Lewis Morgan

Lewis Morgan

Lewis Henry Morgan was born in Aurora on 21st November, 1818. He attended Union College and graduated in 1840. Morgan returned to Aurora to become a lawyer. He also became involved in several business ventures including the building of railroads.

Morgan developed an interest in Native American culture and established a society called the Grand Order of the Iroquois. Morgan explained that the purpose of the organization was to "encourage a kinder feeling towards the Indian founded upon a truer knowledge of his civil and domestic institutions, and of his capabilities for future elevation."

Morgan and his friends campaigned against the Ogden Land Company, an organization they believed was trying to deprive the Seneca Indians of their lands. Morgan eventually travelled to Washington and persuaded Congress to the take action against the company.

Over the next few years Morgan made several visits to Indian Reservations where he studied their social organization and political structures. He also recorded details of their ceremonies and legends. He worked closely with Ely S. Parker, a Senecan Indian. In 1851 Morgan published details of his research in The League of the Iroquois.

In 1858 Morgan had to travel to Marquette on business. On his journey he met leaders of the Sioux tribe who were returning from a meeting in Washington. He talked to them about their kinship system and social organization. He spent the next few years studying Native Americans living in Kansas and Nebraska. His account of this journey was published as Indian Journals 1859-62.

Other books by Morgan include Systems of Consanguinity and Affinity of the Human Family (1871) and Ancient Society (1877), a book that had a deep influence on the writings of Karl Marx. Morgan was also co-editor of the North American Review. He was also president of American Association for the Advancement of Science (1879-81).

Lewis Henry Morgan died on 17th December, 1881 and is buried in Mount Hope Cemetery, Rochester.

© , September 1997 - April 2014

Primary Sources

(1) Lewis H. Morgan, Kansas and Nebraska Journal (June, 1859)

The Shawnee is one of the most celebrated of the Algonquin tribes. They have, from the days of William Penn, had perhaps as large and eventful an intercourse with the whites as any other Indian Nation. They are now far advanced in civilization, and are trying the great and dangerous experiment of dividing up their lands with the unrestrained power of sale in each individual.

The treaty (of 1854) under which the Shawnees have divided up their lands is about to take final effect in giving them the power of alienation. Each man, woman and child has 200 acres,79 which would give to a family consisting of a man and wife and three children a farm of 1000 acres. Mrs. Chouteau informs me as her opinion that about half of the Shawnees will sell and go south among the Cherokees, who want them to come. The remainder will cultivate their farms and become farmers. They certainly have a splendid chance with their land their own, their annuities to assist them to stock and farming implements, and the consciousness that they must work-or perish. I hope greatly the experiment will succeed. I think it would have been well to have provided that no Indian should be allowed to sell except with the consent of the Indian Council, and that to be incorporated in the deed. Hitherto the white man could not buy the land of the Indian. He is now about to be subjected to a new temptation, and he will be tried by artifices.

The Shawnees have abandoned their dances on this reservation, and their tribal shows that the Indian life of the nation (tribe), so to speak, is destroyed. The Shawnees are much farther advanced than I expected to find them. There are a large number of sensible and highly respectable men among them. They have also changed their government like the Ottawas, and have given up the rule of hereditary chief, and substituted a Head Chief and a Second Chief, elected by the people once in two years, I think it is, and also a Council, elected for the same time. I have been greatly and agreeably surprised at the progress made by the emigrant Indians in this territory, so far as I have seen them. Each Band or Nation has its prominent and educated men who are familiar with the ways and business forms of the whites, and they will form a strong barrier and shield to the Indians.

(2) Lewis H. Morgan, Kansas and Nebraska Journal (June, 1859)

The buffalo is a timid animal, or what would be more truthful, is averse to a collision with other animals, and moves off when a man comes near him, never attacking a man in the first instance. When wounded he does not always turn upon his assailant, but he does sometimes give chase for a mile or two.

