Collection: Six Nations and History of the Tuscarora Indians

Miss Mary Thayer Labors as a Missionary Teacher

In the year of 1850 there was another school house built by the natives under the proposition of Miss Mary J. F. Thayer. I have here a brief history of her labors among the Tuscarora, from her own writings, which is very interesting, to wit: At the invitation of Rev. G. Rockwood (then the ordained missionary at Tuscarora) Miss M. J. F. Thayer commenced her labors among the Tuscarora as teacher on April 30, 1849, in the old school-house opposite Mr. Rockwood’s house, receiving from the American Board one dollar and fifty cents per week, besides her board. There were but few scholars, and these were very irregular in their attendance. Miss T. visited the parents and tried to get them interested. She finally came to the conclusion that time and money were thrown away on that little day school, and drew up a paper, which was read to the Tuscarora at their New Year’s feast, January 1, 1850, in which she detailed her plans and wishes, asking their aid in executing them. Their response was cordial and hearty. They resolved to build a new school-house; the site was selected on a corner near Isaac Miller’s, and the people, as one man, went to work with great alacrity, under the leadership of one of their chiefs, Wm. Mt. Pleasant, and had, before the next New Year’s, a snug house,...

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The Iroquois, National Traits of Character

In all the early histories of the American Colonies, in the stories of Indian life and the delineations of Indian character, these children of nature are represented as savages and barbarians, and in the mind of a large portion of the community the sentiment still prevails that they were blood-thirsty, revengeful, and merciless, justly a terror to both friends and foes. Children are impressed with the idea that an Indian is scarcely human, and as much to be feared as the most ferocious animal of the forest. Novelists have now and then clothed a few with a garb which excites your imagination, but seldom has one been invested with qualities which you would love, unless it were also said that through some captive taken in distant war, he inherited a whiter skin and a paler blood. But I am inclined to think that Indians are not alone in being savage not alone barbarous, heartless, and merciless. It is said they were exterminating each other by aggressive and devastating wars, before the white people came among them. But wars, aggressive and exterminating wars, certainly, are not proofs of barbarity. The bravest warrior was the most honored, and this has been ever true of Christian nations, and those who call themselves Christians have not yet ceased to look upon him who could plan most successfully the wholesale slaughter of human beings,...

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Laws of North Carolina, A.D. 1780

“An Act to amend an act, entitled an act for quieting and securing the Tuscarora Indians, and others claiming under the Tuscarora, in the possession of their lands. Article I. Whereas, By the said act there is no penalty imposed on the jurors or witnesses duly summoned, and failing to attend. ” Attendance of Jurors. Article II. Be it enacted, &c., That the commissioners by the said act appointed, or any three of them, assembled for the purpose of holding a court, shall, and may inflict fines on jurors or witnesses so failing to attend, not exceeding one hundred pounds, at their discretion; and unless sufficient excuse be to them afterwards shown, cause the same to be levied and applied towards defraying the county expenses of Birtie; and witnesses and jurors who shall attend on the trial of any dispute between the said Tuscarora and others, shall have and receive ten dollars per day for their attendance, to be paid by the party cost with all other cost: and such trials may hereafter be had on the part of the lands belonging to said Tuscarora, Birtie County, which commissioners shall direct.” Read three times and ratified in general assembly, the 10th day of May, A. D. 1780. Signed by Alex. Martin, S. S. Thomas Benbury. S. C.   Laws Of North Carolina, A. D. 1801, Chapter 608, Page 965,...

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Legends of the Iroquois

On long winter evening the Indian hunters gathered around their fireside, to listen to the historical traditions, legends of war and hunting, and fairy tales which had been handed down through their fathers and father’s fathers, with scarcely any variation for centuries, kindling the enthusiasm of the warrior and inspiring the little child some day to realize similar dreams, and hand his name down to posterity as the author of similar exploits. They have superstitious fears of relating fables in summer: not until after snow comes will they relate of snakes, lest they should creep into their beds, or of evil genii, lest they in some way be revenged. It is very difficult for a stranger to rightly understand the morals of their stories, though it is said by those who know them best, that to them the story was always an illustration of some moral or principle. To strangers they offer all the rites of hospitality, but do not open their hearts. If you ask them they will tell you a story, but it will not be such a story as they tell when alone. They will fear your ridicule and suppress their humor and pathos: so thoroughly have they learned to distrust pale faces, that when they know that he who is present is a friend, they will still shrink from admitting him within the secret portals...

