THE IROQUOIS   Barbara Graymont           Chelsea House Publishers
New York Philadelphia 1988

"When Europeans first reached the North American continent, they found hundreds of tribes occupying a vast and rich country. The newcomers quickly recognized the wealth of natural resources. They were not, however, so quick or willing to recognize the spiritual, cultural, and intellectual riches of the people they called Indians.

For American Indians, the consequences of their interaction with non-Indian people have been both productive and tragic. The Europeans believed they had “discovered” a “New World,” but their religious bigotry, cultural bias, and materialistic world view kept them from appreciating and understanding the people who lived in it. All too often they attempted to change the way of life of the indigenous people. The Spanish conquistadores wanted the Indians as a source of labor. The Christian missionaries, many of whom were English, viewed them as potential converts. French traders and trappers used the Indians as a means to obtain pelts.

In the land south of Lake Ontario, along the Mohawk River and westward to the Finger Lakes and Genesee River, in what is now New York State, their lived five related but separate Indian nations. To the Europeans who would later come into their territory, they would be known as the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas. Collectively, the newcomers would refer to these Indians as the Iroquois. Each nation lived in its own separate territory, in several villages built in forest clearing and tightly stockaded for protection against attacks from enemies.

Warfare was a way of life for all of the Iroquois nations. So often did the sun shine down upon men fighting that it was said in those days that the sun loved war. The power and the prestige of the warriors increased with each battle. They had become so attached to war and the glory it brought them that they could not give it up.

Wanderers from other tribes, named Deganawidah and Hayenenwatha, met in the Mohawk village and saw in each other qualities in their mission to promote peace. They traveled among the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas promoting and convincing these tribes to join together. Eventually, they formed the Iroquois League of Nations. No one today knows exactly when the Confederacy of the five Nations was founded. We know only that when the Europeans first met the Iroquois, their confederacy was already very old.

The establishment of the League of the Five Nations (later to become six nations) strengthened and protected them from enemies on the outside and ensured their ongoing peaceful coexistence within. They shared their hunting grounds with one another and the men hunted in peace. The women tilled the fields around their villages and planted crops, confident that any enemies were too far away to disturb their homeland.

The confederacy was a remarkable creation, formed by an early people, showing their great political and social sophistication. They were kindly and reverent, affectionate and loyal toward their friends. They had provided within their League a means for extending the house and admitting other peoples into their peaceful way of life. In later years, other Indian tribes would accept this offer and take shelter beneath the Tree of the Great Long Leaves. The Five Nations prospered as a result of their unity. Unfortunately, the surrounding nations did not also benefit from the Great Peace. The Iroquois felt no security on their borders when neighboring nations rejected the confederacy or thwarted their interests. Even after the formation of the League, intermittent raids on the fringes of its borders continued. In later years, these conflicts often became furious beyond belief as the League sought to extend its peace by means of warfare.

Warfare was one of the major means by which the men, and particularly the young men, achieved fame, prestige, and power. Hunting and fishing, also male occupations, likewise brought prestige, but could take place only at certain seasons of the year. Continued warfare thus met an important social and religious need among the Iroquois, even after the founding of the League of Peace.

The coming of the Europeans profoundly changed the nature of Iroquois warfare. An economic motive now became predominant as tribes competed for hunting territories and supplies of beaver skins to trade for the European goods that were rapidly becoming important in their lives. Economic motives were not the sole reason for an increase in Indian warfare. The Europeans had brought with them diseases against which the native Americans had no immunity and for which their healers knew no cures. Epidemics swept through Indian villages, drastically reducing their populations."


BETWEEN TWO WORLDS: Native Americans’ Struggle for Independence in Western Pennsylvania, 1700 — 1820               

Historical Society of Western Pennsylvania
Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania                1992

"By the early 1760s settlers were moving into Western Pennsylvania from the east, settling in the territory with little or no regard for the Seneca, Shawnee and Lenni Lenape already living here. At this time, the Ohio River was the western frontier of the British colonies. Settlers who moved across the Allegheny Mountains were claiming the land as their own."

Following the Revolutionary War, Chief Cornplanter was given a grant of land in gratitude for his help in leading his followers against the British in favor of the new nation. Part of this land grant was in Warren County and thus, the Cornplanter Tribe resided here. Many other tribes were forced onto reserves, beginning the trend of moving Indians off their native lands to less desirable places. The Iroquois League of Nations, at this time, consisted of six Indian nations in place of the original five."



Victoria Sherrow               Chelsea House Publishers
New York Philadelphia 1992

"Beginning in 1830, the U.S. government tried to move Indians who lived in the East to reservations west of the Mississippi River. The population of the United States was growing rapidly, and the government wanted the land for non-Indian settlers. In 1838, the Senecas faced this hardship. After the Ogden Land Company cheated them out of their land in New York, the government told the Senecas to resettle in Kansas. After years of struggle, the Senecas were able to buy back their land in 1857. After this, they were not disturbed again for nearly 100 years.

By the late 19th century, Iroquois life had improved in some ways. Men had taken to farming, and many were successful. Others studied new trades, such as carpentry. Iroquois children, and even some adults, were attending schools both on and off the reservations. Some Iroquois went on to college.

The Bureau of Indian Affairs decided that Indians should leave the reservations and mix with the rest of society. For this reason the bureau ended many programs that had improved life on the reservations.

The Iroquois in New York fought against these ideas. They knew that the bureau's plan was only causing new problems for many Indians, who were now losing even more of their land. Those who did move to the cities found it hard to change their way of life and get decent jobs. More and more Indians fell in poverty. Finally, the government realized that the new policies were doing more harm than good, and ended the efforts to force the Indians off their reservations.

The Seneca people faced another cruel loss in the 1950’s. At that time, the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers planned to build a dam near Warren. This land was on the Cornplanter Grant, where many Senecas lived. The Iroquois said that taking that land would go against a treaty the U.S. government had signed in 1794.

The Senecas fought hard to keep the dam from being built.  They wrote newspaper articles and talked about the problem on television.  The Seneca Nation hired an engineer to study the land and design another way to build the dam nearby.  The Senecas' plan would have saved the Indian lands while still controlling floods in the area.

Despite the efforts of the Senecas, the government built the Kinzua Dam as it had planned. As a result, more than 9,000 acres of Seneca land were flooded, and 130 families had to leave their homes. The government gave the Senecas money, but they would much rather have kept their land. The Senecas who lost their homes still speak about the dam with great sadness."


Courtesy of the Warren County Historical Society