Part 1 out of 8
This etext was produced by Ken Reeder
Thanks to Cyrille Héloir for French proofreading
Transcription notes are included as an appendix
FRANCE AND ENGLAND IN NORTH AMERICA.
A SERIES OF HISTORICAL NARRATIVES.
BY FRANCIS PARKMAN
THE JESUITS IN NORTH AMERICA IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY.
BY FRANCIS PARKMAN
Few passages of history are more striking than those which record the
efforts of the earlier French Jesuits to convert the Indians. Full as
they are of dramatic and philosophic interest, bearing strongly on the
political destinies of America, and closely involved with the history of
its native population, it is wonderful that they have been left so long
in obscurity. While the infant colonies of England still clung feebly to
the shores of the Atlantic, events deeply ominous to their future were in
progress, unknown to them, in the very heart of the continent. It will
be seen, in the sequel of this volume, that civil and religious liberty
found strange allies in this Western World.
The sources of information concerning the early Jesuits of New France are
very copious. During a period of forty years, the Superior of the
Mission sent, every summer, long and detailed reports, embodying or
accompanied by the reports of his subordinates, to the Provincial of the
Order at Paris, where they were annually published, in duodecimo volumes,
forming the remarkable series known as the Jesuit Relations. Though the
productions of men of scholastic training, they are simple and often
crude in style, as might be expected of narratives hastily written in
Indian lodges or rude mission-houses in the forest, amid annoyances and
interruptions of all kinds. In respect to the value of their contents,
they are exceedingly unequal. Modest records of marvellous adventures
and sacrifices, and vivid pictures of forest-life, alternate with prolix
and monotonous details of the conversion of individual savages, and the
praiseworthy deportment of some exemplary neophyte. With regard to the
condition and character of the primitive inhabitants of North America,
it is impossible to exaggerate their value as an authority. I should add,
that the closest examination has left me no doubt that these missionaries
wrote in perfect good faith, and that the Relations hold a high place as
authentic and trustworthy historical documents. They are very scarce,
and no complete collection of them exists in America. The entire series
was, however, republished, in 1858, by the Canadian government, in three
large octavo volumes.
[ Both editions--the old and the new--are cited in the following pages.
Where the reference is to the old edition, it is indicated by the name of
the publisher (Cramoisy), appended to the citation, in brackets.
In extracts given in the notes, the antiquated orthography and
accentuation are preserved. ]
These form but a part of the surviving writings of the French-American
Jesuits. Many additional reports, memoirs, journals, and letters,
official and private, have come down to us; some of which have recently
been printed, while others remain in manuscript. Nearly every prominent
actor in the scenes to be described has left his own record of events in
which he bore part, in the shape of reports to his Superiors or letters
to his friends. I have studied and compared these authorities, as well
as a great mass of collateral evidence, with more than usual care,
striving to secure the greatest possible accuracy of statement, and to
reproduce an image of the past with photographic clearness and truth.
The introductory chapter of the volume is independent of the rest; but a
knowledge of the facts set forth in it is essential to the full
understanding of the narrative which follows.
In the collection of material, I have received valuable aid from
Mr. J. G. Shea, Rev. Felix Martin, S.J., the Abbés Laverdière and
H. R. Casgrain, Dr. J. C. Taché, and the late Jacques Viger, Esq.
I propose to devote the next volume of this series to the discovery and
occupation by the French of the Valley of the Mississippi.
BOSTON, 1st May, 1867.
Divisions.--The Algonquins.--The Hurons.--Their Houses.--
Medicine.--The Tobacco Nation.--The Neutrals.--The Eries.--
The Andastes.--The Iroquois.--Social and Political Organization.--
Iroquois Institutions, Customs, and Character.--
Indian Religion and Superstitions.--The Indian Mind.
NOTRE-DAME DES ANGES.
Quebec In 1634.--Father Le Jeune.--The Mission-House.--
Its Domestic Economy.--The Jesuits and their Designs.
LOYOLA AND THE JESUITS.
Conversion of Loyola.--Foundation of the Society of Jesus.--
Preparation of the Novice.--Characteristics of the Order.--
The Canadian Jesuits.
PAUL LE JEUNE.
Le Jeune's Voyage.--His First Pupils.--His Studies.--
His Indian Teacher.--Winter at the Mission-house.--
Le Jeune's School.--Reinforcements.
LE JEUNE AND THE HUNTERS.
Le Jeune joins the Indians.--The First Encampment.--The Apostate.--
Forest Life in Winter.--The Indian Hut.--The Sorcerer.--
His Persecution of the Priest.--Evil Company.--Magic.--
Incantations.--Christmas.--Starvation.--Hopes of Conversion.--
Backsliding.--Peril and Escape of Le Jeune.--His Return.
THE HURON MISSION.
Plans of Conversion.--Aims and Motives.--Indian Diplomacy.--
Hurons at Quebec.--Councils.--The Jesuit Chapel.--Le Borgne.--
The Jesuits thwarted.--Their Perseverance.--The Journey to the Hurons.--
Jean de Brébeuf.--The Mission begun.
BRÉBEUF AND HIS ASSOCIATES.
The Huron Mission-house.--Its Inmates.--Its Furniture.--Its Guests.--
The Jesuit as a Teacher.--As an Engineer.--Baptisms.--
Huron Village Life.--Festivities and Sorceries.--The Dream Feast.--
The Priests accused of Magic.--The Drought and the Red Cross.
THE FEAST OF THE DEAD.
Huron Graves.--Preparation for the Ceremony.--Disinterment.--
The Mourning.--The Funeral March.--The Great Sepulchre.--
Funeral Games.--Encampment of the Mourners.--Gifts.--Harangues.--
Frenzy of the Crowd.--The Closing Scene.--Another Rite.--
The Captive Iroquois.--The Sacrifice.
THE HURON AND THE JESUIT.
Enthusiasm for the Mission.--Sickness of the Priests.--
The Pest among the Hurons.--The Jesuit on his Rounds.--
Efforts at Conversion.--Priests and Sorcerers.--The Man-Devil.--
The Magician's Prescription.--Indian Doctors and Patients.--
Covert Baptisms.--Self-Devotion of the Jesuits.
CHARACTER OF THE CANADIAN JESUITS.
Jean de Brébeuf.--Charles Garnier.--Joseph Marie Chaumonot.--
Noël Chabanel.--Isaac Jogues.--Other Jesuits.--Nature of their Faith.--
Ossossané.--The New Chapel.--A Triumph of the Faith.--
The Nether Powers.--Signs of a Tempest.--Slanders.--
Rage Against the Jesuits.--Their Boldness and Persistency.--
Nocturnal Council.--Danger of the Priests.--Brébeuf's Letter.--
Narrow Escapes.--Woes and Consolations.
PRIEST AND PAGAN.
Du Peron's Journey.--Daily Life of the Jesuits.--
Their Missionary Excursions.--Converts at Ossossané.--
Machinery of Conversion.--Conditions of Baptism.--Backsliders.--
The Converts and their Countrymen.--The Cannibals at St. Joseph.
THE TOBACCO NATION.--THE NEUTRALS.
A Change of Plan.--Sainte Marie.--Mission of the Tobacco Nation.--
Winter Journeying.--Reception of the Missionaries.--
Superstitious Terrors.--Peril of Garnier and Jogues.--
Mission of the Neutrals.--Huron Intrigues.--Miracles.--
Fury of the Indians.--Intervention of Saint Michael.--
Return to Sainte Marie.--Intrepidity of the Priests.--
Their Mental Exaltation.
QUEBEC AND ITS TENANTS.
The New Governor.--Edifying Examples.--Le Jeune's Correspondents.--
Rank and Devotion.--Nuns.--Priestly Authority.--Condition of Quebec.--
The Hundred Associates.--Church Discipline.--Plays.--Fireworks.--
The Society of Jesus.--The Foresters.
DEVOTEES AND NUNS.
The Huron Seminary.--Madame de la Peltrie.--Her Pious Schemes.--
Her Sham Marriage.--She visits the Ursulines of Tours.--
Marie de Saint Bernard.--Marie de l'Incarnation.--Her Enthusiasm.--
Her Mystical Marriage.--Her Dejection.--Her Mental Conflicts.--
Her Vision.--Made Superior of the Ursulines.--The Hôtel-Dieu.--
The Voyage to Canada.--Sillery.--Labors and Sufferings of the Nuns.--
Character of Marie de l'Incarnation.--Of Madame de la Peltrie.
VILLEMARIE DE MONTREAL.
Dauversiére and the Voice from Heaven.--Abbé Olier.--Their Schemes.--
The Society of Notre-Dame de Montreal.--Maisonneuve.--Devout Ladies.--
Mademoiselle Mance.--Marguerite Bourgeois.--The Montrealists at Quebec.--
Jealousy.--Quarrels.--Romance and Devotion.--Embarkation.--
Foundation of Montreal.
The Iroquois War.--Jogues.--His Capture.--His Journey to the Mohawks.--
Lake George.--The Mohawk Towns.--The Missionary tortured.--
Death of Goupil.--Misery of Jogues.--The Mohawk "Babylon."--
Fort Orange.--Escape of Jogues.--Manhattan.--The Voyage to France.--
Jogues among his Brethren.--He returns to Canada.
THE IROQUOIS.--BRESSANI.--DE NOUË.
War.--Distress and Terror.--Richelieu.--Battle.--Ruin of Indian Tribes.--
Mutual Destruction.--Iroquois and Algonquin.--Atrocities.--
Frightful Position of the French.--Joseph Bressani.--His Capture.--
His Treatment.--His Escape.--Anne de Nouë.--His Nocturnal Journey.--
Infancy of Montreal.--The Flood.--Vow of Maisonneuve.--Pilgrimage.--
Hurons and Iroquois.--Dogs.--Sally of the French.--Battle.--
Exploit of Maisonneuve.
Iroquois Prisoners.--Piskaret.--His Exploits.--More Prisoners.--
Iroquois Embassy.--The Orator.--The Great Council.--
Speeches of Kiotsaton.--Muster of Savages.--Peace confirmed.
THE PEACE BROKEN.
Uncertainties.--The Mission of Jogues.--He reaches the Mohawks.--
His Reception.--His Return.--His Second Mission.--Warnings of Danger.--
Rage of the Mohawks.--Murder of Jogues.
Mohawk Inroads.--The Hunters of Men.--The Captive Converts.--
The Escape of Marie.--Her Story.--The Algonquin Prisoner's Revenge.--
Her Flight.--Terror of the Colonists.--Jesuit Intrepidity.
PRIEST AND PURITAN.
Miscou.--Tadoussac.--Journeys of De Quen.--Druilletes.--
His Winter with the Montagnais.--Influence of the Missions.--
The Abenaquis.--Druilletes on the Kennebec.--His Embassy to Boston.--
French and Puritan Colonization.--Failure of Druilletes's Embassy.--
New Regulations.--New-Year's Day at Quebec.
A DOOMED NATION.
Indian Infatuation.--Iroquois and Huron.--Huron Triumphs.--
The Captive Iroquois.--His Ferocity and Fortitude.--Partisan Exploits.--
Diplomacy.--The Andastes.--The Huron Embassy.--New Negotiations.--
The Iroquois Ambassador.--His Suicide.--Iroquois Honor.
THE HURON CHURCH.