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Tuscarora Immigration

In the year 1846, on the 16th day of May, about forty of the Tuscarora immigrated from the reservation to their new homes in the Indian Territory, and in one year about one-third of them died on account of the sufferings they endured. They were destitute of everything, and the Government was to have sustained them for one year, and to build houses for them, and provide all the necessaries of life, but they failed in fulfilling their promises on account of the misconduct of Dr. A. Hogeboom, the moving agent of the emigration party. By reference to official documents in the Indian department it appears that a petition from a small party of discontented emigrationists at the Tuscarora village, dated March 4th, 1845, was sent to the President of the United States, expressing a desire to remove to the West. It also further appears that a letter had been received by the department from a certain D. G. Garnsey, dated May 8th, 1845, stating that a portion of the Seneca, and others of the Six Nations in western New York, were now ready to remove. The Government, justly fearing that there might be persons so anxious to possess themselves of the moneys appropriated by law for the removal and support of emigrating Indians, as to resort to fraudulent means for the purpose, by letters warned the Indian agent...

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Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Six Nations

To animate a kinder feeling between the white people and the Indians, established by a truer knowledge of our civil and domestic life, and of our capabilities for future elevation, is the motive for which this work is founded. The present Tuscarora Indians, the once powerful and gifted nation, after their expulsion from the South, came North, and were initiated in the confederacy of the Iroquois, and who formerly held under their jurisdiction the largest portion of the Eastern States, now dwell within your bounds, as dependent nations, subject to the guardianship and supervision of a people who displaced...

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Four Gallant Warriors

The four gallant warriors now made their way to the settlement at Gau-strau-yea (Kienuka). When they arrived, they saw only the eldest people, from about upwards of sixty-five years of age, and the younger children, from about fourteen years of age and under. While they were traveling they saw two boys picking up sticks for firewood. One of them asked the smaller boy where his father was. The bright little fellow spoke promptly and said, “Gone to war.” Before the older boy could divert his attention by touching him, the little fellow finished his answer. This they took to be news, and immediately dispatched one of their numbers home to make the report. When this one made his report to Onea-gah-re-tah-wa, he at once dispatched runners to the other nations of the league to inform them of what had happened to their father, the Seneca nation, and the desecration of their fort. The three that were left after the one was dispatched home, went onto a settlement of the same nation at Gill Creek, above Niagara Falls, where they found the people the same as at Gau-straw-yea. The elders and the youngers only were at home. They also asked a boy there where his father was. He answered: “At Kah-kwah-ka,” which is south of Buffalo. These three spies took pains to get at Kah-kwah-ka in the night. When they...

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Friendship of the Tuscarora to the United States

The Tuscarora Indians have for more than a century been a firm friend to the United States. In the Revolutionary war they took an active part for the declaration of independence; many took part, but few were enrolled, consequently, but few that drew pension from the United States. For instance, Nicholas Cusick, a Tuscarora Indian; where shall you look for another instance of friendship, greater than his, towards the distinguished Marquis de Lafayette, or for Christian principle more firm and true than he evinced concerning his pension. In the war of the Revolution he was under command of Lafayette. Many years after peace was concluded, as he was passing through Washington, he accidentally heard the name of his old commander spoken of in the office in which he stopped on business. The moment his ear caught the sound, his eyes brightened, and full of earnestness he asked, “Is he yet alive?” “Yes,” was the reply, “he is alive and looking well and hearty.” With decided emphasis, he said, “I am glad to hear it.” “Then you knew Lafayette, Mr. Cusick?” “Oh, yes;” he answered. “I knew him well, and many a time in battle threw myself between him and the bullets, for I loved him .” On asking him if he had a commission, he said, “Yes; General Washington gave me one, and he was Lieutenant.” This suggested to...

