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A Further Contribution To The



Dr. H.C. Yarrow, ACT. ASST. SURG., USA


1.-Quiogozeon or dead house
2.-Pima burial
3.-Towers of silence
4.-Towers of silence
5.-Alaskan mummies
6.-Burial urns
7.-Indian cemetery
8.-Grave pen
9.-Grave pen
l0.-Tolkotin cremation
ll.-Eskimo lodge burial
l2.-Burial houses
l3.-Innuit grave
l4.-Ingalik grave
l5.-Dakota scaffold burial
l6.-Offering food to the dead
l7.-Depositing the corpse
l9.-Chippewa scaffold burial
30.-Scarification at burial
3l.-Australian scaffold burial
33.-Preparing the dead
24.-Twana canoe-burial
25.-Posts for burial canoes
36.-Tent on scaffold
37.-House burial
38.-House burial
3l.-Launching the burial cradle
32.-Chippewa widow
33.-Ghost gamble
34.-Figured plum stones
35.-Winning throw, No 1
36.-Winning throw, No 2
37.-Winning throw, No 3
38.-Winning throw, No 4
39.-Winning throw, No 5
40.-Winning throw, No 6
4l.-Auxiliary throw, No 1
42.-Auxiliary throw No 2
43.-Auxiliary throw, No 3
44.-Auxiliary throw No 4
45.-Auxiliary throw, No 5
46.-Burial posts
47.-Grave fire

A Further Contribution To The




In view of the fact that the present paper will doubtless reach many
readers who may not, in consequence of the limited edition, have seen
the preliminary volume on mortuary customs, it seems expedient to
reproduce in great part the prefatory remarks which served as an
introduction to that work; for the reasons then urged, for the immediate
study of this subject, still exist, and as time flies on become more and
more important.

The primitive manners and customs of the North American Indians are
rapidly passing away under influences of civilization and other
disturbing elements. In view of this fact, it becomes the duty of all
interested in preserving a record of these customs to labor assiduously,
while there is still time, to collect such data as may be obtainable.
This seems the more important now, as within the last ten years an
almost universal interest has been awakened in ethnologic research, and
the desire for more knowledge in this regard is constantly increasing. A
wise and liberal government, recognizing the need, has ably seconded the
efforts of those engaged in such studies by liberal grants, from the
public funds; nor is encouragement wanted from the hundreds of
scientific societies throughout the civilized globe. The public press,
too - the mouth-piece of the people - is ever on the alert to scatter
broadcast such items of ethnologic information as its corps of
well-trained reporters can secure. To induce further laudable inquiry,
and assist all those who may be willing to engage in the good work, is
the object of this further paper on the mortuary customs of North
American Indians, and it is hoped that many more laborers may through it
be added to the extensive and honorable list of those who have already

It would appear that the subject chosen should awaken great interest,
since the peculiar methods followed by different nations and the great
importance attached to burial ceremonies have formed an almost
invariable part of all works relating to the different peoples of our
globe; in fact, no particular portion of ethnologic research has claimed
more attention. In view of these facts, it might seem almost a work of
supererogation to continue a further examination of the subject, for
nearly every author in writing of our Indian tribes makes some mention
of burial observances; but these notices are scattered far and wide on
the sea of this special literature, and many of the accounts, unless
supported by corroborative evidence, may be considered as entirely
unreliable. To bring together and harmonize conflicting statements, and
arrange collectively what is known of the subject, has been the writer's
task, and an enormous mass of information has been acquired, the method
of securing which has been already described in the preceding volume and
need not be repeated at this time. It has seemed undesirable at present
to enter into any discussion regarding the causes which may have led to
the adoption of any particular form of burial or coincident ceremonies,
the object of this paper being simply to furnish illustrative examples,
and request further contributions from observers; for, notwithstanding
the large amount of material already at hand, much still remains to be
done, and careful study is needed before any attempt at a thorough
analysis of mortuary customs can be made. It is owing to these facts and
from the nature of the material gathered that the paper must be
considered more as a compilation than an original effort, the writer
having done little else than supply the thread to bind together the
accounts furnished.

