In fact this was a land full of people when whites arrived. It became
empty of the natives because of us.
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These Compact Histories are presented here to provide information to
those interested in learning more about the First Nations. Lee Sultzman
has authored all of the Histories.
They are NOT here to provide spoon fed information for "school
reports." Accordingly we are not interested in any questions asking for
help in completing your school assignment.
As to those who question our credibility, you may take us or leave us.
These Histories were written and assembled as a labor-of-love. Take
them or leave them, period.
Native Americans have occupied northern New England for at least
10,000 years. There is no proof these ancient residents were ancestors
of the Abenaki, but there is no reason to think they were not.
The mild climate of the lower Mississippi required little clothing.
Acolapissa men limited themselves pretty much to a breechcloth, women a
short skirt, and children ran nude until puberty. With so little
clothing with which to adorn themselves, the Acolapissa were fond of
decorating their entire bodies with tattoos. In cold weather a buffalo
robe or feathered cloak was added for warmth.
If for no other reason, the Algonkin would be famous because their
name has been used for the largest native language group in North
America. The downside is the confusion generated, and many people do
not realize there actually was an Algonkin tribe, or that all
Algonquins do not belong to the same tribe. Although Algonquin is a
common language group, it has many many dialects, not all of which are
Dogs were the only animal domesticated by Native Americans before
the horse, but the Bayougoula in 1699 kept small flocks of turkeys. The
tribes of the lower Mississippi were also unique in that tribal
territories were well defined. Decorated with fish heads and bear
bones, a large red post near the mouth of the Red River marked the
boundary between the Bayougoula and the Houma just to the north.
Translated into French, the location of this "Red Post" became known as
Baton Rouge, the present-day capital of Louisiana.
One thing that is known about the Beothuk was their love of the
color red. While the use of red ocre was common among Native Americans,
no other tribe used it as extensively as the Beothuk. They literally
covered everything - their bodies, faces, hair, clothing, personal
possessions, and tools - with a red paint made from powdered ochre
mixed with either fish oil or animal grease. It was also employed in
burials. The reasons are unknown, but speculation has ranged from their
religion (about which we know very little) to protection from insects.
The practice was so excessive, even the Micmac referred to them as the
Red Indians, and it is believed the term "redskin" used for Native
Americans probably originated from early contacts between European
fishermen and Beothuk.
Catawba warriors had a fearsome reputation and an appearance to
match: ponytail hairstyle with a distinctive war paint pattern of one
eye in a black circle, the other in a white circle and remainder of the
face painted black. Coupled with their flattened foreheads, some of
their enemies must have died from sheer fright.
Although generally the least known of the Five Civilized Tribes
(Chickasaw, Cherokee, Choctaw, Creek, Seminole), no other tribe played
a more significant role in Britain's victory over France for control of
North America. Variously described as the Unconquered and Unconquerable
or the Spartans of the lower Mississippi Valley, the Chickasaw were the
most formidable warriors of the American Southeast, and anyone who
messed with them came to regret it, if they survived! British traders
from the Carolinas were quick to recognize their prowess in this regard
and armed the Chickasaw to the teeth, after which, no combination of
the French and their native allies was able to dislodge the Chickasaw
from the stranglehold they imposed upon French commerce on the lower
Mississippi. The Chickasaw could cut New France in two, which seriously
crippled the French in any war with the British. From the high ground
overlooking the Mississippi River at Memphis, the Chickasaw took on all
comers, including tribes four to five times their size and never lost
until they picked the wrong side in the American Civil War. Even then,
the Chickasaw Nation was the last Confederate government to surrender
to Union forces.
