You are on page 1of 25

Native Tribe History

In the federal council and in other intertribal

assemblies the Mohawk sit with the tribal phratry,
which is formally called the "Three Elder Brothers"
and of which the other members are the Seneca and
the Onondaga. Like the Oneida, the Mohawk have
only 3 clans, namely, the Bear, the Wolf, and the
Turtle. The tribe is represented in the federal council
by 9 chiefs of the rank of roianer (see Chiefs), being 3
from every clan. These chiefships were known by
specific names, which were conferred with the office.
These official titles are Tekarihoken, Haienhwatha,
and Satekarihwate, of the first group; Orenrehkowa,
Deionhehkon, and Sharenhowanen, of the second
group; and Dehennakarine, Rastawenserontha, and
Shoskoharowanen, of the third group. The first two
groups or clans formed an intratribal phratry, while the
last, or Bear clan group, was the other phratry. The
people at all times assembled by phratries, and each
phratry occupied aside of the council fire opposite that
occupied by the other phratry. The second title in the
foregoing list has been Anglicized into Hiawatha
From the Jesuit Relation for 1660 it is learned that
the Mohawk, during a period of 60 years, had been
many times both at the top and the bottom of the
ladder of success; that, being insolent and warlike,
they had attacked the Abnaki and their congeners at
the east, the Conestoga at the south, the Hurons at
the west and north, and the Algonquian tribes at the
north; that at the close of the 16th century the
Algonkin had so reduced them that there appeared to
be none left, but that the remainder increased so
rapidly that in a few years they in turn had overthrown
the Algonkin. This success did not last long. The
Conestoga waged war against them so vigorously for
10 years that for the second time the Mohawk were
overthrown so completely that they appeared to be
extinct. About this time (?1614) the Dutch arrived in
their country, and, being attracted by their beaver
skins, they furnished the Mohawk and their congeners
with firearms, in order that the pelts might be obtained
in greater abundance. The purpose of the Dutch was
admirably served, but the possession of firearms by
the Mohawk and their confederates rendered it easy
for them to conquer their adversaries, whom they
routed and filled with terror not alone by the deadly
effect but even by the there sound of these weapons,
which hitherto had been unknown. Thenceforth the
Mohawk and their confederates became formidable
adversaries and were victorious most everywhere, so
that by 1660 the conquests of the Iroquois
confederates, although they were not numerous,
extended over nearly 600 leagues of territory. The
Mohawk at that time numbered not more than 500
warriors and dwelt in 4 or 5 wretched villages.
The accounts of Mohawk migrations previous to
the historical period are largely conjectural. Some
writers do not clearly differentiate between the
Mohawk and the Huron tribes at the north and west
and from their own confederates as a whole. Besides
fragmentary and untrustworthy traditions little that is
definite is known regarding the migratory movements
of the Mohawk.
In 1603, Champlain, while at Tadousac, heard of
the Mohawk and their country. On July 30, 1609, he
encountered on the lake to which he gave his own
name a party of nearly 200 Iroquois warriors, under 3
chiefs. In a skirmish in which he shot two of the chiefs
dead and wounded the third, he defeated this party,
which was most probably largely Mohawk. Dismayed
by the firearms of the Frenchman, whom they now
met for the first time, the Indians fled. The Iroquois of
this party wore arrow-proof armor and had both stone
and iron hatchets, the latter having been obtained in
trade. The fact that in Capt. Hendricksen's report to
the States General, Aug. 18, 1616, he says that he
had "bought from the inhabitants, the Minquaes
[Conestoga], 3 persons, being people belonging to
this company," who were "employed in the service of
the Mohawks and Machicans," giving, he says, for
them, in exchange, "kettles, beads, and
merchandise," shows how extensively the inland trade
was carried on between the Dutch and the Mohawk.
The latter were at war with the Mohegan and other
New England tribes with only intermittent periods of
peace. In 1623 a Mohegan fort stood opposite Castle
island. in the Hudson and was "built against their
enemies, the Maquaes, a powerful people." In 1626
the Dutch commander of Ft Orange (Albany), and 6 of
