Stone Pestle and Copper Chisel - Plate 21

Corn Pestle or Hand Bray Stone

Stone Pestle and Copper Chisel - Plate 21
Stone Pestle and Copper Chisel – Plate 21

The zea maize was cultivated by the Indian tribes of America throughout its whole extent. Cotton was raised by the Mexican and Peruvian tribes; but there is no instance on record in which the plant was cultivated by tribes living north of the Rio Grande del Norte. The Florida and Louisiana tribes raised a kind of melon, and per haps some minor vegetables; but the whole of the tribes situated in the Mississippi Valley, in Ohio, and the Lakes, reaching on both sides of the Alleghanies, quite to Massachusetts, and other parts of New England, cultivated Indian corn. It was their staple product. The Delaware, the Hudson, Connecticut, and minor rivers north of it, yielded this grain; and it was a gift which their sagamores and priests attributed to the god of the South-west. The dry grain was prepared for boiling by crushing it in a rude wooden or stone mortar. This was a severe labor, which fell to the women s share; but it was mitigated by preparing, daily, only as much as was required by the family. It was not crushed fine, but broken into coarse grains, in which state it was eaten by the eastern tribes, under the name of samp a kind of hominy. The dish called “succutash” consisted of green corn, cut from the cob, and mixed with green beans.

There is abundant evidence, in the ancient pestles found in the fields formerly occupied by Indian tribes throughout the Atlantic States, of the practice of using pestles for crushing it, above referred to. These pestles were generally made from a semi-hard rock, often grauwacke, or a kind of silicious slate. They were about ten inches in length, tapering to the top, and would weigh five or six pounds.

The following specimen (Plate 21, Fig. 1,) is from the Tawasantha, or Norman s Kill Valley, Albany County, N. Y. It is of the stratum of grauwacke rock, which lies in connection with argillite of that county.

There was an important mode of preparing the zea maize for the use of warriors who were expected to be out many days. The grain was reduced to a finer condition than samp, or hominy. It was then mixed with a portion of sugar, made from the acer saccharinum. The whole was put into a small leathern bag. This constituted the warrior s entire commissariat. Meats he was expected to kill by the way. The burthen was so light that it did not at all impede walking or running. When it was designed to use it, a small portion was mixed with water. It could not be eaten dry. The quantity of water might be enlarged, agreeably to the needs of the warrior. It was then, in fact, a species of soup; and the strength given by a single gill of the meal was sufficient for the day.

The piola of the Mexicans is a substance similar to that described above. It is parched corn well ground, and seasoned with sugar and spices. A gill of it per day is sufficient to keep a man alive.


Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Archives of aboriginal knowledge. Containing all the original paper laid before Congress respecting the history, antiquities, language, ethnology, pictography, rites, superstitions, and mythology, of the Indian tribes of the United States. Philadelphia, J. B. Lippincott & Co. 1860.

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