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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html


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Chapter II. — The Aquinoshioni, or Iroquois.

The close of the seventeenth century appears to be a suitable opportunity for taking some notice of a people, whose power had then culminated. There were but two tribes of those which ranged the land east of the Mississippi, north of the Cherokees, and east of the Chippewas of Lake Superior, over whom they did not, at this early day, exercise a primary or a secondary influence; and, even of these excepted tribes, one was seated 1000 miles to the north-west, and the other 1000 miles to the south-west of their council-fire at Onondaga. The name of Aquinoshioni, under the figure of a long house, or council lodge, is indicative of their confederate character. Tradition refers the origin of their nationality and advancement to Tarenyawagon, a divinity, who, in his social state, while on earth, assumed the name of Hiawatha, and taught them the knowledge of all things essential to their prosperity. 231 By a hyperbole, they are also called Ongwi Honwi, or a people surpassing others. 232 The French, agreeably to their system, gave them the name of Iroquois, a term founded on two Indian radicals, with the Gallic terminal, ois, suffixed. 233

We are informed by Golden, who wrote their history to the period of the conclusion of the peace of Ryswick (1697), that the tribes composing this confederacy were not originally deemed superior to their neighbors. He commences their history at the epoch of the settlement of Canada (1608); at which time, he depicts them as being inferior to the Adirondacks, or Algonquins. They did not equal the northern group of tribes, either in hunting, war, or forest arts, though they possessed an element of subsistence in the cultivation of the zea maize. By ceasing to war against each other, and confederating for their common defence, they laid the corner-stone of their national establishment. They first successfully tried their united strength against the Satanas, 234 a cruel people, located on their borders, which so raised their spirits, that they, at length, went to war against the Adirondacks, who had been, primarily, their tutors in forest arts. After some reverses, they proved themselves an overmatch for the latter in stratagem, and, finally, obtained decisive victories over them in the St. Lawrence valley.

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Mr. Colden furnishes us the history of the Iroquois during the period of about a century (1609 to 1697), in so clear and precise a manner, that our only regret is, that he carries it no farther. He perceives in this people a love of liberty, and a spirit of independence, which particularly mark them; but is at a loss which most to admire, their military ardor, their political policy, or their eloquence in council. The union of the cantons, each possessing equal powers, in one council, was the cause of their triumph among hunters in the east, west, and north, who acknowledged no government but that of opinion, and followed no policy but that actuated by revenge, or undefinable impulse. All the weighty concerns of the Iroquois were the subject of full deliberation, in open council; and their diplomatic negotiations were managed with consummate skill. When the question of peace or war was decided, the counsellors united in chanting hymns of praise, or warlike choruses, which, at the same time, gave expression to the public feeling, and imparted a kind of natural sanctity to the act. The majority of those who have given their attention to Iroquois history, have recognised, in their public acts, the germs of a national policy, which was suited to concentrate in their hands an imperial sway, which would have been characterized by greater subtlety and strength, than that of the Aztecs under Montezuma, or of the Peruvians under Atahualpa.

Their tribal relations being conducted according to fixed principles, so also were their commercial affairs, and under a system equally stable. A short time subsequently to the arrival of Hudson, and the building of Fort Orange, they formed a close alliance with the Dutch, who regarded the gains of commerce as the most decided advantage to be derived from their colony. They furnished the Indian warriors with guns, powder, flints, shrouds, blankets, hatchets, knives, pipes, and all other articles necessary for the successful prosecution of the fur trade, which was conducted on a basis so advantageous to both, that the mutual friendship then contracted was never broken. With the river Indians, of the Algonquin type, who lived in the same state of discord and anarchy as the other tribes, there occurred several, and some very serious, quarrels; but the union of the Iroquois and Dutch was intimate, and never more so than when the province was surrendered to the Duke of York, in 1664. By the terms of this surrender, the good will of the Iroquois was secured to the English. The trade with the Indians was wholly in the hands of Dutch merchants and traders, and their interpreters, who continued to conduct it. They had extended this traffic through western New York to the so-called "Far Indians," at Detroit, Saganaw and Michilimackinac, where there are still some of their descendants. 235 As the Iroquois had, for a long period, held the balance of power in America, this influence became very important to the English, and was analogous to the Algonquin alliance with the French, which, after the fall of Quebec, was also transferred to the English.

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The attachment of the Iroquois to the English, alone saved western New York from becoming a French colony. From the time of the action with Champlain, that commander having supplied his Indian allies with guns, the Iroquois had been prejudiced against the French nation. At sundry periods they repelled the invasions of La Barre, Denonville, and Frontenac, and, also, resisted the establishment of missions at Oneida, Onondaga, and Ontario. Their delegates frequently stood in the presence of the Governor-General at Quebec, with wily dexterity counteracting plot by counter-plot. In truth, they defended the territory till the English colonies became strong enough to protect it themselves.

The French had found themselves so severely taxed to resist the Iroquois, that the conclusion of the peace of Ryswick was most welcome news at the castle of St. Louis. Colden observes, that the French commissioners who conveyed the intelligence of this peace to the Onondaga county, and, by negotiation, secured their assent to it, likewise esteemed it a blessing. To the French, heaven could not have sent a greater. "For nothing," it is remarked, "could be more terrible to Canada than the last war with the Five Nations. While this war lasted, the inhabitants ate their bread with fear and trembling. No man was sure, when out of his house, of ever returning to it again. While they labored in the fields, they were under perpetual apprehensions of being seized, or killed, or carried to the Indian country, there to end their days in cruel torments. They, many times, were forced to neglect both seed-time and harvest. The landlord often saw all his land plundered, his houses burned, and the whole country ruined, while they thought their persons not safe in their fortifications. In short, all trade and business was often at an entire stand, while fear, despair, and misery appeared on the face of the poor inhabitants." 236

Governor Clinton calls the Iroquois the Romans of the West. 237 Charlevoix, who visited the shores of Lake Ontario, in 1721, says, that he perceived a Greek element in their language. 238 While forming some Iroquois vocabularies, in western New York, in 1845, I found it to possess a dual.

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Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe.. History of the Indian Tribes of the United States: Their Present Condition and Prospects, and a Sketch of Their Ancient Status. Volume 6. . Philadelphia: Lippincott, Grambo and Co, 1857. [format: book; image], [genre: government document; report]. Permission: Northern Illinois University
Persistent link to this document: http://lincoln.lib.niu.edu/file.php?file=schoolcraft6.html
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