Hopes of the Mission.--Christian and Heathen.--Body and Soul.--
Position of Proselytes.--The Huron Girl's Visit to Heaven.--A Crisis.--
Huron Justice.--Murder and Atonement.--Hopes and Fears.
The Centre of the Missions.--Fort.--Convent.--Hospital.--Caravansary.--
Church.--The Inmates of Sainte Marie.--Domestic Economy.--Missions.--
A Meeting of Jesuits.--The Dead Missionary.
Huron Traders.--Battle at Three Rivers.--St. Joseph.--
Onset of the Iroquois.--Death of Daniel.--The Town destroyed.
RUIN OF THE HURONS.
St. Louis on Fire.--Invasion.--St. Ignace captured.--
Brébeuf and Lalemant.--Battle at St. Louis.--Sainte Marie threatened.--
Renewed Fighting.--Desperate Conflict.--A Night of Suspense.--
Panic among the Victors.--Burning of St. Ignace.--
Retreat of the Iroquois.
The Ruins of St. Ignace.--The Relics found.--Brébeuf at the Stake.--
His Unconquerable Fortitude.--Lalemant.--Renegade Hurons.--
Iroquois Atrocities.--Death of Brébeuf.--His Character.--
Death of Lalemant.
Dispersion of the Hurons.--Sainte Marie abandoned.--Isle St. Joseph.--
Removal of the Mission.--The New Fort.--Misery of the Hurons.--Famine.--
Epidemic.--Employments of the Jesuits.
The Tobacco Missions.--St. Jean attacked.--Death of Garnier.--
The Journey of Chabanel.--His Death.--Garreau and Grelon.
THE HURON MISSION ABANDONED.
Famine and the Tomahawk.--A New Asylum.--
Voyage of the Refugees to Quebec.--Meeting with Bressani.--
Desperate Courage of the Iroquois.--Inroads and Battles.--
Death of Buteux.
THE LAST OF THE HURONS.
Fate of the Vanquished.--
The Refugees of St. Jean Baptiste and St. Michel.--
The Tobacco Nation and Its Wanderings.--The Modern Wyandots.--
The Biter Bit.--The Hurons at Quebec.--Notre-Dame de Lorette.
Iroquois Ambition.--Its Victims.--The Fate of the Neutrals.--
The Fate of the Eries.--The War with the Andastes.--
Supremacy of the Iroquois.
Failure of the Jesuits.--What their Success would have involved.--
Future of the Mission.
DIVISIONS.--THE ALGONQUINS.--THE HURONS.--THEIR HOUSES.--
MEDICINE.--THE TOBACCO NATION.--THE NEUTRALS.--THE ERIES.--
THE ANDASTES.--THE IROQUOIS.--SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION.--
IROQUOIS INSTITUTIONS, CUSTOMS, AND CHARACTER.--
INDIAN RELIGION AND SUPERSTITIONS.--THE INDIAN MIND.
America, when it became known to Europeans, was, as it had long been,
a scene of wide-spread revolution. North and South, tribe was giving
place to tribe, language to language; for the Indian, hopelessly
unchanging in respect to individual and social development, was, as
regarded tribal relations and local haunts, mutable as the wind. In
Canada and the northern section of the United States, the elements of
change were especially active. The Indian population which, in 1535,
Cartier found at Montreal and Quebec, had disappeared at the opening of
the next century, and another race had succeeded, in language and customs
widely different; while, in the region now forming the State of New York,
a power was rising to a ferocious vitality, which, but for the presence
of Europeans, would probably have subjected, absorbed, or exterminated
every other Indian community east of the Mississippi and north of the
The vast tract of wilderness from the Mississippi to the Atlantic,
and from the Carolinas to Hudson's Bay, was divided between two great
families of tribes, distinguished by a radical difference of language.
A part of Virginia and of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Southeastern New York,
New England, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Lower Canada were occupied,
so far as occupied at all, by tribes speaking various Algonquin languages
and dialects. They extended, moreover, along the shores of the Upper
Lakes, and into the dreary Northern wastes beyond. They held Wisconsin,
Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana, and detached bands ranged the lonely
hunting-round of Kentucky.
[ The word Algonquin is here used in its broadest signification. It was
originally applied to a group of tribes north of the River St. Lawrence.
The difference of language between the original Algonquins and the
Abenaquis of New England, the Ojibwas of the Great Lakes, or the Illinois
of the West, corresponded to the difference between French and Italian,
or Italian and Spanish. Each of these languages, again, had its dialects,
like those of different provinces of France. ]
Like a great island in the midst of the Algonquins lay the country of
tribes speaking the generic tongue of the Iroquois. The true Iroquois,
or Five Nations, extended through Central New York, from the Hudson to
the Genesee. Southward lay the Andastes, on and near the Susquehanna;
westward, the Eries, along the southern shore of Lake Erie, and the
Neutral Nation, along its northern shore from Niagara towards the
Detroit; while the towns of the Hurons lay near the lake to which they
have left their name.
[ To the above general statements there was, in the first half of the
seventeenth century, but one exception worth notice. A detached branch
of the Dahcotah stock, the Winnebago, was established south of Green Bay,
on Lake Michigan, in the midst of Algonquins; and small Dahcotah bands
had also planted themselves on the eastern side of the Mississippi,
nearly in the same latitude.
There was another branch of the Iroquois in the Carolinas, consisting of
the Tuscaroras and kindred bands. In 1716 they were joined to the Five
Of the Algonquin populations, the densest, despite a recent epidemic
which had swept them off by thousands, was in New England. Here were
Mohicans, Pequots, Narragansetts, Wampanoags, Massachusetts, Penacooks,
thorns in the side of the Puritan. On the whole, these savages were
favorable specimens of the Algonquin stock, belonging to that section of
it which tilled the soil, and was thus in some measure spared the
extremes of misery and degradation to which the wandering hunter tribes
were often reduced. They owed much, also, to the bounty of the sea,
and hence they tended towards the coast; which, before the epidemic,
Champlain and Smith had seen at many points studded with wigwams and
waving with harvests of maize. Fear, too, drove, them eastward; for the
Iroquois pursued them with an inveterate enmity. Some paid yearly
tribute to their tyrants, while others were still subject to their
inroads, flying in terror at the sound of the Mohawk war-cry. Westward,
the population thinned rapidly; northward, it soon disappeared. Northern
New Hampshire, the whole of Vermont, and Western Massachusetts had no
human tenants but the roving hunter or prowling warrior.
We have said that this group of tribes was relatively very populous; yet
it is more than doubtful whether all of them united, had union been
possible, could have mustered eight thousand fighting men. To speak
further of them is needless, for they were not within the scope of the
Jesuit labors. The heresy of heresies had planted itself among them; and
it was for the apostle Eliot, not the Jesuit, to essay their conversion.
[ These Indians, the Armouchiquois of the old French writers, were in a
state of chronic war with the tribes of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia.
Champlain, on his voyage of 1603, heard strange accounts of them.
The following is literally rendered from the first narrative of that
heroic, but credulous explorer.
"They are savages of shape altogether monstrous: for their heads are
small, their bodies short, and their arms thin as a skeleton, as are also
their thighs; but their legs are stout and long, and all of one size, and,
when they are seated on their heels, their knees rise more than half a
foot above their heads, which seems a thing strange and against Nature.
Nevertheless, they are active and bold, and they have the best country on
all the coast towards Acadia."--Des Sauvages, f. 84.
This story may match that of the great city of Norembega, on the
Penobscot, with its population of dwarfs, as related by Jean Alphonse. ]
Landing at Boston, three years before a solitude, let the traveller push
northward, pass the River Piscataqua and the Penacooks, and cross the
River Saco. Here, a change of dialect would indicate a different tribe,
or group of tribes. These were the Abenaquis, found chiefly along the
course of the Kennebec and other rivers, on whose banks they raised their
rude harvests, and whose streams they ascended to hunt the moose and bear
in the forest desert of Northern Maine, or descended to fish in the
[ The Tarratines of New-England writers were the Abenaquis, or a portion
of them. ]
Crossing the Penobscot, one found a visible descent in the scale of
humanity. Eastern Maine and the whole of New Brunswick were occupied by
a race called Etchemins, to whom agriculture was unknown, though the sea,
prolific of fish, lobsters, and seals, greatly lightened their miseries.
The Souriquois, or Micmacs, of Nova Scotia, closely resembled them in
habits and condition. From Nova Scotia to the St. Lawrence, there was no
population worthy of the name. From the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Lake
Ontario, the southern border of the great river had no tenants but
hunters. Northward, between the St. Lawrence and Hudson's Bay, roamed
the scattered hordes of the Papinachois, Bersiamites, and others,
included by the French under the general name of Montagnais. When,
in spring, the French trading-ships arrived and anchored in the port of
Tadoussac, they gathered from far and near, toiling painfully through the
desolation of forests, mustering by hundreds at the point of traffic,
and setting up their bark wigwams along the strand of that wild harbor.
They were of the lowest Algonquin type. Their ordinary sustenance was
derived from the chase; though often, goaded by deadly famine, they would
subsist on roots, the bark and buds of trees, or the foulest offal; and
in extremity, even cannibalism was not rare among them.
Ascending the St. Lawrence, it was seldom that the sight of a human form
gave relief to the loneliness, until, at Quebec, the roar of Champlain's
cannon from the verge of the cliff announced that the savage prologue of
the American drama was drawing to a close, and that the civilization of
Europe was advancing on the scene. Ascending farther, all was solitude,
except at Three Rivers, a noted place of trade, where a few Algonquins of
the tribe called Atticamegues might possibly be seen. The fear of the
Iroquois was everywhere; and as the voyager passed some wooded point,
or thicket-covered island, the whistling of a stone-headed arrow
proclaimed, perhaps, the presence of these fierce marauders. At Montreal
there was no human life, save during a brief space in early summer,
when the shore swarmed with savages, who had come to the yearly trade
from the great communities of the interior. To-day there were dances,
songs, and feastings; to-morrow all again was solitude, and the Ottawa
was covered with the canoes of the returning warriors.
Along this stream, a main route of traffic, the silence of the wilderness
was broken only by the splash of the passing paddle. To the north of the
river there was indeed a small Algonquin band, called _La Petite Nation_,
together with one or two other feeble communities; but they dwelt far
from the banks, through fear of the ubiquitous Iroquois. It was nearly
three hundred miles, by the windings of the stream, before one reached
that Algonquin tribe, _La Nation de l'Isle_, who occupied the great island
of the Allumettes. Then, after many a day of lonely travel, the voyager
found a savage welcome among the Nipissings, on the lake which bears
their name; and then circling west and south for a hundred and fifty
miles of solitude, he reached for the first time a people speaking a
dialect of the Iroquois tongue. Here all was changed. Populous towns,
rude fortifications, and an extensive, though barbarous tillage,
indicated a people far in advance of the famished wanderers of the
Saguenay, or their less abject kindred of New England. These were the
Hurons, of whom the modern Wyandots are a remnant. Both in themselves
and as a type of their generic stock they demand more than a passing
[ The usual confusion of Indian tribal names prevails in the case of the
Hurons. The following are their synonymes:--
Hurons (of French origin); Ochateguins (Champlain); Attigouantans (the
name of one of their tribes, used by Champlain for the whole nation);
Ouendat (their true name, according to Lalemant); Yendat, Wyandot,
Guyandot (corruptions of the preceding); Ouaouakecinatouek (Potier),
Quatogies (Colden). ]
More than two centuries have elapsed since the Hurons vanished from their
ancient seats, and the settlers of this rude solitude stand perplexed and
wondering over the relics of a lost people. In the damp shadow of what
seems a virgin forest, the axe and plough bring strange secrets to light:
huge pits, close packed with skeletons and disjointed bones, mixed with
weapons, copper kettles, beads, and trinkets. Not even the straggling
Algonquins, who linger about the scene of Huron prosperity, can tell
their origin. Yet, on ancient worm-eaten pages, between covers of
begrimed parchment, the daily life of this ruined community, its
firesides, its festivals, its funeral rites, are painted with a minute
and vivid fidelity.
