List of Authorities and Collaborators – Sign Language

1. A list prepared by William Dunbar, dated Natchez, June 30, 1800, collected from tribes then “west of the Mississippi,” but probably not from those very far west of that river, published in the Transactions of the American Philosophical Society, vol. vi, pp. 1-8, as read January 16, 1801, and communicated by Thomas Jefferson, president of the society.

2. The one published in An Account of an Expedition from Pittsburgh to the Rocky Mountains, performed in the years 1819-1820, Philadelphia, 1823, vol. i, pp. 378-394. This expedition was made by order of the Hon. J.O. Calhoun, Secretary of War, under the command of Maj. S. H. Long, of the United States Topographical Engineers, and is commonly called James’ Long’s Expedition. This list appears to have been collected chiefly by Mr. T. Say, from the Pani, and the Kansas, Otos, Missouris, Iowas, Omahas, and other southern branches of the great Dakota family.

3. The one collected by Prince Maximilian von Wied-Neuwied in Reise in das Innere Nord-America in den Jahren 1832 bis 1834. Coblenz, 1839 [—1841], vol. ii, pp. 645-653. His statement is, “the Arikaras, Mandans, Minnitarris [Hidatsa], Crows [Absaroka], Cheyennes, Snakes [Shoshoni], and Blackfeet [Satsika] all understand certain signs, which, on the contrary, as we are told, are unintelligible to the Dakotas, Assiniboins, Ojibwas, Krihs [Crees], and other nations. The list gives examples of the sign language of the former.” From the much greater proportion of time spent and information obtained by the author among the Mandans and Hidatsa then and now dwelling near Port Berthold, on the Upper Missouri, it might be safe to consider that all the signs in his list were in fact procured from those tribes. But as the author does not say so, he is not made to say so in this work. If it shall prove that the signs now used by the Mandans and Hidatsa more closely resemble those on his list than do those of other tribes, the internal evidence will be verified. This list is not published in the English edition, London, 1843, but appears in the German, above cited, and in the French, Paris, 1840. Bibliographic reference is often made to this distinguished explorer as “Prince Maximilian,” as if there were but one possessor of that Christian name among princely families. For brevity the reference in this paper will be Wied.

No translation of this list into English appears to have been printed in any shape before that recently published by the present writer in the American Antiquarian, vol. ii, No. 3, while the German and French editions are costly and difficult of access, so the collection cannot readily be compared by readers with the signs now made by the same tribes. The translation, now presented is based upon the German original, but in a few cases where the language was so curt as not to give a clear idea, was collated with the French edition of the succeeding year, which, from some internal evidence, appears to have been published with the assistance or supervision of the author. Many of the descriptions are, however, so brief and indefinite in both their German and French forms that they necessarily remain so in the present translation. The princely explorer, with the keen discrimination shown in all his work, doubtless observed what has escaped many recent reporters of Indian signs, that the latter depend much more upon motion than mere position, and are generally large and free, seldom minute. His object was to express the general effect of the motion rather than to describe it with such precision as to allow of its accurate reproduction by a reader who had never seen it. To have presented the signs as now desired for comparison, toilsome elaboration would have been necessary, and even that would not in all cases have sufficed without pictorial illustration.

On account of the manifest importance of determining the prevalence and persistence of the signs as observed half a century ago, an exception is made to the general arrangement hereafter mentioned by introducing after the Wied signs remarks of collaborators who have made special comparisons, and adding to the latter the respective names of those collaborators—as, (Matthews), (Boteler). It is hoped that the work of those gentlemen will be imitated, not only regarding the Wied, signs, but many others.

4. The signs given to publication by Capt. R.F. Burton, which, it would be inferred, were collected in 1860-’61, from the tribes met or learned of on the overland stage route, including Southern Dakotas, Utes, Shoshoni, Arapahos, Crows, Pani, and Apaches. They are contained in The City of the Saints, New York, 1862, pp. 123-130.