To enhance their appearance, the Chitimacha flattened the foreheads
of their male children. Most men wore their hair long, but there were
occasional reports of some of their warriors having a scalplock. With
the mild climate, male clothing was limited to a breechcloth which
allowed a display of their extensive tattooing of the face, body, arms
and legs. Women limited themselves to a short skirt. Their hair was
also worn long but usually braided. Socially, the Chitimacha were
divided into matrilineal (descent traced through the mother) totemic
(named for an animal) clans. The most distinctive characteristic of
Chitimacha society was their strict caste system of two ranked groups:
nobles and commoners. The separation between them included the use of
two distinct dialects with commoners required to address nobles in the
proper language. The Chitimacha were unique among Native Americans with
their practice of strict endogamy (a person can only marry someone from
their own group). A noble man or woman who married a commoner forfeited
their higher status.
Stealing horses was common among the plains tribes, but like
everything else concerning the horse, Comanches did it on a grand
scale. As the number of Spanish horses in New Mexico became inadequate,
Comanche raids reached south into Texas and Mexico. By 1775 the Spanish
governor of New Mexico was complaining that, despite constant re-supply
from Mexico, Comanche raiders had stolen so many horses he did not have
enough to pursue them.
The Comanche epitomized the mounted plains warrior. Until the
1750s, they often employed leather armor and large body shields to
protect both horse and rider. This changed with increased use of
firearms and quickly changed into the stereotypical light cavalry
tactics associated with plains warfare. This development first forced
the Spanish, and later Texans and Americans, to cope with a new style
of mounted warfare. They did not do very well at first. European
cavalry had evolved into heavy-armed dragoons designed to break
massed-infantry formations. There was no way these soldiers could stay
with mounted Comanches who usually left them eating dust ..if they
could find them in the first place. The Texas Rangers were organized
during the 1840s primarily to fight Comanches. A decade later, when the
American army began to assume much of the Rangers' responsibility, it
had much to learn.
Finding the Moravians at Gnadenhuetten, Williamson placed them
under arrest. In the democratic style of frontier militia, a vote was
taken whether to take the prisoners back to Fort Pitt or kill them. The
decision was to execute them. The Moravians were given the night to
prepare. In the morning, two slaughter houses were selected, and 90
Christian Delaware - 29 men, 27 women, and 34 children - were taken
inside in small groups and beaten to death with wooden mallets. Among
the victims was old Abraham, a Mahican and the first Moravian convert
in Pennsylvania. Afterwards, the troops burned Gnadenhuetten and the
other Moravian missions. Then loaded down with plunder from their
victims, they went home to their wives and children in Pennsylvania.
With French contact limited to one brief meeting, very little is
known for certain about the Erie except they were important, and they
were there. The Dutch and Swedes also heard about them through their
trade with the Susquehannock, but never actually met the Erie. All
information about their social and political organization has come from
early Jesuit accounts of what they had been told by the Huron.
...as darkness fell the interior was illuminated by enormous (15'
high, two feet thick) cane torches. The Houma men were fairly tall,
averaging about 5' 10" with breechcloths extending to the knee with a
mantle of turkey feathers added for warmth or decoration. Women were
bare to the waist with a short skirt. Both sexes wore their hair long
and braided, and there was extensive use of body and face tattooing.
The French also noticed that the older Houma men, including the chief,
had flattened foreheads, but the practice seemed to be ending, since
none of the younger men had their appearance altered in this manner.
Agriculture provided most of the Houma diet, and the village was
surrounded by fields in which they grew corn, beans, squash, melons and
sunflowers. Hunting and fishing, using dugout rather than birchbark
canoes, provided the remainder.
Americans often do not realize that Huron and Wyandot are the same
people. Originally, more than a dozen Iroquoian-speaking tribes of
southern Ontario referred to themselves as Wendat meaning "island
people" or "dwellers on a peninsula." Rendered variously as: Guyandot,
Guyandotte, Ouendat, Wyandot, and Wyandotte. The French, however,
called members of a four-tribe confederacy Huron, a derogatory name
derived from their word "hure" meaning rough or ruffian. This has
persisted as their usual name in Canada.
