Erie County, Pennsylvania

History of Erie County, Pennsylvania 1884

by Samuel P. Bates, 

Submitted by Gaylene Kerr Banister

Chapter VI - Indian History


In the State Library of Pennsylvania at Harrisburg, are two old French maps, one printed in 1763 and the other in 1768, in which rude attempts are made to show the leading geographical features of portions of the United States and Canada. Both represent the south shore of Lake Erie as having been peopled by a tribe or nation of Indians known as the "Eriez." A note on the margin of each reads as follows: "The ancient Eriez were exterminated by the Iroquois upwards of 100 years ago, ever since which time they have been in possession of Lake Erie," On the earliest of the maps the following is printed at a point along the lake between Cleveland and Sandusky: "The seat of war, the mart of trade, and chief hunting grounds of the Six Nations on the lakes and the Ohio."


The information above given in regard to the Eriez is corroborated in a French book printed in 1703, describing the voyages of Le Baron de Lahonton, an adventurous Frenchman, who spent ten years among the Indians, commencing in 1683. "The shores of Lake Erie," he says, "are frequented by the Iroquois, the Illinois, the Oumanies, etc., who are so savage that it is a risk to stop with them. The Errieronens and the Andestiguerons, who formerly inhabited the borders of the lake, were exterminated by the Iroquois." Incidentally it may be added, he refers to the Massassaugues as a tribe living somewhere near the western end of the lake. The latter are also alluded to in a memoir on the Western Indians, prepared by M. DuChisneau, at Quebec, in 1681. Their principal village, according to this author, was upon a beautiful island twelve leagues above Detroit, where they numbered sixty to eighty men. Frequent reference is also made in the letters and memoirs of Frenchmen who visited this section, to the Flatheads, who would seem to have been settled somewhere south or west of the lake. All of the authorities agree that the date of the extermination of the Eriez was somewhere about 1650. It is claimed by most historians, that the word Eriez was the Indian expression for wild cat, but a recent writer contends that "this is a mistake, that it does not mean wild cat, but raccoon. The latter were abundant upon the lake shore, while the former were rarely seen." A French memoir, written in 1718, relates that one island in the upper part of the lake was infested to so great an extent by wild cats, that "the Indians killed as many as 900 of them in a very short time." It is possible that the French explorers, from whom the supposed meaning of the word has descended to us, mistook raccoons for wild cats.


Records are in existence which show that the Eriez were visited by French missionaries as early as 1626. They were found to be living on terms of amity with the surrounding warlike tribes, and hence they were designated by the French, "The Neutral Nation." They were governed by a queen, called in the own language, Yagowania, and in the Seneca tongue, Geogosasa, who was regarded as "the mother of nations," and whose office was that of "keeper of the symbolic house of peace." The chief warrior of the tribe was Ragnotha, who had his principal location at Tu-shu-way, now Buffalo.


Extermination of the Eriez
The Eriez were able to preserve their neutral character until 1634, when a bloody dissension broke out between the several branches of the Iroquois family. During its progress two Seneca warriors appeared at Gegosasa's lodge and were hospitably received. They were preparing to smoke the pipe of peach when a deputation of Massassaugues was announced, who demanded vengeance for the murder of their chief's son at the hands of the Seneca tribe. This the queen, in her mediatorial capacity, was prompt to grant. She even set out with a large body of warriors to enforce her decree, and dispatched messengers to Ragnotha to command his assistance. The visiting Senecas flew to their friends to notify them of the queen's course, and a body of fighting men was hastily gathered in ambush on the road which her army was obliged to travel. The Eriez had no anticipation of trouble at that point, and the first they knew of the presence of the Senecas was when they heard their dreadful war-whop. The contest that ensued was one of desperation. At first the queen's forces gained the advantage, but the Senecas rallied and compelled the Eriez to flee, leaving 600 dead upon the field of battle. No accounts have been preserved of any further hostilities at that time, and it is probably that peace was effected upon the Queen's agreement not to enforce her plan of revenging the grievance of the Massassaugues.


