HISTORY

-- OF --

THE ABORIGINIES.

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CHAPTER I.

ABORIGINES --- The Iroquois Confederacy --- Its Origin And Organization --- Tribal Relations --- Secret Of Its Power --- Superiority And Supremacy --- Its Degeneracy.

    We gave no authentic history of a people inhabiting this country anterior to those who occupied it on the advent of the Europeans, and who are classed under the generic term Indians. Even their history prior to their intimate association with civilized people is shrouded in obscurity and is transmitted to us in the form of vague and fragmentary legends. The aborigines were a barbaric race and have left no written history, except that we occasionally discover traces of their rude paintings and still ruder engravings. But this is in a measure compensated by the more enduring relics, consisting of the implements of husbandry, the chase and war, which the plow and other means of excavation have numerously disclosed. Their fortified villages and places of burial are rich also in suggestive incidents.1

    This was a part of the broad domain of the Iroquois2 Confederacy, which extended, in general terms, from the Hudson to the Genesee, and from the north to the south boundary of this State. This confederacy was composed of the following nations, located in the following order from the east to west, the Mohawks, (Ganeagaonos,3 ) on the river which bears their name, the Oneidas, (Onayotekaonos) Onondagas, (Onundagaonos) Cayugas, (Gwengwehonos) and Senecas, (Nundawaonos) mostly adjacent to the lakes which bear their names.4 Its origin is buried in the obscurity of vague tradition and was unknown to civilized nations in 1750.5 The traditions of the Iroquois ascribe it, as well as the origin of the individual nations, to a supernatural source. They, like the Athenians, sprung from the earth itself. "In remote ages they had been confined under a mountain near the falls of the Osh-wah-kee,6 or Oswego river, whence they were released by Tharonhyjagon, the Holder of the Heavens,"7 Schoolcraft inclines to the opinion that the Confederation is to be referred to a comparatively recent date, early in the fifteenth century; Mr. Webster, the Indian interpreter, a good authority, about two generations before the white people came to trade with the Indians; Pyrlaus, a missionary among the Mohawks, "one age, or the length of a man's life, before the white people came into the country;" while Clark, 'from the permanency of their institutions, the peculiar structure of their government, the intricacy of their civil affairs, the stability of their religious beliefs and the uniformity of their pagan ceremonies, differing from other Indian nations in important particulars," thinks it must have had a longer duration.

    Long ago, says the Iroquois tradition, Taounyawatha, the deity who presides over the forests and streams, came down from his abode in the clouds to make free the former to all, to remove the obstructions from the latter, and to bestow good gifts upon the people. In the locality of Oswego he disclosed to two hunters of the Onondaga nation whom he there met, the object of his mission, and prevailed on them to accompany him up the river and over the lesser lakes, --- while he made ample provision for the sustenance of men, and taught them how to cultivate the soil and live happy, united and prosperous. Having accomplished this beneficent mission he divested himself of his divine character and took up his abode among men, assuming their habits and character. He chose for his habitation a beautiful spot on the shore of Teonto (Cross) Lake,8 where he built a cabin and took a wife of the Onondagas, by whom he had an only and beautiful daughter, whom he tenderly loved. His excellence of character, great sagacity and wise counsels won for him a profound regard, and by universal consent he was named Hiawatha, signifying very wise man. His advice upon matters both grave and trivial was eagerly sought and he was regarded as possessing transcendant powers of mind and consummate wisdom. Under his direction the Onondagas early gained a pre-eminent distinction as the wisest counselors, the most eloquent orators and expert hunters, and the bravest warriors.

    While Hiawatha was thus living quietly among the "people of the hills," the tribes were attacked by a ferocious and powerful enemy from the north of the great lakes, who invaded the country, laid waste their villages, and slaughtered indiscriminately men, women and children. While a bold resistance could not intensify the ferocity of the enemy, neither did supine submission ensure palliation; utter destruction seemed inevitable. In their extremity they looked to Hiawatha, who, after thoughtful contemplation, advised a grand council of all the tribes that could be gathered, "for," said he, "our safety is not alone in the club and dart, but in wise counsels."9

    This council is supposed to have been held on the east bank of Onondaga (Ohnentaha) Lake, on the high ground where the village of Liverpool now stands. There was a vast assembly of chiefs, warriors, men, women and children, and although the council fire had been burning three days they still awaited the presence of Hiawatha. Messengers were dispatched and found him troubled with melancholy forebodings of ill-fortune. He had resolved not to attend the council by reason of his distress of mind, but he yielded to their importunities and set out with his daughter to join the waiting throng. The white canoe in which the venerable Hiawatha made his journeys by water, and which was regarded by his people with almost as much veneration as himself, glided silently down the deep waters of the Seneca, through the narrow outlet and into the placid Onondaga, and as it appeared to view, the assembled multitude welcomed their chief with a gladdening shout. As he ascended the steep bank and approached with measured tread the council ground, a loud sound was heard like a rushing, mighty wind. Instantly all eyes were turned upward and beheld a mass of cloudy darkness rapidly descending into their midst, and increasing in size and velocity as it approached. All sought safety in flight save Hiawatha and his lovely daughter, who calmly awaited the impending calamity, the former having uncovered his silvered head. With a mighty swoop a huge bird, with long distended wings, descended and crushed the cherished girl to the earth, destroying in her remains the very semblance of a human being, and perishing itself in the collision.

    The dismayed warriors cautiously returned to view the dismal scene. The bird was covered with a beautiful plumage of snowy white, and each warrior plucked therefrom a plum to adorn his crown. From this incident the Iroquois braves forever after made use of the plumes of the white heron, as their most appropriate martial decoration.

    Hiawatha was disconsolate. He prostrated himself with his face upon the ground and gave himself up to the most poignant grief for three days and nights, refusing to be consoled. His grief was shared by the whole assembly, who sincerely mourned his great and sudden bereavement.

