“The Eries were the most powerful and warlike of all the Indian tribes. They resided at the foot of the Great Lake, (Erie,) where now stands the city of Buffalo, the Indian name for which was ‘Tu-shu-way.’
“When the Eries heard of the confederation which was formed between the Mohawks, who resided in the valley of that name, the Oneidas, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, and the Senecas, who resided, for the most part, upon the shores and the outlets of the lakes bearing their names respectively, (called by the French the Iroquois nation) they imagined it must be for some mischievous purpose. Although confident of their superiority over any one of the tribes, inhabiting the countries within the bounds of their knowledge, they dreaded the power of such combined forces. In order to satisfy themselves in regard to the character, disposition, and power, of those they considered their natural enemies, the Eries resorted to the following means.
“They sent a friendly message to the Senecas, who were their nearest neighbors, inviting them to select one hundred of their most active, athletic young men, to play a game of ball, against the same number to be selected by the Eries, for a wager which should be considered worthy the occasion, and the character of the great nation, in whose behalf the offer was made.
“The message was received and entertained in the most respectful manner. A council of the “Five Nations” was called, and the proposition full discussed, and a messenger in due time dispatched with the decision of the council, respectfully declining the challenge. This emboldened the Eries, and the next year the offer was renewed, and after being again considered, again formally declined. This was far from satisfying the proud lords of the “Great Lake,” and the challenge was renewed the third time. The blood of the young Iroquois could no longer be restrained. They importuned the old men to allow them to accept the challenge. The wise councils which had hitherto prevailed, at last gave way, and the challenge was accepted.
“Nothing could exceed the enthusiasm with which each tribe sent forth its chosen champions for the contest. The only difficulty seemed to be, to make a selection, where all were so worthy. After much delay, one hundred of the flower of all the tribes were finally designated, and the day for their departure was fixed. An experience chief was chosen as the leader of the party, whose orders the young men were strictly enjoined to obey. A grand council was called, and in the presence of the assembled multitude, the party was charged, in the most solemn manner, to observe a pacific course of conduct towards their competitors, and the nation whose guests they were to become, and to allow no provocation, however great, to be resented by any act of aggression on their part, but in all respects to acquit themselves worthy the representatives of a great and powerful people, anxious to cultivate peace and friendship with their neighbors.
“Under these solemn injunctions, the party took up its line of march for Tu-shu-way. When the chosen band had arrived in the vicinity of the point of their destination, a messenger was sent forward to notify the Eries of their arrival, and the next day was set apart for their grand entree.
“The elegant and athletic forms, the tasteful, yet not cumbrous dress, the dignified, noble bearing of their chief, and more than all, the modest demeanor of the young warriors of the Iroquois party, won the admiration of all beholders. They brought no arms. Each one bore a bat, used to throw or strike a ball, tastefully ornamented, being a hickory stick about five feet long, bent over at the end, and a thong netting wove into the bow. After a day of repose and refreshment, all things were arranged for the contest. The chief of the Iroquois brought forward and deposited upon the ground, a large pile of elegantly wrought belts of wampum, costly jewels, silver bands, beautifully ornamented moccasins, an other articles of great value in the eyes of the sons of the forest, as the stake, or wager on the part of his people. These were carefully matched by the Eries with articles of equal value-article by article, tied together and again deposited on the pile.
“The game began, and although contested with desperation and great skill by the Eries, was won by the Iroquois, and they bore off the prize in triumph-thus ended the first day.
“The Iroquois having now accomplished the object of their visit, proposed to take their leave, but the chief of the Eries, addressing himself to their leader, said their young men, though fairly beaten in the game of ball, would not be satisfied unless they could have a foot race, and proposed to match ten of their number, against an equal number of the Iroquois were again victorious. The “Kaukwas,” who resided on the Eighteen Mile Creek, being present as friends and allies of the Eries, now invited the Iroquois party to visit them, before they returned home, and thither the whole party repaired. The chief of the Eries, as a last trial of the courage and prowess of his guests, proposed to select ten men, to be matched by an equal number of the Iroquois party, to wrestle, and that the victor should despatch his adversary on the spot, by braining him with a tomahawk, and bearing off his scalp as a trophy.
