Lecture 37 (Focus): Indian Cultures in History, 1600-1783
The first two centuries of contact between European and Indian cultures brought great changes to the material cultures of many Indian peoples. Perhaps the chief agent of this culture change was the fur trade, which introduced new technologies and new goods. In some cases, traders introduced the goods directly to a tribe; in others through a process termed "indirect acculturation," European goods and technologies moved through native middlemen in advance of the European traders themselves. For some tribes, the presence of Europeans led to acculturation among native cultures. The Cheyenne, for example, adopted a Plains buffalo-tipi-horse culture alien to their Woodland agricultural background. The nature and degree of acculturation varied, but wherever the trade goods penetrated, the adoption of these goods, as well as the exploitation of game to the point of local extinction encouraged by the fur trade, created new dependency systems.
Changes in economic patterns, sociopolitical structures, populations, territories, and inter-tribal relations often accompanied these changes in material culture. In response to the European presence, confederations arose and new trade relations evolved among Indian tribes. But if the presence of the foreigners brought about new alliances, it also provoked new enmities. In many areas, pressure on lands and resources led to tribal expansion or migration. This in turn precipitated or aggravated inter-tribal conflicts, as did the European fur trade rivalries, the
slave trade in the East and Southwest, and the use of Indian allies in European wars. New patterns of tribal leadership arose from conflict with the Europeans, as well as from the creation of "trade chiefs" whose position was reinforced by the European traders. Other changes in sociopolitical structures followed in the wake of disease, war, and depleted resources.
Despite strong European missionary efforts, however, Indian intellectual cultures changed little in the period. Although changes in material culture were vast and rapid, the adoption of alien religions and belief systems did not accompany the shift from deer-scapula hoes to metal ones, the incorporation of metal tools and weapons, the acquisition of horses, and the use of a variety of European goods.
To explore the impact of the initial period of European colonization in North America, this lecture focuses on four tribes: the Seneca Iroquoian of the Northeast, the Cheyenne of the Plains, the Cherokee of the Southeast, and the Navajo of the Southwest. For each tribe, the lecture explores changes in six aspects of culture: technology; economy; sociopolitical organization; population and territory; war, trade, and diplomacy; and intellectual culture.
Lecture 17 (Focus): Indian Cultures in History, 1600-1783
I. The Northeast: Seneca Iroquoian Culture Change, 1600-1783
1. Goods: In addition to goods such as glass beads originally conceived for the
fur trade, many items, including linen breechcloths and trade paint, were
manufactured according to Indian specifications for the trade. In the
Revolutionary War, the British supplied stores and rations for the Iroquois.
2. Settlement Patterns: The Six Nations abandoned the palisaded villages after
the fur trade wars that secured the Old Northwest in a Pax Iroquoia. The
palisaded villages were a poor defense against artillery, and peace made them
unnecessary (Wallace, p. 144).
1. In the aboriginal native economy, males hunted or fished and females farmed.
2. The Iroquois League eventually established hegemony over many tribes in the
Old Northwest; these tribes paid tribute to the League for privileges of
occupancy and hunting.
3. The fur trade was never the exclusive source of income, but it soon became an
essential part of the economy. Beaver, mink, and otter were exchanged for
goods and guns. As often occurred, this created dependency, depleted the
resources, and provoked warfare.
C. Sociopolitical Organization
1. The fur trade divided the Seneca into two groups.
a. The western group was pro-French.
b. The eastern group was pro-British.
2. The five-nation Iroquois League (Seneca, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida, and
Mohawk) incorporated the conquered Tuscarora as a sixth nation in 1722.
3. The League extended its power in a temporary confederacy with tribes of
Ohio. In the Treaty of Fort Stanwix (1768), the League abandoned this
alliance and sold the land of the western tribes (Wallace, pp. 122-23, 154).
