An introduction to the mortuary customs of the North American Indians
by H. C. Yarrow
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Perhaps a brief review of Dr. Turner's narrative may not be deemed inappropriate here.

Supplying food to the dead is a custom which is known to be of great antiquity; in some instances, as among the ancient Romans, it appears to have been a sacrificial offering, for it usually accompanied cremation, and was not confined to food alone, for spices, perfumes, oil, etc., were thrown upon the burning pile. In addition to this, articles supposed or known to have been agreeable to the deceased were also consumed. The Jews did the same, and in our own time the Chinese, Caribe and many of the tribes of North American Indians followed these customs. The cutting of hair as a mourning observance is of very great antiquity, and Tegg relates that among the ancients whole cities and countries were shaved (sic) when a great man died. The Persians not only shaved themselves on such occasions, but extended the same process to their domestic animals, and Alexander, at the death of Hephastin, not only cut off the manes of his horses and mules, but took down the battlements from the city walls, that even towns might seem in mourning and look bald. Scarifying and mutilating the body has prevailed from a remote period of time, having possibly replaced, in the process of evolution, to a certain extent, the more barbarous practice of absolute personal sacrifice. In later days, among our Indians, human sacrifices have taken place to only a limited extent, but formerly many victims were immolated, for at the funerals of the chiefs of the Florida and Carolina Indians all the male relatives and wives were slain, for the reason, according to Gallatin, that the hereditary dignity of Chief or Great Sun descended, as usual, by the female line; and he, as well as all other members of his clan, whether male or female, could marry only persons of an inferior clan. To this day mutilation of the person among some tribes of Indians is usual. The sacrifice of the favorite horse or horses is by no means peculiar to our Indians, for it was common among the Romans, and possibly even among the men of the Reindeer period, for at Solutre, in France, the writer saw horses' bones exhumed from the graves examined in 1873. The writer has frequently conversed with Indians upon this subject, and they have invariably informed him that when horses were slain great care was taken to select the poorest of the band.

Tree-burial was not uncommon among the nations of antiquity, for the Colchiens enveloped their dead in sacks of skin and hung them to trees; the ancient Tartars and Scythians did the same. With regard to the use of scaffolds and trees as places of deposit for the dead, it seems somewhat curious that the tribes who formerly occupied the eastern portion of our continent were not in the habit of burying in this way, which, from the abundance of timber, would have been a much easier method than the ones in vogue, while the western tribes, living in sparsely wooded localities, preferred the other. If we consider that the Indians were desirous of preserving their dead as long as possible, the fact of their dead being placed in trees and scaffolds would lead to the supposition that those living on the plains were well aware of the desiccating property of the dry air of that arid region. This desiccation would pass for a kind of mummification.

The particular part of the mourning ceremonies, which consisted in loud cries and lamentations, may have had in early periods of time a greater significance than that of a mere expression of grief or woe, and on this point Bruhier [Footnote: L' des signes de la Mort, 1742, I, p. 475 et seq.] seems quite positive, his interpretation being that such cries were intended to prevent premature burial. He gives some interesting examples, which may be admitted here.

"The Caribs lament loudly, their wailings being interspersed with comical remarks and questions to the dead as to why he preferred to leave this world, having everything to make life comfortable. They place the corpse on a little seat in a ditch or grave four or five feet deep, and for ten days they bring food, requesting the corpse to eat. Finally, being convinced that the dead will neither eat nor return to life, they throw the food on the head of the corpse and fill up the grave."

When one died among the Romans, the nearest parents embraced the body, closed the eyes and mouth, and when one was about to die received the last words and sighs, and then loudly called the name of the dead, finally bidding an eternal adieu. This ceremony of calling the deceased by name was known as the conclamation, and was a custom anterior even to the foundation of Rome. One dying away from home was immediately removed thither, in order that this might be performed with greater propriety. In Picardy, as late as 1743, the relatives threw themselves on the corpse and with loud cries called it by name, and up to 1855 the Moravians of Pennsylvania, at the death of one of their number, performed mournful musical airs on brass instruments from the village church steeple and again at the grave [Footnote: The writer is informed by Mr. John Henry Boner that this custom still prevails not only in Pennsylvania, but at the Moravian settlement of Salem, North Carolina.] This custom, however, was probably a remnant of the ancient funeral observances, and not to prevent premature burial, or, perhaps, to scare away bad spirits.

W. L. Hardisty [Footnote: Rep. Smithsonian Inst., 1866, p. 319] gives a curious example of log-burial in trees, relating to the Loucheux of British America:

"They inclose the body in a neatly-hollowed piece of wood, and secure it to two or more trees, about six feet from the ground. A log about eight feet long is first split in two, and each of the parts carefully hollowed out to the required size. The body is then inclosed and the two pieces well lashed together, preparatory to being finally secured, as before stated, to the trees"

With regard to the use of scaffolds as places of deposit for the dead, the following theories by Dr. W. Gardner, U.S.A., are given:

"If we come to inquire why the American aborigines placed the dead bodies of their relatives and friends in trees, or upon scaffolds resembling trees, instead of burying them in the ground, or burning them and preserving their ashes in urns, I think we can answer the inquiry by recollecting that most if not all the tribes of American Indians, as well as other nations of a higher civilization, believed that the human soul, spirit or immortal part, was of the form and nature of a bird, and as these are essentially arboreal in their habits, it is quite in keeping to suppose that the soul-bird would have readier access to its former home or dwelling-place if it was placed upon a tree or scaffold than if it was buried in the earth; moreover, from this lofty eyrie the souls of the dead could rest secure from the attacks of wolves or other profane beasts, and guard like sentinels the homes and hunting-grounds of their loved ones."

This statement is given because of a corroborative note in the writer's possession, but he is not prepared to admit it as correct without farther investigation.


Under this heading may be placed the burials which consisted in first depositing the bodies on scaffolds, where they were allowed to remain for a variable length of time, after which the bones were cleaned and deposited either in the earth or in special structures called by writers "bone-houses." Roman [Footnote: Hist. of Florida, 1775, p. 89.] relates the following concerning the Choctaws:

"The following treatment of the dead is very strange ... As soon as the deceased is departed, a stage is erected (as in the annexed plate is represented) and the corpse is laid on it and covered with a bear skin; if he be a man of note, it is decorated, and the poles painted red with vermillion and bear's oil; if a child, it is put upon stakes set across; at this stage the relations come and weep, asking many questions of the corpse, such as, why he left them? did not his wife serve him well? was he not contented with his children? had he not corn enough? did not his land produce sufficient of everything? was he afraid of his enemies? etc. and this accompanied by loud howlings; the women will be there constantly, and sometimes with the corrupted air and heat of the sun faint so as to oblige the bystanders to carry them home; the men will also come and mourn in the same manner, but in the night or at other unseasonable times, when they are least likely to be discovered.

"The stage is fenced round with poles; it remains thus a certain time but not a fixed space; this is sometimes extended to three or four months, but seldom more than half that time. A certain set of venerable old Gentlemen who wear very long nails as a distinguishing badge on the thumb, fore and middle finger of each hand, constantly travel through the nation (when i was there, i was told there were but five of this respectable order) that one of them may acquaint those concerned, of the expiration of this period, which is according to their own fancy; the day being come, the friends and relations assemble near the stage, a fire is made, and the respectable operator, after the body is taken down, with his nails tears the remaining flesh off the bones, and throws it with the entrails into the fire, where it is consumed; then he scrapes the bones and burns the scrapings likewise; the head being painted red with vermillion is with the rest of the bones put into a neatly made chest (which for a Chief is also made red) and deposited in the loft of a hut built for that purpose, and called bone house; each town has one of these; after remaining here one year or thereabouts, if he be a man of any note, they take the chest down, and in an assembly of relations and friends they weep once more over him, refresh the colour of the head, paint the box, and then deposit him to lasting oblivion.

"An enemy nor one who commits suicide is buried under the earth as one to be directly forgotten and unworthy the above ceremonial obsequies and mourning."

Jones [Footnote: Antiquities of the Southern Indiana, 1873, p. 105.] quotes one of the older writers, as follows, regarding the Natchez tribe:

"Among the Natchez the dead were either inhumed or placed in tombs. These tombs were located within or very near their temples. They rested upon four forked sticks fixed fast in the ground, and were raised some three feet above the earth. About eight feet long and a foot and a half wide, they were prepared for the reception of a single corpse. After the body was placed upon it, a basket-work of twigs was woven around and covered with mud, an opening being left at the head, through which food was presented to the deceased. When the flesh had all rotted away, the bones were taken out, placed in a box made of canes, and then deposited in the temple. The common dead were mourned and lamented for a period of three days. Those who fell in battle were honored with a more protracted and grievous lamentation."