It is proper to add that all the material obtained will eventually be
embodied in a quarto volume, forming one of the series of Contributions
to North American Ethnology prepared under the direction of Maj. J.W.
Powell, Director of the Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution,
from whom, since the inception of the work, most constant encouragement
and advice has been received, and to whom all American ethnologists owe
a debt of gratitude which can never be repaid.

Having thus called attention to the work, the classification of the
subject may be given, and examples furnished of the burial ceremonies
among different tribes, calling especial attention to similar or almost
analogous customs among the peoples of the Old World.

For our present purpose the following provisional arrangement of burials
may be adopted, although further study may lead to some modifications.

1st. By INHUMATION in pits, graves, or holes in the ground, stone graves
or cists, in mounds, beneath or in cabins, wigwams, houses or lodges, or
in caves.

2d. By EMBALMMENT or a process of mummifying, the remains being
afterwards placed in the earth, caves, mounds, boxes on scaffolds, or in

3d. By DEPOSITION of remains in urns.

4th. By SURFACE BURIAL, the remains being placed in hollow trees or
logs, pens, or simply covered with earth, or bark, or rocks forming

5th. By CREMATION, or partial burning, generally on the surface of the
earth, occasionally beneath, the resulting bones or ashes being placed
in pits in the ground, in boxes placed on scaffolds or trees, in urns,
sometimes scattered.

6th. By AERIAL SEPULTURE, the bodies being left in lodges, houses,
cabins, tents, deposited on scaffolds or trees, in boxes or canoes, the
two latter receptacles supported on scaffolds or posts, or placed on the
ground. Occasionally baskets have been used to contain the remains of
children, these being hung to trees.

7th. By AQUATIC BURIAL, beneath the water, or in canoes, which were
turned adrift.

These heads might, perhaps, be further subdivided, but the above seem
sufficient for all practical needs.

The use of the term _burial_ throughout this paper is to be understood
in its literal significance, the word being derived from the Teutonic
Anglo-Saxon "_birgan_," to conceal or hide away.

In giving descriptions of different burials and attendant ceremonies, it
has been deemed expedient to introduce entire accounts as furnished, in
order to preserve continuity of narrative, and in no case has the
relator's language been changed except to correct manifest
unintentional, errors of spelling.



The commonest mode of burial among North American Indians has been that
of interment in the ground, and this has taken place in a number of
different ways; the following will, however, serve as good examples of
the process:

One of the simplest forms is thus noted by Schoolcraft:[1]

The Mohawks of New York made a large round hole in which the
body was placed upright or upon its haunches, after which it
was covered with timber, to support the earth which they lay
over, and thereby kept the body from being pressed. They
then raised the earth in a round hill over it. They always
dressed the corpse in all its finery, and put wampum and
other things into the grave with it; and the relations
suffered not grass nor any wood to grow upon the grave, and
frequently visited it and made lamentation.

In Jones[2] is the following interesting account from Lawson[3] of the
burial customs of the Indians formerly inhabiting the Carolinas:

Among the Carolina tribes the burial of the dead was
accompanied with special ceremonies, the expense and
formality attendant upon the funeral according with the rank
of the deceased. The corpse was first placed in a cane
hurdle and deposited in an outhouse made for the purpose,
where it was suffered to remain for a day and a night,
guarded and mourned over by the nearest relatives with
disheveled hair. Those who are to officiate at the funeral
go into the town, and from the backs of the first young men
they meet strip such blankets and matchcoats as they deem
suitable for their purpose. In these the dead body is
wrapped and then covered with two or three mats made of
rushes or cane. The coffin is made of woven reeds or hollow
canes tied fast at both ends. When everything is prepared
for the interment, the corpse is carried from the house in
which it has been lying into the orchard of peach-trees and
is there deposited in another hurdle. Seated upon mats are
there congregated the family and tribe of the deceased and
invited guests. The medicine man, or conjurer, having
enjoined silence, then pronounces a funeral oration, during
which he recounts the exploits of the deceased, his valor,
skill, love of country, property, and influence; alludes to
the void caused by his death, and counsels those who remain
to supply his place by following in his footsteps; pictures
the happiness he will enjoy in the land of spirits to which
he has gone, and concludes his address by an allusion to the
prominent traditions of his tribe.

