Friday, January 1, 2021

Virginia’s Rappahannock Peoples "Return to the River"


Members of Virginia’s Rappahannock tribe are at work with archaeologists to document the landscape they call home

Soon after Captain John Smith arrived at Jamestown in 1607, or so the story goes, he was captured by Opechancanough, the brother of the powerful Native chief Powhatan. English explorers wrote that Powhatan controlled a domain spanning much of what is now Virginia, from the state’s Piedmont region to the coast. Several tribes reportedly paid him tribute and lived within his Powhatan Confederacy. After Smith narrowly escaped execution through, he later claimed, the intervention of Powhatan’s daughter Pocahontas, he set off from Jamestown to explore and chart the Chesapeake Bay and its tributaries. Opechancanough had already taken Smith to a number of Native settlements during his captivity, including at least one on the Rappahannock River. Smith recorded that the Rappahannock peoples, who inhabited both sides of the eponymous waterway, were divided among eight communities, each with a leader, or werowance. Smith mapped or described 43 of their villages, reporting friendly encounters with some groups and hostility from others.

More than 400 years later, the Rappahannock still call Virginia home. The community numbers some 300 enrolled members, many of whom live in Indian Neck, a hamlet about 10 miles west of the modern town of Tappahannock. Since 2016, tribal members have been working with archaeologists to document their traditional homeland, a task that has presented challenges. Centuries of European encroachment and the conversion of woodland to farmland have physically separated the Rappahannock from many of their ancestral landmarks. Their towns, hunting camps, and ceremonial grounds were often built from ephemeral materials and were sometimes relocated for environmental or political reasons. Led by Chief Anne Richardson of the Rappahannock Tribe and archaeologists Julia King and Scott Strickland of St. Mary’s College of Maryland, the project was launched as an initiative of the National Park Service to identify sites within a 552-square-mile swath of territory that are culturally significant to the tribe.

Using a combination of excavation, geographic information system (GIS) technology, historical research, and interviews with Rappahannock community members, the researchers have revealed a Native landscape that has long been hidden. “Smith may not have mapped the Chesapeake completely accurately,” says King. Some Native place-names are repeated on the Smith map, and some are found in multiple locations around the Chesapeake. Native settlements rarely accorded with European expectations for what a town or village should be. Still, by combining the present-day community’s knowledge with the map Smith made in 1608, satellite imagery, and environmental data from the area, the team has identified some 20 places of significance to the tribe and an approximate location for nearly all the settlements Smith labeled. Some of these are large towns whose whereabouts the tribe has, in fact, never forgotten. “I had been taking our youth back to places that our people occupied on the river to teach them about the history as part of a leadership training program,” says Richardson. “When the opportunity was presented to do archaeology to actually prove where these places were, I jumped all over that.”

Three of these larger settlements, Wecuppom, Matchopick, and Pissacoack, are recorded on the Smith map to have sat atop Fones Cliffs, a four-mile stretch of sandstone bluffs on the Rappahannock’s north bank. Smith describes coming under arrow fire near a marsh across the river from these cliffs as he and his companions made their way up the river. While excavations and surveys along a section of the cliffs that is now a federal wildlife preserve didn’t produce evidence of any of the settlements, the team did uncover artifacts that suggest the area remained home to Rappahannock people for decades after pressure from English settlers forced them to move their main settlements elsewhere. In particular, the team believes that, during excavations on a 250-acre parcel of land within the preserve, they uncovered a property described in historic deeds as home to a once-enslaved Native man named Indian Peter.

Indian Peter is recorded to have been manumitted in 1699—about 50 years after English colonists began moving into the area—and may have lived at the site between 1700 and 1730. Richardson says that some of the artifacts the team found, including worked quartz crystals and a wineglass stem carved to resemble crystal, may have been used by Peter in a medicine man–like capacity, or during cliff-top religious ceremonies that were held overlooking the river some 80 feet below. In addition to the wineglass stem, English and German ceramics, a copper buckle, tobacco pipes, a collection of nails, and other objects of European origin are evidence of the flow of goods and people up and down the Rappahannock throughout the colonial period.