his men, joined the Mohegan in an expedition to
invade the Mohawk country. They were met a league
from the fort by a party of Mohawk armed only with
bows and arrows, and were defeated, the Dutch
commander and 3 of his men being killed, and of
whom one, probably the commander, was cooked and
eaten by the :Mohawk. This intermittent warfare
continued until the Mohegan were finally forced to
withdraw from the upper waters of the Hudson. They
did not however relinquish their territorial rights to
their native adversaries, and so in 1630 they began to
sell their lands to the Dutch. The deed to the Manor of
Renssalaerwyck, which extended w. of the river two
days' journey, and was mainly on the F. side of the
river, was dated in the year named. In 1637 Kilian Van
Renssalaer bought more land on the east side.
Subsequently the Mohegan became the friends and
allies of the Mohawk, their former adversaries.
In 1641 Ahatsistari, a noted Huron chief, with only
50 companions, attacked and defeated 300 Iroquois,
largely Mohawk, taking some prisoners. In the
preceding summer he had attacked on Lake Ontario a
number of large canoes manned by Iroquois, probably
chiefly Mohawk, and defeated then, after sinking
several canoes and killing a number of their crews.
In 1642, 11 Huron canoes were attacked on
Ottawa river by, Mohawk and Oneida warriors abort
100 miles above Montreal. In the same year the
Mohawk captured Father Isaac Jogues, two French
companions, and some Huron allies. They took the
Frenchmen to their villages, where they caused them
to undergo the most cruel tortures. Jogues, by the aid
of the Dutch, escaped in the following year; but in
1646 he went to the Mohawk to attempt to convert
them and to confirm the peace which had been made
with them. On May 16, 1646, Father Jogues went to
the Mohawk as an envoy and returned to Three
Rivers in July in good health. In September he again
started for the Mohawk country to establish a mission
there; but, owing to the prevalence of an epidemic
among the Mohawk, and to the failure of their crops,
they accused Father Jogues of "having concealed
certain charms in a small coffer, which he had left with
his host as a pledge of his return," which caused them
thus to be afflicted. So upon his arrival in their village
for the third time, he and his companion, a young
Frenchman, were seized, stripped, and threatened
with death. Father Jogues had been adopted by the
Wolf clan of the Mohawk, hence this clan, with that of
the Turtle, which with the Wolf formed a phratry or
brotherhood, tried to save the lives of the Frenchmen.
But the Bear clan, which formed a phratry by itself,
and being only cousins to the others, of one of which
Father Jogues was a member, had determined on his
death as a sorcerer. On Oct. 17, 1646, the
unfortunates were told that they would be killed, but
not burned, the next day. On the evening of the 18th
Fattier Jogues was invited to a supper in a Bear
lodge. Having accepted the invitation, he went there,
and while entering the lodge a man concealed behind
the door struck him down with an ax. He was
beheaded, his head elevated on the palisade, and his
body thrown into the river. The next morning Jogues'
companion suffered a similar fate. Fattier Jogues left
an account of a Mohawk sacrifice to the god Aireskoi
(i. e., Jregwěns' gwǎ', ' the Master or God of
War'). While speaking of the cruelties exercised
by the Mohawk toward their prisoners, and
specifically toward 3 women, he said: "One of
them (a thing riot hitherto done) was burned all
over her body, and afterwards thrown into a
huge pyre." And that "at every burn which they
caused, by applying lighted torches to her
body, an old man, in a loud voice, exclaimed,
'Daimon, Aireskoi, we offer thee this victim,
whom we burn for thee, that thou mayest be
filled with her flesh and render us ever anew
victorious over our enemies.' Her body was cut
up, sent to the various villages, and devoured."
Megapolensis (1644), a contemporary of
Fattier Jogues, says that when the Mohawk
were unfortunate in war they would kill, cut up,
and roast a bear, and then make an offering of
it to this war god with the accompanying
prayer: "Oh, great and mighty Aireskuoni, we
know that we have offended against thee, in as
much as we have not killed and eaten our
captive enemies-forgive us this. We promise
that we will kill and eat all the captives we shall
hereafter take as certainly as we have killed
and now eat this bear." he adds: "Finally, they
roast their prisoners dead before a slow fire for