The war of extermination between the Eriez and the Iroquois occurred about 1650, and was one of the most cruel in aboriginal history, From the opening it was understood by both sides to mean the utter ruin of one tribe or the other. The Eriez organized a powerful body of warriors and sought to surprise their enemies in their own country. Their plans were thwarted by a faithless woman who secretly gave the Iroquois warning. The latter raised a force and marched out to meet the invaders. The engagement resulted in a complete victory for the Iroquois. Seven times the Eriez crossed the stream dividing the hostile lines and they were as often driven back with terrible loss. On another occasion several hundred Iroquois attacked nearly three times their number of ERiez, encamped near the mouth of French Creek, dispersed them, took many prisoners, and compelled the balance to fly to remote regions. In a battle near the site of the Cattauraugus Indian mission house, on the Allegheny River, the loss of the Eriez was enormous. Finally a pestilence broke out among the Eriez, which swept away greater numbers even than the club and arrow." The Iroquois took advantage of their opportunity to end all fear of future trouble from the ill-fated Eriez. Those who had been taken captive were, with rare exceptions, remorselessly butchered, and their wives and children were distributed among the Iroquois villages, never again to be restored to their husbands and brothers. The few survivors "fled to distant regions in the West and South, and were followed by the undying hatred of the Iroquois. * * * Their council fire was put out, and their name and language as a tribe lost." Sculptures and embankments on Kelly's Island, in the upper end of the lake, lead to the impression that it may have been the last stronghold of the Eriez.


Traces of the tribe were occasionally found by the French Jesuits in their wanderings through the eastern wilderness. A number were living as helots among the Onondagas of New York. They appealed to the missionaries to aid them in securing their freedom, but abandoned all hope when the request was refused. An early French writer, describing the Christian village of La Prairie, says a portion of the settlement was made up of fugitive Eriez. Students of Indian history are generally of the belief that the tribe was at one time considerably ahead of the other aborigines of North America in progress and intelligence.


The Six Nations
After the extermination of the Eriez, the country on the south side of the lake was possessed by the Iroquois, as they were called by the French, or the Six Nations, as they were known to the English. The Six Nations were originally a confederacy of five tribes -- the Onondagas, Cayugas, Senecas, Oneidas and Mohawks -- and were then styled the Five Nations. In 1712, the Tuscaroras, being expelled from the interior of North Carolina and Virginia, were adopted as a sixth tribe. Their territory stretched from Vermont nearly to the upper end of Lake Erie, embracing the head-waters of the Allegheny, Susquehanna and Delaware Rivers, and the seat of their "great council fire" was in the Onondaga Valley. The Senecas, who were the most powerful tribe, occupied the western part of the domain, having their headquarters on the Allegheny River, near the line between New York and Pennsylvania. The Indians in the northwestern part of this State were Senecas, intermixed with stray members from each of the other tribes. "The Historical Collections of Pennsylvania," a very reliable and valuable work, published in 1843, contains the following:


"The peculiar location of the Iroquois gave them an immense advantage. On the great channels of water communication to which their territories were contiguous, they were enabled in all directions to carry war and devastation to the neighboring or to the more distant nations. Nature had endowed them with height, strength and symmetry of person which distinguished them at a glance among the individuals of other tribes. They were brave as they were strong; but ferocious and cruel when excited in savage warfare; crafty, treacherous and overreaching, when these qualities best suited their purposes. The proceedings of their grand council were marked with great decorum and solemnity. In eloquence, in dignity and profound polity, their speakers might well bear comparison with the statesmen of civilized assemblies. By an early alliance with the Dutch on the Hudson they secured the use of firearms, and were thus enabled, not only to repel the encroachments of the French, but also to exterminate, or reduce to a state of vassalage, many Indian nations. From these they exacted an annual tribute, or acknowledgment of fealty, permitting them however, in that condition, to occupy their former hunting grounds. The humiliation of tributary nations was, however, tempered with a paternal regard for their interests in all negotiations with the whites, and care was taken that no trespass should be committed on their rights, and that they should be justly dealt with."


Jean de Lambertbille, a French officer in the Indian territory, writing under date of January 10, 1684, said: "Presents, conjoined with kindness, are arms which the Iroquois scarcely ever resist; on the other hand, threats, or even war, would have been equally fatal to the colony. * * The Iroquois is daring, well armed, and makes war like a thief." M. Denonville, writing a year later, said of the various Indian tribes: "The Iroquois are the most formidable; they daily make prisoners among their neighbors, whose children they carry off at an early age and adopt."


