IT is generally believed that the California Indian in his original condition was one of the most miserable and wretched of the world’s aborigines. As one writer puts it :
” When discovered by the padres he was almost naked, half starved, living in filthy little hovels built of tule, speaking a meagre language broken up into as many different and independent dialects as there were tribes, having no laws and few definite customs, cruel, simple, lazy, andin one word which best describes such a condition of existence wretched. There are some forms of savage life that we can admire ; there are others that can only excite our disgust ; of the latter were the California Indians.”
This is the general attitude taken by most writers of this later day, as well as of the padres themselves, yet I think I shall be able to show that in some regards it is a mistaken one. I do not believe the Indians were the degraded and brutal creatures the padres and others have endeavored to make out. This is no charge of bad faith against these writers. It is merely a criticism of their judgment. Twenty-five years of acquaintance and frequent association with the Indians of Nevada, California, and the Southwest have demonstrated several important things. Indians, like other people, are not to be judged by the clothes they wear, or do not wear. Exterior appearances are by no means to be relied upon any more than when Thomas Carlyle wrote his ” Sartor Resartus.”
It is the instinctive habit of the missionary to record, as of chief importance, the evil, degrading, and hideous things that strike him in the character of those to whom he comes to minister. Who has not recognized this in listening to the stories of returned missionaries from India and Africa?
” Where every prospect pleases, And only man is vile.”
It has ever been the same. To the conquered Britons the Vikings were hideous sea-rovers. To the Latins the Goths and Vandals were void of all human traits. Yet history has revealed many wonderfully excellent things alike in Viking, Goth, and Vandal. The Moors overran Spain, and were terrible creatures to those whom they subjugated, yet they left an architecture and an influence which have come down to us and are now coloring the lives of our citizens on the shores of the Sundown Sea. Everything depends upon the angle of vision at which things are seen. In the case of the subjugated European peoples the angle was oblique; and equally so was it, I believe, in the case of those who have judged the Indians of California.
The fact that in a few years the Indians became remarkably competent in so many fields of skilled labor is the best answer to the unfounded charges of abject savagery. Peoples are not civilized nor educated in a day. Brains cannot be put into a monkey, no matter how well educated his teacher is. There must have been the mental quality, the ability to learn ; or even the miraculous patience, perseverance, and love of the missionaries would not have availed to teach them, in several hundred years, much less, then, in the half-century they had them under their control, the many things we know they learned.
The Indians, prior to the coming of the padres, were skilled in some arts, as the making of pottery, basketry, canoes, stone axes, arrow heads, spear heads, stone knives, and the like. Holder says of the inhabitants of Santa Catalina that although their implements were of stone, wood, or shell ” the skill with which they modelled and made their weapons, mortars, and steatite ollas, their rude mosaics of abalone shells, and their manufacture of pipes, medicine-tubes, and flutes give them high rank among savages.” The mortars found throughout California, some of which are now to he seen in the museums of Santa Barbara, Los Angeles, San Diego, etc., are models in shape and finish. As for their basketry, I have else-where 1 shown that it alone stamps them as an artistic, mechanically skilful, and mathematically inclined people, and the study of their designs and their meanings reveals a love of nature, poetry, sentiment, and religion that put them upon a superior plane. Because people live on food that we do not eat, that is no evidence of barbarism. To the Englishman the frog-eating of the Frenchman was long a source of offence the stupid insularity of the one deeming it a sign of inferiority in the other. Now he imitates his brother across the channel in this very particular, and glories in his epicurean taste. So with China. The rudest and most ignorant sailor that ever left the shores of a pride-besotted people can sneer at the civilization of thousands of years in Hindoo, Buddhist, or Chinaman because of some racial difference in diet, totally incompetent to see that his own habits are immeasurably more disgusting and revolting than the ones he criticises.
Cabrillo was the first white man whom we know visited the Indians of the coast of California. He made his memorable journey in 1542-3. In 1539, Ulloa sailed up the Gulf of California, and, a year later, Alarcon and Diaz explored the Colorado River, possibly to the point where Yuma now stands. These three men came in contact with the Cocopahs and the Yumas, and possibly with other tribes.
