Few popular notions, it may be affirmed, are so far from the truth as that which makes the Iroquois a band of treacherous and ferocious ravagers, whose career was marked everywhere by cruelty and devastation. The clear and positive evidence of historical facts leads to a widely different conclusion. It is not going too far to assert that among all uncivilized races the Iroquois have shown themselves to be the most faithful of allies, the most placable of enemies, and the most clement of conquerors. It will be proper, in justice to them, as well as in the interest of political and social science, to present briefly the principles and methods which guided them in their intercourse with other communities. Their system, as finally developed, comprised four distinct forms of connection with other nations, all tending directly to the establishment of universal peace.
1. As has been already said, the primary object of the founders of their League was the creation of a confederacy which should comprise all the nations and tribes of men that were known to them. Experience, however, quickly showed that this project, admirable in idea, was impossible of execution. Distance, differences of language, and difficulties of communication, presented obstacles which could not be overcome. But the plan was kept in view as one of the cardinal principles of their policy. They were always eager to receive new members into their League. The Tuscaroras, the Nanticokes, the Tuteloes, and a band of the Delawares, were thus successively admitted, and all of them still retain representatives in the Council of the Canadian branch of the confederacy.
2. When this complete political union could not be achieved, the Iroquois sought to accomplish the same end, as far as possible, by a treaty of alliance. Two notable examples will show how earnestly this purpose was pursued, and how firmly it was maintained. When the Dutch established their trading settlements on the Hudson River, one of their first proceedings was to send an embassy to the Five Nations, with proposals for a treaty. The overture was promptly accepted. A strict alliance was formed, and was ratified in the usual manner by an exchange of wampum belts. When the English took the place of the Dutch, the treaty was renewed with them, and was confirmed in the same manner. The wampum-belts then received by the Confederates are still preserved on their Canadian Reservation, and are still brought forth and expounded by the older chiefs to the younger generation, in their great Councils. History records with what unbroken faith, through many changes, and despite many provocations from their allies and many enticements from the French rulers and missionaries, this alliance was maintained to the last.
If it be suggested that this fidelity was strengthened by motives of policy, the same cannot be affirmed of the alliance with the Ojibways, which dates from a still earlier period. The annalists of the Kanonsionni affirm that their first treaty with this wide-spread people of the northwest was made soon after the formation of their League, and that it was strictly maintained on both sides for more than two hundred years. The Ojibways then occupied both shores of Lake Superior, and the northern part of the peninsula of Michigan. The point at which they came chiefly in contact with the adventurous Iroquois voyagers was at the great fishing station of St. Mary's Falls, on the strait which unites Lake Superior with Lake Huron,; and here, it is believed, the first alliance was consummated. After more than two centuries had elapsed, the broken bands of the defeated Hurons, fleeing from their ravaged homes on the Georgian Bay, took refuge among the
[paragraph continues] Ojibways, with whom they, too, had always maintained a friendly understanding. Their presence and the story of their sufferings naturally awakened the sympathy of their hosts. The rapid spread of the Iroquois empire created alarm. A great agitation ensued among the far-dispersed bands of the Ojibway name. Occasional meetings between hunting-parties of the younger warriors of the two peoples,--the Iroquois arrogant in the consciousness of their recent conquests, the Ojibways sullen and suspicious,--led to bitter words, and sometimes to actual strife. On two occasions several Ojibway warriors were slain, under what provocation is uncertain. But the reparation demanded by the Ojibway chiefs was promptly conceded by the Iroquois Council. The amplest apology was made, and for every slain warrior a pack of furs was delivered. The ancient treaty was at the same time renewed, with every formality. Nothing could more clearly show the anxiety of the Iroquois rulers to maintain their national faith than this apology and reparation, so readily made by them, at the time when their people were at the height of their power and in the full flush of conquest. 1 These efforts, however, to preserve the ancient amity proved unavailing. Through whose fault it was that the final outbreak occurred is a question on which the annalists of the two parties differ. But the events just recounted, and, indeed, all the circumstances, speak strongly in favor of the Iroquois. They had shown their anxiety to maintain the peace, and they had nothing to gain by war. The bleak northern home of the Ojibways offered no temptation to the most greedy conqueror. To the Ojibways, on the other hand, the broad expanse of western Canada, now lying deserted, and stretching
before them its wealth of forests full of deer, its lakes and rivers swarming with fish, its lovely glades and fertile plains, where the corn harvests of the Hurons and Neutrals had lately glistened, were an allurement which they could not resist. They assumed at once the wrongs and the territories of their exiled Huron friends, and plunged into the long-meditated strife with their ancient allies. The contest was desperate and destructive. Many sanguinary battles took place, and great numbers of warriors fell on both sides. On the whole the balance inclined against the Iroquois. In this war they were a southern people, contending against a hardier race from the far north. They fought at a distance from their homes, while the Ojibways, migrating in bands, pitched their habitations in the disputed region.
