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Title: Hiawatha and the Iroquois Confederation - A Study in Anthropology. A Paper Read at the Cincinnati Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in August, 1881, under the Title of "A Lawgiver of the Stone Age."
Author: Hale, Horatio, 1817-1896
Language: English
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A Study in Anthropology



A Paper Read at the Cincinnati Meeting of the American Association for
the Advancement of Science, in August, 1881, under the Title of "A
Lawgiver of the Stone Age."

Salem, Mass.:
Printed at the Salem Press.


What was the intellectual capacity of man when he made his first
appearance upon the earth?  Or, to speak with more scientific precision
(as the question relates to material evidences), what were the mental
powers of the people who fashioned the earliest stone implements, which
are admitted to be the oldest remaining traces of our kind?  As these
people were low in the arts of life, were they also low in natural
capacity?  This is certainly one of the most important questions which
the science of anthropology has yet to answer.  Of late years the
prevalent disposition has apparently been to answer it in the
affirmative.  Primitive man, we are to believe, had a feeble and narrow
intellect, which in the progress of civilization has been gradually
strengthened and enlarged.  This conclusion is supposed to be in
accordance with the development theory; and the distinguished author of
that theory has seemed to favor this view.  Yet, in fact, the development
theory has nothing to do with the question.  If we suppose that the
existing and--so far as we know--the only species of man appeared upon
the earth with the physical conformation and mental capacity which he
retains at this day, we make merely the same supposition with regard to
him that we make with regard to every other existing species of animal.
How it was that this species came to exist is another question altogether.

Philologists regard it as an established fact that the first people who
spoke an Aryan language were a tribe of barbarous nomads, who wandered in
the highlands of central Asia.  Those who have studied the earliest
products of Aryan genius in the Vedas, the Zend-Avesta, and the Homeric
songs, will be willing to admit that these wandering barbarians may have
had minds capable of the highest efforts to which the human intellect is
known to have attained.  Yet if an irruption of Semitic or Turanian
conquerors had swept that infant tribe from the earth, no trace of its
existence beyond a few flint implements, and perhaps some fragments of
pottery, would have remained to show that such a people had ever existed.
Have we any reason to doubt that in the course of all the ages, in
various parts of our globe, many tribes of men may have arisen and
perished who were in natural capacity as far superior to the primitive
Aryans as these were to the races who surrounded them?  Under the law of
the survival of the fittest, it is not the strongest that survive, but
the strongest of those that are placed in the most favorable
circumstances.  On any calculation of probabilities, it will seem likely
enough that among the numberless small societies of men that have
appeared and vanished in primeval Asia and Europe, in Africa, Australia,
America, and Polynesia, there may have been some at least equal, if not
superior, in mental endowments, to that fortunate tribe of central Asia,
whose posterity has come to be the dominant race of our time.  Among
their leaders may have been men qualified to rank with the most renowned
heroes, exemplars, and teachers of the human race--with Moses and Buddha,
with Confucius and Solon, with Numa, Charlemagne, and Alfred, or (to come
down to recent times) with the greatest and wisest among the founders of
the American Republic.  If the possibility of the existence of such men
under such conditions cannot be denied, the facts which have lately been
brought to light in regard to one such personage and the community in
which he lived may have a peculiar interest and significance in their
bearing on the general question of the mental capacity of uncivilized

It is well known that the Iroquois tribes, whom our ancestors termed the
Five Nations, were, when first visited by Europeans, in the precise
condition which, according to all the evidence we possess, was held by
the inhabitants of the Old World during what has been designated the
Stone Age.  Any one who examines the abandoned site of an ancient
Iroquois town will find there relics of precisely the same cast as those
which are disinterred from the burial mounds and caves of prehistoric
Europe,--implements of flint and bone, ornaments of shells, and fragments
of rude pottery.  Trusting to these evidences alone, he might suppose
that the people who wrought them were of the humblest grade of intellect.
But the testimony of historians, of travellers, of missionaries, and
perhaps his own personal observation, would make him aware that this
opinion would be erroneous, and that these Indians were, in their own
way, acute reasoners, eloquent speakers, and most skilful and far-seeing
politicians.  He would know that for more than a century, though never
mustering more than five thousand fighting men, they were able to hold
the balance of power on this continent between France and England; and
that in a long series of negotiations they proved themselves qualified to
cope in council with the best diplomatists whom either of those powers
could depute to deal with them.  It is only recently that we have
learned, through the researches of a careful and philosophic
investigator, the Hon. L. H. Morgan, that their internal polity was
marked by equal wisdom, and had been developed and consolidated into a
system of government, embodying many of what are deemed the best
principles and methods of political science,--representation, federation,
self-government through local and general legislatures,--all resulting in
personal liberty, combined with strict subordination to public law.  But
it has not been distinctly known that for many of these advantages the
Five Nations were indebted to one individual, who bore to them the same
relation which the great reformers and lawgivers of antiquity bore to the
communities whose gratitude has made their names illustrious.

