Native inhabitants of Wyoming-Six Nations-Great Head, or Counsel Fire, and Onondaga, Mohawks
To William Penn Miner, Esq.
My Dear Son,
Having presented you with a brief sketch of Wyoming, I proceeded trace the history of its earliest inhabitants. Speculations upon the origin of the Indians, whether they are devirations from one stock-whether this continent was peopled from Asia, the colonists landing on the northwest coast-whether the lost tribe of Israel may have been removed and replanted in America by some miraculous interposition of Providence, pleasant as they may prove to be learned antiquarian, or the ingenious idler, give little promise of solving the perplexing question. Indeed, with a dancing knowledge and increasing research, doubts, instead of being dissipated, thicken around us. The reason and most wonderful discoveries and Central America, Mexico and Yucatan, the remains of vast cities, temples of hewn stone, rivaling, and grandeur of design and magnificence of execution, the noblest ruins of Egypt,-the varied and finished sculpture, speak of population and wealth-arts and arms, at a period so remote, as to render it a problem which is the old world and which the new. Nor would those disquisitions be regarded as exactly in place and limited work like the present; but so deeply interwoven in the early history of Wyoming with that of the Indians, a few pages in reference to those tribes which governed, or inhabited here, sufficient to fix attention without fatiguing it, may be regarded as proper.
By those most deeply versed in the subject it is supposed that there were three distinct Nations in North America, radically differing in their languages. Of this opinion was the Rev. Mr. Heckewelder, certainly authority and a high degree and title to consideration. He enumerates the Leni-Lenape, or Delawares. The Mengwe, or Iroquois, and the Algonquins. Of these the Leni-Lenape and Iroquois were the principal inhabitants, east of the Mississippi, and south of the Great Lakes-but these were divided and subdivided into innumerable tribes, with most unutterable names, many of them speaking dialects so little resembling the parent language, as to create doubts of their common origin. Mr. Jefferson speaks of tribes on the Potomac and Jame’s Rivers, who could not converse but through an interpreter. Without pursuing this point further, I proceeded directly to the matter which concerns are immediate subject.
As early after the first settlements made by Europeans in Virginia, Plymouth, and New York, and savage policy and power could be at all comprehended, they found the Iroquois or Mengwe, five United Nations of Indians, situated north of the Blue Mountains, amidst the lesser lakes, and on the headwaters of the Hudson, the Delaware, and the Susquehanna, claiming empire and exacting a homage through an extent of territory, equal to the old 13 states. Their names were Mohawks, Senecas, Onondagas, Oneidas, Cayugas, to which was afterwards added the Tuscaroras, constituting the well-known and long dreaded Confederacy of the Six Nations. Proud, ambitious, warlike, Rome in the zenith of her power, did not exercise dominion as empress of the earth, and with more dictatorial and absolute sway.
This valley having been, for centuries, subject to their authority, and here having been exhibited the last dreaded seen in the fearful drama of their national existence, I shall endeavor to give a sketch of their history, policy, and power, so far as such exposition made tend to illustrate the annals of Wyoming. It does not appear to me that any writer has set forth, distinctly, in sufficiently bold relief-their extent of dominion-their absolute sovereignty-their profound policy-their Imperial sway.
In unraveling the tangled web of Indian history, we found ourselves in the outset extremely embarrassed, especially when reading the pages of Heckewelder, and other writers of the United brethren. The removal of tribes, or parts of tribes, to the valley; the remaining a brief period, and then emigrated to some other place, without any apparent motive, founded in personal convenience, consistency, or wisdom, perplexed us exceedingly, as we doubt not it has others. The dominating spirit of the Six Nations is spoken of, and incidents are related showing their assumption of power over the surrounding tribes; but Mr. Heckewelder will not admit that the Delaware, his beloved Leni-Lenape, were a conquered people; the vassals of the Six Nations. Yet such was unquestionably the fact, as were most of the surrounding Nations; and when the truth is once admitted, what was before doubtful, becomes perfectly clear order easily explicable.
In trading this manner, I feel a lively assurance, but old fax will be presented in such new aspects and relations, and so much of novelty will be introduced, as to repay the best learned in Indian story the labor of perusal.