Cabrillo tells of the Indians with whom he held communication. They were timid, and somewhat hostile at first, but easily appeased. Some of them, especially those living on the islands (now known as San Clemente, Santa Catalina, Anacapa, Santa Barbara, Santa Rosa, San Miguel, and Santa Cruz), were superior to those found inland. They rowed in pine canoes having a seating capacity of twelve or thirteen men, and were expert fishermen. They dressed in the skins of animals, were rude agriculturists, and built for themselves shelters or huts of willows, tules, and mud.
Vizcaino, who ” rediscovered ” the country in 1602, wrote a letter to the King of Spain, dated May 23, 1603, in which he thus speaks of the Indians :
” This land has a genial climate, its waters are good, and it is very fertile, to judge from the varied and luxuriant growth of trees and plants ; for I saw some of the fruits, particularly chestnuts and acorns, which are larger than those of Spain. And it is thickly settled with people whom I found to be of gentle disposition, peaceable and docile, and who can be brought readily within the fold of the Holy Gospel and into subjection to the crown of Your Majesty. Their food consists of seeds, which they have in abundance and variety, and of the flesh of game : such as bears, bisons, and deer, which are larger than cows, and of neat cattle, and many other animals. The Indians are of good stature and fair complexion, the women being some-what smaller in size than the men, and of pleasing countenance. The clothing of the people of the coast-lands consists of the skins of the sea-wolves abounding there, which they tan and dress better than is done in Castile ; they possess, also, in great quantity, flax like that of Castile, hemp and cotton, from which they make fishing-lines and nets for rabbits and hares. They have vessels of pine wood very well made, which, having fourteen paddlemen at a side, they navigate with great dexterity, even in very stormy weather. I was informed by them and many others whom I met in great numbers along more than eight hundred leagues of a thickly settled coast, that inland there are great communities, which they invited me to visit with them.”
Padre Salmeron says of the aboriginal inhabitants of Santa Catalina :
“They are fishermen, using boats of boards ; the prows and poops high, and the middle very low. Some will hold more than twenty persons. There are many sea-lions, the which these Indians hunt for food ; and with the tanned skins they all cover themselves, men and women, and it is their usual protection. The women are very handsome and decent. The children are white and ruddy and very smiling. Of these Indians, many wished to come with the Spaniards ; they are so loving as all this.”
In 1770 Don Miguel Costanso tells of the craftsmen of the California Indians in their aboriginal condition. He says :
“The men work handsome trays of wood, with firm inlays of coral or of bone ; and some vases of much capacity, closing at the mouth, which appear to be made with a lathe and with this machine they would not come out better hollowed nor of more perfect form. They give the whole a lustre which appears the finished handiwork of a skilled Artisan.”
He says further :
“The dexterity and skill of these Indians is surpassing in the construction of their Launches made of Pine planking (tublazon). They are from eight to ten varas (22 to 27 1/2 feet) in length, including their rake, and of a vara and half (4 feet 1 1/2 inches) beam. Into their fabric enters no iron whatever, of the use of which they know little. But they fasten the boards with firmness, one to another, working their drills just so far apart and at a distance of an inch from the edge, the (holes) in the upper boards corresponding with those in the lower, and thro’ these holes they pass strong lashings of Deer sinews. They pitch and calk the seams, and paint the whole in sightly colors. They handle the (boats) with equal cleverness, and three or four men go out to the open sea to fish in them, as they have capacity to carry eight or ten. They use long oars with two blades, and row with unspeakable lightness and velocity. They know all the arts of fishing, and Fish abound along their Coasts, as has been said of San Diego. They have communication and Commerce with the Natives of the Islands, whence they get the beads of coral which are current in place of money thro’ all these Lands ; altho’ they hold in more esteem the glass beads which the Spaniards gave them and offered in exchange for these whatever they had, like trays, Otter skins, baskets, and wooden plates. More than anything they appreciate whatsoever clasp-knife (navaja) or cutting instrument ; whose advantages over the (implements) of flint they admire ; it causing them much satisfaction to see use made of the axes and machetes, and the facility with which the soldiers, to make firewood, felled a Tree with the said Instruments.”
