CHAPTER II

HISTORY OF THE ABORIGINES.

Their Origin --- Physical Peculiarities --- The Iroquois and their Great Confederacy --- The Different Tribes and Their Limitations --- Traditionary Origin of the Confederation --- Legend of Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha --- Tribal Relations --- The "Clan" System --- Social Relations and Personal Peculiarities of the Iroquois --- Their Amusements --- The Councils --- Origin of the Warlike Tendency of the Iroquois --- The French Colonists and their Struggles with the Indians --- Defeat of the Adirondacks --- Military Organization and Characteristics --- Treatment of Prisoners --- Physical Traits --- Their Downfall Foreshadowed.

Although the history of Cortland county, as a section of the Empire State embraced within certain defined boundaries, dates back only to the year 1808, yet its historic records may be traced far into the remote past, through a period when it was either an undefined section of larger definite tracts with boundaries and names, or merely a comparatively small and unknown portion of the great wilderness of the western continent; through a period when it and its surrounding vicinity was peopled only by that barbaric race who are everywhere known and recognized by the generic name of Indians. While the history of this peculiar people, after they became intimately associated with the white race, may be intelligently written, there is very little known of them previous to that time that is not based upon tradition and fragmentary legend. Their remote past is shrouded in obscurity.

    This absence of connected written history is, however, partially compensated by numerous relics in the form of implements of rude husbandry, warfare and the chase, which have been found in different parts of the county, upon the sites of their former villages, their burial places, and elsewhere. It is quite generally believed by those who have studied the subject, that this country was once occupied by a race of people more numerous and of much higher mental capacity and culture than the Indians. While there are evidences in support of this theory, apparently quite conclusive in character, it is still a theory, and such it must ever remain. But while we may safely conclude that it is by no means impossible that some race altogether different from the Indians existed here before them, there are strong probabilities that, if such was the case, the race was inferior rather than superior to the people discovered here by the Europeans.

    The origin of the Indians is, perhaps, even more obscure than that of the possible aborigines of this continent; there is little regarding it that is not traditional. Able writers have advocated the theory that they are identical with the Mound Builders, who have left behind them those remarkable monuments of their existence, while others equally able claim that there is a wide chasm between the two that cannot be spanned in a rational manner. Of the latter the most eminent is, perhaps, Bancroft, who says: "It has been asked if our Indians are not the wrecks of more civilized nations." His answer is: "Their language refutes the hypothesis; every one of its forms is a witness that their ancestors were like themselves, not yet disenthralled from nature."1

    Many elaborate disquisitions have been written upon this branch of our subject; a number of modern writers give credence to the theory of a northwestern immigration by the barbarous hordes of Asia. John de Laet, a Flemish author, was an advocate of this theory, and one of the first to note a resemblance in the features, complexion and manners of the Scythians, Tartars and Samoeides and those of the American Indians. Bancroft supports the theory as follows: "The American and Mongolian races of men, on the two sides of the Pacific, have a near resemblance. Both are alike strongly and definitely marked by the more capacious palatine fossa, of which the dimensions are so much larger that a careful observer could, out of a heap of skulls, readily separate the Mongolian and American from the Caucasian, but could not distinguish them from each other. Both have the orbit of the eye quadrangular, rather than oval; both, especially the American, have comparatively a narrowness of the forehead; the facial angle in both, but especially in the American, is comparatively small; in both, the bones of the nose are flatter and broader than in the Caucasian, and in so equal a degree, and with apertures so similar that, on indiscriminate selections from the two, an observer could not, from this feature, discriminate which of them belonged to the old continent; both, but especially the American, are characterized by a prominence of the jaws. Between the Mongolian of southern Asia and of northern Asia, there is a greater difference than between the Mongolian Tartar and the North American. The Iroquois is more unlike the Peruvian than he is unlike the wanderer on the steppes of Siberia. Physiology has not succeeded in defining the qualities which belong to every well-formed Mongolian, and which never belong to an indigenous American; still less can geographical science draw a boundary line between the races."2

    Priest, in his American Antiquities, expresses the conclusion that "Asia and America were peopled by similar races of men."

