The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century by Francis Parkman

This etext was produced by Ken Reeder Thanks to Cyrille Héloir for French proofreading Transcription notes are included as an appendix FRANCE AND ENGLAND IN NORTH AMERICA. A SERIES OF HISTORICAL NARRATIVES. BY FRANCIS PARKMAN PART SECOND. THE JESUITS IN NORTH AMERICA IN THE SEVENTEENTH CENTURY. BY FRANCIS PARKMAN PREFACE. Few passages of history are
This page contains affiliate links. As Amazon Associates we earn from qualifying purchases.
  • 1867
Buy it on Amazon FREE Audible 30 days

This etext was produced by Ken Reeder Thanks to Cyrille Héloir for French proofreading Transcription notes are included as an appendix








Few passages of history are more striking than those which record the efforts of the earlier French Jesuits to convert the Indians. Full as they are of dramatic and philosophic interest, bearing strongly on the political destinies of America, and closely involved with the history of its native population, it is wonderful that they have been left so long in obscurity. While the infant colonies of England still clung feebly to the shores of the Atlantic, events deeply ominous to their future were in progress, unknown to them, in the very heart of the continent. It will be seen, in the sequel of this volume, that civil and religious liberty found strange allies in this Western World.

The sources of information concerning the early Jesuits of New France are very copious. During a period of forty years, the Superior of the Mission sent, every summer, long and detailed reports, embodying or accompanied by the reports of his subordinates, to the Provincial of the Order at Paris, where they were annually published, in duodecimo volumes, forming the remarkable series known as the Jesuit Relations. Though the productions of men of scholastic training, they are simple and often crude in style, as might be expected of narratives hastily written in Indian lodges or rude mission-houses in the forest, amid annoyances and interruptions of all kinds. In respect to the value of their contents, they are exceedingly unequal. Modest records of marvellous adventures and sacrifices, and vivid pictures of forest-life, alternate with prolix and monotonous details of the conversion of individual savages, and the praiseworthy deportment of some exemplary neophyte. With regard to the condition and character of the primitive inhabitants of North America, it is impossible to exaggerate their value as an authority. I should add, that the closest examination has left me no doubt that these missionaries wrote in perfect good faith, and that the Relations hold a high place as authentic and trustworthy historical documents. They are very scarce, and no complete collection of them exists in America. The entire series was, however, republished, in 1858, by the Canadian government, in three large octavo volumes.

[ Both editions–the old and the new–are cited in the following pages. Where the reference is to the old edition, it is indicated by the name of the publisher (Cramoisy), appended to the citation, in brackets.

In extracts given in the notes, the antiquated orthography and accentuation are preserved. ]

These form but a part of the surviving writings of the French-American Jesuits. Many additional reports, memoirs, journals, and letters, official and private, have come down to us; some of which have recently been printed, while others remain in manuscript. Nearly every prominent actor in the scenes to be described has left his own record of events in which he bore part, in the shape of reports to his Superiors or letters to his friends. I have studied and compared these authorities, as well as a great mass of collateral evidence, with more than usual care, striving to secure the greatest possible accuracy of statement, and to reproduce an image of the past with photographic clearness and truth.

The introductory chapter of the volume is independent of the rest; but a knowledge of the facts set forth in it is essential to the full understanding of the narrative which follows.

In the collection of material, I have received valuable aid from Mr. J. G. Shea, Rev. Felix Martin, S.J., the Abbés Laverdière and H. R. Casgrain, Dr. J. C. Taché, and the late Jacques Viger, Esq.

I propose to devote the next volume of this series to the discovery and occupation by the French of the Valley of the Mississippi.

BOSTON, 1st May, 1867.




Divisions.–The Algonquins.–The Hurons.–Their Houses.– Fortifications.–Habits.–Arts.–Women.–Trade.–Festivities.– Medicine.–The Tobacco Nation.–The Neutrals.–The Eries.– The Andastes.–The Iroquois.–Social and Political Organization.– Iroquois Institutions, Customs, and Character.– Indian Religion and Superstitions.–The Indian Mind.




Quebec In 1634.–Father Le Jeune.–The Mission-House.– Its Domestic Economy.–The Jesuits and their Designs.



Conversion of Loyola.–Foundation of the Society of Jesus.– Preparation of the Novice.–Characteristics of the Order.– The Canadian Jesuits.


1632, 1633.


Le Jeune’s Voyage.–His First Pupils.–His Studies.– His Indian Teacher.–Winter at the Mission-house.– Le Jeune’s School.–Reinforcements.


1633, 1634.


Le Jeune joins the Indians.–The First Encampment.–The Apostate.– Forest Life in Winter.–The Indian Hut.–The Sorcerer.– His Persecution of the Priest.–Evil Company.–Magic.– Incantations.–Christmas.–Starvation.–Hopes of Conversion.– Backsliding.–Peril and Escape of Le Jeune.–His Return.


1633, 1634.


Plans of Conversion.–Aims and Motives.–Indian Diplomacy.– Hurons at Quebec.–Councils.–The Jesuit Chapel.–Le Borgne.– The Jesuits thwarted.–Their Perseverance.–The Journey to the Hurons.– Jean de Brébeuf.–The Mission begun.


1634, 1635.


The Huron Mission-house.–Its Inmates.–Its Furniture.–Its Guests.– The Jesuit as a Teacher.–As an Engineer.–Baptisms.– Huron Village Life.–Festivities and Sorceries.–The Dream Feast.– The Priests accused of Magic.–The Drought and the Red Cross.


1636, 1637.


Huron Graves.–Preparation for the Ceremony.–Disinterment.– The Mourning.–The Funeral March.–The Great Sepulchre.– Funeral Games.–Encampment of the Mourners.–Gifts.–Harangues.– Frenzy of the Crowd.–The Closing Scene.–Another Rite.– The Captive Iroquois.–The Sacrifice.


1636, 1637.


Enthusiasm for the Mission.–Sickness of the Priests.– The Pest among the Hurons.–The Jesuit on his Rounds.– Efforts at Conversion.–Priests and Sorcerers.–The Man-Devil.– The Magician’s Prescription.–Indian Doctors and Patients.– Covert Baptisms.–Self-Devotion of the Jesuits.




Jean de Brébeuf.–Charles Garnier.–Joseph Marie Chaumonot.– Noël Chabanel.–Isaac Jogues.–Other Jesuits.–Nature of their Faith.– Supernaturalism.–Visions.–Miracles.




Ossossané.–The New Chapel.–A Triumph of the Faith.– The Nether Powers.–Signs of a Tempest.–Slanders.– Rage Against the Jesuits.–Their Boldness and Persistency.– Nocturnal Council.–Danger of the Priests.–Brébeuf’s Letter.– Narrow Escapes.–Woes and Consolations.




Du Peron’s Journey.–Daily Life of the Jesuits.– Their Missionary Excursions.–Converts at Ossossané.– Machinery of Conversion.–Conditions of Baptism.–Backsliders.– The Converts and their Countrymen.–The Cannibals at St. Joseph.


1639, 1640.


A Change of Plan.–Sainte Marie.–Mission of the Tobacco Nation.– Winter Journeying.–Reception of the Missionaries.– Superstitious Terrors.–Peril of Garnier and Jogues.– Mission of the Neutrals.–Huron Intrigues.–Miracles.– Fury of the Indians.–Intervention of Saint Michael.– Return to Sainte Marie.–Intrepidity of the Priests.– Their Mental Exaltation.




The New Governor.–Edifying Examples.–Le Jeune’s Correspondents.– Rank and Devotion.–Nuns.–Priestly Authority.–Condition of Quebec.– The Hundred Associates.–Church Discipline.–Plays.–Fireworks.– Processions.–Catechizing.–Terrorism.–Pictures.–The Converts.– The Society of Jesus.–The Foresters.




The Huron Seminary.–Madame de la Peltrie.–Her Pious Schemes.– Her Sham Marriage.–She visits the Ursulines of Tours.– Marie de Saint Bernard.–Marie de l’Incarnation.–Her Enthusiasm.– Her Mystical Marriage.–Her Dejection.–Her Mental Conflicts.– Her Vision.–Made Superior of the Ursulines.–The Hôtel-Dieu.– The Voyage to Canada.–Sillery.–Labors and Sufferings of the Nuns.– Character of Marie de l’Incarnation.–Of Madame de la Peltrie.




Dauversiére and the Voice from Heaven.–Abbé Olier.–Their Schemes.– The Society of Notre-Dame de Montreal.–Maisonneuve.–Devout Ladies.– Mademoiselle Mance.–Marguerite Bourgeois.–The Montrealists at Quebec.– Jealousy.–Quarrels.–Romance and Devotion.–Embarkation.– Foundation of Montreal.




The Iroquois War.–Jogues.–His Capture.–His Journey to the Mohawks.– Lake George.–The Mohawk Towns.–The Missionary tortured.– Death of Goupil.–Misery of Jogues.–The Mohawk “Babylon.”– Fort Orange.–Escape of Jogues.–Manhattan.–The Voyage to France.– Jogues among his Brethren.–He returns to Canada.




War.–Distress and Terror.–Richelieu.–Battle.–Ruin of Indian Tribes.– Mutual Destruction.–Iroquois and Algonquin.–Atrocities.– Frightful Position of the French.–Joseph Bressani.–His Capture.– His Treatment.–His Escape.–Anne de Nouë.–His Nocturnal Journey.– His Death.




Infancy of Montreal.–The Flood.–Vow of Maisonneuve.–Pilgrimage.– D’Ailleboust.–The Hôtel-Dieu.–Piety.–Propagandism.–War.– Hurons and Iroquois.–Dogs.–Sally of the French.–Battle.– Exploit of Maisonneuve.


1644, 1645.


Iroquois Prisoners.–Piskaret.–His Exploits.–More Prisoners.– Iroquois Embassy.–The Orator.–The Great Council.– Speeches of Kiotsaton.–Muster of Savages.–Peace confirmed.


1645, 1646.


Uncertainties.–The Mission of Jogues.–He reaches the Mohawks.– His Reception.–His Return.–His Second Mission.–Warnings of Danger.– Rage of the Mohawks.–Murder of Jogues.


1646, 1647.


Mohawk Inroads.–The Hunters of Men.–The Captive Converts.– The Escape of Marie.–Her Story.–The Algonquin Prisoner’s Revenge.– Her Flight.–Terror of the Colonists.–Jesuit Intrepidity.




Miscou.–Tadoussac.–Journeys of De Quen.–Druilletes.– His Winter with the Montagnais.–Influence of the Missions.– The Abenaquis.–Druilletes on the Kennebec.–His Embassy to Boston.– Gibbons.–Dudley.–Bradford.–Eliot.–Endicott.– French and Puritan Colonization.–Failure of Druilletes’s Embassy.– New Regulations.–New-Year’s Day at Quebec.




