Elias Johnson.

Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians online

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"A book about Indians!" - who cares anything about them?

This will probably be the exclamation of many who glance on my little
page. To those who know nothing concerning them, a whole book about
Indians will seem a very prosy affair, to whom I can answer nothing, for
they will not proceed as far as my Preface to see what reasons I can
render for the seeming folly.

But to those who are willing to listen, I can say that the Indians are a
very interesting people, whether I have made an interesting book about
them or not.

The Antiquarian, the Historian, and the Scholar, have been a long time
studying Indian character, and have given plenty of information
concerning the Indian, but it is all in ponderous volumes for State and
College libraries, and quite inaccessible to the multitude - those who
only take up such book as may be held in the hand, sitting by the
fire, - still remain very ignorant of the Children of Nature who inhabited
the forests before the Saxon set his foot upon our shores.

There is also a great deal of prejudice, the consequence of this
ignorance, and the consequence of the representations of your forefathers
who were brought into contact with the Indians, under circumstances that
made it impossible to judge impartially and correctly.

The Histories which are in the schools, and from which the first
impressions are obtained, are still very deficient in what they relate of
Indian History, and most of them are still filling the minds of children
and youth, with imperfect ideas. I have read many of the Histories, and
have longed to see refuted the slanders, and blot out the dark pictures
which the historians have wont to spread abroad concerning us. May I live
to see the day when it may be done, for most deeply have I learned to
blush for my people.

I thought, at first, of only giving a series of Indian Biographies, but
without some knowledge of the government and religion of the Iroquois,
the character of the Indians could not be understood or appreciated.

I enter upon the task with much distrust. It is a difficult task at all
times to speak and to write in foreign language, and I fear I shall not
succeed to the satisfaction of myself, or to my readers.

My title will not be so attractive to the American ears, as if it related
to any other unknown people. A tour in Arabia, or Spain, or in India, or
some other foreign country, with far less important and interesting
material, would secure a greater number of readers, as we are always more
curious about things afar off.

I might have covered many pages with "Indian Atrocities," but these have
been detailed in other histories, till they are familiar to every ear,
and I had neither room nor inclination for even a glance at war and its
dark records.



To animate a kinder feeling between the white people and the Indians,
established by a truer knowledge of our civil and domestic life, and of
our capabilities for future elevation, is the motive for which this work
is founded.

The present Tuscarora Indians, the once powerful and gifted nation, after
their expulsion from the South, came North, and were initiated in the
confederacy of the Iroquois, and who formerly held under their
jurisdiction the largest portion of the Eastern States, now dwell within
your bounds, as dependent nations, subject to the guardianship and
supervision of a people who displaced their forefathers. Our numbers, the
circumstances of our past history and present condition, and more
especially the relation in which we stand to the people of the State,
suggest many important questions concerning our future destiny.

Being born to an inauspicious fate, which makes us the _inheritors of
many wrongs_, we have been unable, of ourselves, to escape from the
complicated difficulties which accelerate our decline. To make worse
these adverse influences, the public estimation of the Indian, resting,
as it does, upon the imperfect knowledge of their character, and infused,
as it ever has been, with the prejudice, is universally unjust.

The time has come in which it is no more than right to cast away all
ancient antipathies, all inherited opinions, and to take a nearer view of
our social life, condition and wants, and to learn anew your duty
concerning the Indians. Nevertheless, the embarrassments that have
obstructed our progress, in the obscurity which we have lived, and the
prevailing indifference to our welfare, we have gradually overcame many
of the evils inherent in our social system, and raised ourselves to a
degree of prosperity. Our present condition, if considered in connection
with the ordeal through which we have passed, shows that there is the
presence of an element in our character which must eventually lead to
important results.