Whether the conjecture be well founded, which I ventured to suggest, namely;-that the empire was divided for easier government, and to three provinces, the Mohawks taking the country east of the Delaware, and along the St. Lawrence-the Cayugas having administration westerly, south of the Great Lakes, along the Ohio, and generally beyond the Allegheny Mountains to the Mississippi;-the Senecas and Oneidas governing the country west of the Delaware, east of the Allegheny, and indefinitely south, perhaps to the Saluda Gap, thence to the Mississippi: while the Onondagas were eminent as counselors, distinguished for eloquence, perhaps revered like the tribe of Levi as the Priesthood of the Confederacy, to whose care was committed the keeping, or kindling, the sacred fire around which their most solemn deliberations were held-the critical reader will determine, after the facts which bear on the case are fully exhibited.
But this must be kept constantly in mind, that the "Great Head," or counsel at Onondaga, was supreme;-that whatever was done, every material transaction, the matter by which nation, tribe or division undertaken, was the result of united councils at that Federal Congress.
With these pulmonary remarks, I proceeded to sketch the Iroquois in the Eastern division of their empire, under the more immediate administration of the Mohawks.
In 1669 there was war between the Mohawks and Massachusetts Indians. It had raged for several years. Six or 700 warriors under the command of a great Chief, Chikataubutt, a wise and stout man, were let out 200 miles to attack in Mohawks Fort. They were repelled and ambushed on their retreat, and a great fight ensued. "What was most calamitous in this disastrous expedition, (says the historian) was the loss of the great chief Chikataubutt, who, after performing prodigies of valor, was killed in repelling the Mohawks in their last attack, with almost all his captains." I copy from Drake’s multitudinous collection of fax, connected with Indian story; and he from collections of the Massachusetts historical society: the authority and adds:-"the Mohawks considered themselves their masters, and although peace was brought about between them, by the mediation of the English and Dutch, yet the Massachusetts, and others, often suffered from their incursions."
The overthrow of the six or 700 warriors who was manifestly total. One European nation was not sufficient,-the English and Dutch were obliged to unite their powerful mediation to restrain these terrible barbarians. It is evident that long before this period (1669) the Mohawk power had been established, probably for centuries. No date has ever been given when the neighboring Nations were finally subdued. The Mohawks claimed, not that now they had conquered the Massachusetts, but that, for an indefinite period, these had been their vassals. In the history of the New England Indians, at a period thirty years previous to the defeat and death of Chikataubutt, we have an account of a great sachem of the Narragansett's, who was slain by the Mohawks. "In the beginning of July 1676, those Indians who were known by the name of Mauguawogs, or Mohawks, i.e. maneaters, had lately fallen on Philip (the renowned Narragansett chief, whose Indian name was Pometacom)-and killed 40 of his men."
About this time the Mohawks sent a threat that they would destroy all the Indians from Uncas and Mount-Hope, to the eastward as far as Pegypscot.
The New York Historian, smith, sets forth’ "When the Dutch began the settlement of New York, all the Indians on Long Island, and the northern shore of the Sound, on the banks of the Connecticut, Hudson, Delaware, and Susquehanna rivers, were in subjection to the Five Nations."-The same author asserts that, within the memory of persons then living, a small tribe on the Hudson paid an annual tribute of 20 pounds to the Mohawks.
In August 1689, the year Iroquois sent out an army of 1200 warriors, who attacked Montreal, burnt the houses, sacked the plantations, and slew great numbers of the French.
Smith further says, in 1756, "these Indians (Iroquois) universally concur in the claim of all the lands not sold for the English, from the mouth of the Sorel river, on the south side of Lake Erie and Ontario, and on both sides of the Mississippi, and on the north side of those lakes," etc.