French and English Intrigues
When the French and English began to extend their settlements westward, the lake region was under the full dominion of the Iroquois, with the Senecas as the immediate possessors of the soil. Both nations appreciated the importance of having the good will of the Indians, but the adroit French were more successful in winning their friendship than their blunt and less politic competitors. As far back as 1730, the French Indian agent, Joncaire, penetrated this section, adopted the habits of the natives, became on of their number, and "won them over to the French interest." The French built up a considerable trade with the Indians, which yielded an immense profit. It consisted largely of beads, knives, trinkets and other articles of small value which were exchanged for skins, and the latter sent to Europe. The English viewed the projects of the French with mingled jealousy and alarm, sent out numerous agents, and succeeded in some quarters in estranging the Indians from their rivals, but not to any extended degree. Some of their traders were located at LeBoeuf (Waterford) when the advance troops of the French reached that point in 1753.


Friendly as the Six Nations were toward the French in a commercial sense, they did not take kindly at first to the occupation of their country by armed bodies of the latter. The expedition of Sieur Marin (or Morang), in 1753, and the erection of forts at Presque Isle and LeBoeuf, worked them up to a spirit of bitter resentment. A delegation of Senecas waited upon that officer at LeBoeuf to inquire of him "by a belt" whether he "was marching with a banner uplifted or to establish tranquility." He answered that his purpose was to support and assist them in their necessities, and to drive away the evil spirits that encompessed them and disturbed the earth, meaning the English. His manner and conduct appeased them, so that the Allegheny River Senecas zealously assisted the French with horses and provisions. During the fall of the year, the chiefs of the several tribes bordering on the lake and the Allegheny River were called together at LeBoeuf, told by the French commander that he could advance no further on account of the winter, but would be on hand in the spring with a strong force, and threatened with vengeance if they took sides with the English. On Washington's visit to LeBoeuf, in 1753, he learned that in addition to the Senecas, the Chippeways, Delawares, Chaounans, Ottaways and Orandeeks, tribes in the interior, were all in league with the French; 600 Indians took part with the latter at Braddock's defeat. The Indians of Western Pennsylvania were generally favorable to the French throughout the war.


M. de Vandreil, in a letter from Montreal, dated August 8, 1756, wrote that "the domiciliated Massassauguas of Presque Isle have been out to the number of ten against the English. They have taken one prisoner and two scalps, and gave them to cover the death of M. de St. Pierre." This was the officer who commanded at LeBoeuf when Washington was there, and who was killed in battle near Lake George in 1754. A large body of Indians was gathered at Presque Isle in the same year. The small-pox breaking out among them caused so much alarm that they made haste to return to their homes.


In 1757, the English seem to have won some of the tribes over to their side, for we learn from the Pennsylvania Archives that the French kept "100 men in garrison at Presque Isle, being apprehensive that the English and the Indians might attack them there," and by 1759 the nation had reached the conclusion that they could very well dispense with the presence of both. M. de Vandreil, writing from Montreal, on March 31 of that year, state that "There is reason to presume that the Indians would wish there were neither French nor English at the beautiful river (the Allegheny), and that they are heartily tired of the war" -- a wish that is not surprising, as they were the greatest sufferers.


Pontiac's Conspiracy
The war closed in 1760, leaving the whole Western country under the domination of the English. Presque Isle was the last of the French forts south of Lake Erie to be abandoned. The parting between the French and the Indians was extremely affecting. The Indians called them their "brethren," and invoked the aid of the Great Spirit to give them a speedy return. Matters went along in comparative harmony between the English and the Indians for some time, but the latter were never hearty in their friendship. They liked the French better than the English, had been told that they would soon come back, and awaited the event with unconcealed anxiety. This feeling was encouraged by the French agents, and at last led to one of the most widespread, successful, and diabolical conspiracies on record. The most powerful and influential of the Western chiefs was the renowned Pontiac, head of the Ottawa tribe. When the English assumed domination of the country he was at first distant and sullen toward them, but in time his prejudices seemed to be conquered, and he even rendered some service that led them to believe that they could rely upon his co-operation. His friendship proved, however, to be assumed, and he was quietly at work fomenting a spirit of hostility among the several tribes, and organizing them for concerted action. His plan included a union of all the tribes west of the Alleghanies, including the Six Nations. The conspiracy was conducted with such secrecy and planned with so much skill, that almost before the English knew that hostile measures were on foot nine of the thirteen western forts had been captured, among the number being Presque Isle, LeBoeuf and Venango. Niagara, Pittsburgh and the two other forts were invested, "but withstood the attacks until relief arrived from the Eastern settlements."