Indian Infatuation.–Iroquois and Huron.–Huron Triumphs.– The Captive Iroquois.–His Ferocity and Fortitude.–Partisan Exploits.– Diplomacy.–The Andastes.–The Huron Embassy.–New Negotiations.– The Iroquois Ambassador.–His Suicide.–Iroquois Honor.




Hopes of the Mission.–Christian and Heathen.–Body and Soul.– Position of Proselytes.–The Huron Girl’s Visit to Heaven.–A Crisis.– Huron Justice.–Murder and Atonement.–Hopes and Fears.


1648, 1649.


The Centre of the Missions.–Fort.–Convent.–Hospital.–Caravansary.– Church.–The Inmates of Sainte Marie.–Domestic Economy.–Missions.– A Meeting of Jesuits.–The Dead Missionary.




Huron Traders.–Battle at Three Rivers.–St. Joseph.– Onset of the Iroquois.–Death of Daniel.–The Town destroyed.




St. Louis on Fire.–Invasion.–St. Ignace captured.– Brébeuf and Lalemant.–Battle at St. Louis.–Sainte Marie threatened.– Renewed Fighting.–Desperate Conflict.–A Night of Suspense.– Panic among the Victors.–Burning of St. Ignace.– Retreat of the Iroquois.




The Ruins of St. Ignace.–The Relics found.–Brébeuf at the Stake.– His Unconquerable Fortitude.–Lalemant.–Renegade Hurons.– Iroquois Atrocities.–Death of Brébeuf.–His Character.– Death of Lalemant.


1649, 1650.


Dispersion of the Hurons.–Sainte Marie abandoned.–Isle St. Joseph.– Removal of the Mission.–The New Fort.–Misery of the Hurons.–Famine.– Epidemic.–Employments of the Jesuits.




The Tobacco Missions.–St. Jean attacked.–Death of Garnier.– The Journey of Chabanel.–His Death.–Garreau and Grelon.




Famine and the Tomahawk.–A New Asylum.– Voyage of the Refugees to Quebec.–Meeting with Bressani.– Desperate Courage of the Iroquois.–Inroads and Battles.– Death of Buteux.




Fate of the Vanquished.–
The Refugees of St. Jean Baptiste and St. Michel.– The Tobacco Nation and Its Wanderings.–The Modern Wyandots.– The Biter Bit.–The Hurons at Quebec.–Notre-Dame de Lorette.




Iroquois Ambition.–Its Victims.–The Fate of the Neutrals.– The Fate of the Eries.–The War with the Andastes.– Supremacy of the Iroquois.



Failure of the Jesuits.–What their Success would have involved.– Future of the Mission.




America, when it became known to Europeans, was, as it had long been, a scene of wide-spread revolution. North and South, tribe was giving place to tribe, language to language; for the Indian, hopelessly unchanging in respect to individual and social development, was, as regarded tribal relations and local haunts, mutable as the wind. In Canada and the northern section of the United States, the elements of change were especially active. The Indian population which, in 1535, Cartier found at Montreal and Quebec, had disappeared at the opening of the next century, and another race had succeeded, in language and customs widely different; while, in the region now forming the State of New York, a power was rising to a ferocious vitality, which, but for the presence of Europeans, would probably have subjected, absorbed, or exterminated every other Indian community east of the Mississippi and north of the Ohio.

The vast tract of wilderness from the Mississippi to the Atlantic, and from the Carolinas to Hudson’s Bay, was divided between two great families of tribes, distinguished by a radical difference of language. A part of Virginia and of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Southeastern New York, New England, New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, and Lower Canada were occupied, so far as occupied at all, by tribes speaking various Algonquin languages and dialects. They extended, moreover, along the shores of the Upper Lakes, and into the dreary Northern wastes beyond. They held Wisconsin, Michigan, Illinois, and Indiana, and detached bands ranged the lonely hunting-round of Kentucky.

[ The word Algonquin is here used in its broadest signification. It was originally applied to a group of tribes north of the River St. Lawrence. The difference of language between the original Algonquins and the Abenaquis of New England, the Ojibwas of the Great Lakes, or the Illinois of the West, corresponded to the difference between French and Italian, or Italian and Spanish. Each of these languages, again, had its dialects, like those of different provinces of France. ]

Like a great island in the midst of the Algonquins lay the country of tribes speaking the generic tongue of the Iroquois. The true Iroquois, or Five Nations, extended through Central New York, from the Hudson to the Genesee. Southward lay the Andastes, on and near the Susquehanna; westward, the Eries, along the southern shore of Lake Erie, and the Neutral Nation, along its northern shore from Niagara towards the Detroit; while the towns of the Hurons lay near the lake to which they have left their name.

[ To the above general statements there was, in the first half of the seventeenth century, but one exception worth notice. A detached branch of the Dahcotah stock, the Winnebago, was established south of Green Bay, on Lake Michigan, in the midst of Algonquins; and small Dahcotah bands had also planted themselves on the eastern side of the Mississippi, nearly in the same latitude.

There was another branch of the Iroquois in the Carolinas, consisting of the Tuscaroras and kindred bands. In 1716 they were joined to the Five Nations. ]

Of the Algonquin populations, the densest, despite a recent epidemic which had swept them off by thousands, was in New England. Here were Mohicans, Pequots, Narragansetts, Wampanoags, Massachusetts, Penacooks, thorns in the side of the Puritan. On the whole, these savages were favorable specimens of the Algonquin stock, belonging to that section of it which tilled the soil, and was thus in some measure spared the extremes of misery and degradation to which the wandering hunter tribes were often reduced. They owed much, also, to the bounty of the sea, and hence they tended towards the coast; which, before the epidemic, Champlain and Smith had seen at many points studded with wigwams and waving with harvests of maize. Fear, too, drove, them eastward; for the Iroquois pursued them with an inveterate enmity. Some paid yearly tribute to their tyrants, while others were still subject to their inroads, flying in terror at the sound of the Mohawk war-cry. Westward, the population thinned rapidly; northward, it soon disappeared. Northern New Hampshire, the whole of Vermont, and Western Massachusetts had no human tenants but the roving hunter or prowling warrior.

We have said that this group of tribes was relatively very populous; yet it is more than doubtful whether all of them united, had union been possible, could have mustered eight thousand fighting men. To speak further of them is needless, for they were not within the scope of the Jesuit labors. The heresy of heresies had planted itself among them; and it was for the apostle Eliot, not the Jesuit, to essay their conversion.

[ These Indians, the Armouchiquois of the old French writers, were in a state of chronic war with the tribes of New Brunswick and Nova Scotia. Champlain, on his voyage of 1603, heard strange accounts of them. The following is literally rendered from the first narrative of that heroic, but credulous explorer.

“They are savages of shape altogether monstrous: for their heads are small, their bodies short, and their arms thin as a skeleton, as are also their thighs; but their legs are stout and long, and all of one size, and, when they are seated on their heels, their knees rise more than half a foot above their heads, which seems a thing strange and against Nature. Nevertheless, they are active and bold, and they have the best country on all the coast towards Acadia.”–Des Sauvages, f. 84.

This story may match that of the great city of Norembega, on the Penobscot, with its population of dwarfs, as related by Jean Alphonse. ]

Landing at Boston, three years before a solitude, let the traveller push northward, pass the River Piscataqua and the Penacooks, and cross the River Saco. Here, a change of dialect would indicate a different tribe, or group of tribes. These were the Abenaquis, found chiefly along the course of the Kennebec and other rivers, on whose banks they raised their rude harvests, and whose streams they ascended to hunt the moose and bear in the forest desert of Northern Maine, or descended to fish in the neighboring sea.

[ The Tarratines of New-England writers were the Abenaquis, or a portion of them. ]

Crossing the Penobscot, one found a visible descent in the scale of humanity. Eastern Maine and the whole of New Brunswick were occupied by a race called Etchemins, to whom agriculture was unknown, though the sea, prolific of fish, lobsters, and seals, greatly lightened their miseries. The Souriquois, or Micmacs, of Nova Scotia, closely resembled them in habits and condition. From Nova Scotia to the St. Lawrence, there was no population worthy of the name. From the Gulf of St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario, the southern border of the great river had no tenants but hunters. Northward, between the St. Lawrence and Hudson’s Bay, roamed the scattered hordes of the Papinachois, Bersiamites, and others, included by the French under the general name of Montagnais. When, in spring, the French trading-ships arrived and anchored in the port of Tadoussac, they gathered from far and near, toiling painfully through the desolation of forests, mustering by hundreds at the point of traffic, and setting up their bark wigwams along the strand of that wild harbor. They were of the lowest Algonquin type. Their ordinary sustenance was derived from the chase; though often, goaded by deadly famine, they would subsist on roots, the bark and buds of trees, or the foulest offal; and in extremity, even cannibalism was not rare among them.

Ascending the St. Lawrence, it was seldom that the sight of a human form gave relief to the loneliness, until, at Quebec, the roar of Champlain’s cannon from the verge of the cliff announced that the savage prologue of the American drama was drawing to a close, and that the civilization of Europe was advancing on the scene. Ascending farther, all was solitude, except at Three Rivers, a noted place of trade, where a few Algonquins of the tribe called Atticamegues might possibly be seen. The fear of the Iroquois was everywhere; and as the voyager passed some wooded point, or thicket-covered island, the whistling of a stone-headed arrow proclaimed, perhaps, the presence of these fierce marauders. At Montreal there was no human life, save during a brief space in early summer, when the shore swarmed with savages, who had come to the yearly trade from the great communities of the interior. To-day there were dances, songs, and feastings; to-morrow all again was solitude, and the Ottawa was covered with the canoes of the returning warriors.

Along this stream, a main route of traffic, the silence of the wilderness was broken only by the splash of the passing paddle. To the north of the river there was indeed a small Algonquin band, called _La Petite Nation_, together with one or two other feeble communities; but they dwelt far from the banks, through fear of the ubiquitous Iroquois. It was nearly three hundred miles, by the windings of the stream, before one reached that Algonquin tribe, _La Nation de l’Isle_, who occupied the great island of the Allumettes. Then, after many a day of lonely travel, the voyager found a savage welcome among the Nipissings, on the lake which bears their name; and then circling west and south for a hundred and fifty miles of solitude, he reached for the first time a people speaking a dialect of the Iroquois tongue. Here all was changed. Populous towns, rude fortifications, and an extensive, though barbarous tillage, indicated a people far in advance of the famished wanderers of the Saguenay, or their less abject kindred of New England. These were the Hurons, of whom the modern Wyandots are a remnant. Both in themselves and as a type of their generic stock they demand more than a passing notice.