The ancient country of the Hurons is now the northern and eastern portion
of Simcoe County, Canada West, and is embraced within the peninsula
formed by the Nottawassaga and Matchedash Bays of Lake Huron, the River
Severn, and Lake Simcoe. Its area was small,--its population
comparatively large. In the year 1639 the Jesuits made an enumeration of
all its villages, dwellings, and families. The result showed thirty-two
villages and hamlets, with seven hundred dwellings, about four thousand
families, and twelve thousand adult persons, or a total population of at
least twenty thousand.
[ Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1640, 88 (Cramoisy). His words are,
"de feux enuiron deux mille, et enuiron douze mille personnes." There
were two families to every fire. That by "personnes" adults only are
meant cannot be doubted, as the Relations abound in incidental evidence
of a total population far exceeding twelve thousand. A Huron family
usually numbered from five to eight persons. The number of the Huron
towns changed from year to year. Champlain and Le Caron in 1615,
reckoned them at seventeen or eighteen, with a population of about ten
thousand, meaning, no doubt, adults. Brébeuf, in 1635, found twenty
villages, and, as he thinks, thirty thousand souls. Both Le Mercier and
De Quen, as well as Dollier de Casson and the anonymous author of the
Relation of 1660, state the population at from thirty to thirty-five
thousand. Since the time of Champlain's visit, various kindred tribes or
fragments of tribes had been incorporated with the Hurons, thus more than
balancing the ravages of a pestilence which had decimated them. ]
The region whose boundaries we have given was an alternation of meadows
and deep forests, interlaced with footpaths leading from town to town.
Of these towns, some were fortified, but the greater number were open and
defenceless. They were of a construction common to all tribes of
Iroquois lineage, and peculiar to them. Nothing similar exists at the
present day. [ The permanent bark villages of the Dahcotah of the
St. Peter's are the nearest modern approach to the Huron towns. The
whole Huron country abounds with evidences of having been occupied by a
numerous population. "On a close inspection of the forest," Dr. Taché
writes to me, "the greatest part of it seems to have been cleared at
former periods, and almost the only places bearing the character of the
primitive forest are the low grounds." ] They covered a space of from
one to ten acres, the dwellings clustering together with little or no
pretension to order. In general, these singular structures were about
thirty or thirty-five feet in length, breadth, and height; but many were
much larger, and a few were of prodigious length. In some of the
villages there were dwellings two hundred and forty feet long, though in
breadth and height they did not much exceed the others. [ Brébeuf,
Relation des Hurons, 1635, 31. Champlain says that he saw them, in 1615,
more than thirty fathoms long; while Vanderdonck reports the length,
from actual measurement, of an Iroquois house, at a hundred and eighty
yards, or five hundred and forty feet! ] In shape they were much like an
arbor overarching a garden-walk. Their frame was of tall and strong
saplings, planted in a double row to form the two sides of the house,
bent till they met, and lashed together at the top. To these other poles
were bound transversely, and the whole was covered with large sheets of
the bark of the oak, elm, spruce, or white cedar, overlapping like the
shingles of a roof, upon which, for their better security, split poles
were made fast with cords of linden bark. At the crown of the arch,
along the entire length of the house, an opening a foot wide was left for
the admission of light and the escape of smoke. At each end was a close
porch of similar construction; and here were stowed casks of bark,
filled with smoked fish, Indian corn, and other stores not liable to
injury from frost. Within, on both sides, were wide scaffolds, four feet
from the floor, and extending the entire length of the house, like the
seats of a colossal omnibus. [ Often, especially among the Iroquois,
the internal arrangement was different. The scaffolds or platforms were
raised only a foot from the earthen floor, and were only twelve or
thirteen feet long, with intervening spaces, where the occupants stored
their family provisions and other articles. Five or six feet above was
another platform, often occupied by children. One pair of platforms
sufficed for a family, and here during summer they slept pellmell,
in the clothes they wore by day, and without pillows. ] These were
formed of thick sheets of bark, supported by posts and transverse poles,
and covered with mats and skins. Here, in summer, was the sleeping place
of the inmates, and the space beneath served for storage of their
firewood. The fires were on the ground, in a line down the middle of the
house. Each sufficed for two families, who, in winter, slept closely
packed around them. Above, just under the vaulted roof, were a great
number of poles, like the perches of a hen-roost, and here were suspended
weapons, clothing, skins, and ornaments. Here, too, in harvest time,
the squaws hung the ears of unshelled corn, till the rude abode, through
all its length, seemed decked with a golden tapestry. In general,
however, its only lining was a thick coating of soot from the smoke of
fires with neither draught, chimney, nor window. So pungent was the
smoke, that it produced inflammation of the eyes, attended in old age
with frequent blindness. Another annoyance was the fleas; and a third,
the unbridled and unruly children. Privacy there was none. The house
was one chamber, sometimes lodging more than twenty families.
[ One of the best descriptions of the Huron and Iroquois houses is that
of Sagard, Voyage des Hurons, 118. See also Champlain (1627), 78;
Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1635, 31; Vanderdonck, New Netherlands,
in N. Y. Hist. Coll., Second Ser., I. 196; Lafitau, Mœurs des Sauvages,
II. 10. The account given by Cartier of the houses he saw at Montreal
corresponds with the above. He describes them as about fifty yards long.
In this case, there were partial partitions for the several families,
and a sort of loft above. Many of the Iroquois and Huron houses were of
similar construction, the partitions being at the sides only, leaving a
wide passage down the middle of the house. Bartram, Observations on a
Journey from Pennsylvania to Canada, gives a description and plan of the
Iroquois Council-House in 1751, which was of this construction. Indeed,
the Iroquois preserved this mode of building, in all essential points,
down to a recent period. They usually framed the sides of their houses
on rows of upright posts, arched with separate poles for the roof.
The Hurons, no doubt, did the same in their larger structures. For a
door, there was a sheet of bark hung on wooden hinges, or suspended by
cords from above.
On the site of Huron towns which were destroyed by fire, the size, shape,
and arrangement of the houses can still, in some instances, be traced by
remains in the form of charcoal, as well as by the charred bones and
fragments of pottery found among the ashes.
Dr. Taché, after a zealous and minute examination of the Huron country,
extended through five years, writes to me as follows. "From the remains
I have found, I can vouch for the scrupulous correctness of our ancient
writers. With the aid of their indications and descriptions, I have been
able to detect the sites of villages in the midst of the forest, and by
time study, in situ, of archæological monuments, small as they are,
to understand and confirm their many interesting details of the habits,
and especially the funeral rites, of these extraordinary tribes." ]
He who entered on a winter night beheld a strange spectacle: the vista of
fires lighting the smoky concave; the bronzed groups encircling
each,--cooking, eating, gambling, or amusing themselves with idle
badinage; shrivelled squaws, hideous with threescore years of hardship;
grisly old warriors, scarred with Iroquois war-clubs; young aspirants,
whose honors were yet to be won; damsels gay with ochre and wampum;
restless children pellmell with restless dogs. Now a tongue of resinous
flame painted each wild feature in vivid light; now the fitful gleam
expired, and the group vanished from sight, as their nation has vanished
The fortified towns of the Hurons were all on the side exposed to
Iroquois incursions. The fortifications of all this family of tribes
were, like their dwellings, in essential points alike. A situation was
chosen favorable to defence,--the bank of a lake, the crown of a
difficult hill, or a high point of land in the fork of confluent rivers.
A ditch, several feet deep, was dug around the village, and the earth
thrown up on the inside. Trees were then felled by an alternate process
of burning and hacking the burnt part with stone hatchets, and by similar
means were cut into lengths to form palisades. These were planted on the
embankment, in one, two, three, or four concentric rows,--those of each
row inclining towards those of the other rows until they intersected.
The whole was lined within, to the height of a man, with heavy sheets of
bark; and at the top, where the palisades crossed, was a gallery of
timber for the defenders, together with wooden gutters, by which streams
of water could be poured down on fires kindled by the enemy. Magazines
of stones, and rude ladders for mounting the rampart, completed the
provision for defence. The forts of the Iroquois were stronger and more
elaborate than those of the Hurons; and to this day large districts in
New York are marked with frequent remains of their ditches and
[ There is no mathematical regularity in these works. In their form,
the builders were guided merely by the nature of the ground. Frequently
a precipice or river sufficed for partial defence, and the line of
embankment occurs only on one or two sides. In one instance, distinct
traces of a double line of palisades are visible along the embankment.
(See Squier, Aboriginal Monuments of New York, 38.) It is probable that
the palisade was planted first, and the earth heaped around it. Indeed,
this is stated by the Tuscarora Indian, Cusick, in his curious History of
the Six Nations (Iroquois). Brébeuf says, that as early as 1636 the
Jesuits taught the Hurons to build rectangular palisaded works, with
bastions. The Iroquois adopted the same practice at an early period,
omitting the ditch and embankment; and it is probable, that, even in
their primitive defences, the palisades, where the ground was of a nature
to yield easily to their rude implements, were planted simply in holes
dug for the purpose. Such seems to have been the Iroquois fortress
attacked by Champlain in 1615.
The Muscogees, with other Southern tribes, and occasionally the
Algonquins, had palisaded towns; but the palisades were usually but a
single row, planted upright. The tribes of Virginia occasionally
surrounded their dwellings with a triple palisade.--Beverly, History of
Virginia, 149. ]
Among these tribes there was no individual ownership of land, but each
family had for the time exclusive right to as much as it saw fit to
cultivate. The clearing process--a most toilsome one--consisted in
hacking off branches, piling them together with brushwood around the foot
of the standing trunks, and setting fire to the whole. The squaws,
working with their hoes of wood and bone among the charred stumps,
sowed their corn, beans, pumpkins, tobacco, sunflowers, and Huron hemp.
No manure was used; but, at intervals of from ten to thirty years,
when the soil was exhausted, and firewood distant, the village was
abandoned and a new one built.
There was little game in the Huron country; and here, as among the
Iroquois, the staple of food was Indian corn, cooked without salt in a
variety of forms, each more odious than the last. Venison was a luxury
found only at feasts; dog-flesh was in high esteem; and, in some of the
towns captive bears were fattened for festive occasions. These tribes
were far less improvident than the roving Algonquins, and stores of
provision were laid up against a season of want. Their main stock of
corn was buried in _caches_, or deep holes in the earth, either within
or without the houses.
In respect to the arts of life, all these stationary tribes were in
advance of the wandering hunters of the North. The women made a species
of earthen pot for cooking, but these were supplanted by the copper
kettles of the French traders. They wove rush mats with no little skill.