    These evidences bear the appearance of conclusiveness, and it is almost certain that no stronger proof as to the origin of the Indians will ever be adduced. It is the most reasonable theory that has been advanced to account for the remarkable race of men that peopled this country when it was first visited by the white race.

    The territory under consideration in this work was a part of the vast domain of the Iroquois Confederacy,3 which extended, in general terms, from the Hudson river to the Genesee, and from the north to the south boundary of this State. The Confederacy was composed of the following nations, located in the following order from east to west: The Mohawks, (Ganeagaonos), on the river bearing their name; the Oneidas, (Onayotekaonos); the Onondagas, (Onundagaonos); the Cayugas, (Gwengwehonos); and the Senecas, (Nundawaonos), mostly located adjacent to the several lakes bearing their respective names.4 The origin of this Confederacy is, at least to a great extent, merely traditional. The Iroquois themselves ascribe it, as they also do the origin of the individual nations, to a supernatural source. They, like the Athenians, sprang from the earth itself. "In remote ages they had been confined under a mountain near the falls of the Osh-wah-kee,5 or Oswego river, whence they were released by Tharonhyjagon, the Holder of the Heavens." 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 Onondaga Indian interpreter, who should be excellent authority, ascribes it to about two generations before the white people came to trade with the Indians. Pyrlaeus, a missionary among the Mohawks, to "one age, or the length of a man's life," before the white people came into the country. Others have accredited its origin to the severity of their wars with other nations, but without date; 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 than is given it by the others mentioned. Most of their traditions agree that the Confederation was formed on the banks of the Onondaga lake, near where the village of Liverpool is situated.

    Long years ago, says the Iroquois tradition, Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha, the deity who presides over the forests and streams, left his abode in the clouds to come and remove obstructions from their streams, to teach them how to cultivate the soil and become a united and prosperous people. In the vicinity of the site of Oswego he disclosed his mission to two Onondaga hunters, whom he prevailed upon to accompany him in his beneficent work; having accomplished which, he divested himself of his divine character, and took up his abode among the men of earth. He located his habitation in a beautiful spot on the shore of Teonto (Cross) lake, on the present boundary between Onondaga and Cayuga counties, where he built his cabin, and afterwards took a wife from the Onondagas, by whom he had an only and beautiful daughter, who was tenderly loved by him. His excellent counsels, wisdom and sagacity won the warmest esteem of the people, who gave him the name of Hiawatha, signifying "very wise man." Under his direction the Onondagas soon advanced to the pre-eminent distinction as the wisest counselors, the most eloquent orators, the most successful hunters and the bravest warriors.

    While Hiawatha was dwelling peacefully among "the people of the hills," they were attacked by a powerful enemy from the north of the great lakes, who laid waste their villages, and slew men, women and children indiscriminately; utter destruction seemed inevitable. In their dire extremity they appealed to Hiawatha. After thoughtful contemplation he advised a council of all the tribes that could be gathered together saying, "I shall sit in council with you. Our safety is in good counsel and speedy energetic action."6 The council is believed to have been held on the banks of Onondaga (Oh-nen-ta-ha) lake.

    A vast assemblage of chiefs, warriors, men, women and children gathered and kept the council fires burning for three days, awaiting the presence of the venerable Hiawatha, without whom they resolved to not proceed. Messengers were at length dispatched for him; they found him troubled in mind and filled with gloomy forebodings, which had caused him to resolve that he would not attend the council. But he was at length prevailed upon to go, and taking his beloved daughter they embarked in the venerated white canoe and glided down the placid Seneca and into the beautiful Onondaga lake. When they were recognized by the multitude a great shout of welcome rose on the air. As they ascended the steep bank of the lake and approached the council ground, suddenly a loud sound was heard as of rushing winds. All eyes were turned upward, when a dark cloud was behold rapidly closing down upon them, increasing in size as it came nearer. The entire council, with the exception of Hiawatha and his daughter, sought safety in flight. The old man uncovered his silvered head and enjoined his daughter to await the impending calamity with fortitude and resignation. Suddenly, with a mighty swoop, a huge bird, with long and distended wings and a pointed beak, came down and crushed the beautiful girl to the earth, destroying her semblance of humanity, and itself dying in the collision. The great bird was covered with a beautiful white plumage, from which each warrior plucked a plume for his crown. From that time and incident the Iroquois braves have always worn the plumes of the white heron as their martial decoration.