[ The usual confusion of Indian tribal names prevails in the case of the Hurons. The following are their synonymes:–

Hurons (of French origin); Ochateguins (Champlain); Attigouantans (the name of one of their tribes, used by Champlain for the whole nation); Ouendat (their true name, according to Lalemant); Yendat, Wyandot, Guyandot (corruptions of the preceding); Ouaouakecinatouek (Potier), Quatogies (Colden). ]


More than two centuries have elapsed since the Hurons vanished from their ancient seats, and the settlers of this rude solitude stand perplexed and wondering over the relics of a lost people. In the damp shadow of what seems a virgin forest, the axe and plough bring strange secrets to light: huge pits, close packed with skeletons and disjointed bones, mixed with weapons, copper kettles, beads, and trinkets. Not even the straggling Algonquins, who linger about the scene of Huron prosperity, can tell their origin. Yet, on ancient worm-eaten pages, between covers of begrimed parchment, the daily life of this ruined community, its firesides, its festivals, its funeral rites, are painted with a minute and vivid fidelity.

The ancient country of the Hurons is now the northern and eastern portion of Simcoe County, Canada West, and is embraced within the peninsula formed by the Nottawassaga and Matchedash Bays of Lake Huron, the River Severn, and Lake Simcoe. Its area was small,–its population comparatively large. In the year 1639 the Jesuits made an enumeration of all its villages, dwellings, and families. The result showed thirty-two villages and hamlets, with seven hundred dwellings, about four thousand families, and twelve thousand adult persons, or a total population of at least twenty thousand.

[ Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1640, 88 (Cramoisy). His words are, “de feux enuiron deux mille, et enuiron douze mille personnes.” There were two families to every fire. That by “personnes” adults only are meant cannot be doubted, as the Relations abound in incidental evidence of a total population far exceeding twelve thousand. A Huron family usually numbered from five to eight persons. The number of the Huron towns changed from year to year. Champlain and Le Caron in 1615, reckoned them at seventeen or eighteen, with a population of about ten thousand, meaning, no doubt, adults. Brébeuf, in 1635, found twenty villages, and, as he thinks, thirty thousand souls. Both Le Mercier and De Quen, as well as Dollier de Casson and the anonymous author of the Relation of 1660, state the population at from thirty to thirty-five thousand. Since the time of Champlain’s visit, various kindred tribes or fragments of tribes had been incorporated with the Hurons, thus more than balancing the ravages of a pestilence which had decimated them. ]

The region whose boundaries we have given was an alternation of meadows and deep forests, interlaced with footpaths leading from town to town. Of these towns, some were fortified, but the greater number were open and defenceless. They were of a construction common to all tribes of Iroquois lineage, and peculiar to them. Nothing similar exists at the present day. [ The permanent bark villages of the Dahcotah of the St. Peter’s are the nearest modern approach to the Huron towns. The whole Huron country abounds with evidences of having been occupied by a numerous population. “On a close inspection of the forest,” Dr. Taché writes to me, “the greatest part of it seems to have been cleared at former periods, and almost the only places bearing the character of the primitive forest are the low grounds.” ] They covered a space of from one to ten acres, the dwellings clustering together with little or no pretension to order. In general, these singular structures were about thirty or thirty-five feet in length, breadth, and height; but many were much larger, and a few were of prodigious length. In some of the villages there were dwellings two hundred and forty feet long, though in breadth and height they did not much exceed the others. [ Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1635, 31. Champlain says that he saw them, in 1615, more than thirty fathoms long; while Vanderdonck reports the length, from actual measurement, of an Iroquois house, at a hundred and eighty yards, or five hundred and forty feet! ] In shape they were much like an arbor overarching a garden-walk. Their frame was of tall and strong saplings, planted in a double row to form the two sides of the house, bent till they met, and lashed together at the top. To these other poles were bound transversely, and the whole was covered with large sheets of the bark of the oak, elm, spruce, or white cedar, overlapping like the shingles of a roof, upon which, for their better security, split poles were made fast with cords of linden bark. At the crown of the arch, along the entire length of the house, an opening a foot wide was left for the admission of light and the escape of smoke. At each end was a close porch of similar construction; and here were stowed casks of bark, filled with smoked fish, Indian corn, and other stores not liable to injury from frost. Within, on both sides, were wide scaffolds, four feet from the floor, and extending the entire length of the house, like the seats of a colossal omnibus. [ Often, especially among the Iroquois, the internal arrangement was different. The scaffolds or platforms were raised only a foot from the earthen floor, and were only twelve or thirteen feet long, with intervening spaces, where the occupants stored their family provisions and other articles. Five or six feet above was another platform, often occupied by children. One pair of platforms sufficed for a family, and here during summer they slept pellmell, in the clothes they wore by day, and without pillows. ] These were formed of thick sheets of bark, supported by posts and transverse poles, and covered with mats and skins. Here, in summer, was the sleeping place of the inmates, and the space beneath served for storage of their firewood. The fires were on the ground, in a line down the middle of the house. Each sufficed for two families, who, in winter, slept closely packed around them. Above, just under the vaulted roof, were a great number of poles, like the perches of a hen-roost, and here were suspended weapons, clothing, skins, and ornaments. Here, too, in harvest time, the squaws hung the ears of unshelled corn, till the rude abode, through all its length, seemed decked with a golden tapestry. In general, however, its only lining was a thick coating of soot from the smoke of fires with neither draught, chimney, nor window. So pungent was the smoke, that it produced inflammation of the eyes, attended in old age with frequent blindness. Another annoyance was the fleas; and a third, the unbridled and unruly children. Privacy there was none. The house was one chamber, sometimes lodging more than twenty families.

[ One of the best descriptions of the Huron and Iroquois houses is that of Sagard, Voyage des Hurons, 118. See also Champlain (1627), 78; Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1635, 31; Vanderdonck, New Netherlands, in N. Y. Hist. Coll., Second Ser., I. 196; Lafitau, Mœurs des Sauvages, II. 10. The account given by Cartier of the houses he saw at Montreal corresponds with the above. He describes them as about fifty yards long. In this case, there were partial partitions for the several families, and a sort of loft above. Many of the Iroquois and Huron houses were of similar construction, the partitions being at the sides only, leaving a wide passage down the middle of the house. Bartram, Observations on a Journey from Pennsylvania to Canada, gives a description and plan of the Iroquois Council-House in 1751, which was of this construction. Indeed, the Iroquois preserved this mode of building, in all essential points, down to a recent period. They usually framed the sides of their houses on rows of upright posts, arched with separate poles for the roof. The Hurons, no doubt, did the same in their larger structures. For a door, there was a sheet of bark hung on wooden hinges, or suspended by cords from above.

On the site of Huron towns which were destroyed by fire, the size, shape, and arrangement of the houses can still, in some instances, be traced by remains in the form of charcoal, as well as by the charred bones and fragments of pottery found among the ashes.

Dr. Taché, after a zealous and minute examination of the Huron country, extended through five years, writes to me as follows. “From the remains I have found, I can vouch for the scrupulous correctness of our ancient writers. With the aid of their indications and descriptions, I have been able to detect the sites of villages in the midst of the forest, and by time study, in situ, of archæological monuments, small as they are, to understand and confirm their many interesting details of the habits, and especially the funeral rites, of these extraordinary tribes.” ]

He who entered on a winter night beheld a strange spectacle: the vista of fires lighting the smoky concave; the bronzed groups encircling each,–cooking, eating, gambling, or amusing themselves with idle badinage; shrivelled squaws, hideous with threescore years of hardship; grisly old warriors, scarred with Iroquois war-clubs; young aspirants, whose honors were yet to be won; damsels gay with ochre and wampum; restless children pellmell with restless dogs. Now a tongue of resinous flame painted each wild feature in vivid light; now the fitful gleam expired, and the group vanished from sight, as their nation has vanished from history.

The fortified towns of the Hurons were all on the side exposed to Iroquois incursions. The fortifications of all this family of tribes were, like their dwellings, in essential points alike. A situation was chosen favorable to defence,–the bank of a lake, the crown of a difficult hill, or a high point of land in the fork of confluent rivers. A ditch, several feet deep, was dug around the village, and the earth thrown up on the inside. Trees were then felled by an alternate process of burning and hacking the burnt part with stone hatchets, and by similar means were cut into lengths to form palisades. These were planted on the embankment, in one, two, three, or four concentric rows,–those of each row inclining towards those of the other rows until they intersected. The whole was lined within, to the height of a man, with heavy sheets of bark; and at the top, where the palisades crossed, was a gallery of timber for the defenders, together with wooden gutters, by which streams of water could be poured down on fires kindled by the enemy. Magazines of stones, and rude ladders for mounting the rampart, completed the provision for defence. The forts of the Iroquois were stronger and more elaborate than those of the Hurons; and to this day large districts in New York are marked with frequent remains of their ditches and embankments.

[ There is no mathematical regularity in these works. In their form, the builders were guided merely by the nature of the ground. Frequently a precipice or river sufficed for partial defence, and the line of embankment occurs only on one or two sides. In one instance, distinct traces of a double line of palisades are visible along the embankment. (See Squier, Aboriginal Monuments of New York, 38.) It is probable that the palisade was planted first, and the earth heaped around it. Indeed, this is stated by the Tuscarora Indian, Cusick, in his curious History of the Six Nations (Iroquois). Brébeuf says, that as early as 1636 the Jesuits taught the Hurons to build rectangular palisaded works, with bastions. The Iroquois adopted the same practice at an early period, omitting the ditch and embankment; and it is probable, that, even in their primitive defences, the palisades, where the ground was of a nature to yield easily to their rude implements, were planted simply in holes dug for the purpose. Such seems to have been the Iroquois fortress attacked by Champlain in 1615.

The Muscogees, with other Southern tribes, and occasionally the Algonquins, had palisaded towns; but the palisades were usually but a single row, planted upright. The tribes of Virginia occasionally surrounded their dwellings with a triple palisade.–Beverly, History of Virginia, 149. ]

Among these tribes there was no individual ownership of land, but each family had for the time exclusive right to as much as it saw fit to cultivate. The clearing process–a most toilsome one–consisted in hacking off branches, piling them together with brushwood around the foot of the standing trunks, and setting fire to the whole. The squaws, working with their hoes of wood and bone among the charred stumps, sowed their corn, beans, pumpkins, tobacco, sunflowers, and Huron hemp. No manure was used; but, at intervals of from ten to thirty years, when the soil was exhausted, and firewood distant, the village was abandoned and a new one built.

There was little game in the Huron country; and here, as among the Iroquois, the staple of food was Indian corn, cooked without salt in a variety of forms, each more odious than the last. Venison was a luxury found only at feasts; dog-flesh was in high esteem; and, in some of the towns captive bears were fattened for festive occasions. These tribes were far less improvident than the roving Algonquins, and stores of provision were laid up against a season of want. Their main stock of corn was buried in _caches_, or deep holes in the earth, either within or without the houses.