Finally, both sides became weary of the strife. Old sentiments of fellowship revived. Peace was declared, and a new treaty was made. The territory for which they had fought was divided between them. The southwestern portion, which had been the home of the Attiwandaronks, remained as the hunting-ground of the Iroquois. North and east of this section the Ojibways possessed the land. The new treaty, confirmed by the exchange of wampum-belts and by a peculiar interlocking of the right arms, which has ever since been the special sign of amity between the Iroquois and the Ojibways, was understood to make them not merely allies but brothers. As the symbol on one of the belts which is still preserved indicates, they were to be as relatives who are so nearly akin that they eat from the same dish. This treaty, made two centuries ago, has ever since been religiously maintained. Its effects are felt to this day. Less than forty years ago a band of the Ojibways, the Missisagas, forced to relinquish their reserved lands on the River Credit, sought a refuge with the Iroquois of the Grand River Reservation. They appealed to this treaty, and to the evidence of the wampum-belts. Their appeal was effectual. A large tract of valuable land
was granted to them by the Six Nations. Here, maintaining their distinct tribal organization, they still reside, a living evidence of the constancy and liberality with which the Iroquois uphold their treaty obligations.
3. When a neighboring people would neither join the confederacy nor enter into a treaty of alliance with it, the almost inevitable result would be, sooner or later, a deadly war. Among the nomadic or unsettled Indian tribes, especially the Algonkins and Sioux, the young men are expected to display their bravery by taking scalps; and a race of farmers, hunters, and fishermen, like the Iroquois, would be tempting victims. Before the confederacy was formed, some of its members, particularly the Caniengas and Oneidas, had suffered greatly from wars with the wilder tribes about them. The new strength derived from the League enabled them to turn the tables upon their adversaries. But they made a magnanimous use of their superiority. An enemy who submitted was at once spared. When the great Delaware nation, the Lenapes, known as the head of the Algonkin stock, yielded to the arms of the Kanonsionni, they were allowed to retain their territory and nearly all their property. They were simply required to acknowledge themselves the subjects of the Iroquois, to pay a moderate tribute in wampum and furs, and to refrain thenceforth from taking any part in war. In the expressive Indian phrase, they were "made women." This phrase did not even imply, according to Iroquois ideas, any serious humiliation; for among them, as the French missionaries tell us, women had much authority. 1 Their special office in war was that of peace-makers. It was deemed to be their right and duty, when in their opinion the strife had lasted long enough, to interfere and bring about a reconciliation. The knowledge of this fact led the Lenapes, in aftertimes, to put forward a whimsical claim to dignity, which was accepted by
their worthy but credulous historian, Heckewelder. They asserted that while their nation was at the height of power, their ancestors were persuaded by the insidious wiles of the Iroquois to lay aside their arms, for the purpose of assuming the lofty position of universal mediators and arbiters among the Indian nations. 1 That this preposterous story should have found credence is surprising enough. A single fact suffices to disprove it, and to show the terms on which the Delawares stood with the great northern confederacy. Colden has preserved for us the official record of the Council which was held in Philadelphia, in July, 1742, between the provincial authorities and the deputies of the Six Nations, headed by their noted orator and statesman, the great Onondaga chief, Canasatego. The Delawares, whose claim to certain lands was to be decided, attended the conference. The Onondaga leader, after reciting the evidence which had been laid before him to show that these lands had been sold to the colonists by the Delawares, and severely rebuking the latter for their breach of faith in repudiating the bargain, continued: "But how came you to take upon you to sell land at all? We conquered you. We made women of you. You know you are women, and can no more sell land than women. Nor is it fit that you should have the power of selling lands, since you would abuse it. This very land that you now claim has been consumed by you. You have had it in meat and drink and clothes, and now you want it again, like children, as you are. But what makes you sell land in the dark? Did you ever tell us that you had sold this land? Did we ever receive any part of the price, even the value of a pipe-stem from you? You have told us a blind story--that you sent a messenger to inform us of the sale; but he never came among us, nor have we ever heard anything about it. And for all these reasons we charge you to remove instantly. We don't give you the liberty to think about it. We assign you two
places to go, either to Wyoming or Shamokin. You may go to either of those places, and then we shall have you more under our eyes, and shall see how you behave. Don't deliberate, but remove away; and take this belt of wampum." 1
This imperious allocution, such as a Cinna or a Cornelius might have delivered to a crowd of trembling and sullen Greeks, shows plainly enough the relation in which the two communities stood to one another. It proves also that the rule under which the conquered Delawares were held was anything but oppressive. They seem to have been allowed almost entire freedom, except only in making war and in disposing of their lands without the consent of the Six Nations. In fact, the Iroquois, in dealing with them, anticipated the very regulations which the enlightened governments of the United States and England now enforce in that benevolent treatment of the Indian tribes for which they justly claim high credit. Can they refuse a like credit to their dusky predecessors and exemplars, or deny them the praise of being, as has been already said, the most clement of conquerors?
