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Iroquoian Family

 Native American Nations | Linguistic Families                   

  • Iroquois, Gallatin in Trans. Am. Antiq. Soc., II, 21, 23, 305, 1836 (excludes Cherokee). Prichard, Phys. Hist. Mankind, V, 381, 1847 (follows Gallatin). Gallatin in Trans. Am. Eth. Soc., II, pt. 1, xcix, 77, 1848 (as in 1836). Gallatin in Schoolcraft, Ind. Tribes, III, 401, 1853. Latham in Trans. Philolog. Soc. Lond., 58, 1856. Latham, Opuscula, 327, 1860. Latham, Elements Comp. Phil., 463, 1862.
  • Irokesen, Berghaus (1845), Physik. Atlas, map 17, 1848. Ibid., 1852.
  • Irokesen, Berghaus, Physik. Atlas, map 72, 1887 (includes Kataba and said to be derived from Dakota).
  • Huron-Iroquois, Bancroft, Hist. U.S., III, 243, 1840.
  • Wyandot-Iroquois, Keane, App. Stanford’s Comp. (Cent. and So. Am.), 460, 468, 1878.
  • Cherokees, Gallatin in Am. Antiq. Soc., II, 89, 306, 1836 (kept apart from Iroquois though probable affinity asserted). Bancroft, Hist. U.S., III, 246, 1840. Prichard, Phys. Hist. Mankind, V, 401, 1847. Gallatin in Trans. Am. Eth. Soc., II, pt. 1, xcix, 77, 1848. Latham in Trans. Philolog. Soc. Lond., 58, 1856 (a separate group perhaps to be classed with Iroquois and Sioux). Gallatin in Schoolcraft, Ind. Tribes, III, 401, 1853. Latham, Opuscula, 327, 1860. Keane, App. Stanford’s Comp. (Cent. and So. Am.), 460, 472, 1878 (same as Chelekees or Tsalagi—“apparently entirely distinct from all other American tongues”).
  • Tschirokies, Berghaus (1845), Physik. Atlas, map 17, 1848.
  • Chelekees, Keane, App. Stanford’s Comp. (Cent. and So. Am.), 473, 1878 (or Cherokees).
  • Cheroki, Gatschet, Creek Mig. Legend, I, 34, 1884. Gatschet in Science, 413, April 29, 1887.
  • Huron-Cherokee, Hale in Am. Antiq., 20, Jan., 1883 (proposed as a family name instead of Huron-Iroquois; relationship to Iroquois affirmed).

Derivation: French, adaptation of the Iroquois word hiro, used to conclude a speech, and koué, an exclamation (Charlevoix). Hale gives as possible derivations ierokwa, the indeterminate form of the verb to smoke, signifying “they who smoke;” also the Cayuga form of bear, iakwai.39 Mr. Hewitt40 suggests the Algonkin words irin, true, or real; ako, snake; with the French termination ois, the word becomes Irinakois.

With reference to this family it is of interest to note that as early as 1798 Barton41 compared the Cheroki language with that of the Iroquois and stated his belief that there was a connection between them. Gallatin, in the Archæologia Americana, refers to the opinion expressed by Barton, and although he states that he is inclined to agree with that author, yet he does not formally refer Cheroki to that family, concluding that “We have not a sufficient knowledge of the grammar, and generally of the language of the Five Nations, or of the Wyandots, to decide that question.”42

Mr. Hale was the first to give formal expression to his belief in the affinity of the Cheroki to Iroquois.43 Recently extensive Cheroki vocabularies have come into possession of the Bureau of Ethnology, and a careful comparison of them with ample Iroquois material has been made by Mr. Hewitt. The result is convincing proof of the relationship of the two languages as affirmed by Barton so long ago.

Geographic Distribution
Unlike most linguistic stocks, the Iroquoian tribes did not occupy a continuous area, but when first known to Europeans were settled in three distinct regions, separated from each other by tribes of other lineage. The northern group was surrounded by tribes of Algonquian stock, while the more southern groups bordered upon the Catawba and Maskoki.

A tradition of the Iroquois points to the St. Lawrence region as the early home of the Iroquoian tribes, whence they gradually moved down to the southwest along the shores of the Great Lakes.

When Cartier, in 1534, first explored the bays and inlets of the Gulf of St. Lawrence he met a Huron-Iroquoian people on the shores of the Bay of Gaspé, who also visited the northern coast of the gulf. In the following year when he sailed up the St. Lawrence River he found the banks of the river from Quebec to Montreal occupied by an Iroquoian people. From statements of Champlain and other early explorers it seems probable that the Wyandot once occupied the country along the northern shore of Lake Ontario.

The Conestoga, and perhaps some allied tribes, occupied the country about the Lower Susquehanna, in Pennsylvania and Maryland, and have commonly been regarded as an isolated body, but it seems probable that their territory was contiguous to that of the Five Nations on the north before the Delaware began their westward movement.

