MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2004
Chapter Five - Iroquois
Iroquois Migration North - New Replaces Old Battle of Wolf Hollow - 1669 The Mohawks - War A Way of Life Frontenac Surprises Mohawks in Dead of Winter - 1693 . . . and Mohawks Move to South Side of the River. Legend of the Peacemaker Anglican Churches at Mohawk Castles League of the Iroquois The Covenant Chain Contact Catapults Stone Age Culture King Hendrick of the Mohawks Dutch Children's Disease Kills Thousands of Mohawks Mohawk Power and Wealth Mohawks and the Jesuits Chief Joseph Brant Mohawks Get Their Comeuppances From An Old War Horse . . . . . . and Find Religion Molly Brant Kateri (Catherine) Tekakwitha The Oneidas - The Untold Story
For hundreds of years the origin of the Iroquois people was shrouded in mystery. A thousand years of oral tradition and hundreds of years of fragmented and conflicting historical and archaeological evidence, indicated they came from the west . . . or the north . . . or evolved from the earliest inhabitants. In recent years, a relatively small group of archaeologists, anthropologists, linguists, historians and Iroquois, collected and considered volumes of evidence. The following is based on their conclusions.
New Replaces Old
Long before Iroquoian people moved into the Mohawk Valley this area was populated with hunters and gatherers. For thousands of years these semi-nomadic bands roamed the valley, establishing small, seasonal villages near sources of food or atop defensible hills. Consequently, evidence of these early inhabitants has been discovered the length and breadth of the valley. Their tools, weapons, pottery, hearths, and sources of food were distinctive.
When significantly different tools, weapons, pottery, hearths . . . and charred corn were discovered at some of the food-source locations and atop defensible hills close to farmland, it was evident that a new culture had arrived in the Mohawk Valley. When the charred corn or burnt wood was radiocarbon dated, the approximate time of the arrival of that new culture was established. From then on, the slow and steady evolution of that culture to the present indicates that Iroquois people have resided in the Mohawk Valley for almost a thousand years.
They Came, They Saw, They Conquered
During a period of global warming, known as the "medieval warm epoch" (AD 1000-1300), they came out of the south, moving slowly northward, up the Susquehanna River and such tributaries as the Unadilla, Chenango, Tioughnigoa, Chemung and Canisteo. Along the way they established communities where they lived for many years before moving on to settle the rich flatlands around Lake Ontario and in the Mohawk Valley.
The long established Iroquois culture held many advantages over the indigenous people who sparsely populated these regions. The ability to grow crops to supplement fish, game, nuts, roots and berries, provided more food for larger and more permanent settlements.
Their matrilocal society required newly wedded couples to live with the woman's family. This practice broke up groups of fraternal males, suppressed feuding and internal warfare, encouraged large family units and fostered cooperation within the band. Greater numbers of people working together created larger dwellings, more compact villages, more productive farmlands, and larger and more effective war parties.
When Iroquois warriors encountered people already living in a region, they invariably killed the men and "adopted" the women and children, thus increasing the size of their band and assimilating some characteristics of the conquered culture.
For hundreds of years large bands of Iroquois populated the best farmlands in what are now upstate New York and southern Canada, forming separate and distinct tribes, developing different customs and languages, yet retaining many common traditions.
The Huron, Neutral, Susquehannock, Seneca, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida and Mohawk are all descendants of these Iroquois bands. The Oneidas and the Mohawks lived in the Mohawk Valley.
The Longhouse - Symbol of the Iroquois
The longhouse was an Iroquois multi-family dwelling from earliest times. These arbor shaped buildings, with entrances at each end and an aisle down the middle, were constructed of vertical poles to support the walls and arched rafters to support the roof. Walls and roof were covered with panels of elm bark. Fire pits were located on the dirt floor in the middle aisle and holes in the roof over each pit provided draft for the fires and some relief from smoke.
By the 1300's the size of the longhouse had grown to accommodate larger families in more populated villages. A longhouse that was 140 feet long and 20 feet wide could provide five compartments, each with a separate hearth, for up to 50 people. Eight longhouses of this size could house a village population of 400.
