The following incident in the verbal annals of Iroquois hardihood and heroism, was related to me by the intelligent Seneca Tetoyoah, (William Jones of Cattaraugus) along with other reminiscences of the ancient Cherokee wars. The Iroquois thought life was well lost, if they could gain glory by it.
HI-A-DE-O-NI, said he, was the father of the late chief Young King. He was a Seneca warrior, a man of great prowess, dexterity, and swiftness of foot, and had established his reputation for courage and skill, on many occasions. He resolved, while the Senecas were still living on the Genesee River, to make an incursion alone into the country of the Cherokees. He plumed himself with the idea, that he could distinguish himself in this daring adventure, and he prepared for it, according to the custom of warriors. They never encumber themselves with baggage. He took nothing but his arms, and the meal of a little parched and pounded corn.1 The forest gave him his meat.
HI-A-DE-O-NI reached the confines of the Cherokee country in safety and alone. He waited for evening before he entered the precincts of a village. He found the people engaged in a dance. He watched his opportunity, and when one of the dancers went out from the ring into the bushes, he dispatched him with his hatchet. In this way he killed two men that night, in the skirts of the woods, without exciting alarm, and took their scalps and retreated. It was late when he came to a lodge, standing remote from the rest, on his course homeward. Watching here, he saw a young man come out, and killed him as he had done the others, and took his scalp. Looking into the lodge cautiously, he saw it empty, and ventured in with the hope of finding some tobacco and ammunition, to serve him on his way home.
While thus busied in searching the lodge, he heard footsteps at the door, and immediately threw himself on the bed from which the young man had risen, and covered his face, feigning sleep. They proved to be the footsteps of his last victim’s mother. She, supposing him to be her son, whom she had a short time before left lying there, said, “My son, I am going to such a place, and will not be back till morning.” He made a suitable response, and the old woman went out. Insensibly he fell asleep, and knew nothing till morning, when the first thing he heard was the mother s voice. She, careful for her son, was at the fireplace very early, pulling some roasted squashes out of the ashes, and after putting them out, and telling him, she left them for him to eat she went away. He sprang up instantly, and fled but the early dawn had revealed his inroad, and he was hotly pursued. Light of foot, and having the start, he succeeded in reaching and concealing himself in a remote piece of woods, where he laid till night, and then pursued his way towards the Genesee, which, in due time he reached, bringing his three Cherokee scalps as trophies of his victory and prowess.
Such are the traditionary facts which are yet repeated by the Iroquois, to console their national pride in their decline. The incident reminds one strongly of the class of daring personal deeds of the noted Adirondack PISKARET, as related by Golden; and it demonstrates how soon the daring traits of one ruling tribe may be adopted and even surpassed by another.
The Tonawandas, who are Senecas, appear to have preserved more distinct recollections of the origin of this war. HOHOEEYUH,2 stated to me, as did TETOYOAH, that it originated from the contact of their hunting parties on the plains of the southwest. But the latter affirms, that the Cherokees were the original offenders, by robbing and plundering a Seneca hunting party, and taking away their skins. Retaliation ensued. Tragic scenes of surprise and treachery soon followed. The Five Nations took up the matter in all their strength. They, contrary to what is above intimated, raised large war parties, and marched through the country to the Cherokee borders, and brought away scalps and prisoners. There are now, he added, descendants of the Cherokees in the third degree living on the Tonawanda reservation. Le Fort, an Onondaga chief, speaking on the same subject, said that there was, some years ago, a chief of pure Cherokee blood, by father and mother, living among them. He had been taken captive when a mere child. The fact being revealed to him after he had obtained the chieftaincy, he went to seek his relatives in the south, and to live and die among them; but after every inquiry, he was unable to find them. The memory of the event of his loss was forgotten. He lingered a time, and then came back to the Senecas, and died among them an example of that severe principle in the policy of this people, which has been before referred to, under the term of WE HAIT WA TSHA, i. e. flesh cut in pieces, and scattered amongst the tribes.
Iroquois tradition on this subject is the same now that it was in 1794. During this year, the interpreters told Col. Timothy Pickering, who was a commissioner on the part of the United States, that there were then living, warriors of the Six Nations, who had marched the whole distance to the Cherokee county, and attacked the latter. In proof of the former wars, they showed him a chief, who was a native Cherokee, born in the Cherokee country, who had been captured when a boy, and invested with this honor in mature life by the Senecas.3 While the foregoing tradition of living Iroquois is strengthened by this coincidence, we are, at the same time, furnished by the latter with a proof that the Iroquois policy was favorable to the rise of talent and bravery, and that whatever be the checks provided by the Totemic System, on the descent of chiefs, the elective feature was ever strongly marked upon their entire government and policy.