Samuel W Durant.

History of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers online

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Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 4 of 192)
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The number of Indians residing within the State by the
census of 1875 amounted to 5117, of whom 64 were
Oneidns, living mostly on their reservation in the town of
Vernon, only four being off from it. They are generally
engaged in cultivating the soil in the suuimer season ; in
the winter they visit various parts of the country, selling
the bead-work and other products of their household man-


As this most important of all the North American
nations and confederations of the people living in the
Hunter State was centrally located in the territory com-
prising the present county of Oneida and its immediate
vicinity, and as the earliest known history of tlie region
begins with the first knowledge obtained by the French
missionaries among them, a brief outline of their origin,
laws, customs, and confederation is deemed of sufficient
importance to be inserted in this connection. Their history
h;is been compiled, more or less completely, by various
writers, among the best of whom are Morgan, Parkman,
and Colden. Ttie very thorough work, entitled " League
of the Ho-de'-no-sau-nee," by Lewis H. Morgan, and pub-
lished in 1851, is probably the most comprehensive and
valuable, as it was compiled under peculiarly favorable
circumstances. It does not, however, enter specially into
the military history of the Confederacy, confining itself
rather to a most elaborate and particular description of
their laws, customs, mode of living, religion, etc. Colonel
Wm. L. Stone's " Life of Joseph Brant," published in
1838, is devoted almost exclusively to the mihtary history
of the Six Nations during the wars from 1754 to 1815,
and is a most valuable work, containing probably more in-
formation connected with this branch of their history than
any other work ever issued from the press.*

The origin of this peculiar people is involved somewhat
in obscurity, like everything else depending upon Indian tra-
dition. According to Morgan, their tradition tells us that
previous to their occupation of the State of New York
they resided along the northern shore of the St. Lawrence
River, in the vicinity of Montreal, where they were under

*■ In the following ficcount of the Confederacy we have followed
Morgan mostly, and altogether in the orthography of names, with
the single exception of Brant's Indian name, which wc take from hia
own signature.

the rule of the Adiromlacks, a branch of the great Algon-
qvi.n family, then holding possession of the whole region
lying north of that stream. At (hat time the Iioqiiois
formed but one nation, and were few in number. From
their masters they learned the arts of war and husbandry,
and in the course of time increased to such numbers as led
them to think they might become independent. They
fintiUy made the attempt to establish themselves as an inde-
pendent nation, but were overpowered by the AdiromlncJcs,
and obliged to flee from the country to escape extermination.

The period of their migration from Canada cannot be
determined.f Tradition informs us that they ascended
the St. Lawrence to Lake Ontario, coasted along its eastern
and southeastern shore to the mouth of the Oswego River,
which stream they entered and followed to the central parts
of New York. Forming but a single nation, they settled,
it is supposed, upon the Seneca River, where, for a time,
they dwelt amicably together. Subsequently they divided
into bands and spread over the country, east, west, and
south. One band, crossing over to the head-waters of the
Mohawk River, established itself at G'd-ne'-gn-liii'-g'd, be-
low the city of Utioa. This division after the lapse of years
became the Mohawk nation.

For some time the Oiieidas and Onondngas were one
nation, but a part of them eventually settled at Ga-no-a-lu'-
lidle, east of Oneida Lake, and formed the Oiieula nation,
while the remainder, establishing themselves among the
Onondaga hills, eventually became the Onoudnga nation.
The C'ljgiigds and Senecas likewise continued as one people
for some time, but at length separated like the others and
formed the remaining nations. These nations have each
a legend among them of a miraculous origin, which is en-
titled to the same credence as similar legends among the
Jews and other nations.

According to the sttitements of the Moravian missionary
Heckewelder, who was familiar with many of the Indian
tribes and nations inhabiting the States of New Jersey,
Pennsylvania, New York, and Ohio, a tradition existed
among the Lenni Lenapi, or Delawares, and others, that their
ancestors and those of the Mengwe, or Six Nations, origi-
nally dwelt far to the westward, beyond the Rocky Moun-
tains, and that in process of time both nations emigrated
towards the east, but rather by a slow process of settlement
than a sudden and complete exodus. After the lapse of
many years they reached the banks of the Mississippi,
called the Nama-Sepee, or river of sturgeon. To the
eastward of the great river they found a vast region occu-
pied by a race which they termed Tal-laga-we, or Al-le-
ghe-ioi, from whence is supposed to have sprung the musical
word Allegheny.