Bartram [Footnote: Bartram's Travel, 1791, p. 516.] gives a somewhat different account from Roman of burial among the Choctaws of Carolina:

"The Choctaws pay their last duties and respect to the deceased in a very different manner. As soon as a person is dead, they erect a scaffold 18 or 20 feet high in a grove adjacent to the town, where they lay the corps, lightly covered with a mantle; here it is suffered to remain, visited and protected by the friends and relations, until the flesh becomes putrid, so as easily to part from the bones; then undertakers, who make it their business, carefully strip the flesh from the bones, wash and cleanse them, and when dry and purified by the air, having provided a curiously-wrought chest or coffin, fabricated of bones and splints, they place all the bones therein, which is deposited in the bone-house, a building erected for that purpose in every town; and when this house is full a general solemn funeral takes place; when the nearest kindred or friends of the deceased, on a day appointed, repair to the bone-house, take up the respective coffins, and, following one another in order of seniority, the nearest relations and connections attending their respective corps, and the multitude following after them, all as one family, with united voice of alternate allelujah and lamentation, slowly proceeding on to the place of general interment, when they place the coffins in order, forming a pyramid; [Footnote: Some ingenious men whom I have conversed with have given it as their opinion that all those pyramidal artificial hills, usually called Indian mounds, were raised on this occasion, and are generally sepulchres. However, I am of different opinion.] and, lastly, cover all over with earth, which raises a conical hill or mount; when they return to town in order of solemn procession, concluding the day with a festival, which is called the feast of the dead."

Morgan [Footnote: League of the Iroquois 1851, p. 171] also alludes to this mode of burial:

"The body of the deceased was exposed upon a hark scaffolding erected upon poles or secured upon the limbs of trees, where it was left to waste to a skeleton. After this had been effected by the process of decomposition in the open air, the bones were removed either to the former house of the deceased, or to a small bark-house by its side, prepared for their reception. In this manner the skeletons of the whole family were preserved from generation to generation by the filial or parental affection of the living After the lapse of a number of years, or in a season of public insecurity, or on the eve of abandoning a settlement, it was customary to collect these skeletons from the whole community around and consign them to a common resting place.

"To this custom, which is not confined to the Iroquois, is doubtless to be ascribed the barrows and bone-mounds which have been found in such numbers in various parts of the country. On opening these mounds the skeletons are usually found arranged in horizontal layers, a conical pyramid, those in each layer radiating from a common center. In other cases they are found placed promiscuously."

D. G. Brinton [Footnote: Myths of the New World, 1868. p. 256.] likewise gives an account of the interment of collected bones:

"East of the Mississippi nearly every nation was accustomed at stated periods—usually once in eight or ten years—to collect and clean the osseous remains of those of its number who had died in the intervening time, and inter them in one common sepulcher, lined with choice furs, and marked with a mound of wood, stone, or earth. Such is the origin of those immense tumuli filled with the mortal remains of nations and generations, which the antiquary, with irreverent curiosity, so frequently chances upon in all portions of our territory. Throughout Central America the same usage obtained in various localities, as early writers and existing monuments abundantly testify. Instead of interring the bones, were they those of some distinguished chieftain, they were deposited in the temples or the council-houses, usually in small chests of canes or splints. Such were the charnel-houses which the historians of De Soto's expedition so often mention, and these are the 'arks' Adair and other authors who have sought to trace the descent of the Indians from the Jews have likened to that which the ancient Israelites bore with them in their migrations.

"A widow among the Tahkalis was obliged to carry the bones of her deceased husband wherever she went for four years, preserving them in such a casket, handsomely decorated with feathers (Rich. Arc. Exp, p. 260). The Caribs of the mainland adopted the custom for all, without exception. About a year after death the bones were cleaned, bleached, painted, wrapped in odorous balsams, placed in a wicker basket, and kept suspended from the door of their dwelling (Gumilla Hist. del Orinoco I., pp. 199, 202, 204). When the quantity of these heirlooms became burdensome they were removed to some inaccessible cavern and stowed away with reverential care."

George Catlin [Footnote: Hist. N. A. Indians, 1844, I, p. 90.] describes what he calls the "Golgothas" of the Mandans:

"There are several of these golgothas, or circles of twenty or thirty feet in diameter, and in the center of each ring or circle is a little mound of three feet high, on which uniformly rest two buffalo skulls (a male and female), and in the center of the little mound is erected 'a medicine pole,' of about twenty feet high, supporting many curious articles of mystery and superstition, which they suppose have the power of guarding and protecting this sacred arrangement.

"Here, then, to this strange place do these people again resort to evince their further affections for the dead, not in groans and lamentations, however, for several years have cured the anguish, but fond affection and endearments are here renewed, and conversations are here held and cherished with the dead. Each one of these skulls is placed upon a bunch of wild sage, which has been pulled and placed under it. The wife knows, by some mark or resemblance, the skull of her husband or her child which lies in this group, and there seldom passes a day that she does not visit it with a dish of the best-cooked food that her wigwam affords, which she sets before the skull at night, and returns for the dish in the morning. As soon as it is discovered that the sage on which the skull rests is beginning to decay, the woman cuts a fresh bunch and places the skull carefully upon it, removing that which was under it.

"Independent of the above-named duties, which draw the women to this spot, they visit it from inclination, and linger upon it to hold converse and company with the dead. There is scarcely an hour in a pleasant day but more or less of these women may be seen sitting or lying by the skull of their child or husband, talking to it in the most pleasant and endearing language that they can use (as they were wont to do in former days), and seemingly getting an answer back."

From these accounts it may be seen that the peculiar customs which have been described by the authors cited were not confined to any special tribe or area of country, although they do not appear to have prevailed among the Indians of the northwest coast, so far as known.


The next mode of burial to be remarked is that of deposit in canoes, either supported on posts, on the ground, or swung from trees, and is common only to the tribes inhabiting the northwest coast. From a number of examples, the following, relating to the Clallams and furnished by the Rev. M. Eells, missionary to the Skokomish Agency, Washington Territory, is selected:

"The deceased was a woman about thirty or thirty-five years of age, dead of consumption. She died in the morning, and in the afternoon I went to the house to attend the funeral. She had then been placed in a Hudson's Bay Company's box for a coffin, which was about 3 1/2 feet long, 1 3/4 wide, and 1 1/2 high. She was very poor when she died, owing to her disease, or she could not have been put in this box. A fire was burning near by, where a large number of her things had been consumed, and the rest were in three boxes near the coffin. Her mother sang the mourning song, sometimes with others, and often saying. 'My daughter, my daughter, why did you die?' and similar words. The burial did not take place until the next day, and I was invited to go. It was an aerial burial, in a canoe. The canoe was about 25 feet long. The posts, of old Indian hewed boards, were about a foot wide. Holes were cut in these, in which boards were placed, on which the canoe rested. One thing I noticed while this was done which was new to me, but the significance of which I did not learn. As fast as the holes were cut in the posts green leaves were gathered and placed over the holes until the posts were put in the ground. The coffin-box and the three others containing her things were placed in the canoe and a roof of boards made over the central part, which was entirely covered with white cloth. The head part and the foot part of her bedstead were then nailed on to the posts, which front the water, and a dress nailed on each of these. After pronouncing the benediction, all left the hill and went to the beach except her father, mother, and brother, who remained ten or fifteen minutes, pounding on the canoe and mourning. They then came down and made a present to those persons who were there—a gun to me, a blanket to each of two or three others, and a dollar and a half to each of the rest, there being about fifteen persons present. Three or four of them then made short speeches, and we came home.

"The reason why she was buried thus is said to be because she is a prominent woman in the tribe. In about nine months it is expected that there will be a 'pot-latch' or distribution of money near this place, and as each tribe shall come they will send a delegation of two or three men, who will carry a present and leave it at the grave; soon after that shall be done she will be buried in the ground. Shortly after her death both her father and mother cut off their hair as a sign of their grief."

George Gibbs [Footnote: Cont. N. A. Ethnol. 1877, I, p. 200.] gives a most interesting account of the burial ceremonies of the Indians of Oregon and Washington Territory, which is here reproduced in its entirety, although it contains examples of other modes of burial besides that in canoes; but to separate the narrative would destroy the thread of the story:

"The common mode of disposing of the dead among the fishing tribes was in canoes. These were generally drawn into the woods at some prominent point a short distance from the village, and sometimes placed between the forks of trees or raised from the ground on posts. Upon the Columbia River the Tsinuk had in particular two very noted cemeteries, a high isolated bluff about three miles below the mouth of the Cowlitz, called Mount Coffin, and one some distance above, called Coffin Rock. The former would appear not to have been very ancient. Mr. Broughton, one of Vancouver's lieutenants, who explored the river, makes mention only of several canoes at this place; and Lewis and Clarke, who noticed the mount, do not speak of them at all, but at the time of Captain Wilkes's expedition it is conjectured that there were at least 3,000. A fire caused by the carelessness of one of his party destroyed the whole, to the great indignation of the Indians.

"Captain Belcher, of the British ship Sulphur, who visited the river in 1839, remarks: 'In the year 1836 [1826] the small-pox made great ravages, and it was followed a few years since by the ague. Consequently Corpse Island and Coffin Mount, as well as the adjacent shores, were studded not only with canoes, but at the period of our visit the skulls and skeletons were strewed about in all directions.' This method generally prevailed on the neighboring coasts, as at Shoal Water Bay, etc. Farther up the Columbia, as at the Cascades, a different form was adopted, which is thus described by Captain Clarke:

"About half a mile below this house, in a very thick part of the woods, is an ancient Indian burial-place; it consists of eight vaults, made of pine or cedar boards, closely connected, about eight feet square and six in height, the top securely covered with wide boards, sloping a little, so as to convey off the rain. The direction of all these is east and west, the door being on the eastern side, and partially stopped with wide boards, decorated with rude pictures of men and other animals. On entering we found in some of them four dead bodies, carefully wrapped in skins, tied with cords of grass and bark, lying on a mat in a direction east and west, the other vaults contained only bones, which in some of them were piled to a height of four feet; on the tops of the vaults and on poles attached to them hung brass kettles and frying-pans with holes in their bottoms, baskets, bowls, sea-shells, skins, pieces of cloth, hair bags of trinkets, and small bones, the offerings of friendship or affection, which have been saved by a pious veneration from the ferocity of war or the more dangerous temptation of individual gain. The whole of the walls as well as the door were decorated with strange figures cut and painted on them, and besides these were several wooden images of men, some of them so old and decayed as to have almost lost their shape, which were all placed against the sides of the vault. These images, as well as those in the houses we have lately seen, do not appear to be at all the objects of adoration in this place; they were most probably intended as resemblances of those whose decease they indicate; and when we observe them in houses they occupy the most conspicuous part, but are treated more like ornaments than objects of worship. Near the vaults which are still standing are the remains of others on the ground, completely rotted and covered with moss; and as they are formed of the most durable pine and cedar timber, there is every appearance that for a very long series of years this retired spot has been the depository for the Indians near this place."

"Another depository of this kind upon an island in the river a few miles above gave it the name of Sepulcher Island. The Watlala, a tribe of the Upper Tsinuk, whose burial place is here described, are now nearly extinct; but a number of the sepulchers still remain in different states of preservation. The position of the body, as noticed by Clarke, is, I believe, of universal observance, the head being always placed to the west. The reason assigned to me is that the road to the me-mel-us-illa-hee, the country of the dead, is toward the west, and if they place them otherwise they would be confused. East of the Cascade Mountains the tribes whose habits are equestrian, and who use canoes only for ferriage or transportation purposes, bury their dead, usually heaping over them piles of stones, either to mark the spot or to prevent the bodies from being exhumed by the prairie wolf. Among the Yakamas we saw many of their graves placed in conspicuous points of the basaltic walls which line the lower valleys, and designated by a clump of poles planted over them, from which fluttered various articles of dress. Formerly these prairie tribes killed horses over the graves—a custom now falling into disuse in consequence of the teachings of the whites.

"Upon Puget Sound all the forms obtain in different localities. Among the Makah of Cape Flattery the graves are covered with a sort of box, rudely constructed of boards, and else where on the Sound the same method is adopted in some cases, while in others the bodies are placed on elevated scaffolds. As a general thing, however, the Indians upon the water placed the dead in canoes, while those at a distance from it buried them. Most of the graves are surrounded with strips of cloth, blankets, and other articles of property. Mr. Cameron, an English gentleman residing at Esquimalt Harbor, Vancouver Island, informed me that on his place there were graves having at each corner a large stone, the interior space filled with rubbish. The origin of these was unknown to the present Indians.

"The distinctions of rank or wealth in all cases were very marked; persons of no consideration and slaves being buried with very little care or respect. Vancouver, whose attention was particularly attracted to their methods of disposing of the dead, mentions that at Port Discovery he saw baskets suspended to the trees containing the skeletons of young children, and, what is not easily explained, small square boxes, containing, apparently, food. I do not think that any of these tribes place articles of food with the dead, nor have I been able to learn from living Indians that they formerly followed that practice. What he took for such I do not understand. He also mentions seeing in the same place a cleared space recently burned over, in which the skulls and bones of a number lay among the ashes. The practice of burning the dead exists in parts of California and among the Tshimsyan of Fort Simpson. It is also pursued by the "Carriers" of New California, but no intermediate tribes, to my knowledge, follow it. Certainly those of the Sound do not at present.

"It is clear from Vancouver's narrative that some great epidemic had recently passed through the country, as manifested by the quantity of human remains uncared for and exposed at the time of his visit, and very probably the Indians, being afraid, had burned a house, in which the inhabitants had perished with the dead in it. This is frequently done. They almost invariably remove from an place where sickness has prevailed, generally destroying the house also.

"At Penn Cove Mr. Whidbey, one of Vancouver's officers, noticed several sepulchers formed exactly like a sentry-box. Some of them were open, and contained the skeletons, of many young children tied up in baskets. The smaller bones of adults were likewise noticed, but not one of the limb bones was found; which gave rise to an opinion that these, by the living inhabitants of the neighborhood, were appropriated to useful purposes, such as pointing their arrows, spears, or other weapons.

"It is hardly necessary to say that such a practice is altogether foreign to Indian character. The bones of the adults had probably been removed and buried elsewhere. The corpses of children are variously disposed of; sometimes by suspending them, at others by placing in the hollows of trees, A cemetery devoted to infants is, however, an unusual occurrence. In cases of chiefs or men of note much pomp was used in the accompaniments of the rite. The canoes were of great size and value—the war or state canoes of the deceased. Frequently one was inverted over that holding the body, and in one instance, near Shoalwater Bay, the corpse was deposited in a small canoe, which again was placed in a larger one and covered with a third. Among the Tsinuk and Tsihalis the tamahno-us board of the owner was placed near him. The Puget Sound Indians do not make these tamahno-us hoards, but they sometimes constructed effigies of their chiefs, resembling the person as nearly as possible, dressed in his usual costume, and wearing the articles of which he was fond. One of these, representing the Skagit chief Sneestum, stood very conspicuously upon a high bank on the eastern side of Whidbey Island The figures observed by Captain Clarke at the Cascades were either of this description or else the carved, posts which had ornamented the interior of the houses of the deceased, and were connected with the superstition of the tamahno-us. The most valuable articles of property were put into or hung up around the grave, being first carefully rendered unserviceable, and the living family were literally stripped to do honor to the dead. No little self-denial must have been practiced in parting with articles so precious, but those interested frequently had the least to say on the subject. The graves of women were distinguished by a cup, a Kamas stick, or other implement of their occupation, and by articles of dress.

"Slaves were killed in proportion to the rank and wealth of the deceased. In some instances they were starved to death, or even tied to the dead body and left to perish thus horribly. At present this practice has been almost entirely given up, but till within a very few years it was not uncommon. A case which occurred in 1850 has been already mentioned. Still later, in 1853, Toke, a Tsinuk chief living at Shoalwater Bay, undertook to kill a slave girl belonging to his daughter, who, in dying, had requested that this might be done. The woman fled, and was found by some citizens in the woods half starved. Her master attempted to reclaim her, but was soundly thrashed and warned against another attempt.

"It was usual in the case of chiefs to renew or repair for a considerable length of time the materials and ornaments of the burial- place. With the common class of persons family pride or domestic affection was satisfied with the gathering together of the bones after the flesh had decayed and wrapping them in a new mat. The violation of the grave was always regarded as an offense of the first magnitude and provoked severe revenge. Captain Belcher remarks, 'Great secrecy is observed in all their burial ceremonies, partly from fear of Europeans, and as among themselves they will instantly punish by death any violation of the tomb or wage war if perpetrated by another tribe, so they are inveterate and tenaceously bent on revenge should they discover that any act of the kind has been perpetrated by a white man. It is on record that part of the crew of a vessel on her return to this port (the Columbia) suffered because a person who belonged to her (but not then in her) was known to have taken a skull, which, from the process of flattening, had become an object of curiosity.' He adds, however, that at the period of his visit to the river 'the skulls and skeletons were scattered about in all directions; and as I was on most of their positions unnoticed by the natives, I suspect the feeling does not extend much beyond their relatives, and then only till decay has destroyed body, goods, and chattels. The chiefs, no doubt, are watched, as their canoes are repainted, decorated, and greater care taken by placing them in sequestered spots.'

"The motive for sacrificing or destroying property on occasion of death will be referred to in treating of their religious ideas. Wailing for the dead is continued for a long time, and seems to be rather a ceremonial performance than an act of spontaneous grief. The duty, of course, belongs to the woman, and the early morning is usually chosen for the purpose. They go out alone to some place a little distant from the lodge or camp, and in a loud, sobbing voice repeat a sort of stereotyped formula, as, for instance, a mother, on the loss of her child, 'Ah seahb shed-da bud-dah ah ta bud! ad-de- dah, Ah chief!' 'My child dead, alas!' When in dreams they see any of their deceased friends this lamentation is renewed."

With most of the Northwest Indians it was quite common, as mentioned by Mr. Gibbs, to kill or bury with the dead a living slave, who, failing to die within three days was strangled by another slave, but the custom has also prevailed among other tribes and peoples, in many cases the individuals offering themselves as voluntary sacrifices. Bancroft states "that in Panama, Nata, and some other districts, when a cacique died those of his concubines that loved him enough, those that he loved ardently and so appointed, as well as certain servants, killed themselves and were interred with him. This they did in order that they might wait upon him in the land of spirits." It is well known to all readers of history to what an extreme this revolting practice has prevailed in Mexico, South America, and Africa.


As a confirmed rite or ceremony, this mode of disposing of the dead has never been followed by any of our North American Indians, although occasionally the dead have been disposed of by sinking in springs or watercourses, by throwing into the sea, or by setting afloat in canoes. Among the nations of antiquity the practice was not uncommon, for we are informed that the Ichtliyophagi, or fish-eaters, mentioned by Ptolemy, living in a region bordering on the Persian Gulf, invariably committed their dead to the sea, thus repaying the obligations they had incurred to its inhabitants. The Lotophagians did the same, and the Hyperboreans, with a commendable degree of forethought for the survivors, when ill or about to die, threw themselves into the sea. The burial of Baldor "the beautiful," it may be remembered, was in a highly decorated ship, which was pushed down to the sea, set on fire, and committed to the waves. The Itzas of Guatemala, living on the islands of Lake Peter, according to Bancroft, are said to have thrown their dead into the lake for want of room. The Indiana of Nootka Sound and the Chinooks were in the habit of thus getting rid of their dead slaves, and, according to Timberlake, the Cherokees of Tennessee "seldom bury the dead, but threw them into the river."

After a careful search for well-authenticated instances of burial, aquatic and semi-aquatic, but two have been found, which are here given. The first relates to the Gosh-Utes, and is by Capt J. H. Simpson: [Footnote: Exploration Great Salt Lake Valley, Utah, 1859, p. 48.]

"Skull Valley, which is a part of the Great Salt Lake Desert, and which we have crossed to-day, Mr. George W. Bean, my guide over this route last fall, says derives its name from the number of skulls which have been found in it, and which have arisen from the custom of the Goshute Indians burying their dead in springs, which they sink with stones or keep down with sticks. He says he has actually seen the Indians bury their dead in this way near the town of Provo, where he resides."

As corroboration of this statement, Captain Simpson mentions in another part of the volume that, arriving at a spring one evening, they were obliged to dig out the skeleton of an Indian from the mud at the bottom before using the water.

This peculiar mode of burial is entirely unique, so far as known, and but from the well-known probity of the relator might well be questioned, especially when it is remembered that in the country spoken of water is quite scarce and Indians are careful not to pollute the streams or springs near which they live. Conjecture seems useless to establish a reason for this disposition of the dead.

The second example is by Catlin [Footnote: Hist. North American Indians, 1844, II, p. 141] and relates to the Chinook.

"... This little cradle has a strap which passes over the woman's forehead whilst the cradle rides on her back, and if the child dies during its subjection to this rigid mode its cradle becomes its coffin, forming a little canoe, in which it lie floating on the water in some sacred pool, where they are often in the habit of fastening their canoes containing the dead bodies of the old and young, or, which is often the case, elevated into the branches of trees, where their bodies are left to decay and their bones to dry whilst they are bandaged in man skins and ominously packed in their canoes, with paddles to propel and ladles to bail them out, and provisions to last and pipes to smoke as they are performing their 'long journey after death to their contemplated hunting grounds,' which these people think is to be performed in their canoes."


This is a term quaintly used by the learned M Pierre Muret to express the devouring of the dead by birds and animals or the surviving friends and relatives. Exposure of the dead to animals and birds has already been mentioned, but in the absence of any positive proof it is not believed that the North American Indians followed the custom, although cannibalism may have prevailed to a limited extent. It is true that a few accounts are given by authors, but these are considered to be so apochryphal in character that for the present it is deemed prudential to omit them. That such a means of disposing of the dead was not in practice is somewhat remarkable when we take into consideration how many analogies have been found in comparing old and new world funeral observances, and the statements made by Bruhier, Lafitau, Muret, and others, who give a number of examples of this peculiar mode of burial.

For instance, the Tartars sometimes ate their dead, and the Massageties, Derbices, and Effedens did the same, having previously strangled the aged and mixed their flesh with mutton. Horace and Tertulian both affirm that the Irish and ancient Britons devoured the dead, and Lafitau remarks that certain Indians of South America did the same, esteeming this mode of disposal more honorable and much to be preferred than to rot and be eaten by worms. To the credit of our savages, this barbarous and revolting practice is not believed to have been practiced by them.


The above subjects are coincidental with burial, and some of them, particularly mourning, have been more or less treated of in this paper, yet it may be of advantage to here give a few of the collected examples, under separate heads.


One of the most carefully described scenes of mourning at the death of a chief of the Crows is related in the life of Beckwourth, [Footnote: Autobiography of James Beckwourth, 1856, p. 260.] who for many years lived among this people, finally attaining great distinction as a warrior.

"I dispatched a herald to the village to inform them of the head chief's death, and then, burying him according to his directions, we slowly proceeded homewards. My very soul sickened at the contemplation of the scenes that would be enacted at my arrival. When we drew in sight of the village, we found every lodge laid prostrate. We entered amid shrieks, cries, and yells. Blood was streaming from every conceivable part of the bodies of all who were old enough to comprehend their loss. Hundreds of fingers were dismembered; hair torn from the head lay in profusion about the paths, wails and moans in every direction assailed the ear, where unrestrained joy had a few hours before prevailed. This fearful mourning lasted until evening of the next day....

"A herald having been dispatched to our other villages to acquaint them with the death of our head chief and request them to assemble at the Rose Bud in order to meet our village and devote themselves to a general time of mourning there met in conformity with this summons over ten thousand Crows at the place indicated. Such a scene of disorderly vociferous mourning no imagination can conceive nor any pen portray. Long Hair cut off a large roll of his hair, a thing he was never known to do before. The cutting and hacking of human flesh exceeded all my previous experience; fingers were dismembered as readily as twigs, and blood was poured out like water. Many of the warriors would cut two gashes nearly the entire length of their arm, then separating the skin from the flesh at one end, would grasp it in their other hand and rip it asunder to the shoulder. Others would carve various devices upon their breasts and shoulders and raise the skin in the same manner to make the scars show to advantage after the wound was healed. Some of their mutilations were ghastly and my heart sickened to look at them, but they would not appear to receive any pain from them."

From I. L. Mahan, United States Indian Agent for the Chippewas of Lake Superior, Red Cliff, Wisconsin, the following detailed account of mourning has been received.

There is probably no people that exhibit more sorrow and grief for their dead than they. The young widow mourns the loss of her husband; by day as by night she is heard silently sobbing; she is a constant visitor to the place of rest; with the greatest reluctance will she follow the raised camp. The friends and relatives of the young mourner will incessantly devise methods to distract her mind from the thought of her lost husband. She refuses nourishment but as nature is exhausted she is prevailed upon to partake of food; the supply is scant, but on every occasion the best and largest proportion is deposited upon the grave of her husband. In the mean time the female relatives of the deceased have according to custom submitted to her charge a parcel made up of different cloths ornamented with bead-work and eagles' feathers which she is charged to keep by her side—the place made vacant by the demise of her husband—a reminder of her widowhood. She is therefore for a term of twelve moons not permitted to wear any finery, neither is she permitted to slicken up and comb her head; this to avoid attracting attention. Once in a while a female relative of deceased, commiserating with her grief and sorrow, will visit her and voluntarily proceed to comb out the long-neglected and matted hair. With a jealous eye a vigilant watch is kept over her conduct during the term of her widowhood, yet she is allowed the privilege to marry, any time during her widowhood, an unmarried brother or cousin, or a person of the same Dodem [sic] (family mark) of her husband.

"At the expiration of her term, the vows having been faithfully performed and kept, the female relatives of deceased assemble and, with greetings commensurate to the occasion, proceed to wash her face, comb her hair, and attire her person with new apparel, and otherwise demonstrating the release from her vow and restraint. Still she has not her entire freedom. If she will still refuse to marry a relative of the deceased and will marry another, she then has to purchase her freedom by giving a certain amount of goods and whatever else she might have manufactured during her widowhood in anticipation of the future now at hand. Frequently, though, during widowhood the vows are disregarded and an inclination to flirt and play courtship or form an alliance of marriage outside of the relatives of the deceased is being indulged, and when discovered the widow is set upon by the female relatives, her slick braided hair is shorn close up to the back of her neck, all her apparel and trinkets are torn from her person, and a quarrel frequently results fatally to some member of one or the other side."

The substitution of a reminder for the dead husband, made from rags, furs, and other articles, is not confined alone to the Chippewas, other tribes having the same custom. In some instances the widows are obliged to carry around with them, for a variable period, a bundle containing the bones of the deceased consort.

Benson [Footnote: Life among the Choctaws, 1860, p. 294.] gives the following account of their funeral ceremonies, embracing the disposition of the body, mourning feast and dance:

"Their funeral is styled by them 'the last cry.'

"When the husband dies the friends assemble, prepare the grave, and place the corpse in it, but do not fill it up. The gun, bow and arrows, hatchet and knife are deposited in the grave. Poles are planted at the head and the foot, upon which flags are placed; the grave is then enclosed by pickets driven in the ground. The funeral ceremonies now begin, the widow being the chief mourner. At night and morning she will go to the grave and pour forth the most piteous cries and wailings. It is not important that any other member of the family should take any very active part in the 'cry,' though they do participate to some extent.

"The widow wholly neglects her toilet, while she daily goes to the grave during one entire moon from the date when the death occurred. On the evening of the last day of the moon the friends all assemble at the cabin of the disconsolate widow, bringing provisions for a sumptuous feast, which consists of corn and jerked beef boiled together in a kettle. While the supper is preparing, the bereaved wife goes to the grave, and pours out, with unusual vehemence, her bitter wailings and lamentations. When the food is thoroughly cooked the kettle is taken from the fire and placed in the center of the cabin, and the friends gather around it, passing the buffalo-horn spoon from hand to hand and from mouth to mouth till all have been bountifully supplied. While supper is being served, two of the oldest men of the company quietly withdraw and go to the grave and fill it up, taking down the flags. All then join in a dance, which not unfrequently is continued till morning; the widow does not fail to unite in the dance, and to contribute her part to the festivities of the occasion. This is the 'last cry,' the days of mourning are ended, and the widow is now ready to form another matrimonial alliance. The ceremonies are precisely the same when a man has lost his wife, and they are only slightly varied when any other member of the family has died. (Slaves were buried without ceremonies.)"


In Beltrami [Footnote: Pilgrimage, 1828, ii, p. 443.] an account is given of the funeral ceremonies of one of the tribes of the west, including a description of the feast which took place before the body was consigned to its final resting place:

"I was a spectator of the funeral ceremony performed in honor of the manes of Cloudy Weather's son-in-law, whose body had remained with the Sioux, and was suspected to have furnished one of their repasts. What appeared not a little singular and indeed ludicrous in this funeral comedy was the contrast exhibited by the terrific lamentations and yells of one part of the company while the others were singing and dancing with all their might.

"At another funeral ceremony for a member of the Grand Medicine, and at which as a man of another world I was permitted to attend, the same practice occurred. But at the feast which took place on that occasion an allowance was served up for the deceased out of every article of which it consisted, while others were beating, wounding, and torturing themselves, and letting their blood flow both over the dead man and his provisions, thinking possibly that this was the most palatable seasoning for the latter which they could possibly supply. His wife furnished out an entertainment present for him of all her hair and rags, with which, together with his arms, his provisions, his ornaments, and his mystic medicine bag, he was wrapped up in the skin which had been his last covering when alive. He was then tied round with the bark of some particular trees which they use for making cords, and bonds of a very firm texture and hold (the only ones indeed which they have), and instead of being buried in the earth was hung up to a large oak. The reason of this was that, as his favorite Manitou was the eagle, his spirit would be enabled more easily from such a situation to fly with him to Paradise."

Hind [Footnote: Canadian Red River Exploring Expedition, 1860, ii, p. 164.] mentions an account of a burial feast by De Brebeuf which occurred among the Hurons of New York:

"The Jesuit missionary, P. de Brebeuf, who assisted at one of the 'feasts of the dead' at the village of Ossosane, before the dispersion of the Hurons, relates that the ceremony took place in the presence of 2,000 Indians, who offered 1,200 presents at the common tomb, in testimony of their grief. The people belonging to five large villages deposited the bones of their dead in a gigantic shroud, composed of forty-eight robes, each robe being made of ten beaver skins. After being carefully wrapped in this shroud, they were placed between moss and bark. A wall of stones was built around this vast ossuary to preserve it from profanation. Before covering the bones with earth a few grains of Indian corn were thrown by the women upon the sacred relics. According to the superstitious belief of the Hurons the souls of the dead remain near the bodies until the 'feast of the dead'; after which ceremony they become free, and can at once depart for the land of spirits, which they believe to be situated in the regions of the setting sun."


The following account is by Dr. S G. Wright, acting physician to the Leech Lake Agency, Minnesota:

"Pagan Indians, or those who have not become Christians, still adhere to the ancient practice of feasting at the grave of departed friends; the object is to feast with the departed; that is, they believe that while they partake of the visible material the departed spirit partakes at the same time of the spirit that dwells in the food. From ancient time it was customary to bury with the dead various articles, such especially as were most valued in lifetime. The idea was that there was a spirit dwelling in the article represented by the material article; thus the war-club contained a spiritual war-club, the pipe a spiritual pipe, which could be used by the departed in another world. These several spiritual implements were supposed, of course, to accompany the soul, to be used also on the way to its final abode. This habit has now ceased...."


This subject has been sufficiently mentioned elsewhere in connection with other matters and does not need to be now repeated. It has been an almost universal custom throughout the whole extent of the country to place food in or near the grave of deceased persons.


Gymnastic exercises, dignified with this name, upon the occasion of a death or funeral, were common to many tribes. It is thus described by Morgan: [Footnote: League of the Iroquois, 1851, p. 297.]

"An occasional and very singular figure was called the 'dance for the dead' It was known as the O-he-wa. It was danced by the women alone. The music was entirely vocal, a select band of singers being stationed in the center of the room. To the songs for the dead which they sang the dancers joined in chorus. It was plaintive and mournful music. This dance was usually separate from all councils and the only dance of the occasion. It commenced at dusk or soon after and continued until towards morning, when the shades of the dead who were believed to be present and participate in the dance were supposed to disappear. This dance was had whenever a family which had lost a member called for it, which was usually a year after the event. In the spring and fall it was often given for all the dead indiscriminately, who were believed then to revisit the earth and join in the dance."

The interesting account which now follows is by Stephen Powers, [Footnote: Cont. to North American Ethnol., 1878, iv, p. 164.] and relates to the Yo-kai-a of California, containing other matters of importance pertaining to burial.

"I paid a visit to their camp four miles below Ukiah, and finding there a unique kind of assembly-house, desired to enter and examine it, but was not allowed to do so until I had gained the confidence of the old sexton by a few friendly words and the tender of a silver half dollar. The pit of it was about 50 feet in diameter and 4 or 5 feet deep, and it was so heavily roofed with earth that the interior was damp and somber as a tomb. It looked like a low tumulus, and was provided with a tunnel-like entrance about 10 feet long and 4 feet high, and leading down to a level with the floor of the pit. The mouth of the tunnel was closed with brush, and the venerable sexton would not remove it until he had slowly and devoutly paced several times to and fro before the entrance.

"Passing in I found the massive roof supported by a number of peeled poles painted white and ringed with black and ornamented with rude devices. The floor was covered thick and green with sprouting wheat, which had been scattered to feed the spirit of the captain of the tribe, lately deceased. Not long afterward a deputation of the Senel came up to condole with the Yo-kai-a on the loss of their chief, and a dance or series of dances was held which lasted three days. During this time of course the Senel were the guests of the Yo-kai-a, and the latter were subjected to a considerable expense. I was prevented by other engagements from being present, and shall be obliged to depend on the description of an eye-witness, Mr. John Tenney, whose account is here given with a few changes.

"There are four officials connected with the building, who are probably chosen to preserve order and to allow no intruders. They are the assistants of the chief. The invitation to attend was from one of them, and admission was given by the same. These four wore black vests trimmed with red flannel and shell ornaments. The chief made no special display on the occasion. In addition to these four, who were officers of the assembly-chamber, there was an old man and a young woman, who seemed to be priest and priestess. The young woman was dressed differently from any other, the rest dressing in plain calico dresses. Her dress was white covered with spots of red flannel, cut in neat figures, ornamented with shells. It looked gorgeous and denoted some office, the name of which I could not ascertain. Before the visitors were ready to enter, the older men of the tribe were reclining around the fire smoking and chatting. As the ceremonies were about to commence, the old man and young woman were summoned, and, standing at the end opposite the entrance, they inaugurated the exercises by a brief service, which seemed to be a dedication of the house to the exercises about to commence. Each of them spoke a few words, joined in a brief chant, and the house was thrown open for their visitors. They staid at their post until the visitors entered and were seated on one side of the room. After the visitors then others were seated, making about 200 in all, though there was plenty of room in the center for the dancing.

"Before the dance commenced the chief of the visiting tribe made a brief speech, in which he no doubt referred to the death of the chief of the Yo-kai-a, and offered the sympathy of his tribe in this loss. As he spoke, some of the women scarcely refrained from crying out, and with difficulty they suppressed their sobs. I presume that he proposed a few moments of mourning, for when he stopped the whole assemblage burst forth into a bitter wailing, some screaming as if in agony. The whole thing created such a din that I was compelled to stop my ears. The air was rent and pierced with their cries. This wailing and shedding of tears lasted about three or five minutes, though it seemed to last a half hour. At a given signal they ceased, wiped their eyes, and quieted down.

"Then preparations were made for the dance. One end of the room was set aside for the dressing-room. The chief actors were five men, who were muscular and agile. They were profusely decorated with paint and feathers, while white and dark stripes covered their bodies. They were girt about the middle with cloth of bright colors, sometimes with variegated shawls. A feather mantle hung from the shoulder, reaching below the knee; strings of shells ornamented the neck, while their heads were covered with a crown of eagle feathers. They had whistles in their mouths as they danced, swaying their heads, bending and whirling their bodies; every muscle seemed to be exercised, and the feather ornaments quivered with light. They were agile and graceful as they bounded about in the sinuous course of the dance.

"The five men were assisted by a semicircle of twenty women, who only marked time by stepping up and down with short step; they always took their places first and disappeared first, the men making their exit gracefully one by one. The dresses of the women were suitable for the occasion. They were white dresses trimmed heavily with black velvet. The stripes were about three inches wide, some plain and others edged like saw-teeth. This was an indication of their mourning for the dead chief in whose honor they had prepared that style of dancing. Strings of haliotis and pachydesma shell beads encircled their necks, and around their waists were belts heavily loaded with the same material. Their head-dresses were more showy than those of the men. The head was encircled with a bandeau of otters' or beavers' fur, to which were attached short wires standing out in all directions, with glass or shell beads strung on them, and at the tips little feather flags and quail plumes. Surmounting all was a pyramidal plume of feathers, black, gray, and scarlet, the top generally being a bright scarlet bunch, waving and tossing very beautifully. All these combined gave their heads a very brilliant and spangled appearance.

"The first day the dance was slow and funereal, in honor of the Yo- kai-a chief who died a short time before. The music was mournful and simple being a monotonous chant in which only two tones were used, accompanied with a rattling of split sticks and stamping on a hollow slab. The second day the dance was more lively on the part of the men, the music was better, employing airs which had a greater range of tune and the women generally joined in the chorus. The dress of the women was not so beautiful as they appeared in ordinary calico. The third day if observed in accordance with Indian custom the dancing was still more lively and the proceedings more gay just as the coming home from a Christian funeral is apt to be much more jolly than the going out."

A Yo-kai-a widow's style of mourning is peculiar. In addition to the usual evidences of grief she mingles the ashes of her dead husband with pitch making a white tar or unguent, with which she smears a band about two inches wide all around the edge of the hair (which is previously cut off close to the head) so that at a little distance she appears to be wearing a white chaplet.

It is their custom to feed the spirits of the dead for the space of one year by going daily to places which they were accustomed to frequent while living, where they sprinkle pinole upon the ground. A Yo-kai-a mother who has lost her babe goes every day for a year to some place where her little one played when alive or to the spot where the body was burned and milks her breasts into the air. This is accompanied by plaintive mourning and weeping and piteous calling upon her little one to return and sometimes she sings a hoarse and melancholy chant and dances with a wild ecstatic swaying of her body.


It has nearly always been customary to sing songs at not only funerals but for varying periods of time afterwards although these chants may no doubt occasionally have been simply wailing or mournful ejaculation. A writer [Footnote: Am. Antiq., April-May-June 1879, p. 251.] mentions it as follows:

"At almost all funerals there is an irregular crying kind of singing with no accompaniments, but generally all do not sing the same melody at the same time in unison. Several may sing the same song and at the same time, but each begins and finishes when he or she may wish. Often for weeks, or even months, after the decease of a dear friend, a living one, usually a woman, will sit by her house and sing or cry by the hour; and they also sing for a short time when they visit the grave or meet an esteemed friend whom they have not seen since the decease. At the funeral both men and women sing. No. 11 I have heard more frequently some time after the funeral, and No. 12 at the time of the funeral, by the Twanas (For song see p. 251.) The words are simply an exclamation of grief, as our word 'alas'; but they also have other words which they use, and sometimes they use merely the syllable la. Often the notes are sung in this order, and sometimes not, but in some order the notes do and la, and occasionally mi, are sung."


It is not proposed to describe under this heading examples of those athletic and gymnastic performances following the death of a person which have been described by Lafitau, but simply to call attention to a practice as a secondary or adjunct part of the funeral rites, which consists in gambling for the possession of the property of the defunct. Dr. Charles E. McChesney, U. S. A., who for some time was stationed among the Wahpeton and Sisseton Sioux, furnishes a detailed and interesting account of what is called the "ghost gamble." This is played with marked wild-plum stones. So far as ascertained it is peculiar to the Sioux.

"After the death of a wealthy Indian the near relatives take charge of the effects, and at a stated time—usually at the time of the first feast held over the bundle containing the lock of hair—they are divided into many small piles, so as to give all the Indians invited to play an opportunity to win something. One Indian is selected to represent the ghost, and he plays against all the others, who are not required to stake anything on the result, but simply invited to take part in the ceremony, which is usually held in the lodge of the dead person, in which is contained the bundle inclosing the lock of hair. In cases where the ghost himself is not wealthy the stakes are furnished by his rich friends, should he have any. The players are called in one at a time, and play singly against the ghost's representative, the gambling being done in recent years by means of cards. If the invited player succeeds in beating the ghost he takes one of the piles of goods and passes out when another is invited to play, etc., until all the piles of goods are won. In cases of men only the men play and in cases of women the women only take part in the ceremony."

Before the white men came among these Indians and taught them many of his improved vices this game was played by means of figured plum seeds, the men using eight and the women seven seeds figured as follows:

"Two seeds are simply blackened on one side the reverse containing nothing. Two seeds are black on one side with a small spot of the color of the seed left in the center, the reverse side having a black spot in the center, the body being plain. Two seeds have a buffalo's head on one side and the reverse simply two crossed black lines. There is but one seed of this kind in the set used by the women. Two seeds have half of one side blackened and the rest left plain so as to represent a half moon, the reverse has a black longitudinal line crossed at right angles by six small ones. There are six throws whereby the player can win and five that entitle him to another throw. The winning throws are as follows, each winner taking a pile of the ghost's goods:

"Two plain ones up, two plain with black spots up, Buffalo's head up, and two half moons up wins a pile. Two plain black ones up, two black with natural spot up, two longitudinally crossed ones up, and the transversely crossed one up wins a pile. Two plain black ones up, two black with natural spots up, two half moons up, and the transversely crossed one up wins a pile. Two plain black ones, two black with natural spot up, two half moons up, and the buffalo's head up wins a pile. Two plain ones up, two with black spots up, two longitudinally crossed ones up, and the transversely crossed one up wins a pile. Two plain ones up, two with black spots up, buffalo's head up, and two long crossed up wins a pile. The following throws entitle to another chance to win: two plain ones up, two with black spots up, one half moon up, one longitudinally crossed one up, and Buffalo's head up gives another throw, and on this throw if the two plain ones up and two with black spots with either of the half moons or Buffalo's head up, the player takes a pile. Two plain ones up, two with black spots up, two half moons up, and the transversely crossed one up entitles to another throw, when, if all of the black sides come up excepting one, the throw wins. One of the plain ones up and all the rest with black sides up gives another throw, and the same then turning up wins. One of the plain black ones up with that side up of all the others having the least black on gives another throw, when the same turning up again wins. One half moon up with that side up of all the others having the least black on gives another throw, and if the throw is then duplicated it wins. The eighth seed, used by the men has its place in their game whenever its facings are mentioned above. I transmit with this paper a set of these figured seeds, which can be used to illustrate the game if desired. These seeds are said to be nearly a hundred years old, and sets of them are now very rare."

For assisting in obtaining this account Dr. McChesney acknowledges his indebtedness to Dr C. C. Miller, physician to the Sisseton Indian Agency.


These are placed at the head or foot of the grave, or both, and have painted or carved on them a history of the deceased or his family, certain totemic characters, or, according to Schoolcraft, not the achievements of the dead, but of those warriors who assisted and danced at the interment. The northwest tribes and others frequently plant poles near the graves, suspending therefrom bits of rag flags, horses tails, etc. The custom among the present Indians does not exist to any extent. Beltrami [Footnote: Pilgrimage, 1828, ii, p. 308.] speaks of it as follows.

"Here I saw a most singular union. One of these graves was surmounted by a cross, whilst upon another close to it a trunk of a tree was raised, covered with hieroglyphics recording the number of enemies slain by the tenant of the tomb and several of his tutelary Manitous."


It is extremely difficult to determine why the custom of building fires on or near graves originated, some authors stating that the soul thereby underwent a certain process of purification, others that demons were driven away by them, and again that they were to afford light to the wandering soul setting out for the spirit land. One writer states that "the Algonkins believed that the fire lighted nightly on the grave was to light the spirit on its journey. By a coincidence to be explained by the universal sacredness of the number, both Algonkins and Mexicans maintained it for four nights consecutively. The former related the tradition that one of their ancestors returned from the spirit land and informed their nation that the journey thither consumed just four days, and that collecting fuel every night added much to the toil and fatigue the soul encountered, all of which could be spared it". So it would appear that the belief existed that the fire was also intended to assist the spirit in preparing its repast. "Stephen Powers [Footnote: Cont. to N. A. Ethnol., 1877, ii, p.58] gives a tradition current among the Yurok of California as to the use of fires.

"After death they keep a fire burning certain nights in the vicinity of the grave. They hold and believe, at least the 'Big Indians' do, that the spirits of the departed are compelled to cross an extremely attenuated greasy pole, which bridges over the chasm of the debatable land, and that they require the fire to light them on their darksome journey. A righteous soul traverses the pole quicker than a wicked one, hence they regulate the number of nights for burning a light according to the character for goodness or the opposite which the deceased possessed in this world." Dr. Emil Bessels, of the Polaris expedition, informs the writer that a somewhat similar belief obtains among the Esquimaux.


An entire volume might well be written which should embrace only an account of the superstitions regarding death and burial among the Indians, so thoroughly has the matter been examined and discussed by various authors, and yet so much still remains to be commented on, but in this work, which is simply preliminary, and is hoped will be provocative of future efforts, it is deemed sufficient to give only a few accounts. The first is by Dr. W. Mathews, U. S. A., [Footnote: Ethnol. and Philol. of the Hidatsa Indians. U.S. Geol. Surv. of Terr., 1877, p. 409] and relates to the Hidatsa:

"When a Hidatsa dies his shade lingers four nights around the camp or village in which he died, and then goes to the lodge of his departed kindred in the 'village of the dead.' When he has arrived there he is rewarded for his valor, self-denial, and ambition on earth by receiving the same regard in the one place as in the other, for there as here the brave man is honored and the coward despised. Some say that the ghosts of those that commit suicide occupy a separate part of the village, but that their condition differs in no wise from that of the others. In the next world human shades hunt and live in the shades of buffalo and other animals that have here died. There, too, there are four seasons, but they come in an inverse order to the terrestrial seasons. During the four nights that the ghost is supposed to linger near his former dwelling, those who disliked or feared the deceased, and do not wish a visit from the shade, scorch with red coals a pair of moccasins which they leave at the door of the lodge. The smell of the burning leather they claim keeps the ghost out; but the true friends of the dead man take no such precautions."

From this account it will be seen that the Hidatsa as well as the Algonkins and Mexicans believed that four days were required before the spirit could finally leave the earth. Why the smell of burning leather should he offensive to spirits it would perhaps be fruitless to speculate on.

The next account, by Keating, [Footnote: Long's Exped., 1824, ii, p. l58.] relating to the Chippewas, shows a slight analogy regarding the slippery-pole tradition already alluded to:

"The Chippewas believe that there is in man an essence entirely distinct from the body; they call it Ochechag, and appear to supply to it the qualities which we refer to the soul. They believe that it quits the body at the time of death and repairs to what they term Chekechekchekawe; this region is supposed to be situated to the south and on the shores of the great ocean. Previous to arriving there they meet with a stream which they are obliged to cross upon a large snake that answers the purpose of a bridge; those who die from drowning never succeed in crossing the stream; they are thrown into it and remain there forever. Some souls come to the edge of the stream but are prevented from passing by the snake that threatens to devour them: these are the souls of the persons in a lethargy or trance. Being refused a passage, these souls return to their bodies and reanimate them. They believe that animals have souls and even that inorganic substances such as kettles etc., have in them a similar essence."

In this land of souls all are treated according to their merits. Those who have been good men are free from pain, they have no duties to perform, their time is spent in dancing and singing and they feed upon mushrooms which are very abundant The souls of bad men are haunted by the phantom of the persons or things that they have injured, thus if a man has destroyed much property the phantoms of the wrecks of this property obstruct his passage wherever he goes, if he has been cruel to his dogs or horses they also torment him after death. The ghosts of those whom during his lifetime he wronged are there permitted to avenge their injuries. They think that when a soul has crossed the stream it cannot return to its body, yet they believe in apparitions and entertain the opinion that the spirits of the departed will frequently revisit the abodes of their friends in order to invite them to the other world and to forewarn them of their approaching dissolution.

Stephen Powers in his valuable work so often quoted, gives a number of examples of superstitions regarding the dead of which the following relates to the Karok of California.

"How well and truly the Karok reverence the memory of the dead is shown by the fact that the highest crime one can commit is the pet- chi-e-ri, the mere mention of the dead relative's name. It is a deadly insult to the survivors and can be atoned for only by the same amount of blood money paid for willful murder. In default of that they will have the villain's blood.... At the mention of his name the moldering skeleton turns in his grave and groans. They do not like stragglers even to inspect the burial place.... They believe that the soul of a good Karok goes to the 'happy western land' beyond the great ocean. That they have a well grounded assurance of an immortality beyond the grave is proven, if not otherwise, by their beautiful and poetical custom of whispering a message in the ear of the dead.... Believe that dancing will liberate some relative's soul from bonds of death and restore him to earth"

According to the same author, when a Kelta dies a little bird flies away with his soul to the spirit land. If he was a bad Indian a hawk will catch the little bird and eat him up soul and feathers, but if he was good he will reach the spirit land. Mr. Powers also states that "The Tolowa share in the superstitious observance for the memory of the dead which is common to the Northern Californian tribes When I asked the chief Tahhokolli to tell me the Indian words for 'father' and 'mother' and certain others similar, he shook his head mournfully and said 'all dead,' 'all dead,' 'no good.' They are forbidden to mention the name of the dead, as it is a deadly insult to the relatives,"... and that the "Mat-toal hold that the good depart to a happy region somewhere southward in the great ocean, but the soul of a bad Indian transmigrates into a grizzly bear, which they consider of all animals the cousin-german of sin."

The Mosquito Indians of Central America studiously and superstitiously avoid mentioning the name of the dead, in this regard resembling those of our own country.


We have thus briefly, though it is hoped judiciously and carefully, reviewed the subject of Indian burial, avoiding elaborate discussion, as foreign to the purpose of the work, simply pointing out from the carefully gleaned material at our disposal such examples and detached accounts as may serve as guides to those whose interest in the subject may lead them to contribute to the final volume. Before closing, however, it is necessary to again allude to the circular which has been forwarded to observers and call attention to some additional matters of importance connected with the queries, which are as follows: [Footnote: Advantage has been taken to incorporate with the queries certain modifications of those propounded by Schoolcraft in his well-known work on the Indian tribes of the United States, relating to the same subject.]

1st. NAME OF THE TRIBE, present appellation; former, if differing any; and that used by the Indians themselves.

2d. LOCALITY, PRESENT AND FORMER.—The response should give the range of the tribe and be full and geographically accurate.

3d. DEATHS AND FUNERAL CEREMONIES; what are the important and characteristic facts connected with these subjects? How is the corpse prepared after death and disposed of? How long is it retained? Is it spoken to after death as if alive? when and where? What is the character of the addresses? What articles are deposited with it; and why? Is food put in the grave, or in or near it afterwards? Is this said to be an ancient custom? Are persons of the same gens buried together, and is the clan distinction obsolete, or did it ever prevail?

4th. MANNER OF BURIAL, ANCIENT AND MODERN; STRUCTURE AND POSITION OF THE GRAVES; CREMATION—Are burials usually made in high and dry grounds? Have mounds or tumuli been erected in modern times over the dead? How is the grave prepared and finished? What position are bodies placed in? Give reasons therefor if possible. If cremation is or was practiced, describe the process, disposal of the ashes, and origin of custom or traditions relating thereto. Are the dead ever eaten by the survivors? Are bodies deposited in springs or in any body of water? Are scaffolds or trees used as burial places; if so, describe construction of the former and how the corpse is prepared, and whether placed in skins or boxes. Are bodies placed in canoes? State whether they are suspended from trees, put on scaffolds or posts, allowed to float on the water or sunk beneath it, or buried in the ground. Can any reasons be given for the prevalence of any one or all of the methods? Are burial posts or slabs used, plain, or marked, with flags or other insignia of position of deceased. Describe embalmment, mummification, desiccation, or if antiseptic precautions are taken, and subsequent disposal of remains. Are bones collected and reinterred, describe ceremonies, if any, whether modern or ancient. If charnel houses exist or have been used, describe them.

5th. MOURNING OBSERVANCES—Is scarification practiced, or personal mutilation? What is the garb or sign of mourning? How are the dead lamented? Are periodical visits made to the grave? Do widows carry symbols of their deceased children or husbands, and for how long? Are sacrifices, human or otherwise, voluntary or involuntary, offered? Are fires kindled on graves, why, and at what time, and for how long?

6th. BURIAL TRADITIONS AND SUPERSTITIONS—Give in full all that can be learned on these subjects, as they are full of interest and very important.

In short, every fact bearing on the disposal of the dead, and correlative customs are needed, and details should be as succinct and full as possible.

One of the most important matters upon which information is needed is the "why" and "wherefore" for every rite and custom, for, as a rule, observers are content to simply state a certain occurrence as a fact, but take very little trouble to inquire the reason for it.

The writer would state that any material the result of careful observation will be most gratefully received and acknowledged in the final volume, and he would here confess the lasting obligation he is under to those who have already contributed in response to his call.

Criticism and comments are earnestly invited from all those interested in the special subject of this paper and anthropology in general Contributions are also requested from persons acquainted with curious forms of burial prevailing among other tribes of savage men.

In addition to the many references, etc, given by the various members of the Bureau of Ethnology, communications have been received from the following persons, although their accounts may not have been alluded to in this volume; should omissions of names have occurred it is hoped attention will be called to the fact.

The writer acknowledges with pleasure the assistance he has received in reading the proof of this volume from Mr. J. C. Pilling, Dr. Thomas W. Wise and Mr. R. W. Hardy.



Letters and papers, to forward which stamps will be sent if requested, may be addressed as follows:



Achomawi Indians, burial and cremation of Alaska Cave burial Aleutian mummies Ancient burial customs of Persians Antiquity of cremation Aquatic burial, Cherokees Chinooks Gosh-Utes Hyperboreans Ichthyophagians Itzas Lotophagians Ascena Indians Atwater, Caleb Bactians, burial customs of Bancroft, Hubert H. Barber, E. A. Bartram, William Basket burial Bean, George W. Beckwourth, James Beltrami, J. C. Benson, H. C. Beverley, Robert Blackbird's burial Blackfeet lodge burial tree burial Bonaks, cremation myths of Bone houses Choctaws Box burial Bransford, U. S. N., Dr. J. C. Brebeuf, P. de Brinton, Dr. D. G. Britons, living sepulcher of Bruhier, Jacques Jean Burchard, J. L. Burial above ground, Sioux Burial and cremation, Achomawi Indians in California in New Jersey Burial, aquatic, Gosh-Utes Burial boxes and canoes Makah Burial customs of Bactrians Caspians Chickasaws Hircanians Iberians Medes Parthians dances dance, Iroquois Yo-kai-a feasts feast, Hurons feasts, superstitions regarding fires food Yo-kai-a and dances and songs houses, Columbia River in baskets in boxes Cherokees Choctaws Creeks in cabins, wigwams, or houses cairns cairns, Utah caves caves, California logs mounds, Missouri Ohio of Baldor Balearic Islanders Blackbird Indians of Round Valley Muscogulges on trees and scaffolds posts and fires sacrifice sacrifice, Tsinuk scaffolds songs Burials, provisional arrangement of Burial superstitions, Chippewa Hidatea Karok Kelta Mat-toal Tolowa Yurok superterrene and aerial surface Burial urns California Georgia Muscogee New Mexico Nicaragua Burnside, Samuel L. Cabin, wigwam, or house burial Caddoes, inhumation of Cairn burial Utah California burial and cremation urns cave burial Canes sepulchrales Canoe burial, Clallams Canoe burial, Indians of Oregon and Washington Canoes and burial boxes Canoes, inhumation in Caraibs, verification of death of Caribs' mourning Carolina tribes, inhumation of Caspians, burial customs of Catlin, George Cave burial Alaska Innuit Utah Chaldean urn burial Chambered mounds Cherokees, aquatic burial of burial in boxes partial cremation of Cheyenne scaffold burial Chickasaws, burial customs of Chillicothe mound Chinook, aquatic burial of Chippewa burial superstitions mourning observances Choctaw bone houses Choctaws, burial in boxes of mourning observances ossuaries of Circular of queries Cists or stone graves Clallam canoe burial Colchiens, tree burial of Collectors, suggestions for Columbia River burial houses Conclamation of Romans Congaree and Santee Indians, partial embalmment of Contributors, list of Costa Rica Indians Coyotero Apaches, inhumation of Cox, Ross Creeke, burial in boxes of Cremation antiquity of Florida furnace Indians of Clear Lake Indians of Utah myths Bonaks Nishinams Oregon partial remarks on Senel Indians Tolkotins Crow lodge burial Crows, mourning observances of Curtiss, Edwin Dall, William H. Dances, burial and burial food Dance for the dead Dead, dance for Derbices, living sepulchers of Eells, Rev. M. Effedens, living sepulchers of Feasts, burial Final remarks Fires, burial Fiske, Moses Florida burial mounds cremation Food burial Foreman, Dr. E. Foster, J. W. Furnace cremation Gageby, U. S. A. Captain J. H. Georgia burial urns "Ghost gamble," Sioux Gianque Florian Gibbs, George Gillman, Henry "Golgothas," Mandans Grinnell, Dr. Fordyce Grossman, U. S. A., Captain F. E. Hammond, U. S. A., Dr. J. F. Hardy, R. W. Hidatsa burial superstitions Hind, H. Y. Hircanians, burial customs of Hoffman, Dr. W. J. Holbrook, W. C. Hough, Franklin B. Houses, bone Hurons, burial feasts of Hyperboreans, aquatic burial of Iberians, burial customs of Ichthyophagi, aquatic burial of Illinois burial mounds Indians of Clear Lake, cremation of Oregon and Washington, canoe burial of Utah, cremation Inhumation Caddoes in canoes Carolina tribes Coyotero Apaches Klamaths Massasaugas Mohawks Navajos Pimas Wichitas Innuit cave burial Introductory remarks Irish, living sepulchers of Iroquois, burial dance of Iroquois, ossuaries of Itzas, aquatic burial of Jenkes, Col. C. W. Johnston, Adam Jones, Charles C., jr Jones, Dr. J. S. Karok burial superstitions Keating, William H. Kelta burial superstitions Kentucky mummies Kitty-ka-tats Klamaths, inhumation of Klingbeil, William Lawson, John Letter of transmittal List of contributors Living sepulchers Britons Derbices Effedens Irish Massageties Tartars Lodge burial, Blackfeet Crows Navajos Sioux Log burial Lotophagians, aquatic burial of Mahan, I. L. Makah burial boxes Mandan "Golgothas" Massageties, living sepulchers of Massasaugas, inhumation of Mathews, U. S. A., Dr. W. Mat-toal burial superstitions McChesney, U. S. A., Dr. Charles E. McDonald, Dr. A. J. McKinley, William Medes, burial customs of Menard, Dr. John Miami Valley mound burial Miller, Dr. C. C. Mitchill, Dr. Samuel L. Mohawks, inhumation of Morgan, L. H. Mortuary customs of the Persians Mound burial, Florida Illinois Miami Valley Missouri North Carolina Tennessee Mound, Chillicothe Mounds, chambered of stone Mourning observances, Caribs Chippewas Choctaws Crows Sioux Mummies Aleutian Kentucky Northwest Coast South Carolina Virginia Muret, Pierre Muscogee burial urns Muscogulge Indians, burial of Myths of cremation Natchez ossuaries Navajo lodge burial Navajos, inhumation of New Jersey, burial and cremation in New Mexico burial urns Nicaragua Nishinams, cremation myths of Norris, P. W. North Carolina burial mounds Northwest coast mummies Ohio burial mounds Oregon, cremation in Ossuaries Ossuaries, Choctaw Iroquois Natchez Ossuary of Choctaws Otis, U. S. A., Dr. George A. Parthians, burial customs of Partial cremation Cherokees embalmment, Congaree and Santee Indians scaffold burial and ossuaries Persians, ancient burial customs of mortuary customs of Pilling, J. C. Pimas Indians inhumation of Pinkerton, John Posts, burial and fires, burial Powell, Maj. J. W. preface by Powers, Stephen Preface by Maj. J. W. Powell Provisional arrangement of burials Putnam, F. W. Queries, circular of Remarks, final introductory on cremation Review of Turner's narrative Robertson, R. S. Roman, Bernard Romans, conclamation of Round Valley Indians, burial of Sacrifice, burial Sauer, Martin Scaffolds, burial on Scaffold burial, Cheyennes Sioux Yanktonias Schoolcraft, Henry R. Scythians, tree burial of Senel Indians, cremation of Sepulchers, living Sheldon, William Simpson, U. S. A., Capt. J. H. Sioux burial above ground "ghost gamble" lodge burial Sioux mourning observances scaffold burial Solutre, France, stone graves or cists of Songs and burial food burial South Carolina mummies urn burial Spainhour, Dr. J. Mason Sternberg, U. S. A., Dr. George M. Stone graves or cists of Solutre, France Tennessee mounds Suggestions for collectors Superstitions regarding burial feasts Superterrene and aerial burial Surface burial Swallow, G. C. Tartars, living sepulchers of tree burial of Tennessee mound burial stone graves or cists Tiffany, A. S. Tolkotin, cremation Tolowa burial superstitions Tompkins, U. S. A., Gen. Charles H. Transmittal, letter of Tree and scaffold burial burial, Blackfeet Colchiens Scythians Tartars Tsinuk burial sacrifice Turner, Dr. L. S. Urn burial Chaldeans South Carolina Utah cave burial Van Campen, Moses Verification of death of Caraibs Virginia mummies Whitney, J. D. Wichitas, inhumation of Wilcox, Mr. Wilkins, Charles Wise, Dr. Thos. W. Yanktonias, scaffold burial of Yo-kai-a burial dance food Young, John Yurok, burial superstitions of


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