Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Border Wars

by Elizabeth Eggleston Seelye
Assisted by Edward Eggleston
New York
Dodd, Mead and Company, Publishers, 1879.

Chapter One

THE most celebrated of North American Indian nations was the confederation of tribes known as the Five, and subsequently the Six Nations, called by the French the Iroquois, and styled by themselves Ho-de-no-san-nee, or People of the Long House. It is difficult to get any idea of this great savage nation previous to the arrival of white men in North America. Like all barbarous peoples, the Iroquois have carried down volumes of traditions with regard to their origin. One of their legends relates how they and their world were created. According to this tale, there were originally two worlds, an upper and a lower. The latter was in darkness. At one time a woman sank from the upper into the lower world, causing great alarm to the monsters who lived there. They, very hospitably, however, prepared to receive the descending woman. A turtle placed himself on the surface of the water beneath her, while a monster sank into the depths and procured a handful of earth, which he deposited upon the turtle's back, who immediately on receiving the woman became a great island, covered with earth. (So the Indians conceive of the American continent.) This woman was the mother of twin boys; the one - of a gentle disposition was called the Good Spirit, the other, with the opposite characteristics, was called the Evil Spirit.

When the children had grown up, the Good Spirit became dissatisfied with the dark, unfruitful world in which he lived, while the Evil Spirit preferred his home as he had found it. The former, however, took the head of his mother, who was dead, and from it created the sun, which he hung in the heavens. Of her body he made the moon as a lesser light for night, and, according to Indian imagination, traces of the woman's arms and legs may yet be seen on the face of the moon. At the sight of light, the monsters of the water retired into the depths.

The Good Spirit now decorated the great island with streams and forests, animals and fishes. But the Evil Spirit went around marring his work by making on the island waterfalls, mountains, and steep places, which things are evil, being nothing but obstructions, in the eyes of an Indian. The Good Spirit at last created men and women to inhabit the island, and appointed the thunder to water the earth. The Evil Spirit made reptiles and injurious animals, and finally made clay images of the men which his brother had created, and these became apes.

The brothers finally decided to settle by a battle which should be ruler of the world. For two days they fought, leaving a track behind them like the path of a whirlwind. The Good Spirit at last gained the victory, Indian-like, by stratagem. The Evil Spirit, as he fell dying to the ground, declared that he would have equal power with his brother over men's souls after death. Thus he became the dreaded Evil Spirit, while his brother is the Good or Great Spirit.

The Iroquois, or Five Nations, were the wildest, most ferocious and ambitious of Indian peoples. Through the strength of their permanent confederation they swept the country with their conquests, from the Mississippi to Maine, and from Canada to the Southern States. They exterminated whole tribes of Indians, drove other tribes from their territory, and subjugated still others. The French in Canada found the Algonquin Indians of their neighborhood overshadowed with a constant fear of the Five Nations. The Dutch settlers of New York, in their early acquaintance with the Manhattan Indians, discovered them to be in a state of subjugation to these same Five Nations, paying them a yearly tribute of wampum; and even the English in Virginia heard dread tales of the warlike encroachments of a people called the Massawomeks, who were none other than the Iroquois.

When William Penn made his first treaty with the Delaware Indians, he found them as peaceably inclined as the Quakers themselves. They were not lacking, however, in Indian ferocity and barbarity, as they afterward proved when they had moved farther west; but they had been completely subjugated to the overbearing confederacy, which had forced them to lay aside arms and go under the appellation of women, the worst of indignities to an Indian warrior. Once in every year or so, two old Iroquois Indians would go around among the Delawares collecting the tribute money, or wampum, which consisted of beads made of shell. A single Mohawk chief in a ragged blanket and dirty clothes might then be seen domineering over whole bands of degraded warriors.

Traditions are yet handed down in the remnants of eastern Indian tribes incorporated into civilized life of the fierce inroads of the Indians of the Five Nations. The historian Parkman tells with what excitement a Penobscot Indian in Maine would recount traditions of the invasion of the Mohawks, and of the tortures to which this tribe of the Six Nations had put whole villages of his people. " Mohog all devil!" he would exclaim with deep indignation.

Never were Indian tribes better situated for far reaching conquest. The Long House of the Five Nations, as they figuratively styled their country, lay within the limits of the present State of New York. North of them was Lake Ontario and the St. Lawrence; east of them, Lake Champlain and the Hudson; west of them Lake Erie opened a gateway to the other great lakes ; and in the very heart of their country was a network of smaller lakes and rivers. By means of these great natural avenues, the Iroquois Indians, with their birch and elm-bark canoes, could alight upon the homes of their most distant enemies with all the suddenness which is deemed so necessary in savage warfare. The original Iroquois confederacy consisted of but five nations, the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, and as the Five Nations they were known in early history. They were subsequently joined by a tribe of similar speech to their own, the Tuscaroras, who, living farther south, had been their allies in some of their wars, and who, having been driven from their home in a war with the white settlers, were received into the Long House as the sixth nation in the confederacy. The Mohawks were situated at the eastern boundary of the Five Nations, and the Senecas at the western; or, in the Iroquois figure of speech, the Mohawks guarded the eastern door, the Senecas the western door of the house.