These people are represented to have been well advanced
in the arts of civilization, and to have dwelt in great walled
cities and fortified towns. They are also represented to
have been a powerful race physically, and many of them
of gigantic stature.

The Leivtpe applied to them for liberty to cross the
Nnma-Sepee and settle near by. The AUcgliewi were
willing they should pass over, provided they passed beyond

f It is probable that it dates back to 1500, as they were not in
Canada at the time of Cartier's visit, in 1535,



the bounds of the great nation and settled to the eastward.
Upon these conditions the Lenapi began crossing over, but
the Allegliewi becoming alarmed at their numbers, attacked
them in transit, and drove them back with severe loss.

The Leniipi now applied to the Mengwc, who had
approached the river farther to the north, for counsel. A
treaty, offensive and defensive, was finally entered into, by
which they bound themselves to stand or fall together, —
to attack the strangers, and, if victory crowned their arms,
to drive them out and divide the country equitably between

A terrible war, lasting for many years, followed, but the
Alle.glie-ioi were finally conquered and driven away to the
southward, and the conquerors proceeded to divide the
newly-acquired teriitory, the Lenapi choosing the region
about the Ohio River and its branches, and the Mengwe
possessing themselves of the great lakes and adjacent terri-
tory. In the process of time these nations, traveling to-
wards the east, reached the great valleys of the Susque-
hanna, the Delaware, the Hudson, and the St. Lawrence.
Eventually they became estranged, and finally bitter ene-
mies, and as such the Europeans found them upon their
first arrival in this country.

From this tradition it would seem that the originals of
the Irogiwis passed over the countries afterwards occupied
by them in the State of New York, and subsequently re-
turned thither when driven out of Canada. The strong
probabilities are that the Hurons, Ei-ies, Algnnquins, An-
dfistes, and other nations were a part of the same great
fixraily, and that the subsequent wars of the Iroquois were
with people of their own lineage left along the route of
settlement and migration.

It has been conjectured that the Allegheioi of Lenape
tradition were none other than the Mamid- Builders, who,
driven out before these of Mexican tradition,
eventually formed colonies in Central America, where they
built the great cities of Mayapan, Quirigia, Copan, Palen-
que, Kaba, and Uxmal, whose gigantic ruins have been the
wonder of travelers for more than three centuries.

After the separation, as related by Morgan, the five dis-
tinct nations or tribes at length became jealous of each other,
and this jealousy resulted in open war, which lasted, with
desolating effect, for a long time, and seriously reduced their
numbers and strength, and promi.?ed at no distant day to
end in their total destruction, if not by their own dissen-
sions, by the hands of surrounding enemies.

At length a wise man of the Onondagas, whose name,
tradition tells us, was Da-ga-no-we'-dd, conceived a plan of
confederation, and a grand council of all the nations was
held on the northern shore of the GU-nun'-tn-ah, or Onon-
daga Lake, and after a long and careful debate the ground-
work of the Iroquois system, as found by Europeans, was
adopted, and from henceforth the hitherto hostile nations
became as one, forming the most powerful league that, so
far as known, ever existed among the Indian races.

" Their traditions inform us that the Confederacy, as framed
by this council, with its laws, rules, inter-relationships of
the people, and mode of administration, has come down
through many generations to the present age with scarcely
a change, except the addition of an inferior class of rulers.

called chiefs, in contradistinction to the sachems, and a
modification of the laws in relation to marriage.'*

From that date the united nations took the name of Ho-
de'-no-snn-nee, which is translated to mean literally in Eng-
lish, " People of the Long House," in allusion to the location
of the five separate nations in one long line, having five dis-
tinct council-fires, like one of their bark lodges, divided
into five compartments, each having its fan)ily and fire.