King points out that Portobago Bay, some 10 miles upriver from Fones Cliffs, was the point at which the river became unnavigable for oceangoing vessels. “Portobago Bay became a natural provisioning area,” King says, “and an important place that linked the trade routes of the Atlantic with the interior.” Archival research also uncovered the identity of a Christianized member of a Rappahannock-affiliated group called the Nanzatico, who lived nearby. Edward Gunstocker, or Indian Ned, may have been so named because he was involved in smithing or trading guns. “One of the property divisions outlined in a document mentions his house,” says Strickland. Using this information, Strickland was able to approximate the structure’s location, and the team hopes to excavate the site in the future.

King and Strickland have also gone back to look at previously recovered artifacts, many of which were found decades ago by property owners on sites that have never been systematically excavated. One of these, called Leedstown, is located on the river between Fones Cliffs and Portobago Bay, and was once home to the Rappahannock town of Pissaseck. A cache of cut-crystal and glass beads of European origin was discovered there in the early twentieth century along a pathway to the river’s edge. The cache was first created in the 1650s or 1660s, during the early years of English settlement in the area. It appears to have been supplemented at least twice. The first set of additional materials was deposited some 20 years later, likely following Bacon’s Rebellion, a popular uprising against the Virginia governor asserting the rights of settlers to expand their territory. These offerings may have been stashed by Native Americans to secure spiritual protection in the face of increasing hostility from and violence committed by Europeans. The second addition came in the mid-eighteenth century.

During recent excavations at Leedstown, the team uncovered Indigenous ceramics, including fragments of Potomac Creek Ware and Townsend Ware, as well as more beads, which appear to have been scattered around the site by farming activity. King and Strickland say that the striped beads in the cache, and similar examples, were probably made in Italy. They are found almost exclusively at contemporaneous Native sites ranging from Pennsylvania to Florida. According to King, their distribution at Native sites beyond Leedstown suggests that the network of trade in animal skins, enslaved Indians, and guns that began in Virginia in the seventeenth century had expanded to cover much of the eastern seaboard by the turn of the eighteenth.

In an example of the duplicate place-names recorded by Smith on his 1608 map, there are two sites called Cuttatawomen. One lies at the mouth of the river and the other just west of the modern town of Port Royal, some 60 miles upstream. Strickland says that the relationship between the two towns was a mystery until he thought about differences in the ceramics that have been found at various sites along the river. “You can almost make a plot of ceramic types by type of temper along the river,” he says. Temper refers to material mixed with clay to prevent shrinkage and cracking when ceramic vessels are fired. Upstream, he explains, it’s more common to find ceramics made with a tempering method using crushed quartz, while farther downstream it is more common to find ceramics that have been tempered with ground shells. “At one particular site identified with the upriver Cuttatawomen, we examined an assemblage of nearly all shell-tempered ceramics,” says Strickland. He believes that the people who settled the Cuttatawomen site at the mouth of the river may have traveled upriver and brought their ceramic traditions with them. “Whether it’s a colony or an important ceremonial place, we identified some really interesting ceramics that were highly decorated and unusual,” he says.

Evidence that the Rappahannock traveled across the landscape doesn’t surprise archaeologist Martin Gallivan of the College of William and Mary, who has excavated a number of pre- and post-contact Native sites in the Chesapeake, including Chief Powhatan’s capital at Werowocomoco on the York River. “The John Smith map is a great resource,” Gallivan says, “but it does apply a fixity and boundedness to these Native societies that doesn’t line up with the evidence on the ground.” In his own projects, Gallivan has discovered evidence that Native communities in the region were connected through exchange networks across the Chesapeake and north to New England, south to the Gulf of Mexico, and west of the Blue Ridge Mountains. “People were on the move, they were travelers, and they visited other communities,” he says. “They had broad geographic knowledge and they could draw accurate maps covering hundreds and hundreds of miles.”