Capture of LeBoeuf and Presque Isle
Fort LeBoeuf was assaulted on the 17th of June, 1783. It was commanded by Ensign Price, who had a force of thirteen men. Finding it impossible to hold the post, they crept out at night, managed to elude the savage enemy, and escaped to Pittsburgh. From LeBoeuf the Indians, consisting of about 200 Senecas and Ottawas, marched immediately to Presque Isle, which surrendered on the 22d of the same month. This fort stood upon the bank of the bay, on a point of land just west of the mouth of Mill Creek, that has been mainly dug away for railroad purposes. The following account of its capture is from Parkman's History of the "Conspiracy of Pontiac:"


"There had been hot fighting before Presqu'ile was taken. Could courage have saved it, it never would have fallen. * * At one of its angles was a large block-house, a species of structure much used in the petty forest warfare of the day. It was two stories in height, and solidly built of massive timber; the diameter of the upper story exceeding that of the lower by several feet, so that through the openings in the projecting floor of the former the defenders could shoot down upon the heads of an enemy assailing the outer wall below. The roof being covered with shingles might easily be set on fire, but to guard against this there was an opening through which the garrison, partially protected by a covering of plank, might pour down the water upon the flames. * * And now the defenders could see the Indians throwing up earth and stones behind one of the breastworks; their implacable foes were laboring to undermine the block-house, a sure and insidious expedient, against which there was no defense. There was little leisure to reflect on this new peril, for another, more imminent and horrible, soon threatened them. The barrels of water always kept in the block-house were nearly emptied in extinguishing the frequent fires, and though there was a well in the parade ground, yet to approach it would be certain death. The only recourse was to dig one in the block-house itself. The floor was torn up, and while some of the men fired their heated muskets from the loopholes to keep the enemy in check, the rest labored with desperate energy at this toilsome and cheerless task. Before it was half completed, the cry of fire was again raised, and, at the imminent risk of life, they tore off the blazing shingles and arrested the danger. By this time, it was evening. The little garrison had fought from earliest daylight without a minute's rest. Nor did darkness bring relief, for the Indians' guns flashed all night long from the intrenchments. They seemed determined to wear out the obstinate defenders by fatigue. While some slept, others in their turn continued the assault, and morning brought fresh dangers. The block-house was fired several times during the day, but they kept up their forlorn and desperate resistance. The house of the commanding officer sank into glowing embers. The fire on both sides did not cease till midnight, at which hour a voice was heard in French, calling out that further defense was useless, since preparations were made to burn above and below at once. Ensign Christie, the officer in command, demanded if any one spoke English, upon which a man in Indian dress came forward. He had been made a prisoner in the French war, and was now fighting against his own countrymen. He said if they yielded they would be saved alive, if not, they would be burned. Christie resolved to hold out as long as a shadow of hope remained, and while some of the garrison slept, the rest watched. They told them to wait until morning. They assented, and suspended their fire. When morning came, they sent out two persons, on pretense of treating, but in reality to learn the truth of the preparations to burn the block-house, whose sides were pierced with bullets and scorched with fire. In spite of the capitulation, they were surrounded and seized, and, having been detained for some time in the neighborhood, were sent as prisoners to Detroit, where Ensign Christie soon made his escape and gained the fort in safety."


