BEFORE IRON TOOLS, INDIANS FELLED TREES WITH FIRE; BOW, ARROW FELL INTO DISUSE WHEN TRADING BEGAN
By Dallas Bogan
Reprinted with Permission from Dallas Bogan. This article was published in the LaFollette Press.
This week we shall go back in time and examine, to some extent, the life styles of the Native American. His place in the Americas should not be forgotten. His food source, lifestyles and habits are somewhat forerunners of our country 's culture.
Life in the Forest.
The Indians felled trees before the introduction of the iron tomahawk by fire. They built a fire against the trunk of a standing tree and kept it burning until the tree fell. This method was found still in use among the older men and those who did not own a hatchet. Trees were felled both for firewood and for canoes. The canoes had formerly been hollowed out of a whole tree trunk by burning.
Wood for fuel and for other purposes was burned into pieces of such length as to be easily carried home. They used much wood for fuel and wished their food well cooked. When they have lived long in one place, it at last becomes troublesome to secure wood for fuel because all the wood in the neighborhood had been used. This causes them to leave the place and plan a new village for the sake of the wood and other conveniences.
The bow and arrow had fallen into disuse with the tribes which traded with the whites and were used only for small game, such as the pigeon, fox and raccoon, in order to save powder. There were still, however, whole tribes to the west and northwest that used nothing but the bow and arrow and had no desire to obtain European weapons; boys, however, were trained to shoot with the bow. The first deer a boy shot proved an occasion of great importance.
The best time for hunting was in the fall when the game was fat and the hides in good condition. In September and October the men went hunting with their families, remaining away until the new year or later. After new year, they devoted themselves to catching the beaver, the raccoon, the fox ,and other fur-bearing animals. The Indians had already learned from the whites how to use the steel trap, and the beaver which had been numerous were becoming scarce. Their skins were of considerable value. They also hunted the bear. The winter hunt lasted until spring.
Deer were most hunted among the larger game, there being considerable trade in skins, a buckskin being worth about a dollar. The deer was killed mostly for their hides, only so much of the meat as the hunters could consume while on the chase was consumed by them. Most of the meat was left in the woods for the wild animals; the wolves especially followed the hunters, moving in the direction of the shooting.
The white man's firearms were already in general use. Some Indians used no other than rifle barreled guns, but farther north muskets were more common. The Delawares in Ohio had acquired some skill in repairing their gun when out of order and had learned even to furnish them with stocks. How many deer could an Indian hunter kill with his gun? One source says: "As an Indian shoots from 50 to 150 deer each fall, it can easily be seen that game must decrease."
Game, Large and Small.
Occasionally an elk would be shot in the region as this lent to good meat. The buffalo is described as being numerous in quantity, numbering in the hundreds.
Of the smaller animals were three kinds of squirrels, not including the ground-squirrel, viz: the black, the grey and the red. The black were most commonly found, the grey being the largest, and the red the smallest in size. Their flesh proved tender, and was eaten by the Indians in case of sickness, or when they were very hungry for meat.
Of the many different kinds of larger birds, the largest was the crane, supposed to be the sand-hill crane. When it is standing on its long legs and stretching its neck upwards, it was as tall as a man and its body proportionately heavy. When shot and only wounded it attacks its pursuer. The fall wild turkeys might be seen in flocks numbering hundreds. The Indians hunted their eggs and were quite fond of them.
Crows did much damage, especially in the Indians' cornfields, both when the corn was planted and when it was ripening.
The smallest bird in the region was the honey bird, (the hummingbird) which without perching on the flowers sucks the honey out of them.
It is known that the Indians in different parts of North America had, when first seen by the whites, dogs which seem to have been their only domesticated animal. These dogs were used in the chase and sometimes killed for food. The origin of this breed is unknown, the same as that of the domesticated dog in every part of the world. Our source says:
"Dogs they likewise possessed in former days of a kind still to be found in considerable numbers among them. These may readily be distinguished from European dogs, which are now most commonly found among the Indians. The ears of Indian dogs rise rigidly from the head and the animals have something of a wolfish nature, for they show their teeth immediately when roused. They will never attack a wolf, though set on to do so, in this respect also differing from European dogs. Of their origin their masters can give as little information as that of the Indians themselves."
In another place at their war feasts they would sometimes kill a couple of dogs, not because dog's flesh was a delicacy, for the Indian dogs were very lean, but because it was thought to inspire them with the spirit of war and murder. Women at these feasts would eat dog's flesh with a level of greediness.
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