Let us here pause to remind the reader that this custom has prevailed
throughout the civilized world up to the present day - a custom, in the
opinion of many, "more honored in the breach than in the observance."

At last [says Mr. Lawson], the Corpse is brought away from
that Hurdle to the Grave by four young Men, attended by the
Relations, the King, old Men, and all the Nation. When they
come to the Sepulcre, which is about six foot deep and eight
foot long, having at each end (that is, at the Head and
Foot) a Light-Wood or Pitch-Pine Fork driven close down the
sides of the Grave firmly into the Ground (these two Forks
are to contain a Ridge-Pole, as you shall understand
presently), before they lay the Corps into the Grave, they
cover the bottom two or three time over with the Bark of
Trees; then they let down the Corps (with two Belts that the
_Indians_ carry their Burdens withal) very leisurely upon
the said Barks; then they lay over a Pole of the same Wood
in the two Forks, and having a great many Pieces of
Pitch-Pine Logs about two Foot and a half long, they stick
them in the sides of the Grave down each End and near the
Top thereof, where the other Ends lie in the Ridge-Pole, so
that they are declining like the Roof of a House. These
being very thick plac'd, they cover them [many times double]
with Bark; then they throw the Earth thereon that came out
of the Grave and beat it down very firm. By this Means the
dead Body lies in a Vault, nothing touching him.

After a time the body is taken up, the bones cleaned, and deposited in
an ossuary called the Quiogozon.

Figure 1, after De Bry and Lafitau, represents what the early writers
called the Quiogozon, or charnel-house, and allusions will be found to
it in other parts of this volume. Discrepancies in these accounts impair
greatly their value, for one author says that bones were deposited,
another dried bodies.

It will be seen from the following account, furnished by M.B. Kent,
relating to the Sacs and Foxes (_Oh-sak-ke-uck_) of the Nehema Agency,
Nebraska, that these Indians were careful in burying their dead to
prevent the earth coming in contact with the body, and this custom has
been followed by a number of different tribes, as will be seen by
examples given further on.

_Ancient burial_. - The body was buried in a grave made about
2-1/2 feet deep, and was laid always with the head towards
the east, the burial taking place as soon after death as
possible. The grave was prepared by putting bark in the
bottom of it before the corpse was deposited, a plank
covering made and secured some distance above the body. The
plank was made by splitting trees, until intercourse with
the whites enabled them to obtain sawed lumber. The corpse
was always enveloped in a blanket, and prepared as for a
long journey in life, no coffin being used.

_Modern burial_. - This tribe now usually bury in coffins,
rude ones constructed by themselves, still depositing the
body in the grave with the head towards the east.

_Ancient funeral ceremonies_. - Every relative of the
deceased had to throw some article in the grave, either
food, clothing, or other material. There was no rule stating
the nature of what was to be added to the collection, simply
a requirement that something must be deposited, if it were
only a piece of soiled and faded calico. After the corpse
was lowered into the grave some brave addressed the dead,
instructing him to walk directly westward, that he would
soon discover moccasin tracks, which he must follow until he
came to a great river, which is the river of death; when
there he would find a pole across the river, which, if he
has been honest, upright, and good, will be straight, upon
which he could readily cross to the other side; but if his
life had been one of wickedness and sin, the pole would be
very crooked, and in the attempt to cross upon it he would
be precipitated into the turbulent stream and lost forever.
The brave also told him if he crossed the river in safety
the Great Father would receive him, take out his old brains,
give him new ones, and then he would have reached the happy
hunting grounds, always be happy and have eternal life.
After burial a feast was always called, and a portion of the
food of which each and every relative was partaking was
burned to furnish subsistence to the spirit upon its

