Indian Maple Sugar, how white men learned to make maple sugar from the Indians, from the 1891 LA Times

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The Los Angeles Times,
    April 7, 1901, p.C6:


AN INDIAN ART.

Making of Maple Sugar Was Taught the White Man by the Aborigines--
Origin of the Art.


    (Forest and Stream:) Very few of the people to whom maple sugar is an entirely familiar and commonplace thing are unaware of the fact that the method of making sugar was taught to the white people by the Indians, and that they made sugar long before the discovery of America.

    This is only one of the many things that the white people learned from the Indians. Others were the weaving of cotton, the cultivation of Indian corn, and the use of tobacco.

    Some of the early writers tell us that the French were the first to make this sugar, and that they learned how to make it from the Indian women.

    The sap was collected in a rude way, a gash being cut in the tree, and into this a stick was thrust, down which the freely flowing sap dripped, into a vessel of birch bark or a gourd, into wooden troughs hollowed out by fire or the ax.
    Then, into larger wooden troughs full of the sap, red hot stones were thrown--just as in old times they used to be thrown into the water in which food was boiled--and, by constantly throwing in hot stones and taking out those that had become cool, the sap was boiled and evaporated, and at length syrup was made, which later became sugar.

    This manufacture of the sugar was not confined to any one tribe, but was practiced by all Northern Indians, and was known to those living as far south as Florida and Texas.

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    Among the sugar-making tribes a special festival was held, which was undoubtedly a religious festival in the nature of a prayer or propitiatory ceremony, asking for an abundant flow of sap and for good fortune in collecting it.

    Among many, if not all, the Indians inhabiting the Northern United States, maple sugar was not merely a luxury--something eaten because it was toothsome--but was actually an important part of their support. Mixed with pounded, parched corn it was put up in small quantities and was a concentrated form of nutriment, not much less valuable in respect to its quality of support than the pemmican which was used almost down to our own times.

    Among all the older writers who had much familiarity with the customs of the Indians, accounts are given of the manufacture of sugar, and this custom was so general that among many tribes the month in which the sap ran best was called sugar month.

    By the Iroquois, the name Ratirontaks, meaning tree eaters, was applied to the Algonquin tribes, and an eminent authority, Dr. Brinton, has suggested that they were probably "so called from their love of the product of the sugar maple." On the other hand, A. F. Chamberlain has very plausibly said "that it is hardly likely that the Iroquois distinguished other tribes by this term, if its origin be as suggested, since they themselves were sugar-makers and eaters."
    A more probable origin of the word is that given by Schoolcraft, in substance as follows: "Ratirontaks, whence Adirondacks, was applied chiefly to the Montagnals tribes, north of the St. Lawrence, and was a derisive term indicating a well known habit of these tribes of eating the inner bark of trees in winter when food was scarce, or when on war excursions." This habit of eating the inner bark of trees was, as is well known, common to many tribes of Indians, both those who inhabit the country where the sugar maple grows, and also those in other parts of the country were the maple is unknown.

    On the Western praries sugar was also made from the box elder, which trees were tapped by the Indians and the sap boiled down for sugar, and today the Cheyenne Indians tell us that it was from this tree that they derived all the sugar they had until the arrival of the white man on the plains, something more than fifty years ago.

    It is interesting to observe that in many tribes to-day the word for sugar is precisely the word which they applied to the product of the maple tree before they knew the white man's sugar. It is interesting, also, to see that among the many tribes the general term for sugar means wood or tree water--that is to say tree sap. This is true of the Omahas and Poncas, according to J. O. Dorsey, and also of the Kansas, Osage, and Iowa Winnebago, Tuscarora and Pawnee. The Cheyennes, on the other hand, call it box elder water. A. F. Chamberlain, who has gone with great care into the question of the meaning of the words which designate the maple tree and its product, is disposed to believe that the name of the maple means the tree--in other words, the real or actual tree, or the tree which stands above all others.
 
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