The Pioneer History of
 Orleans County, NY

Chapter I
The Indians of Western New York

Online Edition by Holice & Deb




Their Traditionary History -- Ancient Fortifications in Shelby -- their Friendship for the White men in the War of 1812 -- Fishing and Hunting.

A history of the Indians, who inhabited Western new York at the coming of the white men to reside among them, is comparatively unknown. Their own traditionary accounts go back but little more than a century, but the numerous relics and "ruins' and the marks of ancient fortifications, upon which no doubt human labor and skill have been employed, which are found scattered over all this region of country, seem to prove conclusively that here men have lived for many centuries past.

All these traces of former habitants of men are found within the bounds of Orleans County. When they were made, and by whom, seems to be as inexplicable to the Indian of the present day as to his white brother. The commonly entertained opinion, of those who have investigated the subject most, is that this country has been inhabited by a people of higher civilization and more skilled in the arts than those found her and known as the Six nations, who have become long since extinct.

The most considerable of these "ancient fortifications" to be found in Orleans County is thus described in Turner's History;

"About one and one-half miles west of Shelby Center, in Orleans County, is an ancient work. A broad ditch encloses in a form nearly circular, about three acres of land. The ditch is at this day well defined several feet deep. Adjoining the spot on the south is a swamp, about a mile in width, by two in length.--This swamp was once doubtless, if not a lake, an impassable morass. From the interior of the enclosure made by the ditch, there is what appears to have been a passage way on the side next to the swamp. No other breach occurs in the entire circuit of the embankment. There are accumulated, within and near this fort, large piles of small stones of a size convenient to be thrown by the hand or with a sling. Arrow heads of flint are found in or near the enclosure, in great abundance, stones, axes, &c. Trees of four hundred years growth stand upon the embankment, pieces of plates or dishes wrought with skill, presenting ornaments in relief of various patterns. Some skeletons almost entire have been exhumed; many of giant size, not less than seven or eight feet in length. The skulls are large and well developed in the anterior lobe, broad between the ears, and flattened in the coronal region.

Half a mile west of the fort is a sand hill. Here a large number of human skeletons have been exhumed, in a perfect state. Great numbers appear to have been buried in the same grave. Many of the skulls appear to have been broken in with clubs or stones."

The Indians found actually occupying this part of the country when white men began to settle here were the Senecas, a tribe of the Six Nations. They had no village or permanent settlement within Orleans County; but they counted this as part of their territory, and occupied it as their hunting and fishing grounds, and were accustomed to follow these pursuits here.-- Their places of residence were their villages in Genesee and Niagara Counties. These Indians were friendly to the whites, and the pioneer settlers of Orleans County never feared their hostility. In the war of 1812, with Great Britain, they took up arms on the side of the United States, and made themselves useful to us in checking the invasions of the hostile Indians from Canada, who acted with the British.

These Indians had formerly been favorably disposed to the British Government, and it was a source of alarm at the breaking out of the war lest they should be found with their ancient allies. Their great chief, Red Jacket, counseled them to maintain neutrality. This neutral state was construed unfavorably by the pioneers, and rumors of contemplated Indian atrocities were circulated from time to time, until the Senecas had resolved to take up the hatchet with us.

The rapid settlement of the county by white men had the effect to diminish the number of wild game animals, which the Indians had been accustomed to hunt; and fishing in the Oak Orchard and Johnson's Creeks, with seines and nets, soon exterminated the salmon and drove away other kinds of fish that had formerly come up these streams from Lake Ontario in abundance, until the Indians found their occupation worthless and ceased to come here.

In an early day parties of Indians came over from Canada, and wintered in Carlton, for the purpose of hunting. In the spring they would return to Canada. As game became scarce they discontinued their visits.

Indians in families, or singly, frequently traveled about among the dwelling of the pioneers to beg or sell their small wares, or get whiskey. They were generally harmless, and made no trouble. Their claim to the land was long since settled by treaty transferring it to white men, excepting the reservations to which they retired.

The Pioneer History of Orleans County, NY, By Arad Thomas


Transcribed by Holice B. Young

HTML by Deb

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