Chemung County NY
History of Tompkins, Schuyler, Chemung, Tioga 1879
Chapter II  - Prehistoric Occupancy
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1879 Four County History - Table of Contents
Typed for Tri-Counties by Sheri Graves
Formatted by Joyce M. Tice


Mound Builders—An Ancient Fort—Who built it?—The Iroquois—Early Traditions—Organization of the League—Aboriginal Nomenclature of the Various Tribes—Wars and Conquests—Military Prowess—Their Introduction to Gunpowder and Liquor—"Manitto," or "Great Spirit"—"Fire-Water" and its Baneful Effects—The Incursions of M. Delabarre, M. Denonville, and Count Fronicnac—The Jesuits—1700.

Previous to the discovery of America by Europeans the Western Continent was at some period in its history occupied by a people to whom modern science, for want of a better cognomen, has applied the name of


Who this people were and whence they came, no research, however profound, has as yet given the slightest hint. Whither they went, from the northern parts of the continent, is plausibly conjectured; while their monuments, scattered from Nova Scotia to Mexico, and from Lake Superior to the Florida Keys, give abundant evidence to a certain definite degree. The remains of tumuli, representing works of defense, of religious ceremonial, and of sculpture, their implements, and the remains of their manufactures and mining, tell conclusively that they were a peaceful people, intelligent, and further advanced in the arts of civilization than the warlike nations who succeeded them. The vast tumuli reared by them in the Ohio and Mississippi Valleys remind the beholder of the massive structures of Old Egypt, and, like them, proclaim their builders to have been numerous and despotically governed. From the works of defense, it would seem they retired from the country in a southwesterly direction, either voluntarily or involuntarily; and it is not unlikely that the rude pottery and earthworks of the Mound-Builders of the North were the early efforts of the people who built the sculptured temples of Palenque and Yucatan, and reared the pyramid of Cholula. But this conjecture only, based on the remains of a long-lost people. Our territory is not without an interest in the prehistoric, for in its borders is


Which may be seen in the hills just beyond the limits of the city of Elmira, in Chemung County. It is an ancient earthwork running across the crest of a high promontory jutting down into the river from the mountains behind, the face of the cliff on the river-side, as well as that on the opposite, being a sheer descent of two hundred or more feet. A deep ravine, through which runs a little creek, forms the defense on the southern side, and the approach in front is up a steep, narrow point, rising abruptly from the river. The work is an embankment some eight or ten feet wide at the base, rising from the now nearly obliterated trench some three or more feet, and extends entirely across the promontory, from the brow of the same on the ravine to the opposite side of the river. The outer ditch is yet plainly visible, though nearly filled up by the soil and decaying vegetation. Earlier days disclosed two parallel trenches, also running across the hill, but they are not now discernible. Who built this defense, for defense it surely was, and reared by man, no tradition has ever given any information. It was an ancient fortification in the days of the pioneers, who could gain no information concerning its building from the Indians. They know of its existence, but had no tradition concerning it. Its age is evidenced by the forest growth of oaks that has sprung up on the parapet since it was abandoned, some of which are twenty inches in diameter. It is evidently one of a series of such works found on the Susquehanna and Delaware, indicating the presence of the advance to be from the northeastward. Excavations have been made in the embankment, but as yet nothing has been exhumed throwing any light on the origin of the work. Perhaps efforts in the old trench in which the defenders must have lain, would be better rewarded.

Whether the fierce Eries or Andastes threw up this work as a defense against the terrible onslaught of the Iroquois, or whether it was even than an ancient tumulus of that more ancient people, the Mound-Builders, is a mystery yet unfathomed. But here it is, an evidence only thus far that whatever people built it they called these fair valleys and rounded summits home, and defended it with their lives.

The antique postcard at left illustrates the Indiam Mound 
mentioned in the text. 


Tradition informs me that about the year 1600 this nation resided in the vicinity of Montreal, and were in subjection to the Adirondacks. How long the latter tribe had exercised this power, and whether the Iroquois had previously been a powerful nation, are questions that naturally suggest themselves to the searcher in history, but have not, by even the most indefatigable workers in aboriginal lore, been answered; and the pen of the present historian is unable to lift the veil of obscurity that enshrouds the remote origin of this nation, the most powerful and intelligent that ever dwelt within the boundaries of this republic.

