U. S. Geogr. And Geol. Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region: Contributions to American Ethnology


Hospitality of the American Indians

When America was discovered in its several parts the Indian tribes were found in dissimilar conditions. The least advanced tribes were without the art of pottery, and without horticulture, and were, therefore, in savagery. But in the arts of life they were advanced as far as is implied by its Upper Status, which found them in possession of the bow and arrow. Such were the tribes in the Valley of the Columbia, in the Hudson Bay Territory, in parts of Canada, California, and Mexico, and some of the coast tribes of South America. The use of pottery and the cultivation of maize and plants, were unknown among them. They depended for subsistence upon fish, bread, roots, and game. The second class were intermediate between them and the Village Indians. They subsisted upon fish and game and the products of a limited horticulture, and were in the Lower Status of barbarism. Such were the Iroquois, the New England and Virginia Indians, the Creeks, Cherokees, and Choctaws, the Shawnees, Miamis, Mandans, Minnitarees, and other tribes of the United States east of the Missouri River, together with certain tribes of Mexico and South America in the same condition of advancement. Many of them lived in villages, some of which were stockaded, but village life was not as distinctive and common among them as it was among the most advanced tribes. The third class were the Village Indians proper, who depended almost exclusively upon horticulture for subsistence, cultivating maize and plants by irrigation. They constructed joint tenement houses of adobe bricks and stone, usually more than one story high. Such were the tribes of New Mexico, Mexico, Central America, and upon the plateau of the Andes. These tribes were in the Middle Status of barbarism.

The weapons, arts, usages, and customs, inventions, architecture, institutions, and form of government of all alike bear the impress of a common mind, and reveal, in their wide range, the successive stages of development of the same original conceptions. Our first mistake consisted in overrating the degree of advancement of the Village Indians, in comparison with that of the other tribes; our second in underrating that of the latter; from which resulted a third, that of separating one from the other, and regarding them as different races. The evidence of their unity of origin has now accumulated to such a degree as to leave no reasonable doubt upon the question. The first two classes of tribes always held the preponderating power, at least in North America, and furnished the migrating bands which replenished the ranks of the Village Indians, as well as the continent, with inhabitants. It remained for the Village Indians to invent the process of smelting iron ore to attain to the Upper Status of barbarism, and, beyond that, to invent a phonetic alphabet to reach the first stage of civilization. One entire ethnical period intervened between the highest class of Indians and the beginning of civilization.

It seems singular that the Village Indians, who first became possessed of maize, the great American cereal, and of the art of cultivation, did not rise to supremacy over the continent. With their increased numbers and more stable subsistence they might have been expected to extend their power and spread their migrating bands over the most valuable areas to the gradual displacement of the ruder tribes. But in this respect they signally failed. The means of sustaining life among the latter were remarkably persistent. The higher culture of the Village Indians, such as it was, did not enable them to advance, either in their weapons or in the art of war, beyond the more barbarous tribes, except as a superior house architecture tended to render their villages and their habitations impregnable to Indian assault. Moreover, in the art of government, they had not been able to rise above gentile institutions and establish political society. This fact demonstrates the impossibility of privileged classes and of potentates, under their institutions, with power to enforce the labor of the people for the erection of palaces for their use, and explains the absence of such structures.

Horticulture and other domestic arts spread from the Village Indians to the tribes in the Lower Status of barbarism, and thus advanced them materially in their onward progress toward the higher conditions of the Village Indians. Numerous tribes were thus raised out of savagery into barbarism by appropriating the arts of life of tribes above them. This process has been a constant phenomenon in the history of the human race. It is well illustrated in America, where the Red Race, one in origin and possessed of homogeneous institutions, were in three different ethnical conditions or stages of culture.

There are certain usages and customs of the Indian tribes generally which tend to explain their plan of life—their large households, their houses, and their house architecture. They deserve a careful consideration and even further investigation beyond the bounds of our present knowledge. The influence of American civilization has very generally broken up their old plan of life, and introduced a new one more analogous to our own. It has been much the same in Spanish America. The old usages and customs, in the particulars about to be stated, have now so far disappeared in their pure forms that their recovery is not free from difficulty. Those to be considered are the following:

I. The law of hospitality.

II. Communism in living.

III. The ownership of lands in common.

IV. The practice of having but one prepared meal each day —a dinner.

V. Their separation at meals, the men eating first and by themselves and the women and children afterwards.

The discussion will be confined to the period of European discovery and to later periods while these practices remained. The object will be to show that these usages and customs existed among them when America was discovered in its several parts, and that they remained in practice for some time after these several periods.

