By Lee Sultzman
Ouendake or Wendake (called Huronia by the French) was the original homeland of the Huron occupying a fairly compact area of central Ontario between the southern end of Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe. After the dispersal of the Huron by the Iroquois in 1650, one group relocated to Lorette (just north of Quebec) where it has remained ever since. The remaining Huron (merged with Tionontati, and Wenro) spent the next 50 years wandering as refugees through Wisconsin, Minnesota, and upper Michigan. By 1701 they had moved to the Ohio Valley between present-day Detroit and Cleveland where they were known as the Wyandot. They remained there until they were removed to Kansas during the 1840s. Only one group of Wyandot managed to remain in the Great Lakes, when a small band of the Canadian Wyandot in southwest Ontario was given a reserve near Amherstburg. For the Wyandot relocated to Kansas, problems began with the passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act (1854) which opened their lands to white settlement. The majority opted for citizenship and allotment and are currently have state recognition as the Wyandot of Kansas. Most still live in the vicinity of Kansas City, Kansas. The more traditional Wyandot left Kansas for northeast Oklahoma after the Civil War to become the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma.
If combined with populations of the Neutrals, Tionontati, and Wenro, the Huron in 1535 probably numbered somewhere between 30,000 and 45,000. French estimates of the four core tribes of the Huron Confederacy in 1615 varied from 20,000 to 30,000 and 16 to 25 villages. After European contact, the Huron population loss was dramatic. By 1640 epidemic and war had reduced them to less than 10,000. After their dispersal in 1649 by the Iroquois, only 300 Huron were able to relocate safely at Lorette near Quebec. Another 1,000, mixed with Tionontati and Neutrals, escaped to the western Great Lakes to become the Wyandot. The number of Huron adopted into the Iroquois League is uncertain but must have been considerable. In 1736 the population at Lorette had remained near its original 300, while the Wyandot, relocated to the west end of Lake Erie, had increased to near 1,500. By 1908 the Lorette population had risen slowly to 466 but afterwards increased dramatically. In 1994 the Quebec government listed it at 2,650. There were about 100 Wyandot at the Anderdon Reserve (southern Ontario) in 1829, but they have since been absorbed by other native peoples. The United States currently has more than 4,000 Wyandot organized in two main groups: the Wyandot Nation of Kansas; and the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma. Only the Oklahoma Wyandot are federally recognized as a tribe. The Kansas Wyandot, organized in 1959 from the “absentee” or “citizen” Wyandot, are recognized by Kansas and have applied for federal status.
Originally, more than a dozen of the Iroquoian-speaking tribes in southern Ontario referred to themselves collectively as Wendat meaning “villagers.” Rendered variously as: Guyandot, Guyandotte, Ouendat, Wyandot, and Wyandotte. The French, however, called the members of a four-tribe confederacy the Huron, a derogatory name derived from their word “hure” meaning rough or ruffian. This has persisted as their usual name in Canada. When they were living in Ohio after 1701, French and Canadians continued to use Huron, but the English and Americans referred to them as Wyandot. Currently, most groups prefer Wyandot rather than Huron. Also called: Aragaritka (Iroquois), Hatindia Sointen (Lorette Huron), Marian (Christian Huron), Oenronroron (Iroquois), Telamatenon (Delaware “coming out of a mountain or cave”), and Thastchetci’ (Onondaga).
Arendahronon (rock people); Attignawantan (Attignaouentan, Attignousntan) (bear people); Attigneenongnahac (Attiguenongha) (cord people); and Tahontaenrat (Scanonaerat, Scahentoarrhonon) (deer people). After the inclusion of Wenro (1639) and Algonkin (1644) refugees, the Ataronchronon were considered a fifth member tribe.
Ontario Villages-Missions (before 1649):
Andiata, Angoutenc, Anonatea, Arendaonatia, Arente, Arontaen, Cahiague (St. Jean Baptiste), Carhagouha, Carmaron, Contarea, Ekiodatsaan, Endarahy, Iahenhouton, Ihonatiria (Immaculate Conception 1), Karenhassa, Oeniro, Onentisati, Ossossane (Immaculate Conception 2), Oukhahitoua, Ste. Agnes, Ste. Anne, St. Antoine, Ste. Barbe, Ste. Catherine, Ste. Cecile, St. Charles (2), St. Denys, St. Etienne, St. Francois Xavier, Ste. Genevieve, St. Joachim, St. Louis, St. Martin, Ste. Marie (2), Ste. Terese, Scanonaerat (St. Michel), Teanaustayae (St. Joseph), Teandewiata (Tonache or Teadeouita), Teanhatenaron (St. Ignace), Tondakhra, and Touaguainchain (Ste. Madeleine)
After the dispersal in 1649, the Huron who were not killed or captured divided into two groups. One settled near Quebec. The other moved to the western Great Lakes before settling permanently in Ohio.
The Huron Confederacy was the first of the great Iroquian confederations in the region, and as such, probably the inspiration for the later formation of the Iroquois League. As early as 1400, the Attignawantan and Attigneenongnahac had entered into an alliance. It is believed that sometime after the formation of the Iroquois League, the Laurentian Iroquois living along the St. Lawrence River between Montreal and Quebec, were forced to move west. Two groups of them, the Arendahronon (1560) and the Tahonaenrat (1570) joined the Huron Confederacy. As the most numerous group, the Attignawantan usually dominated the other members. The purpose of the Confederacy was similar to that of the Iroquois League: prevent blood feuds and fighting between its members. With a capital at the village of Ossossane, each tribe sent representatives to a council whose purpose was to resolve internal disputes and decide matters of common concern regarding peace, war, and trade with outsiders. Otherwise each member tribe retained control of its own territory and was free to pursue its separate interests.
In like manner, each of the Huron villages managed its own internal affairs. These villages varied in size, but the larger ones were usually fortified and had populations well over 1,000. Fortification and large size probably resulted from the region’s constant warfare, but the densely populated villages and large communal bark-covered longhouses (sometimes 200′ long) made the Huron vulnerable to European epidemics. In most ways, the Huron lifestyle closely resembled that of the Iroquois. Beginning around 1100, the Iroquian people in this region began large-scale agriculture. A dramatic increase in population followed which, unfortunately, was accompanied by a similar increase in organized warfare. The Huron diet relied heavily on agriculture (corn at first, with beans, squash, and tobacco added later). It was supplemented by hunting, fishing and gathering. Villages had to be relocated every 20 years or so as the fertility of local soil declined.
Social organization began with extended families and a matrilineal clan system. Rather than the patrilineal descent of Europeans, Huron clan membership was determined by the mother although it was possible to switch clans through adoption. The original Huron clan names have been lost, but they were grouped into three phratries (clan groupings for ceremonial and social purposes) corresponding roughly to names of the member tribes: Bear, Cord, and Rock. After fifty years of wandering to escape the Iroquois, the Tionontati constituted the largest single group of the Wyandot. Two of the three Wyandot phratries (Wolf and Deer) belonged to them. Only the Bear clan of the Turtle phratry was Huron. By 1750 the Wyandot had ten clans in three groups: Turtle (Big Turtle, Hawk, Prairie Turtle, Small Turtle, Prairie Turtle); Deer (Bear, Beaver, Deer, Porcupine, Snake); and Wolf (one clan of the same name). The Wyandot were governed by a council made up of the chiefs of each clan. These were chosen by the clan mothers from the male members of each clan. One member of the council was elected head chief, although by custom, he was usually the chief from either the Bear or Deer clan.
Unlike the Iroquois, the Huron women did not directly own all property. The farmland was owned by the matrilineal clans. Unique to the Huron was the “Feast of the Dead.” Held every 10-12 years, the remains of all who had died since the last ceremony were disinterred and re-buried in communal burial pit. Only then were their souls able to go to the “land beyond where the sun sets.” Huron justice could be harsh. Convicted murderers were often tied to their victim’s corpse and allowed to starve. In later times offenders were shot by firing squad. One critical difference between the Iroquois and Huron was the birchbark canoe. Iroquois constructed their canoes from elm-wood (which made them heavy), and as a result, they usually preferred to travel on foot, but the Huron, surrounded by a network of rivers and lakes, used their canoes to travel great distances and trade their agricultural surplus with other tribes, including the Iroquois.