    At length he regained his composure and took his seat in the council, whose deliberations were participated in by the ablest counselors of the assembled nations. At the conclusion of the debate, Hiawatha, desiring that nothing should be done hastily and inconsiderately, proposed that the council be postponed one day, so that they might weigh well the words which had been spoken, when he promised to communicate his plan for consideration, assuring them of his confidence in its success. The following day the council again assembled and amid breathless silence the sage counselor thus addressed them: ---

    "Friends and Brothers: --- You are members of many tribes and nations. You have come here, many of you, a great distance from your homes. We have convened for one common purpose, to promote one common interest, and that is to provide for our mutual safety, and how it shall best be accomplished. To oppose these hordes of northern foes by tribes, singly and alone, would prove our certain destruction; we can make no progress in that way; we must unite ourselves into one common band of brothers. Our warriors united, would surely repel these rude invaders and drive them from our borders. This must be done and we shall be safe.

    "You, the Mohawks, sitting under the shadow of the 'great tree,' whose roots sink deep into the earth, and whose branches spread over a vast country, shall be the first nation, because you are warlike and mighty.

    "And you, Oneidas, a people who recline your bodies against the 'everlasting stone' that cannot be moved, shall be the second nation, because you give wise counsel.

    "And you, Onondagas, who have your habitation at the 'great mountain,' and are overshadowed by its crags, shall be the third nation, because you are greatly gifted in speech and mighty in war.

    "And you, Cayugas, a people whose habitation is the 'dark forest,' and whose home is everywhere, shall be the fourth nation, because of your superior cunning in hunting.

    "And you, Senecas, a people who live in the 'open country' and possess much wisdom, shall be the fifth nation, because you understand better the art of raising corn and beans and making cabins.

    "You, five great and powerful nations, must unite and have but one common interest, and no foe shall be able to disturb or subdue you.

    "And you, Manhattans, Nyacks, Metoacks and others, who are as the 'feeble bushes;' and you, Narragansetts, Mohegans, Wampanoags and your neighbors, who are a 'fishing people,' may place yourselves under our protection. Be with us and we will defend you. You of the South and you of the West may do the same, and we will protect you. We earnestly desire your alliance and friendship.

    "Brothers, if we unite in this bond the Great Spirit will smile upon us, and we shall be free, prosperous and happy. But if we remain as we are we shall be subject to his frown; we shall be enslaved, ruined, perhaps annihilated forever. We shall perish and our names blotted out from among the nations of men.

    "Brothers, these are the words of Hiawatha. Let them sink deep into your hearts. I have said it."

    The council was adjourned one day to afford time to consider this weighty proposition, which had made a deep impression on its hearers. It may seem strange in the light of a century of our own federate existence that time should have been required to reach a conclusion so obvious; but it was a marked characteristic of the Iroquois to act only after mature deliberation on questions of grave importance, and in this lies much of that great power they exerted both in council and in war. Their proceedings in council were conducted with marvelous decorum and fidelity to parliamentary usage. Assembling the next day, the wisdom of the proposition was unanimously conceded, and then was formed that celebrated Amphictyonic league of the five Indian nations which no external power has effectually broken. Whatever may have been the circumstances connected with its origin, which is invested in the hyperbole and metaphor with which the Indian language abounds, its great effectiveness is a matter of history, and stamps the mind which conceived it a genius of the highest order.

    Pending this action, Hiawatha, admonished by the death of his daughter, that his mission on earth was accomplished, prepared to take his final departure. As the assembly was about to separate, he arose in a dignified manner and said: ---

    "Friends and Brothers: --- I have now fulfilled my mission upon earth. I have done everything which can be done at present for the good of this great people. Age, infirmity and distress set heavy upon me. During my sojourn with you I have removed all obstructions from the streams. Canoes can now pass safely everywhere. I have given you good fishing waters and good hunting grounds. I have taught you the manner of cultivating corn and beans and learned you the art of making cabins. Many other blessings I have liberally bestowed upon you.

    "Lastly, I have now assisted you to form an everlasting league and covenant of strength and friendship for your future safety and protection. If you preserve it, without the admission of other people, you will always be free, numerous and mighty. If other nations are admitted to your councils they will sow jealousies among you, and you will become enslaved, few and feeble. Remember these words, they are the last you will hear from the lips of Hiawatha. Listen, my friends, the Great Master of Breath calls me to go. I have patiently waited his summons. I am ready; farewell."

    As his voice ceased, sweet sounds from the air burst on the ears of the multitude; and while their attention was engrossed in the celestial melody, Hiawatha was seen seated in his white canoe, rising in mid-air with every choral chant, till the clouds shut out the sight, and the melody, gradually becoming fainter, ceased.10

    The political and social organizations of the Iroquois though simple in their structure were effective in their operation. They were calculated to violate as little as might be the high regard this people had for individual liberty, which they required should be the largest, consistent with the general welfare. The method by which they secured efficiency without imposing undue restraint was as unique as it was simple and happy. No light tie could hold to the harmonious development of a common interest so fierce and barbarous a people as these. The problem was eminently worthy of the genius which solved it; for while it held them inflexibly, yet unrestrainedly, to all matters relating to their federate existence, it secured the utmost elasticity and freedom in their tribal and national relations. The entire control of all civil matters affecting the common interest was vested in a national council of about fifty sachems, though in some instances as many as eighty, chosen at first from the wisest men in their several nations, and afterwards hereditary in their families. All met as equals, but a peculiar dignity was ever attached to the Atotarho of the Onondagas.11 All the nations were represented and each had one vote in the council. This general council was held by common consent in the principal village of the Onondagas, the central nation.12 Thither, if the matter under consideration was of deep and general interest, not the sachems alone, but the greater part of the population, gathered; and while the sachems deliberated in the council-house, the chiefs and old men, the warriors, and often the women were holding their respective councils apart, and their opinions, laid by their deputies before the council of sachems, were never without influence on its decisions. All questions of tribal, national and federal polity were discussed and decided in councils. They had no written constitution, and no attempt was made to coerce a nation or individual. The authority of these sachems was measured by the estimate the people put upon their wisdom and integrity; and the execution of their plans rested upon the voluntary acquiescence of those whom they represented. But the Iroquois were actuated by a high regard for personal and national honor, which ever sufficed to impress them with a deep sense of duty. Women were excluded from the deliberations of the councils.