In respect to the arts of life, all these stationary tribes were in advance of the wandering hunters of the North. The women made a species of earthen pot for cooking, but these were supplanted by the copper kettles of the French traders. They wove rush mats with no little skill. They spun twine from hemp, by the primitive process of rolling it on their thighs; and of this twine they made nets. They extracted oil from fish and from the seeds of the sunflower,–the latter, apparently, only for the purposes of the toilet. They pounded their maize in huge mortars of wood, hollowed by alternate burnings and scrapings. Their stone axes, spear and arrow heads, and bone fish-hooks, were fast giving place to the iron of the French; but they had not laid aside their shields of raw bison-hide, or of wood overlaid with plaited and twisted thongs of skin. They still used, too, their primitive breastplates and greaves of twigs interwoven with cordage. [ Some of the northern tribes of California, at the present day, wear a sort of breastplate “composed of thin parallel battens of very tough wood, woven together with a small cord.” ] The masterpiece of Huron handiwork, however, was the birch canoe, in the construction of which the Algonquins were no less skilful. The Iroquois, in the absence of the birch, were forced to use the bark of the elm, which was greatly inferior both in lightness and strength. Of pipes, than which nothing was more important in their eyes, the Hurons made a great variety, some of baked clay, others of various kinds of stone, carved by the men, during their long periods of monotonous leisure, often with great skill and ingenuity. But their most mysterious fabric was wampum. This was at once their currency, their ornament, their pen, ink, and parchment; and its use was by no means confined to tribes of the Iroquois stock. It consisted of elongated beads, white and purple, made from the inner part of certain shells. It is not easy to conceive how, with their rude implements, the Indians contrived to shape and perforate this intractable material. The art soon fell into disuse, however; for wampum better than their own was brought them by the traders, besides abundant imitations in glass and porcelain. Strung into necklaces, or wrought into collars, belts, and bracelets, it was the favorite decoration of the Indian girls at festivals and dances. It served also a graver purpose. No compact, no speech, or clause of a speech, to the representative of another nation, had any force, unless confirmed by the delivery of a string or belt of wampum. [ Beaver-skins and other valuable furs were sometimes, on such occasions, used as a substitute. ] The belts, on occasions of importance, were wrought into significant devices, suggestive of the substance of the compact or speech, and designed as aids to memory. To one or more old men of the nation was assigned the honorable, but very onerous, charge of keepers of the wampum,–in other words, of the national records; and it was for them to remember and interpret the meaning of the belts. The figures on wampum-belts were, for the most part, simply mnemonic. So also were those carved on wooden tablets, or painted on bark and skin, to preserve in memory the songs of war, hunting, or magic. [ Engravings of many specimens of these figured songs are given in the voluminous reports on the condition of the Indians, published by Government, under the editorship of Mr. Schoolcraft. The specimens are chiefly Algonquin. ] The Hurons had, however, in common with other tribes, a system of rude pictures and arbitrary signs, by which they could convey to each other, with tolerable precision, information touching the ordinary subjects of Indian interest.

Their dress was chiefly of skins, cured with smoke after the well-known Indian mode. That of the women, according to the Jesuits, was more modest than that “of our most pious ladies of France.” The young girls on festal occasions must be excepted from this commendation, as they wore merely a kilt from the waist to the knee, besides the wampum decorations of the breast and arms. Their long black hair, gathered behind the neck, was decorated with disks of native copper, or gay pendants made in France, and now occasionally unearthed in numbers from their graves. The men, in summer, were nearly naked,–those of a kindred tribe wholly so, with the sole exception of their moccasins. In winter they were clad in tunics and leggins of skin, and at all seasons, on occasions of ceremony, were wrapped from head to foot in robes of beaver or otter furs, sometimes of the greatest value. On the inner side, these robes were decorated with painted figures and devices, or embroidered with the dyed quills of the Canada hedgehog. In this art of embroidery, however, the Hurons were equalled or surpassed by some of the Algonquin tribes. They wore their hair after a variety of grotesque and startling fashions. With some, it was loose on one side, and tight braided on the other; with others, close shaved, leaving one or more long and cherished locks; while, with others again, it bristled in a ridge across the crown, like the back of a hyena. [ See Le Jeune, Relation, 1638, 35.–“Quelles hures!” exclaimed some astonished Frenchman. Hence the name, Hurons. ] When in full dress, they were painted with ochre, white clay, soot, and the red juice of certain berries. They practised tattooing, sometimes covering the whole body with indelible devices. [ Bressani, Relation Abrégée, 72. –Champlain has a picture of a warrior thus tattooed. ] When of such extent, the process was very severe; and though no murmur escaped the sufferer, he sometimes died from its effects.

Female life among the Hurons had no bright side. It was a youth of license, an age of drudgery. Despite an organization which, while it perhaps made them less sensible of pain, certainly made them less susceptible of passion, than the higher races of men, the Hurons were notoriously dissolute, far exceeding in this respect the wandering and starving Algonquins. [ 1 ] Marriage existed among them, and polygamy was exceptional; but divorce took place at the will or caprice of either party. A practice also prevailed of temporary or experimental marriage, lasting a day, a week, or more. The seal of the compact was merely the acceptance of a gift of wampum made by the suitor to the object of his desire or his whim. These gifts were never returned on the dissolution of the connection; and as an attractive and enterprising damsel might, and often did, make twenty such marriages before her final establishment, she thus collected a wealth of wampum with which to adorn herself for the village dances. [ 2 ] This provisional matrimony was no bar to a license boundless and apparently universal, unattended with loss of reputation on either side. Every instinct of native delicacy quickly vanished under the influence of Huron domestic life; eight or ten families, and often more, crowded into one undivided house, where privacy was impossible, and where strangers were free to enter at all hours of the day or night.

[ 1 Among the Iroquois there were more favorable features in the condition of women. The matrons had often a considerable influence on the decisions of the councils. Lafitau, whose book appeared in 1724, says that the nation was corrupt in his time, but that this was a degeneracy from their ancient manners. La Potherie and Charlevoix make a similar statement. Megapolensis, however, in 1644, says that they were then exceedingly debauched; and Greenhalgh, in 1677, gives ample evidence of a shameless license. One of their most earnest advocates of the present day admits that the passion of love among them had no other than an animal existence. (Morgan, League of the Iroquois, 322.) There is clear proof that the tribes of the South were equally corrupt. (See Lawson, Carolina, 34, and other early writers.) On the other hand, chastity in women was recognized as a virtue by many tribes. This was peculiarly the case among the Algonquins of Gaspé, where a lapse in this regard was counted a disgrace. (See Le Clerc, Nouvelle Relation de la Gaspésie, 417, where a contrast is drawn between the modesty of the girls of this region and the open prostitution practised among those of other tribes.) Among the Sioux, adultery on the part of a woman is punished by mutilation.

The remarkable forbearance observed by Eastern and Northern tribes towards female captives was probably the result of a superstition. Notwithstanding the prevailing license, the Iroquois and other tribes had among themselves certain conventional rules which excited the admiration of the Jesuit celibates. Some of these had a superstitious origin; others were in accordance with the iron requirements of their savage etiquette. To make the Indian a hero of romance is mere nonsense. ]

[ 2 “Il s’en trouue telle qui passe ainsi sa ieunesse, qui aura en plus de vingt maris, lesquels vingt maris ne sont pas seuls en la jouyssance de la beste, quelques mariez qu’ils soient: car la nuict venuë, las ieunes femmes courent d’une cabane en une autre, come font les ieunes hommes de leur costé, qui en prennent par ou bon leur semble, toutesfois sans violence aucune, et n’en reçoiuent aucune infamie, ny injure, la coustume du pays estant telle.”–Champlain (1627), 90. Compare Sagard, Voyage des Hurons, 176. Both were personal observers.

The ceremony, even of the most serious marriage, consisted merely in the bride’s bringing a dish of boiled maize to the bridegroom, together with an armful of fuel. There was often a feast of the relatives, or of the whole village. ]

Once a mother, and married with a reasonable permanency, the Huron woman from a wanton became a drudge. In March and April she gathered the year’s supply of firewood. Then came sowing, tilling, and harvesting, smoking fish, dressing skins, making cordage and clothing, preparing food. On the march it was she who bore the burden; for, in the words of Champlain, “their women were their mules.” The natural effect followed. In every Huron town were shrivelled hags, hideous and despised, who, in vindictiveness, ferocity, and cruelty, far exceeded the men.

To the men fell the task of building the houses, and making weapons, pipes, and canoes. For the rest, their home-life was a life of leisure and amusement. The summer and autumn were their seasons of serious employment,–of war, hunting, fishing, and trade. There was an established system of traffic between the Hurons and the Algonquins of the Ottawa and Lake Nipissing: the Hurons exchanging wampum, fishing-nets, and corn for fish and furs. [ Champlain (1627), 84. ] From various relics found in their graves, it may be inferred that they also traded with tribes of the Upper Lakes, as well as with tribes far southward, towards the Gulf of Mexico. Each branch of traffic was the monopoly of the family or clan by whom it was opened. They might, if they could, punish interlopers, by stripping them of all they possessed, unless the latter had succeeded in reaching home with the fruits of their trade,–in which case the outraged monopolists had no further right of redress, and could not attempt it without a breaking of the public peace, and exposure to the authorized vengeance of the other party. [ Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 168 (Cramoisy). ] Their fisheries, too, were regulated by customs having the force of laws. These pursuits, with their hunting,–in which they were aided by a wolfish breed of dogs unable to bark,–consumed the autumn and early winter; but before the new year the greater part of the men were gathered in their villages.

Now followed their festal season; for it was the season of idleness for the men, and of leisure for the women. Feasts, gambling, smoking, and dancing filled the vacant hours. Like other Indians, the Hurons were desperate gamblers, staking their all,–ornaments, clothing, canoes, pipes, weapons, and wives. One of their principal games was played with plum-stones, or wooden lozenges, black on one side and white on the other. These were tossed up in a wooden bowl, by striking it sharply upon the ground, and the players betted on the black or white. Sometimes a village challenged a neighboring village. The game was played in one of the houses. Strong poles were extended from side to side, and on these sat or perched the company, party facing party, while two players struck the bowl on the ground between. Bets ran high; and Brébeuf relates, that once, in midwinter, with the snow nearly three feet deep, the men of his village returned from a gambling visit, bereft of their leggins, and barefoot, yet in excellent humor. [ Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 113.–This game is still a favorite among the Iroquois, some of whom hold to the belief that they will play it after death in the realms of bliss. In all their important games of chance, they employed charms, incantations, and all the resources of their magical art, to gain good luck. ] Ludicrous as it may appear, these games were often medical prescriptions, and designed as a cure of the sick.

Their feasts and dances were of various character, social, medical, and mystical or religious. Some of their feasts were on a scale of extravagant profusion. A vain or ambitious host threw all his substance into one entertainment, inviting the whole village, and perhaps several neighboring villages also. In the winter of 1635 there was a feast at the village of Contarrea, where thirty kettles were on the fires, and twenty deer and four bears were served up. [ Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 111. ] The invitation was simple. The messenger addressed the desired guest with the concise summons, “Come and eat”; and to refuse was a grave offence. He took his dish and spoon, and repaired to the scene of festivity. Each, as he entered, greeted his host with the guttural ejaculation, Ho! and ranged himself with the rest, squatted on the earthen floor or on the platform along the sides of the house. The kettles were slung over the fires in the midst. First, there was a long prelude of lugubrious singing. Then the host, who took no share in the feast, proclaimed in a loud voice the contents of each kettle in turn, and at each announcement the company responded in unison, Ho! The attendant squaws filled with their ladles the bowls of all the guests. There was talking, laughing, jesting, singing, and smoking; and at times the entertainment was protracted through the day.

