Houses and House-Life of the American Aborigines
by Lewis H. Morgan
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The following work substantially formed the Fifth Part of the original manuscript of "Ancient Society," under the title "Growth of the Idea of House Architecture." As the manuscript exceeded the limits of a single volume, this portion (Part V) was removed, and having then no intention to publish it separately, the greater part of it found its way into print in detached articles. A summary was given to Johnson's New Universal Cyclopedia in the article on the "Architecture of the American Aborigines." The chapter on the "Houses of the Aztecs" formed the basis of the article entitled "Montezuma's Dinner," published in the North American Review, in April, 1876. Another chapter, that on the "Houses of the Mound Builders," was published in the same Review in July, 1876. Finally, the present year, at the request of the executive committee of the "Archaeological Institute of America," at Cambridge, I prepared from the same materials an article entitled "A Study of the Houses and House Life of the Indian Tribes," with a scheme for the exploration of the ruins in New Mexico, Arizona, the San Juan region, Yucatan, and Central America.

With some additions and reductions the facts are now presented in their original form, and as they will now have a wider distribution than the articles named have had, they will be new to most of my readers. The facts and suggestions made will also have the advantage of being presented in their proper connection. Thus additional strength is given to the argument as a whole. All the forms of this architecture sprang from a common mind, and exhibit, as a consequence, different stages of development of the same conceptions, operating upon similar necessities. They also represent these several conditions of Indian life with reasonable completeness. Their houses will be seen to form one system of works, from the Long House of the Iroquois to the Joint Tenement houses of adobe and of stone in New Mexico, Yucatan, Chiapas, and Guatemala, with such diversities as the different degrees of advancement of these several tribes would naturally produce. Studied as one system, springing from a common experience, and similar wants, and under institutions of the same general character, they are seen to indicate a plan of life at once novel, original, and distinctive.

The principal fact, which all these structures alike show, from the smallest to the greatest, is that the family through these stages of progress was too weak an organization to face alone the struggle of life, and sought a shelter for itself in large households composed of several families. The house for a single family was exceptional throughout aboriginal America, while the house large enough to accommodate several families was the rule. Moreover, they were occupied as joint tenement houses. There was also a tendency to form these households on the principle of gentile kin, the mothers with their children being of the same gens or clan.

If we enter upon the great problem of Indian life with a determination to make it intelligible, their house life and domestic institutions must furnish the key to its explanation. These pages are designed as a commencement of that work. It is a fruitful, and, at present, but partially explored field. We have been singularly inattentive to the plan of domestic life revealed by the houses of the aboriginal period. Time and the influences of civilization have told heavily upon their mode of life until it has become so far modified, and in many cases entirely overthrown, that it must be taken up as a new investigation upon the general facts which remain. At the epoch of European discovery it was in full vitality in North and South America; but the opportunities of studying its principles and its results were neglected. As a scheme of life under established institutions, it was a remarkable display of the condition of mankind in two well marked ethnical periods, namely, the Older Period and the Middle Period of barbarism, the first being represented by the Iroquois and the second by the Aztecs, or ancient Mexicans. In no part of the earth were these two conditions of human progress so well represented as by the American Indian tribes. A knowledge of the culture and of the state of the arts of life in these periods is indispensable to a definite conception of the stages of human progress. From the laws which govern this progress, from the uniformity of their operation, and from the necessary limitations of the principle of intelligence, we may conclude that our own remote ancestors passed through a similar experience and possessed very similar institutions. In studying the condition of the Indian tribes in these periods we may recover some portion of the lost history of our own race. This consideration lends incentive to the investigation.

The first chapter is a condensation of four in "Ancient Society," namely, those on the gens, phratry, tribe, and confederacy of tribes. As they formed a necessary part of that work, they become equally necessary to this. A knowledge of these organizations is indispensable to an understanding of the house life of the aborigines. These organizations form the basis of American ethnology. Although the discussion falls short of a complete explanation of their character and of their prevalence, it will give the reader a general idea of the organization of society among them.

We are too apt to look upon the condition of savage and of barbarous tribes as standing on the same plane with respect to advancement. They should be carefully distinguished as dissimilar conditions of progress. Moreover, savagery shows stages of culture and of progress, and the same is true of barbarism. It will greatly facilitate the study of the facts relating to these two conditions, through which mankind have passed in their progress to civilization, to discriminate between ethnical periods, or stages of culture both in savagery and in barbarism. The progress of mankind from their primitive condition to civilization has been marked and eventful. Each great stage of progress is connected, more or less directly, with some important invention or discovery which materially influenced human progress, and inaugurated an improved condition. For these reasons the period of savagery has been divided into three subperiods, and that of barbarism also into three, the latter of which are chiefly important in their relation to the condition of the Indian tribes. The Older Period of barbarism, which commences with the introduction of the art of pottery, and the Middle Period, which commences with the use of adobe brick in the construction of houses, and with the cultivation of maize and plants by irrigation, mark two very different and very dissimilar conditions of life. The larger portion of the Indian tribes fall within one or the other of these periods. A small portion were in the Older Period of savagery, and none had reached the Later Period of barbarism, which immediately precedes civilization. In treating of the condition of the several tribes they will be assigned to the particular period to which they severally belong under this classification.

I regret to add that I have not been able, from failing health, to give to this manuscript the continuous thought which a work of any kind should receive from its author. But I could not resist the invitation of my friend Major J. W. Powell, the Director of the Bureau of Ethnology, to put these chapters together as well as I might be able, that they might be published by that Bureau. As it will undoubtedly be my last work, I part with it under some solicitude for the reason named; but submit it cheerfully to the indulgence of my readers.

I am greatly indebted to my friend Mr. J. C. Pilling, of the same Bureau, for his friendly labor and care in correcting the proof sheets, and for supervising the illustrations. Such favors are very imperfectly repaid by an author's thanks.

The late William W. Ely, M. D., LL. D., was, for a period of more than twenty-five years, my cherished friend and literary adviser, and to him I am indebted for many valuable suggestions, and for constant encouragement in my labors. The dedication of this volume to his memory is but a partial expression of my admiration of his beautiful character, and of my appreciation of his friendship.


ROCHESTER, N. Y., June, 1881




The Gens: organized upon kin; rights, privileges, and obligations of its members—The Phratry: its character and functions—The Tribe: its composition and attributes—The Confederacy of Tribes: its nature, character and functions.



Indian tribes in three dissimilar conditions—Savage tribes— Partially horticultural tribes—Village Indians—Usages and customs affecting their house life—The law of hospitality practiced by the Iroquois; by the Algonkin tribes of lower Virginia; by the Delawares and Munsees; by the tribes of the Missouri, of the Valley of the Columbia; by the Dakota tribes of the Mississippi, by the Algonkin tribes of Wisconsin; by the Cherokees, Choctaws, and Creeks; by the Village Indians of New Mexico, of Mexico, of Central America; by the tribes of Venezuela; by the Peruvians—Universality of the usage—It implies communism in living in large households.



A law of their condition—Large households among Indian tribes— Communism in living in the household—Long Houses of the Iroquois— Several families in a house—Communism in household—Long Houses of Virginia Indians—Clustered cabins of the Creeks—Communism in the cluster—Hunting bands on the plains—The capture a common stock— Fishing bands on the Columbia—The capture a common stock—Large households in tribes of the Colombia—Communism in the household— Mandan houses—Contained several families—Houses of the Sauks the same—Village Indians of New Mexico—Mayas of Yucatan—Their present communism in living—Large households of Indians of Cuba, of Venezuela, of Carthagena, of Peru.



Tribal domain owned by the tribe in common—Possessory right in individuals and families to such land as they cultivated—Government compensation for Indian lands paid to tribe; for improvements to individuals—Apartments of a house and possessory rights to lands went to gentile heirs—Tenure of land among sedentary Village Indians at Taos, Jemex, and Zunyi—Among Aztecs or Ancient Mexicans, as presented by Mr. Bandelier; in Peru—The usage of having but one prepared meal each day, a dinner—Rule among Northern tribes—A breakfast as well as a dinner claimed for the Mexicans—Separation at meals, the men eating first, and by themselves, and the women and children afterwards.



Houses of Indian tribes must be considered as parts of a common system of construction—A common principle runs through all its forms; that of adaptation to communism in living within the household—It explains this architecture—Communal houses of tribes in savagery; in California; in the valley of the Yukon; in the valley of the Columbia—Communal house of tribes in the lower status of barbarism— Ojibwa lodge—Dakota skin tent—Long houses of Virginia Indians; of Nyach tribe on Long Island; of Seneca-Iroquois; of Onondaga-Iroquois— Dirt Lodge of Mandans and Minnetarees—Thatched houses of Maricopas and Mohaves of the Colorado; of the Pimas of the Gila—What a comparison shows.



Improved character of houses—The defensive principle incorporated in their plan of the Houses—Their joint tenement character—Two or more stories high—Improved apparel, pottery, and fabrics—Pueblo of Santo Domingo; of adobe bricks—Built in terraced town—Ground story closed—Terraces reached by ladders—Rooms entered through trap-doors in ceilings—Pueblo of Zunyi—Ceiling—Water-jars and hand mill—Moki pueblo—Room in same—Ceiling like that at Zunyi— Pueblo of Taos—Estufas for holding councils—Size of adobes—Of doorways—Window-openings and trap-doorways—Present governmental organization—Room in pueblo—Fire-places and chimneys of modern introduction—Present ownership and inheritance of property—Village Indians have declined since their discovery—Sun worship—The Montezuma religion—Seclusion from religious motives.



