9 Facts about the Lives of America’s Original Inhabitants After Europeans Arrived

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  1. Native Americans or American Indians?

The native peoples of America were given the name Indians by the explorer Christopher Columbus, who thought he had reached a place called the Indies. At that time, each group of native peoples in the Americas had a name for itself. But the Indians did not have a name for themselves as a whole. Over time, the terms American Indian and Indian became widely used. Some Indians say that Native Americans is misleading because any person born in America is a native American.

  1. A Plentiful Population

Estimates of the Indian population of the New World when Columbus arrived vary. Many scholars estimate that there may have been 30 million, with some estimates running as high as 118 million.

  1. New Foods

The Indians grew many foods that Europeans who came to America had never heard of, such as avocados, corn, peanuts, peppers, pineapples, potatoes, squash, and tomatoes. They also introduced the Europeans to tobacco.

  1. Modern Inventions

In turn, the Europeans brought many goods that were new to the Indians. These goods included metal tools, guns, and liquor. The Europeans also brought cattle and horses, which were unknown to the Indians.

  1. “The Five Civilized Tribes”

After the Revolutionary War, the Cherokee and some other Southeastern Indians tried to adopt the ways of white Americans. They began to dress, speak, and act like whites. White people sometimes called the Cherokee, Creek, Choctaw, Chickasaw, and Seminole the Five Civilized Tribes because whites considered their own ways more civilized than Indian customs.

  1. Indian Citizenship Act

In 1924, Congress passed the Indian Citizenship Act, which gave citizenship to every Indian born within the territorial limits of the United States. Indians who live on reservations pay most federal and state taxes, but they pay no taxes on reservation lands and property or on income earned from them.

  1. Return of the Black Hills

In 1980, the Supreme Court of the United States ordered the federal government to pay about $105 million to eight tribes of Sioux Indians. The money was payment for Indian land in South Dakota that the government seized illegally in 1877. The tribes refused the settlement and sought the return of part of the Black Hills in South Dakota as well as a cash payment.

  1. Lost Languages

When Europeans arrived in North America, at least 300 languages were spoken by Indians. Today, fewer than 200 languages are still spoken, and many of them are used little or only by a few older members of a tribe. Only about 40 of the languages are spoken by people of all ages.

  1. Indians Today

Today, a number of tribes operate successful industries. For example, the Navajo make electronic parts for missiles; the Choctaw manufacture parts for automobiles; and the Cherokee produce a variety of horticultural products.

Be sure to read about the Lives of America’s Original Inhabitants Before Europeans Arrived

These fun facts­—and much more—can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.

Feel free to share your comments below!

This article is part of our Native American Heritage Month Blog Series

12 Facts about the Lives of America’s Original Inhabitants Before Europeans Arrived

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  1. What’s in a Name?

Native American tribe names often reflected the pride of each group in itself and its way of life. For example, the Delaware Indians of eastern North America called themselves Lenape, which means genuine people.

2. Saying “I Do”

Many Indians married at a relatively early age—the girls between 13 and 15 and the boys between 15 and 20. A boy had to convince the girl and her parents that he would make a suitable husband. In many cases, he offered them valuable gifts to win their consent. Many newly married couples lived with the girl’s family—and the husband worked for her family—until the birth of a child.

  1. Seeing is Believing

Boys in their early teens went through a test of strength or bravery called an initiation ceremony where they went without food, sleep, or companionship for a long period or lived alone in the wilderness until they saw a vision of their guardian spirit. This is known as a vision quest. In some tribes, a boy was expected to have a vision of the spirit that would become his lifelong guardian. Some wounded themselves to help bring a vision.

  1. Catching Dinner

Both North and South American Indians used drugs to catch fish. In one method, Indians chopped up certain plants and threw them in the water. These plants stunned the fish. Then the Indians could easily scoop them out of the water.

  1. Alternative Medicine

Some Indians believed that certain diseases were caused by an object in the body. Shamans, sometimes called medicine men or medicine women, sucked on the body of the sick person until they “found” the object causing the illness. Then they spit out the object—usually a small stick or a stone that they had hidden in the mouth. They also blew tobacco smoke over the sick person because tobacco was believed to have magical powers.

  1. Crop Insurance

The Pueblo of the Southwest had religious societies that performed dances the year around to ensure good crops. One such group was the Kachina Society of masked dancers who visited the homes of children to ask if the youngsters had been good. If they had not, the Kachina dancers might punish them. The sun dance, which lasted several days, was the chief ceremony of the Plains Indians. The Indians performed it to gain supernatural power or to fulfill a vow made to a divine spirit in return for special aid. Some men even tortured themselves as part of this ceremony.