4. The League's power was further diminished when the tribes split their
allegiance during the Revolutionary War. After the Council of Oswego
(1777), the Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga joined Brant's Mohawks and the
British; the Oneida and Tuscarora joined the colonial allies (Wallace, pp. 132-
D. Population and Territory
1. At its greatest extent, the League dominated a million-square-mile territory
which stretched from the Hudson to the Mississippi and from the northern
Great Lakes to Cherokee country. The Iroquois population within this area
was approximately fifteen thousand (Wallace, p. 28).
2. By the mid-eighteenth century, mass adoption of captives was necessary to
replenish populations devastated by warfare. Iroquois population decreased
even more at the end of the century, as a result of the famine and the severe
winter (1779-1780) following Sullivan's campaign in Iroquoia, and of the
smallpox epidemic of 1781-1782 (Wallace, pp. 194-95).
E. War, Trade, and Diplomacy
1. Formation of the League ended blood satisfaction within the Iroquois group,
extending revenge and aggression outside the confederacy (Wallace, p. 46).
2. Fur-trade wars, in which the Iroquois fought to secure the middleman role and
to extinguish the Huron, compounded the aggression.
3. The French and Indian War signaled the beginning of the end for the Iroquois
by making it impossible for them to play the French against the English any
4. The western tribes acted as an independent confederacy during Pontiac's
"conspiracy" (Wallace, p. 114).
5. The Iroquois entered the Revolution divided. Sullivan's scorched earth
campaign of 1779 left only two of thirty large Iroquois villages intact
(Wallace, p. 144).
6. In 1777 the New York state constitution incorporated a provision requiring all
sales of Indian lands to be approved by the state legislature, thus making the
state a party to all future treaties (Abrams, p. 35). This continued New York's
F. Intellectual Culture
1. Christianity had almost no effect on Iroquois belief in such traditional figures
and concepts as the Woman Who Fell from Sky, the Earth-Diver creation
story, and the struggle between Good and Evil Twins to shape the world.
2. The Iroquois performed a number of traditional annual ceremonies, most of
which were associated with agriculture. The most important of these were the
mid-winter ceremony and the New Corn ceremony in the fall. They also had
a dreaming ritual, in which dreams were communicated and acted out to
relieve psychological distress.
II. The Plains: Cheyenne Culture Change, 1600-1783
a. Although some Cheyenne interest in the fur trade appeared as early as
1680, the Cheyenne adopted few European goods in this period. By
the end of the eighteenth century, hatchets and steel needles were
probably in use, and the most prominent trade item was the sheet-
metal arrowpoint. Firearms and trade beads, however, were still few
(Wood, p. 49).
b. The horse, which reached the Cheyenne from the south about 1740,
was widespread by the 1770s (Wood, p. 49).
2. Settlement Patterns: During this period the Cheyenne settlement pattern was
characterized by villages of earthen lodges surrounded occasionally (most
often on the Plains) by ditches and fortifications.
1. Throughout the period, the Cheyenne were predominantly horticulturalists. They grew more than they needed and traded the surplus to the Chippewa.
2. When the Cheyenne moved to Cheyenne River, they became more heavily
dependent on buffalo and engaged in communal hunts, phenomena made
possible by horses (Wood, p. 54).
3. At the end of the eighteenth century, the Cheyenne relied only slightly on the
fur trade (Berthrong, The Southern Cheyennes, p. 10). Their transition to
Plains horse culture was incomplete.
C. Sociopolitical Organization
1. The groups that eventually formed the Cheyenne nation were originally
separate. The Suhtaio, one of those groups, was referred to as a separate tribe
as late as 1830.
2. According to tradition, the council of 44 chiefs originated in the mid-
eighteenth century as a result of contact through war, probably with the
3. Neither age-graded societies nor the formation of hands for determining
residence and association were aboriginal; both represent later Plains
adaptations (Berthrong, The Southern Cheyennes, pp. 67-75).