In the 1350s when constant warfare became a way of life, Iroquois villages were built on high ground and often ringed with palisades. See also: Indian Castles
This 1720s illustration of an Iroquois village provides insight into the construction of longhouses and palisades.
As noted previously, a period of global warming instigated the northward migration of Iroquois peoples. It also provided long growing seasons and an abundance of fish and game, resulting in increased populations and clusters of larger villages. When the warming period ended, and severe winters and short growing seasons returned to the north country, fish and game were less abundant, croplands less productive. By the 1300s more and more people were competing for less and less resources. That's when the killing began.
War Was a Way of Life
For 200 years villages attacked villages, tribes attacked tribes and nations attacked nations. Feuding and war became a way of life. In the Mohawk Valley---where there were a half-dozen separate and isolated communities at any one time---villages were no longer built near the river where fish and game were abundant, and soils the most productive. They were located several miles from the river on high-ground peninsulas of land jutting into tributary valleys, where would-be attackers had to climb hills or cliffs on three sides and breach a wooden palisades blocking the remaining approach.
It was on these high-ground approaches to villages where the Mohawks grew corn, beans and squash. These were not small garden plots. They covered many acres, providing food for hundreds of people. As nearby croplands became fallow and/or pests curtailed production, more forest was cleared and crops were planted further from the village. Abandoned cropland quickly returned to wild and created habitat for deer, a prime source of meat and hides. Slash and burn "game management" created additional habitat for deer and other wildlife. Nearby streams and the river itself were sources of fish and mussels. Villages often remained in these defensible locations until the soil was no longer productive and firewood was scarce.
There were dozens of villages of this type in the Mohawk Valley. For instance on the south side of the valley a village was built around 1450 on a point of high ground overlooking Otstungo Creek. Some 600 Mohawks lived here for 75 years. When the Mohawks moved their villages to the north side of the river around 1525, they built a village on a point of land overlooking Caroga Creek More than 800 people lived there until 1580. Another village was built on the north side of the valley around the same time overlooking Cayadutta Creek. Some 600 people lived there for 20 years.
Because these villages were so far from the river, seasonal hamlets were built near the mouth of tributaries where fish were abundant during spawning runs. One such village was located on a defensible point of land overlooking the mouth of Crum Creek and within sight of the mouth of East Canada Creek. Some 300 Mohawks lived here on and off during the 1400s and again in the 1500s.
In the early 1500s dramatic change came to the Mohawk Valley and across much of what is now New York State. Previously independent and feuding villages started to work in common interest, and ever so slowly nations were formed. And "miraculously" --- considering what was coming --- five of these nations agreed not to kill each other.
The Iroquois Federation was formed around 1450. The following version of the Legend of the Peacemaker comes from The Iroquois by Dean Snow.
Legend of the Peacemaker
It was a time when war was the normal state of things. North of Lake Ontario there was a young Huron woman who lived apart from her mother. Although still a virgin, the young woman became pregnant. Her mother dreamed that the child was destined to do great things. In due course the child, a boy, was born. The child was named Deganawida and accepted by his mother and grandmother as a truly gifted child.
Deganawida grew quickly to become a handsome young man. He had a natural gift for speaking, and preached to the children of his community. Eventually he clarified his message of peace through power and law. But he came up against the doubt and jealousy faced by all prophets in their own countries. After announcing his intention to depart, he built a stone canoe, and launched it with the help of his mother and grandmother. He came to the country of the five Iroquois nations, who were then fighting each other as vigorously as they fought other nations.
He passed from west to east through Iroquoia, urging the hunters he met to take his message of peace back to their chiefs. Eventually, he met a woman, who lived in a small house along the trail, where she fed hunters who passed by. She was the first to accept his message of peace and power, and he renamed her Jigonhsasee, "New Face."
The Peacemaker moved on, stopping among the Onondagas and gazing through a smoke hole into the house of Ayonhwathah (Hiawatha). He quickly converted Ayonhwathah from cannibalism, and charged him with converting Thadodaho (Adodarhonh), a particularly malevolent Onondaga shaman with snakes in his hair. Leaving Ayonhwathah to convert Thadodaho by combing the snakes from his hair, the Peacemaker left to travel to Mohawk country.
