American Ethnology

By John D. Baldwin.

It may be true that all the aboriginal peoples found inhabiting North and South America, save the Eskimo, belonged originally to the same race. Some writers assume it to be true, although it seems strongly improbable, not to say impossible. If they were all of the same race, time and development, under different conditions of life, had divided this race into at least two extremely unlike branches. The wild Indians of North America were profoundly different from the ancient people of Central America and Peru. The Pueblo or Village Indians of New Mexico have scarcely any thing in common with the Apaches, Comanches, and Sioux. Even the uncivilized Indians of South America are different from those in the United States. Our wild Indians have more resemblance to the nomadic Koraks and Chookchees found in Eastern Siberia, throughout the region that extends to Behring’s Strait, than to any people on this continent. Those who have seen these Siberians, traveled with them, and lived in their tents, have found the resemblance very striking; but I infer from what they say that the Korak or Chookchee is superior to the Indian. See Kennan’s “Tent Life in Siberia.”

Mr. Lewis H. Morgan finds evidence that the American aborigines had a common origin in what he calls “their systems of consanguinity and affinity.” If it can be made to appear beyond question that these systems prevail and are identical every where from Patagonia to the Arctic Zone, his argument will have great force. But this has not yet been shown. He says: “The Indian nations, from the Atlantic to the Rocky Mountains, and from the Arctic Sea to the Gulf of Mexico, with the exception of the Eskimo, have the same system. It is elaborate and complicated in its general form and details; and, while deviations from uniformity occur in the systems of different stocks, the radical features are, in the main, constant. This identity in the essential characteristics of a system so remarkable tends to show that it must have been transmitted with the blood to each stock from a common original source. It affords the strongest evidence yet obtained of unity in origin of the Indian nations within the region defined.”

But unity in race among wild Indians found within the region specified would be sufficiently manifest without this evidence. That the same system of consanguinity and affinity, with precisely the same features of identity, ever was extended over the whole continent, remains unproved. The supposed traces of it among the Pueblos are by no means clear. A more complete and accurate research is required to show that identically the same system ever has existed any where between the United States and Patagonia. A system not wholly unlike it, though not the same, might grow up any where in widely separated tribal communities of barbarous peoples, without doing any thing more than the tribal system itself to show a common origin in race.

The aborigines of America may have been originally all of the same race. There are some considerations in favor of this hypothesis which have been used by writers entitled to great respect; but it can not yet be claimed with reason that they have been able to settle this question beyond the reach of doubt, even in their own minds. Therefore, to speak moderately, it would be premature to assume that the Mound-Builders were even remotely of the same race with the wild Indians, from whom they were so different in all we know of them.

The attempt to establish this hypothesis of identity in race has given rise to a tendency to underrate the development of the ancient people of Mexico and Central America, and to lower the estimate of their attainments sufficiently to bring them within reach of close relationship to the wild Indians. The difficulty being reduced in this way, there follows an attempt to get rid of it entirely, and establish connection between these unlike peoples, by talking of “Semi-Village Indians.” But the hypothesis used in this case is not well warranted by facts. Such “Semi-Village Indians” as are supposed, really standing half way between the savages and the Pueblos, and being actually savages half developed into Pueblos, have never had a clearly defined and unquestionable existence here since the continent became known to Europeans. In the border region between the northern wild Indians and the old Mexican race there are exceptional communities formed by association or mixture, but we can not reasonably give them the significance claimed for the supposed “Semi-Village Indians.” Moreover, these exceptional communities are usually Pueblos whose habits have been changed and their civilization lessened by association with wild Indians, or in some other way. The Navajos began their present condition by fleeing to the mountains from the Spaniards. The Mound-Builders, who must have been, still more than the Pueblos, unlike the barbarous Indians, can not be explained by any reference whatever to such communities. If they were of the same race, they were far from being the same people.

Some ethnologists, whose suggestions are entitled to respectful attention whether accepted or rejected, specify considerations which they believe forbid us to regard the ancient Mexicans and the northern wild Indians as identical in race. They point to the well known fact that the fauna of the American continent below the northern frontier of Mexico is remarkably different from that between this line and the Arctic Sea. At the north, America abounds in species similar to those of Europe and Asia, with some admixture of forms wholly American, while at the south the old-world forms disappear, and the fauna of the whole region between Mexico and Cape Horn becomes “as peculiar as that of Australia.”

The explanation given is, that during the glacial period the larger part of North America, like Northern Asia and Europe, was covered with ice and partly submerged, and that the fauna found in this part of North America was introduced after the glacial period by immigration from Asia and Europe over connecting lands or islands at the northwest and the northeast, and perhaps by some migration from the south; the fauna at the south meanwhile remaining very much as it was before, with very little change through later migrations from the north.

Professor Huxley called attention to this subject in a brief address to the London Ethnological Society in 1869. After stating the case, he presented the following queries and suggestions: “The Austro-Columbian fauna, as a whole, therefore, existed antecedently to the glacial epoch. Did man form part of that fauna? To this profoundly interesting question no positive answer can be given; but the discovery of human remains associated with extinct animals in the caves of Brazil, by Lund, lends some color to the supposition. Assuming this supposition to be correct, we should have to look in the human population of America, as in the fauna generally, for an indigenous or Austro-Columbian element, and an immigrant or ‘Arctogeal’ element.” He then suggests that the Eskimo may now represent the immigrant element, and the old Mexican and South American race that which was indigenous, and that the “Red Indians of North America” may have appeared originally as a mixture of these two races. He adds, very reasonably, “It is easy to suggest such problems as these, but quite impossible, in the present state of our knowledge, to solve them.”


This is taken from Ancient America, originally published in 1871.





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