Perhaps because of the density of Native settlement in the Rappahannock River Valley, colonial authorities forbade settlers from moving into the region until the 1650s. This led to the area’s becoming a refuge for Native communities from as far afield as North Carolina whose lands had already been seized. It was at this point, according to Richardson, that the identity of the modern Rappahannock Tribe began to take shape, particularly after the Nanzatico were nearly all captured by the English and sold into slavery in the Caribbean in retribution after a band of their warriors was accused of killing the members of a white settler family. “We became the dominant tribe on the river and took in the various peoples who had been dispossessed of their land,” Richardson says. “I think that it’s very important to note that scholars who have looked at the Indigenous history of Virginia describe a great empire under Powhatan, but our leadership was really structured around taking care of and sharing the land.”

The nature of the Rappahannock’s relationship to Powhatan and his dominion has been the source of debate for at least a century. Smith mentions no antagonism between the Rappahannock and the Powhatan Confederacy. Richardson points out that the powerful chief’s own brother took Smith to a Rappahannock town—possibly because Smith was suspected of having killed the community’s leader. This act, she says, suggests a relationship of relative mutual respect between the peoples. Still, one curious element of Smith’s map has stood out to scholars; namely, that nearly all the Rappahannock settlements included on it lie on the river’s north bank.

Before conducting their excavations, the team developed a GIS model to find locations with environmental attributes favorable for establishing Native settlements. These included rich soil, a nearby source of freshwater, transportation waterways and landing places for canoes, habitats for aquatic and terrestrial animals, and good visibility across the landscape. The GIS model, which is based in large part on publicly available environmental data, shows that such locations are found closer to each other and in greater number on the north side of the river. “Smith shows all of these villages on the north side of the river, and for a long time that was interpreted as a physical means that the tribes in the Rappahannock River Valley were using to distance themselves from Powhatan,” says King. “But what we found from GIS modeling is that there are very different environmental conditions on the north side of the river versus the south side, so there might have been more of an economic reason for choosing the north.” The model also helped establish a viewshed, the geographical area visible from any given location. “There are a number of ossuary sites along the Rappahannock, important monuments composed of human remains,” King explains. “We’ve found that known Rappahannock settlement sites are often within that viewshed, within the direct line of sight of these ossuaries.”

The researchers determined that there was also a seasonal dimension to the location of settlements. “We followed the resources we could gather as the seasons changed on the river,” says Richardson. “In the summer, we were primarily on the northern riverbanks, catching fish and growing corn where the soil is so rich.” In the winter months, the community would move to the south bank of the river to hunt, often engaging in communal hunts with neighboring groups. While her tribe has been deprived of many of its ancestral spaces, Richardson sees continuity between the past and current movement of her people around the landscape. The combination of memory and research will provide a connection back to the river. “Rappahannock means a place where the water rises and falls,” she explains. “We have been a cyclical people that have risen and fallen at certain times in history. When we left the riverbanks, we went inland into our hunting grounds, and eventually we returned to the river again.”

Monday, November 2, 2020

Yaudanchi Creation Story

Tales Around the Campfire -  Robert Hood, designer, and Edward Francis Finden, engraver, Interior of a Cree Indian Tent. March 25th. 1820, 1823 (3)

 Yaudanchi Creation Story

Everything was water except a very small piece of ground. On this were the eagle and the coyote. Then the turtle swam to them. They sent it to dive for the earth at the bottom of the water. The turtle barely succeeded in reaching the bottom and touching it with its foot. When it came up again, all the earth seemed washed out. Coyote looked closely at its nails. At last he found a grain of earth. Then he and the eagle took this and laid it down. From it they made the earth as large as it is. From the earth they also made six men and six women. They sent these out in pairs in different directions and the people separated. After a time the eagle sent the coyote to see what the people were doing. Coyote came back and said: “They are doing something bad. They are eating the earth. One side is already gone.” The eagle said: ” That is bad. Let us make something for them to eat. Let us send the dove to find something.” The dove went out. It found a single grain of meal. The eagle and coyote put this down on the ground. Then the earth became covered with seeds and fruit. Now they told the people to eat these. When the seeds were dry and ripe the people gathered them. Then the people increased and spread all over. But the water is still under the world. 