He went to the place of the great Cohoes Falls near the mouth of the Mohawk River. There he climbed a tree over the gorge and waited. The Mohawks felled the tree into the torrent, but the next morning they found the Peacemaker sitting by his fire. The feat convinced the Mohawks of his power. They accepted his message and became the founders of the League.
Meanwhile, Ayonhwathah's efforts to convert Thadodaho had met with failure. Worse, the shaman had killed each of Ayonhwathah's three daughters. Devastated with grief, Ayonhwathah left his village, following the trail eastward toward Mohawk country. Along the way he came to a lake. A flock of ducks flew up to allow him to pass dry shod, carrying the water with them and revealing a lake bottom strewn with shell beads. These Ayonhwathah collected and put in a buckskin bag. Some he strung on three strings as symbols of his grief. Wandering endlessly, he eventually encountered The Peacemaker. Deganawida took the strings of shell beads and made more strings from the beads collected by Ayonhwathah. Laying the strings out one at a time, he uttered the words of the Requickening Address for the first time. With fifteen strings he wiped away the tears, removed obstructions from the ears, cleared the throat, dispelled the darkness, and dealt with the other eleven essential matters of condolence. The ritual cleared Ayonhwathah's mind of grief, and together they sang the Peace Hymn, the Hai Hai.
The Peacemaker and Ayonhwathah taught the ritual to the Mohawks, and accepted adoption into the Mohawk nation. With the essential ritual now in hand, they traveled westward, accompanied by Mohawk chiefs. The Oneidas joined the League quickly, and were called younger brothers by the Mohawks. Beyond the Oneidas were the Onondagas and the evil Thadodaho. They bypassed this obstacle to approach the Cayuga, who joined as easily as the Oneidas had done. They also took the side of the younger brothers. The three nations then returned to the Onondagas, all of whom save Thadodaho also joined, but as older brothers on the side of the Mohawks. Then, with the chiefs of the four nations, they went to the Senecas, who also joined as older brothers, completing the League.
With the power of the chiefs of Five Nations behind them, the Peacemaker and Ayonhwathah returned to the lodge of Thadodaho. There, with the greatest difficulty, his mind was made straight, and Ayonhwathah combed the snakes from his hair. The Peacemaker made Thadodaho first among equals in the role of the fifty League Chiefs, placed antlers on all their heads as signs of their authority, and taught them the words of the Great Law.
League of the Iroquois
The Iroquois League or Federation of Nations didn't just happen. According to archaeological evidence and oral tradition, the League started to evolve as early as 1450 but wasn't fully developed until around 1525. Some have postulated the League was created in response to the arrival of Europeans. There is no evidence to support that theory.
The most compelling archaeological evidence that "cooperation" was evolving---in the 1400s---was that more and more people were living in clusters of larger villages. The most compelling evidence this cooperation extended beyond clusters of villages and fostered greater security---by the mid 1500s---was the relocation of villages to less defensible positions that were closer to fertile soil, main trails and waterways. This was especially evident where the People of the Place of the Crystals lived in 4-5 main villages in the Mohawk Valley.
Haudenosaunee - People of the Longhouse
(Illustration compliments of the the New York State Museum)
The League of the Iroquois consisted of six clusters of villages (nations) of Iroquoian people located in an "empire" of farmland and forest extending west from present day Schenectady through the Finger Lakes to the Genesee Valley. Collectively they called themselves Haudenosaunee, People of the Longhouse. The Mohawks guarded the Eastern Door and the Senecas guarded the Western Door of this metaphorical longhouse. The Onondagas maintained the fire in the center. The Oneidas and Cayugas joined the League as Little Brothers.
From east to west, across what is now upstate New York, lived the Haudenosaunee:
Mohawk - People of the Place of the Crystals - Keepers of the Eastern Door
Oneida - People of the Erected Stone - Little Brothers
Onondaga - People on the Hills - Keepers of the Fire
Cayuga - People of the Great Pipe - Little Brothers
Seneca - People of the Great Hill - Keepers of the Western Door
The Iroquoian tradition of matrilocal lineage influenced the selection of League Chiefs, in that they were chosen by the women from the clans within that nation. In some nations all clans were represented. In others only dominant clans were represented. The Mohawks and their Little Brothers, the Oneidas selected League Chiefs from all three of their Turtle, Wolf and Bear clans.