    A marked feature of the Iroquois civil polity was that which made the concurrence of all the nations necessary before any measure could be adopted. To secure this unanimity the most persuasive powers of reason and eloquence were constantly employed. Their speakers studied euphony in the selection and arrangement of their words, and their discourses were made highly impressive, if not always eloquent and convincing, by the use of graceful attitudes and gestures. In this severe school were trained those orators, whose efforts have challenged favorable comparison with the best in civilized nations, and reflected not less renown on the federation than its bravest warriors.13

    Parkman, in his work on the Jesuits, says: --

    "The ease and frequency with which a requisition seemingly so difficult was fulfilled afford a striking illustration of Indian nature, -on one side so stubborn, tenacious and impracticable; on the other so pliant and acquiescent. An explanation of this harmony is to be found also in an intense spirit of nationality: for never since the days of Sparta were individual life and national life more completely fused into one.14

    "There was a class of men among the Iroquois always put forward on public occasions to speak the mind of the nation or defend its interests. Nearly all of them were of the number of the subordinate chiefs. Nature and training had fitted them for public speaking, and they were deeply versed in the history and traditions of the league. They were in fact professed orators, high in honor and influence among the people. To a huge stock of conventional metaphors, the use of which required nothing but practice, they often added an astute intellect, an astonishing memory, and an eloquence which deserved the name.

    "In one particular, the training of these savage politicians was never surpassed. They had no art of writing to record events, or preserve the stipulations of treaties. Memory, therefore, was tasked to the utmost, and developed to an extraordinary degree. They had various devices for aiding it, such as bundles of sticks, which they shared with other tribes. Their famous wampum belts were so many mnemonic signs, each standing for some act, speech, treaty, or clause of a treaty. These represented the public archives, and were divided among various custodians, each charged with the memory and interpretation of those assigned to him. The meaning of the belts was from time to time expounded in the councils. In conferences with them nothing more astonished the French, Dutch and English officials than the precision with which, before replying to their addresses, the Indian orators repeated them point by point."

    All business between other nations and the Iroquois was brought to the council fire of Onondaga,15 and the conclusion there reached carried with it all the weight of a kingly edict. The deliberations of the sachems were conducted with the utmost decorum, and a rigid adherence to their notions of parliamentary usage which challenged the admiration of civilized nations. No speaker interrupted another. Each gave his opinion in turn, but not until he had stated in full the subject of discussion, to prove that he understood it, and had repeated the arguments pro and con of previous speakers. Thus their debates were exceedingly prolix, but resulted in a thorough sifting of the matter in hand. Their sachems received no compensation for their services. Honor and esteem were their chief rewards; shame and being despised, their punishment. Their principal men, both sachems and chiefs, were generally poorer than the common people; for they affected to give away and distribute all the presents or plunder they got by treaty or in war.16 They held their office by reason of merit and the esteem in which they were held by the people, and forfeited this distinction when that esteem was lost. Thus while the system held out ample incentives to valorous achievement, there was nothing to tempt the covetous and sordid. A respect for native superiority, and a willingness to yield to it were always conspicuous. In his own nation each sachem was a civil magistrate and decided the differences between his people in public audiences of his tribe. In military matters he had no control; these were confided to the chiefs of tribes. If he engaged in war he held only the rank of a common warrior.

    Each of the Iroquois nations was divided into nine clans or tribes, each having a specific device or totem, denoting original consanguinity. These totems were universally respected, and were often tattooed on the person of the Indian and were painted rudely on the gable end of his cabin, some in black, others in red. They entitled the wandering savage to the hospitality of the wigwam which bore the emblem corresponding with his own. These devices consisted of animals, birds, &c. They had various uses, but the most important was that which denoted tribal relation.

    E.B. O'Callaghan, M. D, in Doc. Hist. Vol. I. P. 3, (Paris Documents of 1666,) says: -

    "The Iroquois Nation consists of nine tribes, which form two divisions, one of four tribes and the other of five.

    "They call the first division GUEY-NIOTITESHESGUE, which meant the four tribes; and the second division they call OUICHE-NIOTITESHESGUE, which means the five tribes.

    "The first is that of the Tortoise, which calls itself Atiniathin. It is the first because they pretend when the Master of Life made the earth, that he placed it on a tortoise; and when there are earthquakes, it is the tortoise that stirs.

    "The second tribe is that of the Wolf, and calls itself Enanthayonni, or Cahenhisenhonon, and brother of the Tortoise tribe. When there is a question of war they deliberate together; and if the affair is of great moment, they communicate it to the other tribes to deliberate together thereupon; so of all the other tribes. They assemble in the hut of a war-chief when the question is of war, and in the hut of a council-chief when it is for ordinary maters of state.

    "The third tribe is that of the Bear, which they call Atinionguin.

    "The fourth tribe is that of the Beaver, and brother to that of the Bear. These four tribes compose the first division.

SECOND DIVISION.

    "The fifth tribe is that of the Deer, which they name Canendeshe.

    "The sixth is that of the Potatoe, which they call Schoneschioronon.

    "The seventh is that of the Great Plover, which they call Otinanchahi.

    "The eighth is that of the Little Plover, which they call Asco, or Nicohes.

    "The ninth is that of the Kilion [Eagle], which they call Canonchahonronon. [It] derives its origin from a cabin that was in the interior (daus les terres,) and composed of several fires or establishments. In the middle of the cabin was a partition which divided [it] in two.

    "Weary of knowing no one and consequently unable to marry, they all married among themselves; which is the reason that their name signifies two cabins united together."

    Parkman, in speaking of the ninth tribe which he denominates the Potatoe, says, if it existed it was very inconspicuous and of little importance. Other authors name only eight tribes. Ruttenber designates nine.

