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Page:Popular Science Monthly Volume 35.djvu/813

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ANTHROPOLOGY AT WASHINGTON..

of their handiwork, and in a few cases by living captives. The stimulated curiosity regarding America, and the feeling that there could be nothing too unusual to come from this almost fabulous land, prompted men to weave a large amount of fiction into their statements concerning the people of the New World, and by skillful alterations to make the work of these savages appear more startling or ingenious. Hence, many early books describing the aborigines of America are of no value, and the illustrations of industrial arts are unreliable. The meeting with new customs did not cease with the thorough acquaintance with the first tribe who greeted the foreigners, nor was all of interest known at the time when an independent government was established for the infant colonies. Almost each day's journey westward brought the explorer, if not into the center of a new tribe, at least into a new community, whose customs differed from those of the people who had surrounded him the day before. Should the wanderer be permitted to return to the seat of his government, his tales of strange scenes and adventures would be listened to with as much interest as the Spanish or English reader had given to the written stories a century previous. Thus, during the most advantageous period for careful observation of the unaffected customs of the Indians, the visitors were hunters or traders who used their opportunities in collecting miraculous stories for the ears of those who awaited their return, and the number of such stories required of each new one, as the price of its acceptance, that it be more exciting than its predecessors.

When an intelligent foresight suggested the systematic exploration of new territories, the first step was taken in the establishment of institutions which are now the pride of America. Though it was the desire to know more of the mineral and agricultural resources of the undiscovered portions of our country that started the first expeditions westward, still the intelligent men who were in charge brought back much of interest and value to the ethnologist. These expeditions increased in number and usefulness, and their reports are still sources of interesting information. The objects which were brought back to serve as models for the illustrations soon formed a nucleus for collections which are now studied by anthropologists of all countries.

The wisdom of investigating the customs of the Indians of North America, and of preserving specimens of their work, has made itself so apparent that we have in the United States three institutions doing more toward collecting information about its native people than is or has been done by any other country of the world. These are, the Smithsonian Institution and the allied National Museum, the Bureau of Ethnology, and the Army Medical Museum.