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History of Wyoming, 1845
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History of Wyoming
Charles Miner
1845

 
 
History of Wyoming, in a series of letters from Charles Miner, to his son, William Penn Miner, Esq.

Letter 2

Massawamees of Wyoming-Senecas and Oneidas-Indian Fortifications-Metal of George 1st-burying places-exhumation of an Indian king-probable likeness of Queen Anne-power and dominion of the Iroquois, or Great Confederacy.

These previously related facts makes sufficiently plain the extent and spirit of dominion claimed and exercised in the eastern and northern portions of the continent by this tremendously formidable power. We now turn to the southern province, west of the Delaware, east of the Allegheny Mountains; and southerly from the headwaters of the Susquehanna, administered by the Senecas and the Oneidas: and as in this territory Wyoming is included, we hope to throw more incident into our narrative, and impart greater interest to the subject.

Mr. Jefferson, after describing the numerous tribes and lower Virginia, in which the Powhattan Confederacy is estimated at 8000, says: "westward of all these tribes, beyond the Mountains, and extending to the Great Lakes, were the Massawamees, a most powerful Confederacy, who harrassed unremittingly the Powhattans, and Manahoacs. These were probably the ancestors of tribes known at present as the Six Nations." I am strongly of opinion that, at an early., Wyoming was the headquarters of one or two of those Nations, though not the site of their great Counsel fire;-that was at Onondaga. They were then known by the name of Massawamees. Is not the inference fair that the named they then bore was derived from these extensive plains? The reader will bear in mind that Indian names are not arbitrary selections of fancy, but uniformly are given as descriptive of the thing named.

Massachusetts was thus called from the Blue Hills, says Roger Williams. The Rev. John Cotton describes Massachusetts, in his vocabulary of Indian words, "an hill in the form of an Arrowhead." The name of the terrible foes of the both Powhattans, then, was formed of the two words, Massa- hills-Waughmees, plains-meaning a people among the hills, seated upon extensive plains-an exact description of Wyoming.

I have purposely left a notice of Indian fortifications, found in the valley, for this connection, because the aspect they present strengthens the conclusion, that Wyoming was the residence of several chiefs and tribes of this gigantic empire. Mr. Chapman has given a clear description of the fort remaining on the west, or Kingston side of the river.

"In the valley of Wyoming, there exists some remains of ancient fortifications, which appeared to have been constructed by a race of people very different in their habits from those who occupied the place when first discovered by the Whites. Most of these ruins have been so much obliterated by the operations of agriculture, that their forms cannot now be distinctly ascertained. That which remains the most and higher, was examined by the writer during the summer of 1817, and its dimensions carefully ascertained; although from frequent plowing, its form has become almost destroyed. It is situated in the township of Kingston, upon a level plain on the north side of Toby's Creek, about 150 feet from its bank, and about half a mile from its confluence with the Susquehanna. It is of an oval or elliptical form, having its longest diameter from the Northwest to the Southwest, at right angles to the Creek, 337 feet, and its shortest diameter from the north east to the Southwest, 272 feet. On the Southwest side, appears to have been a gateway about 12 feet wide, opening toward the great eddy of the river, into which the Creek falls. From present appearances, it consisted, probably, of only one mound or rampart, which in height and thickness, appears to have been the same on all sides, and was constructed of earth; the plain of which it stands, not abounding in stone. On the outside of the rampart, is in entrenchments or ditch formed, which appears never to have been walled. The Creek, on which it stands, is bounded by a high steep bank on that side, and that ordinary times, is sufficiently deep to admit canoes to ascend from the river to the fortifications. When the first settlers came to Wyoming, this plain was covered with its native forests, consisting primarily of oak and yellow pine; and the trees which grew in the rampart and in the entrenchments, are said to have been as large as those in any other part of the valley; one large oak particularly, upon being cut down, was ascertained to be 700 years old. The Indians had no tradition concerning these fortifications, neither did they appear to have any knowledge of the purposes for which they were constructed. They were, perhaps, erected about the same time with those upon the waters of the Ohio, and, probably by similar people, and for similar purposes."