Another Account of the Capture of Presque Isle
A more vivid, shocking, and altogether different account of the affair was written upward of forty years ago by Mr. H. L. Harvey, and has appeared in several historical sketches of the county, but, after comparison with the official reports of the day, as published in the Pennsylvania Archives, the present writer is led to believe that Parkman has stated the facts correctly. The account of Mr. Harvey is to the tenor that three Indians appeared at the gate of the fort claiming to be on the way to Niagara with furs -- that, upon the pretence that their canoes were bad, and that they wished to sell him their stuff, they induced the Ensign in command to visit their camp, a mile east, with his clerk -- that, after a due season of absence about a hundred and fifty Indians reached the fort, bearing what appeared to be packs of furs -- that, upon being admitted, they drew their tomahawks and rifles, butchered those who resisted, and tortured to death those who were taken prisoner -- and that only two persons of all the inmates of the fort escaped, the one a soldier who had gone into the woods, and the other a woman who hid in the wash house at the mouth of the creek, was discovered the next day, taken prisoner, and ultimately ransomed. This story, though blood-curdling enough to please the most distempered mind, is hardly consistent with itself, and is not born out by the official documents. It is said that an occurrence somewhat similar to the account of Mr. Harvey actually transpired at Venango, and his informant, in some way, probably, got the two affairs mixed. The history of the event, as given by Parkman, agrees with that of Mr. Thatcher in his "Life of Pontiac."


For some time after the capture of the forts, the sparsely settled western country was a "dark and bloody ground" indeed. Hundreds of traders and settlers were shot, tomahawked and scalped, and no mercy was shown even to the women and children. Many babes had their brains knocked out before the eyes of their terror-stricken mothers; many shrieking wives were ravished and murdered in the presence of their tortured and helpless husbands. It was one of the most terrible episodes in border history, and seemed for the time to have crushed out all hope of the advance of civilization into the interior of the country. A covenant with the Indians of New York and Western Pennsylvania was made in the fall of 1768, but hostilities, though not upon an extended scale, were soon renewed. Early in 1784, a British Army of 8,000, under command of Gen. Bradstreet, passed up the lake in canoes. They stopped at Presque Isle and dragged their canoes across the neck of the peninsula to avoid paddling several miles around. After relieving Detroit, Bradstreet returned to Presque Isle, where on the 12th of August, 1764, he made a treaty of peace with the Delawares and Shawnees, which was scarcely signed till it was broken.


No authentic record of events in this section can be found from that date until 1794. The fort appears to have been abandoned, and it is probable that the English made no attempt to exercise more than nominal control over the country. A few traders wandered back and forth, but there is no knowledge of any permanent settlement. The whole region along the south shore of Lake Erie, and for many miles south and west, was known as the Indian country. Pittsburgh was the nearest white settlement on the south, and Cherry Valley, New York, on the east.


American Occupation
The treaty of Peace with Great Britain, which secured the independence of the United States, was made in 1782. By its provisions the British Government abandoned all claim to the western country, and agreed to withdraw its troops and yield up possession of the forts, block-houses and other military structures. In October, 1784, a treaty was made with the Six Nations by which they relinquished to the State of Pennsylvania all of the Northwest to a line parallel with the southern boundary of New York. By another treaty, made on the 9th of January, 1789, with a part only of the Six Nations, they acknowledged "the right of soil and jurisdiction to and over" the Triangle "to be vested in the State of Pennsylvania." Some dissatisfaction having arisen among the Seneca tribe in consequence of this act, the Legislature empowered the Governor to draw a warrant for $800 in favor of Cornplanter, Half Town and Big Tree, in trust for the use of the tribe and in full satisfaction of all demands, in consideration of which the said chiefs, on the 3d of February, 1791, signed a release of all claims against the State for themselves and their propel forever. On the 3d of March, 1792, the Triangle was purchased from the United States by the Commonwealth, and a month later an act of Assembly was passed to encourage its settlement by white people. State troops, to facilitate this purpose, were first stationed at LeBoeuf early in May, 1794. It was the intention to establish a post at Presque Isle forthwith, but events that will be related hereafter delayed the enterprise.