A singular fortune has attended the name and memory of Hiawatha.  Though
actually an historical personage, and not of very ancient date, of whose
life and deeds many memorials remain, he has been confused with two
Indian divinities, the one Iroquois, the other Algonquin, and his history
has been distorted and obscured almost beyond recognition.  Through the
cloud of mythology which has enveloped his memory, the genius of
Longfellow has discerned something of his real character, and has made
his name, at least, a household word wherever the English language is
spoken.  It remains to give a correct account of the man himself and of
the work which he accomplished, as it has been received from the official
annalists of his people.  The narrative is confirmed by the evidence of
contemporary wampum records, and by written memorials in the native
tongue, one of which is at least a hundred years old.

According to the best evidence that can be obtained, the formation of the
Iroquois confederacy dates from about the middle of the fifteenth
century.  There is reason to believe that prior to that time the five
tribes, who are dignified with the title of nations, had held the region
south of Lake Ontario, extending from the Hudson to the Genesee river,
for many generations, and probably for many centuries.  Tradition makes
their earlier seat to have been north of the St. Lawrence river, which is
probable enough.  It also represents the Mohawks as the original tribe,
of which the others are offshoots; and this tradition is confirmed by the
evidence of language.  That the Iroquois tribes were originally one
people, and that their separation into five communities, speaking
distinct dialects, dates many centuries back, are both conclusions as
certain as any facts in physical science.  Three hundred and fifty years
ago they were isolated tribes, at war occasionally with one another, and
almost constantly with the fierce Algonquins who surrounded them.  Not
unfrequently, also, they had to withstand and to avenge the incursions of
warriors belonging to more distant tribes of various stocks, Hurons,
Cherokees and Dakotas.  Yet they were not peculiarly a warlike people.
They were a race of housebuilders, farmers, and fishermen.  They had
large and strongly palisaded towns, well-cultivated fields, and
substantial houses, sometimes a hundred feet long, in which many kindred
families dwelt together.

At this time two great dangers, the one from without, the other from
within, pressed upon these tribes.  The Mohegans, or Mohicans, a powerful
Algonquin people, whose settlements stretched along the Hudson river,
south of the Mohawks, and extended thence eastward into New England,
waged a desperate war against them.  In this war the most easterly of the
Iroquois, the Mohawks and Oneidas, bore the brunt and were the greatest
sufferers.  On the other hand, the two westerly nations, the Senecas and
Cayugas, had a peril of their own to encounter.  The central nation, the
Onondagas, were then under the control of a dreaded chief, whose name is
variously given, Atotarho, Watatotahlo, Tododaho, according to the
dialect of the speaker and the orthography of the writer.  He was a man
of great force of character and of formidable qualities,--haughty,
ambitious, crafty and bold,--a determined and successful warrior, and at
home, so far as the constitution of an Indian tribe would allow, a stern
and remorseless tyrant.  He tolerated no equal.  The chiefs who ventured
to oppose him were taken off one after another by secret means, or were
compelled to flee for safety to other tribes.  His subtlety and artifices
had acquired for him the reputation of a wizard.  He knew, they say, what
was going on at a distance as well as if he were present; and he could
destroy his enemies by some magical art, while he himself was far away.
In spite of the fear which he inspired, his domination would probably not
have been endured by an Indian community, but for his success in war.  He
had made himself and his people a terror to the Cayugas and the Senecas.
According to one account, he had subdued both of those tribes; but the
record-keepers of the present day do not confirm this statement, which
indeed is not consistent with the subsequent history of the confederation.

The name Atotarho signifies "entangled."  The usual process by which
mythology, after a few generations, makes fables out of names, has not
been wanting here.  In the legends which the Indian story-tellers recount
in winter about their cabin fires, Atotarho figures as a being of
preterhuman nature, whose head, in lieu of hair, is adorned with living
snakes.  A rude pictorial representation shows him seated and giving
audience, in horrible state, with the upper part of his person enveloped
by these writhing and entangled reptiles.  But the grave Councillors of
the Canadian Reservation, who recite his history as they have heard it
from their fathers at every installation of a high chief, do not repeat
these inventions of marvel-loving gossips, and only smile with
good-humored derision when they are referred to.