The destruction of the Illini after contact is one of the great
tragedies in North American history. By the time American settlement
reached them during the early 1800s, the Illini were nearly extinct and
replaced by other tribes. For the most part, the blame for this could
not be placed on a war with the Europeans or the Illini refusal to
adapt themselves to a changing situation. Actually, few tribes had
adapted as much or attached themselves more closely to the French. This
made it easy to place responsibility for the fate of the Illini on
their native enemies, or perhaps even nature itself, and for this
reason, their sad story became a favorite romanticized explanation of
the Native American's "ride into the sunset" to prepare the way for the
advance of "civilization." However, stripped of this embellishment, the
story of the Illini's decline is a chilling indication of how the
European presence, regardless of purpose or intention, unleashed
destructive forces upon North America's native peoples which reached
far beyond the immediate areas of their colonization.
"Simply put, the Iroquois were the most important native group in
North American history....Other than clearing fields and building
villages, the primary occupation of the men was warfare. Warriors wore
their hair in a distinctive scalplock (Mohawk of course), although
other styles became common later. While the men carefully removed all
facial and body hair, women wore theirs long. Tattoos were common for
both sexes. Torture and ritual cannibalism were some of the ugly traits
of the Iroquois..."
By common tradition, the Kickapoo and Shawnee believe they were
once a single tribe but separated after an argument over a bear's paw.
[The Kickapoo's] most distinctive characteristic has been a
stubborn resistance to acculturization with the white man, and it is
difficult to think of another group of Native Americans which has gone
to such lengths to avoid this. The tendency of the Kickapoo to avoid
direct contact has made it easy to dismiss them as unimportant.
Although they never played a lead role, the Kickapoo, like a good
character actor, were involved in so many things that their overall
contribution was enormous. While reading their history, they seem to
disappear at times into a story of another people, only to suddenly
resurface in another place and time. Years after the leading tribes
with the famous names were gone, the Kickapoo were still in the midst
of the struggle to preserve native America.
When James Fenimore Cooper wrote "Last of the Mohicans" in 1826 he
made the Mahican famous. Unfortunately, he also made them extinct in
many minds and confused their name and history with the Mohegan from
eastern Connecticut. This error has persisted, and most Americans today
would be surprised to learn that the Mahican are very much alive and
living in Wisconsin under an assumed name, Stockbridge Indians.
We have no idea what they called themselves. Mascouten apparently
comes from a Fox word meaning "little prairie people." In its various
forms: Mascoutin, Mathkoutench, Musketoon, Meadow Indians (George
Rogers Clark's journal), and possibly Rasaouakoueton (Nicollet). Aside
from Nicollet, the earliest mention of the Mascouten was by the French
which used their Huron name, Assistaeronon (Assitaehronon,
Assitagueronon, Attistae) which translates as Fire Nation (Nation of
Contact with Europeans probably occurred at an early date, perhaps
as soon as John Cabot in 1497, but they were first mentioned
specifically by Captain John Smith when he explored the coast of New
England in 1614. Disaster struck immediately afterwards in the form of
three separate epidemics that swept across New England between 1614 and
1617 destroying 3/4 of the original native population.
Mention is often made of the Wappinger and Mattabesic
Confederations, but these organizations never really existed. In truth,
the Mattabesic and Wappinger were not even tribes within the usual
meaning of the word. What they really were was a collection of a dozen,
or so, small tribes which spoke Algonquin, shared a common culture, and
occupied a defined geographic area. The name of the Mattabesic comes
from a single village that was on the Connecticut River near
A most noteworthy characteristic of the Menominee was their amazing
ability to survive as an independent tribe in the midst of large and
powerful neighbors: Dakota, Ojibwe, and Winnebago. Their initial
resistance to encroachment almost resulted in their destruction, but
the Menominee adapted to the changed situation and maintained good
relations with these tribes.
The Metoac had the misfortune to occupy Long Island which was
regarded as the source of the best wampum in the Northeast. Each summer
from the waters of Long Island Sound the Metoac harvested clam shells
which, during the winter, were painstakingly fashioned into small beads
they called "wampompeag" - shortened later by the English into the more
familiar form "wampum." To the Dutch traders, it was siwan (sewan). The
Metoac traded this to other tribes (most notably the Mahican) and
prospered as a result.
