Manners and customs of several Indian tribes located west of the Mississippi; including some account of the soil, climate, and vegetable productions, and the Indian materia medica: to which is prefixed the history of the author's life during a residence of several years among them online

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Online LibraryUnknownManners and customs of several Indian tribes located west of the Mississippi; including some account of the soil, climate, and vegetable productions, and the Indian materia medica: to which is prefixed the history of the author's life during a residence of several years among them → online text (page 1 of 26)
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BE IT REMEMBERED, that on the eighth day of February, in the forty-
seventh year of the independence of the United States of America, A. D.
1823, JOHN D. HUNTER of the said district, hath deposited in this office the
title of a book, the right whereof he claims as Author in the words fol
lowing, to wit:

" Manners and Customs of several Indian tribes located west of the Mis
sissippi; including some account of the Soil, Climate, and Vegetable
productions, and the Indian Materia Medica: To which is prefixed the
History of the Author s life, during a residence of several years among
them. " By John D. Hunter.

In conformity to the act of the congress of the United States, intituled
" An act for the encouragement of learning, by securing the copies of
maps, charts, and books, to the authors and proprietors of such copies,
during the times therein mentioned." And also to the act, entitled, " An
act supplementary tc an<act entitled, .".Aji $ct for the encouragement of
learning, by securing^tke/copies -oJ mapsj $htfrts and books, to the authors
and proprietors of such copies during the times, therein mentioned," and
extending the benefits c the:reortp *1j) atfs. of Designing, engraving, and
etching historical and 6ther prints*.? !" *.*


Clerk of the Eastern District of Pennsylvania.



IN presenting myself to the world as an au
thor, I have complied more with the wishes of
friends than my own inclinations. Indeed I
do so with reluctance, being fully sensible of
my inability to do justice to the undertaking.
This conviction arises from an imperfect ac
quaintance with the English language, and to
tal ignorance of the art of book-making. Be
sides, I write from memory, of events, persons,
and things, which are many years separated
from the present, and some of them so remotely
as barely to come within my recollection. Under
such circumstances, although kindly assisted by
my friend Edward Clark with interrogations re
specting some of the subject n -after, and the re-
visal and arrangement of the manuscript; still as
regards manner, I am not insensible that there
is ample ground for the exercise of indulgence
on the part of my readers If I were a finish
ed scholar th^caae vjoiild have scarcely suf-

iv Preface.

fered any change, because the data would remain
the same; and it is questionable whether I could
have improved its present form, at least with
in the prescribed limits. From the circumstance
of writing altogether from memory, and at differ
ent periods of time, some repetition has been
unavoidable. In the history of my early life, I
could have mentioned many more incidents and
anecdotes of a particular or general nature,
which though of some interest to myself, would
not, I am persuaded, prove so to my readers.
Indian life is full of adventures, privations, and
dangers: and the history of many of their warriors
would, in my opinion, prove much more interest
ing than mine: except, from the circumstance of
my being a sojourner amongst strangers, and
comparatively a youth.

Here I ought to remark, as I omitted to in
my narrative, that I am ignorant of the length of
time I lived with the Indians. I have reason to
believe I was nineteen or twenty years of age
when I left them, which was in the spring of

I have been obliged to treat some of the sub
jects connected with the manners and customs
of the Indians very briefly, because they were
too fertile in matter to be embraced within the
limits I had assigned my work, notwithstand
ing I have exceeded my original prospectus by

Preface. v

nearly one hundred pages. Besides, there remains
much connected with Indian biography, language,
and particular medical practice, which it was not
contemplated to notice. These circumstances
have induced some of my friends to urge the
publication of another volume; but it is not likely
that I shall in any way enlarge upon the sub
jects presented, unless it be in the form of an
appendix to a future edition which I cannot flat
ter myself will be very soon called for.

This volume with all its imperfections is hand
ed to the public under a belief that I have ful
filled the engagements contained in the prospec
tus. I have no farther apologies to make, and
conclude by requesting the reader to keep the
fact in view, that these details have been written
from a reccllective comparison between the in
formation I have acquired since my assumption
of literary habits, and the cursory and accidental
observations of youth and immature manhood,
when not the slightest suspicion existed of their
ulterior recurrence, application, or importance.