Among the Iroquois hospitality was an established usage. If a man entered an Indian house in any of their villages, whether a villager, a tribesman, or a stranger, it was the duty of the women therein to set food before him. An omission to do this would have been a discourtesy amounting to an affront. If hungry, he ate; if not hungry, courtesy required that he should taste the food and thank the giver. This would be repeated at every house he entered, and at whatever hour in the day. As a custom it was upheld by a rigorous public sentiment. The same hospitality was extended to strangers from their own and from other tribes. Upon the advent of the European race among them it was also extended to them. This characteristic of barbarous society, wherein food was the principal concern of life, is a remarkable fact. The law of hospitality, as administered by the American aborigines, tended to the final equalization of subsistence. Hunger and destitution could not exist at one end of an Indian village or in one section of an encampment while plenty prevailed elsewhere in the same village or encampment. It reveals a plan of life among them at the period of European discovery which has not been sufficiently considered.

A singular illustration of the powerful influence of the custom upon the Indian mind came to my notice some years ago at the Seneca Reservation in New York. A Seneca chief, well to do in the world, with farm lands and domestic animals which afforded him a comfortable subsistence, had lost his wife by death, and his daughter, educated in the usages of civilized life, took the position of housekeeper. The old man, referring to the ancient custom, requested his daughter to keep the usual food constantly prepared ready to offer to any person who entered their house, saying that he did not wish to see this custom of their forefathers laid aside. Their changed condition, and particularly the adoption of the regular meals of civilized society, for the time of which the visitor might reasonably be expected to wait, did not in his mind outweigh the sanctity of the custom.

In July, 1743, John Bartram made a journey from Philadelphia to Onondaga to attend, with Conrad Weisar, a council of the Onondaga, Mohawk, Oneida, and Cayuga chiefs. At Shamo-kin he quartered with a trader who had an Indian wife, and at a village of the Delawares. "As soon as we alighted," he remarks, "they showed us where to lay our luggage, and then brought us a bowl of boiled squashes, cold. This I then thought poor entertainment, but before I came back I had learned not to despise good Indian food. This hospitality is agreeable to the honest simplicity of ancient times, and is so persistently adhered to that not only what is already dressed is immediately set before a traveler, but the most pressing business is postponed to prepare the best they can get for him, keeping it as a maxim that he must always be hungry. Of this we found the good effects in the flesh and bread they got ready for us." We have here a perfect illustration among the Delawares of the Iroquois rule to set food before a person when he first entered the house. Although they had in this case nothing better than boiled squash to offer, it was done immediately, after which they commenced preparing a more substantial repast. Delaware and Iroquois usages were the same.

The council at Onondaga lasted two days, at the close of which they had each day a dinner in common. "This council [first day] was followed by a feast. At four o’clock we all dined together upon four great kettles of Indian-corn soup, which we emptied, and then every chief retired to his home. . . . . The conference [second day] held till three, after which we dined. The repast consisted of three great kettles of Indian-corn soup, or thin hominy, with dried eels and other fish boiled in it, and one kettle full of young squashes and their flowers boiled in water, and a little meal mixed. This dish was but weak food. Last of all was served a great bowlfull of Indian dumplings made of new soft corn cut or scraped off the cob, with the addition of some boiled beans, lapped well in Indian-corn leaves. This is good hearty provision."

"Again," he remarks, "we prepared for setting forward, and many of the chiefs came once more to make their farewells. Some of them brought us provisions for our journey. We shook hands again and set out at nine."

One of the earliest notices of the hospitality of the Indian tribes of the United States was by the expedition of Philip Amidas and Arthur Barlow, under the auspices of Sir Walter Raleigh, which visited the Algonkin tribes of North Carolina in the summer of 1584. They landed at the Island of Wocoken, off Albemarle Sound, when "there came down from all parts great store of people," whose chief was Granganimeo. "He was very just of his promises, for oft we trusted him, and would come within his day to keep his word. He sent us commonly every day a brace of ducks, conies, hares, and fish, sometimes melons, walnuts, cucumbers, pease, and divers roots. . . . . After this acquaintance, myself, with seven more, went thirty miles into the river Occam, that runneth toward the city Skicoack and the evening following we came to an isle called Roanoak, from the harbor where we entered seven leagues: At the north end were nine houses, builded with cedar, fortified round with sharp trees [palisaded] and the entrance like a turnpike [turnspit]. When we came towards it, the wife of Granganimeo came running out to meet us (her husband was absent), commanding her people to draw our boat ashore for beating on the billows. Others she appointed to carry us on their backs aland, others to bring our oars into the house for stealing. When we came into the other room (for there were five in the house) she caused us to sit down by a great fire; and after took off our clothes and washed them, of some our stockins, and some our feet in warm water; and she herself took much pains to see all things well ordered and to provide us victuals. After we had thus dried ourselves she brought us into an inner room, where she sat on the board standing along the house, somewhat like frumenty, sodden venison, and roasted fish; in like manner melons raw, boiled roots, and fruits of divers kinds. Their drink is commonly water boiled with ginger, sometimes with sassafras, and wholesome herbs. . . . . A more kind, loving people cannot be. Beyond this isle is the main land, and the great river Occam, on which standeth a town called Pomeiok."

