By far, mankind’s ability to survive in small groups, with primitive tools, for thousands of years, became the “industrial revolution” that we live in today. As humanity migrated out of Africa to Europe then to North America in waves, these ” hunter gatherers ” were on the move for new food sources as the seasons changed. The generic old name “American Indian” to the politically correct conversion “Native Americans” is in reality a composite of many human migrations from Asia and Europe spanning thousands of years as new genetic research is proving. As societies evolved both in Europe and in the Americas, agriculture was and is the pinnacle achievement of human society. Now humanity can “stay put” to have the time to think, to think is to invent, to invent is the evolution of new metal tools and the innovation of electrons that makes our life “comfortable” in this century.
Roger Williams, Bartholomew Gosnold, Captain Martin Pring and Captain John Smith all witness “open land” from the East Coast to Main.
This essay is not devoted to the evolution of farming but will focus on one time honored method used by Native Americans, “Indian mounds” or said in other ways “Indian corn-hills,” but not just for corn. Long before the Spanish brought European disease that wiped out an estimated 2/3 of the Native American population, the American frontier was full of open fields and farming communities, not of virgin forest the colonist witness some 100 years later. 17th century explorers such as Roger Williams, Bartholomew Gosnold, Captain Martin Pring and Captain John Smith all witness “open land” from the East Coast to Main. The native societies would burn field so to keep forest from taking over the land. The North America Continent did not have “beast of burdens” like Europe to assist in plowing fields, the alternative was “Indian mounds”; pure and simple manual labor, but fed a population of people for thousands of years. Some historic accounts have only women tending to the farming as men hunted and fought with other tribes.
The natives were not only experts at farming and soil conditioning, they maintained hundreds of variations of seeds. Rotating seed verities and crop rotation avoided disease and crop failure. During drought seasons, the natives would grow draught resistant verities of plants. Corn, as well as melons, beans, and squash; hundreds of verities, most lost after the Spanish conquest. As witness by the explores John Josselyn, John Winthrop and Van de Donck, the native became very experienced farmers, and like today, selected the right seed for the right application.
Depending of the time of year, there was an ample supply of food. In the fall, after the grain was dried and stored, nuts were collected, ground and baked. Before Spring, tubular varieties of roots were rounded up by the whole family. Fishing and wild game provided protein and hides for clothing. Grasses were collected for weaving baskets and rope. Preservation of drying and smoking meat and grain kept the tribes feed all year long. Everyone worked, even the children as witnessed by the Hidatsa Tribe. The culture was centered around farming like the U.S. back in the 1800. Before industrial farming on a massive mechanized scale, the small farming communities of the 1900’s was a large part of American life. Shelling corn and popping peas had social context to it as young single men and woman participated in harvest social events.
The “Indian mound” was the incubator to grow the “Three Sisters”; corn, beans and squash but also sweet potatoes that supported a large amount of starch and carbohydrates. The beans supplied the nitrogen as the vines wrapped around the corn stocks. The natives also grew many verities of melons alone with the corn and beans.
Check back with us for chapter 2, more of the science behind the “Indian Mound.”
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Images taken from: “Agriculture of the Hidatsa Indians: An Indian Interpretation” by Gilbert Livingstone Wilson, Ph.D. (1868-1930) Minneapolis: The University of Minnesota, 1917. Ph. D. Thesis.
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