The five nations forming this remarkable confederation
occupied, as near as can be ascertained, each the following
territory :

At first the westernmost nation, the Senecns, extended
only to the valley of the Genesee River ; but after the ex-
pulsion of the Neuter nation, the Je-go'-sii-sa, from the
region of the Niagara River, and the Erics, or Gii-qiiil'-ga-
o-no, from the country between the Genesee River and
Lake Erie, the first in 1643 and the second in 1655, they
extended their jurisdiction to the lake and Niagara River.
The boundary between them and the Cnyugas commenced
at the southern extremity of Sodus Bay, and ran thence in
nearly a direct line south to the present boundary line
between New York and Pennsylvania, which it crossed a
little to the east of the city of Elmira. The Seuecas were
the hereditary "Door-keepers'' of the " Long House," and
were styled in their expressive language the " first fire,''
and so on to the MoJinwJcs, who were styled the fifth.

The Cayugas occupied a strip of country lying next east
of the Senecas, and about twenty miles in width, including
Cayuga and Owasco Lakes. Their eastern boundary line
commenced near the mouth of the Oswego River, on the
west side, and crossed the Pennsylvania line near the centre
of Tioga County, on the south side.

Between the Onondagas and Oiieidas the boundary ran
directly south from the Deep Spring, called by the Indians
I)e-o-song'-wn,f near Manlius, in Onondaga County, to the
Pennsylvania line. North from the Deep Spring it deflected
to the west, so as to leave Oneida Lake wholly in the terri-
tory of the Oneidas, and thence, curving around the lake to
the longitude of the spring, it ran nearly north to the St.
Lawrence River.

The Tuscaroras, upon their admission as the sixth
member of the Confederacy, were assigned a portion of the
Oiteiila territory lying between the Unadilla and Chenango
Rivers, and bounded on the south probably by the Susque-

Two other bands, the Muliehunnuhs and the New Eng-
land Indians, also occupied portions of the Oneida territory.

The boundary between the Oneidas and Mohawks was
substantially a north and south line, crossing the Mohawk
River about five miles below the present site of Utica, and
extending thence north to the St. Lawrence, and south
indefinitely.^ The great central council-house was at On-

In addition to the abundant means of communication by
water channels, important trails§ by land were laid out and

'^■" League of the Ho-de'-no-sau-nce.

t Written also Dc-o-u'd-dii-i/a'-nh, "the spring in the deep hasin."
X After the removal of the Mohawks to Canada, in 1775, the Onei-
das claimed all of Northern New York.

§ Called in the Seneca tongue, Wiih-a-ijwcn'-nc->/i:h.



occupied for centuries by the league, which were so judi-
ciously chosen from a picogViiphical and commercial point of
view as to deserve mention. The principal trail of course
was the one connecting the different nations, and it extended
from the Hudson River on the east to Lake Erie, at the
mouth of Buffalo Creek, on the west, and was so well
chosen that the great turnpikes and railways of the white
man have been constructed upon almost the idcntrcal line
adopted by the red man, whom we are prone to call n sav-
age. Other important trails were those upon the Susque-
hanna and Chemung Rivers, which converged upon Tioga,
and thence, descending the main Susquehanna, led south-
ward through Pennsylvania and Virginia. Still others
led northward by way of the Hudson River and Lake
Champlain, and by the Mohawk, West Canada Creek, and
Black River, to the valley of the St. Lawrence, and thence
into the heart of Canada.

Sachems. — At the institution of the league there were
created fifty permanent sachemships, with each its appro-
priate name, and in these were vested the supreme powers
of the Confederacy. These sachemships were made hered-
itary under limited and peculiar laws of descent. The
sachems were equal in rank and authority, and, instead of
being invested with independent powers in a limited terri-
tory, they acted together as a joint body.

" As a safeguard against contention and fraud, each
sachem was 'raised up,' and invested with his title by a
council of all the sachems, with suitiible forms and ceremo-
nies. Until this ceremony of confirmation or investiture, no
one could become a ruler. He received, when raised up,
the name of the sachemship itself, as in the case of titles of
nobility, and so also did his succes.sors, from generation to
generation. The sachemships were distributed unequally
among the Five Nations, but without thereby giving to
either a preponderance of political power. Nine of them
were assigned to the IL/hawJc nation, nine to the Oiieidn.,
fourteen to the Onondiiffa, ten to the Gii/iiga, and eight to
the Seneca. The sachems, united, formed the council of
the league, the ruling body, in which resided the executive,
legislative, and judicial authority. It thus appears that
the government of the Iroquois was an oligarchy, taking
the term at least in the literal sense, ' the rule of the few ;'
and while more system is observable in this than in the
oligarchies of antiquity, it seems, also, better calculated in
its frame-work to resist political changes."*

The original Indian names of the Five Nations, in the
Seneca language, according to Morgan, were: Ga-ne-a'-
GA-O-NO, or .¥o7taic/i:s; O-na-yote'-qa-O-no, or Oneidas;
O-nun-Dah'-ga-O-no, or Onondagas ; Gue'-u-GWEII-O-
NO, or Cayugas ; Nun-da-wah'-o-NO, or Seneca.i.

