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While there are within the United States tribes that in the fifteenth century displayed a higher degree of culture than their surroundings (the Natchez, for instance, and in the development of ideas of government and extension of sway, the Iroquois ) the culture of the Indian seems to have reached its highest degree in Central Mexico and Yucatán, Guatemala and Honduras, and, we may add, Nicaragua.
It is as if the tribal wanderings from north to south, which sometimes took other directions, had been arrested by the narrowing of the continent at the Isthmus of Panama.
Of the sedentary Indians that held or overawed a considerable extent of territory by their own single efforts, the various independent groups of Guatemala and Tarascans in western central Mexico were most conspicuous.
In North America, the Muskogees, the Natchez, the Choctaws, and further north the Dakotas and the Pawnees displayed considerable aggressive power.
The highest development attained in South America before its discovery was along the backbone of the Andes from 15° north to near the Tropic of Capricorn, or 23° south.
This was also the case on the Pacific shore to latitude 20° south, beginning at 2° south.
On the western slope of the Andes, in Columbia, the population was somewhat more dense and the houses, though still of wood and canes, were larger, and more substantially reared.
The great northern plateau of Mexico, with the mountains along the Rio Grande, was too arid and consequently destitute of means of subsistence, to allow permanent occupation in numbers; but the New Mexico Pueblos formed a group of sedentary inhabitants clustering along the Rio Grande and settled in the mountains as far as Arizona, surrounded on all sides by roving Indians, some of whom, however, like the Navajos, had turned to land-tilling also, on a modest scale.Those tribes whose sway were most extensive when America was first discovered were: It has not yet been established, however, that the Inca had confederates, or if they belonged to the class of sedentary tribes that then overran large expanses of territory, either alone or with the aid of subjugated tribes.Traces of confederacies appeared on the Peruvian coasts among the sedentary clusters that were partly wiped out by the Inca not a century previous to the advent of the Spaniards.This was also the case along the Mississippi (on both banks), and in the timbered basin of the Alleghenies, along the Atlantic from St.Lawrence to Florida, whereas southern Texas was sparsely inhabited, and in parts but temporarily, as the buffalo led the Indian on its southward wanderings.