  1. A New Language

The Indian tribes of the Plains spoke many languages and needed some means of communicating with one another. From this need came a series of commonly understood gestures called sign language. Sign language was not a complete language, and it could not express any complicated idea. 

  1. Asian Ancestors

Scientists believe that American Indians are descended from the peoples of eastern Asia. For example, Indians, like those who descend from eastern Asians, have straight black hair and high cheekbones, and little hair on their bodies.

  1. Female Power

The five tribes that formed the Iroquois League chose 50 sachems to lead their federation. Only men could be sachems, but only women had the right to select who became a sachem. If a sachem did not do what the women wanted in council, they could remove him and select a new leader.

10. Wartime Heroes

Success in warfare earned fame for a warrior. Counting coup—that is, the act of touching a live enemy and getting away from him—won the highest honor. After battle, the warriors told of their heroic deeds and celebrated their victory. Eagle feathers were awarded for bravery.

11. A Purified Village

The Pueblo usually fought only when attacked. If a Pueblo killed someone—even in warfare—that individual had to go through a long period of self-purification before returning to live in the village.

12. Perfect Precision

The Inca, a group of South American Indians who ruled a large empire in Peru and other parts of western South America, did not use mortar to bind stones together to construct their huge public buildings. However, they carved the stones so carefully that a knife blade could not be inserted between the stones of a building.

Be sure to read about the Lives of America’s Original Inhabitants After Europeans Arrived

These fun facts­—and much more—can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.

Feel free to share your comments below!

This article is part of our Native American Heritage Month Blog Series

Discover the Haunted History of Halloween with World Book Online!

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Ancient Origins

  • Halloween developed from an ancient pagan festival celebrated by Celtic people over 2,000 years ago in the area that is now the United Kingdom, Ireland, and northwestern France.
  • The festival was called Samhain (pronounced SOW ehn), which means summer’s end. The festival marked the beginning of the dark winter season and was celebrated around November 1.
  • During Samhain, Celts believed that the barriers between the natural world and the supernatural were broken, and that the dead could walk among the living for just a little while.

From Samhain To Halloween

  • In the 800’s, the Christian church established a new holiday, All Saints’ Day, on November 1st. All Saints’ Day was also called All Hallows’. Hallow means saint, or one who is holy. The evening before All Hallows’ was known as All Hallows’ Eve, or as it came to be abbreviated, All Hallow e’en.
  • For centuries in Europe, people remembered the dead at All Saints’ Day and All Souls’ Day (November 2) with bonfires.

Origins of the Jack-o’-Lantern

  • Although bonfires are less common on Halloween today, people still mark the night with candles burning in jack-o’-lanterns.
  • The jack-o’-lantern originally represented spirits present in the dark, or souls released from Christian purgatory.
  • According to an Irish legend, jack-o’-lanterns were named for a character named Jack, who could not enter heaven because he was a miserly, bad-tempered man. He could not get into hell either, because he had tricked the devil several times. As a result, Jack had to walk the earth forever with only a coal from hell to light his lantern.

American Traditions

By the late 1800’s, Americans celebrated this spooky holiday in a variety of ways:

  • In rural New Hampshire, people held barn dances for Halloween.
  • In New York City, Halloween parades and firecrackers were common aspects of the celebration.
  • In mountainous North Carolina, many thought Halloween was a time when people could hear the future whispered in the wind.
  • In Louisiana, it was tradition to cook a midnight dumb supper (which means a meal eaten without speaking) and watch for a ghost to join the table.

Halloween In Europe

  • In Ireland, objects, such as a coin, a ring, and a thimble, were baked into a cake or other food. It was believed that the person who found the coin would become wealthy. Whoever found the ring would marry soon, but the person who got the thimble would never get married.
  • In England, people went house-to-house souling—that is, asking for small breads called soul cakes in exchange for prayers.
  • In some areas of the United Kingdom and Ireland, people went mumming (parading in masks) on many holidays, including Halloween.

Warding Off the Spirits

People in Scotland and Ireland once carved out large beets or turnips to use as lanterns on Halloween. After this custom reached America, people began to use pumpkins.

Pumpkins: A New World Vegetable

Pumpkins probably originated in North America. Seeds from related plants dating back to 7000 to 5500 B.C. have been found in Mexico. Most pumpkins weigh between 5 to 30 pounds (2.3 to 14 kilograms). But some may weigh more than 1,000 pounds (450 kilograms)!

These fun facts­—and much more—can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.

