Nations of the Woodlands: The Most Important Tribes of the American East

  By Hope, 2006; Revised
Contents »
In this booklet, many tribes have been mentioned. Not all of them have been equally important to the main events, so therefore I have picked out the most important ones to give you a more thorough presentation.

The Iroquois

Champlain fighting the Iroquois, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
Champlain fighting the Iroquois, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library, Yale University
The Iroquois were a league of five Indian nations founded in the 1400s in modern central
New York. The five tribes were the Mohawks, Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas and Oneidas. In 1720 the North Carolinian Tuscaroras moved north and joined their relatives of the Iroquois. Since they were linguistically related to the other tribes, they were allowed to join, but not as full members. After that, the Iroquois federation was known as the League of Six Nations.
This close confederation proved to be military very powerful, though they did not count huge numbers. The French settlers traded with the surrounding Indians for fur, and this was a lucrative business. In order to obtain rifles and other valuable items, the Iroquois started hunting themselves, selling to their British allies. Soon, the Iroquois turned greedy and started imperialistic politics, forcing the neighbouring tribes westward, leading to the Beaver Wars (1650 – 1700). As a result, the Beaver became almost extinct. Hunting and trading ended when beaver skin was taken out of fashion back in Europe.
During colonial times, the Iroquois called themselves independent and balanced between French and British interests. Later, they joined the British though the Mohawks and the Cayugas continued their French relations. The other nations cooperated with the British and thanks to them French settling was haltered in New York and the rest of their little “empire”. When the white settlers rebelled against their British masters, the Iroquois League stayed neutral, but the different tribes were allowed to take sides if they wanted to. However, then they could not depend on help from the rest of the League. When the revolution was over, many Mohawks and Cayugas moved to Canada where they after a while were put into reservations. The leader of these Indians was one of the most famous Iroquois: Chief Joseph Brant or Tyendenagah as his real name was.
Today the Iroquois are rather scattered. The Oneidas are living in Green Bay, Wisconsin and the Ondondagas and the Senecas live in New York.

The Lenape

The Lenape tribe is better known to us as Delawares. However, the name Delaware comes from the British earl De La Warr who founded the state now bearing his name. The Lenapes – meaning the original people – were very friendly to the first settlers, and it is said that the Dutch bought Manhattan from them in 1626. Later, they were forced to move west, first by the settlers, later by the Iroqouis, and there many were converted by Moravian missionaries – those were missionaries belonging to a specific branch of Christianity, which had its origin in Czechoslovakia. Some of the Lenapes settled in Ohio and allied themselves with the French. This changed when the British moved westward, and changed again when the French forced the British back. But after the French and Indian Wars, this area once again came under British control.

 However, this time the Lenapes refused to join the British and many times they joined with the Shawnees and other tribes to fight the settlers. But because of British military superiority that never succeeded. During the Revolutionary War the Lenapes joined the Americans who built forts to protect them. Still, the Indians were terribly hated on the frontier. For the frontiersmen Indians were savages who ought to be killed regardless of what side they were on. This hatred led to the Gnadenhutten Massacre in 1782.
The Gnadenhutten Massacre started when some white settlers were attacked and killed. The whites blamed the Gnadenhutten Indians, and marched to the missionary station. There, the Indians were placed in the church while the settlers decided what to do. Of 100 settlers, less than 20 believed that they really were innocent. The next day, March 9, the Indians were taken to the church in couples where the whites smashed their skulls using mallets. The number of victims counts to 29 women, 28 men and 39 children.
Like many other Indian tribes, the Lenapes were forced to live in Kansas after President Andrew Jackson proclaimed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. Today, Kansas is the home place of many Lenapes.

The Ottawa

View of the Great Treaty Held at Prairie du Chien, September 1823,  Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
View of the Great Treaty Held at Prairie du Chien, September 1823, Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
The Ottawas were great traders living around Upper Ottawa River. They were people of high morale, as most Indians, and they even had 21 precepts very similar to our Christian 10 Commandments.

 During the Beaver Wars the Iroquois attacked the Ottawas and caused immigration to the island of Manitoulin in Lake Huron. Later attempts on colonizing on the shores of Lake Superior were halted because of Nakota Indians who did not want them there. After a while, the Ottawas controlled southern Michigan, parts of modern Illinois and Ohio and also a small area on the Canadian side of Lake Huron.
The French were allied of the Ottawas, and that alliance remained until the British won their territory from the French. After that, the Ottawas were forced to fight on British side after Chief Pontiac’s rebellion failed. In the American Revolutionary War, they were still on British side.
In the 1870s, the tribe was scattered because many of them moved south to Oklahoma, the territory where the American government placed Indian tribes east of Mississippi. Today, the Ottawas are found mostly in Michigan.

The Shawnee

The Shawnee tribe was situated in Ohio and Pennsylvania. They were fierce warriors known for their courage. During the

Kish-Kallo-Wa, shawnee chief, Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Kish-Kallo-Wa, shawnee chief, Yale Collection of Western Americana, Beinecke Rare Book and Manuscript Library
Beaver Wars the Shawnees lost their homeland of the Ohio River Valley. The Iroquois drove them out, and the Shawnees settled on different locations. Some escaped to Wisconsin, while other moved south to the Cherokees. Those two tribes had not been in a state of constant friendship. However, the Cherokees also started to get troubles with the Iroquois, so they gave the Shawnees the aid needed.

 In the mid-1700s the Shawnees moved back, only to find that British settlers had taken the land. Since the Shawnees had been allied with the French for a long time, the British General Jeffrey Amherst considered them as subjects, not as allies. This caused Pontiac’s Rebellion which ended in 1766. During the American Revolutionary War, however, they fought against Americans alongside the British.
Chief Tecumseh tried to revolt in 1812, but failed. His brother, the Prophet, fled to Canada with his followers. They returned to Ohio in 1816 after a treaty the year before. Back in the USA, the Shawnees were forced to move west to Kansas, and because of the Prophet’s lead in their death march, he was much hated and few shed tears when he died in 1836. Back in 1815, many Shawnees and Lenapes had left the United States and moved to Texas. However, after the Texan victory for independence in 1836, the Americans considered them untrustworthy. In 1839 they were forced to reservations in Oklahoma where most of the present-days Shawnees still live.
"So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing a friend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home. "
-- Chief Tecumseh, Shawnee Nation
These words by Chief Tecumseh sum up the general view of the Shawnee and also many other Native nations. The Natives lived in respect with every dead or living creature and their philosophy was based on peace and respect. This quote also shows that the Indians were not afraid of dying, though they did not directly look forward to it.