Philadelphia, 1823.


Life of the Author, 9 to 142


Of the extent, aspect, soil, and climate of the country, distin
guished at present by the names of the Missouri and Arkansas
Territories, - . 145


Observations on the Mountains, Lakes, and Rivers of the before

described Territories, - . _ jgg


Brief remarks on some of the Animals, Plants, and Minerals in
digenous to this district of country, - 173


Considerations on the Physical and Moral condition of the Indians, 1 85

Brief statistical remarks on the Kickapoo, Kansas, and Osage In
dians, 217


Views of Theocracy, Religion, Agency of Good and Bad Spirits;
Of the Soul and its Migration; Religious Rites; Prophets,
Priests, and Physicians; Dreams, &c. ... ^22


Courtship, Marriage, Widowhood, Polygamy, Divorcements, Con
tinuance of Families, Adoption of Children, Indian names,
Disposition of the Infirm and Poor, - . 235



Family Government, Occupation and Economy, Birth, Nursing
and Education of Infants, Education and Amusements of
Youth, Games of Chance, Modes of Salutation, Treatment of
Strangers, Forms of Visits, Feasts, Festivals, &c. 261


Hunting, Fishing, Agriculture, Manufactures, Currency and

Trade, 284

Crimes and modes of Punishment, 305

Manner of Counting Time, Traditions, Tumuli, Monuments, &c. 312


Polity, Councils, Transaction of Public business generally, Elec
tion of Chiefs, Reception of Ambassadors, Peace runners, &c. 219

Patriotism, Martial Character and Propensity, War Implements,

Preparations for, Management and Termination of War, &c. 328

Residence, Dress, Painting, Food, Diseases, Treatment of the

Sick, Disposal of the Dead, Mournings, &c. 342


Observations on the Materia Medica of the Indians, 368

Observations on the Indian practice of Surgery and Medicine, 394









Or the place of my nativity and the circumstances
of my parentage, I am altogether ignorant, and fear
that I shall forever remain so; as I have assiduously
explored every avenue through which I could expect
information; both while I was with the Indians, and
since my residence in the United States. I have had
friends, whose exertions to serve me, in this particular,
deserve my warmest gratitude, and whilst I have the
gloomy reflection of knowing that their efforts, as well
as my own, have been unavailing, I will cherish these
manifestations of their kindness toward me with the
devotion of a heart that knows how to appreciate fa
vours. This part of my history, together with most of
the incidents of early life, which generally in works of
this kind form an interesting portion, will, in all proba
bility, forever remain unknown. Nevertheless, some
features in this period were so strongly marked as to
leave indelible impressions on my mind, while others

12 Life of the Author.

not so strikingly characterized, like the imperfect re
collection of a dream, cross my memory, but fix on it
no decided and satisfactory images.

I propose to treat on these, and the subsequent his
tory of my life, before I enter into the details of the ha
bits, morals, and polity of the Indians with whom I re
sided; because this arrangement will enable me to em
body much matter in my narrative, which, if read, I
am apprehensive, will prove tedious and uninteresting,
and which thas disposed of, can be passed over at the
option of ,the reader; for the subsequent and more in
teresting contents of the work, without interrupting
the general connection. Besides, it will afford me the sa
tisfaction of detaching myself, in a degree, from the
view of the reader in the more important parts; a cir
cumstance, with which, in the capacity of an author,
I may truly say T wished altogether to have complied,
but which I could not consistently do against the opi
nions of many from whom I have received unequivocal
tokens of friendship and regard, and whose advice I
feel myself bound to respect.