Padre Crespi’s testimony is also useful. In telling of the land expedition which led to the discovery of the Bay of San Francisco he thus writes of the Indians :
” It was observed that the Indians along that coast had larger tents than common among the natives, and that each family lived in a separate hut. From Santa Barbara the explorers passed through Santa Clara canyon, where there are now so many splendid farm-homes. The dwellings of the then inhabitants were made of a few poles stuck in the ground, forming a semicircle, brought together in a conical shape, with bundles of sage brush thrown over, leaving an opening at the top which served to permit the escape of smoke and to let in the air and light. Near San Buenaventura they found the Indians more industrious and athletic, and the women better clad. They cleverly made well shaped canoes of pine, and all their work was well finished. Some of their fishing boats would hold ten men ; they would go out to sea some distance, and showed great dexterity in managing very long oars. To work out the timber and stone they used only tools made of flint, being ignorant of the use of iron and steel. They readily exchanged highly polished wooden plates for a few trinkets.”
The principal written source of authority for our knowledge of the Indians at the time of the arrival of the Fathers is Fray Geronimo Boscana’s ” Chinigchinich: A Historical Account, etc., of the Indians of San Juan Capistrano.” There are many interesting things in this account, some of importance, and others of very slight value. He insists that there was a great difference in the intelligence of the natives north of Santa Barbara and those to the south in favor of the former. Of these he says they ” are much more industrious, and appear an entirely distinct race. They formed, from shells, a kind of money, which passed current among them, and they constructed out of logs very swift and excellent canoes for fishing.”
Of the character of his Indians he had a very poor idea. He compares them to monkeys who imitate, and especially in their copying the ways of the white men, ” whom they respect as beings much superior to themselves ; but in so doing, they are careful to select vice in preference to virtue. This is the result, undoubtedly, of their corrupt and natural disposition.”
Of the language of the California Indians Boscana says there was great diversity, finding a new dialect almost every fifteen to twenty leagues.
They were not remarkably industrious, yet the men made their home utensils, bows and arrows, the several instruments used in making baskets, and also constructed nets, spinning the thread from yucca fibres, which they beat and prepared for that purpose. They also built the houses.
The women gathered seeds, prepared them, and did the cooking, as well as all the household duties. They made the baskets, all other utensils being made by the men.
The dress of the men, when they dressed at all, was with the skin of animals thrown over the shoulders, leaving the rest of the body exposed, but the women wore a cloak and dress of twisted rabbit-skins. I have found these same rabbit-skin dresses in use by Mohaves and Yumas within the past three or four years.
It has often been said that the men could not grow beards. The truth is that they plucked out the hairs one by one, using a bivalve shell as pincers. To-day many of the men allow the beard to grow. Some have a thinner beard, a condition which is doubtless owing, the Indians believe, to the long-continued practice of plucking out the hairs.
Men and women alike used various colored pigments on their faces. Red, yellow, and blue were the principal colors chosen, and today, at their festivals, one may see these Indians decorated in exactly the same fashion that their ancestors have followed for centuries.
The youths were required to keep away from the fire, in order that they might learn to suffer with bravery and courage. They were forbidden also to eat certain kinds of foods, to teach them to bear deprivation and to learn to control their appetites. In addition to this there were certain ceremonies which included fasting, abstinence from drinking, and the production of hallucinations by means of a vegetable drug, called pivat (still used, by the way, by some of the Indians of Southern California), and the final branding of the neophyte, which Boscana describes as follows : ” A kind of herb was pounded until it became sponge-like ; this they placed, according to the figure required, upon the spot intended to be burnt, which was generally upon the right arm, and sometimes upon the thick part of the leg also. They then set fire to it, and let it remain until all that was combustible was consumed. Consequently, a large blister immediately formed, and although painful, they used no remedy to cure it, but left it to heal itself ; and thus, a large and perpetual scar remained. The reason alleged for this ceremony was that it added greater strength to the nerves, and gave a better pulse for the management of the bow.” This ceremony was called potense.
Another infliction was required of them that recalls the descriptions Frank H. Cushing gave of the initiation ceremonies of the Zunis :
“They were whipped with nettles, and covered with ants, that they might become robust, and the infliction was always performed in summer, during the months of July and August, when the nettle was in its most fiery state. They gathered small bunches, which they fastened together,-and the poor deluded Indian was chastised, by inflicting blows with them upon his naked limbs, until unable to walk ; and then he was carried to the nest of the nearest and most furious species of ants, and laid down among them, while some of his friends, with sticks, kept annoying the insects to make them still more violent.”
The education of the girls was by no means neglected.
