Highland County Virginia Indians
While the Indians Were Here -- In 1727 there was a portion of Virginia lying west of the blue Ridge and was uninhabited. In the lower valley of the South Branch was a clan of the Shawnees, about 150 strong. Highland was once only a hunting ground of the Shawnees. The whole Shawnee tribe which committed so much havoc between 1754 and 1815, counted only a thousand souls.
In what is now Berkeley County were a few of the Tuscaroras. The weak tribe of the Sendedoes, dwelling near the forks of the Shenandoah, had just been crushed by enemies more powerful.
The Valley of Virginia to the red man was a hunting ground. It was also a great military highway. Up and down the watercourses and along the ridges lay Indian war trails, over which Cherokees and Catawbas from the South marched against or fled before the Mingoes and other tribes of the North.
To attract the buffalo, the deer, and the elk, the lowlands of the Shenandoah were kept in the condition of the prairie. This was accomplished by burning the grass at the end of each hunting season. On the bottom lands of the Cowpasture and Jackson's River basins were similar yet narrower belts of those pasture lands.
The Shawnee (or Shawanogi) were a southern people and became known as Shawanoes or Shawnees. they were Algonkin stock related tot he tribes of New England and Middle States. A restless nation, that pushed southward and westward. In mental attributes and in general ability the Shawnees stood above the average of the Indian race. They gave the world one of the ablest red men known to history, Tecumseh. They were generous livers and their women were superior housekeepers. They could very often converse in several tongues.
Before they were pushed out of the Alleghany region they could generally talk with the white pioneer. The Shawnee was active, sensible, manly, and high spirited. He was cheerful and full of jokes and laughter, yet few natives could match him in deceit and treachery. THe Shawnee despised the prowess of other Indians, and it became his boast that he killed or carried into captivity ten white persons for every warrior that he lost.
The Shawnee's roving was nobly because of the pressure of hostile tribes. A Shawnee was a Shawnee, whether dwelling on the banks of the Potomac or the Ohio. There was no such thing among the Indians as individual ownership of the soil. The land of the tribe was considered to belong to the tribe as a people, and in Indian usage none of it could be sold except by the tribe.
Indians did not count relationships as we do. A tribe was composed of clans, each with it distinctive name. The members of a clan considered themselves as brothers and sisters and the Indian could no more marry within his own clan than he could marry his blood sister. In Indian usage the clan was therefore the only family recognized. An injury to any member of the clan was held to be an injury to one's own brother or sister, and any a warrior believed it his duty to avenge the wrong.
The individual families of a tribe lived only in villages and never in isolated homes. A limited agriculture was carried on in the open space around each village. The Indian never butchered game out of the sheer wantonness, after the manner of some people who style themselves civilized.
a Shawnee hut was circular in form. It was made by fastening long poles together above and covering this framework with bark. The only openings were a passage for the inmates and another for the smoke. The art of weaving was unknown to this tribe. clothing was of skins tanned by a simple process. Until the white radar came, the only weapons or other implements were of stone or bone.
The red American had his games of skill or chance, and he had his secret societies. He also possessed a large fund of folklore and of tribal history, this being handed down from father to son in the form of oral tradition. His keen sense of humor is shown in such proverbs as the following:
The Indian race was superior to any barbarous race of the Eastern Hemisphere. The Indian thought it foolhardy to fight in the open. Several frontiersmen had the Indian consent to settle and hunt on the Monongahela. In 1774, Governor Dunmore sent a messenger to warn them back. An Indian gave him this reply, "Tell your king the damn liar. Indian no kill these men." The frontiersmen remained where they were and in safety throughout the war which followed.
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- No Indian ever sold his daughter for a name.
- A squaw's tongue runs faster than the wind's legs.
- The Inidan scalps his enemy; the paleface skins his friends.
- Before the paleface came, there was no poison in the Inidan's corn.
- There will be hungry palefaces so long as there is any Indian land to swallow.
- There are three things it takes a strong man to hold; a young warrior, a wild horse, and a handsome squaw.
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