Iroquoian Family

As to the name, original location, geographical distribution, and tribal relations of the Cherokees, the Seventh Annual Report of the Bureau of Ethnology gives the following information (pages 76-79):

  • Iroquois, Gallatin in Trans, Am. Antiq. Soc., u, 2423, 305, 1836 (excludes Cherokees). Prichard, Phys. Hist. Mankind, v. 881, 1817 (follows Gallatin). Gallatin in Trans. Am. Eth. Soc., II, pt.1, xcix, 77, 1848 (as in 1836). Gallatin, in Schoolcraft, Ind. Tribes, in, 401, 1853.
    Latham in Trans. Philolog. Soc. Lond., 58, 1856. Latham, Opuscula, 327, 1860. Latham, Elements Comp. Phil., 463, 1862.
  • Irokesen, Berghans (1845), Physik. Atlas, map 17, 1848. Ibid, 1852.
    Irokesen, Berghans, Physik. Atlas, map 72, 1887 (includes Natalia and said to be derived from Dakota).
  • Huron-Iroquois, Bancroft, Mist. IT. S., III, 243, 1840.
  • Wyandot-Iroquois, Keane, App. Stanford’s Comp. (Cent. and So. Am.), 460, 468, 1878.
  • Cherokees, Gallatin in Am. Antiq. Soc. II, 89,306, 1836 (kept apart from Iroquois though probable affinity asserted). Bancroft, History U. S., in, 246, 1840. Prichard, Phys. Hist. Mankind, v. 401, 1847. Gallatin in Trans. Am. Eth. Soc., II, pt. 1, xcix, 77, 1848. Latham in Trans. Philolog. Soc. Lond., 58, 1856 (a separate group perhaps to be classed with Iroquis and Sioux). Gallatin in Schoolcraft, Ind, Tribes, III, 401, 1853. Latham, Opuscula, 327, 1860. Keane, App. Stanford’s Comp. (Cent. and So. Am.), 460, 472, 1878 (same as Chelekees or Tsalagi “apparently entirely distinct from all other American tongues”).
  • Tschirokies, Berghaus (1845), Physik. Atlas, map 17, 1818.
  • Chelekees, Keane, App. Stanford’s Comp. (Cent. and So. Am.), 472, 1878, (or Cherokees).
  • Cheroki, Gatschet, Creek Mig. Legend, I, 24, 1884. Gatschet in Science, 413, April 29, 1887.
  • Huron-Cherokee, Hale in Am, Antiq., 20, Jan., 1883 (proposed as a family name instead of Huron-Iroquois; relationship to Iroquois affirmed).

Derivation, French adaptation of the Iroquois word Hiro, used to conclude a speech, and koué, an exclamation (Charlevoix). Halo gives as possible derivation ierokwa, the indeterminate form of the verb to smoke, signifying “they who smoke”, also the Cayuga form of bear, iakwai. Mr. Hewitt suggests the Algonquin words irin, true or real; ako, snake; with the French termination ois, the word becomes Irinakois.

With reference to this family it is of interest to note that as early as 1798 Barton compared the Cheroki language with that of the Iroquois, and stated his belief that there was a connection between them. Gallatin, in the Archaeologia Americana, refers to the opinion expressed by Barton, and although he states that he is inclined to agree with that author, yet he does not formally refer Cheroki to that family, concluding that “we have not a sufficient knowledge of the grammar, and generally of the language of The Five Nations, or of the Wyandots, to decide that question”.

Mr. Hale was the first to give formal expression to his belief in the affinity of the Cheroki to Iroquois. Recently extensive Cheroki vocabularies have come into possession of the. Bureau of Ethnology, and a careful comparison of them with ample Iroquois material has been made by Mr. Hewitt. The result is convincing proof of the relationship of the two languages as affirmed by Barton so long ago.

Geographic Distribution, Unlike most linguistic stocks, the Iroquoian tribes did not occupy a continuous area, but when first known to Europeans, were settled in 3 distinct regions, separated from each other by tribes of other lineage. The northern group was surrounded by tribes of Algonquian stock, while the more southern groups bordered upon the Catawba, and Maskoki.

A tradition of the Iroquois points to the St. Lawrence region as the early home of the Iroquoian tribes, whence they gradually moved down to the southwest along the shores of the Great Lakes.

