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Who were the Eries?

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Louis Hennepin, who was a Recollect, remarks in the original Amsterdam edition of his travels of 1698, that Canada was first discovered by the Spanish, alluding doubtless to the voyage of Cortereal and that it received its first missionaries under the French, from the order of Recollects. These pioneers of the cross, according to this author, made themselves very acceptable to the Hurons or Wyandots, who occupied the banks of the St. Lawrence, and who informed them that the Iroquois pushed their war parties beyond Virginia and New-Sweden, and other parts remote from their cantons. They went, he says, in these wars, near to a lake, which they called Erige or Erie.[1] Now, if they went “beyond Virginia and New Sweden,” they were very remote from Lake Erie, and the assertion implies a contradiction or some ignorance of the geography of the country. This name in the Huron language, he informs us, signifies the Cat, or Nation of the Cat a name, he says, which it derived from the fact that the Iroquois in returning to their cantons, brought the Erige or Erike, captives through it. The Canadians softened this word to Erie. It would appear then, that the Eries either did not occupy the immediate banks of the lake, or else they lived on the upper or more remote parts of it. To be brought captives through it, they must have been embarked at some distance from its lower extremity. This vague mode of expression leaves a doubt as to the actual place of residence of this conquered and, so called, extinct tribe. Whether extinct or not, is not certain. The name is only a Wyandot name. They had others.

From inquiries made among the Senecas, they are, some believe, the same people whom this nation call Kah-kwahs. But we do not advance much by changing one term for another. The inquiry returns, who were the Kah-Kwahs? Seneca tradition affirms that they lived on the banks of Lake Erie, extending eastward towards the Genesee river, and westward indefinitely; and that they were finally conquered in a war, which was closed by a disastrous battle, the locality of which is not fixed; after which they were chased west, and the remnant driven down the Alleghany river. [See: War with the Kah Kwahs.]

Cusick, the Tuscarora archaeologist, who writes the word “Squawkihows,” intimates that these were an affiliated people, and that the remnant after their defeat, were incorporated with the Senecas.

Golden states that after the war with the Adirondacks broke out, say at the end of the 16th century, the Iroquois, to try their courage, went to war against a nation called Satanas,[2] who lived on the banks of the lakes, whom they defeated and conquered, which raised their spirits so much, that they afterwards renewed the war against the Adirondacks and Hurons[3] on the St. Lawrence, and finally prevailed against them.[4]

Satanas, it appears from the same author, is a name for the Shaouanons, Shawanoes, or Shawnees, as the term is variously written; a tribe, it may be further remarked, who are called Chat by the modern Canadian French.

A letter of the missionary Le Moyne, published in the Missionary “Relacions,” and hereto appended, proves that the war with the Eries, whatever may have been its origin or former state, had newly broken out in 1653, and there are references of a subsequent date to denote that by the year 1655, this war had terminated in the disastrous overthrow of this people. They appear to have been then located where the existing traditions of the Senecas place them, namely, west of Genesee River, and at or near Buffalo. We may suppose that up to this period, the Senecas were limited to the eastern banks of the Genesee. And it was probably the results of this war that transferred their council fire from the present site of Geneva or Canandaigua to the Genesee Valley.

When La Salle reached the Niagara River in 1679, but twenty-four years after the close of this Erie war, he found the entire country on its eastern or American banks in the possession of the Senecas. The history and fate of the Eries was then a tradition.

We may here drop the inquiry to be resumed at a future period.

Footnotes

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  1. Vide Appendix.
  2. This word appears to be an English soubriquet, derived from the Dutch language, and is from Satan, a synonym for Duivel. [See Jansen's new Pocket Dictionary, Dortracht 1831.] The plural inflection in o, if this derivation be correct, is duplicated in its meaning, by the corresponding English inflection in s, a practice quite conformable to English orthoepy, which puts its vernacular plural to foreign plurals, as Cherubims for Cherubim, &c.
  3. Called Quatoghies by the Iroquois.
  4. Hist. Five Nations, p. 23, Lond. ed. 1767.

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