Erie Indian Moundbuilders Tribal Nation


Fred Axtell, (Dancing Owl), Research Manager & Victoria Taylor-True

Lake Erie was named after the Indian people who lived along the lake's southern shore---an area where mountain lions were abundant. The lions were called Erielhonan, meaning long tail and the Indians living there were called Erie or Cat Nation. In 1600 some 14,000 Eries lived in villages between what is now Buffalo, NY and Sandusky, Ohio.

Southern shore of Lake Erie beginning near Buffalo, New York and then west to the vicinity of Sandusky, Ohio. Their homeland may also have extended far inland to include large parts of the upper Ohio River Valley and its branches in northern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.

Indian Map of Ohio River Country [ca. 1755]

According to marginal notations, this rough sketch map was drawn by Chegeree (the Indian) who says he has travell'd through the country. One of the very few examples in the Library's collection of a map drawn by a Native American, it shows Indian settlements in the area from Lake Erie to the mouth of the Ohio river in the middle of the eighteenth century. LINK

The Erie were occupants of Canada, from Georgian Bay southward and eastward, around Lake Simcoe toward Lake Erie.

When driven from their homes by the Iroquois, they migrated to Green Bay. There, hearing that the Iroquois knew of their retreat and were preparing an expedition, the demoralized (Erie) Hurons again retreated westward to the Mississippi and ascended the Upper Iowa river where the inhabiting tribes received them kindly. But they did not relish Buffalo hunting on broad prairies, and sought the timbered lands in the upper Mississippi valley above Lake Pepin. The neighboring Sioux were friendly, but the Hurons, armed with guns, conspired to drive away their hospitable neighbors. Repulsed by the Sioux they descended the Mississippi and established themselves on the Black river, near the present city of La Crosse, Wisconsin.

While hunting west of Lake Superior the Hurons again became embroiled in war with the Sioux, and were forced to flee. They returned to their old grounds at Mackinaw, while the Ottawas repossessed the Manitoulin island in Lake Huron.

"The Maiden's Sacrifice"
Cataract House, Niagara Falls.
Legend of Niagara Falls. The Neuter nation of Indians, who were closely allied to the Eries, occupied the territory west of the Niagara river, and as it was the custom of the Indians everywhere to give their name to, or take it from, the chief natural feature of the country which they inhabited, they were called Onguiaahra, the name of the river. These Neuter Indians are said to have regarded the river with a feeling of awe and reverence, and considered the Great Spirit of Niagara as the embodiment of power. They heard in the thunder of the falls the voice of the Great Spirit, which they were taught to believe existed over all, and they regularly contributed a part of their crops and the fruits of the chase to him, and even went so far as to offer human sacrifice on their return from wars waged upon them. As an annual offering of good will and gratitude for the blessings they had received during the year, and for their deliverance from many evils which had threatened them, it is related that they offered up each spring the fairest maiden of their tribe, sending her over the falls in a white canoe filled with fruits and flowers, the canoe being guided by her own hand.

What terminated this superstitious practice is said to have been the selection one spring of the daughter of the principal chief of the nation. Upon the day fixed for the sacrifice the father was perfectly self-composed and stoical, as became an Indian chief, and did nothing to show that he preferred the sacrifice should not be made; but as the canoe containing the maiden and the fruits and the flowers moved out over the rapids above the falls, another canoe containing the father shot rapidly out from the shore, and both disappeared over the great cataract almost at the same moment. The loss of their beloved chief was too great, and it is said from this time on the sacrifice in the spring of the fairest of the flock was discontinued. The reason given by others for the discontinuance of this custom was that the Neuter nation was exterminated by other Indians, and, that as the conquerors did not believe in the Great Spirit of Niagara, there was no reason for them to practice the rite. The Neuter nation is said to have always desired to be buried on the banks of or near the Niagara river. Many bones of the dead of former centuries have been found on the banks of this historic river, and also on Goat island.

Niagara County was formed from Genesee in 1808. (Genesee was formed from Ontario County in 1802. Ontario was formed from Montgomery in 1789. Montgomery was formed from Albany County in 1772, but was known as Tryon County [warning: Tryon page crashes some browsers] until 1784.

