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Indians had Rough Tools

Footnotes to Long Island History

Indians Had Rough Tools

by

Thomas R. Bayles


          Little has been preserved of the habits and languages of the Long Island Indians.

          They lived by hunting game and taking the fish, clams, and oysters from the surrounding waters supplementing this diet with some products of a rude agriculture. As the Indians had no iron or steel implements of any kind, they were compelled to use sharp stones, shells, claws of birds and animals, and other things of that kind to make hatchets knives and such instruments. These crude tools were soon abandoned when the white men brought them metal instruments, which were eagerly sought by the Indians in exchange for skins, wampum and even their land.

       The primitive hatches were made of stone and were nothing more than clumsy wedges about six inches long. For a handle a stick was spilt in one end and he stone inserted in the cleft, where it was firmly tied. Thongs made of the sinews of animals, strips of skin and twisted braids of cords or rope.

          Hatchets were of little use in cutting down trees so the Indians did this by piling branches around the trunk of a tree and setting them on fire. The fire was kept up until the trunk was burned off, water being thrown on the tree to prevent the fire burning more of the trunk than necessary.

       They made their canoes  by piling branches on top of a log and setting them on fire. The fire burned and charred the wood beneath it, while the sides were wet to prevent them from being burned. The charred surface was frequently scraped out and fire aplpied again. This slow process was kept up until the log was sufficiently hollowed out to form the inside. The same process was used to bring the outside to the desired form. Scrapers made of pieces of flint or shells were used to give the job a final finish.

       Hatchets were used to girdle trees, which would soon die in order to clear ground for planting corn. If they were small trees they would pull them out, root and branches, and if large trees were not much, in the way they would be left standing. Cultivation was done with sharp sticks with which they kept the ground stirred up after a fashion.

        For knives the Indians used sharp pieces of flint or quartz and sometimes sharpened shells or pieces of bone. Narrow pieces of stone were fastened to the end of their arrows to form sharpened points.

       For pounding maize or corn they used stone pestles which were about a foot long and as thick as a mans arm. The mortars were made of the stumps or butts of trees, which were hollowed out by fire. The Indians were astonished when they first saw the mills of the white men in operation. When the first wind mills were set up the Indians came in numbers from long distances to watch the mill in operation and it is said they would sit for days observing it as its work. For a long time they believed the mill was driven by the spirits who lived within it.

            The old kettles of the Indians were made of dark clay mixed with white sand and burned in the fire. Many of these kettles had two holes near the upper edge on opposite sides through which a stick could be passed and the kettle hung over the fire.

          Their Tobacco pipes were also made of clay or pot stone and were shaped like common pipes although not so well made. The stem was thick and short and often not more than an inch long made very cleverly. These pipes were very scarce and were used only by Sachems. Pipes of this material were valued higher by the Indians. The celebrated "Pipe of Peace" was made of this material.

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