The Iroquois Book of Rites by Horatio Hale

Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Thomas Hutchinson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team BRINTON’S LIBRARY OF ABORIGINAL AMERICAN LITERATURE. NUMBER II. THE IROQUOIS BOOK OF RITES. EDITED BY HORATIO HALE; M.A., AUTHOR OF “THE ETHNOGRAPHY AND PHILOLOGY OF THE U.S. EXPLORING EXPEDITION,” ETC. PREFACE. The aboriginal composition now presented to the public has some peculiar claims
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  • 1883
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Produced by Juliet Sutherland, Thomas Hutchinson and the Online Distributed Proofreading Team







The aboriginal composition now presented to the public has some peculiar claims on the attention of scholars. As a record, if we accept the chronology of its custodians,–which there is no reason to question,–it carries back the authentic history of Northern America to a date anterior by fifty years to the arrival of Columbus. Further than this, the plain and credible tradition of the Iroquois, confirmed by much other evidence, links them with the still earlier Alligewi, or “Moundbuilders,” as conquerors with the conquered. Thus the annals of this portion of the continent need no longer begin with the landing of the first colonists, but can go back, like those of Mexico, Yucatan and Peru, to a storied past of singular interest.

The chief value of the Book of Rites, however, is ethnological, and is found in the light which it casts on the political and social life, as well as on the character and capacity of the people to whom it belongs. We see in them many of the traits which Tacitus discerned in our ancestors of the German forests, along with some qualities of a higher cast than any that he has delineated. The love of peace, the sentiment of human brotherhood, the strong social and domestic affections, the respect for law, and the reverence for ancestral greatness, which are apparent in this Indian record and in the historical events which illustrate it, will strike most readers as new and unexpected developments.

The circumstances attending the composition of this record and its recent discovery are fully detailed in the introductory chapters. There also, and in the Notes and Appendix, such further explanations are given as the various allusions and occasional obscurities of the Indian work have seemed to require. It is proper to state that the particulars comprised in the following pages respecting the traditions, the usages, and the language of the Iroquois (except such as are expressly stated to have been derived from books), have been gathered by the writer in the course of many visits made, during several years past, to their Reservations in Canada and New York. As a matter of justice, and also as an evidence of the authenticity of these particulars, the names of the informants to whom he has been principally indebted are given in the proper places, with suitable acknowledgment of the assistance received from each. He ventures to hope that in the information thus obtained, as well as in the Book of Rite’s itself, the students of history and of the science of man will find some new material of permanent interest and value.




















NOTE A.–Names of the Huron-Iroquois Nations

NOTE B.–Meaning of _Ohio, Ontario, Onontio, Rawennito_

NOTE C.–The Era of the Confederacy

NOTE D.–The Hiawatha Myths

NOTE E.–The Iroquois Towns

NOTE F.–The Pre-Aryan Race in Europe and America







At the outset of the sixteenth century, when the five tribes or “nations” of the Iroquois confederacy first became known to European explorers, they were found occupying the valleys and uplands of northern New York, in that picturesque and fruitful region which stretches westward from the head-waters of the Hudson to the Genesee. The Mohawks, or Caniengas–as they should properly be called–possessed the Mohawk River, and covered Lake George and Lake Champlain with their flotillas of large canoes, managed with the boldness and skill which, hereditary in their descendants, make them still the best boatmen of the North American rivers. West of the Caniengas the Oneidas held the small river and lake which bear their name, the first in that series of beautiful lakes, united by interlacing streams, which seemed to prefigure in the features of nature the political constitution of the tribes who possessed them. West of the Oneidas, the imperious Onondagas, the central and, in some respects, the ruling nation of the League, possessed the two lakes of Onondaga and Skeneateles, together with the common outlet of this inland lake system, the Oswego River, to its issue into Lake Ontario. Still proceeding westward, the lines of trail and river led to the long and winding stretch of Lake Cayuga, about which were clustered the towns of the people who gave their name to the lake; and beyond them, over the wide expanse of hills and dales surrounding Lakes Seneca and Canandaigua, were scattered the populous villages of the Senecas, more correctly styled Sonontowanas or Mountaineers. Such were the names and abodes of the allied nations, members of the far-famed Kanonsionni, or League of United Households, who were destined to become for a time the most notable and powerful community among the native tribes of North America. [Footnote: See Appendix, note A, for the origin and meaning of the names commonly given to the Iroquois nations.]

The region which has been described was not, however, the original seat of those nations. They belonged to that linguistic family which is known to ethnologists as the Huron-Iroquois stock. This stock comprised the Hurons or Wyandots, the Attiwandaronks or Neutral Nation, the Iroquois, the Eries, the Andastes or Conestogas, the Tuscaroras, and some smaller bands. The tribes of this family occupied a long, irregular area of inland territory, stretching from Canada to North Carolina. The northern nations were all clustered about the great lakes; the southern bands held the fertile valleys bordering the head-waters of the rivers which flowed from the Allegheny mountains. The languages of all these tribes showed a close affinity. There can be no doubt that their ancestors formed one body, and, indeed, dwelt at one time (as has been well said of the ancestors of the Indo-European populations), under one roof. There was a Huron-Iroquois “family-pair,” from which all these tribes were descended. In what part of the world this ancestral household resided is a question which admits of no reply, except from the merest conjecture. But the evidence of language, so far as it has yet been examined, seems to show that the Huron clans were the older members of the group; and the clear and positive traditions of all the surviving tribes, Hurons, Iroquois and Tuscaroras, point to the lower St. Lawrence as the earliest known abode of their stock. [Footnote: See Cusick, _History of the Six Nations_, p. 16; Colden, _Hist, of the Five Nations_, p. 23; Morgan, _League of the Iroquois_, p. 5; J.V.H. Clark, _Onondaga_, vol. I, p. 34; Peter D. Clarke, _Hist. of the Wyandots_. p. I.]

Here the first explorer, Cartier, found Indians of this stock at Hochelaga and Stadacone, now the sites of Montreal and Quebec. Centuries before his time, according to the native tradition, the ancestors of the Huron-Iroquois family had dwelt in this locality, or still further east and nearer to the river’s mouth. As their numbers increased, dissensions arose. The hive swarmed, and band after band moved off to the west and south.

As they spread, they encountered people of other stocks, with whom they had frequent wars. Their most constant and most dreaded enemies were the tribes of the Algonkin family, a fierce and restless people, of northern origin, who everywhere surrounded them. At one period, however, if the concurrent traditions of both Iroquois and Algonkins can be believed, these contending races for a time stayed their strife, and united their forces in an alliance against a common and formidable foe. This foe was the nation, or perhaps the confederacy, of the Alligewi or Talligewi, the semi-civilized “Mound-builders” of the Ohio Valley, who have left their name to the Allegheny river and mountains, and whose vast earthworks are still, after half-a-century of study, the perplexity of archaeologists. A desperate warfare ensued, which lasted about a hundred years, and ended in the complete overthrow and destruction, or expulsion, of the Alligewi. The survivors of the conquered people fled southward, and are supposed to have mingled with the tribes which occupied the region extending from the Gulf of Mexico northward to the Tennessee river and the southern spurs of the Alleghenies. Among these tribes, the Choctaws retained, to recent times, the custom of raising huge mounds of earth for religious purposes and for the sites of their habitations, a custom which they perhaps learned from the Alligewi; and the Cherokees are supposed by some to have preserved in their name (Tsalaki) and in their language indications of an origin derived in part from the same people. Their language, which shows, in its grammar and many of its words, clear evidence of affinity with the Iroquois, has drawn the greater portion of its vocabulary from some foreign source. This source is conjectured to have been the speech of the Alligewi. As the Cherokee tongue is evidently a mixed language, it is reasonable to suppose that the Cherokees are a mixed people, and probably, like the English, an amalgamation of conquering and conquered races. [Footnote: This question has been discussed by the writer in a paper on “Indian Migrations as evidenced by Language,” read before the American Association for the Advancement of Science, at their Montreal Meeting, in August, 1882, and published in the American Antiquarian for January and April, 1883.]

The time which has elapsed since the overthrow of the Alligewi is variously estimated. The most probable conjecture places it at a period about a thousand years before the present day. It was apparently soon after their expulsion that the tribes of the Huron-Iroquois and the Algonkin stocks scattered themselves over the wide region south of the Great Lakes, thus left open to their occupancy. Our concern at present is only with the first-named family. The native tradition of their migrations has been briefly related by a Tuscarora Indian, David Cusick, who had acquired a sufficient education to become a Baptist preacher, and has left us, in his “Sketches of Ancient History of the Six Nations,” [Footnote: Published at Lewiston, N. Y., in 1825, and reprinted at Lockport, in 1848. ] a record of singular value. His confused and imperfect style, the English of a half-educated foreigner, his simple faith in the wildest legends, and his absurd chronology, have caused the real worth of his book, as a chronicle of native traditions, to be overlooked. Wherever the test of linguistic evidence, the best of all proofs in ethnological questions, can be applied to his statements relative to the origin and connection of the tribes, they are invariably confirmed. From his account, from the evidence of language, and from various corroborating indications, the course of the migrations may, it is believed, be traced with tolerable accuracy. Their first station or starting point, on the south side of the Lakes, was at the mouth of the Oswego river. Advancing to the southeast the emigrants struck the Hudson river, and, according to Cusick’s story, followed its course southward to the ocean. Here a separation took place. A portion remained, and kept on their way toward the south; but the “main company,” repelled by the uninviting soil and the turbulent waste of waves, and remembering the attractive region of valleys, lakes, and streams through which they had passed, retraced their steps northward till they reached the Mohawk river. Along this stream and the upper waters of the Hudson they made their first abode; and here they remained until, as their historian quaintly and truly records, “their language was altered.” The Huron speech became the Iroquois tongue, in the form in which it is spoken by the Caniengas, or Mohawks. In Iroquois tradition, and in the constitution of their league, the Canienga nation ranks as the “eldest brother” of the family. A comparison of the dialects proves the tradition to be well founded. The Canienga language approaches nearest to the Huron, and is undoubtedly the source from which all the other Iroquois dialects are derived. Cusick states positively that the other “families,” as he styles them, of the Iroquois household, leaving the Mohawks in their original abode, proceeded step by step to the westward. The Oneidas halted at their creek, the Onondagas at their mountain, the Cayugas at their lake, and the Senecas or Sonontowans, the Great Hill people, at a lofty eminence which rises south of the Canandaigua lake. In due time, as he is careful to record, the same result happened as had occurred with the Caniengas. The language of each canton “was altered;” yet not so much, he might have added, but that all the tribes could still hold intercourse, and comprehend one another’s speech.

A wider isolation and, consequently, a somewhat greater change of language, befell the “sixth family.” Pursuing their course to the west they touched Lake Erie, and thence, turning to the southeast, came to the Allegheny river. Cusick, however, does not know it by this name. He calls it the Ohio,–in his uncouth orthography and with a locative particle added, the Ouau-we-yo-ka,–which, he says, means “a principal stream, now Mississippi.” This statement, unintelligible as at the first glance it seems, is strictly accurate. The word Ohio undoubtedly signified, in the ancient Iroquois speech, as it still means in the modern Tuscarora, not “beautiful river”, but “great river.” [Footnote: See Appendix, note B.] It was so called as being the main stream which receives the affluents of the Ohio valley. In the view of the Iroquois, this “main stream” commences with what we call the Allegheny river, continues in what we term the Ohio, and then flows on in what we style the Mississippi,–of which, in their view, the upper Mississippi is merely an affluent. In Iroquois hydrography, the Ohio–the great river of the ancient Alligewi domain–is the central stream to which all the rivers of the mighty West converge.

