Iroquoian Indians

Iroquoian Family, Iroquoian Stock, Iroquoian People. A linguistic stock consisting of the following tribes and tribal groups: the Hurons composed of the Attiguaouantan (Bear people), the Attigneenongnahac (Cord people), the Arendahronon (Rock people), the Tohontaenrat (Atahontaenrat or Tohontaenrat, White-eared or Deer people), the Wenrohronon, the Ataronchronon, and the Atonthrataronon (Otter people, an Algonquian tribe); Tionontati or Tobacco people or nation; the Confederation of the Attiwendaronk or Neutrals, composed of the Neutrals proper, the Aondironon, the Ongniarahronon, and the Atiragenratka(Atiraguenrek); the Conkhandeenrhonon; the Iroquois confederation composed of the Mohawk, the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and the Seneca, with the Tuscarora after 1726; and in later times the incorporated remnants of a number of alien tribes, such as the Tutelo, the Saponi, the Nanticoke, the Conoy, and the Muskwaki or Foxes; the Conestoga or Susquehanna of at least three tribes, of which one was the Akhrakouaehronon or Atrakouaehronon; the Erie or Cat nation of at least two allied peoples; the Tuscarora confederation, composed of several leagued tribes, the names of which are now unknown; Nottoway; the Meherrin; and the Cherokee composed of at least three divisions, the Elati, the Middle Cherokee, and the Atali; and the Onnontioga consisting of the Iroquois-Catholic seceders on the St Lawrence.

Each tribe was an independent political unit, except those which formed leagues in which the constituent tribes, while enjoying local self-government, acted jointly in common affairs. For this reason there was no general name for themselves common to all the tribes. Jacques Cartier, in 1534, met on the shore of Gaspé basin people of the Iroquoian stock, whom in the following year he again encountered in their house on the site of the city of Quebec, Canada. He found both banks of the St Lawrence above Quebec, as far as the site of Montreal, occupied by people of this family. He visited the villages Hagonchenda, Hochelaga, Hochelayi, Stadacona, and Tutonaguy. This was the first known habitat of an Iroquoian people. Champlain found these territories entirely deserted 70 years later, and Lescarbot found people roving over this area speaking an entirely different language from that recorded by Cartier. He believed that this change of languages was due to “a destruction of people,” because, he writes, “some years ago the Iroquois assembled themselves to the number of 8,000 men and destroyed all their enemies, whom they surprised in their enclosures.” The new language which he recorded was Algonquian, spoken by bands that passed over this region on warlike forays.

The early occupants of the St Lawrence were probably the Arendahronon and Tohontaenrat, tribes of the Hurons. Their lands bordered on those of the Iroquois, whose territory extended westward to that of the Neutrals, neighbors of the Tionontati and western Huron tribes to the north and the Erie to the south and west. The Conestoga occupied the middle and lower basin of the Susquehanna, south of the Iroquois. The north Iroquoian area, which Algonquian tribes surrounded on nearly every side, therefore embraced nearly the entire valley of the St Lawrence, the basins of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, the southeast shores of Lake Huron and Georgian bay, all of the present New York state except the lower Hudson valley, all of central Pennsylvania, and the shores of Chesapeake bay in Maryland as far as Choptank and Patuxent rivers. In the south the Cherokee area, surrounded by Algonquian tribes on the north, Siouan on the east, and Muskhogean and Uchean tribes on the south and west, embraced the valleys of the Tennessee and upper Savannah rivers. and the mountainous parts of Virginia, the Carolinas, and Alabama. Separated from the Cherokee by the territory of the eastern Siouan tribes was the area occupied by the Tuscarora in east North Carolina and by the Meherrin and Nottoway north of them in southeast Virginia.