Pueblos in stone—The best structures in New Mexico—Ruins in the valley of the Chaco—Exploration of Lieut. J. H. Simpson in 1849; of William H. Jackson in 1877—Map of valley—Ground plans—Pueblo Pintado and Weje-gi—Constructed of tabular pieces of sandstone— Estufas and their uses—Pueblos Una Vida and Hungo Pavie—Restoration of Hungo Pavie—Pueblo of Chettro-Kettle—Room in same—Form of ceiling—Pueblo Bonito—Room in same—Restoration of Pueblo—Pueblo del Arroyo—Pueblo Penyasca Blanca—Seven large pueblos and two smaller ones—Pueblo Alto without the valley on table land on the north side—Probably the "Seven Cities of Cibola" of Coronado's Expedition—Reasons for supposition—The pueblos constructed gradually—Remarkable appearance of the valley when inhabited.



Ruins of stone pueblo on Animas River—Ground plan—Each room faced with stone, showing natural faces—Constructed like those in Chaco— Adobe mortar—Its composition and efficiency—Lime unknown in New Mexico—Gypsum mortar probably used in New Mexico and Central America— Cedar poles used as lintels—Cedar beams used as joists—Estufas; neither fire-places nor chimneys—The House a fortress—Second stone pueblo—Six other pueblos in ruins near—The Montezuma Valley—Nine pueblos in ruins in a cluster—Diagram—Ruins of stone pueblos near Ute Mountain—Outline of plan—Round tower of stone with three concentric walls—Incorporated in pueblo—Another round tower—With two concentric walls—Stands isolated—Other ruins—San Juan district as an original centre of this Indian culture— Mound-Builders probable emigrants from this region—Historical tribes of Mexico emigrants from same—Indian migrations—Made under control of physical causes.



Area of their occupation—Their condition that of Village Indians— Probably immigrants from New Mexico—Character of their earthworks— Embankments enclosing squares—Probable sites of their houses— Adapted, as elevated platforms, to Long Houses—High bank works— Capacity of embankments—Conjectural restoration of the pueblo— Other embankments—Their probable uses—Artificial clay beds under grave-mounds—Probably used for cremation of chiefs—Probable numbers of the Mound Builders—Failure of attempt to transplant this type of village life to the Ohio Valley—Their withdrawal probably voluntary.



First accounts of Pueblo of Mexico—Their extravagance—Later American exaggerations—Kings and emperors made out of sachems and war-chiefs—Ancient society awakens curiosity and wonder—Aztec government a confederacy of three Indian tribes—Pueblo of Mexico in an artificial lake—Joint-tenement houses—Several families in each house—Houses in Cuba and Central America—Aztec houses not fully explored—Similar to those in New Mexico—Communism in living probable—Cortez in Pueblo of Mexico—His quarters—Explanation of Diaz—Of Herrera—Of Bandolier—House occupied by Montezuma—A communal house—Montezuma's dinner—According to Diaz—to Cortez—to Herrera—To H. H. Bancroft—Excessive exaggerations—Dinner in common by a communal household—Bandelier's "Social Organization and Mode of Government of the Ancient Mexicans."



Pueblos in Yucatan and Central America—Their situation—Their house architecture—Highest type of aboriginal architecture—Pueblos were occupied when discovered—Uxmal houses erected on pyramidal elevations—Governor's house—Character of its architecture—House of the Nuns—Triangular ceiling of stone—Absence of chimneys—No cooking done within the house—Their communal plan evidently joint-tenement houses—Present communism of Mayas—Presumtively inherited from their ancestors—Ruins of Zayi—The closed house— Apartments constructed over a core of masonry—Palenque—Mr. Stephens' misconception of these ruins—Whether the post and lintel of stone were used as principles of construction—Plan of all these houses communal—Also fortresses—Palenque Indians flat-heads— American ethnography—General conclusions.


FRONTISPIECE. Zunyi Water Carrier.

Fig. 1. Earth Lodges of the Sacramento Valley

Fig. 2. Gallinomero Thatched Lodge

Fig. 3. Matdu Lodge in the high Sierra

Fig. 4. Yukuta Tule Lodges

Fig. 5. Kutchin Lodge

Fig. 6. Ground-plan of Necrohokioo

Fig. 7. Frame of Ojibwa Wig-e-wam

Fig. 8. Dakota Woka-yo, or Skin Tent

Fig. 9. Village of Pomeiock

Fig. 10. Village of Secotan

Fig. 11. Interior of House of Virginia Indians

Fig. 12. Ho-de-no-sote of the Seneca-Iroquois

Fig. 13. Ground-plan of Seneca-Iroquois Long-House

Fig. 14. Bartram's ground-plan and cross-section of Onondaga Long-House.

Fig. 15. Palisaded Onondaga Village

Fig. 16. Mandan Village Plot

Fig. 17. Ground-plan of Mandan House

Fig. 18. Cross-section of Mandan House

Fig. 19. Mandan House

Fig. 20. Mandan Drying-Scaffold

Fig. 21. Mandan Ladder

Fig. 22. Pueblo of Santo Domingo

Fig. 23. Pueblo of Zunyi

Fig. 24. Room in Zunyi House

Fig. 25. Pueblo of Wolpi

Fig. 26. Room in Moki House

Fig. 27. North Pueblo of Taos

Fig. 28. Room in Pueblo of Taos

Fig. 29. Map of a portion of Chaco Canyon

Fig. 30. Ground-plans of Pueblos Pintada and Wejegi

Fig. 31. Ground-plans of Pueblos of Una Vida and Hungo Pavie

Fig. 32. Restoration of Pueblo Hungo Pavie

Fig. 33. Ground-plan of Pueblo Chettro Kettle

Fig. 34. Interior of a Room in Pueblo Chettro Kettle

Fig. 35. Ground-plan of Pueblo Bonito

Fig. 36. Room in Pueblo Bonito

Fig. 37. Restoration of Pueblo Bonito

Fig. 38. Ground-plan of Pueblo del Arroyo

Fig. 39. Ground-plan of Pueblo Peuasca Blanca

Fig. 40. Ground-plan of the Pueblo on Animas River

Fig. 41. Stone from Doorway

Fig. 41a. A finished block of Sandstone (for comparison with Fig. 41)

Fig. 42. Section of Cedar Lintel

Fig. 43. Outline of Stone Pueblo on Animas River

Fig. 44. Pueblos at commencement of McElmo Canyon

Fig. 45. Outline plan of Stone Pueblo near base of Ute Mountain

Fig. 46. Ground-plan of High Bank Pueblo

Fig. 47. Restoration of High Bank Pueblo

Fig. 48. Ground-plan and sections of house, High Bank Pueblo

Fig. 49. Mound with artificial clay basin

Fig. 50. Side elevation of Pyramidal Platform of Governor's House

Fig. 51. Governor's House at Uxmal

Fig. 52. Ground-plan of Governor's House, Uxmal

Fig. 53. Ground-plan of the House of the Nuns

Fig. 54. Section of room in House of the Nuns

Fig. 55. Ground-plan of Zayi

Fig. 56. Cross-section through one apartment




In a previous work I have considered the organization of the American aborigines in gentes, phratries, and tribes, with the functions of each in their social system. From the importance of this organization to a right understanding of their social and governmental life, a recapitulation of the principal features of each member of the organic series is necessary in this connection. [Footnote: "Ancient Society" or "Researches in the Lines of Human Progress from Savagery through Barbarism to Civilization." Henry Holt & Co. 1877.]

The gentile organization opens to us one of the oldest and most widely-prevalent institutions of mankind. It furnished the nearly universal plan of government of ancient society, Asiatic, European, African, American, and Australian. It was the instrumentality by means of which society was organized and held together. Commencing in savagery, and continuing through the three subperiods of barbarism, it remained until the establishment of political society, which did not occur until after civilization had Commenced. The Grecian gens, phratry, and tribe, the Roman gens, curia, and tribe find their analogues in the gens, phratry, and tribe of the American aborigines. In like manner the Irish sept, the Scottish clan, the phratra of the Albanians, and the Sanskrit ganas, without extending the comparison further, are the same as the American Indian gens, which has usually been called a clan. As far as our knowledge extends, this organization runs through the entire ancient world upon all the continents, and it was brought down to the historical period by such tribes as attained to civilization. Nor is this all. Gentile society wherever found is the same in structural organization and in principles of action; but changing from lower to higher forms with the progressive advancement of the people. These changes give the history of development of the same original conceptions.