It was this advantage in transport and trade which first aroused the interest of the French in the Huron. The fur trade, reinforced later by Jesuit missions, blossomed into a political and cultural alliance that endured beyond the defeat and dispersal of the Huron by the Iroquois. The Huron did disappear in 1649, but survived to become the Wyandot. Allied with the Ottawa, they became the “eldest children” of Onontio (French governor of Canada) and the cornerstone of the French alliance with the Great Lakes Algonquin. Within this organization, the Wyandot were regarded as something akin to a “founding father” with important links, through their adopted Huron relatives, to the Iroquois League. Even after the French defeat in 1763, the Wyandot commanded a respect and influence among the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley tribes far greater than the number of their warriors would have suggested.
Based on linguistic evidence, it appears that the Iroquian-speaking people Jacques Cartier encountered in 1535 on the St. Lawrence River at Hochelaga (Montreal) were Huron. Sometime after Cartier’s last visit in 1541, Hochelaga was abandoned probably due to wars with the Iroquois and Algonquins. Two groups of these so-called Laurentian Iroquois from the St. Lawrence, the Arendahronon and Tahonaenrat, moved west and by 1570 had combined with an older alliance of the Attignawantan and Attigneenongnahac to form the Huron Confederacy. Other Iroquian tribes in the region organized themselves in a similar manner, the most notable example being the Iroquois League in upstate New York. The Huron occupied the area of central Ontario at the south end of Georgian Bay. To the west, in the hills near the southeast end of Lake Huron, were the Tionontati, and southwest between Detroit and Niagara Falls were the Neutrals, another large confederacy so called because they remained neutral in the wars between the Huron and Iroquois.
A relatively small group, the Wenro, lived west of the Iroquois in southwest New York (Jamestown) and protected itself through alliances with the Neutrals to the north, and the Erie whose territory extended inland from the southern shore of Lake Erie near Erie, Pennsylvania westward across northern Ohio. South of the Iroquois along the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania were the Susquehannock, a traditional Iroquois enemy. To the east, the Mohawk and Oneida of the Iroquois League faced Algonquins: the Mahican of the Hudson Valley; and the Adirondack, an unidentified Algonquin group who may have been Western Abenaki or the Pequot-Mohegan before they moved to eastern Connecticut. Along the St. Lawrence the Montagnais and Algonkin after 1541 had moved into the territory vacated by the Laurentian Iroquois and were fighting with the Iroquois.
While the Iroquois generally fought with their neighbors, the Huron had good relations with many of theirs through a pattern of trade which extended north through the Ottawa and Nipissing to the Ojibwe at Sault Ste. Marie. The rivalry and warfare which existed between the Huron and Iroquois before the arrival of the French was balanced by extensive trade. However, warfare was pervasive enough that it had caused the rival confederations to group their large, fortified villages into compact areas for mutual support. No borders existed in the European sense, with most of the lands in between the relatively compact areas of occupation either being shared or disputed, depending on the circumstances. Lured by the fur trade, the French returned to the St. Lawrence in 1603 and established their first permanent settlement at Tadoussac. The quality of fur obtained from the local Montagnais and the Algonkin through the Ottawa River Valley encouraged the French to push farther west. Samuel de Champlain founded Quebec in 1608 and the following year, through Algonkin traders, he had his first meeting with the Arendaronon of the Huron Confederacy.
Unfortunately for the French and their hopes for the fur trade, the St. Lawrence west of Quebec was a war zone and had been this way for at least 50 years before their arrival. It was a disputed area claimed by the Iroquois, Huron, Algonkin, and Montagnais. After listening to the complaints of his trading partners against the Iroquois, Champlain decided in July, 1609 to accompany a mixed Algonkin, Montagnais, and Huron war party against the Mohawk. In a battle fought at the north end of Lake Champlain, the Iroquois had their first experience with French firearms, and the French had found themselves a new and dangerous enemy. After this French-assisted victory, the Huron signed their first trade agreement with Champlain. The destruction of a Mohawk fort on the Richelieu River the following year helped drive the Iroquois south and opened the upper St. Lawrence to French trade. The French impression of the Huron was not favorable at first, and with their villages so distant, they were inclined to focus on their trade with the Algonkin. However, this soon changed after Étienne Brulé visited the Huron villages in 1611 and remained through the winter. He learned the Huron not only had better fur than the Algonkin and Iroquois, but access through trade with other tribes to areas of even higher quality. If the French had doubts about siding with the Huron against the Iroquois, they ended right there, and in 1614 a formal treaty of trade and alliance between the French and Huron was signed at Quebec. The following year, Champlain made the long journey to the Huron villages and, while there, joined a Huron-Algonkin attack on Oneida and Onondaga villages to the south in upstate New York. After 1616, the Huron were the middlemen for the French fur trade with the Nipissing, Ottawa, and Algonquins in the western Great Lakes.
The French alliance with the Huron and Algonkin forced the Mohawk to abandon the St. Lawrence Valley in 1610. This setback proved only temporary, since the Mohawk were soon able to trade with the Dutch on the Hudson River. Understanding the advantage in weapons the French trade gave their enemies, the Mohawk jealously guarded their trade with the Dutch. After wars with the Susquehannock (1615) and the Mahican (1624-28), they emerged as the dominant Dutch trade partner. Unfortunately, the Iroquois homeland did not not have many beaver, and in attempting to supply the Dutch, the Iroquois quickly used up what little they had. Dutch attempts to bypass them and gain access to the St. Lawrence trade through the Mahican had only intensified the dilemma and had led to the Mohawk war with the Mahican in 1624. However, their victory over the Mahican had merely eliminated a rival and did not provide them with access to more fur. The Huron homeland had a lot of beaver in the beginning, but it also became exhausted from trade with the French. However, the Huron easily overcame this through trade with tribes to the north and west. Surrounded by enemies, the Iroquois had no such opportunity, and threatened with the loss of their trade position with the Dutch, they desperately needed the Huron to supply them with fur, or at least allow them to hunt outside their homeland. The Huron would not allow either of these things. Their fur went directly to the French, and the Huron were powerful enough to keep Iroquois hunters confined to their own lands.
At this point, the French decision to ally with the Huron appeared to have been correct. History might well have taken a different course except for a war which began in Europe during 1627 between Britain and France. After a British blockade of the St. Lawrence, Quebec surrendered to a fleet commanded by Sir David Kirke in 1629. The Treaty of St. Germaine-en-Laye did not return Quebec to France until 1632. During those three long years, the Iroquois, because of their uninterrupted trade with the Dutch, gained an arms advantage over the Huron and Algonkin. Beginning in 1629, a new round of warfare for fur and territory began which evolved into the Beaver Wars (1630-1700). After the British left, Champlain had to begin anew. Attempting to regain the advantage for his native allies, he began to supply them with firearms and limited supplies of ammunition for “hunting.” Dutch and British traders responded with similar weapons for the Iroquois beginning an arms-race. Meanwhile, the Huron took revenge on the man responsible for their problem. Étienne Brulé had betrayed Champlain by guiding the British to Quebec in 1629. Afterwards he found refuge among the Huron until he was killed (and eaten) following an argument in 1632.
French missionary efforts had begun as early as 1615 when Franciscan missionaries were sent into the St. Lawrence Valley. A Recollect priest, Father Joseph Le Caron had accompanied Champlain on his visit to the Huron villages in 1615 and spent the winter with them. However, his attempt in 1623 to establish a mission failed. A more serious effort began with the arrival of the Jesuits in New France during 1625, but the “Blackrobes” first mission in Huronia during 1626 also failed. Further efforts had to await the return of Quebec to France in 1632. The Jesuits returned in force to the Huron during 1634 building their first mission at Ihonatiria. Three years later, their main mission was moved to the Huron capital of Ossossane, followed by a final relocation to Ste. Marie in 1639. Conversions were slow in coming at first, but with the onset of major epidemics in 1635, many Huron turned to Christianity as protection against sickness. In their zeal, priests were not above using their influence to secure special privileges (firearms) for those who accepted baptism. Despite the best intentions of the Jesuits, their success was a disaster for Huron unity. The new religion frequently divided Huron communities into Christian and traditional factions at the very time they needed to unite against the Iroquois. The priests usually would not allow their converts to attend tribal ceremonies, and things finally got so bad that Christian and traditional Huron often refused to join the same war party.
