Collection: Notes on the Iroquois

The County Clerk and the wolf-scalp

A Seneca hunter killed a wolf just within the bounds of Cattaraugus County, close to the Pennsylvania line, and took the scalp to Meadville, Pennsylvania, for the bounty. Being questioned where the animal was killed, he honestly told the officer that he had come across it and shot it, as near as he could tell, within the territory of New York, very near the state and county lines. On this, the clerk told him that it would be contrary to law to pay him the bounty. “That is a bad law!” replied the red man. ” Why V said the magistrate “we cannot pay for scalps taken out of the county.” “It is bad,” replied the hunter, “because you require that the wolf should know the county lines. Had this wolf seen a flock of sheep just within the Pennsylvania lines, I dare say he would not have stopped for the county lines.” On this, the magistrate paid him the bounty of five dollars. 1N. T. Strong, Esq. Footnotes:   [ + ] 1. ↩ N. T. Strong,...

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Iroquois Forays into the Country of the Cherokees and Catawbas

Nothing is more distinct or better settled in the existing traditions of the Iroquois, than their wars with some of the southern tribes, particularly the Cherokees. I found this subject first alluded to among the Oneidas, who were hotly engaged in this southern war; after wards among the Onondagas, the Senecas of Tonawanda, the Tuscaroras, and with still increasing particularity, among the Senecas of Buffalo, Cattaraugus, and Teonigono. But I was never able to fix the era of its commencement, or to find an adequate cause for it. It seems almost incredible that a war of this kind should have been carried on, at such a great distance from their central council fire at Onondaga, yet nothing is better established in their reminiscences. They first came into contact, as Tetoyoah told me was his opinion, in the western prairies. The Iroquois are known to have hunted and warred far and wide in that quarter. The two nations seem to have been deeply and mutually exasperated. Tetoyoah spoke of an act of horrid treachery, the breaking of a peace pledge, and the murder of a peace deputation. The war, however, instead of calling out the banded energies of the confederacy, appears to have been almost entirely one of a partisan character. It is memorable rather for partial enterprises and personal exploits, than for exhibiting the grander features of the military policy of...

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Iroquois Indians and Witchcraft

The belief in witchcraft prevailed extensively among the North American tribes. It is known that even in modern times, it was one of the principal means used by the Shawnee prophet to rid himself of his opponents, and that the venerable Shawnee chief Tarhe and others were sacrificed to this diabolical spirit. Among the Iroquois the belief was universal, and its effects upon their prosperity and population, if tradition is to be credited, were at times appalling. The theory of the popular belief, as it existed in the several cantons, was this. The witches and wizards constituted a secret association, which met at night to consult on mischief, and each was bound to inviolable secrecy. They say this fraternity first arose among the Nanticokes. A witch or wizard had power to turn into a fox or wolf, and run very swift, emitting flashes of light. They could also transform themselves into a turkey or big owl, and fly very fast. If detected, or hotly pursued, they could change into a stone or rotten log. They sought carefully to procure the poison of snakes or poisonous roots, to effect their purposes. They could blow hairs or worms into a person. While in Onondaga, James Gould, one of the original settlers on the Military Tract, told me that he had been intimate with Webster, the naturalized Onondaga, who told him many things...

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Who were the Eries?

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. 1Vide Appendix. 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...

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War with the Kah Kwahs

Some inquiries have been made in a prior paper, on the strong probabilities of this people, being identical with the Ererions or Eries. While this question is one that appears to be within the grasp of modern inquiry, and may be resumed at leisure, the war itself, with the people whom they call Kah-Kwahs, and we Eries is a matter of popular tradition, and is alluded to with so many details, that its termination may be supposed to have been an event of not the most ancient date. Some of these reminiscences having found their way into the newspapers during the summer in a shape and literary garniture, which was suited to take them from the custody of sober tradition, and transfer them to that of romance, there was the more interest attached to the subject, which led me to take some pains to ascertain how general or fresh their recollections of this war might be. My inquiries were answered one evening at the mission house at Buffalo, by the Allegany chief, Ha-yek-dyoh-kunh, or the Wood cutter, better known by his English name of Jacob Blacksnake. He stated that the Kah-Kwahs had their chief residence at the time of their final defeat, on the Eighteen-mile creek. The name by which he referred to them, in this last place of their residence, might be written perhaps with more exactitude to the...