some days and then eat them up. The common
people eat the arms, buttocks, and trunk, but
the chiefs eat the head and the heart."
The Jesuit Relation for 1646 says that,
properly speaking, the French had at that time
peace with only the Mohawk, who were their
near neighbors and who gave then the most
trouble, and that the Mohegan (Mahingaus or
Mahiuganak), who had had firm alliances with
the Algonkin allies of the French, were then
already conquered by the Mohawk, with whom
they formed a defensive and offensive alliance;
that during this year some Sokoki (Assok8ekik)
murdered some Algonkin, whereupon the latter
determined, under a misapprehension, to
massacre some Mohawk, who were then
among then, and the French. But, fortunately, it
was discovered from the testimony of two
wounded persons, who had escaped, that the
murderers spoke a language quite different
from that of the Iroquois tongues, and
suspicion was at once removed from the
Mohawk, who then hunted freely in the
immediate vicinity of the Algonkin north of the
St Lawrence, where these hitherto implacable
enemies frequently meet on the best of terms.
At this time the Mohawk refused Sokoki
ambassadors a new compact to wage war on
the Algonkin.
The introduction of firearms by the Dutch
among the Mohawk, who were among the first
of their region to procure them, marked an
important era in their history, for it enabled
them and the cognate Iroquois tribes to
subjugate the Delawares and Munsee, and thus
to begin a career of conquest that carried their
war parties to the Mississippi and to the shores
of Hudson bay. The Mohawk villages were in
the valley of Mohawk river, N. Y., from the
vicinity of Schenectady nearly to Utica, and
their territory extended north to the St
Lawrence and south to the watershed of
Schoharie creek and the east branch of the
Susquehanna. On the east their territories
adjoined those of the Mahican, who held
Hudson river. Front their position on the east
frontier of the Iroquois confederation the
Mohawk were among the most prominent of
the Iroquoian tribes in the early Indian wars
and in official negotiations with the colonies, so
that their name was frequently used by the
tribes of New England and by the whites as a
synonym for the confederation. Owing to their
position they also suffered much more than
their confederates in some of the Indian and
French wars. Their 7 villages of 1644 were
reduced to 5 in 1677. At the beginning of the
Revolution the Mohawk took the side of the
British, and at its conclusion the larger portion
of them, under Brant and Johnson, removed to
Canada, where they have since resided on
lands granted to them by the British
government. In 1777 the Oneida expelled the
remainder of the tribe and burned their
In 1650 the Mohawk had an estimated
population of 5,000, which was probably more
than their actual number; for 10 years later
they were estimated at only 2,500. Thence
forward they underwent a rapid decline,
caused by their wars with the Mahican,
Conestoga, and other tribes, and with the
French, and also by the removal of a large part
of the tribe to Caughnawaga and other mission
villages. The later estimates of their population
have been: 1,500 in 1677 (an alleged decrease
of 3,500 in 27 years), 400 in 1736 (an alleged
decrease of 1,100 in 36 years), 500 in 1741,
800 in 1765, 500 in 1778, 1,500 in 1783, and
about 1,200 in 1851. These estimates are
evidently little better than vague guesses. In
1884 they were on three reservations in
Ontario: 965 at the Bay of Quinté near the east
end of Lake Ontario, the settlement at Gibson,
and the reserve of the Six Nations on Grand
river. Besides these there are a few individuals
scattered among the different Iroquois tribes in
the United States. In 1906 the Bay of Quinté,
settlement contained 1,320; there were 140
(including ''Algongnins") at Watha, the former
Gibson band which was removed earlier from
Oka; and the Six Nations included an
indeterminate number.
The Mohawk participated in the following
treaties with the United States:
Ft Stanwix, N. Y., Oct. 22, 1784, being a treaty
of peace between the United States and the Six
Nations and defining their boundaries;
supplemented by treaty of
Ft Harmar, O., Jan. 9, 1789.
Konondaigua (Canandaigua), N. Y., Nov. 11,
1794, establishing peace relations with the Six
Nations and agreeing to certain reservations
and boundaries.
Albany N. Y, Mar. 29, 1797, by which the United
States sanctioned the cession by the Mohawk
to the state of New York of all their lands

