The period before the discovery can be divided into a few stages. The first stage, represented by the Lower American Paleolithic, began in 40.000 BC and ended in 15.000 BC. It was the time when the first Americans came on this territory from Malaysia, Australia and Tasmania. Explore the most interesting topics of history. The second stage is characterized by a superior cultural organization, similar to the one of the last civilizations of the Old World’s Upper Paleolithic. […] The newcomers exceeded the migrant stage, laying the groundwork of the primitive society. […] The third stage is known as Nucleus America, a formative, Pre-classic stage, characterized by a significant cultural boost. The fourth stage has undergone a trade development, as well as a boost for urban civilizations. It is in fact the period of the great Taltic and Maya civilizations. […] As conclusion, we can consider the Juca and Aztec culture, followed by Tarasca, Mixteca, Maya and Chibelea to be representative for the development process of the New World. At the same time, they show us the picture of a territory with totally different features at the time of the discovery, than what was rumored to be a wild land (My translation)[ Translated from Romanian. Corneliu Nicolescu, America (Cluj: DACIA, 1998), pp. 20-22].
Undoubtedly, the first people reached the American continent by foot from Asia when the Bering Strait emerged due to a heavy glaciation which caused a drop in sea level. According to what is known until now, the most plausible theories place this first migration between 18.000 and 10.000 BC (My translation)[ Translated from Romanian. Jean Sellier, Atlasul popoarelor din America (Bucharest: NICULESCU, 2008), pp. 23].
Topics of American History
As stated by J.E. Luebering in the book Native American History, the Paleo-Indians were the earliest inhabitants of the continent. It is also described in many scientific papers and studies in our us history topics. They hunted woolly mammoths, large bison and giant ground sloths; some of them survived with marine fauna, such as fish or shellfish. The Paleo-Indians used sharp, lance-like objects called Clovis points to kill mammoths. The rise in temperature following the Ice Age had changed the landscape, flora and fauna radically. The people had also started to remain in one place for longer periods of time, they made better tools, such as the spear, which proved to be a remarkable hunting weapon. Later on, they practiced agriculture, such as the people who lived along the Mississippi River, shifting from their hunter-gatherer status. Ancient Pueblo cultures, such as the Anasazi, are known to have built housing structures similar to today’s apartment blocks (Luebering 18-21).
Life before the 1500s
History ideas and motives that we can explore through the centuries, and centuries still captivate young scientists. According to the book of Georgiana Gălățeanu-Fârnoagă, Americans Past and Present, there were millions of indigenous people in 1492 living on the present-day United States territory. They consisted of 600 tribes which spoke 500 different languages and which had different economy systems. Each tribe had distinct occupations and opinions regarding violence: some hunted and gathered food, others cultivated plants such as maize, melon, tobacco, beans and squash. An example of a tribe(s) which enjoyed going to war were the Iroquois; at the opposite end were the Delaware Indians, who liked peace (22).
Housing also varied from tribe to tribe, as the same author notes, from tepees[ “A portable conical tent made of skins, cloth, or canvas on a frame of poles, used by North American Indians of the Plains and Great Lakes regions.” (Oxford Dictionary)] mostly used by the Plains Indians, to “impressive lodges made of beams covered with bark that the Iroquois and other eastern tribes built” (Gălățeanu-Fârnoagă 22). Their occupation depended on the tribe. A significant number of tribes made beautiful pottery, birchbark canoes and tools made of copper. Others had simple lives, for example, the tribes of California, who wore simple clothes and lived in crude houses. Despite these, they were skilled in making beautiful baskets (Gălățeanu-Fârnoagă 22).
Features of some tribes
This section will focus on a few of the hundreds of tribes found on the United States territory or close to it. Below, a description of their history and current lives will be made to see what made them be different or similar to one another, be it their location, customs, or housing.