Among other tribes in the region, the Miami had the reputation of
being slow-spoken and polite but had an inclination towards fancy
dress, especially their chiefs. Tattooing was common to both sexes, and
like the neighboring Illinois, there were harsh penalties for female
adulterers who were either killed or had their noses cut off.
Together with the Beothuk on Newfoundland, the Micmac were probably
the first Native Americans to have regular contact with Europeans. This
may have occurred as early as the 11th century with the early Viking
settlements on the coast of North America, or perhaps with Basque
fishermen who visited the Grand Banks before Columbus' voyage in 1492
but kept quiet about where they were catching all their fish. The first
known contact was made in 1497 by John Cabot who took three Micmac with
him when he returned to England. The Micmac may not have appreciated
this, since Cabot disappeared in the same area during his second voyage
a few years later.
Mohegan means wolf. So does Mahican, but these are the names of two
distinct Algonquin tribes with different locations and histories. It is
all too common for the Mohegan of the Thames River in eastern
Connecticut to be confused with the Mahican from the middle Hudson
Valley in New York (a distance of about a hundred miles). Even James
Fenimore Cooper got confused when he wrote "Last of the Mohicans" in
1826. Since Cooper lived in Cooperstown, New York and the location of
his tale was the upper Hudson Valley, it can presumed that he meant
Mahican, but the spelling variation chosen (Mohican) and his use of
Uncas' name really has muddled things.
Diet relied heavily on the hunting of moose and seal but with a
heavy reliance on fishing for salmon and eel. Montagnais considered
porcupine a delicacy. So much so, they were sometimes referred to as
the "Porcupine Indians."
Mason's army eventually reached Mystic undiscovered. Trapping 700
Pequot inside the fort while their warriors were absent, Mason and his
men set it afire killing all who tried to escape. The massacre broke
the Pequot, but the Narragansett were aghast at the amount of
unnecessary slaughter. Shortly afterwards, the Pequot abandoned their
villages, separated into small groups, and fled for their lives. They
were easy prey and few escaped. The English, Narragansett, and Mohegan
tracked them down, capturing some and killing the rest. The English
were determined to destroy the Pequot completely. They executed all of
their male prisoners and sold the women and children as slaves to the
West Indies. 1,500 Pequot and western Niantic managed to surrender and
were placed under the control of Uncas and the Mohegan. They were not
Shortly after Columbus' voyage to the New World in 1492, a steady
stream of European explorers, fishermen, and adventurers began regular
visits to the coast of New England. Located on a landmark as obvious as
Cape Cod, the Nauset had contact with Europeans at an early date, but
these first meetings were not always friendly.
In 1641 2,000 warriors of the Neutrals attacked a large, fortified
Asistagueronon village in central Michigan (presumed by location to
have been Mascouten). After a ten-day siege, the village was overrun,
and 800 prisoners taken. Women and children were taken back to the
Neutrals' villages, but the men were blinded and then left to wander
aimlessly in the woods until they starved to death.
It appears that the Niantic occupied the entire coastline of
eastern Connecticut as a single tribe before they were physically
separated by an invasion of the Pequot-Mohegan from the northwest
shortly before the Pilgrims arrived at Plymouth in 1620. The warfare
and conquest apparently coincided with the devastating wave of
epidemics which swept New England (1614-17).
Probably their most interesting feature was their reputation among
other tribes for the spiritual power of their shamans. Unfortunately,
some of their neighbors were also prone to accusing them of sorcery as
The Nipmuc generally lived along rivers or on the shores of small
lakes and seem to have occupied the area for as far back as can be
told. Like other New England Algonquin, the Nipmuc were agricultural.
They changed locations according to the seasons, but always remained
within the bounds of their own territory. Part of their diet came from
hunting, fishing, and gathering of wild food, but as a rule they did
not live as well as the coastal tribes who had the luxury of seafood.
Each group was ruled by its own sachem, but there was very little
political organization beyond the village or band level.