    Previous to the formation of the Iroquois confederacy, each of the five nations composing it was divided into five tribes. When their union was effected, each tribe transferred one-fifth of its numbers to every other nation, thus giving each nation nine tribes. The tribal names were as follows: Tortoise, or Turtle, Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Deer, Potatoe, Snipe, Heron and Hawk.17

    These tribes formed two divisions, the second subordinate to the first, which was composed of the four first named. The members of each division were regarded as brothers to those in that division to which they belonged, while they were only cousins to those in the other divisions. Each tribe constituted a family, and while all its members were accounted brothers and sisters, they were also brothers and sisters of the members of all the other tribes having the same device. The indissoluble bond thus formed by the ties of consanguinity was still further strengthened by the marriage relation. Originally marriage was interdicted between members of the same division, but in time the restriction was limited to those of the same tribe. It was held to be an abomination for two persons of the same tribe to intermarry; hence every individual family must contain members from at least two tribes. The child belonged to the clan of the mother, not the father, from whom it could not inherit anything. All rank, titles and possessions passed through the female. The son of a chief could never be a chief by hereditary title, though he might become one through personal merit; but a grandson, great-grandson or nephew might succeed him.18

    "This system of clanship, with the rule of descent inseparable from it, was," says Parkman, "of very wide prevalence. Indeed, it is more than probable that close observation would have detected it in every tribe east of the Mississippi; while there is positive evidence of its existence in by far the greater number."

    The Chippewas, however, furnished an exception to this rule. With them the son of a chief had a legal right to succeed his father.

    The rule, though binding, was very elastic, and capable of stretching to the farthest limits of the tribe --- each tribe being allowed to select its chief from its own members. Almost invariably the chief was succeeded by a near relative, always on the female side; but if these were manifestly unfit, his successor was chosen at a council of the tribe from among remoter kindred, in which case he was nominated by the matron of the late chief's household.19 In any event the choice was never adverse to the popular inclination.20 The new chief was inducted into office by a formal council of the sachems of the league; and on assuming its duties he dropped his own name and substituted that which, since the formation of the league, had belonged to his especial chieftainship.21 The chief was required to be a skillful hunter, if not the best in his tribe, and liberal with his game. He must also be a good physician, and able to advise and assist the sick in every circumstance. It was his duty to take care of orphans, harbor strangers, and to keep order in the town. But he, like the sachem, had no power of compulsion; and like him, also, must keep up his reputation by a prudent, courteous and winning behavior.22

    The tribes were by no means equal in numbers, influence and honor, says Parkman. So marked were the distinctions among them that Colden and other early writers recognized only the three most prominent, --- those of the Tortoise, Bear and Wolf. They were eminently social in their habits; and without any law, other than that of common usage, or means of enforcing justice, these rude, uncultured barbarians lived together, in communities aggregating thousands, with a harmony which civilization might envy.

    Says Parkman: -

    "Though vain, arrogant, boastful and vindictive, the Indian bore abuse and sarcasm with an astonishing patience. Though greedy and grasping, he was lavish without stint, and would give away his all to soothe the moans of a departed relative, gain influence and applause, or ingratiate himself with his neighbors. In his dread of public opinion he rivalled some of his civilized successors.

    "All Indians, and especially those populous and stationary tribes, had their code of courtesy, whose requirements were rigid and exact; nor might any infringe it without the ban of public censure. Indian nature, inflexible and unmalleable, was peculiarly under the control of custom. Established usage took the place of law-was in fact, a sort of common law, with no tribunal to expound or enforce it.    *    *    * All were prompt to aid each other in distress, and a neighborly spirit was often exhibited among them. When a young woman was permanently married, the other women of the village supplied her with firewood for the year, each contributing an armful. When one or more families were without shelter, the men of the village joined in building them a house. In return, the recipients of the favor gave a feast, if they could; if not, their thanks were sufficient.23 Among the Iroquois and Hurons, and doubtless among the kindred tribes, there were marked distinctions of noble and base, prosperous and poor; yet while there was food in the village, the meanest and poorest need not suffer want. He had but to enter the nearest house, and seat himself by the fire, when, without a word on either side, food was placed before him by the women.

    "Contrary to the received opinion, these Indians, like others of their race, when living in communities, were of a very social disposition. Besides their incessant dances and feasts, great and small, they were continually visiting, spending most of their time in their neighbors' houses, chatting, joking, bantering one another with witticisms, sharp, broad, and in no sense delicate, yet always taken in good part. Every village had its adepts in these wordy tournaments, while the shrill laugh of young squaws, untaught to blush, echoed each hardy jest and rough sarcasm."

    There was another council, says the same author, between which and that of the subordinate chiefs the line of demarcation seems not to have been very definite. In its character it was essentially popular, but popular in the best sense, and one which can find its application only in a small community. Any man took part in it whose age and experience qualified him to do so. It was merely the gathered wisdom of the nation. The Jesuit Lafitau, familiar with the Iroquois at the height of their prosperity, compares it with the Roman Senate, and defines it as the central and controlling power, so far, at least, as the separate nations were concerned. He thus describes it: It is a greasy assemblage, sitting sur leur derriere, crouched like apes, their knees as high as their ears, or lying, some on their bellies, some on their backs, each with a pipe in his mouth, discussing affairs of state with as much coolness and gravity as the Spanish Junta or Grand Council of Venice."

    The young warriors also had their council; so, too, had the women; and the opinions and wishes of each were represented by means of deputies in this council of old men, as well as the grand confederate council of the sachems. The government of this unique republic resided wholly in councils; by which all questions were settled, all regulations established --- social, political, military and religious. The war-path, the chase, the council-fire, in these was the life of the Iroquois; and it is difficult to say to which he was most devoted.

    In this blending of individual, tribal, national and federal interests lies the secret of the immense power wielded by the Iroquois --- a power which successfully resisted for a century and a half the hostile efforts of the French; which made them for nearly a century (from 1664 to 1763,) an immovable wedge between the contending French and English Colonies in America, alike feared and courted by both; and enabled them to exterminate or effectually subdue neighboring tribes with whom they had long waged war with varying success.