I was taken prisoner at a very early period of my
life by a party of Indians, who, from the train of events
that followed, belonged to, or were in alliance with the
Kickapoo nation. At the same time, two other white
children, a boy and a small girl, were also made pri

I have too imperfect a recollection of the circum
stances connected with this capture, to attempt any
account of them, although I have reflected on the sub
ject so often, and with so great interest and intensity,

LifeoftheMthm. IS

under the knowledge I have since acquired of the In
dian modes of warfare, as nearly to establish at times
a conviction in my mind of a perfect remembrance. In
these deluded spells 1 see the rush of the Indians, hear
their war whoops and terrific yells, and witness the
massacre of my parents and connections, the pillage of
their property, and the incendious destruction of their
dwellings. But the first incident that made an actual
and prominent impression on me, happened while the
party were somewhere encamped, no doubt shortly af
ter my capture; it was as follows: The little girl whom
I before mentioned, beginning to cry, was immediately
despatched with the blow of a tomahawk from one of
the warriors: the circumstance terrified me very much,
more particularly as it was followed with very mena
cing motions of the same instrument, directed to me,
and then pointed to the slaughtered infant, by the
same warrior, which I then interpreted to signify, that if
I cried, he would serve me in the same manner. From
this period till the apprehension of personal danger
had subsided, I recollect many of the occurrences
which took place.

Soon after the above transaction, we proceeded on
our journey till a party separated from the main body,
and took the boy before noticed with them, which was
the last I saw or heard of him.

The Indians generally separate their white prison
ers. The practice no doubt originated more with a
view to hasten a reconciliation to their change, and a
nationalization of feelings, than with any intention of
wanton cruelty.

The Indians who retained me continued their march.

1 4 Life of the Author.

chiefly through woods, for several successive days; a
circumstance well remembered by me, because the
fear of being left behind called forth all my efforts to
keep up with them, whenever from fatigue or any
other cause they compelled me to walk, which was of
ten the case.

After a long march and much fatigue, we reached
their camps, which were situated on a considerable
stream of water, but in what particular part or section
of country, I am wholly unable to say. Just before our
arrival, however, we were met by a great number of
old men, women, and children, among whom was a
white woman attired in the Indian costume; she was
the wife of a principal chief, was a great friend to the
Indians, and joined with, and I believe surpassed the
squaws in the extravagancy of her exultations and re
joicings on account of the safe return of the warriors
with prisoners, scalps, and other trophies obtained
from their vanquished foes.

I think it must have been in the fall when I was ta
ken prisoner, because the forests, and indeed the whole
atmosphere presented a smoky and peculiarly gloomy
appearance, which most probably was owing to a cus
tom which the Indians practice, of firing the leaves at
this season of the year, to facilitate the collection of
nuts for their consumption during the approaching

After our arrival at their camps, and I had become
reconciled to my new mode of living and my adopted
connections, nothing occurred for several years, to the
best of my recollection, as worthy of notice, except our

Life of the Author. 15

repeated removals, nor should I mention this, only,
that it serves to account for the obscurity with which
every thing connected with my early life is surrounded.
I was adopted into the family of one of the principal
warriors, named Fongoh, who claimed me as his pro
perty, from having taken me prisoner; his wife, a squaw
of an intermediate stature, and dark complexion, proved
to me a kind and affectionate mother.

It may appear somewhat extraordinary that I should
recollect the above incidents so circumstantially, while
others scarcely separated from them as to time, should
have nearly, or quite escaped my memory; but such is
the fact, though I am persuaded from the faint traces still
remaining on my mind, could either my parents or the
location of my childhood be presented to me at this
time, in the same state or condition that they were in
previous to my being taken by the Indians, that I should
recognize them individually. But the probable mas
sacre of the former, and the changes in respect to the
latter, which have rapidly succeeded each other in the
country where most likely my being first dawned,
forbid the hope of ever realizing these, to me, desira
ble and important events.

But notwithstanding this apparent incongruity in
respect to memory, when the careless and playful man
ner in which children usually pass their time is taken
into consideration, together with the violent changes
that interrupted my youthful sports, the cause of sur
prise will, I am persuaded, cease to exist.

