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Fire Making - Fire was necessary to the Indian.  he liked his food cooked, despite common belief that he preferred it raw.  It is true that certain portions of an animal were eaten raw, such as the liver and some fats, and that the Eskimo almost through necessity ate much raw food, but the common practice was to cook most foods.

The Indian needed fire also for warmth, for hardening the wooden tips of his weapons, for thickening the rawhide of his shield, for making buckskin, for felling trees and hollowing out logs for dugouts.

Fire making was a ceremony, too, among many tribes, notably the Creek at their Busk or Green Corn Dance when a new fire was kindled for the year;  the Iroquois at their White Dog Feast, and at the New  Fire ritual of the Hopi.

There were two methods of making fire.  In the East and along the northwest coast, the Indians struck together flint and a rock which contained iron and sulphur pyrites.  The sparks were made to fall in a tinder of rotted wood or shredded bark.  Steel was used instead of pyrites when the Indian was able to get this metal.

The most general way of making fire, however, was by the friction of wood on wood.  A drill or rod was twirled between the palms of the hands, one end resting on another piece of wood, termed the hearth.  Friction caused the wood to form a hot powder or glowing coal, which was allowed to fall into the tinder.  To coax this into a flame the Indian blew on it or placed it in a bunch of grass or strip of bark and swung it in the air.

An improvement of this method was using a thong of softened rawhide which was turned around the rod and the thong pulled back and forth, spinning the rod.  This was even more efficient when the thong was strung loosely on a bow, which was pulled in the same manner.  The rod, or drill, was held with a stone, a piece of wood, or a clamshell to protect the hand while pressing it against the hearth.

Many tribes believed that a spark of fire slept only in certain kinds of wood, and only these could be used in kindling a flame by friction.  Weathered roots of the cottonwood tree were used by the Pueblo tribes.  The Apache used the stems of the yucca.  The Hupa made use of the willow root, tribes of the Northwest used cedar, and those of the East used elm and maple.

Tinder might be dried wood from decayed trees, frayed inner bark of the cedar, fungi, pounded buffalo chips, or downy feathers of the bluejay.

Related Information within this Site
[ Buckskin ][ Creek ][ Drills ][ Food ][ Hopi ][ Iroquois ][ Shield ]