This national bond between fierce and jealous tribes could hardly have been permanent if it had not been for that strange Indian institution, the totem. The Six Nations, in common with other Indian tribes, were divided into eight great clans, or totems. These totems were known severally by the names of the Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Turtle, Deer, Snipe, Heron, and Hawk. Members of a totem were bound by the strongest fraternal relations to one another; and as these totems traversed the tribal lines, and were found in all the tribes of the confederacy, they bound it into one nation. An Indian must marry into another totem than his own, while the children belonged to the mother's totem and not to the father's. Thus the chieftaincy or sachemship descended in the female line, as this office belonged only to certain totems. A sachem was succeeded by his brother, by his daughter's son, or by his sister's son. A council of the nations decided upon the successor within the proper limits of their customs of hereditary descent, and if the sachem were not fitted to his office, the council might depose him. This office of peace - chief, as it is sometimes called, is entirely different to that of war-chief, to which an Indian arrives through his own qualities as a leader, and not through any right of descent. He who is bold in battle, or has a gift for leadership, naturally rises to power among the young- braves. So it was with Brant, the warrior, and Red Jacket, the orator; for the great men of the Six Nations were all chiefs and not sachems. In the Onondaga Valley burned the figurative council-fire of the Six Nations, and here stood the national council-house where the great chiefs met to discuss projects of war or treaties of peace. The meeting of this council, which was called by the sachems of any nation when they saw fit, was a great event with the Indians. Belts of wampum, which are a universal token among Indians of an important message, were sent by runners from one nation to the other, and from that nation to the |next. Meanwhile, the news spread to every little Iroquois hunting-party through all the wilderness of their country; and if the question of the moment were of sufficient interest, men, women, and children made the journey, no matter how toilsome, to the place of meeting.

The council-house was a long structure, framed of poles and covered with bark. Around the sides upon rude benches or on the ground, sat the sachems, with perhaps some few favored guests. While a speech was delivered, in a singsong tone, the auditors smoked with perfect stolidity. Now and then, when they agreed with the orator, they would solemnly utter the word " Nee," or " Yes. By way of applause, at the end of a speech, the would call out, " Ho-ho." Meanwhile, the Onondaga sachem who was appointed to keep the wampum belts would receive that which perhaps accompanied this speech. He must have had hundreds of belts, but he could tell just what idea each presented.

At noon two men would enter this solemn assembly, bearing a great kettle of meat swinging from a pole resting on their shoulders. At the side of this kettle hung a capacious wooden ladle, The great kettle was carried around the circle, and each Indian helped himself to an ample supply of meat with the wooden ladle. After dinner the grave council continued as before. The principal towns of the Six Nations were well fortified, being sometimes surrounded with three or four rows of high palisades, and furnished on the inside with platforms for the use of the defenders. Stores of stones were laid up inside to be hurled upon the heads of besiegers; and there were even some sort of water-conduits provided, order that fire from the outside might be extinguished. These fortifications often enclosed several acres, upon which long cabins were built by driving posts into the ground, which were then interlaced with horizontal poles and covered with bark. Through the middle of these structures, sometimes more than a hundred feet in length, ran a hall, and upon each side were small, rude rooms, partitioned off with poles and bark. Several families would occupy one cabin, building their fires the central hall, and using the rooms for sleeping.

Around these fires, m the long wintertime, such traditions as the one we have given at the beginning of the chapter were handed down from parent to child. Here old braves vaunted their deeds of savage warfare ; here Indian youths, chafing under the restraints of an idle life, longed for the excitement of the warpath and the glory of a string of scalps. These villages were surrounded with apple-orchards and fields of corn, beans, and squashes, sometimes several miles in extent.

The Iroquois Indians believe in three sister deities, the Spirit of Corn, the Spirit of Beans, and the Spirit of Squashes, who guard over these fruits of the earth. They naturally enough dread the Spirit of Thunder more than any of their other gods. He is believed to be the messenger of the Great Spirit to punish those who displease him. He lived originally, say the Indians, under Niagara Falls. They, no doubt, imagined that he made the thundering of those great waters.

Among the many poetic legends of the Five Nations is that of Hiawatha, on which Longfellow founded his famous poem. Hiawatha was, they believed, a god who came and lived among the Indians, giving them seeds and teaching them useful arts. He it was who originated the great confederacy of the Five Nations; and when this was accomplished, he ascended into the heavens in his mystic white canoe.

It may be noticed in all Indian warfare that the Indians make every exertion to secure their dead. They believe that unless the body has a proper burial, the spirit will wander upon the earth in misery for some time. For this reason they are accustomed to mutilate the body of an enemy, believing that they are inflicting injuries upon his spirit. According to their vague ideas of a future life, the spirits of the dead must perform a long journey toward the west before they reach their destination. They place beside the body of the deceased his bows and arrows, pipes, and various other treasures, that he may have them in the other world. They also place food upon his grave and build a fire beside it that he may cook it, and thus have something to sustain him during his journey. One authority says that in old times the spirit was supposed to be a year upon his journey, but that it is now believed to be accomplished in three days. We cannot give the reason for this change, except it be on account of the introduction of improved means of travel.

It is estimated that the Five Nations, in the days of their glory, could not have sent four thousand warriors to battle. Nevertheless, the dreaded confederacy was truly formidable to the infant colonies, and more than once it shook Canada almost from her foundations.

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