A very powerful Confederacy, the Blackfeet controlled a vast area, from today’s Alberta to Montana. It was made up of three bands, the Siksika, the Blood and the Piegan. These bands still exist today. The name “Blackfeet” comes from the fact that these Native Americans dyed their moccasins black (Waldman 37). An indispensable resource is also several us history essay that students study.
The Blackfeet separated from a larger tribe, the Algonquians, and then became nomadic people, relying on buffalo meat the most, and they called it “real food” (Waldman 37). They also hunted deer, elk, mountain sheep, and ate fish as well. As far as plants are concerned, they consumed wild ones. During winter, they would remain in one place, but during the other seasons, they would move from place to place in search of buffalo, living in tents called tipis. The horse appeared in the Blackfeets’ life in the 18th century, which eased their travelling. The bands are renown for their beautiful tipis, clothes, tools, weapons, and even the headdress, which was unique since the feathers stood straight up. Some traditions of the Blackfeet are the Sun Dance and the Vision Quest, which are also practiced by other Plains tribes (Waldman 37-38). More information about these traditions is found in Section 2.3.2.
The Blackfeet Confederacy was fierce, having enemies on the Great Plains, the Crow and Sioux, and on the mountainous area, Shoshone, Flathead, and Kootenai. They performed many raids, an event in which if a boy went on his first raid and did something courageous, such as steal a horse, he would be given a name to fit his achievement. Early relationships with the colonists were generally peaceful. They became hostile when a member of the tribe was killed while engaged in a raid. Ever since, the name of the bands was feared, as they were so warlike, but just like any person, they were not immune to diseases. The Blackfeet were decimated by smallpox brought by the colonists, and also suffered after buffalo became scarce (Waldman 38).
What history topics to research can you choose to study if you are a student. You can find advice in this article. The most prominent chief of the Confederacy was Crowfoot. Thanks to him, the Blackfeet signed the treaty with Canada in 1877, in which they agreed to turn certain portions of land into a reservation. The Blackfeet were moved on this reservation, but luckily, its territory covers their ancestral lands. Crowfoot was against conflicts, even if many of his children were victims of epidemics (Waldman 39). Before his death, he said: “What is life? It is the flash of a firefly in the night. It is the breath of a buffalo in the winter time. It is the little shadow which runs across the grass and loses itself on the sunset.” (Waldman 39).
The word “hopi” means “peaceful ones”. The Hopis are an interesting tribe due to their ritual clothing and objects. They are the only tribe which has occupied one area for a long period of time, and that is the Four Corners area ( the southwestern corner of Colorado, southeastern corner of Utah, northeastern corner of Arizona, and northwestern corner of New Mexico ). Today, most of the Hopi members live on the reservation in Arizona (The Hopi – Peaceful Ones of the Southwest, Kathy Weiser 1).
Probably descendants of the Anasazi, just like other Pueblo Indians, the Hopi live in what they call Black Mesa[ Mesa: “An isolated flat-topped hill with steep sides, found in landscapes with horizontal strata.” (Oxford Dictionary). ]. Because they barely had trees on their arid lands, they built structures with mud and stones. These structures were called pueblos and the Hopis lived in them. They were similar to modern apartment blocks, as they had multiple floors and rooms. To enter these buildings, they used an opening in the roof. Kivas were another type of structure, which were built underground. They were used as chapels and as clubhouses for men (Waldman 105-106).
The Hopi survived through hunting, gathering and agriculture. Men were hunters, while women gathered wild plants and had crops of corn, beans, squash, tobacco and cotton. Men planted crops where there was moisture or even underground water sources. They relied heavily on corn, and they also tamed turkeys. Hopi used plants and animal matter to make baskets, blankets, clothes, and dyes. A unique characteristic of the Hopi is the hairstyle worn by unmarried, young women, which resembles squash flowers (Waldman 106).