They spun twine from hemp, by the primitive process of rolling it on
their thighs; and of this twine they made nets. They extracted oil from
fish and from the seeds of the sunflower,--the latter, apparently,
only for the purposes of the toilet. They pounded their maize in huge
mortars of wood, hollowed by alternate burnings and scrapings. Their
stone axes, spear and arrow heads, and bone fish-hooks, were fast giving
place to the iron of the French; but they had not laid aside their
shields of raw bison-hide, or of wood overlaid with plaited and twisted
thongs of skin. They still used, too, their primitive breastplates and
greaves of twigs interwoven with cordage. [ Some of the northern tribes
of California, at the present day, wear a sort of breastplate "composed
of thin parallel battens of very tough wood, woven together with a small
cord." ] The masterpiece of Huron handiwork, however, was the birch
canoe, in the construction of which the Algonquins were no less skilful.
The Iroquois, in the absence of the birch, were forced to use the bark of
the elm, which was greatly inferior both in lightness and strength.
Of pipes, than which nothing was more important in their eyes, the Hurons
made a great variety, some of baked clay, others of various kinds of
stone, carved by the men, during their long periods of monotonous leisure,
often with great skill and ingenuity. But their most mysterious fabric
was wampum. This was at once their currency, their ornament, their pen,
ink, and parchment; and its use was by no means confined to tribes of the
Iroquois stock. It consisted of elongated beads, white and purple,
made from the inner part of certain shells. It is not easy to conceive
how, with their rude implements, the Indians contrived to shape and
perforate this intractable material. The art soon fell into disuse,
however; for wampum better than their own was brought them by the traders,
besides abundant imitations in glass and porcelain. Strung into
necklaces, or wrought into collars, belts, and bracelets, it was the
favorite decoration of the Indian girls at festivals and dances. It
served also a graver purpose. No compact, no speech, or clause of a
speech, to the representative of another nation, had any force, unless
confirmed by the delivery of a string or belt of wampum. [ Beaver-skins
and other valuable furs were sometimes, on such occasions, used as a
substitute. ] The belts, on occasions of importance, were wrought into
significant devices, suggestive of the substance of the compact or speech,
and designed as aids to memory. To one or more old men of the nation was
assigned the honorable, but very onerous, charge of keepers of the
wampum,--in other words, of the national records; and it was for them to
remember and interpret the meaning of the belts. The figures on
wampum-belts were, for the most part, simply mnemonic. So also were
those carved on wooden tablets, or painted on bark and skin, to preserve
in memory the songs of war, hunting, or magic. [ Engravings of many
specimens of these figured songs are given in the voluminous reports on
the condition of the Indians, published by Government, under the
editorship of Mr. Schoolcraft. The specimens are chiefly Algonquin. ]
The Hurons had, however, in common with other tribes, a system of rude
pictures and arbitrary signs, by which they could convey to each other,
with tolerable precision, information touching the ordinary subjects of
Their dress was chiefly of skins, cured with smoke after the well-known
Indian mode. That of the women, according to the Jesuits, was more
modest than that "of our most pious ladies of France." The young girls
on festal occasions must be excepted from this commendation, as they wore
merely a kilt from the waist to the knee, besides the wampum decorations
of the breast and arms. Their long black hair, gathered behind the neck,
was decorated with disks of native copper, or gay pendants made in France,
and now occasionally unearthed in numbers from their graves. The men,
in summer, were nearly naked,--those of a kindred tribe wholly so,
with the sole exception of their moccasins. In winter they were clad in
tunics and leggins of skin, and at all seasons, on occasions of ceremony,
were wrapped from head to foot in robes of beaver or otter furs,
sometimes of the greatest value. On the inner side, these robes were
decorated with painted figures and devices, or embroidered with the dyed
quills of the Canada hedgehog. In this art of embroidery, however,
the Hurons were equalled or surpassed by some of the Algonquin tribes.
They wore their hair after a variety of grotesque and startling fashions.
With some, it was loose on one side, and tight braided on the other; with
others, close shaved, leaving one or more long and cherished locks; while,
with others again, it bristled in a ridge across the crown, like the back
of a hyena. [ See Le Jeune, Relation, 1638, 35.--"Quelles hures!"
exclaimed some astonished Frenchman. Hence the name, Hurons. ] When in
full dress, they were painted with ochre, white clay, soot, and the red
juice of certain berries. They practised tattooing, sometimes covering
the whole body with indelible devices. [ Bressani, Relation Abrégée, 72.
--Champlain has a picture of a warrior thus tattooed. ] When of such
extent, the process was very severe; and though no murmur escaped the
sufferer, he sometimes died from its effects.
Female life among the Hurons had no bright side. It was a youth of
license, an age of drudgery. Despite an organization which, while it
perhaps made them less sensible of pain, certainly made them less
susceptible of passion, than the higher races of men, the Hurons were
notoriously dissolute, far exceeding in this respect the wandering and
starving Algonquins. [ 1 ] Marriage existed among them, and polygamy was
exceptional; but divorce took place at the will or caprice of either
party. A practice also prevailed of temporary or experimental marriage,
lasting a day, a week, or more. The seal of the compact was merely the
acceptance of a gift of wampum made by the suitor to the object of his
desire or his whim. These gifts were never returned on the dissolution
of the connection; and as an attractive and enterprising damsel might,
and often did, make twenty such marriages before her final establishment,
she thus collected a wealth of wampum with which to adorn herself for the
village dances. [ 2 ] This provisional matrimony was no bar to a license
boundless and apparently universal, unattended with loss of reputation on
either side. Every instinct of native delicacy quickly vanished under
the influence of Huron domestic life; eight or ten families, and often
more, crowded into one undivided house, where privacy was impossible,
and where strangers were free to enter at all hours of the day or night.
[ 1 Among the Iroquois there were more favorable features in the
condition of women. The matrons had often a considerable influence on
the decisions of the councils. Lafitau, whose book appeared in 1724,
says that the nation was corrupt in his time, but that this was a
degeneracy from their ancient manners. La Potherie and Charlevoix make a
similar statement. Megapolensis, however, in 1644, says that they were
then exceedingly debauched; and Greenhalgh, in 1677, gives ample evidence
of a shameless license. One of their most earnest advocates of the
present day admits that the passion of love among them had no other than
an animal existence. (Morgan, League of the Iroquois, 322.) There is
clear proof that the tribes of the South were equally corrupt. (See
Lawson, Carolina, 34, and other early writers.) On the other hand,
chastity in women was recognized as a virtue by many tribes. This was
peculiarly the case among the Algonquins of Gaspé, where a lapse in this
regard was counted a disgrace. (See Le Clerc, Nouvelle Relation de la
Gaspésie, 417, where a contrast is drawn between the modesty of the girls
of this region and the open prostitution practised among those of other
tribes.) Among the Sioux, adultery on the part of a woman is punished by
The remarkable forbearance observed by Eastern and Northern tribes
towards female captives was probably the result of a superstition.
Notwithstanding the prevailing license, the Iroquois and other tribes had
among themselves certain conventional rules which excited the admiration
of the Jesuit celibates. Some of these had a superstitious origin;
others were in accordance with the iron requirements of their savage
etiquette. To make the Indian a hero of romance is mere nonsense. ]
[ 2 "Il s'en trouue telle qui passe ainsi sa ieunesse, qui aura en plus
de vingt maris, lesquels vingt maris ne sont pas seuls en la jouyssance
de la beste, quelques mariez qu'ils soient: car la nuict venuë, las
ieunes femmes courent d'une cabane en une autre, come font les ieunes
hommes de leur costé, qui en prennent par ou bon leur semble, toutesfois
sans violence aucune, et n'en reçoiuent aucune infamie, ny injure,
la coustume du pays estant telle."--Champlain (1627), 90. Compare Sagard,
Voyage des Hurons, 176. Both were personal observers.
The ceremony, even of the most serious marriage, consisted merely in the
bride's bringing a dish of boiled maize to the bridegroom, together with
an armful of fuel. There was often a feast of the relatives, or of the
whole village. ]
Once a mother, and married with a reasonable permanency, the Huron woman
from a wanton became a drudge. In March and April she gathered the
year's supply of firewood. Then came sowing, tilling, and harvesting,
smoking fish, dressing skins, making cordage and clothing, preparing
food. On the march it was she who bore the burden; for, in the words of
Champlain, "their women were their mules." The natural effect followed.
In every Huron town were shrivelled hags, hideous and despised, who,
in vindictiveness, ferocity, and cruelty, far exceeded the men.
To the men fell the task of building the houses, and making weapons,
pipes, and canoes. For the rest, their home-life was a life of leisure
and amusement. The summer and autumn were their seasons of serious
employment,--of war, hunting, fishing, and trade. There was an
established system of traffic between the Hurons and the Algonquins of
the Ottawa and Lake Nipissing: the Hurons exchanging wampum, fishing-nets,
and corn for fish and furs. [ Champlain (1627), 84. ] From various
relics found in their graves, it may be inferred that they also traded
with tribes of the Upper Lakes, as well as with tribes far southward,
towards the Gulf of Mexico. Each branch of traffic was the monopoly of
the family or clan by whom it was opened. They might, if they could,
punish interlopers, by stripping them of all they possessed, unless the
latter had succeeded in reaching home with the fruits of their trade,--in
which case the outraged monopolists had no further right of redress,
and could not attempt it without a breaking of the public peace, and
exposure to the authorized vengeance of the other party. [ Brébeuf,
Relation des Hurons, 1636, 168 (Cramoisy). ] Their fisheries, too,
were regulated by customs having the force of laws. These pursuits,
with their hunting,--in which they were aided by a wolfish breed of dogs
unable to bark,--consumed the autumn and early winter; but before the new
year the greater part of the men were gathered in their villages.
Now followed their festal season; for it was the season of idleness for
the men, and of leisure for the women. Feasts, gambling, smoking,
and dancing filled the vacant hours. Like other Indians, the Hurons were
desperate gamblers, staking their all,--ornaments, clothing, canoes,
pipes, weapons, and wives. One of their principal games was played with
plum-stones, or wooden lozenges, black on one side and white on the
other. These were tossed up in a wooden bowl, by striking it sharply
upon the ground, and the players betted on the black or white. Sometimes
a village challenged a neighboring village. The game was played in one
of the houses. Strong poles were extended from side to side, and on
these sat or perched the company, party facing party, while two players
struck the bowl on the ground between. Bets ran high; and Brébeuf
relates, that once, in midwinter, with the snow nearly three feet deep,
the men of his village returned from a gambling visit, bereft of their
leggins, and barefoot, yet in excellent humor. [ Brébeuf, Relation des
Hurons, 1636, 113.--This game is still a favorite among the Iroquois,
some of whom hold to the belief that they will play it after death in the
realms of bliss. In all their important games of chance, they employed
charms, incantations, and all the resources of their magical art, to gain
good luck. ] Ludicrous as it may appear, these games were often medical
prescriptions, and designed as a cure of the sick.
Their feasts and dances were of various character, social, medical,
and mystical or religious. Some of their feasts were on a scale of
extravagant profusion. A vain or ambitious host threw all his substance
into one entertainment, inviting the whole village, and perhaps several
neighboring villages also. In the winter of 1635 there was a feast at
the village of Contarrea, where thirty kettles were on the fires, and
twenty deer and four bears were served up. [ Brébeuf, Relation des
Hurons, 1636, 111. ] The invitation was simple. The messenger addressed
the desired guest with the concise summons, "Come and eat"; and to refuse
was a grave offence. He took his dish and spoon, and repaired to the
scene of festivity. Each, as he entered, greeted his host with the
guttural ejaculation, Ho! and ranged himself with the rest, squatted on
the earthen floor or on the platform along the sides of the house.
