Indian Tribes


Along the south shore of Lake Erie, "ou de Chat," lived the Erie tribe of Indians – the Cat Tribe – lived in peace and relative opulence for generations before the first French poked their way through Niagara Country. Some say they were called the Cat Tribe because of many wildcats in the region. It is probable that they came out of the west. Their villages have been .traced as far west as Cleveland and Sandusky, always clinging to the shores of the lake, invariably on high ground and usually surrounded by palisades. Their most eastern village was on Cattaraugus Creek in the Niagara Country. One of their largest villages was on cliffs overlooking Lake Erie near the present Ripley, New York.No European, not even missionaries, ever visited the Eries. But some understanding of them in the form of legends and folk tales has come down thxough their enemies, the Senecas, with whom several missionaries were living when the unpleasantness occurred that led to a tragic conclusion. For at least a generation they seem to have been increasingly at loggerheads with the Senecas, the tribe that guarded the western door of the Iroquois longhouse.About 1654, the Eries burned a Seneca village and followed this up by intercepting a Seneca war party as it was returning from a raid in.the Huron country. Included among those captured was Annenraes who had unwittingly touched oft the earlier war with the Neuters. In retaliation, the Senecas sent 1800 men against the Eries, but they were beaten off. This was but one of a series of encounters and some eEorts at peace-mak-ing, but conditions went from bad to worse.Erie leaders, hoping for peace, schemed to have Annenraes adopted by the sister of one of their murdered peace ambassadors. The sister was away from the village at the time. But the leaders were so certain she would fall in with the plan that they went ahead and prepared for the adoption ceremony. But when the woman returned to the village, she not only refused to adopt him, but she demanded his life in forfeit for that of her brother. 
By tribal law she had a perfect right to do this. The leaders tried to point out the wisdom of adopting Annenraes but had no luck. He was burned at the stake in the Erie village.As soon as the Senecas heard of the end of Annenraes, they and their allies attacked the heavily palisaded village of Rique. On high ground, and protected by high palisades, a frontal attack was suicidal, so the Senecas attacked by holding their canoes in front of them as shields. When they reached the palisades, they stood the canoes up against the walls and climbed up the cross-pieces until they could get over the top.This was probably one of the most furious fights in the history of Indian warfare. Once inside the palisades, the Senecas slaughtered the Eries by the hundreds, and that night a thousand fires marked the burning of as many Eries at the stake. They avenged the burning of Annenraes a thousandfold and more. The fight marked, in 1655, the end of the Eries on the south shore of Lake Erie.The Mississaugas gradually came into the territory left vacant when the Eries and Neutrals were wiped out. They were quite unlike the others before them and the Senecas. One authority describes them as small in stature, "gay, lively, and filthy." They had characteristics of the Algonkins. Some say they were the Eagle Clan of the Chippewas. They came from the west and as late as 1670 some were living on the shores of Lake Huron in the vicinity of Sault Ste. Marie.Unlike the Iroquoian and Huron groups, the Mississaugas did not live in permanent villages. They did practically no farming; They seem to have had a permanent case of itchy feet. They were constantly on the move, and their villages were never long in one spot. They practiced polygamy. The number of wives a man had was only limited by his ability to manage them and provide for them.One of the first references to the Mississaugas in Niagara Country is that by LaSalle. He wrote of having met a party of them on the Niagara River in 1680. Evidently they were friendly for they ferried him across the river. Their number in this vicinity increased, and a generation later there were many, but they were constantly on the move. We hear of their living north of Lake Ontario and as far east of the Niagara as Oak Orchard Creek. In generations past, they had successfully fought the Iroquois. Some say they are the ones who drove the Mohawks into the east.The French forced the Mississaugas east of the Niagara in 1745, and the Iroquois temporarily admitted them to their confederacy. But during the French wars against the English, the Mississaugas, unlike most of the Iroquois Confederacy, lined up on the side of the French. In the American Revolution they fought for the English. Seventy of them, for example, served with St. Leger in 1777. After the Revolution, there was a village of them on the west side of the Niagara near the present Chippawa and, in 1788, upwards of six hundred were living near the present Queenston, taking fish from the lower Niagara and Lake Ontario.A generation later, most of the Mississaugas had moved to reservations provided by the Canadian government, but as late as 1850, a Mississauga had the dubious honor of killing the last deer on Grand Island in the Niagara. Early in this century, there were about a thousand of them left in Canada.In stories about Niagara Country, mention is sometimes made of the Kahkwahs, an almost legendary small tribe which lived near Lake Erie at the outlet of Eighteen Mile Creek. The French spoke of them as the "Nation du Loup" (Wolves) . The name is a Seneca word, but they may have been an isolated group of the Eries or Neutrals, living long after these two tribes had been destroyed.A village of captive Delaware Indians also lived on Cattaraugus Creek in the early 1800's.