” They were taught to remain at home, and not to roam about in idleness ; to be always employed in some domestic duty, so that, when they were older, they might know how to work, and attend to their household duties ; such as procuring seeds, and cleaning them making “atole ” and ” pinole,” which are kinds of gruel, and their daily food. When quite young, they have a small, shallow basket, called by the natives “tucmel,” with which they learn the way to clean the seeds, and they are also instructed in grinding, and preparing the same for consumption.”
When a girl was married her father gave her good advice as to her conduct. She must be faithful to her wifely duties and do nothing to disgrace either her husband or her parents. Children of tender years were sometimes betrothed by their parents. Padre Boscana says he married a couple, the girl having been but eight or nine months old, and the boy two years when they were contracted for by their parents.
Childbirth was natural and easy with them, as it generally is with all primitive peoples. I have known an Indian woman to give birth to a child, walk half a mile to a stream, step into it and wash both herself and the new-born babe, then return to her camp, put her child in a yakia, or basket cradle-carrier, sling it over her back, and start on a four or five mile journey, on foot, up the rocky and steep sides of a canyon.
A singular custom prevailed among these people, not uncommon elsewhere. The men, when their wives were suffering their accouchement, would abstain from all flesh and fish, refrain from smoking and all diversions, and stay within the Kish, or hut, from fifteen to twenty days.
The god of the San Juan Indians was Chinigchinich, and it is possible, from similarity in the ways of appearing and disappearing, that he is the monster Tauquitch of the Sabobas and Cahuillas described in The Legend of Tauquitch and Algoot. This god was a queer compound of goodness and evil, who taught them all the rites and ceremonies that they afterwards observed.
Many of the men and a few women posed as possessing supernatural powers witches, in fact, and such was the belief in their power that, ” without resistance, all immediately acquiesced in their demands.” They also had physicians who used cold water, plasters of herbs, whipping with nettles (doubtless the principle of the counter irritant), the smoke of certain plants, and incantations, with a great deal of general, all-around humbug to produce their cures. I have found the same things to-day among the Cahuillas, these people calling their medicine men ” ting’-i-vash.” Boscana thus tells of methods of treatment, all of which I have seen pursued:
“They placed feathers upon his head, and encircled him entirely with these, and other articles, such as horse-hair, grass, beads, and hairs of the head ; blowing at the same time with their mouths towards the four cardinal points, and muttering to themselves certain low sounds certain mysterious words accompanied with antic gesticulations, of which no one knew the meaning. After this, one of them applied his lips to the part affected, and pretended to draw from it, by suction, the particles, which they had stated as being within, and exposed them to all present. The spectators, as well as the patient, placed strict confidence in the fact, and were satisfied whether he recovered or died.
There were many of these impostors spread about the country, who, after being well fed and paid for their services, made all manner of ridicule of their too credulous companions. Wonderful as it may appear, oftentimes they performed cures, when the patients were apparently fast verging into eternity, and in the space of twenty-four hours, by their extravagances and witch-craft, they have enabled them to rise from a bed of Sickness, and unite with their companions in their domestic employments.”
If this were the only testimony upon the subject of the medicine of the Indians we could do no other than form a very poor idea of their methods, but, fortunately, we have expert testimony from an entirely impartial authority, who, besides extolling their temescals, or sweat-baths, their surgical abilities, as displayed in the operations that were performed upon skulls that have since been exhumed, their hygienic customs, which he declares ” are not only commendable, but worthy of the consideration of an advanced civilization,” states further:
“It has been reserved for the California Indian to furnish three of the most valuable vegetable additions which have been made to the Pharmacopoeia during the last twenty years. One, the Eriodyction Glutinosum, growing profusely in our foothills, was used by them in affections of the respiratory tract, and its worth was so appreciated by the Missionaries as to be named Yerba Santa, or Holy Plant. The second, the Rhamnus purshiana, gathered now for the market in the upper portions of the State, is found scattered through the timbered mountains of Southern California. It was used as a laxative, and on account of the constipating effect of an acorn diet, was doubtless in active demand. So highly was it esteemed by the followers of the Cross that it was christened Casyara Sagrada, or Sacred Bark. The third, Grindelia robusta, was used in the treatment of pulmonary troubles, and externally in poisoning from Rhus toxicodendron, or Poison Oak, and in various skin diseases.”