This stream the emigrants now attempted to cross. They found, according to the native annalist, a rude bridge in a huge grape-vine which trailed its length across the stream. Over this a part of the company passed, and then, unfortunately, the vine broke. The residue, unable to cross, remained on the hither side, and became afterwards the enemies of those who had passed over. Cusick anticipates that his story of the grape-vine may seem to some incredible; but he asks, with amusing simplicity, “why more so than that the Israelites should cross the Red Sea on dry land?” That the precise incident, thus frankly admitted to be of a miraculous character, really took place, we are not required to believe. But that emigrants of the Huron-Iroquois stock penetrated southward along the Allegheny range, and that some of them remained near the river of that name, is undoubted fact. Those who thus remained were known by various names, mostly derived from one root–Andastes, Andastogues, Conestogas, and the like–and bore a somewhat memorable part in Iroquois and Pennsylvanian history. Those who continued their course beyond the river found no place sufficiently inviting to arrest their march until they arrived at the fertile vales which spread, intersected by many lucid streams, between the Roanoke and the Neuse rivers. Here they fixed their abode, and became the ancestors of the powerful Tuscarora nation. In the early part of the eighteenth century, just before its disastrous war with the colonies, this nation, according to the Carolina surveyor, Lawson, numbered fifteen towns, and could set in the field a force of twelve hundred warriors.

The Eries, who dwelt west of the Senecas, along the southern shore of the lake which now retains their name, were according to Cusick, an offshoot of the Seneca tribe; and there is no reason for doubting the correctness of his statement. After their overthrow by the Iroquois, in 1656, many of the Eries were incorporated with the ancestral nation, and contributed, with other accessions from the Hurons and the Attiwandaronks, to swell its numbers far beyond those of the other nations of the confederacy.

To conclude this review of the Huron-Iroquois group, something further should be said about the fortunes of the parent tribe, or rather congeries of tribes,–for the Huron household, like the Iroquois, had become divided into several septs. Like the Iroquois, also, they have not lacked an annalist of their own race. A Wyandot Indian, Peter Doyentate Clarke, who emigrated with the main body of his people to the Indian Territory, and afterwards returned for a time to the remnant of his tribe dwelling near Amherstburg, in Canada, published in 1870 a small volume entitled “Origin and Traditional History of the Wyandots.” [Footnote: Printed by Hunter, Rose & Co., of Toronto.] The English education of the writer, like that of the Tuscarora historian, was defective; and it is evident that his people, in their many wanderings, had lost much of their legendary lore. But the fact that they resided in ancient times near the present site of Montreal, in close vicinity to the Iroquois (whom he styles, after their largest tribe, the Senecas), is recorded as a well-remembered portion of their history. The flight of the Wyandots to the northwest is declared to have been caused by a war which broke out between them and the Iroquois. This statement is opposed to the common opinion, which ascribes the expulsion of the Hurons from their eastern abode to the hostility of the Algonkins. It is, however, probably correct; for the Hurons retreated into the midst of the Algonkin tribes, with whom they were found by Champlain to be on terms of amity and even of alliance, while they were engaged in a deadly war with the Iroquois. The place to which they withdrew was a nook in the Georgian Bay, where their strongly palisaded towns and well-cultivated fields excited the admiration of the great French explorer. Their object evidently was to place as wide a space as possible between themselves and their inveterate enemies. Unfortunately, as is well known, this precaution, and even the aid of their Algonkin and French allies, proved inadequate to save them. The story of their disastrous overthrow, traced by the masterly hand of Parkman, is one of the most dismal passages of aboriginal history.

The only people of this stock remaining to be noticed are the Attiwandaronks, or Neutral Nation. They dwelt south of the Hurons, on the northern borders of Lakes Erie and Ontario. They had, indeed, a few towns beyond those lakes, situated east of the Niagara river, between the Iroquois and the Eries. They received their name of Neutrals from the fact that in the war between the Iroquois and the Hurons they remained at peace with both parties. This policy, however, did not save them from the fate which overtook their Huron friends. In the year 1650 the Iroquois set upon them, destroyed their towns, and dispersed the inhabitants, carrying off great numbers of them, as was their custom, to be incorporated with their own population. Of their language we only know that it differed but slightly from the Huron. [Footnote: “Our Hurons call the Neutral Nation Attiwandaronk, meaning thereby ‘People of a speech a little different.'”–_Relation_ of 1641, p. 72. Bruyas, in his “_Iroquois Root-words_” gives _gawenda_ (or _gawenna_), speech, and _gaRONKwestare_, confusion of voices. ] Whether they were an offshoot from the Hurons or from the Iroquois is uncertain. It is not unlikely that their separation from the parent stock took place earlier than that of the Iroquois, and that they were thus enabled for a time to avoid becoming embroiled in the quarrel between the two great divisions of their race.



How long the five kindred but independent tribes who were afterwards to compose the Iroquois confederacy remained isolated and apart from one another, is uncertain. That this condition endured for several centuries is a fact which cannot be questioned. Tradition here is confirmed by the evidence of language. We have good dictionaries of two of their dialects, the Canienga (or Mohawk) and the Onondaga, compiled two centuries ago by the Jesuit missionaries; and by comparing them with vocabularies of the same dialects, as spoken at the present day, we can ascertain the rate of change which prevails in their languages. Judging by this test, the difference which existed between these two dialects in 1680 (when the Jesuit dictionaries were written) could hardly have arisen in less than four hundred years; and that which exists between them and the Tuscarora would demand a still longer time. Their traditions all affirm–what we should be prepared to believe–that this period was one of perpetual troubles. The tribes were constantly at war, either among themselves, or with the neighboring nations of their own and other stocks, Hurons, Andastes, Algonkins, Tuteloes, and even with the distant Cherokees.

There are reasons for believing that attempts were made during this period to combine the tribes, or some of them, in a federal alliance. But if such connections were formed, they proved only temporary leagues, which were dissolved when the dangers that had called them into being had passed away. A leader of peculiar qualities, aided by favoring circumstances, was able at last to bring about a more permanent union. There is no exact chronology by which the date of this important event can be ascertained; but the weight of evidence fixes it at about the middle of the fifteenth century. [Footnote: The evidence on this point is given in the Appendix, note C. It should be mentioned that some portion of the following narrative formed part of a paper entitled “A Lawgiver of the Stone Age,” which was read at the Cincinnati meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in August, 1882, and was published in the Proceedings of the meeting. The particulars comprised in it were drawn chiefly from notes gathered during many visits to the Reserve of the Six Nations, on the Grand River, in Ontario, supplemented by information obtained in two visits to the Onondaga Reservation, in the State of New York, near Syracuse. My informants were the most experienced councillors, and especially the “wampum-keepers,” the official annalists of their people. Their names, and some account of them, will be given in a subsequent chapter. It should be mentioned that while the histories received at the two localities were generally in close accord, thus furnishing a strong proof of the correctness with which they have been handed down, there were circumstances remembered at each place which had not been preserved at the other. The Onondagas, as was natural, retained a fuller recollection of the events which took place before the flight of Hiawatha to the Caniengas; while the annalists of the latter tribe were better versed in the subsequent occurrences attending the formation of the League. These facts should be borne in mind by any inquirer who may undertake to repeat or continue these investigations. When the narratives varied, as they sometimes did in minor particulars, I have followed that which seemed most in accordance with the general tenor of the history and with the evidence furnished by the Book of Rites.]

At this time two great dangers, the one from without, the other from within, pressed upon these tribes. The Mohegans, or Mohicans, a powerful Algonkin people, whose settlements stretched along the Hudson river, south of the Mohawk, and extended thence eastward into New England, waged a desperate war against them. In this war the most easterly of the Iroquois, the Caniengas and Oneidas, bore the brunt and were the greatest sufferers. On the other hand, the two western nations, the Senecas and Cayugas, had a peril of their own to encounter. The central nation, the Onondagas, were then under the control of a dreaded chief, whose name is variously given, Atotarho (or, with a prefixed particle, Thatotarho), Watatotahro, Tadodaho, according to the dialect of the speaker and the orthography of the writer. He was a man of great force of character and of formidable qualities–haughty, ambitious, crafty and bold–a determined and successful warrior, and at home, so far as the constitution of an Indian tribe would allow, a stern and remorseless tyrant. He tolerated no equal. The chiefs who ventured to oppose him were taken off one after another by secret means, or were compelled to flee for safety to other tribes. His subtlety and artifices had acquired for him the reputation of a wizard. He knew, they say, what was going on at a distance as well as if he were present; and he could destroy his enemies by some magical art, while he himself was far away. In spite of the fear which he inspired, his domination would probably not have been endured by an Indian community, but for his success in war. He had made himself and his people a terror to the Cayugas and the Senecas. According to one account, he had subdued both of those tribes; but the record-keepers of the present day do not confirm this statement, which indeed is not consistent with the subsequent history of the confederation.

The name Atotarho signifies “entangled.” The usual process by which mythology, after a few generations, makes fables out of names, has not been wanting here. In the legends which the Indian story-fellers recount in winter, about their cabin fires, Atotarho figures as a being of preterhuman nature, whose head, in lieu of hair, is adorned with living snakes. A rude pictorial representation shows him seated and giving audience, in horrible state, with the upper part of his person enveloped by these writhing and entangled reptiles. [Footnote: This picture and some other equally grotesque illustrations, produced in a primitive style of wood engraving, are prefixed to David Cusick’s History of the Six Nations. The artist to whom we owe them was probably the historian himself. My accomplished friend, Mrs. E. A. Smith, whose studies have thrown much light upon the mythology and language of the Iroquois nations, and especially of the Tuscaroras, was fortunate enough to obtain either the originals or early copies of these extraordinary efforts of native art.] But the grave Councillors of the Canadian Reservation, who recite his history as they have heard it from their fathers at every installation of a high chief, do not repeat these inventions of marvel-loving gossips, and only smile with good-humored derision when they are referred to.

There was at this time among the Onondagas a chief of high rank, whose name, variously written–Hiawatha, Hayenwatha, Ayonhwahtha, Taoungwatha–is rendered, “he who seeks the wampum belt.” He had made himself greatly esteemed by his wisdom and his benevolence. He was now past middle age. Though many of his friends and relatives had perished by the machinations of Atotarho, he himself had been spared. The qualities which gained him general respect had, perhaps, not been without influence even on that redoubtable chief. Hiawatha had long beheld with grief the evils which afflicted not only his own nation, but all the other tribes about them, through the continual wars in which they were engaged, and the misgovernment and miseries at home which these wars produced. With much meditation he had elaborated in his mind the scheme of a vast confederation which would ensure universal peace. In the mere plan of a confederation there was nothing new. There are probably few, if any, Indian tribes which have not, at one time or another, been members of a league or confederacy. It may almost be said to be their normal condition. But the plan which Hiawatha had evolved differed from all others in two particulars. The system which he devised was to be not a loose and transitory league, but a permanent government. While each nation was to retain its own council and its management of local affairs, the general control was to be lodged in a federal senate, composed of representatives elected by each nation, holding office during good behavior, and acknowledged as ruling chiefs throughout the whole confederacy. Still further, and more remarkably, the confederation was not to be a limited one. It was to be indefinitely expansible. The avowed design of its proposer was to abolish war altogether. He wished the federation to extend until all the tribes of men should be included in it, and peace should everywhere reign. Such is the positive testimony of the Iroquois themselves; and their statement, as will be seen, is supported by historical evidence.

