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Eva M. Butler and Wendell S. Hadlock

From the acounts of the early explorers and settlers who came to New England and adjacent coastal areas, we can glean sufficient evidence to make us reasonably certain that the prehistoric Indian dog was much more than a half-wanted commensal haunting the camps of mankind. Ethnological and archaeological evidence also tends to support this supposition.

Wissler observed that the New World searved at least four purposes, "transportation, hunting, guarding and companionship or food, according to the loyality." (1) The collected data indicates that the Indian of the Northeastern area kept dogs for all of there purposes, except transportation. (2) Dogs also were accessories to ceremonial shamanistic procedures, and dogs frequently played an important role in Indian mythology.


Many of the early explorers sought to discover the origin of Indian dogs. To quote Josselyn, who spent considerable time with the Indians of southern Maine, the "Indian Dog (was) a creature begotten betwixt the wolf and the fox, which the Indians lighting upon" had brought up "to hunt the deer with." He ended a discussion of native animals with an account of "beastes" thats were, as he expressed it, "begot by equivocal generation," admitting that there were "not many known in New-England and that he "knew but one,... the Indian dog begotten betwixt a Wolf and a Fox, or between a Fox and a Wolf, which they bring up and keep as much subjection as they do their webbs (wives)." Josselyn believed that the Indian "breed of wild dogs" was "like to the Tassocanes or mountain dogs of Italy." (3) Bressani, the Italian Jesuit claimed, however that "even the domestic dogs" differed from those of Italy. (4) Rosier said that the Indians has both "doggse and wolves" which they kept tame. (5) Later he wrote that they had two sorts of "dogges", some like wolves some like "Spaniels." (6) Although Rosier in his second statement implied the presence of a wolf-like dog which might have been mistaken for a tame wolf, Wolloy, who lived in New York in the 1670's said definitely that the indian dogs actually were young wolves "stolen from their damms." (7)

Early literary and historical referances to the appearance of aboriginal dogs are very inadequate for the area under discussion but we are able to glean the following descriptions. Martin Pring who explored the coast of New England in 1603, wrote that they had "sundry sorts of Beasts" including "Wolves, Foxes, Lusernes, and Dogges with sharp noses." (8) Later he added that the dogs had "sharp and long noses" (9) commented on fact that the Indians were afraid of "Foole and Gallant" the "great and fearefull Mastives" that belonged to the ship. (10) Denys stated that, "the Indians have their dogs, which are a kind of Mastiff, but more lightly built," that their teeth were "longer and sharper than those of Mastiffs" and they also had "the head of a Fox..." (11) Another refference which may indicate a small size is found in Wood, who on the authori-ty of a-n "honest gentleman, claimed that an Indian had been seen "with a fillip with his finger" to "kill a dogge..." (12)

Rosier also found that the Indians were frightened by English dogs, (13) but stated that they themselves had both large and small dogs. (14) Wassenaer noted that aboriginal dogs were small and that the Indians were terrified by a hugh Dutch dog. (15)

In 1534, Cartier described the "dogges" skins worn as capes and masks by some Huron Indian "powwows" on the St. Lawrence, as "white and black." (16) Sagard stated that the Huron Indian dogs were "black or white." (17) while Brebeuf mentioned a "white" dog and LeMercier a "red." (18)

It appears that the early writers were in agreement concerning the general description of aboriginal dogs. They were not considered as large dogs as the European breeds. They had narrow heads with long noses and large teeth. The colors mentioned were black, white and red or brown.


The Indians in this area seem to have usually treated their dogs with affection and even with respect and esteem.

According to an old legend, the Mythical giant Maushop, the the first Indian to live Martha's Vineyard, floated there on a cake of ice, with only a dog for companionship. (19) Denys wrote that the Indians "cherished" their dogs greatly and "if they have little ones which the mother cannot nurish, the women sucks them." (20) Sagard wrote as folows concerning the feeding of the Huron children and puppies that were too young to take solid foods:

If the mother happens to die before the child is weaned the father takes water in which Indian corn has been thoroughly boiled and fills his mouth with it, then putting the child's mouth against his own makes it take and swallow the liquid, and this is to make up for the lack of the breast and of pap; just so I saw it done by the husband of the woman savage whom we baptized. The women use the same method in feeding the puppies of their bitches, but I found this very displeasing and nasty, to put their mouth in this way to the puppies' muzzles, which are often not too clean. (21)

Denys said that

their wealth was in proportion to their Dogs, and as a testimony to a fried of the esteem in which they held him, they gave him that Dog to eat which they valued the most; a mark of friendship. (22)

La Jeune stated that among the Huron, dogs "are held as dear as the children of the house, and share the beds, plates, and food of their masters." (23) Another instance recorded by Le Jeune Illustrated the love and affection that a young Indian girl had for her dogs. After her death, the girl's body was given to the Jesuits for burial with the request that her grave be made large as her relatives wished to bury her belongings with her. Among the possessions were her two dogs. The Jesuits would not permit the burial of dogs in the cemetery. The relatives asked permission "to bury them near" the cemetery; "for the dead girl loved them and it was a part of their custom "to give to the dead what they loved or possessed when thery were living." (24)h


Many references are so indefinite that it is impossible to determine whether or not the dogs owned by the Indians in early colonial times were aboriginal dogs or some which they had obtained from the English, but it is interesting to trace the sentiments of the English toward the Indian and his dog through old court records and early writings. All statements Indicate that in Indian villages, dogs were ubiquitous and universally dislikod by the settlers, who complained about them frequently, and often ordered them put to death.

Although it is usually implied that the colonists objected to the Indian dogs because of the harm inflicted upon their cattle and swine, there ia a strong suspicion that many of the settlers wished to exterminate the dogs because they usually gave warning to the Indians that their enemies were approaching.

When a band of soldiers landed on the isle of Manisses, now Block Island, in 1636, to search for the Indians who had killed John Oldham, an Indian trader,t'hey found that the inhabitants, warned of their coming had fled. In an attempt to cripple and Punish them, the soldiers "burnt their houses, cut down their corn, destroyed some of their dogs instead of men." (25) The spring after the soldiers from Massachusetts had killed these dogs, some of the same man were with the party that attacked the Pequot fort at Mystic, Connecticut. At that time the bark of a watch dog inside the stockade surrounding the village gave belated warning to the sleeping Indians that their enemies were upon them. (26) Most of the colonies passed laws regulating the keeping of dogs.

Soon after Connecticut was settled, an act was Passed making it an Offense Punishable with a fine of ten pounds to "sell," "barter," or "give to any Indian either directly or indirectly any dogg or doggs, small or great..." Thus dogs were included in the same category as military weapons-- shot, lead, shot moulds, armor and arrowheads. (27)

An act was also Passed making the "Sachem or Chiefe" of each band of Indians liable for "trespasses" against the English. One of the most serious trespasses complained of was the "spoyling or killing of any Cattle or Swine, either with trapps, doggs, or arrowes ... 11 (28)

In 1638 Mantowese, sachem of the Quinnipiac Indians, sold the land in the vicinity of New Haven, Connecticut, to Mr. Theophilus Eaton, the Rev. Mr. John Davenport and other settlers. When he made the sale, reserved planting land Mantowese for his tribe, promising that "what harme their doggs doe" to the cattle of the English, they would "satisfye for."(29)

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