The Story of the American Indian

Written and Illustrated by Sydney E. Fletcher
Paperback: $18.00 • ISBN: 978-1-60419-032-8

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Silver Medalist – 2010 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards


The Story of the American Indian was Sydney Fletcher’s final book. From the map showing the distribution of tribes across the United States, through the marginal sketches, the spot drawings, and the larger illustrations, this is an attractive volume aimed at teens and older children. The author approaches his subject in adult fashion, and covers an immense amount of material, both historically and chronologically. He shows the differences and similarities between various tribes; discusses the impact of whites on Native culture and lands; and delves into Aztec civilization, the ancient settlers of the Southwest, the Five Nations of the Iroquois League, the Plains Indians, the highly civilized Cherokees, the “Diggers” of the Northwest, and numerous other First Nations. A bibliography and index are included.

This classic is the book on Indians. This fascinating account of the life of the Indian in America is filled with facts on the customs, dress, warfare, transportation, food, etc., of every major group of Indians. Also included are the life stories of great Indian heroes—Sitting Bull, Osceola, Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Pontiac, Cochise, and more. Lavishly illustrated throughout by one of America’s great Western artists.

Included are stories of the principal Indian tribes of North America:

  • The fleet, stern Iroquois who laid the groundwork for our democracy
  • The Pueblos and how they protected their apartment-house homes in the desert from the raiding Navahos
  • The Mound Builders and their disastrous cult of death
  • The seed-gathering Paiutes of the West Coast
  • The Sioux who at a moment’s notice could get their whole camp on the move to follow a herd of buffalo
  • The Cherokee and the Trail of Tears
  • The Indians of the Northwest who fished the wild rivers for salmon

About the Author

Sydney E. Fletcher, known for his wonderfully detailed drawings of Native American culture, is the author of The Big Book of Cowboys, The Cowboy and His Horse, The Big Book of the Wild West, Learn All about Real Cowboys, and The Glory of Our West.

Midwest Book Review:

“…A young readers’ classic compendium or mini-encyclopedia to the main representatives of American Indian tribes and nations that existed previous to 1492. Filled with detailed drawings and illustrations…The Story of the American Indian is a practical collection of lore and information about many of the best known American Indian nations/tribes…. It continues a classic and valuable contribution to the field of study of American Indian history.”

[Complete review:]

This classic is the book on Indians. This fascinating account of the life of the Indian in America is filled with facts on the customs, dress, warfare, transportation, food, etc., of every major group of Indians. Also included are the life stories of great Indian heroes—Sitting Bull, Osceola, Crazy Horse, Geronimo, Pontiac, Cochise, and more. It is lavishly illustrated by one of America’s great Western artists.

Silver Medalist – 2010 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards



1: The First Discoverers of the New World

2: Where Did Indians Come From?

3: The Mayan Miracle

4: The Ancient Ones

5: Towns in the Desert

6: The Mound Builders

7: Warpath and Peace Pipe

8: Mystery Dogs

9: A New Nation—The Cherokee

10: Seed-Gatherers Who Lived Where White Men Starved

11: Northwest Fishermen

12: Arctic Inventors

13: The Largest Tribe—The Navahos

14: Famous Indians



Editor’s Note

Christopher Columbus mistakenly believed that the Antilles were the islands of the Indian Ocean, known to Europeans as the Indies, which he had hoped to reach by sailing west across the Atlantic. Even though Columbus’s mistake was soon recognized, the name survived, and for centuries the native people of the Americas were either known by their tribal names or collectively called Indians.

More recently, many terms have been used to describe members of all tribes: Amerindians, Amerinds, First Americans, Original Americans, and Aboriginal or Indigenous Peoples. The term “Native American” was also introduced in the United States, initially by academics to avoid negative stereotypes thought to be associated with the term “Indian.”

But the term “Native American” has also led to controversy. For example, Peter d’Errico, a consulting attorney on indigenous issues and emeritus professor of legal studies at the University of Massachusetts–Amherst, says the following about the term:

“America” is derived from Amerigo Vespucci, a 16th century Italian navigator who was once said to be the “discoverer” of the continent. How can the people who were already here be named with his name?

Other generic words are also seen to be problematic. “Native” and “indigenous” can rightfully be applied to anyone (or thing) born in a place, not only those who were arrived there born first. “Aboriginal” refers only to what was here “from the beginning,” but the concept of “beginning” poses problems, too.

Perhaps the best course is to refer to a People by the name they take for themselves. Sometimes this means using a word that means “we are the only true people,” but at least it does not mean using a word that means “you are who others say you are.”

Moreover, a 1995 US Census Bureau survey found that more descendants of the first settlers of what is now the United States preferred the term “American Indian” than the term “Native American.” Russell Means, an American Indian activist, opposes the term Native American because he believes it was imposed by the government without the consent of American Indians. He has also argued that this use of the word Indian derives not from a confusion with India but refers to one of Columbus’s diary entries in which he describes the natives as una gente in Dios (“a people in God”).

In short, there is no universally agreed-upon term for the peoples—indeed, the sovereign nations—who lived and thrived before Columbus set foot on the North American continent. Moreoever, much of the book discusses their history before there even was an “America.” In this edition of the book, therefore, you will see various terms used interchangeably: Indian, native peoples, early inhabitants, etc., though where possible we use the name each tribe used for itself.

—Craig R. Smith

Copyright 2010 by Axios Press

From Chapter One: The First Discoverers of the New World

When Columbus landed on a little island off the coast of Florida, he was not surprised to be met by what he termed Indians. For as far as he was concerned this was India and, while the natives might not have been as civilized as he had expected, they had to be Indians. Just as Columbus did not know that he would be given the title of discoverer of America, so he could not have known that the people he met were the distant descendants of the first discoverers of the New World who wandered over from Asia at least twenty-five thousand years earlier.

The historic blunder of Columbus wasn’t long in being discovered, but the name “Indian” stuck. To most of the Spaniards who came after him one term was as good as another for the troublesome tribes they met. The Spaniards’ eyes were fixed on gold and they were hardly interested in learning that the Indians—more than two thousand tribes in North America alone—had their own names for themselves. With the lure of treasure always just over the next hill, only an occasional priest stopped to observe the ways in which the Indians, through two hundred and fifty centuries of trial and error, had learned to live in harmony with each of the different environments across the vast continent.

When permanent European settlers came, however, the story was somewhat different. While their relations with the Indians were by no means always friendly, they were forced to study how their indigenous neighbors lived if they were to live in the wilderness themselves. It was corn from Indians, for example, that kept the Pilgrims alive through the winter after they landed in Massachusetts in 1620.

From that time on, the history of our country is inextricably tied up with the Indians. Trappers, explorers, pioneers, and missionaries found them in the woods and mountains, on the plains and deserts, and by the sea.


From Chapter Two: Where Did Indians Come From?

Throughout most of man’s long life on this earth there was not a single human being in all of North and South America. Wildlife flourished, but so far as people were concerned these two continents were a huge vacuum. And then between twenty-five and thirty thousand years ago men began to trickle in through a small opening.

For a million years, the ancestors of these first immigrants had lived through the Ice Age in the eastern half of the world. During that time, great sheets of ice periodically shoved and ground their way down from the Arctic over much of Europe, Siberia, and North America. Game animals retreated before the ice. Men, who ate meat when they could get it, followed the game. The world in those days wasn’t nearly as cold as you might think, and a great deal of plant life grew near the edges of the glaciers. This meant that animals lived close to the fringes of the icecap, and so did man.

All of the water that was frozen in the glaciers, sometimes ten thousand feet thick, had evaporated from the oceans and then had fallen as snow. Consequently, the level of the oceans was lower than it is today—three hundred feet lower in some places—and land stood out where none can now be seen.

The fifty-six-mile stretch between Siberia and Alaska was one such place. Curiously, the snow fell much less heavily there than on the great landmasses, and the coasts of Alaska and Canada, too, were free of ice long before the glaciers melted and disappeared from other regions. Animals began to wander across the land bridge between the two continents, then south along the ice-free American shoreline. And men, always on the lookout for good hunting, trailed the animals. And so it was that twenty-five thousand years ago—more or less—men first came to America.


From Chapter Seven: Warpath and Peace Pipe

The Iroquois were not one tribe of Indians but first five and later six tribes who lived largely in the woodlands of what is now the State of New York. Their domain stretched from the Cherokee lands in Tennessee north to Hudson’s Bay, and westward from southern New England to the Mississippi River. They got their name of “Iroquois” from the French in Canada, but they had another name for themselves—Hodenosaunee, or People of the Longhouse, for like the cliff dwellings of the Pueblos, the longhouse was the home of the Iroquois and the symbol of their strength.

More contradictory stories have been told about the Iroquois tribes than about any other Indians. Early white settlers who met these stern warriors of the woodlands thought them the most cruel and terrifying people in the world. But white boys and girls who were kidnapped from frontier settlements and adopted by an Iroquois tribe often refused to return home. Their captors turned out to be kindly and lovable friends, for the Iroquois warrior at home in his village laughed and played with his children and had hilarious times at festivals.

Other Indians from the Atlantic Ocean to the Mississippi River lived in constant fear of Iroquois raiding parties of swift, noiseless men who sneaked up on villages in the night and made off with prisoners or scalps or both. Yet these ruthless warriors are known in history as great peacemakers. The men who made our Constitution found inspiration in the Iroquois League, and the Iroquois were honored and respected by British, French, and American statesmen. George Washington called them “the Romans of the New World.”

Who were these Iroquois? And where did they come from? We think that sometime between seven hundred and a thousand years ago, a number of Iroquoian tribes began to move north and east out of the warm, rich lowlands of the southern Mississippi. Although they started out from Mound Builder country, nobody is sure whether they were themselves Mound Builders or simply hunters and raiders. Traveling by canoe and on foot, they pushed slowly up the Mississippi to the Ohio River and then on into strange country beyond—always looking for a good place to settle down and live. They may have been a backward people to begin with, but they quickly learned from the Mound Builders they met along the way. They learned how to farm and they collected their own supplies of seeds—along with corn-growing ceremonies and religious beliefs that went all the way back to the Mayans.

Still it was no easy thing to find a new homeland in which a group of tribes could settle and plant fields permanently. Mound Builders in one place, hunting tribes in another, already held the land wherever the Iroquois went. So their trek was one long, constant battle. The men had to be warriors and they had to fight very well if they were going to survive at all.


From Chapter Fourteen: Famous Indians


Tecumseh, a Shawnee chief of the Ohio region (1768–1813). The westward advance of American settlers filled the young Shawnee chief Tecumseh with alarm. Like Pontiac before him he set about creating an alliance of tribes along the frontier. But Tecumseh’s vision was greater than Pontiac’s. He looked forward to a powerful Indian state, strong enough to live in peace and equality with the whites who would be forced to remain farther east.

In his venture Tecumseh was supported by the British who still hoped to reclaim the colonies they had lost and were eager to use the grievances of the Indians to their own advantage. Traveling tirelessly along the frontier from Wisconsin to the Gulf of Mexico, Tecumseh visited tribe after tribe and spoke brilliantly of his dream of a war to end wars between Indians and white men—and between Indians themselves.

But Tecumseh’s brother, a medicine man known as “the Prophet,” disobeyed his instructions and launched a battle against American soldiers at Tippecanoe, Indiana, before Tecumseh was ready. General Harrison, who later became President of the United States, won such a tremendous victory that Tecumseh’s federation of tribes fell apart.

When the War of 1812 broke out, Tecumseh sided with the British in the forlorn hope that by doing so he was aiding his people. In 1813 he fell in battle at the head of his warriors.



For Immediate Release

October 19, 2010

2010 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards Medalist Results

The Story of the American Indian named as Silver Medalist

The medalists in the 4th annual 2010 Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards were announced October 15, 2010. The Story of the American Indian written and illustrated by Sydney E. Fletcher (Axios for Young People, September 2010) was named a Silver Medalist in the Multicultural Non-Fiction – Young Adult category.

Presented by Independent Publisher, the Moonbeam Children’s Book Awards are intended to bring increased recognition to exemplary children’s books and their creators, and to support childhood literacy and life-long reading. The Awards recognize and reward the best of these books and bring them to the attention of parents, booksellers, librarians – and to children themselves.

The cause of promoting childhood literacy knows no boundaries, and the award winners illustrate that point well, coming not only from long-established publishers and university presses, but from small presses, foundations, museums, and self-published entrepreneurs.


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