the apex of
a small mountain apparently of volcanic origin, for the hole which was
pointed out appeared to have been the vent of the crater. This entrance
was irregularly circular in form and descended at an angle. As the
Indian had stated, it was completely stopped up with large stones and
roots of sage brash, and it was only after six hours of uninterrupted,
faithful labor that the attempt to explore was abandoned. The guide was
asked if many bodies were therein, and replied "Heaps, heaps," moving
the hands upwards as far they could be stretched. There is no reason to
doubt the accuracy of the information received, as it was voluntarily

In a communication received from Dr. A.J. McDonald, physician to the
Los Pinos Indian Agency, Colorado, a description is given of crevice or
rock-fissure burial, which follows:

As soon as death takes place the event is at once announced
by the medicine man, and without loss of time the squaws are
busily engaged in preparing the corpse for the grave. This
does not take long; whatever articles of clothing may have
been on the body at the time of death are not removed. The
dead man's limbs are straightened out, his weapons of war
laid by his side, and his robes and blankets wrapped
securely and snugly around him, and now everything is ready
for burial. It is the custom to secure if possible, for the
purpose of wrapping up the corpse, the robes and blankets in
which the Indian died. At the same time that the body is
being fitted for internment, the squaws having immediate
care of it, together with all the other squaws in the
neighborhood, keep up a continued chant or dirge, the dismal
cadence of which may, when the congregation of women is
large, be heard for quite a long distance. The death song is
not a mere inarticulate howl of distress; it embraces
expressions eulogistic in character, but whether or not any
particular formula of words is adopted on such occasion is a
question which I am unable, with the materials at my
disposal, to determine with any degree of certainty.

The next duty falling to the lot of the squaws is that of
placing the dead man on a horse and conducting the remains
to the spot chosen for burial. This is in the cleft of a
rock, and, so far as can be ascertained, it has always been
customary among the Utes to select sepulchers of this
character. From descriptions given by Mr. Harris, who has
several times been fortunate enough to discover remains, it
would appear that no superstitious ideas are held by this
tribe with respect to the position in which the body is
placed, the space accommodation of the sepulcher probably
regulating this matter; and from the same source I learn
that it is not usual to find the remains of more than one
Indian deposited in one grave. After the body has been
received into the cleft, it is well covered with pieces of
rock, to protect it against the ravages of wild animals. The
chant ceases, the squaws disperse, and the burial ceremonies
are at an end. The men during all this time have not been
idle, though they have in no way participated in the
preparation of the body, have not joined the squaws in
chanting praises to the memory of the dead, and have not
even as mere spectators attended the funeral, yet they have
had their duties to perform. In conformity with a
long-established custom, all the personal property of the
deceased is immediately destroyed. His horses and his cattle
are shot, and his wigwam, furniture, &c., burned. The
performance of this part of the ceremonies is assigned to
the men; a duty quite in accord with their taste and
inclinations. Occasionally the destruction of horses and
other properly is of considerable magnitude, but usually
this is not the case, owing to a practice existing with them
of distributing their property among their children while
they are of a very tender age, retaining to themselves only
what is necessary to meet every-day requirements.

The widow "goes into mourning" by smearing her face with a
substance composed of pitch and charcoal. The application is
made but once, and is allowed to remain on until it wears
off. This is the only mourning observance of which I have
any knowledge.

The ceremonies observed on the death of a female are the
same as those in the case of a male, except that no
destruction of property takes place, and of course no
weapons are deposited with the corpse. Should a youth die
while under the superintendence of white men, the Indians
will not as a role have anything to do with the interment of
the body. In a case of the kind which occurred at this
agency some time ago, the squaws prepared the body in the
usual manner; the men of the tribe selected a spot for the
burial, and the employee at the agency, after digging a
grave and depositing the corpse therein, filled it up
according to the fashion of civilized people, and then at
the request of the Indians rolled large fragments of rocks
on top. Great anxiety was exhibited by the Indians to have
the employes perform the service as expeditiously as

Within the past year Ouray, the Ute chief living at the Los Pinos
agency, died and was buried, so far as could be ascertained, in a rock
fissure or cave 7 or 8 miles from the agency.

An interesting cave in Calaveras County, California, which had been used
for burial purposes, is thus described by Prof. J.D. Whitney:[27]

The following is an account of the cave from which the
skulls, now in the Smithsonian collection, were taken: It is
near the Stanislaus River, in Calaveras County, on a
nameless creek, about two miles from Abbey's Ferry, on the
road to Vallicito, at the house of Mr. Robinson. There were
two or three persons with me, who had been to the place
before and knew that the skulls in question were taken from
it. Their visit was some ten years ago, and since that the
condition of things in the cave has greatly changed. Owing
to some alteration in the road, mining operations, or some
other cause which I could not ascertain, there has
accumulated on the formerly clean stalagmitic floor of the
cave a thickness of some 20 feet of surface earth that
completely conceals the bottom, and which could not be
removed without considerable expense. This cave is about 27
feet deep at the mouth and 40 to 50 feet at the end, and
perhaps 30 feet in diameter. It is the general opinion of
those who have noticed this cave and saw it years ago that
it was a burying-place of the present Indians. Dr. Jones
said he found remains of bows and arrows and charcoal with
the skulls he obtained, and which were destroyed at the time
the village of Murphy's was burned. All the people spoke of
the skulls as lying on the surface and not as buried in the

The next description of cave burial, by W.H. Dall,[28] is so remarkable
that it seems worthy of admittance to this paper. It relates probably to
the Innuits of Alaska.

The earliest remains of man found in Alaska up to the time
of writing I refer to this epoch [Echinus layer of Dall].
There are some crania found by us in the lowermost part of
the Amaknak cave and a cranium obtained at Adakh, near the
anchorage in the Bay of Islands. These were deposited in a
remarkable manner, precisely similar to that adopted by most
of the continental Innuit, but equally different from the
modern Aleut fashion. At the Amaknak cave we found what at
first appeared to be a wooden inclosure, but which proved to
be made of the very much decayed supra-maxillary bones of
some large cetacean. These were arranged so as to form a
rude rectangular inclosure covered over with similar pieces
of bone. This was somewhat less than 4 feet long, 2 feet
wide, and 18 inches deep. The bottom was formed of flat
pieces of stone. Three such were found close together,
covered with and filled by an accumulation of fine vegetable
and organic mold. In each was the remains of a skeleton in
the last stages of decay. It had evidently been tied up in
the Innuit fashion to get it into its narrow house, but all
the bones, with the exception of the skull, were minced to a
soft paste, or even entirely gone. At Adakh a fancy prompted
me to dig into a small knoll near the ancient shell-heap, and
here we found, in a precisely similar sarcophagus, the
remains of a skeleton, of which also only the cranium
retained sufficient consistency to admit of preservation.
This inclosure, however, was filled with a dense peaty mass
not reduced to mold, the result of centuries of sphagnous
growth, which had reached a thickness of nearly 2 feet above
the remains. When we reflect upon the well-known slowness of
this kind of growth in these northern regions, attested by
numerous Arctic travelers, the antiquity of the remains
becomes evident.