Even worse were a series of devastating epidemics which swept through the Huron villages influenza, measles and smallpox. Between 1635 and 1640, these new diseases killed over half of the Huron. Reduced to less than 10,000, the Huron also lost many of their experienced leaders. All the while, the Jesuits were fighting the French commercial interests to isolate the Huron from the social corruption of the fur trade. The confusion created had the unfortunate effect of making the French government in Quebec act almost as a neutral in the Huron’s increasingly serious war with the Iroquois. The tide began to turn after the Seneca inflicted a major defeat on the Huron in the spring of 1635. The Iroquois first isolated the Huron by attacking their allies. Separate Iroquois offensives during 1636 and 1637 drove the Algonkin deep into the upper Ottawa Valley and forced the Montagnais to retreat east towards Quebec. The first victim of the Beaver Wars was the Wenro. Deserted by their Erie and Neutral allies, they were overrun by the Iroquois in 1639. Abandoning their villages, they fled north across the Niagara River into Ontario, where eventually 600 of them found refuge among the Huron.
A major escalation in the level of violence occurred in 1640. Latecomers to the fur trade, British traders from New England attempted to break the Dutch trade monopoly with the Mohawk by offering firearms. To counter this, the Dutch began to supply guns and ammunition to the Iroquois in unlimited quantities. Suddenly much better armed than anyone else (including the French), the Iroquois offensive increased dramatically. The French issued more guns to their allies, but these were generally inferior to Dutch weapons, and at first, given only to Christian converts. The Algonkin and Montagnais were driven completely from the upper St. Lawrence Valley during 1641 by the Mohawk and Oneida, while in the west the Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga concentrated their attacks on the Huron.
With the founding of Montreal at the mouth of the Ottawa River in 1642, the French attempted to move their fur trade closer to the Huron villages but soon found themselves exposed and under attack in this new location. Iroquois war parties moved north into the Ottawa Valley during 1642 and 1643 and attacked Huron canoes carrying furs to Montreal. In the process, the Atonontrataronon (an Algonkin tribe) was forced to abandon the valley and flee west to the Huron. During 1644, the Iroquois captured three large Huron canoe flotillas enroute to Montreal and brought the French fur trade to a complete halt. The French had little choice but to seek peace if they wanted to continue trade, and the Iroquois, who had suffered losses to war and epidemic similar to the Huron, were also willing so they could gain the release of their warriors being held prisoner by the French. A peace treaty signed in 1645 had no lasting effect because it ignored the main problem. The Iroquois expected a resumption of their fur trade with the Huron, but this did not happen. Instead, the Huron continued to trade all their fur to the French.
After two years of trying to resolve this through diplomacy, the Iroquois resorted to total war. While the French remained neutral and tried to abide by the peace treaty, the Iroquois destroyed in 1647 the Arendaronon villages. Very few furs from Huronia reached Montreal that year. In 1648 a 250-man Huron canoe flotilla fought its way past the Iroquois blockade and reached Quebec. During their absence, the Iroquois struck deep into Huronia in July destroying the mission-village at St. Joseph and killing the Jesuit priest. The final blow came in March, 1649. In coordinated winter attacks, 2,000 Mohawk and Seneca warriors slipped silently across the snow and in two hours destroyed the mission-villages of St. Ignace and St. Louis. Hundreds of Huron were killed or captured, while two more Jesuits were tortured to death. In the aftermath, Huron resistance abruptly collapsed. Abandoning their capital at Ossossane, most of them fled.
Only the main Jesuit mission at Ste. Marie remained, and it braced for an attack which never came. Isolated, it was abandoned in May, and its Jesuit, French, and Huron residents made their way by canoe to Christian Island in Georgian Bay. Other Huron joined them, swelling the island’s population to over 6,000. During a terrible winter of 1649-50, thousands starved, and in June, the French and Jesuits, accompanied by several hundred of their Huron converts, left for New France. About 300 of these settled just north of Quebec at Ancienne and Jeune Lorette. They were joined by another group from Trois Rivieres in 1654 and have lived there (Wendake) ever since. Through the years afterwards, the Lorette Huron remained loyal French allies and are the only Huron group to have survived the dispersal intact. The other Huron scattered, but the Iroquois were not content to let them go. Down to less than a thousand warriors after their victory, the Iroquois decided to replenish their population by absorbing all of the other Iroquian-speaking tribes.
Some Huron surrendered immediately and, along with the Huron already captured, were adopted, but the Iroquois tracked down the others. The Attignawantan Huron had fled west in 1649 and found a refuge with the Tionontati only to have the Iroquois attack both of them. In December the Iroquois overran the main Tionontati village, killing two more Jesuit missionaries. Only a thousand of the Attignawantan and Tionontati who afterwards would merge to form the Wyandot escaped the onslaught by retreating far to the north where they spent the winter of 1649-50 on Mackinac Island near Sault Ste. Marie (upper Michigan). By 1651 constant threat of attack by the Iroquois forced them even farther west, and they moved to an island in Green Bay (Wisconsin) with the Ottawa (who were also fleeing the Iroquois).
The Tahontaenrat, meanwhile, had retreated into the Neutrals homeland – who true to their name had remained neutral through all of this – and, from here, continued to make war upon the Iroquois. Blaming the Neutrals for permitting this, the Seneca attacked and defeated them in 1651. A few Neutrals and Huron escaped to the west to join their relatives at Green Bay. Most, however, including the Tahontaenrat, surrendered enmass. The Tahontaenrat were adopted by the Seneca, while the captured Arendahronon went to the Onondaga, and the balance of the Attignawantan became part of the Mohawk. However, large groups were able to elude capture and fled south to the Erie, who accepted them, but in a status of servitude which was not much of an improvement over what the Iroquois were offering.
In the east, the Mohawk and Oneida were still engaged in their war with the Susquehannock and had found them a tough foe. In the west, only the Erie remained and were stubbornly refusing Iroquois demands to surrender the Neutrals and Huron they had living with them. The situation steadily worsened, but before starting a war with the Erie in 1653, the western Iroquois (Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga) first took the precaution of signing a truce with the French. With less than 300 of them in all of North America at this time, the French were hardly a military threat to the Iroquois, but the agreement assured the Iroquois that the French would not provide arms to the Erie. It also allowed French Jesuits to establish missions in the Iroquois villages for Huron converts adopted by the League. The advantage for the Iroquois was that it lessened the chance their adopted Huron would revolt during a war against their kinsmen who had joined the Erie.
It took the Iroquois until 1656 to finally defeat the Erie. After another round of mass adoptions, another tribe had disappeared into the League. At this point, the Iroquois no longer needed the French to insure the loyalty their adopted Huron, and forced the Jesuits to leave. For the mixed group of Huron, Tionontati, and Neutrals (now called Wyandot), northern Wisconsin may have been hundreds of miles from the Iroquois homeland, but it definitely was not a refuge. They were attacked by the Mohawk and Seneca in 1652 and 1653. In 1655 the Seneca travelled west and attacked the Illinois because they had taken in a few Wyandot refugees. The relentless pursuit of their defeated enemies by the Iroquois may seem insane, but it made perfect sense. During the ten years following their defeat of the Huron in 1649, the Iroquois population had increased from 10,000 to more than 25,000 through mass adoptions. Having absorbed so many former enemies, the Iroquois could not allow even small group to remain at-large without inviting an insurrection from within their own ranks. In many cases, the Iroquois warriors attacking the Wyandot in Wisconsin were their own relatives.
