CHAMPLAIN is the earliest authority, in relation to the savages upon the great lakes. He spent twenty-five years among them, beginning with the year 1603, four years before the settlement of Jamestown, Virginia, and sixteen before the Pilgrim fathers set foot on Plymouth rock. He identified himself with them as hunter, trader, and warrior.
In 1609 he accomplished a war party of Alogonquins through Lake Champlain, to attack the Iroquois, whom they fought between Lake George and Crown Point. On both shores of the Ottawa river were the “Algommequins,” Ottawas, or Attawawas. The Hurons, or Wyandots, were then seated between Lakes Huron and Ontario. Between Huron and Erie were the “Petuns,” or Tobacco nation.
On the south of Lake Ontario were the five confederate nations, whom the French called Hiricois, or Iroquois. By means of their alliance, they were too powerful, for any other nation or confederation.
They were also more intelligent, built better cabins and strong holds; and cultivated more maize. This superiority, enabled them to send large hunting parties, and war-like expeditions, far beyond their admitted bounds. Sometimes their dreaded warriors crossed Lake Ontario and attacked the Algonquins, pursing them even to Lake Superior.
Then the savage crowd surged southward, into Pennsylvania; overcoming the Lenni-Lenape, or Delawares; and even to Virginia and South Carolina. Where is now the State of Ohio, CHAMPLAIN places the “Neutral nation,” whose fate is involved in much obscurity. Farther West he fixes the nation “which has plenty of buffaloes,” and North of them, around the “Great Lake,” or Lake Michigan, are the “Astistaquenonons,” or the “Nation of the Fire,” afterwards known as Mascoutens. His ideas about Lake Superior were very imperfect, such as Indians usually give of their country. (See a portion of his map, inserted beyond.) During his explorations, and for nearly half a century afterwards, neither the French or the Algonquins could venture on Lake Erie. The Iroquois were not cleared away, from the East end of that Lake, till after a number of French expeditions against them, assisted by their Indians allies, north of the lakes.
It was not until 1635, the French reached Lake Superior, and did not become well acquainted with it till 1659-’60. It was still later when they reached Lake Erie, in 1679.
CHAMPLAIN, when his map published in 1632, supposed Lake Michigan to be the greatest of the lakes, and that there was a fall between it and his “Mer Douce,” or Lake Huron. Lake Superior is there represented as a small body of water, including an island on which there was copper. The “Puant or Skunk Indians,” afterwards known as Winnebagoes, he supposed were situated North of this lake. Indian tribes appear in history under so many names, and changes of residence, that it requires special research to follow them from CHAMPLAIN’S time to our own. When the French undertook to secure the friendship of the Iroquois, and detached them from the English, by means of their missionaries, in 1654, there were two nations inhabiting the eastern end of Lake Erie.
This scheme succeeded only for a short time. In 1656 the Onondagas, or “Onnontaques,” murdered most of the Huron Christians, whom the Jesuits brought with them, and so threatened the lives of the missionaries and traders, that fifty-three of them withdrew, under cover of night, and after incredible toils, reached Montreal, April 3d, 1657.
Other missionaries were tortured, and burned as martyrs to the cause of Indian civilization. While the Jesuits were among the Iroquois, they discomfitted the nation of the Chat, Cat, or Raccoon, which occupied the shore of Lake Erie on the south-east.
This nation, that of the Erries, Eries, Eigs, or Errieonons, of the east end of the lake, and another on the heads of the Alleghany, known as the Andantes, soon disappeared from history. The irresistible Iroquois warriors, principally Senecas, crossed the straits between Erie and Ontario, and blotted out or dispersed the Neutral nation. In 1655 assailed the Eries, storming their rude forts, getting over their pickets by means of canoes, planted as scaling ladders, and enslaved or destroyed the nation.
They did not so easily blot out the Andantes who resisted until the year 1672, but were finally, like the Neutrals, not only exhausted, but obliterated. (PARKMAN, 22-23.)
It was thus the various families of the Five Nations, became possessed of the north-eastern part of Ohio, as far west as the Cuyahoga river, claiming still farther to the west. When the Tuscarawas, or Tuscaroras, were added to the confederacy, they were seated upon the waters of the Beaver and the Muskingum.
The Hurons, having been driven to the west end of the lake, retained possession west of the Cuyahoga, but neither party felt safe in settling to the east of it, in eastern and north-eastern Ohio, which thus became a border country; where the stragglers from both nations, had the courage to hunt for game and for each other. Although LA SALLE had ventured to establish a post at Niagara, in 1678, and in the winter of 1678-9, had built the “Griffin,” a small vessel, above the Falls of Niagara; and had successfully sailed in her through Lake Erie to Lake Michigan, we do not know of any French on the south shore of this lake at that time. French traders and missionaries, may have coasted along the north shore, among their friends, the Hurons; but they have left no record of such journeys.
In moving to and from the Mississippi, they had been compelled, for fear of the Iroquois, to make a wide circuit, passing up the Ottawa river, making a portage to Lake Nepissing, descending thence to Lake Huron, and continuing the voyage by way of Mackinaw, and St. Joseph, reached the waters of the Illinois river.
It was not until 1688, they established a trading post at the outlet of Lake Huron, on the ground where Fort Gratiot was afterwards built. LA SALLE before this had performed a journey that compares in endurance, fortitude and courage, with the fabled labors of Hercules. During the months of February and March, 1680, he traveled on foot, from his Fort on the Illinois river, avoiding the Iroquois south of the Lakes, to Quebec; a distance of about twelve hundred miles. Perhaps some of the Jesuit Missionaries, had gone as far west as the Cuyahoga before this time. But I know of no evidence to this effect.
On the north shore, the French did not make a permanent lodgment until the year 1701; at which time they erected Fort Pontchartrain, at Detroit. They were still unwilling to trust themselves among the Iroquois, of the south shore. Their progress in the affections of those tribes was very slow. It was about forty years after they located at Detroit, before they built a fort at Erie, Pa., which they called Presque Isle. They reached Sandusky, and built a fort there in 1754, and of course had other establishments on this lake, between Erie and Sandusky. By examining that part of LEWIS EVAN’S Map, which is inserted in the notice of the early maps of this region; it will be seen that in 1755, they had a trading station on the west side of the Cuyahoga , opposite the mouth of Tinker’s Creek.
But between the years 1700 an 1760, our certain knowledge of the Indian tribes in Ohio, is very meagre. As they were our immediate predecessors on this soil, and have already become nearly extinct, their history possesses a deep interest. I have not, however, space to do more than quote a narration made by BLACKSNAKE, a Seneca chief, to some gentleman of Buffalo, N.Y., in July, 1845, giving the Indian version of the extirpation of the Eries, the nation from whom our lake has received its name, by which their memory will be perpetuated so long as the waters flow.