It seems beyond doubt that in the majority of cases, especially as
regards the caves of the Western States and Territories, the interments
were primary ones, and this is likewise true of many of the caverns of
Ohio, Indiana, and Kentucky, for in the three States mentioned many
mummies have been found, but it is also likely that such receptacles
were largely used as places of secondary deposits. The many fragmentary
skeletons and loose bones found seem to strengthen this view.


Following and in connection with cave burial, the subject of mummifying
or embalming the dead may be taken up, as most specimens of the kind
have generally been found in such repositories.

It might be both interesting and instructive to search out and discuss
the causes which have led many nations or tribes to adopt certain
processes with a view to prevent that return to dust which all flesh
must sooner or later experience, but the necessarily limited scope of
this work precludes more than a brief mention of certain theories
advanced by writers of note, and which relate to the ancient Egyptians.
Possibly at the time the Indians of America sought to preserve their
dead from decomposition, some such ideas may have animated them, but on
this point no definite information has been procured. In the final
volume an effort will be made to trace out the origin of mummification
among the Indians and aborigines of this continent.

The Egyptians embalmed, according to Cassien, because during the time of
the annual inundation no interments could take place, but it is more
than likely that this hypothesis is entirely fanciful. It is said by
others they believed that so long as the body was preserved from
corruption the soul remained in it. Herodotus states that it was to
prevent bodies from becoming a prey to animal voracity. "They did not
inter them," says he, "for fear of their being eaten by worms; nor did
they burn, considering fire as a ferocious beast, devouring everything
which it touched." According to Diodorus of Sicily, embalmment
originated in filial piety and respect. De Maillet, however, in his
tenth letter on Egypt, attributes it entirely to a religious belief,
insisted upon by the wise men and priests, who taught their disciples
that after a certain number of cycles, of perhaps thirty or forty
thousand years, the entire universe became as it was at birth, and the
souls of the dead returned into the same bodies in which they had lived,
provided that the body remained free from corruption, and that
sacrifices were freely offered as oblations to the manes of the
deceased. Considering the great care taken to preserve the dead, and the
ponderously solid nature of the Egyptian tombs, it is not surprising
that this theory has obtained many believers. M. Gannal believes
embalmment to have been suggested by the affectionate sentiments of our
nature--a desire to preserve as long as possible the mortal remains of
loved ones; but MM. Volney and Pariset think it was intended to obviate,
in hot climates especially, danger from pestilence, being primarily a
cheap and simple process, elegance and luxury coming later; and the
Count de Caylus states the idea of embalmment was derived from the
finding of desiccated bodies which the burning sands of Egypt had
hardened and preserved. Many other suppositions have arisen, but it is
thought the few given above are sufficient to serve as an introduction
to embalmment in North America.

From the statements of the older writers on North American Indians, it
appears that mummifying was resorted to, among certain tribes of
Virginia, the Carolinas, and Florida, especially for people of
distinction, the process in Virginia for the kings, according to
Beverly,[29] being as follows:

The _Indians_ are religious in preserving the Corpses of
their Kings and Rulers after Death, which they order in the
following manner: First, they neatly flay off the Skin as
entire as they can, slitting it only in the Back; then they
pick all the Flesh off from the Bones as clean as possible,
leaving the Sinews fastned to the Bones, that they may
preserve the Joints together; then they dry the Bones in the
Sun, and put them into the Skin again, which in the mean
time has been kept from drying or shrinking; when the Bones
are placed right in the Skin, they nicely fill up the
Vacuities, with a very fine white Sand. After this they sew
up the Skin again, and the Body looks as if the Flesh had
not been removed. They take care to keep the Skin from
shrinking, by the help of a little Oil or Grease, which
saves it also from Corruption. The Skin being thus prepar'd,
they lay it in an apartment for that purpose, upon a large
Shelf rais'd above the Floor. This Shelf is spread with
Mats, for the Corpse to rest easy on, and skreened with the
same, to keep it from the Dust. The Flesh they lay upon
Hurdles in the Sun to dry, and when it is thoroughly dried,
it is sewed up in a Basket, and set at the Feet of the
Corpse, to which it belongs. In this place also they set up
a _Quioccos_, or Idol, which they believe will be a Guard to
the Corpse. Here Night and Day one or the other of the
Priests must give his Attendance, to take care of the dead
Bodies. So great an Honour and Veneration have these
ignorant and unpolisht People for their Princes even after
they are dead.

It should be added that, in the writer's opinion, this account and
others like it are somewhat apocryphal, and it has been copied and
recopied a score of times.

According to Pinkerton,[30] who took the account from Smith's Virginia,
the Werowance of Virginia preserved their dead as follows:

In their Temples they have his [their chief God, the
Devil's] image euill favouredly carved, and then painted
and adorned with chaines of copper, and beads, and covered
with a skin, in such manner as the deformitie may well suit
with such a God. By him is commonly the sepulchre of their
Kings. Their bodies are first bowelled, then dried upon
hurdles till they be very dry, and so about the most of
their ioynts and necke they hang bracelets, or chaines of
copper, pearle, and such like, as they use to wear. Their
inwards they stuffe with copper beads, hatchets, and such
trash. Then lappe they them very carefully in white skins,
and so rowle them in mats for their winding-sheets. And in
the Tombe, which is an arch made of mats, they lay them
orderly. What remaineth of this kind of wealth their Kings
have, they set at their feet in baskets. These temples and
bodies are kept by their Priests.

For their ordinary burials, they dig a deepe hole in the
earth with sharpe stakes, and the corpse being lapped in
skins and mats with their Jewels they lay them upon stickes
in the ground, and so cover them with earth. The buriale
ended, the women being painted all their faces with blacke
cole and oyle doe sit twenty-foure houres in the houses
mourning and lamenting by turnes with such yelling and
howling as may expresse their great passions. * * *

Upon the top of certain red sandy hills in the woods there
are three great houses filled with images of their Kings and
devils and the tombes of their predecessors. Those houses
are near sixty feet in length, built harbourwise after their
building. This place they count so holey as that but the
priests and Kings dare come into them; nor the savages dare
not go up the river in boates by it, but that they solemnly
cast some piece of copper, white beads or pocones into the
river for feare their Okee should be offended and revenged
of them.

They think that their Werowances and priests which they also
esteeme quiyough-cosughs, when they are deade doe goe beyond
the mountains towards the setting of the sun, and ever
remain there in form of their Okee, with their bedes paynted
rede with oyle and pocones, finely trimmed with feathers,
and shall have beads, hatchets, copper, and tobacco, doing
nothing but dance and sing with all their predecessors. But
the common people they suppose shall not live after deth,
but rot in their graves like dede dogges.

This is substantially the same account as has been given on a former
page, the verbiage differing slightly, and the remark regarding
truthfulness will apply to it as well as to the other.

