In other parts of the great American cordillera some of the simplest and youngest mountain ridges in the world are found. In southern Oregon, for example, lava blocks have been broken and uplifted and now stand with steep fresh faces on one side and with the old surface inclining more gently on the other. Tilted blocks on a larger scale and much more deeply carved by erosion are found in the lofty St. Elias Mountain of Alaska, where much of the erosion has been done by some of the world's greatest glaciers. The western slope of the Wasatch Mountains facing the desert of Utah is the wall of a huge fracture, as is the eastern face of the Sierra Nevadas facing the deserts of Nevada. Each of these great faces has been deeply eroded. At the base, however, recent breaking and upheaval of the crust have given rise to fresh uneroded slopes. Some take the form of triangular facets, where a series of ridges has been sliced across and lifted up by a great fault. Others assume the shape of terraces which sometimes continue along the base of the mountains for scores of miles. In places they seem like bluffs cut by an ancient lake, but suddenly they change their altitude or pass from one drainage area to another as no lake-formed strand could possibly do.
In other parts of the cordillera, mountains have been formed by a single arching of the crust without any breaking. Such is the case in the Uinta Mountains of northwestern Utah and in some of the ranges of the Rocky Mountains in Colorado. The Black Hills of South Dakota, although lying out in the plains, are an example of the same kind of structure and really belong to the cordillera. In them the layers of the earth's crust have been bent up in the form of a great dome. The dome structure, to be sure, has now been largely destroyed, for erosion has long been active. The result is that the harder strata form a series of concentric ridges, while between them are ring-shaped valleys, one of which is so level and unbroken that it is known to the Indians as the "race-course." In other parts of the cordillera great masses of rock have been pushed horizontally upon the tops of others. In Montana, for example, the strata of the plains have been bent down and overridden by those of the mountains. These are only a few of the countless forms of breaking, faulting, and crumpling which have given to the cordillera an almost infinite variety of scenery.
The work of mountain building is still active in the western cordillera, as is evident from such an event as the San Francisco earthquake. In the Owens Valley region in southern California the gravelly beaches of old lakes are rent by fissures made within a few years by earthquakes. In other places fresh terraces on the sides of the valley mark the lines of recent earth movements, while newly formed lakes lie in troughs at their base. These Owens Valley movements of the crust are parts of the stupendous uplift which has raised the Sierra Nevada to heights of over 14,000 feet a few miles to the west. Along the fault line at the base of the mountains there runs for over 9.50 miles the world's longest aqueduct, which was built to relieve Los Angeles from the danger of drought. It is a strange irony of fate that so delicate and so vital an artery of civilization should be forced to lie where a renewal of earthquake movements may break it at any time. Yet there was no other place to put it, for in spite of man's growing control of nature he was forced to follow the topography of the region in which he lived and labored.
On the southern side of the Mohave Desert a little to the east of where the Los Angeles aqueduct crosses the mountains in its southward course, the record of an earthquake is preserved in unique fashion. The steep face of a terrace is covered with trees forty or fifty years old. Near the base the trees are bent in peculiar fashion. Their lower portions stand at right angles to the steeply sloping face of the terrace, but after a few feet the trunks bend upward and stand vertically. Clearly when these trees were young the terrace was not there. Then an earthquake came. One block of the earth's crust was dropped down while another was raised up. Along the dividing line a terrace was formed. The trees that happened to stand along the line were tilted and left in a slanting position on the sloping surface between the two parts of the earth's crust. They saw no reason to stop growing, but, turning their tips toward the sky, they bravely pushed upward. Thus they preserve in a striking way the record of this recent movement of the earth's crust.
Volcanoes as well as earth movements have occurred on a grand scale within a few hundred years in the cordillera. Even where there is today no visible volcanic activity, recent eruptions have left traces as fresh as if they had occurred but yesterday. On the borders of the Grand Canyon of the Colorado one can see not only fresh cones of volcanic ash but lava which has poured over the edges of the cliffs and hardened while in the act of flowing. From Orizaba and Popocatepetl in Mexico through Mount San Francisco in Arizona, Lassen Peak and Mount Shasta in California, Mount Rainier with its glaciers in the Cascade Range of Washington, and Mount Wrangell in Alaska, the cordillera contains an almost unbroken chain of great volcanoes. All are either active at present or have been active within very recent times. In 1912 Mount Katmai, near the northwestern end of the volcanic chain, erupted so violently that it sent dust around the whole world. The presence of the dust caused brilliant sunsets second only to those due to Krakatoa in 1883. It also cut off so much sunlight that the effect was felt in measurements made by the Smithsonian Institution in the French provinces of North Africa. In earlier times, throughout the length of the cordillera great masses of volcanic material were poured out to form high plateaus like those of southern Mexico or of the Columbia River in Oregon. In Utah some of these have been lifted up so that heavy caps of lava now form isolated sheets topping lofty plateaus. There the lowland shepherds drive their sheep in summer and live in absolute isolation for months at a time. There, as everywhere, the cordillera bears the marks of mountains in the making, while the mountains of eastern America bear the marks of those that were made when the world was young.
The geysers and hot springs of the Yellowstone are another proof of recent volcanic activity. They owe their existence to hot rocks which lie only a little way below the surface and which not long ago were molten lava. The terraces and platforms built by the geysers are another evidence that the cordillera is a region where the surface of the earth is still being shaped into new forms by forces acting from within. The physical features of the country are still in process of construction.
In spite of the importance of the constructive forces which are still building up the mountains, much of the finest scenery of the cordillera is due to the destructive forces of erosion. The majestic Columbia Canyon, like others of its kind, is the work of running water. Glaciers also have done their part. During the glacial period the forces which control the paths of storms did not give to the cordillera region such an abundance of snow as was sifted down upon Laurentia. Therefore no such huge continental glaciers have flowed out over millions of square miles of lower country. Nevertheless among the mountains themselves the ice gouged and scraped and smoothed and at its lower edges deposited great moraines. Its work today makes the cliffs and falls of the Yosemite one of the world's most famous bits of scenery. This scenery is young and its beauty will pass in a short time as geology counts the years, for in natural scenery as in human life it is youth that makes beauty. The canyons, waterfalls, and geysers of the cordillera share their youth with the lakes, waterfalls, and rapids due to recent glaciation in the east. Nevertheless, though youth is the condition of most striking beauty, maturity and old age are the condition of greatest usefulness. The young cordillera with its mountains still in the making can support only a scanty population, whereas the old eastern mountains, with the lines of long life engraved upon every feature, open their arms to man and let him live and prosper.
It is not enough that we should picture merely the four divisions of the land of our continent. We must see how the land meets the sea. In low latitudes in both the Old World and the New, the continents have tended to emerge farther and farther from the sea during recent geological times. Hence on the eastern side of both North and South America from New Jersey to Brazil the ocean is bordered for the most part by coastal plains, uplifted from the sea only a short time ago. On the mountainous western side of both continents, however, the sea bottom shelves downward so steeply that its emergence does not give rise to a plain but merely to a steep slope on which lie a series of old beaches several hundred and even one thousand feet above the present shore line. Such conditions are not favorable to human progress. The coastal plains produced by uplift of the land may be fertile and may furnish happy homes for man, but they do not permit ready access to the sea because they have no harbors. The chief harbor of Mexico at Vera Cruz is merely a little nick in the coast-line and could never protect a great fleet, even with the help of its breakwater. Where an enterprising city like Los Angeles lies on the uplifted Pacific coast, it must spend millions in wresting a harbor from the very jaws of the sea.
In high latitudes in all parts of the world the land has recently been submerged beneath the sea. In some places, especially those like the coasts of Virginia and central California which lie in middle latitudes, a recent slight submergence has succeeded a previous large emergence. Wherever such sinking of the land has taken place, it has given rise to countless bays, gulfs, capes, islands, and fiords. The ocean water has entered the valleys and has drowned their lower parts. It has surrounded the bases of hills and left them as islands; it has covered low valleys and has created long sounds where traffic may pass with safety even in great storms. Though much land has thus been lost which would be good for agriculture, commerce has been wonderfully stimulated. Through Long Island Sound there pass each day hundreds of boats which again and again would suffer distress and loss if they were not protected from the open sea. It is no accident that of the eight largest metropolitan districts in the United States five have grown up on the shores of deep inlets which are due to the drowning of valleys.
