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Native inhabitants of Wyoming-Six Nations-Great head, or Council Fire, at Onondago.
To WILLIAM PENN MINER, Esq. My Dear Son,
Having presented you with a brief sketch of Wyoming, I proceed to trace the history of its earliest inhabitants. Speculations upon the origin of the Indians, whether they are derivations 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 planted in America by some miraculous interposition of Providence, pleasant as they may prove to the learned antiquarian, or the ingenious idler, give little promise of solving the perplexing question. Indeed, with advancing knowledge and increasing research, doubts, instead of being dissipated, thicken around us. The recent and most wonderful discoveries in Central America, Mexico and Yucatan, the remains of vast cities, temples of hewn stone, rivaling, in 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 in a limited work like the present; but so deeply interwoven is 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 in a high degree entitled 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 James' river, who could not converse but through an interpreter. Without pursuing this point further, I proceed directly to the matter which concerns our immediate subject.
As early after the first settlements made by Europeans in Virginia, Plymouth, and New York, as 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 head waters of the Hudson, the Delaware, and the Susquehanna, claiming empire and exacting homage through an extent of territory, equal to the old Thirteen States. Their names were Mohawks, Senecas, Onondagos, 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, with more dictatorial and absolute sway.
This valley having been, for centuries, subject to their authority, and here having been exhibited the last dread scene in the fearful drama of their national existence, I shall endeavour to give a sketch of their history, policy, and power, so far as such exposition may 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; their remaining a brief period, and then emigrating 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 domineering 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
Delawares, 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 this truth is once admitted, what was before doubtful, becomes perfectly clear or easily explicable.
In treating this matter, I feel a lively assurance, that old facts 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 labour of perusal.
Whether the conjecture be well founded, which I venture to suggest, namely;—That the Empire was divided for easier government, into 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 Alleghany mountains to the Mississippi : The Senecas and Oneidas governing the country west of the Delaware, east of the Alleghany, and indefinitely south, perhaps to the Saluda Gap, thence to the Mississippi : while the Onondagos were eminent as counsellors, 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 council at Onondago, was supreme ;—that whatever was done, every material transaction, no matter by which nation, tribe or division undertaken, was the result of united councils at that Federal Congress.
With these preliminary remarks, I proceed 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 seven hundred warriors under the command of a great chief, Chikataubutt, a wise and stout man, were led out two hundred miles to attack a Mohawk 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 valour, was killed in
repelling the Mohawks in their last attack, with almost all his cap tains." I copy from Drake's multitudinous collection of facts, connected with Indian story; and he from collections of the Mass. Hist. Soc: The authority 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 these 6 or 700 warriors was manisestly 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 neighbouring 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 Narragansetts, who was slain by the Mohawks. “In the beginning of July 1676, those Indians who were known by the name of Maugua wogs, or Mohawks, i. e. man-eaters, had lately fallen on Philip (the renowned Narragansett chief, whose Indian name was Pometacom]-and killed forty 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 Pegy pscot.
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
* The Governor of New Hampshire, in 1685, received a letter written by a distinguished Sagamore, and signed by fifteen Chiefs, of which the following is an extract.
"May 15, 1685. Honor Governor, my friend, you my friend, 1 desire your worship and your power, because I hope you can do some great matters this one. I am poor and naked, and have no men at my place, because I afraid always Mohago he will kill me every day and night. If your worship when please pray help me you no let Mohago kill me at my place at Malamake (Merrimack) river, called Panukkog, and Natukkog, I will submit your worship and your power.”
By Mohago, the Mohawks were clearly indidated. So far east as the Merrimack were their arms a source of terror.
memory of persons then living, a small tribe on the Hudson paid an annual tribute of twenty pounds to the Mohawks.
In August, 1689, the 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 to the English, from the mouth of Sorel river, on the south side of lakes Erie and Ontario, on both sides of the Mississippi, and on the north side of those lakes," &c.
An extract from “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 the Wyandots, as the nation of all Canada, the most remarkable for its defects and virtues. When Jacques Cartier ascended the St. Lawrence he found them established near Hockelega, now Montreal; and when Champlain entered the same river their war with the Iroquois had already commenced, and that enterprizing officer accompanied one of their parties in a hostile expedition against their enemies. The events of the war were most disastrous, 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 owed their preservation to the protection of the Sioux, in whose country, west of lake Superior, they found safety and tranquillity.” 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 twenty degrees of longitude! Nor can it 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.