United States. Bureau of Indian Affairs.

Peyote. An abridged compilation from the files of the Bureau of Indian affairs online

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Prepared by Dr. ROBERT E. L. NEWBERNE
Chief Medical Supervisui

Under the direction of CHAS. H. BURKE


2-'2».~ c.^








Prepared by Dr. ROBERT E. L. NEWBERNE

Chief Medical Supervisor

Under the direction of CHAS. H. BURKE





Ci^j*^,^ \^

r LIBRARY OF congress'"



Introduction v

The Indian's craving for stimulants 1

The peyote cactus 2

Derivation of name 2

Indian names for peyote 3

Botanical name of peyote 3

Botanical variations 4

Geographical distribution 4

The sacred mushroom of the Aztecs 4

Peyote in commerce 5

Early missionary reports concerning sacred plants 7

Worship of the cactus 8

The attitude of the missionaries 8

Ceremonial use of peyote by the Indians 9

The old-time peyote meeting 9

An official description of a modern peyote meeting 11

The peyote religion 11

The growth of the peyote cult 12

Religio-therapeutic use of peyote 13

The extension of the habit 14

Harmful effects of peyote 14

Is peyote an intoxicant? 16

Peyote as an intoxicant before the courts 18

How peyote is taken and its immediate effects 19

Physiological action 20

Therapeutic uses 23

Peyote and the food and drugs act 23

Opposition to legislation 25

Testimony of Dr. Harey W. Wiley 25

The peyote questionnaire 26

Summary of the returns 28

Table I — Use of peyote by jurisdictions 33

Table II — Use of peyote by States 35


1. Lophophora iciUiainsii, common type.

1. Lophophora iviUiawyii. common type 2

2. Another type of Lophophora iciUiainsii 4

3. The Aztec narcotic cactus (buttons) 6

4. The devil's root 8

5. The southern type of Lophophora williamsU 10

6. Two forms of Lophophora wiUiamsii from same hill 12



'lliis pamplilft. ^Yhich is an abridgement of a compilation made
some time ago of selected matter from the peyote files of the Bureau
of Indian Atfairs, by Dr. Eobert E. L. Xewberne. is published as a
convenient source of information for the employees of the Indian
Service and for supplying those who are interested in securing regu-
lative legislation against the sale, shipment, and use of peyote with
the kind of data most frequently requested.

Peyote is said to be a narcotic drug, yet it is not covered by the
provisions of the Harrison Xarcotic Act; it is said to be an intoxi-
cant, but its use is not interdicted ])y the national prohibition amend-
ment to the Constitution of the United States.

Kegardless of whatever else peyote may be, the weight of evi-
dence pronounces it harmful to those who use i"* habitually, particu-
larly to growing children; therefor I warn the Indian people
against the drug and say to them, in the language of Herbert
Spencer :

For complete living it i:^ iiptessury that there shall he escaped the inca-
pacities and slow annihilations which luiwise habits entail.

I would also remind them, in the words of dauston, that —

To crave is easy, to control is diflioult : therefore the wiser course is to
avoid those things which tend to create a craving.

Chas. H. Burke,

C omniissioner.



Whether or not American Indians crave intoxicants more than
other people, an impression to that effect is widespread, and certain
writers have sought to explain and condone the alleged tendency by
saying that the actuating desire has its origin in physiological and
psychological deficiencies, caused by the lack of proper food through
many generations and the present want of suitable mental stimulus.

In his native life there was much more to interest the Indian than
there is now. His very existence was one of activity and industry.
Every article used by him was of native manufacture. His food,
his shelter, his raiment, his decorative art, his amusements — all de-
pended upon his individual initiative and effort. But the tide of
changing conditions which is bearing him onto the shores of a new
world has swept away the stimulus that kept him busj'^ and interested,
and he is now watchfully waiting for his star of destiny to lead him
to his place in the sun. His work, which was once done in the spirit
of aggressive genius, is now resolved into commonplace toil, for, to
him, what is the use of the struggle ? They say that he has contended
against fate and failed. Why not forget, and if there is anything
that will bring about forgetfulness and make the heart glad, if but
for a moment, why not take it?