To end any confusion, the Ojibwe and Chippewa are not only the same
tribe, but the same word pronounced a little differently due to accent.
If an "O" is placed in front of Chippewa (O'Chippewa), the relationship
becomes apparent. Ojibwe is used in Canada, although Ojibwe west of
Lake Winnipeg are sometime referred to as the Saulteaux. In United
States, Chippewa was used in all treaties and is the official name.
They remember a mysterious tin box given them by British traders
shortly after the war, which they were told not to open until they got
back to their villages. They did as instructed, but there was nothing
inside other than a strange brown powder. Immediately afterwards, an
especially deadly smallpox epidemic broke out which decimated their
villages in northern Michigan.
By 1726 they were a single village near Concord with only five men,
and before they "rode off into the sunset," the "Last of the Pennacook"
saved some of the colonists from starving that winter. All of which was
probably true regarding this one group, but the Pennacook themselves
had not disappeared. For that matter, neither had the Pocumtuc, the
Nipmuc, the Abenaki, or the other tribes that New England history has
found convenient to declare extinct. They continued as the St. Francois
Indians, the Bcancour Abenaki, and the Vermont Abenaki. Although often
thought of as Canadian Indians and French allies, they were, in fact,
the original residents of New England.
Most older histories of Native Americans begin with vague
descriptions of where tribes came from before Europeans "discovered"
them. This leaves the false impression that Native Americans were
always on the move. Actually, migration was rare until settlement
displaced the eastern tribes and began a chain reaction of movement to
the west. New England Algonquin occupied their homelands for hundreds,
perhaps thousands, of years before the Europeans arrived in North
America. The Pequot-Mohegan, however, were an exception to this. From
their own traditions (confirmed by linguistic links and other tribal
histories), they originally came from the upper Hudson Valley -
probably the shores of Lake Champlain. When they lived there, they may
well have been the mysterious Adirondack who dominated the separate
tribes of the Iroquois for many years before the formation of the
Like other New England Algonquin, the Pocumtuc were an agriculture
people who lived in one of the most fertile farming areas in New
England. Their homeland also abounded with game, and during the spring
they were able to take advantage of large fish runs up the Connecticut
and its tributaries. Besides the obvious north-south transportation
provided by the Connecticut River (Quinnitukqut "long river"), the
Pocumtuc homeland sat astride several important east-west trade routes,
including the Mohawk Trail, which linked Native Americans in the
interior with those on the Atlantic coast.
The Potawatomi name is a translation of the Ojibwe "potawatomink"
meaning "people of the place of fire." Similar renderings of this are:
Fire Nation, Keepers of the Sacred Fire, and People of the Fireplace -
all of which refer to the role of the Potawatomi as the keeper of the
council fire in an earlier alliance with the Ojibwe and Ottawa.
Sauk and Fox
In September Piankashaw and Wea warriors led by de Noyelle arrived
from a Miami post with instructions from the Governor of Canada that no
peace was to be made with Fox. Apparently some Sauk ignored this order
and provided the Fox with food, but it was not enough. Surrounded by
over 1,400 warriors, the Fox fought off everything, but their food and
water gave out. They began throwing their children out of the fort,
telling their enemies to eat them. Many apparently were adopted by
other tribes, but the fate of their parents was far worse. After 23
days, a thunderstorm struck on the night of September 8th, and the Fox
took advantage of this to break out and flee. They did not make it. The
French and their allies caught up and killed between 600 and 800 of
them. There were no prisoners.
In desperation, Amherst wrote the commander at Fort Pitt, Captain
Simeon Ecuyer, suggesting he deliberately attempt to infect the
Shawnee, Delaware, and Mingo besieging his fort with gifts of
smallpox-infected blankets and handkerchiefs. Ecuyer took this as an
order and did exactly that. It proved particularly effective...
The Susquehannock have been called noble and heroic. They have also
been described as aggressive, warlike, imperialistic, and bitter
enemies of the Iroquois. They may also have warred with the Mahican
from the central Hudson Valley. When he first met the Susquehannock in
1608, Captain John Smith was especially impressed with their size, deep
voices, and the variety of their weapons.