Gens, [Greek: genos], and gattas in Latin, Greek, and Sanskrit have alike the primary signification of kin. They contain the same element as gigno, [Greek: gignouas], and ganaman, in the same languages, signifying to beget; thus implying in each an immediate common descent of the members of a gens. A gens, therefore, is a body of consanguinei descended from the same common ancestor, distinguished by a gentile name, and bound together by affinities of blood. It includes a moiety only of such descendants. Where descent is in the female line, as it was universally in the archaic period, the gens is composed of a supposed female ancestor and her children, together with the children of her female descendants, through females, in perpetuity; and where descent is in the male line—into which it was changed after the appearance of property in masses—of a supposed male ancestor and his children, together with the children of his male descendants, through males, in perpetuity. The family name among ourselves is a survival of the gentile name, with descent in the male line, and passing in the same manner. The modern family, as expressed by its name, is an unorganized gens, with the bond of kin broken, and its members as widely dispersed as the family name is found.

Among the nations named, the gens indicated a social organization of a remarkable character, which had prevailed from an antiquity so remote that its origin was lost in the obscurity of far distant ages. It was also the unit of organization of a social and governmental system, the fundamental basis of ancient society. This organization was not confined to the Latin, Grecian, and Sanskrit speaking tribes, with whom it became such a conspicuous institution. It has been found in other branches of the Aryan family of nations, in the Semitic, Uralian and Turanian families, among the tribes of Africa and Australia, and of the American aborigines.

The gens has passed through successive stages of development in its transition from its archaic to its final form with the progress of mankind. These changes were limited in the main to two, firstly, changing descent from the female line, which was the archaic rule, as among the Iroquois, to the male line, which was the final rule, as among the Grecian and Roman gentes; and, secondly, changing the inheritance of the property of a deceased member of the gens from his gentiles, who took it in the archaic period, first to his agnatic kindred, and finally to his children. These changes, slight as they may seem, indicate very great changes of condition as well as a large degree of progressive development.

The gentile organization, originating in the period of savagery, enduring through the three subperiods of barbarism, finally gave way, among the more advanced tribes, when they attained civilization—the requirements of which it was unable to meet. Among the Greeks and Romans political society supervened upon gentile society, but not until civilization had commenced. The township (and its equivalent, the city ward), with its fixed property, and the inhabitants it contained, organized as a body politic, became the unit and the basis of a new and radically different system of government. After political society was instituted this ancient and time-honored organization, with the phratry and tribe developed from it, gradually yielded up their existence. It was under gentile institutions that barbarism was won by some of the tribes of mankind while in savagery, and that civilization was won by the descendants of some of the same tribes while in barbarism. Gentile institutions carried a portion of mankind from savagery to civilization.

This organization may be successfully studied both in its living and in its historical forms in a large number of tribes and races. In such an investigation it is preferable to commence with the gens in its archaic form I shall commence, therefore, with the gens as it now exists among the American aborigines, where it is found in its archaic form, and among whom its theoretical constitution and practical workings can be investigated more successfully than in the historical gentes of the Greeks and Romans. In fact, to understand fully the gentes of the latter nations a knowledge of the functions and of the rights, privileges, and obligations of the members of the American Indian gens is imperatively necessary.

In American ethnography tribe and clan have been used in the place of gens as equivalent terms from not perceiving the universality of the latter. In previous works, and following my predecessors, I have so used them. A comparison of the Indian clan with the gens of the Greeks and Romans reveals at once their identity in structure and functions. It also extends to the phratry and tribe. If the identity of these several organizations can be shown, of which there can be no doubt, there is a manifest propriety in returning to the Latin and Grecian terminologies, which are full and precise as well as historical.

The plan of government of the American aborigines commenced with the gens and ended with the confederacy, the latter being the highest point to which their governmental institutions attained. It gave for the organic series: first, the gens, a body of consanguinei having a common gentile name; second, the phratry, an assemblage of related gentes united in a higher association for certain common objects; third, the tribe, an assemblage of gentes, usually organized in phratries, all the members of which spoke the same dialect; and fourth, a confederacy of tribes, the members of which respectively spoke dialects of the same stock language. It resulted in a gentile society (societas) as distinguished from a political society or state (civitas). The difference between the two is wide and fundamental. There was neither a political society, nor a citizen, nor a state, nor any civilization in America when it was discovered. One entire ethnical period intervened between the highest American Indian tribes and the beginning of civilization, as that term is properly understood.

The gens, though a very ancient social organization founded upon kin, does not include all the descendants of a common ancestor. It was for the reason that when the gens came in marriage between single pairs was unknown, and descent through males could not be traced with certainty. Kindred were linked together chiefly through the bond of their maternity In the ancient gens descent was limited to the female line. It embraced all such persons as traced their descent from a supposed common female ancestor, through females, the evidence of the fact being the possession of a common gentile name. It would include this ancestor and her children, the children of her daughters, and the children of her female descendants, through females, in perpetuity, while the children of her sons and the children of her male descendants, through males, would belong to other gentes, namely, those of their respective mothers. Such was the gens in its archaic form, when the paternity of children was not certainly ascertainable, and when their maternity afforded the only certain criterion of descents.

This state of descents which can be traced back to the Middle Status of savagery, as among the Australians, remained among the American aborigines through the Upper Status of savagery, and into and through the Lower Status of barbarism, with occasional exceptions. In the Middle Status of barbarism the Indian tribes began to change descent from the female line to the male, as die syndyasmian family of the period began to assume monogamian characteristics. In the Upper Status of barbarism descent had become changed to the male line among the Grecian tribes, with the exception of the Lycians, and among the Italian tribes, with the exception of the Etruscans. Between the two extremes, represented by the two rules of descent, three entire ethnical periods intervene, covering many thousands of years.

As intermarriage in the gens was prohibited, it withdrew its members from the evils of consanguine marriages, and thus tended to increase the vigor of the stock. The gens came into being upon three principal conceptions, namely, the bond of kin, a pure lineage through descent in the female line, and non-intermarriage in the gens. When the idea of a gens was developed, it would naturally have taken the form of gentes in pairs, because the children of the males were excluded, and because it was equally necessary to organize both classes of descendants. With two gentes started into being simultaneously the whole result would have been attained, since the males and females of one gens would marry the females and males of the other, and the children, following the gentes of their respective mothers, would be divided between them. Resting on the bond of kin as its cohesive principal the gens afforded to each individual member that personal protection which no other existing power could give.

After enumerating the rights, privileges, and obligations of its members, it will be necessary to follow the gens in its organic relations to a phratry tribe and confederacy, in order to find the uses to which it was applied, the privileges which it conferred, and the principles which it fostered. The gentes of the Iroquois will be taken as the standard exemplification of this institution in the Ganowaman family. They had carried their scheme of government from the gens to the confederacy, making it complete in each of its parts, and an excellent illustration of the capabilities of the gentile organization in its archaic form.

When discovered the Iroquois were in the Lower Status of barbarism, and well advanced in the arts of life pertaining to this condition. They manufactured nets, twine, and rope from filaments of bark, wove belts and burden straps, with warp and woof from the same materials, they manufactured earthen vessels and pipes from clay mixed with silicious materials and hardened by fire, some of which were ornamented with rude medallions, they cultivated maize, beans, squashes, and tobacco in garden beds, and made unleavened bread from pounded maize, which they boiled in earthen vessels, [Footnote: These loaves or cakes were about six inches in diameter and an inch thick] they tanned skins into leather, with which they manufactured kilts leggins, and moccasins, they used the bow and arrow and war-club as their principal weapons, used flint-stone and bone implements, wore skin garments, and were expert hunters and fishermen They constructed long joint tenement houses large enough to accommodate five, ten, and twenty families, and each household practiced communism in living, but they were unacquainted with the use of stone or adobe brick in house architecture, and with the use of the native metals. In mental capacity and in general advancement they were the representative branch of the Indian family north of New Mexico General F A. Walker has sketched their military career in two paragraphs "The career of the Iroquois was simply terrific. They were the scourge of God upon the continent." [Footnote: North American Review April No. 1873 p. 360 Note.] From lapse of time the Iroquois tribes have come to differ slightly in the number and in the names of their respective gentes, the largest number being eight, as follows:

Seneca Cayuga Onondaga Oneida Mohawks Tuscarora 1 Wolf Wolf Wolf Wolf Wolf Gray Wolf 2 Bear Bear Bear Bear Bear Bear 3 Turtle Turtle Turtle Turtle Turtle Great Turtle 4 Beaver Beaver Beaver Beaver 5 Deer Deer Deer Yellow Wolf 6 Snipe Snipe Snipe Snipe 7 Heron Eel Eel Eel 8 Hawk Hawk Ball Little Turtle

These changes show that certain gentes in some of the tribes have become extinct through the vicissitudes of time, and that others have been formed by the segmentation of over full gentes.

With a knowledge of the rights, privileges, and obligations of the members of a gens, its capabilities as the unit of a social and governmental system will be more fully understood, as well as the manner in which it entered into the higher organizations of the phratry tribe, and confederacy.

The gens is individualized by the following rights, privileges, and obligations conferred and imposed upon its members, and which made up the jus gentilicium:

I The right of electing its sachem and chiefs

II The right of deposing its sachem and chiefs

III The obligation not to marry in the gens

IV Mutual rights of inheritance of the property of deceased members

V Reciprocal obligations of help, defense, and redress of injuries

VI The right of bestowing names upon its members

VII The right of adopting strangers into the gens

VIII Common religious rites

IX A common burial place.

X A council of the gens

These functions and attributes gave vitality as well as individuality to the organization and protected the personal rights of its members. Such were the rights, privileges, and obligations of the members of an Iroquois gens; and such were those of the members of the gentes of the Indian tribes generally, as far as the investigation has been carried.