•The Iroquois, or as we prefer to call ourselves, the
Haudenosaunee (People of the Longhouse),
used materials for clothing found in our natural
environment. Traditionally the Haudenosaunee
used furs obtained from the woodland animals,
hides of elk and deer, corn husks, and they also
wove plant and tree fibers to produce articles of
clothing. What I find very interesting about
Haudenosaunee clothing, is that even though in
modern day we have incorporated calico and
other fabrics into our clothing, the style and the
symbolic decorations of our regalia remains the
same as it did since time immemorial. Therefore,
when you see our women's regalia made from
calico and broad cloth, if you could make you
mind's eye think of it as being made from
deerskin you would be stepping back in time to
when no stores existed in which to buy such
materials. This is not to say that we no longer use
traditional materials to create our regalia because
we still do, but one should understand that Native
American culture is dynamic, for it is a living
culture where adaptation and inherence to
tradition is necessary for life to continue. In this
article, I will describe and explain the
Haudenosaunee regalia of our men and women
from head to foot.

•Haudenosaunee Men's Regalia

•In describing Haudenosaunee regalia, let me begin
with the headwear. Many people mistakenly think
that all Native American Indians wore plains style
war bonnets, which is untrue. This myth began in
the early part of the 1900's to the 1950's when
photographers wanted Iroquois people to wear
war bonnets when posing for pictures because
they thought it looked more "Indian", which has
lead to old pictures of Iroquois people in war
bonnets. I even have a picture of my great uncle
wearing one. However, the Haudenosaunee have
their own type of feathered headwear, which is
quite beautiful, called in the Mohawk language, a
Kastoweh (gah sto wha).

•Kastoweh (Feathered Hat)

•The Kastoweh has a frame that is made from 3 black
ash splints. One splint wraps around the head.
The second splint runs from north to south and it
is bowed to fit over and around the top of the
head, and the third splint runs from east to west
and is also bowed, then both strips are secured
to the splint that runs around the head by sinew.
This makes a wonderful frame. Sometimes the
top of the splint frame is covered with deer skin
or today by cloth. On the outside of the
headband, it was traditionally decorated with
Haudenosaunee symbols, usually made with
porcupine quills, or wampum beads. In later
years a band of silver was designed and
attached. When glass beads were introduced
some kastoweh bands were beaded. Today one
might see any of the aforementioned bands
attached to the Haudenosaunee feathered hat.
The Haudenosaunee also wore fur headdresses,
as well as deer hair roaches.

•Shirts, Sashes, and Bibs

•Haudenosaunee men traditionally wore fringed shirts
made from deerskin. In the summer months men
would often not wear a shirt, but would wear a
finger-woven sash that went over the right
shoulder and was attached to the waist. These
sashes were woven from plant materials
sometimes elm, or basswood fibers were used,
as well as nettle fibers. Sashes can were made of
deerskin and decorated with clan motifs or other
Haudenosaunee symbols made with porcupine
quills, wampum beads, or glass beads.
Sometimes the silver brooches are attached to
create a very beautiful design. In recent times,
the Haudenosaunee have added the use of cloth
(broadcloth and calico are some of the favorite
types) and ribbons to make shirts.

•Haudenosaunee men's regalia can also consist of a
leather, wool, or cloth neck pieces, which is
known as a bib. These bibs are elaborately
decorated with either quill, or beadwork. While I
am mentioning belts and sashes, I should
mention that wampum belts were also worn as
sashes, and that deer toes were worn around the
knees, which made noise, much like bells do.

•Kilts, Leggings and Breech-Cloth

•Kilts were traditionally made from leather and the
edges fringed and decorated with porcupine quill-
work. Kilts are secured around the waist by a
sash. Today kilts can be made from cloth, usually
wool in red or black is preferred. Also worn with a
kilt, or breech cloth are leather, wool, or
broadcloth leggings that are either attached by
separate ties to a sash--or threaded through a
sash or leather belt.

•Leggings are often worn so that the seam faces the
outside of the leg. This allows the fringes, if made
from leather to face outward from the body.
Sometimes the seam is left so that it faces
towards the front, if made from cloth, and is left
open a few inches at the bottom of the legging.
Either way, the bottom of the legging and along
the seam is decorated with very fine work.
Traditionally porcupine quills were used, but
working with quills is becoming a dying art, today
small white glass beads are used that creates
such fine work that it looks like lace work. A
breech cloth can be made from leather or cloth.