Hiawatha’s first endeavor was to enlist his own nation in the cause. He summoned a meeting of the chiefs and people of the Onondaga towns. The summons, proceeding from a chief of his rank and reputation, attracted a large concourse. “They came together,” said the narrator, “along the creeks, from all parts, to the general council-fire.” [Footnote: The narrator here referred to was the Onondaga chief, Philip Jones, known in the council as Hanesehen (in Canienga, Enneserarenh), who, in October, 1875, with two other chiefs of high rank, and the interpreter, Daniel La Fort, spent an evening in explaining to me the wampum records preserved at “Onondaga Castle,” and repeating the history of the formation of the confederacy. The later portions of the narrative were obtained principally from the chiefs of the Canadian Iroquois, as will be hereafter explained.] But what effect the grand projects of the chief, enforced by the eloquence for which he was noted, might have had upon his auditors, could not be known. For there appeared among them a well-known figure, grim, silent and forbidding, whose terrible aspect overawed the assemblage. The unspoken displeasure of Atotarho was sufficient to stifle all debate, and the meeting dispersed. This result, which seems a singular conclusion of an Indian council–the most independent and free-spoken of all gatherings–is sufficiently explained by the fact that Atotarho had organized, among the more reckless warriors of his tribe, a band of unscrupulous partisans, who did his bidding without question, and took off by secret murder all persons against whom he bore a grudge. The knowledge that his followers were scattered through the assembly, prepared to mark for destruction those who should offend him, might make the boldest orator chary of speech. Hiawatha alone was undaunted. He summoned a second meeting, which was attended by a smaller number, and broke up as before, in confusion, on Atotarho’s appearance. The unwearied reformer sent forth his runners a third time; but the people were disheartened. When the day of the council arrived, no one attended. Then, continued the narrator, Hiawatha seated himself on the ground in sorrow. He enveloped his head in his mantle of skins, and remained for a long time bowed down in grief and thought. At length he arose and left the town, taking his course toward the southeast. He had formed a bold design. As the councils of his own nation were closed to him, he would have recourse to those of other tribes. At a short distance from the town (so minutely are the circumstances recounted) he passed his great antagonist, seated near a well-known spring, stern and silent as usual. No word passed between the determined representatives of war and peace; but it was doubtless not without a sensation of triumphant pleasure that the ferocious war-chief saw his only rival and opponent in council going into what seemed to be voluntary exile. Hiawatha plunged into the forest; he climbed mountains; he crossed a lake; he floated down the Mohawk river in a canoe. Many incidents of his journey are told, and in this part of the narrative alone some occurrences of a marvelous cast are related, even by the official historians. Indeed, the flight of Hiawatha from Onondaga to the country of the Caniengas is to the Five Nations what the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina is to the votaries of Islam. It is the turning point of their history. In embellishing the narrative at this point, their imagination has been allowed a free course. Leaving aside these marvels, however, we need only refer here to a single incident, which may well enough have been of actual occurrence. A lake which Hiawatha crossed had shores abounding in small white shells. These he gathered and strung upon strings, which he disposed upon his breast, as a token to all whom he should meet that he came as a messenger of peace. And this, according to one authority, was the origin of wampum, of which Hiawatha was the inventor. That honor, however, is one which must be denied to him. The evidence of sepulchral relics shows that wampum was known to the mysterious Mound-builders, as well as in all succeeding ages. Moreover, if the significance of white wampum-strings as a token of peace had not been well known in his day, Hiawatha would not have relied upon them as a means of proclaiming his pacific purpose.

Early one morning he arrived at a Canienga town, the residence of the noted chief Dekanawidah, whose name, in point of celebrity, ranks in Iroquois tradition with those of Hiawatha and Atotarho. It is probable that he was known by reputation to Hiawatha, and not unlikely that they were related. According to one account Dekanawidah was an Onondaga, adopted among the Caniengas. Another narrative makes him a Canienga by birth. The probability seems to be that he was the son of an Onondaga father, who had been adopted by the Caniengas, and of a Canienga mother. That he was not of pure Canienga blood is shown by the fact, which is remembered, that his father had had successively three wives, one belonging to each of the three clans, Bear, Wolf, and Tortoise, which composed the Canienga nation. If the father had been of that nation (Canienga), he would have belonged to one of the Canienga clans, and could not then (according to the Indian law) have married into it. He had seven sons, including Dekanawidah, who, with their families, dwelt together in one of the “long houses” common in that day among the Iroquois. These ties of kindred, together with this fraternal strength, and his reputation as a sagacious councillor, gave Dekanawidah great influence among his people. But, in the Indian sense, he was not the leading chief. This position belonged to Tekarihoken (better known in books as Tecarihoga), whose primacy as the first chief of the eldest among the Iroquois nations was then, and is still, universally admitted. Each nation has always had a head-chief, to whom belonged the hereditary right and duty of lighting the council fire and taking the first place in public meetings. But among the Indians, as in other communities, hereditary rank and personal influence do not always, or indeed, ordinarily, go together. If Hiawatha could gain over Dekanawidah to his views, he would have done much toward the accomplishment of his purposes.

In the early dawn he seated himself on a fallen trunk, near the spring from which the inhabitants of the long house drew their water. Presently the wife of one of the brothers came out with a vessel of elm-bark, and approached the spring. Hiawatha sat silent and motionless. Something in his aspect awed the woman, who feared to address him. She returned to the house, and said to Dekanawidah, “A man, or a figure like a man, is seated by the spring, having his breast covered with strings of white shells.” “It is a guest,” said the chief to one of his brothers; “go and bring him in. We will make him welcome.” Thus Hiawatha and Dekanawidah–first met. They found in each other kindred spirits. The sagacity of the Canienga chief grasped at once the advantages of the proposed plan, and the two worked together in perfecting it, and in commending it to the people. After much discussion in council, the adhesion of the Canienga nation was secured. Dekanawidah then dispatched two of his brothers as ambassadors to the nearest tribe, the Oneidas, to lay the project before them. The Oneida nation is deemed to be a comparatively recent offshoot from the Caniengas. The difference of language is slight, showing that their separation was much later than that of the Onondagas. In the figurative speech of the Iroquois, the Oneida is the son, and the Onondaga is the brother, of the Canienga. Dekanawidah had good reason to expect that it would not prove difficult to win the consent of the Oneidas to the proposed scheme. But delay and deliberation mark all public acts of the Indians. The ambassadors found the leading chief, Odatsehte, at his town on the Oneida creek. He received their message in a friendly way, but–required time for his people to consider it in council. “Come back in another day,” he said to the messengers. In the political speech of the Indians, a day is understood to mean a year. The envoys carried back the reply to Dekanawidah and Hiawatha, who knew that they could do nothing but wait the prescribed time. After the lapse of a year, they repaired to the place of meeting. The treaty which initiated the great league was then and there ratified by the representatives of the Canienga and Oneida nations. The name of Odatsehte means “the quiver-bearer;” and as Atotarho, “the entangled,” is fabled to have had his head wreathed with snaky locks, and as Hiawatha, “the wampum-seeker,” is represented to have wrought shells into wampum, so the Oneida chief is reputed to have appeared at this treaty bearing at his shoulder a quiver full of arrows.

The Onondagas lay next to the Oneidas. To them, or rather to their terrible chief, the next application was made. The first meeting of Atotarho and Dekanawidah is a notable event in Iroquois history. At a later day, a native artist sought to represent it in an historical picture, which has been already referred to. Atotarho is seated in solitary and surly dignity, smoking a long pipe, his head and body encircled with contorted and angry serpents. Standing before him are two figures which cannot be mistaken. The foremost, a plumed and cinctured warrior, depicted as addressing the Onondaga chief, holds in his right hand, as a staff, his flint-headed spear, the ensign, it may be supposed, which marks him as the representative of the Caniengas, or “People of the Flint.” Behind him another plumed figure bears in his hand a bow with arrows, and at his shoulder a quiver. Divested of its mythological embellishments, the picture rudely represents the interview which actually took place. The immediate result was unpromising. The Onondaga chief coldly refused to entertain the project, which he had already rejected when proposed by Hiawatha. The ambassadors were not discouraged. Beyond the Onondagas were scattered the villages of the Cayugas, a people described by the Jesuit missionaries, at a later day, as the most mild and tractable of the Iroquois. They were considered an offshoot of the Onondagas, to whom they bore the same filial relation which the Oneidas bore to the Caniengas. The journey of the advocates of peace through the forest to the Cayuga capital, and their reception, are minutely detailed in the traditionary narrative. The Cayugas, who had suffered from the prowess and cruelty of the Onondaga chief, needed little persuasion. They readily consented to come into the league, and their chief, Akahenyonk (“The Wary Spy”), joined the Canienga and Oneida representatives in a new embassy to the Onondagas. Acting probably upon the advice of Hiawatha, who knew better than any other the character of the community and the chief with whom they had to deal, they made proposals highly flattering to the self-esteem which was the most notable trait of both ruler and people. The Onondagas should be the leading nation of the confederacy. Their chief town should be the federal capital, where the great councils of the league should be held, and where its records should be preserved. The nation should be represented in the council by fourteen senators, while no other nation should have more than ten. And as the Onondagas should be the leading tribe, so Atotarho should be the leading chief. He alone should have the right of summoning the federal council, and no act of the council to which he objected should be valid. In other words, an absolute veto was given to him. To enhance his personal dignity, two high chiefs were appointed as his special aids and counselors, his “Secretaries of State,” so to speak. Other insignia of preeminence were to be possessed by him; and, in view of all these distinctions, it is not surprising that his successor, who two centuries later retained the same prerogatives, should have been occasionally styled by the English colonists “the Emperor of the Five Nations.” It might seem, indeed, at first thought, that the founders of the confederacy had voluntarily placed themselves and their tribes in a position of almost abject subserviency to Atotarho and his followers. But they knew too well the qualities of their people to fear for them any political subjection. It was certain that when once the league was established, and its representatives had met in council, character and intelligence would assume their natural sway, and mere artificial rank and dignity would be little regarded. Atotarho and his people, however, yielded either to these specious offers, or to the pressure which the combined urgency of the three allied nations now brought to bear upon them. They finally accepted the league; and the great chief, who had originally opposed it, now naturally became eager to see it as widely extended as possible. He advised its representatives to go on at once to the westward, and enlist the populous Seneca towns, pointing out how this might best be done. This advice was followed, and the adhesion of the Senecas was secured by giving to their two leading chiefs, Kanya-dariyo (“Beautiful Lake”) and Shadekaronyes (“The Equal Skies”), the offices of military commanders of the confederacy, with the title of doorkeepers of the “Long-house,” that being the figure by which the league was known.

The six national leaders who have been mentioned–Dekanawidah for the Caniengas, Odatsehte for the Oneidas, Atotarho for the Onondagas, Akahenyonk for the Cayugas, Kanyadariyo and Shadekaronyes for the two great divisions of the Senecas–met in convention near the Onondaga Lake, with Hiawatha for their adviser, and a vast concourse of their followers, to settle the terms and rules of their confederacy, and to nominate its first council. Of this council, nine members (or ten, if Dekanawidah be included) were assigned to the Caniengas, a like number to the Oneidas, fourteen to the lordly Onondagas, ten to the Cayugas, and eight to the Senecas. Except in the way of compliment, the number assigned to each nation was really of little consequence; inasmuch as, by the rule of the league, unanimity was exacted in all their decisions. This unanimity, however, did not require the suffrage of every member of the council. The representatives of each nation first deliberated apart upon the question proposed. In this separate council the majority decided; and the leading chief then expressed in the great council the voice of his nation. Thus the veto of Atotarho ceased at once to be peculiar to him, and became a right exercised by each of the allied nations. This requirement of unanimity, embarrassing as it might seem, did not prove to be so in practice. Whenever a question arose on which opinions were divided, its decision was either postponed, or some compromise was reached which left all parties contented.

The first members of the council were appointed by the convention–under what precise rule is unknown; but their successors came in by a method in which the hereditary and the elective systems were singularly combined, and in which female suffrage had an important place. When a chief died or (as sometimes happened) was deposed for incapacity or misconduct, some member of the same family succeeded him. Rank followed the female line; and this successor might be any descendant of the late chief’s mother or grandmother–his brother, his cousin or his nephew–but never his son. Among many persons who might thus be eligible, the selection was made in the first instance by a family council. In this council the “chief matron” of the family, a noble dame whose position and right were well defined, had the deciding voice. This remarkable fact is affirmed by the Jesuit mission-ary Lafitau, and the usage remains in full vigor among the Canadian Iroquois to this day. [Footnote: “La dignite de chef est perpetuelle et hereditaire dans sa Cabane, passant toujours aux enfans de ses tantes, de ses soeurs, on de ses nieces du cote maternel. Des que l’arbre est tombe, il fault, disent ils, le relever. La matrone, qui a la principale autorite, apres en avoir confere avec ceux de sa Cabane, en confere de nouveau avec ceux de sa Tribu [clan], a qui elle fait agreer oelui qu’elle a choisi pour succeder, ce qui lui est assez libre. Elle n’a pas toujours egard au droit d’ainesse, et d’ordinaire, elle prend celui qui paroit le plus propre a soutenir ce rang par ses bonnes qualites.”–_Lafitau: Maurs des Savages Ameriquains_, p. 471.] If there are two or more members of the family who seem to have equal claims, the nominating matron sometimes declines to decide between them, and names them both or all, leaving the ultimate choice to the nation or the federal council. The council of the nation next considers the nomination, and, if dissatisfied, refers it back to the family for a new designation. If content, the national council reports the name of the candidate to the federal senate, in which resides the power of ratifying or rejecting the choice of the nation; but the power of rejection is rarely exercised, though that of expulsion for good cause is not unfrequently exerted. The new chief inherits the name of his predecessor. In this respect, as in some others, the resemblance of the Great Council to the English House of Peers is striking. As Norfolk succeeds to Norfolk, so Tekarihoken succeeds Tekarihoken. The great names of Hiawatha and Atotarho are still borne by plain farmer-councillors on the Canadian Reservation.