The northern Iroquoian tribes, especially the Five Nations so called, were second to no other Indian people North of Mexico in political organization, statecraft, and military prowess. Their leaders were astute diplomats, as the wily French and English statesmen with whom they treated soon discovered. In war they practiced ferocious cruelty toward their prisoners, burning even their unadopted women and infant prisoners; but, far from being a race of rude and savage warriors, they were a kindly and affectionate people, full of keen sympathy for kin and friends in distress, kind and deferential to their women, exceedingly fond of their children, anxiously striving for peace and good will among men, and profoundly imbued with a just reverence for the constitution of their commonwealth and for its founders. Their wars were waged primarily to secure and perpetuate their political life and independence.

The fundamental principles of their confederation, persistently maintained for centuries by force of arms and by compacts with other peoples, were based primarily on blood relationship, arid they shaped and directed their foreign and internal polity in consonance with these principles. The underlying motive for the institution of the Iroquois league was to secure universal peace and welfare (ne-‘ skěñ’non’) among men by the recognition and enforcement of the forms of civil government (ne-‘gā’i`hwiio) through the direction and regulation of personal and public conduct and thought in accordance with beneficent customs and council degrees; by the stopping of bloodshed in the blood feud through the tender of the prescribed price for the killing of a cotribesman; by abstaining from eating human flesh; and, lastly, through the maintenance and necessary exercise of power (ne” ga’shasdon”sa,’), not only military but also magic power believed to be embodied in the forms of their ceremonial activities. The tender by the homicide and his family for the murder or killing by accident of a cotribesman was twenty strings of wampum, ten for the dead person, and ten for the forfeited life of the homicide.

The religious activities of these tribes expressed themselves in the worship of all environing elements and bodies and many creatures of a teeming fancy, which, directly or remotely affecting their welfare, were regarded as man-beings or anthropic personages endowed with life, volition, and peculiar individual orenda, or magic power. In the practice of this religion, ethics or morals, as such, far from having a primary had only a secondary, if any, consideration. The status and personal relations of the personages of their pantheon were fixed and regulated by rules and customs similar to those in vogue in the social and political organization of the people, and there was, therefore, among at least the principal gods, a kinship system patterned on that of the people themselves.

The mental superiority of the Hurons over their Algonquian neighbors is frequently mentioned by the early French missionaries. A remainder of the Tionontati, with a few refugee Hurons among them, having fled to the region of the upper lakes, along with certain Ottawa tribes, to escape the Iroquois invasion in 1649, maintained among their fellow refugees a predominating influence. This was largely because, like other Iroquoian tribes, they had been highly organized socially and politically, and were therefore trained in definite parliamentary customs and procedure. The fact that, although but a small tribe, the Hurons claimed and exercised the right of lighting the council fire at all general gatherings, shows the esteem in which they were held by their neighbors. The Cherokee were the first tribe to adopt a constitutional form of government, embodied in a code of laws written in their own language in an alphabet based on the Roman characters adapted by one of them (see Sequoya), though in weighing these facts their large infusion of white blood must he considered.
The social organization of the Iroquoian tribes was in some respects similar to that of some other Indians, but it was much more complex and cohesive, and there was a notable difference in regard to the important position accorded the women. Among the Cherokee, the Iroquois, the Hurons, and probably among the other tribes, the women performed important and essential functions in their government. Every chief was chosen and retained his position, and every important measure was enacted by the consent and cooperation of the child-bearing women, and the candidate for a chiefship was nominated by the suffrages of the matrons of this group. His selection by them from among their sons had to be confirmed by the tribal and the federal councils respectively, and finally he was installed into office by federal officers. Lands and houses belonged solely to the women.

All the Iroquoian tribes were sedentary and agricultural, depending on the chase for only a small part of their subsistence. The northern tribes were especially noted for their skill in fortification and house building. Their so-called castles were solid log structures, wish platforms running around the top on the inside, from which stones and other missiles could be hurled down upon besiegers.

For the population of the tribes composing the Iroquoian family see Iroquois, and the descriptions of the various Iroquoian tribes.


Hodge, Frederick Webb, Compiler. The Handbook of American Indians North of Mexico. Bureau of American Ethnology, Government Printing Office. 1906.

Search Military Records - Fold3

Leave a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Pin It on Pinterest

Scroll to Top