“This sanguinary proposition was not at all pleasing to the Iroquois; they however concluded to accept the challenge, with a determination, should they be victorious, not to execute the bloody part of the proposition. The champions were accordingly chosen-a Seneca was the first to step into the ring, and threw his adversary, amid the shouts of the multitude. He stepped back, and declined to execute his victim who lay passive at his feet. As quick as thought, the chief of the Eries seized the tomahawk, and at a single blow scattered the brains of his vanquished warrior over the ground. His body was dragged away, and another champion of the Eries presented himself. He was as quickly thrown by his more powerful antagonist of the Iroquois party, and as quickly dispatched by the infuriated chief. A third met the same fate.
“The chief of the Iroquois party, seeing the terrible excitement which agitated the multitude, gave a signal to retreat. Every man obeyed the signal, and in an instant they were out of sight.
“In two hours they arrived in Tu-shu-way, gathered up the trophies of their victories, and were on their way home.
“This visit of the hundred warriors of the Five Nations, and its results, only served to increase the jealousy of the Eries, and to convince them that they had powerful rivals to contend with. It was no part of their policy, to cultivate friendship and strengthen their own power of cultivating peace with other tribes.
“They knew of no mode of securing peace to themselves, but by exterminating all who might oppose them; but the combination of several powerful tribes, any of whom might be almost an equal match for them, and of whose personal prowess they had seen such an exhibition, inspired the Eries with the most anxious forebodings. To cope with them collectively they saw was impossible. Their only hope, therefore, was in being able, by a vigorous and sudden movement, to destroyed them in detail. With this view, a powerful war party was immediately organized to attack the Senecas, who resided at the foot of Seneca Lake, (the present site of Geneva,) and along the banks of the Seneca river. It happened that at this period, there resided among the Eries a Seneca woman, who in early life had been taken prisoner, and had married a husband of the Erie tribe. He died and left her a widow without children, a stranger among strangers. Seeing the terrible note of preparation for a bloody onslaught upon her kindred and friends, she formed the resolution of appraising them of their danger. As soon as night set in, taking the course of the Niagara river she traveled all night, and early next morning reached the shore of Lake Ontario. She jumped into a canoe, which she found fastened to a tree, and boldly pushed into the open lake.
“Coasting down the lake, she arrived at the mouth of the Oswego river in the night, where a large settlement of the nation resided.
“She directed her steps to the house of the head chief, and disclosed the object of her journey. She was secreted by the chief, and runners were dispatched to all the tribes, summoning them immediately to meet in council, which was held at Onondaga Hollow.
“When all were convened the chief arose, and in the most solemn manner rehearsed a vision, in which he said a beautiful bird appeared to him, and told him that a great war party of the Eries, was preparing to make a secret and sudden descent upon them, but an immediate rally of all warriors of the Five Nations, to meet the enemy before they should be able to strike the blow. These solemn announcements were heard in breathless silence. When the chief had finished and sat down, there arose one immense yell of menacing madness. The earth shook, when the mighty mass brandished high in the air their war clubs, and stamped the ground like furious beasts.
“No time was to be lost; a body of five thousand warriors was organized, and a corps of reserve consisting of one thousand young men, who had never been in battle. The bravest chiefs from all the tribes were put in command, and spies immediately sent out in search of the enemy; the whole body taking up a line of march, in the direction from whence they expected the attack.
“The advance of the war party was continued for several days, passing through successively the settlements of their friends, the Onondagas, the Cayugas, and the Senecas; but they had scarcely passed the last wigwam, near the foot of Ca-an-du-gua (Canandaigua) Lake, when their scouts brought in intelligence of the advance of the Eries, who had already crossed the Ce-nis-se-u (Genesee) river in great force. The Eries had not the slightest intimation of the approach of their enemies. They relied upon the secresy and celerity of their movements, to surprise and subdue the Senecas almost without resistance.
“The two parties met, at a point about half way between the foot of Canandiagua Lake and the Genesee river; and near the outlet of two small lakes, near the foot of one of which (the Honeoye), the battle was fought. When the two parties came in sight of each other, the outlet of the lake only intervened between them.
“The entire force of the five confederate tribes, was not in view of the Eries. The reserve corps of one thousand young men, had not been allowed to advance in sight of the enemy. Nothing could resist the impetuosity of the Eries, at first sight of an opposing force on the other side of the stream.
They rushed through it, and fell upon them with tremendous fury. The undaunted courage and determined bravery of the Iroquois, could not avail against such a terrible onslaught, and they were compelled to yield the ground on the bank of the stream. The whole force of the combined tribes, except the corps of reserve, now became engaged. They fought hand to hand and foot to foot. The battle raged horribly. No quarter was asked or given on either side.