There was at this time among the Onondagas a chief of high rank whose
name, variously written--Hiawatha, Hayonwatha, Ayongwhata,
Taoungwatha--is rendered, "he who seeks the wampum belt."  He had made
himself greatly esteemed by his wisdom and his benevolence.  He was now
past middle age.  Though many of his friends and relatives had perished
by the machinations of Atotarho, he himself had been spared.  The
qualities which gained him general respect had, perhaps, not been without
influence even on that redoubtable chief.  Hiawatha had long beheld with
grief the evils which afflicted not only his own nation, but all the
other tribes about them, through the continual wars in which they were
engaged, and the misgovernment and miseries at home which these wars
produced.  With much meditation he had elaborated in his mind the scheme
of a vast confederation which would ensure universal peace.  In the mere
plan of a confederation there was nothing new.  There are probably few,
if any, Indian tribes which have not, at one time or another, been
members of a league or confederacy.  It may almost be said to be their
normal condition.  But the plan which Hiawatha had evolved differed from
all others in two particulars.  The system which he devised was to be not
a loose and transitory league, but a permanent government.  While each
nation was to retain its own council and its management of local affairs,
the general control was to be lodged in a federal senate, composed of
representatives elected by each nation, holding office during good
behavior, and acknowledged as ruling chiefs throughout the whole
confederacy.  Still further, and more remarkably, the confederation was
not to be a limited one.  It was to be indefinitely expansible.  The
avowed design of its proposer was to abolish war altogether.  He wished
the federation to extend until all the tribes of men should be included
in it, and peace should everywhere reign.  Such is the positive testimony
of the Iroquois themselves; and their statement, as will be seen, is
supported by historical evidence.

Hiawatha's first endeavor was to enlist his own nation in the cause.  He
summoned a meeting of the chiefs and people of the Onondaga towns.  The
summons, proceeding from a chief of his rank and reputation, attracted a
large concourse.  "They came together," said the narrator, "along the
creeks, from all parts, to the general council-fire."  But what effect
the grand projects of the chief, enforced by the eloquence for which he
was noted, might have had upon his auditors, could not be known.  For
there appeared among them a well-known figure, grim, silent and
forbidding, whose terrible aspect overawed the assemblage.  The unspoken
displeasure of Atotarho was sufficient to stifle all debate, and the
meeting dispersed.  This result, which seems a singular conclusion of an
Indian council--the most independent and free-spoken of all
gatherings--is sufficiently explained by the fact that Atotarho had
organized among the more reckless warriors of his tribe a band of
unscrupulous partisans, who did his bidding without question, and took
off by secret murder all persons against whom he bore a grudge.  The
knowledge that his followers were scattered through the assembly,
prepared to mark for destruction those who should offend him, might make
the boldest orator chary of speech.  Hiawatha alone was undaunted.  He
summoned a second meeting, which was attended by a smaller number, and
broke up as before, in confusion, on Atotarho's appearance.  The
unwearied reformer sent forth his runners a third time; but the people
were disheartened.  When the day of the council arrived, no one attended.
Then, continued the narrator, Hiawatha seated himself on the ground in
sorrow.  He enveloped his head in his mantle of skins, and remained for a
long time bowed down in grief and thought.  At length he arose and left
the town, taking his course toward the southeast.  He had formed a bold
design.  As the councils of his own nation were closed to him, he would
have recourse to those of other tribes.  At a short distance from the
town (so minutely are the circumstances recounted) he passed his great
antagonist, seated near a well-known spring, stern and silent as usual.
No word passed between the determined representatives of war and peace;
but it was doubtless not without a sensation of triumphant pleasure that
the ferocious war-chief saw his only rival and opponent in council going
into what seemed to be voluntary exile.  Hiawatha plunged into the
forest; he climbed mountains; he crossed a lake; he floated down the
Mohawk river in a canoe.  Many incidents of his journey are told, and in
this part of the narrative alone some occurrences of a marvellous cast
are related even by the official historians.  Indeed, the flight of
Hiawatha from Onondaga to the country of the Mohawks is to the Five
Nations what the flight of Mohammed from Mecca to Medina is to the
votaries of Islam.  It is the turning point of their history.  In
embellishing the narrative at this point, their imagination has been
allowed a free course.  Leaving aside these marvels, however, we need
only refer here to a single incident which may well enough have been of
actual occurrence.  A lake which Hiawatha crossed had shores abounding in
small white shells.  These he gathered and strung upon strings, which he
disposed upon his breast, as a token to all whom he should meet that he
came as a messenger of peace.  And this, according to one authority, was
the origin of wampum, of which Hiawatha was the inventor.  That honor,
however, is one which must be denied to him.  The evidence of sepulchral
relics shows that wampum was known to the mysterious moundbuilders, as
well as in all succeeding ages.  Moreover, if the significance of white
wampum-strings as a token of peace had not been well known in his day,
Hiawatha would not have relied upon them as a means of proclaiming his
pacific purpose.

