The ancient Tehuelche Indians that once roamed the southern end of South America told a story that sounds remarkably like the Biblical story of Noah’s Flood — adding a dog:
“At a remote time in the past, the earth was inhabited by people other than those created by the sun-god. They were very bad and fought among themselves all the time.
“When the sun-god saw this he decided to annihilate these people and to create another population in their stead. To destroy the bad people, the sun-god sent torrential and continuous rain, the springs opened, and the ocean overflowed. In the deluge all mankind was swept away...
“Then the sun god decided to create new people. First he made a man, then a woman, and finally a dog to keep them company. Later he created the guanaco (llama) and the rhea (flightless bird) as food for the couple he had brought forth.”
Native American folklore is also filled with such colorful stories about dogs.
The first Indians are believed to have come from Asia to North America across the Bering Strait when it was dry land 12,000 years ago or earlier and brought dogs with them.
(Not everyone agrees with the “land bridge theory.” Native American living history educator, lecturer and concert musician John Two-Hawks writes, “A theory is not a fact. A theory is defined as ‘an offered opinion which may not positively be true.’ Yet this theory is taught in schools and perpetuated in museums still today as if it were the gospel truth. It is far from the truth, and the time for it to be removed from the lessons and history about American Indian people is long overdue.”)
Nevertheless, dogs are believed to be descended from wolves and wolves were already here long before man arrived.
According to scientists, the extinct dire wolf — Canis dirus, meaning “fearsome dog” — lived in the Americas 125,000 to 9,440 years ago. At the La Brea Tar Pits in Los Angeles, more than 4,000 dire wolf remains have been recovered and analyzed. Other sub-species still are found throughout both North and South America.
Scientists who study ancient canid bones and Native American pottery, ceramic, jewelry and cave art generally agree about 12,000 years ago, wolf populations began to change their habits — cozying up to humans more.
One theory is that some wolves were friendlier than others and were shunned by their wilder and more structured relatives, leaving the packs and spending time with humans.
Soon, those misfits became intricate parts of Indian life.
They were taught to hunt and fish and protect their masters. The Indians considered them part of the family and gave them names.
Before the Spaniards brought horses to America, Indians used dogs for transportation by pulling travois sledges and carts. Also, one report said, “When Native Americans left their homes to hunt, they departed knowing that the dogs would protect their wives, mothers, children and even livestock. If someone was lost, the dog’s keen sense of smell was used to search and find the missing person. The dog’s bravery, courage and loyalty sealed a place for him in the annals of American tribal life.”
The Lewis and Clark expedition (1803-06) had to live mostly off the land, and their favorite meat was elk, beaver tail and buffalo, and each man would eat up to 9 pounds of meat per day. But sometimes those sources were not available and the corps had to resort to eating dogs, which they bought from the Indians.
In Eastern Washington there was little game, and the men — and Sacagawea — survived primarily on dried salmon, usually unappetizingly impregnated with sand.
During the long trek, the expedition is believed to have eaten some 250 dogs. The men liked the dog meat — but William Clark wouldn’t eat it.
Not all Native Americans eat dogs. The Comanche consider dog eating abhorrent, but not the Great Plains tribes like the Sioux and Cheyenne — though they draw the line at eating wolves.
Lewis and Clark bought their dogs from the Paiutes, Wah-clel-lah, Clatsop, Teton Sioux, Nez Perce and Hidatsa.
Dogs are part of human culture worldwide.
“Dogs are remarkable animals because they are uniquely sensitive to the cultural attributes of the people with whom they live,” says a New York Times article. “Not only are dogs a product of culture, but they also participate in the cultures of humans.
“In fact, dogs were the first animals to take up residence with people and the only animals found in human societies all over the world… And yet for the past twelve thousand years dogs have played an integral part in human lives.
“What is most remarkable about dogs is their ability to adapt to the needs of the people with whom they live. Dogs have proved themselves amazingly flexible beings, and this was as true in the Americas as it was elsewhere in the world.”
An example is Seaman, a large black Newfoundland belonging to Meriwether Lewis that played an important role in the Lewis and Clark expedition.
Lewis bought him for $20 in Pittsburgh while waiting for the expedition’s boats to be completed.
Dogs being natural watchdogs, Seaman earned his keep on the night of May 29, 1805, Lewis writing in his journal:
“Last night we were all alarmed by a large buffalo bull, which swam over from the opposite shore, and coming alongside of the White Pirogue, climbed over it to land. He then, alarmed, ran up the bank in full speed directly towards the fires, and was within 18 inches of the heads of some of the men who lay sleeping before the sentinel could alarm him or make him change his course.