For a detailed exposition of these characteristics the reader is referred to Ancient Society, pp. 72-85.

All the members of an Iroquois gens were personally free, and they were bound to defend each other's freedom; they were equal in privileges and in personal rights, the sachem and chiefs claiming no superiority; and they were a brotherhood bound together by the ties of kin. Liberty, equality, and fraternity, though never formulated, were cardinal principles of the gens. These facts are material, because the gens was the unit of a social and governmental system, the foundation upon which Indian society was organized. A structure composed of such units would of necessity bear the impress of their character, for as the unit so the compound. It serves to explain that sense of independence and personal dignity universally an attribute of Indian character.

Thus substantial and important in the social system was the gens as it anciently existed among the American aborigines, and as it still exists in full vitality in many Indian tribes. It was the basis of the phratry, of the tribe, and of the confederacy of tribes.

At the epoch of European discovery the American Indian tribes generally were organized in gentes, with descent in the female line. In some tribes, as among the Dakotas, the gentes had fallen out; in others, as among the Ojibwas, the Omahas, and the Mayas of Yucatan, descent had been changed from the female to the male line. Throughout aboriginal America the gens took its name from some animal or inanimate object and never from a person. In this early condition of society the individuality of persons was lost in the gens. It is at least presumable that the gentes of the Grecian and Latin tribes were so named at some anterior period; but when they first came under historical notice they were named after persons. In some of the tribes, as the Moki Village Indians of Arizona, the members of the gens claimed their descent from the animal whose name they bore—their remote ancestors having been transformed by the Great Spirit from the animal into the human form. The Crane gens of the Ojibwas have a similar legend. In some tribes the members of a gens will not eat the animal whose name they bear, in which they are doubtless influenced by this consideration.

With respect to the number of persons in a gens, it varied with the number of the gentes, and with the prosperity or decadence of the tribe. Three thousand Senecas divided equally among eight gentes would give an average of three hundred and seventy-five persons to a gens. Fifteen thousand Ojibwas divided equally among twenty-three gentes would give six hundred and fifty persons to a gens. The Cherokees would average more than a thousand to a gens. In the present condition of the principal Indian tribes the number of persons in each gens would range from one hundred to a thousand.

One of the oldest and most widely prevalent institutions of mankind, the gentes have been closely identified with human progress upon which they have exercised a powerful influence. They have been found in tribes in the Status of savagery, in the Lower, in the Middle, and in the Upper Status of barbarism on different continents, and in full vitality in the Grecian and Latin tribes after civilization had commenced. Every family of mankind, except the Polynesian, seems to have come under the gentile organization, and to have been indebted to it for preservation and for the means of progress. It finds its only parallel in length of duration in systems of consanguinity, which, springing up at a still earlier period, have remained to the present time, although the marriage usages in which they originated have long since disappeared.

From its early institution, and from its maintenance through such immense stretches of time, the peculiar adaptation of the gentile organization to mankind, while in a savage and in a barbarous state, must be regarded as abundantly demonstrated.


The phratry (phratria) is a brotherhood, as the term imports, and a natural growth from the organization into gentes. It is an organic union or association of two or more gentes of the same tribe for certain common objects. These gentes were usually such as had been formed by the segmentation of an original gens.

The phratry existed in a large number of the tribes of the American aborigines, where it is seen to arise by natural growth, and to stand as the second member of the organic series, as among the Grecian and Latin tribes. It did not possess original governmental functions, as the gens tribe and confederacy possessed them but it was endowed with certain useful powers in the social system, from the necessity for some organization larger than a gens and smaller than a tribe and especially when the tribe was large. The same institution in essential features and in character, it presents the organization in its archaic form and with its archaic functions. A knowledge of the Indian phratry is necessary to an intelligent understanding of the Grecian and the Roman.

The eight gentes of the Seneca Iroquois tribe were reintegrated in two phratries as follows:

First Phratry Gentes—1 Bear 2 Wolf 3 Beaver 4 Turtle Second Phratry Gentes—5 Deer 6 Snipe 7 Heron 8 Hawk

Each phratry (De da non da a yoh) is a brotherhood as this term also imports. The gentes in the same phratry are brother gentes to each other and cousin gentes to those of the other phratry. They are equal in grade, character, and privileges. It is a common practice of the Senecas to call the gentes of their own phratry brother gentes and those of the other phratry their cousin gentes, when they mention them in their relation to the phratries. Originally marriage was not allowed between the members of the same phratry but the members of either could marry into any gens of the other. This prohibition tends to show that the gentes of each phratry were subdivisions of an original gens and therefore the prohibition against marrying into a person's own gens had followed to its subdivisions. This restriction however was long since removed except with respect to the gens of the individual. A tradition of the Senecas affirms that the Bear and the Deer were the original gentes, of which the others were subdivisions. It is thus seen that the phratry had a natural foundation in the kinship of the gentes of which it was composed. After their subdivision from increase of numbers there was a natural tendency to their reunion in a higher organization for objects common to them all. The same gentes are not constant in a phratry indefinitely, as appears from the composition of the phratries in the remaining Iroquois tribes. Transfers of particular gentes from one phratry to the other must have occurred when the equilibrium in their respective numbers was disturbed. It is important to know the simple manner in which this organization springs up, and the facility with which it is managed as a part of the social system of ancient society. With the increase of numbers in a gens, followed by local separation of its members, segmentation occurred, and the seceding portion adopted a new gentile name. But a tradition of their former unity would remain and become the basis of their reorganization in a phratry.

From the differences in the composition of the phratries in the several tribes it seems probable that the phratries are modified in their gentes at intervals of time to meet changes of condition. Some gentes prosper and increase in numbers, while others, through calamities, decline, and others become extinct; so that transfers of gentes from one phratry to another were found necessary to preserve some degree of equality in the number of phrators in each. The phratric organization has existed among the Iroquois from time immemorial. It is probably older than the confederacy which was established more than four centuries ago. The amount of difference in their composition, as to the gentes they contain, represents the vicissitudes through which each tribe has passed in the interval. In any view of the matter it is small, tending to illustrate the permanence of the phratry as well as the gens.

The Iroquois tribes had a total of thirty-eight gentes, and in four of the tribes a total of eight phratries.

The phratry among the Iroquois was partly for social and partly for religious objects. Its functions and uses can be best shown by practical illustrations. We begin with the lowest, with games, which were of common occurrence at tribal and confederate councils. In the ball game, for example, among the Senecas, they play by phratries, one against the other, and they bet against each other upon the result of the game. Each phratry puts forward its best players, usually from six to ten on a side, and the members of each phratry assemble together, but upon opposite sides of the field in which the game is played. Before it commences, articles of personal property are hazarded upon the result by members of the opposite phratries. These are deposited with keepers to abide the event. The game is played with spirit and enthusiasm, and is an exciting spectacle. The members of each phratry, from their opposite stations, watch the game with eagerness, and cheer their respective players at every successful turn of the game. [Footnote: League of the Iroquois, p. 294.]

Again, when a murder had been committed it was usual for the gens of the murdered person to meet in council, and, after ascertaining the facts, to take measures for avenging the deed. The gens of the criminal also held a council, and endeavored to effect an adjustment or condonation of the crime with the gens of the murdered person; but it often happened that the gens of the criminal called upon the other gentes of their phratry, when the slayer and the slain belonged to opposite phratries, to unite with them to obtain a condonation of the crime. In such a case the phratry held a council, and then addressed itself to the other phratry, to which it sent a delegation with a belt of white wampum asking for a council of the phratry and for an adjustment of the crime. They offered reparation to the family and gens of the murdered person in expressions of regret and in presents of value. Negotiations were continued between the two councils until an affirmative or a negative conclusion was reached. The influence of a phratry composed of several gentes would be greater than that of a single gens; and by calling into action the opposite phratry the probability of a condonation would be increased, especially if there were extenuating circumstances. We may thus see how naturally the Grecian phratry, prior to civilization, assumed the principal though not exclusive management of cases of murder, and also of the purification of the murderer if he escaped punishment, and after the institution of political society with what propriety the phratry assumed the duty of prosecuting the murderer in the courts of justice.

At the funerals of persons of recognized importance in the tribe the phratric organization manifested itself in a conspicuous manner The phrators of the decedent in a body were the mourners, and the members of the opposite phratry conducted the ceremonies. At the funeral of Handsome Lake (Ga-ne-o-di'-yo), one of the eight Seneca sachems (which occurred some years ago), there was an assemblage of sachems and chiefs to the number of twenty-seven, and a large concourse of members of both phratries The customary address to the dead body, and the other addresses before the removal of the body, were made by members of the opposite phratry After the addresses were concluded the body was borne to the grave by persons selected from the last named phratry, followed, first, by the sachems and chiefs, then by the family and gens of the decedent, next by his remaining phrators, and last by the members of the opposite phratry After the body had been deposited in the grave the sachems and chiefs formed in a circle around it for the purpose of filling it with earth. Each in turn, commencing with the senior in years, cast in three shovelfuls, a typical number in their religious system, of which the first had relation to the Great Spirit, the second to the Sun, and the third to Mother Earth When the grave was filled the senior sachem, by a figure of speech, deposited "the horns" of the departed sachem, emblematic of his office, upon the top of the grave over his head, there to remain until his successor was installed In that subsequent ceremony "the horns" were said to be taken from the grave of the deceased ruler and placed upon the head of his successor The social and religious functions of the phratry, and its naturalness in the organic system of ancient society, are rendered apparent by this single usage.