This Week in History: Archbishop Desmond Tutu was born on Oct. 7, 1931

People call him “the Arch.” He is Desmond Tutu, who served as the Anglican archbishop of Cape Town, South Africa, from 1986 to 1996. As archbishop, Tutu was the leader of the Anglican Church in southern Africa. He was the first black African to hold that post. In 1984, he received the Nobel Peace Prize for his efforts to end apartheid in South Africa. Apartheid was the strict and often brutal system of racial segregation that existed in South Africa from 1948 to the early 1990’s. Tutu believed it was morally wrong and sought to end it by nonviolent means. He led the effort to convince foreign nations to push for change by imposing economic sanctions on South Africa. He called on both the supporters and the opponents of apartheid to find a peaceful way to end it.

Sometimes it takes courage to be a peacemaker. In 1985, the South African government banned large black funeral gatherings, which had sometimes turned into politically heated events. Tutu defied the ban. In August, hundreds of police officers and soldiers surrounded a gathering of about 1,000 funeral mourners. With military helicopters circling overhead, Tutu negotiated with the police for half an hour to avoid a violent encounter. A month earlier, he had waded into a mob of enraged black youths and kept them from killing a man whom they suspected of being an informer for the police. Nelson Mandela, who became South Africa’s first black president in 1994, once said of Tutu, “Sometimes strident, often tender, never afraid, and seldom without humor, Desmond Tutu’s voice will always be the voice of the voiceless.”

It also takes understanding to be a peacemaker. Tutu was born in Klerksdorp, South Africa, on Oct. 7, 1931. He lived through the imposition of the apartheid system. He began his career as a teacher, but he left teaching in protest against laws purposely designed to give black students second-rate educations. He became an Anglican priest in 1961 and later was made a bishop. After the end of apartheid, he headed the Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC), a South African panel that conducted hearings on suspected human rights abuses during apartheid. Tutu is known for his compassion. On more than one occasion during TRC testimony, he lowered his head on his hands and wept. Under Tutu’s leadership, the commission promoted healing, forgiveness, and national unity.

It takes hope to be a peacemaker. Tutu is famous for his joy and his marvelous laugh. He believes all people were “made for goodness,” and that we should search out the good at the true heart of every person. He believes all people are brothers and sisters, children of God. All, therefore, deserve honor and respect. For Tutu, this faith exists in harmony with the traditional African concept of ubuntu, which sees people as interdependent. An injustice to one diminishes all. To oppress one person diminishes the entire community, as does taking revenge on the oppressor. Tutu has said, “There is no peace without forgiveness.” Both in South Africa and in other nations that have experienced conflict or oppression, Tutu has worked to help people overcome hate and find peace.

Great Lives in Jazz

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In honor of Thelonious Monk’s birthday this week (October 10), see if you can match some jazz greats to their dates of birth and accomplishments!

14 Facts About Christopher Columbus’s Life & Legacy from World Book Online

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  1. A Holiday Is Born

Columbus Day was not declared a legal federal holiday until 1971. Now it’s celebrated on the second Monday of October. But before 1971, several states celebrated Columbus Day on October 12, the day that Columbus’s ship landed in the New World.

  1. Not the First

Columbus was NOT the first European to reach the Western Hemisphere. The Norse (also called the Vikings) had settled for a time on the coast of North America about A.D. 1000, but most Europeans of the 1400’s did not know about the settlement.

  1. Spice Is Nice

Columbus set out to reach the Indies—what are now India, China, the East Indies (southeastern Asia), and Japan. He hoped to gain direct access to gold, silk, gems, and spices. Cloves, nutmeg, and mace served as medicines as well as seasonings.

  1. His Map Man

A map of the world made by Ptolemy, an astronomer and geographer in Alexandria, Egypt, in the A.D. 100’s, might have been the basis for Columbus’s notions of geography. Ptolemy’s map showed most of the world as covered by land.

  1. Incorrect Calculations

Columbus’s plan was based in part on two major miscalculations.

1) He underestimated the circumference of the world by about 25 percent.

2) He believed that most of the world consisted of land rather than water.

  1. Years of Waiting

King Ferdinand of Spain placed Columbus’s proposal before his council, which rejected it. The council initially turned down his plan on the correct belief that he had greatly underestimated the length of the journey.

  1. Big Boats

Martín Alonso Pinzón, an experienced seafarer, captained the Pinta, a caravel with square-rigged sails that could carry about 53 long tons, the equivalent of almost 10 elephants! Columbus’s brother Vicente Yañez Pinzón captained the slightly smaller Niña. Columbus captained the third vessel, the Santa María.

  1. No Five-Star Dining

The sailors’ main meal consisted of a stew of salted meat or fish, hard biscuits, and watered wine. The sailors had no sleeping quarters, so they huddled on deck in good weather or found a spot below deck during storms.

  1. Gut Instincts

Columbus had few navigational instruments. He knew enough about celestial navigation to measure latitude by using the North Star. He used a compass to plot his course, estimated distances on a chart, relied on a half-hour glass to measure time, and guessed his speed.