Early one morning he arrived at a Mohawk town, the residence of the noted
chief Dekanawidah, whose name, in point of celebrity, ranks in Iroquois
tradition with those of Hiawatha and Atotarho.  It is probable that he
was known by reputation to Hiawatha, and not unlikely that they were
related.  According to one account Dekanawidah was an Onondaga, adopted
among the Mohawks.  Another narrative makes him a Mohawk by birth.  The
probability seems to be that he was the son of an Onondaga father, who
had been adopted by the Mohawks, and of a Mohawk mother.  That he was not
of pure Mohawk blood is shown by the fact, which is remembered, that his
father had had successively three wives, one belonging to each of the
three clans, Bear, Wolf, and Turtle, which compose the Mohawk nation.  If
the father had been a Mohawk, he would have belonged to one of the Mohawk
clans, and could not then (according to the Indian law) have married into
it.  He had seven sons, including Dekanawidah, who, with their families,
dwelt together in one of the "long houses" common in that day among the
Iroquois.  These ties of kindred, together with this fraternal strength,
and his reputation as a sagacious councillor, gave Dekanawidah great
influence among his people.  But, in the Indian sense, he was not the
leading chief.  This position belonged to Tekarihoken (better known in
books as Tecarihoga) whose primacy as the first chief of the eldest among
the Iroquois nations was then, and is still, universally admitted.  Each
nation has always had a head-chief, to whom belonged the hereditary right
and duty of lighting the council-fire, and taking the first place in
public meetings.  But among the Indians, as in other communities,
hereditary rank and personal influence do not always, or indeed
ordinarily, go together.  If Hiawatha could gain over Dekanawidah to his
views, he would have done much toward the accomplishment of his purposes.

In the early dawn he seated himself on a fallen trunk, near the spring
from which the inhabitants of the long-house drew their water.  Presently
one of the brothers came out with a vessel of elm-bark, and approached
the spring.  Hiawatha sat silent and motionless.  Something in his aspect
awed the warrior, who feared to address him.  He returned to the house,
and said to Dekanawidah, "a man, or a figure like a man, is seated by the
spring, having his breast covered with strings of white shells."  "It is
a guest," replied the chief; "go and bring him in.  We will make him
welcome."  Thus Hiawatha and Dekanawidah first met.  They found in each
other kindred spirits.  The sagacity of the Mohawk chief grasped at once
the advantages of the proposed plan, and the two worked together in
perfecting it, and in commending it to the people.  After much discussion
in council, the adhesion of the Mohawk nation was secured.  Dekanawidah
then despatched two of his brothers as ambassadors to the nearest tribe,
the Oneidas, to lay the project before them.  The Oneida nation is deemed
to be a comparatively recent offshoot from the Mohawks.  The difference
of language is slight, showing that their separation was much later than
that of the Onondagas.  In the figurative speech of the Iroquois, the
Oneida is the son, and the Onondaga is the brother, of the Mohawk.
Dekanawidah had good reason to expect that it would not prove difficult
to win the consent of the Oneidas to the proposed scheme.  But delay and
deliberation mark all public acts of the Indians.  The ambassadors found
the leading chief, Odatshehte, at his town on the Oneida creek.  He
received their message in a friendly way, but required time for his
people to consider it in council.  "Come back in another day," he said to
the messengers.  In the political speech of the Indians, a day is
understood to mean a year.  The envoys carried back the reply to
Dekanawidah and Hiawatha, who knew that they could do nothing but wait
the prescribed time.  After the lapse of a year, they repaired to the
place of meeting.  The treaty which initiated the great league was then
and there ratified between the representatives of the Mohawk and Oneida
nations.  The name of Odatshehte means "the quiver-bearer;" and as
Atotarho, "the entangled," is fabled to have had his head wreathed with
snaky locks, and as Hiawatha, "the wampum-seeker," is represented to have
wrought shells into wampum, so the Oneida chief is reputed to have
appeared at this treaty bearing at his shoulder a quiver full of arrows.