After the destruction of Huronia in 1649, the French had been powerless and were forced to remain neutral while the Iroquois swallowed one tribe after another. All that remained of their former allies (other than the small group of Huron at Lorette) were the Wyandot and Ottawa far to the west. Rather than confront the Iroquois along the Ottawa River themselves, the French encouraged their former trading partners to come to Montreal to trade. Because they had grown dependent on French trade good, the Wyandot and Ottawa, in spite of all they had endured, accepted. Reinforced by Ojibwe warriors and travelling together in large canoe flotillas to break the Iroquois blockade, the Wyandot and Ottawa brought furs to Montreal, although not in the previous amounts. This continuing trade was a source of considerable annoyance to the Iroquois, and after their war with the Erie ended, they no longer had any reason to appease the French.
The fragile peace between the French and Iroquois ended with the murder of a Jesuit ambassador in 1658 and the expulsion of the missionaries from the Iroquois villages. As war resumed along the St. Lawrence between the French and the Iroquois, there was also no reason for the French to avoid travel to the Great Lakes, and two French fur traders, Pierre Radisson and Médart Chouart des Groseilliers, accompanied by the old Jesuit Réné Ménard, took this opportunity to ignore the travel ban imposed by the government of Quebec and joined a party of Wyandot and Ottawa on their return journey. Following the Ottawa to their village of Chequamegon (Ashland, Wisconsin) on the south shore of Lake Superior, they spent the winter and became the first Europeans to see this largest of the Great Lakes. Father Ménard wandered off into the woods and apparently was killed by the Dakota (Eastern Sioux). However, they reached the Dakota villages at the western end of Lake Superior the following spring and managed to trade. When they returned to Quebec, Radisson and Groseilliers were promptly arrested and had their furs confiscated for ignoring the travel ban.
The arrest discouraged others, but the Wyandot and Ottawa continued forcing their way to Montreal. There was a massive battle along the Ottawa River in 1659. but the Iroquois could not stop the heavily-armed convoys and decided instead to go after their source. The Beaver Wars had forced thousands of Algonquin to abandon lower Michigan and the Ohio Valley. Most had retreated west and resettled in northern Wisconsin. The sudden increase in the native population west of Lake Michigan over-stressed the available resources, especially the beaver needed for trade with the French. Facing starvation, the refugee tribes were disorganized and fighting among themselves. In the midst of this chaos, the Wyandot and Ottawa acted as middlemen collecting furs from the rival tribes and then organizing the canoe fleets to take it to Montreal. After the Iroquois decided to go after the source of the fur reaching the French, their war parties made the long journey to Wisconsin and began attacking, not only the Wyandot and Ottawa villages, but also those of the refugee tribes supplying them with fur.
To distance themselves from Iroquois war parties, the Wyandot left Green Bay in 1658 and moved inland to find new sources of beaver. Following the Black River into western Wisconsin, they settled on an island on the Mississippi River at Lake Pepin. Their relocation went unchallenged until the visit of Radisson and Groseilliers made the Dakota aware of the value of beaver. Upset the Wyandot were killing the beaver in the area, the Dakota began applying pressure to force them to leave. Faced with war in 1661 if they remained, the Wyandot moved north to the Ottawa village at Chequamegon on the south shore of Lake Superior where Radisson and Groseilliers had spent the winter of 1658-59. This new location did not entirely please the Dakota, but for the moment, they tolerated it. However, it did not take the Iroquois long to learn that their enemies were gathered in one place and came after them. Chequamegon was, however, just a little too far. In 1662 the Wyandot, Ojibwe, Nipissing, and Ottawa discovered a large Iroquois war party at Iroquois Point (just west of Sault Ste. Marie) and annihilated them. The Iroquois never again tried another attack while they stayed on Lake Superior, and the Wyandot had finally found a refuge beyond their reach. But the Dakota were every bit as dangerous as the Iroquois and were losing patience with the Wyandot and Ottawa whom they regarded as intruders. Even worse for tribes accustomed to feeding themselves with agriculture, the short growing-season and thin soil on the south shore of Lake Superior made raising corn difficult, if not impossible. After an early frost destroyed their corn, 500 Wyandot and Ottawa starved to death during the winter of 1661-62.
Although the Iroquois continued to range through the Ottawa Valley until the late 1660s, they did not occupy it and could not stop the convoys. The French in 1664 finally decided serious measure would be required to deal with the Iroquois. The French king assumed direct control of Canada and sent the Marquis de Tracy with a regiment of French soldiers to Quebec. At the same time, the ban on travel to the Great Lakes was lifted which permitted French traders and Jesuits to go west and reestablish direct contact with the Wyandot and Ottawa. During the years which followed several permanent trading posts and missions were built in the western Great Lakes. Father Claude-Jean Allouez arrived at Chequamegon in 1665 and established the mission of La Pointe de St. Espirit for the Wyandot and Ottawa. Four years later, Father Jacques Marquette would also serve at this mission. Things changed dramatically in Quebec after the arrival of regular French soldiers. The Iroquois had been harassing French settlements and (as could be expected) attacking the Huron at Lorette. The soldiers had many lessons to learn about Indian warfare, but by 1666 they began a series of attacks against the Iroquois homeland. The Iroquois, who were preparing for a war against the Susquehannock, agreed to a peace in 1667.
There had been other treaties between the French and Iroquois, but this one was notable in that it extended to native allies of the French, including those in the western Great Lakes. Taking advantage of this, large numbers of French traders and missionaries travelled west. Trade resumed and by acting as mediators in disputes between the Algonquin refugees tribes in Wisconsin and upper Michigan, the French were able to end the chaos in the region and organize a defense against the Iroquois. The peace of 1667 also ended Iroquois efforts to destroy the Wyandot. Although the Iroquois burned the Jesuit mission at Mackinac in 1671, they were no longer a serious threat, and with another war looming with the Dakota in 1672, Father Marquette was able to convince the Wyandot and Ottawa to leave Chequamegon and move east near his new mission at St. Ignace. Protected in this location by the Ojibwe, the Wyandot and Ottawa began to range south into the northern part of the lower Michigan.
It took the Iroquois eight long-years to defeat the Susquehannock, but after 1676 their attention turned west again. The establishment of a new trading post by Robert La Salle in the Illinois country had Illinois hunters ranging east into lower Michigan and Indiana (land claimed by the Iroquois by right of conquest). Iroquois protests led to the murder of a Seneca chief at Mackinac in 1680, and with this the peace ended and the second phase of the Beaver Wars began. The Seneca attacked and almost annihilated the Illinois that fall. A second attack came the following year, but in 1684 the Iroquois failed to take Fort St. Louis on the Illinois River which is considered the turning point of the Beaver Wars. The warfare at first was confined to the Illinois country which was well south of the upper Great Lakes, but the Wyandot and Ottawa at Mackinac were drawn into the fighting as French allies.
After the Iroquois were defeated in Illinois, the French attempted to organize an alliance against the Iroquois, but its first offensive was poorly organized and failed. Joseph La Barre, the governor of Canada, panicked and signed a treaty with the Iroquois conceding most of the Illinois country. He was quickly replaced by Jacques-Renede Denonville who repudiated La Barre’s agreement, strengthened French forts, organized an alliance of the Great Lakes Algonquin (included the Wyandot), and provided it with guns and ammunition. Just prior to the beginning of the King William’s War (1688-97) between Britain and France, the alliance began an offensive which by the 1690s had the Iroquois on the defensive and rapidly retreating back across the Great Lakes to their homeland in New York.
As the war between Britain and France was drawing to a close in 1695, the Wyandot and Ottawa became concerned that the French would abandon the alliance and make a separate peace with the Iroquois. On the verge of defeat, the Iroquois were trying everything they could think of to weaken the alliance. Secret contacts were made with the Wyandot and Ottawa offering peace and access to the British traders at Albany. As the original French trading partners, the Wyandot and Ottawa were the “eldest children” of Onontio, the French governor of Canada, and as such, the most important members of the French alliance. As the only Iroquian-speaking member of the alliance, the Wyandot had relatives among the Iroquois, so the offer must have been tempting. Nevertheless, the Wyandot did refuse, and the fighting continued until 1701 when a formal treaty of peace was concluded between the French alliance and the Iroquois League.
