Infomotions, Inc.The Red Man's Continent: a chronicle of aboriginal America / Huntington, Ellsworth, 1876-1947

Author: Huntington, Ellsworth, 1876-1947
Title: The Red Man's Continent: a chronicle of aboriginal America
Publisher: Project Gutenberg
Tag(s): cordillera; america; indians; laurentian highland; northern; agriculture; climate; tribes; southern; mexico; forests; coastal plain; california; forest; region; north; continent; regions; soil
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Identifier: etext3066
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Title: The Red Man's Continent, A Chronicle of Aboriginal America

Author: Ellsworth Huntington

Release Date: February, 2002  [Etext #3066]
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In writing this book the author has aimed first to present in
readable form the main facts about the geographical environment
of American history. Many important facts have been omitted or
have been touched upon only lightly because they are generally
familiar. On the other hand, special stress has been laid on
certain broad phases of geography which are comparatively
unfamiliar. One of these is the similarity of form between the
Old World and the New, and between North and South America;
another is the distribution of indigenous types of vegetation in
North America; and a third is the relation of climate to health
and energy. In addition to these subjects, the influence of
geographical conditions upon the life of the primitive Indians
has been emphasized. This factor is especially important because
people without iron tools and beasts of burden, and without any
cereal crops except corn, must respond to their environment very
differently from civilized people of today. Limits of space and
the desire to make this book readable have led to the omission of
the detailed proof of some of the conclusions here set forth. The
special student will recognize such cases and will not judge them
until he has read the author's fuller statements elsewhere. The
general reader, for whom this book is designed, will be thankful
for the omission of such purely technical details.





Across the twilight lawn at Hampton Institute straggles a group
of sturdy young men with copper-hued complexions. Their day has
been devoted to farming, carpentry, blacksmithing, or some other
trade. Their evening will be given to study. Those silent
dignified Indians with straight black hair and broad, strong
features are training their hands and minds in the hope that some
day they may stand beside the white man as equals. Behind them,
laughing gayly and chattering as if without a care in the world,
comes a larger group of kinky-haired, thick-lipped youths with
black skins and African features. They, too, have been working
with the hands to train the mind. Those two diverse races, red
and black, sit down together in a classroom, and to them comes
another race. The faces that were expressionless or merely
mirthful a minute ago light up with serious interest as the
teacher comes into the room. She stands there a slender,
golden-haired, blue-eyed Anglo-Saxon girl just out of college--a
mere child compared with the score of swarthy, stalwart men as
old as herself who sit before her. Her mobile features seem to
mirror a hundred thoughts while their impassive faces are moved
by only one. Her quick speech almost trips in its eagerness not
to waste the short, precious hour. Only a strong effort holds her
back while she waits for the slow answers of the young men whom
she drills over and over again in simple problems of arithmetic.
The class and the teacher are an epitome of American history.
They are more than that. They are an epitome of all history.

History in its broadest aspect is a record of man's migrations
from one environment to another. America is the last great goal
of these migrations. He who would understand its history must
know its mountains and plains, its climate, its products, and its
relation to the sea and to other parts of the world. He must know
more than this, however, for he must appreciate how various
environments alter man's energy and capacity and give his
character a slant in one direction or another. He must also know
the paths by which the inhabitants have reached their present
homes, for the influence of former environments upon them may be
more important than their immediate surroundings. In fact, the
history of North America has been perhaps more profoundly
influenced by man's inheritance from his past homes than by the
physical features of his present home. It is indeed of vast
importance that trade can move freely through such natural
channels as New York Harbor, the Mohawk Valley, and the Great
Lakes. It is equally important that the eastern highlands of the
United States are full of the world's finest coal, while the
central plains raise some of the world's most lavish crops. Yet
it is probably even more important that because of his
inheritance from a remote ancestral environment man is energetic,
inventive, and long-lived in certain parts of the American
continent, while elsewhere he has not the strength and mental
vigor to maintain even the degree of civilization to which he
seems to have risen.

Three streams of migration have mainly determined the history of
America. One was an ancient and comparatively insignificant
stream from Asia. It brought the Indian to the two great
continents which the white man has now practically wrested from
him. A second and later stream was the great tide which rolled in
from Europe. It is as different from the other as West is from
East. Thus far it has not wholly obliterated the native people,
for between the southern border of the United States on the one
hand, and the northern borders of Argentina, Chile, and Uruguay
on the other, the vast proportion of the blood is still Indian.
The European tide may in time dominate even this region, but for
centuries to come the poor, disinherited Indians will continue to
form the bulk of the population. The third stream flowed from
Africa and was as different from either of the others as South is
from North.

The differences between one and another of these three streams of
population and the antagonisms which they have involved have
greatly colored American history. The Indian, the European, and
the Negro apparently differ not only in outward appearance but in
the much more important matter of mentality. According to
Brinton* the average brain capacity of Parisians, including
adults of both sexes, is 1448 cubic centimeters. That of the
American Indian is 1376, and that of the Negro 1344 cubic
centimeters. With this difference in size there appears to be a
corresponding difference in function. Thus far not enough
accurate tests have been made upon Indians to enable us to draw
reliable conclusions. The Negro, however, has been tested on an
extensive scale. The results seem to leave little doubt that
there are real and measurable differences in the mental powers of
races, just as we know to be the case among individuals. The
matter is so important that we may well dwell on it a moment
before turning to the cause of the differences in the three
streams of American immigrants. If there is a measurable
difference between the inherent brain power of the white race and
the black, it is practically certain that there are also
measurable differences between the white and the red.

* D. G. Brinton. "The American Race."

Numerous tests indicate that in the lower mental powers there is
no great difference between the black and the white. In physical
reactions one is as quick as the other. In the capacity of the
senses and in the power to perceive and to discriminate between
different kinds of objects there is also practical equality. When
it comes to the higher faculties, however, such as judgment,
inventiveness, and the power of organization, a difference begins
to be apparent. These, as Ferguson* says, are the traits that
"divide mankind into the able and the mediocre, the brilliant and
the dull, and they determine the progress of civilization more
directly than do the simple fundamental powers which man has in
common with the lower animals." On the basis of the most
exhaustive study yet made, Ferguson believes that, apart from all
differences due to home training and environment, the average
intellectual power of the colored people of this country is only
about three-fourths as great as that of white persons of the same
amount of training. He believes it probable, indeed, that this
estimate is too high rather than too low. As to the Indian, his
past achievements and present condition indicate that
intellectually he stands between the white man and the Negro in
about the position that would be expected from the capacity of
his brain. If this is so, the mental differences in the three
streams of migration to America are fully as great as the outward
and manifest physical differences and far more important.

* G. O. Ferguson. "The Psychology of the Negro," New York, 1916.

Why does the American Indian differ from the Negro, and the
European from both? This is a question on which we can only
speculate. But we shall find it profitable to study the paths by
which these diverse races found their way to America from man's
primeval home. According to the now almost universally accepted
theory, all the races of mankind had a common origin. But where
did man make the change from a four-handed, tree-dwelling little
ape to a much larger, upright creature with two hands and two
feet? It is a mistake to suppose that because he is hairless he
must have originated in a warm climate. In fact quite the
opposite seems to be the case, for apparently he lost his hair
because he took to wearing the skins of slain beasts in order
that he might have not only his own hair but that of other
animals as a protection from the cold.

In our search for the starting-place of man's slow migration to
America our first step should be to ascertain what responses to
physical environment are common to all men. If we find that all
men live and thrive best under certain climatic conditions, it is
fair to assume that those conditions prevailed in man's original
home, and this conclusion will enable us to cast out of the
reckoning the regions where they do not prevail. A study of the
relations of millions of deaths to weather conditions indicates
that the white race is physically at its best when the average
temperature for night and day ranges from about 50 to 73 degrees
F. and when the air is neither extremely moist nor extremely dry.
In addition to these conditions there must be not only seasonal
changes but frequent changes from day to day. Such changes are
possible only where there is a distinct winter and where storms
are of frequent occurrence. The best climate is, therefore, one
where the temperature ranges from not much below the
freezing-point at night in winter to about 80 degrees F. by day
in summer, and where the storms which bring daily changes are
frequent at all seasons.

Surprising as it may seem, this study indicates that similar
conditions are best for all sorts of races. Finns from the Arctic
Circle and Italians of sunny Sicily have the best health and
greatest energy under practically the same conditions; so too
with Frenchmen, Japanese, and Americans. Most surprising of all,
the African black man in the United States is likewise at his
best in essentially the same kind of weather that is most
favorable for his white fellow-citizens, and for Finns, Italians,
and other races. For the red race, no exact figures are
available, but general observation of the Indian's health and
activity suggests that in this respect he is at one with the rest
of mankind.

For the source of any characteristic so widespread and uniform as
this adaptation to environment we must go back to the very
beginning of the human race. Such a characteristic must have
become firmly fixed in the human constitution before primitive
man became divided into races, or at least before any of the
races had left their original home and started on their long
journey to America. On the way to this continent one race took on
a dark reddish or brownish hue and its hair grew straight and
black; another became black skinned and crinkly-haired, while a
third developed a white skin and wavy blonde hair. Yet throughout
the thousands of years which brought about these changes, all
the races apparently retained the indelible constitutional
impress of the climate of their common birthplace. Man's physical
adaptation to climate seems to be a deep-seated physiological
fact like the uniformity of the temperature of the blood in all
races. Just as a change in the temperature of the blood brings
distress to the individual, so a change of climate apparently
brings distress to a race. Again and again, to be sure, on
the way to America, and under many other circumstances, man has
passed through the most adverse climates and has survived, but he
has flourished and waxed strong only in certain zones.

Curiously enough man's body and his mind appear to differ in
their climatic adaptations. Moreover, in this respect the black
race, and perhaps the red, appears to be diverse from the white.
In America an investigation of the marks of students at West
Point and Annapolis indicates that the best mental work is done
when the temperature averages not much above 40 degrees F. for
night and day together. Tests of school children in Denmark point
to a similar conclusion. On the other hand, daily tests of
twenty-two Negroes at Hampton Institute for sixteen months
suggest that their mental ability may be greatest at a
temperature only a little lower than that which is best for the
most efficient physical activity. No tests of this sort have ever
been made upon Indians, but such facts as the inventiveness of
the Eskimo, the artistic development of the people of northern
British Columbia and southern Alaska, and the relatively high
civilization of the cold regions of the Peruvian plateau suggest
that the Indian in this respect is more like the white race than
the black. Perhaps man's mental powers underwent their chief
evolution after the various races had left the aboriginal home in
which the physical characteristics becamefixed. Thus the races,
though alike in their physical response to climate, may possibly
be different in their mental response because they have
approached America by different paths.

Before we can understand how man may have been modified on his
way from his original home to America, we must inquire as to the
geographical situation of that home. Judging by the climate which
mankind now finds most favorable, the human race must have
originated in the temperate regions of Europe, Asia, or North
America. We are not entirely without evidence to guide to a
choice of one of the three continents. There is a scarcity of
indications of preglacial man in the  New World and an abundance
of such indications in the Old. To be sure, several skulls found
in America have been supposed to belong to a time before the
last glacial epoch. In every case, however, there has been
something to throw doubt on the conclusion. For instance, some
human bones found at Vero in Florida in 1915 seem to be very old.
Certain circumstances, however, suggest that possibly they may
not really belong to the layers of gravel in which they were
discovered but may have been inserted at some later time. In the
Old World, on the contrary, no one doubts that many human skulls
and other parts of skeletons belong to the interglacial epoch
preceding the last glacial epoch, while some appear to date from
still more remote periods. Therefore no matter at what date man
may have come to America, it seems clear that he existed in the
Old World much earlier. This leaves us to choose between Europe
and Asia. The evidence points to central Asia as man's original
home, for the general movement of human migrations has been
outward from that region and not inward. So, too, with the great
families of mammals, as we know from fossil remains. From the
earliest geological times the vast interior of Asia has been the
great mother of the world, the source from which the most
important families of living things have come.

Suppose, then, that we place in central Asia the primitive home
of the thin-skinned, hairless human race with its adaptation to a
highly variable climate with temperatures ranging from freezing
to eighty degrees. Man could not stay there forever. He was bound
to spread to new regions, partly because of his innate migratory
tendency and partly because of Nature's stern urgency. Geologists
are rapidly becoming convinced that the mammals spread from their
central Asian point of origin largely because of great variations
in climate.* Such variations have taken place on an enormous
scale during geological times. They seem, indeed, to be one of
the most important factors in evolution. Since early man lived
through the successive epochs of the glacial period, he must have
been subject to the urgency of vast climatic changes. During the
half million years more or less of his existence, cold, stormy,
glacial epochs lasting tens of thousands of years have again and
again been succeeded by warm, dry, interglacial epochs of equal

* W. D. Matthew. "Climate and Evolution," N. Y. Acad. Sci., 1915.