Information has been recently received to the effect that this collection was not made by the distinguished English explorer from his personal observation, but was obtained by him from one man in Salt Lake City, a Mormon bishop, who, it is feared, gave his own ideas of the formation and use of signs rather than their faithful description.

5. A list read by Dr. D.G. Macgowan, at a meeting of the American Ethnological Society, January 23, 1866, and published in the Historical Magazine, vol. x, 1866, pp. 86, 87, purporting to be the signs of the Caddos, Wichitas, and Comanches.

6. Annotations by Lieut. Heber M. Creel, Seventh United States Cavalry, received in January, 1881. This officer is supposed to be specially familiar with the Cheyennes, among whom he lived for eighteen months; but his recollection is that most of the signs described by him were also observed among the Arapaho, Sioux, and several other tribes.

7. A special contribution from Mr. F.F. Gerard, of Fort A. Lincoln, D.T., of signs obtained chiefly from a deaf-mute Dakota, who has traveled among most of the Indian tribes living between the Missouri River and the Rocky Mountains. Mr. Gerard’s own observations are based upon the experience of thirty-two years’ residence in that country, during which long period he has had almost daily intercourse with Indians. He states that the signs contributed by him are used by the Blackfeet, (Satsika), Absaroka, Dakota, Hidatsa, Mandan, and Arikara Indians, who may in general be considered to be the group of tribes referred to by the Prince of Wied.

In the above noted collections the generality of the statements as to locality of the observation and use of the signs rendered it impossible to arrange them in the manner considered to be the best to study the diversities and agreements of signs. For that purpose it is more convenient that the names of the tribe or tribes among which the described signs have been observed should catch the eye in immediate connection with them than that those of the observers only should follow. Some of the latter indeed have given both similar and different signs for more than one tribe, so that the use of the contributor’s name alone would create confusion. To print in every case the name of the contributor, together with the name of the tribe, would seriously burden the paper and be unnecessary to the student, the reference being readily made to each authority through this list which also serves as an index. The seven collections above mentioned will therefore be referred to by the names of the authorities responsible for them. Those which now follow are arranged alphabetically by tribes, under headings of Linguistic Families according to Major J.W. Powell’s classification, which are also given below in alphabetic order. Example: The first authority is under the heading Algonkian, and, concerning only the Abnaki tribe, is referred to as (Abnaki I), Chief Masta being the personal authority.


Abnaki I. A letter dated December 15, 1879, from H.L. Masta, chief of the Abnaki, residing near Pierreville, Quebec.

Arapaho I. A contribution from Lieut. H.B. Lemly, Third United States Artillery, compiled from notes and observations taken by him in 1877, among the Northern Arapahos.

Arapaho II. A list of signs obtained from O-qo-his’-sa (the Mare, better known as Little Raven) and Na’-watc (Left Hand), members of a delegation of Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians, from Darlington, Ind. T., who visited Washington during the summer of 1880.

Cheyenne I. Extracts from the Report of Lieut. J.W. Abert, of his Examination of New Mexico in the years 1846-’47, in Ex. Doc. No. 41, Thirtieth Congress, first session, Washington, 1848, p. 417, et seq.

Cheyenne II. A list prepared in July, 1879, by Mr. Frank H. Cushing, of the Smithsonian Institution, from continued interviews with Titc-ke-ma’-tski (Cross-Eyes), an intelligent Cheyenne, then employed at that Institution.

Cheyenne III. A special contribution with diagrams from Mr. Ben Clark, scout and interpreter, of signs collected from the Cheyennes during his long residence among that tribe.

Cheyenne IV. Several communications from Col. Richard I. Dodge, A.D.C., United States Army, author of The Plains of the Great West and their Inhabitants, New York, 1877, relating to his large experience with the Indians of the prairies.

Cheyenne V. A list of signs obtained from Wa-un’ (Bob-tail) and Mo-hi’nuk-ma-ha’-it (Big Horse), members of a delegation of Arapaho and Cheyenne Indians from Darlington, Ind. T., who visited Washington during the summer of 1880.