“As the fight thickened and became more desperate, the Eries, for the first time, became sensible of their true situation. What they had long anticipated had become a fearful reality. Their enemies had combined for their destruction, and they now found themselves engaged, suddenly and unexpectedly, in a struggle involving not only the glory, but perhaps the very existence of their nation.
“They were proud, and had hitherto been victorious over all their enemies. Their superiority was felt and acknowledged by all the tribes. They knew how to conquer, but not to yield.
All these considerations flashed upon the minds of the bold Eries, and nerved every arm with almost superhuman power. On the other hand, the united forces of the weaker tribes, now made strong by union, fired with a spirit of emulation, excited to the highest pitch among the warriors of the different tribes, brought for the first time to act in concert, inspired with zeal and confidence, by the counsels of the wisest chiefs, and led on by the most experienced warriors of all the tribes, the Iroquois were invincible.
“Though staggered by the first desperate rush of their opponents, they rallied at once, and stood their ground. And now the din of battle rises higher, the war-club, the tomahawk, the scalping knife wielded by herculean hands, do terrible deeds of death. During the hottest of the battle, which was fierce and long, the corps of reserve, consisting of one thousand young men, were, by a skillful movement, under their experienced chief, placed in the rear of the Eries, on the opposite side of the stream, in ambush.
“The Eries had been driven seven times across the stream, and had as often regained their ground; but the eighth time, at a given signal, from their chief, the corps of young warriors in ambush rushed upon the almost exhausted Eries, with a tremendous yell, and at once decided the fortunes of the day. Hundreds, disdaining to fly, were struck down by the war-clubs of the vigorous young warriors, whose thirst for the blood of the enemy knew no bounds. A few of the vanquished Eries escaped, to carry the news of the terrible overthrow to their wives and children, and their old men, who remained at home. But the victors did not allow them a moment’s repose, but pursued them in their flight, killing without discrimination all who fell into their hands. The pursuit was continued for many weeks, and it was five months before the victorious war party of the Five Nations returned to their friends, to join in celebrating the victory over their last and most powerful enemy, the Eries.
“Tradition adds, that many years after, a powerful war party of the descendants of the Eries came from beyond the Mississippi, ascended the Ohio, crossed the country, and attacked the Senecas, who had settled in the seat of their fathers at Tu-shu-way. A great battle was fought near the present site of the Indian Mission House, in which the Eries were again defeated, and slain to a man. Their bones lie bleaching in the sun to the present day, a monument at once of the indomitable courage of the ‘terrible Eries,’ and of their brave conquerors, the Senecas.”
The above spirited relation is taken from the Buffalo Commercial, of July, 1845, whose editor remarks:
“Its accuracy may be implicitly relied upon, every detail having been taken from the lips of Blacksnake, and other venerable chiefs of the Senecas and Tonawandas, who still cherish the traditions of their fathers. Near the Mission House, on the Reservation adjoining this city, can be seen a small mound, evidently artificial, that is said to contain the remains of the unfortunate Eries, slain in their last great battle. The Indians hereabouts believe that a small remnant of the Eries still exist beyond the Mississippi. The small tribe known as the Qua paws in that region, are also believed to be remains of the Kauk-was the allies of the Eries.”
Blacksnake was living in 1860, and resided upon the Allegheny river above Warren, in Pennsylvania. He was then more than a century and a quarter old. His form was scarcely human; shrivelled, bent and helpless; but he was able to converse intelligibly, his memory reaching back the days when the French first descended that river to the Ohio. His narrative possesses that exquisite interest of which history is capable, when it is written fresh from the lips of those who form a part of it.
Even after the English Crown had supplanted the French, the Indians were promised a secure home on the waters of Lake Erie and of the Ohio. By a proclamation of 1763, the same year of the treaty of Paris, all settlers are forbidden to trespass upon the Indian grounds north of the Ohio. It was doubtless the honest intention of the British authorities, to devote the territory of this and of all the north-western States, to Indian occupancy. When the boundaries of the United States were discussed at the close of the Revolution, the British Commissioners insisted upon the Ohio as the line on the west. The reasons they urged were the guarantees they had given their Indian allies. Dr. Franklin was inclined to accede to this boundary, but the other Commissioners would not hear of it. Little did he foresee the progress of events.