During the glacial epochs the interior of Asia was well watered
and full of game which supplied the primitive human hunters. With
the advent of each interglacial epoch the rains diminished, grass
and trees disappeared, and the desert spread over enormous
tracts. Both men and animals must have been driven to sore
straits for lack of food. Migration to better regions was the
only recourse. Thus for hundreds of thousands of years there
appears to have been a constantly recurring outward push from
the center of the world's greatest land mass. That push, with the
consequent overcrowding of other regions, seems to have been one
of the chief forces impelling people to migrate and cover the

Among the primitive men who were pushed outward from the Asian
deserts during a period of aridity, one group migrated
northeastward toward the Kamchatkan corner of Asia. Whether they
reached Bering Sea and the Kamchatkan shore before the next epoch
of glaciation we do not know. Doubtless they moved slowly,
perhaps averaging only a few score or a hundred miles per
generation, for that is generally the way with migrations of
primitive people advancing into unoccupied territory. Yet
sometimes they may have moved with comparative rapidity. I have
seen a tribe of herdsmen in central Asia abandon its ancestral
home and start on a zigzag march of a thousand miles because of a
great drought. The grass was so scanty that there was not enough
to support the animals. The tribe left a trail of blood, for
wherever it moved it infringed upon the rights of others and so
with conflict was driven onward. In some such way the primitive
wanderers were kept in movement until at last they reached the
bleak shores of the North Pacific. Even there something--perhaps
sheer curiosity--still urged them on. The green island across the
bay may have been so enticing that at last a raft of logs was
knotted together with stout withes. Perhaps at first the men
paddled themselves across alone, but the hunting and fishing
proved so good that at length they took the women and children
with them, and so advanced another step along the route toward
America. At other times distress, strife, or the search for game
may have led the primitive nomads on and on along the coast
until a day came when the Asian home was left and the New World
was entered. The route by which primitive man entered America is
important because it determined the surroundings among which the
first Americans lived for many generations. It has sometimes been
thought that the red men came to America by way of the Kurile
Islands, Kamchatka, and the Aleutian Islands. If this was their
route, they avoided a migration of two or three thousand miles
through one of the coldest and most inhospitable of regions.
This, however, is far from probable. The distance from Kamchatka
to the first of the Aleutian Islands is over one hundred miles.
As the island is not in sight from the mainland, there is little
chance that a band of savages, including women, would
deliberately sail thither. There is equally little probability
that they walked to the island on the ice, for the sea is never
frozen across the whole width. Nevertheless the climate may at
that time have been colder than now. There is also a chance that
a party of savages may have been blown across to the island in a
storm. Suppose that they succeeded in reaching Bering Island, as
the most Asiatic of the Aleutians is called, the next step to
Copper Island would be easy. Then, however, there comes a stretch
of more than two hundred miles. The chances that a family would
ever cross this waste of ocean are much smaller than in the first
case. Still another possibility remains. Was there once a bridge
of land from Asia to America in this region? There is no evidence
of such a link between the two continents, for a few raised
beaches indicate that during recent geological times the Aleutian
Islands have been uplifted rather than depressed.

The passage from Asia to America at Bering Strait, on the other
hand, is comparatively easy. The Strait itself is fifty-six miles
wide, but in the middle there are two small islands so that the
longest stretch of water is only about thirty-five miles.
Moreover the Strait is usually full of ice, which frequently
becomes a solid mass from shore to shore. Therefore it would be
no strange thing if some primitive savages, in hunting for seals
or polar bears, crossed the Strait, even though they had no
boats. Today the people on both sides of the Strait belong to the
American race. They still retain traditions of a time when their
ancestors crossed this narrow strip of water. The Thilanottines
have a legend that two giants once fought fiercely on the Arctic
Ocean. One would have been defeated had not a man whom he had
befriended cut the tendon of his adversary's leg. The wounded
giant fell into Bering Strait and formed a bridge across which
the reindeer entered America. Later came a strange woman bringing
iron and copper. She repeated her visits until the natives
insulted her, whereupon she went underground with her fire-made
treasures and came back no more. Whatever may have been the
circumstances that led the earliest families to cross from Asia
to America, they little recked that they had found a new
continent and that they were the first of the red race.

Unless the first Americans came to the new continent by way of
the Kurile and Aleutian Islands, it was probably their misfortune
to spend many generations in the cold regions of northeastern
Asia and northwestern America. Even if they reached Alaska by the
Aleutian route but came to the islands by way of the northern end
of the Kamchatkan Peninsula, they must have dwelt in a place
where the January temperature averages - 10 degrees F. and where
there are frosts every month in the year. If they came across
Bering Strait, they encountered a still more severe climate. The
winters there are scarcely worse than in northern Kamchatka, but
the summers are as cold as the month of March in New York or

Perhaps a prolonged sojourn in such a climate is one reason for
the stolid character of the Indians. Of course we cannot speak
with certainty, but we must, in our search for an explanation,
consider the conditions of life in the far north. Food is scanty
at all times, and starvation is a frequent visitor, especially in
winter when game is hard to get. The long periods of cold and
darkness are terribly enervating. The nervous white man goes
crazy if he stays too long in Alaska. Every spring the first
boats returning to civilization carry an unduly large proportion
of men who have lost their minds because they have endured too
many dark, cold winters. His companions say of such a man, "The
North has got him." Almost every Alaskan recognizes the danger.
As one man said to a friend, "It is time I got out of here."

"Why?" said the friend, "you seem all right. What's the matter?"

"Well," said the other, "you see I begin to like the smell of
skunk cabbage, and, when a man gets that way, it's time he went
somewhere else."

The skunk cabbage, by the way, grows in Alaska in great thickets
ten feet high. The man was perfectly serious, for he meant that
his mind was beginning to act in ways that were not normal.
Nowhere is the strain of life in the far north better described
than in the poems of Robert W. Service.

Oh, the awful hush that seemed to crush me down on every hand,
As I blundered blind with a trail to find through that blank and
bitter land;
Half dazed, half crazed in the winter wild, with its grim
heartbreaking woes,
And the ruthless strife for a grip on life that only the
sourdough knows!
North by the compass, North I pressed; river and peak and plain
Passed like a dream I slept to lose and waked to dream again.
River and plain and mighty peak--and who could stand unawed?
As their summits blazed, he could stand undazed at the foot of
the throne of God.
North, aye, North, through a land accurst, shunned by the
scouring brutes,
And all I heard was my own harsh word and the whine of the
Till at last I came to a cabin squat, built in the side of a
And I burst in the door, and there on the floor, frozen to death,
lay Bill.*

* From "Ballads of a Cheechako."

The human organism inherits so delicate an adjustment to climate
that, in spite of man's boasted ability to live anywhere, the
strain of the frozen North eliminates the more nervous and active
types of mind. Only those can endure whose nerves lack
sensitiveness and who are able to bear long privation and the
strain of hunger and cold and darkness. Though the Indian may
differ from the white man in many respects, such conditions are
probably as bad for him as for any race. For this reason it is
not improbable that long sojourns at way stations on the cold,
Alaskan route from central Asia may have weeded out certain types
of minds. Perhaps that is why the Indian, though brave, stoical,
and hardy, does not possess the alert, nervous temperament which
leads to invention and progress.

The ancestors of the red man unwittingly chose the easiest path
to America and so entered the continent first, but this was their
misfortune. They could not inherit the land because they chose a
path whose unfavorable influence, exerted throughout centuries,
left them unable to cope with later arrivals from other
directions. The parts of America most favorable for the Indian
are also best for the white man and Negro. There the alerter
minds of the Europeans who migrated in the other direction have
quickly eliminated the Indian. His long northern sojourn may be
the reason why farther south in tropical lands he is even now at
a disadvantage compared with the Negro or with the coolie from
the East Indies. In Central America, for instance, it is
generally recognized that Negroes stand the heat and moisture of
the lowlands better than Indians. According to a competent
authority: "The American Indians cannot bear the heat of the
tropics even as well as the European, not to speak of the African
race. They perspire little, their skin becomes hot, and they are
easily prostrated by exertion in an elevated temperature. They
are peculiarly subject to diseases of hot climates, as hepatic
disorders, showing none of the immunity of the African.
Furthermore, the finest physical specimens of the race are found
in the colder regions of the temperate zones, the Pampas and
Patagonian Indians in the south, the Iroquois and Algonkins in
the north; whereas, in the tropics they are generally undersized,
short-lived, of inferior muscular force and with slight tolerance
of disease."* "No one," adds another observer, "could live among
the Indians of the Upper Amazon without being struck with their
constitutional dislike to heat. The impression forced itself upon
my mind that the Indian lives as a stranger or immigrant in these
hot regions."** Thus when compared with the other inhabitants of
America, from every point of view the Indian seems to be at a
disadvantage, much of which may be due to the path which he took
from the Old World to the New.

* D. G. Brinton, "The American Race," pp. 34, 35.

** H. W. Bates, "The Naturalist on the River Amazons." vol.II,
pp. 200, 201.

Before the red man lost his American heritage, he must have
enjoyed it for thousands upon thousands of years. Otherwise he
never could have become so different from his nearest relative,
the Mongol. The two are as truly distinct races as are the white
man and the Malay. Nor could the Indians themselves have become
so extraordinarily diverse except during the lapse of thousands
of years. The Quichua of the cold highlands of Peru is as
different from the Maya of Yucatan or the Huron of southern
Canada as the Swede is from the Armenian or the Jew. The
separation of one stock from another has gone so far that almost
countless languages have been developed. In the United States
alone the Indians have fifty-five "families" of languages and in
the whole of America there are nearly two hundred such groups.
These comprise over one thousand distinct languages which are
mutually unintelligible and at least as different as Spanish and
Italian. Such differences might arise in a day at the Tower of
Babel, but in the processes of evolution they take thousands of

During those thousands of years the red man, in spite of his
Arctic handicap, by no means showed himself wholly lacking in
originality and inventive ability. In Yucatan two or three
thousand years ago the Mayas were such good scientists and
recorded their observations of the stars so accurately that they
framed a calendar more exact than any except the one that we have
used for the last two centuries. They showed still greater powers
of mind in inventing the art of writing and in their
architecture. Later we shall depict the environment under which
these things occurred; it is enough to suggest in passing that
perhaps at this period the ancestors of the Indians had
capacities as great as those of any people. Today they might
possibly hold their own against the white man, were it not for
the great handicap which they once suffered because Asia
approaches America only in the cold, depressing north.

The Indians were not the only primitive people who were driven
from central Asia by aridity. Another group pushed westward
toward Europe. They fared far better than their Indian cousins
who went to the northeast. These prospective Europeans never
encountered benumbing physical conditions like those of
northeastern Asia and northwestern America. Even when ice
shrouded the northern part of Europe, the rest of the continent
was apparently favored with a stimulating climate. Then as now,
Europe was probably one of the regions where storms are most
frequent. Hence it was free from the monotony which is so deadly
in other regions. When the ice retreated our European ancestors
doubtless followed slowly in its wake. Thus their racial
character was evolved in one of the world's most stimulating
regions. Privation they must have suffered, and hardihood and
boldness were absolutely essential in the combat with storms,
cold, wild beasts, fierce winds, and raging waves. But under the
spur of constant variety and change, these difficulties were
merely incentives to progress. When the time came for the people
of the west of Europe to cross to America, they were of a
different caliber from the previous immigrants.