4. Finally, when a tribe within what may be called "striking distance" of the Confederacy would neither join the League, nor enter into an alliance with its members, nor come under their protection, there remained nothing but a chronic state of warfare, which destroyed all sense of security and comfort. The Iroquois hunter, fisherman, or trader, returning home after a brief absence, could never be sure that he would not find his dwelling a heap of embers, smouldering over the mangled remains of his wife and children. The plainest dictates of policy taught the Confederates that the only safe method in dealing with such persistent and unappeasable foes was to crush them utterly. Among the most dangerous of their enemies were the Hurons and the eastern Algonkins, sustained and encouraged by the French colonists. It is from them and their historians chiefly that the complaints
of Iroquois cruelties have descended to us; but the same historians have not omitted to inform us that the first acquaintance of the Iroquois with these colonists was through two most wanton and butcherly assaults which Champlain and his soldiers, in company with their Indian allies, made upon their unoffending neighbors. No milder epithets can justly describe these unprovoked invasions, in which the Iroquois bowmen, defending their homes, were shot down mercilessly with firearms, by strangers whom they had never before seen or perhaps even heard of. This stroke of evil policy, which tarnished an illustrious name, left far-reaching consequences, affecting the future of half a continent. Its first result was the destruction of the Hurons, the special allies and instigators of the colonists in their hostilities. The Attiwandaronks, or Neutrals, with whom, till this time, the Iroquois had maintained peaceful relations, shared the same fate; for they were the friends of the Hurons and the French. The Eries perished in a war provoked, as the French missionaries in their always trustworthy accounts inform us, by a perverse freak of cruelty on their own part.
Yet, in all these destructive wars, the Iroquois never for a moment forgot the principles which lay at the foundation of their League, and which taught them to "strengthen their house" by converting enemies into friends. On the instant that resistance ceased, slaughter ceased with it. The warriors who were willing to unite their fortunes with the Confederates were at once welcomed among them. Some were adopted into the families of those who had lost children or brothers. Others had lands allotted to them, on which they were allowed to live by themselves, under their own chiefs and their native laws, until in two or three generations, by friendly intercourse, frequent intermarriages, and community of interests, they became gradually absorbed into the society about them. Those who suppose that the Hurons only survive in a few Wyandots, and that the Eries, Attiwandaronks, and Andastes
have utterly perished, are greatly mistaken. It is absolutely certain that of the twelve thousand Indians who now, in the United States and Canada, preserve the Iroquois name, the greater portion derive their descent, in whole or in part, from those conquered nations. 1 No other Indian. community, so far as we know' has ever pursued this policy of incorporation to anything near the same extent, or carried it out with anything like the same humanity. Even towards the most determined and the most savage of their foes, the Kanonsionni, when finally victorious, showed themselves ever magnanimous and placable.