Meanwhile, the French and their allies had taken control of an ever-larger portion of the Great Lakes. Because of the Beaver Wars, much of this area had been a no-man’s land after 1650, and with little or no hunting, the beaver population had recovered. While the warfare continued, fur flowed east to Montreal in unprecedented amounts and soon produced a glut on the European market with a drastic drop in the price. As profits fell, the French king decided it was finally time to listen to Jesuit complaints about the corruption which the fur trade was causing among the native peoples, and in 1696 issued a royal proclamation suspending the fur trade in the Great Lakes.
Trading posts closed, and the French began leaving the western Great Lakes. Nothing could have pleased the Jesuits more, but watching their alliance disintegrate and the fruits of military victory slip away, the French in Canada pleaded with their government for relief. With British and Iroquois traders making serious inroads among their allies and the approach of the Queen Anne’s War (1701-13), permission was finally granted for the establishment of a single new post to retain the loyalty of the Great Lakes tribes. Responsibility was given to Antoine de la Mothe Cadillac, the commandant at Mackinac, and in June, 1701, he arrived to Detroit to build Fort Ponchartrain. Just as the Jesuits hated the fur trade, Cadillac despised Jesuits and their missions, so he took a special delight in asking the Wyandot and Ottawa to leave the St. Ignace mission at Mackinac and move south to Detroit. After the last Wyandot left Mackinac in 1704, the Jesuits closed their mission and returned to Quebec.
If Cadillac had limited his invitation to just the Wyandot and Ottawa, things might have been different. Instead, he invited almost all of the alliance tribes to move to Detroit which overwhelmed the available resources in the vicinity. As the Wyandot, Ottawa, Ojibwe, Peoria, Potawatomi, and Miami crowded into the area, tensions rose. With the arrival of 1,000 Fox, Kickapoo, and Mascouten in 1710, the rivalries exploded into a Fox attack on Fort Ponchartrain and a civil war between the members of the alliance (Fox Wars 1712-16 and 1728-37). After the death of Louis XIV in 1715, the trade restrictions were lifted. The French were able to put down the revolt of the Fox, build new posts, and reoccupied many of their old ones. However, it was a case of too little and too late. The French may have defeated the Iroquois in war, but during the peace that followed, the League almost destroyed the French by offering high-quality and inexpensive British trade goods to their allies.
The Wyandot had supported the French in the war against the Fox, but for reasons already mentioned, they found the Iroquois offers of trade attractive, and they were not alone in this. British trade with French allies grew rapidly, especially after the Iroquois gave permission for the British to open a trading post at Oswego in their homeland. Wyandot and Ottawa were regular visitors, and by 1728, 80% of the beaver traded on the Albany market was coming from French allies. The French were aware of what was happening, and in 1730 they urged the Wyandot to leave Detroit and move to Montreal to keep them away from the Iroquois and British. The Wyandot decided to stay near Detroit, but some groups moved south into Ohio and settled along the southern shore of Lake Erie and the Sandusky plains setting the stage for a century of war for control of Ohio.
At the time, Ohio was empty ..no one lived there, and because of this, it was especially attractive, not only for its rich farmland, but hunting since there had been virtually no human habitation for the previous 50 years. The Iroquois claimed it by right of their conquest of the Erie, Shawnee, Kickapoo, and several tribes whose names have been lost because they disappeared during the Beaver Wars before European contact. The League also claimed Kentucky and the entire Ohio Valley west to the Illinois River for the same reason. This was simple enough, but the next part may be confusing! The British also claimed Ohio since the Iroquois had been placed under their protection by the Treaty of Ryswick (1697) which ended the King William’s War between Britain and France. It would take some time before the Iroquois (or anyone else) could understand how an agreement signed in Europe between European kings gave the British a right to Iroquois land. Meanwhile, there were rival claims by Virginia and Pennsylvania to the British claim to the Iroquois claim. The French claim was less complicated: exploration of the area during the 1660s and their military defeat of the Iroquois. Their was no mention of any claim of the native allies of the French who did the actual fighting.
By mutual consent, Ohio was considered part of the Iroquois domain in 1730, and, hoping to lure the Wyandot away from the French alliance and into their “covenant chain” by offering British trade, the League made no objection when the Wyandot began easing south in northern Ohio. Within a few years, the Sandusky Wyandot regularly attended Iroquois councils and were considered the League’s representative in Ohio, a position which only added to the prestige the Wyandot already enjoyed within the French alliance as the “eldest children” of Onontio. However, the Wyandot never became the League’s puppet, and Ohio slipped rapidly from Iroquois control. Beginning in the 1720s, independent groups of Iroquois hunters had started leaving the Iroquois villages to settled in eastern Ohio. For the most part, these Ohio Iroquois (Mingo) were descendants of the Huron, Erie, Neutrals, and Tionontati who had been forcibly incorporated into the Iroquois during the 1650s. Although the League did not object to their presence in Ohio so long as they paid lip-service to its authority, the Mingo were effectively independent of its control. By the end of the 1730s the number of Mingo in Ohio had become significant.
At the same time, large groups of Delaware and Shawnee had tired of Iroquois domination and the crowded conditions of their villages along the Susquehanna River in eastern Pennsylvania and began relocating on their own to the upper Ohio River in western Pennsylvania. During the 1740s, the Wyandot gave permission for them to also settle west in Ohio. These tribes were also nominal members of the “covenant chain, although an important reason for their leaving the Susquehanna was to free themselves from this arrangement. They were soon joined by small groups of Mahican, Abenaki, and New England Algonquin who had even less allegiance to the League. Meanwhile, groups of Miami (French ally) moved east into western Ohio to gain better access to the British traders. Within a very short period, Ohio was occupied by thousands of Native Americans living in mixed-villages who owed not the slightest allegiance to either the Iroquois, British, French, or American colonists who claimed the land on which they lived.
In 1738 Orontony (Nicholas), a Detroit Wyandot chief, refused to participate in a raid against the Cherokee (British allies) south of the Ohio River. Going well beyond this, Orontony also helped the Cherokee ambush a Detroit war party which earned him the lasting hatred of the Ottawa, Ojibwe, and other Wyandot near Detroit. The Wyandot came to the verge of civil war, but the clan mothers intervened to keep Wyandot from killing Wyandot. When the other Detroit Wyandot refused to allow the Ottawa to punish Orontony, the resulting quarrel ended a hundred years of close cooperation between them. Orontony and his followers left Detroit to establish a new village on the Lower Sandusky River in Ohio. By 1740 he was trading openly with the British and encouraging the Wyandot near Detroit to do likewise. With the outbreak of the King George’s War (1744-48), the Detroit Wyandot, Ojibwe, Ottawa, and Potawatomi sent their warriors east to help the French defend Montreal from an expected British invasion. However, the Sandusky Wyandot and Mingo remained neutral and stayed home.
Meanwhile, Orontony strengthened his ties with the British. In 1745 he concluded a separate peace with the British-allied Cherokee and Chickasaw. He also allowed Pennsylvania traders to build a blockhouse near his village. By 1747 the French alliance was falling apart after a British blockade of Canada had cut the flow of French trade goods, This strengthened the competition from British traders, and attempts by the French to prevent this only made matters worse. Encouraged by the British, Orontony organized a conspiracy against the French and in 1748 burned their trading post at Sandusky. When he moved against Detroit, the Detroit Wyandot refused to join him, and fearing retaliation, Orontony and his followers abandoned their villages and moved west to the White River in Indiana. Orontony continued efforts to form an alliance with the Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Miami to defy the French, and his followers did not return to their old villages until after his death. In 1750 the French built a fort at Sandusky to limit Wyandot trade with the British.
The revolt of the Wyandot, their most important ally, sent shock waves through New France. In 1749 Pierre-Joseph Céloron was sent into Ohio to expel British traders and mark the boundary of the French claim with lead plates. His reception by the Ohio tribes was cold, almost hostile, since they did not recognize the French claim to the area. A second expedition in 1751 by Chabert de Joncaire met with a similar response, and a Mingo chief asked him by what authority France was claiming land belonging to the Iroquois. Faced with another revolt, the French could only count on the support from the tribes at Detroit and Mackinac, but the Detroit Wyandot were considering trading with British themselves and had no wish to fight the Ohio tribes. The situation simmered during a smallpox epidemic that swept through the Great Lakes and Ohio Valley in 1751. In June, 1752, Charles Langlade, a mixed-blood Métis, led 250 Ojibwe and Ottawa warriors from Mackinac in an attack on the British trading post and Miami village at Pickawillany (Piqua, Ohio).