The kettles were slung over the fires in the midst. First, there was a
long prelude of lugubrious singing. Then the host, who took no share in
the feast, proclaimed in a loud voice the contents of each kettle in turn,
and at each announcement the company responded in unison, Ho! The
attendant squaws filled with their ladles the bowls of all the guests.
There was talking, laughing, jesting, singing, and smoking; and at times
the entertainment was protracted through the day.
When the feast had a medical or mystic character, it was indispensable
that each guest should devour the whole of the portion given him, however
enormous. Should he fail, the host would be outraged, the community
shocked, and the spirits roused to vengeance. Disaster would befall the
nation,--death, perhaps, the individual. In some cases, the imagined
efficacy of the feast was proportioned to the rapidity with which the
viands were despatched. Prizes of tobacco were offered to the most rapid
feeder; and the spectacle then became truly porcine. [ This superstition
was not confined to the Hurons, but extended to many other tribes,
including, probably, all the Algonquins, with some of which it holds in
full force to this day. A feaster, unable to do his full part, might,
if he could, hire another to aid him; otherwise, he must remain in his
place till the work was done. ] These _festins à manger tout_ were much
dreaded by many of the Hurons, who, however, were never known to decline
Invitation to a dance was no less concise than to a feast. Sometimes a
crier proclaimed the approaching festivity through the village. The
house was crowded. Old men, old women, and children thronged the
platforms, or clung to the poles which supported the sides and roof.
Fires were raked out, and the earthen floor cleared. Two chiefs sang at
the top of their voices, keeping time to their song with tortoise-shell
rattles. [ 1 ] The men danced with great violence and gesticulation;
the women, with a much more measured action. The former were nearly
divested of clothing,--in mystical dances, sometimes wholly so; and,
from a superstitious motive, this was now and then the case with the women.
Both, however, were abundantly decorated with paint, oil, beads, wampum,
trinkets, and feathers.
[ 1 Sagard gives specimens of their songs. In both dances and feasts
there was no little variety. These were sometimes combined. It is
impossible, in brief space, to indicate more than their general features.
In the famous "war-dance,"--which was frequently danced, as it still is,
for amusement,--speeches, exhortations, jests, personal satire, and
repartee were commonly introduced as a part of the performance, sometimes
by way of patriotic stimulus, sometimes for amusement. The music in this
case was the drum and the war-song. Some of the other dances were also
interspersed with speeches and sharp witticisms, always taken in good
part, though Lafitau says that he has seen the victim so pitilessly
bantered that he was forced to hide his head in his blanket. ]
Religious festivals, councils, the entertainment of an envoy, the
inauguration of a chief, were all occasions of festivity, in which social
pleasure was joined with matter of grave import, and which at times
gathered nearly all the nation into one great and harmonious concourse.
Warlike expeditions, too, were always preceded by feasting, at which the
warriors vaunted the fame of their ancestors, and their own past and
prospective exploits. A hideous scene of feasting followed the torture
of a prisoner. Like the torture itself, it was, among the Hurons,
partly an act of vengeance, and partly a religious rite. If the victim
had shown courage, the heart was first roasted, cut into small pieces,
and given to the young men and boys, who devoured it to increase their
own courage. The body was then divided, thrown into the kettles, and
eaten by the assembly, the head being the portion of the chief. Many of
the Hurons joined in the feast with reluctance and horror, while others
took pleasure in it. [ 1 ] This was the only form of cannibalism among
them, since, unlike the wandering Algonquins, they were rarely under the
desperation of extreme famine.
[ 1 "Il y en a qui en mangent auec plaisir."--Brébeuf, Relation des
Hurons, 1636, 121.--Le Mercier gives a description of one of these scenes,
at which he was present. (Ibid., 1637, 118.) The same horrible practice
prevailed to a greater extent among the Iroquois. One of the most
remarkable instances of Indian cannibalism is that furnished by a Western
tribe, the Miamis, among whom there was a clan, or family, whose
hereditary duty and privilege it was to devour the bodies of prisoners
burned to death. The act had somewhat of a religious character, was
attended with ceremonial observances, and was restricted to the family in
question.--See Hon. Lewis Cass, in the appendix to Colonel Whiting's poem,
A great knowledge of simples for the cure of disease is popularly
ascribed to the Indian. Here, however, as elsewhere, his knowledge is in
fact scanty. He rarely reasons from cause to effect, or from effect to
cause. Disease, in his belief, is the result of sorcery, the agency of
spirits or supernatural influences, undefined and indefinable. The
Indian doctor was a conjurer, and his remedies were to the last degree
preposterous, ridiculous, or revolting. The well-known Indian sweating-
bath is the most prominent of the few means of cure based on agencies
simply physical; and this, with all the other natural remedies, was
applied, not by the professed doctor, but by the sufferer himself,
or his friends.
[ The Indians had many simple applications for wounds, said to have been
very efficacious; but the purity of their blood, owing to the absence
from their diet of condiments and stimulants, as well as to their active
habits, aided the remedy. In general, they were remarkably exempt from
disease or deformity, though often seriously injured by alternations of
hunger and excess. The Hurons sometimes died from the effects of their
_festins à manger tout_. ]
The Indian doctor beat, shook, and pinched his patient, howled, whooped,
rattled a tortoise-shell at his ear to expel the evil spirit, bit him
till blood flowed, and then displayed in triumph a small piece of wood,
bone, or iron, which he had hidden in his mouth, and which he affirmed
was the source of the disease, now happily removed. [ 1 ] Sometimes he
prescribed a dance, feast, or game; and the whole village bestirred
themselves to fulfil the injunction to the letter. They gambled away
their all; they gorged themselves like vultures; they danced or played
ball naked among the snow-drifts from morning till night. At a medical
feast, some strange or unusual act was commonly enjoined as vital to the
patient's cure: as, for example, the departing guest, in place of the
customary monosyllable of thanks, was required to greet his host with an
ugly grimace. Sometimes, by prescription, half the village would throng
into the house where the patient lay, led by old women disguised with the
heads and skins of bears, and beating with sticks on sheets of dry bark.
Here the assembly danced and whooped for hours together, with a din to
which a civilized patient would promptly have succumbed. Sometimes the
doctor wrought himself into a prophetic fury, raving through the length
and breadth of the dwelling, snatching firebrands and flinging them about
him, to the terror of the squaws, with whom, in their combustible
tenements, fire was a constant bugbear.
[ 1 The Hurons believed that the chief cause of disease and death was a
monstrous serpent, that lived under the earth. By touching a tuft of
hair, a feather, or a fragment of bone, with a portion of his flesh or
fat, the sorcerer imparted power to it of entering the body of his victim,
and gradually killing him. It was an important part of the doctor's
function to extract these charms from the vitals of his patient.--
Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1648, 75. ]
Among the Hurons and kindred tribes, disease was frequently ascribed to
some hidden wish ungratified. Hence the patient was overwhelmed with
gifts, in the hope, that, in their multiplicity, the desideratum might be
supplied. Kettles, skins, awls, pipes, wampum, fish-hooks, weapons,
objects of every conceivable variety, were piled before him by a host of
charitable contributors and if, as often happened, a dream, the Indian
oracle, had revealed to the sick man the secret of his cure, his demands
were never refused, however extravagant, idle, nauseous, or abominable.
[ 1 ] Hence it is no matter of wonder that sudden illness and sudden
cures were frequent among the Hurons. The patient reaped profit,
and the doctor both profit and honor.
[ 1 "Dans le pays de nos Hurons, il se faict aussi des assemblées de
toutes les filles d'vn bourg auprés d'vne malade, tant à sa priere,
suyuant la resuerie ou le songe qu'elle en aura euë, que par l'ordonnance
de Loki (the doctor), pour sa santé et guerison. Les filles ainsi
assemblées, on leur demande à toutes, les vnes apres les autres, celuy
qu'elles veulent des ieunes hommes du bourg pour dormir auec elles la
nuict prochaine: elles en nomment chacune vn, qui sont aussi-tost
aduertis par les Maistres de la ceremonie, lesquels viennent tous au soir
en la presence de la malade dormir chacun auec celle qui l'a choysi,
d'vn bout à l'autre de la Cabane et passent ainsi toute la nuict, pendant
que deux Capitaines aux deux bouts du logis chantent et sonnent de leur
Tortuë du soir au lendemain matin, que la ceremonie cesse. Dieu vueille
abolir vne si damnable et malheureuse ceremonie."--Sagard, Voyage des
Hurons, 158.--This unique mode of cure, which was called Andacwandet,
is also described by Lalemant, who saw it. (Relation des Hurons, 1639,
84.) It was one of the recognized remedies.
For the medical practices of the Hurons, see also Champlain, Brébeuf,
Lafitau, Charlevoix, and other early writers. Those of the Algonquins
were in some points different. The doctor often consulted the spirits,
to learn the cause and cure of the disease, by a method peculiar to that
family of tribes. He shut himself in a small conical lodge, and the
spirits here visited him, manifesting their presence by a violent shaking
of the whole structure. This superstition will be described in another
THE HURON-IROQUOIS FAMILY.
And now, before entering upon the very curious subject of Indian social
and tribal organization, it may be well briefly to observe the position
and prominent distinctive features of the various communities speaking
dialects of the generic tongue of the Iroquois. In this remarkable
family of tribes occur the fullest developments of Indian character,
and the most conspicuous examples of Indian intelligence. If the higher
traits popularly ascribed to the race are not to be found here, they are
to be found nowhere. A palpable proof of the superiority of this stock
is afforded in the size of the Iroquois and Huron brains. In average
internal capacity of the cranium, they surpass, with few and doubtful
exceptions, all other aborigines of North and South America, not
excepting the civilized races of Mexico and Peru.
[ "On comparing five Iroquois heads, I find that they give an average
internal capacity of eighty-eight cubic inches, which is within two
inches of the Caucasian mean."--Morton, Crania Americana, 195.--It is
remarkable that the internal capacity of the skulls of the barbarous
American tribes is greater than that of either the Mexicans or the
Peruvians. "The difference in volume is chiefly confined to the
occipital and basal portions,"--in other words, to the region of the
animal propensities; and hence, it is argued, the ferocious, brutal,
and uncivilizable character of the wild tribes.--See J. S. Phillips,
Admeasurements of Crania of the Principal Groups of Indians in the United
In the woody valleys of the Blue Mountains, south of the Nottawassaga Bay
of Lake Huron, and two days' journey west of the frontier Huron towns,
lay the nine villages of the Tobacco Nation, or Tionnontates.
[ Synonymes: Tionnontates, Etionontates, Tuinontatek, Dionondadies,
Khionontaterrhonons, Petuneux or Nation du Petun (Tobacco). ] In manners,
as in language, they closely resembled the Hurons. Of old they were
their enemies, but were now at peace with them, and about the year 1640
became their close confederates. Indeed, in the ruin which befell that
hapless people, the Tionnontates alone retained a tribal organization;
and their descendants, with a trifling exception, are to this day the
sole inheritors of the Huron or Wyandot name. Expatriated and wandering,
they held for generations a paramount influence among the Western tribes.