The phratry was also directly concerned in the election of sachems and chiefs of the several gentes, upon which they had a negative as well as a confirmative vote After the gens of a deceased sachem had elected his successor, or had elected a chief of the second grade, it was necessary, as elsewhere stated, that their choice should be accepted and confirmed by each phratry It was expected that the gentes of the same phratry would confirm the choice almost as a matter of course, but the opposite phratry also must acquiesce, and from this source opposition sometimes appeared A council of each phratry was held and pronounced upon the question of acceptance or rejection. If the nomination made was accepted by both it became complete, but if either refused it was thereby set aside and a new election was made by the gens. When the choice made by the gens had been accepted by the phratries it was still necessary, as before stated, that the new sachem, or the new chief, should be invested by the council of the confederacy, which alone had power to invest with office.

The phratry was without governmental functions in the strict sense of the phrase, these being confined to the gens tribe and confederacy; but it entered into their social affairs with large administrative powers, and would have concerned itself more and more with their religious affairs as the condition of the people advanced. Unlike the Grecian phratry and the Roman curia, it had no official head. There was no chief of the phratry as such, and no religious functionaries belonging to it as distinguished from the gene and tribe. The phratric institution among the Iroquois was in its rudimentary archaic form; but it grew into life by natural and inevitable development, and remained permanent because it met necessary wants Every institution of mankind which attained permanence will be found linked with a perpetual want. With the gens tribe and confederacy in existence the presence of the phratry was substantially assured. It required time, however, and further experience to manifest all the uses to which it might be made subservient.

Among the Village Indians of Mexico and Central America the phratry must have existed, reasoning upon general principles, and have been a more fully developed and influential organization than among the Iroquois Unfortunately mere glimpses at such an institution are all that can be found in the teeming narratives of the Spanish writers within the first century after the Spanish conquest. The four "lineages" of the Tlascalans who occupied the four quarters of the pueblo of Tlascalan were, in all probability, so many phratries. They were sufficiently numerous for four tribes, but as they occupied the same pueblo and spoke the same dialect the phratric organization was apparently a necessity. Each lineage or phratry, so to call it, had a distinct military organization, a peculiar costume and banner, and its head war-chief (Teuctli), who was its general military commander. They went forth to battle by phratries. The organization of a military force by phratries and by tribes was not unknown to the Homeric Greeks Thus, Nestor advised Agamemnon to "separate the troops by phratries and by tribes, so that phratry may support phratry and tribe" [Footnote: Illiad]

Under gentile institutions of the most advanced type the principle of kin became to a considerable extent the basis of the army organization. The Aztecs, in like manner occupied the pueblo of Mexico in four distinct divisions, the people of each of which were more nearly related to each other than to the people of the other divisions. They were separate lineages, like the Tlas-calan, and it seems highly probable were four phratries, separately organized as such They were distinguished from each—other by costumes and standards, and went out to war as separate divisions. Their geographical areas were called the four quarters of Mexico.

With respect to the prevalence of this organization among the Indian tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism the subject has been but slightly investigated. It is probable that it was general in the principal tribes from the natural manner in which it springs up as a necessary member of the organic series, and from the uses, other than governmental, to which it was adapted.

In some of the tribes the phratries stand out prominently upon the face of their organization. Thus the Chocta gentes are united in two phratries which must be mentioned first in order to show the relation of the gentes to each other. The first phratry is called "Divided People," and contains four gentes. The second is called "Beloved People" and also contains four gentes. This separation of the people into two divisions by gentes created two phratries. Some knowledge of the functions of these phratries is of course desirable, but without it, the fact of their existence is established by the divisions themselves. The evolution of a confederacy from a pair of gentes—for less than two are never found in any tribe—may be deduced theoretically from the known facts of Indian experience. Thus the gens increases in the number of its members and divides into two these again subdivide and in time reunite in two or more phratries. These phratries form a tribe and its members speak the same dialect. In course of time this tribe falls into several by the process of segmentation, which in turn reunite in a confederacy. Such a confederacy is a growth, through the tribe and phratry, from a pair of gentes.

The Chickasas are organized in two phratries, of which one contains four and the other eight gentes, as follows:

I. Panther Phratry.

Gentes. Wild Cat 2. Bird. 3. Fish. 4. Deer.

II. Spanish Phratry.

Gentes—5. Raccoon. 6. Spanish. 7. Royal. 8. Hush-ko'-ni. 9. Squirrel 10. Alligator. 11 Wolf. 12. Blackbird.

A very complete illustration of the manner in which phratries are formed by natural growth through the subdivision of gentes is presented by the organization of the Mohegan tribe. It had three original gentes, the Wolf, the Turtle, and the Turkey.

Each of these subdivided, and the subdivisions became independent gentes; but they retained the names of the original gentes as their respective phratric names In other words, the subdivisions of each gens reorganized in a phratry. It proves conclusively the natural process by which in course of time a gens breaks up into several, and these remain united in a phratric organization, which is expressed by assuming a phratric name. They are as follows:

I. Wolf Phratry

Gentes. 1. Wolf 2. Bear 3. Dog. 4 Opossum.

II. Turtle Phratry

Gentes—5 Little Turtle. 6. Mud Turtle. 7. Great Turtle 8. Yellow Eel.

III. Turkey Phratry

Gentes—9. Turkey 10. Crane 11. Chicken 12.

It is thus seen that the original Wolf gens divided into four gentes, the Turtle into four, and the Turkey into three. Each new gens took a new name, the original retaining its own, which became by seniority that of the phratry. It is rare among the American Indian tribes to find such plain evidence of the segmentation of gentes in their external organization, followed by the formation into phratries of their respective subdivisions. It shows also that the phratry is founded upon the kinship of the gentes. As a rule, the name of the original gens out of which others had formed is not known; but in each of these cases it remains as the name of the phratry. Since the latter, like the Grecian, was a social and religious rather than a governmental organization, it is externally less conspicuous than a gens or tribe, which were essential to the government of society. The name of but one of the twelve Athenian phratries has come down to us in history. Those of the Iroquois had no name but that of a brotherhood.

The phratry also appears among the Thlinkits of the Northwest coast upon the surface of their organization into gentes. They have two phratries, as follows:

I. Wolf Phratry.

Gentes. 1. Bear 2. Eagle. 3. Dolphin. 4. Shark. 5. Alca.

II. Raven Phratry.

Gentes. 6. Frog. 7. Goose. 8. Sea-lion. 9. Owl. 10. Salmon.

Intermarriage in the phratry is prohibited, which shows of itself that the gentes of each phratry were derived from an original gens. The members of any gens in the Wolf phratry could marry into any gens of the opposite phratry, and vice versa.

From the foregoing facts the existence of the phratry is established in several linguistic stocks of the American aborigines. Its presence in the tribes named raises a presumption of its general prevalence in the Ganowanian family. Among the Village Indians, where the numbers in a gens and tribe were greater, it would necessarily have been more important, and consequently more fully developed. As an institution it was still in its archaic form, but it possessed the essential elements of the Grecian and the Roman.


It is difficult to describe an Indian tribe by the affirmative elements of its composition. Nevertheless it is clearly marked, and is the ultimate organization of the great body of the American aborigines. The large number of independent tribes into which they had fallen by the natural process of segmentation is the striking characteristic of their condition. Each tribe was individualized by a name, by a separate dialect, by a supreme government, and by the possession of a territory which it occupied and defended as its own. The tribes were as numerous as the dialects, for separation did not become complete until dialectical variation had commenced. Indian tribes, therefore, are natural growths through the separation of the same people in the area of their occupation, followed by divergence of speech, segmentation, and independence.

The exclusive possession of a dialect and of a territory has led to the application of the term nation to many Indian tribes, notwithstanding the fewness of the people in each. Tribe and nation, however, are not strict equivalents. A nation does not arise, under gentile institutions, until the tribes united under the same government have coalesced into one people, as the four Athenian tribes coalesced in Attica, three Dorian tribes at Sparta, and three Latin and Sabine tribes at Rome. Federation requires independent tribes in separate territorial areas; but coalescence unites them by a higher process in the same area, although the tendency to local separation by gentes and by tribes would continue. The confederacy is the nearest analogue of the nation, but not strictly equivalent. Where the gentile organization exists, the organic series gives all the terms which are needed for a correct description.

An Indian tribe is composed of several gentes, developed from two or more, all the members of which are intermingled by marriage, and all of whom speak the same dialect. To a stranger the tribe is visible, and not the gens. The instances are extremely rare, among the American aborigines, in which the tribe embraced peoples speaking different dialects. When such cases are found it has resulted from the union of a weaker with a stronger tribe speaking a closely related dialect, as the union of the Missouris with the Otoet, after the overthrow of the former. The fact that the great body of the aborigines were found in independent tribes illustrates the slow and difficult growth of the idea of government under gentile institutions. A small portion only had attained to the ultimate stage known Among them, that of a confederacy of tribes speaking dialects of the same stock language. A coalescence of tribes into a nation had not occurred in any case in any part of America.

