How the Pamunkey Indians Live

The Pamunkey Indians make their living for the most part in true aboriginal style. Their chief occupations are hunting and fishing and although they do not neglect their truck patches they cherish a hearty dislike for manual labor and frequently hire negroes to come in and work their little farms. The deer the raccoon the otter the musk-rat and the mink are captured on the reservation. As many as sixteen deer have been killed in this small area in one season. The skins of all these animals are a good source of income and the flesh except of the mink and otter is used for food. Perch herring bass chub rock shad and sturgeon are caught in large numbers by means of seines. Sora (reedbirds) wild geese ducks and turkeys are abundant.

In the autumn sora are found in the marshes in great numbers and the Indian method of capturing them is most interesting: They have what they strangely call a “sora horse” strongly resembling a peach basket in size and shape and made of strips of iron though they were formerly molded out of clay. The “horse” is mounted on a pole which is stuck in the marsh or placed upright in a foot-boat. A fire is then kindled in the “horse.” The light attracts the sora and they fly around it in large numbers while the Indians knock them down with long paddles. This method is of course used only at night. Every year many white hunters visit the reservation and employ the Indians as their guides in hunting this same toothsome bird. They however use the slower but more sportsmanlike method of shooting them on the wing.

One of the clay “sora horses” above referred to maybe found in the National Museum as part of a collection which the writer made from the Pamunkey in behalf of the Smithsonian Institution.

The Pamunkey farm on a very small scale. They do little more than furnish their own tables. They also raise a few horses, cattle, sheep and hogs.

A general merchandise store is conducted on the reservation by a joint stock company composed of members of the tribe. Their fish game furs and the few farm products not consumed at home find market in Richmond and Baltimore.


Pollard, Jno. Garland. Pamunkey Indians of Virginia. Bureau of Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1894.

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