Origin and History of the Iroquois, as a Distinct People

The first period of Indian history having thus terminated in dis cords, wars, and the mutual destruction of each other, tradition does not denote how long the depopulation of the country continued. It begins a second period by recollections of the Konoshioni, or Iroquois. They do not indicate what relation they bear to the ancient, broken down confederacy glanced at, in the preceding paper; but leave us to suppose that they may have been fragmentary descendants of it. That such a conclusion should not be formed, however, and in order to prove themselves an original people in the land, they frame a new myth, to begin their national existence. They boldly assert, that they were, through some means, confined in a mountain, from whose sub-terraneous bowels they were extricated by Taryenyawagon, the Holder of the Heavens. They point to a place at or near the falls of the Oswego River, where this deliverance happened, and they look to this divine messenger, who could assume various shapes, as the friend and patron of their nation. 1

As soon as they were released, he gave them instructions respecting the mode of hunting, matrimony, worship, and other points. He warned them against the Evil Spirit, and gave them corn, beans, squashes, potatoes and tobacco, and dogs to hunt their game. He bid them go towards the east, and personally guided them, until they entered a valley called Tenonanatchi, or the Mohawk. They followed this stream to its entrance into the Sanatatea, or, as called by the Mohawks, Kohatatea, which they pursued to the sea.

From this point they retraced their steps towards the west, originating as they went, in their order and position, the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, and the Senecas. They did not omit the Tuscaroras, whom they acknowledged, after a long period of wandering and a considerable change of language, and admitted as the Sixth tribe of the confederacy.

The Tuscaroras affirm, that, after reaching the late waters, they turned southwest, to the Mississippi river, where a part of them crossed on a grape vine, but it broke, leaving the remainder east. Those who went west, have been lost and forgotten from their memory. The remainder, or eastern Tuscaroras, continued their wanderings, hunting, and wars, until they had crossed the Alleghanies and reached the sea again, at the mouth of the Cautoh or Neus River, in North Carolina,

Each tribe was independent of the others. They increased in numbers, valor and skill, and in all sorts of knowledge necessary in the forest. But they began to fight and quarrel among themselves, and thus was-ted and destroyed each other. They lived a life of perpetual fear and built forts to defend themselves, or to protect their women and children. Besides this, the country was wide and covered with large forests and lakes, and it gave shelter to many fierce wild animals and monsters, who beset their paths and kept them in dread, The evil spirit also plagued them with monstrous visitations. They were often induced to change their villages, sometimes from the fear of such enemies, and sometimes from sickness or bad luck. In this manner, and owing to their perpetual hostility, their population was often reduced. How long they wandered and warred, they do not know. At length it was proposed by some wise man that they should no longer fight against each other, but unite their strength against their enemies, the Alleghans, the Adiriondacks, the Eries, and other ancient and once powerful tribes, who figure in the foreground of their early history, and who, if accounts be true, once greatly ex celled them both in war and arts, the skill of making implements, canoes and utensils, &c.

To this league, which was formed on the banks of Onondaga lake, they in time, gave the name of the Long House, using the term symbolically to denote that they were tied and braced together by blood and lineage, as well as political bonds. This house, agreeably to the allusion so often made by their speakers, during our colonial history, reached from the banks of the Hudson to the Lakes. At its eastern door stood the Mohawks, at the west the Senecas who guarded it with vigilance.Citations:

  1. Where the Indians dwelt for a long time, it is customary for them to affirm in their metaphorical language, that they originated, or were created. When they date from such a spot, we find they frame a story, saying that they came out of a hill, &c. at that spot. In 1791, an extensive work, consisting of ditches, &c. was found about 40 miles south of Oswego, which is not remote from the probable place of origin their traditions refer to; and it may be worthy of examination with this particular view. Some account of this old fort appeared in the N. Y. Mag. 1792.[]


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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