Sacred Texts  Native American  California  Index  Previous  Next 

p. 126

<I>Photo A. C. Pillsbury</I>
Click to enlarge

Photo A. C. Pillsbury

p. 127


THE verdict of every student of the race is that contact with the white man; the adoption of his cabin life and manner of living, his food and clothing, resulted in the immediate deterioration of the physical development of the Indian people.

Their ideas of cleanliness and sanitation were extremely vague; in fact, they had none. The white man's employment of the quarantine as a preventive of the spread of contagious diseases was unknown to them. Their recognition of the necessity for avoidance of friends afflicted with these diseases was on a par with their methods of treatment. Consequently when the white man introduced his diseases among them they died by thousands, till their bleaching bones littered a thousand plains and hills.

The accumulation of filth was of relatively little menace to them as long as they lived in their o-chums as compared with the menace it became in later years to those who adopted the white man's method of living in a cabin. Then, they moved often and left their clutter behind them, pitching their o-chum, or camp, on fresh

p. 128

ground; but this accidental sanitation did not apply to life in a cabin. Their ideas of ventilation were as vague as their ideas on sanitation. They simply closed up the windows and doors, fired up the stove and camped there until part of the family died of pneumonia, others developed consumption as an after effect of weakened lungs, and they finally decided that particular cabin was cursed by some evil spirit, and moved on to another where the process was repeated.

But their deterioration along other lines kept pace with, if it did not exceed, their physical losses. There are very few, if any, places left where one may see the primitive arts of the Indians practiced. Only in museums, or in the finest private collections, can one find bits of the old workmanship--the workmanship of the days before the red man's contact with the whites. Yet there was a time when these arts were taught from childhood, and every member of the tribe was familiar with them. The modern woman with all her paraphernalia of tools and patterns; of dyes and yarns; of flosses and cloths, cannot turn out one piece that in beauty of design, fineness of execution, or grace of outline, excels any one of a dozen made by the squaw of old who went into the woods and with her bare hands gathered her own materials.

But the white man came with his tools and implements. The bone awl, the deerskin thong, and the thread of the milkweed gave way to the white man's needles of steel and his spools of cotton and yarn. The picturesque and practical clothing of furs and skins was replaced by the

p. 129


<I>Photo A. C. Pillsbury</I>
Click to enlarge

Photo A. C. Pillsbury


p. 130

gaudy calico and denim of the itinerant trader. The drums and flageolets of old gave way to the newer instruments of the whites. The beautifully woven and artistic cooking baskets were superseded by the bright tin pots and pans of the new race. The highly nutritious bread and mush made from the meal of the acorn was forgotten in the novelty of the white man's sickly white flour. Tin can heaps began to grow about the camps. The dainty porcupine-quill and shell beads were replaced by atrocities fashioned from pounds of gaudy colored glass. The Indian laid aside the ways and customs of his fathers, and his arts are rapidly disappearing.

Before the coming of the white man the Indian could start with nothing and make his own implements. He made his own o-chum, his own clothing, and shoes, fashioned his own weapons with which he killed his meat; his own spear, and hook and line, with which he caught his fish; built his own fire; was his own doctor, lawyer, soldier and preacher; he was familiar with everything that went to make up his daily life; could perform every operation necessary for his existence, every detail from source to completion. Isn't there a chance that he was in a way a far broader man than the civilized product who lives his life within the narrow confines of his own highly specialized job and registers but one operation repeatedly throughout his life?

It seems as if the trouble with the modern world is that machinery--the inhuman organisms we have invented to do our work and be our slaves--has turned

p. 131

upon us and enslaved us. The machine moves in a deadly routine so we must follow it. The machine pretends to give us something, but at the same time it is sure to take something away. Freedom, initiative, the strength of our limbs, the power of our thoughts and aspirations, are taken away from us in factories, in trains and motor cars, in offices and counting houses. Whether in war or in peace we find ourselves no longer free individuals, but cogs in a vast machine, too big for the comprehension of any one man and too powerful for any man to fight against.

In subduing nature and winning freedom from its tyranny of heat and cold and famine and tempest and space, we have fallen into the power of another tyrant. A gloomy view, if we were not sure that it could not last. We are going through a transition period, and some day will swing back into the nomadic state again and refind the freedom that the caveman knew. While the lightning, the sun, the winds and the swinging tides, safely harnessed and broken to the bit, do our work for us, we will fare far from the haunts of man--back where the mountains are piled in a great and picturesque disorder, where trees grow tall and straight, and streams run pure and clean, gurgling like beautiful dryads' songs--for, "there is peace among the summits; purity in running water; good cheer in the crackling flame; truth in flowers and children; taunting lure in the forking trail; thought ungraspable in the pouring of the wind; music in the treetop's swaying; freedom in the winging bird; grandeur in

p. 132

the drop of the cliffs; daring in the steepling crags; vastness on the sweeping plains; silence in the desert; thankfulness in the bubbling spring; sweet rest in the cooling shade; death in the plunge of precipice, in the crash of avalanche, and in the clear depths of the lake; blindness out over the sparkling snows; comradeship in dog and horse; safety in the rifle; skill in the slender rod; dreams under summer moons; work on the mountain side; something beyond the stars; glory in the dawn; danger and delight on every hand; sleep and forgetfulness unafraid on the bosom of our mother earth; friendship everywhere and life serene in everything."

"But, 'when you go to these things, kill if you must for food, but not for murder; burn not wantonly; leave the trail cleaner for the feet that follow; pollute nothing; let your words be as clean as those from the lips of a good woman, and as few as those of an Indian; let your actions be as soft and silent as those of the furred things around you; be as crystal, clean within yourself as the dew that jewels the morning grass. For here is a Temple in which none need kneel against his will, but in which all can stand upright and unashamed'."

"The shadow of His hand is upon the mountains, the hills grow dark beneath His palm. A straight trail and fair weather--the time has come to part."

Next: Chapter X. Geology of the Yosemite Valley