When the feast had a medical or mystic character, it was indispensable that each guest should devour the whole of the portion given him, however enormous. Should he fail, the host would be outraged, the community shocked, and the spirits roused to vengeance. Disaster would befall the nation,–death, perhaps, the individual. In some cases, the imagined efficacy of the feast was proportioned to the rapidity with which the viands were despatched. Prizes of tobacco were offered to the most rapid feeder; and the spectacle then became truly porcine. [ This superstition was not confined to the Hurons, but extended to many other tribes, including, probably, all the Algonquins, with some of which it holds in full force to this day. A feaster, unable to do his full part, might, if he could, hire another to aid him; otherwise, he must remain in his place till the work was done. ] These _festins à manger tout_ were much dreaded by many of the Hurons, who, however, were never known to decline them.

Invitation to a dance was no less concise than to a feast. Sometimes a crier proclaimed the approaching festivity through the village. The house was crowded. Old men, old women, and children thronged the platforms, or clung to the poles which supported the sides and roof. Fires were raked out, and the earthen floor cleared. Two chiefs sang at the top of their voices, keeping time to their song with tortoise-shell rattles. [ 1 ] The men danced with great violence and gesticulation; the women, with a much more measured action. The former were nearly divested of clothing,–in mystical dances, sometimes wholly so; and, from a superstitious motive, this was now and then the case with the women. Both, however, were abundantly decorated with paint, oil, beads, wampum, trinkets, and feathers.

[ 1 Sagard gives specimens of their songs. In both dances and feasts there was no little variety. These were sometimes combined. It is impossible, in brief space, to indicate more than their general features. In the famous “war-dance,”–which was frequently danced, as it still is, for amusement,–speeches, exhortations, jests, personal satire, and repartee were commonly introduced as a part of the performance, sometimes by way of patriotic stimulus, sometimes for amusement. The music in this case was the drum and the war-song. Some of the other dances were also interspersed with speeches and sharp witticisms, always taken in good part, though Lafitau says that he has seen the victim so pitilessly bantered that he was forced to hide his head in his blanket. ]

Religious festivals, councils, the entertainment of an envoy, the inauguration of a chief, were all occasions of festivity, in which social pleasure was joined with matter of grave import, and which at times gathered nearly all the nation into one great and harmonious concourse. Warlike expeditions, too, were always preceded by feasting, at which the warriors vaunted the fame of their ancestors, and their own past and prospective exploits. A hideous scene of feasting followed the torture of a prisoner. Like the torture itself, it was, among the Hurons, partly an act of vengeance, and partly a religious rite. If the victim had shown courage, the heart was first roasted, cut into small pieces, and given to the young men and boys, who devoured it to increase their own courage. The body was then divided, thrown into the kettles, and eaten by the assembly, the head being the portion of the chief. Many of the Hurons joined in the feast with reluctance and horror, while others took pleasure in it. [ 1 ] This was the only form of cannibalism among them, since, unlike the wandering Algonquins, they were rarely under the desperation of extreme famine.

[ 1 “Il y en a qui en mangent auec plaisir.”–Brébeuf, Relation des Hurons, 1636, 121.–Le Mercier gives a description of one of these scenes, at which he was present. (Ibid., 1637, 118.) The same horrible practice prevailed to a greater extent among the Iroquois. One of the most remarkable instances of Indian cannibalism is that furnished by a Western tribe, the Miamis, among whom there was a clan, or family, whose hereditary duty and privilege it was to devour the bodies of prisoners burned to death. The act had somewhat of a religious character, was attended with ceremonial observances, and was restricted to the family in question.–See Hon. Lewis Cass, in the appendix to Colonel Whiting’s poem, “Ontwa.” ]

A great knowledge of simples for the cure of disease is popularly ascribed to the Indian. Here, however, as elsewhere, his knowledge is in fact scanty. He rarely reasons from cause to effect, or from effect to cause. Disease, in his belief, is the result of sorcery, the agency of spirits or supernatural influences, undefined and indefinable. The Indian doctor was a conjurer, and his remedies were to the last degree preposterous, ridiculous, or revolting. The well-known Indian sweating- bath is the most prominent of the few means of cure based on agencies simply physical; and this, with all the other natural remedies, was applied, not by the professed doctor, but by the sufferer himself, or his friends.

[ The Indians had many simple applications for wounds, said to have been very efficacious; but the purity of their blood, owing to the absence from their diet of condiments and stimulants, as well as to their active habits, aided the remedy. In general, they were remarkably exempt from disease or deformity, though often seriously injured by alternations of hunger and excess. The Hurons sometimes died from the effects of their _festins à manger tout_. ]

The Indian doctor beat, shook, and pinched his patient, howled, whooped, rattled a tortoise-shell at his ear to expel the evil spirit, bit him till blood flowed, and then displayed in triumph a small piece of wood, bone, or iron, which he had hidden in his mouth, and which he affirmed was the source of the disease, now happily removed. [ 1 ] Sometimes he prescribed a dance, feast, or game; and the whole village bestirred themselves to fulfil the injunction to the letter. They gambled away their all; they gorged themselves like vultures; they danced or played ball naked among the snow-drifts from morning till night. At a medical feast, some strange or unusual act was commonly enjoined as vital to the patient’s cure: as, for example, the departing guest, in place of the customary monosyllable of thanks, was required to greet his host with an ugly grimace. Sometimes, by prescription, half the village would throng into the house where the patient lay, led by old women disguised with the heads and skins of bears, and beating with sticks on sheets of dry bark. Here the assembly danced and whooped for hours together, with a din to which a civilized patient would promptly have succumbed. Sometimes the doctor wrought himself into a prophetic fury, raving through the length and breadth of the dwelling, snatching firebrands and flinging them about him, to the terror of the squaws, with whom, in their combustible tenements, fire was a constant bugbear.

[ 1 The Hurons believed that the chief cause of disease and death was a monstrous serpent, that lived under the earth. By touching a tuft of hair, a feather, or a fragment of bone, with a portion of his flesh or fat, the sorcerer imparted power to it of entering the body of his victim, and gradually killing him. It was an important part of the doctor’s function to extract these charms from the vitals of his patient.– Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1648, 75. ]

Among the Hurons and kindred tribes, disease was frequently ascribed to some hidden wish ungratified. Hence the patient was overwhelmed with gifts, in the hope, that, in their multiplicity, the desideratum might be supplied. Kettles, skins, awls, pipes, wampum, fish-hooks, weapons, objects of every conceivable variety, were piled before him by a host of charitable contributors and if, as often happened, a dream, the Indian oracle, had revealed to the sick man the secret of his cure, his demands were never refused, however extravagant, idle, nauseous, or abominable. [ 1 ] Hence it is no matter of wonder that sudden illness and sudden cures were frequent among the Hurons. The patient reaped profit, and the doctor both profit and honor.

[ 1 “Dans le pays de nos Hurons, il se faict aussi des assemblées de toutes les filles d’vn bourg auprés d’vne malade, tant à sa priere, suyuant la resuerie ou le songe qu’elle en aura euë, que par l’ordonnance de Loki (the doctor), pour sa santé et guerison. Les filles ainsi assemblées, on leur demande à toutes, les vnes apres les autres, celuy qu’elles veulent des ieunes hommes du bourg pour dormir auec elles la nuict prochaine: elles en nomment chacune vn, qui sont aussi-tost aduertis par les Maistres de la ceremonie, lesquels viennent tous au soir en la presence de la malade dormir chacun auec celle qui l’a choysi, d’vn bout à l’autre de la Cabane et passent ainsi toute la nuict, pendant que deux Capitaines aux deux bouts du logis chantent et sonnent de leur Tortuë du soir au lendemain matin, que la ceremonie cesse. Dieu vueille abolir vne si damnable et malheureuse ceremonie.”–Sagard, Voyage des Hurons, 158.–This unique mode of cure, which was called Andacwandet, is also described by Lalemant, who saw it. (Relation des Hurons, 1639, 84.) It was one of the recognized remedies.

For the medical practices of the Hurons, see also Champlain, Brébeuf, Lafitau, Charlevoix, and other early writers. Those of the Algonquins were in some points different. The doctor often consulted the spirits, to learn the cause and cure of the disease, by a method peculiar to that family of tribes. He shut himself in a small conical lodge, and the spirits here visited him, manifesting their presence by a violent shaking of the whole structure. This superstition will be described in another connection. ]


And now, before entering upon the very curious subject of Indian social and tribal organization, it may be well briefly to observe the position and prominent distinctive features of the various communities speaking dialects of the generic tongue of the Iroquois. In this remarkable family of tribes occur the fullest developments of Indian character, and the most conspicuous examples of Indian intelligence. If the higher traits popularly ascribed to the race are not to be found here, they are to be found nowhere. A palpable proof of the superiority of this stock is afforded in the size of the Iroquois and Huron brains. In average internal capacity of the cranium, they surpass, with few and doubtful exceptions, all other aborigines of North and South America, not excepting the civilized races of Mexico and Peru.

[ “On comparing five Iroquois heads, I find that they give an average internal capacity of eighty-eight cubic inches, which is within two inches of the Caucasian mean.”–Morton, Crania Americana, 195.–It is remarkable that the internal capacity of the skulls of the barbarous American tribes is greater than that of either the Mexicans or the Peruvians. “The difference in volume is chiefly confined to the occipital and basal portions,”–in other words, to the region of the animal propensities; and hence, it is argued, the ferocious, brutal, and uncivilizable character of the wild tribes.–See J. S. Phillips, Admeasurements of Crania of the Principal Groups of Indians in the United States. ]

In the woody valleys of the Blue Mountains, south of the Nottawassaga Bay of Lake Huron, and two days’ journey west of the frontier Huron towns, lay the nine villages of the Tobacco Nation, or Tionnontates. [ Synonymes: Tionnontates, Etionontates, Tuinontatek, Dionondadies, Khionontaterrhonons, Petuneux or Nation du Petun (Tobacco). ] In manners, as in language, they closely resembled the Hurons. Of old they were their enemies, but were now at peace with them, and about the year 1640 became their close confederates. Indeed, in the ruin which befell that hapless people, the Tionnontates alone retained a tribal organization; and their descendants, with a trifling exception, are to this day the sole inheritors of the Huron or Wyandot name. Expatriated and wandering, they held for generations a paramount influence among the Western tribes. [ “L’ame de tous les Conseils.”–Charlevoix, Voyage, 199.–In 1763 they were Pontiac’s best warriors. ] In their original seats among the Blue Mountains, they offered an example extremely rare among Indians, of a tribe raising a crop for the market; for they traded in tobacco largely with other tribes. Their Huron confederates, keen traders, would not suffer them to pass through their country to traffic with the French, preferring to secure for themselves the advantage of bartering with them in French goods at an enormous profit.

