Wyandot-Hurons

A single enterprise shrewdly planned and resolutely executed.

(An excerpt)

The Wyandots or Hurons, a once numerous and powerful tribe of Iroquois, located for many years in Northwestern Ohio, were, until the end of the last century, driven alternately east and west by the Six Nations and Sioux. They were placed on a reservation in Kansas in 1832, and in 1855 many became citizens. A small remnant of this tribe, numbering two hundred and fifty, have twenty-one thousand seven hundred and six acres in the Quapaw Reservation, Indian Territory, most of it suitable only for grazing. They are engaged in farming and cattle-raising, and have sixty-four children at the Mission School. The Hurons, alone among the Indian tribes, held it disgraceful to turn from the face of an enemy when the fortunes of the fight were adverse.

The expulsion of the Wyandot-Huron tribe from the valley of the St. Lawrence by the fury of the Iroquois, in 1649, is one of the most important events in the history of the Northern Indians, their villages were destroyed and their people slaughtered. Some fled to Canada (their descendents are still at Lorette, near Quebec), others were incorporated with the Iroquois, and others still subsequently settled at Detroit. This expulsion thus brought a part of that ancient tribe into the basin of Lake Huron, which derives its name from their residence upon some of its principal islands. Michilimackinac, with its natural cliffs and rocky barriers, offered an eligible retreat to the fugitive tribes, while its fertile calcareous soil offered them the means of cultivating extensive gardens. The vestiges of decomposed limestone strata cover large areas of the island’s interior, which is well sheltered and has an elevated position above the waters of the lake. But from this strong position the Hurons were eventually driven by the war-canoes of the conquering Six Nations. They were then compelled to flee to the western shore of Lake Superior.

While this tribe had their council-fire on the island (which bore the name of Ticonderoga in their dialect), Kondiaronk (the rat), sometimes called Adario, was the leading chief and counselor in their transactions. He was an able, brave, and politic chief, possessing an uncommon degree of energy and decision of character, united to a keen foresight. Much of what is known of the Wyandot history might be narrated in connection with a sketch of his life, but of this we must restrict ourselves to a mere outline.

The Wyandots having been dispossessed of their ancient possessions on the St. Lawrence by their relatives, the Six Nations, on account of their alliance with the French, and the hostilities of the Six Nations having been continued against the French settlements, it became the policy of the Wyandots to avail themselves of this hostility and keep up this irritation, in order to draw the vengeance of the French against the Iroquois. French they were at heart when expelled from the St. Lawrence, and French they exhibited themselves in policy; and accordingly it was their object to keep the English from participating in the fur-trade of the Northwest. In the attempted execution of both these designs Adario took an active part.

In 1688 the English of the province of New York resolved to avail themselves of a recent alliance between the two crowns, and to attempt a participation in the fur-trade of the upper lakes. They persuaded the Iroquois to set free a number of Wyandot captives, who were induced to guide them across the lakes, so as to open an intercourse with the Northwestern Indians. Owing to the high price and scarcity of goods, this plan was well received by Adario and his people, and also by the Ottawas and Pottawatomies, but the enterprise nevertheless failed. Major McGregory, who led the party, was intercepted by a large body of French from Mackinac, and the whole party was captured, and their goods distributed gratuitously to the Indians. The Lake Indians, who had covertly countenanced this attempt, were thrown back entirely on the French trade, and were henceforth subjected to suspicions which made them uneasy in their councils, and they became anxious to do away with the mistrust entertained of their fidelity by the French. In order to prove his fidelity, Adario marched a party of one hundred men from Mackinac against the Iroquois. When he stopped at Fort Cadurackui to get intelligence which might guide him, the commandant informed Adario that the Governor of Canada, Denonville, was in hopes of concluding a peace with the Six Nations, and expected their ambassadors at Montreal in a few days. He then fore advised the chief to return. Should such a peace take place, Adario feared that it would leave the Iroquois free to push the war against his nation, which had already been driven from the banks of the St. Lawrence to Lake Huron. He dissembled his fears, however, before the commandant, and loft the fort, not for the purpose of returning home, but to waylay the Iroquois delegates at a portage on the river where he knew they must puss. He did not wait over four or five days, when the deputies arrived, guarded by forty young warriors, who were all surprised, and either killed or taken prisoners. His next object was to shift the blame of the act on the governor of Canada, by whom, he told his prisoners, he had been informed of their intention to pass this way. The Iroquois were much surprised at this apparent act of perfidy on the part of the French, and they assured Adario that they were truly and indeed on a mission of peace. Adario affected rage against Denonville, declaring that he would some time be revenged on the French for making him a tool, and for committing so horrid a treachery. Then looking steadfastly on the prisoners, among whom was Dekanefora, the head chief of the Onondaga tribe, “Go,” said he, “my brothers: I untie your bonds, and send you home again, although our nations be at war. The French governor has made me commit so black an action that I shall never be easy after it until the Five Nations have taken full revenge.” The ambassadors were so fully persuaded of the truth of his declarations that they replied in the most friendly terms, and said the way was open to their concluding a peace. He then dismissed his prisoners with presents of arms, powder, and ball, keeping but a single man (an adopted Shawnee) to supply the place of the only man he had lost in the engagement. Thus by one bold effort he rekindled the fire of discord between the French and their enemies at the moment it was about to expire, and at the same time laid the foundation of a peace with his own nation. Adario delivered his Shawnee prisoner to the French on reaching Mackinac, who, in order to keep up the old enmity between the Wyandots and the Five Nations, ordered the Shawnee to be shot. On this Adario called up an Iroquois prisoner who was a witness of this scene, and who had long been detained among them, and told him to escape to his own country and give an account of the cruelty of the French, from whom it was not in his power to save a prisoner he had himself taken.

This trick increased the rage of the Five Nations to such a pitch that when Denonville sent a message to disown the act of Adario, the Indians put no faith in it, but burned for revenge. Nor was it long before the French felt the effects of their rage. On the 26th of July, 1688, they landed with twelve hundred men on the upper end of the island of Montreal, and carried destruction wherever they went. Houses were burned, plantations sacked, and men, women, and children massacred. About a thousand of the French inhabitants were killed, and twenty-six were carried away prisoners, most of whom were burned alive. In October of the same year the Iroquois renewed their incursions, sweeping over the lower part of the island. The consequences of these inroads were most disastrous to the French, who were thus reduced to the lowest point of despondency. They burned their two vessels on Cadarackui Lake, abandoned the fort, and returned to Montreal. The news spread far and wide among the Indians of the upper lakes, who, seeing the fortunes of the French on the wane, made treaties with the French, and thus opened the way for their commerce on the upper lakes.

Such were the consequences of a single enterprise, shrewdly planned and resolutely executed. The fame of its author spread abroad, and he was everywhere regarded as a man of address, courage, and abilities. From this time the ancient feud between the Wyandots and their kindred, the Five Nations, began to die out. A few years afterwards, the Wyandots settled on the Straits of Detroit, where, up to the close of the war of 1812-15, they exercised a commanding influence among the Lake tribes, acting as keepers of the general council-fire of the nations.

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Drake, Francis S. ed. The Indian Tribes of the United States: Their History, Antiquities, Customs, Religion, Arts, Language, Traditions, Oral Legends, and Myths. Vol. 1. Philadelphia: Lippincott, 1884. 400-03. Print.

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