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The 17,000 Iroquois exercised an influence far beyond what might be expected of such a small population. Flanked by up to 60,000 French people in Quebec and almost a million Europeans in New England, they were assiduously courted by both sides. It is no exaggeration to say that their more or less continuous hostility to the French was an important factor in making North America an English-speaking continent.

At the time of the first French exploration of the Great Lakes, the Iroquois League occupied most of western New York. They pictured their . alliance as a Long House wherein five families dwelt. At the eastern end were the Mohawks, at the west end were the Senecas, keepers of the gate. Adjoining the Senecas were the Neutrals whose territory straddled the Niagara River. To the east and north of the Neutrals were the Tobacco or Petun Indians and the Hurons. On the south shore of Lake Erie were the Erie or Cat tribe.

All these people were of Iroquoian origin and shared a similar language and culture. Unlike the Algonquin tribes of northern Ontario and Quebec, who lived by hunting, fishing . and gathering of fruits, the Iroquois were an agricultural people who derived most of their sustenance from the cultivation of corn, beans and squash. They also cultivated tobacco. The plentiful occurrence of clay and stone pipes, some of them beautifully carved, indicates that smoking was widespread and probably a part of their ceremonial life.
Iroquois villages were fairly permanent settlements. They were usually occupied for 15-20 years until the cornfields were exhausted and the supply of firewood ran out. The village consisted of one or more Long Houses, each occupied by up to 30 families. The house was about 22 feet wide and up to 120 feet long. Down the centre was a row of fireplaces with family quarters on either side.

By European standards it was far from comfortable. There is eloquent testimony to the fact that the smoke and cold in winter, and the fleas in summer, made a night in a Long House a torturous experience for the uninitiated.

The comparatively settled existence of the Iroquois led to a high domestic and political development. The Iroquois language was rich, full of elaborate similes and capable of great subtlety of expression. A man was judged as much by his ability as an orator as by his prowess in battle. The Chief's authority, far from being absolute, rested to a large degree on his power of persuasion.

Tribal organization was a very loose form of democracy. Important matters required the unanimous approval of all concerned. This same  principle also applied to decisions taken by the League of the Five Nations.

On the domestic scene, defence, land clearing, house building and hunting were the men's occupations. Women tilled the soil, planted and gathered the crops, in addition to their other domestic duties. They were also very skilful in the making and ornamenting of clothes.

In addition to being the custodians of what little property the family possessed, the women were also the titular clan leaders. Lineage was traced through the mother's family and the oldest woman in the clan theoretically had a power of veto in the choice of leaders.

The concept of property was virtually nonexistent among the Iroquois, hence the ease with which a sachem could be persuaded to sign away 100,000 acres of his birthright for a few baubles and a gallon of rum. Tools and utensils passed from mother to daughter, but almost everything else was communal property.

As one early missionary put it: "There is no need of hospitals among them because there are no beggars among them, and indeed, none of them are poor so long as any of them are rich. Their kindness, humanity, and courtesy not only make them liberal in giving, but almost lead them to live as though everything they possess were had in common. No one can want for food while there is corn anywhere in the town."

