Iroquois Forays into the Country of the Cherokees and Catawbas

Nothing is more distinct or better settled in the existing traditions of the Iroquois, than their wars with some of the southern tribes, particularly the Cherokees. I found this subject first alluded to among the Oneidas, who were hotly engaged in this southern war; after wards among the Onondagas, the Senecas of Tonawanda, the Tuscaroras, and with still increasing particularity, among the Senecas of Buffalo, Cattaraugus, and Teonigono. But I was never able to fix the era of its commencement, or to find an adequate cause for it. It seems almost incredible that a war of this kind should have been carried on, at such a great distance from their central council fire at Onondaga, yet nothing is better established in their reminiscences.

They first came into contact, as Tetoyoah told me was his opinion, in the western prairies. The Iroquois are known to have hunted and warred far and wide in that quarter. The two nations seem to have been deeply and mutually exasperated. Tetoyoah spoke of an act of horrid treachery, the breaking of a peace pledge, and the murder of a peace deputation.

The war, however, instead of calling out the banded energies of the confederacy, appears to have been almost entirely one of a partisan character. It is memorable rather for partial enterprises and personal exploits, than for exhibiting the grander features of the military policy of the Iroquois. Warriors tested their bravery and heroism by going against the Cherokees. There were, it seems, no great armies, no grand battles. All was left to individual energy and courage. The great object of every young Iroquois, as soon as he was old enough to take the warpath, was to go against the Cherokees. A march from the Oneida stone, the Kasonda creek, or the Genesee valley, to the southern Alleghanies, was regarded as a mere excursion or scouting trip. This long journey was performed with out provisions, or any other preparation than bows, arrows and clubs. The fewer there were in one of these partisan enterprises, the greater was their chance of concealment and success. They relied on the forest for food. Thousands of miles were not sufficient to dampen their ardor, and no time could blot out their hatred. They called the Cherokees, by way of derision, We yau dah, and O yau dah, meaning a people who live in caves. These are the terms I found to be in use for the Cherokee nation, in 1845.


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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1 thought on “Iroquois Forays into the Country of the Cherokees and Catawbas”

  1. The name given to the Cherokee tribe may or may not have been given in a literal sense. Meaning, the Cherokee tribe didn’t actually live in caves (though they would hide out in them), but that the way they constructed their houses, by building small walls, approximately 2-3 feet tall, and then digging into the ground so that a man could stand within the structure made their homes appear as “caves”.

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