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Vocabulary of the Tuscarora

Vocabulary of the Tuscarora 1 God, Ya wuhn ne yuh. 2 Devil, Oo na sa roo nuh. 3 Man, Ehn kweh. 4 Woman, Hah wuhn nuh. 5 Boy, Kun chu kweh’r. 6 Girl, Ya te ah cha yeuh. 7 Child, Kats ah. 8 Father (my), E ah kre ehn. 9 Mother (my), E a nuh. 10 Husband (my), E na yah keah wuhn te kehn rea nuhn. 11 Wife (my), (The same word as for my husband.) 12 Son (his), Trah wuhn ruh, nuh nuhn, a ne hah. 13 Daughter (his), Tra wuhn ruh, nuhn, kah-nuhn nuhn. 14 Brother (my), E ah ke ah t’keuh. 15 Sister (my), Eah keah nuhn nooh’r. 16 An Indian, Reuh kweh hehn weh. 17 Head, Yah reh. 18 Hair (his), Trah wuhn ruh, rah weh rah wuhn. 19 Face (his), Trah wuhn ruh, rah keuh seuh keh. 20 Forehead (his), Trah wuhn ruh, keuh neuh keh. 21 Scalp, Trah wuhn ruh, nuh reh. 22 Ear his Trah wuhn ruh kunh nunh keh. 23 Eye his…Trah wuhn ruh kunh kahreuhkeh. 24 Nose his…Trah wuhn ruh kunh u cheuh seuh keh. 25 Nostril his…Trah wuhn ruh kunh cheuh kah reuh. 26 Mouth his…Trah wuhn ruh kunh skahreuh. 27 Tongue his…Trah wuhn ruh kunh reuh toh neuh keh. 28 Tooth his…Trah wuhn ruh kunh rah tooh tseh. 29 Beard his…Trah wuhn ruh kunh sooh keh reh....

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Traditions of their Wars with Monsters, Giants and Supernatural Phenomena

It is proposed to narrate a few passages of their early wars with monsters and giants, the two prominent objects in the foreground of their traditions. If it be thought, in perusing them, that mythology and superstition mingle too freely with real events or actions, to which the mind makes no exception, that is a matter upon which we have nothing to offer. Let it rather be considered as a proof of the authenticity of the narrative for certainly there could be no stronger-indication of a contrary character, than to find the Indian narrator relating a clear, consistent chain of indisputable facts and deductions to fill up the foreground of his history. What is said of such creations tallies admirably with their belief, at the present day, and harmonizes with itself, and with that state of proud heathendom, adventurous idolatry, and wild and roving independence in which they lived. Who but an Aonaod? who but an Iroquois? could enact such a part, or believe that his ancestors ever did? To be great, and admired and feared, they roved over half America in quest of beasts and men. Surely, the man should be allowed to tell his own story in his own way, with all the witchcraft and spirit-craft he has a mind to bring to bear upon it. No people in the world have ever, probably, so completely mingled...

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The Graveyard Serpent and Corn Giant

Seneca tradition states that they formerly lived on the Chippewa River, near Niagara Falls, Canada. One year, while thus located, they were visited by a calamitous sickness, and their corn was blighted. Their prophet dreamt, one night, that a great serpent laid tinder the Tillage, with his head to the graveyard, and that it devoured all the bodies buried. This gave a most offensive breath, which was the cause of the sickness. He also dreamt that there was a great giant under the cornfield, who ate up the corn. When he revealed these dreams to the chiefs, they determined to abandon the town, and immediately removed to Buffalo Creek. The serpent soon followed them, and entered the mouth of the creek; but the Great Spirit, whose especial favorites they ever were, sent lightning to destroy it. The monster, however, proceeded up the stream, until the arrows from above fell so thick, that he was obliged to turn. His great size made him press against the shores, and break off the ground, and this is the cause of the expanse of the river three miles above its mouth. Before he reached the mouth of the stream, however, the arrows had cut him apart and thus they escaped this scourge. When they went back to visit their old town on the Chippewa River, they found the giant who had eaten up...