The treaties and deed referred to above were distasteful to a large element of the Six Nations, and even some of the Senecas refused to acquiesce in them, charging that Cornplanter and the other chiefs had been bribed to give the documents their signatures. The Indians regarded the presence of the State troops with great disfavor, and determined, if possible, to prevent the settlement of the territory. They were incited to this course by English emissaries, who hoped that by a rising of the Indian tribes they might cripple the infant government of the Union, and perhaps restore the western territory to the British crown. Among the most hostile to the progress of the Americans was the notorious Brandt, head of the Mohawk tribe, who still cherished the idea, originated by Pontiac, of building up a great Indian confederacy and restricting the control of the Union to the country east of the Allegheny. The following letter, witten by him on the 19th of July, 1794, to Gov. Simcoe, of Upper Canada, shows in a clearer light the aid extended to the hostile Indians by the British authorities:


"In regard to the Presque Isle business, should we not get an answer at the time limited, it is our business to push those follows hard. * * Should those fellows (the Americans) not go off, and O'Bail (Cornplanter) continue in the same opinion, an expedition against those Yankees must of consequence take place. His excellency has been so good as to furnish us with a cwt. of powder, and ball in proportion, which is not at Fort Erie, opposite Buffalo; but, in the event of an attack upon LeBoeuf people, I could wish, if consistent, that his excellency would order a like quantity in addition to be at Fort Erie in order to be in readiness; likewise, I would hope for a little assistance in provisions."


It may be stated here that the Six Nations were dissuaded from joining the confederacy of Western Indians to oppose the Americans chiefly by the influence of Cornplanter. His course cost him the confidence of his people, but he was rewarded by the thanks of the United States Government, and received liberal donations of land at its hands.


Threats of an Indian War
The above letter from Brandt anticipates our story somewhat, and required an account of some preliminary events in order to be correctly understood. Early in 1794, an Indian council was held at Buffalo, where there was a considerable Seneca village, to protect against the settlement at Presque Isle, on the result of which, it was given out, would depend the issue of peace or war. To this council Cornplanter, whom Brandt was seeking to win to his side, was invited. Meanwhile, an Indian had been killed in a drunken fray by a State soldier at or near Pittsburgh, which gave the hostiles an excuse for their incendiary conduct. The State officials "settled" the trouble by paying $100 to "replace" the dead Indian, and it is quaintly stated in the chronicles of the day that "many of his tribe were sorry that it was not their relative, that they might have got a share of the money." Soon after this, two canoes were fired into by the Indians as they were floating down the Allegheny, and four men were killed and three wounded. The officials of the General Government were fearful of an extended war, and urged Gov. Mifflin to suspend operations at Presque Isle, while the State authorities, on the contrary, were confident that the best way to avert the strife was to garrison the place with a respectable force. After considerable correspondence, including a personal letter from President Washington, operations were sulkily suspended by order of Gov. Mifflin, who was harshly criticised for it by the leaders of public opinion in the West.


The council at Buffalo was attended by Gen. Israel Chapin, U. S. Superintendent of the Six Nations, who wrote to the Secretary of War: "I am afraid of the consequences of the attempt to settle Presque Isle at present. The Indians do not acknowledge the validity of the Cornplanter sale to Pennsylvania." By request of the council, he went to LeBoeuf on or about the 26th of June, 1794, accompanied by Mr. Johnson, British Indian Agent, and twenty-five chiefs and warriors, to remonstrate with the State officers at that post against the placing of garrisons in the Northwest. The representatives of the Six Nations claimed to be anxious to live at peace with the United States, but pretended to be much disturbed by the presence of the troops, fearing that it would involve them in strife with the hostile Indians. They were assured by Ellicott and Denny, the State officers at LeBoeuf, that the soldiers could not move from there till ordered, and that they would await the commands of their superior in authority. The council adjourned without accomplishing anything of a definite character. During its continuance, it was reported that two armed British vessels were lying off Presque Isle, evidently for the purpose of intimidating the State officials.


Another Indian council was held at LeBoeuf on the 4th of July, 1794, at which the chiefs reiterated their purpose of preventing a garrison being stationed at Presque Isle.