If the use of intoxicating plants and of fermented drinks had
been unknown to the ancient Indian, this theory would possess
greater validity than can rightfully be accorded to it, but if the sub-
ject is studied l\v tracing the facts back through the ages, the evi-
dence of a reversion to ancestral customs is suggested, if not made

The Indian has never been entirely satisfied wuth alcohol; its
effects and its violent hasty reaction have not harmonized with his
Elysian dreams, and Such violent reactions have destroyed his faith
in its power to transport him in celestial visions to the happy hunt-
ing grounds of his fathers; but he did not forego the stimulating
effect of alcoholic drinks because of the disagreeable after effects, or
because he was not getting what he longed for; it was the best he
could do ; and if he was ordained to live the life of the white man he
would not repudiate his demons. But something in his nature — it
might have been the coming into consciousness of knowledge long
hidden in his subconscious mind, or it might have been the prompting



of cell cravings — told him that there was a better intoxicant than
Avhiskv. an herb known to his ancestors, and he sought that herb and
found it in peyote. and he believes that his people now have an in-
toxicant that satisfies and yet leaves consciousness to witness the
strange orgies that are taking place in the underworld of their men-


The peyote cactus {Lophopho^^a williainsii) is a succulent, spine-
less cactus, usually shaped like a turnip or a carrot, with a depressed
globose or hemispherical head and having low, inconspicuous tu-
bercles and a tapering tap root. The tubercles occur normally in
longitudinal ribs, but in some forms of the plant they are arranged
spirally or irregularly. In the center of each tubercle there is a
flower-bearing areole with a dense tuft of erect hairs, from the midst
of which the flower issues. When mature the tuft of hairs persists
as a pulvillus in the form of a pencil or brush of hairs. The plants
grow either solitary or, more frequently, in clusters of several from
a common base.

The peyote of commerce is the dried flowering tops of the peyote
cactus — a brown, bitter substance, nauseating to the taste, composed
mainly of the blunt, dried leaves of the plant.

The mescal button (dried floAvering top of the peyote cactus) is
from an inch to an inch and a half in diameter, one-fourth of an inch
in thickness, with a convex under surface. The button is brittle and
hard when dry, but becomes soft when moistened: it has a very
bitter, unpleasant taste, and an odor when moist which is peculiar
and disagreeable. This odor is especialh^ noticeable in the powdered


The correct commercial name in English for the drug is " pe-yo-te,"
which is an adapted form of the Spanish spelling " pe-llo-te" which,
according to the Mexican variation in pronunciation, is called pe-
yo-te, although always written in Spanish " pellote." This name
is of Aztec origin, derived from the Nahuatl word " peyotl,' meaning
cocoon. The term " peyotl "' was, and is still, applied in Mexico to
other plants than Lophophora, notably to several species of Cacalia,
the principal one of which is Cacalia cordifolia^ which is used by the
Mexican Indians as a medicine but not as an intoxicant. It was evi-
dently the practice of the Aztecs to name plants from their real or
fancied resemblance of the whole, or some part, to a well-known
object. In the case of Cacalia it was the velvety, tuberous roots,
which from their form and indument could be likened to the cocoon
of a moth. In the case of Lophophora it was the flowering top.

Courtesy of Professor Safford.


Typical form with defined rite. Photograph of specimen in the Cactus House of the U. S. Depart-
ment of Agriculture, collected in 1910, on the Hacienda de Cedros, near Mazapil, State of Zacatecas,
Mexico, by Dr. Elswood Chaffey. Photograph natural size.


The term '" mescal '' as applied to peyote should not be confused
with the distilled liquor mescal of Mexico, although it is an exten-
sion of the same word. In Mexico the most common intoxicant is
mescal, and because of its effects the name was carried over by the
American Indians to peyote for the reason that it also intoxicates.
It was the simplest way to explain what it would do. If some new
intoxicating drug were discovered and it was desired to explain its
effect to the Mexican Indians, the quickest and easiest way would be
to call it Avhisky, for they all know the effect of whisky just as the
American Indians of the southwestern part of the United States
knew what mescal would do. In Mexico mescal is not a synonj^m for
peyote, but in the United States it may be properly so used, but the
better word is " peyote."