Although a League Chief usually retained his position until death, if he failed in his duties, the women of his clan could replace him. On rare occasions a man with exceptional ability, who did not come from a lineage of League Chiefs, was selected to represent the nation as a Pine Tree Chief.
The number of designated League Chiefs did not reflect the influence or size of the nation they represented. For instance the Mohawks with the greatest number of warriors selected only nine League Chiefs while the Oneidas had nine, Onondagas 14, Cayugas 10 and Senecas eight.
Equal representation was not a factor in conducting business within the League because according to Anthropologist, Dean Snow:
"Iroquois custom requires unanimity in League decisions. Concepts of quorum and majority rule were not acceptable. Achievement of unanimity was often facilitated by having the most senior chiefs speak last, so they could incorporate the wisdom and diversity of opinions expressed by more junior men. Orators often spoke for the chiefs, appealing repeatedly to the audience for confirmation that the message was being well received. Elaborate procedure evolved for passing matters for discussion from one side to the other until either consensus was reached or the matter was dropped. If the nations could not agree, they could act individually so long as their actions did not harm another League member. Thus the basis of the League was more a mutual nonaggression pact than a political union."The Iroquois - Dean R. Snow
Contact Catapults Stone Age Culture
The League of the Iroquois had indirect contact with Europeans since explorers and fishermen traded with the Indians living along the East Coast and the Gulf of St. Lawrence as early as the mid 1500s. Through trade and raids they had acquired a small number of iron axes, copper kettles and beads. However, direct contact didn't come until after the French established a settlement in Quebec in 1608 and the Dutch sailed up the Hudson River in 1609.
Henry Hudson stopped where the river was too shallow to float his Dutch sailing ship, the Half Moon. From this ship the Dutch traded with the Mahicans who lived in that area, returning at irregular intervals. In 1614 the Dutch built a small fort and trading post on an island 10 miles below the mouth of the Mohawk River. Despite the fact they had to cross through enemy territory, the Mohawks carried pelts overland (from present day Schenectady to Albany) to trade with the Dutch.
Fort Nassau was washed away in a spring flood in 1616, but the Dutch continued to trade with the Mahicans and Mohawks by sailing 200 miles up the Hudson from their base of operations on Manhattan Island. In 1624 they built Fort Orange at present day Albany.
When the Dutch and French traded beaver and otter pelts for iron axes, knives, arrow points, copper kettles, glass beads, cloth, and eventually firearms, the "stone age" Iroquois were effectively catapulted into a new century. In addition to making life easier, it also resulted in population shifts, especially into the Mohawk Valley where the migration of hundreds of "Little Brothers" from the Oneida Nation relocated to be closer to the Dutch trading center.
The population of the nations of the League of the Iroquois increased throughout the 1500s and well into the 1600s, reaching almost 22,000 by the 1630s. The Mohawks, as noted previously, were the most populous nation with over 7700 people living in four villages. There were 2000 Oneidas living in one village, 4000 Onondagas in two villages, 4000 Cayugas in two villages and 4000 Senecas in two villages.
A decade later there were less than 3,000 Mohawks.
Dutch Children's Disease Kills Thousands of Mohawks
Not long after first contact with the Dutch in 1609 there were outbreaks of measles and other infectious diseases that took a toll on Indians living in the Mohawk Valley. But it was the Dutch children that were brought to Fort Orange (Albany) in the 1630s that started the smallpox epidemics that killed half the native population.
The Dutch built Fort Orange at present day Albany in 1624, but didn't bring children until the 1630s.
Having survived smallpox in their youth, adult Europeans were immune to the disease, so early adult-only contacts did not cause an epidemic. However, when the Dutch brought children to the area, many of them developed smallpox, and the disease spread among the native peoples who had no immunity. A series of smallpox epidemics swept up the Mohawk Valley reducing the population of the Mohawks from over 7000 to some 3000.
To put this in perspective, imagine half of your family and half of your community dying in just a few short years. The loss of so many children, parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles would literally tear families apart, and the loss of community leaders and officials would tear villages, towns and cities apart.