_Modern funeral ceremonies_. - Provisions are rarely put into
the grave, and no portion of what is prepared for the feast
subsequent to burial is burned, although the feast is
continued. All the address delivered by the brave over the
corpse after being deposited in the grave is omitted. A
prominent feature of all ceremonies, either funeral or
religious, consists of feasting accompanied with music and

_Ancient mourning observations_. - The female relations
allowed their hair to hang entirely unrestrained, clothed
themselves in the most unpresentable attire, the latter of
which the males also do. Men blacked the whole face for a
period of ten days after a death in the family, while the
women blacked only the cheeks; the faces of the children
were blacked for three months; they were also required to
fast for the same length of time, the fasting to consist of
eating but one meal per day, to be made entirely of hominy,
and partaken of about sunset. It was believed that this
fasting would enable the child to dream of coming events and
prophesy what was to happen in the future. The extent and
correctness of prophetic vision depended upon how faithfully
the ordeal of fasting had been observed.

_Modern mourning observances_. - Many of those of the past are
continued, such as wearing the hair unrestrained, wearing
uncouth apparel, blacking faces, and fasting of children,
and they are adhered to with as much tenacity as many of the
professing Christians belonging to the evangelical churches
adhere to their practices, which constitute mere forms, the
intrinsic value of which can very reasonably be called in

The Creeks and Seminoles of Florida, according to Schoolcraft,[4] made
the graves of their dead as follows:

When one of the family dies, the relatives bury the corpse
about four feet deep in a round hole dug directly under the
cabin or rock wherever he died. The corpse is placed in the
hole in a sitting posture, with a blanket wrapped about it,
and the legs bent under and tied together. If a warrior, he
is painted, and his pipe, ornaments, and warlike appendages
are deposited with him. The grave is then covered with canes
tied to a hoop round the top of the hole, then a firm layer
of clay, sufficient to support the weight of a man. The
relations howl loudly and mourn publicly for four days. If
the deceased has been a man of eminent character, the family
immediately remove from the house in which he is buried and
erect a new one, with a belief that where the bones of their
dead are deposited the place is always attended by goblins
and chimeras dire.

Dr. W.C. Boteler, physician to the Otoe Indian Agency, Gage County,
Nebraska, in a personal communication to the writer, furnishes a most
interesting account of the burial ceremonies of this tribe, in which it
may be seen that graves are prepared in a manner similar to those
already mentioned:

The Otoe and Missouri tribes of Indians are now located in
southern Gage County, Nebraska, on a reservation of 43,000
acres, unsurpassed in beauty of location, natural resources,
and adaptability for prosperous agriculture. This pastoral
people, though in the midst of civilization, have departed
but little from the rude practice and customs of a nomadic
life, and here may be seen and studied those interesting
dramas as vividly and satisfactorily as upon the remote

During my residence among this people on different
occasions, I have had the opportunity of witnessing the
Indian burials and many quaint ceremonies pertaining

When it is found that the vital spark is wavering in an Otoe
subject, the preparation of the burial costume is
immediately began. The near relatives of the dying Indian
surround the humble bedside, and by loud lamentations and
much weeping manifest a grief which is truly commensurate
with the intensity of Indian devotion and attachment.

While thus expressing before the near departed their grief
at the sad separation impending, the Indian women, or
friendly braves, lose no time in equipping him or her with
the most ornate clothes and ornaments that are available or
in immediate possession. It is thus that the departed Otoe
is enrobed in death, in articles of his own selection and by
arrangements of his own taste and dictated by his own
tongue. It is customary for the dying Indian to dictate, ere
his departure, the propriety or impropriety of the
accustomed sacrifices. In some cases there is a double and
in others no sacrifice at all. The Indian women then prepare
to cut away their hair; it is accomplished with scissors,
cutting close to the scalp at the side and behind.