As I do not profess that this work is based upon authorities, a question
might arise in the breast of some reader, where these materials were
derived, or what reliance is to be placed upon its contents. The
credibility of a witness is known to depend chiefly upon his means of
knowledge. For this reason, I deem it important to state, that I was born
and brought up by Tuscarora Indian parents on their Reservation in the
Town of Lewiston, N.Y. From my childhood up was naturally inquisitive and
delighted in thrilling stories, which led me to frequent the old people
of my childhood's days, and solicited them to relate the old Legends and
their Traditions, which they always delighted to do. I have sat by their
fireside and heard them, and thus they were instilled upon my young mind.
I also owe much of my information to our Chief, JOHN MT. PLEASANT. I have
also read much of Indian history, and compared them with our LEGENDS and




In all the early histories of the American Colonies, in the stories of
Indian life and the delineations of Indian character, these children of
nature are represented as savages and barbarians, and in the mind of a
large portion of the community the sentiment still prevails that they
were blood-thirsty, revengeful, and merciless, justly a terror to both
friends and foes. Children are impressed with the idea that an Indian is
scarcely human, and as much to be feared as the most ferocious animal of
the forest.

Novelists have now and then clothed a few with a garb which excites your
imagination, but seldom has one been invested with qualities which you
would love, unless it were also said that through some captive taken in
distant war, he inherited a whiter skin and a paler blood.

But I am inclined to think that Indians are not alone in being
savage - not alone barbarous, heartless, and merciless.

It is said they were exterminating each other by aggressive and
devastating wars, before the white people came among them. But wars,
aggressive and exterminating wars, certainly, are not proofs of
barbarity. The bravest warrior was the most honored, and this has been
ever true of Christian nations, and those who call themselves christians
have not yet ceased to look upon him who could plan most successfully the
wholesale slaughter of human beings, as the most deserving his king's or
his country's laurels. How long since the pean died away in praise of the
Duke of Wellington? What have been the wars in which all Europe, or of
America, has been engaged, That there has been no records of her history?
For what are civilized and christian nations drenching their fields with

It is said the Indian was cruel to the captives, and inflicted
unspeakable torture upon his enemy taken in battle. But from what we know
of them, it is not to be inferred that Indian Chiefs were ever guilty of
filling dungeons with innocent victims, or slaughtering hundreds and
thousands of their own people, whose only sin was a quiet dissent from
some religious dogma. Towards their enemies they were often relentless,
and they had good reason to look upon the white man as their enemy. They
slew them in battle, plotted against them secretly, and in a few
instances comparatively, subjected individuals to torture, burned them at
the stake, and, perhaps, flayed them alive. But who knows anything of the
precepts and practices of the Roman Catholic Christendom, and quote these
things as proofs of unmitigated barbarity.

At the very time that the Indians were using the tomahawk and scalping-
knife to avenge their wrongs, peaceful citizens in every country of
Europe, where the Pope was the man of authority, were incarcerated for no
crime whatever, and such refinement of torture invented and practiced, as
never entered in the heart of the fiercest Indian warrior that roamed the
wilderness to inflict upon man or beast.

We know very little of the secrets of the inquisition, and this little
chills our blood with horror. Yet these things were done in the name of
Christ, the Savior of the World, the Prince of Peace, and not savage, but
civilized. Christian men looked on, not coldly, but rejoicingly, while
women and children writhed in flames and weltered in blood. Were the
atrocities committed in the vale of Wyoming and Cherry Valley
unprecedented among the Waldensian fastnesses and the mountains of
Aurvergne? Who has read Fox's book of Martyrs, and found anything to
parallel it in all the records of Indian warfare? The slaughter of St.
Bartholomew's days, the destruction of the Jews in Spain, and the Scotch
Covenanters, were in obedience to the mandates of Christian princes, -
aye, and some of them devised by Christian women who professed to be
serving God, and to make the Bible the man of their counsel.

It is said also that the Indians were treacherous, and more, no
compliance with the conditions of any treaty, was ever to be trusted. But
the Puritan fathers cannot be wholly exonerated from the charge of
faithlessness; and who does not blush to talk of Indian traitors when he
remembers the Spanish invasion and the fall of the princely and
magnanimous Montezuma?