When Cartier, in 1531, first explored the bays and inlets of the Gulf of St. Lawrence he met a Huron-Iroquoian people on the shores of the bay of Gaspe, who also visited the northern coast of the gulf. In the following year when he sailed up the St. Lawrence River he found the banks of the river from Quebec to Montreal occupied by an Iroquoian people. From statements of Champlain and other early explorers it seems probable that the Wyandot once occupied the country along the northern shore of Lake Ontario.

The Conestoga, and perhaps some allied tribes, occupied the country about the lower Susquehanna, in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and have commonly been regarded as an isolated body, but it seems probable that their territory was contiguous to that of The Five Nations on the north before the Delaware began their westward movement.

As the Cherokee were the principal tribe on the borders of the southern colonies and occupied the leading place in all the treaty negotiations, they cause to be considered as the owners of as large territory to which they Iliad no real claim. Their first sale, in 1721, embraced a tract in South Carolina between the Congaree and the south fork of the Edisto, bat about one-half of this tract, forming the present Lexington County, belonged to the Congaree. In 1700 they sold a second tract above the first and extending across South Carolina from the Savannah to the Catawba (or Wuteree), but all of this tract east of Broad River belonged to other tribes. The lower part, between the Congaree and the Wateree, had been sold 20 years before, and in the upper part the Broad River was acknowledged as the western Catawba boundary. In 1770 they sold a tract, principally in Virginia and West Virginia, bounded east by the Greet Kanawha, but the Iroquois claimed by conquest all of this tract northwest of the main ridge of the Alleghany and Cumberland mountains, and extending at least to the Kentucky River, and 2 years previously they had made a treaty with Sir William Johnson by which they were recognised as the owners of all between Cumberland Mountains and the Ohio down to the Tennessee. The Cumberland River basin was the only part of this tract to which the Cherokee had any real title, having driven out the former occupants, the Shawnee, about 1721. The Cherokee had no villages north of the Tennessee (this probably includes the Holston as its upper part), and at a conference at Albany the Cherokee delegates presented to the Iroquois the skin of a deer, which they said belonged to the Iroquois, as the animal had been killed north of the Tennessee, In 1805, 1806, and 1817 they sold. several tracts, mainly in middle Tennessee, north of the Tennessee River, and extending to the Cumberland River watershed, but this territory was claimed and had been occupied by the Chickasaw, and at one conference the Cherokee admitted their claim. The adjacent tract in northern Alabama and Georgia, on the headwaters of the Coosa, was not permanently occupied by the Cherokee until they began to move westward, about 1770.

The whole region of West Virginia, Kentucky, and the Cumberland River region of Tennessee was claimed by the Iroquois and Cherokee, but the Iroquois never occupied any of it and the Cherokee could not be said to occupy tiny beyond the Cumberland mountains. The Cumberland river was originally Mild by the Shawnee, and the rest was occupied, so far as it was occupied at all, by the Shawnee, Delaware, and occasionally by the Wyandot and Mingo (Iroquoian), who made regular excursions southward across the Ohio every year to hunt and to make salt at the licks. Most of the temporary camps or villages in Kentucky and West Virginia were built by the Shawnee and Delaware. The Shawnee and Delaware were the principal barrier to the settlement of Kentucky and West, Virginia for a period of 20 years, while in all that time neither the Cherokee het the Iroquois offered any resistance or checked the opposition of the Ohio tribes.

The Cherokee bounds in Virginia should do extended along the mountain region as far at least as the James River, as they claim to have lived at the Peaks of Otter, and seem to be identical with the Rickohockan or Rechahecrian of the early Virginia writers, who lived in the mountains beyond the Monacan, and in 1650 ravaged the lowland country as far as the site of Richmond, and defeated the English and the Powhatan Indians in a pitched battle at that place.

The language of the Tuscarora, formerly of northeastern North Carolina, connects them directly with the northern Iroquois. The Chowanoc and Nottoway and other cognate tribes adjoining the Tuscarora may have been offshoots from that tribe.

Principal Tribes, Cayuga, Cherokee, Conestoga, Erie, Mohawk, Neuter, Nottoway, Oneida, Onondaga, Seneca, Tiouontate, Tuscarora, Wyandot.


Indian Territory,

Department of the Interior. Report on Indians Taxed and Indians not Taxed in the United States, Except Alaska at the Eleventh Census: 1890. Washington DC: Government Printing Office. 1894.

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