[ On the Tionnontates, see Le Mercier, Relation, 1637, 163; Lalemant, Relation, 1641, 69; Ragueneau, Relation, 1648, 61. An excellent summary of their character and history, by Mr. Shea, will be found in Hist. Mag., V. 262. ]

Journeying southward five days from the Tionnontate towns, the forest traveller reached the border villages of the Attiwandarons, or Neutral Nation. [ Attiwandarons, Attiwendaronk, Atirhagenrenrets, Rhagenratka (Jesuit Relations), Attionidarons (Sagard). They, and not the Eries, were the Kahkwas of Seneca tradition. ] As early as 1626, they were visited by the Franciscan friar, La Roche Dallion, who reports a numerous population in twenty-eight towns, besides many small hamlets. Their country, about forty leagues in extent, embraced wide and fertile districts on the north shore of Lake Erie, and their frontier extended eastward across the Niagara, where they had three or four outlying towns. [ Lalemant, Relation des Hurons, 1641, 71.–The Niagara was then called the River of the Neutrals, or the Onguiaahra. Lalemant estimates the Neutral population, in 1640, at twelve thousand, in forty villages. ] Their name of Neutrals was due to their neutrality in the war between the Hurons and the Iroquois proper. The hostile warriors, meeting in a Neutral cabin, were forced to keep the peace, though, once in the open air, the truce was at an end. Yet this people were abundantly ferocious, and, while holding a pacific attitude betwixt their warring kindred, waged deadly strife with the Mascoutins, an Algonquin horde beyond Lake Michigan. Indeed, it was but recently that they had been at blows with seventeen Algonquin tribes. [ Lettre du Père La Roche Dallion, 8 Juillet, 1627, in Le Clerc, Établissement de la Foy, I. 346. ] They burned female prisoners, a practice unknown to the Hurons. [ Women were often burned by the Iroquois: witness the case of Catherine Mercier in 1661, and many cases of Indian women mentioned by the early writers. ] Their country was full of game and they were bold and active hunters. In form and stature they surpassed even the Hurons, whom they resembled in their mode of life, and from whose language their own, though radically similar, was dialectically distinct. Their licentiousness was even more open and shameless; and they stood alone in the extravagance of some of their usages. They kept their dead in their houses till they became insupportable; then scraped the flesh from the bones, and displayed them in rows along the walls, there to remain till the periodical Feast of the Dead, or general burial. In summer, the men wore no clothing whatever, but were usually tattooed from head to foot with powdered charcoal.

The sagacious Hurons refused them a passage through their country to the French; and the Neutrals apparently had not sense or reflection enough to take the easy and direct route of Lake Ontario, which was probably open to them, though closed against the Hurons by Iroquois enmity. Thus the former made excellent profit by exchanging French goods at high rates for the valuable furs of the Neutrals.

[ The Hurons became very jealous, when La Roche Dallion visited the Neutrals, lest a direct trade should be opened between the latter and the French, against whom they at once put in circulation a variety of slanders: that they were a people who lived on snakes and venom; that they were furnished with tails; and that French women, though having but one breast, bore six children at a birth. The missionary nearly lost his life in consequence, the Neutrals conceiving the idea that he would infect their country with a pestilence.–La Roche Dallion, in Le Clerc, I. 346. ]

Southward and eastward of Lake Erie dwelt a kindred people, the Eries, or Nation of the Cat. Little besides their existence is known of them. They seem to have occupied Southwestern New York as far east as the Genesee, the frontier of the Senecas, and in habits and language to have resembled the Hurons. [ Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1648, 46. ] They were noted warriors, fought with poisoned arrows, and were long a terror to the neighboring Iroquois.

[ Le Mercier, Relation, 1654, 10.–“Nous les appellons la Nation Chat, à cause qu’il y a dans leur pais vne quantité prodigieuse de Chats sauuages.”–Ibid.–The Iroquois are said to have given the same name, Jegosasa, Cat Nation, to the Neutrals.–Morgan, League of the Iroquois, 41.

Synonymes: Eriés, Erigas, Eriehronon, Riguehronon. The Jesuits never had a mission among them, though they seem to have been visited by Champlain’s adventurous interpreter, Étienne Brulé, in the summer of 1615.–They are probably the Carantoüans of Champlain. ]

On the Lower Susquehanna dwelt the formidable tribe called by the French Andastes. Little is known of them, beyond their general resemblance to their kindred, in language, habits, and character. Fierce and resolute warriors, they long made head against the Iroquois of New York, and were vanquished at last more by disease than by the tomahawk.

[ Gallatin erroneously places the Andastes on the Alleghany, Bancroft and others adopting the error. The research of Mr. Shea has shown their identity with the Susquehannocks of the English, and the Minquas of the Dutch.–See Hist. Mag., II. 294.

Synonymes: Andastes, Andastracronnons, Andastaeronnons, Andastaguez, Antastoui (French), Susquehannocks (English), Mengwe, Minquas (Dutch), Conestogas, Conessetagoes (English). ]

In Central New York, stretching east and west from the Hudson to the Genesee, lay that redoubted people who have lent their name to the tribal family of the Iroquois, and stamped it indelibly on the early pages of American history. Among all the barbarous nations of the continent, the Iroquois of New York stand paramount. Elements which among other tribes were crude, confused, and embryotic, were among them systematized and concreted into an established polity. The Iroquois was the Indian of Indians. A thorough savage, yet a finished and developed savage, he is perhaps an example of the highest elevation which man can reach without emerging from his primitive condition of the hunter. A geographical position, commanding on one hand the portal of the Great Lakes, and on the other the sources of the streams flowing both to the Atlantic and the Mississippi, gave the ambitious and aggressive confederates advantages which they perfectly understood, and by which they profited to the utmost. Patient and politic as they were ferocious, they were not only conquerors of their own race, but the powerful allies and the dreaded foes of the French and English colonies, flattered and caressed by both, yet too sagacious to give themselves without reserve to either. Their organization and their history evince their intrinsic superiority. Even their traditionary lore, amid its wild puerilities, shows at times the stamp of an energy and force in striking contrast with the flimsy creations of Algonquin fancy. That the Iroquois, left under their institutions to work out their destiny undisturbed, would ever have developed a civilization of their own, I do not believe. These institutions, however, are sufficiently characteristic and curious, and we shall soon have occasion to observe them.

[ The name Iroquois is French. Charlevoix says: “Il a été formé du terme Hiro, ou Hero, qui signifie J’ai dit, et par lequel ces sauvages finissent tous leur discours, comme les Latins faisoient autrefois par leur Dixi; et de Koué, qui est un cri tantôt de tristesse, lorsqu’on le prononce en traînant, et tantôt de joye, quand on le prononce plus court.”–Hist. de la N. F., I. 271.–Their true name is Hodenosaunee, or People of the Long House, because their confederacy of five distinct nations, ranged in a line along Central New York, was likened to one of the long bark houses already described, with five fires and five families. The name Agonnonsionni, or Aquanuscioni, ascribed to them by Lafitau and Charlevoix, who translated it “House-Makers,” Faiseurs de Cabannes, may be a conversion of the true name with an erroneous rendering. The following are the true names of the five nations severally, with their French and English synonymes. For other synonymes, see “History of the Conspiracy of Pontiac,” 8, note.

English. French.
Ganeagaono, Mohawk, Agnier. Onayotekaono, Oneida, Onneyut.
Onundagaono, Onondaga, Onnontagué. Gweugwehono, Cayuga, Goyogouin.
Nundawaono, Seneca, Tsonnontouans.

The Iroquois termination in ono–or onon, as the French write it–simply means people. ]


In Indian social organization, a problem at once suggests itself. In these communities, comparatively populous, how could spirits so fierce, and in many respects so ungoverned, live together in peace, without law and without enforced authority? Yet there were towns where savages lived together in thousands with a harmony which civilization might envy. This was in good measure due to peculiarities of Indian character and habits. This intractable race were, in certain external respects, the most pliant and complaisant of mankind. The early missionaries were charmed by the docile acquiescence with which their dogmas were received; but they soon discovered that their facile auditors neither believed nor understood that to which they had so promptly assented. They assented from a kind of courtesy, which, while it vexed the priests, tended greatly to keep the Indians in mutual accord. That well-known self- control, which, originating in a form of pride, covered the savage nature of the man with a veil, opaque, though thin, contributed not a little to the same end. Though vain, arrogant, boastful, and vindictive, the Indian bore abuse and sarcasm with an astonishing patience. Though greedy and grasping, he was lavish without stint, and would give away his all to soothe the manes of a departed relative, gain influence and applause, or ingratiate himself with his neighbors. In his dread of public opinion, he rivalled some of his civilized successors.

All Indians, and especially these populous and stationary tribes, had their code of courtesy, whose requirements were rigid and exact; nor might any infringe it without the ban of public censure. Indian nature, inflexible and unmalleable, was peculiarly under the control of custom. Established usage took the place of law,–was, in fact, a sort of common law, with no tribunal to expound or enforce it. In these wild democracies,–democracies in spirit, though not in form,–a respect for native superiority, and a willingness to yield to it, were always conspicuous. All were prompt to aid each other in distress, and a neighborly spirit was often exhibited among them. When a young woman was permanently married, the other women of the village supplied her with firewood for the year, each contributing an armful. When one or more families were without shelter, the men of the village joined in building them a house. In return, the recipients of the favor gave a feast, if they could; if not, their thanks were sufficient. [ The following testimony concerning Indian charity and hospitality is from Ragueneau: “As often as we have seen tribes broken up, towns destroyed, and their people driven to flight, we have seen them, to the number of seven or eight hundred persons, received with open arms by charitable hosts, who gladly gave them aid, and even distributed among them a part of the lands already planted, that they might have the means of living.”– Relation, 1650, 28. ] Among the Iroquois and Hurons–and doubtless among the kindred tribes–there were marked distinctions of noble and base, prosperous and poor; yet, while there was food in the village, the meanest and the poorest need not suffer want. He had but to enter the nearest house, and seat himself by the fire, when, without a word on either side, food was placed before him by the women.

[ The Jesuit Brébeuf, than whom no one knew the Hurons better, is very emphatic in praise of their harmony and social spirit. Speaking of one of the four nations of which the Hurons were composed, he says: “Ils ont vne douceur et vne affabilité quasi incroyable pour des Sauuages; ils ne se picquent pas aisément. . . . Ils se maintiennent dans cette si parfaite intelligence par les frequentes visites, les secours qu’ils se donnent mutuellement dans leurs maladies, par les festins et les alliances. . . . Ils sont moins en leurs Cabanes que chez leurs amis. . . S’ils ont vn bon morceau, ils en font festin à leurs amis, et ne le mangent quasi iamais en leur particulier,” etc.–Relation des Hurons, 1636, 118. ]

Contrary to the received opinion, these Indians, like others of their race, when living in communities, were of a very social disposition. Besides their incessant dances and feasts, great and small, they were continually visiting, spending most of their time in their neighbors’ houses, chatting, joking, bantering one another with witticisms, sharp, broad, and in no sense delicate, yet always taken in good part. Every village had its adepts in these wordy tournaments, while the shrill laugh of young squaws, untaught to blush, echoed each hardy jest or rough sarcasm.