    The Iroquois were not always the same fierce, rapacious and blood-thirsty people which they are now familiarly known to have been, but were once engrossed in the peaceful pursuits of the husbandman. Colden graphically relates the circumstances which led them in a measure to forsake that occupation, and involved them in a war with the Adirondacks, in which they were engaged when the French first settled Canada. We quote: ---

    "The Adirondacks formerly lived three hundred miles above Trois Rivieres, where now the Utawawas are situated; at that time they employed themselves wholly in hunting, and the Five Nations made planting of corn their business. By this means they became useful to each other, by exchanging corn for venison. The Adirondacks, however, valued themselves, as delighting in a more manly employment, and despised the Five Nations, in following business, which they thought only fit for women. But it once happened that the game failed the Adirondacks, which made them desire some of the young men of the Five Nations to assist them in hunting. These young men soon became much more expert in hunting, and able to endure fatigue, than the Adirondacks expected or desired; in short they became jealous of them, and, one night, murdered all the young men they had with them. The Five Nations complained to the chiefs of the Adirondacks of the inhumanity of this action; but they contented themselves with blaming the murderers, and ordered them to make some small presents to the relatives of the murdered persons,24 without being apprehensive of the resentment of the Five Nations; for they looked upon them as men not capable of taking any great revenge.

    "This, however, provoked the Five Nations to that degree, that they soon resolved by some means to be revenged; and the Adirondacks, being informed of these designs, thought to prevent them, by reducing them with force to their obedience.

    "The Five Nations then lived near where Mont Real now stands; they defended themselves at first but faintly against the vigorous attacks of the Adirondacks, and were forced to leave their own country, and fly to the banks of the lakes, where they now live. As they were hitherto losers by the war, it obliged them to apply themselves to the exercise of arms, in which they became daily more and more expert. Their Sachems, in order to raise their people's spirits, turned them against the Satanas, a less warlike nation, who then lived on the banks of the lakes; for they found it was difficult to remove the dread their people had of the valor of the Adirondacks. The Five Nations soon subdued the Satanas, and drove them out of their country; and their people's courage thus elevated, they, from this time, not only defended themselves bravely against the whole force of the Adirondacks, but often carried the war into the heart of the Adirondacks' country, and, at last, forced them to leave it, and to fly into that part of the country where Quebec is now built.25

    While the Iroquois were waging war with the Adirondacks, the French, who early signalized their enmity to the former, had, by the establishment of their fur trade, drawn most of the neighboring nations to Quebec, and supplied them with firearms. These nations joined in the war against the Iroquois. The Adirondacks now resolved on the utter destruction of the Five Nations; but their young warriors, from their superiority in numbers and arms, became rash and insolent and restive under the disciplinary restraints of their chiefs. The Iroquois, who were thrown on the defensive by the rash impetuousness of their enemies, soon discovered the advantages they gained by this want of discipline, and became themselves more submissive to their chiefs and diligent in executing any enterprise. They opposed strategy, for which they were so conspicuously distinguished,26 to the superiority in numbers and arms of the enemy, who were adroitly drawn into ambuscades and thereby suffered great losses. This warfare was continued until it culminated in the disastrous defeat and dispersion of the Adirondacks and their allies, the Quatoghies, or Hurons, in a terrible battle fought within sight of the French settlements at Quebec. They pursued these enemies to their place of refuge with a relentless persistency which only relaxed with their dispersion and almost utter extermination.

    With the same terrible, deadly vehemence they pursued other enemies, prominent among whom were the Neutrals and Eries to the west and the Andastes to the south of them, their vengeance never satiated until they were wiped out of existence as nations. Thus they eventually became the dictators of the Continent, their sway extending over a territory estimated to be twelve hundred miles long by eight hundred broad, embracing a large part of New England and reaching thence to the Mississippi; while the French occupants of Canada, and the Cherokees and Catawbas in the far south were humbled by their power. But they held in actual possession only limited territory previously described.

    From the conquered nations they exacted tribute, and drew conscripts for their armies. The Tuscaroras, who resided in Carolina, were incorporated into the confederacy in 1715, and thereafter they were known as the Six Nations. From the extent of their conquests, the number of their subject nations, and the tribute and military aid rendered them by the latter, they have been called the "Romans of the New World." When we reflect that of their own warriors they could bring into the field barely 2,000 braves, and with this number subjugated nations numerically more than twice as large, and spread terror and consternation among the French settlements in Canada, threatening their utter extinction, the magnitude of their achievements may be faintly comprehended.

    Their great successes, however, are scarcely referable to the perfection of their military organization, which, though unquestionable better than that of their neighbors, was wretchedly poor. Occasionally, though rarely, they acted in concert as a great confederacy; but usually their wars were carried on by detached parties, small in numbers, or at best by individual nations, by whom their great conquests were mostly made.

    They were in a chronic state of warfare, and were easily diverted from other pursuits whenever an opportunity offered to avenge their enemies. The inveterate wars waged by them against their kinsmen, as for instance the Hurons, Eries and Andastes, all mighty and valorous nations, is one of the unexplained passages in their history. Any of their warriors who was desirous of avenging a personal insult, rebuking a tribal or national affront, or ambitious to distinguish himself by some deed of valor, might take the war-path with such following as he could get. He first communicated his design to two others of his most intimate friends and if they approved of it an invitation was extended in their name to the warriors of the village to attend a feast of dog's flesh, which was always used on such occasions.27 His purpose was publicly proclaimed by the singing of war-songs, dancing the war-dance, and sticking his hatchet in the war-post. Any who chose joined him. After a night spent in alimentary debauchery they set out, dressed in their finest apparel, with faces hideously bedaubed with paint, to make them objects of terror to their enemies, usually with a little parched corn meal and maple sugar as their sole provision. They were always followed on such occasions by the women, who took with them their old clothes and brought back the finery in which they marched from the castle. They always recorded these exploits by the aid of their mnemonic symbols, rudely sketched on the smooth side of a piece of bark, peeled for that purpose from a tree --- usually an oak, as being most durable. These expeditions generally provoked retaliation, and the vengeance of the injured party was wreaked on any of the offending nation with whom they came in contact. Thus the history of Indian warfare is largely the history of the daring exploits of individuals and small bands of warriors, who harrassed their enemies and kept them in perpetual fear of danger. This mode of warfare proved peculiarly distressing to the early settlements of the American colonies.

