Six Nations Indian’s Physical Mien and Characteristics

It will be interesting, perhaps, to notice the particulars, as to physical conformation, in which the Indian differs from his white brother.

He maintains a higher average as to height, to fix which at five feet ten would, I think, be a just estimate. It is rare, however, to find him attain the exceptional stature, quite commonly observed with the white, though, where he yields to the latter in this respect, there is compensation for it in the way of greater breadth and compactness. There are, of course, isolated cases, in which he is distinguished by as great height as has ever been reached by ordinary man, and, in these instances, I have never failed to notice that his form discloses almost faultless proportions, the Indian being never ungainly or gaunt. I think, on the whole, that I do no injustice to the white man, when I credit the Indian with a better-knit frame than himself.

I am disposed to ascribe, in great measure, the evolving of the erect form that the Indian, as a rule, possesses, to the custom in vogue of the mother carrying her child strapped across the back, as well as to the fact of her discouraging and interdicting any attempts at walking on the part of the child, until the muscles shall have been so developed as to justify such being made. To this practice, at least, I am safe in attributing the rarity, if not the positive absence, with the Indian, of that unhappy condition of bow-leggedness, of not too slight prevalence with us, and which renders its victim often a butt for not very charitable or approving comment.

The Indian is built more, perhaps, for fleetness than strength; and his litheness and agility will come in, at another place, for their due illustration, when treating of certain of his pastimes.

The Indian has a large head, high cheek bones, in general, large lips and mouth; a contour of face inclining, on the whole, to undue breadth, and lacking that pleasantly-rounded appearance so characteristic of the white. He has usually a scant beard, his chin and cheeks seldom, if ever, asserting that sturdy and bountiful growth of whisker and moustache, in such esteem with adults among ourselves, and which they are so careful to stimulate and insure. Indeed, it is said that the Indian holds rather in contempt what we so complacently regard, and will often testify to his scorn by plucking out the hairs which protrude, and would fain lend themselves to his adornment.

The Indian, normally, has a stolid expression, redeemed slightly, perhaps, by its exchange often for a lugubrious one. I should feel disposed to predict for him the scoring of an immense success in the personation of such characters as those of the melancholy Dane; or of Antonio, in the Merchant of Venice, after the turn of the tide in his fortunes, when the vengeful figure of the remorseless Shylock rests upon his life to blight and to afflict it.

He is easily-moved to tears, though, perhaps, his facile transition from the condition presented in the foregoing allusion, into a positively lachrymose state, will be readily conceived of, without proclaiming specially, the fact. He will maintain a mien, which shall consist eminently with the atmosphere of the house of mourning; in truth, as an efficient mourner, the Indian may be freely depended upon.

It is contended that the complexion of the Indian has had the tendency to grow darker and darker, from his having inhabited smoky, bark wigwams, and having held cleanliness in no very exceptional honor; and the contention is sought to be made good by the citing of a case of a young, fair-skinned boy, who, taking up with an Indian tribe, and adopting in every particular their mode of life, developed by his seventieth year a complexion as swarthy, and of as distinctively Indian a hue, as that of any pure specimen of the race.

If we accept this as a sound view, which, however, carried to its logical sequence, should have evolved, one would imagine, the negro out of the Indian long are this, why may we not, in the way of argument, fairly and legitimately provoked by the theory, look for and consider the converse picture (now that the Indian lives in much the same manner as the ordinary poor husbandman, and now that we have certainly no warrant for imputing to him uncleanly habits) the gradual approach in his complexion to the Anglo-Saxon type? If we entertain this counter-proposition, it will then be a question between its operation, and his marriage with the white, as to which explains the fact of the decline now of the dark complexion with the Indian.

The custom of piercing the nose, and suspending nose-jewels there from, has fallen into disrepute, the Indian, perhaps, having been brought to view these as contributing, in a questionable way, to his adornment.

The Indian woman has a finer development, as a rule, than the white woman. We may, in part, discover the cause for this in the prevalence of the custom, already alluded to, of the mother carrying her offspring on her back, which, with its not undue strain on the dorsal muscles, no doubt, promotes and conserves muscular strength. The Indian woman being commonly a wife and mother before a really full maturity has been reached, or any absolute unyieldingness of form been contracted, the figure yet admits of such-like beneficent processes being exerted upon it. In making mention of this custom, and, in a certain way, paying it honor, let me not be taken as wishing to precipitate a revolution in the accepted modes, with refined-communities, of bringing up children. To a community, however, like that of which we are treating, such plan is not ill-suited, the Indian mother being secure against any very critical observation of her acts, or of the fashion she adopts. Let the custom, then, continue, as it can be shown, I think, to favor the production of a healthier and stronger frame both in the mother and in the child. A good figure is also insured to the Indian woman, from her contemning, perhaps at the bid of necessity, arising from her poverty, though, I verily believe, from a well-grounded conception of their deforming tendencies, the absurdly irrational measures, which, adopted by many among ourselves to promote symmetry, only bring about distortion.

The Indian has very symmetrical hands, and the variation in size, in this respect, in the case of the two sexes, is often very slight, and, sometimes, scarce to be traced. The compliment, in the case of the man, has, and is meant to have, about it a quite appreciable tinge of condemnation, as suggesting his self-compassionate recoiling from manual exertion; and the explanation of the near approach in the formation of the hand of the woman to that of the man, may be found in the delegating to her, by the latter, in unstinted measure, and in merciless fashion, work that should be his. It is rare, also, to find a really awkwardly shaped foot in an Indian. The near conformity to a uniform size in the case of the two sexes, which I have noticed as being peculiar with the hand, may also be observed with the foot. I would sum up my considerations here with the confident assertion that the examination of a number of specimens of the hand or foot in an Indian, would demonstrate a range in size positively immaterial.

The Indian woman keeps up, to a large extent, the practice of wearing leggings and moccasins.

I should be disposed to think that the blood coursing through the Indian’s frame is of a richer consistency, and has, altogether, greater vitalizing properties than that in ourselves, since on the severest day in winter he will frequently scorn any covering beyond his shirt, and the nether garments usually suggested by its mention, and, so apparelled, will not recoil from the keenest blast.

Six Nations,

Mackenzie, J. B. A Treatise of the Six Nation Indians. Guardian Printing Office. 1882.

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