The peyote of commerce is often called '" mescal buttons,'' from
the resemblance of the dried, flowering tops to coat buttons. There
is no more reason for calling the peyote buttons mescal " beans "
than there is for calling anything else a bean which is not a bean and
has no resemblance to a bean. The preferable name for the drug
is peyote. The accepted synom-ms are " mescal '' and " mescal but-
tons." The term " mescal beans " should not be used at all as a
name for peyote by any person who has the slightest regard for
scientific designations or for any form of accurate nomenclature.


Among both the Indians of Mexico and the United States the drug
is known by various names : " xicori " by the Huicholes of Jalisco ;
'" hikori." or " hikuli " by the Tarahumaris of Chihuahua; " kamaba "
by the Tepehuanes of Durango ; '' ho " by the Mescalero Apaches,
who formerly ranged as far south as Coahuila ; '' seni " by the
Kiowas : and " wokowi " by the Commaches. some of whom formerly
lived in the State of Chihuahua. The name " peyote " has survived
as a general commercial term, in common with the less correct desig-
nations of "' mescal '' and " mescal buttons."


The correct botanical name for peyote is Lophophora iviUiamsii.
Until Safford showed, in 1915, that Lophophora lewinii and Lopho-
phora toiUiamsil are identical, it was believed that various species
of Lophophora were represented in commercial peyote. In the nine-
teenth edition of the United States Dispensatory the drug is indexed
as " pellote " (peyote) and " anhalonium," being described under
the latter name. The species of anhalonium mentioned are ^4. Jew'mil,
A. loillmnisii^ and A. jourdanmnum. The two principal species are
now known to be identical.
96124—22 2



Lophophora icUVtamsii is quite variable; sometimes its ribs instead
of being vertical are more or less diagonal or spiral, and instead of
being separated by straight grooves the latter are sinuous, or the
tubercles may be irregularly arranged. One form was described by
Hennings as a distinct species under the name Anhcdoiuum lewmii,
but the type plant described and figured by him was, it is said, a
boiled up '' mescal button " obtained from a pharmaceutical manu-
facturing house. This specimen was in all probability gathered in
the vicinity of Laredo, Tex. In this form the ribs are usually 13 in
number, separated by strongly sinuous grooves. Sometimes there
are 12 ribs, or even as few as 9 ; while in the typical L. wiUiartisii
there are usually 8 riV)s. sometimes as many as 10, separated by
straight, or almost straight, lines. It has been wrongly asserted
that the petals of L. Jeirinil are yellow. Safford has proved that
they have rose-tinted flowers which are in no way distinguishable in
form or color from those of L. wUUwmsii. He has further shown
that typical plants of L. wdUiamsii and L. lewinil may be found in the
same cluster growing from a common base. Another form which
departs from the typical L. ivUliamsii even more than the plant
figured by Hennings has been shown by Safford to be but a variety ;
hence, all narcotic peyote may be properly classified, botanically,
under the genus Lophophora wiUimjisii, thus eliminating the several
names which arose from incorrect reference of the plant.


The geographical range of the genus Lophophora is from the
southern border of Texas along the Rio Grande and from the mouth
of the Pecos River southeastward to the southern part of Queretaro,

As stated elsewhere, the peyote used by the Indians of the United
States comes from the southern part of Texas and from the northern
part of Mexico, the principal markets being Eagle Pass, Laredo, and


There can be no longer any doubt as to the identity^ of the sacred
n\ushroom of the Aztecs, which was called '' teonanacatl," with peyote.
The widespread historical interest associated with the former jus-
tifies the republishing of Professor Safford's summary of his re-
searches, which is a part of his article entitled "An Aztec narcotic,'^
which appeared in the July number of the Journal of Heredity for the
year 1915, Volume VI, No. 7.

Another Type of Lophophora.