Two facts of physical geography brought Europe into contact with
America. One of these was the islands of the North, the other the
trade-winds of the South. Each seems to have caused a preliminary
contact which failed to produce important results. As in the
northern Pacific, so in the northern Atlantic, islands are
stepping-stones from the Old World to the New. Yet because in the
latter case the islands are far apart, it is harder to cross the
water from Norway and the Lofoten Islands to Iceland and
Greenland than it is to cross from Asia by way of the Aleutian
Islands or Bering Strait. Nevertheless in the tenth century of
the Christian era bold Norse vikings made the passage in the face
of storm and wind. In their slender open ships they braved the
elements on voyage after voyage. We think of the vikings as
pirates, and so they were. But they were also diligent colonists
who tilled the ground wherever it would yield even the scantiest
living. In Iceland and Greenland they must have labored mightily
to carry on the farms of which the Sagas tell us. When they made
their voyages, honest commerce was generally in their minds quite
as much as was plunder. Leif, the son of that rough Red Eric who
first settled Greenland, made a famous voyage to Vinland, the
mainland of America. Like so many other voyagers he was bent on
finding a region where men could live happily and on filling his
boats with grapes, wood, or other commodities worth carrying

In view of the energy of the Norsemen, the traces of their
presence in the Western Hemisphere are amazingly slight. In
Greenland a few insignificant heaps of stones are supposed to
show where some of them built small villages. Far in the north
Stefansson found fair-haired, blue-eyed Eskimos. These may be
descendants of the Norsemen, although they have migrated
thousands of miles from Greenland. In Maine the Micmac Indians
are said to have had a curious custom which they may have learned
from the vikings. When a chief died, they chose his largest
canoe. On it they piled dry wood, and on the wood they placed the
body. Then they set fire to the pile and sent the blazing boat
out to sea. Perhaps in earlier times the Micmacs once watched the
flaming funeral pyre of a fair-haired viking. As the ruddy flames
leaped skyward and were reflected in the shimmering waves of the
great waters the tribesmen must have felt that the Great Spirit
would gladly welcome a chief who came in such a blaze of glory.*

* For this information I am indebted to Mr. Stansbury Hagar.

It seems strange that almost no other traces of the strong
vikings are found in America. The explanation lies partly in the
length and difficulty of the ocean voyage, and partly in the
inhospitable character of the two great islands that served as
stepping-stones from the Old World to the New. Iceland with its
glaciers, storms, and long dreary winters is bad enough.
Greenland is worse. Merely the tip of that island was known to
the Norse --and small wonder, for then as now most of Greenland
was shrouded in ice. Various Scandinavian authors, however, have
thought that during the most prosperous days of the vikings the
conditions in Greenland were not quite so bad as at the present
day. One settlement, Osterbyden, numbered 190 farms, 12 churches,
2 monasteries, and 1 bishopric. It is even stated that
apple-trees bore fruit and that some wheat was raised. "Cattle-
raising and fishing," says Pettersson, "appear to have procured a
good living . . . . At present the whole stock of cattle in
Greenland does not amount to 100 animals."* In those days the ice
which borders all the east coast and much of the west seems to
have been less troublesome than now. In the earliest accounts
nothing is said of this ice as a danger to navigation. We are
told that the best sailing route was through the strait north of
Cape Farewell Island, where today no ships can pass because of
the ice. Since the days of the Norsemen the glaciers have
increased in size, for the natives say that certain ruins are now
buried beneath the ice, while elsewhere ruins can be seen which
have been cut off from the rest of the country by advancing
glacial tongues.

* O. Pettersson, "Climatic Variations in Historic and Prehistoric
Times." Svenska Hydrogrifisk--Biologiska Kommissioneur Skrifter,
Haft V. Stockholm.

Why the Norsemen disappeared from the Western Hemisphere we do
not exactly know, but there are interesting hints of an
explanation. It appears that the fourteenth century was a time of
great distress. In Norway the crops failed year after year
because of cold and storms. Provinces which were formerly able to
support themselves by agriculture were obliged to import food.
The people at home were no longer able to keep in touch with the
struggling colony in Greenland. No supplies came from the home
land, no reenforcements to strengthen the colonists and make them
feel that they were a part of the great world. Moreover in the
late Norse sagas much is said about the ice along the Greenland
coast, which seems to have been more abundant than formerly. Even
the Eskimos seem to have been causing trouble, though formerly
they had been a friendly, peaceable  people who lived far to the
north and did not disturb the settlers. In the fourteenth
century, however, they began to make raids such as are common
when primitive people fall into distress. Perhaps the storms and
the advancing ice drove away the seals and other animals, so that
the Eskimos were left hungry. They consequently migrated south
and, in the fifteenth century, finally wiped out the last of the
old Norse settlers. If the Norse had established permanent
settlements on the mainland of North America, they might have
persisted to this day. As it was, the cold, bleak climate of the
northern route across the Atlantic checked their progress. Like
the Indians, they had the misfortune of finding a route to
America through regions that are not good for man.

Though islands may be stepping-stones between the Old World and
the New, they have not been the bringers of civilization. That
function in the history of man has been left to the winds. The
westerlies, however, which are the prevailing winds in the
latitude of the United States and Europe, have not been of much
importance. On the Atlantic side they were for many centuries a
barrier to contact between the Old World and the New. On the
Pacific side they have been known to blow Japanese vessels to the
shores of America contrary to the will of the mariners. Perhaps
the same thing may have happened in earlier times. Asia may thus
have made some slight contribution to primitive America, but no
important elements of civilization can be traced to this source.

From latitude 30 degrees N. to 30 degrees S. the tradewinds
prevail. As they blow from the east, they make it easy for boats
to come from Africa to America. In comparatively recent times
they brought the slave ships from the Guinea coast to our
Southern States. The African, like the Indian, has passed through
a most unfavorable environment on his way from central Asia to
America. For ages he was doomed to live in a climate where high
temperature and humidity weed out the active type of human being.
Since activity like that of Europe means death in a tropical
climate, the route by way of Africa has been if anything worse
than by Bering Strait.

By far the most important occurrence which can be laid at the
door of the trade-winds is the bringing of the civilization of
Europe and the Mediterranean to the New World. Twice this may
have happened, but the first occurrence is doubtful and left only
a slight impress. For thousands of years the people around the
Mediterranean Sea have been bold sailors. Before 600 B.C. Pharaoh
Necho, so Herodotus says, had sent Phenician ships on a
three-year cruise entirely around Africa. The Phenicians also
sailed by way of Gibraltar to England to bring tin from Cornwall,
and by 500 B.C. the Carthaginians were well acquainted with the
Atlantic coast of northern Africa.

At some time or other, long before the Christian era, a ship
belonging to one of the peoples of the eastern Mediterranean was
probably blown to the shores of America by the steady
trade-winds. Of course, no one can say positively that such a
voyage occurred. Yet certain curious similarities between the Old
World and the New enable us to infer with a great deal of
probability that it actually happened. The mere fact, for
example, that the adobe houses of the Pueblo Indians of New
Mexico are strikingly like the houses of northern Africa and
Persia is no proof that the civilization of the Old World and the
New are related. A similar physical environment might readily
cause the same type of house to be evolved in both places. When
we find striking similarities of other kinds, however, the case
becomes quite different. The constellations of the zodiac, for
instance, are typified by twelve living creatures, such as the
twins, the bull, the lion, the virgin, the crab, and the goat.
Only one of the constellations, the scorpion, presents any real
resemblance to the animal for which it is named. Yet the signs of
the zodiac in Mediterranean lands and in pre-Columbian America
from Peru to southern Mexico are almost identical. Here is a list
showing the Latin and English names of the constellations and
their equivalents in the calendars of the Peruvians, Mexicans,
and Mayas. *

* See S. Hagar, "The Bearing of Astronomy on the Problems of the
Unity or Plurality and the Probable Place of Origin of the
American Aborigines, in American Anthropologist," vol. XIV
(1912), pp. 43-48.

Sign       English     Peruvian      Mexican       Maya
Aries       Ram         Llama       Flayer          --

Taurus      Bull (originally Stag)
                         Stag       Stag or Deer   Stag

Gemini     Twins     Man and Woman    Twins        Two Generals

Cancer     Crab      Cuttlefish     Cuttlefish     Cuttlefish

Leo        Lion      Puma           Ocelot         Ocelot

Virgo     Virgin (Mother Goddess of Cereals)
                    Maize Mother    Maize Mother   Maize Mother

Libra     Scales (originally part of Scorpio)
                       Forks       Scorpion        Scorpion

Scorpio    Scorpion    Mummy       Scorpion        Scorpion

Sagittarius Bowman   Arrows or Spears
                            Hunter and War God Hunter and War God

Capricornus  Sea Goat     Beard  Bearded God          --

Aquarius     Water Pourer  Water       Water         Water

Pisces     Fishes(and Knot)  Knot    Twisted Reeds    --

Notice how closely these lists are alike. The ram does not appear
in America because no such animal was known there. The nearest
substitute was the llama. In the Old World the second
constellation is now called the bull, but curiously enough in
earlier days it was called the stag in Mesopotamia. The twins,
instead of being Castor and Pollux, may equally well be a man and
a woman or two generals. To landsmen not familiar with creatures
of the deep, the crab and the cuttlefish would not seem greatly
different. The lion is unknown in America, but the creature which
most nearly takes his place is the puma or ocelot. So it goes
with all the signs of the zodiac. There are little differences
between the Old World and the New, but they only emphasize the
resemblance. Mathematically there is not one chance in thousands
or even millions that such a resemblance could grow up by
accident. Other similarities between ceremonies or religious
words in the Old World and the New might be pointed out, but the
zodiac is illustration enough.

Such resemblances, however, do not indicate a permanent
connection between Mediterranean civilization and that of Central
America. They do not even indicate that any one ever returned
from the Western Hemisphere to the Eastern previous to Columbus.
Nor do they indicate that the civilization of the New World arose
from that of the Old. They simply suggest that after the people
of the Mediterranean regions had become well civilized and after
those of America were also sufficiently civilized to assimilate
new ideas, a stray ship or two was blown by the trade-winds
across the Atlantic. That hypothetical voyage was the precursor
of the great journey of Columbus. Without the tradewinds this
historic discoverer never could have found the West Indies.
Suppose that a strong west wind had blown him backward on his
course when his men were mutinous. Suppose that he had been
forced to beat against head winds week after week. Is there one
chance in a thousand that even his indomitable spirit could have
kept his craft headed steadily into the west? But because there
were the trade-winds to bring him, the way was opened for the
energetic people of Europe to possess the new continent. Thus the
greatest stream of immigration commenced to flow, and the New
World began to take on a European aspect.


America forms the longest and straightest bone in the earth's
skeleton. The skeleton consists of six great bones, which may be
said to form a spheroidal tetrahedron, or pyramid with a
triangular base, for when a globe with a fairly rigid surface
collapses because of shrinkage, it tends to assume this form.
That is what has happened to the earth. Geologists tell us that
during the thousand million years, more or less, since geological
history began, the earth has grown cooler and hence has
contracted. Moreover some of the chemical compounds of the
interior have been transformed into other compounds which occupy
less space. For these reasons the earth appears to have
diminished in size until now its diameter is from two hundred to
four hundred miles less than formerly. During the process of
contraction the crust has collapsed in four main areas, roughly
triangular in shape. Between these stand the six ridges which we
have called the bones. Each of the four depressed areas forms a
side of our tetrahedron and is occupied by an ocean. The ridges
and the areas immediately flanking the oceans form the
continents. The side which we may think of as the base contains
the Arctic Ocean. The ridges surrounding it are broad and flat.
Large parts of them stand above sea-level and form the northern
portions of North America, Europe, and Asia. A second side is the
Pacific Ocean with the great ridge of the two Americas on one
hand and Asia and Australia on the other. Next comes the side
containing the Indian Ocean in the hollow and the ridges of
Africa and Australia on either hand. The last of the four sides
contains the Atlantic Ocean and is bounded by Africa and Europe
on one hand and North and South America on the other. Finally the
tip of the pyramid projects above the surrounding waters, and
forms the continent of Antarctica.

It may seem a mere accident that this tip lies near the South
Pole, while the center of the opposite face lies near the North
Pole. Yet this has been of almost infinite importance in the
evolution not only of plants and animals but of men. The reason
is that this arrangement gives rise to a vast and almost
continuous land mass in comparatively high latitudes. Only in
such places does evolution appear to make rapid progress.*

* W. D. Matthew, "Climate and Evolution," N. Y. Acad. Sci., 1915.

Evolution is especially stimulated by two conditions. The first
is that there shall be marked changes in the environment so that
the process of natural selection has full opportunity to do its
work. The second is that numerous new forms or mutants, as the
biologists call them, shall be produced. Both of these conditions
are most fully met in large continents in the temperate zone, for
in such places climatic variations are most extreme. Such
variations may take the form of extreme changes either from day
to night, from season to season, or from one century to another.
In any case, as Darwin long ago pointed out, they cause some
forms of life to perish while others survive. Thus climatic
variations are among the most powerful factors in causing natural
selection and hence in stimulating evolution. Moreover it has
lately been shown that variations in temperature are one of the
chief causes of organic variation. Morgan and Plough,* for
example, have discovered that when a certain fly, called the
drosophila, is subjected to extremes of heat or cold, the
offspring show an unusually strong tendency to differ from the
parents. Hence the climatic variability of the interior of large
continents in temperate latitudes provides new forms of life and
then selects some of them for preservation. The fossils found in
the rocks of the earth's crust support this view. They indicate
that most of the great families of higher animals originated in
the central part of the great land mass of Europe and Asia. A
second but much smaller area of evolution was situated in the
similar part of North America. From these two centers new forms
of life spread outward to other continents. Their movements were
helped by the fact that the tetrahedral form of the earth causes
almost all the continents to be united by bridges of land.