Figure 1 may again be referred to as an example of the dead-house

The Congaree or Santee Indians of South Carolina, according to Lawson,
used a process of partial embalmment, as will be seen from the subjoined
extract from Schoolcraft;[31] but instead of laying away the remains in
caves, placed them in boxes supported above the ground by crotched

The manner of their interment is thus: A mole or pyramid of
earth is raised, the mould thereof being worked very smooth
and even, sometimes higher or lower according to the dignity
of the person whose monument it is. On the top thereof is an
umbrella, made ridgeways, like the roof of a house. This in
supported by nine stakes or small posts, the grave being
about 6 to 8 feet in length and 4 feet in breadth, about
which is hung gourds, feathers, and other such like
trophies, placed there by the dead man's relations in
respect to him in the grave. The other parts of the funeral
rites are thus: As soon as the party is dead they lay the
corpse upon a piece of bark in the sun, seasoning or
embalming it with a small root beaten to powder, which looks
as red as vermillion; the same is mixed with bear's oil to
beautify the hair. After the carcass has laid a day or two
in the sun they remove it and lay it upon crotches cut on
purpose for the support thereof from the earth; then they
anoint it all over with the aforementioned ingredients of
the powder of this root and bear's oil. When it is so done
they cover it over very exactly with the bark or pine of the
cypress tree to prevent any rain to fall upon it, sweeping
the ground very clean all about it. Some of his nearest of
kin brings all the temporal estate he was possessed of at
his death, as guns, bows and arrows, beads, feathers,
match-coat, &c. This relation is the chief mourner, being
clad in moss, with a stick in his hand, keeping a mournful
ditty for three or four days, his face being black with the
smoke of pitch pine mixed with bear's oil. All the while he
tells the dead man's relations and the rest of the
spectators who that dead person was, and of the great feats
performed in his lifetime, all that he speaks tending to the
praise of the defunct. As soon as the flesh grows mellow and
will cleave from the bone they get it off and burn it,
making the bones very clean, then anoint them with the
ingredients aforesaid, wrapping up the skull (very
carefully) in a cloth artificially woven of opossum's hair.
The bones they carefully preserve in a wooden box, every
year oiling and cleansing them. By these means they preserve
them for many ages, that you may see an Indian in possession
of the bones of his grandfather or some of his relations of
a longer antiquity. They have other sorts of tombs, as when
an Indian is slain in that very place they make a heap of
stones (or sticks where stones are not to be found); to this
memorial every Indian that passes by adds a stone to augment
the heap in respect to the deceased hero. The Indians make a
roof of light wood or pitch-pine over the graves of the
more distinguished, covering it with bark and then with
earth, leaving the body thus in a subterranean vault until
the flesh quits the bones. The bones are then taken up,
cleaned, jointed, clad in white-dressed deerskins, and laid
away in the _Quiogozon_, which is the royal tomb or
burial-place of their kings and war-captains, being a more
magnificent cabin reared at the public expense. This
Quiogozon is an object of veneration, in which the writer
says he has known the king, old men, and conjurers to spend
several days with their idols and dead kings, and into which
he could never gain admittance.

Another class of mummies are those which have been found in the
saltpetre and other caves of Kentucky, and it is still a matter of doubt
with archaeologists whether any special pains were taken to preserve
these bodies, many believing that the impregnation of the soil with
certain minerals would account for the condition in which the specimens
were found. Charles Wilkins[32] thus describes one:

* * * An exsiccated body of a female[33] * * * was found at
the depth of about 10 feet from the surface of the cave
bedded in clay strongly impregnated with nitre, placed in a
sitting posture, incased in broad stones standing on their
edges, with a flat atone covering the whole. It was
enveloped in coarse clothes, * * * the whole wrapped in
deer-skins, the hair of which was shaved off in the manner
in which the Indians prepare them for market. Enclosed in
the stone coffin were the working utensils, beads, feathers,
and other ornaments of dress which belonged to her.

The next description is by Dr. Samuel L. Mitchill.[34]

AUG. 24TH, 1815.

Dear Sir: I offer you some observations on a curious piece
of American antiquity now in New York. It is a human body:
found in one of the limestone caverns of Kentucky. It is a
perfect desiccation; all the fluids are dried up. The skin,
bones, and other firm parts are in a state of entire
preservation. I think it enough to have puzzled Bryant and
all the archaeologists.

This was found in exploring a calcareous cave in the
neighborhood of Glasgow for saltpetre.

These recesses, though under ground, are yet dry enough to
attract and retain the nitrick acid. It combines with lime
and potash; and probably the earthy matter of these
excavations contains a good proportion of calcareous
carbonate. Amidst them drying and antiseptick ingredients,
it may be conceived that putrefaction would be stayed, and
the solids preserved from decay. The outer envelope of the
body is a deer-skin, probably dried in the usual way, and
perhaps softened before its application by rubbing. The next
covering is a deer's skin, whose hair had been cut away by a
sharp instrument resembling a batter's knife. The remnant of
the hair and the gashes in the skin nearly resemble a
sheared pelt of beaver. The next wrapper is of cloth made of
twine doubled and twisted. But the thread does not appear to
have been formed by the wheel, nor the web by the loom. The
warp and filling seem to have been crossed and knotted by an
operation like that of the fabricks of the northwest coast,
and of the Sandwich Islands. Such a botanist as the lamented
Muhlenbergh could determine the plant which furnished the
fibrous material.

The innermost tegument is a mantle of cloth, like the
preceding, but furnished with large brown feathers, arranged
and fashioned with great art, so as to be capable of
guarding the living wearer from wet and cold. The plumage is
distinct and entire, and the whole bears a near similitude
to the feathery cloaks now worn by the nations of the
northwestern coast of America. A Wilson might tell from what
bird they were derived.

The body is in a squatting posture, with the right arm
reclining forward, and its hand encircling the right leg.
The left arm hangs down, with its hand inclined partly under
the seat. The individual, who was a male, did not probably
exceed the age of fourteen at his death. There is near the
oociput a deep and extensive fracture of the skull, which
probably killed him. The skin has sustained little injury;
it is of a dusky colour, but the natural hue cannot be
decided with exactness, from its present appearance. The
scalp, with small exceptions, is covered with sorrel or
foxey hair. The teeth are white and sound. The hands and
feet, in their shrivelled state, are slender and delicate.
All this is worthy the investigation of our acute and
perspicacious colleague, Dr. Holmes.

There is nothing bituminous or aromatic in or about the
body, like the Egyptian mummies, nor are there bandages
around any part. Except the several wrappers, the body is
totally naked. There is no sign of a suture or incision
about the belly; whence it seems that the viscera were not

It may now be expected that I should offer some opinion as
to the antiquity and race of this singular exsiccation.

First, then, I am satisfied that it does not belong to that
class of white men of which we are members.

2dly. Nor do I believe that it ought to be referred to the
bands of Spanish adventurers, who, between the years 1500
and 1600, rambled up the Mississippi, and along its
tributary streams. But on this head I should like to know
the opinion of my learned and sagacious friend, Noah

3dly. I am equally obliged to reject the opinion that it
belonged to any of the tribes of aborigines, now or lately
inhabiting Kentucky.