•Breech cloths can be made in two different styles. In
one style, the breech-cloth is made from a single
long piece of deerskin or cloth that is 2 yards long
and 10 o 12 inches wide, which is long enough to
hang in the back and front and pass between the
legs. The breech- cloth is secured to the waist by
a sash, or leather belt. Today some people make
breech cloths by taking two panels of cloth or
leather and attaching them to a sash or belt,
which is then secured around the waist. With this
method, the cloth does not pass between the
legs, so shorts must me worn because there is
no covering of one's private areas. Both types of
cloths are decorated. If leather, the fringe would
hang down in front and back and the front and
back panels would be decorated with quill or
bead work. If made from cloth, wool, or
broadcloth, the front and back edges are beaded.
The front and back of the breech cloth is also
beaded with Haudenosaunee symbols or clan


•The Haudenosaunee moccasin is made from strong
leather, like deer or elk. Both men and women
wear the same style moccasin. The
Haudenosaunee moccasin is not a tall moccasin
although it has a cuff that when folded up made
be two to three inches wide--this leather is folded
down to make a cuff. This cuff is decorated with
porcupine quill work. Often times bead work is
done on a separate piece of fabric like velvet and
then it is attached to the cuff. This is done so that
when the moccasin wears out the beading and
easily be taken off and reattached to a new pair
of moccasins. The front top of the moccasin
consists of a long u shaped vamp. This vamp is
also decorated in the same manner as the cuff.
Sometimes porcupine guard hairs are gathered
and made into tassels, which are then sewn unto
the cuff of the moccasin. These Haudenosaunee
moccasins are very beautiful.

•Interestingly, the Haudenosaunee used a small bone
that is found near the ankle joint of the deer was
made into a needle, which was used as a needle
to sew with. Also sinew was taken from the deer
to be used as thread--along with twisted elm bark

•Tota Wari Martin-Fisher 1999©

•Haudenosaunee Women's Regalia

•Haudenosaunee women's headwear is said to
resemble a tiara because of its shape. These
headbands are very strikingly beautiful. To create
the headband cloth, either velvet, wool, or
broadcloth is beaded onto a stiffer backing. Then
the beaded cloth is attached to either leather or
cloth. These layers are sewn together. Edging the
top with glass seed beads completes the
headband. Haudenosaunee use the smallest
white seed beads when decorating their regalia.
The beading is so exquisite that many people say
the finished work looks like fine lacework. Often
times the designs used when beading are taken
from Haudenosaunee cosmology, clan symbols,
or woodland designs of flowers, vines, and


•Haudenosaunee women wear dresses made of
deerskin, which are decorated with
Haudenosaunee designs using porcupine quills
or beading. Also silver brooches are used to
decorate women's dresses. Today the
Haudenosaunee have incorporated cloth, like
wool, broadcloth, and calico into the materials
used to make the dress, but the styles remains
the same as it did from time immemorial. One
type of women's regalia is the overdress, which is
fitted at the waist and flares out. The bottom edge
of this dress is left with an open upside down V
shape, and is beaded. The neck portion of the
dress may have a collar, which is beaded, or it
may have a rounded neck. If the dress has a
rounded neck, then a beaded collar is usually
worn to add beauty to the top of the dress.
Sometimes women wear sashes or leather belts
around their waists, which looks very nice.

•Skirts & Leggings

•With the overdress a skirt and leggings are always
worn. The skirt can be made of deerskin, or cloth.
Today many women's skirts are made from
broadcloth or wool, and are elegantly beaded
along the bottom border and edge. The skirt fits
around the waist and is long enough to come mid
way between the knee and ankle. Legging can be
made from leather, or cloth. Most leggings today
are made from cloth, broadcloth, or wool.
Leggings are tied just above the knee and must
be long enough to just touch the top of the
moccasin. The legging is made so that at the
bottom edge is an inverted V shape that is worn
facing the center of the ankle. The bottom
boarder and edge of the legging is decorated with
beading and sometimes ribbons. The moccasins
are the same for both men and women. The
Haudenosaunee made footwear out of braided
cornhusks that both men and women wear.

