WIRELESS COM — Native American Style (1700-1800’s)

horseheader1.jpeGood Morning!

Wireless Com in the 1700-1800’s?  Am I crazy?   Now, while it’s true that I’m under a terrific deadline right now (75 more pages or thereabouts to write in a week), but hopefully I’m not crazy yet.  The above statement is true, however, if a little bit overstated.  Long ago, American Indians had a very efficient and wireless manner in which to communicate.  Would you like to have a look at how it was done?  Hopefully by the time you read this post, you’ll be able to “talk” in the same way.

morning1b.jpgLong ago the American Indian needed a way in which to communicate at long distances.  Alerts needed to be sent, messages about where was the game, enemies seen, etc.  These all needed to be communicated in an efficient manner.   How was it done?  Let’s have a look.  The most common methods in use were with blanket signals, smoke and mirrors.  There was also an entire system in use called marking a trail so that others who knew the signals could follow your trail.  You could also tell where the game was, or where the enemy was, how many there were, where they were located, as well as where you had gone and when and many, many other thing.  In the woods this was done by marking trees.  On the prairie it was done with piling up stones into certain images.

chandler-seated.jpgA blanket rolled up tightly or clothing rolled up was used when people were within sight of you.  If you stand with the arms outstretched so as to form the letter “T”, that is a danger signal.  If the person so signaling runs back and forth, it is the sign that the danger is approaching and if in addition to this the blanket is thrown horizontally, it means a rescue must be done.  If game has been sighted, the scout runs back and forth — and means it’s a small herd.  If the scout runs around in a circle, thowing his blanket in the air, it means it is a large herd.  If a scout were to run to and fro with the blanket trailing behind him, it meant bad news coming.  If the blanket were held over the head, it meant something important was coming from a distance.

tjay1.jpgAnyone who’s watched old Westerns knows about smoke signals.  These carried over very long distances and the codes varied depending on the tribe.  (You wouldn’t want your enemy knowing your own special code.)  These were often used by war parties, announcing their news, giving their news — how many scalps or horses taken, etc.  A drum was another devise used within the community.  And when the white man came, the mirror became a tool for long distance communication.  One long flash is the signal for attention, and as soon as you receive an answer back, you then transmit your message.  One short flash means that game is in sight.  Two short flashese means the enemy is in sight.  Two short flashes followed by one long one is a call for rescue.  Two short flashes and one long followed by two more short flashes means the danger is over.  Four short flashes means a metting with a stranger or new from a distance.

adam-beach.jpgBut what about meeting another tribe.   Don’t you love this picture?  There were so many different languages in use in America, how did the tribes communicate with each other?   This is where we come into one of my favorite subjects.  In fact, in my very first book, LAKOTA SURRENDER, both heroine and hero communicate with the language of gestures.  Okay, so how was it done?  First a few rules:  Adjectives follow nouns, conjunctions and prepositions are omitted, and verbs are used in the present tense only.  Intricate communicates were carried on in this fashion, but here’s a few to get you started.

Attention or Question:  Hold right hand, palm outward, fingers and thumb separated, well out in front of boddy at height of shoulder.  Some tribes rotated the hand.  This is used to begin conversations.

I understand:  Throw right forearm out in front of body with fingers closed, except index finger, which is curved and drawn back.  This indicates that you grasp and draw something toward you, and is used occasionally while another is talking.  If you don’t understand, use the Question sign.

I:  Touch breast with index finger of right hand.

You:  Point to whomever you are talking to.

Glad:  (Sunshine in heart).  Place compressed right hand, fingers slightly curved, over region of heart; bring left hand, palm downward, in sweeping curve to left of body, at the same time turning it palm upward, as if turning up or unfolding something.  The expression of the face should correspond.

Love:  Corss both arms over bosom.

Good:  (Level with heart.)  Hold extended right hand, back up, close to region of heart; move briskly forward and to right.

Bad:  (Throw away.)  Hold one of both hands, closed, in front of body, backs upward; open with a snap at the same time moving them outward and downward.

Sad:  Place the closed fist against the heart.  Appropriate facial expression.

Surprised:  Cover mouth with palm of right hand, open eyes widely, and move head slightly backward.

Angry:  (Mind twisted.)  Place closed right fist against forehead and twist from right to left.

House: Interlock fingers of both hands, holding them at right angles.

Sleep:  Incline head to right and rest cheek on right palm.  For going into camp, or to indicate the length of a journey, make sign for Sleep and hold up as many fingers as nights were spent on the way.

Woman:  (Long hair.)  Bring both palms down sides of head, shoulders, and bosom, with sweeping gesture.

Man:  Hold right hand closed except for the index finger.  Hold index finger up about stomach level with an upward sweep.  (I’ll let you determine what this one means.)  : )

Beautiful:  Hold palms up like mirror in front of face; make sign for Good.

Liar:  (Forked tongue.)  Bring separated first and second fingers of right hand close to lips.

It is finished:  Bring closed hands in front of body, thumbs up, second joints touching; then separate.  This sign ends a speech or conversation.

 Okay, are you ready?  Make the sign for “I love you.”  Got it?  Okay.  Now make the sign for “I am sleepy.”  And how about “You are beautiful.”  Or how about “I love my man.”  or “I love my woman.”  Can you make the sign for “I’m sleepy?”  Or how about “It’s in the house.”  Alright, here’s an easy one.  Make the sign for good, and at the same time say either “Waste'” (Lakota for good) or Soka-pii (Blackfeet for good).  Or how about “You have surprised me.”

Like I said, long intricate conversations could be carried on in this manner and often the hand signals would be so fast and so appreviated, that only he or she fully trained in the use of them could follow.

lastwarrior.jpgAgain this is a favorite subject of mine.  Now let me take a moment to remind you again that my latest book, THE LAST WARRIOR, is one the shelves.  Please, if you don’t already have a copy, go out and pick up a copy of the book today.  So come on into the forum section (just click on comments) and let me know what you think of the Native American Wireless Communication.   See you again in a couple of weeks!

NOTE: I used Charles A. Eastman’s book INDIAN SCOUT CRAFT AND LORE for this information.

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KAREN KAY aka GEN BAILEY is the multi-published author of American Indian Historical Romances. She has written for such prestigious publishers as AVON/HarperCollins, Berkley/Penguin/Putnam and Samhain Publishing. KAREN KAY’S great grandmother was Choctaw Indian and Kay is honored to be able to write about the American Indian Culture.
Please refer to https://petticoatsandpistols.com/sweepstakesrules for all contest rules.

25 thoughts on “WIRELESS COM — Native American Style (1700-1800’s)”

  1. Great blog, Karen. I’ve always wondered about Indian sign language and how it worked (and I NEVER get tired of seeing your Adam Beach photo).
    Good luck with your deadline. Those last weeks can be killers. Celebrate and let us know when you’re done. You’ll get there.

  2. Thanks so much Elizabeth! Hopefully, it will all get done and I’ll send it off and breathe again for maybe a day or two — until I have to start the next proposal. : )

  3. This is most interesting!ALot to soak in and remember and i doubt i will ….c.r.a.f.t.:stands for Cant remember a f*****g thing.
    I do like the fact that i now know the word for good in blackfeet….soka-pii…..my new husband has blackfeet blood coursing his veins.Know any other words in Blackfeet? Would love to know them!
    As far as the sign language…it is very interesting and some i knew….like the motion for good and saying waste….used that word to my mustangs when i work with them.
    good luck with reaching your deadline Kay! I know you can do it. I need to go out to buy someof your latest books…i have not read any of your newer releases…shame on me.(slaps hand). I have been so busy myself and havn’et written on my books in months…next project is learning to ride a motorcycle so i can get my own.gona ride a steel horse for awhile.lol.
    Take care sweetie!!

  4. Great post, Kay! As always, a place to come back to for future information. I love the movie Jeremiah Johnson where he slowly learns the native cultures and how to communicate. And yes, Adam Beach is hot hot HOT.

    Best wishes on your deadline and next proposal!

  5. There’s a line in Petticoat Ranch when Sophie is mystified by her husband and his seeming need to answer every question with one word or a grunt.

    The line was something like,
    ..Sophie had no doubt Indians communicated with smoke signals. From a man’s point of view it was no doubt possible to be quite eloquent with a column of smoke.

  6. Hi Beth!

    Congrats again on your new marriage. You sound wonderfully happy. I do find sign language fascinating. Some more Blackfeet words? Let’s see Soka’pii is pronounced Sa-ka-pe with the accent on the “ka.” Yes is “Aa” no is “saa” Oki is “hello” Napi is “friend” Annisa is “That’s it” Poohsapoot, is “Come here.” There’s a few for you. : )

    Have a super day! Stay alert there on that motocycle.

  7. Hi Tanya!

    So nice of you to drop by — I know you’re busy with your own writing. I liked Jeremiah Johnson, as well. Robert Redford is wonderful in it, as are the Native actors, as well.

  8. I’m off to write for the rest of the day. I’ll be back online tonight to chat some more. Just leave your comments here and I’ll see them then and answer them hopefully tonight. See you then!

  9. Kay, this is so fascinating! I’ve often wondered how early Native Americans communicated with the white man. I knew about the smoke signals, but not so much about the mirrors or hand signals. I wonder if deaf people use the same sign language. Maybe that’s where it originated. I also found the information about marking trail interesting. That’s neat. You’ve answered questions I’ve long asked. Thank you!

    Good luck with finishing your book! I know it’ll be great. And I wish you good sales figures for “The Last Warrior.”

  10. Thanks for the communications lessons. I can’t
    guarantee that I will remember all this! I am
    going to make copies for my Cub Scout grandsons.
    It may be something that they can use.

    Regarding Adam Beach, I am just getting used to
    and enjoying him on Law and Order, and now I hear
    that he will be leaving the show at the end of
    this season! Alas and alack!

    Pat Cochran

  11. Thanks somuch Kay for the words. And thanks for the congrats! I am so very happy. I waited a very long time for such a wonderful man to come back into my life. being a widow for nearly 11 years….raising kids on my own…tough time. Aspen adores her new stepdaddy Grizzly and he adores her….it is what she has needed.
    I shall be careful on the bike…my training course isnt until June so till then…i ride ..well as it is termed in Biker speak: bitch. So i shall enjoy riding bitch till then…i mean..who wouldn’t…my hubby is gorgeous!! of course i like wrapping my arms around his lean muscular body as he controls the bike….well now it is time for a cold shower…’sigh’. Thanks again Kay!!!
    Happy writing!!

  12. Kay- another great blog! I love all the info you pack into them and I always learn something (many things)new! Sign language the way you describe sounds easy to learn. Great job!

  13. Thanks Tanya! Yeah Grizzly fits himwell. Alot of folks tell him “You dont look like a Grizzly” and he explains…i used to have a full beard but i got the name as a child cuz my last name is Adams…”Grizzly Adams”.
    I actually have been inspired to use Grizzly in a book i am working on. It is in modern times tho in the southwest…Texas Hill Country.He is a biker/vampire.He has agreed to be my cover model when and if ieverget it done. If anyone wants to seewhat he lookslike go to Facebook.com and look me up. Bethlynn Hanley.. the pic is of me atwork with Grizzly standing next to me.Feel free to send me a message there if ya like.

  14. Hi Linda!

    Thanks so much for your post. Yes, I must admit that I find the subject of these “wireless” communications fascinating. The Native American system isn’t the same as the deaf system, I don’t believe — it would be interesting if the system had its origination with the Native Americans, however. I don’t know that as a fact, however.

    Thanks for your well wishes. : ) Have a super day!

  15. Hi Pat!

    You know I believe that Charles Eastman who wrote the book that I quoted had something to do with starting the boy scouts. At least it seems this way to me from reading the book.

    I do believe that Adam Beach is one of the handsomest men on the planet. : )

  16. Hi Beth!

    You sure made me smile. Don’t you just love those names they have for solo riding? : )

    May your life together be filled with love, adoration and companionship. : )

  17. Hi Charlene!

    Thanks so much for your encouragement. I love the subject — I’m amazed it’s taken me so long to post about it. Like I said, my very first book was filled with sign language.

    In some of the real old movies (1920’s or thereabouts), they used real scouts who when they would speak, would use their entire body — its fascinating to watch. : )

  18. Great post, Karen! Of course, the dh and the kids thought I was nuts as I sat here trying to work the sign language out with my own hands, but that’s okay. 🙂
    Good luck with the deadline!

  19. I missed your post yesterday when i saw you had done one of coarse i had to read it.You are always so informative in what you bring to people You’re awesome. Like seeing Mr.Hottie’s picture on your post. wouldn’t mind spending some time in a tee pee with him LOL!!

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