4thly. The mantle of the feathered work, and the mantle of
twisted threads, so nearly resemble the fabricks of the
indigines of Wakash and the Pacifick Islands, that I refer
this individual to that era of time, and that generation of
men, which preceded the Indians of the Green River, and of
the place where these relicks were found. This conclusion is
strengthened by the consideration that such manufactures are
not prepared by the actual and resident red men of the
present day. If the Abbe Clavigero had had this case before
him, he would have thought of the people who constructed
those ancient forts and mounds, whose exact history no man
living can give. But I forbear to enlarge; my intention
being merely to manifest my respect to the society for
having enrolled me among its members, and to invite the
attention of its Antiquarians to further inquiry on a
subject of such curiousity.

With respect, I remain yours,


It would appear, from recent researches on the Northwest coast, that the
natives of that region embalmed their dead with much care, as may be
seen from the work recently published by W.H. Dall,[35] the description
of the mummies being as follows:

We found the dead disposed of in various ways; first, by
interment in their compartments of the communal dwelling, as
already described; second, by being laid on a rude platform
of drift-wood or stones in some convenient rock shelter.
These lay on straw and moss, covered by matting, and rarely
have either implements, weapons, or carvings associated with
them. We found only three or four specimens in all in these
places, of which we examined a great number. This was
apparently the more ancient form of disposing of the dead,
and one which more recently was still pursued in the case of
poor or unpopular individuals.

Lastly, in comparatively modern times, probably within a few
centuries, and up to the historic period (1740), another
mode was adopted for the wealthy, popular, or more
distinguished class. The bodies were eviscerated, cleansed
from fatty matters in running water, dried, and usually
placed in suitable cases in wrappings of fur and fine grass
matting. The body was usually doubled up into the smallest
compass, and the mummy case, especially in the case of
children, was usually suspended (so as not to touch the
ground) in some convenient rock shelter. Sometimes, however,
the prepared body was placed in a lifelike position, dressed
and armed. They were placed as if engaged in some congenial
occupation, such as hunting, fishing, sewing, &c. With them
were also placed effigies of the animals they were pursuing,
while the hunter was dressed in his wooden armor and
provided with an enormous mask all ornamented with feathers,
and a countless variety of wooden pendants, colored in gay
patterns. All the carvings were of wood, the weapons even
were only fac-similes in wood of the original articles.
Among the articles represented were drums, rattles, dishes,
weapons, effigies of men, birds, fish, and animals, wooden
armor of rods or scales of wood, and remarkable masks, so
arranged that the wearer when erect could only see the
ground at his feet. These were worn at their religious
dances from an idea that a spirit which was supposed to
animate a temporary idol was fatal to whoever might look
upon it while so occupied. An extension of the same idea led
to the masking of those who had gone into the land of

The practice of preserving the bodies of those belonging to
the whaling class--a custom peculiar to the Kadiak
Innuit--has erroneously been confounded with the one now
described. The latter included women as well as men, and all
those whom the living desired particularly to honor. The
whalers, however, only preserved the bodies of males, and
they were not associated with the paraphernalia of those I
have described. Indeed, the observations I have been able to
make show the bodies of the whalers to have been preserved
with stone weapons and actual utensils instead of effigies,
and with the meanest apparel, and no carvings of
consequence. These details, and those of many other customs
and usages of which the shell heaps bear no testimony * * *
do not come within my line.

Figure 5, copied from Dall, represents the Alaskan mummies.

Martin Sauer, secretary to Billings' Expedition,[36] speaks of the
Aleutian Islanders embalming their dead, as follows:

They pay respect, however, to the memory of the dead, for
they embalm the bodies of the men with dried moss and grass;
bury them in their best attire, in a sitting posture, in a
strong box, with their darts and instruments; and decorate
the tomb with various coloured mats, embroidery, and
paintings. With women, indeed, they use less ceremony. A
mother will keep a dead child thus embalmed in their hut for
some months, constantly wiping it dry; and they bury it when
it begins to smell, or when they get reconciled to parting
with it.

Regarding these same people, a writer in the San Francisco Bulletin
gives this account:

The schooner William Sutton, belonging to the Alaska
Commercial Company, has arrived from the seal islands of the
company with the mummified remains of Indians who lived on
an island north of Ounalaska one hundred and fifty years
ago. This contribution to science was secured by Captain
Henning, an agent of the company who has long resided at
Ounalaska. In his transactions with the Indians he learned
that tradition among the Aleuts assigned Kagamale, the
island in question, as the last resting-place of a great
chief, known as Karkhayahouchak. Last year the captain was
in the neighborhood of Kagamale in quest of sea-otter and
other furs, and he bore up for the island, with the
intention of testing the truth of the tradition he had
heard. He had more difficulty in entering the cave than in
finding it, his schooner having to beat on and off shore for
three days. Finally he succeeded in affecting a landing, and
clambering up the rocks he found himself in the presence of
the dead chief, his family and relatives.

The cave smelt strongly of hot sulphurous vapors. With great
care the mummies were removed, and all the little trinkets
and ornaments scattered around were also taken away.

In all there are eleven packages of bodies. Only two or
three have as yet been opened. The body of the chief is
inclosed in a large basket-like structure, about four feet
in height. Outside the wrappings are finely wrought
sea-grass matting, exquisitely close in texture, and skins.
At the bottom is a broad hoop or basket of thinly cut wood,
and adjoining the center portions are pieces of body armor
composed of reeds bound together. The body is covered with
the fine skin of the sea-otter, always a mark of distinction
in the interments of the Aleuts, and round the whole package
are stretched the meshes of a fish-net, made of the sinews
of the sea lion; also those of a bird-net. There are
evidently some bulky articles inclosed with the chief's
body, and the whole package differs very much from the
others, which more resemble, in their brown-grass matting,
consignments of crude sugar from the Sandwich Islands than
the remains of human beings. The bodies of a pappoose and of
a very little child, which probably died at birth or soon
after it, have sea-otter skins around them. One of the feet
of the latter projects, with a toe-nail visible. The
remaining mummies are of adults.

One of the packages has been opened, and it reveals a man's
body in tolerable preservation, but with a large portion of
the face decomposed. This and the other bodies were doubled
up at death by severing some of the muscles at the hip and
knee joints and bending the limbs downward horizontally upon
the trunk. Perhaps the most peculiar package, next to that
of the chief, is one which incloses in a single matting,
with sea-lion skins, the bodies of a man and woman. The
collection also embraces a couple of skulls, male and
female, which have still the hair attached to the scalp. The
hair has changed its color to a brownish red. The relics
obtained with the bodies include a few wooden vessels
scooped out smoothly: a piece of dark, greenish, flat stone,
harder than the emerald, which the Indians use to tan skins;
a scalp-lock of jet-black hair; a small rude figure, which
may have been a very ugly doll or an idol; two or three tiny
carvings in ivory of the sea-lion, very neatly executed; a
comb, a necklet made of bird's claws inserted into one
another, and several specimens of little bags, and a cap
plaited out of sea-grass and almost water-tight.

In Cary's translation of Herodotus (1853, p. 180) the following passage
occurs which purports to describe the manner in which the Macrobrian
Ethiopians preserved their dead. It is added, simply as a matter of
curious interest, nothing more, for no remains so preserved have ever
been discovered.

