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Letter 5479

Gibbs, George to Darwin, C. R.

31 Mar 1867

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    Finds that after 12 years among north-western Indians he can answer positively only one of CD's queries about expression. They do blush from shame or anger.


Smithsonian Institution | Washington.

Mch 31. 1867

Charles Darwin, Esq.

Dear Sir,

Professor Baird has shown me your circular, ``Queries about expression''. After twelve years residence among the Indians of the North West Coast of America, I find to my surprise, that I can only answer one of them positively— The Indians of Puget's Sound, a branch of the Sélish family, whose color is of a rather light shade of sienna (even where of unmixed blood,) certainly do blush from shame or anger, and the darkening of the skin is palpable. As to the other points I will not pretend to answer until I can observe with the certainty you desire.

One point however, not touched upon you, I will mention, and that is that they frequently, if not always, indicate direction by throwing the head back and protruding the chin, instead of with the finger.

A peculiarity which, though hardly coming under your apparent limits, is noticeable, that in designating the height of a human being, as a child, the hand is held edgewise; in the case of an animal, flatwise as we hold it.

Very respectfully | Your obt servt | George Gibbs

    Footnotes Add

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    f1 5479.f1
    Spencer Fullerton Baird was the assistant secretary and curator of the Smithsonian Institution (ANB); since the early 1860's, Gibbs had been organising manuscripts for publication under the auspices of the Smithsonian (see ANB, Stevens 1873). Asa Gray may have sent a printed copy of CD's queries about expression to Baird (see letter from Asa Gray, 26 March 1867 and n. 2). For a later, printed, version of the questionnaire, see Correspondence vol. 15, Appendix IV. A version of CD's list of queries was published in the Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for the year 1867, p. 324 (see Collected papers 2: 136--7).
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    f2 5479.f2
    Gibbs lived in Oregon, and in Washington Territory, from 1848 to 1860; during much of that time he studied languages of north-western native Americans (Stevens 1873).
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    f3 5479.f3
    For one version of CD's query on blushing, see the second question in the printed questionnaire, Appendix IV; for CD's variations of this query, see Freeman and Gautrey 1972. In `Tribes of western Washington and northwestern Oregon', Gibbs wrote that the people of Puget Sound were a western branch of the `Selish or Flatheads', and were usually mentioned as `the Niskwalli nation' (now Nisqually; see Gibbs 1877, p. 169; see also pp. 178--9).
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    f4 5479.f4
    CD did not cite Gibbs or record his observations in Expression.
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