* Unpublished manuscript.

If any one doubts the importance of the tetrahedral form, let him
consider how evolution would have been hampered if the land of
the globe were arranged as isolated masses in low latitudes,
while oceans took the place of the present northern continents.
The backwardness of the indigenous life of Africa shows how an
equatorial position retards evolution. The still more marked
backwardness of Australia with its kangaroos and duck-billed
platypuses shows how much greater is the retardation when a
continent is also small and isolated. Today, no less than in the
past, the tetrahedral form of the earth and the relation of the
tetrahedron to the poles and to the equator preserve the
conditions that favor rapid evolution. They are the dominant
factors in determining that America shall be one of the two great
centers of civilization.

If North and South America be counted as one major land mass, and
Europe, Asia, and Africa as another, the two present the same
general features. Yet their mountains, plains, and coastal
indentations are so arranged that what is on the east in one is
on the west in the other. Their similarity is somewhat like that
of a man's two hands placed palms down on a table.

On a map of the world place a finger of one hand on the western
end of Alaska and a finger of the other on the northeastern tip
of Asia and follow the main bones of the two continents. See how
the chief mountain systems, the Pacific "cordilleras," trend away
from one another, southeastward and southwestward. In the centers
of the continents they expand into vast plateaus. That of America
in the Rocky Mountain region of the United States reaches a width
of over a thousand miles, while that of Asia in Tibet and western
China expands to far greater proportions.

From the plateaus the two cordilleras swing abruptly Atlantic-
ward. The Eurasian cordillera extends through the Hindu Kush,
Caucasus, and Asia Minor ranges to southern Europe and the Alps.
Then it passes on into Spain and ends in the volcanoes of the
Canary Islands. The American cordillera swings eastward in Mexico
and continues as the isolated ranges of the West Indies until it
ends in the volcanoes of Martinique. Central America appears at
first sight to be a continuation of the great cordillera, but
really it is something quite different--a mass of volcanic
material poured out in the gap where the main chain of mountains
breaks down for a space. In neither hemisphere, however, is the
main southward sweep of the mountains really lost. In the Old
World the cordillera revives in the mountains of Syria and
southern Arabia and then runs southward along the whole length of
eastern Africa. In America it likewise revives in the mighty
Andes, which take their rise fifteen hundred miles east of the
broken end of the northern cordillera in Mexico. In the Andes
even more distinctly than in Africa the cordillera forms a mighty
wall running north and south. It expands into the plateau of Peru
and Bolivia, just as its African compeer expands into that of
Abyssinia, but this is a mere incident. The main bone, so to
speak, keeps on in each case till it disappears in the great
southern ocean. Even there, however, it is not wholly lost, for
it revives in the cold, lofty continent of Antarctica, where it
coalesces once more with the other great tetrahedral ridges of
Africa and Australia.

It is easy to see that these great cordilleras have turned most
of the earth's chief rivers toward the Atlantic and the Arctic
Oceans. That is why these two oceans with an area of only
forty-three million square miles receive the drainage from twenty
million square miles of land, while the far larger Indian and
Pacific Oceans with an area of ninety-one million square miles
receive the rivers of only ten million square miles. The world's
streams of civilization, like the rivers of water, have flowed
from the great cordilleras toward the Atlantic. Half of the
world's people, to be sure, are lodged in the relatively small
areas known as China and India on the Pacific side of the Old
World cordillera. Nevertheless the active streams of civilization
have flowed mainly on the other side--the side where man
apparently originated. From the earliest times the mountains have
served to determine man's chief migrations. Their rugged
fastnesses hinder human movements and thereby give rise to a
strong tendency to move parallel to their bases. During the days
of primitive man the trend of the mountains apparently directed
his migrations northeastward to Bering Strait and then
southeastward and southward from one end of America to the other.
In the same way the migrations to Europe and Africa which
ultimately reached America moved mainly parallel to the

From end to end of America the great mountains form a sharp
dividing line. The aboriginal tribes on the Pacific slope are
markedly different from those farther east across the mountains.
Brinton sums the case up admirably:

"As a rule the tribes of the western coast are not connected with
any east of the mountains. What is more singular, although they
differ surprisingly among themselves in language, they have
marked anthropologic similarities, physical and psychical.
Virchow has emphasized the fact that the skulls from the northern
point of Vancouver's Island reveal an unmistakable analogy to
those from the southern coast of California; and this is to a
degree true of many intermediate points. Not that the crania have
the same indices. On the contrary, they present great and
constant differences within the same tribe; but these differences
are analogous one to the other, and on fixed lines.

"There are many other physical similarities which mark the
Pacific Indians and contrast them with those east of the
mountains. The eyes are less oblique, the nose flatter, the lips
fuller, the chin more pointed, the face wider. There is more hair
on the face and in the axilla, and the difference between the
sexes is much more obvious.

"The mental character is also in contrast. The Pacific tribes are
more quiet, submissive, and docile; they have less courage, and
less of that untamable independence which is so constant a
feature in the history of the Algonquins and Iroquois."*

* D. G. Brinton, "The American Race," pp. 103-4.

Although mountains may guide migrations, the plains are the
regions where people dwell in greatest numbers. The plains in the
two great land masses of the Old World and the New have the same
inverse or right- and left-handed symmetry as the mountains. In
the north the vast stretches from the Mackenzie River to the Gulf
of Mexico correspond to the plains of Siberia and Russia from the
Lena to the Black Sea. Both regions have a vast sweep of
monotonous tundras at the north and both become fertile granaries
in the center. Before the white man introduced the horse, the ox,
and iron ploughs, there prevailed an extraordinary similarity in
the habits of the plains Indians from Texas to Alberta. All alike
depended on the buffalo; all hunted him in much the same way; all
used his skins for tents and robes, his bones for tools, and his
horns for utensils. All alike made him the center of their
elaborate rituals and dances. Because the plains of North America
were easy to traverse, the relatively high culture of the ancient
people of the South spread into the Mississippi Valley. Hence the
Natchez tribe of Mississippi had a highly developed form of
sun-worship and a well-defined caste system with three grades of
nobility in addition to the common people. Even farther north,
almost to the Ohio River, traces of the sun-worship of Mexico had
penetrated along the easy pathway of the plains.

South of the great granaries of North America and Eurasia the
plains are broken, but occur again in the Orinoco region of South
America and the Sahara of Africa. Thence they stretch almost
unbroken toward the southern end of the continents. In view of
the fertility of the plains it is strange that the centers of
civilization have so rarely been formed in these vast level

The most striking of the inverse resemblances between America and
the Old World are found along the Atlantic border. In the north
of Europe the White Sea corresponds to Hudson Bay in America.
Farther toward the Atlantic Ocean Scandinavia with its mountains,
glaciers, and fiords is similar to Labrador, although more
favored because warmer. Next the islands of Great Britain occupy
a position similar to that of Newfoundland and Prince Edward
Island. But here again the eastern climate is much more favorable
than the western. Although practically all of Newfoundland is
south of England, the American island has only six inhabitants
per square mile, while the European country has six hundred. To
the east of the British Isles the North Sea, the Baltic, and
Lakes Ladoga and Onega correspond in striking fashion to the Gulf
of St. Lawrence, the river of the same name, and the Great Lakes
from Ontario to Superior. Next the indented shores of western
France and the peninsula of Spain resemble our own indented coast
and the peninsula of Florida. Here at last the American regions
are as favored as the European. Farther south the Mediterranean
and Black seas penetrate far into the interior just as does the
Gulf of Mexico, and each continent is nearly cut in two where the
canals of Suez and Panama respectively have been trenched.
Finally in the southern continents a long swing eastward in
America balances a similar swing westward in Africa. Thus Cape
Saint Roque and Cape Verde are separated by scarcely 16 degrees
of longitude, although the extreme points of the Gulf of Mexico
and the Black Sea are 140 degrees apart. Finally to the south of
the equator the continents swing away from one another once more,
preserving everywhere the same curious inverse relationship.

Even more striking than the inverse resemblance of the New World
to the Old is the direct similarity of North and South America.
In physical form the two continents are astonishingly alike. Not
only does each have the typical triangular form which would
naturally arise from tetrahedral shrinking of the globe, but
there are four other cardinal points of resemblance. First, in
the northeast each possesses an area of extremely ancient rocks,
the Laurentian highlands of Quebec and Labrador in North America
and the highlands of Guiana in South America. Second, in the
southeast lie highlands of old but not the most ancient rocks
stretching from northeast to southwest in the Appalachian region
of North America, and in the Brazilian mountains of the southern
continent. Third, along the western side of each continent recent
crustal movements supplemented by volcanic action on a
magnificent scale have given rise to a complex series of younger
mountains, the two great cordilleras. Finally, the spaces between
the three mountain masses are occupied by a series of vast
confluent plains which in each case extend from the northern
ocean to the southern and bend around the southeastern highlands.
These plains are the newest part of America, for many of them
have emerged from the sea only in recent geological times. Taken
as a whole the resemblance between the two continents is

If these four physiographic provinces of North and South America
lay in similar latitudes in the respective continents we might
expect each pair to have a closely similar effect on life. In
fauna, flora, and even in human history they would present broad
and important resemblances. As a matter of fact, however, they
are as different as can well be imagined. Where North America, is
bathed by icy waters full of seals and floating ice South America
is bathed by warm seas full of flying-fish and coral reefs. The
northern continent is broadest in the cool latitudes that are
most favorable for human activity. The southern expands most
widely in latitudes whose debilitating monotony of heat and
moisture is the worst of handicaps to human progress. The great
rivers of the northern continent correspond very closely to those
of the southern. The Mackenzie, however, is bound in the rigid
bands of winter for eight months each year, while the Orinoco,
the corresponding South American river, lies sweltering under a
tropical sun which burns its grassy plains to bitter dust even as
the sharp cold reduced the Mackenzie region to barren tundra. The
St. Lawrence flows through fertile grain fields and the homes of
an active people of the temperate zone, but the Amazon winds its
slow way amid the malarious languor of vast tropical forests in
which the trees shut out the sky and the few natives are
apathetic with the eternal inertia of the hot, damp tropics.

Only when we come to the Mississippi in the northern continent
and the Rio de la Plata in the southern do we find a pair of
rivers which correspond to any degree in the character of the
life surrounding them, as well as in their physiographic
character. Yet even here there is a vast difference, especially
in the upper courses of the river. Each at its mouth flows
through a rich, fertile plain occupied by a progressive,
prosperous people. But the Rio de la Plata takes its rise in one
of the world's most backward plains, the home of uncivilized
Indians, heartless rubber adventurers, and the most rapacious of
officials. Not infrequently, the degenerate white men of these
regions, yielding to the subtle and insidious influence of the
tropics, inflict the most outrageous abuses upon the natives, and
even kill them on slight provocation. The natives in turn hate
their oppressors, and when the chance comes betray them or leave
them to perish in sickness and misery. The upper Mississippi, on
the other hand, comes from a plain where agriculture is carried
on with more labor-saving devices than are found anywhere else in
the world. There States like Wisconsin and Minnesota stand in the
forefront of educational and social progress. The contrasts
between the corresponding rivers of the two Americas are typical
of the contrasts in the history of the two continents.


The four great physical divisions of North America--the
Laurentian highland, the Appalachian highland, the plains, and
the western cordillera--are strikingly different in form and
structure. The Laurentian highland presents a monotonous waste of
rough hills, irregular valleys, picturesque lakes, and crooked
rivers. Most of it is thinly clothed with pine trees and bushes
such as the blueberry and huckleberry. Yet everywhere the ancient
rock crops out. No one can travel there without becoming
tiresomely familiar with fine-grained, shattered schists, coarse
granites, and their curiously banded relatives, the gneisses.
This rocky highland stretches from a little north of the St.
Lawrence River to Hudson Bay, around which it laps in the form of
a V, and so is known as the Archaean V or shield.

