Historical Documentation

Scholars have a great disadvantage when trying to make progress in researching Mississippian aesthetics. Quite often the pages are nearly blank except for the work of Le Moyne and John White (Lorant 1946). Few men during the period of great decay of native cultures felt compelled to describe the Indians in any detail. It was not rare for large parties of Catawba, Cherokee, and other tribes to send delegations to Charles Town to negotiate with the colony's authorities. Notices appeared in the Gazette, but descriptions were seldom provided (South Carolina Gazette, 19 May 1760:2).

On occasion, almost by accident, a short note was included in a commentary, yet such comments must be analyzed carefully. For instance, writing in the eighteenth century, Mark Catesby had something important to say about tattooing: "Their war captains and men of distinction have usually the portrait of a serpent, or other animal, on their naked bodies; this is done by puncture and a black powder conveyed under the skin. These figures are esteemed not only as ornamental, but serve to distinguish the warriors, making them known and dreaded by their enemies" (Catesby I73i-i743:ix). This short description is most interesting because it gives us a direct connection with contemporary Catawba art, custom, and the rank of war captain.

Some years earlier, in 1675, the Kussoe Indians ceded lands on the Ashley River to the Lords Proprietors of Carolina (Register of the Province). About 29 Kussoe Indians signed the document (Waddell 1979: 262). Most of those signing used the snake symbol and were designated as captains (war captains). Over two centuries later, Catawba chief Thomas Morrison signed an affidavit attesting to the meaning of these same signatures. That he confused Christian symbolism with traditional Catawba thinking does not diminish the importance of the signatures as marks of rank.

There is a tradition among the Indians brought down from 5,000 yrs. These are such as the serpent tempting eve our mother. The serpent is used in signing any agreement in business, and it denotes that if the signers did not comply with the obligation punishment shall be the pay.

Chief T. Morrison Catawba Ind.

State of South Carolina Office of Secretary of State

I J. Q. Marshall Secretary of State do hereby certify that the foregoing signatures appear on Page 10 of Grant Book of 1675 to 1703 and that the above is a copy of a statement made by the present chief of the Catawba Indians which statement is on file in this office.

Given under my hand and seal of the State this fourth day of September in the year of our Lord one thousand eight hundred and eighty-eight and in the one hundred and thirteenth year of the Independence of the United States of America.

J. Q. Marshall Secretary of State (Marshall)

Another brief but valuable eighteenth-century record is available to us. In 1736, a German prince/adventurer, Philip Georg Friedrich von Reck, visited Georgia and produced a small group of illustrations made during a visit to the Yuchi (Hvidt 1990). At that time the Yuchi were living near Savannah not all that far from the Catawba. Von Reck's drawing number 20 shows a woman with her left arm tattooed with a series of arrows. So impressed was von Reck by this pattern, he produced a painting and a sketch. Similarly, he produced a painting and a sketch of the mico, or Yuchi king. The king was painted and tattooed on both his face and his torso. It is unfortunate, for our understanding of such art in the eighteenth century, that von Reck could not stand the privations of America and soon returned home to Germany. The designs recorded by von Reck on the body of the Yuchi king are quite similar to those decorating the body of Tomo Chachi Mico of the Creek (Downs 1995:18). While it can be argued that the Yuchi were not Ca-tawban speakers, both the Catawba and the Yuchi held the same tradition of body decorating that dominated Native American aesthetics across the region. It appears safe to assume that eighteenth-century Catawba could interpret these tattooed designs and in fact used similar body art. Unfortunately, no one interested or capable of recording similar Catawba designs visited the Catawba and left a pictorial record of the event.

During this same period, the American artist Benjamin West (17381820) was growing up in Pennsylvania and gathering visual impressions he would later use in his art. He most certainly had opportunities to see frontier Indians who were painted and tattooed. When he turned to paint his now-famous Death of General Wolfe, in 1769, he portrayed a traditional war captain sitting at the feet of the dying general. The tattoos on the Indian's arms and legs are not far removed from those recorded on a Yuchi king around the same time by von Reck. Catesby recorded the snakes tattooed on the war captain's back (Kent, Frontispiece, 1984; Catesby 1731-1743). The serpents are from the same tradition as the snakes that Catawba war captain Pine Tree George used to decorate his prized silver gorget (see Figure 43). So close are the parallels, the Indian portrayed by West might be the recollection of a young boy's impression of a Catawba war captain observed years before. It seems most likely that the Indian portrayed by West is from the Southeast, a war captain, and perhaps even a Catawba.

In 1744, Governor Glenn of South Carolina mediated a dispute between the Catawba and the Natchez. It concerned the murder of several Catawba. As a result, the Natchez king was forced to execute the guilty parties. Glenn had their heads removed and preserved so they could be taken to the Catawba Nation. Upon inspecting the heads and their tattooed designs, the Catawba immediately were satisfied that justice had been done (XXIV S.C. Records, BPRO, 409-412, in Brown 1966:223). Unfortunately, if any descriptions of the Natchez tattoos were made they are not available.

On November 18, 1766, a notice appeared in the South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal describing a man and providing detail about his tattooed face: "An Indian or Mustee fellow, about 36 years of age, name Simon Flowers. . . . He is marked on the right cheek W, on his left with a single stroke thus I, which he says his father did to all his children when they were small with a needle and gunpowder" (South Carolina Gazette and Country Journal, 18 November 1766:1). What this notice may possibly chronicle is the survival of a family mark not unlike those recorded by Thomas Heriot in his sixteenth-century journal (Lorant 1946:271). Small clues like this are frustrating but help to develop a picture of what was happening as late as the eighteenth century.