After this, they visited last of all their sepulchres, which
are said to be prepared from crystal in the following
manner. When they have dried the body, either as the
Egyptians do, or in some other way, they plaster it all over
with gypsum, and paint it, making it as much as possible
resemble real life; they then put round it a hollow column
made of crystal, which they dig up in abundance, and is
easily wrought. The body being in the middle of the column
is plainly seen, nor does it emit an unpleasant smell, nor
is it in any way offensive, and it is all visible as the
body itself. The nearest relations keep the column in their
houses for a year, offering to it the first-fruits of all,
and performing sacrifices; after that time they carry it out
and place it somewhere near the city.

NOTE.--The Egyptian mummies could only be seen in front, the
back being covered by a box or coffin; the Ethiopian bodies
could be seen all round, as the column of glass was

With the foregoing examples as illustration, the matter of embalmment
may be for the present dismissed, with the advice to observers that
particular care should be taken, in case mummies are discovered, to
ascertain whether the bodies have been submitted to a regular
preservative process, or owe their protection to ingredients in the soil
of their graves or to desiccation in arid districts.


To close the subject of subterranean burial proper, the following
account of urn-burial in Foster[37] may be added:

Urn-burial appears to have been practiced to some extent by
the mound-builders, particularly in some of the Southern
States. In the mounds on the Wateree River, near Camden,
S.C., according to Dr. Blanding, ranges of vases, one above
the other, filled with human remains, were found. Sometimes
when the mouth of the vase is small the skull is placed with
the face downward in the opening, constituting a sort of
cover. Entire cemeteries have been found in which urn-burial
alone seems to have been practiced. Such a one was
accidentally discovered not many years since in Saint
Catherine's Island, off the coast of Georgia. Professor
Swallow informs me that from a mound at New Madrid, Mo., he
obtained a human skull inclosed in an earthen jar, the lips
of which were too small to admit of its extraction. It must
therefore have been molded on the head after death.

A similar mode of burial was practiced by the Chaldeans,
where the funeral jars often contain a human cranium much
too expanded to admit of the possibility of its passing out
of it, so that either the clay must have been modeled over
the corpse, and then baked, or the neck of the jar must have
been added subsequently to the other rites of interment.[38]

It is with regret that the writer feels obliged to differ from the
distinguished author of the work quoted regarding urn-burial, for
notwithstanding that it has been employed by some of the Central and
Southern American tribes, it is not believed to have been customary, but
_to a very limited extent_, in North America, except as a secondary
interment. He must admit that he himself has found bones in urns or
ollas in the graves of New Mexico and California, but under
circumstances that would seem to indicate a deposition long subsequent
to death. In the graves of the ancient peoples of California a number of
ollas were found in long used burying places, and it is probable that as
the bones were dug up time and again for new burials they were simply
tossed into pots, which were convenient receptacles, or it may have been
that bodies were allowed to repose in the earth long enough for the
fleshy parts to decay, and the bones were then collected, placed in
urns, and reinterred. Dr. E. Foreman, of the Smithsonian Institution,
furnishes the following account of urns used for burial:

I would call your attention to an earthenware burial-urn and
cover, Nos. 27976 and 27977, National Museum, but very
recently received from Mr. William McKinley, of
Milledgeville, Ga. It was exhumed on his plantation, ten
miles below that city, on the bottom lands of the Oconee
River, now covered with almost impassible canebrakes, tall
grasses, and briers. We had a few months ago from the same
source one of the covers, of which the ornamentation was
different but more entire. A portion of a similar cover has
been received also from Chattanooga, Tenn. Mr. McKinley
ascribes the use of these urns and covers to the Muscogees,
a branch of the Creek Nation.

These urns are made of baked clay, and are shaped somewhat like the
ordinary steatite ollas found in the California coast graves, but the
bottoms instead of being round run down to a sharp apex; on the top was
a cover, the upper part of which also terminated in an apex, and around
the border, near where it rested on the edge of the vessel, are indented
scroll ornamentations.

The burial urns of New Mexico are thus described by E.A. Barber:[39]

Burial-urns * * * comprise vessels or ollas without handles,
for cremation, usually being from 10 to 15 inches in height,
with broad, open mouths, and made of coarse clay, with a
laminated exterior (partially or entirely ornamented).
Frequently the indentations extend simply around the neck or
rim, the lower portion being plain.

So far as is known, up to the present time no burial-urns have been
found in North America resembling those discovered in Nicaragua by Dr.
J.C. Bransford, U.S.N., but it is quite within the range of possibility
that future researches in regions not far distant from that which he
explored may reveal similar treasures. Figure 6 represents different
forms of burial-urns, _a_, _b_, and _e_, after Foster, are from Laporte,
Ind. _f_, after Foster, is from Greenup County, Kentucky; _d_ is from
Milledgeville, Ga., in Smithsonian collection, No. 27976; and _c_ is one
of the peculiar shoe-shaped urns brought from Ometepec Island, Lake
Nicaragua, by Surgeon J.C. Bransford, U.S.N.


This mode of interment was practiced to only a limited extent, so far as
can be discovered, and it is quite probable that in most cases it was
employed as a temporary expedient when the survivors were pressed for
time. The Seminoles of Florida are said to have buried in hollow trees,
the bodies being placed in an upright position, occasionally the dead
being crammed into a hollow log lying on the ground. With some of the
Eastern tribes a log was split in half and hollowed out sufficiently
large to contain the corpse; it was then lashed together with withes and
permitted to remain where it was originally placed. In some cases a pen
was built over and around it. This statement is corroborated by R.S.
Robertson, of Fort Wayne, Ind., who states, in a communication received
in 1877, that the Miamis practiced surface burial in two different ways:

* * * 1st. The surface burial in hollow logs. These have
been found in heavy forests. Sometimes a tree has been split
and the two halves hollowed out to receive the body, when it
was either closed with withes or confined to the ground with
crossed stakes; and sometimes a hollow tree is used by
closing the ends.

2d. Surface burial where the body was covered by a small pen
of logs laid up as we build a cabin, but drawing in every
course until they meet in a single log at the top.

The writer has recently received from Prof, C. Engelhardt, of Copenhagen,
Denmark, a brochure describing the oak coffins of Borum-Aesshoei. From an
engraving in this volume it would appear that the manner employed by the
ancient Danes of hollowing out logs for coffins has its analogy among
the North American Indians.

