Arthur Caswell Parker.

The influence of the Iroquois : on the history and archaeology of the Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, and the adjacent region online

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Fig. 7. White Haven Pot.

Fig. 8. Tioga Pot.


One of the puzzling articles to which I refer is a tortoise
shell carapace, evidently the remains of a rattle, found in a
grave at Athens, Pa. This rattle has been described in papers
read before your Society by Dr. Harrison Wright, and by
Christopher Wren. The conclusions which Mr. Wren
reached regarding it are absolutely the best obtainable from
the data available. I am fortunately more or less of an
Indian myself and a member of some of the Iroquois folk
societies. It is, therefore, of no special credit to my intelli-
gence that I am able to state, with some degree of positive-
ness, that the rattle in question is not one of a type used in
the Great Feather Dance ceremony, but one used, in all
probability, by the Tonwi'sas Company, a sisterhood devoted
to the propitiation of the spirits of growth and the harvest.
You see that Iroquois women had secret societies long ago
and have them now. Rattles of this character were used in
their ceremonies and only this type of rattles. The rattles
used by the Great Feather Dancers was the rattle made
from a large snapping turtle, with the neck extended to form
a handle, the sternum being painted red. A similar rattle
without the painted sternum was and is used by the False
Face Company. The publication of these facts, with many
others bearing on Iroquois life and ceremony, no doubt will
clear many vexing questions. The State Museum of New
York will publish such a volume in a few years. A great
quantity of manuscript is only awaiting compilation, and
annotation to make it ready for the public.

The tortoise rattle, therefore, tells of a unique side of Iro-
quoise influence in the Susquehanna Valley, вАФ that of the Iro-
quois woman and of her secret sorority, the Tonwi'sas. Like
most women's societies, however, after a while it becomes
necessary for a man or two to enter. A Tonwi'sas lodge in
necessary for a man or two to enter. A Tonwi'sas lodge in one
was carried off bodily by the Cherokee and it cost a lot of
blood and wampum, not to speak of suffering, to get the
women back. Thereafter the sisters had two well qualified


warriors accompany them as escorts. These escorts carry-
implements of death, however, not tortoise rattles. Anyone
may see the annual ceremony of the Tonwi'sas at a mid-
winter thanksgiving ceremony of the Senecas. There are
several rattles similar to the Athens, Pa., specimen in the
State of Museum of New York, which came from Seneca
graves in Ontario and Erie counties. These are precisely
like the specimens now in use by the members of the Ton-


Another bone object of interest from the Athens site is
the bone comb described in detail by Mr. Christopher Wren
in a paper read before this Society. Its peculiar interest lies
in the fact that it is similar to all bone combs found in Iro-
pois sites before and a little after 1600. Combs of this char-
acter have been found on prehistoric sites of the Seneca
and also of the Erie as well as on early sites of the Oneida,
Onondaga and Mohawk. The Iroquois did not use fine
toothed combs, it is interesting to note, until after the com-
ing of the white invaders.

There is in the Christopher Wren collection a bone awl,
near three inches long, the only one, I believe, in the collec-
tions of your Society. It comes from a grave at Plymouth
and is similar in every way to Iroquois and Algonquin awls,
and, indeed, similar to the awls of the early Britons or
Swiss Lake dwellers, for that matter, for so simple a
tool is it that its form would occur to any one need-
ing a sharp, piercing implement of bone. The New York
State Museum possesses many hundreds of specimens of
bone awls from all portions of the State. The Iroquois
used them in great quantities and probably for several pur-
poses. Refuse pits in certain places often contain from one
to thirty or more of these awls, some of them beautifully
polished. That so many should have been lost by accident
seems most improbable. Some custom, or folk-belief, must


have influenced the practise of casting awls and other imple-
ments in refuse pits. It was a common custom of the Iro-
quois to offer as a propitiation to animals which they had
killed certain trinkets. These trinkets and other things, such
as were offered, were thrown upon a small fire, and a sprinkle
of tobacco thrown upon the flames or smouldering coals as
the case might have been. In the earlier times, when the
Iroquois brought their game to the village, it seems quite
probable that they would throw the sacrifice into the fire and
refuse pit as an offering. Of course, some might have be-
come lost, but it seems entirely unlikely that the immense
quantity of useful objects as are found should have been
accidently overlooked and swept into the pit.

This paper, because of the vastness of the subject, if
treated in a detailed way, especially the historical end of the
subject, has been prepared largely to suggest what may be
done in the future. It is impossible, manifestly, to treat the
archeological end of the subject completely in a comparative
way since but few excavations have been made, and, there-
fore, since so much remains to be developed. On the other
hand, an historical treatment would be entirely superfluous.
One of your members, O. J. Harvey, Esq., has already pub-
lished so detailed an account of the Indian history of this
region and other regions connected with it that his work
must forever remain a classic. It has only been possible,
therefore, to suggest a plan for work, to recognize the field
and to study a few of the specimens which seemed of special
interest as a basis for comparison with the Iroquois artifacts
found in New York State.

The Iroquois themselves never occupied this valley in the
sense of having lived here in settled towns. They controlled
it for about a hundred years, and so greatly did they impress
themselves upon its history that they will always have a
place in it.

To the Iroquois the Wyoming Valley was the asylum of
conquered and dependent tribes, the mixing bowl of many


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Online LibraryArthur Caswell ParkerThe influence of the Iroquois : on the history and archaeology of the Wyoming Valley, Pennsylvania, and the adjacent region → online text (page 4 of 4)