Everywhere this oldest part of the Western Hemisphere presents
unmistakable signs of great age. The schists by their fine
crumpling and scaly flakes of mineral show that they were formed
deep in the bowels of the earth, for only there could they be
subjected to the enormous pressure needed to transform their
minerals into sheets as thin as paper. The coarse granites and
gneisses proclaim still more clearly that they must have
originated far down in the depths of the earth; their huge
crystals of mica, quartz, hornblende, feldspar, and other
minerals could never have been formed except under a blanket of
rock which almost prevented the original magmas from cooling. The
thousands or tens of thousands of feet of rock which once overlay
the schists and still more the granites and gneisses must have
been slowly removed by erosion, for there was no other way to get
rid of them. This process must have taken tens of millions of
years, and yet the whole work must have been practically
completed a hundred or perhaps several hundred million years ago.
We know this because the selfsame ancient eroded surface which is
exposed in the Laurentian highland is found dipping down under
the oldest known fossiliferous rocks. Traces of that primitive
land surface are found over a large part of the American
continent. Elsewhere they are usually buried under later strata
laid down when the continent sank in part below sea-level. Only
in Laurentia has the land remained steadily above the reach of
the ocean throughout the millions of years.

Today this old, old land might be as rich as many others if
climate had been kind to it. Its soil, to be sure, would in many
parts be sandy because of the large amount of quartz in the
rocks. That would be a small handicap, however, provided the soil
were scores of feet deep like the red soil of the corresponding
highland in the Guiana region of South America. But today the
North American Laurentia has no soil worth mentioning. For some
reason not yet understood this was the part of America where snow
accumulated most deeply and where the largest glaciers were
formed during the last great glacial period. Not once but many
times its granite surface was shrouded for tens of thousands of
years in ice a mile or more thick. As the ice spread outward in
almost every direction, it scraped away the soil and gouged
innumerable hollows in the softer parts of the underlying rock.
It left the Laurentian highland a land of rocky ribs rising
between clear lakes that fill the hollows. The lakes are drained
by rapid rivers which wind this way and that in hopeless
confusion as they strive to move seaward over the strangely
uneven surface left by the ice. Such a land is good for the
hunter and trapper. It is also good for the summer
pleasure-seeker who would fain grow strong by paddling a canoe.
For the man who would make a permanent home it is a rough,
inscrutable region where one has need of more than most men's
share of courage and persistence. Not only did the climate of the
past cause the ice to scrape away the soil, but the climate of
the present is so cold that even where new soil has accumulated
the farmer can scarcely make a living.

Around the borders of the Laurentian highland the ice
accomplished a work quite different from the devastation of the
interior. One of its chief activities was the scouring of a
series of vast hollows which now hold the world's largest series
of lakes. Even the lakes of Central Africa cannot compare with
our own Great Lakes and the other smaller lakes which belong to
the same series. These additional lakes begin in the far north
with Great Bear Lake and continue through Great Slave Lake, Lake
Athabasca, and Lake Winnipeg to the Lake of the Woods, which
drains into Lake Superior. All these lakes lie on the edge of the
great Laurentian shield, where the ice, crowding down from the
highland to the north and east, was compressed into certain
already existent hollows which it widened, deepened, and left as
vast bowls ready to be filled with lakes.

South and southwest of the Laurentian highland the great ice
sheet proved beneficial to man. There, instead of leaving the
rock naked, as in the Laurentian region, it merely smoothed off
many of the irregularities of the surface and covered large areas
with the most fertile soil.

In doing this, to be sure, the ice-cap scoured some hollows and
left a vastly larger number of basins surrounded in whole or in
part by glacial debris. These have given rise to the innumerable
lakes, large and small, whose beauty so enhances the charms of
Canada, New England, New York, Minnesota, and other States. They
serve as reservoirs for the water supply of towns and power
plants and as sources of ice and fish. Though they take land from
agriculture, they probably add to the life of the community as
much in other ways as they detract in this. Moreover glaciation
diverted countless streams from their old courses and made them
flow over falls and rapids from which water-power can easily be
developed. That is one reason why glaciated New England contains
over forty per cent of all the developed water-power in the
United States.

Far more important, however, than the glacial lakes and rivers is
the fertile glacial soil. It comes fresh from the original rocks
and has not yet been exhausted by hundreds of thousands of years
of weathering. It also has the advantage of being well mixed, for
generally it is the product of scrapings from many kinds of
rocks, each of which contributes its own particular excellence to
the general composition. Take Wisconsin as an example.* Most
parts of that State have been glaciated, but in the southwest
there lies what is known as the "driftless area" because it is
not covered with the "drift" or glacial debris which is thickly
strewn over the rest of the State. A comparison of otherwise
similar counties lying within and without the driftless area
shows an astonishing contrast. In 1910 the average value of all
the farm land in twenty counties covered with drift amounted to
$56.90 per acre. In six counties partly covered with drift and
partly driftless the value was $59.80 per acre, while in thirteen
counties in the driftless area it was only $33.30 per acre. In
spite of the fact that glaciation causes swamps and lakes, the
proportion of land cultivated in the glaciated areas is larger
than in the driftless. In the glaciated area 61 per cent of the
land is improved and in the driftless area only 43.5 per cent.
Moreover, even though the underlying rock and the original
topography be of the same kind in both cases, the average yield
of crops per acre is greater where the ice has done its work.
Where the country rock consists of limestone, which naturally
forms a rich soil, the difference in favor of the glaciated area
amounts to only 1 or 2 per cent. Where the country rock is sandy,
the soil is so much improved by a mixture of fertilizing
limestone or even of clay and other materials that the average
yield of crops per acre in the glaciated areas is a third larger
than in the driftless. Taking everything into consideration it
appears that the ancient glaciation of Wisconsin increases the
present agricultural output by from 20 to 40 per cent. Upwards of
10,000,000 acres of glaciated land have already been developed in
the most populous parts of the State. If the average value of all
products on this area is reckoned at $15 per acre and if the
increased value of agricultural products due to glaciation
amounts to 30 per cent, then the net value of glaciation per year
to the farmers of Wisconsin is $45,000,000. This means about $300
for each farmer in the glaciated area.

* R. H. Whitbeck, "Economic Aspects of Glaciation in Wisconsin",
in "Annals of the Association of American Geographers," vol. III
in (1913), pp. 62-67.

Wisconsin is by no means unique. In Ohio, for instance, there is
also a driftless area.* It lies in the southeast along the Ohio
River. The difference in the value of the farm land there and in
the glaciated region is extraordinary. In the driftless area the
average value per acre in 1910 was less than $24, while in the
glaciated area it was nearly $64. Year by year the proportion of
the population of the State in the unglaciated area is steadily
decreasing. The difference between the two parts of the State is
not due to the underlying rock structure or to the rainfall
except to a slight degree. Some of the difference is due to the
fact that important cities such as Cleveland and Toledo lie on
the fertile level strip of land along the lake shore, but this
strip itself, as well as the lake, owes much of its character to
glaciation. It appears, therefore, that in Ohio, perhaps even
more than in Wisconsin, man prospers most in the parts where the
ice has done its work.

* William H. Hess, "The Influence of Glaciation in Ohio," in
"Bulletin of the Geographical Society of Philadelphia," vol. XV
(1917), pp. 19-42.

We have taken Wisconsin and Ohio as examples, but the effect of
glaciation in those States does not differ materially from its
effect all over southern Canada and the northern United States
from New England to Kansas and Minnesota. Each year the people of
these regions are richer by perhaps a billion dollars because the
ice scraped its way down from Laurentia and spread out over the
borders of the great plains on the west and of the Appalachian
region on the east.

We have considered the Laurentian highland and the glaciation
which centered there. Let us now turn to another highland only
the northern part of which was glaciated. The Appalachian
highland, the second great division of North America, consists of
three parallel bands which extend southwestward from Newfoundland
and the St. Lawrence River to Georgia and Alabama. The eastern
and most important band consists of hills and mountains of
ancient crystalline rocks, somewhat resembling those of the
Laurentian highland but by no means so old. West of this comes a
broad valley eroded for the most part in the softer portions of a
highly folded series of sedimentary rocks which are of great age
but younger than the crystalline rocks to the east. The third
band is the Alleghany plateau, composed of almost horizontal
rocks which lie so high and have been so deeply dissected that
they are often called mountains.

The three Appalachian bands by no means preserve a uniform
character throughout their entire length. The eastern crystalline
band has its chief development in the northeast. There it
comprises the whole of New England and a large part of the
maritime provinces of Canada as well as Newfoundland. Its broad
development in New England causes that region to be one of the
most clearly defined natural units of the United States. Ancient
igneous rocks such as granite lie intricately mingled with old
and highly metamorphosed sediments. Since some of the rocks are
hard and others soft and since all have been exposed to extremely
long erosion, the topography of New England consists typically of
irregular masses of rounded hills free from precipices. Here and
there hard masses of unusually resistant rock stand up as
isolated rounded heights, like Mount Katahdin in Maine. They are
known as "monadnocks" from the mountain of that name in southern
New Hampshire. In other places larger and more irregular masses
of hard rock form mountain groups like the White Mountains, the
Green Mountains, and the Berkshires, each of which is merely a
great series of monadnocks.

In the latitude of southern New York the crystalline rocks are
compressed into narrow compass and lose their mountainous
character. They form the irregular hills on which New York City
itself is built and which make the suburbs of Westchester County
along the eastern Hudson so diverse and beautiful. To the
southeast the topography of the old crystalline band becomes
still less pronounced, as may be seen in the rolling, fertile
hills around Philadelphia. Farther south the band divides into
two parts, the mountains proper and the Piedmont plateau. The
mountains begin at the Blue Ridge, which in Virginia raises its
even-topped heights mile after mile across the length of that
State. In North Carolina, however, they lose their character as a
single ridge and expand into the broad mass of the southern
Appalachians. There Mount Mitchell dominates the eastern part of
the American continent and is surrounded by over thirty other
mountains rising to a height of at least six thousand feet. The
Piedmont plateau, which lies at the eastern foot of the Blue
Ridge, is not really a plateau but a peneplain or ancient lowland
worn almost to a plain. It expands to a width of one hundred
miles in Virginia and the Carolinas and forms the part of those
States where most of the larger towns are situated. Among its low
gentle heights there rises an occasional little monadnock like
Chapel Hill, where the University of North Carolina lies on a
rugged eminence which strikingly recalls New England. For the
most part, however, the hills of the Piedmont region are lower
and more rounded than those in the neighborhood of Philadelphia.
The country thus formed has many advantages, for it is flat
enough to be used for agriculture and yet varied enough to be
free from the monotony of the level plains.

The prolonged and broken inner valley forming the second band of
the Appalachians was of some importance as a highway in the days
of the Indians. Today the main highways of traffic touch it only
to cross it as quickly as possible. From Lake Champlain it trends
straight southward in the Hudson Valley until the Catskills have
been passed. Then, while the railroads and all the traffic go on
down the gorge of the Hudson to New York, the valley swings off
into Pennsylvania past Scranton, Wilkesbarre, and Harrisburg.
There the underlying rock consists of a series of alternately
hard and soft layers which have been crumpled up much as one
might wrinkle a rug with one's foot. The pressure involved in the
process changed and hardened the rocks so much that the coal
which they contain was converted into anthracite, the finest coal
in all the world and the only example of its kind. Even the
famous Welsh coal has not been so thoroughly hardened. During a
long period of erosion the tops of the folded layers were worn
off to a depth of thousands of feet and the whole country was
converted into an almost level plain. Then in the late geological
period known as the early Tertiary the land was lifted up again,
and once more erosion went on. The soft rocks were thus etched
away until broad valleys were formed. The hard layers were left
as a bewildering succession of ridges with flat tops. A single
ridge may double back and forth so often that the region well
deserves the old Indian name of the "Endless Mountains."
Southwestward the valley grows narrower, and the ridges which
break its surface become straighter. Everywhere they are
flat-topped, steep-sided, and narrow, while between them lie
parts of the main valley floor, flat and fertile. Here in the
south, even more clearly than in the north, the valley is
bordered on the east by the sharply upstanding range of the
crystalline Appalachians, while on the west with equal regularity
it comes to an end in an escarpment which rises to the Alleghany

This plateau, the third great band of the Appalachians, begins on
the south side of the Mohawk Valley. To the north its place is
taken by the Adirondacks, which are an outlier of the great
Laurentian area of Canada. The fact that the outlier and the
plateau are separated by the low strip of the Mohawk Valley makes
this the one place where the highly complex Appalachian system
can easily be crossed. If the Alleghany plateau joined the
Adirondacks, Philadelphia instead of New York would be the
greatest city of America. Where the plateau first rises on the
south side of the Mohawk, it attains heights of four thousand
feet in the Catskill Mountains. We think of the Catskills as
mountains, but their steep cliffs and table-topped heights show
that they are really the remnants of a plateau, the nearly
horizontal strata of which have not yet been worn away. Westward
from the Catskills the plateau continues through central New York
to western Pennsylvania. Those who have traveled on the
Pennsylvania Railroad may remember how the railroad climbs the
escarpment at Altoona. Farther east the train has passed
alternately through gorges cut in the parallel ridges and through
fertile open valleys forming the main floor of the inner valley.
Then it winds up the long ascent of the Alleghany front in a
splendid horseshoe curve. At the top, after a short tunnel, the
train emerges in a wholly different country. The valleys are
without order or system. They wind this way and that. The hills
are not long ridges but isolated bits left between the winding
valleys. Here and there beds of coal blacken the surface, for
here we are among the rocks from which the world's largest coal
supply is derived. Since the layers lie horizontally and have
never been compressed, the same material which in the inner
valley has been changed to hard, clean-burning anthracite here
remains soft and smoky.