Romantically conceived, and carried out to the fullest possible extent
in accordance with the ante mortem wishes of the dead, were the
obsequies of Blackbird, the great chief of the Omahas. The account is
given by George Catlin:[40]

He requested them to take his body down the river to this
his favorite haunt, and on the pinnacle of this towering
bluff to bury him on the back of his favorite war-horse,
which was to be buried alive under him, from whence he could
see, as he said, "the Frenchmen passing up and down the
river in their boats." He owned, amongst many horses, a
noble white steed, that was led to the top of the
grass-covered hill, and with great pomp and ceremony, in the
presence of the whole nation and several of the fur-traders
and the Indian agent, he was placed astride of his horse's
back, with his bow in his hand, and his shield and quiver
slung, with his pipe and his medicine bag, with his supply
of dried meat, and his tobacco-pouch replenished to last him
through the journey to the beautiful hunting grounds of the
shades of his fathers, with his flint, his steel, and his
tinder to light his pipe by the way; the scalps he had taken
from his enemies' heads could be trophies for nobody else,
and were hung to the bridle of his horse. He was in full
dress, and fully equipped, and on his head waved to the last
moment his beautiful head-dress of the war-eagles' plumes.
In this plight, and the last funeral honors having been
performed by the medicine-men, every warrior of his band
painted the palm and fingers of his right hand with
vermillion, which was stamped and perfectly impressed on the
milk-white sides of his devoted horse. This all done, turfs
were brought and placed around the feet and legs of the
horse, and gradually laid up to its sides, and at last over
the back and head of the unsuspecting animal, and last of
all over the head and even the eagle plumes of its valiant
rider, where all together have smouldered and remained
undisturbed to the present day.

Figure 7, after Schoolcraft, represents an Indian burial-ground on a
high bluff of the Missouri River.

According to the Rev. J.G. Wood,[41] the Obongo, an African tribe,
buried their dead in a manner similar to that which has been stated of
the Seminoles:

When an Obongo dies it is usual to take the body to a hollow
tree in the forest and drop it into the hollow, which is
afterwards filled to the top with earth, leaves, and

M. de la Potherie[42]--gives an account of surface burial as practiced
by the Iroquois of New York:

Quand ce malade est mort, on le met sur son seant, on oint
ses cheveux et tout son corps d'huile d'animaux, on lui
applique du vermillon sur le visage; on lui met toutes
sortes de beaux plumages de la rassade de la porcelaine et
on le pare des plus beaux habits que l'on peut trouver,
pendant que les parens et des vieilles continuent toujours a
pleurer. Cette ceremonie finie, les alliez apportent
plusieurs presens. Les uns sont pour essuyer les larmes et
les autres pour servir de matelas au defunt, on en destine
certains pour couvrir la fosse, de peur, disent-ils, que la
plague ne l'incommode, on y etend fort proprement des peaux
d'ours et de chevreuils qui lui servent de lit, et on lui
met ses ajustemens avec un sac de farine de bled d'Inde, de
la viande, sa cuilliere generalement tout ce qu'il faut a un
homme qui veut faire un long voyage, avec toux les presens
qui lui ont ete faits a sa mort, et s'il a ete guerrier on
lui donne ses armes pour s'en servir au pais des morts. L'on
couvre ensuite ce cadavre d'ecorce d'arbres sur lesqelles on
jette de la terre et quantite de pierres, et on l'entoure de
pierres pour empecher que les animaux ne le deterrent. Ces
sortes de funerailles ne se font que dans leur village.
Lorsqu'ils meurent en campagne on les met dans un cercueil
d'ecorce, entre les branches des arbres ou on les eleve sur
quatre pilliers.

On observe ces memes funerailles aux femmes et aux filles.
Tous ceux qui ont assiste aux obseques profitent de toute la
depouille du defunt et s'il n'avoit rien, les parens y
supleent. Ainsi ils ne pleurent pas en vain. Le deuil
consiste a ne se point couper ni graisser les cheveux et de
se tenir neglige sans aucune parure, couverts de mechantes
hardes. Le pere et la mere portent le deuil de leur fils. Si
le pere meurt les garcons le portent, et les filles de leur

Dr. P. Gregg, of Rock Island, Illinois, has been kind enough to forward
to the writer an interesting work by J.V. Spencer,[43] containing
annotations by himself. He gives the following account of surface and
partial surface burial occurring among the Sacs and Foxes formerly
inhabiting Illinois:

Black Hawk was placed upon the ground in a sitting posture,
his hands grasping his cane. They usually made a shallow
hole in the ground, setting the body in up to the waist, so
the most of the body was above ground. The part above ground
was then covered by a buffalo robe, and a trench about eight
feet square was then dug about the grave. In this trench
they set picketing about eight feet high, which secured the
grave against wild animals. When I first came here there
were quite a number of these high picketings still standing
where their chiefs had been buried, and the body of a chief
was disposed of in this way while I lived near their
village. The common mode of burial was to dig a shallow
grave, wrap the body in a blanket, place it in the grave,
and fill it nearly full of dirt; then take split sticks
about three feet long and stand them in the grave so that
their tops would come together in the form of a roof; then
they filled in more earth so as to hold the sticks in place.
I saw a father and mother start out alone to bury their
child about a year old; they carried it by tieing it up in a
blanket and putting a long stick through the blanket, each
taking an end of the stick.

I have also seen the dead bodies placed in trees. This is
done by digging a trough out of a log, placing the body in
it, and covering it. I have seen several bodies in one tree.
I think when they are disposed of in this way it is by
special request, as I knew of an Indian woman who lived with
a white family who desired her body placed in a tree, which
was accordingly done.[44] Doubtless there was some peculiar
superstition attached to this mode, though I do not remember
to have heard what it was.

Judge H. Welch[45] states that "the Sauks, Foxes, and Pottawatomies
buried by setting the body on the ground and building a pen around it of
sticks or logs. I think the bodies lay heads to the east." And C.C.
Baldwin, of Cleveland, Ohio, sends a more detailed account, as follows:

I was some time since in Seneca County and there met Judge
Welch. * * * In 1824 he went with his father-in-law, Judge
Gibson, to Fort Wayne. On the way they passed the grave of
an Ottawa or Pottawatomie chief. The body lay on the ground
covered with notched poles. It had been there but a few days
and the worms were crawling around the body. My special
interest in the case was the accusation of witchcraft
against a young squaw who was executed for killing him by
her arts. In the Summit County mounds there were only parts
of skeletons with charcoal and ashes, showing they had been

W.A. Brice[46] mentions a curious variety of surface burial not
heretofore met with:

And often had been seen, years ago, swinging from the bough
of a tree, or in a hammock stretched between two trees, the
infant of the Indian mother; or a few little log inclosures,
where the bodies of adults sat upright, with all their
former apparel wrapped about them, and their trinkets,
tomahawks, &c., by their side, could be seen at any time for
many years by the few pale-faces visiting or sojourning

A method of interment so closely allied to surface burial that it may be
considered under that head is the one employed by some of the Ojibways
and Swampy Crees of Canada. A small cavity is scooped out, the body
deposited therein, covered with a little dirt, the mound thus formed
being covered either with split planks, poles, or birch bark.

Prof. Henry Youle Hind, who was in charge of the Canadian Red River
exploring expedition of 1858, has been good enough to forward to the
Bureau of Ethnology two photographs representing the variety of grave,
which he found 15 or 20 miles from the present town of Winnipeg, and
they are represented in the woodcuts, Figures 8 and 9.


The next mode of interment to be considered is that of cairn or rock
burial, which has prevailed and is still common to a considerable extent
among the tribes living in the Rocky Mountains and the Sierra Nevadas.