When the League was established, Hiawatha had been adopted by the Canienga nation as one of their chiefs. The honor in which he was held by them is shown by his position on the roll of councillors, as it has been handed down from the earliest times. As the Canienga nation is the “elder brother,” the names of its chiefs are first recited. At the head of the list is the leading Canienga chief, Tekarihoken, who represents the noblest lineage of the Iroquois stock. Next to him, and second on the roll, is the name of Hiawatha. That of his great colleague, Dekanawidah, nowhere appears. He was a member of the first council; but he forbade his people to appoint a successor to him. “Let the others have successors,” he said proudly, “for others can advise you like them. But I am the founder of your league, and no one else can do what I have done.” [Footnote: In Mr. Morgan’s admirable work, “_The League of the Iroquois_,” the list of Councillors (whom he styles _sachems_), comprises the name of Dekanawidah–in his orthography, Daganoweda. During my last visit to my lamented friend (in September, 1880), when we examined together my copy of the then newly discovered Book of Rites, in which he was greatly interested, this point was considered. The original notes which he made for his work were examined. It appeared that in the list as it was first written by him, from the dictation of a well-informed Seneca chief, the name of Dekanawidah was not comprised. A later, but erroneous suggestion, from another source, led him to believe that his first informant was mistaken, or that he had misunderstood him, and to substitute the name of Dekanawidah for the somewhat similar name of Shatekariwate (in Seneca Sadekeiwadeh), which stands third on the roll, immediately following that of Hiawatha. The term _sachem_, it may be added, is an Algonkin word, and one which Iroquois speakers have a difficulty in pronouncing. Their own name for a member of their Senate is _Royaner_, derived from the root _yaner_, noble, and precisely equivalent in meaning to the English “nobleman” or “lord,” as applied to a member of the House of Peers. It is the word by which the missionaries have rendered the title “Lord” in the New Testament.]

The boast was not unwarranted. Though planned by another, the structure had been reared mainly by his labors. But the Five Nations, while yielding abundant honor to the memory of Dekanawidah, have never regarded him with the same affectionate reverence which has always clung to the name of Hiawatha. His tender and lofty wisdom, his wide-reaching benevolence, and his fervent appeals to their better sentiments, enforced by the eloquence of which he was master, touched chords in the popular heart which have continued to respond until this day. Fragments of the speeches in which he addressed the council and the people of the league are still remembered and repeated. The fact that the league only carried out a part of the grand design which he had in view is constantly affirmed. Yet the failure was not due to lack of effort. In pursuance of his original purpose, when the league was firmly established, envoys were sent to other tribes to urge them to join it, or at least to become allies. One of these embassies penetrated to the distant Cherokees, the hereditary enemies of the Iroquois nations. For some reason with which we are not acquainted, perhaps the natural suspicion or vindictive pride of that powerful community, this mission was a failure. Another, dispatched to the western Algonkins, had better success. A strict alliance was formed with the far-spread Ojibway tribes, and was maintained inviolate for at least two hundred years, until at length the influence of the French, with the sympathy of the Ojibways for the conquered Hurons, undid to some extent, though not entirely, this portion of Hiawatha’s work.

His conceptions were beyond his time, and beyond ours; but their effect, within a limited sphere, was very great. For more than three centuries the bond which he devised held together the Iroquois nations in perfect amity. It proved, moreover, as he intended, elastic.–The territory of the Iroquois, constantly extending as their united strength made itself felt, became the “Great Asylum” of the Indian tribes. Of the conquered Eries and Hurons, many hundreds were received and adopted among their conquerors. The Tuscaroras, expelled by the English from North Carolina, took refuge with the Iroquois, and became the sixth nation of the League. From still further south, the Tuteloes and Saponies, of Dakota stock, after many wars with the Iroquois, fled to them from their other enemies, and found a cordial welcome. A chief still sits in the council as a representative of the Tuteloes, though the tribe itself has been swept away by disease, or absorbed in the larger nations. Many fragments of tribes of Algonkin lineage–Delawares, Nanticokes, Mohegans, Mississagas–sought the same hospitable protection, which never failed them. Their descendants still reside on the Canadian Reservation, which may well be styled an aboriginal “refuge of nations,” affording a striking evidence in our own day of the persistent force of a great idea, when embodied in practical shape by the energy of a master mind.

The name by which their constitution or organic law is known among them is _kayanerenh_, to which the epitaph _kowa_, “great,” is frequently added. This word, _kayanerenh_, is sometimes rendered “law,” or “league,” but its proper meaning seems to be “peace.” It is used in this sense by the missionaries, in their translations of the scriptures and the prayer-book. In such expressions as the “Prince of Peace,” “the author of peace,” “give peace in our time,” we find _kayanerenh_ employed with this meaning. Its root is _yaner_, signifying “noble,” or “excellent,” which yields, among many derivatives, _kayanere_, “goodness,” and _kayanerenh_, “peace,” or “peacefulness.” The national hymn of the confederacy, sung whenever their “Condoling Council” meets, commences with a verse referring to their league, which is literally rendered, “We come to greet and thank the PEACE” (_kayanerenh_). When the list of their ancient chiefs, the fifty original councillors, is chanted in the closing litany of the meeting, there is heard from time to time, as the leaders of each clan are named, an outburst of praise, in the words–

“This was the roll of you–
You that combined in the work,
You that completed the work,
The GREAT PEACE.” (_Kayanerenh-kowa_.)

The regard of Englishmen for their Magna Charta and Bill of Rights, and that of Americans for their national Constitution, seem weak in comparison with the intense gratitude and reverence of the Five Nations for the “Great Peace,” which Hiawatha and his colleagues established for them. Of the subsequent life of Hiawatha, and of his death, we have no sure information. The records of the Iroquois are historical, and not biographical. As Hiawatha had been made a chief among the Caniengas, he doubtless continued to reside with that nation. A tradition, which is in itself highly probable, represents him as devoting himself to the congenial work of clearing away the obstructions in the streams which intersect the country then inhabited by the confederated nations, and which formed the chief means of communication between them. That he thus, in some measure, anticipated the plans of De Witt Clinton and his associates, on a smaller scale, but perhaps with a larger statesmanship, we may be willing enough to believe. A wild legend recorded by some writers, but not told of him by the Canadian Iroquois, and apparently belonging to their ancient mythology, gives him an apotheosis, and makes him ascend to heaven in a white canoe. It may be proper to dwell for a moment on the singular complication of mistakes which has converted this Indian reformer and statesman into a mythological personage.

When by the events of the Revolutionary war the original confederacy was broken up, the larger portion of the people followed Brant to Canada. The refugees comprised nearly the whole of the Caniengas, and the greater part of the Onondagas and Cayugas, with many members of the other nations. In Canada their first proceeding was to reestablish, as far as possible, their ancient league, with all its laws and ceremonies. The Onondagas had brought with them most of their wampum records, and the Caniengas jealously preserved the memories of the federation, in whose formation they had borne a leading part. The history of the league continued to be the topic of their orators whenever a new chief was installed into office. Thus the remembrance of the facts has been preserved among them with much clearness and precision, and with little admixture of mythological elements. With the fragments of the tribes which remained on the southern side of the Great Lakes the case was very different. A feeble pretense was made, for a time, of keeping up the semblance of the old confederacy; but except among the Senecas, who, of all the Five Nations, had had least to do with the formation of the league, the ancient families which had furnished the members of their senate, and were the conservators of their history, had mostly fled to Canada or the West. The result was that among the interminable stories with which the common people beguile their winter nights, the traditions of Atotarho and Hiawatha became intermingled with the legends of their mythology. An accidental similarity, in the Onondaga dialect, between the name of Hiawatha and that of one of their ancient divinities, led to a confusion between the two, which has misled some investigators. This deity bears, in the sonorous Canienga tongue, the name of Taronhiawagon, meaning “the Holder of the Heavens.” The Jesuit missionaries style him “the great god of the Iroquois.” Among the Onondagas of the present day, the name is abridged to Taonhiawagi, or Tahiawagi. The confusion between this name and that of Hiawatha (which, in another form, is pronounced Tahionwatha) seems to have begun more than a century ago; for Pyrteus, the Moravian missionary, heard among the Iroquois (according to Heckewelder) that the person who first proposed the league was an ancient Mohawk, named Thannawege. Mr. J. V. H. Clarke, in his interesting History of Onondaga, makes the name to have been originally Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha, and describes the bearer as “the deity who presides over fisheries and hunting-grounds.” He came down from heaven in a white canoe, and after sundry adventures, which remind one of the labors of Hercules, assumed the name of Hiawatha (signifying, we are told, “a very wise man”), and dwelt for a time as an ordinary mortal among men, occupied in works of benevolence. Finally, after founding the confederacy and bestowing many prudent counsels upon the people, he returned to the skies by the same conveyance in which he had descended. This legend, or, rather, congeries of intermingled legends, was communicated by Clark to Schoolcraft, when the latter was compiling his “Notes on the Iroquois.” Mr. Schoolcraft, pleased with the poetical cast of the story, and the euphonious name, made confusion worse confounded by transferring the hero to a distant region and identifying him with Manabozho, a fantastic divinity of the Ojibways. Schoolcraft’s volume, which he chose to entitle “The Hiawatha Legends,” has not in it a single fact or fiction relating either to Hiawatha himself or to the Iroquois deity Taronhiawagon. Wild Ojibway stories concerning Manabozho and his comrades form the staple of its contents. But it is to this collection that we owe the charming poem of Longfellow; and thus, by an extraordinary fortune, a grave Iroquois lawgiver of the fifteenth century has become, in modern literature, an Ojibway demigod, son of the West Wind, and companion of the tricksy Paupukkeewis, the boastful Iagoo, and the strong Kwasind. If a Chinese traveler, during the middle ages, inquiring into the history and religion of the western nations, had confounded King Alfred with King Arthur, and both with Odin, he would not have made a more preposterous confusion of names and characters than that which has hitherto disguised the genuine personality of the great Onondaga reformer. [Footnote: This subject is further discussed in the Appendix, Note D.]