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St. Regis Colony, or Band

This community is an off-shoot of the Iroquois stock, but not a member of the confederacy. It originated in the efforts commenced about the middle of the 17th century, by the Roman Catholic church of France, to draw the Iroquois into communion with that church. It was, however, but a part of the public policy, which originated in the reign of Louis XV., to colonize the Iroquois country, and wrest it from the power of the British crown. When this effort failed, replete as it was with wars, intrigues and embassies, battles and massacres, which make it the heroic age of our history, the persons who had become enlisted in the ritual observances of this church, were induced to withdraw from the body of the tribes, and settle on the banks of the St. Lawrence, in the area of the present county of St. Lawrence. It was, in effect, a missionary colony. Its members were mostly Mohawks, from Caughnawaga, with some Oneidas, and perhaps a few of the Onondagas, amongst whom there had been Catholic missions and forts established, at early dates. The exertions made to organize this new canton were, politically considered, at direct variance with the colonial policy of New York, and were therefore opposed by the persons entrusted by the crown with Indian affairs, and also by the councils of the confederacy. Those persons who composed it...

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Red Jacket and the Wyandot Claim to Supremacy

At a great council of the western tribes, assembled near Detroit, prior to the late war, the celebrated Seneca orator, Red Jacket, was present, when the question of the right of the Wyandots to light the council fire, was brought up. This claim he strenuously resisted, and administered a rebuke to this nation in the following terms: “Have the Quatoghies forgotten themselves? Or do they suppose we have forgotten them? Who gave you the right in the west or east, to light the general council fire? You must have fallen asleep, and dreamt that the Six Nations were dead! Who permitted you to escape from the lower country? Had you any heart left to speak a word for yourselves? Remember how you hung on by the bushes. You had not even a place to land on. You have not yet done p___g for fear of the Konoshioni. High claim, indeed, for a tribe who had to run away from the Kadarakwa. 1Hon. Albert H. Tracy. “As for you, my nephews,” he continued, turning to the Lenapees, or Delawares,” it is fit you should let another light your fire. Before Miqùon came, we had put out your fire and poured water on it; it would not burn. Could you hunt or plant without our leave? Could you sell a foot of land? Did not the voice of the Long House...

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Principles of the Iroquois Government

No one has attended to the operations of the Iroquois government and polity, as they are developed in their councils and meetings for general consultation and action, without perceiving a degree of intricacy in its workings, which it is difficult to grasp. Or rather, the obscurity may be said to grow out of the little time and the imperfect opportunities which casual observes have to devote to the object. For, maturely considered, there is no inherent difficulty in the way. It seems clear that they came together as independent tribes, who, at an early age, had all proceeded from the same parental stock, but who, after an indefinite period of fighting and wars, became, convinced of the short-sightedness of such a course, and fell on the plan of a confederation which should produce general action, and yet leave the several members free, both in their internal polity, and in the exercise of most of their co-tribal powers. It was clearly a con federation for common purposes of defense and offense, and not a perfect union. Each tribe, or more properly speaking, canton, was still governed by its own chiefs, civil and military. They came together in general councils, by sachems, exercising the power of delegates. These delegates or sages came in their hereditary or elective character, as the case might be, or as the customs and laws of the...