[ "L'ame de tous les Conseils."--Charlevoix, Voyage, 199.--In 1763 they
were Pontiac's best warriors. ] In their original seats among the Blue
Mountains, they offered an example extremely rare among Indians, of a
tribe raising a crop for the market; for they traded in tobacco largely
with other tribes. Their Huron confederates, keen traders, would not
suffer them to pass through their country to traffic with the French,
preferring to secure for themselves the advantage of bartering with them
in French goods at an enormous profit.
[ On the Tionnontates, see Le Mercier, Relation, 1637, 163; Lalemant,
Relation, 1641, 69; Ragueneau, Relation, 1648, 61. An excellent summary
of their character and history, by Mr. Shea, will be found in Hist. Mag.,
V. 262. ]
Journeying southward five days from the Tionnontate towns, the forest
traveller reached the border villages of the Attiwandarons, or Neutral
Nation. [ Attiwandarons, Attiwendaronk, Atirhagenrenrets, Rhagenratka
(Jesuit Relations), Attionidarons (Sagard). They, and not the Eries,
were the Kahkwas of Seneca tradition. ] As early as 1626, they were
visited by the Franciscan friar, La Roche Dallion, who reports a numerous
population in twenty-eight towns, besides many small hamlets. Their
country, about forty leagues in extent, embraced wide and fertile
districts on the north shore of Lake Erie, and their frontier extended
eastward across the Niagara, where they had three or four outlying towns.
[ Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1641, 71.--The Niagara was then called
the River of the Neutrals, or the Onguiaahra. Lalemant estimates the
Neutral population, in 1640, at twelve thousand, in forty villages. ]
Their name of Neutrals was due to their neutrality in the war between the
Hurons and the Iroquois proper. The hostile warriors, meeting in a
Neutral cabin, were forced to keep the peace, though, once in the open
air, the truce was at an end. Yet this people were abundantly ferocious,
and, while holding a pacific attitude betwixt their warring kindred,
waged deadly strife with the Mascoutins, an Algonquin horde beyond Lake
Michigan. Indeed, it was but recently that they had been at blows with
seventeen Algonquin tribes. [ Lettre du Père La Roche Dallion, 8 Juillet,
1627, in Le Clerc, Établissement de la Foy, I. 346. ] They burned female
prisoners, a practice unknown to the Hurons. [ Women were often burned
by the Iroquois: witness the case of Catherine Mercier in 1661, and many
cases of Indian women mentioned by the early writers. ] Their country
was full of game and they were bold and active hunters. In form and
stature they surpassed even the Hurons, whom they resembled in their mode
of life, and from whose language their own, though radically similar,
was dialectically distinct. Their licentiousness was even more open and
shameless; and they stood alone in the extravagance of some of their
usages. They kept their dead in their houses till they became
insupportable; then scraped the flesh from the bones, and displayed them
in rows along the walls, there to remain till the periodical Feast of the
Dead, or general burial. In summer, the men wore no clothing whatever,
but were usually tattooed from head to foot with powdered charcoal.
The sagacious Hurons refused them a passage through their country to the
French; and the Neutrals apparently had not sense or reflection enough to
take the easy and direct route of Lake Ontario, which was probably open
to them, though closed against the Hurons by Iroquois enmity. Thus the
former made excellent profit by exchanging French goods at high rates for
the valuable furs of the Neutrals.
[ The Hurons became very jealous, when La Roche Dallion visited the
Neutrals, lest a direct trade should be opened between the latter and the
French, against whom they at once put in circulation a variety of
slanders: that they were a people who lived on snakes and venom; that
they were furnished with tails; and that French women, though having but
one breast, bore six children at a birth. The missionary nearly lost his
life in consequence, the Neutrals conceiving the idea that he would
infect their country with a pestilence.--La Roche Dallion, in Le Clerc,
I. 346. ]
Southward and eastward of Lake Erie dwelt a kindred people, the Eries,
or Nation of the Cat. Little besides their existence is known of them.
They seem to have occupied Southwestern New York as far east as the
Genesee, the frontier of the Senecas, and in habits and language to have
resembled the Hurons. [ Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1648, 46. ]
They were noted warriors, fought with poisoned arrows, and were long a
terror to the neighboring Iroquois.
[ Le Mercier, Relation, 1654, 10.--"Nous les appellons la Nation Chat,
à cause qu'il y a dans leur pais vne quantité prodigieuse de Chats
sauuages."--Ibid.--The Iroquois are said to have given the same name,
Jegosasa, Cat Nation, to the Neutrals.--Morgan, League of the Iroquois,
Synonymes: Eriés, Erigas, Eriehronon, Riguehronon. The Jesuits never
had a mission among them, though they seem to have been visited by
Champlain's adventurous interpreter, Étienne Brulé, in the summer of
1615.--They are probably the Carantoüans of Champlain. ]
On the Lower Susquehanna dwelt the formidable tribe called by the French
Andastes. Little is known of them, beyond their general resemblance to
their kindred, in language, habits, and character. Fierce and resolute
warriors, they long made head against the Iroquois of New York, and were
vanquished at last more by disease than by the tomahawk.
[ Gallatin erroneously places the Andastes on the Alleghany, Bancroft and
others adopting the error. The research of Mr. Shea has shown their
identity with the Susquehannocks of the English, and the Minquas of the
Dutch.--See Hist. Mag., II. 294.
Synonymes: Andastes, Andastracronnons, Andastaeronnons, Andastaguez,
Antastoui (French), Susquehannocks (English), Mengwe, Minquas (Dutch),
Conestogas, Conessetagoes (English). ]
In Central New York, stretching east and west from the Hudson to the
Genesee, lay that redoubted people who have lent their name to the tribal
family of the Iroquois, and stamped it indelibly on the early pages of
American history. Among all the barbarous nations of the continent,
the Iroquois of New York stand paramount. Elements which among other
tribes were crude, confused, and embryotic, were among them systematized
and concreted into an established polity. The Iroquois was the Indian of
Indians. A thorough savage, yet a finished and developed savage, he is
perhaps an example of the highest elevation which man can reach without
emerging from his primitive condition of the hunter. A geographical
position, commanding on one hand the portal of the Great Lakes, and on
the other the sources of the streams flowing both to the Atlantic and the
Mississippi, gave the ambitious and aggressive confederates advantages
which they perfectly understood, and by which they profited to the
utmost. Patient and politic as they were ferocious, they were not only
conquerors of their own race, but the powerful allies and the dreaded
foes of the French and English colonies, flattered and caressed by both,
yet too sagacious to give themselves without reserve to either. Their
organization and their history evince their intrinsic superiority.
Even their traditionary lore, amid its wild puerilities, shows at times
the stamp of an energy and force in striking contrast with the flimsy
creations of Algonquin fancy. That the Iroquois, left under their
institutions to work out their destiny undisturbed, would ever have
developed a civilization of their own, I do not believe. These
institutions, however, are sufficiently characteristic and curious,
and we shall soon have occasion to observe them.
[ The name Iroquois is French. Charlevoix says: "Il a été formé du terme
Hiro, ou Hero, qui signifie J'ai dit, et par lequel ces sauvages
finissent tous leur discours, comme les Latins faisoient autrefois par
leur Dixi; et de Koué, qui est un cri tantôt de tristesse, lorsqu'on le
prononce en traînant, et tantôt de joye, quand on le prononce plus
court."--Hist. de la N. F., I. 271.--Their true name is Hodenosaunee,
or People of the Long House, because their confederacy of five distinct
nations, ranged in a line along Central New York, was likened to one of
the long bark houses already described, with five fires and five
families. The name Agonnonsionni, or Aquanuscioni, ascribed to them by
Lafitau and Charlevoix, who translated it "House-Makers," Faiseurs de
Cabannes, may be a conversion of the true name with an erroneous
rendering. The following are the true names of the five nations
severally, with their French and English synonymes. For other synonymes,
see "History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac," 8, note.
Ganeagaono, Mohawk, Agnier.
Onayotekaono, Oneida, Onneyut.
Onundagaono, Onondaga, Onnontagué.
Gweugwehono, Cayuga, Goyogouin.
Nundawaono, Seneca, Tsonnontouans.
The Iroquois termination in ono--or onon, as the French write it--simply
means people. ]
SOCIAL AND POLITICAL ORGANIZATION.
In Indian social organization, a problem at once suggests itself.
In these communities, comparatively populous, how could spirits so fierce,
and in many respects so ungoverned, live together in peace, without law
and without enforced authority? Yet there were towns where savages lived
together in thousands with a harmony which civilization might envy.
This was in good measure due to peculiarities of Indian character and
habits. This intractable race were, in certain external respects,
the most pliant and complaisant of mankind. The early missionaries were
charmed by the docile acquiescence with which their dogmas were received;
but they soon discovered that their facile auditors neither believed nor
understood that to which they had so promptly assented. They assented
from a kind of courtesy, which, while it vexed the priests, tended
greatly to keep the Indians in mutual accord. That well-known self-
control, which, originating in a form of pride, covered the savage nature
of the man with a veil, opaque, though thin, contributed not a little to
the same end. Though vain, arrogant, boastful, and vindictive, the
Indian bore abuse and sarcasm with an astonishing patience. Though
greedy and grasping, he was lavish without stint, and would give away his
all to soothe the manes of a departed relative, gain influence and
applause, or ingratiate himself with his neighbors. In his dread of
public opinion, he rivalled some of his civilized successors.
All Indians, and especially these populous and stationary tribes, had
their code of courtesy, whose requirements were rigid and exact; nor
might any infringe it without the ban of public censure. Indian nature,
inflexible and unmalleable, was peculiarly under the control of custom.
Established usage took the place of law,--was, in fact, a sort of common
law, with no tribunal to expound or enforce it. In these wild
democracies,--democracies in spirit, though not in form,--a respect for
native superiority, and a willingness to yield to it, were always
conspicuous. All were prompt to aid each other in distress, and a
neighborly spirit was often exhibited among them. When a young woman was
permanently married, the other women of the village supplied her with
firewood for the year, each contributing an armful. When one or more
families were without shelter, the men of the village joined in building
them a house. In return, the recipients of the favor gave a feast,
if they could; if not, their thanks were sufficient. [ The following
testimony concerning Indian charity and hospitality is from Ragueneau:
"As often as we have seen tribes broken up, towns destroyed, and their
people driven to flight, we have seen them, to the number of seven or
eight hundred persons, received with open arms by charitable hosts,
who gladly gave them aid, and even distributed among them a part of the
lands already planted, that they might have the means of living."--
Relation, 1650, 28. ] Among the Iroquois and Hurons--and doubtless among
the kindred tribes--there were marked distinctions of noble and base,
prosperous and poor; yet, while there was food in the village, the
meanest and the poorest need not suffer want. He had but to enter the
nearest house, and seat himself by the fire, when, without a word on
either side, food was placed before him by the women.
[ The Jesuit Brébeuf, than whom no one knew the Hurons better, is very
emphatic in praise of their harmony and social spirit. Speaking of one
of the four nations of which the Hurons were composed, he says: "Ils ont
vne douceur et vne affabilité quasi incroyable pour des Sauuages; ils ne
se picquent pas aisément. . . . Ils se maintiennent dans cette si
parfaite intelligence par les frequentes visites, les secours qu'ils se
donnent mutuellement dans leurs maladies, par les festins et les
alliances. . . . Ils sont moins en leurs Cabanes que chez leurs
amis. . . S'ils ont vn bon morceau, ils en font festin à leurs amis, et
ne le mangent quasi iamais en leur particulier," etc.--Relation des
Hurons, 1636, 118. ]
Contrary to the received opinion, these Indians, like others of their
race, when living in communities, were of a very social disposition.
