What We Write About

WCWhile browsing the many bookshelves in our house, I came across a little brown volume titled Water-Closets. The inside cover is signed by author Glenn Brown, an architect. A little tab of paper bound in front of the Preface page notes, “Entered according to Act of Congress in the year 1884, by John Phin, In the Office of the Librarian of Congress at Washington, D.C.”
          Yes, this intriguing little book is about toilets. It begins with history and includes many illustrations drawn by the author.
          The ancient Romans had four types of toilets. “Close stools (lasana) in which rich ancients used gold or silver bowls; vases (gastra) which were stationed on the roadways; public privies (cloacina) [Mr. Brown says there were 142 in the city of Rome]; and privies (latrina).” Mr. Brown concludes that the cloacina and the latrina were water-closets, or private rooms with water for drainage. He offers details of various designs and construction through history.
          According to Mr. Brown, one of the earliest mentions of a water-closet is found in a poem. “Metamorphosis of Ajax,” by Sir John Harrington, published in 1596, is about a water-closet that the poet invented for his house.
          I suppose this simply reminds us that anything can be the subject of a book.

Studying Sign

Garrick Mallery

Garrick Mallery

Sign language, talking with hands, was once the common means of communication among North American Plains Indian tribes who spoke some 40 different languages. It was a complex language that could be used to negotiate alliances and trade agreements.  Within tribal groups the elders often used sign for storytelling and rituals, an act that lent more drama to the stories. 
          Today, Plains Indian sign language is considered an endangered language, as are many spoken tribal languages. A 2010 gathering on the Northern Cheyenne reservation brought together fluent sign-talkers from a number of northern Plains tribes. Also participating were linguists and persons speaking American Sign Language (used by persons who are deaf). The purpose was to study the variations and commonalities in signing.
          The event was reminiscent of a 1930 gathering that brought together chiefs and elders from twelve tribes. The National Anthropological Archives has black and white film of that event which captured elders telling stories in sign.
          One man with an early interest in Native American sign language was Garrick Mallery of the Smithsonian Institution. Native Americans who came to Washington for treaty talks were invited to his studio to demonstate signs. Mallery carefully sketched and described the movements of hands and body for each sign.

For examples of Indian sign language visit: http://sunsite.utk.edu/pisl/illustrations.html

Photo courtesy National Archives

Did the Utes Use Sign Language?

Rushing Bear demonstrates sign for "now"

Rushing Bear demonstrates sign for “now”

In his book Our Wild Indians Richard Irving Dodge shared what he learned about the Indians’ use of sign language.
          “Plains Indians,” according to Dodge, “used sign even to accompany speaking among themselves. Talking with their hands was just habit to them.”
         But Dodge noticed that other tribes made far less use of sign language.
          Dodge once asked Chief Ouray about Ute sign language. “Ouray told me his people never used the sign language among themselves,” Dodge reported. “Most of the [Ute] warriors had picked up a little smattering of this language and used it in their [communication] with the Plains Indians or with the whites.”
          Similarly, “most of [the Utes] had acquired a slight knowledge of Spanish by and for use in their trade with Mexicans and Apaches.”

From: Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three Years of Personal Experience Among the Red Men of the Great West by Richard Irving Dodge, A.D. Worthington and Company, Hartford, CT, 1882, page 384.

Photo from Smithsonian collection

Published in: on April 14, 2014 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Indian Communication

Ute Scout 1899“All persons who have been among Indians are astonished at the wonderful speed and accuracy of Indian rumors,” reported Richard Irving Dodge, longtime western military officer in the 1800s. “Something occurs today; it is known tomorrow at distances that appear incredible.”
          “In September, 1880 an outbreak occurred at Fort Reno, sixty miles from this post (Cantonment, Indian Territory). The Indian scouts here knew and informed me of it before I heard of it by the telegraph line between the two posts.
          “So, also, when Ouray was sick; his condition was known every day by us, though we were quite a hundred miles away, and the country between us exceedingly difficult.” [Dodge probably refers to Ouray’s final illness in 1880.]