In its southwestern continuation through West Virginia and
Kentucky to Tennessee the plateau maintains many of its
Pennsylvanian characteristics, but it now rises higher and
becomes more inaccessible. The only habitable portions are the
bottoms of the valleys, but they are only wide enough to support
a most scanty population. Between them most of the land is too
rough for anything except forests. Hence the people who live at
the bottoms of the valleys are strangely isolated. They see
little or nothing of the world at large or even of their
neighbors. The roads are so few and the trails so difficult that
the farmers cannot easily take their produce to market. Their
only recourse has been to convert their bulky corn into whisky,
which occupied little space in proportion to its value. Since the
mountaineer has no other means of getting ready money, it is not
strange that he has become a moonshiner and has fought bitterly
for what he genuinely believed to be his rights in that
occupation. Education has not prospered on the plateau because
the narrowness of the valleys causes the population to be too
poor and too scattered to support schools. For the same reason
feuds grow up. When people live by themselves they become
suspicious. Not being used to dealing with their neighbors, they
suspect the motives of all but their intimate friends. Moreover,
in those deep valleys, with their steep sides and their general
inaccessibility, laws cannot easily be enforced, and therefore
each family takes the law into its own hands.

Today the more rugged parts of the Appalachian system are chiefly
important as a hindrance to communication. On the Atlantic slope
of the old crystalline band there are great areas of gentle
relief where an abundant population can dwell. Westward on the
edges of the plateau and the plains beyond a still greater
population can find a living, but in the intervening space there
is opportunity for only a few. The great problem is to cross the
mountains as easily as possible. Each accessible crossing-place
is associated with a city. Boston, as well as New York, owes much
to the low Mohawk-Hudson route, but is badly handicapped because
it has no easy means of crossing the eastern crystalline band.
Philadelphia, on the other hand, benefits from the fact that in
its vicinity the crystallizes are low and can readily be crossed
even without the aid of the valleys of the Delaware and
Schuylkill rivers. It is handicapped, however, by the Alleghany
escarpment at Altoona, even though this is lower there than
farther south. Baltimore, in the same way, owes much of its
growth to the easy pathways of the Susquehanna on the north and
the Potomac on the south. Farther south both the crystalline band
and the Alleghany plateau become more difficult to traverse, so
that communication between the Atlantic coast and the Mississippi
Valley is reduced to small proportions. Happy is New York in its
situation where no one of the three bands of the Appalachians
opposes any obstacle. The plains of North America form the third
of the four main physical divisions of the continent. For the
most part they lie between the great western cordillera on one
side and the Laurentian and Appalachian highlands on the other.
Yet they lap around the southern end of the Appalachians and run
far up the Atlantic coast to New York. They remained beneath the
sea till a late date, much later than the other three divisions.
They were not, however, covered with deep water like that of the
abysmal oceans, but only with shallow seas from which the land at
times emerged. In spite of the old belief to the contrary, the
continents appear to be so permanent that they have occupied
practically their present positions from the remotest geological
times. They have moved slowly up and down, however, so that some
parts have frequently been submerged, and the plains are the
parts that remained longest under water.

The plains of North America may be divided into four parts
according to the character of their surface: the Atlantic coastal
plain, the prairies, the northwestern peneplain, and the
southwestern high plains. The Atlantic coastal plain lies along
the Atlantic coast from New York southward to Florida and
Alabama. It also forms a great embayment up the Mississippi
Valley as far as the Ohio River, and it extends along the shore
of the Gulf of Mexico to the Rio Grande. The chief characteristic
of this Atlantic and Gulf coastal plain is its belted nature. One
layer of rocks is sandy, another consists of limestone, and a
third of clay. When uplifted and eroded each assumes its own
special topography and is covered with its own special type of
vegetation. Thus in South Carolina and Georgia the crystalline
Piedmont band of the Appalachian province is bordered on the
southeast by a belt of sandstone. This rock is so far from the
sea and has been raised so high above it that erosion has
converted it into a region of gentle hills, whose tops are six
hundred or seven hundred feet above sea-level. Its sandy soil is
so poor that farming is difficult. The hills are largely covered
with pine, yielding tar and turpentine. Farther seaward comes a
broad band of younger rock which forms a clayey soil or else a
yellow sandy loam. These soils are so rich that splendid cotton
crops can be raised, and hence the region is thickly populated.
Again there comes a belt of sand, the so-called "pine barrens,"
which form a poor section about fifty miles inland from the
coast. Finally the coastal belt itself has emerged from beneath
the sea so recently and lies so nearly at sea-level that it has
not been greatly eroded, and is still covered with numerous
marshes and swamps. The rich soil and the moisture are good for
rice, but the region is so unhealthy and so hard to drain that
only small parts are inhabited.

Everywhere in the coastal plain this same belted character is
more or less evident. It has much to do with all sorts of
activities from farming to politics. On consulting the map
showing the cotton production of the United States in 1914, one
notices the two dark bands in the southeast. One of them,
extending from the northwestern part of South Carolina across
Georgia and Alabama, is due to the fertile soil of the Piedmont
region. The other, lying nearer the sea, begins in North Carolina
and extends well into Alabama before it swings around to the
northwest toward the area of heavy production along the
Mississippi. It is due to the fertile soil of that part of the
coastal plain known as the "cotton belt." Portions of it are
called the "black belt," not because of the colored population,
but because of the darkness of the soil. Since this land has
always been prosperous, it has regularly been conservative in

The Atlantic coastal plain is by no means the only part of the
United States where the fertility of the soil is the dominant
fact in the life of the people. Because of their rich soil the
prairies which extend from western Ohio to the Missouri River and
northward into Canada are fast becoming the most steadily
prosperous part of America. They owe their surpassing richness
largely to glaciation. We have already seen how the coming of the
ice-sheet benefited the regions on the borders of the old
Laurentian highland. This same benefit extended over practically
the whole of what are now the prairies. Before the advent of the
ice the whole section consisted of a broadly banded coastal plain
much older than that of the Atlantic coast. When the ice with its
burden of material scraped from the hills of the north passed
over the coastal plain, it filled the hollows with rich new soil.
The icy streams that flowed out from the glaciers were full of
fine sediment, which they deposited over enormous flood plains.
During dry seasons the winds picked up this dust and spread it
out still more widely, forming the great banks of yellow loess
whose fertile soil mantles the sides of many a valley in the
Mississippi basin. Thus glaciers, streams, and winds laid down
ten, twenty, fifty, or even one hundred feet of the finest, most
fertile soil. We have already seen how much the soil was improved
by glaciation in Wisconsin and Ohio. It was in the prairie States
that this improvement reached a maximum. The soil there is not
only fine grained and free from rocks, but it consists of
particles brought from widely different sources and is therefore
full of all kinds of plant foods. In most parts of the world a
fine-grained soil is formed only after a prolonged period of
weathering which leaches out many valuable chemical elements. In
the prairies, however, the soil consists largely of materials
that were mechanically ground to dust by the ice without being
exposed to the action of weathering. Thus they have reached their
present resting-places without the loss of any of their original
plant foods. When such a soil is found with a climate which is
good for crops and which is also highly stimulating to man, the
combination is almost ideal. There is some justification for
those who say that the north central portion of the United States
is more fortunate than any other part of the earth. Nowhere else,
unless in western Europe, is there such a combination of fertile
soil, fine climate, easy communication, and possibilities for
manufacturing and commerce. Iron from that outlier of the
Laurentian highland which forms the peninsula of northern
Michigan can easily be brought by water almost to the center of
the prairie region. Coal in vast quantities lies directly under
the surface of this region, for the rock of the ancient coastal
plain belongs to the same Pennsylvanian series which yields most
of the world's coal. Here man is, indeed, blessed with resources
and opportunities scarcely equaled in any other part of the
world, and finds the only drawbacks to be the extremes of
temperature in both winter and summer and the remoteness of the
region from the sea. Because of the richness of their heritage
and because they live safely protected from threats of foreign
aggression, the people who live in this part of the world are in
danger of being slow to feel the currents of great world

The western half of the plains of North America consists of two
parts unlike either the Atlantic coastal plain or the prairies.
From South Dakota and Nebraska northward far into Canada and
westward to the Rocky Mountains there extends an ancient
peneplain worn down to gentle relief by the erosion of millions
of years. It is not so level as the plains farther east nor so
low. Its western margin reaches heights of four or five thousand
feet. Here and there, especially on the western side, it rises to
the crest of a rugged escarpment where some resistant layer of
rocks still holds itself up against the forces of erosion.
Elsewhere its smooth surfaces are broken by lava-capped mesas or
by ridges where some ancient volcanic dike is so hard that it has
not yet been worn away. The soil, though excellent, is thinner
and less fertile than in the prairies. Nevertheless the
population might in time become as dense and prosperous as almost
any in the world if only the rainfall were more abundant and good
supplies of coal were not quite so far away. Yet in spite of
these handicaps the northwestern peneplain with its vast open
stretches, its cattle, its wheat, and its opportunities is a most
attractive land.

South of Nebraska and Wyoming the "high plains," the last of the
four great divisions of the plains, extend as far as western
Texas. These, like the prairies, have been built up by deposits
brought from other regions. In this case, however, the deposits
consist of gravel, sand, and silt which the rivers have gradually
washed out from the Rocky Mountains. As the rivers have changed
their courses from one bed to another, layer after layer has been
laid down to form a vast plain like a gently sloping beach
hundreds of miles wide. In most places the streams are no longer
building this up. Frequently they have carved narrow valleys
hundreds of feet deep in the materials which they formerly
deposited. Elsewhere, however, as in western Kansas, most of the
country is so flat that the horizon is like that of the ocean. It
seems almost incredible that at heights of four or five thousand
feet the plains can still be so wonderfully level. When the grass
is green, when the spring flowers are at their best, it would be
hard to find a picture of greater beauty. Here the buffalo
wandered in the days before the white man destroyed them. Here
today is the great cattle region of America. Here is the region
where the soul of man is filled with the feeling of infinite

To the student of land forms there is an everpresent contrast
between those due directly to the processes which build up the
earth's surface and those due to the erosive forces which destroy
what the others have built. In the great plains of North America
two of the divisions, that is, the Atlantic coastal plain of the
southeast and the peneplain of the northwest, owe their present
form to the forces of erosion. The other two, that is, the
prairies and the high plains, still bear the impress of the
original processes of deposition and have been modified to only a
slight extent by erosion.

A similar but greater contrast separates the mountains of eastern
North America and those of the western cordillera--the fourth and
last of the main physical divisions of the continent. In both the
Laurentian and the Appalachian highlands the eastern mountains
show no trace of the original forms produced by the faulting of
the crust or by volcanic movements. All the original distinctive
topography has been removed. What we see today is the product of
erosion working upon rocks that were thousands of feet beneath
the surface when they were brought to their present positions. In
the western cordillera, on the contrary, although much of the
present form of the land is due to erosion, a vast amount is due
directly to so-called "tectonic" activities such as the breaking
of the crust, the pouring out of molten lavas, and the bursting
forth of explosive eruptions.

The character of these tectonic activities has differed widely in
different parts of the cordillera. A broad upheaval of great
blocks of the earth's crust without tilting or disturbance has
produced the plateaus of Arizona and Utah. The gorges that have
been rapidly cut into such great upheaved blocks form part of the
world's most striking scenery. The Grand Canyon of the Colorado
with its tremendous platforms, mesas, and awe-inspiring cliffs
could have been formed in no other way. Equally wonderful are
some of the narrow canyons in the broadly upheaved plateaus of
southern Utah where the tributaries of the Virgin and other
rivers have cut red or white chasms thousands of feet deep and so
narrow that at their bottoms perpetual twilight reigns. It is a
curious proof of the fallibility of human judgment that these
great gorges are often cited as the most striking examples of the
power of erosion. Wonderful as these gorges certainly are, the
Piedmont plain or the northwestern peneplain is far more
wonderful. Those regions had their grand canyons once upon a
time, but now erosion has gone so far that it has reduced the
whole area to the level of the bottoms of the gorges. Though such
a fate is in store for all the marvelous scenery of the western
cordillera, we have it, for the present at least, as one of the
most stimulating panoramas of our American environment. No man
worthy of the name can sit on the brink of a great canyon or gaze
up from the dark depths of a gorge without a sense of awe and
wonder. There, as in few other places, Nature shows with
unmistakable grandeur the marvelous power and certainty with
which her laws work out the destiny of the universe.