    Despairing and desolate, Hiawatha remained for three days prostrate upon his face on the ground. Every one present shared the old man's grief; he at length gained sufficient composure to enable him to take part in the deliberations of the council. Various plans were discussed, to which Hiawatha listened in silence. When all had concluded, he addressed the council. After briefly alluding to his own bereavement, he referred to the threatened invasion, and suggested that they should reflect for one day upon the speeches that had been made. The following day the council again assembled and amid breathless silence listened to the following words from the sage counselor:---

    "Friends and Brothers: You have come many of you a great distance from your homes; you have convened for one common purpose, to promote one common interest, and that is to provide for our common safety. 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. Let this be done and we are 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.

    "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.

    "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.

    "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, Narrangansetts, 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 friendship and alliance.

    "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 be 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 adjourned one day to give time for due consideration of this address and its recommendations. Upon assembling the next day the wisdom of the propositions of Hiawatha was unanimously conceded; and thus, according to tradition, was formed that remarkable league of the five Indian nations which no outward power has been able to break. Whatever may have been the actual circumstances surrounding its origin, its wonderful effectiveness, its permanency and its adaptability to its purposes cannot be questioned and stamp the mind that conceived it as a genius of the highest order.

    Having accomplished his work on earth and admonished by the death of his daughter that his mission was ended, Hiawatha prepared to take his departure. As the assembled council was about to separate, he arose in a dignified manner and said:---

    "Friends and Brothers: I have now fulfilled my mission on the earth. I have done everything that can be done at present for the good of this great people. Age, infirmity and distress set heavily upon me. During my sojourn among 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 died away, sweet sounds were heard in the air; and, while all attention was directed to the celestial melody, Hiawatha, seated in the white canoe, arose in mid air, and the clouds shut him out from earthly sight; the while the melody gradually died away and ceased.

    Parkman considered that "both reason and tradition point to the conclusion that the Iroquois formed originally one people. Sundered, like countless other tribes, by dissension, caprice, or the necessities of a hunter's life they separated into five distinct nations."7

    Clark, the able historian of Onondaga county, says: "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 river. 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."

    The central and unique characteristic of the Iroquois league was not the mere fact of five separate tribes being confederated together; such unions have been frequent between different civilized and half-civilized peoples, though little practiced among the savages of North America. The peculiar feature that distinguished the "People of the Long House" from, probably, all the world beside, and which bound together this great band of ferocious warriors as with a living chain, was their system of clans, which extended through all the different tribes. The word "clan" is used as best representing the peculiar artificial families established by the Iroquois, and not because their clan system resembled any other. No light tie could hold in harmonious devotion to a common interest such a fierce and barbarous people as these. The problem was eminently worthy of the mind that solved it; as solved, it held them inflexibly, yet unrestrainedly, to all matters relating to their federated existence, and at the same time secured the utmost freedom and elasticity in their tribal and national relations---a most important consideration with a people entertaining the highest possible regard for personal liberty.