Ojibwa I. The small collection of J.G. Kohl, made about the middle of the present century, among the Ojibwas around Lake Superior. Published in his Kitchigami. Wanderings Around Lake Superior, London, 1860.

Ojibwa II. Several letters from the Very Rev. Edward Jacker, Pointe St. Ignace, Mich., respecting the Ojibwas.

Ojibwa III. A communication from Rev. James A. Gilfillan, White Earth, Minn., relating to signs observed among the Ojibwas during his long period of missionary duty, still continuing.

Ojibwa IV. A list from Mr. B.O. Williams, Sr., of Owosso, Mich., from recollection of signs observed among the Ojibwas of Michigan sixty years ago.

Ojibwa V. Contributions received in 1880 and 1881 from Mr. F. Jacker, of Portage River, Houghton County, Michigan, who has resided many years among and near the tribe mentioned.

Sac, Fox, and Kickapoo I. A list from Rev. H.F. Buckner, D.D., of Eufaula, Ind. T., consisting chiefly of tribal signs observed by him among the Sac and Fox, Kickapoos, &c., during the early part of the year 1880.


Absaroka I. A list of signs obtained from De-e’-ki-tcis (Pretty Eagle), É-tci-di-ka-hătc’-ki (Long Elk), and Pe-ri’-tci-ka’-di-a (Old Crow), members of a delegation of Absaroka or Crow Indians from Montana Territory, who visited Washington during the months of April and May, 1880.

Dakota I. A comprehensive list, arranged with great care and skill, from Dr. Charles E. McChesney, acting assistant surgeon, United States Army, of signs collected among the Dakotas (Sioux) near Fort Bennett, Dakota, during the year 1880. Dr. McChesney requests that recognition should be made of the valuable assistance rendered to him by Mr. William Fielden, the interpreter at Cheyenne Agency, Dakota Territory.

Dakota II. A short list from Dr. Blair D. Taylor, assistant surgeon, United States Army, from recollection of signs observed among the Sioux during his late service in the region inhabited by that tribe.

Dakota III. A special contribution from Capt. A.W. Corliss, Eighth United States Infantry, of signs observed by him during his late service among the Sioux.

Dakota IV. A copious contribution with diagrams from Dr. William H. Corbusier, assistant surgeon, United States Army, of signs obtained from the Ogalala Sioux at Pine Ridge Agency, Dakota Territory, during 1879-’80.

Dakota V. A report of Dr. W.J. Hoffman, from observations among the Teton Dakotas while acting assistant surgeon, United States Army, and stationed at Grand River Agency, Dakota, during 1872-’73.

Dakota VI. A list of signs obtained from Pe-zhi’ (Grass), chief of the Blackfoot Sioux; Na-zu’-la-tan-ka (Big Head), chief of the Upper Yanktonais; and Ce-tan-kin-yan (Thunder Hawk), chief of the Uncpapas, Teton Dakotas, located at Standing Rock, Dakota Territory, while at Washington in June, 1880.

Dakota VII. A list of signs obtained from Shun-ku Lu-ta (Red Dog), an Ogalala chief from the Red Cloud Agency, who visited Washington in company with a large delegation of Dakotas in June, 1880.

Dakota VIII. A special list obtained from Ta-tanka Wa-kan (Medicine Bull), and other members of a delegation of Lower Brulé Dakotas, while at Washington during the winter of 1880-’81.

Hidatsa I. A list of signs obtained from Tce-caq’-a-daq-a-qic (Lean Wolf), chief of the Hidatsa, located at Fort Berthold, Dakota Territory, while at Washington with a delegation of Sioux Indians, in June, 1880.

Mandan and Hidatsa I. A valuable and illustrated contribution from Dr. Washington Matthews, assistant surgeon, United States Army, author of Ethnography and Philology of the Hidatsa Indians, Washington, 1877, &c., lately prepared from his notes and recollections of signs observed during his long service among the Mandan and Hidatsa Indians of the Upper Missouri.