Indians believed in witches, and burned them, too. And did not the
sainted Baxter, with the Bible in his hand, pronounce it right, and was
not the Indian permitted to be present, when the quiet unoffending woman
was cast into the fire, by the decree of a Puritan council?

To come down to the more decidedly Christian times, it is not so very
long since, in Protestant England, hanging was the punishment of a petty
thief, long and hopeless imprisonment of a slight misdemeanor, when men
were set up to be stoned and spit upon by those who claimed the exclusive
right to be called humane and merciful.

Again, it is said, the Indian mode of warfare is, without exception, the
most inhuman and revolting. But I do not know that those who die by the
barbed and poisoned arrow linger in any more unendurable torment than
those who are mangled with powder and lead balls, and the custom of
scalping among Christian murderers would save thousands from groaning
days, and perhaps weeks, among heaps that cover victorious fields and
fill hospitals with the wounded and dying. But scalping is not an
invention exclusively Indian. "It claims," says Prescott, "high
authority, or, at least, antiquity." And, further history, Herodotus,
gives an account of it among the Scythians, showing that they performed
the operation, and wore the scalp of their enemies taken in battle, as
trophies, in the same manner as the North American Indian. Traces of the
custom are also found in the laws of the Visigaths, among the Franks, and
even the Anglo Saxons. The Northern Indians did not scalp, but they had a
system of slavery, of which there are no traces to be found among the
customs, laws, or legends of the Iroquois.

Again, it is said, "They carried away women and children captive, and in
their long journey through the wilderness, they were subjected to
heartrending trials."

The wars of Christian men throw hundreds and thousands of women and
children helpless upon the cold world, to toil, to beg, and to starve.

This is not so bright a picture as is usually given of people who have
written laws and have stores of learning, but people cannot see in any
place that the coloring is too dark! There is no danger of painting
Indians so they will become attractive to the civilized people.

There is a bright and pleasing side to the Indian character, and thinking
that there has been enough written of their wars and cruelties, of the
hunter's and fisherman's life, I have sat down at their fireside,
listened to their legends, and am acquainted with their domestic habits,
understand their finer feelings and the truly noble traits of their

It is so long now since they were the lords of this country, and
formidable as your enemies, and they are so utterly wasted away and
melted like snow under the meridian sun, and helpless, that you can sit
down and afford to listen to the truth, and to believe that even your
enemies had their virtues. Man was created in the image of God, and it
cannot be that anything human is utterly vile and contemptible.

Those who have thought of Indians as roaming about in the forests hunting
and fishing, or at war, will laugh, perhaps, at the idea of Indian homes,
and domestic happiness. Yet there are no people of which we have any
knowledge, among whom, in their primitive state, family ties and
relationship were more distinctly defined, or more religiously respected
than the Iroquois.

The treatment which they received from the white people, whom they always
considered as intruders, aroused, and kept in exercise all their
ferocious passions, so that none except those who associated with them as
missionaries, or as captives, saw them in their true character, as they
were to each other.

Almost any portrait that we see of an Indian, he is represented with
tomahawk and scalping knife in hand, as if they possessed no other but a
barbarous nature. Christian nations might with equal justice be always
represented with cannon and balls, swords and pistols, as the emblems of
their employment and their prevailing tastes.

The details of war are from far to great a portion of every History of
civilized and barbarous nations, to conquer and to slay has been to long
the glory of the christian people; he who has been most successful in
subjugating and oppressing, in mowing down human beings, has too long
wore the laural crown, been too long an object for the admiration of men
and the love of women.

It seems you might be weary of the pomp and circumstance of war, of
princely banquets, and gay cavalcades. The time and space you bestow upon
King and courts, and the homage you pay to empty titles, are unworthy
your professed republican spirit and preferences, let us turn aside from
the war path, and sit down by the hearth-stone of peace.