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

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.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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.


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

* 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

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.

The Indians of the Great Plains lived a very different life from
that of the natives of either the mountains or the Pacific coast.
In the far north, to be sure, the rigorous climate caused all the
Indians to live practically alike, whether in the Rockies, the
plains, or the Laurentian highland. South of them, in that great
central expanse stretching from the latitude of Lake Winnipeg to
the Rio Grande River, the Indians of the plains possessed a
relatively uniform type of life peculiar to themselves. This
individuality was due partly to the luxuriant carpet of grass
which covered the plains and partly to the supply of animal food
afforded by the vast herds of buffaloes which roamed in tens of
thousands throughout the whole territory. The grass was important
chiefly because it prevented the Indians from engaging in
agriculture, for it must never be forgotten that the Indians had
neither iron tools nor beasts of burden to aid them in overcoming
the natural difficulties in the way of agriculture. To be sure,
they did occasionally pound meteoric iron into useful implements,
but this substance was so rare that probably not one Indian in a
hundred had ever seen a piece. The Indians were quite familiar
with copper, but there is not the slightest evidence that they
had discovered any means of hardening it. Metals played no real
part in the life of any of the Indians of America, and without
such tools as iron spades and hoes it was impossible for them to
cultivate grassland. If they burned the prairie and dropped seeds
into holes, the corn or beans which they thus planted were sure
to be choked by the quickly springing grass. To dig away the
tough sod around the hole for each seed would require an almost
incredible amount of work even with iron tools. To accomplish
this with wooden spades, rude hoes made of large flakes of flint,
or the shoulder blades of the buffalo, was impossible on any
large scale. Now and then in some river bottom where the grass
grew in clumps and could be easily pulled up, a little
agriculture was possible. That is all that seems to have been
attempted on the great grassy plains.

The Indians could not undertake any widespread cultivation of the
plains not only because they lacked iron tools but also because
they had no draft animals. The buffalo was too big, too fierce,
and too stupid to be domesticated. In all the length and breadth
of the two Americas there was no animal to take the place of the
useful horse, donkey, or ox. The llama was too small to do
anything but carry light loads, and it could live only in a most
limited area among the cold Andean highlands. Even if the
aboriginal Americans could have made iron ploughs, they could not
have ploughed the tough sod without the aid of animals. Moreover,
even if the possession of metal tools and beasts of burden had
made agriculture possible in the grass-lands, it would have been
difficult, in the absence of wood for fences, to prevent the
buffalo from eating up the crops or at least from tramping
through them and spoiling them. Thus the fertile land of the
great plains remained largely unused until the white man came to
the New World bringing the iron tools and domestic animals that
were necessary to successful agriculture.

Although farming of any sort was almost as impossible in the
plains as in the dry regions of winter rains farther west, the
abundance of buffaloes made life much easier in many respects. It
is astonishing to see how many purposes these animals served. An
early traveler who dwelt among one of the buffalo-hunting tribes,
the Tonkawa of central Texas, says: "Besides their meat it [the
buffalo] furnishes them liberally what they desire for
conveniences. The brains are used to soften skins, the horns for
spoons and drinking cups, the shoulder blades to dig up and clear
off the ground, the tendons for threads and bow strings, the
hoofs to glue the arrow-feathering. From the tail-hair they make
ropes and girths, from the wool, belts and various ornaments. The
hide furnishes . . . shields, tents, shirts, footwear, and
blankets to protect them from the cold."*

*See Hodge, "Handbook of American Indians," vol. II, p. 781.

The buffalo is a surprisingly stupid animal. When a herd is
feeding it is possible for a man to walk into the midst of it and
shoot down an animal. Even when one of their companions falls
dead, the buffaloes pay no attention to the hunter provided he
remains perfectly still. The wounded animals are not at first
dangerous but seek to flee. Only when pursued and brought to bay
do they turn on their pursuers. When the Indians of an encampment
united their forces, as was their regular habit, they were able
to slaughter hundreds of animals in a few days. The more delicate
parts of the meat they ate first, often without cooking them. The
rest they dried and packed away for future use, while they
prepared the hides as coverings for the tents or as rugs in which
to sleep.

Wherever the buffaloes were present in large numbers, the habits
of the Indians were much the same. They could not live in settled
villages, for there was no assurance that the buffalo would come
to any particular place each year. The plains tribes were
therefore more thoroughly nomadic than almost any others,
especially after the introduction of horses. Because they
wandered so much, they came into contact with other tribes to an
unusual degree, and much of the contact was friendly. Gradually
the Indians developed a sign language by which tribes of
different tongues could communicate with one another. At first
these signs were like pictographs, for the speaker pointed as
nearly as possible to the thing that he desired to indicate, but
later they became more and more conventional. For example, man,
the erect animal, was indicated by throwing up the hand, with its
back outward and the index finger extending upward. Woman was
indicated by a sweeping downward movement of the hand at the side
of the head with fingers extended to denote long hair or the
combing of flowing locks.

Among the plains Indians, the Dakotas, the main tribe of the
Sioux family, are universally considered to have stood highest
not only physically but mentally, and probably morally. Their
bravery was never questioned, and they conquered or drove out
every rival except the Chippewas. Their superiority was clearly
seen in their system of government. Personal fitness and
popularity determined chieftainship more than did heredity. The
authority of the chief was limited by the Band Council, without
whose approbation little or nothing could be accomplished. In one
of the Dakota tribes, the Tetons, the policing of a village was
confided to two or three officers who were appointed by the chief
and who remained in power until their successors were appointed.
Day and night they were always on the watch, and so arduous were
their labors that their term of service was necessarily short.
The brevity of their term, however, was atoned for by the
greatness of their authority, for in the suppression of
disturbances no resistance was suffered. Their persons were
sacred, and if in the execution of their duty they struck even a
chief of the second class they could not be punished.

The Dakotas, who lived in the region where their name is still
preserved, inhabited that part of the great plain which is
climatically most favorable to great activity. It is perhaps
because of their response to the influence of this factor of
geographical environment that they and their neighbors are the
best known of the plains tribes. Their activity in later times is
evident from the fact that the Tetons were called "the plundering
Arabs of America." If their activities had been more wisely
directed, they might have made a great name for themselves in
Indian history. In the arts they stood as high as could be
expected in view of the wandering life which they led and the
limited materials with which they had to work. In the art of
making pictographs, for instance, they excelled all other tribes,
except perhaps the Kiowas, a plains tribe of Colorado and western
Kansas. On the hides of buffalo, deer, and antelope which formed
their tents, the Dakotas painted calendars, which had a picture
for each year, or rather for each winter, while those of the
Kiowas had a summer symbol and a winter symbol. Probably these
calendars reveal the influence of the whites, but they at least
show that these people of the plains were quickwitted.

Farther south the tribes of the plains stood on a much lower
level than the Dakotas. The Spanish explorer, Cabeza de Vaca,
describes the Yguases in Texas, among whom he lived for several
years, in these words: "Their support is principally roots which
require roasting two days. Many are very bitter. Occasionally
they take deer and at times fish, but the quantity is so small
and the famine so great that they eat spiders and eggs of ants,
worms, lizards, salamanders, snakes, and vipers that kill whom
they strike, and they eat earth and all that there is, the dung
of deer, things I omit to mention and I earnestly believe that
were there stones in that land they would eat them. They save the
bones of the fish they consume, the snakes and other animals,
that they may afterward beat them together and eat the powder."
During these painful periods, they bade Cabeza de Vaca "not to be
sad. There would soon be prickly pears, although the season of
this fruit of the cactus might be months distant. When the pears
were ripe, the people feasted and danced and forgot their former
privations. They destroyed their female infants to prevent them
being taken by their enemies and thus becoming the means of
increasing the latter's number."

East of the Great Plains there dwelt still another important type
of Indians, the people of the deciduous forests. Their home
extended from the Great Lakes to the Gulf of Mexico. As we have
already seen, the Iroquois who inhabited the northern part of
this region were in many respects the highest product of
aboriginal America. The northern Iroquois tribes, especially
those known as the Five Nations, were second to no other Indian
people north of Mexico in political organization, statecraft, and
military prowess. Their leaders were genuine diplomats, as the
wily French and English statesmen with whom they treated soon
discovered. One of their most notable traits was the reverence
which they had for the tribal law. The wars that they waged were
primarily for political independence, for the fundamental
principle of their confederation was that by uniting with one
another they would secure the peace and welfare of all with whom
they were connected by ties of blood. They prevented blood feuds
by decreeing that there should be a price for the killing of a
co-tribesman, and they abstained from eating the flesh of their
enemies in order to avoid future strife. So thoroughly did they
believe in the rights of the individual that women were accorded
a high position. Among some of the tribes the consent of all the
women who had borne children was required before any important
measure could be taken. Candidates for a chiefship were nominated
by the votes of the mothers, and, as lands and houses were the
property of the women, their power in the tribe was great.

The Iroquois were sedentary and agricultural, and depended on the
chase for only a small part of their existence. The northern
tribes were especially noted for their skill in building
fortifications and houses. Their so-called castles were solid
wooden structures with platforms running around the top on the
inside. From the platforms stones and other missiles could be
hurled down upon besiegers. According to our standards such
dwellings were very primitive, but they were almost as great an
advance upon the brush piles of the Utes as our skyscrapers are
upon them. Farther south in the Carolinas, the Cherokees, another
Iroquoian tribe, stand out prominently by reason of their unusual
mental ability. Under the influence of the white man, the
Cherokees were the first to adopt a constitutional form of
government embodied in a code of laws written in their own
language. Their language was reduced to writing by means of an
alphabet which one of their number named Sequoya had devised.
Sequoya and other leaders, however, may not have been pure
Indians, for by that time much white blood had been mixed with
the tribe. Yet even before the coming of the white man the
Cherokees were apparently more advanced in agriculture than the
Iroquois were, but less advanced in their form of government, in
their treatment of women, and in many other respects. In general,
as we go from north to south in the region of deciduous forests,
we find that among the early Indians agriculture became more and
more important and the people more sedentary, though not always
more progressive in other ways. The Catawbas, for instance, in
South Carolina were sedentary agriculturists and seem to have
differed little in general customs from their neighbors. Their
men were brave and honest but lacking in energy. In the
Muskhogean family of Indians, comprising the Creeks, Choctaws,
Chickasaws, and Seminoles, who occupied the Gulf States from
Georgia to Mississippi, all the tribes were agricultural and
sedentary and occupied villages of substantial houses. The towns
near the tribal frontiers were usually palisaded, but those more
remote from invasion were unprotected. All these Indians were
brave but not warlike in the violent fashion of the Five Nations.
The Choctaws would fight only in self-defense, it was said, but
the Creeks and especially the Chickasaws were more aggressive. In
their government these Muskhogean tribes appear to have attained
a position corresponding to their somewhat advanced culture in
other respects. Yet their confederacies were loose and flimsy
compared with that of the Five Nations. Another phase of the life
of the tribes in the southern part of the region of deciduous
forests is illustrated by the Natchez of Mississippi. These
people were strictly sedentary and depended chiefly upon
agriculture for a livelihood. They possessed considerable skill
in the arts. For instance, they wove a cloth from the inner bark
of the mulberry tree and made excellent pottery. They also
constructed great mounds of earth upon which to erect their
dwellings and temples. Like a good many of the other southern
tribes, they fought when it was necessary, but they were
peaceable compared with the Five Nations. They had a form of
sun-worship resembling that of Mexico, and in other ways their
ideas were like those of the people farther south. For instance,
when a chief died, his wives were killed. In times of distress
the parents frequently offered their children as sacrifice.

Many characteristics of the Natchez and other southern tribes
seem to indicate that they had formerly possessed a civilization
higher than that which prevailed when the white man came. The
Five Nations, on the contrary, apparently represent an energetic
people who were on the upward path and who might have achieved
great things if the whites had not interrupted them. The southern
Indians resemble people whose best days were past, for the mounds
which abound in the Gulf States appear to have been built chiefly
in pre-Columbian days. Their objects of art, such as the
remarkable wooden mortars found at Key Marco and the embossed
copper plates found elsewhere in Florida, point to a highly
developed artistic sense which was no longer in evidence at the
coming of the white man.

