Most Remarkable Trait

sketch of Chinook woman

"Head of Flat Head Indian on the Columbia. The head broad at top crosswise."
Drawing by William Clark, about January 30, 1806.
Missouri Historical Society, St. Louis

On March 19, 1806, only a few days before leaving Fort Clatsop, Meriwether Lewis took pains to finish his notes on the habits and appearances of the neighborly Clatsop Indians. The most remarkable trait in their physiognomy, he wrote, was the flatness and width of their foreheads, which they artificially created by compressing the heads of their infants, particularly girls, between two boards.

image"I have observed the heads of many infants," he wrote, "after this singular bandage had been dismissed, or about the age of 10 or eleven months, that were not more than two inches thick about the upper edge of the forehead and reather thiner still higher." The result is a straight line from the top of the head to the end of the nose. This custom, he reported, had been observed among all the Indian nations he had met with west of the Rockies.

These people, he continued, "wear their hair loosly flowing on the back and sholders; both men and women divide it on the center of the crown in front and throw it back behind the ear on each side. they are fond of combs and use them when they can obtain them; and even without the aid of the comb keep their hair in better order than many nations who are in other rispects much more civilized than themselves."