The Wampanoag

Kate Waters, children's book author and an expert on the Mayflower and life in Plimoth, has answered a selection of kids' questions.

Who were the first Indians to settle in North America?
Scientists think that the first people to come to North America walked across the Bering Strait. The Bering Strait was a land bridge which connected Asia with the land we call Alaska. Eventually, over many thousands of years, people traveled as far as the East Coast and the Atlantic Ocean.

What did the Wampanoag do with their food during the winter?
During the summer the Wampanoag dried food and preserved meat to last them through the winter. They stored the food in woven baskets. When they moved inland to their winter homes, they carried the food with them. During the winter, they hunted and fished, and found winter berries on bushes.

Why did the Indians wear such different clothes?
People in different countries dress differently. Clothing styles develop because of the weather in a place, the kinds of cloth people make, and the social customs. The seventeenth-century English people made their clothes of woven fabric made of cotton or linen which come from plants, or wool which comes from sheep. The native Americans who lived near Plimoth colony made their clothes from deerskins and animal furs. They decorated their clothes with beautiful stitching. They also wore clothes they got by trading with Europeans.

What kinds of weapons and tools did the Wampanoag have?
The Wampanoag used bows and arrows to hunt game for food. Boys started practicing with small bows when they were very young. They also learned how to catch fish in nets and with spears, and to set traps for small forest animals. Indian tribes used many kinds of tools pointed sticks for planting, wooden hoes for turning earth, sharpened rocks for carving. By the time the Mayflower arrived, European traders had been visiting the area for many years so the Indians had also traded furs for metal tools and guns.

What kind of houses did the Indians sleep in?
There were hundreds of Indian tribes all across North America when the first European settlers arrived, and there were many different styles of houses. Along the Atlantic coast, the native people made houses by covering frames made of branches with dried reeds which were thatched or sewn together. They also wove big mats of reeds to line the inside of their houses. The houses were called wetus. There was a fire hole in the middle of the ceiling to let the smoke from the fire escape. Like Pilgrim houses, Indian houses were heated with fires.

How did the Indians grow corn?
In the spring, Indian farmers put corn kernels in the ground and heaped dirt around them. When the plants started to grow, girls and women spent their days in the cornfields keeping birds and small animals from eating the young plants. Finally, the corn was ripe. Some of the corn was eaten fresh, other corn was dried and made into cornmeal, and some was dried and stored to be eaten during the winter.

Did anyone live on the land the Pilgrims settled?
Not long before the Mayflower landed, native peoples lived on the land that became Plimoth Colony. But, when the Pilgrims landed, there were no people there. Historians think the people who lived there died from disease. Many Native Americans died from the diseases which European traders brought with themdiseases like measles and smallpox. Indians did not have immunities to these diseases like many Europeans did.

What is a wetu?
A wetu is a Native American house.

Who is Fast Turtle?
Fast Turtle is a twentieth-century Wampanoag man who is a famous author and storyteller. Be sure to visit the pages on Fast Turtle at this site.

Did the Wampanoag people pray?
Like people in most cultures, the Wampanoag people prayed. They said prayers of thanksgiving, prayers to ask for favors and forgiveness, and to bless the birth of children and acknowledge the deaths of family members.

Where did the Wampanoag live in the winter?
The Wampanoag people moved away from the stormy ocean in the winter. They set up their winter homes farther inland in areas that were protected by forests. There they hunted when they could and ate the crops they grew in the summer.

What are the jobs of the family members of the Wampanoag tribe?
There are many jobs in every family. The jobs people did depended on the season. In planting time, women and girls planted crops. At hunting time, men and boys hunted animals. The list is very long, but I hope this gives you an idea. There are several good books about Native American life that will give you a complete picture of Indian life on the East Coast.

Is there a reservation for the Wampanoag Indians?
Some of the members of the Wampanoag tribe live on a reservation in Massachusetts. Many others live in various towns and cities in New England.

Did the Wampanoag have horses when the Pilgrims arrived?
No, Spanish colonists brought horses to North America. I am not sure when horses arrived in New England. I'm sure a good horse book would give you the answer. You might ask your librarian to help you find out.

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Picture Time Line | Voyage on the Mayflower | Plimoth: 1621
Thanksgiving CyberChallenge | Meet Kate Waters and Russ Kendall
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  • Subjects:
    Colonial and Revolutionary America, Holidays
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