D. Population and Territory (Wood, pp. 51-68; Berthrong, The Southern Cheyennes, pp.
3-27; Jablow, pp. 1-9; Grinnell, Chapter 1)
1. The earliest area of origin identified is the Mille Lacs region west of Lake
2. The Cree and the Assiniboine, armed by the Hudson Bay Company, drove the
Cheyenne south to the Minnesota River.
3. A 1678 map shows the Cheyenne living east of the Mississippi River above
the Wisconsin River.
4. In 1680 the Cheyenne traveled three hundred miles to make their first direct
contact with Europeans; they met La Salle near the site of modern Peoria to
talk about the fur trade.
5. By 1690 the Cheyenne had moved onto the Minnesota River between the Blue
Earth River and Lac Qui Parle.
6. By 1700 two additional movements had occurred.
a. Some Cheyenne had moved to the Cheyenne River in North Dakota,
abandoning the Blue Earth. The first site accepted as Cheyenne is
Biesterfeldt, which was abandoned about 1790.
b. Other Cheyenne had moved to the Missouri River and established a
village at Porcupine Creek among the Mandan and Hidatsa (Wood, pp.
7. At this time the population was undoubtedly small, since the bands moved
independently of each other.
E. War, Trade and Diplomacy
1. Cheyenne movement was affected by warfare.
a. Warfare with the Assiniboine and Cree drove the Cheyenne from Mille
b. Pressure from the Dakota on the one hand and the Chippewa on the
other drove the Cheyenne from Minnesota.
c. The Cheyenne River site was attacked by the Assiniboine (Wood, pp.
d. Biesterfeldt was burned out about 1790, probably by the Chippewa
(Wood, pp. 55-57).
2. This movement and conflict seems to have represented a direct Cheyenne
response to the expansionist imperative of the more heavily armed "trade
tribes," especially the Assiniboine, Chippewa, and Dakota.
F. Intellectual Culture
1. It is impossible to discover what aboriginal Woodland Cheyenne religion,
beliefs, and value systems were like. From the contiguous development of the
Cheyenne among their Algonquian speaking neighbors, it is possible to infer
that these aspects of Cheyenne intellectual culture were much like those of
other Woodland Indians.
2. The adoption of the medicine bundle, the Sacred Arrows and the Sacred Hat,
and the Sun Dance all followed the move to the Plains. In 1800 probably the
Sacred Bundle and perhaps the Sacred Arrows had been integrated into
3. The adoption of the Sun Dance has been variously explained.
a. Spicer suggests that the Sun Dance originated among the Arapaho or
the Cheyenne, perhaps during the years of village residence on the
Cheyenne and Missouri rivers (Spier, p. 498).
b. Cheyenne tradition, on the other hand, says that the Sun Dance came
to the Cheyenne with the incorporation of the Suhtaio, that is, in the
mid-nineteenth century (Berthrong, The Southern Cheyennes, p. 62).
III. The Southeast: Cherokee Culture Change, 1540-1785
a. Spanish goods reached the Cherokee from the Mississippi River area
in southern Appalachia by the seventeenth century; English goods
reached them by the middle of that century (Lewis and Kneberg, pp.
b. Guns were first reported among the Cherokee in 1673 (Woodward, p.
29). The British gave the Cherokee trade goods and firearms in return
for alliance in war (Wood-ward, p. 34).
c. Home spinning and weaving industries were introduced about 1775
(Woodward, p. 85).
d. By the end of the period, European clothing and firearms had become
2. Settlement Patterns (Sears, pp. 143-44; Dickens, pp. 14-15; Goodwin, p. 112).
a. Traditional wattle-daub dwellings gave way to log cabins made
possible by the metal axe.
b. Nuclear villages centered around the Council Townhouse and plaza
gave way to linear, loosely arranged communities.
B. Economy (Goodwin, pp. 93-99)
1. By 1750 the Cherokee were dependent on European trade. They traded as
many as 25,000 deerskins a year (Goodwin, p. 98).
