THE ORIGIN OF THE WYANDOT AND SENECA TRIBES.
A WYANDOT TRADITION.
Towards the middle of the seventeenth century, a body of Indians, composed of the Wyandots (or as they were then called the Saus-taw-ray-tsee) and Seneca tribes inhabited the borders of Lake Ontario. The present Wyandots and Senecas are the remains of this community, and of the cause of their separation and of the relentless hostilities by which it was succeeded, the following details are given in the traditionary history of the Wyandots.
A Wyandot girl, whose name for the sake of distinction shall be Oon-yay-stee, and in whom appeared united a rare combination of moral attractions, and of extraordinary personal beauty, had for her suitors, nearly all the young men of her tribe. As insensible however, as beautiful, the attentions of her lovers were productive of no favorable effect, for though none were rejected, yet neither was any one distinguished by her partiality. This unaccountable apathy became, in time, a subject not only of general, but of common interest to the young Wyandots. A council composed of those interested in the issue of these many and importunate applications for her favor, was held for the purpose of devising some method, by which her intentions in relation to them might be ascertained. At this, when these amourists had severally conceded, each, that he could boast of no indication of a preference shown by Oon-yay-stee to himself, upon which to found a reasonable hope of ultimately succeeding, it was finally determined, that their claims should be withdrawn in favor of the War Chief of their lodge. This was adopted, not so much for the purpose of advancing the interests of another to the prejudice of their own, as to avoid the humiliating alternative of yielding the object of so much competition to some more fortunate rival not connected with their band.
It may be here necessary to remark that nearly all the suitors belonged to one lodge, and that each of these was a large oblong building, capable of containing 20 or 30 families, the domestic arrangements of which were regulated by a war chief, acknowledged as the head of that particular subordinate band.
Many objections to the task imposed on him by this proposition were interposed by the chief, the principal of which were, the great disparity of age and the utter futility of any further attempt, upon the affections of one so obdurate of heart. The first was obviated by some well applied commendations of his person, and the second yielded to the suggestion that women were often capricious, were not always influenced by considerations the most natural, or resolvable to reasons the most obvious.
The chief then painted and arrayed himself as for battle, bestowing some little additional adornment upon his person, to aid him in this species of warfare, with which he was not altogether so familiar as that in which he had acquired his reputation; his practice having been confined rather to the use of stone-headed arrows than love darts, and his dexterity in the management of hearts displayed rather in making bloody incisions, than tender impressions. Before he left the lodge, his retainers pledged themselves, that if the prosecution of this adventure should impose upon their chief the necessity of performing any feat, to render him better worthy the acceptance of Oon-yay-stee, they would aid him in its accomplishment, and sustain him against its consequences to the last extremity. It was reserved for so adventurous a spirit that it should be as successful in love, as it had hitherto been resistless in war.
After a courtship of a few days, he proposed himself and was conditionally accepted, but what the nature of this condition was, further than that it was indispensable, Oon-yay-stee refused to tell him, until he should have given her the strongest assurances that it should be complied with. After some hesitation and a consultation with the lovers who urged him to give the promise, he declared himself ready to accept the terms of the compact. Under her direction he then pledged the word of a warrior, that neither peril to person, nor sacrifice of affection should ever prevail with him to desist, imprecating the vengeance of Hau-men-dee-zhoo, and the persecution of Dairh-shoo-oo-roo-no upon his head if he failed to prosecute to the uttermost, the enterprise, if its accomplishment were only possible.
She told him to bring her the scalp of a Seneca chief whom she designated, who for some reason she chose not to reveal, was the object of her hatred.
The Wyandot saw too late, that he was committed. He besought her to reflect, that this man was his bosom friend, they had eaten and drank and grown up together—and how heavy it would make his heart to think that his friend had perished by his hand. He remonstrated with her on the cruelty of such a requisition, on the infamy of such an outrage of confidence and the execration which would forever pursue the author of an action so accursed. But his expostulations were made to deaf ears. She told him either to redeem his pledge, or consent to be proclaimed for a lying dog, whose promises were unworthy ever to be heard, and then left him.
An hour had hardly elapsed, before the infuriated Wyandot blackened his face, entered the Seneca Village, tomahawked and scalped his friend, and as he rushed out of the lodge shouted the scalp-whoop. In the darkness of the night his person could not be distinguished, and he was challenged by a Seneca to whom he gave his name, purpose, and a defiance and then continued his flight. But before it had terminated, the long mournful scalp-whoop of the Senecas was resounding through the Wyandot Village; and the chief had hardly joined in the furious conflict that ensued between the avengers of his murdered victim and his own retainers, before he paid with his life the forfeit of his treachery.
After a deadly and sustained combat for three days and nights, with alternate success, the Wyandots were compelled to retire, deserting their village and abandoning their families to such mercy as might be granted by an infuriated enemy. Those who were left, sunk under the tomahawk and scalping knife—the village was devastated—and the miserable author of the bloody tragedy herself perished amid this scene of indiscriminate slaughter and desolation.
This war is said to have continued for a period of more than 30 years, in which time, the Wyandots had been forced backwards as far as Lakes Huron and Michigan. Here they made an obstinate stand, from which all the efforts of their relentless enemies to dislodge them were ineffectual. Their inveterate hatred of each other was fostered by the war parties of the respective tribes, whose vindictive feelings led them to hunt and destroy each other, like so many beasts of the forest. These resulted generally in favor of the Wyandots, who, inspirited by these partial successes, prepared for more active operations. Three encounters took place, on the same day, two being had on Lake Michigan and one on Lake Erie, and which from their savage and exterminating character, closed this long and merciless contest. It is somewhat remarkable, as no other tradition makes mention of an Indian battle upon water, that one of these, said to have occurred on Lake Erie, between Long Point and Fort Talbot, was fought in canoes. Of this the following detail is given.
A large body of Wyandots accompanied by two Ottawas left Lake Huron in birch canoes, on a war excursion into the country of the Senecas, who had settled at this time, near the head of the Niagara river. They put ashore at Long Point to cook, when one of the Ottawas and a Wyandot were sent out as spies to reconnoitre. They had proceeded but a short distance from the camp, when they met two Senecas, who had been despatched by their party for the like purposes, and from whom they instantly fled. The Ottawa finding his pursuers gaining upon him, hid himself in the branches of a spruce tree, where he remained till the Seneca had passed. The Wyandot, fleeter of foot, succeeded in reaching his camp and gave the alarm, when the whole body embarked and pushed out into the lake. In another moment a party of Senecas was discovered, turning the nearest point of land in wooden canoes. Immediately the war-whoops were sounded and the hostile bands began to chant their respective songs. As they slowly approached each other, the Wyandots struck a fire, and prepared their gum and bark to repair any damage which might occur to the canoes. The battle was fought with bows and arrows, and after a furious and obstinate contest of some hours, in which the carnage was dreadful, and the canoes were beginning to fill with blood, water and mangled bodies, the Senecas began to give way. The encouraged Wyandots fought with redoubled ardor, driving the Senecas to the shore, where the conflict was renewed with unabated fury. The Wyandots were victorious, and few of the surviving Senecas escaped to tell the story of their defeat. One of the prisoners, a boy, was spared and adopted by the nation. Two Wyandots are now living who profess to have seen him, when very far advanced in years.
The two other attacks to which allusion has been made, as occurring on the borders of Lake Michigan, were not more fortunate in their issue. The Senecas were repulsed with great slaughter.
Thus, say the Wyandots, originated this long, bloody and disastrous war, and thus it terminated after proving nearly the ruin of our nation.
Upper Sandusky, March 1st, 1827.