Present Condition of the Six Nations

The information contained in this chapter is drawn from Mr. Schoolcraft s abstracts and statistics, presented in his “Notes on the Iroquois.”

In taking the census, ordered by the New York legislature in 1845, and procuring statistics of the agricultural operations of the Iroquois, the author informs us that great objection was made by the Indians to what they considered an officious intermeddling in their affairs. Their suspicions were excited by the novelty of the requisition, and the matter was discussed at great length in their councils. They could not persuade themselves that the government should take such a step from any of the motives urged by those to whom the business was entrusted. It appeared to them most probable that the measure was but a preliminary step to the laying a tax upon their property, and they consequently opposed continual obstacles to a satisfactory completion of the duty assigned. The entire population of the Six Nations, about the middle of the eighteenth century, was computed at six or eight thousand. By other calculations, made a few years later, at the period of the American Revolution, it was supposed to exceed nine thousand.

Conscious as we are of the many causes constantly operating to reduce the numbers of the Indian population; it is a matter of no less surprise than satisfaction to learn that there has been no very material decrease in the Iroquois nation since the extension of civilization over their ancient country. It is pleasing to reflect that some portion of the strange race that formerly held undisturbed possession of the wilds of America, should be preserved to show what advance they are, as a people, capable of making, when aided by the light of civilization.

The tribes of the ancient confederacy are widely scattered. The larger portion of the Oneidas are settled upon a reservation in the vicinity of Green Bay, Wisconsin: smaller villages of the tribe are situated farther southward, near Winnebago Lake. The number of these emigrants was stated in 1844 to be seven hundred a nd twenty-two. The Senecas who have moved westward, were put down at about two hundred and thirty. Fifty-one of the last-mentioned tribe, were resident at Corn-Planter s settlement in Pennsylvania.

The Mohawks, Cayugas, and others on Grand River, in Canada, probably number over two thousand. “We now come to the more certain statistics of the New York census, given as follows, by Mr. Schoolcraft:

Senecas, 2,441
Onondagas, 398
Tuscaroras, 281
Oneidas, 210
Cayugas, 123
Mohawks, 20
St. Regis Canton, 260

He estimates the whole nation, in Canada and the United States, at nearly seven thousand. He supposes, and it would seem very justly, that there has been a period, within the last century, at which their numbers were reduced much below those presented by recent returns; “and that, for some years past, and since they have been well lodged and clothed, and subsisted by their own labor, and been exempted from the diseases and casualties incident to savage life, and the empire of the forest, their population has re covered, and is now on the increase.”

Many satisfactory evidences of thrift and good management, in the shape of saw-mills, school-houses, public buildings, and well-kept farms, appear in the Indian settlements of New York. Nothing seems so conducive to the welfare of this species of our population as a dependence upon their own resources, where the means of advantageous labor are supplied them. The evils of the annuity system, and of the custom of farming out their lands to the whites by the Indians, have been fully and eloquently set forth. The first of these practices has the effect to bring a horde of unprincipled sharpers about the place where the yearly payment is made, who, by the temptations of useless finery, and, far worse, by the offer of the red-man s greatest bane, intoxicating liquors, render the assistance of the government oft-times rather a curse than a blessing. The latter usage is productive of evil by its encouragement of idleness, and by strengthening that sense of pride and self-importance, which distinguishes the race. Where the change in the face of the country, and the introduction of domestic animals have rendered the chase no longer necessary or profitable, the Indian still prefers ranging the woods with his clog and gun, to the endurance of what he esteems servile labor.

Striking exceptions to the above remarks are to be seen in the conduct and employments of many inhabitants of Indian villages in New York. Good husbandry is evident in the management of their farms, and artisans of no mean skill are frequently met with. Some of these Indians, who have turned their attention to the art of working in silver, are said to produce very beautiful specimens of ornamental work, especially in the in-laying of gun-stocks, handles to tomahawks, &c.

A portion of the Senecas, settled upon the Alleghany, occupied themselves in rafting and boating upon the river, and others are engaged in the lake navigation. There seems, indeed, to be no want of bodily or mental capacity in the North American Indian, for the successful pursuit of nearly every trade, profession, and occupation, followed by the whites.

One most beneficial reformation has taken place among some of the Iroquois, in a movement, which, if universally encouraged, would do more to regenerate the red-men, than all other influences combined. We allude to the introduction and formation of temperance societies.

The returns of agricultural products given, at the time of taking the census before-mentioned, in 1845, are extremely gratifying, and may well convince us of the steady and hopeful advance made by the New York Indians in self-reliance and honest industry.

Communications from the missionaries, engaged in the instruction and religious guidance of the Indians dwelling on the different reservations, bear witness to the docility and aptness of their pupils. The Rev. Asher Bliss, in a letter, published in the appendix to Mr. Schoolcraft s notes, observes: “As to the capacity of Indian children for improvement, my own impression is, that there is no essential difference between them and white children.” Of the influence of the Christian religion upon the worldly prosperity of the people among whom he was stationed, (the Senecas of the Cataraugus reservation,) Mr. Bliss speaks enthusiastically. He contrasts “the framed houses and barns, the horses, cattle, sheep and hogs, the acres of improved land; the wagons, buggies and sleighs; the clocks, watches, and various productions of agriculture,” with the destitution and poverty of former times, and exclaims, naturally enough, “What an astonishing change!”