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.
Long 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.
A 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.
Anyone 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.
But 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.
Again 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.