Letter from Mr. Cusick to Henry R. Schoolcraft

Letter from Mr. Cusick to Henry R. Schoolcraft

August 4th, 1845.

It appears to me, very great difficulties are in the way of finding out and becoming acquainted with the discovery of all ancient traditions, and what original stock we came from. So far as our recollections extend according to our traditions of many centuries, the aborigines who inhabited the vast wilderness in this great continent, now North America, were guided and led by a certain man, who stood highest in dignity, and next to the Supreme Being, who is called Tharonyawago, that is to say, being interpreted, the Holder of Heavens. He was the great leader of the Red Men, and he regulated and taught how to divide the country and rivers, and mode of their living, and manners of costume and ceremonies, in many centuries. The Tuscaroras were descended from the Iroquois; they emigrated from the Five Nations to the Southern Country in North Carolina, and when the Iroquois used to send expeditions and war parties to go to war with other Indian tribes in that quarter, these parties went to the Tuscarora towns in North Carolina, and found a resting place and refreshment, and they used to be in the habit of intermarriage with each other, they have never been to war against each other, and they were always on terms of good friendship and connexion. And therefore we considered that the Tuscarora nation belonged to the Six Nations from ancient times. Before the discovery by Columbus the Tuscaroras consisted of six towns, and they were a most powerful nation, numbering more than twelve thousand warriors. But many combinations and causes fell upon the Tuscarora nation, and they became diminished in their numbers, by wars and pestilence, and were poisoned by ardent spirits. The Tuscaroras had many years of enjoyment and peaceful possession on the Roanoke River, until the Colony was planted near the settlement; something brought up disturbances, and their right was disputed to their territory. In 1712 the Indians of the Tuscaroras in North Carolina, with their accustomed secrecy, formed the design of exterminating in one night, the entire white population; the slaughter on the Roanoke was great, Capt. Barnwell appointed, and sent troops, who suddenly at tacked the Tuscaroras, he killed 300, and took 100 prisoners, the survivors retreated to Tuscarora town, within a wooden breast-work, where at last they sued for peace.

The Tuscaroras, soon after abandoned their country, and united themselves with the Iroquois, and became the Sixth Nation. When we first came into this country, we lived with the Oneida nation, (now Oneida county,) and we called the Oneidas the Elder Brother, the second is the Cayugas, the youngest Brother Tuscaroras.

When the first missionary was sent to the Tuscarora nation, 1807, Eld. Elkanah Holmes, from the New York Missionary Society, labored bored several years with success, among them. This Mr. Holmes belonged to the Baptist Missionary Society. Afterwards, when Mr. Holmes was removed, another missionary was sent to the Tuscaroras by the American Foreign Mission, namely, the Rev. Mr. Grey, who remained until last war. After his dismissal in 1816, another missionary was sent by the Board of the New York Missionary Society, the Rev. James C. Crane. I will state briefly, those missionaries who afterwards came to the Tuscaroras, Rev. B. Lane, Rev. John Elliot, Rev. Joel Wood, Rev. Mr. Williams, the last who is now missionary, was the Rev. Gilbert Rockwood. In 1836, a portion of the Tuscarora nation thought expedient to become Baptists, according to the dictates of their own conscience, and free enjoyment of their religion in this republican government. And consequently a Baptist church was built and organized among the Tuscaroras; and they were called in council with several Baptist churches in this county. In 1838, they were admitted into the Niagara Baptist Association at Shelby. And have now in good standing fifty members of the church. In a ministerial council, June 14th, 1838, Mr. James Cusick was examined touching his Christian experience, and called to preach the gospel by Providence and the council; they decided on that question, and give him ordination as a native preacher, deciding that he was well qualified by a knowledge of theology. And now he has labored with several tribes among the Six Nations. Under his instrumentality, three Baptist churches have been formed, numbering 200 members, and he established a temperance society in 1830 of more than 100 members. In 1845 he established another temperance society among the Indians, numbering 50 members. Intemperance is one of the greatest and most destructive evils, and many more begin to be intemperate, especially among the young men. Among the females of the Tuscarora nation there is more virtue and sobriety and good morals than among the males. I hope the white citizens will try to assist them and promote the melioration of the Indian condition in order to qualify him for life and lead him to appreciate its true end, and to encourage intermarriages in their future generations and to advance in civilization, Christianity, and industry.

From your respected friend,

N. B. At the Rev. Mr. Vrooman’s, in Queenston, you will find a copy of my late brother David’s book on the Indians.

The following extracts are made from the curious publication referred to, in the preceding note. It appears to have been first printed at Lewiston, in 1825. As the work of a full blooded Indian, of the Tuscarora tribe, it is remarkable. In making these extracts, no correction of the style, or grammar is made, these being deemed a part of the evidence of the authenticity of the traditions recorded.