The Onondagas lay next to the Oneidas.  To them, or rather to their
terrible chief, the next application was made.  The first meeting of
Atotarho and Dekanawidah is a notable event in Iroquois history.  At a
later day, a native artist sought to represent it in an historical
picture, which has been already referred to.  Atotarho is seated in
solitary and surly dignity, smoking a long pipe, his head and body
encircled with contorted and angry serpents.  Standing before him are two
figures which cannot be mistaken.  The foremost, a plumed and cinctured
warrior, depicted as addressing the Onondaga chief, holds in his right
hand, as a staff, his flint-headed spear,--the ensign which marks him as
the representative of the Kanienga, or "People of the Flint,"--for so the
Mohawks style themselves.  Behind him another plumed figure bears in his
hand a bow with arrows, and at his shoulder a quiver.  Divested of its
mythological embellishments, the picture rudely represents the interview
which actually took place.  The immediate result was unpromising.  The
Onondaga chief coldly refused to entertain the project, which he had
already rejected when proposed by Hiawatha.  The ambassadors were not
discouraged.  Beyond the Onondagas were scattered the villages of the
Cayugas, a people described by the Jesuit missionaries, at a later day,
as the most mild and tractable of the Iroquois.  They were considered an
offshoot of the Onondagas, to whom they bore the same filial relation
which the Oneidas bore to the Mohawks.  The journey of the advocates of
peace through the forest to the Cayuga capital, and their reception, are
minutely detailed in the traditionary narrative.  The Cayugas, who had
suffered from the prowess and cruelty of the Onondaga chief, needed
little persuasion.  They readily consented to come into the league, and
their chief, Akahenyonk, "the wary spy," joined the Mohawk and Oneida
representatives in a new embassy to the Onondagas.  Acting probably upon
the advice of Hiawatha, who knew better than any other the character of
the community and the chief with whom they had to deal, they made
proposals highly flattering to the self-esteem which was the most notable
trait of both ruler and people.  The Onondagas should be the leading
nation of the confederacy.  Their chief town should be the federal
capital, where the great councils of the league should be held, and where
its records should be preserved.  The nation should be represented in the
council by fourteen senators, while no other nation should have more than
ten.  And as the Onondagas should be the leading tribe, so Atotarho
should be the leading chief.  He alone should have the right of summoning
the federal council, and no act of the council to which he objected
should be valid.  In other words, an absolute veto was given to him.  To
enhance his personal dignity two high chiefs were appointed as his
special aids and counsellors, his "secretaries of state," so to speak.
Other insignia of preëminence were to be possessed by him; and, in view
of all these distinctions, it is not surprising that his successor, who,
two centuries later, retained the same prerogatives, should have been
occasionally styled by the English colonists "the emperor of the Five
Nations."  It might seem, indeed, at first thought, that the founders of
the confederacy had voluntarily placed themselves and their tribes in a
position of almost abject subserviency to Atotarho and his followers.
But they knew too well the qualities of their people to fear for them any
political subjection.  It was certain that when once the league was
established, and its representatives had met in council, character and
intelligence would assume their natural sway, and mere artificial rank
and dignity would be little regarded.  Atotarho and his people, however,
yielded either to these specious offers or to the pressure which the
combined urgency of the three allied nations now brought to bear upon
them.  They finally accepted the league; and the great chief, who had
originally opposed it, now naturally became eager to see it as widely
extended as possible.  He advised its representatives to go on at once to
the westward, and enlist the populous Seneca towns, pointing out how this
might best be done.  This advice was followed, and the adhesion of the
Senecas was secured by giving to their two leading chiefs, Kanyadariyo
("beautiful lake") and Shadekaronyes ("the equal skies"), the offices of
military commanders of the confederacy, with the title of door-keepers of
the "Long-House,"--that being the figure by which the league was known.

The six national leaders who have been mentioned--Dekanawidah for the
Mohawks, Odatshehte for the Oneidas, Atotarho for the Onondagas,
Akahenyonk for the Cayugas, Kanyadariyo and Shadekaronyes for the two
great divisions of the Senecas--met in convention near the Onondaga Lake,
with Hiawatha for their adviser, and a vast concourse of their followers,
to settle the terms and rules of their confederacy, and to nominate its
first council.  Of this council, nine members (or ten, if Dekanawidah be
included) were assigned to the Mohawks, a like number to the Oneidas,
fourteen to the lordly Onondagas, ten to the Cayugas, and eight to the
Senecas.  Except in the way of compliment, the number assigned to each
nation was really of little consequence, inasmuch as, by the rule of the
league, unanimity was exacted in all their decisions.  This unanimity,
however, did not require the suffrage of every member of the council.
The representatives of each nation first deliberated apart upon the
question proposed.  In this separate council the majority decided; and
the leading chief then expressed in the great council the voice of his
nation.  Thus the veto of Atotarho ceased at once to be peculiar to him,
and became a right exercised by each of the allied nations.  This
requirement of unanimity, embarrassing as it might seem, did not prove to
be so in practice.  Whenever a question arose on which opinions were
divided, its decision was either postponed, or some compromise was
reached which left all parties contented.