Photo Courtesy Denver Public Library, Western History Collection 

Quoted material from: Our Wild Indians: Thirty-three Years of Personal Experience Among the Red Men of the Great West by Richard Irving Dodge, A.D. Worthington and Company, Hartford, CT, 1882, page 344.

LIGHTING THE HOLIDAYS

christmas-lights-110661300062462IPdThe first string of electric outdoor Christmas lights was created by Thomas Edison in 1880. He hung them on his Menlo Park Laboratory where passengers on the nearby railroad line would see them.

Two years later Edison’s partner, Edward H. Johnson, wrapped a string of red, white and blue light bulbs around the Christmas tree in his own home.

In 1895 President Grover Cleveland introduced colorful electric lights to the family Christmas tree in the White House.

The first National Christmas tree with electric lights was lit by President Calvin Coolidge on Christmas Eve 1923.

Information from Everyday Mysteries, Fun Science Facts, Library of Congress

Meriam Report, Part 3

Indian Boarding SchoolThe 1928 Meriam Report of the condition of Indians on reservations drew conclusions about the effectiveness of government policies toward Indians.
          The report noted, “It almost seems as if the government assumed that some magic in individual ownership of property would…prove an educational civilizing factor…unfortunately this policy has for the most part operated in the opposite direction”
          The report stated that many of the Indians lived on lands “from which a trained and experienced white man could scarcely wrest a reasonable living.” The report indicated that some land given to Indians was not suitable for farming. Such land had “little value for agricultural operations other than grazing.”

Source: Meriam Report

Meriam Report, Part 2

Girls Indian Boarding SchoolAbout Indian boarding schools, the Mariam report noted,
“provisions for the care of the Indian children in boarding schools are grossly inadequate.”
          The report went on to state that “boarding schools provided poor diet, were overcrowded, did not provide sufficient medical services, were supported by student labor, and relied on a uniform curriculum rather than raising teacher standards.”
          “The Indian Service should encourage promising Indian youths to continue their education beyond the boarding schools and to fit themselves for professional, scientific, and technical callings,” the report suggested. “Not only should the educational facilities of the boarding schools provide definitely for fitting them for college entrance, but the Service should aid them in meeting the costs.”

Source: Meriam Report

Published in: on October 28, 2013 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Meriam Report, Part 1

New Students Carlisle Indian School (before)

New Students Carlisle Indian School (before)


In 1926 the U.S. Secretary of Interior authorized an independent study of educational, industrial, social, and medical activities of the Bureau of Indian Affairs. The study was also designed to evaluate the overall condition of Indians on reservations.

Same students after being “civilized”


The resulting Meriam Report was published in 1928. It suggested that education should integrate Indian children into the majority culture instead of educating them in separate institutions. Boarding schools for Indian children had been the norm. The report stated, “The most fundamental need in Indian education is a change in point of view.”                                        

  Source: Meriam Report

Published in: on October 21, 2013 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Reservation School, 1926

SDC10339

In 1926, the school at the Uintah Ouray Agency had a capacity for 125 students. There were 129 children enrolled but average attendance was 118. The reservation school offered course work only through seventh grade.
          The Agency’s 1926 annual report includes school attendance:

301   Total school age children on reservation
239   Total eligible for school
  26   Attended non resident boarding school
129   Attended the reservation school
     4   Attended school on other reservations
   80   Attended public schools

          About this time, a national study of Indian Schools began. The resulting Meriam Report, issued in 1928, was critical of Indian Schools and other government policy on Indians.

Source: Annual Report of the Commissioner of Indian Affairs, 1926

Indian Inheritance Claims

00172138In fiscal year 1926, examiners of Indian inheritance claims determined 2039 legal heirs of Indians who had died. They approved 145 wills and disapproved 47. 
          Another 139 wills were reviewed and approved as to form during lifetime of the maker.
          Fees charged to the Indian heirs for this probate work by the 11 examiners in the field totaled $64,000. At the time of the report, $55,000 in such fees had been collected and deposited with the U.S. Treasury Department.

Published in: on October 7, 2013 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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