Account of the Settlement of North America

In the ancient days the Great Island appeared upon the big waters, the earth brought forth trees, herbs, vegetables, &c. The creation of the land animals: the Eagwehoewe people were too created and resided in the north regions; and after a time some of the people be came giants, and committed outrages upon the inhabitants, &c.

Ancient Shipwreck

After many years a body of Eagwehoewe people encamped on the bank of a majestic stream, and was named Kanawage, now St. Lawrence. After a long time a number of foreign people sailed from a port unknown; but unfortunately, before reached their destination the winds drove them contrary; at length their ship wrecked somewhere on the southern part of the Great Island, and many of the crews perished; a few active persons were saved; they obtained some implements, and each of them was covered with a leather bag, the big hawks carried them on the summit of a mountain and remained there but a short time. The hawks seemed to threaten them, and were compelled to leave the mountain. They immediately selected a place for residence and built a small fortification in order to provide against the attacks of furious beasts; if there should be any made. After many years the foreign people became numerous, and extended their settlements; but afterwards they were destroyed by the monsters that overrun the country.

Origin Of The Five Nations

By some inducement a body of people was concealed in the mountain at the falls named Kuskehsawkich, (now Oswego.) When the people were released from the mountain they were visited by Tarenyawagon, i. e. the Holder of the Heavens, who had power to change himself into various shapes: he ordered the people to proceed towards the sunrise as he guided them and came to a river and named Yenonanatche, i. e. going round a mountain, (now Mohawk) and went down the bank of the river and came to where it discharges into a great river running towards the midday sun; and named Shaw-nay-taw-ty, i. e. beyond the Pineries, (now Hudson,) and went down the bank of the river and touched the bank of a great water. The company made encampment at the place and remained there a few days. The people were yet in one language; some of the people went on the banks of the great water towards the midday sun; but the main company returned as they came, on the bank of the river, under the direction of the Holder of the Heavens. Of this company there was a particular body which called themselves one household; of these were six families and they entered into a resolution to preserve the chain of alliance which should not be extinguished in any manner.

The company advanced some distance up the river of Shaw-na-taw-ty, (Hudson) the Holder of the Heavens directs the first family to make their residence near the bank of the river, and the family was named Te-haw-re-ho-geh, i. e. a Speech divided, (now Mohawk) and their language was soon altered; the company then turned and went towards the sun setting and travelled about two days and a half, and come to a creek 1 which was named Kaw-na-taw-te-ruh, i. e.


The second family was directed to make their residence near the creek, and the family was named Ne-haw-re-tah-go, i. e. Big Tree, now Oneidas, and likewise their language was altered. The company continued to proceed towards the sun setting under the direction of the Holder of the Heavens. The third family was directed to make their residence on a mountain named Onondaga, (now Onondaga) and the family was named Seuh-now-kah-tah, i. e. carrying the name, and their language was altered. The company continued their journey towards the insetting. The fourth family was directed to make their residence near a long lake named Go-yo-goh, i. e. a mountain rising from water, (now Cayuga) and the family was named Sho-nea-na-we-to-wah, i. e. a great pipe, their language was altered. The company continued to proceed towards the sun setting. The fifth family was directed to make their residence near a high mountain, or rather nole, situated south of the Canandaigua lake, which was named Jenneatowake and the family was named Te-how-nea-nyo-hent, i. e. Possessing a Door, now Seneca, and their language was altered. The sixth family went with the company that journeyed towards the sun setting, and touched the bank of a great lake, and named Kau-ha-gwa-rah-ka, i. e. A Cap, now Erie, and then went towards between the midday and sun setting, and traveled considerable distance and came to a large river which was named Ouau-we-yo-ka, i. e. a principal stream, now Mississippi; the people discovered a grape vine lying across the river by which a part of the people went over, but while they were engaged, the vine broke and were divided, they became enemies to those that went over the river; in consequence they were obliged to disperse the journey. The Holder of the Heavens instructs them in the art of bows and arrows in the time of game and danger. Associates were dispersed and each family went to search for residences according to their conveniences of game. The sixth family went towards the sunrise and touched the bank of the great water. The family was directed to make their residence near Cau-ta-noh, i. e. Pine in water, situated near the mouth of Nuse River, now in North Carolina, and the family was named Kau-ta-noh, now Tuscarora and their language was also altered; but the six families did not go so far as to loose the understanding of each other s language. The Holder of the Heavens returns to the five families and forms the mode of confederacy, which was named Ggo-nea-seab-neh, i. e. A Long House, to which are, 1st. Tea-kaw-reh-ho-geh, 2d New-haw-teh-tah-go; 3d. Seuh-nau-ka-ta 4th Sho-nea-na-we-to-wah; 5th. Te-hoo-nea-nyo-hent.Citations:

  1. The creek now branches of the Susquehanna River at the head generally called Col. Allen’s lake, ten miles south of the Oneida Castle.[]


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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