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Listen to the Great Spirit

“Listen further to what the Great Spirit has been pleased to communicate to us. He has made us, as a race, separate and distinct from the pale faces. It is a great sin to intermarry and intermingle the blood of the two races. Let none be guilty of this transgression. “At one time the four messengers said to Handsomelake, ‘Lest the people should disbelieve you and not repent and forsake their evil ways, we will now disclose to you the house of torment, the dwelling place of the evil-minded.’ Handsomelake was particular in describing to us all that he witnessed, and the course which departed spirits were accustomed to take on leaving the earth. There was a road which led upward; at a certain point it branched; one branch led straight forward to the house of the Great Spirit, and the other turned aside to the house of torment; at the place where the roads separated were stationed two keepers, one representing the good and the other the evil spirit; when a person reached the fork, if wicked, by a motion of the evil keeper, he turned instinctively upon the road which led to the abode of the evil-minded; but if virtuous and good, the other keeper directed him upon the straight road; the latter was not much traveled, while the former was so frequently trodden that no grass...

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Iroquois Domestic Duties

In the first place, to women, in every well regulated society, should be committed the management of the families and the business connected with the household concerns, and they should be qualified to exercise a salutary influence within their appropriate sphere. Secondly, as mothers they are responsible for the nursing and rearing of their children and for the proper sustenance of them in early life. They are also responsible for the habits of their children, including cleanliness and general propriety of behavior. A sensible, judicious mother can greatly control her children in these matters; she can make them modest or impertinent, ingenuous or deceitful, fearful or intrepid. The germ of all these traits of character exist in childhood, and a mother can repress or strengthen them. Thirdly, a mother is responsible for the principles her children may entertain in early life, and it is for her to say whether they shall be imbued with sentiments of honesty, industry and morality, or with those of a contrary character fraud, idleness and dishonesty. She is, to a very considerable extent responsible for the temper and disposition of her children. Constitutionally he may be irritable or revengeful, but she may correct or repress these passions and in their places instill better feelings. Lastly, and above all, she is responsible for the religious education of her children. The beginning of wisdom is a...

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Iroquois Laws of Descent

At the establishment of the confederacy, fifty sachems were founded and a name assigned to each, by which they are still known, and these names are kept as hereditary from the beginning to the present time. There were also fifty sub-sachems, or war chiefs that is, to every sachem was given a war chief, to stand behind him to do his biddings. These sachem ships were, and are still confined to the five nations; the Tuscarora were admitted into the confederacy without enlarging the framework of the league, by allowing them their own sachems and sub-sachems, or war chiefs, as they inherited from their original nation of North Carolina. But how, it may be asked, is a government so purely popular and so simple and essentially advisory in its character, to be reconciled with the laws of hereditary descent, fixed by the establishment of heraldic devices and bringing its proportion of weak and incompetent minds into office, and with the actual power it exercised and the fame it acquired. To answer this question, and to show how the aristocratic and democratic principles were made to harmonize in the Iroquois government, it will be necessary to go back and examine the laws of descent among the tribes, together with the curious and intricate principles of the clans or tribal bond. Nothing is more fully under the cognizance of observers of...

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Tuscarora Creation Legend

The Tuscarora tradition opens with the notion that there were originally two worlds, or regions of space, that is an upper and lower world. The upper world was inhabited by beings resembling the human race. And the lower world by monsters, moving on the surface and in the waters, which is in darkness. When the human species were transferred below, and the lower sphere was about to be rendered fit for their residence; the act of their transference is by these ideas, that a female who began to descend into the lower world, which is a region of darkness, waters, and monsters, she was received on the back of a tortoise, where she gave birth to male twins, and there she expired. The shell of this tortoise expanded into a continent, which, in the English language, is called “island,” and is named by the Tuscaroras, Yowahnook. One of the children was called Got-ti-gah-rah-quast, or good mind, the other, Got-ti-gah-rak-senh, or bad mind. These two antagonistical principles were at perpetual variance, it being the law of one to counteract whatever the other did. They were not, however, men, but gods, or existences, through whom the Great Spirit, or “Holder of the Heavens,” carried out his purposes. The first work of Got-ti-gah-rah-quast was to create the sun out of the head of his dead mother, and the moon and stars out...

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