In the summer of 1872 the writer visited one of these rock cemeteries in
Middle Utah, which had been used for a period not exceeding fifteen or
twenty years. It was situated at the bottom of a rock slide, upon the
side of an almost inaccessible mountain, in a position so carefully
chosen for concealment that it would have been almost impossible to find
it without a guide. Several of the graves were opened, and found to have
been constructed in the following manner: A number of bowlders had been
removed from the bed of the slide until a sufficient cavity had been
obtained; this was lined with skins, the corpse placed therein, with
weapons, ornaments, &c., and covered over with saplings of the mountain
aspen; on the top of these the removed bowlders were piled, forming a
huge cairn, which appeared large enough to have marked the last resting
place of an elephant. In the immediate vicinity of the graves were
scattered the osseous remains of a number of horses which had been
sacrificed, no doubt, during the funeral ceremonies. In one of the
graves, said to contain the body of a chief, in addition to a number of
articles useful and ornamental, were found parts of the skeleton of a
boy, and tradition states that a captive boy was buried alive at this

From Dr. O.G. Given, physician to the Kiowa and Comanche Agency, Indian
Territory, the following description of burial ceremonies was received.
According to this gentleman the Kiowas call themselves _Kaw-a-w[=a]h_, the
Comanches _Nerm_, and the Apaches _T[=a]h-zee_.

They bury in the ground or in crevices of rocks. They do not
seem to have any particular rule with regard to the
position. Sometimes prone, sometimes supine, but always
decumbent. They select a place where the grave is easily
prepared, which they do with such implements as they chance
to have, viz, a squaw-axe, or hoe. If they are traveling,
the grave is often very hastily prepared and not much time
is spent in finishing. I was present at the burial of Black
Hawk, an Apache chief, some two years ago, and took the body
in my light wagon up the side of a mountain to the place of
burial. They found a crevice in the rocks about four feet
wide and three feet deep. By filling in loose rocks at
either end they made a very nice tomb. The body was then put
in face downwards, short sticks were put across, resting on
projections of rock at the sides, brush was thrown on this,
and flat rocks laid over the whole of it.

The body of the deceased is dressed in the best clothing,
together with all the ornaments most admired by the person
when living. The face is painted with any colored paint they
may have, mostly red and yellow, as I have observed. The
body is then wrapped in skins, blankets, or domestic, with
the hands laid across the breast, and the legs placed upon
the thighs. They put into the grave their guns, bows and
arrows, tobacco, and if they have it a blanket, moccasins,
and trinkets of various kinds. One or more horses are killed
over or near the grave. Two horses and a mule were killed
near Black Hawk's grave. They were led up near and shot in
the head. At the death of a Comanche chief, some years ago,
I am told about seventy horses were killed, and a greater
number than that were said to have been killed at the death
of a prominent Kiowa chief a few years since.

The mourning is principally done by the relatives and
immediate friends, although any one of their own tribe, or
one of another tribe, who chances to be passing, will stop
and moan with the relatives. Their mourning consists in a
weird wail, which to be described must be heard, and once
heard is never forgotten, together with the scarifying of
their faces, arms, and legs with some sharp instrument, the
cutting off of the hair, and oftentimes the cutting off of a
joint of a finger, usually the little finger (Comanches do
not cut off fingers). The length of time and intensity of
their mourning depends upon the relation and position of the
deceased in the tribe. I have known instances where, if they
should be passing along where any of their friends had died,
even a year after their death, they would mourn.

The Shoshones, of Nevada, generally concealed their dead beneath heaps
of rocks, according to H. Butterfield, of Tyho, Nye County, Nevada,
although occasionally they either burn or bury them. He gives as reasons
for rock burial: 1st, to prevent coyotes eating the corpses; 2d, because
they have no tools for deep excavations; and 3d, natural indolence of
the Indians--indisposition to work any more than can be helped.

The Pi-Utes, of Oregon, bury in cairns; the Blackfeet do the same, as
did also the Acaxers and Yaquis, of Mexico, and the Esquimaux; in fact,
a number of examples might be quoted. In foreign lands the custom
prevailed among certain African tribes, and it is said that the ancient
Balearic Islanders covered their dead with a heap of stones, but this
ceremony was preceded by an operation which consisted in cutting the
body in small pieces and collecting in a pot.


Next should be noted this mode of disposing of the dead, a common custom
to a considerable extent among North American tribes, especially those
living on the western slope of the Rocky Mountains, although we have
undoubted evidence that it was also practiced, among the more eastern
ones. This rite may be considered as peculiarly interesting from its
great antiquity, for Tegg[47] informs us that it reached as far back as
the Theban war, in the account of which mention is made of the burning
of Menoeacus and Archemorus, who were contemporary with Jair, eighth
judge of Israel. It was common in the interior of Asia, and among the
ancient Greeks and Romans, and has also prevailed among the Hindoos up
to the present time. In fact, it is now rapidly becoming a custom among
civilized people.

While there is a certain degree of similarity between the performance
of this rite among the people spoken of and the Indians of North
America, yet, did space admit, a discussion might profitably be entered
upon regarding the details of it among the ancients and the origin of
the ceremony. As it is, simple narrations of cremation in the country,
with discursive notes and an account of its origin among the Nishinams
of California, by Stephen Powers,[48] seem to be all that is required at
this time:

The moon and the coyote wrought together in creating all
things that exist. The moon was good, but the coyote was
bad. In making men and women, the moon wished to so fashion
their souls that when they died they should return to the
earth after two or three days as he himself does when he
dies. But the coyote was evil disposed and said this should
not be; but that when men died their friends should burn
their bodies and once a year make a great mourning for them
and the coyote prevailed. So, presently when deer died, they
burned his body, as the coyote had decreed and after a year
they made a great mourning for him. But the moon created the
rattlesnake and caused it to bite the coyote's son, so that
he died. Now, though the coyote had been willing to burn the
deer's relations, he refused to burn his own son. Then the
moon said unto him, "This is your own rule. You would have
it so, and now your son shall be burned like the others." So
he was burned, and after a year the coyote mourned for him.
Thus the law was established over the coyote also, and, as
he had dominion over men, it prevailed over men likewise.

This story is utterly worthless for itself, but it has its
value in that it shows there was a time when the California
Indians did not practice cremation, which is also
established by other traditions. It hints at the additional
fact that the Nishinams to this day set great store by the
moon, consider it their benefactor in a hundred ways and
observe its changes for a hundred purposes.

Another myth regarding cremation is given by Adam Johnston in
Schoolcraft[49] and relates to the Bonaks, or root-diggers:

The first Indians that lived were coyotes. When one of their
number died the body became full of little animals or
spirits, as they thought then. After crawling over the body
for a time they took all manner of shapes, some that of the
deer, others the elk, antelope, etc. It was discovered
however, that great numbers were taking wings and for a
while they sailed about in the air, but eventually they
would fly off to the moon. The old coyotes or Indians,
fearing the earth might become depopulated in this way,
concluded to stop it at once and ordered that when one of
their people died the body must be burnt. Ever after they
continued to burn the bodies of deceased persons.