This is about the first, if not the first, English picture we have of Indian life and of English and Indian intercourse in America. It is highly creditable to both parties; to the Indians for their unaffected kindness and hospitality, and to the English for their appreciation of both, and for the absence of any act of injustice. At the same time it was simply an application by the natives of their rules of hospitality among themselves to their foreign visitors, and not a new thing in their experience.

In the narrative of the expedition of Hernando de Soto to Florida in 1539, by a gentleman of Elvas, there are references to the customs of the Indian tribes of South Carolina, the Cherokees, Choctas, and Chichasas, and some of the tribes west of the Mississippi, whom the expedition visited one after another. They are brief and incomplete, but sufficiently indicate the point we are attempting to illustrate. It was a hostile rather than a friendly visitation, and the naturally free hospitality of the natives was frequently checked and turned into enmity, but many instances of friendly intercourse are mentioned in this narrative. "The fourth of April the governor passed by a town called Altamaca, and the tenth of the month he came to Ocute. The cacique sent him two thousand Indians with a present, to wit, many conies and partridges, bread of maize, two hens, and many dogs." Again: "Two leagues before we came to Chiaha, there met him fifteen Indians loaded with maize which the cacique had sent; and they told him on his behalf that he waited his coming with twenty barns full of it." "At Coça the chief commanded his Indians to void their houses, wherein the governor and his men were lodged. There was in the barns and in the fields great store of maize and French beans. The country was greatly inhabited with many great towns and many sown fields which reached from one to the other." After crossing the Mississippi, of which De Soto was the first discoverer, he "rested in Pacaha forty days, in all which time the two caciques served him with great store of fish, mantles, and skins, and strove who should do him greatest service."

The justly celebrated Moravian missionary, John Heckewel-der, obtained, through a long experience, an intimate acquaintance with the manners and customs of the Indian tribes. He was engaged in direct missionary labor, among the Delawares and Munsees chiefly, for fifteen years (1771-1786) on the Mus-kingum and Cuyahoga in Ohio, where, besides the Delawares and Munsees, he came in contact with the Tuscaroras and other tribes of Iroquois lineage. He was conversant with the usages and customs of the Indian tribes of Pennsylvania and New York. His general knowledge justifies the title of his work, "History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations, who once inhabited Pennsylvania and the neighboring States," and gives the highest credibility to his statements.

In discussing the general character of the Indians, he remarks as follows: "They think that he [the Great Spirit] made the earth and all that it contains for the common good of mankind; when he stocked the country that he gave them with plenty of game, it was not for the benefit of a few, but of all. Everything was given in common to the sons of men. Whatever liveth on the land, whatsoever groweth out of the earth, and all that is in the rivers and waters flowing through the same, was given jointly to all, and every one is entitled to his share. From this principle hospitality flows as from its source. With them it is not a virtue, but a strict duty; hence they are never in search of excuses to avoid giving, but freely supply their neighbors’ wants from the stock prepared for their own use. They give and are hospitable to all without exception, and will always share with each other and often with the stranger to the last morsel. They rather would lie down themselves on an empty stomach than have it laid to their charge that they had neglected their duty by not satisfying the wants of the stranger, the sick, or the needy. The stranger has a claim to their hospitality, partly on account of his being at a distance from his family and friends, and partly because he has honored them with his visit and ought to leave them with a good impression on his mind; the sick and the poor because they have a right to be helped out of the common stock, for if the meat they have been served with was taken from the woods it was common to all before the hunter took it; if corn or vegetables, it had grown out of the common ground, yet not by the power of man, but by that of the Great Spirit."

This is a clear and definite statement of the principle of hospitality as it was observed by the Indian tribes at the epoch of their discovery, with the Indians’ reasons on which the obligations rested. We recognize in this law of hospitality a conspicuous virtue of mankind in barbarism.