Raids by the Savages
The savages continued to be sullen and threatening for some months, and many persons looked upon war as imminent. Several raids were made upon the southern settlements, among others on Cussewago, near the Crawford County line. A Mr. Dickson, living near there, was fired upon by a party of Indians on the 10th of September. Twelve soldiers, sent from LeBoeuf for the protection of the settlement, were fired upon, and the Indians drove off several horses. Matters remained in this alarming condition till October, when news reached LeBoeuf of Wayne's victory on the Maumee. This had a wonderful effect upon the Indians of our vicinity. A number of warriors of the Six Nations had taken part in the fight, and the reports they brought back of Wayne's daring has a disheartening effect upon their comrades. The Senecas, who had been strongly urged to go into the war, gave the messengers a peremptory refusal. Notwithstanding this decision, disturbances broke out on several occasions, which continued to delay the establishment at Presque Isle. On Saturday, the 29th of May, 1795, four men who were journeying from LeBoeuf to the latter point, were attacked near the present Union depot in Erie, by a party of Indians, in retaliation, it is supposed, because some of their friends had been fired upon by whites along the Allegheny. Ralph Rutledge, one of the number, was killed and scalped, and his body, being afterward found, was interred on a piece of rising ground on the west side of State street, near its junction with Turnpike. His son was also shot and scalped, but lived to be taken to the fort at LeBoeuf, where he died. This is the last Indian difficulty known to have taken place in the county.


A treaty of peace was effected with the Western tribes by Gen. Wayne at Greenville, Ohio, on the 3d of August, 1795, and another was made with the Six Nations at Canandaigua, N. Y., on the 9th of November ensuing. At this latter, which was described in the annals of the day as "the Great Council," 1,600 Indians were present, including Cornplanter, who was at the head of 400 of the Allegheny portion of the Senecas.


Indian Villages and Graveyards
Singular as it may appear, considering the fertility of Erie County, and the splendid facilities it must have furnished for hunting and fishing, there is no evidence that any large number of Indians ever make their abode within its limits after it became known to the whites. In 1795, there were Indian villages on Mill Creek, and at the head of the bay, each numbering from twenty to thirty families. Their corn fields were on the flat lands above, about half a mile southwest, partially covering the farms of James C. Marshall and A. J. Kelso. Other villages were located at Waterford and Cranesville. The latter was there when Mr. Colton, the earliest settler of Elk Creek Township, made his location in 1797. From all that we can learn through the ancient records, the village at Waterford was and had long been the most important in the county. Traces of the settlement existed until about forty years ago. The villagers had a burial place, orchard, extensive corn fields and vast herds of cattle.


On the Scouller farm, directly south from the Martin Warfel place, and in the southeast corner of the city limits, was an Indian graveyard, where the boys of forty years ago used to irreverently dig into the mounds and gather bones as relics. The first field east of the burial ground was cleared in 1821, and for some years after it was a frequent thing to find stone hatchets and other rude implements of the aborigines. it was the custom for many years after the incoming of the whites, for parties of Indians to camp near by and indulge in peculiar rites in commemoration of their ancestors. The last Indian encampment was in June, 1841, when about a dozen Indians spent a couple of days on the site. The mounds have all been plowed down, and no traces exist of this once sacred spot to the red men.


Numerous Indian graves, arrow heads, pieces of pottery, and other curiosities have been found in a grave on the Hunter place, bordering French Creek, in LeBoeuf Township. A graveyard was opened on the Ebersole farm, east of Erie City, which contained numerous bones, beads and other Indian remains. All of the bodies were in a sitting position. Graves have been found in spots all along the Ridge road from Ebersole's woods to State street in Erie.


As to the number of Indians in this section, the only authority we have is a letter from Andrew Ellicott to Gov. Mifflin, written from LeBoeuf, in 1794. In this epistle he said: "When I was at Niagara, in 1789, Mr. Street, who stored the presents from the British Government for the Six Nations, handed me a census of their numbers, which had just been taken, and on which the decision was to be made, and it amounted only to between 3,200 and 3,300 men, women and children." What became of the Indians, it is difficult to state. Many undoubtedly went westward, while others took up their homes on the reservations along the Allegheny. Early in the century, bodies of Indians passed through the county occasionally on friendly visits between New York and Western tribes. Maj. G. J. Ball informs us that when a boy he saw parties of 100 to 150 red men, women and children, encamped on the parks in the city of Erie.