In the picture which I have given, I have confined myself principally to
the Iroquois, or Six Nations, a people who no more deserve the term
savage, than the whites do that of heathen, because they have still
lingering among them heathen superstitions, and many opinions and
practices which deserves no better name.

The cannibals of some of the west Indies Islands, and the Islands of the
Pacific, may with justice be termed savage, but a people like the
Iroquois who had a goverment, established offices, a system of religion
eminently pure and Spiritual, a code of honor and laws of hospitality,
excelling those of all other nations, should be considered something
better than savage, or utterly barbarous.

The terrible torture they inflicted upon their enemies, have made their
name a terror, and yet there were not so many burnt, hung, and starved by
them, as perished among Christian nations by these means. The miseries
they inflicted were light, in comparison, with those they suffered. If
individuals should have come among you to expose the barbarities of
savage white men, the deeds they relate would quite equal anything known
of Indian cruelty. The picture an Indian gives of civilized barbarism
leaves the revolting custom of the wilderness quite in the back-ground.
You experienced their revenge when you had put their souls and bodies at
a stake, with your fire-water that maddened their brains. There was a
pure and beautiful spirituality in their faith, and their conduct was
much more influenced by it, as are any people, Christian or Pagan.

Is there anything more barbaric in the annals of Indian warfare, than the
narrative of the Pequod Indians? In one place we read of the surprise of
an Indian fort by night, when the inmates were slumbering, unconscious of
any danger. When they awoke they were wrapped in flames, and when they
Attempted to flee, were shot down like beasts. From village to village,
from wigwam to wigwam, the murderers proceeded, "being resolved," as your
historian piously remarks, "by God's assistance, to make a final
destruction of them," until finally a small but gallant band took refuge
in a swamp. Burning with indignation, and made sullen by dispair, with
hearts bursting with grief at the destruction of their nation, and
spirits galled and sore at the fancied ignominy of their defeat, they
refused to ask life at the hands of an insulting foe, and preferred death
to submission. As the night drew on, they were surrounded in their dismal
retreat, volleys of musketry poured into their midst, until nearly all
were killed or buried in the mire. In the darkness of a thick fog which
preceded the dawn of day, a few broke through the ranks of the beseigers
and escaped to the woods.

Again, the same historian tells us that the few that remained, "stood
like sullen dogs to be killed rather than to implore mercy, and the
soldiers on entering the swamp, found many sitting together in groups,
when they approached, and resting their guns on the boughs of trees,
within a few yards of them, literally filled their bodies with bullets."
But they were Indians, and it was pronounnced a pious work. But when the
Gauls invaded Italy, and the Roman Senators, in their purple robes and
chairs of State, sat unmoved in the presence of barbarian conquerors,
disdaining to flee, and equally disdaining to supplicate for mercy, it
is applauded as noble, as dying like statesmen and philosophers. But the
Indians with far more to lose and infinitely greater provocation, sits
upon his mother earth upon the green mound, beneath the canopy of Heaven,
and refuses to ask mercy of civilized fiends, he is stigmatized as dogs,
spiritless, and sullen. What a different name has greatness, clothed in
the garb of christian princes and sitting beneath spacious domes, gorgeous
with men's device, and the greatness, in the simple garb of nature,
destitute and alone in the wilderness.

There is nothing in the character of Alexander of Macedon who "conquered
the world, and wept that he had no more to conquer," to compare with the
noble qualities of king Philip of Mt. Hope, and among his warriors are a
long list of brave men unrivalled in deeds of heroism, by any of ancient
or modern story. But in what country, and by whom were they hunted,
tortured, and slain, and who was it that met together to rejoice and give
thanks at every species of cruelty inflicted upon those who were fighting
for their wives, their children, their homes, their altars and their God.
When it is recorded that "men, women and children, indiscriminately, were
hewn down and lay in heaps upon the snow," it is spoken of as doing God's
service, because they were nominally heathen. "Before the fight was
finished, the wigwams were set on fire, and into those, hundreds of
innocent women and children had crowded themselves, and perished in the
general conflagration." And for those thanksgivings were sent up to
heaven, the head of Philip is strung upon a pole, and exposed to the
public. But this was not done by savage warriors, and the crowd that
huzzaed at the revolting spectacle, assembled on the Sabbath day, in a
Puritan church, to listen to the Gospel that proclaims peace and love to
all men. His body was literally cut in slices to be distributed among the
conquerors, and a christian city rings with acclamation.