As the Cherokee were the principal tribe on the borders of the southern colonies and occupied the leading place in all the treaty negotiations, they came to be considered as the owners of a large territory to which they had no real claim. Their first sale, in 1721, embraced a tract in South Carolina, between the Congaree and the South Fork of the Edisto,44 but about one-half of this tract, forming the present Lexington County, belonging to the Congaree.45 In 1755 they sold a second tract above the first and extending across South Carolina from the Savannah to the Catawba (or Wateree),46 but all of this tract east of Broad River belonged to other tribes. The lower part, between the Congaree and the Wateree, had been sold 20 years before, and in the upper part the Broad River was acknowledged as the western Catawba boundary.47 In 1770 they sold a tract, principally in Virginia and West Virginia, bounded east by the Great Kanawha,48 but the Iroquois claimed by conquest all of this tract northwest of the main ridge of the Alleghany and Cumberland Mountains, and extending at least to the Kentxicky River,49 and two years previously they had made a treaty with Sir William Johnson by which they were recognized as the owners of all between Cumberland Mountains and the Ohio down to the Tennessee.50 The Cumberland River basin was the only part of this tract to which the Cherokee had any real title, having driven out the former occupants, the Shawnee, about 1721.51 The Cherokee had no villages north of the Tennessee (this probably includes the Holston as its upper part), and at a conference at Albany the Cherokee delegates presented to the Iroquois the skin of a deer, which they said belonged to the Iroquois, as the animal had been killed north of the Tennessee.52 In 1805, 1806, and 1817 they sold several tracts, mainly in 79 middle Tennessee, north of the Tennessee River and extending to the Cumberland River watershed, but this territory was claimed and had been occupied by the Chickasaw, and at one conference the Cherokee admitted their claim.53 The adjacent tract in northern Alabama and Georgia, on the headwaters of the Coosa, was not permanently occupied by the Cherokee until they began to move westward, about 1770.

The whole region of West Virginia, Kentucky, and the Cumberland River region of Tennessee was claimed by the Iroquois and Cherokee, but the Iroquois never occupied any of it and the Cherokee could not be said to occupy any beyond the Cumberland Mountains. The Cumberland River was originally held by the Shawnee, and the rest was occupied, so far as it was occupied at all, by the Shawnee, Delaware, and occasionally by the Wyandot and Mingo (Iroquoian), who made regular excursions southward across the Ohio every year to hunt and to make salt at the licks. Most of the temporary camps or villages in Kentucky and West Virginia were built by the Shawnee and Delaware. The Shawnee and Delaware were the principal barrier to the settlement of Kentucky and West Virginia for a period of 20 years, while in all that time neither the Cherokee nor the Iroquois offered any resistance or checked the opposition of the Ohio tribes.

The Cherokee bounds in Virginia should be extended along the mountain region as far at least as the James River, as they claim to have lived at the Peaks of Otter,54 and seem to be identical with the Rickohockan or Rechahecrian of the early Virginia writers, who lived in the mountains beyond the Monacan, and in 1656 ravaged the lowland country as far as the site of Richmond and defeated the English and the Powhatan Indians in a pitched battle at that place.55

The language of the Tuscarora, formerly of northeastern North Carolina, connect them directly with the northern Iroquois. The Chowanoc and Nottoway and other cognate tribes adjoining the Tuscarora may have been offshoots from that tribe.

Principal Tribes

Population.—The present number of the Iroquoian stock is about 43,000, of whom over 34,000 (including the Cherokees) are in the United States while nearly 9,000 are in Canada. Below is given the population of the different tribes, compiled chiefly from the Canadian Indian Report for 1888, and the United States Census Bulletin for 1890:

  Cherokee and Choctaw Nations, Indian Territory (exclusive of adopted Indians, negroes, and whites)  25,557  
  Eastern Band, Qualla Reservation, Cheowah, etc., North Carolina (exclusive of those practically white)  1,500?  
  Lawrence school, Kansas 6 27,063?
Caughnawaga:   1,673  
  Caughnawaga, Quebec      
  Grand River, Ontario   972?  
  With Seneca, Quapaw Agency, Indian Territory (total 255) 128?  
  Cattaraugus Reserve, New York   165  
  Other Reserves in New York   36 1,301?
  Of Lake of Two Mountains, Quebec, mainly Mohawk (with Algonquin) 345  
  With Algonquin at Gibson, Ontario (total 131) 31? 376?
  Quinte Bay, Ontario   1,050  
  Grand River, Ontario   1,302  
  Tonawanda, Onondaga, and Cattaraugus Reserves, New York 6 2,358
  Oneida and other Reserves, New York   295  
  Green Bay Agency, Wisconsin (“including homeless Indians”) 1,716  
  Carlisle and Hampton schools   104  
  Thames River, Ontario   778  
  Grand River, Ontario   236 3,129
  Onondaga Reserve, New York   380  
  Allegany Reserve, New York    77  
  Cattaraugus Reserve, New York   38  
  Tuscarora (41) and Tonawanda (4) Reserves, New York  45  
  Carlisle and Hampton schools   4  
  Grand River, Ontario   346 890
  With Cayuga, Quapaw Agency, Indian Territory (total 255)  127?  
  Allegany Reserve, New York   862  
  Cattaraugus Reserve, New York   1,318  
  Tonawanda Reserve, New York   517  
  Tusarora and Onondaga Reserves, New York 12  
  Lawrence, Hampton, and Carlisle schools   13  
  Grand River, Ontario   206 3,055?
St. Regis:      
  St. Regis Reserve, New York   1,053  
  Onondaga and other Reserves, New York 17  
  St. Regis Reserve, Quebec   1,179 2,249
  Tuscarora Reserve, New York   398  
  Cattaraugus and Tonawanda Reserves, New York  6  
  Grand River, Ontario   329 733
  Quapaw Agency, Indian Territory    288  
  Lawrence, Hampton, and Carlisle schools   18  
  “Hurons” of Lorette, Quebec   279  
  “Wyandots” of Anderdon, Ontario   98 683

The Iroquois of St. Regis, Caughnawaga, Lake of Two Mountains (Oka), and Gibson speak a dialect mainly Mohawk and Oneida, but are a mixture of all the tribes of the original Five Nations.

Indian Linguistic Families of America North of Mexico, 1891

Linguistic Families


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