" The Onondaga nation being situated in a central posi-
tion, were made keepers both of the Council Brand and
the Wampum, in which the structure and principles of
their government, and their laws and treaties, were pre-
served. At stated periods, usually in the autumn of each
year, the sachems of the league assembled in council at
Onondaga, which was in effect the seat of government, to
legislate for the common welfare. Exigencies of a public

* Morgfin.

or domestic character oflen led to the summoning of this
council at extraordinary seasons, but the place was not
confined to Onondaga. It could be appointed in the ter-
ritory of either of the nations, under established usages.
Originally the object of the general council was to raise up
sachems to fill vacancies.

" III the course of time, iis their intercourse with foreign
nations became more important, it assumed the charge of all
matters which concerned the league. It declared war and
made peace, sent and received embassies, entered into treaties
of alliance, regulated the affairs of subject nations, received
new members into the league, extended its protection over
feeble tribes, — in a word, took all needful measures to pro-
mote their prosperity and enlarge their dominion.

" Notwithstanding the equality of rights, privileges, and
powers between the members of this body of sachems, there
were certain discriminations between them, which rendered
some more dignified than others. The strongest illustra-
tion is found in the Onondaga sachem. To-do-da -lin, who
has always been regarded as the most noble sachem of the
league. As an acknowledgment of his eminence, two of
the Onondaga sachems were a.ssigned him as hereditary
counselors. The great respect and deference paid by the
Iroqnou to this title has led to the vulgar error that Tu-
do-d'd'-ho was the king or civil head of the Confederacy.
He possessed, in fact, no unusual or executive powers, no
authority which was not equally enjoyed by his peers ; and
where the light of tradition is introduced, to clear up the
apparent anomaly, it will be seen that the reverence of the
people was rather for the title itself than for the person
who held it, as it was one of their illustrious names. At
the establishment of the league, an Onondaga by the name
To-do-dd' -lio had rendered himself a potent ruler by the
force of his military achievements. Tradition says that he
had conquered the Gii/ngas and Senecas. It represents
his head as covered with tangled serpents, and his look,
when angry, as so terrible that whoever looked upon him
fell dead. It relates that, when the league was formed, the
snakes were combed out of his hair by a Mohawk sachem,
who was hence named Ilii-j/o-roent'-hd, ' the man who
combs.' To-do-dd'-ho was reluctant to consent to the new
order of things, as he would thereby be shorn of his abso-
lute power, and placed among a number of equals. To
remove these objections in some measure, and to commem-
orate his magnanimity, the first sachemship was named
after him, and was dignified above the others by special
marks of honor ; but such, however, as were in perfect con-
sistency with an equal distribution of powers among all the
sachems as a body. Down to the present day, among the
Iroquois, this name is the personification of heroism, of
forecast, and of dignity of character ; and this title has
ever been regarded as more illustrious than any other in
the catalogue of Iroquois nobility."^

The fifty sachemships or titles, save two, established at
the origin of the league, according to Morgan, have been
held by as many sachems in succession as generations have
passed away since the formation of the league. The class-
name of these sachems was Ilo-yar-na-go' -war, which sig-
nifies " counselor of the people."

•[■ Morgan.



The Seiiecns were made the door-keopers of the Long
House, and the eighth sachem, Do-ue-lio-gil' -iceh, was as-
signed to the duty of watching the door ; and to assist liim
in his duties a sub-sachem was appointed, who was raised
up at the same time as his superior. His duty was to stand
behind the sachem on all public occasions and act as his
runner or attendant, as well as counselor.

The Onondaga sachem, Ila-no-tce-nd'-lo, who was made
keeper of the wampum, also had an assistant. Several other
sachems, to whom were confided special duties and respon-
sibilities, were likewise allowed sub-sachems to assist them.