    The Iroquois had a discipline suited to the dark and tangled forests where they fought. Here they were a terrible foe; but in an open country, against a trained European force, they were, despite their ferocious valor, less formidable. Their true superiority was a moral one. They were in one of those transports of pride, self-confidence, and rage for ascendency, which, in a savage people, marks an era of conquest.28 They were proud, arrogant, vindictive, sagacious and subtle, and esteemed themselves by nature superior to the rest of mankind. They styled themselves Onguehonwe, signifying "men surpassing all others."29 Great care was taken to inculcate this opinion in their children, and to impress it upon other nations.30

    Authors differ as to the military status of the Iroquois, and it would be difficult, perhaps, with our limited exact knowledge of the various Indian tribes with whom they came in contact, to award them their just meed. It would be manifestly unjust to compare them with civilized nations, though in some respects this would not reflect disparagingly upon them. DeWitt Clinton awards them a high measure of praise. He says: ---

    "They reduced war to a science, and all their movements were directed by system and policy. They never attacked a hostile country till they had sent out spies to explore and designate its vulnerable points, and when they encamped they observed the greatest circumspection to guard against surprise. Whatever superiority of force they might have, they never neglected the use of stratagem, employing all the crafty wiles of the Carthagenians. To produce death by the most protracted suffering was sanctioned among them by general immemorial usages."

    The horrible, cruel and remorseless tortures with which they, in common with other Indians, persecuted their prisoners, forms one of the blackest pages in their history; while the heroism and fortitude with which they endured these tortures is the marvel of civilization. Even women were not exempt from them; for both men and women were inexorably subjected to the most revolting and ignominious tortures, even to burning alive,31 though the latter less frequently than the former. But they are said to have never violated the person of their female prisoners, notwithstanding the shameless license which prevailed among themselves.32

    The superiority of the Iroquois, as compared with others of their race in the whole western hemisphere, and even with the civilized races of Mexico and Peru, with a few doubtful exceptions, is clearly proved by the size of their brain. The average internal capacity of five Iroquois crania, as compared by Mr. Morton, was eighty-eight cubic inches, which is within two inches of the Caucasian mean.33 The difference in volume is chiefly confined to the occipital and basal portions --- the region of the animal propensities --- and on this is predicated their ferocious, brutal uncivilizable character.34 In this remarkable family occur the fullest developments of Indian character, and the most conspicuous examples of Indian intelligence. If not here then nowhere are to be found the higher traits popularly ascribed to the race.35 They unified and systematized the elements which, among other nations, were digressive and chaotic.

    There were marked physical and temperamental differences between the various Indian tribes of this country. The Iroquois were erect and commanding in figure; they were reserved and haughty, cool, deliberate and cunning. The prairie Indians, with very different habits, were more nervous, social and excitable. Charles T. Hoffman, Esq., thus traces the causes of these differences: ---

    "The Pawnees, following the buffalo in his migrations, and having always plenty of animal food to subsist upon, are a much better fed and a larger race than those who find a precarious subsistence in the forest chase, while the woodland tribes, who, though not so plump in form, are of a more wiry and, perhaps, muscular make, and again a decided advantage in figure and gait over the fishing and trapping tribes of the North-west that pass most of their time in canoes. This difference in character and physical appearance between the different Indian [tribes], or rather between those which have such different methods of gaining livelihood, has not been sufficiently attended to by modern authors, though it did not escape the early French writers on this country. And yet, if habit have any effect in forming the character and temper of a rude people, it must of course follow that the savage who lives in eternal sunshine upon flowery plains, and hunts on horseback with a troop of tribesmen around him, must be a different being from the solitary deer-stalker who wanders through the dim forest, depending upon his single arm for his wife and children."

    The advent of the European nations to the American continent was the precursor alike of the downfall of the Iroquois Confederacy and the ultimate extinction of the American Indian. This was due, not so much to the organic defects of the confederacy itself, as to causes inherent in the structure and mental incapacity of its authors. Stimulated at first by the attrition of rugged Saxon thought, they were destined ere long to be consumed by it. Though radically intractable, this race possessed in certain external respects a plastic mind; but while they felt and were, in a measure, influenced by this contact with a superior intellect, they lacked the ability to adapt themselves to the conditions essential to its evolvement. It intensified their savage nature, rather than eradicated it; for, unhappily for them, they were brought more in contact with its vices than its virtues. It cannot be denied, however, that the efforts of the early missionaries had a softening tendency, and what might have been the result of their labors under more favorable conditions can only be conjectured. But the missionaries themselves give ample evidence of the great difficulty attending their conversion;36 and it should not be overlooked that the instances which gave unmistakable evidence of genuine conversion were extremely rare. The large liberty allowed by their national compact was an element of great danger with a barbarous people, given, as they were, to the gratification of many of the worst impulses of their nature; for it held little or no restraint over them. The worst phases of our civilization --- a polished barbarism rather --- were engrafted on their natures, and served as a stimulus to appetites and passions already abnormally developed.37

    Advanced as the Iroquois were beyond most other American tribes, there is no indication whatever of a tendency to overpass the confines of a wild hunter and warrior life. They were inveterately attached to it, impracticable conservatists of barbarism, and in ferocity and cruelty they matched the worst of their race. That they were sagacious is past denying; but it expended itself in a blind frenzy which impelled them to destroy those whom they might have made their allies in a common cause. Their prescience, apparently, could not comprehend the destiny of a people capable of emerging from barbarism into civilization. Their decline may be said to have begun when their conquests were ended. They soon became a hopeless dependency, without the means, if they had the design, which they probably did not, to stop the encroachments of the whites upon their domain. As early as 1753, their dissolution was foreshadowed, though it did not take place till about a quarter of a century later.38


