The Cayuga Indians

The history of this canton does not stand out prominently among the Iroquois while it will be found that as one of the inclusive tribes who carried their name and fame so high among the aborigines, they have performed their due part, and produced warriors, sages and speakers of eminence. Were every thing else, indeed, blotted out of their history, the fact of their having produced a Logan 1 would be sufficient to rescue their memory from oblivion. In their early search after a place to hunt, fish and plant corn, as an independent tribe, they, on the assumption of their own traditions, passed up the Seneca River, into the sylvan and beautiful lake, which bears their name. In visiting this lake the present year, in search of their ancient sites, it was not without a melancholy interest, that I surveyed, within the boundaries of Aurora, the remains of one of those apple orchards, which were ruthlessly cut down by a detachment of the army of Gen. Sullivan, in his severe but necessary expedition in 1778. Many vestiges of their ancient residence still remain in Cayuga County, nor has local memory, in its intelligent and hospitable inhabitants, dropped from its scroll the names of several of its distinguished chiefs, and their places of abode. They point to a spot at Springport, now trenched on by the road, where lie the remains of Karistagea, better known by his English appellative of Steeltrap, one of their noted chiefs and wise men, who extended the hospitalities of his lodge to the first settlers on the “Military Tract.” The nation itself, although they had fought strenuously under the Red Cross of St. George in the Revolutionary war, appeared to be composed of mild and peace able men, of friendly dispositions towards the settlers. They brought venison, fish and wild fruits for sale to the doors of families, whose elder branches yet dwell upon the shores of the Cayuga.

Yet their history is a melancholy one, and their decline, on the settlement of Western New York, was probably one of the most striking instances of the rapid depopulation of a tribe in modern days. Their first cession of land to the State was in 1789. This was con firmed at the general treaty of Fort Stanwix in 1790, and such had been the pressure of emigration into that quarter, that in 1795, at a treaty held at Cayuga bridge, they ceded their reserve of one hundred miles square in the valley of the Seneca outlet and the basin of Cayuga lake, reserving but four miles square. In these treaties they deemed themselves wise to change into large money annuities, 2 a territory which was no longer useful for hunting, and which they did not cultivate.

Experience has shown, however, throughout America, that Indian tribes, who live on annuities, and not by agricultural labor, are in the most dangerous condition of rapid decline. To render the danger eminent, it needs but the close proximity of a European population, who present the means of indulging selfish gratifications. Among these means, so seductive to the Indian mind, ardent spirits-have ever been the most baneful. It proved so at least with the Cayugas, for within sixteen years after the treaty of Fort Stanwix, they had all emigrated west. Some of them had rejoined their brethren, who followed Brant and the Mohawks to Canada. Some had migrated to Sandusky, in Ohio, and others found a refuge among the Senecas, near Buffalo. With the Senecas they have ever been on most intimate terms. Whilst they lived on the Cayuga Lake, and the latter on the Seneca, they were separated by a midland range of forest, little more than 16 miles broad. They intermingled freely in their hunting parties, and even in their villages. The inhabitants still point to a large tree near Canoga, on the banks of Cayuga Lake, where the celebrated orator Red Jacket was born.

In investigating the Indian population of New York, under the provisions of the census act, I found 114 Cayugas residing in twenty families, on the Cattaragus reservation. These families cultivate 316 acres of land, and during the year 1845, they raised 1,970 bushels of corn, 1,622 of oats, 210 of wheat, 955 of potatoes, and 277 of buck wheat, besides esculents and small articles. They were found to possess 43 milch cows, 39 horses, 40 sheep, and 109 hogs. Besides the Cayugas residing on the Cattaragus, there were found, dispersed among the other cantons, S3 persons; making the whole number within the boundaries of New York, 197. The style of their dwellings is, generally, that of squared timber, plainly but comfortably furnished, with glass windows, and plain common furniture. Six teen of the number are members of Protestant churches. The males dress exclusively in the European fashion, and their condition and prospects are, like those .of the Senecas, among whom they dwell, in a high degree encouraging to the friends of humanity. Of the number out of the bounds of the Slate, there have been no accurate means of judging. The vocabulary of their language (vide appendix O) will denote its close affinities with other tribes of this family.

From a remark made to me, by a daughter of Brant, (the late Mrs. Kerr,) at her house near Wellington square, Canada, in 1843, I am inclined to think, that in the early wars waged by the Iroquois against the Virginia Indians, the Cayugas defeated and made prisoners the remnant of the Tuteloes, whom they brought and settled among then the Cayuga country.Citations:

  1. Logan was the son of Skellelimus, a Cayuga, and went early to the Ohio valley, if he were not born there.[]
  2. A perpetual annuity of $2,300 was secured by one of these treaties.[]

Cayaga, Iroquois,

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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