The first members of the council were appointed by the convention,--under
what precise rule is unknown; but their successors came in by a method in
which the hereditary and the elective systems were singularly combined,
and in which female suffrage had an important place.  When a chief died
or (as sometimes happened) was deposed for incapacity or misconduct, some
member of the same family succeeded him.  Rank followed the female line;
and this successor might be any descendant of the late chief's mother or
grandmother,--his brother, his cousin or his nephew,--but never his son.
Among many persons who might thus be eligible, the selection was made in
the first instance by a family council.  In this council the "chief
matron" of the family, a noble dame whose position and right were well
defined, had the deciding voice.  This remarkable fact is affirmed by the
Jesuit missionary Lafitau, and the usage remains in full vigor among the
Canadian Iroquois to this day.  If there are two or more members of the
family who seem to have equal claims, the nominating matron sometimes
declines to decide between them, and names them both or all, leaving the
ultimate choice to the nation or the federal council.  The council of the
nation next considers the nomination, and if dissatisfied, refers it back
to the family for a new designation.  If content, the national council
reports the name of the candidate to the federal senate, in which resides
the power of ratifying or rejecting the choice of the nation; but the
power of rejection is rarely exercised, though that of expulsion for good
cause is not unfrequently exerted.  The new chief inherits the name of
his predecessor.  In this respect, as in some others, the resemblance of
the Great Council to the English House of Peers is striking.  As Norfolk
succeeds to Norfolk, so Tekarihoken succeeds Tekarihoken.  The great
names of Hiawatha and Atotarho are still borne by plain
farmer-councillors on the Canadian Reservation.

When the League was established, Hiawatha had been adopted by the Mohawk
nation as one of their chiefs.  The honor in which he was held by them is
shown by his position on the roll of councillors, as it has been handed
down from the earliest times.  As the Mohawk nation is the "elder
brother," the names of its chiefs are first recited.  At the head of the
list is the leading Mohawk chief, Tekarihoken, who represents the noblest
lineage of the Iroquois stock.  Next to him, and second on the roll, is
the name of Hiawatha.  That of his great colleague, Dekanawidah, nowhere
appears.  He was a member of the first council; but he forbade his people
to appoint a successor to him.  "Let the others have successors," he said
proudly, "for others can advise you like them.  But I am the founder of
your league, and no one else can do what I have done."

The boast was not unwarranted.  Though planned by another, the structure
had been reared mainly by his labors.  But the Five Nations, while
yielding abundant honor to the memory of Dekanawidah, have never regarded
him with the same affectionate reverence which has always clung to the
name of Hiawatha.  His tender and lofty wisdom, his wide-reaching
benevolence, and his fervent appeals to their better sentiments, enforced
by the eloquence of which he was master, touched chords in the popular
heart which have continued to respond until this day.  Fragments of the
speeches in which he addressed the council and the people of the league
are still remembered and repeated.  The fact that the league only carried
out a part of the grand design which he had in view is constantly
affirmed.  Yet the failure was not due to lack of effort.  In pursuance
of his original purpose, when the league was firmly established, envoys
were sent to other tribes to urge them to join it or at least to become
allies.  One of these embassies penetrated to the distant Cherokees, the
hereditary enemies of the Iroquois nations.  For some reason with which
we are not acquainted--perhaps the natural suspicion or vindictive pride
of that powerful community--this mission was a failure.  Another,
despatched to the western Algonquins, had better success.  A strict
alliance was formed with the far-spread Ojibway tribes, and was
maintained inviolate for at least two hundred years, until at length the
influence of the French, with the sympathy of the Ojibways for the
conquered Hurons, undid to some extent, though not entirely, this portion
of Hiawatha's work.

His conceptions were beyond his time, and beyond ours; but their effect,
within a limited sphere, was very great.  For more than three centuries
the bond which he devised held together the Iroquois nations in perfect
amity.  It proved, moreover, as he intended, elastic.  The territory of
the Iroquois, constantly extending as their united strength made itself
felt, became the "Great Asylum" of the Indian tribes.  Of the conquered
Eries and Hurons, many hundreds were received and adopted among their
conquerors.  The Tuscaroras, expelled by the English from North Carolina,
took refuge with the Iroquois, and became the sixth nation of the League.
From still further south, the Tuteloes and Saponies, of Dakota stock,
after many wars with the Iroquois, fled to them from their other enemies,
and found a cordial welcome.  A chief still sits in the council as a
representative of the Tuteloes, though the tribe itself has been swept
away by disease, or absorbed in the larger nations.  Many fragments of
tribes of Algonquin lineage--Delawares, Nanticokes, Mohicans,
Mississagas,--sought the same hospitable protection, which never failed
them.  Their descendants still reside on the Canadian Reservation, which
may well be styled an aboriginal "refuge of nations,"--affording a
striking evidence in our own day of the persistent force of a great idea,
when embodied in practical shape by the energy of a master mind.