It is unfortunate that most history books ignore the achievements and virtues of the Indian people in favour of reporting their behaviour in war - often undertaken as a direct result of white pressure and intrigue. Although there is no doubt captives were sometimes cruelly tortured, many were adopted into the captor's family with full freedom and privileges, often as a replacement for a relative captured or slain.

One thing is certain: the first settlers in North America were greatly aided in their struggle for survival by what they learned from the Indians; in return the Indians learned very little but deceit, debauchery and degradation.

The Shirt-Wearing People

Relatively latecomers were the Tuscaroras who still live near the Niagara, on a reservation bearing their name. It is on the Mountain Ridge a few miles east of the Niagara, overlooking the plain between the Ridge and Lake Ontario. Until the last hundred years, the Tuscaroras played in tough luck for many generations. They went from Lake Erie to the Mississippi.
The story is that some got across the great river in its upper reaches by clinging to a grapevine as a cable. The vine broke before all of them were on the other side. Those who had gotten across never did return. Those on the east side turned back and wandered as far as North Carolina where they lived for a time in villages on the Neuse River. Captain John Smith referred to them as enemies of Powhatan. The first white people to penetrate North Carolina country found the Tuscaroras living in six villages. After disastrous fighting with the whites, there was a split in the tribe, and the greater number were evidently too proud to stomach defeat. They applied to the Iroquois Confederacy for permission to join it. The Senecas, calling them the "Shirt-Wearing People," adopted the rebellious Tuscaroras, and the Oneidas granted them land. During the years 1714 and 1715, the Tuscaroras migrated to their new homes, most of them on the Unadilla River where they lived in peace for two generations.
The Iroquois kept them on probation until 1722 when they were admitted to full membership in the League, the Five Nations henceforth being known as the Six Nations. In 1766, about 160 more Tuscaroras joined them from North Carolina, and in 1802, the remainder of those in North Carolina came north. They had about two hundred fighting men serving with the British in the American Revolution, and they got caught in the retributive expedition conducted by General Sullivan to the extent that two of their important villages on the Unadilla were devastated in 1779.
The remnants of the Tuscaroras spent that horrible winter on Four Mile Creek close to Fort Niagara, licking their wounds and being fed from the fort. In the spring most of them settled on the Mountain Ridge. It began with two families, but there was something about this location that attracted them to the extent that in succeeding years those who were left on the Una-dilla after Sullivan's onslaught, joined them.
When the Iroquois sold out their holdings to Robert Morris, they reserved certain tracts of land, but neglected to reserve land around the Tuscarora village of Ga-a-no-geh. This left the Tuscaroras practically homeless. Faced with another trek in a long history of wanderings, they protested bitterly to the Iroquois sachems who had made the deal with Morris. In order to appease them, the Senecas granted them one square-mile on the Mountain Ridge, and Robert Morris gave them an additional two square miles adjoining the Seneca tract.
The Tuscaroras still were not satisfied with their meager holdings. With characteristic persistence, they set about doing something about it. They recalled that North Carolina had granted land to King Tom Blunt's group of Tuscaroras on the Roanoke River. So, in 1800, they sent two leaders to North Caroiina to see if they could raise some money on the land. It was then that they succeeded in persuading the remaining Tuscaroras to join the main group on the Mountain Ridge in Niagara Country.
With money obtained by forfeiting their North Carolina claims, they were able to buy 4,329 acres from the Holland Land Company adjoining the grants they already owned. This was done with the blessing of the United States Government, the legal aspects of the deal being handled by the War Department. It is here that the last of the Tuscaroras and a few Onondagas live still.