About the main events of his history, and about his character and purposes, there can be no reasonable doubt. We have the wampum belts which he handled, and whose simple hieroglyphics preserve the memory of the public acts in which he took part. We have, also, in the Iroquois “Book of Rites,” which in the present volume is given in its original form, a still more clear and convincing testimony to the character both of the legislator and of the people for whom his institutions were designed. This book, sometimes called the “Book of the Condoling Council,” might properly enough be styled an Iroquois Veda. It comprises the speeches, songs, and other ceremonies, which, from the earliest period of the confederacy, have composed the proceedings of their council when a deceased chief is lamented and his successor is installed in office. The fundamental laws of the league, a list of their ancient towns, and the names of the chiefs who constituted their first council, chanted in a kind of litany, are also comprised in the collection. The contents, after being preserved in memory, like the Vedas, for many generations, were written down by desire of the chiefs, when their language was first reduced to writing; and the book is therefore more than a century old. Its language, archaic when written, is now partly obsolete, and is fully understood by only a few of the oldest chiefs. It is a genuine Indian composition, and must be accepted as disclosing the true character of its authors. The result is remarkable enough. Instead of a race of rude and ferocious warriors, we find in this book a kindly and affectionate people, full of sympathy for their friends in distress, considerate to their women, tender to their children, anxious for peace, and imbued with a profound reverence for their constitution and its authors. We become conscious of the fact that the aspect in which these Indians have presented themselves to the outside world has been in a large measure deceptive and factitious. The ferocity, craft and cruelty, which have been deemed their leading traits, have been merely the natural accompaniments of wars of self-preservation, and no more indicated their genuine character than the war-paint, plume and tomahawk of the warrior displayed the customary guise in which he appeared among his own people. The cruelties of war, when war is a struggle for national existence, are common to all races. The persistent desire for peace, pursued for centuries in federal unions, and in alliances and treaties with other nations, has been manifested by few as steadily as by the countrymen of Hiawatha. The sentiment of universal brotherhood which directed their policy has never been so fully developed in any branch of the Aryan race, unless it may be found incorporated in the religious quietism of Buddha and his followers.



For a proper appreciation of this peculiar composition, some further particulars respecting its origin and character will be needed. During my earlier visits to the Reserve of the Six Nations, near Brantford, I had heard of an Indian book which was used at their “Condoling Councils,” the most important of their many public gatherings. But it was not until the month of September, 1879, that I had an opportunity of seeing the work. At that time two copies of the book were brought to me by the official holders, two of the principal chiefs of the confederacy. One of these was Chief John “Smoke” Johnson, who for many years had held the high office of Speaker of the Great Council, though, of late, yielding to age and infirmity, he has withdrawn from the public performance of its duties. His second name is a rude rendering of his truly poetical Indian appellation, Sakayen-gwaraton, or “Disappearing Mist.” It signifies properly, I was told, the haze which rises from the ground in an autumn morning and vanishes as the day advances. His English name, and, in part, his blood, Chief Johnson derives from no less distinguished an ancestor than Sir William Johnson, who played so notable a part in colonial history during the last century, and who exercised, perhaps, a greater influence on the destiny of the Iroquois than any other individual since the formation of their confederacy. To him, indeed, may be ascribed the distinction, such as it is, of destroying the work which Hiawatha and Dekanawidah had founded. But for the influence over the Indians which he had acquired, and was able to bequeath to others, it is probable that the Six Nations would have remained neutral during the Revolutionary War, and the disruption of their League would not have taken place. Yet there can be no doubt that he was sincerely attached to them, and desired their good. Unfortunately for them, they held, as was natural, only the second place in his affections. He was, by adoption, an Iroquois chief, but his first allegiance was due to his native country, to whose interests, both in the war with France and in the separation which he foresaw between England and her colonies, he did not hesitate to sacrifice the welfare of his red brethren. Against his subtle arts and overmastering energy the wisest of their statesmen, worthy successors of the great founders of their constitution, strove in vain, on each occasion, to maintain that neutrality which was evidently the true policy of their people. [Footnote: For the confirmation of these statements see the excellent biographies of Sir William Johnson and Joseph Brant, by Wm. L. Stone, _passim_.]

Sakayengwaraton is not an elected chief, nor does he bear one of the hereditary titles of the Great Council, in which he holds so distinguished a station. Indeed, his office is one unknown to the ancient constitution of the Kanonsionni. It is the creation of the British Government, to which he owes, with the willing consent of his own people, his rank and position in the Council. The Provincial administrators saw the need of a native official who should be, like the Speaker of the English House of Commons, the mouthpiece of the Council, and the intermediary between it and the representative of the Crown. The grandson of Sir William Johnson was known as a brave warrior, a capable leader, and an eloquent speaker. In the war of 1812, at the early age of twenty, he had succeeded an elder brother in the command of the Indian contingent, and had led his dusky followers with so much skill and intrepidity as to elicit high praise from the English commander. His eloquence was noted, even among a race of orators. I can well believe what I have heard of its effects, as even in his old age, when an occasion has for a moment aroused his spirit, I have not known whether most to admire the nobleness and force of his sentiments and reasoning, or the grace and flowing ease with which he delivered the stately periods of his sonorous language. He has been a worthy successor of the distinguished statesmen, Garagontieh, Garangula, Decanasora, Canasatego, Logan, and others, who in former years guided the destinies of his people. He is considered to have a better knowledge of the traditions and ancient usages of the Six Nations than any other member of the tribes, and is the only man now living who can tell the meaning of every word of the “Book of Rites.”

The other chief to whom I have referred is the Onondaga Councillor who is known to the whites as John Buck, but who bears in council the name of Skanawati (“Beyond the River”), one of the fifty titular names which have descended from the time of Hiawatha. He is the official keeper of the “wampum records” of the confederacy, an important trust, which, to his knowledge, has been in his family for at least four generations. His rank, his character, and his eloquence make him now, virtually, the Iroquois premier–an office which among the Six Nations, as among the Athenians of old and the English of modern days, is both unknown to the constitution and essential to its working. His knowledge of the legends and customs of his people is only inferior to that of the more aged Speaker of the Council.

The account which Chief J. S. Johnson gave me of the book may be briefly told. The English missionaries reduced the Canienga language to writing in the early part of the last century. The Jesuit fathers, indeed, had learned and written the language–which they styled the Iroquois–fifty years before; but it does not appear that they had instructed any of the Indians in the art of writing it, as their successors in the Eastern Province have since done. The English missionaries took pains to do this. The liturgy of their church was printed in the Mohawk tongue, at New York, as early as the year 1714. [Footnote: This date is given in the preface to the Mohawk Prayer Book of 1787. This first version of the liturgy was printed under the direction of the Rev. Wm. Andrews, the missionary of the “New England Society.”] By the middle of the century there were many members of the tribe who could write in the well-devised orthography of the missionaries–an orthography which anticipated in most points the well known “Pickering alphabet,” now generally’ employed in writing the Indian languages of North America. The chiefs of the Great Council, at once conservative and quick to learn, saw the advantages which would accrue from preserving, by this novel method, the forms of their most important public duty–that of creating new chiefs–and the traditions connected with their own body. They caused the ceremonies, speeches and songs, which together made up the proceedings of the Council when it met for the two purposes, always combined, of condolence and induction, to be written down in the words in which they had been preserved in memory for many generations. A Canienga chief, named David, a friend of Brant, is said to have accomplished the work. In Stone’s Life of Sir William Johnson, mention is made of a Mohawk chief, “David of Schoharie,” who in May, 1757, led a troop of Indians from his town to join the forces under Sir William, in his expedition to Crown Point, to repel the French invaders. [Footnote: _Life of Sir William Johnson_, Vol. II. p. 29] Brant appears to have been in this expedition. [Footnote: Ibid., p. 174] It is highly probable that in Chief David of Schoharie we have the compiler, or rather the scribe, of this “Iroquois Veda.”

The copy of this book which Chief J. S. Johnson possessed was made by himself under the following circumstances: During the prevalence of the Asiatic cholera, in 1832, the tribes on the Reserve suffered severely. Chief Johnson, then a young man and not yet a leader in the Great Council, was active in attending on the sick. He was called to visit an aged chief, who was not expected to live. The old chief informed him that he had this book in his possession, and advised him, as he was one of the few who could write the language, to make a copy of it, lest by any accident the original should be lost. Johnson followed this advice, and copied the book on loose sheets of paper, from which he afterwards transcribed it into a small unbound book, resembling a schoolboy’s copy-book. He states that the original book contained, besides the ceremonies of the Condoling Council, an addition by a later hand, comprising some account of the more recent history of the Six Nations, and particularly of their removal from New York to Canada. This portion of it he unfortunately omitted to copy, and shortly afterwards the book itself was destroyed, when the house of the old chief was accidentally burned.

The other copy which I transcribed was held by Chief John Buck, in his official capacity of record-keeper. It is written in a somewhat different orthography. The syllables are separated, as in the usual style of Indian hymnbooks, and some of the words, particularly the proper names, show by their forms that the person who copied the book was an Onondaga. The copy was evidently not made from that of Chief Johnson, as it supplies some omissions in that copy. On the other hand, it omits some matters, and, in particular, nearly all the adjurations and descriptive epithets which form the closing litany accompanying the list of hereditary councillors. The copy appears, from a memorandum written in it, to have been made by one “John Green,” who, it seems, was formerly a pupil of the Mohawk Institute at Brantford. It bears the date of November, 1874. I could not learn where he found his original.

The translation has been made from the dictation of Chief J. S. Johnson, who explained the meaning of the archaic words in the modern Canienga speech. This was interpreted in English by his son, Chief George H. M. Johnson, and afterwards more fully elucidated by my esteemed friend, the Rev. Isaac Bearfoot, who kindly came from his parish, at Point Edward (near Sarnia), to the Reserve, to assist me in this work. Mr. Bearfoot is an Onondaga by birth, but a Canienga by adoption, and has a thorough knowledge of the Canienga language. He prepared the revised edition of the hymnbook in that language, which is now used on the Reserve. He is a good English scholar, and, having been educated in Toronto for the ministry, has filled for some years, with much acceptance, the office of pastor to a white congregation of the Church of England. I am greatly indebted to him for his judicious assistance, and, finally, for a complete revision of the entire version of the Canienga portion of the book.

To my friend Chief George Johnson I am under still greater obligations. Mr. Johnson, as has been stated, is the son of Chief J. S. Johnson, and is himself a high chief of the Canienga nation. He bears in the Great Council the name of Teyonhehkwen (otherwise spelt Deyonheghgonh), meaning “Double Life,” one of the titular names which were borne by the companions of Hiawatha and Atotarho in the first council. He succeeded in this title, according to the rules of the confederacy, his maternal uncle, on the nomination of his mother, as the chief matron of the family. Mr. Johnson is an educated gentleman. In early life he was a pupil of the English missionaries. He now holds the position of Government Interpreter for the Six Nations, and is, in fact, the chief executive officer of the Canadian government on the Reserve. His duties have several times brought him into collision with the white ruffians who formerly infested the Reserve, and from whom he has on two occasions suffered severe injuries, endangering his life. His courage and firmness, however, have been finally successful in subduing this mischief, and the Reserve is now as secure and as free from disorder as any part of Canada. To Chief, George Johnson’s assistance and encouragement I owe most of the information contained in these pages, and I am glad to have an opportunity of paying him this tribute of respect and gratitude.

The second or supplementary part of the Book, which is in the Onondaga dialect, was found on the, small Reservation in the State of New York, near Syracuse, where a feeble remnant of the great Onondaga nation still cling to the home of their forefathers. In October, 1875, during my first visit to Onondaga Castle, as this Reservation is called, I obtained from the intelligent interpreter, Daniel La Fort–a son of the distinguished chief Abram La Fort (Dehatkatons), who is commemorated in Clark’s “Onondaga”–a list of the original councillors in the Onondaga dialect, and also a copy, in the same dialect, of the “Condoling Song,” which I had heard sung on the Canadian Reserve, and which I afterwards found in the Canienga Book of Rites. He read them to me from a small manuscript book, in which, as I then supposed, he had noted them for his own convenience. When I afterwards discovered the Canienga book, it occurred to me that I might have been mistaken on this point, and that the manuscript from which he read was possibly a copy of the Book of Rites in the Onondaga dialect. To clear up this point, I again visited Onondaga Castle, in September, 1880. I then found, to my great gratification, that his book was not a copy, but a valuable addition, or rather an essential complement, to the Canienga book. The last-named book comprises the speeches which are addressed by the representatives of the three elder nations to the younger members of the League, whenever a chief who belonged to the latter is lamented. The Onondaga book, on the other hand, gives us the exhortations which are addressed by the younger nations to the elder when a chief of the latter is mourned. The circumstance to which it owes its preservation on the Onondaga Reserve is easily explained. Of late years, since the chieftainships among the New York Senecas and Tuscaroras have been made purely elective offices, the only body of Indians in that State among whom the original system of mingled descent and appointment has been retained is the remnant of the intensely conservative Onondagas. Among these, in spite of missionary efforts continued for two centuries, paganism still lingers, and chiefs are still “raised up” as nearly as possible after the ancient fashion. When a chief dies, the members of his family or clan select another, who is presented to the national council for induction. The ceremonies of condolence, with which the proceedings commence, are modeled after the primitive form. As the Onondagas were one of the elder nations, the addresses of condolence must proceed from a younger brother. Fortunately for this purpose, a few Oneidas reside on the Reserve, among whom is a single chief, by name Abram Hill. To him is committed the duty of representing the “younger brothers” on this occasion, and with it the charge of the wampum strings, which are produced occasionally as the ceremony proceeds, each string representing one section or topic of the condoling address.