The name by which their constitution or organic law is known among them
is _kayánerenh_, to which the epitaph _kowa_ [Transcriber's note: the "o"
is the Unicode o-macron], "great," is frequently added.  This word,
_kayánerenh_, is sometimes rendered "law," or "league," but its proper
meaning seems to be "peace."  It is used in this sense by the
missionaries, in their translations of the scriptures and the
prayer-book.  In such expressions as "the Prince of Peace," "the author
of peace," "give peace in our time," we find _kayánerenh_ employed with
this meaning.  Its root is _yaner_, signifying "noble," or "excellent,"
which yields, among many derivatives, _kayánere_, "goodness," and
_kayánerenh_, "peace," or "peacefulness."  The national hymn of the
confederacy, sung whenever their "Condoling Council" meets, commences
with a verse referring to their league, which is literally rendered, "We
come to greet and thank the PEACE" (_kayánerenh_).  When the list of
their ancient chiefs, the fifty original Councillors, is chanted in the
closing litany of the meeting, there is heard from time to time, as the
leaders of each clan are named, an outburst of praise, in the words--

  "This was the roll of you--
  You that were joined in the work,
  You that confirmed the work,
    The GREAT PEACE." (_Kayánerenh-kowa._)

[Transcriber's note: the "o" in "kowa" is the Unicode o-macron.]

The regard of Englishmen for their Magna Charta and Bill of Rights, and
that of Americans for their national Constitution, seem weak in
comparison with the intense gratitude and reverence of the Five Nations
for the "Great Peace" which Hiawatha and his colleagues established for

Of the subsequent life of Hiawatha, and of his death, we have no sure
information.  The records of the Iroquois are historical, and not
biographical.  As Hiawatha had been made a chief among the Mohawks, he
doubtless continued to reside with that nation.  A tradition, which is in
itself highly probable, represents him as devoting himself to the
congenial work of clearing away the obstructions in the streams which
intersect the country then inhabited by the confederated nations, and
which formed the chief means of communication between them.  That he
thus, in some measure, anticipated the plans of De Witt Clinton and his
associates, on a smaller scale, but with perhaps a larger statesmanship,
we may be willing enough to believe.  A wild legend, recorded by some
writers, but not told of him by the Canadian Iroquois, and apparently
belonging to their ancient mythology, gives him an apotheosis, and makes
him ascend to heaven in a white canoe.  It may be proper to dwell for a
moment on the singular complication of mistakes which has converted this
Indian reformer and statesman into a mythological personage.

When by the events of the Revolutionary war the original confederacy was
broken up, the larger portion of the people followed Brant to Canada.
The refugees comprised nearly the whole of the Mohawks, and the greater
part of the Onondagas and Cayugas, with many members of the other
nations.  In Canada their first proceeding was to reëstablish, as far as
possible, their ancient league, with all its laws and ceremonies.  The
Onondagas had brought with them most of their wampum records, and the
Mohawks jealously preserved the memories of the federation, in whose
formation they had borne a leading part.  The history of the league
continued to be the topic of their orators whenever a new chief was
installed into office.  Thus the remembrance of the facts has been
preserved among them with much clearness and precision, and with very
little admixture of mythological elements.  With the fragments of the
tribes which remained on the southern side of the Great Lakes the case
was very different.  Except among the Senecas, who, of all the Five
Nations, had had least to do with the formation of the league, the
ancient families which had furnished the members of their senate, and
were the conservators of their history, had mostly fled to Canada or the
West.  The result was that among the interminable stories with which the
common people beguile their winter nights, the traditions of Atotarho and
Hiawatha became intermingled with the legends of their mythology.  An
accidental similarity, in the Onondaga dialect, between the name of
Hiawatha and that of one of their ancient divinities, led to a confusion
between the two, which has misled some investigators.  This deity bears,
in the sonorous Mohawk tongue, the name of Aronhiawagon, meaning "the
Holder of the Heavens."  The early French missionaries, prefixing a
particle, made the name in their orthography, Tearonhiaouagon.  He was,
they tell us, "the great god of the Iroquois."  Among the Onondagas of
the present day, the name is abridged to Taonhiawagi, or Tahiawagi.  The
confusion between this name and that of Hiawatha (which, in another form,
is pronounced Tayonwatha) seems to have begun more than a century ago;
for Pyrlaeus, the Moravian missionary, heard among the Iroquois
(according to Heckewelder) that the person who first proposed the league
was an ancient Mohawk, named Thannawege.  Mr. J. V. H. Clark, in his
interesting History of Onondaga, makes the name to have been originally
Ta-oun-ya-wat-ha, and describes the bearer as "the deity who presides
over fisheries and hunting-grounds."  He came down from heaven in a white
canoe and after sundry adventures, which remind one of the labors of
Hercules, assumed the name of Hiawatha (signifying, we are told, "a very
wise man"), and dwelt for a time as an ordinary mortal among men,
occupied in works of benevolence.  Finally, after founding the
confederacy and bestowing many prudent counsels upon the people, he
returned to the skies by the same conveyance in which he had descended.
This legend was communicated by Clark to Schoolcraft, when the latter was
compiling his "Notes on the Iroquois."  Mr. Schoolcraft, pleased with the
poetical cast of the story and the euphonious name, made confusion worse
confounded by transferring the hero to a distant region and identifying
him with Manabozho, a fantastic divinity of the Ojibways.  Schoolcraft's
volume, absurdly entitled "The Hiawatha Legends," has not in it a single
fact or fiction relating either to Hiawatha himself or to the Iroquois
deity Aronhiawagon.  Wild Ojibway stories concerning Manabozho and his
comrades form the staple of its contents.  But it is to this collection
that we owe the charming poem of Longfellow; and thus, by an
extraordinary fortune, a grave Iroquois lawgiver of the fifteenth century
has become, in modern literature, an Ojibway demigod, son of the West
Wind, and companion of the tricksy Paupukkeewis, the boastful Iagoo, and
the strong Kwasind.  If a Chinese traveller, during the middle ages,
inquiring into the history and religion of the western nations, had
confounded King Alfred with King Arthur, and both with Odin, he would not
have made a more preposterous confusion of names and characters than that
which has hitherto disguised the genuine personality of the great
Onondaga reformer.