Ross Cox gives an account of the process as performed by the Tolkotins
of Oregon:[50]

The ceremonies attending the dead are very singular and
quite peculiar to this tribe. The body of the deceased is
kept nine days laid out in his lodge and on the tenth it is
buried. For this purpose a rising ground is selected, on
which are laid a number of sticks, about 7 feet long, of
cypress, neatly split and in the interstices, placed a
quantity of gummy wood. During these operations invitations
are dispatched to the natives of the neighboring villages
requesting their attendance at the ceremony. When the
preparations are perfected, the corpse is placed on the
pile, which is immediately ignited and during the process of
burning, the bystanders appear to be in a high state of
merriment. If a stranger happen to be present they
invariably plunder him, but if that pleasure be denied them,
they never separate without quarreling among themselves.
Whatever property the deceased possessed is placed about the
corpse, and if he happened to be a person of consequence,
his friends generally purchase a capote, a shirt, a pair of
trousers, &c, which articles are also laid around the pile.
If the doctor who attended him has escaped uninjured, he is
obliged to be present at the ceremony, and for the last time
tries his skill in restoring the defunct to animation.
Failing in this, he throws on the body a piece of leather,
or some other article, as a present, which in some measure
appeases the resentment of his relatives, and preserves the
unfortunate quack from being maltreated. During the nine
days the corpse is laid out, the widow of the deceased is
obliged to sleep along side it from sunset to sunrise, and
from this custom there is no relaxation even during the
hottest days of summer! While the doctor is performing his
last operations she must lie on the pile, and after the fire
is applied to it she cannot stir until the doctor orders her
to be removed, which, however, is never done until her body
is completely covered with blisters. After being placed on
her legs, she is obliged to pass her hands gently through
the flame and collect some of the liquid fat which issues
from the corpse, with which she is permitted to wet her face
and body. When the friends of the deceased observe the
sinews of the legs and arms beginning to contract they
compel the unfortunate widow to go again on the pile, and by
dint of hard pressing to straighten those members.

If during her husband's life time she has been known to have
committed any act of infidelity or omitted administering to
him savory food or neglected his clothing, &c. she is now
made to suffer severely for such lapses of duty by his
relations, who frequently fling her in the funeral pile,
from which she is dragged by her friends, and thus between
alternate scorching and cooling she is dragged backwards and
forwards until she falls into a state of insensibility.

After the process of burning the corpse has terminated, the
widow collects the larger bones, which she rolls up in an
envelope of birch bark and which she is obliged for some
years afterwards to carry on her back. She is now considered
and treated as a slave, all the laborious duties of cooking,
collecting food, &c. devolve on her. She must obey the
orders of all the women, and even of the children belonging
to the village, and the slightest mistake or disobedience
subjects her to the infliction of a heavy punishment. The
ashes of her husband are carefully collected and deposited
in a grave which it is her duty to keep free from weeds, and
should any such appear, she is obliged to root them out with
her fingers. During this operation her husband's relatives
stand by and beat her in a cruel manner until the task is
completed or she falls a victim to their brutality. The
wretched widows, to avoid this complicated cruelty,
frequently commit suicide. Should she, however, linger on
for three or four years, the friends of her husband agree to
relieve her from the her painful mourning. This is a
ceremony of much consequence and the preparations for it
occupy a considerable time generally from six to eight
months. The hunters proceed to the various districts in
which deer and beaver abound and after collecting large
quantities of meat and fur return to the village. The skins
are immediately bartered for guns, ammunition, clothing,
trinkets, &c. Invitations are then sent to the inhabitants
of the various friendly villages, and when they have all
assembled the feast commences, and presents are distributed
to each visitor. The object of their meeting is then
explained, and the woman is brought forward, still carrying
on her back the bones of her late husband, which are now
removed and placed in a covered box, which is nailed or
otherwise fastened to a post twelve feet high. Her conduct
as a faithful widow is next highly eulogized, and the
ceremony of her manumission is completed by one man
powdering on her head the down of birds and another pouring
on it the contents of a bladder of oil. She is then at
liberty to marry again or lead a life of single blessedness,
but few of them, I believe, wish to encounter the risk
attending a second widowhood. The men are condemned to a
similar ordeal, but they do not bear it with equal
fortitude, and numbers fly to distant quarters to avoid the
brutal treatment which custom has established as a kind of
religious rite.

Figure 10 is an ideal sketch of the cremation according to the
description given.

Perhaps a short review of some of the peculiar and salient points of
this narrative may be permitted.

It is stated that the corpse is kept nine days after death--certainly a
long period of time, when it is remembered that Indians as a rule
endeavor to dispose of their dead as soon as possible. This may be
accounted for on the supposition that it is to give the friends and
relatives an opportunity of assembling, verifying the death, and of
making proper preparations for the ceremony. With regard to the
verification of the dead person, William Sheldon[51] gives an account of
a similar custom which was common among the Caraibs of Jamaica, and
which seems to throw some light upon the unusual retention of deceased
persons by the tribe in question, although it most be admitted that this
is mere hypothesis:

They had some very extraordinary customs respecting
deceased persons. When one of them died, it was necessary
that all his relations should see him and examine the body
in order to ascertain that he died a natural death. They
acted so rigidly on this principle, that if one relative
remained who had not seen the body all the others could not
convince that one that the death was natural. In such a case
the absent relative considered himself as bound in honor to
consider all the other relatives as having been accessories
to the death of the kinsman, and did not rest until he had
killed one of them to revenge the death of the deceased. If
a Caraib died in Martinico or Guadaloupe and but his
relations lived in St. Vincents, it was necessary to summon
them to see the body, and several months sometimes elapsed
before it could be finally interred. When a Caraib died he
was immediately painted all over with _roucou_, and had his
mustachios and the black streaks in his face made with a
black paint, which was different from that used in their
lifetime. A kind of grave was then dug in the _carbet_ where
he died, about 4 feet square and 6 or 7 feet deep. The body
was let down in it, when sand was thrown in, which reached
to the knees, and the body was placed in it in a sitting
posture, resembling that in which they crouched round the
fire or the table when alive, with the elbows on the knees
and the palms of the hands against the cheeks. No part of
the body touched the outside of the grave, which was covered
with wood and mats until all the relations had examined it.
When the customary examinations and inspections were ended
the hole was filled, and the bodies afterwards remained
undisturbed. The hair of the deceased was kept tied behind.
In this way bodies have remained several months without any
symptoms of decay or producing any disagreeable smell. The
_roucou_ not only preserved them from the sun, air, and
insects during their lifetime, but probably had the same
effect after death. The arms of the Caraibs were placed by
them when they were covered over for inspection, and they
were finally buried with them.

Again, we are told that during the burning the bystanders are very
merry. This hilarity is similar to that shown by the Japanese at a
funeral, who rejoice that the troubles and worries of the world are over
for the fortunate dead. The plundering of strangers present, it may be
remembered, also took place among the Indians of the Carolinas. As
already mentioned on a preceding page, the cruel manner in which the
widow is treated seems to be a modification of the Hindoo suttee, but,
if the account be true, it would appear that death might be preferable
to such torments.

It is interesting to note that in Corsica, as late as 1743, if a husband
died, women threw themselves upon the widow and beat her severely.
Brohier quaintly remarks that this custom obliged women to take good

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