In an appendix to his published oration at the dedication of the monument to Cornplanter, in 1867, Hon. J. R. Snowden gives the following, as the location and number of the Seneca Indians at that date:


On the Allegheny River, in Pennsylvania, fifteen miles above Warren, at Cornplanter's town (Jennesadaga), 80; acres of land owned, 300; on the Allegheny Reservation, in New York, a few miles above the Pennsylvania line, 900; acres of land owned, 26,600; on Cattaraugus Reservation, in Erie and Cattaraugus Counties, N. Y., about 1,700; acres of land under cultivation, 5,000; at Tonawanda, in New York, about 700; acres of land owned, 7,000.


"The Oneidas at the same time numbered 1,050. Some 250 were located in Oneida and Madison Counties, N. Y., and the balance of the tribe were in Brown County, Wis. The Onondagas and Tuscaroras were each 350 in number, the former living about six miles south of Syracuse, N. Y., and the latter about seven miles northeast of Niagara Falls."


Mr. Snowden adds: "The present condition of these remnants of the Six Nations is quite respectable. In most of the reservations they have schools and places of public worship. Many of them belong to the Methodist and Baptist Churches. The chief of the Six Nations, Stephen S. Smith, who made a speech at the inauguration of the Cornplanter Monument, is a minister in the Baptist Church."


The reservations occupied by the Senecas include about 40,000 acres. "They own the land in common, and are governed by a President and a Board of Counselors. Very few white people live among them. They are all civilized, and all have embraced the Christian religion, except a few who cling to the old Indian religion, and are called 'pagans.'"


Cornplanter, The Seneca Chief
This chapter would not complete without a short sketch of Cornplanter, the distinguished chief of the Seneca tribe, to whom reference is so frequently made above. He was a half-breed, the son of John O'Bail (or A'Bael), a trader in the Mohawk Valley, by an Indian mother. His English name was the same as his father's, and his Indian name was Gyant-wachia or Cornplanter. At the age of twenty, he was with the French at Braddock's defeat, and he participated in the various Indian campaigns that occurred during and after the Revolution, always against the Americans. As Cornplanter advanced in years, he grew to realize the strength of the Union, and from being its relentless foe, became its admirer and fast friend. His influence largely brought about the treaties of peace at Forts Stanwix and Harmer, in consequence of which he partly lost the confidence of the Senecas, and was supplanted by the more artful and eloquent Red Jacket, who had long been his rival. In return for his services upon these and other occasions, the State of Pennsylvania granted him a fine reservation, on the Allegheny River above Warren, where he spent the balance of his hears. Although he participated in the councils at Buffalo, to take measures for preventing the establishment at Presque Isle, it is claimed by his biographer that he was at heart friendly to the Americans and had pledged himself that the Senecas should not "take up the hatchet." His death occurred on the 18th of February, 1836, after he had passed the one-hundredth year of his age. He was a man of more than ordinary eloquence, although not equal to his rival, Red Jacket. The following is a brief sample of his style:


"I thank the Almighty that I am speaking this good day. I have been through all nations in America, and am sorry to see the folly of many of the people. What makes me sorry is, they all tell lies, and I never found truth amongst them. All the Western nations of Indians, as well as the white people, have told me lies. Even in council I have been deceived, and been told things which I have told to my chiefs and young men, which I have found not to be so, which makes me tell lies by not being able to make good my work; but I hope they will all see their folly and repent. The Almighty has not made me to lie, but to tell the truth, one to another; yet, when two people meet together, if they lie, one to the other, these people cannot be at peace; and so it si with nations, and that is the cause of so much war."


In 1866, the Legislature of Pennsylvania appropriated $500 to build a monument to Cornplanter at Jennessedaga, Cornplanter Town, Warren County, the place of his last residence. The monument was erected in 1867, and dedicated on the 18th of October of the same year.



Bibliography: Samuel P. Bates, History of Erie County, Pennsylvania, (Warner, Beers & Co.: Chicago, 1884), Chapter VI,


This page was last updated on  Tuesday, September 12, 2000.

Return to Erie County Genealogy Project

2000 Erie County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project

Home Page Erie County Contents Next Chapter