The common opinion of the cruelty of the Iroquois has arisen mainly from the custom which they occasionally practiced,
like some other Indians, of burning prisoners at the stake. Out of the multitude of their captives, the number subjected to this torture was really very small,--probably not nearly as large in proportion as the number of criminals and political prisoners who, in some countries of Europe, at about the same time, were subjected to the equally cruel torments of the rack and the wheel. These criminals and other prisoners were so tortured because they were regarded as the enemies of society. The motives which actuated the Iroquois were precisely the same. As has been before remarked, the mode in which their enemies carried on their warfare with them was chiefly by stealthy and sudden inroads. The prowling warrior lurked in the woods near the Iroquois village through the day, and at night fell with hatchet and club upon his unsuspecting victims. The Iroquois lawgivers deemed it essential for the safety of their people that the men who were guilty of such murderous attacks should have reason to apprehend, if caught, a direful fate.
If the comparatively few instances of these political tortures which occurred among the Iroquois are compared with the awful list of similar and worse inflictions which stain the annals of the most enlightened nations of Europe and Asia, ancient and modern,--the crucifixions, the impalements, the dreadful mutilations--lopping of hands and feet, tearing out of eyes--the tortures of the rack and wheel, the red-hot pincers, the burning crown, the noisome dungeon, the slow starvation, the lingering death in the Siberian mines,--it will become evident that these barbarians were far inferior to their civilized contemporaries in the temper and arts of inhumanity. Even in the very method of punishment which they adopted the Indians were outdone in Europe, and that, strangely enough, by the two great colonizing and conquering nations, heirs of all modern enlightenment, who came to displace them,--the English and the Spaniards. The Iroquois never burnt women at the stake. To put either men or
women to death for a difference of creed had not occurred to them. It may justly be affirmed that in the horrors of Smithfield and the Campo Santo, the innate barbarism of the Aryan, breaking through his thin varnish of civilization, was found far transcending the utmost barbarism of the Indian. 1
90:1 The Ojibway historian, Copway, in his "Traditional History of the Ojibway Nation" (p. 84), gives the particulars of this event, as preserved by the Ojibways themselves. Even the strong national prejudice of the narrator, which has evidently colored his statement, leaves the evidence of the magnanimity and prudence of the Iroquois elders clearly apparent.
92:1 "Les femmes ayant beaucoup d'autorité parmi ces peuples, leur vertu y fait d'autant plus de fruit qu'autre part."--Relation of 1657, p. 48.
93:1 Heckewelder's History of the Indian Nations, p. 56.
94:1 Colden: History of the Five Nations, Vol. II, p. 36 (2d Edition).
96:1 Ces victoires leur causant presque autant de perte qu'à leurs ennemis, elles ont tellement depeuplé leurs Bourgs, qu'on y compte plus d'Estrangers que de naturels du pays. Onnontaghé a sept nations differentes qui s'y sont venües establir, et il s'en trouve jusqu'à onze dans Sonnontoüan." Relation of 1657, p. 34, "Qui feroit la supputation des francs Iroquois, auroit de la peine d'en trouver plus de douze cents (i.e. combattans) en toutes les cinq Nations, parce que le plus grand nombre n'est composé que d'un ramas de divers peuples qu'ils ont conquestez, commes des Hurons, des Tionnontateronnons, autrement Nation du Petun; des Attiwendaronk, qu'on appelloit Neutres, quand ils estoient sur pied; des Riquehronnons, qui sont ceux de la Nation des Chats; des Ont8aganha, ou Nation du Feu; des Trak8aehronnons, et autres, qui, tout estrangers qu'ils sont, font sans doute la plus grande et la meilleure parties des Iroquois." Rel. de 1660, p. 7. Yet, it was this "conglomeration of divers peoples" that, under the discipline of Iroquois institutions and the guidance of Iroquois statesmen and commanders, held high the name of the Kanonsionni, and made the Confederacy a great power on the continent for more than a century after this time; who again and again measured arms and intellects with French generals and diplomatists, and came off at least with equal fortune; who smote their Abenaki enemies in the far east, punished the Illinois marauders in the far west, and thrust back the intruding Cherokees into their southern mountains; who were a wall of defence to the English colonies, and a strong protection to the many broken bands of Indians which from every quarter clustered round the shadow of the "great pine tree" of Onondaga.
98:1 The Aryans of Europe are undoubtedly superior in humanity, courage and independence, to those of Asia. It is possible that the finer qualities which distinguish the western branch of this stock may have been derived from admixture with an earlier population of Europe, identical in race and character with the aborigines of America. See Appendix, Note F.