Their food was of the crudest and simplest character. Whatever they could catch they ate, from deer or bear to grasshoppers, lizards, rats, and snakes. In baskets of their own manufacture, they gathered all kinds of wild seeds, and after using a rude process of threshing, they winnowed them. They also gathered mesquite beans in large quantities ; burying them in pits for a month or two, in order to extract from them certain disagreeable flavors, and then storing them in large and rudely made willow granaries. But, as Dr. Cephas L. Bard well says :
“Of the Vegetable articles of diet the acorn was the principal one. It was deprived of its bitter taste by grinding, running through sieves made of interwoven grasses, and frequent washings. Another one was Chia, the seeds of Salvia Columbariae which in appearance are somewhat similar to birdseed. They were roasted, ground, and used as a food by being mixed with water. Thus prepared, it soon develops into a mucilaginous mass, larger than its original bulk. Its taste is somewhat like that of linseed meal. It is exceedingly nutritious, and was readily borne by the stomach when that organ refused to tolerate other aliment. An atole, or gruel, of this was one of the peace offerings to the first visiting sailors. One tablespoonful of these seeds was sufficient to sustain for twenty-four hours an Indian on a forced march. Chia was no less prized by the Native Californian, and at this late date it frequently commands $6 or $8 a pound.
” The pinion, the fruit of the pine, was largely used, and until now annual expeditions are made by the few surviving members of the coast tribes to the mountains for a supply. That they cultivated maize in certain localities, there can be but little doubt. They intimated to Cabrillo by signs that such was the case, and the supposition is confirmed by the presence at various points of vestiges of irrigating ditches. Yslay, the fruit of the wild cherry, was used as a food, and prepared by fermentation as an intoxicant. The seeds ground and made into balls were esteemed highly. The fruit of the manzanita, the seeds of burr clover, malva, and alfileri, were also used. Tunas, the fruit of the cactus, and wild blackberries, existed in abundance, and were much relished. A sugar was extracted from a certain reed of the tulares.”
Acorns, seeds, mesquite beans, and dried meat were all pounded up in a well made granite mortar, on the top of which, oftentimes, a basket hopper was fixed by means of pine gum. Some of these mortars were hewn from steatite, or soapstone, others from a rough basic rock, and many of them were exceedingly well made and finely shaped ; results requiring much patience and no small artistic skill. Oftentimes these mortars were made from the solid granite rocks or boulders, found near the harvesting and winnowing places, and I have photographed many such during late years.
Birds were caught in a most ingenious manner. One method was shown to me by an Indian on the Tule River reservation a few years ago. With semicircular arches of willow, a hiding-place was made, the hoops being covered with leafy brush or weeds. In this the Indian hid himself, after having prepared a bare spot outside his shelter, and upon which he sprinkled a liberal supply of seeds. In his hand he held a long pole, at the upper end of which was affixed a strong but small string ; the other end being threaded through loops affixed to the pole. The pole was then thrust out among the seeds, the string being formed into a loop. Then, imitating the call of the birds, it was not long before doves, quail, or other game were attracted to the place, and, seeing the seeds, alighted. In their hopping to and fro, some of them invariably stepped into the noose. Quickly the watching Indian pulled the string tight, and, as quietly as possible, drew back the snared bird into his shelter. Wringing its neck, the Indian thrust forth the pole, and again continued the operation, until sufficient game was secured.
At times there were special foods for men and special foods for women. For instance, a hunter ate the legs of a rabbit or a deer, with the idea that thereby he would gain the speed displayed by these animals. He ate the heart of the mountain lion, that he might be as fearless as the wild beast itself. In eating snakes, the Indian desired and expected the gliding and noiseless quality of the reptile to become a part of himself. Women refused to eat salt lest it turn their hair gray ; and a nursing mother took a decoction of the root of milk-weed, in order to promote lacteal secretions.