Form describe! by Heunings as a distinct species, Anhalonium lewinii, but often occurring in tlie
same cluster with the tj^pical form, growing from the same root. Photograph of specimen in the
Cactus House of the U. S. Department of Agriculture, collected in the Stale of Zacatecas, Mexico
m 190^, by F. E. Loyd. Photograph natural size.


After conrpariiij: the precedinjr accounts of the use of narcotics by the ancient
Mexicans and by the Indians of the present day, separated in time by three
centuries and in space by thousands of miles, there can remain no doubt that the
mushroom-like peyote used by our own Indians in the United States, which
we know to be identical with the sacred " hikuli " or " hicori " of the Sierra
Madre Indians, is the same drug which was called " teonanacatl," or " sacred
mushrooms." by the Aztecs. According to the earliest writers, it was endemic
in the land of the Chichimecas, the early home of our Apaches, Comanches,
and Kiowas, which is also the source of the modern supply. The ancient Mexi-
cans, like the Huicholes and Tarahumaris of the present day, obtained their
supply of the drugs through the medium of messengers, consecrated for the
purpose, who observed certain religious rites in collecting it and who were
received with ceremonial honors on their return. Although the Indians on our
northern reservations now receive it through the medium of the parcel post, yet
they attribute to it the same divine properties as did the ancient Mexicans and
combine its worship with the religion they have received from Christian mission-
aries. It is only natural that those who are engaged in the work of Christian-
izing and uplifting our Indians should try, like the early Spanish missionaries,
to stamp out its use. On the other hand, many of the Indians who use the
narcotic declare they take it as a kind of sacrament or communion, and that
it helps them to turn from wickedness and lead good lives.

A knowledge of botany has been attributed to the Aztecs which they were far
from possessing. Their plant names show that the classification of plants was
not based upon real affinities, and it is very probable that they had not the slight-
est notion of the dift'erence between a flowering plant and a fungus. Certainly
they aiii)lie<l tlie name " nanacatl "* and " nanacace " to both fungi and flower-
ing plants and the name " ijeyotl " to both the narcotic cactus. Lophophora. and
to the tuber-bearing composite. Cacalia. The botanical knowledge of the early
Spanish writers, Sahagun, Hernandez. Ortega, and Jacinto de la Serna, was
perhaps not much more extensive ; their descriptions were so inadequate that
even to the present day the chief narcotic of the Aztecs. " ololiuhqui," which
they all mention, remains imidentified. They knew these narcotic drugs only
in their dry state, and the general appearance of the " peyotl "' brought from
the vicinity of Zacatecas was so very different from the " teonanacatl " from
the more northerly region inliabited by the Chichimecas that the two forms
might easily have been regarded as coming from distinct plants.

As far as the aiithor knows, this is the first time that tlie identity of the
" sacred mushroom " of the Aztecs with the narcotic cactus known botanically
as Lophophora icilliam'Sii has been pointed out. That it should have been
mistaken by the early Spaniards for a mushroom is not surprising when one
notices the remarkable resemblance of the dried buttons to peltate fungi and
also bears in mind that the common potato (Solonuni tuberosum) on its intro-
duction into Europe was popularly regarded as a kind of truffle, a fact which is
recorded by its German name, " kartoffel " or " tartuffel."


Peyote has not attained a prominent place as an article of com-
merce, principally because of the limited demand for it in the chan-
nels of trade. Among the Mexican Indians it is gathered and dried
for sale to local users, and a few merchants take it in trade at their
stores for the Indian market of the United States. The largest


dealers are L. Villefjos & Co, and Wormser Bros,, both of Laredo,
Tex, These two houses supply most of the peyote consumed by the
Indians of Wyoming, Nebraska, Wisconsin, Iowa, and perhaps the
Dakotas, and also a considerable part of that which is used by the
Oklahoma Indians, particularly the Osages. The chief source of
supply for the Indians of the southern part of Oklahoma and for
other Indians not included in the line of runners of the first pil-
grimage organization is through Eagle Pass, El Paso, Aguilares,
and other Texas towns along the Rio Grande, where it is purchased
from Indians or Mexicans, who gather and dry it, or from small
dealers. One Indian will always divide his supply of peyote with
another Indian, and frequently the only purchase consideration is
the strengthening of " the tie that binds."

