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And now, before entering upon the very curious subject of Indian social and tribal organization, it may be well briefly to observe the position and prominent distinctive features of the various communities speaking dialects of the generic tongue of the Iroquois. In this remarkable family of tribes occur the fullest developments of Indian character, and the most conspicuous examples of Indian intelligence. If the higher traits popularly ascribed to the race are not to be found here, they are to be found nowhere. A palpable proof of the superiority of this stock is afforded in the size of the Iroquois and Huron brains. In average internal capacity of the cranium, they surpass, with few and doubtful exceptions, all other aborigines of North and South America, not excepting the civilized races of Mexico and Peru.
In the woody valleys of the Blue Mountains, south of the Nottawassaga Bay of Lake Huron, and two days' journey west of the frontier Huron towns, lay the nine villages of the Tobacco Nation, or Tionnontates. [Synonymes: Tionnontates, Etionontates, Tuinontatek, Dionondadies, Khionontaterrhonons, Petuneux or Nation du Petun (Tobacco).] In manners, as in language, they closely resembled the Huron. Of old they were their enemies, but were now at peace with them, and about the year 1640 became their close confederates. Indeed, in the ruin which befell that hapless people, the Tionnontates alone retained a tribal organization; and their descendants, with a trifling exception, are to this day the sole inheritors of the Huron or Wyandot name. Expatriated and wandering, they held for generations a paramount influence among the Western tribes. ["L'ame de tous les Conseils."--Charlevoix, Voyage, 199.--In 1763 they were Pontiac's best warriors.] In their original seats among the Blue Mountains, they offered an example extremely rare among Indians, of a tribe raising a crop for the market; for they traded in tobacco largely with other tribes. Their Huron confederates, keen traders, would not suffer them to pass through their country to traffic with the French, preferring to secure for themselves the advantage of bartering with them in French goods at an enormous profit.
Journeying southward five days from the Tionnontate towns, the forest traveller reached the border villages of the Attiwandarons, or Neutral Nation. [Attiwandarons, Attiwendaronk, Atirhagenrenrets, Rhagenratka (Jesuit Relations), Attionidarons (Sagard). They, and not the Eries, were the Kahkwas of Seneca tradition.] As early as 1626, they were visited by the Franciscan friar, La Roche Dallion, who reports a numerous population in twenty-eight towns, besides many small hamlets. Their country, about forty leagues in extent, embraced wide and fertile districts on the north shore of Lake Erie, and their frontier extended eastward across the Niagara, where they had three or four outlying towns. [Lalemant, Relation des Huron, 1641, 71.--The Niagara was then called the River of the Neutrals, or the Onguiaahra. Lalemant estimates the Neutral population, in 1640, at twelve thousand, in forty villages.] Their name of Neutrals was due to their neutrality in the war between the Huron and the Iroquois proper. The hostile warriors, meeting in a Neutral cabin, were forced to keep the peace, though, once in the open air, the truce was at an end. Yet this people were abundantly ferocious, and, while holding a pacific attitude betwixt their warring kindred, waged deadly strife with the Mascoutins, an Algonquin horde beyond Lake Michigan. Indeed, it was but recently that they had been at blows with seventeen Algonquin tribes. [Lettre du Père La Roche Dallion, 8 Juillet, 1627, in Le Clerc, Établissement de la Foy, I. 346.] They burned female prisoners, a practice unknown to the Huron. [Women were often burned by the Iroquois: witness the case of Catherine Mercier in 1661, and many cases of Indian women mentioned by the early writers.]
Their country was full of game and they were bold and active
hunters. In form and stature they surpassed even the Huron, whom
they resembled in their mode of life, and from whose language their
own, though radically similar, was dialectically distinct. Their
licentiousness was even more open and shameless; and they stood
alone in the extravagance of some of their usages. They kept their
dead in their houses till they became insupportable; then scraped
the flesh from the bones, and displayed them in rows along the
walls, there to remain till the periodical Feast of the Dead, or
general burial. In summer, the men wore no clothing whatever, but
were usually tattooed from head to foot with powdered charcoal.
Southward and eastward of Lake Erie dwelt a kindred people, the Eries, or Nation of the Cat. Little besides their existence is known of them. They seem to have occupied Southwestern New York as far east as the Genesee, the frontier of the Senecas, and in habits and language to have resembled the Huron. [ Ragueneau, Relation des Huron, 1648, 46. ] They were noted warriors, fought with poisoned arrows, and were long a terror to the neighboring Iroquois.
On the Lower Susquehanna dwelt the formidable tribe called by the French Andastes. Little is known of them, beyond their general resemblance to their kindred, in language, habits, and character. Fierce and resolute warriors, they long made head against the Iroquois of New York, and were vanquished at last more by disease than by the tomahawk.
In Central New York, stretching east and west from the Hudson to the Genesee, lay that redoubted people who have lent their name to the tribal family of the Iroquois, and stamped it indelibly on the early pages of American history. Among all the barbarous nations of the continent, the Iroquois of New York stand paramount. Elements which among other tribes were crude, confused, and embryotic, were among them systematized and concreted into an established polity. The Iroquois was the Indian of Indians. A thorough savage, yet a finished and developed savage, he is perhaps an example of the highest elevation which man can reach without emerging from his primitive condition of the hunter. A geographical position, commanding on one hand the portal of the Great Lakes, and on the other the sources of the streams flowing both to the Atlantic and the Mississippi, gave the ambitious and aggressive confederates advantages which they perfectly understood, and by which they profited to the utmost. Patient and politic as they were ferocious, they were not only conquerors of their own race, but the powerful allies and the dreaded foes of the French and English colonies, flattered and caressed by both, yet too sagacious to give themselves without reserve to either. Their organization and their history evince their intrinsic superiority. Even their traditionary lore, amid its wild puerilities, shows at times the stamp of an energy and force in striking contrast with the flimsy creations of Algonquin fancy. That the Iroquois, left under their institutions to work out their destiny undisturbed, would ever have developed a civilization of their own, I do not believe. These institutions, however, are sufficiently characteristic and curious, and we shall soon have occasion to observe them.
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The Jesuits in North America in the Seventeenth Century, 1867
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