La Fort said that he had copied his book from a manuscript in his father’s handwriting. This manuscript, unfortunately, was lost, and he could not say whether his rather had first written it down from memory, or had merely transcribed it from an earlier composition. However this may have been, the substance of the composition undoubtedly dates from a period preceding the disruption of the confederacy. The language, indeed, so far as can be judged from the very irregular orthography, is modern. If, as there is reason to suppose, the composition is ancient, it has evidently undergone a “revision” at the hands of the later copyists. In former times, as we know from the Jesuit vocabularies, the sound of _r_ existed in the Onondaga dialect. Since their day this sound has disappeared from it entirely. In La Fort’s manuscript the letter frequently occurred, but always, as his pronunciation showed, either as a diacritical sign following the vowel _a_, to give to that vowel the sound of _a_ in “far,” or else as representing itself this vowel sound. Thus the syllable which should properly be written _sa_ was written by La Fort either _sar_ or _sr_. But, though the language is modern, the speeches themselves, as I am assured by Chief John Buck, are precisely those which are still in use among his people in Canada, and which are believed to have been preserved in memory from the days of their forefathers. [Footnote: The disappearance of a vocal element from a language is a phenomenon with which etymologists are familiar. The loss of the Greek digamma is a well-known instance. The harsh guttural, resembling the German ch. which formerly existed in the English language, has vanished from it, leaving its traces in the uncouth orthography of such words as _plough_, _high_, _though_, and the like. Within the past three centuries the sound of _I_ has been lost from many words, such as _walk_, _talk_, _balm_ and _calm_. The sound of _r_ is disappearing from a large portion of the language. In ordinary speech, _arm_ rhymes with _calm_, _morning_ with _fanning_, _higher_ with _Sophia_. Modern French, as is well known, has attained its present euphony through the disappearance of consonantal elements from many words in which they formerly existed.]

The translation of La Fort’s book was procured from him and another educated member of his tribe; but there was not time to obtain all the elucidations needed to ensure precise verbal accuracy throughout.



The name usually given to the Book of Rites, or rather to its contents, is, in the Canienga dialect, _Okayondonghsera Yondennase_ (or in the French missionary orthography, _Okaiontonhstra Iontennase_), which may be rendered “Ancient Rites of the Condoling Council.” [Footnote: _Okaionlonhsera_ is a substantive derived from _akaion_, old, or ancient. The termination _sera_ gives it an abstract sense. “The antiquities,” or rather “the ancientnesses,” is the nearest literal rendering which our language allows, _Iontennase_ is a verbal form, derived from _kitenre_ (in Bruyas, _gentenron_), to pity, or sympathize with. It may be rendered “they who sympathize,” or “the condolers.” Both, words, however, have acquired a special meaning in their application to these ceremonies.] Among the many councils, civil and religious, tribal and federal, in which the public spirit and social temper of the Iroquois found their most congenial and most popular mode of display, the Yondennase, the Condoling (or Mourning) Council, held the highest rank. It was, in a certain way, typical of the whole, and comprised the elements of all the other councils. In its earlier form this council was not peculiar to the Iroquois. We know, from the Jesuit reports, that it was the custom of the Hurons to hold a public lamentation for the death of a chief, and at the same time to appoint another who should take his place and assume his name. But that which among the Hurons was merely a tribal custom became, in the Iroquois form of government, an important institution, essential to the maintenance of their state. By the ordinances of their League, it was required that the number of their federal senate should be maintained undiminished. On the death of one of its members, it was the duty of the nation to which he belonged to notify the other nations of the event, and of the time and place at which he would be lamented and his successor installed. The notice was given in the usual manner, by official messengers, who bore for credentials certain strings of wampum, appropriate to the occasion. The place of meeting was commonly the chief town of the nation which had suffered the loss. In this nation a family council, under the presidency, and subject, indeed (as has been shown), to the controlling decision, of the chief matron of the deceased senator’s kindred–usually his mother, if she survived him–was in the meantime convened to select his successor. The selection must be approved both by his clan and by his nation; but as their sentiments were generally known beforehand, this approval was rarely withheld. Indeed, the mischief resulting from an unsuitable choice was always likely to be slight; for both the national council and the federal senate had the right of deposing any member who was found unqualified for the office.

At the appointed day the chiefs of the other nations approached the place of meeting. A multitude of their people, men and women, usually accompanied them, prepared to take part both in the exhibitions of grief and in the festivities which always followed the installation of the new councillor. The approaching chiefs halted when they reached the border of the “opening,” or cleared space surrounding the town. Here took place the “preliminary ceremony,” styled in the Book of Rites, “_Deyughnyonkwarakda_,” a word which means simply “at the edge of the woods.” At this point a fire was kindled, a pipe was lighted and passed around with much formality, and an address of welcome was made by the principal chief of the inviting nation. The topics of this address comprised a singular mixture of congratulation and condolence, and seem to have been prescribed forms, which had come down from immemorial antiquity, as appropriate to the occasion.

The guests were then formally conducted–“led by the hand,” as the Book recites–to the Council House of the town. They seem, anciently at least, to have advanced in the order of their clans. The towns belonging to the Wolf clan were first enumerated–probably as the chiefs belonging to them took their places–then the towns of the Tortoise clan (or double clan, as it is styled), and finally those of the Bear clan. In all, twenty-three towns are named. Five of them are expressly stated to have been “added lately.” The residue are supposed to be the names of the towns in which the people of the Five Nations resided at the time when the confederacy was formed, though this point is uncertain. That few of these can now be identified, is what would naturally be expected. It is well known that the Indians had the custom of removing their towns from time to time, at intervals varying from ten to twenty years, as the fuel in their neighborhood became exhausted, and as the diminished crops under their primitive mode of agriculture showed the need of fresher soil. Only those villages would be permanent whose localities offered some special advantages, as fortresses, fishing places, or harbors. [Footnote: See Appendix, note E.]

This list of towns has another peculiarity which arrests the attention. It apparently comprises all the towns of the League, but these are divided among only three clans, those of the Wolf, the Tortoise and the Bear. The other clans of the confederacy are not once named in the book. Yet there are indications which show that when the list of chiefs which concludes the book was written, at a date long after this list of towns was first recited, other clans existed in three of the nations. This is an important point, which merits further consideration. Those who have read the admirable account of the “League of the Iroquois,” by Morgan, and his philosophic work on “Ancient Society,” are aware that he has brought out and elucidated with much clearness and force the nature and results of the remarkable clan system which prevails among the North American Indians. It is not universal, as it does not seem to be known among the widely scattered bands of the Crees and the Athapascans, or among the Indians of Oregon. [Footnote: See _Ancient Society_, pp. 167, 175, 177.] It was found, however, among the great majority of tribes in the region north of Mexico and east of the Rocky Mountains, and was sufficiently alike in all to indicate a common origin. Mr. Morgan finds this origin in a kinship, real or supposed, among the members of each clan. He considers the clan, or gens, and not the single family, to be the natural unit of primitive society. It is, in his view, a stage through which the human race passes in its progress from the savage state to civilization. It is difficult, however, to reconcile this theory with the fact that among some races, as for example, the Polynesian and Feejeean, which are in precisely the same stage of social advancement as the North American Indians, this institution is unknown; and even among the Indians, as has been said, it is not everywhere found. There are many indications which seem to show that the system is merely an artificial arrangement, instituted for social convenience. It is natural, in the sense that the desire for association is natural to man. The sentiment is one which manifests itself alike in all stages of society. The guilds of the middle ages, the masonic and other secret brotherhoods, religious organizations, trade unions, clubs, and even political parties, are all manifestations of this associative instinct. The Indian clan was simply a brotherhood, an aggregate of persons united by a common tie, sometimes of origin, sometimes merely of locality. These brotherhoods were not permanent, but were constantly undergoing changes, forming, dividing, coalescing, vanishing. The names of many of them show their recent origin. The Chicasas have a “Spanish clan.” [Footnote: _Ancient Society_, p. 163.] The Shawnees had a “Horse clan.” [Footnote: Ibid, p. 168.] The Iroquois, of Eastern Canada, made up of fragments of all the Five Nations, had an “Onondaga clan,” and an “Oneida clan.” [Footnote: Rotisennakete, and Rotinenhiotronon. See J. A. Cuoq, _Lexique de la Langut Iroquoise_, p. 154. The proper meaning of these names will be hereafter shown.] It is a curious fact that, as Mr. Morgan states, “the Iroquois claim to have originated a division of the people into tribes [clans or gentes] as a means of creating new relationships, to bind the people more firmly together. It is further asserted by them that they forced or introduced this social organization among the Cherokees, the Chippeways (Massasaugas) and several other Indian nations, with whom, in ancient times, they were in constant intercourse.” “The fact,” he adds, “that this division of the people of the same nation into tribes does not prevail generally among our Indian races, favors the assertions of the Iroquois.” [Footnote: _League of the Iroquois_, p. 91.] Further inquiry and reflection led this distinguished investigator to take a totally different view, and to go to what may be deemed the opposite extreme of regarding this clan system as an essential stage in the growth of human society.

There can be no question that an idea of kinship pervaded the clan system, and was its ruling element. It may, in many instances, have been purely imaginary and, so to speak, figurative, like the “brotherhood” of our secret associations; but it was none the less efficacious and binding. As the members of a clan regarded themselves as brothers and sisters, marriages among them were not allowed. This led, of course, to constant intermarriages between members of the different clans of which a nation was composed, thus binding the whole nation together. What the founders of the Iroquois League did was to extend this system of social alliances through the entire confederacy. The Wolf clansman of the Caniengas was deemed a brother of the Wolf clansman of the Senecas, though originally there may have been no special connection between them. It was a tie apparently artificial in its origin, as much so as the tie which binds a freemason of Berlin to a freemason of New Orleans. But it came to have all the strength of a tie of kindred. Mr. Morgan has well pointed out the wisdom shown by the Iroquois founders, in availing themselves of this powerful element of strength in the formation of their federal constitution. [Footnote: _League of the Iroquois_, p. 82, _et seq_.] Their government, though politically a league of nations, was socially a combination of clans. In this way Hiawatha and Dekanawidah may be deemed to have given to the system of clan-ship an extension and a force which it had not previously possessed; and it is by no means unlikely that this example may, as the Iroquois assert, have acted upon neighboring nations, and led to a gradual increase in the number and influence of these brotherhoods.

But here a discrepancy presents itself in the Iroquois system, which has perplexed all who have written on the subject. Two of the Six Nations, the Caniengas and Oneidas, had only three clans, the Wolf, the Tortoise and the Bear; while the others had, or at least have, each eight or nine, and these variously styled in the different nations. The three which have been named are, indeed, found in all; but besides these three, the Onondagas have five, Deer, Eel, Beaver, Ball and Snipe. The Cayugas and Senecas have also eight clans, which are similar to those of the Onondagas, except that among the Cayugas the Ball clan is replaced by the Hawk, and among the Senecas both Ball and Eel disappear, and are replaced by Hawk and Heron. The Tuscaroras have likewise eight clans, but among these are neither the Hawk, the Heron or the Ball. In lieu of them the Wolf clan is divided into two, the Gray Wolf and the Yellow Wolf, and the Tortoise furnishes two, the Great Tortoise and the Little Tortoise; [Footnote: It is deserving of notice that this division of the Tortoise clan seems to exist in a nascent form among the Onondagas. The name of this clan is Hahnowa, which is the general word for tortoise; but the clan is divided into two septs or subdivisions, the Hanyatengona, or Great Tortoise, and the Nikahnowaksa, or Little Tortoise, which together are held to constitute but one clan. How or why the distinction is kept up I did not learn. In the Book of Rites the Tortoise clan is also spoken of in the dual number–“the two clans of the Tortoise.” It is probable, therefore, that this partial subdivision extended throughout the original Five Nations, and became complete among the Tuscaroras.] the Bear, the Beaver, the Eel and the Snipe remain, as among the Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas.

