Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Indian In His Wigwam
Characteristics of The Red Race of America
From Original Notes and Manuscripts
By Henry R. Schoolcraft
New York
Dewitt & Davenport
Tribune Buildings

This is a lengthy book and covers many of the Red Race who are not native to New York State. Pertinent parts of the book will be posted. abjerry
Thanks to Pamela Wozniak and David Collins for loaning this book for the purpose of using it on our website.


ONTARIO, is a word from the Wyandot, or, as called by the Iroquois, Cluatoghie language. This tribe, prior to the outbreak of the war against them, by their kindred the Iroquois, lived on a bay, near Kingston, which was the ancient point of embarkation and debarkation, or, in other words, at once the commencement and the terminus of the portage, according to the point of destination for all, who passed into or out of the lake. From such a point it was natural that a term so euphonous, should prevail among Europeans, over the other Indian names in use. The Mohawks and their confederates, generally, called it Cadaracqui-which was also their name for the St. Lawrence. The Onondagas, it is believed, knew it, in early times, by the name of Oswego.* Of the meaning of Ontario, we are left in the dark by commentators on the Indian. Philology casts some light on the subject. The first syllable, on, it may be observed, appears to be the notarial increment or syllable of Onondio, a hill. Tarak, is clearly, the same phrase, written darac, by the French, in the Mohawk compound of Cadaracqui; and denotes rocks, i. e. rocks standing in the water. In the final vowels io, we have the same term with the same meaning which they carry in the Seneca, or old Mingo word Ohio.+ It is descriptive of an extended and beautiful water prospect, or landscape. It possesses all the properties of an exclamation, in other languages, but according to the unique principles of the Indian grammar, it is an exclamation-substantive. How beautiful! [the prospect, scene present.]

Erie is the name of a tribe conquered or extinguished by the Iroquois. We cannot stop to inquire into this fact historically, farther than to say, that it was the policy of this people to adopt into their different tribes of the confederacy, the remnants of nations whom they conquered, and that it was not probable, therefore, that the Eries were annihilated. Nor is it probable that they were a people very remote in kindred and language from the ancient Sinondowans, or Senecas, who, it may be supposed, by crushing them, destroyed and exterminated their name only, while they strengthened their numbers by this inter-adoption. In many old maps, this lake bears the name of Erie or "Oskwago."

Huron, is the now, de guerre of the French, for the "Yendats," as they are called in some old authors, or the Wyandots. Charlevoix tells us that it is a term derived from the French word hure, [a wild boar,] and was applied to this nation from the mode of wearing their hair. "Quelles Hures!" said the first visitors, when they saw them, and hence, according to this respectable author, the word Huron.

* Vide a Reminiscence of Oswego.
+ The sound of i in this word, as in Ontario, is long e in the Indian.

When this nation, with their confederates, the Algonquins, or Adirondaks, as the Iroquois called them, were overthrown in several decisive battles on the St. Lawrence, between Montreal and Quebec, and compelled to fly west; they at first took shelter in this lake, and thus transferred their name to it. With them, or at least, at the same general era, came some others of the tribes who made a part of the people called by the French, Algonquins; or Nipercineans, and who thus constituted the several tribes, speaking a closely cognate language, whose descendants are regarded by philologists, as the modern Lake-Algonquins.

The French sometimes called this lake Mer douce, or the Placid sea. The Odjibwas and some other northern tribes of that stock, call it Ottowa lake. No term has been found for it in the Iroquois language, unless it be that by which they distinguished its principal seat of trade, negociation and early rendezvous, the island of Michilimackinac, which they called. Tiedonderaghie.

Michigan is a derivative from two Odjibwa-Algonquin words, signifying large, i. e. large in relation to masses in the inorganic kingdom, and a lake. The French called it, generally, during the earlier periods of their transactions, the lake of the lllinese, or Illinois.

Superior, the most northwesterly, and the largest of the series, is a term which appears to have come into general use, at a comparatively early era, after the planting of the English colonies. The French bestowed upon it, unsuccessfully, one or two names, the last of which was Traci, after the French minister of this name. By the Odjibwa-Algonquins, who at the period of the French discovery, and who still occupy its borders, it is called Gitch-Igomee, or The Big Sea-water; from Gitchee, great, and guma, a generic term for bodies of water. The term IGOMA, is an abbreviated form of this, suggested for adoption.

The poetry of the Indians, is the poetry of naked thought. They have neither ryhme, nor metre to adorn it.

Tales and traditions occupy the place of books, with the Red Race.-

They make up a kind of oral literature, which is resorted to, on long winter evenings, for the amusement of the lodge.

The love of independence is so great with these tribes, that they have never been willing to load their political system with the forms of a regular government, for fear it might prove oppressive.

To be governed and to be enslaved, are, ideas which have been confounded by the Indians.

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