1 - The Indians were accustomed to bury with their dead various articles of ornament and use, which, it was supposed, would be serviceable in their passage to a future abode, of which the most barbaric had some conception.
2 - Iroquois was the French name for the five confederated nations of Indians residing mostly within this State. By the Dutch they were called "Maquas." They denominated themselves "Mingoes," meaning United People --- Clark's Onondaga. Their true name is "Hodenosaunee" or "People of the Long House," because the five nations were ranged in a long line through Central New York, and likened to one of their long bark houses. --- Parkman's Jesuits. Ruttenber says they bore the title of "Aquinosbione," or "Konosbioni," having the same meaning.
3 - The Iroquois termination in ono, means people. --- Parkman's Jesuits.
4 - Gallatin classes the Iroquois in three divisions: the eastern, consisting of the confederation known as the Five Nations; the western, of the Wyandots, or Hurons, and the Attionandrons, or neutral nation, north, and Erigas and Andastes, or Guandastogues, (Guyandots,) south of lake Erie; and the southern, of the Tuscaroras, the Tutelos, and the Nottowas, of North Carolina. The Tuscaroras and the Tutelos removed to the north, and were incorporated into the confederacy, the former in 1716, becoming its sixth member, and the latter in 1758. --- Indian Tribes of Hudson's River. Ruttenber.
5 - Coldens Five Nations.
6 - Signifying, "I see everywhere and see nothing." --- Clark's Onondaga.
7 - Indian Tribes of Hudson's River. --- Ruttenber.
8 - Ruttenber. --- According to Clark the name of the lake is Teunugktoo, the discrepancy probably arising from a difference in tribal dialects.
9 - Ruttenber. --- Clark puts his language into the Chieftain's mouth, "our safety is in good counsel, and speedy, energetic action;" and Clayton, the following: "Become a united people and you will conquer your enemies."
10 - "Both reason and tradition point to the conclusion, that the Iroquois formed originally one undivided people. Sundered, like countless other tribes, by dissension, caprice or the necessities of a hunter's life, they separated into five distinct nations." --- Parkman's Jesuits.

    "The Oneidas and Cayugas," says Gallatin, "are said to have been compelled to join [the confederacy.] Those two tribes were the younger and the three others the older members." Zinzendorf, speaking of the Iroquois, says "the Oneidas and Cayugas are their children." --- Indian tribes of North America.

    "By the early French writers, the Mohawks and Oneidas were styled the lower or Inferior Iroquois; while the Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas, were denominated the upper or superior Iroquois, because they were located near the sources of the St. Lawrence. The Mohawks, who are commonly supposed to be the first nation in the confederacy and were considered the most warlike people in the land, were also styled elder brothers of the other nations, and so esteemed themselves * * To [them] was always accorded the high consideration of furnishing the war captain, or 'Tekarahogea,' of the confederacy, which distinguished title was retained with them till the year 1814, when the celebrated Hoa-ho-a-quah, an Onondaga, was chosen in general council at Buffalo to fill that important station." --- Clark's Onondaga.
11 - Parkman's Jesuits.
12 - Loskiel gives us a description of the Onondaga council house in 1745, from the pen of Gottlieb Spangenberg, a Bishop of the United Brethren, who spent several weeks at Onondaga in that year. "The council-house", he says, "Was built of bark. On each side six seats were placed, each containing six persons. No one was admitted besides the members of the council, except a few, who were particularly honored. If one rose to speak, all the rest sat in profound silence, smoking their pipes. The speaker uttered his words in a singing tone, always rising a few notes at the close of each sentence. Whatever was pleasing to the council, was confirmed by all with the word Nee or Yes. And at the end of each speech, the whole company joined in applauding the speaker by calling Hoho. At noon, two men entered, bearing a large kettle filled with meat, upon a pole across their shoulders, which was first presented to the guests. A large wooden ladle, as broad and deep as a common bowl, hung with a hook to the side of the kettle, with which every one might at once help himself to as much as he could eat. When the guests had eaten their fill, they begged the counselors to do the same. The whole was conducted in a very decent manner. Indeed now and then one or the other would lie flat upon his back to rest himself, and sometimes they would stop, joke and laugh heartily." --- History of the Mission of the United Brethren among the Indians of North America. --- Loskiel.
13 - "An erect and commanding figure, with a blanket thrown loosely across the shoulder, his naked arm raised, and addressing, in impassioned strains, a group of similar persons sitting upon the ground around him, would, to use the illustration of an early historian of this State, give no faint picture of Rome in her early days." --- Smith's History of N. Y.

    DeWitt Clinton says of the speech of Garangula to the French General De la Barre, "I believe it impossible to find in all the effusions of ancient or modern oratory a speech more appropriate or convincing. Under the veil of respectful profession it conveys the most biting irony, and while it abounds with rich and splendid imagery, it contains the most solid reasoning. I place it in the same rank as the celebrated speech of Logan."
14 - The history of the Iroquois, however, furnishes numerous exceptions to this rule. During the French and Indian wars with the English-American Colonies, it often became difficult to secure unity of action in favor of the latter, and in 1755 it was entirely defeated. In 1763, Sir Wm. Johnson did not class the Senecas among the "friendly tribes;" and in 1775, the English were obliged to resort to tribal alliances in view of the determination of the council in favor of neutrality.
15 - This council fire was finally extinguished January 19, 1777, but the reason therefor has never been satisfactorily explained.
16 - Colden's Five Indian Nations.
17 - These are the more modern names as given by Morgan, though he and other authors omit the Potatoe. The Snipe and Heron corresponded with the Great and Little Plover, and the Hawk, with the Eagle, of the early French Documents.
18 - That excellent observer, Champlain, noticed this rule of descent among the Hurons in 1615, and doubtless referred it to its origin, viz: a child must be the son of his mother, while he may not be of his putative father; a consideration, says Parkman, of more than ordinary force in an Indian community.