From the Adirondacks they acquired the art of husbandry, and became proficient in the chase and upon the war-path. As they increased in numbers and influence a passion sized them to become the possessors of the country they occupied, and raising the tomahawk at the Adirondacks they waged a fierce war against them, which resulted in the defeat of the Iroquois, and the remnants of the tribe were compelled to fly the country to escape extermination. They traced their steps into the "lake country," and gathering their scattered warriors, effected a settlement on Seneca River.

No authority gives us the date of the organization of this celebrated league, but it was probably in about the year 1600, as it was a powerful organization at the date of Dutch occupancy, in 1609.

The league originally consisted of five nations, viz.: Onondagas, Oneidas, Mohawks, Cayugas, and Senecas.

O-nun-da-ga, the origin of the name of the Onondagas, signifies "on the hills;" hence the name they gave themselves, O-nun-da-ga-o-wa, as rendered, "the people of the hills."

The Oneidas were called the "people of the stone," or "the granite people," as indicated by their national name, O-na-yole-ku-o-no.

Gu-ue-a-gu-o-no was the name applied to the Mohawks, which signified "the possessor of the flint," and they had for the device of the village a "steel and a flint."

The Cayugas were known by the appellation of Gue-u-gweh-o-no, "the people of the mucky land." It doubtless referred to the marsh at the foot of Cayuga Lake, where they first settled.

Nun-da-wa-o-no was the national name of the Senecas, meaning "the great hill people." This was the name also of their oldest village, on Canandaigua Lake, where, according to the Seneca myth, the tribe sprang out of the ground. The following version of their origin is given from a native source:

"While the tribe had its seat and council fire on this hill, a woman and her son were living near it, when the boy one day caught a small two-headed serpent, called Kaistowanea, in the bushes. He brought it home as a pet to amuse himself, and put it in a box, where he fed it on birds, flesh, and other dainties. After some time it had become so large that it rested on the beams of the lodge, and the hunters were obliged to feed it with deer; but it soon went out and made its abode on a neighboring hill, where it maintained itself. It often went out and sported in the lake, and in time became as large and mischievous that the tribe were put in dread of it. They consulted on the subject one evening, and determined to fly next morning; but, with the light of the next morning, the monster had encircled the hill, and lay with its double jaws extended before the gate. Some attempted to pass out, but were driven back; others tried to climb over its body, but were unable. Hunger at last drove them to desperation, and they made a rush to pass, but only rushed into the monster’s double jaws. All were devoured but a warrior and his sister, who waited in vain expectancy of relief. At length the warrior had a dream, in which he was shown that if he would fledge his arrows with the hair of his sister the charm would prevail over their enemy. He was warned not to heed the frightful heads and hissing tongues, but to shoot at the heart. Accordingly, the next morning he armed himself with his keenest weapons, charmed as directed, and boldly shot at the serpent’s heart. The instantaneous recoiling of the monster proved that the wound was mortal. He began in great agony to roll down the hill, breaking down trees, and uttering horrid noises, until he rolled into the lake. Here he slaked his thirst, and tried by water to mitigate his agony, dashing about in fury. At length he vomited up all the people whom he had eaten, and immediately expired and sank to the bottom."

The Six Nations were constituted in 1712, by the uniting of the Tuscaroras, Dus-gu-o’-weh, "the shirt wearing people," a nation that inhabited the western part of North Carolina. The league was originated by the Onondaguas, hence they were called the "Fathers of the Confederacy;" the Mohawks, having first given their consent, were known as "The Eldest Brothers;" and for a similar reason the Cayugas were called "The Youngest Brothers," having given their assent last. The Senecas were named "The Watchmen," from the fact, doubtless, of their location near their enemies from the west.

The organization of the league was effected on the east bank of the Onondaga Creek, on the road to Syracuse. The chiefs and sachems soon discovered that the compact entered into was in all respects advantageous, thus creating and maintaining a fraternal spirit among themselves, and rendering them powerful upon the war-path. With the consciousness of returning power, their first warlike move was against their old enemies, the Adirondacks, whom they utterly exterminated. Now becoming convinced of their strength, they waged war upon all surrounding nations. Their tomahawk was brandished upon the shores of Lake Superior, their warlike measures were carried into New England, and the scalping-knife gleamed along the valley of the Father of Waters.

They conquered the Hurons, the Eries, the Andastez, the Chauanons, the Illinois, the Miamies, the Algonquins, the Delawares ,the Shawansene, the Susquehannocks, the Nanticokes, the Unamis, the Minsi, and even the Carnise Indians in their sea-girt home upon Long Island found no protection against their attacks. The name of the Iroquois had become a terror to all the Indian nations.