The Haudenosaunee also wore fur robes and mantles
that were also decorated. I did not get a chance
to go into the beaded purses and other clothing
the Haudenosaunee wore and still wear when
gathering to go to the Longhouse for ceremony or
other important event. I hope this essay has
helped to shed a light on Haudenosaunee

Family Life

Iroquoian Family. A linguistic stock consisting of the

following tribes and tribal groups: the Hurons
composed of the Attiguaouantan (Bear people), the
Attigneenongnahac (Cord people), the Arendahronon
(Rock people), the Tohontaenrat (Atahontaenrat or
Tohontaenrat, White-eared or Deer people), the
Wenrohronon, the Ataronchronon, and the
Atonthrataronon (Otter people, an Algonquian tribe);
Tionontati or Tobacco people or nation; the
Confederation of the Attiwendaronk or Neutrals,
composed of the Neutrals proper, the Aondironon, the
Ongniarahronon, and the Atiragenratka(Atiraguenrek);
the Conkhandeenrhonon;
the Iroquois confederation composed of the Mohawk,
the Oneida, the Onondaga, the Cayuga, and the
Seneca, with the Tuscarora after 1726; and in later
times the incorporated remnants of a number of alien
tribes, such as the Tutelo, the Saponi, the Nanticoke,
the Conoy, and the Muskwaki or Foxes; the
Conestoga or Susquehanna of at least three tribes, of
which one was the Akhrakouaehronon or
Atrakouaehronon; the Erie or Cat nation of at least
two allied peoples; the Tuscarora confederation,
composed of several leagued tribes, the names of
which are now unknown; Nottaway; the Meherrin; and
the Cherokee composed of at least three divisions,
the Elati, the Middle Cherokee, and the Atali; and the
Onnontioga consisting of the Iroquois-Catholic
seceders on the St Lawrence.
Each tribe was an independent political unit,
except those which formed leagues in which the
constituent tribes, while enjoying local self-
government, acted jointly in common affairs. For this
reason there was no general name for themselves
common to all the tribes. Jacques Cartier, in 1534,
met on the shore of Gaspé basin people of the
Iroquoian stock, whom in the following year he again
encountered in their house on the site of the city of
Quebec, Canada. He found both banks of the St
Lawrence above Quebec, as far as the site of
Montreal, occupied by people of this family. He visited
the villages Hagonchenda, Hochelaga, Hochelayi,
Stadacona, and Tutonaguy. This was the first known
habitat of an Iroquoian people. Champlain found
these territories entirely deserted 70 years later, and
Lescarbot found people roving over this area
speaking an entirely different language from that
recorded by Cartier. He believed that this change of
languages was due to "a destruction of people,"
because, he writes, "some years ago the Iroquois
assembled themselves to the number of 8,000 men
and destroyed all their enemies, whom they surprised
in their enclosures." The new language which he
recorded was Algonquian, spoken by bands that
passed over this region on warlike forays.
The early occupants of the St Lawrence were
probably the Arendahronon and Tohontaenrat, tribes
of the Hurons. Their lands bordered on those of the
Iroquois, whose territory extended westward to that of
the Neutrals, neighbors of the Tionontati and western
Huron tribes to the north and the Erie to the south and
west. The Conestoga occupied the middle and lower
basin of the Susquehanna, south of the Iroquois. The
north Iroquoian area, which Algonquian tribes
surrounded on nearly every side, therefore embraced
nearly the entire valley of the St Lawrence, the basins
of Lake Ontario and Lake Erie, the southeast shores
of Lake Huron and Georgian bay, all of the present
New York state except the lower Hudson valley, all of
central Pennsylvania, and the shores of Chesapeake
bay in Maryland as far as Choptank and Patuxent
rivers. In the south the Cherokee area, surrounded by
Algonquian tribes on the north, Siouan on the east,
and Muskhogean and Uchean tribes on the south and
west, embraced the valleys of the Tennessee and
upper Savannah rivers. and the mountainous parts of
Virginia, the Carolinas, and Alabama. Separated from
the Cherokee by the territory of the eastern Siouan
tribes was the area occupied by the Tuscarora in east
North Carolina and by the Meherrin and Nottoway
north of them in southeast Virginia.
The northern Iroquoian tribes, especially the Five
Nations so called, were second to no other Indian
people North of Mexico in political organization,
statecraft, and military prowess. Their leaders were
astute diplomats, as the wily French and English
statesmen with whom they treated soon discovered.
In war they practiced ferocious cruelty toward their
prisoners, burning even their unadopted women and
infant prisoners; but, far from being a race of rude and
savage warriors, they were a kindly and affectionate