I am happy to be able to add some very interesting facts to this description of my lamented friend. Another fortifications existed on Jacob's plains, or the upper flats, in Wilkes-Barre. Its situation is the highest point of the low grounds, so that only in extraordinary floods, is a spot covered with water. Looking over the flats, in ordinarily high freshes, the site of the fort presents to the eye in island in the vast sea of waters. The eastern extremity is near the line dividing the farms of Mr. Jacob Searle and Mr. James Hancock, clear, from its safety from inundation, a fence as long since been placed; and to this circumstance is to be attributed the preservation of the embankment and ditch. In the open field, so entirely is the work levelled, that the eye cannot trace it; but the extent west, is known, "for it reached through the meadow lot of Capt. Gore," (said Cornelius Cortright, Esq., to me, when visiting the ground several years ago) "and came onto my lot one or two rods." The lot of Capt. Gore was 17 perches in width. Taking then these 280 feet, add a distance it extended eastwardly on the Searle lot, and the extension, westerly, on the lot of Esquire Cortright, we have the length of that measured by Mr. Chapman, as to render the inference almost certain, that both were of the same size and dimensions. Huge trees were growing out of the embankment when the white people began to clear the flats for cultivation. This, too, in Wilkes-Barre, is oval, as is still manifest from the segment exhibited on the upper part, formed by the remaining rampart and fosse, the cord of the arc being the division fence. A circle is easily made, the elliptical form much more difficult for an untutored mind to trace. Trifling as the circumstances may appear, the exact coincidence in size and shape, and that shaped difficult to form, they appeared to me worthy of a distinct notice. The Wilkes-Barre fortifications is about 80 rods from the river, toward which a gate opened, and the ancient people concur in stating that a well existed in the interior, near the southern line. On the bank of the river there is an Indian burying place, not a borrow or hill, such as is described by Mr. Jefferson, but where graves have been dug, and the deceased laid, horizontally, in regular rows. In excavating the canal, cutting through the bank that borders the flats, perhaps 30 rods south of the fort, was another burying place disclosed, evidently more ancient; for the bones almost immediately crumbled to dust, on exposure to the air; and the deposits were far more numerous than in that near the river. By the representation of James Stark, Esq., the skeletons were countless, and the deceased had been buried in a sitting posture. A considerable portion of the bank, those scarcely a bone remained of sufficient firmness to be lifted up, the closeness and position of the buried, were apparent by the discoloration of the earth. In this place of deposit, no beads were found, while they were common in that near the river.

In 1814, I've visited as fortifications and company with the present Chief Justice Gibson, and Jacob Cist, Esqs. The whole line, although it had been plowed for more than 30 years, was then distinctly traceable by the eye. Fortune was unexpectedly propitious us to our search, but we found a metal burying on one side the impress of King George the first, dated 1714, (the year he commenced his reign,) on the other, an Indian Chief. It was awarded to Mr. Cist, as the most curious and careful and such matters, and by him was deposited with the Philadelphia historical society.

Three years ago, and ice flood passed over the flats, and several skeletons exposed. Mr. Hancock politely sent for me, but being absent, I did that visit the spot until the next day. A profusion of blue beads remained; a skull are too, and some well preserved bones were taken by Dr. Boyd; but all were regretting that I had not seen a picture of a lady, found upon the breasts, worn as a locket, of, from this, the beads and other ornaments, it was supposed a great Chief. Various were the conjectures who could have been. Some supposed a European officer had presented the Chief with a miniature of his mistress; this I thought improbable. The likeness was not painted on ivory, but a print pasted on an oval piece of glass, about four inches the longest way. Taking in connection with a metal of George the first, I expressed the conviction that the picture must have been that of Queen Anne. What greatly strengthens this opinion is the fact, that in 1710, in the reign of that Queen, a deputation of Chiefs of the Five Nations visited England, where they were received with marked distinction. Clothed like tragedy kings, and by tailors of the theater; taken in the coaches of state, they were waited upon by Sir Charles Cotterell, and on the 19th of April, introduced to her Majesty by the Duke of Shrewsbury. They were entertained by many noble persons, particularly the great Duke of Ormond, who regaled them with a review of the lifeguards. Their portraits were taken, and are now in the British Museum.

Their visit is noticed by Sir Richard Steele, in the "Tattler," of May 13, 1710.

The delegation consisted of five Chiefs, of whom, the names of four are preserved:1.Te-yee-neen-ho-ga-prow; 2. Sa-ga-yean-qua-peah-ton; 3. Elow-oh-koam, and 4. Oh-nee-yeath-ton-no-prow-- the two last name being river Indians.

It seems, then, probable, that the skeletons found with a picture on his breast, was one of the two latter Chiefs, who had visited the Court of Queen Anne, received her likeness, pasted on glass, which was worn as the badge of honor, and was buried with him.