The preparation of the dead for burial is conducted with
great solemnity and care. Bead-work, the most ornate,
expensive blankets and ribbons comprise the funeral shroud.
The dead, being thus enrobed, is placed in a recumbent
posture at the most conspicuous part of the lodge and viewed
in rotation by the mourning relatives previously summoned by
a courier, all preserving uniformity in the piercing screams
which would seem to have been learned by rote.

An apparent service is then conducted. The aged men of the
tribe, arranged in a circle, chant a peculiar funeral dirge
around one of their number, keeping time upon a drum or some
rude cooking-utensil.

At irregular intervals an aged relative will arise and dance
excitedly around the central person, vociferating, and with
wild gesture, tomahawk in hand, imprecate the evil spirit,
which he drives to the land where the sun goes down. The
evil spirit being thus effectually banished, the mourning
gradually subsides, blending into succeeding scenes of
feasting and refreshment. The burial feast is in every
respect equal in richness to its accompanying ceremonies.
All who assemble are supplied with cooked venison, hog,
buffalo, or beef, regular waiters distributing alike hot
cakes soaked in grease and coffee or water, as the case may

Frequently during this stage of the ceremony the most aged
Indian present will sit in the central circle, and in a
continuous and doleful tone narrate the acts of valor in the
life of the departed, enjoining fortitude and bravery upon
all sitting around as an essential qualification for
admittance to the land where the Great Spirit reigns. When
the burial feast is well-nigh completed, it is customary for
the surviving friends to present the bereaved family with
useful articles of domestic needs, such as calico in bolt,
flannel cloth, robes, and not unfrequently ponies or horses.
After the conclusion of the ceremonies at the lodge, the
body is carefully placed in a wagon and, with an escort of
all friends, relatives, and acquaintances, conveyed to the
grave previously prepared by some near relation or friend.
When a wagon is used, the immediate relatives occupy it with
the corpse, which is propped in a semi-sitting posture;
before the use of wagons among the Otoes, it was necessary
to bind the body of the deceased upon a horse and then
convey him to his last resting place among his friends. In
past days when buffalo were more available, and a tribal
hunt was more frequently indulged in, it is said that those
dying on the way were bound upon horses and thus frequently
carried several hundred miles for interment at the burial
places of their friends.

At the graveyard of the Indians the ceremony partakes of a
double nature; upon the one hand it is sanguinary and cruel,
and upon the other blended with the deepest grief and most
heartfelt sorrow. Before the interment of the dead the
chattels of the deceased are unloaded from the wagons or
unpacked from the backs of ponies and carefully arranged in
the vault-like tomb. The bottom, which is wider than the top
(graves here being dug like an inverted funnel), is spread
with straw or grass matting, woven generally by the Indian
women of the tribe or some near neighbor. The sides are then
carefully hung with handsome shawls or blankets, and trunks,
with domestic articles, pottery, &c., of less importance,
are piled around in abundance. The sacrifices are next
inaugurated. A pony, first designated by the dying Indian,
is led aside and strangled by men hanging to either end of a
rope. Sometimes, but not always, a dog is likewise
strangled, the heads of both animals being subsequently laid
upon the Indian's grave. The body, which is now often placed
in a plain coffin, is lowered into the grave, and if a
coffin is used the friends take their parting look at the
deceased before closing it at the grave. After lowering, a
saddle and bridle, blankets, dishes, &c., are placed upon
it, the mourning ceases, and the Indians prepare to close
the grave. It should be remembered, among the Otoe and

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Online LibraryH.C. YarrowA Further Contribution to the Study of the Mortuary Customs of the North American Indians → online text (page 1 of 18)