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Darwin Correspondence Project

From George Gibbs   31 March 1867

Smithsonian Institution | Washington.

Mch 31. 1867

Charles Darwin, Esq.

Dear Sir,

Professor Baird has shown me your circular, “Queries about expression”.1 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—2 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.3 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.4

Very respectfully | Your obt servt | George Gibbs


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).
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).
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).
CD did not cite Gibbs or record his observations in Expression.


ANB: American national biography. Edited by John A. Garraty and Mark C. Carnes. 24 vols. and supplement. New York and Oxford: Oxford University Press. 1999–2002.

Collected papers: The collected papers of Charles Darwin. Edited by Paul H. Barrett. 2 vols. Chicago and London: University of Chicago Press. 1977.

Correspondence: The correspondence of Charles Darwin. Edited by Frederick Burkhardt et al. 27 vols to date. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press. 1985–.

Gibbs, George. 1877. Tribes of western Washington and northwestern Oregon, part 2. In vol. 1 of Contributions to North American ethnology. Washington, D.C.: US Government Printing Office.

Stevens, John Austin, Jr. 1873. A memorial of George Gibbs. [Read 7 October 1873 to the New York Historical Society.] Annual Report of the Board of Regents of the Smithsonian Institution for 1873, pp. 219–25.


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.

Letter details

Letter no.
George Gibbs
Charles Robert Darwin
Sent from
Smithsonian Institution
Source of text
DAR 165: 37
Physical description

Please cite as

Darwin Correspondence Project, “Letter no. 5479,” accessed on 13 April 2021,

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