With respect to my parents, it is highly probable, as
I before observed, that they perished at the commence-

1 6 Life of the Author.

ment of my captivity. This I infer from the circum
stances which generally precede, attend, and follow
the destruction of some families who adventure to the
Western frontiers for a settlement, among which, from
the manner of mj capture, I suppose mine to have
been; and as some of my readers may not be acquaint
ed with them, a few remarks here on these subjects
may prove interesting, and will not, I am persuaded,
be deemed irrelative to the plan I have proposed to

Inheriting certain districts of country from their an
cestors, the limits to which are prescribed either by trea
ties with the several tribes, or are traditionary and mu
tually respected; the Indians are accustomed to roam
with unrestrained freedom through their forests in
search of game, or to cultivate so much of the soil as
they may deem necessary to supply their wants and
cotbforts. Every encroachment made upon their terri
tory, whether with or without their consent, is, sooner or
later, regarded as an infringement of their natural rights,
and has frequently given rise to long, cruel, and extermi
nating wars, not only between different tribes, but be
tween the Indians and the whites. They regard the latter
with much the most scrupulous jealousy, because expe
rience has taught them that every settlement on their
part within their boundaries, is a precursor to their
farther recess, which, they most sensibly feel, will only
terminate with their final expulsion, extermination, or
incorporation with those they esteem their natural and
most bitter enemies. With such feelings and views
in regard to their neighbours, and their highest ambi-

Life of the Author. 15

tion being to excel in war, to improve themselves in
which, no opportunity is suffered to escape, however
abhorrent their mode of conducting it may appear to
civilized people, or however it may differ from the le
gitimatized murders of more refined governments, it
ought not to be a subject of wonder that the Indian
warriors should often seek to come in collision with
the advanced settlers. They do seek it, and terrible is
the vengeance they often inflict on these unfortunate
outposts to civilized life, for the imputed infringements
of their rights.

The outsettlers are generally men of indolent, and
frequently dissolute habits; they, for the most part,
hunt and fish to procure a livelihood, and this wander
ing mode of life makes them acquainted with the
neighbouring Indians, their manners, and languages,
and finally, with the situations most propitious for
their pursuits. Under such circumstances, perhaps
with consent, though this courtesy is but little regard
ed; lured by the present prospects, and regardless of
future dangers, first, one or two, and afterwards more
families venture into the territories of the Indians, till
in fact the jealousy of the latter becomes excited, when,
if possible, they scheme and execute their destruction.
The Indians are also often provoked by other causes:
such, for instance, as frauds and thefts practised upon
them, which provoke to retaliation and aggression; con
sequently, the innocent and guilty, indiscriminately suf
fer. Such conduct, mutually practised by them and
the whites, along the whole extent of the conceived,
though arbitrary boundary, is the cause of the invete-

18 Life of the Author.

rate hostility that exists between them, and leads to all
the scenes of Indian cruelty that are practised on the
frontier settlers. The settlers are aware of the dan
gers to which they are exposed, and generally associ
ate for their mutual defence; when sufficiently nume
rous they erect block-houses and pickets, to which
all retreat on particular signals being given. In cases
of emergency, where their number is not sufficiently
great to encourage the hope of a successful resistance,
should they apprehend an attack, they retreat to places
of greater security, and wait till the angry passions
of their Indian neighbours have subsided, or become
appeased. This, however, does not often happen, be
cause the Indians take their measures so secretly, and
execute them with such expedition, as to cut them off
before any definite suspicion of danger has been en
tertained. From the first, these encroachments are
viewed with a suspicious eye by the Indians, and should
any ill success subsequently attend their pursuits after
game, the cause is at once ascribed to the white set
tlers. These complaints are for a while individual and
feeble; but multiplying and becoming clamorous, a
council is convened, the subject debated, the measure
of redress fixed upon, and instantly carried into execu
tion. Sometimes, however, secret combinations of the
young warriors, with a view to acquire celebrity and
distinction, anticipate this form, and the first intelli
gence the chiefs have of their plan, is their return from
an expedition with scalps, prisoners, &c. But by far
the most frequent and summary way of chastising
those intruders, is practised by the hunting parties:

Life of the Author. 19

who, while these hostile feelings exist, promiscuously
destroy them, in whatever situation they may be found.
For this conduct, the warriors generally receive the
approbation and plaudits of the chiefs. When neither
of the above modes amount to a radical cure of the
evil, other measures having been determined on, and
the arrangements made, necessary to carry them into
execution, the war-party starts for the settlement, on
the destruction of which it is bent. On arriving in the
ueighbourhood, should the settlements be strong, and
capable of making much resistance, the Indians sepa
rate, and secrete themselves till a favourable opportu
nity presents for an attack; such, for instance, as the
absence of the men; when upon a signal being given,
they rush simultaneously upon, and force an entrance
into their dwellings, block-houses, or pickets. Their
conduct is then governed by the danger they have to
apprehend from the sudden return, or number of their
enemies; should this be great, and the prospect of cut
ting them off by ambuscade appear doubtful, an indis
criminate slaughter of the inhabitants, and destruction
of property follow. But if the danger be less, they kill
most of the men, reserving only such as would be like
ly to associate with them, or those against whom they
entertain a pointed enmity for injuries received, which
they intend to revenge before their assembled tribe, in
the most exemplary manner. Should the settlement,
however, be weak, the Indians commence the attack on
their arrival, and if they prove successful, the men ge
nerally are treated as above, the women and children
carried off prisoners, and the houses pillaged, and then

20 Life of the Author.

fired, with their remaining contents. This is a brief
outline of their mode of warfare with the whites, and
is perhaps all that requires to be said on the subject

As I grew larger so as to recollect the more recent
incidents of my life, the Indian boys were accustomed
tauntingly to upbraid me with being white, and with
the whites all being squaws; a reproachful term used
generally among the Indians, in contradistinction to
that oficarrior. This often involved me in boyish con
flicts, from which I sometimes came off victorious.
These contests were always conducted fairly, and the
victor uniformly received the praises and encourage
ments of the men; while the vanquished, if he had con
ducted himself bravely, was no less an object of their
notice; if otherwise, he was neglected, and much pains
were taken to shame and mortify him; nor would this
conduct be relaxed in the slightest degree, till he had
retrieved his character. The Indians are not only
spectators, but empires in these contests; they discover
great interest in them, and always adjudge with the
strictest impartiality. By such means the courage and
character of the young Indians are tested, and when
deficient, the remedy is at once applied, and so effectu
ally, that instances of cowardice are seldom discovered
among them after they have arrived at the age of pu
berty. From the above practice, it should not be in
ferred that they encourage discord and quarrelling
among themselves; the fact is otherwise; and in truth
they experience much less than is met with in the
lower orders of civilized life.

Life of the Author. 21

The white woman whom I noticed a little back, was
no way remarkable for any attention to me, which at
this period of my life I think somewhat extraordinary;
but perhaps, like myself, she had been taken prisoner
by the Indians while young, and her sympathies had
become enlisted for, or identified with those of the
tribe. She had two children, was tall, healthy, and
good-looking, as I judge from the impressions made
on my mind at that early period of my life. She sepa
rated from us in company with her husband and a con
siderable party of Indians, who had become disaffected,
while on a hunting excursion on some of the branches
of the Mississippi, during the last year, except one or
two that I remained with this tribe; since which, 1 have
heard nothing concerning her. She was much beloved
by the Indians, was in the prime of life, and I have no
doubt is now living with some of the Kickapoos on the
Mississippi, or some of its tributary streams.

Digressing a little, I may here observe that 1 met
three or four white children, apparently of my own age,
while travelling among the different tribes. They ap
peared like myself to have been at first forced to assume
the Indian character and habits; but time, and a con
formity to custom had nationalized them, and they
seemed as happy and contented as though they had
descended directly from the Indians, and were in pos
session of their patrimony. I also met some, whose

Online LibraryUnknownManners and customs of several Indian tribes located west of the Mississippi; including some account of the soil, climate, and vegetable productions, and the Indian materia medica: to which is prefixed the history of the author's life during a residence of several years among them → online text (page 1 of 26)