    The Iroquois Confederacy was divided into nine of these clans, or families, the names of which were as follows: Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Turtle, Deer, Snipe, Heron, Hawk and Potatoe. When the union was affected each of the original five tribes into which each of the five nations was divided, transferred one-fifth of its numbers to every other nation.8 These tribes, or clans, 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 clan constituted a family, and while all of its members were accounted brothers and sisters, they were also brothers and sisters of the members of all the other clans having the same device, or name. The indissoluble and powerful bond thus formed by the ties of consanguinity, was still further strengthened through the marriage relation. Marriage was originally prohibited between members of the same division, but in time the restriction was limited to those of the same clan. It was held to be an abomination for two persons of the same clan to intermarry, and the prohibition was strictly enforced; hence every individual family must contain members from at least two of the clans or tribes. The child belonged to the clan of the mother, not the father, from whom it inherited nothing. All rank, titles and possessions passed through the female.

    Every member of each clan being thus taught from infancy that they belonged to the same family, a bond of the strongest possible kind was created throughout the Confederacy. The Oneida of the Wolf clan no sooner appeared among the Cayugas, for example, than those of the same clan took him in charge as their special guest, and admitted him to the most confidential intimacy. The Seneca of the Turtle clan might wander into the country of the Mohawks, at the farthest extremity of the "Long House;" but there he had a claim upon his brother Turtles which they would not think of repudiating. If at any time an inclination was felt toward conflict between different tribes, it was instantly checked by the knowledge that if persisted in, the hand of the Heron might be lifted against his brother Heron in another clan; the hatchet of the Bear might be hurled at the head of his kinsman Bear. And so powerful was this influence that for two centuries, or more, and until the league was disintegrated by overwhelming outside forces, there were no serious dissensions between the tribes of the Iroquois, Surely it was one of the most remarkable confederacies in the history of the world.

    "This system of clanship, "says Parkman, "was of very wide prevalence. Indeed, it is more than probably 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 son of a chief could never be chief by hereditary title, though he might become one through personal merit; but a grandson, great-grandson or nephew might succeed him.9

    This rule, though binding, was quite elastic, and capable of reaching to the farthest limits of the clan --- each of which was allowed to select its chief from among its own members. Almost invariably the chief was succeeded by a near relative, and always on the female side; but if such were manifestly unfit, his successor was chosen at a council of the tribe from among remoter kindred, in which case he was proposed by the matron of the late chief's household.10 In any event the choice was never adverse to the popular decision. The new chief was inducted into office by a formal council of the sachems of the league; on assuming his office he dropped his own name and substituted that which, since the formation of the confederacy, had belonged to his especial chieftainship. He was required to be a skillful hunter, and liberal with his game. He must also be a good physician, able to advise and assist the sick under every combination of circumstances. It was his duty to care for orphans, to harbor strangers, and to keep order in his town. But he, like the sachem, had no power of compulsion; he must keep up his reputation and control by a courteous, prudent and winning behavior.11

    The tribes were by no means equal in numbers, distinction and power. So marked were the differences that, according to Colden and other writers, only the three most prominent were recognized by some early observers - those of the Turtle, the Bear and the Wolf; and yet, with no other law than common usage under this league, and no means of enforcing justice, these uncultured savages dwelt together in communities aggregating thousands, with a harmony that civilization might envy.

    In reference to social matters, Parkman says that, "though vain, arrogant, boastful and vindictive, these Indians 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 rivaled some of his civilized successors. All Indians, and especially these 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 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.12 Among the Iroquois and Herons, 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, where, 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 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."

    According to the same writer, there was another council besides the general council, between which and that of the subordinate chiefs the line seems not to have been very clearly defined. It appears to have been essentially popular, and popular in the best sense. Any man took part in it whose age and qualifications fitted him to do so. It was merely the gathered wisdom of the nation. Lafitau, the Jesuit, who was familiar with the Iroquois at the height of their prosperity, compared it to the Roman Senate, and defines it as the central and controlling power, so far, at least, as the separate nations were concerned. He describes it as "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 the Grand Council of Venice."

