Observations on the Indians of the Colorado River 1856

Observations on the Indians of the Colorado River, California by George Gibbs 1856


Above all these and extending back easterly, come the great Ute nation. The upper Colorado Indians have among the Ute Indians and among mountain man the reputation of being fierce warriors. The whole race of Colorado Indians are perfect in form and generally of good features. I have never seen men or women of such beautifully formed bodies. Elsewhere there is little or no deformity except the hip disease probably siphilitis occasionally occurs. Limbs generally well-rounded and tapering, small and exquisitely formed hands and feet, and busts on the young women and girls to warm an anchorite. There is no virtue among the women. They are prostitutes from their youth up, but they have not the vices of stealing, or whiskey drinking so common among other tribes. Venereal disease, probably introduced long ago from Mexico is common, but its form is comparatively mild though accompanied in almost every case by first and secondary symptoms. It has not anything like the fatal effects of the same disease in Oregon or among the islands of the Pacific. The Cocopa and Yuma as are not hunters. Their diet is almost purely vegetable. Their only flesh is fish caught in lagoons near the mouth of the Colorado. They are principally dependent on the annual freshet for the overflow of their gardens, in which they cultivate- pumpkins- melons- a little wheat and corn. Their only war weapon is a short club. Bows and arrows are used a little but the arrows are seldom pointed and do little execution. As ever the Yumas are childlike, exceedingly playful, and singularly generous to each other. The Colorado like the Nile to the Egyptians is their common Father and they share equally his gifts. The women are treated with more consideration than among the Pacific Indians, and men and women play together in the sun, from morning till night. They have a flute made of reeds, which is of great service in lovemaking. A young buck will play all day long to his sweetheart, no words passing, save those but conveyed by his flute. During the greater part of the year, the heat being intense, they sleep during the day, and sing and dance nearly all night. They are a large race, many of the men standing over “6 feet and inches”. Women proportionately large, owing to their vegetable diet they are generally healthy, have beautifully white teeth, remarkably regular and well-formed. They use no medicines, I believe, the only remedy for disease being kneading the body or part affected. I have often seen them punching and men trodding on the stomach and breasts to expel pain. Wirth tells me that disease is quite common and scrofula, not syphilitic, and that pneumonia is common in the winter owing to the great change from extreme heat to some time freezing cold. The Yumas believe in a Good and a Bad Spirit. The Good Spirit is always going about doing good. The Bad Spirit is asleep in a mountain far up the Colorado called Av-vee-co-may. When he is troubled in his sleep and moves slightly there is a little earthquake. When he turns over, there is “hell to play” and every little thing rocks. They believe the Good spirits of the dead live in the river bottom near their old haunts, perpetually happy, living on the largest kind of pumpkin of perennial and spontaneous growth. The Bad spirits of the dead are driven out into the desert and labor eternally. Anything belonging to the dead is esteemed bad, and burned. A lodge in which a person dies is deserted, or burned. A murderer washes out his sin by repeated ablutions, and abstaining from meat and salt for one moon. A woman after childbirth abstains in a like manner. To some extent they deified their dead chief, one especially who died long ago is spoken of as being of great powers. Nothing could resist him, singularly enough they describe his dress is exactly that of the Aztecs. He occupies a mountain up the river. They believe in the evil eye. Last year of boy, who had predicted the death of a chief, his prediction coming true, was killed to save the life of a young girl whose death he had also predicted. In the kneading process – I have spoken of above – to expel pain, they also blow away – the evil spirit as it comes out. They are extremely lascivious in conversation, thought, and action. A crowd of girls from the age of four or five up words are always talks of “in – gen”, i.e. carnal intercourse. This is no exaggeration. On first seeing the piston rod of the steamboat here, they said it was “in-gen-ing”– frigging. The men have names accordingly, one is called Lob Cock, another Big Cock. Another Cock with Blue Head, another “ah-hote-ah-in-gen” i.e. good F – – k – r. This is literally true, sir don’t hold your committee responsible for the smut. The Yuma’s are light-colored, some of them a bright olive with blue eyes. The Yuma’s use red and black paint. The squaws also use blue to paint the eyelids. They mix the red paint with spittle. The paints are of high value among the Indians. I have seen once or twice, I think plumbago on the face, making it shine like a kettle newly polished. The Maricopas separated from the Yuma is a long time since after a quarrel about a chief and the burial of the dead. They live on the Gila River above below the Pimas. Their first settlements are about 100 miles from the mouth.

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