Early on the Mohawks suffered the most because they lived the closest to the Dutch settlement. However, in a relatively short time all of the Iroquois nations were devastated by smallpox epidemics. No segment of their society was spared. Entire families were lost. Children that survived were orphaned. Some of the best tool and weapon makers, medicine men and healers were no more. Many traditional leaders---men and women whose wisdom and status had bound communities together and influenced almost every major decision---were gone forever. New families were formed; orphans---young and old---were adopted, and new leaders emerged. When villages were constructed in locations well away from "infected" villages and burial grounds, they were much smaller, and 3-hearth longhouses were built instead of the traditional 5-hearth longhouses.
When all this happened it seems incredible that the Dutch didn't know about it. But unlike the French who traveled among the Indians to trade for furs, the Dutch were content to stay at their trading post and let the Indians come to them. When the Mohawks and Oneidas stopped coming to Fort Orange in the 1630s, the Dutch suspected they were trading with the French. Three men were sent into Mohawk and Oneida territory in the winter of 1634-35 to investigate. They discovered the Mohawks were in the midst of a smallpox epidemic.
At the time they didn't realize the dire consequences of the epidemic, but the information they and subsequent travelers provided, plus archaeological evidence, revealed that villages were being abandoned and others established. Where 7,000 Mohawks lived in 4 large and a couple of small villages spread throughout the valley, they were transitioning to 3 or 4 small villages with a combined population of some 3,000 individuals.
Incidentally, the journal kept by the leader of that first expedition was the first written description of the Mohawk Valley and its people. It was discovered in 1895 in Holland. Of course it was written in Dutch, so after a copy was brought to America it was translated to English. Its contents have been studied and hotly debated by historians, authors and scholars. Perhaps the most controversial data were the exact locations of the Mohawk villages. Over the years, additional translations of the journal and new archaeological evidence added to the furor. Fortunately, linguist Charles T. Gehring, and archaeologists Dean R. Snow and William A. Starna joined forces in 1988 to edit and translate, A Journey Into Mohawk and Oneida Country 1634-1635 - The Journal of Harmen Meyndertsz van den Bogaert. It's a must read for anyone interested in the early history of the Mohawk Valley.
Despite the devastation caused by smallpox, the Mohawks (along with the rest of the Iroquois Federation) became the dominant Indian force in the Northeast. In some respects, they actually became more aggressive, attacking Indian nations north, south, east and west of traditional Iroquois territory. The Mohawks drove the Mohicans out of the eastern end of the Mohawk Valley, thus extending their territory from the Hudson River to the boundary of the Oneidas territory near present day Frankfort.
A major factor in Mohawk dominance over other Indian nations was their acquisition of firearms. Although the Dutch attempted to limit, and for awhile ban, the fur-for-firearms trade, it was unsuccessful. In addition to becoming proficient in the use of these weapons, the Mohawks quickly learned to make musket balls, handle black powder, and repair and modify European firearms.
Mohawks were feared by Indian nations throughout New England and in the St; Lawrence Valley. Relatively small heavily-armed war parties traveled throughout the region, killing or capturing Indian traders and taking their furs and other trade goods. Major attacks on fortified villages usually involved a combined force of Iroquois warriors. Villages were destroyed and in some instances entire nations were obliterated. Survivors of these attacks moved west and formed new nations.
Some historians believe that most of these conflicts were the result of the Iroquois desire to control the fur trade, so they called them the Beaver Wars. Others called them the Mourning Wars, noting the Iroquois tradition that every death had to be avenged in order for the mourning period to end. Although smallpox was the killer, it was not recognized as the cause of so many deaths, so revenge was reeked on non-Iroquois nations.
Whatever the causes, the Iroquois influence spread north into Canada, south to the Carolinas, east to the Atlantic and west to the Mississippi River. And it lasted a hundred years. Throughout that period the Mohawk Nation was a major player.
Mohawks and the Jesuits
Father Isaac Jocques Didn’t Come to the Mohawk Valley on Purpose, yet his abduction, captivity, torture and eventual death led to the relocation of hundreds of Mohawks to the Saint Lawrence Valley.
