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The Iroquois were not always the same fierce, rapacious and blood-thirsty people which they are now familiarly known to have been, but were once engrossed in the peaceful pursuits of the husbandman. Colden graphically relates the circumstances which led them in a measure to forsake that occupation, and involved them in a war with the Adirondacks, in which they were engaged when the French first settled Canada. We quote:
“The Adirondacks formerly lived three hundred miles above Trois Rivers, where now the Utawawas are situated; at that time they employed themselves wholly in hunting, and the Five Nations made 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 much more expert in hunting, and able to endure fatigue, than 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,1 without being apprehensive of the resentment of the Five Nations; for they looked upon them as men not capable of taking any great 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 near 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.”2
While the Iroquois were waging war with the Adirondacks, the French, who early signalized their enmity to the former, had, by the establishment of their fur trade, drawn most of the neighboring nations to Quebec, and supplied them with firearms.
These nations joined in the war against the Iroquois. The Adirondacks now resolved on the utter destruction of the Five Nations; but their young warriors, from their superiority in numbers and arms, became rash and insolent and restive under the disciplinary restraints of their chiefs. The Iroquois, who were thrown on the defensive by the rash impetuousness of their enemies, soon discovered the advantages they gained by this want of discipline, and became themselves more submissive to their chiefs and diligent in executing any enterprise. They opposed strategy, for which they were so conspicuously distinguished,3 to the superiority in numbers and arms of the enemy, who were adroitly drawn into ambuscades and thereby suffered great losses. This warfare was continued until it culminated in the disastrous defeat and dispersion of the Adirondacks and their allies, the Quatoghies, or Hurons, in a terrible battle fought within sight of the French settlements at Quebec. They pursued these enemies to their place of refuge with a relentless persistence which only relaxed with their dispersion and almost utter extermination.
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With the same terrible, deadly vehemence they pursued other enemies, prominent among whom were the Neutrals and Eries to the west and the Andastes to the south of them, their vengeance never satiated until they were wiped out of existence as nations. Thus they eventually became the dictators of the Continent, their sway extending over a territory estimated to be twelve hundred miles long by eight hundred broad, embracing a large part of New England and reaching thence to the Mississippi; while the French occupants of Canada, and the Cherokees and Catawbas in the far south were humbled by their power. But they held in actual possession only the limited territory previously described.
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 effected 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. Parkman says the murderer was given them 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 implies that the punishment of death may be inflicted.
The Jesuit Lalemant, while inveighing against a practice which made the public and not the criminal answerable for an offense, admits that heinous crimes were more rare than in France, where the guilty party himself was punished.–Parkman. ↩
History of the Five Indian Nations. ↩
“The Five Nations are so much delighted with stratagems in war, that no superiority of their forces ever makes them neglect them.”–Colden. ↩