Lewis and Clarke refer to the usages of the tribes of the Missouri, which were precisely the same as those of the Iroquois. "It is the custom of all the nations on the Missouri," they remark, "to offer every white man food and refreshments when he first enters their tents." This was simply applying their rules of hospitality among themselves to their white visitors.

About 1837–’38 George Catlin wintered at the Mandan Village, on the Upper Missouri. He was an accurate and intelligent observer, and his work on the "Manners and Customs of the North American Indians" is a valuable contribution to American ethnography. The principal Mandan village, which then contained fifty houses and fifteen hundred people, was surrounded with a palisade. It was well situated for game, but they did not depend exclusively upon this source of subsistence. They cultivated maize, squashes, pumpkins, and tobacco in garden beds, and gathered wild berries and a species of turnip on the prairies. "Buffalo meat, however," says Mr. Catlin, "is the great staple and staff of life in this country, and seldom, if ever, fails to afford them an abundant means of subsistence. . . . . During the summer and fall months they use the meat fresh, and cook it in a great variety of ways—by roasting, broiling, boiling, stewing, smoking, &c., and, by boiling the ribs and joints with the marrow in them, make a delicious soup, which is universally used and in vast quantities. The Mandans, I find, have no regular or stated times for their meals, but generally eat about twice in the twenty-four hours. The pot is always boiling over the fire, and any one who is hungry, either from the household or from any other part of the village, has a right to order it taken off and to fall to, eating as he pleases. Such is an unvarying custom among the North American Indians, and I very much doubt whether the civilized world have in their institutions any system which can properly be called more humane and charitable. Every man, woman, or child in Indian communities is allowed to enter any one’s lodge, and even that of the chief of the nation, and eat when they are hungry, provided misfortune or necessity has drawn them to it. Even so can the poorest and most worthless drone of the nation, if he is too lazy to hunt or to supply himself; he can walk into any lodge, and every one will share with him as long as there is anything to eat. He, however, who thus begs when he is able to hunt, pays dear for his meat, for he is stigmatized with the disgraceful epithet of poltroon and beggar." Mr. Catlin puts the case rather strongly when he turns the free hospitality of the household into a right of the guest to entertainment independently of their consent. It serves to show that the provisions of the household, which, as he elsewhere states, consisted of from twenty to forty persons, were used in common, and that each household shared their provisions in the exercise of hospitality with any inhabitant of the village who came to the house hungry, and with strangers from other tribes as well. Moreover, he speaks of this hospitality as universal amongst the Indian tribes. It is an important statement, because few men in the early period of intercourse with the western tribes have traveled so extensively among them.

The tribes of the Columbia Valley lived upon fish, breadroots, and game. Food was abundant at certain seasons, but there were times of scarcity even in this favored area. Whatever provisions they had were shared freely with each other, with guests, and with strangers. Lewis and Clarke, in 1804–1806, visited in their celebrated expedition the tribes of the Missouri and of the Valley of the Columbia. They experienced the same generous hospitality whenever the Indian possessed any food to offer, and their account is the first we have at all special of these numerous tribes. Frequent references are made to their hospitality. The Nez Percés "set before them a small piece of buffalo meat, some dried salmon, berries, and several kinds of roots. Among these last is one which is round and much like an onion in appearance, and sweet to the taste. It is called quamash, and is eaten either in its natural state or boiled into a kind of soup or made into a cake, which is then called pasheco. After the long abstinence, this was a sumptuous treat; and we returned the kindness of the people by a few small presents, and then went on in company with one of the chiefs to a second village, in the same plain, at a distance of two miles. Here the party was treated with great kindness, and passed the night." Of another tribe they remark, "As we approached the village most of the women, though apprised of our being expected, fled with their children into the neighboring woods. The men, however, received us without any apprehension, and gave us a plentiful supply of provisions. The plains were now crowded with Indians, who came to see the persons of the whites and the strange things they brought with them; but as our guide was perfectly a stranger to their language we could converse by signs only."

The Indians of the Columbia, unlike the tribes previously named, boiled their food in wooden vessels, or in ground cavities lined with skins, by means of heated stones. They were ignorant of pottery. "On entering one of their houses he [Captain Clarke] found it crowded with men, women and children, who immediately provided a mat for him to sit on, and one of the party undertook to prepare something to eat. He began by bringing in a piece of pine wood that had drifted down the river, which he split into small pieces with a wedge made of the elk’s horn by means of a mallet of stone curiously carved. The pieces were then laid on the fire, and several round stones placed upon them. One of the squaws now brought a bucket of water, in which was a large salmon about half dried, and as the stones became heated they were put into the bucket until the salmon was sufficiently boiled for use. It was then taken out, put on a platter of rushes neatly made, and laid before Captain Clarke, and another was boiled for each of his men."