"I have been told," says Colden, "by old men in New England, who remembered the time when the Mowhawks made war upon their Indians, that as soon as a single Mohawk was discovered in their country their Indians raised a cry from hill to hill "A Mohawk! A Mohawk.!" upon which they fled like sheep before wolves, without attempting to make the least resistance." The thirst for military glory was their ruling passion. They evinced a remarkable spirit of ambition, not unlike Napoleon, or Caesar of old, and but for the settlement of the New World by the Caucasians, we have no right to doubt that eventually the haughty chief of the dusky legion of the Six Nations would have wielded the sceptre over the Indians of North America with all the despotism of an Alexander, and like him would have thirsted for fresh conquests. The effects of these military operations were carried as far north as Hudson’s Bay, while the Mississippi did not form their western limits. They ravished the extreme eastern and southern portion of the United States, and, without doubt, as stated in Rogers’ "America," their wars were extended to the Isthmus of Darieu.

There was a fatal hour when the red man quaffed the rum from the hands of Henry Hudson. That was a fatal hour when the red man was taught the power of gunpowder by Champlain. It is a curious fact that the Indians were made known with these, their two greatest enemies, during the same week of the same year, 1609, by these rival explorers. The manner of giving the first draught of liquor to the Indians, as related by a manuscript in the New York Historical Society, was as follows:

"Hudson, accompanied by a number of his attendants, was ascending, in a canoe, the river that bears his name, and discovering a band of aborigines, made them a sign to halt. He went ashore, and after friendly salutations he beckoned to an attendant, who brought him a backhuck (gourd) and a little cup, both as clear as the new ice upon the surface of a lake. And from the backhuck Manito, or Good Spirit, as they regarded Hudson, filled the cup with a liquid which he drank, and refilling, handed to the chief near him, who quaffed the cup to the bottom. In a few moments his eyes closed lustreless, and he fell heavily to the ground. His companions thought him dead, and the wailings of the women resounded through the forest. After a long time the chief revived, and springing to his feet declared that he had experienced the most delightful sensations, seen visions, and was never more happy. He requested another draught, and, following his example, the liquor went round the circle. They all partook of the ravishing cup, and all became intoxicated."

From the fatal hour to the present their thirst for the maddening poison has not abated. In vain have their councils passed decrees against it; in vain have their teachers admonished them, and equally useless have been the eloquent and pathetic appeals of their women against it. Whenever and wherever, even at this late day, whether it be the Sioux among the Black Hills or the remnant of the Iroquois upon their reservations, they can lay their hand upon fire-water, they are certain to drink it. This accursed liquor was among the strongest agencies used by the unprincipled settler in his intercourse with the red man to gain his land and furs.

In this connection it is proper to observe that the English bestowed no attention upon the enlightenment of the race, either morally or religiously. In striking contrast with the attitude of England was that of France, exhibited by the Jesuit missionaries, Franciscan priests, and Recollet fathers.

These were the first Caucasians who lifted up their voices in the wilderness in attempting to Christianize the red man. History has never done these fathers justice. They left their homes in sunny France, surrounded by every luxury that wealth and ecclesiastical position could afford, for an abode in the wilds of the New World, with no companions save the beasts of the forest and hostile Indians. They came not as the trader worshiping Mammon, nor the settler in the search of a home. They endured all the privations of the forest with the sole object in view of Christianizing the aborigines. Their lives were sacrificed upon the altar of Christianity, that he might be raised from darkness and brought into sweet communion with the Great Spirit.

Their motto, Ad majorem, Dei gloriam, was ever before them; and but for the constantly recurring wars they would without doubt have left a spirit of Christian civilization among the savages of the land. In many localities they wrought a truly wonderful work in inculcating a temperance spirit among the Indians, who suffered severely from the unprincipled trader, who took their furs and gave the poor savage liquor in return.

Several attempts were made by England and France to extirpate the Confederacy of the Six Nations, but without success. The first incursion into their country was headed by M. Delabarre, the governor-general of Canada, in 1683; the second by M. Denonville, also governor-general of Canada, in 1687; and the third by Count de Frontenac, in 1697.

Those incursions failed to accomplish the subjugation of the proud Confederacy, and the year 1700 dawns and finds them in the zenith of their glory. They had reared a colossal Indian empire, and as far as their unsophisticated vision extended, destined to remain.

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