A constant tendency to disintegration, which has proved such a hindrance to progress among savage and barbarous tribes, existed in the elements of the gentile organization. It was aggravated by a further tendency to divergence of speech, which was inseparable from their social state and the large areas of their occupation. An oral language, although remarkably persistent in its vocables, and still more persistent in its grammatical forms, is incapable of permanence. Separation of the people in area was followed in time by variation in speech; and this, in turn, led to separation in interests and ultimate independence. It was not the work of a brief period, but of centuries of time, aggregating finally into thousands of years; and the multiplication of the languages and dialects of the different families of North and South America probably required for their formation the time measured by three ethnical periods.

New tribes, as well as new gentes, were constantly forming by natural growth, and the process was sensibly accelerated by the great expanse of the American continent. The method was simple. In the first place there would occur a gradual outflow of people from some overstocked geographical center, which possessed superior advantages in the means of subsistence. Continued from year to year, a considerable population would thus be developed at a distance from the original seat of the tribe In course of time the emigrants would become distinct in interests, strangers in feeling, and, last of all, divergent in speech. Separation and independence would follow, although their territories were contiguous. A new tribe was thus created. This is a concise statement of the manner in which the tribes of the American aborigines were formed, but the statement must be taken as general. Repeating itself from age to age in newly acquired as well as in old areas, it must be regarded as a natural as well as inevitable result of the gentile organization, united with the necessities of their condition. When increased numbers pressed upon the means of subsistence, the surplus removed to a new seat, where they established themselves with facility, because the government was perfect in every gens, and in any number of gentes united in a band. Among the Village Indians the same thing repeated itself in a slightly different manner. When a village became overcrowded with numbers, a colony went up or down on the same stream and commenced a new village. Repeated at intervals of time, several such villages would appear, each independent of the other and a self-governing body, but united in a league or confederacy for mutual protection. Dialectic variation would finally spring up, and thus complete their growth into tribes.

The manner in which tribes are evolved from each other can be shown directly by examples. The fact of separation can be derived in part from tradition, in part from the possession by each of a number of the same gentes, and deduced in part from the relations of their dialects. Tribes formed by the subdivisions of an original tribe would possess a number of gentes in common, and speak dialects of the same language. After several centuries of separation they would still have a number of the same gentes. Thus the Hurons, now Wyandots, have six gentes of the same name with six of the gentes of the Seneca-Iroquois, after at least four hundred years of separation. The Potawattamies have eight gentes of the same name with eight among the Ojibwas, while the former have six, and the latter fourteen, which are different, showing that new gentes have been formed in each tribe by segmentation since their separation. A still older offshoot from the Ojibwas, or from the common parent tribe of both, the Miamis, have but three gentes in common with the former, namely, the Wolf, the Loon, and the Eagle. The minute social history of the tribes of the Ganowanian family is locked up in the life and growth of the gentes. If investigation is ever turned strongly in this direction, the gentes themselves would become reliable guides, in respect to the order of separation from each other of the tribes of the same stock.

This process of subdivision has been operating among the American aborigines for thousands of years, until several hundred tribes have been developed from about seventy stocks as existing in as many families of language. Their experience, probably was but a repetition of that of the tribes of Asia, Europe, and Africa when they were in corresponding conditions.

From the preceding observations it is apparent that an American Indian tribe is a very simple as well as humble organization. It required but a few hundred, and, at most, a few thousand people to form a tribe and place it in a respectable position in the Ganowanian family.

It remains to present the functions and attributes of an Indian tribe, which are contained in the following propositions:

I The possession of a territory and a name

II The exclusive possession of a dialect

III The right to invest sachems and chiefs elected by the gentes.

IV The right to depose these sachems and chiefs

V The possession of a religious faith and worship

VI A supreme government consisting of a council of chiefs

VII A head-chief of the tribe in some instances

For a discussion of these characteristics of a tribe, reference is made to Ancient Society, pp. 113-118.

The growth of the idea of government commenced with the organization into gentes in savagery. It reveals three great stages of progressive development between its commencement and the institution of political society after civilization had been attained. The first stage was the government of a tribe by a council of chiefs elected by the gentes. It may be called a government of one power, namely the council. It prevailed generally among tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism. The second stage was a government co-ordinated between a council of chiefs and a general military commander, one representing the civil and the other the military functions. This second form began to manifest itself in the Lower Status of barbarism after confederacies were formed, and it became definite in the Middle Status. The office of general, or principal military commander, was the germ of that of a chief executive magistrate, the king, the emperor, and the president. It may be called a government of two powers, namely, the council of chiefs and the general. The third stage was the government of a people or nation by a council of chiefs an assembly of the people, and a general military commander. It appeared among the tribes who had attained to the Upper Status of barbarism, such, for example, as the Homeric Greeks and the Italian tribes of the period of Romulus. A Large increase in the number of people united in a nation, their establishment in walled cities, and the creation of wealth in lands and in flocks and herds, brought in the assembly of the people as an instrument of government. The council of chiefs, which still remained, found it necessary, no doubt, through popular constraint, to submit the most important public measures to an assembly of the people for acceptance or rejection; whence the popular assembly. This assembly did not originate measures. It was its function to adopt or reject, and its action was final. From its first appearance it became a permanent power in the government. The council no longer passed important public measures, but became a preconsidering council, with power to originate and mature public acts to which the assembly alone could give validity. It may be called a government of three powers, namely, the preconsidering council, the assembly of the people, and the general. This remained until the institution of political society, when, for example, among the Athenians, the council of chiefs became the senate, and the assembly of the people the ecclesia or popular assembly. The same organizations have come down to modern times in the two houses of Parliament, of Congress, and of legislatures. In like manner the office of general military commander, as before stated, was the germ of the office of the modern chief executive magistrate.

Recurring to the tribe, it was limited in the numbers of the people, feeble in strength, and poor in resources; but yet a completely organized society. It illustrates the condition of mankind in the Lower Status of barbarism. In the Middle Status there was a sensible increase of numbers in a tribe, and an improved condition, but with a continuance of gentile society without essential change. Political society was still impossible from want of advancement. The gentes organized into tribes remained as before, but confederacies must have been more frequent. In some areas, as in the Valley of Mexico, large numbers were developed under a common government, with improvements in the arts of life, but no evidence exists of the overthrow among them of gentile society and the substitution of political. It is impossible to found a political society or a state upon gentes. A state must rest upon territory and not upon persons, upon the township as the unit of a political system, and not upon the gens, which is the unit of a social system. It required time and a vast experience, beyond that of the American Indian tribes, as a preparation for such a fundamental change of systems. It also required men of the mental stature of the Greeks and Romans, and with the experience derived from a long chain of ancestors, to devise and gradually introduce that new plan of government under which civilized nations are living at the present time.


A tendency to confederate for mutual defense would very naturally exist among kindred and contiguous tribes. When the advantages of a union had been appreciated by actual experience, the organization, at first a league, would gradually cement into a federal unity. The state of perpetual warfare in which they lived would quicken this natural tendency into action among such tribes as were sufficiently advanced in intelligence and in the arts of life to perceive its benefits. It would be simply a growth from a lower into a higher organization by an extension of the principle which united the gentes in a tribe.

As might have been expected, several confederacies existed in different parts of North America when discovered, some of which were quite remarkable in plan and structure. Among the number may be mentioned the Iroquois Confederacy of five independent tribes, the Creek Confederacy of six, the Ottawa Confederacy of three, the Dakota League of the "Seven Council Fires," the Moki Confederacy in New Mexico of Seven Pueblos, and the Aztec Confederacy of three tribes in the Valley of Mexico. It is probable that the Village Indians in other parts of Mexico, in Central and in South America were quite generally organized in confederacies consisting of two or more kindred tribes. Progress necessarily took this direction from the nature of their institutions and from the law governing their development. Nevertheless the formation of a confederacy out of such materials and with such unstable geographical relations was a difficult undertaking. It was easiest of achievement by the Village Indians from the nearness to each other of their pueblos and from the smallness of their areas; but it was accomplished in occasional instances by tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism, and notably by the Iroquois. Wherever a confederacy was formed it would of itself evince the superior intelligence of the people.

The two highest examples of Indian confederacies in North America were those of the Iroquois and of the Aztecs. From their acknowledged superiority as military powers, and from their geographical positions, these confederacies in both cases produced remarkable results. Our knowledge of the structure and principles of the former is definite and complete, while of the latter it is far from satisfactory. The Aztec Confederacy has been handled in such a manner historically as to leave it doubtful whether it was simply a league of three kindred tribes, offensive and defensive, or a systematic confederacy like that of the Iroquois. That which is true of the latter was probably in a general sense true of the former, so that a knowledge of one will tend to elucidate the other.