10. Tough Crowd

After a month of smooth sailing, the crews became anxious that they had not yet reached the islands Columbus had led them to expect. They had not sighted land for longer than any other crew of that time!

11. Claiming the Prize

Between the evening of October 11 and the morning of October 12, a sailor on the Pinta named Juan Rodríguez Bermejo called out, “Land, land!” Isabella had offered a reward to the first person to sight land. However, Columbus said that he had seen a flickering light hours earlier, and he claimed the reward.

12. A Christmas Eve Surprise

The night of December 24, an exhausted Columbus gave the wheel of the Santa María to a sailor, who passed it to a cabin boy. The ship crashed and split apart on a reef near Cap-Haïtien, in present-day Haiti. Aided by a local chief, the crew built a makeshift fort. Columbus left about 40 men there to hunt for gold. He then started home on the Niña.

13. Winning the Race

Columbus had been concerned that Martín Pinzón, with whom he had quarreled at times, would reach Spain first and claim the glory. Indeed, Pinzón had reached a small village in Spain a few days earlier and had notified the monarchs of his arrival. However, they refused to see him until they had heard from Columbus, and Pinzón died before he could tell his story.

14. A Legacy of Exploration

Columbus made three more voyages west before his death on May 20, 1506. Many people believed Columbus was poor at the time of his death, but he actually died wealthy.

* Bonus Fact *: Think it should be Columbus’ instead of Columbus’s? Technically, both versions are correct. But according to some grammar rules, adding the ‘s to proper nouns, including names ending in s, x, or z is preferred.

These fun facts can be found in World Book Online, your answer for fast, reliable information.

This Week in History: Tanks first used in battle during World War I

(pc060845) British tank in World War I. Credit: © The Illustrated London News Picture Library

(pc060845) British tank in World War I. Credit: © The Illustrated London News Picture Library

Machine guns, heavy artillery, barbed wire, and poison gas all existed before World War I (1914-1918). Airplanes, too, already existed, as did observation balloons, submarines, hand grenades, and flame throwers. One weapon, however, developed as a direct result of the fighting in the war: the armored combat vehicle known as the tank.

Battles in World War I tended to be fought by men charging through barbed wire into machine gun and artillery fire. This form of combat produced carnage on an unprecedented scale. Battlefronts settled into static trench systems. Repeated assaults on heavily defended trenches caused still more carnage. In early 1915, British Lord of the Admiralty (the Royal Navy) Winston Churchill was looking for a new idea, and he found one.

British Army Lieutenant-Colonel E. D. Swinton, assigned as a war correspondent, had seen the bloody battlefields of France. He also knew of the American-made Holt caterpillar tractor. The tractor ran on a continuous band of treads driven by inner wheels. The machine could navigate almost any terrain—including trenches. Swinton thought that an armed, armored vehicle running on caterpillar treads might have a chance on the modern battlefield. Winston Churchill agreed. The new machine was dubbed a land battleship, or, simply, a landship.

Under the utmost secrecy, design and construction of experimental landships began. In 1916, models were tested and quickly prepared for combat. They featured a large, oblong armored compartment for the engine, equipment, crew, ammunition, and either heavy cannon or machine guns. A long tread ran around the entire length of each side of the compartment. The machines were large, incredibly slow and heavy, and hard to maneuver. But they could crawl on muddy terrain, cross trenches, blast holes in enemy defenses, and withstand a great deal of punishment. Before the vehicles were sent to France, however, the name landship was deemed too descriptive—a concern if the term leaked to the enemy. The machines were thought to resemble large water cisterns, or water tanks. The new name stuck.

On Sept. 15, 1916, a few dozen tanks rumbled into combat for the first time during the Battle of Flers-Courcelette in northern France. Most of these first tanks broke down mechanically, became bogged down in massive shell holes, or were disabled by enemy fire. Those that reached the German lines, however, had the desired effect. They penetrated the German defenses, knocked out enemy machine guns, and profoundly frightened enemy soldiers.

After the experience of Flers-Courcelette, improved versions of the tank were developed, and military leaders prepared to use them in much greater numbers. In 1917, the newly formed Tank Corps saw action in several battles, but it was at Cambrai in November where tanks enjoyed their first great success. More than 370 tanks broke a wide—albeit, temporary—gap in the enemy lines. Seeing the tank’s usefulness, the Germans built a few of their own, and, in April 1918, opposing tanks clashed for the first time during the Second Battle of Villers-Bretonneux. That same month, Lieutenant-Colonel Swinton traveled to California to personally thank Benjamin Holt, inventor of the caterpillar tread tractor.

Tanks went on to greater fame and usefulness after World War I, and they continue to be integral parts of modern militaries around the world. Holt’s tractor company survives today as Caterpillar, one of the world’s largest machinery manufacturers.