    The warriors also had their councils, and the women, too; and the opinions and wishes of both were represented by deputies in the councils of the old men, as well as in those of the sachems. Indeed, the government of this unique republic rested wholly in councils; therein all questions --- of social, political, military and religious matters --- were settled. In this blending of individual, family, tribal, national and federal interests, lay the secret of the marvelous power of the Iroquois --- a power which for a century and a half successfully opposed the hostilities of the French; which made them, during the century from 1664 to 1763, an unconquerable mass between the contending French and English colonists in America, alike feared and courted by both; which enabled them to exterminate or subdue the neighboring tribes with whom they had long waged wars.

    The Iroquois were not always the fierce and blood-thirsty people which they were found to be when the French made their first settlements in Canada. The circumstances which led them to measurably forsake their former occupations of peaceful husbandry and the chase, and involved them in a war with the Adirondacks, are thus graphically narrated by Colden: "The Adirondacks formerly lived three hundred miles above the Trois Rivieres, where now the Utowawas are situated; at that time they employed themselves wholly in hunting, and the Five Nations made the 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 more expert in hunting, and more able to endure fatigue, then 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,13 without being apprehensive of the resentment of the Five Nations; for they looked upon them as men not capable of taking any 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 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 being 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."

    While the war was waging between the Adirondacks and the Iroquois, the French colonists, having already shown their enmity to the latter, drew most of the other nations to Quebec, through the influence of the fur trade, and supplied them with firearms. These nations then joined in the war against the Iroquois, and the Adirondacks resolved upon the utter destruction of the Five Nations; but their discipline had become weakened by the restlessness of the younger warriors, a fact that the Iroquois were not slow to discover and take advantage of. They became more than ever obedient to the counsels of their chiefs, and more active in the execution of every undertaking. They opposed strategy against the superiority in numbers and arms of the enemy, fighting them from ambuscades and causing them severe losses. The Iroquois finally obtained arms from the Dutch, who had begun a settlement on the site of Albany, and the war was vigorously continued until it culminated in the almost utter annihilation of the Adirondacks. Governor Champlain and his French forces learned too late that, in allying to themselves the Adirondacks and other nations not in union with the Confederacy; they had united their fortunes with the conquered instead of with the conqueror. The Quatoghies, or Hurons, who were allied with the Adirondacks, suffered the same disastrous defeat in a fierce battle fought within sight of the French settlement at Quebec.

    With the same terrible, implacable and deadly vengeance the Iroquois pursued and fought other enemies; the Neutrals and the Eries to the westward, and the Andastes in the south, were subsequently almost wiped out of existence as nations, and they became the savage lords of the Continent, their sway extending over the vast territory estimated to be twelve hundred miles long and eight hundred broad, embracing a large part of New England, and reaching to the Mississippi. The French settlers in Canada, and the Cherokees and Catawbas in the far South were all humbled by their power.

    "At one period," says Schoolcraft, "we hear the sound of their war cry along the shores of St. Mary's and at the foot of Lake Superior; at another under the walls of Quebec, where they finally defeated the Hurons under the eyes of the French. They place the Lanappes, the Nanticokes and Muncees under the yoke of subjection. They put the Metoacks and Manhattans under tribute. They spread the terror of their name all over New England. They traveled the whole length of the Appalachian Chain, and descended like the enraged Yagisho and Megalonyx on the Cherokees and Catawbas. Smith encountered their warriors in the settlement of Virginia, and La Salle on the discovery of the Illinois."

    From these conquered nations the Iroquois exacted tribute, and drew conscripts for their armies. The Tuscaroras, of the Carolinas, were incorporated into the Confederacy in 1713, after which it was known as the Six Nations. From their great valor and success in war, and the extent of territory conquered by them, they have been aptly termed, "the Romans of the New World." When it is remembered that probably at no time could they bring into the field more than two thousand of their own warriors, and yet subjugated nations twice as large in numbers, and spread terror among the French settlements in Canada, threatening their utter destruction, the wonder of their achievements is almost overwhelming.

