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So…today I thought we’d have a look at various communication systems used by the old-time American Indian. Some time back, I wrote and email about wireless com — Native American Style. I believe at that time I gave a brief overview of various methods of wireless com — hundreds of years ago. Today, I thought I’d continue in that vein.
I think sometimes we in the modern world forget how ingenious were those who went before us. In our day and age of the internet and so many things at our fingertips, I think we forget that our forerunners had so many ways to stay in communicate at great distances. Here are a few that could be used when the person you were communicating to wasn’t visible — or at a great distance from you. Smoke, dust signals and of course, fire and fire arrows.
Here is a quote from Josiah Gregg’s Commerce of the Prairies — vol ii, p. 286:
“The most remarkable (way of communicating) is by raising smokes, by which many important facts are communicated to a considerable distance and made intelligible by the manner, size, number, or repetition of the smokes, which are commonly raised by firing spots of dry grass.”
When needing to send something to be seen as far away as fifty miles, the highest elevation one can get it needed. The manner of fire or smoke used was important. Usually one would start a fire and then cover it with green grass or weeds so that a white smoke was formed — this usually would be seen in a vertical column, which could then be used with a code that was well understood by others within the tribe (but not by those who were not part of the tribe). A blanket would be put over the fire in such a way as to give signals that were either long or short.
Alarm — this uses at least 3 columns — or more — all at once — this shows that there is danger afoot.
Attention — this was usually just one column — something else would usually accompany it to tell what it was that needed attention — for instance if a camp was being taken down or set up — or to give warning of an enemy.
Fire arrows were often used on the prairie to communicate. For instance, amongst the Santee Sioux, one fire arrow meant that the enemy was about — two arrows meant danger and three arrows meant great danger. Two arrows sent up at the same moment could mean “we will attack,” and an arrow shot in a particular direction if diagonal, would mean that direction.
Now, these meanings often changed — it wouldn’t do to let the enemy know one’s signals and so often a war party would agree on the signals before going out on the prairie.
It was said by others that the Indians could communicate almost anything by use of smoke, fire, fire arrows or dust and that they used their signals intelligently, seldom, if ever, making mistakes — if only because a mistake could mean the safety or not of one’s own party.
Of course there was a standard way of communicating tribe to tribe, because all of the American Indian tribes spoke different languages, and that was by way of sign language. But don’t think that the American Indian was the original inventor of sign language. Use of gestures to communicate goes way back in history, even Plato making mention of this form of language. At one time in ancient history, communicating by gestures was part of the education of freemen.
That this form of communication was so well used by the American Indian, however, was unique, if only because whole conversations could be carried on without a single word being said, and the language was so universal on the plains that language formed no barrier whatsoever.
Even in our modern society, there are gestures that are well known and communicate effectively. That such gestures are commonly grotesque tends to show to me only that our society has degenerated down to such things…shame…
But once, long ago, sign language was common, was well in use and could communicate anything — even the passion of loving and being loved.
Hope you have enjoyed the blog today. Be sure to leave a comment if you’d like to enter into the drawing. And please remember to pick up you copy of RED HAWK’S WOMAN, my latest release which has just recently gone on sale.