Mr. Jefferson further states, that the Tuscaroras became united with the Iroquois, in 1712, thus making the Confederacy Six Nations. Of course, when the delegation visited England in 1710, two years before, Confederacy was constituted of, as it was called, the Five Nations. Five Chiefs went to England. The inference is quite probable, nee, almost certain, that he distinguished sachem went from each nation. One died in England, leaving four, whose names we have mentioned. They were spoken out at the time as kings, and treated with great distinction. Two of these are stated to have been river Indians. We have given our reasons for believing that one of those kings died at the Indian fort at Jacobs Plains, Wilkes-Barre, and that it was his skeleton which the flood washed out, of which I have spoken. He, then, was one of the river Indians. But there was another. Our inference is that he occupied the fortifications described by Mr. Chapman, on the west side of the river; that Wyoming, therefore, must have been, so late as 1715, and for a time in definitely previous, the occasional residents of the kings of two of the Five Nations. Depending on hunting and fishing for subsistence, the tribes would, for the sake of plenty, be located some distance apart, however close their alliance; and Wyoming, from its superabundance of game and fish, would not be overlooked or neglected. What to Nations, then, inhabited the valley? Not the Mohawk; they were located the farthest east, as we have seen, and gave or received their name from the Mohawk River. Not the Onondagas, for they, I take it, were a distinguished or favored tribe, to whom was committed the preservation of the Sacred Council Fire; the "Great Head," or Congress, ever holding their sessions within the limits of that nation. Whether there are additional facts to warrant such an inference, I am not prepared to assert; but the Great Skikellamus, the Vice Roy over the Pennsylvania Indians, being and Onondaga, might lead to the conjecture, that the more elevated civil offices of authority and honor, were exercised by that tribe. Not a fact presents itself, in my research, to lead me to suppose that the Cayugas had ever any special interest or influence here. But the Senecas and Oneidas acted so conspicuous a part in the affairs of Wyoming, that I incline strongly to the opinion, they were the Nations who occupied the two fortifications described. A Seneca Chief, Gi-en-gwah-toh, commanded in the battle. The delegation of Senecas, attempted and executed the imprudent deception upon Congress.

These, then, were probably the to Nations who kings kept their court in the valley. When the Moravian Indians were struck, it is stated to have been done by the Oneidas, the war party coming from Wyoming, showing this to have been within the special jurisdiction of those to Nations. I offer another conjecture, which the unbiased mind will readily received as true: namely, that these were the Massawamees, whose so incessantly harassed the Powhattans of Virginia; struck the Catawbas of South Carolina, and took scalps and prisoners from the Cherokees on the Mississippi. The nation's most southwesterly located would, naturally, the best acquainted with the Southwest country and Nations-know the war paths, and be best able to strike an effective blow in their own quarter. And although acting as one of, and by orders from, The Great Head, at Onondaga, their enemies would be apt to designate their foes by the name of the particular nation, whose warriors reached them.

A portion of the Wyandots, situate near Detroit, (having been permitted, probably, to return,) were claimed by the Iroquois as their cousins. Mr. Jefferson speaks of the tribe of Mingoes, on the Sciota, having 80 warriors. The former, probably, were Confederates, or in close alliance with a Six Nations; subservient, but politically treated as if not subjugated; to remote to be admitted to in equally and free participation of power, at the Council Fire, at Onondaga; and yet trusted, and used to extend and perpetuate the power of the Confederacy in the west, while the Mingoes mentioned, with a more immediate agents sent out by the Iroquois, to the waters of the Ohio, as Roman legions, under her pro-consuls, were marched to Egypt or Gaul.

"In war concerns," says Heckewelder, speaking of the Iroquois, "they assumed an authority over many other Nations, so that they only had to dictate, and others to obey. Not only those inhabiting Pennsylvania, but those dwelling within the limits of other provinces, and the adjacent country, together with a Western or Lake Indians, were called upon by the Six Nations to join the conflict, and such among them as were adverse to war, were threatened with destruction if they did not join them."