(From and written by C. Smith)

Saturday, October 31, 2020

Apache Myths of Creation

Tales Around the Campfire - Robert Hood, designer, & Edward Francis Finden, engraver, Interior of a Cree Indian Tent. March 25th. 1820, 1823

Apache Creation Myth 1

In the beginning was only Tepeu & Gucumatz (Feathered Serpent) who also wintry the name Quetzalcoatl . These two sat together & thought, & whatever they thought came into being. They thought Earth, & there it was. They thought mountains, & so there were. They thought trees, & sky, & animals etc, & each came into being. But none of these things could praise them, so they formed more advanced beings of clay. But these beings fell apart when they got wet, so they made beings out of wood, but they proved unsatisfactory & caused trouble on the earth. The gods sent a great flood to wipe out these beings, so that they could start over. With the help of Mountain Lion, Coyote, Parrot, & Crow they fashioned four new beings. These four beings performed well & are the ancestors of the Quiché In the beginning was only Tepeu & Gucumatz (Feathered Serpent).

These two sat together & thought, & whatever they thought came into being. They thought earth, & there it was. They thought mountains, & so there were. They thought trees, & sky, & animals etc, & each came into being. But none of these things could praise them, so they formed more advanced beings of clay. But these beings fell apart when they got wet, so they made beings out of wood, but they proved unsatisfactory & caused trouble on the earth. The gods sent a great flood to wipe out these beings, so that they could start over. With the help of Mountain Lion, Coyote, Parrot, & Crow they fashioned four new beings. These four beings performed well & are the ancestors of the Quich.

 In the beginning there was only darkness. Suddenly a small bearded man, the One Who Lives Above, appeared rubbing his eyes as if just awakened. The man, the Creator, rubbed his hands together & there appeared a little girl, Girl-Without-Parents. The creator rubbed his face with his hands & there stood the Sun-God. Again Creator rubbed his sweaty brow & from his hands dropped Small-boy. Now there were four gods.Then he created Tarantula, Big Dipper, Wind, Lightning-Maker & Lightning-Rumbler. All four gods shook hands so that their sweat mixed together. Then Creator rubbed his palms together from which fell a small round, brown ball. They took turns kicking it & with each kick the ball grew larger. Creator told Wind to go inside the ball & blow it up. Then Tarantula spun a black cord which he attached to the ball & went to the east pulling as hard as he could.

 He repeated this exercise with a blue cord to the south, a yellow cord to the west & a white cord to the north. When he was done the brown ball had become the earth. The Creator again rubbed his hands & there appeared Hummingbird. "Fly all over this earth," said Creator to Hummingbird, "and tell us what you see." When he returned Hummingbird reported that there was water on the west side. But the earth rolled & bounced, so Creator made four giant posts one each black, blue, yellow & white & had Wind place them at the four cardinal points of the earth. The earth was now still. The creation of the people, animals, birds, trees, etc takes place hereafter.

Apache Creation Myth 2

In the beginning nothing existed, only darkness was everywhere. Suddenly from the darkness emerged a thin disc, one side yellow & the other side white, appearing suspended in midair. Within the disc sat a small bearded man, Creator, the One Who Lives Above. When he looked into the endless darkness, light appeared above. He looked down & it became a sea of light. To the east, he created yellow streaks of dawn. To the west, tints of many colors appeared everywhere. There were also clouds of different colors. He also created three other gods: a little girl, a Sun-God & a small boy.