One or two additional cases, of which a large number are mentioned by these authors, will sufficiently illustrate the practice of hospitality of these tribes and its universality. They went to a village of seven houses of the Chilluckittequaw tribe and to the house of the chief. "He received us kindly," they remark, "and set before us pounded fish, filberts, nuts, the berries of the sacacommis, and white bread made of roots. . . . . The village is a part of the same nation with the village we passed above, the language of the two being the same, and their houses of similar form and materials, and calculated to contain about thirty souls. The inhabitants were unusually hospitable and good humored." While among the Shoshonees, and before arriving at the Columbia, they "reached an Indian lodge of brush inhabited by seven families of the Shoshonees. They behaved with great civility, and gave the whole party as much boiled salmon as they could eat, and added a present of several dried salmon and a considerable quantity of chokechinies;" and Captain Lewis remarks of the same people, that "an Indian invited him into his bower, and gave him a small morsel of boiled antelope, and a piece of fresh salmon roasted. This was the first salmon he had seen, and perfectly satisfied him that he was now on the waters of the Pacific." Thus far among the tribes we find a literal repetition of the rule of hospitality as practiced by the Iroquois. Mr. Dall, speaking of the Aleüts, says, "hospitality was one of their prominent traits," and Powers, of the Pomo Indians of California remarks, that they would "always divide the last morsel of dried salmon with genuine savage thriftlessness," and of the Mi-oal’-a-wa-gun, that, "like all California Indians, they are very hospitable."

Father Marquette and Lieutenant Joliet, who first discovered the Upper Mississippi in 1673, had friendly intercourse with some of the tribes on its eastern bank, and were hospitably entertained by them. "The council being over, we were invited to a feast, which consisted of four dishes. The first was a dish of sagamite—that is, some Indian meal boiled in water and seasoned with grease—the master of ceremonies holding a spoonful of it, which he put thrice into my mouth and then did the like to M. Joliet. The second dish consisted of three fish, whereof he took a piece, and having taken out the bones and blown upon it to cool it, he put it into my mouth. The third dish was a large dog, which they had killed on purpose, but understanding that we did not eat this animal, they sent it away. The fourth was a piece of buffalo meat, of which they put the fattest pieces into our mouths."

Lower down the river, below the mouth of the Ohio, they fell in with another tribe, of whom they speak as follows: "We therefore disembarked and went to their village. They entertained us with buffalo and bear’s meat and white plums, which were excellent. We observed they had guns, knives, axes, shovels, glass beads, and bottles in which they put their powder. They wear their hair long as the Iroquois, and their women are dressed as the Hurons."

In 1766 Jonathan Carver visited the Dakota tribes of the Mississippi, the Sauks and Foxes, and Winnebagos of Wisconsin, and the Ojibwas of Upper Michigan. He spoke generally of the hospitality of these tribes as follows: "No people are more hospitable, kind, and free than the Indians. They will readily share with any of their own tribe the last part of their provisions, and even with those of a different nation, if they chance to come in when they are eating. Though they do not keep one common stock, yet that community of goods which is so prevalent among them, and their generous disposition, render it nearly of the same effect." The "community of goods, which is so prevalent among them," is explained by their large households formed of related families, who shared their provisions in common. The "seven families of Shoshonees" in one house, and also the houses "crowded with men, women, and children," mentioned by Lewis and Clarke, are fair samples of Indian households in the early period.