    Yet their military organization was scarcely worth the name, though it was doubtless, better than that of some of the other nations. They rarely acted in perfect concert as a great Confederacy; their warfare being commonly carried on by detached parties. They were in a chronic state of war. The inveterate pursuit of the Hurons, Eries and Andastes, for example, all of whom were valorous and mighty nations, forms an unexplained passage in their history. Any one of their warriors who might desire to avenge even a personal affront, or desired to distinguish himself in battle, might take the war path, followed by whomsoever he could attract to his cause. He first communicated his design to two intimate friends; if they approved it, an invitation was extended in their names to the warriors of the village to attend a feast of dog's flesh, which was always partaken of at such times. There the purpose was publicly proclaimed; the war dance and war songs were indulged in, and the leader hurled his hatchet into the war post. Any who chose joined him; and, after a night of gluttonous debauchery, the war party set out, decked in their finest apparel, and their faces hideously painted. They were accompanied on such occasions by the women, who took with them the old clothing of the warriors, and brought back the finery in which they marched forth. These expeditions generally provoked retaliation, when vengeance was wreaked on any of the offending nations with whom they came in contact. Consequently the history of Indian warfare is largely a record of daring deeds performed by individuals and small bands of warriors, who, ambushed and otherwise, constantly harassed their enemies, tortured their captives, and kept them in continual fear. This mode of warfare was what so distressed and decimated the American colonies in their early settlements.

    The discipline and personal bravery of the Iroquois were adapted to the forests in which their warfare was most effective. In an open country, against a drilled and disciplined force of white soldiers, they were less to be dreaded. "Their true superiority was a moral one. They were in one of those transports of pride, self-confidence, and rage for ascendancy which, in a savage people, marks an era of conquest.14 They were proud, arrogant, vindictive, sagacious and subtle, esteeming themselves by nature as superior to other mankind." They styled themselves, "Onguehonwe," signifying, "men surpassing all others;" and great care was taken to instill this idea into the minds of their children.

    The military status of the Iroquois is differently estimated by different authors; while it would scarcely be just to compare them with civilized armies, they would not, in many respects, suffer by such a comparison. De Witt Clinton awards them the following works of high praise: "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 Carthaginians. To produce death by the most protracted suffering was sanctioned among them by general immemorial usages."

    The cruel and remorseless tortures inflicted by the Iroquois upon their captives forms a dark page in their history, while the fortitude and heroism with which they themselves endured such tortures is the marvel of civilization. Even women were not exempt from them; but let it be said to their credit that they never violated the persons of their female prisoners, however shameless were their practices among themselves.15 Bancroft significantly says: "We call them cruel; but they never invented the thumbscrew, or the boot, or the rack, or broke on the wheel, or exiled bands of their nations for opinion's sake, and never protected the monopoly of a medicine man by the gallows, or the block, or by fire."

    That the Iroquois were superior to other nations of their race in the western hemisphere, and even to the civilized races of Mexico and Peru, is proved by the average size of their brain, which, as found by Mr. Morton, averaged eighty-eight inches in five crania; this is within two inches of the Caucasian mean. Among this remarkable family were found the fullest development of Indian character and intelligence. "They unified and systematized the elements which, among other nations, were digressive and chaotic."

    There were, also, strongly marked physical differences between the Indian tribes. The Iroquois were erect, commanding and dignified; they were reserved and haughty, cool, deliberate and cunning. Other nations, with different habits, were more nervous, social and excitable, and less commanding in figure. The causes of these differences are thus pointed out by Charles T. Hoffman, esq.: "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 have again a decided advantage in figure and gait over the fishing and trapping tribes of the northwest 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 a 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 subsistence for his wife and children."

    The settlement of this continent by representatives of European nations, as hereafter further referred to, was alike the precursor of the downfall of the great Iroquois Confederacy and the ultimate entire extinction of the American Indian; a result due more to the individual character and mental structure of the conquered, than to any special defects in the organization of the Confederacy. They lacked the mental capacity and tractability to enable them to adapt themselves to the conditions essential to their permanence among or adjacent to the new race. What might have been the result had the Indians been brought more, or even as much, in contact with the virtues of the Europeans, as with their vices, it profits nothing to inquire. As it was, their savage nature seems to have been intensified, rather than subdued or modified. While the labors of the early missionaries, heroic and unselfish as they were, undoubtedly had a good influence, their own records give ample evidence of the difficulties attending the conversion of the savages; instances of genuine and permanent conversion have been extremely rare. Father Gabriel Marest, a missionary of 1712, said: "It is necessary first to transform them into men, and afterwards to labor to make them Christians;" which epitomizes the whole problem; and it appears to have been easier to make a Christian of a man then a man of an Indian, in the sense intended by the missionary, Marest.

    The large liberties granted by the peculiar Confederacy was an element of danger to a people given, as they were, to the gratification of their appetites and passions. Thus licensed and then brought in contact with the questionable policy of the Europeans towards them the consequences could not well have been otherwise than that they were. Their decline may be said to have begun when their conquests ended. They soon fell into a hopeless dependency without the means, and probably without the ambition or the desire, to oppose the rapid encroachments of the whites upon their domain. As early as 1753 their dissolution was foreshadowed, though it did not actually occur until about a quarter of a century later. At a conference with the Six Nations at Onondaga, September 8th, 1753, Colonel William Johnson thus addressed 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 fireplace, that you may use it for cleaning all dust, dirt, &c., 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 arrival among You that the fine Shady Tree which was planted by your forefathers for your ease and Shelter should be now leaning, 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 upon 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 is set up and flourishes; I must now insist upon your quenching the 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. History, Vol. II., 653.


1 - Bancroft's History of the U.S., II, 417.
2 - History of the U. S., II 460-61.
3 - Iroquois was not a name applied by the Indians to themselves, but was given them by the French and is said to have been formed from two Indian words; but its meaning is veiled in obscurity. By the Dutch the five confederated nations were called "Maquas." They distinguished themselves as "Mingoes," meaning "United People," Parkman says, 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. Ruttenber says they bore the title of "Aquinosbione," or "Konosbioni," having the same meaning.
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 Tutelos removed to the north and were incorporated into the Confederacy, the former in 1715 becoming its sixth member, and the latter in 1758.---Indian Tribes of Hudson's River, RUTTENBER.
5 - Signifying, says Clark's Onondaga, "I see everywhere and see nothing."
6 - Other writers give this as "Our safety is not alone in the club and dart, but in wise counselS;" or, "Become a united people and you will conquer your enemies."
7 - Parkman's Jesuits.
8 - Accounts differ, some declaring that every clan (or tribe) extended through all the tribes, and others that only the Wolf, Bear and Turtle clans did so. It is certain, however, that each tribe, Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas or Senecas, contained a part of the three clans named, and of several of the others.---Johnson's History of Erie County.
9 - Champlain noticed this law of descent among the Hurons in 1615, and probably referred it to its true origin, namely, a child must be the son of his mother, while he might 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 some years before, by Capt. John Smith, with reference to the tribes in Virginia.
10 - Lafitau.
11 - Loskiel.
12 - In referring to the charity of the Indians, Ragueneau wrote in his Relation: "As often as we have seen tribes broken up, towns destroyed, and people driven to flight, we have seen them to the number of seven or 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."
13 - 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 not to bringing 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 affected 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. Some have held that the murderer was given the relatives 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 intimates that the punishment of death may be inflicted. Under these regulations, capital crimes were rare.
14 - Parkman's Jesuits.
15 - This forbearance towards female captives was probably the result of superstition, rather than an inherent heroic virtue, to which some writers ascribe it. Early writers bear abundant testimony of their unchastity…..Morgan, one of their most earnest advocates of the present day, admits that the passion of love among them had no other than an animal existence.---COLDEN, PARKMAN, and Documentary History.


Transcribed by Darlene Koch - March, 2005.

1885 History of Cortland County

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