Then he created celestial phenomena, the winds, the tarantula, & the earth from the sweat of the four gods mixed together in the Creator's palms, from a small round, brown ball, not much larger than a bean. The world was expanded to its current size by the gods kicking the small brown ball until it expanded. Creator told Wind to go inside the ball & to blow it up.

 The tarantula, the trickster character, spun a black cord and, attaching it to the ball, crawled away fast to the east, pulling on the cord with all his strength. Tarantula repeated with a blue cord to the south, a yellow cord to the west, & a white cord to the north. With mighty pulls in each direction, the brown ball stretched to immeasurable size--it became the earth! No hills, mountains, or rivers were visible; only smooth, treeless, brown plains appeared. Then the Creator created the rest of the beings & features of the Earth.

From Arizona Native Culture

Thursday, October 29, 2020

The Apache Diet

Preparing shelter & Food Lipan Apache encampment in Texas Hill County, by George Nelson 

The Apaches were nomadic hunter-gatherers - hunting of wild game and gathering of cactus fruits and other wild plant foods. . They chased any wild game located within their territory, especially deer and rabbits. When necessary, they lived off the land by gathering wild berries, roots, cactus fruit and seeds of the mesquite tree. They planted some corn, beans, and squash as crops. They were extremely hardy prior to the arrival of European diseases, and could live practically naked in zero temperature.

Hunting is a part of daily life - for food, clothing, shelter, blankets. Apache hunted deer, wild turkeys, rabbits, buffalo, bears, mountain lions. There was no fishing. Eagles were hunted for their feathers.

They exchanged buffalo hides, tallow and meat, bones that could be worked into needles and scrapers for hides, and salt from the desert with the Pueblos for pottery, cotton, blankets, turquoise, corn and other goods. But at times they simply saw what they wanted and took it. They became known among the Pueblo villages by another name, Apachu, "the enemy."  Text from Ellie Crystal 

Tuesday, October 27, 2020

Apache Social Structure


Apache Social Structure

All Apachean peoples lived in extended family units (or family clusters); they usually lived close together, with each nuclear family in separate dwellings. An extended family generally consisted of a husband and wife, their unmarried children, their married daughters, their married daughters' husbands, and their married daughters' children. Thus, the extended family is connected through a lineage of women who live together (that is, matrilocal residence), into which men may enter upon marriage (leaving behind his parents' family). When a daughter was married, a new dwelling was built nearby for her and her husband. Among the Navajo, residence rights are ultimately derived from a head mother. Although the Western Apache usually practiced matrilocal residence, sometimes the eldest son chose to bring his wife to live with his parents after marriage. All tribes practiced sororate and levirate marriages.

All Apachean men practiced varying degrees of "avoidance" of his wife's close relatives, a practice often most strictly observed by distance between mother-in-law and son-in-law. The degree of avoidance differed in different Apachean groups. The most elaborate system was among the Chiricahua, where men had to use indirect polite speech toward and were not allowed to be within visual sight of the wife's female relatives, whom he had to avoid. His female Chiricahua relatives through marriage also avoided him.

Several extended families worked together as a "local group", which carried out certain ceremonies, and economic and military activities. Political control was mostly present at the local group level. Local groups were headed by a chief, a male who had considerable influence over others in the group due to his effectiveness and reputation. The chief was the closest societal role to a leader in Apachean cultures. The office was not hereditary, and the position was often filled by members of different extended families. The chief's leadership was only as strong as he was evaluated to be no group member was ever obliged to follow the chief. The Western Apache criteria for evaluating a good chief included: industriousness, generosity, impartiality, forbearance, conscientiousness, and eloquence in language.