The hunter prefers to hunt on horseback when he rides up and shoots him behind the foreshoulder from the saddle and then reloads in the saddle still pursuing and fires again. They will with an expensive horse ride up within six feet of a buffalo bull with perfect impunity and bowl him over with a rifle ball. When the buffalo is full grown and in good condition it takes a fast horse to overtake him and keep up with him. The Indian still uses the bow in the far west and I have been assured over and over again by those who ought to know, that an Indian will shoot his arrow, pointed with iron, entirely through a buffalo behind the fore shoulder so that the arrow will go clean through and come out on the other side and stick in the ground. I have heard the Iroquois say that their hunters would send their arrows through a deer in the same way.

(3) Lewis H. Morgan, Kansas and Nebraska Journal (June, 1859)

On the death of a Cheyenne his brothers take his property, including his wives. The oldest brother has the first election and he can take them all, with the horses, etc. if he chooses. If he does not, the next brother and so on to the last. a woman may ask the privilege of choosing any of the brothers which she will take, which is always accorded her.

The Cheyennes bury on a scaffold and never in the ground except in the cases of a murdered man. After the flesh is gone they wrap them up in a package and the family carry them around for several years, as they are moving Indians without any settled home, and at some proper time they bring together all of these bones and bury them, not in one grave, but where they please.

(4) Lewis H. Morgan, Kansas and Nebraska Journal (June, 1860)

The Blackfeet live in camps, and each camp has its chief, who controls its movements. They have no villages, and raise no grain of any kind. They are strict nomads moving from place to place, and staying in one place but a short time. They have horses and they follow the game. The Blackfeet have no clans in the sense of the other nations, as each camp is made up of many lodges, and of persons who are not related by blood. It would seem that the prairie Indians have been demoralized by their hard mode of life, and by being forced back as they have been by our advancing race into the prairie which the Indian never liked, and until he obtained the horse, could not occupy. The Blackfeet as Algonquins must have originally had tribes.

Among the Blackfeet polygamy prevails, and also the same custom of assigning all the sisters to the one who marries the oldest if he elects to take them. This polygamy they say is a necessity of the case growing out of the disproportion between the sexes. Life is long in this most healthy part of the world, and as the men fall in war constantly and in fights and casualties of all kinds, the women soon come to be the most numerous as this means becomes a sort of necessity to replenish their numbers.

(5) Lewis H. Morgan, Kansas and Nebraska Journal (June, 1862)

The Minnetaree village is a large village of dirt houses. Soon after we arrived the people who crowded the bank commenced a scalp dance on the top of the bluff in front of the pickets. They used two drums, like tambourines, which were beat by the dancers themselves, and they danced in a ring from right to left about 30 in all, one-third of them women. They all danced. The women sang in a sort of chorus, with their voices an octave above those of the men. The step was the up and down on the heel step. They were celebrating the taking of the Sioux scalp we heard complained of at Fort Pierre. This morning I met the 3 who took the scalp, painted and dressed, coming through the village towards the boat, and walking side and slide, singing their exploit. The dance, the song, the music, and the step among all our Indians came out of one brain.

(6) Lewis H. Morgan, Ancient Society (8th September, 1870)

Since the advent of civilization, the outgrowth of property has been so immense, its form so diversified, its uses so expanding and its management so intelligent in the interests of its owners, that it has become, on the part of the people, an unmanageable power. The human mind stands bewildered in the presence of its own creation. The time will come, nevertheless, when human intelligence will rise to the mastery over property, and define the relations of the state to the property it protects, as well as the obligations and the limits of the rights of its owners. The interests of society are paramount to individual interests, and the two must be brought into just and harmonious relations. A mere property career is not the final destiny of mankind, if progress is to be the law of the future as it has been of the past. The time which has passed away since civilization began is but a fragment of the past duration of man's existence; and but a fragment of the ages yet to come. The dissolution of society bids fair to become the termination of a career of which property is the end and aim; because such a career contains the elements of self-destruction. Democracy in government, brotherhood in society, equality in rights and privileges, and universal education, foreshadow the next higher plane of society to which experience, intelligence and knowledge are steadily tending. It will be a revival, in a higher form, of the liberty, equality and fraternity of the ancient gentes.