The principal means of transporting peyote among the Indians is
in suit cases of pilgrims. While pilgrimages to peyote-land are an
established feature of the use of the drug, the commercial consid-
eration seems to be subordinate to the *■" missionar}^ spirit "' which
seeks to spread the mescal gospel among the Indians,

Among certain tribes of Indians in Mexico the gathering of peyote
is a sacred act which must be celebrated by elaborate rites and cere-
monies. Those who take part decorate their hats and their hair with
feathers, indicate with paint, which thej- apply to their faces, the
distinctive attributes of their caste and of their gods, but the peyote
which finds its way to the '' church tents " of the Indians of the
United States had no part in pagan rites during the process of its
preparation for use. It is, as a rule, clipped from the cactus in Oc-
tober and dried for a month before it is placed on the market. Before
the war it cost the consumer in Laredo $5 a thousand buttons; the
merchants pay $2.50 a thousand for it. A gatherer will not average
more than 200 buttons a day, it is said, and he must dry them for a
month before taking them to the merchant, and then perhaps take
his pay in trade. If he is fortunate enough to meet a "pilgrim,"
which is possible in towns other than Laredo, at which place the
sale is practically regulated by contracts with the two firms that
handle the drug, he may get twice the ordinary price for his product.
Peyote grows on both sides of the Rio Grande. That which is
sold by the Laredo houses is derived principally from the cactus
hills on the American side. A special agent of the Bureau of Indian
Affairs visited the little Mexican town situated among these hills —
a town which is practically supported by the peyote industry — and
found that the supposed curative effect of the drug has not been mani-
fested there, as is evidenced by the fact that the cemetery is larger
than the town itself. If peyote is the great healing agent that it is
claimed to be, surely, like the proverbial prophet, paraphrasing the
statement to fit the application, it is without healing power in its

Legend by Professor .Safford.

The Aztec Narcotic Cactus, Teonanacatl.

"God's Flesh,'' or "SacTod Musliioom'" of the Aztecs. Disks cut from the crown of the cactus
Lophophora williamsii and dried. Photograph of specimens received by the Bureau of Chemistry
U. S. Department of Agriculture, from the Indian Othce in 1914. Now widely used as a narcotic
by Indians of the United States. Natural size.


own country — in its oAvn home town — except in its tendency to heal
by hastening the coming of the last sleep from which there is no
awakening until the day dawns for the dead to give their testimony in
the courts of eternity.


According to the reports of the early missionaries, the Indians,
particularly those of Mexico, held in veneration various plants which
they conceived to be incarnations of spirits, some with potentialities
for good and others decidedly evil in character. These plants were
shown great honor and courtesy — the good, in order to invoke their
favors: the bad. as an appeasement to induce them to withhold their
evil influences. Indian mythology is a blend of superstitions woven
around a talking plant or animal, concerning itself with the affairs
of liuman life. The cutting down of a tree was often the occasion for
the observance of religious rites that would explain to the embodied
spirit that, after due consideration, the tree body which he inhabited
was the most suited material that could be found for some higher
purpose, as the bridging of a stream or the erection, perhaps, of a
totem pole, and that in bringing about its death its human friends
had sought to show their veneration, hoping thus to insure for them-
selves the continued favor of the spirit now free to reincarnate and
manifest its power in another form.

It is not surprising that narcotic plants should have been subject to
marked veneration. Bancroft refers to a sacred fungus, or mush-
room, which the Indians of Mexico called the '* flesh of God," which
excited the passions and caused the partaker to see snakes and divers
other visions. Padre Bernardino Sahagun, writing before the year
1569 of the Chichimeca Indians of the northern part of Mexico,
referred to their having discovered evil mushrooms which intoxi-
cated like wine. It is now known with almost certaint}^ that the so-
called mescal button is what was referred to as a fungus, or evil

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Online LibraryUnited States. Bureau of Indian AffairsPeyote. An abridged compilation from the files of the Bureau of Indian affairs → online text (page 1 of 5)