We turn again to the southern tribes of the United States, the Cherokes, Choctas, Chickasas, and Confederated Creek tribes. James Adair, whose work was published in 1775, remarks generally upon their usages in the following language: "They are so hospitable, kind-hearted, and free, that they would share with those of their own tribe the last part of their own provisions, even to a single ear of corn; and to others, if they called when they were eating; for they have no stated meal time. An open generous temper is a standing virtue among them; to be narrow-hearted, especially to those in want, or to any of their own family, is accounted a great crime, and to reflect scandal on the rest of the tribe. Such wretched misers they brand with bad characters. . . . . The Cherokee Indians have a pointed proverbial expression to the same effect—sinna-wàh nà wóra, the great hawk is at home. However, it is a very rare thing to find any of them of a narrow temper; and though they do not keep one promiscuous common stock, yet it is to the very same effect; for every one has his own family or tribe, and when one of them is speaking, either of the individuals or habitations of any of his tribe, he says, ’he is of my house,’ or ’it is my house.’ . . . . When the Indians are traveling in their own country, they inquire for a house of their own tribe [gens]; and if there be any, they go to it, and are kindly received, though they never saw the persons before—they eat, drink, and regale themselves with as much freedom as at their own table, which is the solid ground covered with a bear-skin. . . . . Every town has a state-house or synedrion, as the Jewish sanhedrim, where almost every night, the head men convene about public business; or the town’s people to feast, sing, dance, and rejoice in the divine presence, as will fully be described hereafter. And if a stranger calls there, he is treated with the greatest civility and hearty kindness—he is sure to find plenty of their simple home fare, and a large cane-bed covered with the softened skins of bears or buffaloes to sleep on. But, when his lineage is known to the people (by a stated custom they are slow in greeting one another), his relations, if he has any there, address him in a familiar way, invite him home, and treat him as a kinsman." All these tribes were organized in gentes or clans, and the gentes of each tribe were usually reintegrated in two or more phratries. It is the gens to which Mr. Adair refers when he speaks of the "family," "relations," and "lineage." We find among them the same rule of hospitality, substantially, as prevailed among the Iroquois.

It is a reasonable conclusion, therefore, that among all the tribes, north of New Mexico, the law of hospitality, as practiced by the Iroquois, was universally recognized; and that in all Indian villages and encampments without distinction the hungry were fed through the open hospitality of those who possessed a surplus. Notwithstanding this generous custom, it is well known that the Northern Indians were often fearfully pressed for the means of subsistence during a portion of each year. A bad season for their limited productions, and the absence of accumulated stores, not unfrequently engendered famine over large districts. From the severity of the struggle for subsistence, it is not surprising that immense areas were entirely uninhabited, that other large areas were thinly peopled, arid that dense population nowhere existed.

Among the Village Indians of New Mexico the same hospitality is now extended to Americans visiting their pueblos, and which presumptively is simply a reflection of their usage among themselves and toward other tribes. In 1852 Dr. Ten-broeck, assistant surgeon United States Army, accompanied his command to the Moki pueblos. In his journal he remarks: "Between eleven and twelve to-day we arrived at the first towns of Moki. All the inhabitants turned out, crowding the streets and house-tops to have a view of the white men. All the old men pressed forward to shake hands with us, and we were most hospitably received and conducted to the governor’s house, where we were at once feasted upon guavas and a leg of mutton broiled upon the coals. After the feast we smoked with them, and they then said that we should move our camp in, and that they would give us a room and plenty of wood for the men, and sell us corn for the animals." In 1858 Lieut. Joseph C. Ives was at the Moki Pueblo of Mooshahneh [Mi-shong-i-ni-vi]. "The town is nearly square," he remarks, "and surrounded by a stone wall fifteen feet high, the top of which forms a landing extending around the whole. Flights of stone steps lead from the first to a second landing, upon which the doors of the houses open. Mounting the stairway opposite to the ladder, the chief crossed to the nearest door and ushered us into a low apartment, from which two or three others opened towards the interior of the dwelling. Our host courteously asked us to be seated upon some skins spread along the floor against the wall, and presently his wife brought in a vase of water and a tray filled with a singular substance that looked more like sheets of thin blue wrapping paper rolled up into bundles than anything else that l have ever seen. I learned afterwards that it was made of corn meal, ground very fine, made into a gruel, and poured over a heated stone to be baked. When dry it has a surface slightly polished like paper. The sheets are folded and rolled together, and form the staple article of food with the Moki Indians. As the dish was intended for our entertainment, and looked clean, we all partook of it. It had a delicate fresh-bread flavor, and was not at all unpalatable, particularly when eaten with salt."

Lieutenant-Colonel (now General) Emory visited the Pima villages on the Gila River in 1846. "I rode leisurely in the rear through the thatched huts of the Pimos. Each abode consisted of a dome-shaped wickerwork about six feet high, and from twenty to fifty feet in diameter, thatched with straw or cornstalks. In front is usually a large arbor, on top of which is piled the cotton in the pod for drying. In the houses were stowed watermelons, pumpkins, beans, corn and wheat, the three last articles generally in large baskets. Sometimes the corn was in baskets, covered with earth, and placed on the tops of the domes. A few chickens and dogs were seen, but no other domestic animals, except horses, mules, and oxen. . . . . Several acquaintances, formed in our camp yesterday, were recognized, and they received me cordially, made signs to dismount, and when I did so offered watermelons and pinole. Pinole is the heart of Indian corn, baked, ground up, and mixed with sugar. When dissolved in water it affords a delicious beverage; it quenches thirst. and is very nutritious. . . . . The population of the Pimos and Maricopas together is estimated variously at from three to ten thousand. The first is evidently too low. This peaceful and industrious race are in possession of a beautiful and fertile basin. Living remote from the civilized world, they are seldom visited by whites, and then only by those in distress, to whom they generously furnish horses and food." In this case and in those stated by Lieutenant Ives and Dr. Tenbroeck we find a repetition of the Iroquois rule to set food before the guest when he first enters the house.