Omaha I. A special list from Rev. J. Owen Dorsey, lately missionary at Omaha Agency, Nebraska, from observations made by him at that agency in 1880.

Oto I. An elaborate list, with diagrams, from Dr. W.G. Boteler, United States Indian service, collected from the Otos at the Oto Agency, Nebraska, during 1879-’80.

Oto and Missouri I. A similar contribution by the same authority respecting the signs of the Otos and Missouris, of Nebraska, collected during the winter of 1879-’80, in the description of many of which he was joined by Miss Katie Barnes.

Ponka I. A short list from Rev. J. Owen Dorsey, obtained by him in 1880 from the Ponkas in Nebraska.

Ponka II. A short list obtained at Washington from Khi-dha-skă, (White Eagle), and other chiefs, a delegation from Kansas in January, 1881.


Iroquois I. A list of signs contributed by the Hon. Horatio Hale, author of “Philology” of the Wilkes Exploring Expedition, &c., now residing at Clinton, Ontario, Canada, obtained in June, 1880, from Sakayenkwaraton (Disappearing Mist), familiarly known as John Smoke Johnson, chief of the Canadian division of the Six Nations, or Iroquois proper, now a very aged man, residing at Brantford, Canada.

Wyandot I. A list of signs from Hen’-to (Gray Eyes), chief of the Wyandots, who visited Washington during the spring of 1880, in the interest of that tribe, now dwelling in Indian Territory.


Kaiowa I. A list of signs from Sittimgea (Stumbling Bear), a Kaiowa chief from Indian Territory, who visited Washington in June, 1880.


Kutine I. A letter from J.W. Powell, Esq., Indian superintendent, British Columbia, relating to his observations among the Kutine and others.


Arikara I. A list of signs obtained from Kua-nuq’-kna-ui’-uq (Son of the Star), chief of the Arikaras, residing at Fort Berthold, Dakota Territory, while at Washington with a delegation of Indians, in June, 1880.

Pani I. A short list obtained from “Esau,” a Pani Indian, acting as interpreter to the Ponka delegation at Washington, in January, 1881.


Sahaptian I. A list contributed by Rev. G.L. Deffenbaugh, of Lapwai, Idaho, giving signs obtained at Kamiah, Idaho, chiefly from Felix, chief of the Nez Percés, and used by the Sahaptin or Nez Percés.


Comanche I. Notes from Rev. A.J. Holt, Denison, Texas, respecting, the Comanche signs, obtained at Anadarko, Indian Territory.

Comanche II. Information obtained at Washington, in February, 1880, from Maj. J.M. Haworth, Indian inspector, relating to signs used by the Comanches of Indian Territory.

Comanche III. A list of signs obtained from Kobi (Wild Horse), a Comanche chief from Indian Territory, who visited Washington in June, 1880.

Pai-Ute I. Information obtained at Washington from Na’toi, a Pai-Ute chief, who was one of a delegation of that tribe to Washington in January, 1880.

Shoshoni and Banak I. A list of signs obtained from Tendoy (The Climber), Tisidimit, Pete, and Wi’agat, members of a delegation of Shoshoni and Banak chiefs from Idaho, who visited Washington during the months of April and May, 1880.

Ute I. A list of signs obtained from Alejandre, Ga-lo-te, Augustin, and other chiefs, members of a delegation of Ute Indians of Colorado, who visited Washington during the early months of the year 1880.


Apache I. A list of signs obtained from Huerito (Little Blonde), Agustin Vijel, and Santiago Largo (James Long), members of a delegation of Apache chief from Tierra Amarilla, New Mexico, who were brought to Washington in the months of March and April, 1880.

Apache II. A list of signs obtained from Na’-ka’-na’-ni-ten (White Man), an Apache chief from Indian Territory, who visited Washington in June, 1880.

Apache III. A large collection made during the summer of 1880, by Dr. Francis H. Atkins, acting assistant surgeon, United States Army, from the Mescalero Apaches, near South Fork, N. Mex.

