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Darwin Correspondence Project

From Joseph Trimble Rothrock to Asa Gray   31 March 1867

McVeytown [Pennsylvania]

Mch 31st 1867

My Dear Doctor

Some of Mr Darwins questions I feel safe in answering, Such only I attempt Any reply to.1 all parties add that the Answers apply especially to the Atnahs and Espyox tribes on the Nasse River of North So Western N.Aa.2 Neither tribe had much previous acquaintance with the Whites.— in fact the Espyox had not previous to my going among them seen half a dozen whites. You will observe I found the indians much like other men. I must say I nowhere saw the ideal, taciturn immovable indian of Mr Coopers conception.3

Question 1. Yes

"  2 —

"  3 Many of them do, Not all

"  4 Yes

"  5 —

"  6 Yes

"  7 Sometimes. Generally in fact. Among the

Siceanees4—a tribe adjoining the

Atnahs Question 8 Yes, decidedly5

"  9 —

"  10 —

"  11 Exactly So.

"  12 Laughter is often excessive, tho I know of but one instance in which tears were shed from that cause, real or feigned grief produce them often enough from the women. Question 13 —

"  14 Yes, just as a white child6

"  15 Yes, and these knowing indians, look for these


"  16 —

17 Vertical nod is usual, lateral not so common though I have seen it.

Mr Darwin may depend on the correctness of these Answers, I am sure of them

On my return home from the North West, I was unable to reconcile my views with those of the late Dr Morton, but disliked to adopt those opposed to his. I knew him to be an authority on the subject, and therefore kept the matter in a mental status quo. He says that “sixteen years of almost daily comparisons have only confirmed him in the opinions announced in his Crania Americana, that all the American nations are of one race (excepting the Esquimaux) and that this race is peculiar and distinct from all others.”7 Col Hamilton Smith says it is vain to assert that all American races excepting the Esquimaux have sprung originally from one stock.8

If by this Smith means that Indians differ from one another as much as Europeans do, I at once adopt his view. J Aitken Meigs of Philad in a paper Read before the Philadelphia Acad. of Nat. Sci. May 1866 to my mind completely upsets Mortons opinion, and is I think in the main correct. If Mr D. has not this paper I am sure he would be interested in it.9 Meigs is unable to understand why the Stickine river indians and some of those farther north do not always flatten the infant skull. The reason is plain, these tribes are warlike, and come south among the flat-headed tribes for slaves. Finding their captives regard the compressed skull as a mark of aristocratic blood; they (the Northern tribes) in contempt flatten the heads sometimes of their own female children, and usually the heads of both sexes when born in slavery. Hence the deformed cranium among them is the mark of inferiority and the sign of a slave.10 Should there happen to be any other facts in my possession relating to the ends, which would interest you or Mr D. I beg that you will command them. Did you receive about 150 Species of NW. plants from me some months ago? I sent them by Adams Express.11

Yours Always | J. Trimble Rothrock

I shall soon have some answers from Wyman—12 from memory— And he will send copies of your queries South to trusty persons


CD annotations

1.2 Atnahs] ‘Atnaks?’ added ink
1.3 Espyox] ‘Espyox(?)’ added ink
1.3 Nasse] ‘Nasse?’ added ink
Top of letter: ‘Keep 2d Page for Descent of Man13 | cause of not flattening the Head’ blue crayon


Rothrock refers to CD’s queries about expression. CD evidently sent a copy of the queries to Asa Gray with a letter of 28 February 1867, but that letter has not been found (see letter from Asa Gray, 26 March 1867). In his letter of 26 March 1867, Gray told CD that he recently had fifty copies of the queries printed. Rothrock probably had a handwritten copy of the queries. For a later, printed, version of the queries, see Correspondence vol. 15, Appendix IV. Rothrock had been in British Columbia as a member of the Western Union Telegraph Expedition from 1865 to 1866 (DAB).
The Nass river of western British Columbia, Canada, flows about 236 mi (380 km) south-west through the Coast Mountains to the Pacific Ocean north of Prince Rupert. The name ‘Atnah’ is recorded as a synonym for the Shuswap (Secwepemc) nation (Hodge ed. 1910, 2: 561), but their territory was in south-central and eastern British Columbia. ‘Espyox’ may refer to the Kispiox (Gitanspayaxw) tribe of the Gitksan nation, who had territories on the upper Nass (Sterritt et al. 1998, p. 99). Much of the land around the Nass river was the territory of the Nisga’a nation. For more on tribal boundaries in this area, see Sterritt et al. 1998.
Rothrock refers to the characterisation of Native Americans in the novels of James Fenimore Cooper (for more on Cooper’s portrayal of Native Americans, see House 1965, pp. 47–71).
‘Siceanee’: probably the Sekani; the Long Grass band of the Sekani had territory near the headwaters of the Nass river, and were known to intermarry with the Kispiox (Sterritt et al. 1998, pp. 54–5). CD noted Rothrock’s information on sneering in Expression, pp. 252 and 260.
In Expression, p. 232, CD cited Rothrock on the expression of determination or obstinacy.
In Expression, p. 233, CD noted the affirmative reply about pouting in children, but did not cite Rothrock by name.
Samuel George Morton had written a monograph, Crania americana (S. G. Morton 1839), in which he argued that there was only one distinct American race, based on an analysis of human skulls. The statement quoted by Rothrock was made in an article, ‘Some observations on the ethnography and archæology of the American aborigines’ (S. G. Morton 1846, p. 7).
Charles Hamilton Smith argued in Natural history of the human species that several migrations of people from different Old World origins to America had occurred (C. H. Smith 1848; for the statement paraphrased by Rothrock, see p. 251). ‘Esquimaux’ refers to Inuit people.
In a paper reviewing the ethnological literature on American races and reporting on his examination of the skulls in Morton’s collection (Meigs 1866), James Aitken Meigs challenged Morton’s view of a single cranial type for all Americans. CD’s annotated copy of an offprint of Meigs 1866 is in the Darwin Pamphlet Collection–CUL.
Meigs described the ‘Stikanes or Cowitchins’ (Cowichan tribe or Quw’utsun’ people) of Vancouver Island as practising a form of head-binding resulting in a conical head shape (Meigs 1866, p. 212). Rothrock evidently thought Meigs was referring to people from the area of the Stikine River (Tahltan nation) in north-western British Columbia. For more on the practice of slavery among Native American tribes in British Columbia, see Hodge ed. 1910, 2: 598; for the practice of head-flattening, see ibid., 1: 96–7, 465.
Adams Express Company.
The postscript to CD was added by Asa Gray. No record of answers from Jeffries Wyman to the queries has been found, nor was Wyman mentioned in Expression.
CD used Rothrock’s answers to the queries about expression in Expression, which had originally been planned as a part of Descent (see letter to A. R. Wallace, 26 February [1867] and nn. 5 and 6).


Answers to CD’s questions on expressions among the Atnah and Espyox Indians of Nass River [see Expression, pp. 22, 232, 252, 260].

Discusses the debate in America over the relationship among Indian tribes. JTR does not believe Indians are all of one race; they are as varied as Europeans.

[Forwarded to CD by Asa Gray.]

Letter details

Letter no.
Joseph Trimble Rothrock
Asa Gray
Sent from
McVeytown, Pa.
Source of text
DAR 176: 218
Physical description
4pp †, †(by CD)

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5478,” accessed on 26 May 2017,

Also published in The Correspondence of Charles Darwin, vol. 15