Besides their incessant dances and feasts, great and small, they were
continually visiting, spending most of their time in their neighbors'
houses, chatting, joking, bantering one another with witticisms, sharp,
broad, and in no sense delicate, yet always taken in good part. Every
village had its adepts in these wordy tournaments, while the shrill laugh
of young squaws, untaught to blush, echoed each hardy jest or rough
In the organization of the savage communities of the continent, one
feature, more or less conspicuous, continually appears. Each nation or
tribe--to adopt the names by which these communities are usually
known--is subdivided into several clans. These clans are not locally
separate, but are mingled throughout the nation. All the members of each
clan are, or are assumed to be, intimately joined in consanguinity.
Hence it is held an abomination for two persons of the same clan to
intermarry; and hence, again, it follows that every family must contain
members of at least two clans. Each clan has its name, as the clan of
the Hawk, of the Wolf, or of the Tortoise; and each has for its emblem
the figure of the beast, bird, reptile, plant, or other object, from
which its name is derived. This emblem, called totem by the Algonquins,
is often tattooed on the clansman's body, or rudely painted over the
entrance of his lodge. The child belongs, in most cases, to the clan,
not of the father, but of the mother. In other words, descent, not of
the totem alone, but of all rank, titles, and possessions, is through the
female. The son of a chief can never be a chief by hereditary title,
though he may become so by force of personal influence or achievement.
Neither can he inherit from his father so much as a tobacco-pipe.
All possessions alike pass of right to the brothers of the chief, or to
the sons of his sisters, since these are all sprung from a common mother.
This rule of descent was noticed by Champlain among the Hurons in 1615.
That excellent observer refers it to an origin which is doubtless its
true one. The child may not be the son of his reputed father, but must
be the son of his mother,--a consideration of more than ordinary force in
an Indian community.
[ "Les enfans ne succedent iamais aux biens et dignitez de leurs peres,
doubtant comme i'ay dit de leur geniteur, mais bien font-ils leurs
successeurs et heritiers, les enfans de leurs sœurs, et desquels ils sont
asseurez d'estre yssus et sortis."--Champlain (1627), 91.
Captain John Smith had observed the same, several years before, among the
tribes of Virginia: "For the Crowne, their heyres inherite not, but the
first heyres of the Sisters."--True Relation, 43 (ed. Deane). ]
This system of clanship, with the rule of descent usually belonging to it,
was of very wide prevalence. Indeed, it is more than probable that close
observation would have detected it in every tribe east of the
Mississippi; while there is positive evidence of its existence in by far
the greater number. It is found also among the Dahcotah and other tribes
west of the Mississippi; and there is reason to believe it universally
prevalent as far as the Rocky Mountains, and even beyond them. The fact
that with most of these hordes there is little property worth
transmission, and that the most influential becomes chief, with little
regard to inheritance, has blinded casual observers to the existence of
this curious system.
It was found in full development among the Creeks, Choctaws, Cherokees,
and other Southern tribes, including that remarkable people, the Natchez,
who, judged by their religious and political institutions, seem a
detached offshoot of the Toltec family. It is no less conspicuous among
the roving Algonquins of the extreme North, where the number of totems is
almost countless. Everywhere it formed the foundation of the polity of
all the tribes, where a polity could be said to exist.
The Franciscans and Jesuits, close students of the languages and
superstitions of the Indians, were by no means so zealous to analyze
their organization and government. In the middle of the seventeenth
century the Hurons as a nation had ceased to exist, and their political
portraiture, as handed down to us, is careless and unfinished. Yet some
decisive features are plainly shown. The Huron nation was a confederacy
of four distinct contiguous nations, afterwards increased to five by the
addition of the Tionnontates;--it was divided into clans;--it was
governed by chiefs, whose office was hereditary through the female;--the
power of these chiefs, though great, was wholly of a persuasive or
advisory character;--there were two principal chiefs, one for peace,
the other for war;--there were chiefs assigned to special national
functions, as the charge of the great Feast of the Dead, the direction of
trading voyages to other nations, etc.;--there were numerous other chiefs,
equal in rank, but very unequal in influence, since the measure of their
influence depended on the measure of their personal ability;--each nation
of the confederacy had a separate organization, but at certain periods
grand councils of the united nations were held, at which were present,
not chiefs only, but also a great concourse of the people; and at these
and other councils the chiefs and principal men voted on proposed
measures by means of small sticks or reeds, the opinion of the plurality
[ These facts are gathered here and there from Champlain, Sagard,
Bressani, and the Jesuit Relations prior to 1650. Of the Jesuits,
Brébeuf is the most full and satisfactory. Lafitau and Charlevoix knew
the Huron institutions only through others.
The names of the four confederate Huron nations were the Ataronchronons,
Attignenonghac, Attignaouentans, and Ahrendarrhonons. There was also a
subordinate "nation" called Tohotaenrat, which had but one town. (See
the map of the Huron Country.) They all bore the name of some animal or
other object: thus the Attignaouentans were the Nation of the Bear.
As the clans are usually named after animals, this makes confusion,
and may easily lead to error. The Bear Nation was the principal member
of the league. ]
The Iroquois were a people far more conspicuous in history, and their
institutions are not yet extinct. In early and recent times, they have
been closely studied, and no little light has been cast upon a subject as
difficult and obscure as it is curious. By comparing the statements of
observers, old and new, the character of their singular organization
becomes sufficiently clear.
[ Among modern students of Iroquois institutions, a place far in advance
of all others is due to Lewis H. Morgan, himself an Iroquois by adoption,
and intimate with the race from boyhood. His work, The League of the
Iroquois, is a production of most thorough and able research, conducted
under peculiar advantages, and with the aid of an efficient co-laborer,
Hasanoanda (Ely S. Parker), an educated and highly intelligent Iroquois
of the Seneca nation. Though often differing widely from Mr. Morgan's
conclusions, I cannot bear a too emphatic testimony to the value of his
researches. The Notes on the Iroquois of Mr. H. R. Schoolcraft also
contain some interesting facts; but here, as in all Mr. Schoolcraft's
productions, the reader must scrupulously reserve his right of private
judgment. None of the old writers are so satisfactory as Lafitau.
His work, Mœurs des Sauvages Ameriquains comparées aux Mœurs des Premiers
Temps, relates chiefly to the Iroquois and Hurons: the basis for his
account of the former being his own observations and those of Father
Julien Garnier, who was a missionary among them more than sixty years,
from his novitiate to his death. ]
Both reason and tradition point to the conclusion, that the Iroquois
formed originally one undivided people. Sundered, like countless other
tribes, by dissension, caprice, or the necessities of the hunter life,
they separated into five distinct nations, cantoned from east to west
along the centre of New York, in the following order: Mohawks, Oneidas,
Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas. There was discord among them; wars followed,
and they lived in mutual fear, each ensconced in its palisaded villages.
At length, says tradition, a celestial being, incarnate on earth,
counselled them to compose their strife and unite in a league of defence
and aggression. Another personage, wholly mortal, yet wonderfully
endowed, a renowned warrior and a mighty magician, stands, with his hair
of writhing snakes, grotesquely conspicuous through the dim light of
tradition at this birth of Iroquois nationality. This was Atotarho,
a chief of the Onondagas; and from this honored source has sprung a long
line of chieftains, heirs not to the blood alone, but to the name of
their great predecessor. A few years since, there lived in Onondaga
Hollow a handsome Indian boy on whom the dwindled remnant of the nation
looked with pride as their destined Atotarho. With earthly and celestial
aid the league was consummated, and through all the land the forests
trembled at the name of the Iroquois.
The Iroquois people was divided into eight clans. When the original
stock was sundered into five parts, each of these clans was also sundered
into five parts; and as, by the principle already indicated, the clans
were intimately mingled in every village, hamlet, and cabin, each one of
the five nations had its portion of each of the eight clans. [ 1 ]
When the league was formed, these separate portions readily resumed their
ancient tie of fraternity. Thus, of the Turtle clan, all the members
became brothers again, nominal members of one family, whether Mohawks,
Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, or Senecas; and so, too, of the remaining
clans. All the Iroquois, irrespective of nationality, were therefore
divided into eight families, each tracing its descent to a common mother,
and each designated by its distinctive emblem or totem. This connection
of clan or family was exceedingly strong, and by it the five nations of
the league were linked together as by an eightfold chain.
[ 1 With a view to clearness, the above statement is made categorical.
It requires, however, to be qualified. It is not quite certain, that,
at the formation of the confederacy, there were eight clans, though there
is positive proof of the existence of seven. Neither is it certain, that,
at the separation, every clan was represented in every nation. Among the
Mohawks and Oneidas there is no positive proof of the existence of more
than three clans,--the Wolf, Bear, and Tortoise; though there is
presumptive evidence of the existence of several others.--See Morgan, 81,
The eight clans of the Iroquois were as follows: Wolf, Bear, Beaver,
Tortoise, Deer, Snipe, Heron, Hawk. (Morgan, 79.) The clans of the
Snipe and the Heron are the same designated in an early French document
as La famille du Petit Pluvier and La famille du Grand Pluvier. (New
York Colonial Documents, IX. 47.) The anonymous author of this document
adds a ninth clan, that of the Potato, meaning the wild Indian potato,
Glycine apios. This clan, if it existed, was very inconspicuous, and of
Remarkable analogies exist between Iroquois clanship and that of other
tribes. The eight clans of the Iroquois were separated into two
divisions, four in each. Originally, marriage was interdicted between
all the members of the same division, but in time the interdict was
limited to the members of the individual clans. Another tribe, the
Choctaws, remote from the Iroquois, and radically different in language,
had also eight clans, similarly divided, with a similar interdict of
marriage.--Gallatin, Synopsis, 109.
The Creeks, according to the account given by their old chief, Sekopechi,
to Mr. D. W. Eakins, were divided into nine clans, named in most cases
from animals: clanship being transmitted, as usual, through the female. ]
The clans were by no means equal in numbers, influence, or honor.
So marked were the distinctions among them, that some of the early
writers recognize only the three most conspicuous,--those of the Tortoise,
the Bear, and the Wolf. To some of the clans, in each nation, belonged
the right of giving a chief to the nation and to the league. Others had
the right of giving three, or, in one case, four chiefs; while others
could give none. As Indian clanship was but an extension of the family
relation, these chiefs were, in a certain sense, hereditary; but the law
of inheritance, though binding, was extremely elastic, and capable of
stretching to the farthest limits of the clan. The chief was almost
invariably succeeded by a near relative, always through the female,
as a brother by the same mother, or a nephew by the sister's side.
But if these were manifestly unfit, they were passed over, and a chief
was chosen at a council of the clan from among remoter kindred. In these
cases, the successor is said to have been nominated by the matron of the
late chief's household. [ Lafitau, I. 471. ] Be this as it may, the
choice was never adverse to the popular inclination. The new chief was
"raised up," or installed, by a formal council of the sachems of the
league; and on entering upon his office, he dropped his own name, and
assumed that which, since the formation of the league, had belonged to
this especial chieftainship.