A campaign against Iroquois was decided with long hand. Champlain and its French had promised their assistance. Nipissiriniens of the vicinity were. The Iroquet head with his Algonquins awaited only the order to walk. Ochatéguin led the Huron ones that it usually ordered. One preached the holy war or something similar.

The old competition of Huron and Iroquois had made conceive the plan of a forwarding which would carry its blows in the center even of the country of the Five-Nations . The French realized that they could not continue to make the draft with Algonquins and the Huron ones if they did not stop the races of Iroquois. This situation had brought the conflict of 1609, but the things remained in the same state, it was necessary to continue to fight. The associates of the company of Canada required furs, only that, so that, to get all the means of them were good. From there this promise made by Champlain lend hand-strong to people of Ochatéguin against their hereditary enemy.

The five nations iroquoises were placed about in the following order: Agniers or Mohawks in the north of Albany and Schenectady, Onneyouts or Oneidas behind Oswego, Onnontagués or Onondagas towards Syracuse, Goyogouins or Cayugas close Rochester, Tsonnontouans or Senecas in the east of Buffalo. Ériés came then, along part of the lake Érié, close to Cleveland and Sandusky.

The military preparations continued when emissary andastes appeared in Cahiagué announcing that, if the Huron ones would go counter Onnontagués, they promised to join them on the ground five hundred warriors. These Savages lived on the top of the Susquehanna river . Champlain names them Carantouanaïs , which seems to be the name of their principal village located about where Waverly is, county of Tioga, New York. This place, until at Tsonnontouans, three good days ago of walk. In 1614, Andastes fighting against Iroquois, had captured three Flemings of strong Nassau (close to Albany now) and had slackened them believing that it was of the French, i.e. friends of the Huron ones. Now, Andastes required to make alliance with the French. D' Albany with Carantouan one counted seven days of voyage. To 80 or 90 miles of Andastes, north-eastern, northern and north-western sides, were Iroquois. Champlain did not completely include/understand the reports/ratios of the envoys andastes, since he says that these people have only three villages placed at the medium of 20 others to which they make the war -- then he adds, with more exactitude, which Andastes cannot receive from the help of Huron because those have to cross the country of Tsonnontouans which is extremely populated, or to take a very great turning. The country of Andastoé, wrote the Ragueneau Father, in 1647, is beyond the Neutre nation ; it is far away from Huron, in straight line, nearly one hundred fifty miles, in south-east southern quarter of the Huron ones. They are people of language Huron and, from time immemorial, combined the our Huron ones. They are very quarrelsome and count, in only one borough, thirteen hundred men carrying weapons. Separately a small number of Nipissiriniens and Algonquins (even language) which remained by occasion on the northern territory and is lake Simcoe, all the population of High-Canada spoke the Huron-iroquoise language and formed three distinct groups: the Huron ones in the south of the Georgienne bay, Petuns , towards the west, in the counties of Bruce and Grey, the Neutrals on northern bank of the lake Erié. The Cats or Ériés occupied south-eastern bank of the lake Érié; Iroquois, the south-eastern bank of the Lake Ontario. Finally Andastes were even more in the east. All these people spoke Huron-iroquois. LINK

At James Fort (Jamestown, Virginia, New England), the period of 1606 to 1612 was the driest seven year period in 770 years according to tree ring studies. The Virginia Company had ordered the colonists to extract the New World riches. The order was to search for gold and other commodities and to barter with the Indians for food rather than spending time growing crops. The James Fort residents are eating horses, cats, dogs, rats and snakes- even poisonous ones. The Indians had no surplus food to trade. The English raided the Indian villages, stealing their limited supply of food. The Indians retaliated by attacking James Fort. This winter 2/3 of the colonists at James Fort died from hunger, disease and Indian attacks. The surviving colonists abandoned the Fort just as a supply ship arrived, so they returned.

The New England colony of New Foundland is established this year.

The Jesuits claimed that the Savages occupied a land so large that the old world bears no comparison to it. They believed the Spaniards carried Christianity with cruelty and avarice. They have killed almost all the Natives of the country who, only 70 years ago, numbered 20 million.

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