Original Document
Original Document
John Heckewelder, On Indian Communication Along Their Paths, circa 1770.

John Heckewelder (1743-1823) was a Moravian missionary who spent much of his life among the Delaware Indians in western Pennsylvania. In the passage below, he describes the Indians' methods of communicating with each other along their paths.

"While Indians are traveling to their place of destination, whether it be on a journey to their distant hunting grounds or on a war excursion, some of the young men are sent out to hunt by the way, who, when they have killed a deer, bear, or other animal, bring it to the path, ready to be taken away by those who are coming along, (often with horses) to the place of encampment, when they all meet at night. Having hung up the meat by the side of the path, these young men make a kind of sun-dial, in order to inform those who are coming of the time of day it was at the time of their arrival and departure. A clear place in the path is sought for, and if not readily found, one is made by the side of it, and a circle or ring being drawn on the sand or earth, a stick of about two or three feet in length is fixed in the centre, with its upper end bent toward that spot in the horizon where the sun stood at the time of their arrival or departure. If both are to be noted down, two separate sticks are set; but generally one is sufficient, namely for the time of departure.

Hunters have particular marks, which they make on the trees where they strike off from the path to their hunting grounds or place of encampment, which is often at the distance of many miles; yet the women, who come from their towns to fetch meat from these camps, will as readily find them as if they were conducted to the spot."

Credit: Rev. John Heckewelder, History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighbouring Provinces (Philadelphia: Historical Society of Pennsylvania, 1876), 130-31.
Back to Top