Afterwards, the French lowered their prices, increased the supply of trade goods, and began construction of a line of forts intended to block British access to Ohio. The revolt within their alliance collapsed. The Wyandot renewed their attacks on the Chickasaw in 1752, and by July of the following year, the Miami, Potawatomi, and Sauk had stopped trading with the British. However, the Ohio tribes (Mingo, Delaware, and Shawnee) still refused to recognize the French claim and wished to continue their British trade. Seeing the new French forts for what it was an attempt to bring them under French control, they turned to the Iroquois and British to prevent it. In 1754 Virginia sent troops commanded by a 23-year-old militia major (George Washington) to demand the French remove their forts. The resulting confrontation started the French and Indian War (1755-63).
After Washington’s failure, the British began to assemble a large army under General Edward Braddock to capture Fort Duquesne (Pittsburgh). As the war clouds gathered, the members of the alliance (including the Wyandot) supported the French, but the Ohio tribes (Mingo, Delaware and Shawnee) should have been British allies, or at the very least, neutral. This was the case until they learned the Iroquois, at the Albany Conference of 1754, had ceded Ohio to the British. At this point they gave up on the British and Iroquois, and declared that Ohio belonged to the people that lived there. However, they still did not immediately turn to the French. In July, 1755 Braddock’s army moved on Fort Duquesne, only to be defeated in the woods by a mixed force of French and native allies from Canada and the Great Lakes. The leader of the natives was Alhanase, a Huron war chief from Lorette. Afterwards, Delaware and Shawnee warriors entered the war and, in direct defiance of the Iroquois, raided British frontier settlements in Pennsylvania and Virginia. The Wyandot and other French allies went east to fight in the French campaigns in northern New York.
After the Great Lakes warriors returned from the siege of Fort William Henry in 1757, smallpox swept through the Great Lakes during the winter of 1757-58 which fairly well ended further participation of the alliance tribes in the war. With the capture of Quebec and Fort Niagara in 1759, the war in North America was over. After Montreal surrendered, the British occupied Detroit in 1760, and only the Illinois country remained under French control until 1765. The members of the French alliance had to come to terms with the British and in 1761 agreed to meet at Detroit with Sir William Johnson, the British Indian Commissioner. It was a large conference attended by Iroquois, Wyandot, Delaware, Shawnee, Mohican, Kickapoo, Miami, Ojibwe, Mingo, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. In keeping with the traditions of the old French alliance, the Wyandot were made the keepers of the council fire.
Johnson wisely did not wish to change past relationships but only adapt them to British authority. Unfortunately, Lord Jeffrey Amherst, his superior and the British commander in North America, had different ideas. Viewing the former French allies as a conquered people, Amherst raised prices on trade goods and limited the supply of gunpowder. This was a disaster. After 150 years of trade, Native Americans had become dependent on European goods. Tensions rose, and aggravated by crop failures and epidemic during 1762, erupted into the Pontiac Rebellion in 1763. The Wyandot reluctantly joined Pontiac and attacked the British fort at Sandusky, but as the siege of Detroit dragged on, the Detroit Wyandot were among the first to ask the British for peace. Pontiac signed a preliminary truce with the British commander at Detroit in October and withdrew to Indiana. In August, 1764 the Ohio Wyandot made peace with the British and signed the Treaty of Presque Isle. The Detroit Wyandot followed suit in September.
During the French and Indian War, Pennsylvania had unilaterally renounced the Iroquois cession of Ohio at the Albany Conference in 1754, and this was a major factor in the lack of resistance the British encountered when they occupied the Ohio Valley in 1760. In the wake of the Pontiac rebellion, the British halted settlement west of the Appalachians in 1763. However, faced with growing discontent in the American colonies, they began negotiations with the Iroquois in 1768 to open Ohio to settlement. After the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, American frontiersmen (Long Knives) swarmed into western Pennsylvania, Kentucky, and eastern Ohio. The alliance had collapsed with the failure of the Pontiac Rebellion, but having learned in 1754 not depend on the Iroquois, the Shawnee in 1769 made overtures of alliance to Illinois, Wea, Piankashaw, Miami, Kickapoo, Potawatomi, Wyandot, Ottawa, Delaware, Mascouten, Ojibwe, Cherokee and Chickasaw. Meetings were held at Sciota in 1770 and 1771, but William Johnson’s threats of war with the Iroquois kept the tribes divided, and the Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingo were forced to stand alone against the “Long Knives” during Lord Dunmore’s (Cresap’s) War (1774).
With the beginning of the American Revolution in 1775, the British ended their neutrality in the struggle between the “Long Knives” and Ohio tribes and urged the Indians to attack American settlements in Kentucky and Pennsylvania. The Shawnee were the most active in this, but they received increasing support from the Detroit and Ohio tribes, In September, 1777 a force of 400 Wyandot, Mingo, and Shawnee attacked Fort Henry (Wheeling, West Virginia) and burned the nearby settlement. The following year, Half King’s Wyandot made a feint at Fort Randolph (Point Pleasant, West Virginia) and then attacked settlements on the Kanawha River. They also attacked a blockhouse near Fort Union and later joined the British expedition of Captain Henry Bird which ravaged the Kentucky settlements during 1780. In March, 1782 Pennsylvania militia massacred 90 Christian Delaware at the Movarian mission at Gnadenhuetten (Ohio). Victims included men, women, and over 30 children, and this senseless act added a bitter note of revenge to the struggle. That June an American force under Colonel William Crawford was sent to attack the Sandusky villages. Defeated by a combined force of Delaware and Wyandot, Crawford was captured by the Wyandot. Half King turned him over to the Delaware who burned him at the stake in revenge for the Movarian Delaware killed at Gnadenhuetten.
With the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783,the Wyandot had only 100 warriors. The British asked their allies to stop their attacks, but there was little chance of this. The bitter fighting between the Ohio tribes and Long Knives had taken on a life of its own beyond the control of either the British or United States. The warriors fighting for Ohio were determined to keep the Americans out, and the Long Knives did not consider the peace with Britain included “Injuns,” so the fighting continued. The new American government needed to sell the lands in Ohio to pay its debts from the war, and the British knowing this, saw an opportunity to regain their colonies through economic collapse and refused to withdraw from its forts in the Ohio valley until the Americans paid the obligations to British loyalists required by the peace treaty.
The Long Knives’ solution to this impasse was simple. George Rogers Clark, whose victories had given the Americans the Ohio Valley, asked for authorization to raise an army and conquer all the Indians. Congress thanked him for past services but politely refused. Faced with an invasion of Ohio which might threaten Canada, the British encouraged the formation of a new alliance against the Americans. It was formed at meeting held at the Sandusky villages of the Wyandot in 1783. Although the British did not attend themselves, they brought the Mohawk chief Joseph Brant from Canada to speak and promise their support. Those joining included: Mingo, Wyandot, Miami, Delaware, Shawnee, Kickapoo, Sauk, Ottawa, Ojibwe, Potawatomi, and Chickamauga (Cherokee). The first council fire was at the Wakatomica (Shawnee), but this was burned by the Americans in 1786. Later that year, the council fire was moved to the Wyandot village of Brownstown (just south of Detroit).
Wishing to avoid an expensive war, the Americans in 1784 negotiated a second Treaty of Fort Stanwix with the Iroquois confirming their earlier cession of Ohio. The next step was to reach an agreement with Ohio tribes, but this would be difficult since the Americans refused to recognize the alliance which had been formed at Sandusky the previous year. The Treaty of Fort MacIntosh (1785) was signed with the Wyandot, Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Delaware where they agreed to American sovereignty over Ohio in exchange for a boundary with white settlement. Half King signed for the Wyandot but later repudiated the agreement. In 1786 a similar treaty was signed with the Shawnee at Fort Finney (Greater Miami Treaty), but both of these agreements were doomed. The chiefs who signed did not represent the consensus of the alliance, and even before Congress had been able to sell the Ohio land rights to the Ohio Company and a New Jersey syndicate, American frontiersmen were flooding into Ohio and squatting on land beyond the agreed boundaries. There were 12,000 white settlers north of the Ohio in 1785, and General Josiah Harmar, the American military commander, could neither keep them from encroaching on native lands nor remove them once they were there.