Seneca Indians

If Seneca Indians today living on or off reservations in Niagara Country are the spiritual heirs of Handsome Lake, they are no less the political heirs of Red Jacket. Usually he has been brushed off as a picturesque old boy with a stupendous capacity for liquor, who was noteworthy chiefly because he was fond of a red jacket which the British gave him. But there is much more to Red Jacket than that. He was the one Indian leader in the Niagara Country who served as a connecting link between the Indians who lived a free communal existence on land which had been theirs for generations and those in the sad era which began with the Sullivan expedition who found themselves victimized by the white men, their lands gone, their lives cramped and circumscribed. He connected the days of utter freedom, freedom to hunt and to fight and to go and come, and even freedom to starve,with the days when al1 their freedos had vanished, days when there was no hope left for life in the traditions of their fathers.
Red Jacket, in this way, fought to hold on to the life of his people, and he fought what he knew to be a losing fight against the indignities and impositions to which his people were subjected. He tried to accomplish by his eloquence what other sachems had attempted with the musket and tomahawk in Niagara Country. Red Jacket was a rebel. He had moral courage, some of which Senecas today have inherited. (He was a great believer in the dignity of the individual. At the time the three Thayers were hanged in Buffalo, a friend met Red Jacket going away from the scene of the execution at a time when thousands were streaming towards the place. The friend asked him why he was leaving. Red Jacket replied in disgust, "Plenty fools there now. Battle is the place to see men die.")
Born in 1750 (in a Seneca village on Seneca Lake), Red Jacket, christened O-te-tiani – Always Ready – was too young to become involved in the French and English conflict, but he was old enough at the time to begin to understand the exploitation of his people which was well under way before the French lost out in the Niagara Country at the Battle of La Belle Famille.
In a sense, Red Jacket was a rebel among his own people. He did not conform to pattern. He did not stay within the con
ventional groove which an energetic young Seneca generally followed. He never was a great warrior, which most young Indians aspired to be, and he evidently never had a desire to become one.
As Red Jacket's influence rose, efforts were made to keep him from attaining the status of sachem. His ideas on the subject were ignored until he resorted to political expediency. He told his people that he had dreamed three times that he had been made a sachem. Still, they hesitated. But not for long. His people were besieged by a small-pox epidemic. He was quick to point out that this was because the Great Spirit was displeased that the people had failed to respond to the omen of his dreams. This had the desired effect. He became a sachem, and, because of his oratorical powers, was given the name Sa-go-ye-wat-la, meaning "He keeps them awake."
Before the effects of too much whiskey began to tell on him, Red Jacket was a magnificent figure of a man. His eyes were penetrating, his face was expressive, and his bearing commanded attention. He had that rare combination of qualities which produced extraordinary effects on his hearers. Call it personal magnetism, the thing that makes some actors and public figures great. And he had an excellent mind.
Red Jacket first appeared as a sachem and made a speech at the council held at Fort Stanwix in 1784. Six years later, he was a leading figure in the council at Tioga Point at which the venerable Cayuga chief, Fish Carrier, presided. He made his presence felt at the council of fifty Indian chiefs which President Washington called in Philadelphia in 1792. It was here that Washington, to whom he always referred as "Town Destroyer" after the Sullivan expedition, presented a large silver medal to him. (Before the chiefs left Philadelphia each was given a complete military uniform. Red Jacket refused his on the grounds that he was a man of peace. He demanded a suit of clothes instead, but insisted on holding the uniform allotted to him until he received the civilian clothes. When the new clothes were delivered to him, he said he had decided to keep both the uniform and the suit.) Most pictures show him with the red jacket and the huge silver medal dangling from a ribbon around his neck.
At the famous Council of Big Tree in 1797, Red Jacket created an uproar by stoutly opposing any further relinquishment of tribal lands, despite the oratory to the contrary by Thomas Morris, the son of Robert Morris, the land speculator. He even kicked out the council fire, a most dramatic and extraordinary thing to do, bringing an end to the negotiations. It was only when the Iroquois women listened to Thomas Morris' appeal (with a "gift" of several cows and other presents for them) that the council Ares were relighted with Cornplanter superseding Red Jacket. From this time, Red Jacket became more adamant on the land question and more vigorous in his opposition to the white man's aggression.
"We stand a small island in a bosom of the great waters," Red Jacket cried at the Hartford Convention. "We are encircled – we are encompassed. The Evil Spirit rides the blast – the waters are disturbed. They rise. They press upon us, and the waves settle over us. We disappear forever. Who, then, lives to mourn us? None! What marks our extermination? Nothing! We are mingled with the common elements."
There were times when he refused to speak in council in English although he knew it welL He would speak in his own tongue on official business and insist on an interpreter translating for him the speeches into English.
One of his most stirring speeches was made to a missionary who had held a meeting on the Buffalo Creek Reservation in Red Jacket's later years. The missionary was trying to Christianize the Senecas, and he roused Red Jacket's fury to a high pitch. The old Indian leader went into a long speech, some parts of which are worth repeating:
"Brother, you say there is but one way to worship and serve the Great Spirit; if there is but one religion, why do you white people differ so much about it?"