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Origin and History of the Oneidas

This canton of the Iroquois nation, deduces its origin in a remote age, from the Onondagas, with the language of which, the Oneida has the closest affinity. According to a tradition which was related to me, and which is believed to be entitled to respect, they are descended from two persons, who, in their obscure ages, and before a confederation had been thought of, went out from the people at Onondaga, and first dwelt at the head of the Oneida river. After increasing in numbers, they removed to the outlet of the Oneida creek, which flows into Oneida Lake....

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Origin and History of the Iroquois, as a Distinct People

The first period of Indian history having thus terminated in dis cords, wars, and the mutual destruction of each other, tradition does not denote how long the depopulation of the country continued. It begins a second period by recollections of the Konoshioni, or Iroquois. They do not indicate what relation they bear to the ancient, broken down confederacy glanced at, in the preceding paper; but leave us to suppose that they may have been fragmentary descendants of it. That such a conclusion should not be formed, however, and in order to prove themselves an original people in the land, they frame a new myth, to begin their national existence. They boldly assert, that they were, through some means, confined in a mountain, from whose sub-terraneous bowels they were extricated by Taryenyawagon, the Holder of the Heavens. They point to a place at or near the falls of the Oswego River, where this deliverance happened, and they look to this divine messenger, who could assume various shapes, as the friend and patron of their nation. 1Where the Indians dwelt for a long time, it is customary for them to affirm in their metaphorical language, that they originated, or were created. When they date from such a spot, we find they frame a story, saying that they came out of a hill, &c. at that spot. In 1791, an extensive work,...

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The Onondagas Indians

Onondaga was, from the remotest times, the seat of the Iroquois government. Granting credence to the account of their own origin, on the high grounds or falls of the Oswego, they had not proceeded far up the course of the widely gathered waters of this stream, when a portion of them planted their wigwams in this fertile region. Whatever was the cause of their migrating from their primary council fire, nothing was more natural than that, by pursuing this stream upward, they should separate into independent tribes, and by further tracing out its far spread forks, gradually expand themselves, as they were found by the discoverers and first settlers, over the entire area of western New York. On reaching the grand junction of Three River Point, a part went up the Seneca river, who subsequently dividing, formed the Senecas and Cayugas. The bands who took the eastern fork, or Oneida River, pushed forward over the Deowainsta, or Rome summit, into the first large stream, flowing east, and became the Mohawks. The central or Onondaga fork was chosen by the portion who, from the hill country they first located in, took this name; and from them, the Oneidas, pursuing in fact the track of the Mohawks, were an off-shoot. That such was the general route, and causes of their separation, appears as evident as strong probabilities, in coincidence with their...

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Oneida Vocabulary

224 Alive Loon ha. 225 Dead La wan ha yun. 226 Life Yun ha. 227 Death Ya wu ha yah. 228 Cold Yutholah. 229 Hot Yu ta le han. 230 Sour Ta yo yo gis. 231 Sweet Ya wa gon. 232 Bitter Yutskalot. 233 I Ee. 234 Thou Eesa. He she. 235 He or she La oon ha a oon ha. 236 We Tat ne jah loo 237 You Eesa. 238 They Lo no hah. 239 This Kah e kah. 240 That To e kuh. 241 All A quR kon. 242 Part Ta kah ha sioun. 243 Many A so. 244 Who Hon ka. 245 Near Ac tah. 246 Far-off E non. 247 To-day Ka wan da. 248 Yesterday Ta tan. 249 To-morrow A yul ha na. 250 Yes Ha. 251 No Yah ten. 252 Perhaps To ga no nah. 253 Above A nah kan. 254 Wonder An ta ka. 255 Within Na gon. 256 Without Ats ta. 257 On Ka ha le. 258 Something Ot hok no ho ta. 259 Nothing Ya ha ta non. 260 One Ans cot. 261 Two, Da ga nee. 262 Three Ha son. 263 Four Ki ya lee. 264 Five Wisk. 265 Six Yah yak. 266 Seven Ja dak. 267 Eight Ta ka Ion. 268 Nine Wa tlon. 269 Ten O ya lee. 270 Eleven Ans cot ya wa la. 271 Twelve Da...

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