Fighting resumed in 1786. When the alliance met in council that fall, it was decided to demand the Ohio River as the frontier. A truce was called to give the Americans time to respond, but by the time the message reached Congress in July, the fighting had already resumed. The Americans made final attempt to avoid war and resolve the dispute through treaty. In December, 1787, Arthur St. Clair asked for a meeting at Fort Harmar at the falls of Ohio’s Muskingum River. The alliance agreed and decided to settle for the Muskingum as the boundary. However, there was considerable disagreement, and American soldiers building the council house for the meeting were attacked by Ottawa and Ojibwe warriors in July, 1788. Joseph Brant returned to the alliance council demanding they repudiate all treaties ceding any part of Ohio. The Shawnee and Miami agreed, but Tarhe, a Wyandot chief, decided to negotiate and was able to convince the Delaware, Ottawa, Potawatomi, and Ojibwe to join him.
The Treaty of Fort Harmar was signed in January 1789 agreeing to the Muskingum as the boundary of settlement, but the Wyandot and other moderates within the alliance had lost control. By summer the Shawnee and Miami, with British support, had built a consensus and afterwards dominated the alliance. In the fall, the Shawnee asked the Iroquois to join them in the fight for Ohio. The Iroquois already had enough trouble defending their own homeland from settlement and declined. They would have no further influence among the Ohio tribes after this. Meanwhile, as American settlers continued to encroach, the United States had ratified the Constitution creating a new form of government. It’s first president was a war hero and Virginia farmer who just happened to have his personal fortune invested in land along the Ohio River George Washington.
While Washington formed his administration and decided how to take their lands in Ohio, the Wyandot in Canada were under British pressure to surrender land in southwest Ontario for the resettlement of American Tories displaced by the Revolutionary War. In May, 1790 they signed a treaty with Alexander McKee ceding their lands east of Detroit in exchange for two reserves: a small tract opposite Detroit; and a larger one at Anderdon on the Canard River near Amherstburg. Washington finally decided to take Ohio by force and ordered General Harmar to move against the alliance. In October Harmar’s army was mauled while trying to cross the upper Wabash River in northeast Indiana. Washington, who had a bad temper, replaced Harmar with Arthur St. Clair, but in November, 1791 St. Clair’s army was nearly annihilated in western Ohio. With 600 killed and 400 wounded, it was the worst defeat ever inflicted on an American army by Native Americans.
Above all else, Washington should be remembered as someone who did not surrender in the face of adversity. In 1792 he sent Anthony Wayne to take command in Ohio. Americans knew him as “Mad Anthony,” but the Indians would call him “Blacksnake,” because, like the blacksnake, Wayne sat quietly, patiently waiting for the right moment to strike. Wayne trained an army of regulars while building a line of forts aimed straight into the heartland of the alliance in northwest Ohio. As the alliance chiefs nervously watched Wayne’s slow, methodical approach, American commissioners made overtures of peace. The British again urged resistance, and the Shawnee killed two American representatives enroute to a conference with the alliance. The alliance, however, was beginning to unravel. It could field 2,000 warriors but had trouble feeding them over an extended period, and Wayne was definitely extending the conflict. In 1792 the Wabash tribes (Peoria, Piankashaw, Kickapoo, and Wea) signed a treaty with the Americans which caused them to leave the alliance and remain neutral. The Fox and Sauk also withdrew at the same time.
In July, 1793 American commissioners met for the last time with the alliance. At first, only the Wyandot, Shawnee, and Miami favored continuing the war, while the others were undecided. Finally, the majority decided to fight, and the meeting ended. In October Wayne received orders to begin an advance north from Fort Washington (Cincinnati). One of Wayne’s supply trains was destroyed at Ludlow Spring, but he established himself at Fort Greenville (80 miles north of Cincinnati). As the time of confrontation approached, doubts emerged within the alliance, and the Shawnee chief, Blue Jacket opened separate negotiations. The start of Wayne’s advance may also have played a part in the British decision to finally close its forts on American territory and reach an accommodation with the United States. After a desperate attack on the Americans at Fort Recovery failed, the alliance had only 700 warriors in August, 1794 to face Wayne’s Legion at Fallen Timbers. After the battle, the retreating warriors sought refuge with the British at Fort Miami, only to have them close the gates on their former allies.
Wayne’s army marched right up to the British fort but did not attack. Afterwards, the Americans burned several of nearby Indian villages and destroyed their food supplies. Then Wayne returned to Fort Greenville and waited. After a hungry winter, the alliance made peace. No longer able to rely on British help against the Americans, the Wyandot and other tribes signed the Treaty of Fort Greenville in 1795 ceding all of Ohio except the northwest. This allowed the Wyandot to remain at Sandusky and Detroit, and Cranetown was the only one of their villages which needed to be relocated to conform to the Greenville treaty line. With defeat after a long, bitter war, there was a terrible period of social disintegration within the tribes of the alliance after 1795. Whiskey became a major problem, and civil authority broke down. The “peace chiefs” (Walking-in-the-Water was the Wyandot peace chief) controlled the tribal councils and were determined to cooperate with the Americans. Although sometimes this was helped by bribery, most were doing the best they could, and it was, in general, a thankless job which all-too-often put them in danger from their own people.
There was little cooperation between the individual tribes, and an attempt to resurrect the alliance at Brownstown in 1801 failed. The Americans, however, were not satisfied with the lands gained at Greenville and were soon pressing for more cessions. In 1805 the Wyandot (also Delaware, Ottawa, Ojibwe, Shawnee, and Potawatomi) signed the Treaty of Fort Industry ceding more land and agreeing to a new “permanent frontier.” The time was ripe for an upheaval and revolt. That year, a prophet arose among the Shawnee with a message of spiritual renewal, rejection of the whiteman’s trade goods and whiskey, and return to traditional ways. His name was Tenskwatawa (The Open Door). He had several rivals for spiritual leadership, and his teachings were similar to Neolin, the Delaware Prophet whose new religion had provided the impetus for Pontiac’s Rebellion in 1763. What made Tenskwatawa different was his brother was Tecumseh.
Tecumseh was a respected warrior, natural leader, and spell-binding orator. Completely opposed to further land cessions to the Americans, he also favored the formation of an alliance of all tribes, even former enemies, to accomplish this. Tecumseh gave his brother’s religious movement a political purpose directly opposed to the authority of the peace chiefs. After Tenskwatawa predicted a solar eclipse in 1806, his movement gained a large following in several tribes. Because of their important position within the old alliance, Wyandot support was crucial for Tecumseh, but the new religion had an ugly side which alienated many. In 1806 Tenskwatawa visited the Wyandot villages. After making several converts, the Prophet denounced four women as witches. Only the intervention of the Wyandot chief Tarhe prevented their execution. Similar events occurred among the Delaware with fatal results for the accused.
Despite the growing strength of Tecumseh and his brother, the land cessions continued. In a treaty at Detroit in November, 1807, the Wyandot with the Detroit Ottawa, Ojibwe, and Potawatomi surrendered a large part of southeastern Michigan. Another treaty in 1808 allowed the Americans to build a road (Detroit to Columbus, Ohio) through their lands. Tecumseh was furious and travelled to Canada where he received promises of support from the British. In 1809 at the Treaties of Fort Wayne and Vincennes, major cessions were made in southern Indiana and Illinois, and Tecumseh went after the peace chiefs. During the summer of 1810, the Wyandot chief Leatherlips was assassinated by Roundhead, a Detroit Wyandot chief loyal to Tecumseh. Other Wyandot on the lower Sandusky killed two women as witches, and the calumet and wampum belts of the alliance were transferred from Brownstown to Tecumseh’s capital at Tippecanoe. The reaction of the Brownstown council that fall was to denounce the Prophet as a witch.