"We also have a religion which was given to our forefathers and has been handed down to their children.... We worship that way. It teaches us to be thankful for the favors we receive, to love each other, to be united; we never quarrel about religion.
"Brother, our seats were once large and yours small; you have now become a great people, and we have scarcely a place left to spread our blankets. You have got our country but are not satisfied; you want to force your religion upon us.
"Brother, we are told that you have been preaching to the white people of this place. They are our neighbors, we are acquainted with them. We will wait a little and see what effect your preaching has upon them. If it does them good and makes them honest and less disposed to cheat Indians, we will then consider again what you have said."
At another time, Red Jacket generously offered to send Indian missionaries to teach the white population the Indian religion. When his wife turned Christian, he left her and only returned later on the urging of his daughter.
Red Jacket along with Farmer's Brother, Little Billy, Pollard, Black Smoke, Half Town, and young Cornplanter (Captain O'Bail) sided with the United States against Great Britain during the Niagara border troubles of 1812. He, then past sixty, was with the war parties in the fights at Fort George, Fort Erie, and Chippawa, the only time in his career when he became involved in fighting. He considered the later American treatment of the Indians ill pay for their allegiance.
In the council of 1819 when the Ogden Land Company tried to take over the Buffalo Creek Reservation, where even the most stupid could see a community of some importance was in its beginning, Red Jacket bitterly opposed the sale, though he could scarcely have visualized the future Buffalo as it was to be. Several pieces of this reservation were split off in 1826, and, by 1898, the Indians had lost all of it, largely through the unashamed bribery of Indian chiefs to get their signatures upon the necessary treaty. Red Jacket did not live to see this disgraceful event, although he must have foreseen it.
A story that seems a little too pat to be true is frequently told about a conversation between Red Jacket and Joseph Ellicott, the agent for the Holland Land Company. The two are supposed to have been sitting on a log.
"Move over, Joe," Red Jacket is said to have remarked in the midst of their conversation. Ellicott obligingly complied.
This incident was repeated several times until Ellicott finally protested, "If I move over any more, I'll be entirely off the end of the log."
"Just so white man with Indian and his land," retorted Red Jacket.
A short time before Red Jacket's death on January 20, 1830, he had a premonition of what was to come. He spoke of it with characteristic poetry and fervor: "My warning will be no longer heard or regarded. The craft and avarice of the white man will prevail. Many winters have I breasted the storm, but I am an aged tree and can stand no longer. My leaves are fallen, my branches withered, and I am shaken by every breeze. Soon my aged trunk will be prostrate and the foot of the exulting foe may be placed upon it with safety, for I have none who will be able to avenge such an indignity. Think not I mourn for myself. I go to join the spirits of my fathers where age cannot come; but my heart fails me when I think of my people who are so soon to be scattered and forgotten."
Red Jacket left directions that his funeral should be held in accordance with the customs of the Senecas. "Be sure," said he, "that my grave be not made by a white man, let them not pursue me there." He would have been the first to recognize the bitter irony of the fate that pursued him. He was given a Christian burial in, of all places, the burying ground of the mission church he had so long opposed. As if to heap irony on irony, his body was later taken up and buried in Buffalo's swank Forest Lawn Cemetery where rest in silent and stony ostentation the wealthy and very important people of the Niagara Country.