2. By 1760 big game had been severely depleted and the Cherokee depended
totally on trade. Bison had disappeared, elk were virtually extinct in the
range, bear had diminished, and more than a quarter million deer had been
killed between 1739 and 1759 (Goodwin, pp. 93-99, 132).
3. A number of European tools, processes, and flora and fauna had become part
of the Cherokee economy.
a. The Cherokee adopted European flora, including watermelons,
peaches, nectarines, potatoes, West Indian tobacco, and some apples,
pears, and pomegranates (Goodwin, pp. 126-31).
b. The Cherokee also adopted metal agricultural hand-tools.
c. By 1735 domesticated swine and poultry had been introduced. The
horse was introduced by 1740, and the tribe was largely mounted by
1760 (Goodwin, pp. 131-37; Woodward, p. 47).
d. Although cattle were not yet widespread, a Revolutionary War captive
taught the Cherokee to make butter and cheese.
4. Clay from Cherokee country was used to start the porcelain industry in
England (Woodward, p. 69).
C. Sociopolitical Organization
1. Individual Cherokee towns, with war and peace chiefs, were loosely organized
into geographic associations in response to trade. Then, in the mid-eighteenth
century, the towns formed a federation with a capitol at Echota. Old Tassel
was the principal chief (Goodwin, pp. 113-14).
2. In the mid-eighteenth century, the conflict between the French and the English
divided the Cherokee into two factions, one led by the war chief and the other
led by the peace chief (Goodwin, p. 43).
3. In the eighteenth century, as rum began to have an impact, family life began to
disintegrate (Woodward, p. 68; Goodwin, pp. 93-99, 142).
4. Larger social structures, such as the communal hunt, also disappeared under
the impact of trade and the profit motive (Woodward, p. 68; Goodwin, pp. 93-
5. Intermarriage with Europeans occurred after the French and Indian War.
D. Population and Territory
1. Cherokee population was estimated at between sixteen and seventeen
thousand in 1735 (Woodward, p. 46); the smallpox epidemic of 1738 reduced
that number by fifty percent. A later smallpox epidemic (1783) and the
casualties from continuing eighteenth-century warfare further reduced the
population (Mooney, p. 50).
2. The Cherokee responded to incursion by ceding eastern lands and expanding
to the north and west.
a. Armed by the British, the Cherokee expanded into Kentucky after
defeating the Shawnee and driving them north of the Ohio.
b. The Cherokee made three major land cessions in this period.
(1) At Sycamore Shoals the Cherokee ceded all land between the
Kentucky and Tennessee rivers to the Transylvania Land
Company, ignoring two factors which prevented such cession
(Royce, pp. 20-21; Woodward, pp. 88-89).
(a) The Shawnee still claimed this land.
(b) Under the 1730 Articles of Agreement, only the Crown
had authority to purchase Indian land.
(2) In the Treaty of Grand Island (1777) , the Cherokee ceded all
land remaining within South Carolina and all land east of Blue
Ridge (Mooney, pp. 43-44; Woodward, p. 97)
(3) The Treaty of Hopewell (1785), the first Cherokee treaty with
the United States, reduced Cherokee land-holdings still further
(Royce, pp. 24-30).
E. War, Trade, and Diplomacy
1. The Yemassee War of 1715
a. The Cherokee joined other Southeastern tribes trying to remove
b. The governor of Charleston fomented war to procure Indian captives
that could be sold in the West Indian slave trade.
c. In 1721 the Cherokee met with Charleston's first royal governor.
They established a mutual boundary (the first Cherokee land cession)
and agreed to the appointment of an English commissioner to oversee
the trade (Woodward, pp. 57-60; Royce, p. 16).