Most effective testimony to the healthfulness and moderation of their habits is given by Dr. Bard when he thus refers to their longevity:
“That they possessed as a race greater longevity than their successors, there remains no doubt. The great majority of skulls examined are indicative of very advanced age, the cranial sutures being entirely consolidated, with no vestiges of their existence. The records of the Missions furnish many instances of death at extreme old age. Those of San Buenaventura give the ages of three Indian women buried there as, respectively, 100, 105, and 114 years. Father Martinez, in charge of the Mission of San Miguel, shortly after its foundation, wrote that it possessed three Indian women each of whom was more than 100 years old. The records of the other Missions reveal the presence now and in the past of numerous Indian centenarians. The ages of Fernando and Placido, who died at Los Angeles, were estimated at 102 and 137. The latter danced at a fandango a short time prior to his decease. Justiniano Roxas, who died at Santa Cruz in 1878, was baptized at that Mission in 1792, and his age then was put down by the officiating padre as about forty. Within the last few years there have died in Kern county four Indians, each of whom was undoubtedly over 100 years old. They were Canillo (Alcalde of Tejon), Alfonso, Rafael, and Francisco. They helped to build the Mission of San Fernando. An Indian named Gabriel died in Monterey some time ago who was reported to have been 140 years of age. Dr. Remondino, in a paper read before the State Society in 1890, gives some interesting experiences of prolonged savage life in San Diego county. At the Mission of San Tomas there lived an old Indian 140 years old. On the Sweetwater was an Indian man 115 years old, and one died at the county seat 109 years old. At Capitan Grande were several Indian women over 100 years old. Warner’s ranch furnishes one 130 years of age. The present chief of the almost extinct local tribe at San Buenaventura, Juan de Jesus, is an active old centenarian, who can be seen on the streets every day. As an evidence of his virility it may be said that the last of his series of squaws presented him ten years ago with twin papooses. Dr. Ferguson of Bakersfield informs me that an old Indian named Sebastian lives there who at the age 90 rides forty to fifty miles a day.”
Throughout the country the Indians have left quite a number of picture writings. One of the most noted groups of these is found east of the San Marcos pass, about sixteen miles northwest of Santa Barbara. Owing to color having been used, and the pictographs being located in a cave, the location is known as the Painted Cave. The pictographs are in red, white, yellow, and black, and show crosses, conventionalized forms of the sun, human figures, circular designs, snake-like figures, tree-forms, centipedes, etc.
Possibly these pictographs had something to do with their early worship, but as far as I know, no endeavor was ever made to find out from the Indians themselves. In matters pertaining to their inner thought they are always exceedingly reticent. This is one secret of the vast amount of error and misunderstanding that has passed current as fact concerning them.
Few men have known the Indian more sympathetically than John Comfort Fillmore, the great authority on aboriginal music, and in the following words he expresses my own thought so much better on this subject than I can that I quote him in full:
” Of course there are serious difficulties in the way of acquiring this knowledge. The Indian is always suspicious of the white man, until his confidence has been completely won. He is always expecting his white visitor to look on his religious ideas and feelings, not with respect and sympathy, but with more or less of contempt. `You will not believe me,’ said a Sioux priest to a friend of mine who was his guest at the great Sun-dance, ‘but I pray to God, and I am answered.’ ‘ Certainly,’ was the reply, ‘ why not ?’ The priest looked surprised and said : “But your people think my people are dogs!’ Whoever would study the Indian must absolutely divest him-self of all feeling of superiority of any kind, and think of his red brethen simply as men like himself, differing, to be sure, in their bringing-up and in their inherited ideas, but as well-intentioned and living up to the light they have quite as well, on the average, as the men of his own race. If he can show himself brotherly and sympathetic he will, sooner or later, over-come the natural suspicion with which the Indian at first regards him, and then the way is open for an intelligent comprehension of the Indian character.”
The religion of these tribes was very simple. It was a rude kind of Nature worship with personified divinities ; some of whom were -undoubted human heroes possessing mythical histories. In the ” Journal of American Folk-Lore ” for October, 1903, I have related the story of one of these demigods, Algoot by name, who slew a cannibal monster, Tauquitch, and who still terrorizes the superstitious Indians of the region about Mount San Jacinto.
Their ceremonies consisted of smoking the propitiatory pipe the ascending smoke typifying the ascent of their prayers to Those Above dancing, praying, and singing. Dancing always attracted the attention of the gods, and, having their interest thus aroused, they could not fail to pay heed to the petitions presented to them.