Growing jealousy of the English, who were rapidly peopling the Ocean Shores; increasing attachment to the French, whose less haughty, but more attractive manners, as well as their advancing power on the North, may have been one motive with the Confederacy to concentrate the residence of their Chiefs, and to fix on a more northern location, nearer to their preferred allies. The position they now assumed, it must be confessed, if less attractive in beauty, was not less fitted for the seat of extended empire, embracing, particularly, the upper branches of the great rivers, the Mohawk, the Delaware and the Susquehanna, and the lesser lakes. They had settlements at Aughquago, Owego, Tioga and Chenango. The banks of the Cayuga and Seneca lakes were spotted with their villages. those still in the acne of power and pride of Dominion, the hour of inevitable decline was approaching with the approach of the arts and arms of the white man-whether French or English.

The Leni-Lanape, or Delaware Indians, had long before been subjugated by the Iroquois. "We have made you women; we have placed petticoats on you," was the uniformly insulting language of the victors. Cowering with fear under the hand of their pressers, yet possessing an Indian’s pride, his passions and love of independence, the numerous and widespread tribes of the Delawares are supposed to have given the white man a less jealous reception than their masters, hoping to find in their increasing power, protection, if not the means of revenge. Hence, the Delawares lingered in the neighborhood of the Whites-sought their society-opened their ears more readily to the instruction of missionaries, then those red man who were engaged in war is, intent on conquest and fired by ambition. These considerations are deemed important as affording a key to what, otherwise, would be perplexing difficulties.

A few further facts, showing the extent and spirit of the power exercised, ans authority claimed, by the Six Nations, demand notice. The quotation for Mr. Jefferson, showing the incessant and harassing attacks of the Six Nations, on the Indians of Virginia, occupies a preceding page.

Mr. Heckewelder, in his narrative, says, "the Six Nations, under a pretense that they had once conquered the Delawares, asserted that hereby the whole country had become theirs, and, therefore, assumed that the power of dictating who should, and who should not be permitted to dwell therein."

Again:-"the intention was settling certain Delawares at Wyoming; but they objected, on the ground that this place lay in the road of the warriors going to and coming from the Catawbas."

Catawbas, a river then peopled by a tribe of Indians, in South Carolina, full 1000 miles, by any accessible route, of the Council Fire of the Iroquois! This single fact is worth dwelling on a moment, as at once illustrative of the extent of Dominion claimed, is also the character of that wonderful people. A band of warriors, armed, taking in a leathern bag a preparation of Indian corn, parched, and pounded with maple sugar, (called by the Mohicans Yokeag) set out on a warpath, to strike an enemy, and take a scalp, 1000 miles distant. Courage, fortitude, ambition; the lofty aspirations of Alexander or Napoleon were here. Nor were these all; for the geography of an extensive country must have been understood; the position and power of all the neighboring Nations, comprehended by them. Books they knew not, but ignorant, it was false to deem them. It is clear, an enemy would not be sought so far, if the near tribes had not been previously subjugated.

Mr. H. adds another objection of the emigrating Delawares, namely, that Wyoming "abounded with Indians whom they mistrusted." So that the valley was then numerously peopled.

The Iroquois, it is well known, in the old French war, took part with that nation against the English. Though the intelligent Moravian missionaries past freely through their country, yet such was their cautious concealment that-says Heckewelder, "they kept their designs a profound secret, and it was not until those Indians made a sally, and murdered 14 white people within five miles of Shamokin, were the brethren had a small mission, that they were aware of the danger." He adds:-"it became evident that a cruel Indian war would be the result of the influence the French had acquired among the Indians; and especially those of the Six Nations, who long since on all occasions, and particularly in war concerns, assumed an authority over many other Nations, so that they only had to dictate, and others to obey."

This reluctant admission, from the friend and patron of the Delawares, shows that the six Nations were indeed conquerors, and over a vast territory supreme.

When peace came, Mr. Hackewelder says:-"and the Iroquois, the Six Nations being reconciled, they caused the other Nations to lay down the hatchet." 1764.

But whatever name the Confederacy should be styled: a republic, and empire, or an oligarchy, we behold these united people, with that "Great Head" or Council at Onondaga, clothed with Dominion, and enthroned in power. Certainly from the lakes to the ocean, they were an absolute as a nation could be without forts, or standing armies. With a left-handed they lighted up consuming fires on the St. Lawrence, even in the strong holds of the warlike French; hunted their broken enemy's 2000 miles into desolate regions behind Lake Superior, brandishing the tomahawk over trembling vassals eastwardly to the Merrimack, while with the right base about the Catawbas on the southern coast of Carolina, and brought home scalps as trophies from the remote Cherokees, on the distant banks of the Mississippi.

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