2. The 1730 Delegation
a. A Cherokee delegation led by Attakullaculla ("Little Carpenter") was
received by King George II.
b. The delegation pledged allegiance by signing the Articles of
Agreement, and the king rewarded them with guns and promises.
c. Oconostoto (the war chief), however, allied himself with the French
after an English slave ship brought a smallpox epidemic which
disfigured him (Woodward, pp. 60-70).
3. The French and Indian War
a. Attakullaculla made a treaty with the English, ceding land to South
Carolina and giving the Crown the right to erect two forts (Loudon and
George) on Cherokee land.
b. Led by English officers, the Cherokee went to war against the
c. A series of English and colonial blunders, however, turned the
Cherokee against the Crown. Then British expeditions were sent
against the Cherokee.
(1) The tribe attacked Fort Loudon. The garrison surrendered but
brought about its own destruction by violating the terms of
(2) Punitive expeditions against the Cherokee destroyed 15 towns
and 1500 acres of cultivated land. Five thousand Cherokees
were driven into the forests without food or shelter.
d. J. Stuart, who had been spared by the Cherokee at Fort Loudon, was
appointed as the superintendent of the southern Indian district by the
Crown in 1763 (Woodward, pp. 70-77).
4. The Revolutionary War (Mooney, pp. 36-51)
a. Dragging Canoe led a Cherokee war faction aligned with the British;
Attakullaculla led the Cherokee faction aligned with the Americans.
b. When the war faction began raiding, punitive expeditions of as many
as six thousand men invaded Cherokee country. Although they were
not sworn into the regular army until later, Tennessee mountain men
willingly took up arms against the Cherokee with the promise of
obtaining Indian land for their service. In 1780 these men destroyed
ten of the largest Cherokee towns, including Echota. More than 1000
houses and 50,000 bushels of corn were destroyed.
c. The Cherokee became more divided. Although the peace faction
prevailed, Old Tassel of Echota (the principal chief) admitted that he
could no longer control the warriors.
d. The smallpox epidemic of 1783 was followed by the Treaty of
Hopewell in 1785.
F. Intellectual Culture
1. The missionary work among the Cherokee, particularly by French Jesuits in
the eighteenth century, had little impact. Cherokees did become Christianized,
however, by marrying Europeans after the French and Indian War and the
Revolution (Woodward, pp. 57, 85).
2. When communal hunts declined under the influence of the fur trade, hunting
and fishing rituals also declined.
3. The Booger Dance, developed to ward off contamination from whites, became
4. European materials, such as guns, were incorporated into the Green Corn
5. Homeopathic medical theory and mythological systems declined (Goodwin,
pp. 143, 148).
IV. The Southwest: Navajo Culture Change, 1600-1773
1. Goods (Hester, Early Navajo Migrations, pp. 62-65)
a. By the end of the period, European goods acquired through raid or
trade had supplanted pottery, stone tools, and baskets.
b. Clothing changed from buckskin to Puebloan woolens.
c. Metal agricultural tools, such as hoes, were adopted.
d. By 1776 Navajo men rarely appeared without trade-silver ornaments.
2. Settlement patterns (Hester, Early Navajo Migrations, pp. 62-63)
a. After the Pueblo Revolt (1680), the rancheria of forked-stick hogans
was augmented by stone-walled pueblitos.
b. Defensive mesa-top fortified hogans, some stone-walled and circular,
appeared in the first half of the eighteenth century.
1. The original Navajo hunting economy was augmented by dry-flood farming
acquired from the Pueblos. By the mid-eighteenth century, the Navajo grew
corn, beans, squash, chile, cotton, pumpkins, and watermelons (Hester,
"Ethno-historic Reconstruction," p. 132).
2. As early as 1706, the Navajo kept some sheep, goats, horses, and cattle. The
transition to animal husbandry was secured by the acquisition of new stock in
raiding (Hester, "Ethno-historic Reconstruction," p. 132).
3. In the early eighteenth century, the Navajo traded buckskins, baskets, and
woolens at fairs (Hester, "Ethnohistoric Reconstruction," p. 133).