Tecumseh never achieved more than partial support among the important tribes of the alliance, Wyandot, Delaware, and his own people, the Shawnee. His strength lay with the tribes in the west which were part of the alliance fighting the Osage. He travelled constantly trying to gain more support. It was during one of these journeys in 1811 that governor William Henry Harrison marched on Tippecanoe. Ignoring his brother’s orders, Tenskwatawa ordered an attack on Harrison’s army and lost. Tippecanoe was destroyed, the Prophet’s credibility seriously damaged, and Tecumseh had to rebuild his alliance. There was little time before the outbreak of the War of 1812. Tecumseh sided with the British, but most of the Wyandot, Delaware and Shawnee chose to remain neutral. The Michigan Wyandot under Roundhead, however, were among Tecumseh’s staunchest supporters. Tarhe and his followers fought for the Americans. The division of the Wyandot continued until Tecumseh and Roundhead were killed at the Battle of the Thames (October, 1813).
Afterwards, the war in the Great Lakes came to an end. The pro-British Wyandot remained in Ontario at Anderdon. In July, 1814 at the second Treaty of Greenville, the Wyandot, Delaware, Seneca (Mingo), and Shawnee loyal to the Americans agreed to end hostilities with the tribes which had sided with Tecumseh (Kickapoo, Miami, Ottawa, and Potawatomi). Major land cessions came later. In September, 1817 at the Treaty of Maumee Rapids (Fort Meigs), the Wyandot surrendered their remaining lands in Ohio in exchange for two reservations: the Grand Reserve on the upper Sandusky (12 by 12 miles) and the Cranberry Reserve (one square mile). The Ohio Delaware, Shawnee, and Mingo received similar small reservations. The following year, the Wyandot signed two treaties at St. Marys. The first enlarged the Grand Reserve in Ohio (to 12 by 19 miles) and added a reserve at Big Springs for any of the Canadian Wyandot who wished to return to the United States. In the second treaty, the Michigan Wyandot surrendered Brownstown (capital of the alliance) in exchange for a reserve on the Huron River.
There were no further land cessions by the Wyandot until after Congress passed the Indian Removal Act in 1830. Then pressures began to mount for them to sell their lands in Ohio and Michigan and remove to Kansas. Since the Wyandot lands were protected by treaty, the government’s plan was to eat away at their land base by taking advantage of factions within the Wyandot. In 1832, the Wyandot at the Big Spring Reserve signed the Treaty of McCutcheonsville selling their reserve to the United States. These were mainly Canadian Wyandot who were expected to take the money and return to Canada, but the agreement was opposed by the Sandusky tribal council until provisions were made for the Big Spring Wyandot to move to the Grand Reserve and payments made directly to the Wyandot council. There was a four-year pause before the Wyandot lost more land. In 1836 the Ohio Wyandot signed another treaty selling the Cranberry Reserve and 60 square miles on the east side of the Grand Reserve. Meanwhile the Canadian Wyandot had surrendered a large portion of their reserve just east of Detroit.
Two years later, two Ohio Congressmen were appointed as special agents to get the Wyandot to agree to removal. Several Wyandot delegations visited Kansas, and arrangements were made for them to purchase land from the Shawnee. The Senate, however, failed to ratify the treaty, and the Wyandot remained divided about removal until 1841. In November the Wyandot chief Summundewat and his entire family were robbed and murdered by two white men who they had fed and given shelter. The murderers were captured but never prosecuted. The failure of American laws to protect them convinced the Wyandot it was time to leave. In March, 1842 they ceded all their lands in Ohio and Michigan and agreed to move to Kansas where they were to receive a new reserve of 148,000 acres. In addition, they were to be paid the full value of the improvements made to their Ohio lands, $10,000 for relocation expenses, and an annual annuity of $18,000. They were also entitled to 35 sections of any unclaimed Indian lands west of the Mississippi.
In July, 1845, 664 Wyandot (including 25 from Michigan and 30 from Canada) left for Ohio by steamboat from Cincinnati. Passing the grave of William Henry Harrison overlooking the Ohio River, the Wyandot fired a rifle volley in salute. Their reasons for this can only be guessed. When they arrived in Kansas, the Wyandot discovered the Shawnee did not wish to sell, and they had no land. In December they reached an agreement with the Delaware to purchase (with their own money) 36 sections at the eastern end of the Delaware reserve. The Delaware also gave the Wyandot three additional sections out of respect and in gratitude for when the Wyandot had allowed them to settle in Ohio during the 1740s. The agreement was subject to congressional approval, but there was some doubt this would be given. To be safe, the Wyandot applied for lands on the Great Osage River but this was rejected since the lands had already been allotted to other tribes. The government also tried to appraise the value of the improvements to their Ohio lands at half their actual worth.
Approval of the purchase from the Delaware was not received until 1848. In the meantime, Wyandot volunteers had served in the American army during the Mexican War (1846-48). In 1849 several other Wyandot left Kansas to join the California gold rush. Eight years after the 1842 treaty, the Wyandot still had not received the 148,000 acres promised them and were living on lands purchased with their own money. In 1850 a Wyandot delegation sent to Washington, D.C. proposed a new treaty whereby they would become citizens, accept individual allotment of the lands they had purchased, and surrender their claim to the 148,000 acres promised them in exchange for $185,000. The treaty was signed in April, but the version ratified by the Senate removed provisions for citizenship and allotment. The attitude of the government changed after passage of the Kansas-Nebraska Act in 1854.
To prepare the route for a transcontinental railroad, Kansas and Nebraska were opened to white settlement. However, this required the breakup of the blocks of land assigned by treaty to the Indian tribes relocated to Kansas from east of the Mississippi. The treaty signed by the Wyandot in 1855 ended their tribal status, but allowed them to become citizens by taking their lands in severalty. Their excess lands were sold to the government for $380,000. Although the treaty was approved by a large majority, a sizeable minority, wishing to retain their traditional tribal status and government, was strongly opposed to the agreement. The majority prevailed and the Wyandot ceased to exist as a tribe. Besides opening Kansas for white settlement, the Kansas-Nebraska Act had set aside the requirements of the Missouri Compromise and allowed the question of slavery in Kansas to be decided by “popular sovereignty.” As white zealots from both north and south flooded into Kansas, the question of slavery was decided not by the will of the majority, but by a violent preview of the Civil War known as “Bleeding Kansas.”
The Wyandot and other tribes in Kansas found themselves in the middle of a white man’s war and were forced to take sides. For the most part, the Wyandot were against slavery, and several members were prominent in the “Underground Railroad” to help black slaves escape to Canada or free territory. By 1857 200 Wyandot (Emigrant or Indian Party) had had enough of the benefits of American citizenship and left for the Indian Territory where the Seneca (Mingo) allowed them to settle on their lands in the northeast Oklahoma. After the beginning of the Civil War, Confederate troops occupied the Indian Territory. In 1862 they swept through the Seneca Reserve. Because of their pro-union and anti-slavery sentiments, the Wyandot living there were forced to return to Kansas. While there, the Indian Party organized their own tribal council and began negotiations with the Oklahoma Seneca (also refugees living in Kansas) for the purchase of a part of their lands as a Wyandot reserve.
After the war, the Indian party returned to Oklahoma. It refused offers of reconciliation with the Citizen Party and petitioned the government to renew their tribal status. An omnibus treaty signed in 1867 granted recognition and permission for the Oklahoma Wyandotte to purchase 20,000 acres between the Neosho River and the Missouri state line as a reserve. This was later broken up into individual allotments by the Dawes Act. Some of the “citizen or absentee” Wyandot from Kansas were allowed to rejoin the tribe through adoption, but in general, the Oklahoma Wyandotte no longer recognized the Kansas Wyandot as tribal members and would not allow them to settle on their Oklahoma reserve without permission. Beginning with the division between Christian and traditional within the Huron Confederacy which contributed to their defeat by the Iroquois, factionalism has plagued the Huron and/or Wyandot for the last 400 years. The bitter fight for recognition between the Citizen and Indian Parties has persisted to the present-day between the Wyandot Nation of Kansas and the Wyandotte Tribe of Oklahoma.