As a specimen of the beliefs of the old aborigines, here is part of a story once told to me by an aged Saboba Indian. After describing the coming of his people to Southern California, from some far-away land over the sea, and the varied adventures of these heroes, he continued :
” But when Siwash, the god of earth, looked around and saw everything revealed by the sun, he *as displeased ; for the earth was bare, level, and monotonous, and there was nothing to cheer the sight. Who could love a world that was all one limit-less plain, with no mountains, no trees, hills, rocks, rivers, waterfalls, creeks, animals, reptiles, no birds, nor flowers ? There were many of our people that were of no use. So Siwash took these, and of some he made high mountains, of some, smaller mountains ; of others he made rivers, creeks, lakes, and water-falls ; of still others coyotes, foxes, deer, antelope, bear, squirrels, porcupines, and all the other animals. Then he made out of other people all the different kinds of snakes, insects, birds, and fishes. Then he wanted trees, plants, and flowers, and so he turned some of the people into these. Of every man or woman that he seized, he made something according to the person’s value.
” When he finished his work, he had made a beautiful country of this, and there were many things that my people had never seen before. But he had used up so many men and women that he was frightened. So he made a new lot of people, some to live here, there, and anywhere. And he gave to each family its own language and tongue, and its own place to live, and he told them all the sad distress that would come upon them if they mingled their tongues by intermarriage. Each family was to live in its own place, and while all the different families were to be friends, one to the other, and live as brothers bound together by kinship and concord, there was to be no mixing of bloods.
“Thus were settled the original inhabitants on the coast of Southern California by Siwash, the god of the earth, under the leadership of Uuyot.”
These Indians were polygamists, as a matter of course, but much of what the missionaries and others have called their obscenities and vile conversations were the simple and unconscious utterances of men and women whose instincts were not perverted. It is the invariable testimony of all careful observers of every class that as a rule the aborigines were healthy, vigorous, virile, and chaste, until they became demoralized by the whites. With many of them certain ceremonies had a distinct flavor of sex worship : a rude phallicism which exists to the present day. To the priests, as to most modern observers, these rites were offensive and obscene, but to the Indians they were only the natural and simple prayers for the fruitfulness of their wives and of the other producing forces.
J. S. Hittell says of the Indians of California :
” They had no religion, no conception of a deity, or of a future life, no idols, no form of worship, no priests, no philosophical conceptions, no historical traditions, no proverbs, no mode of recording thought before the coming of the missionaries among them.”
Seldom has there been so much absolute misstatement as in this quotation. Jeremiah Curtin, the translator of Sienkiewicz and a life-long student of the Indian, speaking of the same Indians, makes a remark which applies with force to these first three statements:
” The Indian, at every step, stood face to face with divinity as he knew or understood it. He could never escape from the presence of those powers who had made the first world. . . . The most important question of all in Indian life was communication with divinity, intercourse with the spirits of divine personages.”
In his ” Creation Myths of Primitive America,” this studious author gives the names of a number of divinities, and the legends connected with them. He affirms positively that ” the most striking thing in all savage belief is the low estimate put upon man, when unaided by divine, uncreated power. In Indian belief every object in the universe is divine except man ! ”
As to their having no priests, no forms of worship, no philosophical conceptions, no historical traditions, no proverbs, any one interested in the Indian of today knows that these things are untrue. Whence came all the myths and legends that recent writers have gathered, a score of which I myself hold still unpublished in my note-book? Were they all imagined after the arrival of the Mission Fathers? By no means ! They have been handed down for countless centuries, and they come to us, perhaps a little corrupted, but still just as accurate as do the songs. of Homer.
Every tribe had its medicine men, who were developed by a most rigorous series of tests ; such as would dismay many a white man. As to their philosophical conceptions and traditions, Curtin well says that in them ” we have a monument of thought which is absolutely unequalled, altogether unique in human experience. The special value of this thought lies, moreover, in the fact that it is primitive ; that it is the thought of ages long anterior to those which we find recorded in the eastern hemisphere, either in sacred books, in histories, or in literature, whether pre-served on baked brick, burnt cylinders, or papyrus.”
And if we go to the Pueblo Indians, the Navahoes, the Pimas, and others, all of whom were brought more or less under the influence of the Franciscans, we find a mass of beliefs, deities, traditions, conceptions, and proverbs, which would overpower Mr. Hittell merely to collate.
Therefore, let it be distinctly understood that the Indian was not the thoughtless, unimaginative, irreligious, brutal savage which he is too often represented to be. He thought, and thought well, but still originally. He was religious, profoundly and powerfully so, but in his own way ; he was a philosopher, but not according to Hittell; he was a worshipper, but not after the method of Serra, Palou, and their priestly coadjutors.