4. Slaves and captives taken in raids aided the economy.
5. By the mid-eighteenth century, sheep were in substantial use as a food item. By the end of the period, horses were in widespread use (Hester, Early Navajo
Migrations, p. 58).
C. Sociopolitical Organization
1. Matrilocal postmarital residence and matrilineal descent were adopted from
the Pueblos (Hester, Early Navajo Migrations, p. 89).
2. The clan served as the basic descent group, the band as the basic political
3. Spanish officials applied the policy of "installing" a headman as "chief of all
4. Internal division among the Navajo, a natural occurrence since clan loyalty
was preeminent over loyalty to tribe, was aggravated by Spanish pressure.
"Enemy" Navajo who were associated with the Spanish lived near Cebolleta.
D. Population and Territory
a. Rio Grande refugees from the Pueblo Revolt, especially people of the
Jemez Pueblo, greatly increased the population of the Western Navajo.
b. Slaves and captives, taken from almost all of the peoples in the area
including the Spanish, also increased Navajo population.
c. Most population estimates, such as the figure of 2-4,000 Navajo in the
mid-eighteenth century, are probably too small. They reflect the
limited Spanish contact which occurred primarily on the southern and
eastern edges of Navajo country.
a. Early division may have established the Western Navajo in Arizona
and Utah during the seventeenth century (Hester, Early Navajo
Migrations, p. 74).
b. In the seventeenth century, most Navajos were concentrated in the
upper Chama and upper San Juan drainages of New Mexico, but
Navajos were scattered through a wide area which stretched across
Arizona, New Mexico, Utah, and Colorado (Hester, Early Navajo
Migrations, pp. 66, 75).
c. As a result of Spanish expansionist pressure, reprisals for raiding, and
the Pueblo Revolt, a series of Eastern Navajo movements to the south
and west terminated near Cebolleta and Canyon de Chelly. By the
mid-eighteenth century, population concentration in Canyon de Chelly
had occurred (Hester, Early Navaho Migrations, pp. 66, 75).
d. The Navajo largely abandoned the upper Chama and upper San Juan
as a result of pressure from the Spanish-allied Utes in the mid-
eighteenth century (Hester, Early Navajo Migrations, p. 75).
e. By the end of the period, the Navajo occupied the area of the present
reservation, as well as an eastward extension to Cebolleta and a
northward extension beyond the San Juan in Utah and Colorado.
E. War, Trade, and Diplomacy (Hester, Early Navajo Migrations, pp. 21-23, Forbes,
1. Raiding began in 1609 in response to Spanish encroachment. Later raids were
undertaken in reprisal for Spanish slave raids, as well as for personal gain.
2. The Navajo allied themselves with the Pueblos, especially Jemez, in 1645
against the Spanish and their Pueblo allies.
3. In 1663 a Spanish proclamation ending Pueblo-Navajo trade began two
decades of war.
4. The Navajo supported the 1680 Pueblo revolt against the Spaniards and
subsequently sheltered many Pueblo refugees.
5. Warfare between the Navajo and the Utes, which had been aggravated by the
Spanish slave trade and the Ute-Spanish alliance of 1704, peaked between
1720 and 1750, when the Utes drove the Navajo out of the San Juan-
6. Navajo raids forced the Spaniards to abandon the Rio Puerco and Cebolleta
land grants in 1774.
7. Members of the Dominguez-Escalante expedition of 1776 were the first
Europeans to penetrate and map the northern San Juan country.
8. In 1777 the Navajo allied themselves with the Gila Apaches against the
F. Intellectual Culture
1. Much of Navajo ceremonialism may have been acquired as a result of
association with Puebloan refugees after the Pueblo Revolt of 1680 (Hester,
Early Navajo Migrations, p. 60).
2. Navajo rejection of Spanish missionaries and Catholicism was clearly
manifested at Cebolleta in 1750.
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