Next in importance to the fifty sachems was an inferior
class, denominated chiefs, who were called into existence by
the force of circumstances many years after the formation
of the league. The office of chief, Ila-seh-no-wa-neh,
signifying " an elevated name," was made elective, and the
reward of merit, but without hereditary descent, the title,
in all cases, terminating with the death of the individual
upon whom it was bestowed. The number was not limited.
The powers of this class, at first limited to local matters,
gradually extended with tlieir increase in numbers, until
they became nearly equal in many respects with the origi-
nally ordained sachems themselves. Their election, to be
binding, must be ratified by the general council of sachems.
The powers and duties of the sachems and chiefs were en-
tirely confined to the affairs of peace.

The war-chiefs of the difi"erent nations do not seem to
have been either hereditary or appointed. Their positions
as Iciiders depended solely on their prowess and success in
leading small parties against the enemy, and if any chief
became famous and the acknowledged military leader, like
T/iay-cti-dan-e-gi-a, of the Muhaivkn, or Tc-gtni-i-so'-rens,
of the Onomhigas, it was simply because the warriors rec-
ognized their superior abilities and fitness as military com-
manders. None of the chiefs, either civil or military, ever
attained to the dignity uf sachems among the Iroqiiola :
not even the famous ScM'ca orator, Sii-go-ye-wat' -lul (Red
Jacket),* perhaps the most gifted of any Indian of modern
times, could ever attain to a position higher than that of
chief, and this title ended at his death.

Any individual who possessed the requisite courage and
ability to enlist a war-party could go out to war on his own
account, and it would appear that a majority of their mili-
tary operations were of this character. One nation of the
league might be carrying on n war while all the remainder
were at peace, though it is probable that from the time t!ie
Confederacy was formed to the end of the French war of
1754-60, the intervals of peace " were few and far between."

To guard against the possibility of dissensions in case of
a gencrai war wherein all the members of the league were
engaged, two supreme military chieftaincies were established.
The individuals occupying these responsible po.'iitions wore
expected rather to take the chief direction and supervision
of military affairs than a command in the field, though they
were not debarred from assuming it if they saw fit. These
offices were made hereditary, like the sachemships, and va-
cancies were filled in- the same manner.

When the Senecas were made the door-keepers, the pre-

» So nnmed from the color of a waistcoat given liim by the British.

sumption was that being situated to the westward of all the
others they would be liable to be first attacked by their
enemies, as there seemed to be no danger anticipated from
the New England Indians, or at least nothing comparable
to that from the Western and Northwestern nations. These
superior chieftainships were therefore conferred upon that
nation ; and it was expected and required of them to be
always f-eady to take the war-path. " The first of these
was named Ta-\0(in'-ne'-avs, ' Needle-Breaker,' and the title
made hereditary in the Wolf tribe; the second was named
So-no'-sowa, ' Great Oyster-Shell," and the office assigned
to the Tui'fle tribe."

To these great chieflains was intrusted the supreme com-
mand of the military forces of the league, and the general
management of military affairs.

Daring the war of the American Revolution, Thay-en-
dan'-c-gca' (Joseph Brant) commanded the principal war-
parties of the Mohawks, and from his conspicuous position
was generally supposed by the whites to have been the mil-
itary leader of the league, but it appears from the testi-
mony of the Indians themselves — even the Mohaiohs — that
this was not the case. He was a great military leader, and
may very possibly, by a sort of tacit consent, have been, for
the time being, considered as their principal commander, but
it was only in consideration of his distinguished abilities
and successes, and not because of any authority given him
by the league, or any hereditary right possessed by him.'l'

Religious functionaries were not recognized by the league,
or, at least, none were raised up or invested with special
powers as officers or representatives of the Confederacy. " In
each nation, however, there was a class, styled Un-nvn-de'-
uiit, or ' Keepers of the Faith,' who were regularly ap-
pointed to officiate at their festivals, and take the general
supervision of their religious affairs."

To the foregoing list of officers was intrusted the man-
agement of the affairs of the league, and of the different
nations comprising it. But the league partook greatly of
the republican or democratic form of government, and the

Online LibrarySamuel W DurantHistory of Oneida County, New York : with illustrations and biographical sketches of some of its prominent men and pioneers → online text (page 4 of 192)