Iroquois Ancient History

Indians claim to be the offspring of an independent act of creation. The Iroquois name themselves in proud allusion to their supposed supremacy. Tribes on the St. Lawrence and the lakes live in disputes. War with a race of giants called Ronongweca: the fiend Shotrowea, contests with the great Kwiss Kwiss, or Mastodon, the Big Elk, and the Horned Serpent. A meteor falls in the camp. Northern tribes confederate; send an unfortunate embassage to a great chief south, war with him, war with each other, and the country thereby depopulated and left to its original desolation.

When we come to draw the minds of the sages and chroniclers of the Iroquois cantons, to the facts of their early history and origin, they treat us with legendary fables, and myths of gods and men, and changes and freaks in elementary matter, which indicate that such ideas, were common to their progenitors, whatever part of the world they occupied. We have adverted to their notions on this head, in the preceding remarks on their cosmogony, tinctured, as it strongly is, with the old Persian philosophy.

They deny, as do all the tribes, a foreign origin. They assert, that America, or AONAO, was the place of their origin. They begin by laying down the theory, that they were the peculiar care of the Supernal Power who created all things, and who, as a proof of his care and benevolence of a race whom he had marked by a distinct color, created the continent for their especial use, and placed them upon it. None of the tribes pretend to establish dates, nor have they any astronomical data, to fix them. But they all give to the story of their origin, or creation, a locality, which is generally fixed to some prominent geographical feature near to their present respective place of abode, or at least, a spot well known. This spot, among the Iroquois cantons, is located in the northern hemisphere.

The term, Ongwe Honwe, is used by these tribes, very much in the manner in which the ancient Teutons called themselves, Allamanna, or Ghermanna, from which we have the modern terms, Allemand and German. If they did not literally call themselves ” all men,” as did these proud tribes, they implied as much, in a term which is interpreted to mean, real men, or a people surpassing all others. It is the common terra for the red race, as contra-distinguished from all other races, and the true equivalent of the phrase, “Indian.

By their earliest traditions, we are told that a body of the Ongwe Honwe, encamped on the banks of the St. Lawrence, where they were invaded by a nation few in number, but of giant stature, called Ronongweca. 1 After a war, brought on by personal encounters and incidents, and carried on with perfidy and cruelty, they were delivered at length, by the skill and courage of Yatontea, 1 who, after retreating before them, raised a large body of men and defeated them, after which they were supposed to be extinct. They next suffered from the malice, perfidy, and lust of an extraordinary person called Shotrowea, 1 who was finally driven across the St. Lawrence, and came to a town south of the shores of lake Ontario, where, however, he only disguised his intentions, to repeat his cruel and perfidious deeds. This person, who assassinated many persons, and violated six virgins, they point to as a fiend in human shape.

At this time the Big Quisquis 2 invaded the country, who pushed down the houses of the people, and created great consternation and disturbance. After making ineffectual resistance, they fled, but were at length relieved by a brave chief, who raised a body of men to battle him, but the animal himself retired. In this age of monsters, their country was invaded by another monster called the “Big Elk,” who was furious against men, 3 and destroyed the lives of many persons, but he was at length killed after a severe contest. A great horned serpent next appeared on Lake Ontario, who, by means of his poisonous breath, produced diseases, and caused the death of many, but he was at last compelled to retire by thunderbolts. This fourth calamity was not forgotten, when a fifth happened. A blazing star fell into a fort situated on the banks of the St. Lawrence, and destroyed the people. Such a phenomenon caused great panic and dread, and they regarded it as ominous of their entire destruction. Prior to this, a confederation had taken place among these northern tribes, situated north of and along the banks of the great lakes, and they had a ruling chief over all. This ruler repaired to the south to visit a ruler of great fame and authority, who resided at a great town in a lodge of gold. But it only proved to be an embassy of folly, for this great ruler, exercising an imperial sway, availing himself of the information thus derived, of a great country full of resources, built many forts throughout the country, and almost penetrated to the banks of Lake Erie. The people who had confederated on the North resisted. A long war of a hundred years standing ensued, but the northern people were better skilled in the use of the bow and arrow, and were more expert woodsmen arid warriors. They at length prevailed, and taking all these towns and forts, left them a heap of ruins.

But the prediction of the blazing star was now verified. The tribes who were held together by feeble bands, fell into disputes, and wars among themselves, which were pursued through a long period, until they utterly destroyed each other, and so reduced their numbers, that the land was again overrun by wild beasts.Citations:

  1. I abbreviate these words from the originals, for the sole purpose of making them readable to the ordinary reader.[][][]
  2. Kwis Kwis is the name of a hog in modern Iroquois.[]
  3. Carnivorous but this is not a characteristic of the Elk.[]


Schoolcraft, Henry Rowe. Notes on the Iroquois: Or, Contributions to American History, Antiquities, and General Ethnology. E. H. Pease & Company. 1847.

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