About the main events of his history, and about his character and
purposes, there can be no reasonable doubt.  We have the wampum belts
which he handled, and whose simple hieroglyphics preserve the memory of
the public acts in which he took part.  We have, also, in the Iroquois
"Book of Rites," a still more clear and convincing testimony to the
character both of the legislator and of the people for whom his
institutions were designed.  This book, sometimes called the "Book of the
Condoling Council," might properly enough be styled an Iroquois Veda.  It
comprises the speeches, songs and other ceremonies, which, from the
earliest period of the confederacy, have composed the proceedings of
their council when a deceased chief is lamented and his successor is
installed in office.  The fundamental laws of the league, a list of their
ancient towns, and the names of the chiefs who constituted their first
council, chanted in a kind of litany, are also comprised in the
collection.  The contents, after being preserved in memory, like the
Vedas, for many generations, were written down by desire of the chiefs,
when their language was first reduced to writing; and the book is
therefore more than a century old.  Its language, archaic when written,
is now partly obsolete, and is fully understood by only a few of the
oldest chiefs.  It is a genuine Indian composition, and must be accepted
as disclosing the true character of its authors.  The result is
remarkable enough.  Instead of a race of rude and ferocious warriors, we
find in this book a kindly and affectionate people, full of sympathy for
their friends in distress, considerate to their women, tender to their
children, anxious for peace, and imbued with a profound reverence for
their constitution and its authors.  We become conscious of the fact that
the aspect in which these Indians have presented themselves to the
outside world has been in a large measure deceptive and factitious.  The
ferocity, craft, and cruelty, which have been deemed their leading
traits, have been merely the natural accompaniments of wars of
self-preservation, and no more indicated their genuine character than the
war-paint, plume, and tomahawk of the warrior displayed the customary
guise in which he appeared among his own people.  The cruelties of war,
when war is a struggle for national existence, are common to all races.
The persistent desire for peace, pursued for centuries in federal unions,
and in alliances and treaties with other nations, has been manifested by
few as steadily as by the countrymen of Hiawatha.  The sentiment of
universal brotherhood, which directed their polity, has never been so
fully developed in any branch of the Aryan race, unless it may be found
incorporated in the religious quietism of Buddha and his followers.

To come back to our first proposition,--it is unquestionable that the
Iroquois, when they framed the political system which exhibited this
singular force of intellect and elevation of character, were a people of
the Stone Age; and there is no good reason for supposing that they were
superior in character and capacity to the people of the most primitive
times.  What we know of them entitles us to affirm that the makers of the
earliest flint implements may have been equal, if not superior, in
natural powers to the members of any existing race.  And as language is
the outgrowth and image of the mental faculties, it is not impossible, or
even unlikely, that among the languages spoken by the people of those
early ages, there may have been some as far superior in construction and
power of expression to any tongue of modern Europe, as the languages of
the barbarous Greeks and Germans, a thousand years before the Christian
era, were superior to the speech of the highly civilized Egyptians.

The conclusions to which these facts and reasonings point are of great
scientific importance.  As there could be no sound astronomy while the
notion prevailed that the earth was the centre of the universe, and no
science of history while each nation looked with contempt upon every
other people, so we can hope for no complete and satisfying science of
man and of human speech until our minds are disabused of those other
delusions of self-esteem which would persuade us that superior culture
implies superior capacity, and that the particular race and language
which we happen to claim as our own are the best of all races and

[Printed at the SALEM PRESS, Nov., 1881.]

*** End of this Doctrine Publishing Corporation Digital Book "Hiawatha and the Iroquois Confederation - A Study in Anthropology. A Paper Read at the Cincinnati Meeting of the American Association for the Advancement of Science, in August, 1881, under the Title of "A Lawgiver of the Stone Age."" ***

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