We are naturally led to ask how it happens that only three clans are found among the Caniengas and Oneidas, while the other nations have eight. Mr. Morgan was inclined to think that the other five once existed among the two former nations, and had become extinct. [Footnote: _League of the Iroquois_, p. 81. Ancient Society, p. 92.] The native annalists of those nations, however, affirm that no more than three clans ever existed among them. This assertion is now confirmed, indirectly but strongly, by the testimony of the Book of Rites, which seems to show that only three clans were recognized in the whole confederacy when the League was formed. All the towns of the united nations were distributed among the three primary clans of the Wolf, the Tortoise and the Bear. If the other clans existed, it was probably merely as septs or divisions of these three. [Footnote: “The Turtle family, or the Anowara, was the most noble of the whole League; next came the Ochquari, or clan of the Bear, and the Oquacho, or that of the Wolf. These three were so prominent that Zeisberger hardly recognizes the others.”–_De Sckweinitz’s Life of Zeisberger_, p.79. Zeisberger had been adopted into the nation of the Onondagas and the clan of the Tortoise. His knowledge of the laws and usages of the Kanonsionni was acquired chiefly in that nation. Charlevoix makes the Bear the leading clan of the Iroquois. It would seem that the relative rank of the clans varied in the different nations. The chiefs of the Wolf clan come first in the list of Oneida councillors.] It is more likely, however, that these additional clans were of later creation or introduction. Their origin, as well as their restriction to the three western nations, may be easily explained. The successive conquests achieved by the Iroquois in the early part of the seventeenth century had the result of incorporating with their people great numbers of Hurons, Eries, Attiwandaronks, Andastes, and other captives belonging to tribes of the same stock, speaking similar dialects, and having usages closely resembling those of their captors. Of these captives, some were directly adopted into the Iroquois families and clans; but a larger number remained for a time in separate towns, retaining their own usages. They were regarded, however, and they regarded themselves, as Iroquois. Constant intercourse and frequent intermarriages soon abolished all distinctions of national origin. But the distinction of clan-ship would remain. The Hurons (or, at least, the Tionontates, or Tobacco Nation) had clans of the Deer and the Hawk, and they had a Snake clan bearing a name (_yagonirunon_) not unlike the name of the Onondaga Eel clan (_ogontena_), and evidently derived from the same root. The other conquered nations had doubtless some peculiar clans; for these brotherhoods, as has been shown, were constantly in process of formation and change among the Indian tribes. Almost all the captives were incorporated with the three western nations of the League, to whom the conquered tribes were mostly nearer than to the Caniengas and Oneidas. The origin of the additional clans among the Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas is thus readily understood.

One fact, important in its connection with the structure of the federal council, remains to be noted, and if possible, elucidated. The councillors of each nation were divided into classes, whose part in the deliberations of the councils bore a certain resemblance to that held by the committees of our legislatures. The operation of this system cannot be better described than in the words of Morgan: “The founders of the confederacy, seeking to obviate, as far as possible, altercation in council, and to facilitate their progress to unanimity, divided the sachems of each nation into classes, usually of two or three each, as will be seen by referring to the table of sachemships. No sachem was permitted to express an opinion in council, until he had agreed with the other sachem or sachems of his class upon the opinion to be expressed, and had received an appointment to act as speaker for the class. Thus the eight Seneca sachems, being in four classes, could have but four opinions, the ten Cayuga sachems but four. In this manner each class was brought to unanimity within itself. A cross-consultation was then held between the four sachems who represented the four classes; and when they had agreed, they appointed one of their number to express their resulting opinion, which was the answer of their nation. The several nations having, by this ingenious method, become of ‘one mind’ separately, it only remained to compare their several opinions to arrive at the final sentiment of all the sachems of the League. This was effected by a conference between the individual representatives of the several nations; and when they had arrived at unanimity, the answer of the League was determined.” [Footnote: _League of the Iroquois_, p, 112.]

A careful consideration of the facts, in the light cast upon them by the evidence of the “Book of Rites” and the testimony of the Canadian Iroquois, leaves no doubt that these classes were originally identical with the clans. Among the Caniengas and Oneidas this identity still exists. Each of these nations received nine representatives in the federal council. These were–and still are–divided into three each composed of three members, and each class representing a clan. In the Canienga tribe the members of the first class are all of the Tortoise clan, those of the second class are of the Wolf clan, and those of the third class of the Bear clan. Among the Oneidas, the councillors of the first class belong to the Wolf clan, those of the second class to the Tortoise clan, and those of the third class to the Bear clan. Such was the information which Mr. Morgan received from his Seneca friends, and such I found to be the fact among the Iroquois now in Canada. When we come to the other nations we find a wholly different state of things. No correspondence now exists between the classes and the clans. The Cayugas have now, as has been shown, eight clans; but of these only six, according to the list given by Morgan, and only five in that furnished to me by the Canadian chiefs, are represented in the council. These are distributed in three classes, which do not correspond to the clans. In Morgan’s list the first class has five members, the first of whom belongs to the Deer clan, the second to that of the Heron, the third and fourth to that of the Bear, and the fifth to that of the Tortoise. In my list this class also comprises five chiefs, of whom the first two (identical in name with the first two of Morgan) belong to the Deer clan, while the third (who bears the same name as Mr. Morgan’s third) is of the Bear clan. In the “Book of Rites” the first Cayuga class comprises only two chiefs, but their clans (which were supposed to be known to the hearers) are not indicated. The fourteen Onondaga councillors are divided into five classes, according to Morgan, and also in the modern Canadian list. The “Book of Rites” seems to give only four, but none of these–according to the evidence of the Canadian chiefs–correspond with the modern clans; and the same councillor, in lists received from different sources, is found to belong to different classes and different clans. Thus the distinguished title of Skanawati is borne, in Mr. Morgan’s list, by a chief of the fifth class and of the third clan. In the list obtained by me at Onondaga Castle this chief is of the fourth class and of the Ball clan. The great Seneca chief Kanyadariyo is, in Mr. Morgan’s list, a member of the Tortoise clan, while among the Canadian Senecas he belongs to the Wolf clan. In short, it is evident that the introduction of the new clans among the western nations has thrown this part of their constitutional system into confusion. The probability is that when the confederacy was established only three clans, Bear, Wolf and Tortoise, existed among the Iroquois, as only three clans, Bear, Wolf and Turkey, existed in recent times among their Algonkin neighbors, the Lenni Lenape, or Delawares. Thus the classes of their Council grew spontaneously out of their clan system, as the senators of each clan would naturally consult together. Afterwards new clans arose; but it seems probable that when the list of councillors comprised in the “Book of Rites” was written–that is, about the middle of the last century–the correspondence of classes and clans was still maintained. The number of both was increased in the western tribes, but each class was still composed of chiefs of the same clan. The written book fixed the classes to a certain extent, but the clans to which their members belonged continued to vary, under the influence of political and social changes. If, at the death of a councillor, no member of his clan was found qualified to succeed him, a successor would be elected from another clan which was deemed to be in some way connected with him. I was assured by the Onondaga chiefs of the New York Reservation that this was their rule at present; and it is quite sufficient to account for the departure, in the western nations, from the ancient system. It is evident that after the nations and clans were rent to fragments by the dissensions and emigration caused by the American Revolution, these changes would, for a time, be necessarily frequent. And thus it happens that chiefs are found in the duplicate confederacies which after this disruption were established in Canada and New York, who bear the same titular designation, but differ both in the clans and in the classes to which they belong.



With the arrival at the Council House the “opening ceremony” is concluded. In the house the members of the Council were seated in the usual array, on opposite sides of the house. On one side were the three elder nations, the Caniengas, Onondagas, and Senecas, and on the other the younger, who were deemed, and styled in Council, the offspring of the former. These younger members, originally two in number, the Oneidas and Cayugas, had afterwards an important accession in the Tuscarora nation; and in later years several smaller tribes, or, as they were styled, additional braces of the Extended House, were received;–Tuteloes, Nanticokes, Delawares and others. In the Onondaga portion of the book the younger tribes speak as “we three brothers.” The earliest of the later accessions seems to have taken place about the year 1753, when the Tuteloes and Nanticokes were admitted. [Footnote: _N. Y. Hist. Col._, Vol. 6, p. 811. Stone’s _Life of Sir William Johnson_, p. 414.] These circumstances afford additional evidence that the Book was originally written prior to that date and subsequent to the year 1714, when the Tuscaroras were received into the League.

If the deceased chief belonged to one of the three older nations, the duty of conducting the condoling ceremony which followed was performed by the younger nations, who mourned for him as for a father or an uncle. If he were a chief of one of the younger nations, the others lamented him as a son or a nephew. The mourning nations selected as their representative a high chief, usually a distinguished orator, familiar with the usages and laws of the League, to conduct these ceremonies. The lamentations followed a prescribed routine, each successive topic of condolence being indicated by a string of wampum, which, by the arrangement of its beads, recalled the words to the memory of the officiating chief. In the “Book of Rites” we have these addresses of condolence in a twofold form. The Canienga book gives us the form used by the elder nations; and the Onondaga supplement adds the form employed by the younger brothers. The former is more ancient, and apparently more dignified and formal. The speaker addresses the mourners as his children (_konyennetaghkwen_, “my offspring,”) and recites each commonplace of condolence in a curt and perfunctory style. He wipes away their tears that they may see clearly; he opens their ears that they may hear readily. He removes from their throats the obstruction with which their grief is choking them, so that they may ease their burdened minds by speaking freely to their friends. And finally, as the loss of their lamented chief may have occurred in war–and at all events many of their friends have thus perished–he cleans the mats on which they are sitting from the figurative bloodstains, so that they may for a time cease to be reminded of their losses, and may regain their former cheerfulness.

The condolence of the younger brothers, expressed in the Onondaga book, is more expansive and more sympathetic. Though apparently disfigured and mutilated by repeated transcriptions, it bears marks of having been originally the composition of a superior mind. All such topics of consolation as would occur to a speaker ignorant or regardless of a future life are skillfully presented, and the whole address is imbued with a sentiment of cordial tenderness and affection. Those who have been accustomed to regard the Indians as a cold-hearted people will find it difficult to reconcile that view of their character with the contrary evidence afforded by this genuine expression of their feelings, and, indeed, by the whole tenor of the Book.

This address concludes with the emphatic words, “I have finished; now point me the man;” or, as the words were paraphrased by the interpreter, “Now show me the warrior who is to be the new chief.” The candidate for senatorial honors, who is to take the place and name of the deceased councillor, is then brought forward by his nation. His admission by the assembled Council, at this stage of the proceedings, is a matter of course; for his nation had taken care to ascertain, before the meeting, that the object of their choice would be acceptable to the councillors of the other nations. The ceremony of induction consisted in the formal bestowal of the new name by which he was henceforth to be known. A chief placed himself on each side of the candidate, and, grasping his arms, marched him to and fro in the Council house, between the lines of the assembled senators. As they walked they proclaimed his new name and office, and recited, in a measured chant, the duties to which he was now called, the audience responding at every pause with the usual chorus of assent.

