The History of New York State
Book I, Chapter II

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam


One part of the migrating Iroquois pushed eastward along the southern shores of the lakes. One division of this part was the Erie tribe, which claimed the entire southern shore of Lake Erie; another was the Seneca tribe, which took possession of the country from the Genesee river to Canandaigua Lake. Another tribe, the Conestoga or Andaste, took northern Pennsylvania, especially the region embraced by the two branches of the Susquehanna, including the Chemung River and southward, perhaps as far as Harrisburg. #8 Beyond them southward, to the headwaters of the Chesapeake, the Susquehannocks claimed dominion. Further southward, but east of the Cherokee pushed the Tuscarora.

These tribes of kindred people held the blood tie, it seems, though each was recognized as a separate nation. While alliances were loose, there was constant intercourse between the tribes over this wide area, and attack upon the region of one tribe would sometimes being aid from a distant people. At one time the Tuscarora were allied with the northern Iroquois. The Cherokee and Seneca were inveterate enemies; and to the north, the chief enemies of the Iroquois were the Adirondacks, who later allied themselves with the Huron.

The Huron-Iroquois advance pressed the eastern Algonkian tribes to a narrow strip along the coast, and in time dominated them, weakened as the Algonkians were by separation from their western kinsmen. The Mohawks were dreaded in New England, and many of the Massachusetts tribes paid tribute to the Iroquois. The Delaware nation was always somewhat friendly, and latterly--during the historic period at least--acknowledged the supreme authority of the confederated Iroquois over them.

But not even kindred tribes could always agree. The southern Iroquois became hostile; and this danger, also the raids of the Adirondack or Abenaki of the north, caused the Laurentian Iroquois--the Moahwk, Onondaga, and Oneida tribes--to form an alliance. Two other tribes later added their strength to the compact, first the Cayuga and then the Seneca. The raids of the Abenaki had compelled the Onondaga tribe to move southward from their Jefferson County strongholds. They moved into the present Onondaga County, occupying the hilly country south of the Onondaga Lake. The southern movement on the Laurentian Mohawk people which soon followed arose from their disagreements with the Laurentian Huron. The Mohawk, migrating southward, came into the Mohawk Valley, and took possession first of the highlands north of the river, in the present counties of Fulton and Montgomery; later they crossed to the southern side of the river. the Oneida, long a separate body, went westward into the highlands of Madison County. Further westward, and on the hills near Limestone Creek, were the Onondaga. Beyond them, along the Seneca river and southward about Cayuga Lake, were the Cayuga People.

While there were frequent feuds between these divisions of Iroquois, the greater dangers that beset them in north and south kept them from serious war among themselves. The Mohawk took the offensive against the Huron and Abenaki, and even against the Micmac in the north, and in turn had to withstand attack by the Conestoga or Andaste of the Susquehanna. The Conestoga also made war on the Cayuga.

In the Genesee country and along Lake Erie were the Seneca and Erie tribes, who were in constant intercourse and perhaps allied for defense. On both sides of the Niagara River were the villages of the Attiwandaronk or Neuter tribe looked upon as an old and parent body of all the Huron-Iroquois stock. Ji-gon-sa-she (Ye-gowane), the "Mother of Nations," the woman who was recognized as a lineal descendant of "the first woman on earth," e. g., the direct descendant of the first Iroquoian family, lived in a Neuter village near the Niagara; and the tribe enjoyed enhanced prestige in consequence. Some eastern settlements were occupied by a band known as the Wenro; they were of the neuter tribe.

When the idea of an Iroquian confederacy was conceived, presumably by the Seneca, the Erie nation could not be persuaded, and the southern Iroquois were not at all attracted. The neuters seemed to see no need of entering the league, for in their distinctive place as the parent nation they did not anticipate that either of the main branches--their Huron and Iroquois kin--of the parent stock would cease to respect their ancient authority. Hence, only the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca tribes subscribed tot he articles of friendship which created the Iroquois Confederacy, or Long House as it was otherwise called. Power creates envy; and soon the Five Nations had to recognize that their confederation, instead of establishing peace by its strength, was fast adding to the number of their enemies, all of whom were jealous of their power. Their own kinsmen outside of the league were fast drifting into the ranks of their enemies. However, the central position of the confederacy gave it an advantage, and its leaders developed a strong front. By mass attack nation after nation fell before them--the Erie, the Neuter, the Huron, the Wenro, and the Conestoga. Thousand of Iroquois warriors feel in these wars, but the loss was more then made up by the adoption of captives after the enemy had been subdued. Indeed, the ranks of the Confederacy were swelled "enormously" in this manner, "and it virtually united by blood mixture all the Iroquois."

This triumph came to the Iroquois in the middle of the colonial period, and began the golden age of the Iroquois Confederacy. For the next century--until about 1755--the Iroquois Five Nations exercised dominance among tribes of the East, and were the buffer states that protected the Dutch and English colonies from French attack. With the passing of the French, the ascendancy of the Iroquois as a dictatory power came to an end. The irresistible inroads made by Europeans, and the strengthening of the rule of the English in America after the defeat of the French, convinced the Iroquois that the five nations could no longer be paramount, that the future of America would be in the keeping of white men.