It is interesting to see the way in which climatic energy tended
to give the Five Nations a marked superiority over the tribesmen
of the South, while agriculture tended in the opposite direction.
There has been much discussion as to the part played by
agriculture among the primitive Americans, especially in the
northeast. Corn, beans, and squashes were an important element in
the diet of the Indians of the New England region, while farther
south potatoes, sunflower seeds, and melons were also articles of
food. The New England tribes knew enough about agriculture to use
fish and shells for fertilizer. They had wooden mattocks and hoes
made from the shoulder blades of deer, from tortoise shells, or
from conch shells set in handles. They also had stone hoes and
spades, while the women used short pickers or parers about a foot
long and five inches wide. Seated on the ground they used these
to break the upper part of the soil and to grub out weeds, grass,
and old cornstalks. They had the regular custom of burning over
an old patch each year and then replanting it. Sometimes they
merely put the seeds in holes and sometimes they dug up and
loosened the ground for each seed. Clearings they made by
girdling the trees, that is, by cutting off the bark in a circle
at the bottom and thus causing the tree to die. The brush they
hacked or broke down and burned when it was dry enough.

There is much danger of confusing the agricultural condition of
the Indian after the European had modified his life with his
condition before the European came to America. For instance, in
the excellent article on agriculture in the "Handbook of American
Indians," conditions prevailing as late as 1794 in the States
south of the Great Lakes are spoken of as if typical of
aboriginal America. But at that time the white man had long been
in contact with the Indian, and iron tools had largely taken the
place of stone. The rapidity with which European importations
spread may be judged by the fact that as early as 1736 the
Iroquois in New York not only had obtained horses but were
regularly breeding them. The use of the iron axe of course spread
with vastly greater rapidity than that of the horse, for an axe
or a knife was the first thing that an Indian sought from the
white man. In the eighteenth century agriculture had thus become
immeasurably easier than before, yet even then the Indians still
kept up their old habit of cultivating the same fields only a
short time. The regular practice was to cultivate a field five,
ten, and sometimes even twenty or more years, and then abandon

*Ordinarily it is stated that this practice was due to the
exhaustion of the soil. That, however, is open to question, for
five or ten years' desultory cultivation on the part of the
Indian would scarcely exhaust the soil so much that people would
go to the great labor of making new clearings and moving their
villages. Moreover, in the Southern States it is well known today
that the soil is exhausted much more rapidly than farther north
because it contains less humus. Nevertheless the southern tribes
cultivated the land about their villages for long periods. Tribes
like the Creeks, the Cherokees, and the Natchez appear to have
been decidedly less prone to move than the Iroquois, in spite of
the relatively high development of these northern nations.

What hindered agriculture most in the northern part of the
deciduous forest was the grass. Any one who has cultivated a
garden knows how rapidly the weeds grow. He also knows that there
is no weed so hard to exterminate as grass. When once it gets a
foothold mere hoeing seems only to make it grow the faster. The
only way to get rid of grass when once it has become well
established is to plow the field and start over again, but this
the Indians could not do. When first a clearing was made in the
midst of the forest, there was no grass to be contended with.
Little by little, however, it was sure to come in, until at
length what had been a garden was in a fair way to become a
meadow. Then the Indians would decide that it was necessary to
seek new fields.

One might suppose that under such circumstances the Indians would
merely clear another patch of forest not far from the village and
so continue to live in the old place. This, however, they did not
do because the labor of making a clearing with stone axes and by
the slow process of girdling and burning the trees was so great
that it was possible only in certain favored spots where by
accident the growth was less dense than usual. When once a
clearing became grassy, the only thing to do was to hunt for a
new site, prepare a clearing, and then move the village. This was
apparently the reason why the Iroquois, although successful in
other ways, failed to establish permanent towns like those of the
Pueblos and the Haidas. Their advancement not only in
architecture but in many of the most important elements of
civilization was for this reason greatly delayed. There was
little to stimulate them to improve the land to which they were
attached, for they knew that soon they would have to move.

Farther south the character of the grassy vegetation changes, and
the condition of agriculture alters with it. The grass ceases to
have that thick, close, turfy quality which we admire so much in
the fields of the north, and it begins to grow in bunches. Often
a southern hillside may appear from a distance to be as densely
covered with grass as a New England hayfield. On closer
examination, however, the growth is seen to consist of individual
bunches which can easily be pulled up, so that among the southern
tribes the fields did not become filled with grass as they did in
the north, for the women had relatively little difficulty in
keeping out this kind of weed as well as others.

In this survey of aboriginal America we have been impressed by
the contrast between two diverse aspects of the control of human
activities by physical environment. We saw, in the first place,
that in our own day the distribution of culture in America is
more closely related to climatic energy than to any other factor,
because man is now so advanced in the arts and crafts that
agricultural difficulties do not impede him, except in the far
north and in tropical forests. Secondly, we have found that,
although all the geographical factors acted upon the Indian as
they do today, the absence of metals and beasts of burden
compelled man to be nomadic, and hence to remain in a low stage
of civilization in many places where he now can thrive. In the
days long before Columbus the distribution of civilization in the
Red Man's Continent offered still a third aspect, strikingly
different both from that of today and from that of the age of
discovery. In that earlier period the great centers of
civilization were south of their present situation. In the
southern part of North America from Arizona to Florida there are
abundant evidences that the Indians whom the white man found were
less advanced than their predecessors. The abundant ruins of
Arizona and New Mexico, their widespread distribution, and the
highly artistic character of the pottery and other products of
handicraft found in them seem to indicate that the ancient
population was both denser and more highly cultured than that
which the Europeans finally ousted. In the Gulf States there is
perhaps not much evidence that there was a denser population at
an earlier period, but the excellence of the pre-Columbian
handicrafts and the existence of a decadent sun worship
illustrate the way in which the civilization of the past was
higher than that of later days. The Aztecs, who figure so largely
in the history of the exploration and conquest of Mexico, were
merely a warlike tribe which had been fortunate in the
inheritance of a relatively high civilization from the past. So,
too, the civilization found by the Spaniards at places such as
Mitla, in the extreme south of Mexico, could not compare with
that of which evidence is found in the ruins. Most remarkable of
all is the condition of Yucatan and Guatemala. In northern
Yucatan the Spaniards found a race of mild, decadent Mayas living
among the relics of former grandeur. Although they used the old
temples as shrines, they knew little of those who had built these
temples and showed still less capacity to imitate the ancient
architects. Farther south in the forested region of southern
Yucatan and northern Guatemala the conditions are still more
surprising, for today these regions are almost uninhabitable and
are occupied by only a few sickly, degraded natives who live
largely by the chase. Yet in the past this region was the scene
of by far the highest culture that ever developed in America.
There alone in this great continent did men develop an
architecture which, not only in massiveness but in wealth of
architectural detail and sculptural adornment, vies with that of
early Egypt or Chaldea. There alone did the art of writing
develop. Yet today in those regions the density of the forest,
the prevalence of deadly fevers, the extremely enervating
temperature, and the steady humidity are as hostile to
civilization as are the cold of the far north and the dryness of
the desert.

The only explanation of this anomaly seems to be that in the past
the climatic zones of the world have at certain periods been
shifted farther toward the equator than they are at present.
Practically all the geographers of America now believe that
within the past two or three thousand years climatic pulsations
have taken place whereby places like the dry Southwest have
alternately experienced centuries of greater moisture than at
present and centuries as dry as today or even drier. During the
moist centuries greater storminess prevailed, so that the climate
was apparently better not only for agriculture but for human
energy. At such times the standard of living was higher than now
not only in the Southwest but in the Gulf States and in Mexico.
In periods when the deserts of the southwestern United States
were wet, the Maya region of Yucatan and Guatemala appears to
have been relatively dry. Then the dry belt which now extends
from northern Mexico to the northern tip of Yucatan apparently
shifted southward. Such conditions would cause the forests of
Yucatan and Guatemala to become much less dense than at present.
This comparative deforestation would make agriculture easily
possible where today it is out of the question. At the same time
the relatively dry climate and the clearing away of the
vegetation would to a large degree eliminate the malarial fevers
and other diseases which are now such a terrible scourge in wet
tropical countries. Then, too, the storms which at the present
time give such variability to the climate of the United States
would follow more southerly courses. In its stimulating qualities
the climate of the home of the Mayas in the days of their prime
was much more nearly like that which now prevails where
civilization rises highest.

From first to last the civilization of America has been bound up
with its physical environment. It matters little whether we are
dealing with the red race, the black, or the white. Nor does it
matter whether we deal with one part of the continent or another.
Wherever we turn we can trace the influence of mountains and
plains, of rocks and metals from which tools are made, of water
and its finny inhabitants, of the beasts of the chase from the
hare to the buffalo, of domestic animals, of the native forests,
grass-lands, and deserts, and, last but not least, of
temperature, moisture, and wind in their direct effects upon the
human body. At one stage of human development the possibilities
of agriculture may be the dominant factor in man's life in early
America. At another, domestic animals may be more important, and
at still another, iron or waterways or some other factor may be
predominant. It is the part of the later history of the American
Continent to trace the effect of these various factors and to
chronicle the influence that they have had upon man's progress.


Although many books deal with the physical features of the
Western Hemisphere and many others with the Indians, few deal
with the two in relation to one another. One book, however,
stands out preeminent in this respect, namely, Edward John
Payne's "History of the New World Called America," 2 vols.
(1892-99). This book, which has never been finished, attempts to
explain the conditions of life among the American aborigines as
the result of geographical conditions, especially of the food
supply. Where the author carries this attempt into the field of
special customs and religious rites, he goes too far.
Nevertheless his work is uncommonly stimulating and deserves the
careful attention of the reader who would gain a broad grasp of
the relation of geography to the history of the New World.

Two other good books which deal with the relation of geography to
American history are Miss Ellen C. Semple's "American History and
its Geographical Conditions" (1903) and A. P. Brigham's
"Geographic Influences in American History" (1903). Both of these
books interpret geography as if it included little except the
form of the land. While they bring out clearly the effect of
mountain barriers, indented coasts, and easy routes whether by
land or water, they scarcely touch on the more subtle
relationships between man on the one hand and the climate,
plants, and animals which form the dominant features of his
physical environment on the other hand.

In their emphasis on the form of the land both Semple and Brigham
follow the lead of W. M. Davis. In his admirable articles on
America and the United States in "The Encyclopaedia Britannica"
(11th edition) and in The International Geography edited by H. R.
Mill (1901), Davis has given an uncommonly clear and vivid
description of the main physical features of the New World.
Living beings, however, play little part in this description, so
that the reader is not led to an understanding of how physical
geography affects human actions.

Other good descriptions of the North American continent are found
in the following books: I. C. Russell's "North America" (1904),
Stanford's "Compendium of Modern Geography and Travel," including
the volumes on Canada, the United States, and Central America,
and the great volumes on America in "The Earth and its
Inhabitants" by Elise Reclus, 19 vols. (1876-1894). Russell's
book is largely physiographic but contains some good chapters on
the Indians. In Stanford's "Compendium" the purpose is to treat
man and nature in their relation to one another, but the
relationships are not clearly brought out, and there is too much
emphasis on purely descriptive and encyclopedic matter. So far as
interest is concerned, the famous work by Elise Reclus holds high
rank. It is an encyclopedia of geographical facts arranged and
edited in such a way that it has all the interest of a fine book
of travel. Like most of the other books, however, it fails to
bring out relationships.

As sources of information on the Indians, two books stand out
with special prominence. "The American Race," by D. G. Brinton
(1891), is a most scholarly volume devoted largely to a study of
the Indians on a linguistic basis. It contains some general
chapters, however, on the Indians and their environment, and
these are most illuminating. The other book is the "Handbook of
American Indians North of Mexico," edited by F. W. Hodge, and
published by the United States Bureau of Ethnology (Washington,
1897, 1910, 1911). Its two large volumes are arranged in
encyclopedic form. The various articles are written by a large
number of scholars, including practically all the students who
were at work on Indian ethnology at the time of publication. Many
of the articles are the best that have been written and will not
only interest the general reader but will contribute to an
understanding of what America was when the Indians came here and
what it still is today.

End of The Project Gutenberg Etext of The Red Man's Continent, A
Chronicle of Aboriginal America, by Ellsworth Huntington


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