In the organization of the savage communities of the continent, one feature, more or less conspicuous, continually appears. Each nation or tribe–to adopt the names by which these communities are usually known–is subdivided into several clans. These clans are not locally separate, but are mingled throughout the nation. All the members of each clan are, or are assumed to be, intimately joined in consanguinity. Hence it is held an abomination for two persons of the same clan to intermarry; and hence, again, it follows that every family must contain members of at least two clans. Each clan has its name, as the clan of the Hawk, of the Wolf, or of the Tortoise; and each has for its emblem the figure of the beast, bird, reptile, plant, or other object, from which its name is derived. This emblem, called totem by the Algonquins, is often tattooed on the clansman’s body, or rudely painted over the entrance of his lodge. The child belongs, in most cases, to the clan, not of the father, but of the mother. In other words, descent, not of the totem alone, but of all rank, titles, and possessions, is through the female. The son of a chief can never be a chief by hereditary title, though he may become so by force of personal influence or achievement. Neither can he inherit from his father so much as a tobacco-pipe. All possessions alike pass of right to the brothers of the chief, or to the sons of his sisters, since these are all sprung from a common mother. This rule of descent was noticed by Champlain among the Hurons in 1615. That excellent observer refers it to an origin which is doubtless its true one. The child may not be the son of his reputed father, but must be the son of his mother,–a consideration of more than ordinary force in an Indian community.

[ “Les enfans ne succedent iamais aux biens et dignitez de leurs peres, doubtant comme i’ay dit de leur geniteur, mais bien font-ils leurs successeurs et heritiers, les enfans de leurs sœurs, et desquels ils sont asseurez d’estre yssus et sortis.”–Champlain (1627), 91.

Captain John Smith had observed the same, several years before, among the tribes of Virginia: “For the Crowne, their heyres inherite not, but the first heyres of the Sisters.”–True Relation, 43 (ed. Deane). ]

This system of clanship, with the rule of descent usually belonging to it, was of very wide prevalence. Indeed, it is more than probable that close observation would have detected it in every tribe east of the Mississippi; while there is positive evidence of its existence in by far the greater number. It is found also among the Dahcotah and other tribes west of the Mississippi; and there is reason to believe it universally prevalent as far as the Rocky Mountains, and even beyond them. The fact that with most of these hordes there is little property worth transmission, and that the most influential becomes chief, with little regard to inheritance, has blinded casual observers to the existence of this curious system.

It was found in full development among the Creeks, Choctaws, Cherokees, and other Southern tribes, including that remarkable people, the Natchez, who, judged by their religious and political institutions, seem a detached offshoot of the Toltec family. It is no less conspicuous among the roving Algonquins of the extreme North, where the number of totems is almost countless. Everywhere it formed the foundation of the polity of all the tribes, where a polity could be said to exist.

The Franciscans and Jesuits, close students of the languages and superstitions of the Indians, were by no means so zealous to analyze their organization and government. In the middle of the seventeenth century the Hurons as a nation had ceased to exist, and their political portraiture, as handed down to us, is careless and unfinished. Yet some decisive features are plainly shown. The Huron nation was a confederacy of four distinct contiguous nations, afterwards increased to five by the addition of the Tionnontates;–it was divided into clans;–it was governed by chiefs, whose office was hereditary through the female;–the power of these chiefs, though great, was wholly of a persuasive or advisory character;–there were two principal chiefs, one for peace, the other for war;–there were chiefs assigned to special national functions, as the charge of the great Feast of the Dead, the direction of trading voyages to other nations, etc.;–there were numerous other chiefs, equal in rank, but very unequal in influence, since the measure of their influence depended on the measure of their personal ability;–each nation of the confederacy had a separate organization, but at certain periods grand councils of the united nations were held, at which were present, not chiefs only, but also a great concourse of the people; and at these and other councils the chiefs and principal men voted on proposed measures by means of small sticks or reeds, the opinion of the plurality ruling.

[ These facts are gathered here and there from Champlain, Sagard, Bressani, and the Jesuit Relations prior to 1650. Of the Jesuits, Brébeuf is the most full and satisfactory. Lafitau and Charlevoix knew the Huron institutions only through others.

The names of the four confederate Huron nations were the Ataronchronons, Attignenonghac, Attignaouentans, and Ahrendarrhonons. There was also a subordinate “nation” called Tohotaenrat, which had but one town. (See the map of the Huron Country.) They all bore the name of some animal or other object: thus the Attignaouentans were the Nation of the Bear. As the clans are usually named after animals, this makes confusion, and may easily lead to error. The Bear Nation was the principal member of the league. ]


The Iroquois were a people far more conspicuous in history, and their institutions are not yet extinct. In early and recent times, they have been closely studied, and no little light has been cast upon a subject as difficult and obscure as it is curious. By comparing the statements of observers, old and new, the character of their singular organization becomes sufficiently clear.

[ Among modern students of Iroquois institutions, a place far in advance of all others is due to Lewis H. Morgan, himself an Iroquois by adoption, and intimate with the race from boyhood. His work, The League of the Iroquois, is a production of most thorough and able research, conducted under peculiar advantages, and with the aid of an efficient co-laborer, Hasanoanda (Ely S. Parker), an educated and highly intelligent Iroquois of the Seneca nation. Though often differing widely from Mr. Morgan’s conclusions, I cannot bear a too emphatic testimony to the value of his researches. The Notes on the Iroquois of Mr. H. R. Schoolcraft also contain some interesting facts; but here, as in all Mr. Schoolcraft’s productions, the reader must scrupulously reserve his right of private judgment. None of the old writers are so satisfactory as Lafitau. His work, Mœurs des Sauvages Ameriquains comparées aux Mœurs des Premiers Temps, relates chiefly to the Iroquois and Hurons: the basis for his account of the former being his own observations and those of Father Julien Garnier, who was a missionary among them more than sixty years, from his novitiate to his death. ]

Both reason and tradition point to the conclusion, that the Iroquois formed originally one undivided people. Sundered, like countless other tribes, by dissension, caprice, or the necessities of the hunter life, they separated into five distinct nations, cantoned from east to west along the centre of New York, in the following order: Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas. There was discord among them; wars followed, and they lived in mutual fear, each ensconced in its palisaded villages. At length, says tradition, a celestial being, incarnate on earth, counselled them to compose their strife and unite in a league of defence and aggression. Another personage, wholly mortal, yet wonderfully endowed, a renowned warrior and a mighty magician, stands, with his hair of writhing snakes, grotesquely conspicuous through the dim light of tradition at this birth of Iroquois nationality. This was Atotarho, a chief of the Onondagas; and from this honored source has sprung a long line of chieftains, heirs not to the blood alone, but to the name of their great predecessor. A few years since, there lived in Onondaga Hollow a handsome Indian boy on whom the dwindled remnant of the nation looked with pride as their destined Atotarho. With earthly and celestial aid the league was consummated, and through all the land the forests trembled at the name of the Iroquois.

The Iroquois people was divided into eight clans. When the original stock was sundered into five parts, each of these clans was also sundered into five parts; and as, by the principle already indicated, the clans were intimately mingled in every village, hamlet, and cabin, each one of the five nations had its portion of each of the eight clans. [ 1 ] When the league was formed, these separate portions readily resumed their ancient tie of fraternity. Thus, of the Turtle clan, all the members became brothers again, nominal members of one family, whether Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, or Senecas; and so, too, of the remaining clans. All the Iroquois, irrespective of nationality, were therefore divided into eight families, each tracing its descent to a common mother, and each designated by its distinctive emblem or totem. This connection of clan or family was exceedingly strong, and by it the five nations of the league were linked together as by an eightfold chain.

[ 1 With a view to clearness, the above statement is made categorical. It requires, however, to be qualified. It is not quite certain, that, at the formation of the confederacy, there were eight clans, though there is positive proof of the existence of seven. Neither is it certain, that, at the separation, every clan was represented in every nation. Among the Mohawks and Oneidas there is no positive proof of the existence of more than three clans,–the Wolf, Bear, and Tortoise; though there is presumptive evidence of the existence of several others.–See Morgan, 81, note.

The eight clans of the Iroquois were as follows: Wolf, Bear, Beaver, Tortoise, Deer, Snipe, Heron, Hawk. (Morgan, 79.) The clans of the Snipe and the Heron are the same designated in an early French document as La famille du Petit Pluvier and La famille du Grand Pluvier. (New York Colonial Documents, IX. 47.) The anonymous author of this document adds a ninth clan, that of the Potato, meaning the wild Indian potato, Glycine apios. This clan, if it existed, was very inconspicuous, and of little importance.

Remarkable analogies exist between Iroquois clanship and that of other tribes. The eight clans of the Iroquois were separated into two divisions, four in each. Originally, marriage was interdicted between all the members of the same division, but in time the interdict was limited to the members of the individual clans. Another tribe, the Choctaws, remote from the Iroquois, and radically different in language, had also eight clans, similarly divided, with a similar interdict of marriage.–Gallatin, Synopsis, 109.

The Creeks, according to the account given by their old chief, Sekopechi, to Mr. D. W. Eakins, were divided into nine clans, named in most cases from animals: clanship being transmitted, as usual, through the female. ]

The clans were by no means equal in numbers, influence, or honor. So marked were the distinctions among them, that some of the early writers recognize only the three most conspicuous,–those of the Tortoise, the Bear, and the Wolf. To some of the clans, in each nation, belonged the right of giving a chief to the nation and to the league. Others had the right of giving three, or, in one case, four chiefs; while others could give none. As Indian clanship was but an extension of the family relation, these chiefs were, in a certain sense, hereditary; but the law of inheritance, though binding, was extremely elastic, and capable of stretching to the farthest limits of the clan. The chief was almost invariably succeeded by a near relative, always through the female, as a brother by the same mother, or a nephew by the sister’s side. But if these were manifestly unfit, they were passed over, and a chief was chosen at a council of the clan from among remoter kindred. In these cases, the successor is said to have been nominated by the matron of the late chief’s household. [ Lafitau, I. 471. ] Be this as it may, the choice was never adverse to the popular inclination. The new chief was “raised up,” or installed, by a formal council of the sachems of the league; and on entering upon his office, he dropped his own name, and assumed that which, since the formation of the league, had belonged to this especial chieftainship.