As stated by Carl Waldman, a Hopi tradition is that of the kachinas. They represent guardian spirits and Hopi made dolls or they wore masks, thus children could learn every kachina with the help of these dolls (106-107). They were given to the children not to be played with, but to be studied and respected. Children who did not behave were scared with the so-called scare-kachinas. They had sharp teeth and big eyes. While they were frightened by them, children were also given love and support from their parents, which enabled them to follow the Hopi Way: “to be in balance with both nature and other people.”(Waldman 107). Hopi believed these spirits entered their bodies during the shortest day of the year, the winter solstice, and they would remain there until the longest day of the year, the summer solstice. The Snake Dance is a rain dance in which men dressed as kachinas would hold snakes while performing the dance (Waldman 106-107).
The Hopi continue to practice their ancient traditions significantly more than other tribes (The Hopi – Peaceful Ones of the Southwest, Kathy Weiser 1). Their way of life resembles that of their ancestors. They still harvest the same crops, make kachinas, and live in modern pueblos, which have appliances, doors and windows. The ancient religion is still followed, in which rain dances are included. They strive to protect their lands from pollution and mining (Waldman 108).
Also known as Ojibwe in Canada, and by their Native name, Anishinabe, the Chippewa lived around the Great Lakes. They were allies of the Ottawa and Potawatomi; this alliance was known as the Council of Three Fire, as stated by Waldman (65-66).
The Chippewa had villages and lived in houses called wigwams, which were made of birch bark, which was also used to build canoes and containers. They had crops of corn, pumpkin, squash and beans, and also hunted game, such as wild ducks, wild geese, mammals, and edible wild plants (Waldman 66). Maple syrup was used as a seasoning item by the Ojibwa. Like other tribes close to areas with maple trees, the Ojibwas made the maple syrup. Another common food item was wild rice (Lorene Roy 1). Wild rice is a tall grass with and edible rice-like seed which is found on the shores of streams, lakes, and in swamps (Waldman 66). The first harvested rice was blessed by a medicine man, and then stored. The Chippewa ate the rice with broth made of venison or duck or they used maple syrup to sweeten it (Roy 1).
According to Waldman, the Anishinabe became trusted allies of the French. With the weapon supply provided by the French, they drove even the powerful Confederacies away from their territories, the Sioux and the Iroquois (67). They also fought in the French and Indian wars, and in Pontiac’s War, which later covers a section. They sided with the British in the American Revolution (Waldman 67).
The American Indian Movement, or AIM, was founded by three Anishinabe members, Dennis Banks, George Mitchell, and Clyde Bellecourt. Its members were Native Americans who left the reservations because they did not trust the faulty government. This group fought for their rights and for better life conditions on and off reservations (Waldman 67). Today, the tribe contains members which live on reservations, and who live in urban areas, members who are still traditional, who make traditional craftwork, hunt or fish, and members who follow a non-Indian way of life (68).
The Lenape called themselves Lenni Lenape which means “real men” in their dialect of the Algonquin language. The Lenape tribe is also called Delaware due to the the fact that they lived near the Delaware river. Their villages were placed near rivers and they consisted of wigwams. Around the villages, there were crops of corn, beans and squash, and hunting grounds. One of the three clans dominated Lenape villages: the wolf, the turtle and the turkey (Waldman 143).
In his book, Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Carl Waldman states that the Lenape entered history due to their migration over around 200 years and due to their participation in many important American events. Because of the growing numbers of non-Indian settlers, the Lenape went through a series of constant relocation, first because of the Dutch and their fur trade. The English followed, pushing the Lenape to Ohio. Then they moved to the Great Lakes, Texas, Oklahoma, among other places. This lead to them living on 10 states. They also signed many treaties, one of which is considered to be the first one signed by a Native American tribe. It took place during the American Revolution in 1778 (Waldman 143-144).
An event in which the Lenapes took part is the selling of Manhattan Island, when a Lenape band called Manhattan sold the territory for trade goods, such as tools and beads. Another event is the signing of the treaties of friendship with William Penn, founder of Pennsylvania. He was a European who respected the Native Americans, their rights of the land and religion (Waldman 144).