With respect to the Village Indians of Mexico, Central and South America, our information is, in the main, limited to the hospitality extended to the Spaniards; but it is sufficient to show that it was a part of their plan of life, and, as it must be supposed, a repetition of their usages in respect to each other. In every part of America that they visited, the Spaniards, although often in numbers as a military force, were assigned quarters in Indian houses, emptied of their inhabitants for that purpose, and freely supplied with provisions. Thus at Zempoala "the lord came out, attended by ancient men, two persons of note supporting him by the arms, because it was the custom among them to come out in that manner when one great man received another. This meeting was with much courtesy and abundance of compliments, and people were already appointed to find the Spaniards quarters and furnish provisions." When near Tlascala the Tlascallans "sent three hundred turkeys, two hundred baskets of cakes of teutli, which they call tamales, being about two hundred arrobas; that is, fifty hundred weight of bread, which was an extraordinary supply for the Spaniards, considering the distress they were in;" and when at Tlascala, Cortes and his men "were generously treated, and supplied with all necessaries." They "entered Cholula and went to a house where they lodged altogether, and their Indians with them, although upon their guard, being for the present plentifully supplied with provisions." Although the Spaniards numbered about four hundred, and their allied Indians about a thousand, they found accommodations in a single joint tenement house of the aboriginal American model. Attention is called to this fact, because we shall find the Village Indians, as a rule, living in large houses, each containing many apartments, and accommodating five hundred or more persons. The household of several families of the northern Indians reappears in the southern tribes in a much greater household of a hundred or more families in a single joint tenement house, but not unlikely broken up into several household groups. The pueblo consisted sometimes of one, sometimes of two or three, and sometimes of a greater number of such houses. The plan of life within these houses is not well understood; but it can still be seen in New Mexico, and it is to be hoped it will attract investigation.

Speaking of the Maya Indians of Yucatan, Herrera remarks that "they are still generous and free-hearted, so that they will make everybody eat that comes into their houses, which is everywhere practiced in travelling." This is a fair statement of the Iroquois law of hospitality found among the Mayas, practiced among themselves and towards strangers from other tribes. When Grijalva, about 1517, discovered the Tabasco River, he held friendly intercourse with some of the tribes of Yucatan. "They immediately sent thirty Indians loaded with roasted fish, hens, several sorts of fruit, and bread made of Indian wheat." When Cortes, in 1525, made his celebrated expedition to Honduras, he passed near the pueblo of Palenque and near that of Copan without being aware of either, and visited the shore of Lake Peten. "Being well received in the city of Apoxpalan, Cortes and all the Spaniards, with their horses, were quartered in one house, the Mexicans being dispersed into others, and all of them plentifully supplied with provisions during their stay." They numbered one hundred and fifty Spanish horse and several hundred Aztecs. It was at this place, according to Herrera, that Quatemozin, who accompanied Cortes as a prisoner, was barbarously executed at his command. Cortes next visited an Island in Lake Peten, where he was sumptuously entertained by Canec, the chief of the tribe, where they "sat down to dinner in stately manner, and Canec ordered fowls, fish, cakes, honey, and fruit."