Nor must the value of scenery be forgotten in a survey such as this. Year by year we are learning that in this restless, strenuous American life of ours vacations are essential. We are learning, too, that the love of beauty is one of Nature's greatest healers. Regions like the coast of Maine and Puget Sound, where rugged land and life-giving ocean interlock, are worth untold millions because of their inspiring beauty. It is indeed marvelous that in the latitude of the northern United States and southern Canada so many circumstances favorable to human happiness are combined. Fertile soil, level plains, easy passage across the mountains, coal, iron, and other metals imbedded in the rocks, and a stimulating climate, all shower their blessings upon man. And with all these blessings goes the advantage of a coast which welcomes the mariner and brings the stimulus of foreign lands, while at the same time it affords rest and inspiration to the toilers here at home.
CHAPTER IV. THE GARMENT OF VEGETATION
No part of the world can be truly understood without a knowledge of its garment of vegetation, for this determines not only the nature of the animal inhabitants but also the occupations of the majority of human beings. Although the soil has much to do with the character of vegetation, climate has infinitely more. It is temperature which causes the moss and lichens of the barren tundras in the far north to be replaced by orchids, twining vines, and mahogany trees near the equator. It is rainfall which determines that vigorous forests shall grow in the Appalachians in latitudes where grasslands prevail in the plains and deserts in the western cordillera.
Forests, grass-lands, deserts, represent the three chief types of vegetation on the surface of the earth. Each is a response to certain well-defined conditions of climate. Forests demand an abundance of moisture throughout the entire season of growth. Where this season lasts only three months the forest is very different from where it lasts twelve. But no forest can be vigorous if the ground habitually becomes dry for a considerable period during which the weather is warm enough for growth. Desert vegetation, on the other hand, which consists primarily of bushes with small, drought-resistant leaves, needs only a few irregular and infrequent showers in order to endure long periods of heat and drought. Discontinuity of moisture is the cause of deserts, just as continuity is the necessary condition of forest growth. Grasses prevail where the climatic conditions are intermediate between those of the forest and the desert. Their primary requisite is a short period of fairly abundant moisture with warmth enough to ripen their seeds. Unlike the trees of the forests, they thrive even though the wet period be only a fraction of the entire time that is warm enough for growth. Unlike the bushes of the desert, they rarely thrive unless the ground is well soaked for at least a few weeks. Most people think of forests as offering far more variety than either deserts or grass-lands. To them grass is just grass, while trees seem to possess individuality. In reality, however, the short turfy grass of the far north differs from the four-foot fronds of the bunchy saccaton grass of Arizona, and from the far taller tufts of the plumed pampas grass, much more than the pine tree differs from the palm. Deserts vary even more than either forests or grass-lands. The traveler in the Arizona desert, for example, has been jogging across a gravelly plain studded at intervals of a few yards with little bushes a foot high. The scenery is so monotonous and the noon sunshine so warm that he almost falls asleep. When he wakes from his daydream, so weird are his surroundings that he thinks he must be in one of the places to which Sindbad was carried by the roc. The trail has entered an open forest of joshuas, as the big tree yuccas are called in Arizona. Their shaggy trunks and uncouth branches are rendered doubly unkempt by swordlike, ashy-yellow dead leaves that double back on the trunk but refuse to fall to the ground. At a height of from twelve to twenty feet each arm of the many-branched candelabrum ends in a stiff rosette of gray-green spiky leaves as tough as hemp. Equally bizarre and much more imposing is a desert "stand" of giant suhuaros, great fluted tree-cacti thirty feet or more high. In spite of their size the suhuaros are desert types as truly as is sagebrush.
In America the most widespread type of forest is the evergreen coniferous woodland of the north. Its pines, firs, spruces, hemlocks, and cedars which are really junipers, cover most of Canada together with northern New England and the region south of Lakes Huron and Superior. At its northern limit the forest looks thoroughly forlorn. The gnarled and stunted trees are thickly studded with half-dead branches bent down by the weight of snow, so that the lower ones sweep the ground, while the upper look tired and discouraged from their struggle with an inclement climate. Farther south, however, the forest loses this aspect of terrific struggle. In Maine, for example, it gives a pleasant impression of comfortable prosperity. Wherever the trees have room to grow, they are full and stocky, and even where they are crowded together their slender upspringing trunks look alert and energetic. The signs of death and decay, indeed, appear everywhere in fallen trunks, dead branches, and decayed masses of wood, but moss and lichens, twinflowers and bunchberries so quickly mantle the prostrate trees that they do not seem like tokens of weakness. Then, too, in every open space thousands of young trees bank their soft green masses so gracefully that one has an ever-present sense of pleased surprise as he comes upon this younger foliage out of the dim aisles among the bigger trees.
Except on their southern borders the great northern forests are not good as a permanent home for man. The snow lies so late in the spring and the summers are so short and cool that agriculture does not prosper. As a home for the fox, marten, weasel, beaver, and many other fur-bearing animals, however, the coniferous forests are almost ideal. That is why the Hudson's Bay Company is one of the few great organizations which have persisted and prospered from colonial times to the present. As long ago as 1670 Charles II granted to Prince Rupert and seventeen noblemen and gentlemen a charter so sweeping that, aside from their own powers of assimilation, there was almost no limit to what the "Governor and Company of Adventurers of England trading into Hudson's Bay" might acquire. By 1749, nearly eighty years after the granting of the charter, however, the Company had only four or five forts on the coast of Hudson Bay, with about 120 regular employees. Nevertheless the poor Indians were so ignorant of the value of their furs and the consequent profits were so large that, after Canada had been ceded to Great Britain in 1763, a rival organization, the Northwest Fur Company of Montreal, was established. Then there began an era that was truly terrible for the Indians of the northern forest. In their eagerness to get the valuable furs the companies offered the Indians strong liquors in an abundance that ruined the poor red man, body and soul. Moreover the fur-bearing animals were killed not only in winter but during the breeding season. Many mother animals were shot and their little ones were left to die. Hence in a short time the wild creatures of the great northern forest were so scarce that the Indians well-nigh starved.
In spite of this slaughter of fur-bearing animals, the same Company still draws fat dividends from the northern forest and its furry inhabitants. If the forest had been more habitable, it would long ago have been occupied by settlers, as have its warmer, southern portions, and the Company would have ceased to exist. Aside from the regions too cold or too dry to support any vegetation whatever, few parts of the world are more deadening to civilization than the forests of the far north. Near the northern limit of the great evergreen forest of North America wild animals are so rare that a family of hunting Indians can scarcely find a living in a thousand square miles. Today the voracious maw of the daily newspaper is eating the spruce and hemlock by means of relentless saws and rattling pulp-mills. In the wake of the lumbermen settlers are tardily spreading northward from the more favored tracts in northern New England and southern Canada. Nevertheless most of the evergreen forests of the north must always remain the home of wild animals and trappers, a backward region in which it is easy for a great fur company to maintain a practical monopoly.
Outliers of the pine forest extend far down into the United States. The easternmost lies in part along the Appalachians and in part along the coastal plain from southern New Jersey to Texas. The coastal forest is unlike the other coniferous forests in two respects, for its distribution and growth are not limited by long winters but by sandy soil which quickly becomes dry. This drier southern pine forest lacks the beauty of its northern companion. Its trees are often tall and stately, but they are usually much scattered and are surrounded by stretches of scanty grass. There is no trace of the mossy carpet and dense copses of undergrowth that add so much to the picturesqueness of the forests farther north. The unkempt half-breed or Indian hunter is replaced by the prosaic gatherer of turpentine. As the man of the southern forests shuffles along in blue or khaki overalls and carries his buckets from tree to tree, he seems a dull figure contrasted with the active northern hunter who glides swiftly and silently from trap to trap on his rawhide snowshoes. Yet though the southern pine forest may be less picturesque than the northern, it is more useful to man. In spite of its sandy soil, much of this forest land is being reclaimed, and all will some day probably be covered by farms.