This painting at the Museum at Auriesville Shrine depicts Mohawk warriors torturing Jesuit Priest Isaac Joques by pulling out his fingernails and cutting off his fingers with their teeth.
In the 1630s the People of the Place of the Crystals were in turmoil. After two decades of acquiring wealth and power through trading alliances with the Dutch at Fort Orange (Albany), they were ravaged by an unbelievably deadly enemy. An enemy brought to their valley by the children of Dutch settlers. Smallpox!
This disease wreaked havoc on the Mohawk Nation with a series of epidemics that killed more than half their population. Disease-ravaged villages were abandoned, families torn apart, new villages built and new families created from surviving adults and children. The once populous nation of over 7,000 living in four large villages was reduced to less than 3,000 living in three smaller villages.
Despite the loss of hundreds of warriors, the Mohawks continued to guard the eastern door of the Iroquois Federation, and attack their Mohican neighbors to the East and the Algonquins and French in the St. Lawrence Valley. Their fierceness in battle and cruelty to captors was legendary. During one of their forays into the St. Lawrence Valley in the 1640s, a band of Mohawks attacked a Huron trading party that included Jesuit priest Isaac Joques and Jesuit brother, Renè Goupil. The Jesuits and several Hurons were brought to the village of Ossernenon in the Mohawk Valley. The “Black Robes” were subjected to tortures and mutilations that included having their fingernails pulled out and fingers bitten off. Despite such treatment the Jesuits continued to minister the word of God to the Huron captors living among the Mohawks.
On Sept 29, 1642 Rene Goupil was tomahawked to death. With the help of the Dutch at Fort Orange, Issac Joques escaped and returned to France. A few years later he returned to New France and was given permission to return to the Mohawk Valley in May of 1646 wearing civilian (no black robe) clothes as a French Ambassador to the Mohawks. This brief “diplomatic” visit was uneventful, however, expecting to return at a later date, Joques left a box of supplies at Ossernenon.
Soon after he departed, a smallpox epidemic spread among the Mohawks. They blamed this scourge on the supply box left by the Frenchmen. Unaware of this turn of events, Father Joques and lay missioner, John LaLande returned in October. Jocques was killed on October 18 and LaLande a day or two later.
( In recognition of their supreme sacrifice, the National Shrine of the North American Martyrs was initiated in 1885 at Auriesville, NY.)
The Jesuit Relations – A Treasure Trove of Information
The Jesuits provided some of the earliest written descriptions of the Mohawks and historical events in the Mohawk Valley. Indeed, their compilation of Jesuit missionary letters, reports, interviews and recollections regarding “travels and explorations” in North America in the 1600s is a treasure trove of information. I was introduced to “The Jesuit Relations” by the book, Mohawk Country written by Snow, Gehring & Starna in 1996. This book of “Early Narratives about a Native People” provides pertinent sections of The Jesuit Relations and includes background information and notes that make them easier to understand. I have since discovered the 1899 English translations on the Internet at: http://puffin.creighton.edu/jesuit/relations/
Society of Jesus - No Strangers to Suffering and Violence
The Society of Jesus---later called Jesuits---was founded in 1540 by a Spanish officer who survived a direct hit by a cannon ball. While recovering from injuries to both legs he began a long journey in mind and body that eventually led to Rome and the formation of a religious order that spread throughout the world. The story of Saint Ignatious Layola is fascinating, and illustrates that even in the beginning Jesuits were no strangers to suffering and violence. They found plenty of both in the Mohawk Valley.
Mohawks - Brave, Knave, Cruel . . . and Irreligious
The Jesuit Relations noting Father Jocques assessment of the Mohawks and his subsequent torture and death in the 1640s have been quoted often. The following excerpt from Of the Condition of the Country of the Iroquois and of Their Cruelties in 1659-1660 by Jerome Lalemant reveals that 15 years later the Jesuits had made little progress in converting the Mohawks, or in curbing their “bravery,” “knavery” and “cruelty.”