Such a realization must have tended to weaken the national morale, and undermine the cultural, as well as the political acumen of the Iroquois. Still, in view of the mixed character of the Iroquois Confederacy during the period of absorption of other peoples and cultures it is astonishing that a material culture so distinctive as the Iroquoian was developed during the period of the ascendancy of the Five Nations. Few non-Iroquian artifacts are found among the unmistakably Iroquoian specimens unearthed in New York State. This fact points to a determination of the Iroquois people that their material culture should become 'a crystallized thing, a possession that must not be adulterated or violated.," And, just as the Iroquois removed the moccasins of their captives and placed upon their feet those of Iroquois pattern, so might the absorbed people have been stripped of evidence of their material culture upon absorption, and forbidden thereafter to make any but Iroquoian types.

The stone age passed with the coming of the white man. His tools, so much superior to those of the aborigines, were eagerly sought by the latter. The routes of the early fur-traders in the Iroquois country are marked by European relics among the Indian, the percentage of the former increasing as time passes. By the middle of the colonial period, it would seen that the Iroquois were very generally using European articles, the sites of Iroquois towns, such as Bouton Hill and Rochester Junction, being strewn with scraps of brass and bits of iron. In the graves are found guns, scissors, copper and brass kettles and glass beads inconsiderable number. In late colonial times, European articles were evidently in general use for the percentage of Indian articles found in the sites occupied by Iroquois grow less and less, and examination of the refuse of the nineteenth century in Indian settlements or reservations brings to light only an occasional article of distinctive Indian type. Today, in only a few places do the Iroquois tribes make any durable article of the old Iroquoian type, at least nothing of stone, clay or flint. Some of the so-called "pagan" Iroquois make some ceremonial articles of bark, wood, husk and skin, and turtle-shell rattles, but "the white man's goods and the white man's ways of living have all but obliterated the Iroquois." While, however, the national spirit is at a low ebb with some, there are many progressive independent Iroquois, who, though proud of their origin, have lost identity as Iroquois and can hardly be distinguished from other self-reliant American citizens, having donned the garb of the white man and entered into his occupations, professions, and civil activities. They have not shirked military responsibility, either. For instance, during the World War, several hundred stalwart Americans of Iroquois blood went voluntarily and unobtrusively into units of the American and Canadian Expeditionary Forces--bedecked not in the war-paint and plumes of the warriors of old, but in regulation uniform like other American soldiers. Thus, and in other ways, has the Indian of the past been merged in the American citizen of the present.

There are still some large Indian reservations in New York State, proving that the Europeans, in the march of civilization, have not inexorably pushed all the aboriginal Americans ever and always westward. According to the Federal Census of 1920, the Indian population of New York State then was 5,503. Hence, it is clear that here has not been an appreciable shrinkage of Indian population of New York since white settlement began, three centuries ago. Most of the Indian reservations fringe the Great Lakes, or are near thereto, extensive reservations being in Cattaraugus, Chautauqua, Erie, Niagara, Genesee, St. Lawrence, and Franklin counties. Nine-tenth (4,458) of the Indians in the 1920 enumeration are to be found in the reservations, and apparently live somewhat as their forefather did; but it is pointed out that Indians are to be found in 42 counties and 22 cities of the State. The Indian reservations within New York State are:

Alleghany Reservation of 30,469 acres, in Cattaraugus County, the Federal Census of 1920 showing that it then had 934 Indians in residence.

Cattaraugus Reservation of 21,680 acres, in Erie, Cattaraugus and Chautauqua counties, population, 1,198.

Oneida Reservation of 400 acres, about four miles south of Oneida Station, on the New York Central Railroad; population, none.

Onondaga Reservation of 7,300 acres, near Syracuse; population, 475.

St. Regis Reservation of 14,030 acres, in Franklin County; population, 1,016.

Shinnecock Reservation of 400 acres, near Southampton, Long Island; this including the Poospatuck Reservation, population of both, 112.

Tonawanda Reservation of 7,548 acres, in Erie and Genesee counties; population, 400

Tuscarora Reservation of 6,249 acres, in Niagara County; population, 319.

Another is the Oil Spring Reservation, in Alleghany and Cattaraugus counties. It was not separately returned in the Federal Census of 1910, but that of 1920 shows its population as four only.

Authorities--this chapter is based mainly upon, and indeed may be considered an abridgment of, the excellent and exhaustive "Archeological History of New York," written by Arthur C. Parker, State Archeologist, and published in 1922 by the University of the State of New York, as Nos. 235, 236, 237, 238 of the "New York State Museum Bulletin." Another principal source is "Aboriginal occupation of New York," by Dr. Wm. M. Beauchamp, published in "New York State Museum Bulletin," 1900, No. 32.

Other sources include other works by Beauchamp and Parker: "Jesuit Relations," and allied documents, 1810-1791. Thwaite's Edition; "Documents Relating to the colonial History of New York," by O'Callaghan; "ancient Man in America." By Frederick Larkin; "Ancient Monuments in Western New York," T. Apoleon Cheney, in "Thirteenth Report State Cabinet of Natural History," (1859), and "Senate Documents," 1860, No. 89; bulletins of "United States Bureau of Ethnology, Smithsonian Institution,"; Francis Parkman's Works; Severance's Niagara Frontier works; Brodhead's "History of State of New York."; Sagard's "Histoirie du Canada" (1636); "History of Brooklyn and Queens, and Counties of Nassau and Suffolk, Long Island," by Henry Isham Hazelton, 1925; "History of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania." H. M. J. Klein and E. Melvin Williams, 1924; "Pennsylvania Archives; League of The Ho-de-no-sau-nee, or Iroquois." By L. H. Morgan, and "History of the Five Indian Nations Depending on the Province of New York" (1727), by Cadwallader Colden.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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