The number of these principal chiefs, or, as they have been called by way
of distinction, sachems, varied in the several nations from eight to
fourteen. The sachems of the five nations, fifty in all, assembled in
council, formed the government of the confederacy. All met as equals,
but a peculiar dignity was ever attached to the Atotarho of the Onondagas.
There was a class of subordinate chiefs, in no sense hereditary, but
rising to office by address, ability, or valor. Yet the rank was clearly
defined, and the new chief installed at a formal council. This class
embodied, as might be supposed, the best talent of the nation, and the
most prominent warriors and orators of the Iroquois have belonged to it.
In its character and functions, however, it was purely civil. Like the
sachems, these chiefs held their councils, and exercised an influence
proportionate to their number and abilities.
There was another council, between which and that of the subordinate
chiefs the line of demarcation seems not to have been very definite.
The Jesuit Lafitau calls it "the senate." Familiar with the Iroquois at
the height of their prosperity, he describes it as the central and
controlling power, so far, at least, as the separate nations were
concerned. In its character it was essentially popular, but popular in
the best sense, and one which can find its application only in a small
community. Any man took part in it whose age and experience qualified
him to do so. It was merely the gathered wisdom of the nation. Lafitau
compares it to the Roman Senate, in the early and rude age of the
Republic, and affirms that it loses nothing by the comparison. He thus
describes it: "It is a greasy assemblage, sitting _sur leur derrière_,
crouched like apes, their knees as high as their ears, or lying, some on
their bellies, some on their backs, each with a pipe in his mouth,
discussing affairs of state with as much coolness and gravity as the
Spanish Junta or the Grand Council of Venice." [ Lafitau, I. 478. ]
The young warriors had also their councils; so, too, had the women; and
the opinions and wishes of each were represented by means of deputies
before the "senate," or council of the old men, as well as before the
grand confederate council of the sachems.
The government of this unique republic resided wholly in councils.
By councils all questions were settled, all regulations established,--
social, political, military, and religious. The war-path, the chase,
the council-fire,--in these was the life of the Iroquois; and it is hard
to say to which of the three he was most devoted.
The great council of the fifty sachems formed, as we have seen, the
government of the league. Whenever a subject arose before any of the
nations, of importance enough to demand its assembling, the sachems of
that nation might summon their colleagues by means of runners, bearing
messages and belts of wampum. The usual place of meeting was the valley
of Onondaga, the political as well as geographical centre of the
confederacy. Thither, if the matter were one of deep and general
interest, not the sachems alone, but the greater part of the population,
gathered from east and west, swarming in the hospitable lodges of the
town, or bivouacked by thousands in the surrounding fields and forests.
While the sachems deliberated in the council-house, the chiefs and old
men, the warriors, and often the women, were holding their respective
councils apart; and their opinions, laid by their deputies before the
council of sachems, were never without influence on its decisions.
The utmost order and deliberation reigned in the council, with rigorous
adherence to the Indian notions of parliamentary propriety. The
conference opened with an address to the spirits, or the chief of all the
spirits. There was no heat in debate. No speaker interrupted another.
Each gave his opinion in turn, supporting it with what reason or rhetoric
he could command,--but not until he had stated the subject of discussion
in full, to prove that he understood it, repeating also the arguments,
pro and con, of previous speakers. Thus their debates were excessively
prolix; and the consumption of tobacco was immoderate. The result,
however, was a thorough sifting of the matter in hand; while the
practised astuteness of these savage politicians was a marvel to their
civilized contemporaries. "It is by a most subtle policy," says Lafitau,
"that they have taken the ascendant over the other nations, divided and
overcome the most warlike, made themselves a terror to the most remote,
and now hold a peaceful neutrality between the French and English,
courted and feared by both."
[ Lafitau, I. 480.--Many other French writers speak to the same effect.
The following are the words of the soldier historian, La Potherie,
after describing the organization of the league: "C'est donc là cette
politique qui les unit si bien, à peu près comme tous les ressorts d'une
horloge, qui par une liaison admirable de toutes les parties qui les
composent, contribuent toutes unanimement au merveilleux effet qui en
resulte."--Hist. de l'Amérique Septentrionale, III. 32.--He adds: "Les
François ont avoüé eux-mêmes qu'ils étoient nez pour la guerre, &
quelques maux qu'ils nous ayent faits nous les avons toujours estimez."--
Ibid., 2.--La Potherie's book was published in 1722. ]
Unlike the Hurons, they required an entire unanimity in their decisions.
The ease and frequency with which a requisition seemingly so difficult
was fulfilled afford a striking illustration of Indian nature,--on one
side, so stubborn, tenacious, and impracticable; on the other, so pliant
and acquiescent. An explanation of this harmony is to be found also in
an intense spirit of nationality: for never since the days of Sparta were
individual life and national life more completely fused into one.
The sachems of the league were likewise, as we have seen, sachems of
their respective nations; yet they rarely spoke in the councils of the
subordinate chiefs and old men, except to present subjects of discussion.
[ Lafitau, I. 479. ] Their influence in these councils was, however,
great, and even paramount; for they commonly succeeded in securing to
their interest some of the most dexterous and influential of the conclave,
through whom, while they themselves remained in the background, they
managed the debates.
[ The following from Lafitau is very characteristic: "Ce que je dis de
leur zèle pour le bien public n'est cependant pas si universel, que
plusieurs ne pensent à leur interêts particuliers, & que les Chefs
(sachems) principalement ne fassent joüer plusieurs ressorts secrets pour
venir à bout de leurs intrigues. Il y en a tel, dont l'adresse jouë si
bien à coup sûr, qu'il fait déliberer le Conseil plusieurs jours de suite,
sur une matière dont la détermination est arrêtée entre lui & les
principales têtes avant d'avoir été mise sur le tapis. Cependant comme
les Chefs s'entre-regardent, & qu'aucun ne veut paroître se donner une
superiorité qui puisse piquer la jalousie, ils se ménagent dans les
Conseils plus que les autres; & quoiqu'ils en soient l'ame, leur
politique les oblige à y parler peu, & à écouter plûtôt le sentiment
d'autrui, qu'à y dire le leur; mais chacun a un homme à sa main, qui est
comme une espèce de Brûlot, & qui étant sans consequence pour sa personne
hazarde en pleine liberté tout ce qu'il juge à propos, selon qu'il l'a
concerté avec le Chef même pour qui il agit."--Mœurs des Sauvages,
I. 481. ]
There was a class of men among the Iroquois always put forward on public
occasions to speak the mind of the nation or defend its interests.
Nearly all of them were of the number of the subordinate chiefs. Nature
and training had fitted them for public speaking, and they were deeply
versed in the history and traditions of the league. They were in fact
professed orators, high in honor and influence among the people. To a
huge stock of conventional metaphors, the use of which required nothing
but practice, they often added an astute intellect, an astonishing memory,
and an eloquence which deserved the name.
In one particular, the training of these savage politicians was never
surpassed. They had no art of writing to record events, or preserve the
stipulations of treaties. Memory, therefore, was tasked to the utmost,
and developed to an extraordinary degree. They had various devices for
aiding it, such as bundles of sticks, and that system of signs, emblems,
and rude pictures, which they shared with other tribes. Their famous
wampum-belts were so many mnemonic signs, each standing for some act,
speech, treaty, or clause of a treaty. These represented the public
archives, and were divided among various custodians, each charged with
the memory and interpretation of those assigned to him. The meaning of
the belts was from time to time expounded in their councils. In
conferences with them, nothing more astonished the French, Dutch, and
English officials than the precision with which, before replying to their
addresses, the Indian orators repeated them point by point.
It was only in rare cases that crime among the Iroquois or Hurons was
punished by public authority. Murder, the most heinous offence, except
witchcraft, recognized among them, was rare. If the slayer and the slain
were of the same household or clan, the affair was regarded as a family
quarrel, to be settled by the immediate kin on both sides. This, under
the pressure of public opinion, was commonly effected without bloodshed,
by presents given in atonement. But if the murderer and his victim were
of different clans or different nations, still more, if the slain was a
foreigner, the whole community became interested to prevent the discord
or the war which might arise. All directed their efforts, not to bring
the murderer to punishment, but to satisfy the injured parties by a
vicarious atonement. [ Lalemant, while inveighing against a practice
which made the public, and not the criminal, answerable for an offence,
admits that heinous crimes were more rare than in France, where the
guilty party himself was punished.--Lettre au P. Provincial, 15 May,
1645. ] To this end, contributions were made and presents collected.
Their number and value were determined by established usage. Among the
Hurons, thirty presents of very considerable value were the price of a
man's life. That of a woman's was fixed at forty, by reason of her
weakness, and because on her depended the continuance and increase of the
population. This was when the slain belonged to the nation. If of a
foreign tribe, his death demanded a higher compensation, since it involved
the danger of war. [ Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1648, 80. ]
These presents were offered in solemn council, with prescribed
formalities. The relatives of the slain might refuse them, if they chose,
and in this case the murderer was given them as a slave; but they might
by no means kill him, since, in so doing, they would incur public censure,
and be compelled in their turn to make atonement. Besides the principal
gifts, there was a great number of less value, all symbolical, and each
delivered with a set form of words: as, "By this we wash out the blood of
the slain: By this we cleanse his wound: By this we clothe his corpse
with a new shirt: By this we place food on his grave": and so, in endless
prolixity, through particulars without number.
[ Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1648, gives a description of one of
these ceremonies at length. Those of the Iroquois on such occasions were
similar. Many other tribes had the same custom, but attended with much
less form and ceremony. Compare Perrot, 73-76. ]
The Hurons were notorious thieves; and perhaps the Iroquois were not much
better, though the contrary has been asserted. Among both, the robbed
was permitted not only to retake his property by force, if he could,
but to strip the robber of all he had. This apparently acted as a
restraint in favor only of the strong, leaving the weak a prey to the
plunderer; but here the tie of family and clan intervened to aid him.
Relatives and clansmen espoused the quarrel of him who could not right
[ The proceedings for detecting thieves were regular and methodical,
after established customs. According to Bressani, no thief ever
inculpated the innocent. ]
Witches, with whom the Hurons and Iroquois were grievously infested,
were objects of utter abomination to both, and any one might kill them at
any time. If any person was guilty of treason, or by his character and
conduct made himself dangerous or obnoxious to the public, the council of
chiefs and old men held a secret session on his case, condemned him to
death, and appointed some young man to kill him. The executioner,
watching his opportunity, brained or stabbed him unawares, usually in the
dark porch of one of the houses. Acting by authority, he could not be
held answerable; and the relatives of the slain had no redress, even if
they desired it. The council, however, commonly obviated all difficulty
in advance, by charging the culprit with witchcraft, thus alienating his
The military organization of the Iroquois was exceedingly imperfect and
derived all its efficiency from their civil union and their personal
prowess. There were two hereditary war-chiefs, both belonging to the
Senecas; but, except on occasions of unusual importance, it does not
appear that they took a very active part in the conduct of wars. The
Iroquois lived in a state of chronic warfare with nearly all the
surrounding tribes, except a few from whom they exacted tribute. Any man
of sufficient personal credit might raise a war-party when he chose.
He proclaimed his purpose through the village, sang his war-songs,
struck his hatchet into the war-post, and danced the war-dance. Any who
chose joined him; and the party usually took up their march at once,
with a little parched-corn-meal and maple-sugar as their sole provision.