Last fall I saw that November was not only the National Novel Writing Month, but it was also Native American History Month. Since I did Black History Month in February, I thought that it was only right that I should also commemorate Native Americans this month.
I decided to start with Native Americans who used to live in the area where I grew up. I was born and raised in Northwestern Pennsylvania where the Erie Indians resided when the only white men in the area were a few French Jesuits. Several years ago I wrote an article on Hubpages called Whatever happened to the Erie Indians. Here’s a link if you’d like to read it. https://hubpages.com/education/What-Ever-Happened-to-the-Erie-Indians
This week, I am again honoring the Erie Indians.
What Do We Know about the Erie?
According to the History of Erie County Pennsylvania written In the 1880s, The State Library of Pennsylvania at Harrisburg had two ancient French maps. One of them was printed in 1763 and the other in 1768 and both maps show geographical features of parts of the US and Canada. Both represent the southern shore of Lake Erie as peopled with a tribe of Native Americans known as the Erie. A note in the margin of each reads, “The ancient Erie were exterminated by the Iroquois about one hundred years ago, and every since then they (the Iroquois) have been in possession of Lake Erie.”
On the earlier map the following is printed on the lake between what is now Cleveland and Sandusky. “The seat of war, the mart of trade, and chief hunting grounds of the six Nations on the lakes and the Ohio.”
This information is related to a French book published in 1703 which described the voyages of Le Baron de Lahonton an adventurous Frenchman who lived for ten years among the Indians from 1683-1693.
“The shores of Lake Erie,” he said, “are frequented by the Iroquois, the Illinois, the Oumanies, among others who are so savage that it is dangerous to stop with them.”
Frequent reference is also made in the letters and memoirs of Frenchmen -who visited this section, to the Flatheads, who would seem to have been settled somewhere south or west of the lake. All the authorities agreed that the date of the extermination of the Erie was somewhere about 1650. Most early historians claim that the word Erie was the Indian expression for wild cat, but a more recent writer contends that ” this is a mistake, that it does not mean wild cat, but raccoon. Raccoons were (and still are) abundant upon the lake shore while wild cats are seldom seen.”
A French memoir, written in 1718, relates that one island in the upper part of the lake was infested to so great an extent by wild cats, that ” the Indians killed as many as 900 of them in a very short time.” It is possible that the French explorers, from whom the supposed meaning of the word has descended to us, mistook raccoons for wild cats.
Students of Native American history believe that the tribe was at one time considerably ahead of the other tribes in progress and intellect.
Records show that French missionaries visited the Erie were visited by French missionaries as early as 1626. They claimed that the Erie were a neutral nation among the other more warlike tribes in the area. These Native Americans were governed by a queen, called in their own language, Yagowania, and in the Seneca tongue, Gegosasa. She was regarded as “the mother of nations,” and her office was that of “keeper of the symbolic house of peace.” The chief warrior of the tribe was Ragnotha, who had his principal location at Tu-shu-way, now the site of Buffalo, New York.
The End of the Erie
The Erie stayed neutral until 1634, when a bloody dissension broke out between the several branches of the Iroquois. During its progress two Seneca warriors appeared at Gegosasa’s lodge and were hospitably received. They were preparing to smoke the peace pipe when a deputation of Massassaugues was announced, who demanded vengeance for the murder of their chief’s son at the hands of the Seneca.
The queen granted the request promptly. She set out with a large body of warriors to enforce her decree, and dispatched messengers to Ragnotha to command his assistance. The visiting Seneca flew to their friends to notify them of the queen’s course, and a body of men hastily gathered in ambush on the road upon which her army traveled. The Erie did not know about the presence of the Seneca until the Erie heard their war-whoop. The Erie were ambushed. At first the queen’s forces gained the advantage, but the Seneca rallied and the Erie fled, leaving behind 600 dead. There are no accounts of any further hostilities at that time and the Queen did not appear to enforce her plan to avenge the grievances of the Massassaugues.
The war where the Erie were exterminated by the Iroquois occurred around 1650 and was one of the cruelest in history. From the beginning, both sides understood that one tribe or the other would be completely obliterated. The Erie organized a powerful body of warriors and hoped to ambush the Seneca in their own territory. A woman secretly alerted the Seneca of the Erie plan. The Seneca raised a force and marched to meet the invaders. The Seneca were completely victorious. Seven times the Erie crossed the stream that divided the hostile lines, but they were driven back with terrible losses.
At a later date, several hundred Iroquois attacked nearly three times their number of Erie, encamped near the mouth of French Creek, dispersed them, took many prisoners, and forced the rest to flee to remote regions.
In a battle near the site of the Cattauraugas Indian mission house, on the Allegheny River, the loss of the Erie was enormous. Finally, a disease broke out among the Erie, which “swept away greater numbers even than the club and arrow.” The Iroquois took advantage of their opportunity to end all fear of future trouble from the ill-fated Erie. Those who had been taken captive were, with rare exceptions, remorselessly butchered, and their wives and children were made slaves to the Iroquois villages. The few survivors “fled to distant regions in the West and South and had undying hatred the Seneca. Their council fire had been put out, and their name and language as a tribe lost.”
Sculptures and embankments on Kelly’s Island, in the upper end of the lake, was probably the last stronghold of the Erie. Traces of the tribe were occasionally found by the French Jesuits aw they wandered through the western wilderness. A number were living as slaves among the Onondagas of New York. They appealed to the missionaries to help them escape, but the French refused their requests. An early French writer described the Christian village of La Prairie and said that a portion of the settlement was made up of fugitive Erie.
How does this Tribe Relate to the Locket Saga?
In the Locket Saga series, I make no mention of the Erie because they were long gone by the time of the series. However, in The Anvil (Book VI), Luke mentions that the Erie had at one time lived in the area where they were moving.