Many Apachean peoples joined together several local groups into "bands". Band organization was strongest among the Chiricahua and Western Apache, while among the Lipan and Mescalero, it was weak. The Navajo did not organize local groups into bands, perhaps because of the requirements of the sheepherding economy. However, the Navajo did have "the outfit", a group of relatives that was larger than the extended family, but not as large as a local group community or a band.

On the larger level, the Western Apache organized bands into what Grenville Goodwin called "groups". He reported five groups for the Western Apache: Northern Tonto, Southern Tonto, Cibecue, San Carlos, and White Mountain. The Jicarilla grouped their bands into "moieties", perhaps influenced by the example of the northeastern Pueblo. The Western Apache and Navajo also had a system of matrilineal "clans" that were organized further into phratries (perhaps influenced by the western Pueblo).

The notion of "tribe" in Apachean cultures is very weakly developed; essentially it was only a recognition "that one owed a modicum of hospitality to those of the same speech, dress, and customs."[ The seven Apachean tribes had no political unity (despite such portrayals in common perception) and often were enemies of each other - for example, the Lipan fought against the Mescalero just as they did against the Comanche.  Text from Ellie Crystal 

Sunday, October 25, 2020

Apache Religious Ceremonies

Apache Devil Dance

Apache Religious Ceremonies

The ceremonies are invariably called "dances. Among these are the rain dance, a puberty right, a harvest and good crop dance, and a spirit dance.

The Apache are devoutly religious and pray on many occasions and in various ways. Recreated in the human form, Apache spirits are supposed to dwell in a land of peace and plenty, where there is neither disease or death.

To celebrate each noted event a feast and dance is given. The music for our dance is sung by the warriors, and accompanied by beating the esadadedne (buck-skin-on-a-hoop). No words are sung - only the tones. When the feasting and dancing are over they have horse races, foot races, wrestling, jumping, and all sorts of games (gambling),

There are no formal churches, no religious organizations, no sabbath day, no holidays, and yet they worship. Sometimes the whole tribe assembles to sing and pray; sometimes a smaller number, perhaps only two or three. The songs have a few words, but are not formal. The singer will occasionally put in such words as he wished instead of the usual tone sound. Sometimes they prayed in silence; sometimes each one prays aloud; sometimes an aged person prays for all of us. At other times they rise and speak to us of our duties to each other and to Usen. The services are short.

When disease or pestilence abound we assemble and are questioned by our leaders to ascertain what evil we had done, and how Usen - a god - could be satisfied. Sometimes sacrifice is deemed necessary. Sometimes the offending one is punished.

If an Apache has allowed his aged parents to suffer for food or shelter, if he has neglected or abused the sick, if he has profaned our religion, or has been unfaithful, he can be banished from the tribe.

The Apaches have no prisons as white men have. Instead of sending their criminals into prison they send them out of their tribe. These faithless, cruel, lazy, or cowardly members of the tribe are excluded in such a manner that they cannot join any other tribe. Neither can they have any protection from our unwritten tribal laws.

Frequently these outlaw Indians band together and commit depredations which were charged against the regular tribe. However, the life of an outlaw Indian is a hard lot, and their bands never become very large; besides, these bands frequently provoke the wrath of the tribe and secured their own destruction. Text from Ellie Crystal.

Friday, October 23, 2020

Apache Homes

Apache Homes

The Apache dwellings consisted of a dome shaped frame of cottonwood or other poles, thatched with grass. The house itself was termed, "Kowa" and the grass thatch, "Pi".  

The wickiup was the most commonly used style for apache houses. The frame of the wickiup was made from thicker branches and covered in brush. Sometimes the brush was also covered with a buffalo hide. Wickiups were small dwellings, often the size of a modern camp tent, and an Apache woman could build a new wickiup in two hours if there was enough brush available. It contained a fire pit and a smoke hole for a chimney. 

The Jicarillas and Kiowa-Apaches, which roamed the Plains, used buffalo hide tepees. The basic shelter of the Chiricahua was the dome-shaped wickiup made of brush.   Text from Ellie Crystal