The conditions under which confederacies spring into being and the principles on which they are formed are remarkably simple. They grow naturally with time out of pre-existing elements. Where one tribe had divided into several, and these subdivisions occupied independent but contiguous territories, the confederacy reintegrated them in a higher organization on the basis of the common gentes they possessed and of the affiliated dialects they spoke. The sentiment of kin embodied in the gens, the common lineage of the gentes, and their dialects, still mutually intelligible, yielded the material elements for a confederation. The confederacy, therefore, had the gentes for its basis and center, and stock language for its circumference. No one has been found that reached beyond the bounds of the dialects of a common language. If this natural barrier had been crossed it would have forced heterogeneous elements into the organization. Cases have occurred where the remains of a tribe, not cognate in speech, as the Natchez, [Footnote: They were admitted into the Creek Confederacy after their overthrow by the French.] have been admitted into an existing confederacy, but this exception would not invalidate the general proposition. It was impossible for an Indian power to arise upon the American continent through a confederacy of tribes organized in gentes, and advance to a general supremacy, unless their numbers were developed from their own stock. The multitude of stock languages is a standing explanation of the failure. There was no possible way of becoming connected on equal terms with a confederacy excepting through membership in a gens and tribe and a common speech.

The Iroquois have furnished an excellent illustration of the manner in which a confederacy is formed by natural growth assisted by skillful legislation. Originally emigrants from beyond the Mississippi, and possibly a branch of the Dakota stock, they first made their way to the valley of the St. Lawrence and settled themselves near Montreal. Forced to leave this region by the hostility of surrounding tribes, they sought the central region of New York. Coasting the eastern shore of Lake Ontario in canoes, for their numbers were small, they made their first settlement at the mouth of the Oswego River, where, according to their traditions, they remained for a long period of time. They were then in at least three distinct tribes, the Mohawks, the Onondagas, and the Senecas. One tribe subsequently established themselves at the head of the Canandaigua Lake and became the Senecas. Another tribe occupied the Onondaga Valley and became the Onondagas. The third passed eastward and settled first at Oneida, near the site of Utica, from which place the main portion removed to the Mohawk Valley and became the Mohawks. Those who remained became the Oneidas. A portion of the Onondagas or Senecas settled along the eastern shore of the Cayuga Lake and became the Cayugas. New York, before its occupation by the Iroquois, seems to have been a part of the area of the Algonkin tribes. According to Iroquois traditions, they displaced its anterior inhabitants as they gradually extended their settlements eastward to the Hudson and westward to the Genesee. Their traditions further declare that a long period of time elapsed after their settlement in New York before the confederacy was formed, during which they made common cause against their enemies, and thus experienced the advantages of the federal principle both for aggression and defense. They resided in villages, which were usually surrounded with stockades, and subsisted upon fish and game and the products of a limited horticulture. In numbers they did not at any time exceed 20,000 souls, if they ever reached that number. Precarious subsistence and incessant warfare repressed numbers in all the aboriginal tribes, including the Village Indians as well. The Iroquois were enshrouded in the great forests which then overspread New York, against which they had no power to contend. They were first discovered A. D. 1608. About 1675 they attained their culminating point, when their dominion reached over an area remarkably large, covering the greater parts of New York, Pennsylvania, and Ohio, and portions of Canada north of Lake Ontario. [Footnote: About 1651-1655 they expelled their kindred tribes, the Eries, from the region between the Genesee River and Lake Erie, and shortly afterwards the Neutral Nations from the Niagara River, and thus came into possession of the remainder of New York, with the exception of the Lower Hudson and Long Island.]

At the time of their discovery they were the highest representatives of the red race north of New Mexico in intelligence and advancement, though perhaps inferior to some of the Gulf tribes in the arts of life. In the extent and quality of their mental endowments they must be ranked among the highest Indians in America. There are over six thousand Iroquois in New York, besides scattered bands in other parts of the United States, and a still larger number in Canada; thus illustrating the efficiency as well as persistency of the arts of barbarous life in sustaining existence. It is, moreover, now ascertained that they are slowly increasing.

When the confederacy was formed, about A. D. 1400-1450, the conditions previously named were present. [Footnote: The Iroquois claimed that it had existed from one hundred and fifty to two hundred years when they first saw Europeans. The generations of sachems in the history by David Cusick (a Tuscarora) would make it more ancient. Schoolcraft's History, Condition and Prospects of the Indian Tribes, 5, p. 631.]

The Iroquois were in five independent tribes, occupied territories contiguous to each other, and spoke dialects of the same language which were mutually intelligible. Beside these facts, certain gentes were common in the several tribes, as has been shown. In their relations to each other, as separated parts of the same gens, these common gentes afforded a natural and enduring basis for a confederacy. With these elements existing, the formation of a confederacy became a question of intelligence and skill. Other tribes in large numbers were standing in precisely the same relations in different parts of the continent without confederating. The fact that the Iroquois tribes accomplished the work affords evidence of their superior capacity. Moreover, as the confederacy was the ultimate stage of organization among the American aborigines, its existence would be expected in the most intelligent tribes only.

It is affirmed by the Iroquois that the confederacy was formed by a council of wise men and chiefs of the five tribes which met for that purpose on the north shore of Onondaga Lake, near the site of Syracuse; and that before its session was concluded the organization was perfected and set in immediate operation. At their periodical councils for raising up sachems they still explain its origin as the result of one protracted effort of legislation. It was probably a consequence of a previous alliance for mutual defense, the advantages of which they had perceived and which they sought to render permanent.

The origin of the plan is ascribed to a mythical, or, at least, traditionary person, Ha-yo-went-ha, the Hiawatha of Longfellow's celebrated poem, who was present at this council and the central person in its management. In his communications with the council he used a wise man of the Onondagas, Da-ga-no-we'-da, as an interpreter and speaker to expound the structure and principles of the proposed confederacy. The same tradition further declares that when the work was accomplished Ha-yo-went-ha miraculously disappeared in a white canoe, which arose with him in the air and bore him out of their sight. Other prodigies, according to this tradition, attended and signalized the formation of the confederacy, which is still celebrated among them as a masterpiece of Indian wisdom. Such in truth it was; and it will remain in history as a monument of their genius in developing gentile institutions. It will also be remembered as an illustration of what tribes of mankind have been able to accomplish in the art of government while in the Lower Status of barbarism, and under the disadvantages this condition implies.

Which of the two persona was the founder of the confederacy it is difficult to determine. The silent Ha-yo-went'-ha was, not unlikely, a real person of Iroquois lineage, but tradition has enveloped his character so completely in the supernatural that he loses his place among them as one of their number. If Hiawatha were a real person, Da-ga-no-we'-da must hold a subordinate place; but if a mythical person invoked for the occasion, then to the latter belongs the credit of planning the confederacy. [Footnote: My friend Horatio Hale, the eminent philologist, came, as he informed me, to this conclusion]

The Iroquois affirm that the confederacy, as formed by this council, with its powers, functions, and mode of administration, has come down to them through many generations to the present time with scarcely a change in its internal organization. When the Tuscaroras were subsequently admitted, their sachems were allowed by courtesy to sit as equals in the general council, but the original number of sachems was not increased, and in strictness those of the Tuscaroras formed no part of the ruling body.

The general features of the Iroquois Confederacy may be summarized in the following propositions:

I. The Confederacy was a union of Five Tribes, composed of common gentes, under one government on the basis of equality; each Tribe remaining independent in all matters pertaining to local self-government.

II. It created a General Council of Sachems, who were limited in number, equal in rank and authority, and invested with supreme powers over all matters pertaining to the Confederacy.

III. Fifty Sachemships were created and named in perpetuity in certain gentes of the several Tribes; with power in these gentes to fill vacancies, as often as they occurred, by election from among their respective members, and with the further power to depose from office for cause; but the right to invest these Sachems with office was reserved to the General Council.

IV. The Sachems of the Confederacy were also Sachems in their respective Tribes, and with the Chiefs of these Tribes formed the Council of each, which was supreme over all matters pertaining to the Tribe exclusively.

V. Unanimity in the Council of the Confederacy was made essential to every public act.

VI. In the General Council the Sachems voted by Tribes, which gave to each Tribe a negative upon the others.

VII. The Council of each Tribe had power to convene the General Council; but the latter had no power to convene itself.

VIII. The General Council was open to the orators of the people for the discussion of public questions; but the Council alone decided.

IX. The Confederacy had no chief Executive Magistrate or official head.

X. Experiencing the necessity for a General Military Commander, they created the office in a dual form, that one might neutralize the other. The two principal War-chiefs created were made equal in powers.

These several propositions will be considered and illustrated, but without following the precise form or order in which they are stated.

At the institution of the confederacy fifty permanent sachemships were created and named, and made perpetual in the gentes to which they were assigned. With the exception of two, which were filled but once, they have been held by as many different persons in succession as generations have passed away between that time and the present. The name of each sachemship is also the personal name of each sachem while he holds the office each one in succession taking the name of his predecessor. These sachems, when in session, formed the council of the confederacy in which the legislative, executive, and judicial powers were vested, although such a discrimination of functions had not come to be made. To secure order in the succession, the several gentes in which these offices were made hereditary were empowered to elect successors from among their respective members when vacancies occurred as elsewhere explained. As a further measure of protection to their own body, each sachem, after his election and its confirmation, was invested with his office by a council of the confederacy. When thus installed his name was "taken away" and that of the sachemship was bestowed upon him. By this name he was afterwards known among them. They were all upon equality in rank authority, and privileges.