Today, the Lenni Lenape live in Oklahoma. Other Lenape bands live in Wisconsin, Ohio, Ontario, Kansas and Idaho. Others live in Pennsylvania, where there is the Lenni Lenape Historical Society and Museum of Indian Culture. The museum organizes a festival every year in August in which visitors can enjoy traditional food, dancing, music and arts and crafts (Waldman 145).
The name of this tribe was given to them by the English because their villages were placed near woodland rivers and creeks. They lived in present-day Georgia and Alabama, some parts of Florida, Louisiana and Tennessee. Several bands made up this tribe, but the most powerful of them was the Muskogee band, who spoke Muskogean (Waldman 83-84).
As stated above, the Creek lived close to rivers and creeks, their villages placed in forested areas. Each village had a micco, who was a chief that had functions similar to those of a contemporary mayor. The structure of these villages was comprised of “red towns” and “white towns”. The “red towns” were inhabited by warriors, who performed war dances, and the “white towns” by peacemakers, who signed treaties. Every villages had a town square placed in the middle, where members could sit and watch games and ceremonies. Families lived in houses made of mud, and they had a winter house, a summer house used for guests, a granary and a warehouse (Waldman 84).
The Creek were skilled in agriculture, having crops of beans, corn, squash, pumpkins, sweet potatoes and melons. They owned private gardens, but they also had a communal field, the produce of which was used to feed the needy, guests and warriors. The Green Corn Ceremony was the most important ceremony for the Creek. It symbolized renewal, and it took place at the end of summer when corn was becoming ripe. Everyone in the tribe had a task during this ritual: men repaired buildings in the village, women cleaned their houses and threw away whatever was not needed anymore, and the chiefs, shamans, warriors and elders fasted. A feast was made afterwards, where they ate corn and venison, some danced the Green Corn Dance, others played games. They all purified themselves for the new year by bathing in the river (Waldman 84-85).
The Creek War (1813-1814) was an important military conflict, in which the Creek, influenced by Tecumseh, a Shawnee who wanted to rebel against the United States, had a civil war among themselves, but later the Americans took part as well. The two factions were known as the Red Sticks, which in the Creek culture mean war, and the White Stick, which mean peace. The incident which started this conflict took place when Little Warrior’s men, a full-blooded Creek who was the leader of a Creek band in the War of 1812, murdered settlers near Ohio River. The White Stick faction executed him for what he has done. The most renown incident was the one in which Red Eagle, a half-blooded Creek, gathered 1000 Red Sticks to fight against Fort Mims. The assault resulted in 400 killed settlers, the black slaves being saved by the Creek. Many battles, in which the Americans intervened, soon followed. The last one (1814) involved General Andrew Jackson and Red Eagle. Jackson’s men attacked the Indians’ barricades until they retreated. Red Eagle surrendered and was forced to sign a treaty with which 23 million acres of land were taken from the Red and White Sticks (Waldman 85-86).
After several years, Andrew Jackson became President of the United States. He took away the remaining lands of the tribes living in the surrounding area, Creek included, thus forcing them to relocate. I have studied this issue in great detail and have used it as history research paper example. Many of them died because of hunger, disease and bandit attacks. This event was known as the Trail of Tears. After this tragic event, these tribes, Cherokee, Creek, Chickasaw, Choctaw and Seminole, adopted White customs and became the “Five Civilized Tribes”. Today, the Creek, accustomed to the White culture, have professions in important fields, such as law and medicine. But many of them try to rediscover the culture which was wiped out by the Whites (Waldman 86). All of the above mentioned tribes show just how diverse these people were. Their lives were influenced greatly by the place they lived on, depending on the resources and materials found there, and they also had different perspectives and experiences. However, the European colonists had a major impact on the Native Americans, completely changing the way they lived for thousands of years in just a few centuries. Aspects of history and of the present will be covered in the next chapter.