In 1615, Samuel de Champlain made the long journey west from Quebec
to the Huron villages. The following year he met the Tionontati. While
the French were welcomed because of their trade goods, the Tionontati
were not nearly as enthusiastic about their religion. Protecting their
trade advantage with the French as middleman, the Huron had secretly
told the Tionontati that the French priests were sorcerers who used
magic to cause epidemics.
Male and female, they were hospitable but uneffusive. The men
appeared to be respectful but remained aloof, were secure within
themselves. They would shake a stranger's hand silently while looking
off toward the horizon, securing their own independence. They never
bowed to any other creature; they were not even willing to nod. They
spoke one at a time, deliberately and with many motions, then fell
silent, listened without looking at their companion.
They were of a copper color and proud of it, referred to Europeans
as 'ugly whites," were lighter than their Indian neighbors, the Creeks
and Choctaws and Iroquois. They were lithe, tall, erect, and without
noticeable deformities. Their spoken language was musical, punctuated
by gutteral, breathy breaks. The men enjoyed ball games, hunting, and
warfare. Indeed, warfare was their favorite activity and occupied much
of each winter.
They were a clean people, when compared to the white English,
German, and Scots-Irish settlers drifting in, infiltrating their
territory, most of whom were satisfied to bathe in autumn and not again
til spring. The Indians "went to water" often, considering water, the
sun, and fire to be three holy gifts of the Great Spirit...
The Trail of Tears - The Rise and Fall of The Cherokee Nation
John Ehle, ISBN 0-385-23954-8
A Tsalagi Agehya speaks...
European captains were known to increase profits by capturing
natives to sell as slaves. Such was the case when Thomas Hunt kidnapped
several Wampanoag in 1614 and later sold them in Spain. One of his
victims - a Patuxet named Squanto (Tisquantum) - was purchased by
Spanish monks who attempted to "civilize" him. Eventually gaining his
freedom, Squanto was able to work his way to England (apparently
undeterred by his recent experience with Captain Hunt) and signed on as
an interpreter for a British expedition to Newfoundland. From there
Squanto went back to Massachusetts, only to discover that, in his
absence, epidemics had killed everyone in his village. As the last
Patuxet, he remained with the other Wampanoag as a kind of ghost.
Rodolf and his men just slaughtered every Wecquaesgeek in the
sleeping village at Pavonia without regard for age or sex. The killing
by these Dutch "Christians" was especially brutal involving babies
hacked to death in their mother's arms, torture, and mutilation. When
the attacks began, some Wecquaesgeek made the mistake of fleeing to
Fort Amsterdam. They were murdered in cold blood outside the gates and
their bodies tossed into the Hudson. De Vries, who had relocated near
the Tappan villages at Corlear's Point and apparently bore no hatreds
after his plantation on Staten Island had been destroyed by the
Raritan, saved some of the Wecquaesgeek who came to him for protection
by telling them to hide in forest. In all, Andriansen killed 31 but
brought 30 prisoners back to an uncertain fate at Fort Amsterdam.
Rodolf butchered 80 Wecquaesgeek and took no prisoners. His soldiers
reportedly brought the severed heads of their victims back to the fort
and played kickball with them. Preparing for a possible siege, Kieft
further inflamed the situation by seizing corn from the Metoac on Long
Island and killing three Canarsee warriors in the process.
Wenro is a short form of their Huron name, Wenrohronon, meaning
"the people of the place of floating scum." The name derived from the
location of their main village near the site of the famous oil spring
at Cuba, New York.
Nicollet in 1634 described them as brave but lacking in humility
...almost to the point of arrogance. Their clothing was fringed
buckskin, which the Winnebago frequently decorated with beautiful
designs created from porcupine quills, feathers and beads - a skill for
which they are still renown. Men originally wore their hair in two long
braids, but in time this changed to the scalplock and roach headdress
favored by the Algonquin. Body tattooing was common to both sexes.
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