Kutchin I. A communication, received in 1881, from Mr. Ivan Petroff, special agent United States census, transmitting a dialogue, taken down by himself in 1866, between the Kenaitze Indians on the lower Kinnik River, in Alaska, and some natives of the interior who called themselves Tennanah or Mountain-River-Men, belonging to the Tinne Kutchin tribe.


Wichita I. A list of signs from Rev. A.J. Holt, missionary, obtained from Kin-chē­ĕss (Spectacles), medicine-man of the Wichitas, at the Wichita Agency, Indian Territory, in 1879.

Wichita II. A list of signs from Tsodiáko (Shaved Head Boy), a Wichita chief, from Indian Territory, who visited Washington in June, 1880.


Zun¯i I. Some preliminary notes received in 1880 from Rev. Taylor F. Ealy, missionary among the Zun¯i, upon the signs of that body of Indians.

Foreign Correspondence

Valuable contributions have been received in 1880-’81 and collated under their proper headings, from the following correspondents in distant countries:

Rev. Herman N. Barnum, D.D., of Harpoot, Turkey, furnishes a list of signs in common use among Turks, Armenians, and Koords in that region.

Miss L.O. Lloyd, Charleton House, Mowbray, near Cape Town, Africa, gives information concerning the gestures and signals of the Bushmen.

Rev. Lorimer Fison, Navuloa, Fiji, notes in letters comparisons between the signs and gestures of the Fijians and those of the North American Indians. As this paper is passing through the press a Collection is returned with annotations by him and also by Mr. Walter Carew, Commissioner for the Interior of Navitilevu. The last named gentleman describes some signs of a Fijian uninstructed deaf-mute.

Mr. F.A. von Rupprecht, Kepahiang, Sumatra, supplies information and comparisons respecting the signs and signals of the Redjangs and Lelongs, showing agreement with some Dakota, Comanche, and Ojibwa signs.

Letters from Mr. A.W. Howitt, F.G.S., Sale, Gippsland, Victoria, upon Australian signs, and from Rev. James Sibree, jr., F.R.G.S., relative to the tribes of Madagascar, are gratefully acknowledged.

Many other correspondents are now, according to their kind promises, engaged in researches, the result of which have not yet been received. The organization of those researches in India and Ceylon has been accomplished through the active interest of Col. H.S. Olcott, U.S. Commissioner, Breach Candy, Bombay.

Grateful acknowledgment must be made to Prof. E.A. Fay, of the National Deaf Mute College, through whose special attention a large number of the natural signs of deaf-mutes, remembered by them as having been invented and used before instruction in conventional signs, indeed before attending any school, was obtained. The gentlemen who made the contributions in their own MS., and without prompting, are as follows: Messrs. M. Ballard, R.M. Ziegler, J. Cross, Philip J. Hasenstab, and Lars Larson. Their names respectively follow their several descriptions. Mr. Ballard is an instructor in the college, and the other gentlemen were pupils during the session of 1880.

Similar thanks are due to Mr. J.L. Noyes, superintendent of the Minnesota Institution for the education of the Deaf and Dumb, Faribault, Minn., and to Messrs. George Wing and D.H. Carroll, teachers in that institution, for annotations and suggestions respecting deaf-mute signs. The notes made by the last named gentlemen are followed by their respective names in reference.

Special thanks are also rendered to Prof. James D. Butler, of Madison, Wis., for contribution of Italian gesture-signs, noted by him in 1843, and for many useful suggestions.

Other Italian signs are quoted from the Essay on Italian gesticulations by his eminence Cardinal Wiseman, in his Essays on Various Subjects, London, 1855, Vol. III, pp. 533-555. Many Neapolitan signs are extracted from the illustrated work of the canon Andrea de Jorio, La Mimica degli Antichi investigata nel gestire Napoletano, Napoli, 1832.

A small collection of Australian signs has been extracted from R. Brough Smyth’s The Aborigines of Victoria, London, 1878.

Sign Language Among North American Indians Compared with that Among Other Peoples and Deaf-Mutes. 1881

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