people, full of keen sympathy for kin and friends in
distress, kind and deferential to their women,
exceedingly fond of their children, anxiously striving
for peace and good will among men, and profoundly
imbued with a just reverence for the constitution of
their commonwealth and for its founders. Their wars
were waged primarily to secure and perpetuate their
political life and independence.
The fundamental principles of their confederation,
persistently maintained for centuries by force of arms
and by compacts with other peoples, were based
primarily on blood relationship, arid they shaped and
directed their foreign and internal polity in consonance
with these principles. The underlying motive for the
institution of the Iroquois league was to secure
universal peace and welfare (ne’' skěñ'non') among
men by the recognition and enforcement of the forms
of civil government (ne’'gā'i`hwiio) through the
direction and regulation of personal and public
conduct and thought in accordance with
beneficent customs and council degrees; by
the stopping of bloodshed in the blood feud
through the tender of the prescribed price for
the killing of a cotribesman; by abstaining from
eating human flesh; and, lastly, through the
maintenance and necessary exercise of power
(ne" ga'shasdon"sa,'), not only military but also
magic power believed to be embodied in the
forms of their ceremonial activities. The tender
by the homicide and his family for the murder
or killing by accident of a cotribesman was
twenty strings of wampum, ten for the dead
person, and ten for the forfeited life of the
The religious activities of these tribes
expressed themselves in the worship of all
environing elements and bodies and many
creatures of a teeming fancy, which, directly or
remotely affecting their welfare, were regarded
as man-beings or anthropic personages
endowed with life, volition, and peculiar
individual orenda, or magic power. In the
practice of this religion, ethics or morals, as
such, far from having a primary had only a
secondary, if any, consideration. The status
and personal relations of the personages of
their pantheon were fixed and regulated by
rules and customs similar to those in vogue in
the social and political organization of the
people, and there was, therefore, among at
least the principal gods, a kinship system
patterned on that of the people themselves.
The mental superiority of the Hurons (q. v.)
over their Algonquian neighbors is frequently
mentioned by the early French missionaries. A
remainder of the Tionontati, with a few refugee
Hurons among them, having fled to the region
of the upper lakes, along with certain Ottawa
tribes, to escape the Iroquois invasion in 1649,
maintained among their fellow refugees a
predominating influence. This was largely
because, like other Iroquoian tribes, they had
been highly organized socially and politically,
and were therefore trained in definite
parliamentary customs and procedure. The fact
that, although but a small tribe, the Hurons
claimed and exercised the right of lighting the
council fire at all general gatherings, shows the
esteem in which they were held by their
neighbors. The Cherokee were the first tribe to
adopt a constitutional form of government,
embodied in a code of laws written in their own
language in an alphabet based on the Roman
characters adapted by one of them (see
Sequoya), though in weighing these facts their
large infusion of white blood must he
The social organization of the Iroquoian
tribes was in some respects similar to that of
some other Indians, but it was much more
complex and cohesive, and there was a notable
difference in regard to the important position
accorded the women. Among the Cherokee, the
Iroquois, the Hurons, and probably among the
other tribes, the women performed important
and essential functions in their government.
Every chief was chosen and retained his
position, and every important measure was
enacted by the consent and cooperation of the
child-bearing women, and the candidate for a
chiefship was nominated by the suffrages of
the matrons of this group. His selection by
them from among their sons had to be
confirmed by the tribal and the federal councils
respectively, and finally he was installed into
office by federal officers. Lands and houses
belonged solely to the women.
All the Iroquoian tribes were sedentary and
agricultural, depending on the chase for only a
small part of their subsistence. The northern
tribes were especially noted for their skill in
fortification and house building. Their so-called
castles were solid log structures, wish
platforms running around the top on the inside,
from which stones and other missiles could be
hurled down upon besiegers.
For the population of the tribes composing
the Iroquoian family see Iroquois, and the
descriptions of the various
Iroquoian tribes.