The number of these principal chiefs, or, as they have been called by way of distinction, sachems, varied in the several nations from eight to fourteen. The sachems of the five nations, fifty in all, assembled in council, formed the government of the confederacy. All met as equals, but a peculiar dignity was ever attached to the Atotarho of the Onondagas.

There was a class of subordinate chiefs, in no sense hereditary, but rising to office by address, ability, or valor. Yet the rank was clearly defined, and the new chief installed at a formal council. This class embodied, as might be supposed, the best talent of the nation, and the most prominent warriors and orators of the Iroquois have belonged to it. In its character and functions, however, it was purely civil. Like the sachems, these chiefs held their councils, and exercised an influence proportionate to their number and abilities.

There was another council, between which and that of the subordinate chiefs the line of demarcation seems not to have been very definite. The Jesuit Lafitau calls it “the senate.” Familiar with the Iroquois at the height of their prosperity, he describes it as the central and controlling power, so far, at least, as the separate nations were concerned. In its character it was essentially popular, but popular in the best sense, and one which can find its application only in a small community. Any man took part in it whose age and experience qualified him to do so. It was merely the gathered wisdom of the nation. Lafitau compares it to the Roman Senate, in the early and rude age of the Republic, and affirms that it loses nothing by the comparison. He thus describes it: “It is a greasy assemblage, sitting _sur leur derrière_, crouched like apes, their knees as high as their ears, or lying, some on their bellies, some on their backs, each with a pipe in his mouth, discussing affairs of state with as much coolness and gravity as the Spanish Junta or the Grand Council of Venice.” [ Lafitau, I. 478. ]

The young warriors had also their councils; so, too, had the women; and the opinions and wishes of each were represented by means of deputies before the “senate,” or council of the old men, as well as before the grand confederate council of the sachems.

The government of this unique republic resided wholly in councils. By councils all questions were settled, all regulations established,– social, political, military, and religious. The war-path, the chase, the council-fire,–in these was the life of the Iroquois; and it is hard to say to which of the three he was most devoted.

The great council of the fifty sachems formed, as we have seen, the government of the league. Whenever a subject arose before any of the nations, of importance enough to demand its assembling, the sachems of that nation might summon their colleagues by means of runners, bearing messages and belts of wampum. The usual place of meeting was the valley of Onondaga, the political as well as geographical centre of the confederacy. Thither, if the matter were one of deep and general interest, not the sachems alone, but the greater part of the population, gathered from east and west, swarming in the hospitable lodges of the town, or bivouacked by thousands in the surrounding fields and forests. While the sachems deliberated in the council-house, the chiefs and old men, the warriors, and often the women, were holding their respective councils apart; and their opinions, laid by their deputies before the council of sachems, were never without influence on its decisions.

The utmost order and deliberation reigned in the council, with rigorous adherence to the Indian notions of parliamentary propriety. The conference opened with an address to the spirits, or the chief of all the spirits. There was no heat in debate. No speaker interrupted another. Each gave his opinion in turn, supporting it with what reason or rhetoric he could command,–but not until he had stated the subject of discussion in full, to prove that he understood it, repeating also the arguments, pro and con, of previous speakers. Thus their debates were excessively prolix; and the consumption of tobacco was immoderate. The result, however, was a thorough sifting of the matter in hand; while the practised astuteness of these savage politicians was a marvel to their civilized contemporaries. “It is by a most subtle policy,” says Lafitau, “that they have taken the ascendant over the other nations, divided and overcome the most warlike, made themselves a terror to the most remote, and now hold a peaceful neutrality between the French and English, courted and feared by both.”

[ Lafitau, I. 480.–Many other French writers speak to the same effect. The following are the words of the soldier historian, La Potherie, after describing the organization of the league: “C’est donc là cette politique qui les unit si bien, à peu près comme tous les ressorts d’une horloge, qui par une liaison admirable de toutes les parties qui les composent, contribuent toutes unanimement au merveilleux effet qui en resulte.”–Hist. de l’Amérique Septentrionale, III. 32.–He adds: “Les François ont avoüé eux-mêmes qu’ils étoient nez pour la guerre, & quelques maux qu’ils nous ayent faits nous les avons toujours estimez.”– Ibid., 2.–La Potherie’s book was published in 1722. ]

Unlike the Hurons, they required an entire unanimity in their decisions. The ease and frequency with which a requisition seemingly so difficult was fulfilled afford a striking illustration of Indian nature,–on one side, so stubborn, tenacious, and impracticable; on the other, so pliant and acquiescent. An explanation of this harmony is to be found also in an intense spirit of nationality: for never since the days of Sparta were individual life and national life more completely fused into one.

The sachems of the league were likewise, as we have seen, sachems of their respective nations; yet they rarely spoke in the councils of the subordinate chiefs and old men, except to present subjects of discussion. [ Lafitau, I. 479. ] Their influence in these councils was, however, great, and even paramount; for they commonly succeeded in securing to their interest some of the most dexterous and influential of the conclave, through whom, while they themselves remained in the background, they managed the debates.

[ The following from Lafitau is very characteristic: “Ce que je dis de leur zèle pour le bien public n’est cependant pas si universel, que plusieurs ne pensent à leur interêts particuliers, & que les Chefs (sachems) principalement ne fassent joüer plusieurs ressorts secrets pour venir à bout de leurs intrigues. Il y en a tel, dont l’adresse jouë si bien à coup sûr, qu’il fait déliberer le Conseil plusieurs jours de suite, sur une matière dont la détermination est arrêtée entre lui & les principales têtes avant d’avoir été mise sur le tapis. Cependant comme les Chefs s’entre-regardent, & qu’aucun ne veut paroître se donner une superiorité qui puisse piquer la jalousie, ils se ménagent dans les Conseils plus que les autres; & quoiqu’ils en soient l’ame, leur politique les oblige à y parler peu, & à écouter plûtôt le sentiment d’autrui, qu’à y dire le leur; mais chacun a un homme à sa main, qui est comme une espèce de Brûlot, & qui étant sans consequence pour sa personne hazarde en pleine liberté tout ce qu’il juge à propos, selon qu’il l’a concerté avec le Chef même pour qui il agit.”–Mœurs des Sauvages, I. 481. ]

There was a class of men among the Iroquois always put forward on public occasions to speak the mind of the nation or defend its interests. Nearly all of them were of the number of the subordinate chiefs. Nature and training had fitted them for public speaking, and they were deeply versed in the history and traditions of the league. They were in fact professed orators, high in honor and influence among the people. To a huge stock of conventional metaphors, the use of which required nothing but practice, they often added an astute intellect, an astonishing memory, and an eloquence which deserved the name.

In one particular, the training of these savage politicians was never surpassed. They had no art of writing to record events, or preserve the stipulations of treaties. Memory, therefore, was tasked to the utmost, and developed to an extraordinary degree. They had various devices for aiding it, such as bundles of sticks, and that system of signs, emblems, and rude pictures, which they shared with other tribes. Their famous wampum-belts were so many mnemonic signs, each standing for some act, speech, treaty, or clause of a treaty. These represented the public archives, and were divided among various custodians, each charged with the memory and interpretation of those assigned to him. The meaning of the belts was from time to time expounded in their councils. In conferences with them, nothing more astonished the French, Dutch, and English officials than the precision with which, before replying to their addresses, the Indian orators repeated them point by point.

It was only in rare cases that crime among the Iroquois or Hurons was punished by public authority. Murder, the most heinous offence, except witchcraft, recognized among them, was rare. If the slayer and the slain were of the same household or clan, the affair was regarded as a family quarrel, to be settled by the immediate kin on both sides. This, under the pressure of public opinion, was commonly effected without bloodshed, by presents given in atonement. But if the murderer and his victim were of different clans or different nations, still more, if the slain was a foreigner, the whole community became interested to prevent the discord or the war which might arise. All directed their efforts, not to bring the murderer to punishment, but to satisfy the injured parties by a vicarious atonement. [ Lalemant, while inveighing against a practice which made the public, and not the criminal, answerable for an offence, admits that heinous crimes were more rare than in France, where the guilty party himself was punished.–Lettre au P. Provincial, 15 May, 1645. ] To this end, contributions were made and presents collected. Their number and value were determined by established usage. Among the Hurons, thirty presents of very considerable value were the price of a man’s life. That of a woman’s was fixed at forty, by reason of her weakness, and because on her depended the continuance and increase of the population. This was when the slain belonged to the nation. If of a foreign tribe, his death demanded a higher compensation, since it involved the danger of war. [ Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1648, 80. ] These presents were offered in solemn council, with prescribed formalities. The relatives of the slain might refuse them, if they chose, and in this case the murderer was given them as a slave; but they might by no means kill him, since, in so doing, they would incur public censure, and be compelled in their turn to make atonement. Besides the principal gifts, there was a great number of less value, all symbolical, and each delivered with a set form of words: as, “By this we wash out the blood of the slain: By this we cleanse his wound: By this we clothe his corpse with a new shirt: By this we place food on his grave”: and so, in endless prolixity, through particulars without number.

[ Ragueneau, Relation des Hurons, 1648, gives a description of one of these ceremonies at length. Those of the Iroquois on such occasions were similar. Many other tribes had the same custom, but attended with much less form and ceremony. Compare Perrot, 73-76. ]

The Hurons were notorious thieves; and perhaps the Iroquois were not much better, though the contrary has been asserted. Among both, the robbed was permitted not only to retake his property by force, if he could, but to strip the robber of all he had. This apparently acted as a restraint in favor only of the strong, leaving the weak a prey to the plunderer; but here the tie of family and clan intervened to aid him. Relatives and clansmen espoused the quarrel of him who could not right himself.

[ The proceedings for detecting thieves were regular and methodical, after established customs. According to Bressani, no thief ever inculpated the innocent. ]

Witches, with whom the Hurons and Iroquois were grievously infested, were objects of utter abomination to both, and any one might kill them at any time. If any person was guilty of treason, or by his character and conduct made himself dangerous or obnoxious to the public, the council of chiefs and old men held a secret session on his case, condemned him to death, and appointed some young man to kill him. The executioner, watching his opportunity, brained or stabbed him unawares, usually in the dark porch of one of the houses. Acting by authority, he could not be held answerable; and the relatives of the slain had no redress, even if they desired it. The council, however, commonly obviated all difficulty in advance, by charging the culprit with witchcraft, thus alienating his best friends.

The military organization of the Iroquois was exceedingly imperfect and derived all its efficiency from their civil union and their personal prowess. There were two hereditary war-chiefs, both belonging to the Senecas; but, except on occasions of unusual importance, it does not appear that they took a very active part in the conduct of wars. The Iroquois lived in a state of chronic warfare with nearly all the surrounding tribes, except a few from whom they exacted tribute. Any man of sufficient personal credit might raise a war-party when he chose. He proclaimed his purpose through the village, sang his war-songs, struck his hatchet into the war-post, and danced the war-dance. Any who chose joined him; and the party usually took up their march at once, with a little parched-corn-meal and maple-sugar as their sole provision.

You may also like: