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89. The Iroquois Wars

Long wars were waged between the Cherokee and their remote northern relatives, the Iroquois, with both of whom the recollection, now nearly faded, was a vivid tradition fifty years ago. The (Seneca) Iroquois know the Cherokee as Oyada?ge`oñnoñ, a name rather freely rendered "cave people." The latter call the Iroquois, or rather their largest and most aggressive tribe, the Seneca, Nûndäwe'gï, Ani'-Nûndäwe'gï, or Ani'-Së'nikä, the first forms being derived from Nûndäwa'ga, or Nûndawa'-ono, "people of the great hills," the name by which the Seneca know themselves. According to authorities quoted by Schoolcraft, the Seneca claim to have at one time had a settlement, from which they were afterward driven, at Seneca, South Carolina, known in history as one of the principal towns of the Lower Cherokee.

The league of the Iroquois was probably founded about the middle of the sixteenth century. Before 1680 they had conquered or exterminated all the tribes upon their immediate borders and had turned their arms against the more distant Illinois, Catawba, and Cherokee. According to Iroquois tradition, the Cherokee were the aggressors, having attacked and plundered a Seneca hunting party somewhere in the west, while in another story they are represented as having violated a peace treaty by the murder of the Iroquois delegates.

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Whatever the cause, the war was taken up by, all the tribes of the league.

From the Iroquois country to the Cherokee frontier was considered a five days' journey for a rapidly traveling war party. As the distance was too great for large expeditions, the war consisted chiefly of a series of individual exploits, a single Cherokee often going hundreds of miles to strike a blow, which was sure to be promptly retaliated by the warriors from the north, the great object of every Iroquois boy being to go against the Cherokee as soon as he was old enough to take the war path. Captives were made on both sides, and probably in about equal numbers, the two parties being too evenly matched for either to gain any permanent advantage, and a compromise was finally made by which the Tennessee river came to be regarded as the boundary between their rival claims, all south of that stream being claimed by the Cherokee, and being acknowledged by the Iroquois, as the limit of their own conquests in that direction. This Indian boundary was recognized by the British government up to the time of the Revolution.

Morgan states that a curious agreement was once made between the two tribes, by which this river was also made the limit of pursuit. If a returning war party of the Cherokee could recross the Tennessee before they were overtaken by the pursuing Iroquois they were as safe from attack as though entrenched behind a stockade. The pursuers, if they chose, might still invade the territory of the enemy, but they passed by the camp of the retreating Cherokee without offering to attack them. A similar agreement existed for a time between the Seneca and the Erie.

The Buffalo dance of the Iroquois is traditionally said to have had its origin in an expedition against the Cherokee. When the warriors on their way to the south reached the Kentucky salt lick they found there a herd of buffalo, and heard them, for the first time, "singing their favorite songs," i.e., bellowing and snorting. From the bellowing and the movements of the animals were derived the music and action of the dance.

According to Cherokee tradition, as given by the chief Stand Watie, the war was finally brought to an end by the Iroquois, who sent a delegation to the Cherokee to propose a general alliance of the southern and western tribes. The Cherokee accepted the proposition, and in turn sent out invitations to the other tribes, all of which entered into the peace excepting the Osage, of whom it was therefore said that they should be henceforth like a wild fruit on the prairie, at which every bird should pick, and so the Osage have remained ever a predatory tribe without friends or allies. This maybe the same treaty described in the story of "The Seneca Peacemakers." A formal and final peace between the two tribes was arranged through the efforts of the British agent, Sir William Johnson, in 1768.

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In 1847 there were still living among the Seneca the grandchildren of Cherokee captives taken in these wars. In 1794 the Seneca pointed out to Colonel Pickering a chief who was a native Cherokee, having been taken when a boy and adopted among the Seneca, who afterward made him chief. This was probably the same man of whom they told Schoolcraft fifty years later. He was a full-blood Cherokee, but had been captured when too young to have any memory of the event. Years afterward, when he had grown to manhood and had become a chief in the tribe, he learned of his foreign origin, and was filled at once with an overpowering longing to go back to the south to find his people and live and die among them. He journeyed to the Cherokee country, but on arriving there found to his great disappointment that the story of his capture had been forgotten in the tribe, and that his relatives, if any were left, failed to recognize him. Being unable to find his kindred, he made only a short visit and returned again to the Seneca.

From James Wafford, of Indian Territory, the author obtained a detailed account of the Iroquois peace embassy referred to by Stand Watie, and of the wampum belt that accompanied it. Wafford's information concerning the proceedings at Echota was obtained directly from two eyewitnesses--Sequoya, the inventor of the alphabet, and Gatûñ'wa`lï, "Hard-mush," who afterward explained the belt at the great council near Tahlequah seventy years later, Sequoya, at the time of the Echota conference, was a boy living with his mother at Taskigi town a few miles away, while Gatûñ'wa`lï was already a young man.

The treaty of peace between the Cherokee and Iroquois, made at Johnson Hall in New York in 1768, appears from the record to have been brought about by the Cherokee, who sent for the purpose a delegation of chiefs, headed by Âgänstâ'ta, "Groundhog-sausage," of Echota, their great leader in the war of 1760-61 against the English. After the treaty had been concluded the Cherokee delegates invited some of the Iroquois chiefs to go home with them for a visit, but the latter declined on the ground that it was not yet safe, and in fact some of their warriors were at that very time out against the Cherokee, not yet being aware of the peace negotiations. It is probable, therefore, that the Iroquois delegates did not arrive at Echota until some considerable time, perhaps three years, after the formal preliminaries had been concluded in the north.

According to Sequoya's account, as given to Wafford, there had been a long war between the Cherokee and the northern Indians, who were never able to conquer the Cherokee or break their spirit, until at last the Iroquois were tired of fighting and sent a delegation to make peace. The messengers set out for the south with their wampum belts and peace emblems, but lost their way after passing Tennessee

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river, perhaps from the necessity of avoiding the main trail, and instead of arriving at Itsâ'tï or Echota, the ancient peace town and capital of the Cherokee Nation--situated on Little Tennessee river below Citico creek, in the present Monroe county, Tennessee--they found themselves on the outskirts of Tä'likwä' or Tellico, on Tellico river, some 10 or 15 miles to the southward.


Concealing themselves in the neighborhood, they sent one of their number into the town to announce their coming. As it happened the

[1. The Onondagas retain the custody of the wampums of the Five Nations, and the keeper of the wampums, Thomas Webster, of the Snipe tribe, a consistent, thorough pagan, is their interpreter. Notwithstanding the claims made that the wampums can be read as a governing code of law, it is evident that they are simply monumental reminders of preserved traditions, without any literal details whatever.

"The first [of this] group from left to right, represents a convention of the Six Nations at the adoption of the Tuscaroras into the league; the second, the Five Nations, upon seven strands, illustrates a treaty with seven Canadian tribes before the year 1600; the third signifies the guarded approach of strangers to the council, of the Five Nations (a guarded gate, with a long, white path leading to the inner gate, where the Five Nations are grouped, with the Onondagas in the center and a safe council house behind all); the fourth represents a treaty when but four of the Six Nations were represented, and the fifth embodies the pledge of seven Canadian christianized nations to abandon their crooked ways and keep an honest peace (having a cross for each tribe, and with a zigzag line below, to indicate that their ways had been crooked but would ever after be as sacred as the cross). Above this group is another, claiming to bear date about 1608, when Champlain joined the Algonquins against the Iroquois."--Carrington, in Six Nations of New York, Extra Bulletin. Eleventh Census, pp. 33-34,1892.]

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chief and his family were at work in their cornfield, and his daughter had just gone up to the house for some reason when the Iroquois entered and asked for something to eat. Seeing that he was a stranger, she set out food for him according to the old custom of hospitality. While he was eating her father, the chief, came in to see what was delaying her, and was surprised to find there one of the hereditary enemies of his tribe. By this time the word had gone out that an Iroquois was in the chief's house, and the men of the town had left their work and seized their guns to kill him, but the chief heard them coming and standing in the doorway kept them off, saying: "This man has come here on a peace mission, and before you kill him you must first kill me." They finally listened to him, and allowed the messenger to go out and bring his companions to the chief's house, where they were all taken care of.

When they were well rested after their long journey the chief of Tä'likwä himself went with them to Itsâ'tï, the capital, where lived the great chief Âgänstâ'ta, who was now the civil ruler of the Nation. The chiefs of the various towns were summoned and a council was held, at which the speaker for the Iroquois delegation delivered his message and produced the wampum belts and pipes, which they brought as proofs of their mission and had carried all the way in packs upon their backs.

He said that for three years his people had been wanting to make peace. There was a spring of dark, cloudy water in their country, and they had covered it over for one year and then looked, but the water was still cloudy. Again they had covered it over, but when they looked at the end of another year it was still dark and troubled. For another year they had covered the spring, and this time when they looked the water was clear and sparkling. Then they knew the time had come, and they left home with their wampum belts to make peace with their enemies.

The friendly message was accepted by the Cherokee, and the belts and other symbolic peace tokens were delivered over to their keeping. Other belts in turn were probably given to the Iroquois, and after the usual round of feasting and dancing the messengers returned to their people in the north and the long war was at an end.

For nearly a century these symbolic records of the peace with the Iroquois were preserved by the Cherokee, and were carried with them to the western territory when the tribe was finally driven from its old home in 1838. They were then in the keeping of John Ross, principal chief at the time of the removal, and were solemnly produced at a great intertribal council held near Tahlequah, in the Indian Territory, in June, 1843, when they were interpreted by the Cherokee speaker, Gatûñ'wa`lï, "Hard-mush," who had seen them delivered to the chiefs of his tribe at old Itsâ'tï seventy years before. Wafford was present on this occasion and describes it.

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Holding the belts over his arm while speaking, Hard-mush told of the original treaty with the Iroquois, and explained the meaning of each belt in turn. According to the best of Wafford's recollection, there was one large belt, to which the smaller belts were fitted. The beads did not seem to be of shell, and may have been of porcelain. There were also red pipes for the warriors, grayish-white pipes for the chiefs who were foremost in making the peace, and some fans or other ornaments of feathers. There were several of the red pipes, resembling the red-stone pipes of the Sioux, but only one, or perhaps two, of the white peace pipes, which may have been only painted, and were much larger than the others. The pipes were passed around the circle at the council, so that each delegate might take a whiff. The objects altogether made a considerable package, which was carefully guarded by the Cherokee keeper. It is thought that they were destroyed in the War of the Rebellion when the house of John Ross, a few miles south of Tahlequah, was burned by the Confederate Cherokee under their general, Stand Watie.

Next: 90. Hiadeoni, The Seneca