“Still more alarmed, he now took his direction immediately towards our lodge, passing between 4 fires and within a few inches of the heads of one range of the men as they yet lay sleeping.
“When he came near the tent, my dog saved us by causing him to change his course a second time, which he did by turning a little to the right, and was quickly out of sight, leaving us by this time all in an uproar with our guns in our hands, inquiring of each other the cause of the alarm, which after a few moments was explained by the sentinel. We were happy to find no one hurt.”
Two weeks earlier, just as the expedition was beginning its return journey, Lewis and Clark performed surgery on their faithful companion who had been bitten by a beaver, severing an artery in his hind leg.
On another occasion, Indians stole Seaman but returned him swiftly after Lewis threatened to send three armed men to wipe out the tribe.
“A bear came within thirty yards of our camp last night and ate up about thirty weight of buffalo suet which was hanging on a pole,” Lewis wrote. “My dog seems to be in a constant state of alarm with these bear and keeps barking all night.”
Hunting also came naturally to Seaman. Lewis wrote on July 15, 1805, that hunter George Drouillard “wounded a deer which ran into the river. My dog pursued, caught it, drowned it and brought it to shore at our camp,” and later that month caught some geese.
The expedition was as tough on Seaman as the rest of the expedition. Newfoundland dogs have webbed feet, which make them excellent swimmers, but his paws suffered greatly when stepping on prickly pears or cactus spines.
“The highlands are thin, meager soil covered with dry low sedge and a species of grass, also dry, the seeds of which are armed with a long twisted hard beard at the upper extremity…” Lewis wrote. “These barbed seeds penetrate our moccasins and leather leggings and give us great pain until they are removed. My poor dog suffers with them excessively. He is constantly biting and scratching himself as if in a rack of pain.”
Seaman was truly a lucky dog — becoming a part of American history and not being among the 250 other dogs purchased from the Indians and eaten by the expedition!
According to the National Park Service, “Recently discovered information seems to indicate that he survived the trip and returned to St. Louis with Lewis and Clark.”
And that’s good news.
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Contact Syd Albright at email@example.com.
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Kipling and the dog…
“Then the Woman picked up a roasted mutton-bone and threw it to Wild Dog, and said, ‘Wild Thing out of Wild Woods, taste and try.’ Wild Dog gnawed the bone, and it was more delicious than anything he had ever tasted, and he said, ‘O my Enemy and Wife of my Enemy, give me another.’
“The Woman said, ‘Wild Thing out of the Wild Woods, help my Man to hunt through the day and guard this Cave at night, and I will give you as many roast bones as you need....’
“Wild Dog crawled into the Cave and laid his head on the Woman’s lap, and said, ‘O my Friend and Wife of my Friend, I will help your Man to hunt through the day, and at night I will guard your Cave.’”
— Rudyard Kipling, Just So Stories (1912)
Romans bred dogs…
“The Romans appear to have used the knowledge gained from the experience of producing large dogs via controlled breeding to develop other distinct dog types. Small dogs, even lap dogs, appear about 3,000 years ago and spread quite rapidly throughout the Roman Empire.
“Although such breed development probably occurred in Egypt and China about this time or even earlier as well, archaeological records pertinent to addressing these questions is either rare or unavailable to Western researchers.”
— Mazzorin, J. De Grossin and A. Tagliacozzo, Dogs Through Time: An Archaeological Perspective
The amazing Newfs…
“No human can do what these (Newfoundland) dogs can do. I’m a lifeguard myself and I would struggle to tow two people whereas these guys can pull in 10 people at ease. These dogs are just supernatural and from another planet. They can do all sorts of things, they can jump off pontoons, tow in multiple people, tow back a broken down boat, rescue people from the boat and do hand rescues, torpedo rescues and life ring rescues. They really are amazing dogs!”
— Ellie Bedford, dog trainer, Newfoundland Friends
Check out this delightful YouTube video if you like dogs:
Meriwether Lewis picked the right breed for his epic expedition. If you own a Newf and have a story and photo about your remarkable pet, please send it to Syd Albright: firstname.lastname@example.org
“There is a story told by the American Indians that the Great Spirit decided to divide the worlds of animal and man so he gathered all the living beings on a great plain and drew a line in the dirt.
“On one side of the line stood man — on the other side stood all of the animals. And that line began to open up into a great crevasse — and at the last moment before it became unreachable, dog leapt over and stood by man.”
— Author Unknown
Bill protecting dogs, cats…
In April 2018, by voice vote, the U.S. House of Representatives approved a farm bill, H.R. 1406 that would prohibit the slaughter of dogs or cats for human consumption or the sale of their meat. Punishment for violating the law would be up to one year in prison and a fine of $2,500.
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