Bonnichsen et al. (1987) suggested a linkage between the climatic changes associated with the retreat of the Laurentide ice sheet, changes in vegetation patterns indicated by pollen studies, and changes in adaptive strategies of early human populations that reached a critical threshold between 11,200 and 10,800 yr BP. The changes in human adaptive strategies were indicated by correlated archaeological records that included artifacts in the Dalton complex. Bettis et al. (1990) noted the conjunction in timing of the increased abundance of a bottomland Carya pollen (probably pecan) in the Upper Mississippi Valley with the influx of people associated with the Dalton culture and suggested that humans may have been an important vector in the northward spread of pecan.
The earliest record of man's use of Carya species comes from archeological excavations near both the northern and western edges of Carya distribution: hickory and pecan were recovered in strata dated from the Early Archaic (8900-8700 yr BP) at Modoc Rock Shelter, Illinois (Styles et al., 1983); pecan leaves and seed were recovered in association with human artifacts from strata dated from about 8000 BP at Baker's cave, Val Verde Co., Texas (Dering 1977, Hester 1981).
The record of Indian usage of Carya species made by the first European explorers is extensive. Strachey (1612) reported a native American myth of the afterlife which involved hickory; hominy corn and "pokahichary" (a drink which the Powhatan Indians of Virginia made by pounding hickory nuts with water) was served by a goddess to spirits travelling after death to the rising sun. The story implies an ancient and revered place for the nuts in Powhatan tradition. Our word "hickory" is derived from the word "pokahichary" (see Trumbull 1872).
Hernando de Soto (in True, 1919) explored the southeastern area of the United States during the period between 1539 and 1542 and reported finding large stores of nut oil. Ash (1682) reported that nut oil from both walnut and hickory trees was used for cooking and medicinally;
"Its commended for a good Remedy in Dolors, and Gripes of the Belly; whilst new it has a pleasant Taste; but after six Months, it decays and grows acid" (p. 7).
The use of hickory nut oil is mentioned by Bossu (1771, p. 348), who also observed that the Indians baked pancakes in nut oil (p. 230). William Bartram (1792) reported "ancient cultivated fields" of hickory west of Augusta, Georgia;
"Though these are natives of the forest, yet they thrive better, and are more fruitful, in cultivated plantations, and the fruit is in great estimation with the present generation of Indians, particularly juglans exaltata, commonly called shell barked hiccory. The Creeks store up the last in their towns. I have seen above an hundred bushels of these nuts belonging to one family. They pound them to pieces, and then cast them into boiling water, which, after passing through fine strainers, preserves the most oily part of the liquid; this they call by a name which signifies hiccory milk; it is as sweet and rich as fresh cream, and is an ingredient in most of their cookery, especially homony and corn cakes" (p. 38).
Sargent (1884) suggested that
the "Juglans exaltata" referred to by Bartram (1792)
is a synonym of C. ovata.
Other early reports also document the Indian custom of crushing nuts in the shell in water to make a drink (Lawson 1714, p. 100; Romans 1775, p. 68;). The extraction of nut oil from native Carya species using similar techniques is also practiced in Asia (Louis 1921). Archeological studies have suggested that patterns of species utilization may be linked to the development of the nut crushing technology (Styles et al., 1983). In the earliest (oldest) strata (8900-8700 BP) in several Illinois excavations, pecan is recovered in high percentages relative to other hickories. Around 7600 BP, thick-shelled hickory becomes the dominant nut recovered. The change can not be attributed to changes in species availability, and has been speculated to be due to the improvement in processing techniques, such as crushing and boiling, that permitted easier recovery from thick-shelled nuts (Bettis, 1990; Styles et al., 1983).
In addition to use as a food, several tribes of native Americans found many other uses for hickory: the Ojibwa used wood of C. ovata to make bows, selecting pieces having heartwood to the front of the bow and sapwood nearest the user; the Cherokee used the inner bark of C. tomentosa and C. laciniosa to finish baskets; the Omaha used wood of C. tomentosa and C. laciniosa to make snowshoe rims, lacing them with rawhide (Moerman 1998). Native American tribes also used various hickories medicinally as abortifacients, analgesics, anthelmintics, antirheumatics, cold remedies, dermatological aids, diaphoretics, diuretics emetics, gast-intestinal aids, gynecological aids, laxatives, liver aids, oral aids and orthopedic aids (Moerman 1986). In Vietnam, bark from trees of Carya tonkinensis was used to make a tea that was given to women after childbirth to reduce bleeding (Grauke et al., 1991).
The area from which Indian usage of hickory is reported exceeds the area of species distribution. Gilmore (1919) reported that the Dakota tribe of North and South Dakota has words for hickory trees and nuts and use both, despite the fact that no Carya species is reported to be native to that area. Bernard (1980) noted that the distribution of shagbark hickory in Quebec, Canada, was "exactly the same as the Iriquois territorial supremacy at the time of the first settlement". Hall (1995) has suggested that the abundance of native pecans in the Gulf Coastal Plain of Texas provided a stable, abundant and nutritious food supply that drew prehistoric people into the region. These valuable nut-bearing trees may also have been involved in territorial claims by individual family bands, as indicated by the distribution of prehistoric cemeteries in Texas in relation to native pecan distribution.
The value of hickory as a multi-use plant was quickly recognized by European settlers in North America. Michaux (cited in Porcher, 1863) reported that hickory was preferred in making hoops for casks and boxes. In 1808, young seedlings six to twelve feet tall were cut and sold in bundles of one hundred for three dollars for use in hoop making. The author noted that because of this practice, "young trees proper for this object have become scarce in all parts of the country which have been long settled. The evil is greater, as they do not sprout a second time from the same root, and as their growth is slow." During the Civil War, hickory bark was used in making yellow, olive, and green dyes, while ashes created from burning hickory produced fine quality lye used for making soap. (Porcher, 1863).
LJ Grauke , Research Horticulturist & Curator
USDA-ARS Pecan Genetics
10200 FM 50
Somerville, TX 77879
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