In South America the same account of the hospitality of the Indian tribes is given by the early explorers. About the year 1500 Christopher Guerra made a voyage to the coast of Venezuela: "They came to an anchor before a town called Curiana, where the Indians entreated them to go ashore, but the Spaniards being no more than thirty-three in all durst not venture. . . . . At length, being convinced of their sincerity, the Spaniards went ashore, and being courteously entertained, staid there twenty days. They plentifully supplied them for food with venison, rabbits, geese, ducks, parrots, fish, bread made of maize or Indian wheat, and other things, and brought them all the game they would ask for. . . . . They perceived that they kept markets or fairs, and that they made use of jars, pitchers, pots, dishes, and porringers, besides other vessels of several shapes." Pizarro found the same custom among the Peruvians and other tribes of the coast. At the time of his first visit to the coast of Peru he found a female chief by whom he was entertained. "The lady came out to meet them with a great retinue, in good order, holding green boughs and ears of Indian wheat, having made an arbor where were seats for the Spaniards, and for the Indians at some distance. They gave them to eat fish and flesh dressed in several ways, much fruit, and such bread and liquor as the country afforded." When on the coast of Tumbez, and before landing, "ten or twelve floats were immediately sent out with a plenty of provisions, fruits, pots of water, and of chica, which is their liquor, as also a lamb." After entering Peru, on his second visit to the coast, "Atahuallpa’s messengers came and presented the governor with ten of their sheep from the Inca, and some other things of small value, telling him very courteously that Ata-huallpa had commanded them in inquire what day he intended to be at Caxamalca, that he might have provisions on the way. . . . . The next day more messengers came from Atahuallpa with provisions, which he received with thanks." The native historian, Garcilasso de la Viga, remarks: "Nor were the Incas, among their other charities, forgetful of the conveniences for travellers, but in all the great roads built houses or inns for them, which they called corpahuaci, where they were provided with victuals and other necessaries for their journies out of the royal stores; and in case any traveller fell sick on the way, he was there attended and care taken of him in a better manner perhaps than at his own home."

These illustrations, which might be multiplied, are sufficient to show the universality of the practice of hospitality among the Indian tribes of America at the epoch of European discovery. Among all these forms, as stated by different observers, the substance of the Iroquois law of hospitality is plainly found, namely: If a man entered an Indian house, whether a villager, a tribesman, or a stranger, and at whatever hour of the day, it was the duty of the women of the house to set food before him. An omission to do this would have been a discourtesy amounting to an affront. If hungry, he ate, if not hungry, courtesy required that he should taste the food and thank the giver. It is seen to have been a usage running through three ethnic conditions of the Indian race, becoming stronger as the means of subsistence increased in variety and amount, and attaining its highest development among the Village Indians in the Middle Status of barbarism. It was an active, well-established custom of Indian society, practiced among themselves and among strangers from other tribes, and very naturally extended to Europeans when they made their first appearance among them. Considering the number of the Spaniards often in military companies, and another fact which the aborigines were quick to notice, namely, that a white man consumed and wasted five times as much as an Indian required, their hospitality in many cases must have been grievously overtaxed.

Attention has been called to this law of hospitality, and to its universality, for two reasons: firstly, because it implies the existence of common stores, which supplied the means for its practice; and secondly, because, wherever found, it implies communistic living in large households. It must be evident that this hospitality could not have been habitually practiced by the Iroquois and other northern tribes, and much less by the Village Indians of Mexico, Central and South America, with such uniformity, if the custom in each case had depended upon the voluntary contributions of single families. In that event it would have failed oftener than it would have succeeded. The law of hospitality, as administered by the American aborigines, indicates a plan of life among them which has not been carefully studied, nor have its effects been fully appreciated. Its explanation must be sought in the ownership of lands in common, the distribution of their products to households consisting of a number of families and the practice of communism in living in the household. Common stores for large households, and possibly for the village, with which to maintain village hospitality, are necessary to explain the custom. It could have been maintained on such a basis, and it is difficult to see how it could have been maintained on any other. The common and substantially universal practice of this custom, among the American Indian tribes, at the period of their discovery, among whom the procurement of subsistence was their vital need, must be regarded as evidence of a generous disposition, and as exhibiting a trait of character highly creditable to the race.—L. H. MORGAN, 44–62 (, Vol. IV).


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Chicago: "Hospitality of the American Indians," U. S. Geogr. And Geol. Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region: Contributions to American Ethnology in Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, ed. Thomas, William I. (Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1909), 836–851. Original Sources, accessed September 29, 2023, http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=35AI7Z7DK5PEM9N.

MLA: . "Hospitality of the American Indians." U. S. Geogr. And Geol. Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region: Contributions to American Ethnology, Vol. IV, in Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, edited by Thomas, William I., Chicago, University of Chicago Press, 1909, pp. 836–851. Original Sources. 29 Sep. 2023. http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=35AI7Z7DK5PEM9N.

Harvard: , 'Hospitality of the American Indians' in U. S. Geogr. And Geol. Survey of the Rocky Mountain Region: Contributions to American Ethnology. cited in 1909, Source Book for Social Origins: Ethnological Materials, Psychological Standpoint, Classified and Annotated Bibliographies for the Interpretation of Savage Society, ed. , University of Chicago Press, Chicago, pp.836–851. Original Sources, retrieved 29 September 2023, from http://originalsources.com/Document.aspx?DocID=35AI7Z7DK5PEM9N.