An extract from the "remarks on the policy and practice of the United States and Great Britain, in their treatment of the Indians," by Gov. Cass, published in the North American review, April 1827, (a paper pregnant with important matter, and written with extraordinary power,) will illustrate the view I have taken. (See p. 50)
"Charlevoix, long since described in the Wyandots, is the nation of all Canada, the most remarkable for its defects and virtues. When Jacques Cartier ascended the St. Lawrence he found in established near Hockelega, now Montreal; and when Champlain entered the same river of their war with the Iroquois had already commenced, and that enterprising officer accompanying one of their parties in a hostile expedition against their enemies. The events of the war were most disasters, and they were driven from their country to the northern shore of Lake Huron. But distance afforded no security, and the Iroquois pursued them with relentless fury. Famine, disease and war made frightful havoc among them, and the account of their sufferings given by the old missionaries, who witnessed and shared them, almost tasks the belief of the reader." "They were literally hunted from their resting place, and the feeble remnant of this once powerful and haughty tribe owned or their preservation to the protection of the Sioux, and whose country, west of Lake Superior, they found safety and tranquility." Surely that nation must have been tremendous in its power, as terrible in its wrath, that could thus nearly exterminate a powerful tribe, hunting them through 20 degrees of longitude! Nor can be doubted that the Western Indians, to Lake Superior, must have been their obedient allies or trembling vassals.
I should deem myself unpardonable if I withheld the following interesting paper; for to a large proportion of the readers of this volume it probably will be new.
And Indian tradition,
concerning the origin of the five Nations.
The following is the account given by old Cannassatego, of the manner in which his country was made and peopled.
"When our good Manitta raised Akanishionegy out of the great waters, he said his brethren, how fine a country is this! I will make Red men, the best of men, to enjoy it. Then with five handfuls of red seeds, like the eggs of flies, did he strow the fertile fields of Onondaga. Little worms came out of the seeds, and penetrated the earth, when the spirits, who had never yet seen the light, entered into and united with them. Manitta water the earth with his rain, the sun warmed it, the worms, with the spirits in them, grew, putting forth little arms and legs, and moved the light earth that covered them. After nine moons they came forth perfect boys and girls. Manitta covered them with his mantle of warmth, purple cloud, and nourish them with milk from his fingers ends. Nine summers did he nursed them, and nine summers more did he instructs them how to live. In the meantime he had made for their use, trees, plants, and animals, of various kinds. Akanishionegy was covered with woods and filled with creatures. Then he assembled his children together and said, "ye are Five Nations, for ye sprang each from a different handful of the seed I sowed; but ye are all brethren; and I am your father, for I made ye all; I have nursed and brought you up: Mohocks, I have made you bold and valiant, and see, I give you corn for your food: Oneidas, I have made you patient of pain and of hunger, the nuts and fruits of the trees are yours. Senecas, I have made you industrious and active, beans do I give you for nourishment: Cayugas, I have made you strong, friendly and generous, ground nuts and every root show refresh you. Onondagas, I have made you wise, just an eloquent; squashes and grapes have I given you to eat, and tobacco to smoke in Counsel. The beasts, birds and fishes have I given to you all, in common. As I have loved and taken care of you all, so do you love and take care of one another. Communicate freely to each other the good things I have given you, and learn to imitate each other's virtues. I have made you the best people in the world, and I give you the best country. You will descended from the invasions of other Nations, from the children of other Manittas, and keep possession of it for yourselves, while the sun and mood give light, and the waters run in the rivers. This you shall do if you observe my words. Spirits, I am now about to leave you. The bodies I have given you will in time grow old, and wear out, so that you will be weary of them; or from various accidents they may become unfit for your habitation, and you will leave them. I cannot remain here always to give you new ones. I have great affairs to mind, in distant places, and I cannot again attend so long to the nursing of children. I have enabled you therefore among yourselves to produce new bodies, to supply the place of old ones, and every one of you, when he parts with his own habitation, they in due time find a new one, and never wander longer than he chose under the earth, deprived of the light of the sun. Nourish and instruct your children, as I have nourished and instructed you. Be just to all men and kind to strangers, that come among you. So shall you be happy and be loved by all: and I myself will sometimes visit and assist you." "Saying this, he wrapped himself in a bright cloud and went like a swift arrow to the sun, where his brethren rejoined at his return. From thence he often looked at Akanishionegy, and pointing, showed with pleasure, to his brothers, the country he had formed, and the Nations he had produced to inhabit it."
Is it not beautiful? And does it not in some degree warrant the opinion I have suggested, that the Onondagas were regarded as the wisest, perhaps, the Sacred Nation?"