"Of the five tribes constituting the entire Iroquois nation, that which we call the Agnieronnons, (Mohawks) has been so many times at both the top and the bottom of the wheel, within less than sixty years, that we find in history few examples of similar revolutions. Insolent in disposition, and truly warlike, they have had to fight with all their neighbors,—with the Abnaquiois (Abenakis), who are Eastward of them; on the south, with the Andastogehronnons (Susquahannocks), a people inhabiting the shores of Virginia; with the Hurons on the West; and with all the Algonkin Nations scattered throughout the North. We cannot go back very far in our researches in their past history, as they have no Libraries other than the memory of their old men; and perhaps we should find nothing worthy of publication. What we learn then from these living books is that, toward the end of the last century, the Agnieronnons were reduced so low by the Algonkins that there seemed to be scarcely any more of them left on the earth. Nevertheless, this scanty remnant, like a noble germ, so increased in a few years as to reduce the Algonquins in turn to the same condition as its own. But this condition did not last long;. for the Andastogehronnons waged such energetic warfare against them during ten years that they were overthrown for the second time and their nation. rendered almost extinct, or at least so humiliated that the mere name Algonkin made them tremble, and his shadow seemed to pursue them to their very firesides.
"That was at the time when the Dutch took possession of these regions and conceived a fondness for the beavers of the natives, some thirty years ago; and in order to secure them in greater number they furnished those people with firearms, with which it was easy for them to conquer their conquerors, whom they put to rout, and filled with terror at the mere sound of their guns. And that is what has rendered them formidable everywhere, and victorious over all the N'ations with whom they have been at war; it has also put into their heads that idea of sovereign swry (sway) to which they aspire, mere barbarians although they are, with an ambition so lofty that they think and say that their own destruction cannot occur without bringing in its train the downfall of the whole earth.
"But what is more astonishing is, that they actually hold dominion for five hundred leagues around, although their numbers are very small; for, of the five Nations constituting the Iroquois, the Agnieronnons do not exceed five hundred men able to bear arms, who occupy three or four wretched Villages. The Onneioutheronnons (Oneidas) have not a hundred warriors; the Onnontagehronnons (Onondagas) and Oiogoenhronons (Cayugas) have three hundred each, and the Sonontwaehronons (Senecas), who are the farthest removed from us and the most populous, have not more than a thousand combatants. If any one should compute the number of pure-blooded Iroquois, he would have difficulty in finding more than twelve hundred of them in all the five Nations, since these are, for the most part, only aggregations of different tribes whom they have conquered,—as the Hurons; the Tionnontatehronnons, otherwise called the Tobacco Nation; the Atiwendaronk, called the Neutrals when they were still independent; the Riquehronnons (Eries), who are the Cat Nation ; the Ontwagannhas, or fire Nation; the Trakwaehronnons, and others,—who, utter Foreigners although they are, form without doubt the largest and best part of the Iroquois.
"It is therefore a marvel that so few people work such great havoc and render themselves so redoubtable to so large a number of tribes, who, on all sides, bow before this conqueror. It is true, they have performed some valiant deeds, and have, on certain occasions, distinguished themselves as highly as could be expected from the bravest warriors of Europe. Savages although they are, they still understand warfare very well; but it is usually that of the Parthians, who gave the Romans of old so much trouble, fighting them just as the Savages fight us. The Agnieronnons especially have always excelled in this kind of warfare, and sometimes even in that which demands courage only. They defeated two thousand men of the Cat Nation in the latter's own intrenchments; and, although they were only seven hundred in number, they nevertheless climbed the enemy's palisade, employing against it a counter-palisade which they used, in place of shields and ladders, to scale the fortress, receiving the hail of shot that fell on them from every direction. It is said of them that, while there are no Soldiers more furious than they when they form an army, so there are none more cowardly when they are only in small bands, whose glory it is to break a number of heads and carry off the scalps. Yet they have not failed to demonstrate, on several occasions, that the courage of individuals went even to the point of rashness,—as when one of them passed the night at the entrance to a Huron village, hiding in a dunghill; thence he suddenly emerged at dawn of the following day, like a man risen from the dead, and hurled himself upon the first comer, taking Bight again after breaking his head in this most unexpected manner. Two others showed themselves still braver. Under cover of the darkness, they stealthily approached a sentry post, where careful watch was being kept after the manner] of the Savages, which is to sing at the top of one's voice all night long. When they had allowed the sentry to shout for a considerable time, one of the two nimbly mounted the sentry post, and deliver‚d a blow with his hatchet upon the first man whom he encountered; then, throwing the other to the ground, he took his leisure to kill him and remove the scalp from his head, as the noblest trophy of his victory. Last year, an Agnieronnon went all alone to war against Tadoussac; he accomplished a journey of two or three hundred leagues, making his way alone by sea and land, to find an Algonkin who was his enemy and whom he killed at last with his own hand, almost in the very midst of the French and of a large body of Savages. It is true, he lost his life in the act; but he lost it in defying them and in making his retreat as if he were walking for pleasure,—a haughtiness that caused his death.