When this ceremony was finished, and the new councillor had taken his proper seat among the nobles of his nation, the wampum belts, which comprised the historical records of the federation, were produced, and the officiating chief proceeded to explain them, one by one, to the assemblage. This was called “reading the archives.” In this way a knowledge of the events signified by the wampum was fastened, by repeated iteration, in the minds of the listeners. Those who doubt whether events which occurred four centuries ago can be remembered as clearly and minutely as they are now recited, will probably have their doubts removed when they consider the necessary operation of this custom. The orator’s narrative is repeated in the presence of many auditors who have often heard it before, and who would be prompt to remark and to correct any departure from the well-known history.

This narrative is not recorded in the Book of Rites. At the time when that was written, the annals of the confederacy were doubtless supposed to be sufficiently preserved by the wampum records. The speeches and ceremonies which followed, and which were of equal, if not greater importance, had no such evidences to recall them. From this statement, however, the “hymn” should be excepted; to each line of it, except the last, a wampum string was devoted. With this exception, all was left to the memory of the orator. The Homeric poems, the hymns of the Vedas, the Kalewala, the Polynesian genealogies, and many other examples, show the exactness with which a composition that interests a whole nation may be handed down; but it is not surprising that when the chiefs became aware of the superior advantages of a written record, they should have had recourse to it. We need not doubt that Chief David of Schoharie, or whoever else was the scribe appointed to this duty, has faithfully preserved the substance, and, for the most part, the very words, of the speeches and chants which he had often heard under such impressive circumstances.

The hymn, or _karenna_, deserves a special notice. In every important council of the Iroquois a song or chant is considered a proper and almost essential part of the proceedings. Such official songs are mentioned in many reports of treaty councils held with them by the French and English authorities. In this greatest of all councils the song must, of course, have a distinguished place. It follows immediately upon the address of greeting and condolence, and is, in fact, regarded as the completion of it, and the introduction to the equally important ceremony which is to follow, viz., the repetition of the ancient laws of the confederacy. This particular hymn is of great antiquity. Some of the chiefs expressed to me the opinion that it was composed by Dekana-widah or Hiawatha. Its tenor, however, as well as that of the whole book, shows that it belongs to a later period. The ceremonies of the council were doubtless prescribed by the founders of the League; but the speeches of the Book, and this hymn, all refer to the League as the work of a past age. The speakers appeal to the wisdom of their forefathers (literally, their grandsires), and lament the degeneracy of the later times. They expressly declare that those who established the “great peace” were in their graves, and had taken their work with them and placed it as a pillow under them. This is the language of men who remembered the founders, and to whom the burial of the last of them was a comparatively recent event. If the league was formed, as seems probable, about the year 1450, the speeches and hymn, in their present form, may reasonably be referred to the early part of the next century. There is reason to believe that the formation of the confederacy was followed by wars with the Hurons and Algonkin tribes, in which, as usual, many changes of fortune took place. If the Hurons, as has been shown, were expelled from their abode on the northern shore of the St. Lawrence, the Mohegans, on the other hand, inflicted some serious blows upon the eastern nations of the confederacy. [Footnote: See the Jesuit _Relation_ for 1660, p. 6.] The Delawares were not conquered and reduced to subjection without a long and sanguinary struggle. In a Condoling Council we might expect that the tone of feeling would be lugubrious; but the sense of loss and of danger is too marked in all the speeches of the Canienga Book to be merely a formal utterance. It does not appear in those of the Onondaga Book, which is seemingly of later composition.

The “karenna,” or chant of the Condoling Council, may be styled the National Hymn of the Iroquois. A comparison between it and other national hymns, whose chief characteristics are self-glorification and defiance, might afford room for some instructive inferences. This hymn, it should be remarked, brief as it is, is regarded by the Indians as a collection of songs. Each line, in fact, is, in their view, a song by itself, and is brought to mind by its own special wampum string. In singing, each line is twice repeated, and is introduced and followed by many long-drawn repetitions of the exclamation _aihaigh_ (or rather _haihaih_) which is rendered “hail!” and from which the hymn derives its designation. In the first line the speaker salutes the “Peace,” or the league, whose blessings they enjoy. In the next he greets the kindred of the deceased chief, who are the special objects of the public sympathy. Then he salutes the _oyenkondonh_, a term which has been rendered “warriors.” This rendering, however, may have a misleading effect. The word has nothing to do with war, unless in the sense that every grown man in an Indian community is supposed to be a soldier. Except in this hymn, the word in question is now disused. An elderly chief assured me that he had sung it for years without knowing its precise meaning. Some of his fellow-councillors were better informed. The word is apparently derived from _ankwe_, man, which in the Onondaga dialect becomes _yenkwe_. It comprises all the men (the “manhood” or mankind) of the nation–as, in the following verse, the word _wakonnyh_, which is also obsolete, signifies the “womanhood,” or all the women of the people with whom the singer condoles. In the next line he invokes the laws which their forefathers established; and he concludes by calling upon his hearers to listen to the wisdom of their forefathers, which he is about to recite. As a whole, the hymn may be described as an expression of reverence for the laws and for the dead, and of sympathy with the living. Such is the “national anthem,”–the Marseillaise,–of the ferocious Iroquois.

The regard for women which is apparent in this hymn, and in other passages of the Book, is deserving of notice. The common notion that women among the Indians were treated as inferiors, and made “beasts of burden,” is unfounded so far as the Iroquois are concerned, and among all other tribes of which I have any knowledge. With them, as with civilized nations, the work of the community and the cares of the family are fairly divided. Among the Iroquois the hunting and fishing, the house-building and canoe-making, fell to the men. The women cooked, made the dresses, scratched the ground with their light hoes, planted and gathered the crops, and took care of the children. The household goods belonged to the woman. On her death, her relatives, and not her husband, claimed them. The children were also hers; they belonged to her clan, and in case of a separation they went with her. She was really the head of the household; and in this capacity her right, when she chanced to be the oldest matron of a noble family, to select the successor of a deceased chief of that family, was recognized by the highest law of the confederacy. That this rank and position were greatly prized is shown by a remarkable passage in the Jesuit Relations. A Canienga matron, becoming a Christian, left her country, with two of her children, to enjoy greater freedom in her devotions among the French. The act, writes the missionary, so offended her family that, in a public meeting of the town, “they degraded her from the rank of the nobility, and took from her the title of Oyander, that is, honorable (_considerable_)–a title which they esteem highly, and which she had inherited from her ancestors, and deserved by her good judgment, her prudence, and her excellent conduct; and at the same time they installed another in her place.” [Footnote: _Relation_ of 1671, p. 6. The word _oyander_ in modern pronunciation becomes _oyaner_. It is derived from the root _yaner_, noble, and is the feminine form of the word _royaner_, lord, or nobleman,–the title applied to the members of the federal council.]

The complete equality of the sexes in social estimation and influence is apparent in all the narratives of the early missionaries, who were the best possible judges on this point. Casual observers have been misled by the absence of those artificial expressions of courtesy which have descended to us from the time of chivalry, and which, however gracious and pleasing to witness, are, after all, merely signs of condescension and protection from the strong to the weak. The Iroquois does not give up his seat to a woman, or yield her precedence on leaving a room; but he secures her in the possession of her property, he recognizes her right to the children she has borne, and he submits to her decision the choice of his future rulers.



It is the custom of the officiating orator, while the chant is going on, to walk to and fro in the council-house. When the hymn is finished, he breaks out into a passionate invocation to their forefathers, and a lament over the degeneracy of the times. This, as the French missionaries inform us, was a favorite topic of Indian speakers. [Footnote: See the _Relation_ of 1659, p. 57: “C’est la plainte ordinaire des Capitaines [of the Hurons] que tout se va perdant, a faute de garder les formes et coustoumes de leurs ancestres.”] Among the Iroquois, who could look back to an era of genuine statesmen and heroes, the authors of their constitution, this complaint must have had a peculiar force and sincerity. After this appeal to the founders of their state, there naturally followed an address to the Council and the people, reciting “all the rules they decided on, which they thought would strengthen the house.” By “the house” was meant, of course, the house of many hearths, to which they likened their confederacy. The “rules” or laws which follow require some explanation, that their full value may be understood.

The first law prescribes that when a chief dies his office shall not perish with him. This is expressed, in their metaphorical style, by an injunction that the “horns,” or insignia of office, shall not be buried with the deceased chief, but shall be taken off at his death, to be transferred to his successor. This rule is laid down in the most urgent and impressive terms. “We should perhaps all perish if his office is buried with him in his grave.” This systematic transmission of official rank was, in fact, the vital principle of their government. It was in this system that their federal union differed from the frequent and transitory confederacies common among the Indian tribes. In general, among nearly all the tribes, the rank of a chief was personal. It was gained by the character and achievements of the individual, and it died with him. Hence their government and policy, so far as they can be said to have had any, were always uncertain and fluctuating. No person understood the Indian usages better than Zeisberger. His biographer has well described the difference which existed in this respect between the Iroquois and their neighbors. “The Algonkins,” he writes, “knew nothing of regular government. They had no system of polity; there was no unity of action among them. The affairs even of a single tribe were managed in the loosest manner.” After briefly, but accurately, delineating the Iroquois system of councils, he adds: “Thus they became both a political and a military power among the aborigines; the influence of their league was felt everywhere, and their conquests extended in every direction.” [Footnote: De Schweinitz: _Life of Zeisberger_, p. 39.] The principle that “the chief dies but the office survives,”–the regular transmission of rank, title and authority, by a method partly hereditary and partly elective,–was the principle on which the life and strength of the Iroquois constitution depended.

Next followed a provision of hardly less importance. The wars among the Indian tribes arise almost always from individual murders. The killing of a tribesman by the members of another community concerns his whole people. If satisfaction is not promptly made, war follows, as a matter of course. [Footnote: _Relation, of_ 1636, p. 119. “C’est de la que naissent les guerres, et c’est un sujet plus que suffisant de prendre les armes contre quelque Village quand il refuse de satisfaire par les presents ordonnez, pour celuy qui vous aurait tue quelq’un des vostres.”–_Brebeuf, on the Hurons_.] The founders of the Iroquois commonwealth decreed that wars for this cause should not be allowed to rise between any of their cantons. On this point a special charge was given to the members of the Great Council. They were enjoined (in the figurative language employed throughout the Book) not to allow the murder to be discussed in a national assembly, where the exasperation of the young men might lead to mischief, but to reserve it for their own consideration; and they were required as soon as possible to bury all animosities that might arise from it. The figure employed is impressive. They were to uproot a huge pine-tree–the well-known emblem of their League–disclosing a deep cavity, below which an underground stream would be swiftly flowing. Into this current they were to cast the cause of trouble, and then, replacing the tree, hide the mischief forever from their people.

How strictly in spirit these injunctions were followed, and with what good effect, their whole history shows. A notable instance of the readiness and ingenuity of their statesmen in finding the means of public reconciliation in such cases is given in the Jesuit narrative. On the 24th of July, 1657, a great council was held at Onondaga to consider three matters, all of special import. First in order was the necessity of appeasing a threatened quarrel between two of the leading nations, the Senecas and the Caniengas, caused by a misadventure in which a Seneca “captain” had been killed by some warriors of the eastern nation. Next in importance was the reception of a large party of Frenchmen, headed by Father Francis le Mercier, the Superior of the Jesuit missionaries in Canada, who had come to form a settlement among the Iroquois. And, finally, they had to prepare the plan and the means for an expedition against some hostile tribes. Before the meeting of the Council the Frenchmen had paid a formal visit to the Seneca delegates, whom they found “filling the air with songs of mourning” for their slaughtered chief, and had manifested their sympathy by a present, “to alleviate the grief” of the mourners. This incident seems to have suggested to the assembled councillors a method of effecting–or at least of announcing–the desired accommodation, and of paying at the same time a happy compliment to their reverend visitors. By common consent the affair was referred to the arbitrament of the Father Superior, by whom the difference was promptly settled. [Footnote: On the: Grand conseil le 24 du mois de Juillet, ou toutes les Nations remisent entre les mains d’Achiendase qui est nostre Pere Superieur le diffrend Centre les Sonnontoueeronnons et les Agnieronnons, qui fait bien et termine.–_Relation of_ 1657, p. 16.] It was not necessary for the politic senators to inform their gratified visitors that the