The Indians continued to sign documents during this time, much as the Kussoe had done earlier (Waddell 1979), in ways best understood in their individual cultures. There is a marked difference between signatures done in the Northeast and those done in the Southeast. In 1764, seven Seneca headmen signed the "Articles of Peace between Sir William Johnson and the Huron Indians." The Indians drew simple animal figures, which represent clan totem signs (O'Callaghan 1855: 650-651). The southeastern Indians, including the Catawba, however, never signed a document in such a fashion. They did belong to clans

Figure 35. King Hagler signature made with the barred oval.

and these clans had totems, but apparently the southeastern Indians did not use such totems to sign documents. To date, all the signed documents uncovered by this author relate to primitive signs common throughout the Southeast: the sun circle, cross, barred oval, swastika, and serpent.

One Chickasaw document was found, and it contains numerous signatures. All are simple representations of the sun circle (Chickasaw Headmen to Governor Lyttleton, April 16, 1757, William Henry Lyttleton Papers, William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan). In 1759, the Chickasaw signed another document and used four different symbols: a barred oval, a cross, a serpent symbol, and an unidentified mark. It is impossible to determine what the Chickasaw were interpreting when they used these symbols. We might assume that if the squiggle put to the page is a snake sign, the Indian was perhaps a war captain. The cross would be in honor of the sacred fire (Howard 1968). Perhaps the signatory was connected to the fire in some official capacity. The reason for the use of the barred oval remains a mystery. To follow Warring and take the stand that this sign was the vagina or a rectum is too simple an approach (Williams 1968:11-12). As will be shown, the barred oval remains of great importance to the Catawba.

The Catawba used the very same southeastern symbols in signing their early documents. In 1757, King Hagler addressed a letter to Governor Glenn and used the barred oval for his signature (Figure 35) (Kirkland 1905:50-51). That same year King Hagler and his headmen sent a letter to the English king. Hagler signed the document with the barred oval. The second signature consists of a sun circle. The two following signatures seem to be awkward snake symbols (Petitions n.d.). On January 3, 1759, King Hagler addressed a short note to Governor Lyttleton and on this occasion signed the document with a mark that seems to be a swastika or wind symbol (Figure 36) (Kirkland 1905:52).

On January 29, 1765, the Catawba addressed a letter to Lieutenant Governor Bull in which they informed him that Frow had been chosen Catawba king by unanimous vote. King Frow, using either the sun circle or a flawed barred oval, signed this document. The three head-

King Hagler Catawba
Figure 36. On occasion King Hagler used the Southern Cult swastika to sign a document.
King Hagler Portrait
Figure 37. Catawba signatures made in 1765 showing the full range of Southern Cult signature possibilities.

men used the snake symbol (Figure 37) (Kirkland 1905:56-57). As the Catawba learned to speak English they slowly abandoned the old symbols and began to sign with their initials. On November 24, 1792, some 31 Catawba signed a petition to the South Carolina House of Representatives. Eight used the snake symbol, six the cross, nine the sun circle, four men used their initials, John Nettles signed his full name, and three made marks, including General New River, that may be mere scribbles (Petitions n.d.). As late as 1811, the tribe sent another petition to the South Carolina House of Representatives regarding the payments of rents. Three men used the sun circle, two used a snake symbol, two apparently made an effort to use initials, General Jacob Scott used his initial "S" to sign, and John Nettles signed his full name (Petitions n.d.).

The Catawba were not alone in preserving a memory of the old designs. Although the southeastern Indians entered the nineteenth century with no hope of maintaining their once uncontested political supremacy and their cultures were on the defensive, the old heroic

Catawbas Indians Warriors

Figure 38. Portrait pipes.

  1. Drawing taken from an Indian head portrait pipe made ca. 1880. Shows the tattooed chin.
  2. Drawing of Indian head pipe displaying the tattooed chin. Made with squeeze mold ca. 1900.
  3. Drawing of a hand made portrait pipe made ca. 1880. Shows the inverted feather peace symbol on the chin.

Figure 38. Portrait pipes.

  1. Drawing taken from an Indian head portrait pipe made ca. 1880. Shows the tattooed chin.
  2. Drawing of Indian head pipe displaying the tattooed chin. Made with squeeze mold ca. 1900.
  3. Drawing of a hand made portrait pipe made ca. 1880. Shows the inverted feather peace symbol on the chin.

symbols and designs were not forgotten. For instance, in 1895 the Seminole Indians of the Florida Tampa District were observed with tattoos on their hands and forearms. The simple patterns included arrows, tomahawks, and lines (Sinclair 1909:389). We don't know how the Seminole regarded these designs. They may have been read in a fashion described earlier by Heriot and Catesby. It is highly possible the Seminole had lost any ability to interpret their tattoos. Similarly, we do not know what the Catawba thought of their motifs except they were important enough to retain them as expressions from the "old Indians."

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  • josefina dupree
    What is the importance of the catawba indains?
    9 years ago
  • wilcome
    What symbol did the seminole indians put on their potter?
    9 years ago

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