These sachemships were distributed unequally among the five tribes; but without giving to either a preponderance of power; and unequally among the gentes of the last three tribes. The Mohawks had nine sachems, the Oneidas nine, the Onondagas fourteen, the Cayugas ten, and the Senecas eight. This was the number at first, and it has remained the number to the present time. A table of these sachemships, founded at the institution of the Confederacy with the names which have been borne by their sachems in succession from its formation to the present time, is subjoined, with their names in the Seneca dialect, and their arrangement in classes to facilitate the attainment of unanimity in council. In foot-notes will be found the signification of these names, and the gentes to which they belonged: [Footnote: These names signify as follows:]

Table of sachemships of the Iroquois.


One. 1. Da-go-e'-o-ge. [Footnote: "Neutral," or "The Shield."] 2. Ho-yo-went'-ha. [Footnote: "Man who Combs."] 3. Da-go-no-we'-do. [Footnote: "Inexhaustible."]

Two. 4. So-o-e-wo'-ah. [Footnote: "Small Speech."] 5. Da-yo'-ho-go. [Footnote: "At the Forks."] 6. O-o-o'-go-wo. [Footnote: "At the Great River."]

Three. 7. Da-an-no-go'-e-neh. [Footnote: "Dragging His Horns."] 8. So-da'-go-e-wo-deh. [Footnote: "Even Tempered."] 9. Hos-do-weh'-se-ont-ho. [Footnote: "Hanging up Rattles." Thee sachems in class One belonged to the Turtle gens, in class Two to the Wolf gens, and in class Three to the Bear gens.]


One. 1. Ho-dos'-ho-the. [Footnote: "A man bearing a Burden."] 2. Ga-no-gweh'-yo-do. [Footnote: "A Man covered in Cat-tail Down."] 3. Da-yo-ho'-gwen-da. [Footnote: "Opening through the Woods."]

Two. 4. So-no-sase'. [Footnote: "A Long String."] 5. To-no-o-ge-o. [Footnote: "A Man with a Headache."] 6. Ho-de-o-dun-nent'-ho. [Footnote: "Swallowing Himself."]

Three. 7. Da-wo-do'-o-do-yo. [Footnote: "Place of the Echo."] 8. Go-ne-o-dus'-ha-yeh. [Footnote: "War-clubs on the Ground."] 9. Ho-wus'-ho-da-o. [Footnote: "A man Steaming Himself." The sachems in the first class belong to Wolf gens, in the second the Turtle gens, and in the third to the Bear gens.]


One. 1. To-do-do'-ho. [Footnote: "Tangled," Bear gens.] 2. To-nes'-sa-ah. 3. Da-ot'-ga-dose. [Footnote: "On the Watch," Bear gens. This sachem and the one before him were hereditary councillors of the To-do-do'-ho, who held the most illustrious sachemship.]

Two. 4. Go-neo-do'-je-wake. [Footnote: "Bitter Body," Snipe gens.] 5. Ah-wo'-ga-yat. [Footnote: Turtle gens.] 6. Da-o-yat'-gwo-e. [Footnote: Not ascertained.]

Three. 7. Ho-no-we-ne-to. [Footnote: This sachem was hereditary keeper of the wampum; Wolf gens.]

Four. 8. Go-we-ne'-san-do. [Footnote: Deer gens] 9. Ho-e'-ho. [Footnote: Deer gens] 10. Ho-yo-ne-o'-ne. [Footnote: Turtle gens] 11. Sa-do'-kwo-seh. [Footnote: Bear gens]

Five. 12. So-go-ga-ho'. [Footnote: "Having a Glimpse," Deer gens.] 13. Ho-sa-ho'-do. [Footnote: "Large Mouth," Turtle gens.] 14. Sko-no'-wun-de. [Footnote: "Over the Creek" Turtle gens.]


One. 1. Da-go'-ne-yo. [Footnote: "Man Frightened," Deer gens.] 2. Da-je-no'-do-web-o. [Footnote: Heron gens.] 3. Go-do-gwa-sa. [Footnote: Bear gens.] 4. So-yo-wase. [Footnote: Bear gens.] 5. Ho-de-os'yo-no. [Footnote: Turtle gens.]

Two. 6. Da-yo-o-yo'go. [Footnote: Not ascertained.] 7. Jote-ho-weh'-ko. [Footnote: "Very Cold," Turtle gens.] 8. De-o-wate'-ho. [Footnote: Heron gens.]

Three. 9. To-do-e-ho'. [Footnote: Snipe gens.] 10. Des-go'-heh. [Footnote: Snipe gens.]


One. 1. Ga-ne-o-di'-yo. [Footnote: "Handsome Lake," Turtle gens.] 2. So-do-go'-o-yase. [Footnote: "Level Heavens," Snipe gens.]

Two. 3. Go-no-gi'-e. [Footnote: Turtle gens.] 4. So-geh'-jo-wo. [Footnote: "Great Forehead." Hawk gens.]

Three. 5. So-de-a-no'-wus. [Footnote: "Assistant," Bear gens.] 6. Nis-ho-ne-a'-nent. [Footnote: "Falling Day," Snipe gens.]

Four. 7. Go-no-go-e-do'-we. [Footnote: "Hair Burned Off." Snipe gens.] 8. Do-ne-ho-go'-weh. [Footnote: "Open Door," Wolf gens.]

Two of these sachemships have been filled but once since their creation. Ho-yo-went'-ho and Da-go-no-we'-da consented to take the office among the Mohawk sachems, and to leave their names in the list upon condition that after their demise the two should remain thereafter vacant. They were installed upon these terms, and the stipulation has been observed to the present day. At all councils for the investiture of sachems their names are still called with the others as a tribute of respect to their memory. The general council, therefore, consisted of but forty-eight members.

Each sachem had an assistant sachem, who was elected by the gens of his principal from among its members, and who was installed with the same forms and ceremonies. He was styled an "aid." It was his duty to stand behind his superior on all occasions of ceremony, to act as his messenger, and in general to be subject to his directions. It gave to the aid the office of chief and rendered probable his election as the successor of his principal after the decease of the latter. In their figurative language these aids of the sachems were styled "Braces in the Long House," which symbolized the confederacy.

The names bestowed upon the original sachems became the names of their respective successors in perpetuity. For example, upon the demise of Go-ne-o-di'-yo, one of the eight Seneca sachems, his successor would be elected by the Turtle gens in which this sachemship was hereditary, and when raised up by the general council he would receive this name, in place of his own, as a part of the ceremony. On several different occasions I have attended their councils for raising up sachems both at the Onondaga and Seneca reservations, and witnessed the ceremonies herein referred to. Although but a shadow of the old confederacy now remains, it is fully organized with its complement of sachems and aids, with the exception of the Mohawk tribe, which removed to Canada about 1775. Whenever vacancies occur their places are filled, and a general council is convened to install the new sachems and their aids. The present Iroquois are also perfectly familiar with the structure and principles of the ancient confederacy.

For all purposes of tribal government the five tribes were independent of each other. Their territories were separated by fixed boundary lines, and their tribal interests were distinct. The eight Seneca sachems, in conjunction with the other Seneca chiefs, formed the council of the tribe by which its affairs were administered, leaving to each of the other tribes the same control over their separate interests. As an organization the tribe was neither weakened nor impaired by the confederate compact. Each was in vigorous life within its appropriate sphere, presenting some analogy to our own States within an embracing Republic. It is worthy of remembrance that the Iroquois commended to our forefathers a union of the colonies similar to their own as early as 1755. They saw in the common interests and common speech of the several colonies the elements for a confederation, which was as far as their vision was able to penetrate.

The tribes occupied positions of entire equality in the confederacy in rights, privileges, and obligations. Such special immunities as were granted to one or another indicate no intention to establish an unequal compact or to concede unequal privileges. There were organic provisions apparently investing particular tribes with superior power; as, for example, the Onondagas were allowed fourteen sachems and the Senecas but eight; and a larger body of sachems would naturally exercise a stronger influence in council than a smaller. But in this case it gave no additional power, because the sachems of each tribe had an equal voice in forming a decision, and a negative upon the others. When in council they agreed by tribes, and unanimity in opinion was essential to every public act. The Onondagas were made "Keepers of the Wampum," and "Keepers of the Council Brand," the Mohawks "Receivers of Tribute" from subjugated tribes, and the Senecas "Keepers of the Door" of the Long House. These and some other similar provisions were made for the common advantage.

The cohesive principle of the confederacy did not spring exclusively from the benefits of an alliance for mutual protection, but had a deeper foundation in the bond of kin. The confederacy rested upon the tribes ostensibly, but primarily upon common gentes. All the members of the same gens, whether Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, or Senecas, were brothers and sisters to each other in virtue of their descent from the same common ancestor, and they recognized each other as such with the fullest cordiality. When they met, the first inquiry was the name of each other's gens, and next the immediate pedigree of their respective sachems; after which they were usually able to find, under their peculiar system of consanguinity the relationship in which they stood to each other. [Footnote: The children of brothers are themselves brothers and sisters to each other; the children of the latter were also brothers and sisters, and so downwards indefinitely. The children and descendants of sisters are the same. The children of a brother and sister are cousins; the children of the latter are cousins, and so downwards indefinitely. A knowledge of the relationships to each other of the members of the same gens is never lost.]

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