    The same observation had been made with reference to the tribes in Virginia several years before by Capt. John Smith.
19 - Lafitau.
20 - Parkman.
21 - Ibid.
22 - Loskiel.
23 - "The following testimony concerning Indian charity and hospitality is from Ragueneau: 'As often as we have seen tribes broken up, towns destroyed and the people driven to flight, we have seen them to the number of seven to eight hundred persons, received with open arms by charitable hosts, who gladly gave them aid, and even distributed among them a part of the lands already planted, that they might have the means of living.'" Relation, 1650, 28.
24 - It was customary with the Iroquois, as with other Indian nations, to expiate murder by means of presents given to the friends of the deceased. It is a most peculiar reflection that the efforts were directed no to the bringing of the murderers to a just punishment, but to satisfying those who had a right to feel aggrieved. Murder was the most heinous crime except witchcraft, and was rare. If the slayer and the slain were of the same household or tribe, the affair was regarded as a family quarrel, to be settled by the immediate kin on both sides. This, under the pressure of public opinion, was commonly effected without bloodshed. But if the murderer and his victim were of different clans or nations, still more if the slain was a foreigner, the whole community became interested to prevent the discord or the war which might arise. To this end, contributions were made and presents collected. Their number and value were determined by established usage and differed with different nations. The Iroquois demanded 100 yards of wampum for the murder of a man and 200 for that of a woman. If the victim was of a foreign tribe, a higher compensation was demanded, as it involved the danger of war. Authors differ as to the result which followed in case of refusal on the part of the relatives of the deceased to accept the proper atonement, which they might do if they chose. Parkman says the murderer was given them as a slave, but they might by no means kill him. Colden says they "have such absolute notions of liberty that they allow no kind of superiority of one over another, and banish all servitude from their territories." Loskiel implies that the punishment of death may be inflicted.

    The Jesuit Lalemant, while inveighing against a practice which made the public and not the criminal answerable for an offense, admits that heinous crimes were more rare than in France, where the guilty party himself was punished. --- Parkman
. 25 - History of the Five Indian Nations.
26 - "The Five Nations are so much delighted with stratagems in war, that no superiority of their forces ever makes them neglect them." --- Colden.
27 - Colden's Five Indian Nations.
28 - Parkman's Jesuits.
29 - Colden's Five Indian Nations.
30 - Colden cites an instance which admirably illustrates this feature in their character. A party of Mohawks who were about to take the war-path notified the officer then in command of Fort Hunter that they should expect the usual military honors as they passed the garrison. His men were drawn up in line and brought to a present arms, and the drums beat a march, while the Indians marched past in single file with great gravity and profound silence. Each as he passed took his gun from his shoulder and fired into the ground near the foot of the officer.
31 - The burning of male prisoners was a common occurrence; and Parkman says, women were often burned by the Iroquois. He cites the case of Catherine Mercier in 1651, and many Indian women mentioned by the early writers. He also states, on the authority of a Cayuga Indian, that on the night after the great battle in which the Eries were destroyed as a nation, in 1655, that "the forest was lighted up with more than a thousand fires, at each of which an Erie was burning alive." This is undoubtedly a gross exaggeration. The same authority says they even eat the prisoners thus tortured. This indeed was a common occurrence.
32 - This remarkable forbearance towards female captives was probably the result of superstition, rather than an inherent heroic virtue, to which some authors ascribe it. Early writers bear abundant testimony of their unchastity. Lafitau, who wrote in 1724, says that in his time the nation was corrupt, but that it was a degeneracy from their ancient manners. La Potherie and Charlevoix make a similar statement. Megapoleusis, however, in 1644, says they were then exceedingly debauched; and Greenhalgh, in 1677, gives ample evidence of a shameless license. Morgan, on of their most earnest advocates of the present day, admits, in his League of the Iroquois, that the passion of love among them had no other than an animal existence. --- Colden's Five Indian Nations, Parkman's Jesuits and Doc. Hist. Of New York.
33 - Crania Americana, 195.
34 - Admeasurements of Crania of the Principal Groups of Indians in the United States, J. S. Phillips.
35 - Parkman's Jesuits.
36 - "It is necessary first," says Father Gabriel Marest, Missionary of the Society of Jesus, in 1712, "to transform them into men, and afterwards to labor to make them Christians." The Early Jesuit Missions of North America. --- Right Rev. Wm. Ingraham Kip, D. D., Bishop of California.
37 - The struggle for supremacy between the French and English, whicb involved the American colonies in war, and the subsequent American and English wars, developed traits scarcely less monstrous than those which characterized their Indian allies. Massachusetts first gave twelve, then forty, and finally one hundred pounds for a scalp. In 1745, the Colonial Legislature of New York passed and act offering a reward for scalps; and in 1746, the Governor of the Colony, Admiral George Clinton, not only paid for two scalps of Frenchmen in money and fine clothes, but thanks the three Indians who brought them to Albany, and promised "Always to remember this act of friendship." American scalps were received and paid for in English money by the officer in command at Malden, in the war of 1812.
38 - At a conference with the Six Nations at Onondaga, Sept. 8, 1753, Col. William Johnson, whom the Iroquois called Warraghieyagey, thus addresses them: ---

    "BRETHREN OF THE SIX NATIONS: ---

    "It Grieves me sorely to find the road hither so grown up with weeds, for want of being used, and your Fire almost expiring at Onondaga, where it was agreed by the wisdom of our ancestors that it should never be extinguished. You know it was a saying among them that when the Fire was out here you would be no longer a People. I am now Sent by Your Brother the Governor to clear the Road, and make up the Fire with such wood as will never burn out, and I earnestly desire You would take care to keep it up, so as to be found always the same when he shall send among you.          A Belt.

    "BRETHREN OF THE SIX NATIONS: ---

    "I have now renewed the Fire, swept and cleaned all your Rooms with a new White Wing, and leave it hanging near the Fire place, that you may use it for cleaning all dust, dirt, &ca, which may have been brought in by strangers, no friends to You, or Us.          A String of Wampum.

    "BRETHREN OF THE SIX NATIONS: ---

    "I am sorry to find on my Arrivall among You that the fine Shady Tree which was planted by your Forefathers for your ease and Shelter should be now leaning, being almost blown down by Northerly Winds. I shall now endeavor to set it upright, that it may flourish as formerly while the roots spread abroad, so that when we sit or stand on them You will not feel them shake should any storm blow, then should You be ready to secure it.          A Belt.

    "BRETHREN OF THE SIX NATIONS: --

    "Your Fire now burns clearly at the old place, The Tree of shelter and protection is set up and flourishes; I must now insist upon your quenching that Fire made with Brambles at Swegachey, and recall those to their proper home who have deserted thither; I cannot leave disswading you from goeing to Canada; the French are a delusive People, always endeavoring to divide you as much as they can, nor will they let slip any opportunity of making advantage of it.    *    *    *          A Large Belt."

    --- Doc. Hist., Vol. II, p. 633.


Transcribed as written.
August 2003
Elaine Decker
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