In speaking of this bloody contest, one who is most eminent among the
fathers, says: "Nor could they cease praying unto the Lord against
Philip, until they had prayed the bullet through his heart." "Two and
twenty Indian captives were slain, and brought down to hell in one day."
"A bullet took him in the head, and sent his cursed soul in a moment
amongst the devils and blasphemers in hell forever."

Masasoit, the father of Philip, was the true friend to the English, and
when he was about to die, took his two sons, Alexander and Philip, and
fondly commended them to the kindness of the new settlers, praying them
the same peace and good will might be between them, that had existed
between him and his white friends. Upon mere suspicion only a short time
afterwards, the elder, who succeeded his father as ruler, among his
people, was hunted in his forest home, and dragged before the court, the
nature and object of which he could not understand. But the indignity
which was offered him, and the treachery of those who insulted him, so
chafed his proud spirit that a fever was the consequence, of which he
died. And that is not all. The son and wife of Philip were sold into
slavery, (as were also about eight hundred persons of the Tuscaroras, and
also many others of the Indians that were taken captive during the
Colonial wars.) "Yes," says a distinguished orator, (Everett,) "they were
sold into slavery, West Indian slavery. An Indian princess and her child,
sold from the cold breezes of Mount Hope, from a wild freedom of New
England forest, to drop under the lash, beneath the blazing sun of the

Bitter as death, aye, bitter as hell! Is there anything - I do not think
in the range of humanity - is there any animal that would not struggle
against this? Nor is this indeed all. A kinswoman of theirs, a Princess
in her own right, Wetamore Pocasset, was pursued and harrassed till she
fell exhausted in the wilderness, and died of cold and starvation. There
she was found by men professing to be shocked at Indian barbarity, her
head severed from her body, and carried bleeding upon a pole to be
exposed in the public highways of the country, ruled by men who have been
honored as saints and martyrs.

"Let me die among my kindred," "Bury me with my fathers," is the prayer
of every Indian's heart; and the most delicate and reverential kindness
in the treatment of the bodies of the dead, was considered a religious
duty. There was nothing in all their customs that indicated a barbarism
so gross and revolting as these acts, which are recorded by New England
historians without a censure, while the Indian's protests in his grief at
seeing his kindred dishonored and his religion reviled, are stigmatized
as savage and fiendish.

If all, or even a few who ministered among them in holy things, had been
like Eliot, who is called "the Apostle to the Indians," and deserved to
be ranked with the Apostle of old, or Kirkland, who is endeared to the
memory of every Iroquois who heard his name, it could not have become a
proverb or a truth that civilization and christianity wasted them away.

They were, not by one, but many, unscrupulously called "dogs, wolves,
bloodhounds, demons, devils incarnate, hellhounds, fiends, monsters,
beasts," always considering them inferior beings, and scarcely allowing
them to be human, yet one, who was at that time a captive among them,
represents them as "kind and loving and generous;" and concerning this
same monster - Philip - records nothing that should have condemned him in
the eyes of those who believed in wars aggressive and defensive, and
awarded honors to heroes and martyrs and conquerors.

By the Governor of Jamestown a hand was severed from the arm of a
peaceful, unoffending Indian, that he might be sent back a terror to his
people; and through the magnanimity of a daughter and king of that same

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Online LibraryElias JohnsonLegends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians → online text (page 1 of 18)