Two other outliers of the northern evergreen forest extend southward along the cool heights of the Rocky Mountains and of the Pacific coast ranges of the United States. In the Olympic and Sierra Nevada ranges the most western outlier of this northern band of vegetation probably contains the most inspiring forests of the world. There grow the vigorous Oregon pines, firs, and spruces, and the still more famous Big Trees or sequoias. High on the sides of the Sierra above the yuccas, the live oaks, and the deciduous forest of the lower slopes, one meets these Big Trees. To come upon them suddenly after a long, rough tramp over the sunny lower slopes is the experience of a lifetime. Upward the great trees rise sheer one hundred feet without a branch. The huge fluted trunks encased in soft, red bark six inches or a foot thick are more impressive than the columns of the grandest cathedral. It seems irreverent to speak above a whisper. Each tree is a new wonder. One has to walk around it and study it to appreciate its enormous size. Where a tree chances to stand isolated so that one can see its full majesty, the sense of awe is tempered by the feeling that in spite of their size the trees have a beauty all their own. Lifted to such heights, the branches appear to be covered with masses of peculiarly soft and rounded foliage like the piled-up banks of a white cumulus cloud before a thunderstorm. At the base of such a tree the eye is caught by the sharp, triangular outline of one of its young progeny. The lower branches sweep the ground. The foliage is harsh and rough. In almost no other species of trees is there such a change from comparatively ungraceful youth to a superbly beautiful old age.
The second great type of American forest is deciduous. The trees have broad leaves quite unlike the slender needles or overlapping scales of the northern evergreens. Each winter such forests shed their leaves. Among the mountains where the frosts come suddenly, the blaze of glory and brilliance of color which herald the shedding of the leaves are surpassed in no other part of the world. Even the colors of the Painted Desert in northern Arizona and the wonderful flowers of the California plains are less pleasing. In the Painted Desert the patches of red, yellow, gray-blue, white, pale green, and black have a garish, almost repellent appearance. In California the flame-colored acres of poppies in some places, of white or yellow daisylike flowers in others, or of purple blossoms elsewhere have a softer expression than the bare soil of the desert. Yet they lack the delicate blending and harmony of colors which is the greatest charm of the autumn foliage in the deciduous forests. Even where the forests consist of such trees as birches, beeches, aspens, or sycamores, whose leaves merely turn yellow in the fall, the contrast between this color and the green tint of summer or the bare branches of winter adds a spice of variety which is lacking in other and more monotonous forests.
From still other points of view the deciduous forest has an almost unequaled degree of variety. In one place it consists of graceful little birches whose white trunks shimmering in the twilight form just the background for ghosts. Contrast them with the oak forest half a mile away. There the sense of gracefulness gives place to a feeling of strength. The lines are no longer vertical but horizontal. The knotted elbows of the branches recall the keels of sturdy merchantmen of bygone days. The acorns under foot suggest food for the herds of half-wild pigs which roam among the trees in many a southern county. Of quite another type are the stately forests of the Appalachians where splendid magnolia and tulip trees spread their broad limbs aloft at heights of one hundred feet or more.
Deciduous forests grow in the well-balanced regions where summer and winter approach equality, where neither is unduly long, and where neither is subject to prolonged drought. They extend southward from central New England, the Great Lakes, and Minnesota, to Mississippi, Arkansas, and eastern Texas. They predominate even in parts of such prairie States as Michigan, Indiana, southern Illinois, and southeastern Missouri. No part of the continent is more populous or more progressive than the regions once covered by deciduous forests. In the United States nearly sixty per cent of the inhabitants live in areas reclaimed from such forests. Yet the area of the forests is less than a quarter of the three million square miles that make up the United States.
In their relation to human life the forests of America differ far more than do either grass-lands or deserts. In the far north, as we have seen, the pine forests furnish one of the least favorable environments. In middle latitudes the deciduous forests go to the opposite extreme and furnish the most highly favored of the homes of man. Still farther southward the increasing luxuriance of the forests, especially along the Atlantic coast, renders them less and less favorable to mankind. In southern Mexico and Yucatan the stately equatorial rain forest, the most exuberant of all types of vegetation and the most unconquerable by man, makes its appearance. It forms a discontinuous belt along the wet east coast and on the lower slopes of the mountains from southern Yucatan to Venezuela. Then it is interrupted by the grasslands of the Orinoco, but revives again in still greater magnificence in the Guianas. Thence it stretches not only along the coast but far into the little known interior of the Great Amazon basin, while southward it borders all the coast as far as southern Brazil. In the Amazon basin it reaches its highest development and becomes the crowning glory of the vegetable world, the most baffling obstacle to human progress.
Except in its evil effects on man, the equatorial rain forest is the antithesis of the forests of the extreme north. The equatorial trees are hardwood giants, broad leaved, bright flowered, and often fruit-bearing. The northern trees are softwood dwarfs, needle-leaved, flowerless, and cone-bearing. The equatorial trees are often branchless for one hundred feet, but spread at the top into a broad overarching canopy which shuts out the sun perpetually. The northern trees form sharp little pyramids with low, widely spreading branches at the base and only short twigs at the top. In the equatorial forests there is almost no underbrush. The animals, such as monkeys, snakes, parrots, and brilliant insects, live chiefly in the lofty treetops. In the northern forests there is almost nothing except underbrush, and the foxes, rabbits, weasels, ptarmigans, and mosquitoes live close to the ground in the shelter of the branches. Both forests are alike, however, in being practically uninhabited by man. Each is peopled only by primitive nomadic hunters who stand at the very bottom in the scale of civilization.
Aside from the rain forest there are two other types in tropical countries—jungle and scrub. The distinction between rain forest, jungle, and scrub is due to the amount and the season of rainfall. An understanding of this distinction not only explains many things in the present condition of Latin America but also in the history of pre-Columbian Central America. Forests, as we have seen, require that the ground be moist throughout practically the whole of the season that is warm enough for growth. Since the warm season lasts throughout the year within the tropics, dense forests composed of uniformly large trees corresponding to our oaks, maples, and beeches will not thrive unless the ground is wet most of the time. Of course there may be no rain for a few weeks, but there must be no long and regularly recurrent periods of drought. Smaller trees and such species as the cocoanut palm are much less exacting and will flourish even if there is a dry period of several months. Still smaller, bushy species will thrive even when the rainfall lasts only two or three months. Hence where the rainy season lasts most of the year, rain forest prevails; where the rainy and dry seasons do not differ greatly in length, tropical jungle is the dominant growth; and where the rainy season is short and the dry season long, the jungle degenerates into scrub or bush.
The relation of scrub, jungle, and rain forest is well illustrated in Yucatan, where the ancient Mayas reared their stately temples. On the northern coast the annual rainfall is only ten or fifteen inches and is concentrated largely in our summer months. There the country is covered with scrubby bushes six to ten feet high. These are beautifully green during the rainy season from June to October, but later in the year lose almost all their leaves. The landscape would be much like that of a thick, bushy pasture in the United States at the same season, were it not that in the late winter and early spring some of the bushes bear brilliant red, yellow, or white flowers. As one goes inland from the north coast of Yucatan the rainfall increases. The bushes become taller and denser, trees twenty feet high become numerous, and many rise thirty or forty feet or even higher. This is the jungle. Its smaller portions suggest a second growth of timber in the deciduous forests of the United States fifteen or twenty years after the cutting of the original forest, but here there is much more evidence of rapid growth. A few species of bushes and trees may remain green throughout the year, but during the dry season most of the jungle plants lose their leaves, at least in part.
With every mile that one advances into the more rainy interior, the jungle becomes greener and fresher, the density of the lower growths increases, and the proportion of large trees becomes greater until finally jungle gives place to genuine forest. There many of the trees remain green throughout the year. They rise to heights of fifty or sixty feet even on the borders of their province, and at the top form a canopy so thick that the ground is shady most of the time. Even in the drier part of the year when some of the leaves have fallen, the rays of the sun scarcely reach the ground until nine or ten o'clock in the morning. Even at high noon the sunlight straggles through only in small patches. Long, sinuous lianas, often queerly braided, hang down from the trees; epiphytes and various parasitic growths add their strange green and red to the complex variety of vegetation. Young palms grow up almost in a day and block a trail which was hewn out with much labor only a few months before. Wherever the death of old trees forms an opening, a thousand seedlings begin a fierce race to reach the light. Everywhere the dominant note is intensely vigorous life, rapid growth, and quick decay.
In their effect on man, the three forms of tropical forest are very different. In the genuine rain forest agriculture is almost impossible. Not only does the poor native find himself baffled in the face of Nature, but the white man is equally at a loss. Many things combine to produce this result. Chief among them are malaria and other tropical diseases. When a few miles of railroad were being built through a strip of tropical forest along the coast of eastern Guatemala, it was impossible to keep the laborers more than twenty days at a time; indeed, unless they were sent away at the end of three weeks, they were almost sure to be stricken with virulent malarial fevers from which many died. An equally potent enemy of agriculture is the vegetation itself. Imagine the difficulty of cultivating a garden in a place where the weeds grow all the time and where many of them reach a height of ten or twenty feet in a single year. Perhaps there are people in the world who might cultivate such a region and raise marvelous crops, but they are not the indolent people of tropical America; and it is in fact doubtful whether any kind of people could live permanently in the tropical forest and retain energy enough to carry on cultivation. Nowhere in the world is there such steady, damp heat as in these shadowy, windless depths far below the lofty tops of the rain forest. Nowhere is there greater disinclination to work than among the people who dwell in this region. Consequently in the vast rain forests of the Amazon basin and in similar small forests as far north as Central America, there are today practically no inhabitants except a mere handful of the poorest and most degraded people in the world. Yet in ancient times the northern border of the rain forest was the seat of America's most advanced civilization. The explanation of this contradiction will appear later. *
* See Chapter 5, Aztecs.
Tropical jungle borders the rain forest all the way from southern Mexico to southern Brazil. It treats man far better than does the rain forest. In marked contrast to its more stately neighbor, it contains abundant game. Wild fruits ripen at almost all seasons. A few banana plants and palm trees will well-nigh support a family. If corn is planted in a clearing, the return is large in proportion to the labor. So long as the population is not too dense, life is so easy that there is little to stimulate progress. Hence, although the people of the jungle are fairly numerous, they have never played much part in history. Far more important is the role of those living in the tropical lands where scrub is the prevailing growth. In our day, for example, few tropical lowlands are more progressive than the narrow coastal strip of northern Yucatan. There on the border between jungle and scrub the vegetation does not thrive sufficiently to make life easy for the chocolate-colored natives. Effort is required if they would make a living, yet the effort is not so great as to be beyond the capacity of the indolent people of the tropics.
Leaving the forests, let us step out into the broad, breezy grass-lands. One would scarcely expect that a journey poleward out of the forest of northern Canada would lead to an improvement in the conditions of human life, yet such is the case. Where the growing season becomes so short that even the hardiest trees disappear, grassy tundras replace the forest. By furnishing food for such animals as the musk-ox, they are a great help to the handful of scattered Indians who dwell on the northern edge of the forest. In summer, when the animals grow fat on the short nutritious grass, the Indians follow them out into the open country and hunt them vigorously for food and skins to sustain life through the long dreary winter. In many cases the hunters would advance much farther into the grass-lands were it not that the abundant musk-oxen tempt the Eskimo of the seacoast also to leave their homes and both sides fear bloody encounters.
With the growth of civilization the advantage of the northern grass-lands over the northern forests becomes still more apparent. The domestic reindeer is beginning to replace the wild musk-ox. The reindeer people, like the Indian and Eskimo hunters, must be nomadic. Nevertheless their mode of life permits them to live in much greater numbers and on a much higher plane of civilization than the hunters. Since they hunt the furbearing animals in the neighboring forests during the winter, they diminish the food supply of the hunters who dwell permanently in the forest, and thus make their life still more difficult. The northern forests bid fair to decline in population rather than increase. In this New World of ours, strange as it may seem, the almost uninhabited forest regions of the far north and of the equator are probably more than twice as large as the desert areas with equally sparse population.
South of the tundras the grass-lands have a still greater advantage over the forests. In the forest region of the Laurentian highland abundant snow lasts far into the spring and keeps the ground so wet and cold that no crops can be raised. Moreover, because of the still greater abundance of snow in former times, the largest of ice sheets, as we have seen, accumulated there during the Glacial Period and scraped away most of the soil. The grassy plains, on the contrary, are favored not only by a deep, rich soil, much of which was laid down by the ice, but by the relative absence of snow in winter and the consequent rapidity with which the ground becomes warm in the spring. Hence the Canadian plains from the United States boundary northward to latitude 57 degrees contain a prosperous agricultural population of over a million people, while the far larger forested areas in the same latitude support only a few thousand.
The question is often asked why, in a state of nature, trees are so scarce on the prairies—in Iowa, for instance—although they thrive when planted. In answer we are often told that up to the middle of the nineteenth century such vast herds of buffaloes roamed the prairies that seedling trees could never get a chance to grow. It is also said that prairie fires sweeping across the plains destroyed the little trees whenever they sprouted. Doubtless the buffaloes and the fires helped to prevent forest growth, but another factor appears to be still more important. All the States between the Mississippi River and the Rocky Mountains receive much more rain in summer than in winter. But as the soil is comparatively dry in the spring when the trees begin their growth, they are handicapped. They could grow if nothing else interfered with them, just as peas will grow in a garden if the weeds are kept out. If peas, however, are left uncared for, the weeds gain the upper hand and there are no peas the second year. If the weeds are left to contend with grass, the grass in the end prevails. In the eastern forest region, if the grass be left to itself, small trees soon spring up in its midst. In half a century a field of grass goes back to forest because trees are especially favored by the climate. In the same way in the prairies, grass is especially favored, for it is not weakened by the spring drought, and it grows abundantly until it forms the wonderful stretches of waving green where the buffalo once grew fat. Moreover the fine glacial soil of the prairies is so clayey and compact that the roots of trees cannot easily penetrate it. Since grasses send their roots only into the more friable upper layers of soil, they possess another great advantage over the trees.
Far to the south of the prairies lie the grass-lands of tropical America, of which the Banos of the Orinoco furnish a good example. Almost everywhere their plumed grasses have been left to grow undisturbed by the plough, and even grazing animals are scarce. These extremely flat plains are flooded for months in the rainy season from May to October and are parched in the dry season that follows. As trees cannot endure such extremes, grasses are the prevailing growth. Elsewhere the nature of the soil causes many other grassy tracts to be scattered among the tropical jungle and forest. Trees are at a disadvantage both in porous, sandy soils, where the water drains away too rapidly, and in clayey soil, where it is held so long that the ground is saturated for weeks or months at a time. South of the tropical portion of South America the vast pampas of Argentina closely resemble the North American prairies and the drier plains to the west of them. Grain in the east and cattle in the west are fast causing the disappearance of those great tussocks of tufted grasses eight or nine feet high which hold among grasses a position analogous to that of the Big Trees of California among trees of lower growth.
It is often said that America has no real deserts. This is true in the sense that there are no regions such as are found in Asia and Africa where one can travel a hundred miles at a stretch and scarcely see a sign of vegetation-nothing but barren gravel, graceful wavy sand dunes, hard wind-swept clay, or still harder rock salt broken into rough blocks with upturned edges. In the broader sense of the term, however, America has an abundance of deserts—regions which bear a thin cover of bushy vegetation but are too dry for agriculture without irrigation. On the north such deserts begin in southern Canada where a dry region abounding in small salt lakes lies at the eastern base of the Rocky Mountains. In the United States the deserts lie almost wholly between the Sierra Nevada and the Rocky Mountain ranges, which keep out any moisture that might come from either the west or the east. Beginning on the north with the sagebrush plateau of southern Washington, the desert expands to a width of seven hundred miles in the gray, sage-covered basins of Nevada and Utah. In southern California and Arizona the sage-brush gives place to smaller forms like the saltbush, and the desert assumes a sterner aspect. Next comes the cactus desert extending from Arizona far south into Mexico. One of the notable features of the desert is the extreme heat of certain portions. Close to the Nevada border in southern California, Death Valley, 250 feet below sea-level, is the hottest place in America. There alone among the American regions familiar to the writer does one have that feeling of intense, overpowering aridity which prevails so often in the deserts of Arabia and Central Asia. Some years ago a Weather Bureau thermometer was installed in Death Valley at Furnace Creek, where the only flowing water in more than a hundred miles supports a depressing little ranch. There one or two white men, helped by a few Indians, raise alfalfa, which they sell at exorbitant prices to deluded prospectors searching for riches which they never find. Though the terrible heat ruins the health of the white men in a year or two, so that they have to move away, they have succeeded in keeping a thermometer record for some years. No other properly exposed, out-of-door thermometer in the United States, or perhaps in the world, is so familiar with a temperature of 100 degrees F. or more. During the period of not quite fifteen hundred days from the spring of 1911 to May, 1915, a maximum temperature of 100 degrees F. or more was reached on five hundred and forty-eight days, or more than one-third of the time. On July 10, 1913, the mercury rose to 134 degrees F. and touched the top of the tube. How much higher it might have gone no one can tell. That day marks the limit of temperature yet reached in this country according to official records. In the summer of 1914 there was one night when the thermometer dropped only to 114 degrees F., having been 128 degrees F. at noon. The branches of a peppertree whose roots had been freshly watered wilted as a flower wilts when broken from the stalk.
East and south of Death Valley lies the most interesting section of the American desert, the so-called succulent desert of southern Arizona and northern Mexico. There in greatest profusion grow the cacti, perhaps the latest and most highly specialized of all the great families of plants. There occur such strange scenes as the "forests" of suhuaros, whose giant columns have already been described. Their beautiful crowns of large white flowers produce a fruit which is one of the mainstays of the Papagos and other Indians of the regions. In this same region the yucca is highly developed, and its tall stalks of white or greenish flowers make the desert appear like a flower garden. In fact this whole desert, thanks to light rains in summer as well as winter, appears extraordinarily green and prosperous. Its fair appearance has deceived many a poor settler who has vainly tried to cultivate it.
Farther south the deserts of America are largely confined to plateaus like those of Mexico and Peru or to basins sheltered on all sides from rain-bearing winds. In such basins the suddenness of the transition from one type of vegetation to another is astonishing. In Guatemala, for instance, the coast is bordered by thick jungle which quickly gives place to magnificent rain forest a few miles inland. This continues two or three score miles from the coast until a point is reached where mountains begin to obstruct the rain-bearing trade-winds. At once the rain forest gives place to jungle; in a few miles jungle in its turn is replaced by scrub; and shortly the scrub degenerates to mere desert bush. Then in another fifty miles one rises to the main plateau passing once more through scrub. This time the scrub gives place to grass-lands diversified by deciduous trees and pines which give the country a distinctly temperate aspect. On such plateaus the chief civilization of the tropical Latin-American countries now centers. In the past, however, the plateaus were far surpassed by the Maya lowlands of Yucatan and Guatemala.
We are wont to think of deserts as places where the plants are of few kinds and not much crowded. As a matter of fact, an ordinary desert supports a much greater variety of plants than does either a forest or a prairie. The reason is simple. Every desert contains wet spots near springs or in swamps. Such places abound with all sorts of water-loving plants. The deserts also contain a few valleys where the larger streams keep the ground moist at all seasons. In such places the variety of trees is as great as in many forests. Moreover almost all deserts have short periods of abundant moisture.
At such times the seeds of all sorts of little annual plants, including grasses, daisies, lupines, and a host of others, sprout quickly, and give rise to a carpet of vegetation as varied and beautiful as that of the prairie. Thus the desert has not only its own peculiar bushes and succulents but many of the products of vegetation in swamps, grasslands, and forests. Though much of the ground is bare in the desert, the plants are actually crowded together as closely as possible. The showers of such regions are usually so brief that they merely wet the surface. At a depth of a foot or more the soil of many deserts never becomes moist from year's end to year's end. It is useless for plants to send their roots deep down under such circumstances, for they might not reach water for a hundred feet. Their only recourse is to spread horizontally. The farther they spread, the more water they can absorb after the scanty showers. Hence the plants of the desert throttle one another by extending their roots horizontally, just as those of the forest kill one another by springing rapidly upward and shutting out the light.
Vegetation, whether in forests, grasslands, or deserts, is the primary source of human sustenance. Without it man would perish miserably; and where it is deficient, he cannot rise to great heights in the scale of civilization. Yet strangely enough the scantiness of the vegetation of the deserts was a great help in the ascent of man. Only in dry regions could primitive man compete with nature in fostering the right kind of vegetation. In such regions arose the nations which first practised agriculture. There man became comparatively civilized while his contemporaries were still nomadic hunters in the grasslands and the forests.
CHAPTER V. THE RED MAN IN AMERICA
When the white man first explored America, the parts of the continent that had made most progress were by no means those that are most advanced today. * None of the inhabitants, to be sure, had risen above barbarism. Yet certain nations or tribes had advanced much higher than others. There was a great contrast, for example, between the well-organized barbarians of Peru and the almost completely unorganized Athapascan savages near Hudson Bay.
* In the present chapter most of the facts as to the Indians north of Mexico are taken from the admirable "Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico," edited by F. W. Hodge, Smithsonian Institution, Bureau of Ethnology, Bulletin 30, Washington, 1907, two volumes. In summing up the character and achievements of the Indians I have drawn also on other sources, but have everywhere taken pains to make no statements which are not abundantly supported by this authoritative publication. In some cases I have not hesitated to paraphrase considerable portions of its articles.
In the northern continent aboriginal America reached its highest development in three typical environments. The first of these regions centered in the valley of Mexico where dwelt the Aztecs, but it extended as far north as the Pueblos in Arizona and New Mexico. The special feature of the environment was the relatively dry, warm climate with the chief rainfall in summer. The Indians living in this environment were notable for their comparatively high social organization and for religious ceremonials whose elaborateness has rarely been surpassed. On the whole, the people of this summer rain or Mexican type were not warlike and offered little resistance to European conquest. Some tribes, to be sure, fought fiercely at first, but yielded within a few years; the rest submitted to the lordly Spaniards almost without a murmur. Their civilization, if such we may call it, had long ago seen its best days. The period of energy and progress had passed, and a time of inertia and decay had set in. A century after the Spaniards had overcome the aborigines of Mexico, other Europeans—French, English, and Dutch—came into contact with a sturdier type of red man, best represented by the Iroquois or Five Nations of central New York. This more active type dwelt in a physical environment notable for two features—the abundance of cyclonic storms bringing rain or snow at all seasons and the deciduous forest which thickly covered the whole region. Unlike the Mexican, the civilization of the Iroquois was young, vigorous, and growing. It had not learned to express itself in durable architectural forms like those of Mexico, nor could it rival the older type in social and religious organization. In political organization, however, the Five Nations had surpassed the other aboriginal peoples of North America. When the white man became acquainted with the Iroquois in the seventeenth century, he found five of their tribes organized into a remarkable confederation whose avowed object was to abolish war among themselves and to secure to all the members the peaceful exercise of their rights and privileges. So well was the confederation organized that, in spite of war with its enemies, it persisted for at least two hundred years. One of the chief characteristics of the Iroquois was their tremendous energy. They were so energetic that they pursued their enemies with an implacable relentlessness similar to the restless eagerness with which the people of the region from New York to Chicago now pursue their business enterprises. This led the Iroquois to torture their prisoners with the utmost ingenuity and cruelty. Not only did the savages burn and mutilate their captives, but they sometimes added the last refinement of torture by compelling the suffering wretches to eat pieces of flesh cut from their own bodies. Energy may lead to high civilization, but it may also lead to excesses of evil. The third prominent aboriginal type was that of the fishermen of the coast of British Columbia, especially the Haidas of the Queen Charlotte Islands. The most important features of their environment were the submerged coast with its easy navigation, the mild oceanic climate, and the dense pine forests. The Haidas, like the Iroquois, appear to have been a people who were still advancing. Such as it was, their greatness was apparently the product of their own ingenuity and not, like that of the Mexicans, an inheritance from a greater past. The Haidas lacked the relentless energy of the Iroquois and shared the comparatively gentle character which prevailed among all the Indians along the Pacific Coast. They were by no means weaklings, however. Commercially, for instance, they seem to have been more advanced than any North American tribe except those in the Mexican area. In architecture they stood equally high. We are prone to think of the Mexicans as the best architects among the aborigines, but when the white man came even the Aztecs were merely imitating the work of their predecessors. The Haidas, on the contrary, were showing real originality. They had no stone with which to build, for their country is so densely forested that stone is rarely visible. They were remarkably skillful, however, in hewing great beams from the forest. With these they constructed houses whose carved totem poles and graceful facades gave promise of an architecture of great beauty. Taking into account the difficulties presented by a material which was not durable and by tools which were nothing but bits of stone, we must regard their totem poles and mural decorations as real contributions to primitive architecture.
In addition to these three highest types of the red man there were many others. Each, as we shall see, owed its peculiarities largely to the physical surroundings in which it lived. Of course different tribes possessed different degrees of innate ability, but the chief differences in their habits and mode of life arose from the topography, the climate, the plants, and the animals which formed the geographical setting of their homes.
In previous chapters we have gained some idea of the topography of the New World and of the climate in its relation to plants and animals. We have also seen that climate has much to do with human energy. We have not, however, gained a sufficiently clear idea of the distribution of climatic energy. A map of the world showing how energy would be distributed if it depended entirely upon climate clarifies the subject. The dark shading of the map indicates those regions where energy is highest. It is based upon measurements of the strength of scores of individuals, upon the scholastic records of hundreds of college students, upon the piecework of thousands of factory operatives, and upon millions of deaths and births in a score of different countries. It takes account of three chief climatic conditions—temperature, humidity, and variability. It also takes account of mental as well as physical ability. Underneath it is a map of the distribution of civilization on the basis of the opinion of fifty authorities in fifteen different countries. The similarity of the two maps is so striking that there can be little question that today the distribution of civilization agrees closely with the distribution of climatic energy. When Egypt, Babylonia, Greece, and Rome were at the height of their power this agreement was presumably the same, for the storm belt which now gives variability and hence energy to the thickly shaded regions in our two maps then apparently lay farther south. It is generally considered that no race has been more closely dependent upon physical environment than were the Indians. Why, then, did the energizing effect of climate apparently have less effect upon them than upon the other great races? Why were not the most advanced Indian tribes found in the same places where white civilization is today most advanced? Climatic changes might in part account for the difference, but, although such changes apparently took place on a large scale in earlier times, there is no evidence of anything except minor fluctuations since the days of the first white settlements. Racial inheritance likewise may account for some of the differences among the various tribes, but it was probably not the chief factor. That factor was apparently the condition of agriculture among people who had neither iron tools nor beasts of burden. Civilization has never made much progress except when there has been a permanent cultivation of the ground. It has been said that "the history of agriculture is the history of man in his most primitive and most permanent aspect." If we examine the achievements and manner of life of the Indians in relation to the effect of climate upon agriculture and human energy, as well as in relation to the more obvious features of topography and vegetation, we shall understand why the people of aboriginal America in one part of the continent differed so greatly from those in another part. In the far north the state of the inhabitants today is scarcely different from what it was in the days of Columbus. Then, as now, the Eskimos had practically no political or social organization beyond the family or the little group of relatives who lived in a single camp. They had no permanent villages, but moved from place to place according to the season in search of fish, game, and birds. They lived this simple life not because they lacked ability but because of their surroundings. Their kayaks or canoes are marvels of ingenuity. With no materials except bones, driftwood, and skins they made boats which fulfilled their purpose with extraordinary perfection. Seated in the small, round hole which is the only opening in the deck of his canoe, the Eskimo hunter ties his skin jacket tightly outside the circular gunwale and is thus shut into a practically water-tight compartment. Though the waves dash over him, scarcely a drop enters the craft as he skims along with his double paddle among cakes of floating ice. So, too, the snowhouse with its anterooms and curved entrance passage is as clever an adaptation to the needs of wanderers in a land of ice and snow as is the skyscraper to the needs of a busy commercial people crowded into great cities. The fact that the oilburning, soapstone lamps of the Eskimo were the only means of producing artificial light in aboriginal America, except by ordinary fires, is another tribute to the ingenuity of these northerners. So, too, is the fire-drill by which they alone devised a means of increasing the speed with which one stick could be twirled against another to produce fire. In view of these clever inventions it seems safe to say that the Eskimo has remained a nomadic savage not because he lacks inventive skill but partly because the climate deadens his energies and still more because it forbids him to practice agriculture.
Southward and inland from the coastal homes of the Eskimo lies the great region of the northern pine forests. It extends from the interior of Alaska southeastward in such a way as to include most of the Canadian Rockies, the northern plains from Great Bear Lake almost to Lake Winnipeg, and most of the great Laurentian shield around Hudson Bay and in the peninsula of Labrador. Except among the inhabitants of the narrow Pacific slope and those of the shores of Labrador and the St. Lawrence Valley, a single type of barbarism prevailed among the Indians of all the vast pine forest area. Only in a small section of the wheat-raising plains of Alberta and Saskatchewan have their habits greatly changed because of the arrival of the white man. Now as always the Indians in these northern regions are held back by the long, benumbing winters. They cannot practice agriculture, for no crops will grow. They cannot depend to any great extent upon natural vegetation, for aside from blueberries, a few lichens, and one or two other equally insignificant products, the forests furnish no food except animals. These lowly people seem to have been so occupied with the severe struggle with the elements that they could not even advance out of savagery into barbarism. They were homeless nomads whose movements were determined largely by the food supply.
Among the Athapascans who occupied all the western part of the northern pine forests, clothing was made of deerskins with the hair left on. The lodges were likewise of deer or caribou skins, although farther south these were sometimes replaced by bark. The food of these tribes consisted of caribou, deer, moose, and musk-ox together with smaller animals such as the beaver and hare. They also ate various kinds of birds and the fish found in the numerous lakes and rivers. They killed deer by driving them into an angle formed by two converging rows of stakes, where they were shot by hunters lying in wait. Among the Kawchodinne tribe near Great Bear Lake hares were the chief source of both food and clothing. When an unusually severe winter or some other disaster diminished the supply, the Indians believed that the animals had mounted to the sky by means of the trees and would return by the same way. In 1841 owing to scarcity of hares many of this tribe died of starvation, and numerous acts of cannibalism are said to have occurred. Small wonder that civilization was low and that infanticide, especially of female children, was common. Among such people women were naturally treated with a minimum of respect. Since they were not skilled as hunters, there was relatively little which they could contribute toward the sustenance of the family. Hence they were held in low esteem, for among most primitive people woman is valued largely in proportion to her economic contribution. Her low position is illustrated by the peculiar funeral custom of the Takulli, an Athapascan tribe on the Upper Frazer River. A widow was obliged to remain upon the funeral pyre of her husband till the flames reached her own body. When the fire had died down she collected the ashes of her dead and placed them in a basket, which she was obliged to carry with her during three years of servitude in the family of her husband. At the end of that time a feast was held, when she was released from thraldom and permitted to remarry if she desired.
Poor and degraded as the people of the northern forests may have been, they had their good traits. The Kutchins of the Yukon and Lower Mackenzie regions, though they killed their female children, were exceedingly hospitable and kept guests for months. Each head of a family took his turn in feasting the whole band. On such occasions etiquette required the host to fast until the guests had departed. At such feasts an interesting wrestling game was played. First the smallest boys began to wrestle. The victors wrestled with those next in strength and so on until finally the strongest and freshest man in the band remained the final victor. Then the girls and women went through the same progressive contest. It is hard to determine whether the people of the northern pine forest were more or less competent than their Eskimo neighbors. It perhaps makes little difference, for it is doubtful whether even a race with brilliant natural endowments could rise far in the scale of civilization under conditions so highly adverse.
The Eskimos of the northern coasts and the people of the pine forests were not the only aborigines whose development was greatly retarded because they could not practice agriculture. All the people of the Pacific coast from Alaska to Lower California were in similar circumstances. Nevertheless those living along the northern part of this coast rose to a much higher level than did those of California. This has sometimes been supposed to show that geographical environment has little influence upon civilization, but in reality it proves exactly the opposite.
The coast of British Columbia was one of the three chief centers of aboriginal America. As The Encyclopaedia Britannica * puts it: "The Haida people constituted with little doubt the finest race and that most advanced in the arts of the entire west coast of North America." They and their almost equally advanced Tlingit and Tsimshian neighbors on the mainland displayed much mechanical skill, especially in canoe-building, woodcarving, and the working of stone and copper, as well as in making blankets and baskets. To this day they earn a considerable amount of money by selling their carved objects of wood and slate to traders and tourists. Their canoes were hollowed out of logs of cedar and were often very large. Houses which were sometimes 40 by 100 feet were built of huge cedar beams and planks, which were first worked with stone and were then put together at great feasts. These correspond to the "raising bees" at which the neighbors gathered to erect the frames of houses in early New England. Each Haida house ordinarily had a single carved totem pole in the middle of the gable end which faced toward the beach. Often the end posts in front were also carved and the whole house was painted. Another evidence of the fairly advanced state of the Haidas was their active commercial intercourse with regions hundreds of miles away. At their "potlatches," as the raising bees were called by the whites, trading went on vigorously. Carved copper plates were among the articles which they esteemed of highest value. Standing in the tribe depended on the possession of property rather than on ability in war, in which respect the Haidas were more like the people of today than were any of the other Indian tribes.
* 11th Edition, vol. XXII, p. 730.
Slavery was common among the Haidas. Even as late as 1861, 7800 Tlingits held 828 slaves. Slavery may not be a good institution in itself, but it indicates that people are well-to-do, that they dwell in permanent abodes, and that they have a well-established social order. Among the more backward Iroquois, captives rarely became genuine slaves, for the social and economic organization was not sufficiently developed to admit of this. The few captives who were retained after a fight were adopted into the tribe of the captors or else were allowed to live with them and shift for themselves—a practice very different from that of the Haidas.
Another feature of the Haidas' life which showed comparative progress was the social distinctions which existed among them. One of the ways in which individuals maintained their social position was by giving away quantities of goods of all kinds at the potlatches which they organized. A man sometimes went so far as to strip himself of nearly every possession except his house. In return for this, however, he obtained what seemed to him an abundant reward in the respect with which his fellow-tribesmen afterward regarded him. At subsequent potlatches he received in his turn a measure of their goods in proportion to his own gifts, so that he was sometimes richer than before. These potlatches were social as well as industrial functions, and dancing and singing were interspersed with the feasting. One of the amusements was a musical contest in which singers from one tribe or band would contend with one another as to which could remember the greatest number of songs or accurately repeat a new song after hearing it for the first time. At the potlatches the children of chiefs were initiated into secret societies. They had their noses, ears, and lips pierced for ornaments, and some of them were tattooed. This great respect for social position which the Haidas manifested is doubtless far from ideal, but it at least indicates that a part of the tribe was sufficiently advanced to accumulate property and to pass it on to its descendants—a custom that is almost impossible among tribes which move from place to place. The question suggests itself why these coast barbarians were so much in advance of their neighbors a few hundred miles away in the pine woods of the mountains. The climate was probably one reason for this superiority. Instead of being in a region like the center of the pine forests of British Columbia where human energy is sapped by six or eight months of winter, the Haidas enjoyed conditions like those of Scotland. Although snow fell occasionally, severe cold was unknown. Nor was there great heat in summer. The Haidas dwelt where both bodily strength and mental activity were stimulated. In addition to this advantage of a favorable climate these Indians had a large and steady supply of food close at hand. Most of their sustenance was obtained from the sea and from the rivers, in which the runs of salmon furnished abundant provisions, which rarely failed. In Hecate Strait, between the Queen Charlotte Islands and the mainland, there were wonderfully productive halibut fisheries, from which a supply of fish was dried and packed away for the winter, so that there was always a store of provisions on hand. The forests in their turn furnished berries and seeds, as well as bears, mountain goats, and other game.
Moreover the people of the northwest coast had the advantage of not being forced to move from place to place in order to follow the fish. They lived on a drowned shore where bays, straits, and sounds are extraordinarily numerous. The great waves of the Pacific are shut out by the islands so that the waterways are almost always safe for canoes. Instead of moving their dwellings in order to follow the food supply, as the Eskimo and the people of the pine forest were forced to do, the Haidas and their neighbors were able without difficulty to bring their food home. At all seasons the canoes made it easy to transport large supplies of fish from places even a hundred miles away. Having settled dwellings, the Haidas could accumulate property and acquire that feeling of permanence which is one of the most important conditions for the development of civilization. Doubtless the Haidas were intellectually superior to many other tribes, but even if they had not been greatly superior, their surroundings would probably have made them stand relatively high in the scale of civilization. Southward from the Haidas, around Puget Sound and in Washington and Oregon, there was a gradual decline in civilization. The Chinook Indians of the lower Columbia, beyond the limits of the great northern archipelago, had large communal houses occupied by three or four families of twenty or more individuals. Their villages were thus fairly permanent, although there was much moving about in summer owing to the nature of the food supply, which consisted chiefly of salmon, with roots and berries indigenous to the region. The people were noted as traders not only among themselves but with surrounding tribes. They were extremely skillful in handling their canoes, which were well made, hollowed out of single logs, and often of great size. In disposition they are described as treacherous and deceitful, especially when their cupidity was aroused. Slaves were common and were usually obtained by barter from surrounding tribes, though occasionally by successful raids. These Indians of Oregon by no means rivaled the Haidas, for their food supply was less certain and they did not have the advantage of easy water communication, which did so much to raise the Haidas to a high level of development.
Of the tribes farther south an observer says: "In general rudeness of culture the California Indians are scarcely above the Eskimo, and whereas the lack of development of the Eskimo on many sides of their nature is reasonably attributable in part to their difficult and limiting environment, the Indians of California inhabit a country naturally as favorable, it would seem, as it might be. If the degree of civilization attained by a people depends in any large measure on their habitat, as does not seem likely, it might be concluded from the case of the California Indians that natural advantages were an impediment rather than an incentive to progress." In some of the tribes, such as the Hupa, for example, there existed no organization and no formalities in the government of the village. Formal councils were unknown, although the chief might and often did ask advice of his men in a collected body. In general the social structure of the California Indians was so simple and loose that it is hardly correct to speak of their tribes. Whatever solidarity there was among these people was due in part to family ties and in part to the fact that they lived in the same village and spoke the same dialect. Between different groups of these Indians, the common bond was similarity of language as well as frequency and cordiality of intercourse. In so primitive a condition of society there was neither necessity nor opportunity for differences of rank. The influence of chiefs was small and no distinct classes of slaves were known. Extreme poverty was the chief cause of the low social and political organization of these Indians. The Maidus in the Sacramento Valley were so poor that, in addition to consuming every possible vegetable product, they not only devoured all birds except the buzzard, but ate badgers, skunks, wildcats, and mountain lions, and even consumed salmon bones and deer vertebrae. They gathered grasshoppers and locusts by digging large shallow pits in a meadow or flat. Then, setting fire to the grass on all sides, they drove the insects into the pit. Their wings being burned off by the flames, the grasshoppers were helpless and were thus collected by the bushel. Again of the Moquelumne, one of the largest tribes in central California, it is said that their houses were simply frameworks of poles and brush which in winter were covered with earth. In summer they erected cone-shaped lodges of poles among the mountains. In favorable years they gathered large quantities of acorns, which formed their principal food, and stored them for winter use in granaries raised above the ground. Often, however, the crop was poor, and the Indians were left on the verge of starvation.
Finally in the far south, in the peninsula of Lower California, the tribes were "probably the lowest in culture of any Indians in North America, for their inhospitable environment which made them wanderers, was unfavorable to the foundation of government even of the rude and unstable kind found elsewhere." The Yuman tribes of the mountains east of Santiago wore sandals of maguey fiber and descended from their own territory among the mountains "to eat calabash and other fruits" that grew beside the Colorado River. They were described as "very dirty on account of the much mescal they eat." Others speak of them as "very filthy in their habits. To overcome vermin they coat their heads with mud with which they also paint their bodies. On a hot day it is by no means unusual to see them wallowing in the mud like pigs." They were "exceedingly poor, having no animals except foxes of which they had a few skins. The dress of the women in summer was a shirt and a bark skirt. The men appear to have been practically unclothed during this season. The practice of selling children seems to have been common. Their sustenance was fish, fruits, vegetables, and seeds of grass, and many of the tribes were said to have been dreadfully scorbutic." A little to the east of these degraded savages the much more advanced Mohave tribe had its home on the lower Colorado River. The contrast between these neighboring tribes throws much light on the reason for the low estate of the California Indians. "No better example of the power of environment to better man's condition can be found than that shown as the lower Colorado is reached. Here are tribes of the same family (as those of Lower California) remarkable not only for their fine physical development, but living in settled villages with well-defined tribal lines, practising a rude, but effective, agriculture, and well advanced in many primitive Indian arts. The usual Indian staples were raised except tobacco, these tribes preferring a wild tobacco of their region to the cultivated." *
* Hodge, "Handbook of American Indians."
This quotation is highly significant. With it should be compared the fact that there is no evidence that corn or anything else was cultivated in California west of the Rio Colorado Valley. California is a region famous throughout America for its agriculture, but its crops are European in origin. Even in the case of fruits, such as the grape, which have American counterparts, the varieties actually cultivated were brought from Europe. Wheat and barley, the chief foodstuffs for which California and similar subtropical regions are noted, were unknown in the New World before the coming of the white man. In pre-Columbian America corn was the only cultivated cereal. The other great staples of early American agriculture were beans and pumpkins. All three are preeminently summer crops and need much water in July and August. In California there is no rain at this season. Though the fall rains, which begin to be abundant in October and November, do not aid these summer crops, they favor wheat and barley. The winter rains and the comparatively warm winter weather permit these grains to grow slowly but continuously. When the warm spring arrives, there is still enough rain to permit wheat and barley to make a rapid growth and to mature their seeds long before the long, dry summer begins. The comparatively dry weather of May and June is just what these cereals need to ripen the crop, but it is fatal to any kind of agriculture which depends on summer rain.
Crops can of course be grown during the summer in California by means of irrigation, but this is rarely a simple process. If irrigation is to be effective in California, it cannot depend on the small streams which practically dry up during the long, rainless summer, but it must depend on comparatively large streams which flow in well-defined channels. With our modern knowledge and machinery it is easy for us to make canals and ditches and to prepare the level fields needed to utilize this water. A people with no knowledge of agriculture, however, and with no iron tools cannot suddenly begin to practice a complex and highly developed system of agriculture. In California there is little or none of the natural summer irrigation which, in certain parts of America, appears to have been the most important factor leading to the first steps in tilling the ground. The lower Colorado, however, floods broad areas every summer. Here, as on the Nile, the retiring floods leave the land so moist that crops can easily be raised. Hence the Mohave Indians were able to practice agriculture and to rise well above their kinsmen not only in Lower California but throughout the whole State.
In the Rocky Mountain region of the United States, just as on the Pacific coast, the condition of the tribes deteriorated more and more the farther they lived to the south. In the regions where the rainfall comes in summer, however, and hence favors primitive agriculture, there was a marked improvement. The Kutenai tribes lived near the corner where Idaho, Montana, and British Columbia now meet. They appear to have been of rather high grade, noteworthy for their morality, kindness, and hospitality. More than any other Indians of the Rocky Mountain region, they avoided drunkenness and lewd intercourse with the whites. Their mental ability was comparatively high, as appears from their skill in buffalo-hunting, in making dugouts and bark canoes, and in constructing sweat-houses and lodges of both skins and rushes. Even today the lower Kutenai are noted for their water-tight baskets of split roots. Moreover the degree to which they used the plants that grew about them for food, medicine, and economical purposes was noteworthy. They also had an esthetic appreciation of several plants and flowers—a gift rare among Indians. These people lived in the zone of most stimulating climate and, although they did not practice agriculture and had little else in their surroundings to help them to rise above the common level, they dwelt in a region where there was rain enough in summer to prevent their being on the verge of starvation, as the Indians of California usually were. Moreover they were near enough to the haunts of the buffalo to depend on that great beast for food. Since one buffalo supplies as much food as a hundred rabbits, these Indians were vastly better off than the people of the drier parts of the western coast.
South of the home of the Kutenai, in eastern Oregon, southern Idaho, Nevada, Utah, and neighboring regions dwelt the Utes and other Shoshoni tribes. In this region the rainfall, which is no greater than that of California, occurs chiefly in winter. The long summer is so dry that, except by highly developed methods of irrigation, agriculture is impossible. Hence it is not surprising to find a traveler in 1850 describing one tribe of the Ute family as "without exception the most miserable looking set of human beings I ever saw. They have hitherto subsisted principally on snakes, lizards, roots." The lowest of all the Ute tribes were those who lived in the sage-brush. The early explorer, Bonneville, found the tribes of Snake River wintering in brush shelters without roofs merely heaps of brush piled high, behind which the Indians crouched for protection from wind and snow. Crude as such shelters may seem, they were the best that could be constructed by people who dwelt where there was no vegetation except little bushes, and where the soil was for the most part sandy or so salty that it could not easily be made into adobe bricks.
The food of these Utes and Shoshonis was no better than their shelters. There were no large animals for them to hunt; rabbits were the best that they could find. Farther to the east, where the buffalo wandered during part of the year and where there are some forests, the food was better, the shelters were more effective, and, in general, the standard of living was higher, although racially the two groups of people were alike. In this case, as in others, the people whose condition was lowest were apparently as competent as those whose material conditions were much better. Today, although the Ute Indians, like most of their race, are rather slow, some tribes, such as the Payutes, are described as not only "peaceful and moral," but also "industrious." They are highly commended for their good qualities by those who have had the best opportunities for judging. While not as bright in intellect as some of the prairie tribes whom we shall soon consider, they appear to possess more solidity of character. By their willingness and efficiency as workers they have made themselves necessary to the white farmers and have thus supplied themselves with good clothing and many of the comforts of life. They have resisted, too, many of the evils coming from the advance of civilization, so that one agent speaks of these Indians as presenting the singular anomaly of improving by contact with the whites. Apparently their extremely low condition in former times was due merely to that same handicap of environment which kept back the Indians of California.
Compare these backward but not wholly ungifted Utes with the Hopi who belonged to the same stock. The relatively high social organization of the latter people and the intricacy and significance of their religious ceremonials are well known. Mentally the Hopi seem to be the equal of any tribe, but it is doubtful whether they have much more innate capacity than many of their more backward neighbors. Nevertheless they made much more progress before the days of the white man, as can easily be seen in their artistic development. Every one who has crossed the continent by the Santa Fe route knows how interesting and beautiful are their pottery, basketry, and weaving. Not only in art but also in government the Hopi are highly advanced. Their governing body is a council of hereditary elders together with the chiefs of religious fraternities. Among these officials there is a speaker chief and a war chief, but there seems never to have been any supreme chief of all the Hopi. Each pueblo has an hereditary chief who directs all the communal work, such as the cleaning of the springs and the general care of the village. Crimes are rare. This at first sight seems strange in view of the fact that no penalty was inflicted for any crime except sorcery, but under Hopi law all transgressions could be reduced to sorcery. One of the most striking features of Hopi life was its rich religious development. The Hopi recognized a large number of supernatural beings and had a great store of most interesting and poetic mythological tales. The home of the Hopi would seem at first sight as unfavorable to progress as that of their Ute cousins, but the Hopi have the advantage of being the most northwesterly representatives of the Indians who dwell within the regions of summer rain. Fortunately for them, their country is too desert and unforested for them to subsist to any great degree by the chase. They are thus forced to devote all their energy to agriculture, through which they have developed a relatively high standard of living. They dwell far enough south to have their heaviest rainfall in summer and not in winter, as is the case in Utah, so that they are able to cultivate crops of corn and beans. Where such an intensive system of agriculture prevails, the work of women is as valuable as that of men. The position of woman is thus relatively high among the Hopi, for she is useful not only for her assistance in the labors of the field but also for her skill in preserving the crops, grinding the flour, and otherwise preparing the comparatively varied food which this tribe fortunately possesses.
From northern New Mexico and Arizona to Mexico City summer rains, dry winters, and still drier springs, are the rule. Forests are few, and much of the country is desert. The more abundant the rains, the greater the number of people and the greater the opportunities for the accumulation of wealth, and thus for that leisure which is necessary to part of a community if civilization is to make progress. That is one reason why the civilization of the summer rain people becomes more highly developed as they go from north to south. The fact that the altitude of the country increases from the United States border southward also tends in the same direction, for it causes the climate to be cooler and more bracing at Mexico City than at places farther north.
The importance of summer rains in stimulating growth and in facilitating the early stages of agriculture is noteworthy. Every one familiar with Arizona and New Mexico knows how the sudden summer showers fill the mountain valleys with floods which flow down upon the plain and rapidly spread out into broad, thin sheets, often known as playas. There the water stands a short time and then either sinks into the ground or evaporates. Such places are favored with the best kind of natural irrigation, and after the first shower it is an easy matter for the primitive farmer to go out and drop grains of corn into holes punched with a stick. Thereafter he can count on other showers to water his field while the corn sprouts and grows to maturity. All that he needs to do is to watch the field to protect it from the rare depredations of wild animals. As time goes on the primitive farmer realizes the advantage of leading the water to particularly favorable spots and thus begins to develop a system of artificial irrigation. In regions where such advantageous conditions prevail, the people who live permanently in one place succeed best, for the work that they do one year helps them the next. They are not greatly troubled by weeds, for, though grasses grow as well as corn in the places where the water spreads out, the grasses take the form of little clumps which can easily be pulled up. In the drier parts of the area of summer rain, it becomes necessary to conserve the water supply to the utmost. The Hopi consider sandy fields the best, for the loose sand on top acts as a natural blanket to prevent evaporation from the underlying layers. Sometimes in dry seasons the Hopi use extraordinary methods to help their seeds to sprout. For instance, they place a seed in a ball of saturated mud which they bury beneath several inches of sand. As the sand prevents evaporation, practically all the water is retained for the use of the seed, which thereupon sprouts and grows some inches by the time the first summer floods arrive.