"But these traits of bravery are not found in all the Iroquois; knavery is much more common with them than courage, and their cruelty far exceeds their knavery; and it may be said that, if the Iroquois have any power, it is only because they are either knavish or cruel. All the treaties that we have made with them are proofs of their perfidy; for they have never kept a single one of the promises that they have so often and so solemnly sworn to us. And as for cruelty, I would make this paper blush, and my listeners would shudder, if I related the horrible treatment inflicted by the Agnieronnons upon some of their captives. This has indeed been mentioned in the other relations; but what we have recently learned is so strange that all that has been said on the subject is nothing. I pass over these matters, not only because my pen has no ink black enough to describe them, but much more from a fear of inspiring horror by recounting certain cruelties never heard of in past ages.
"It is only a neat trick with them to make a cut around the thumb of a captive, near the first joint; and then, twisting it, to pull it off by main strength, together with the sinew, which usually breaks toward the elbow or near the shoulder, so great is the violence employed. The thumb, thus removed with its sinew, is hung to the sufferer's ear like an ear-pendant, or attached to his neck in place of a carcanet (necklace). Then they will do the same with a second and a third finger, while, to replace the fingers that have been pulled off, they force into the wounds splinters of hard wood, which cause pains quite different from the foregoing, although excessive, and very soon produce a great inflammation and a huge swelling of the entire hand and even of the whole arm. Even if this first game were all, is it not with reason that the French of this country have so long asked the destruction of so cruel an enemy? since, after all, five or six hundred men are unable to withstand a courageous undertaking, if it be executed in such manner as the glory of God and the compassion due to them demand. The Iroquois have the disposition of women; there are none more courageous when no resistance is offered them, and none more cowardly when they encounter opposition. They deride the French, because they have never seen them wage war in their country; and the French have never done so because they have never made the attempt, hitherto believing the roads more difficult to pass than they really are. With our present knowledge of these barbarians,—having seen, when we were in their midst, how alarm was everywhere felt when they beheld themselves attacked in their own country,—it may be said with full assurance that, if an army of five hundred Frenchmen should arrive unexpectedly, it could say, Veni, vidi, vici.
"I haue stated that there are only five or six hundred men to destroy; for it is beyond doubt that, if the Agnieronnons were defeated by the French, the other Iroquois Nations would be glad to conipromise with us, and give us their children as hostages of their good faith. Then those fair Missions would be revived at Onnontagué (Onondaga), at Oiogoen (Cayuga), and in all the other remaining Iroquois Nations, among whom we have already sown the first seeds of the faith. These have been so well received by the common people that we may not, without distrusting the divine Providence, despair of one day reaping therefrom very abundant fruits. Moreover, the great door would be open for so many old and new missions toward the tribes of the North, and toward those newly discovered ones of the West, all of whom we embrace under the general name of Algonquins. But it is a subject of too wide a scope and demands a separate Chapter."
For more information on this fascinating subject read:
The Iroquois - Dean R. Snow - 1994
Mohawk Valley Archaeology: The Sites - Dean R. Snow - 1995
The League of the Iroquois - Morgan - 1851
The Iroquois - A History of the Six Nations - S.C. Kimm -1900
Aboriginal Place Names of New York - Beauchamp -1897 & 1907
Indians of North America - The Iroquois - Barbara Graymont -1988
The Archaeology of New York State - Ritchie - 1994
In Mohawk Country - Snow, Gehring & Starna - 1996
Also take a look at:
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