The Erie (also Erieehronon, Eriechronon, Riquéronon, Erielhonan, Eriez, Nation du Chat) were a Native American people historically living on the south shore of Lake Erie. An Iroquoian group, they lived in what is now western New York, northwestern Pennsylvania, and northern Ohio. They were decimated by warfare with the neighboring Iroquois in the 17th century for helping the Hurons, an enemy of the Iroquois. The Erie were absorbed by other Iroquoian tribes, particularly the Seneca, and gradually lost their independent identity. The villages were burned as a lesson to those who dare oppose the Iroquois. The names Erie and Eriez are shortened forms of Erielhonan, meaning "long tail." The Erielhonan were also called the "Cat" or the "Raccoon" people. They lived in multi-family long houses in villages enclosed in palisades. They grew the "Three Sisters": varieties of corn, beans, and squash, during the warm season. In winter, tribal members lived off the stored crops and animals taken in hunts. The word Erie means "cat" and "long tail" giving the people of the tribe a name for their feline spirits.
While indigenous peoples lived along the Great Lakes for thousands of years in succeeding cultures, historic tribes began to coalesce by the 15th and 16th centuries. The Erie were among the several Iroquoian-speaking nations. Competition among tribes for resources and power was escalated by the returns of the fur trade. Violence increased between the tribes, which responded to demand for beaver and other furs by overhunting some areas.
The Erie encroached on territory other tribes considered theirs. They angered their eastern neighbors, the Iroquois League, by accepting refugees from Huron villages which had been destroyed by the Iroquois. Though rumored to use poison-tipped arrows (Jesuit Relations 41:43, 1655–58 chap. XI), the Erie were disadvantaged in armed conflict by having few firearms (if the Erie tribe used poison on their arrows, it would make them the only tribe in North America to do so.) Beginning in the mid-1650s, the Iroquois Confederacy went to war against the Erie and neighboring competing tribes. As a result, the Erie confederacy was destroyed, with the tribes surviving in remnants. Dispersed groups survived a few more decades before being absorbed into the Iroquois, especially the westernmost Seneca nation.
Anthropologist Marvin T. Smith (1986:131–32) theorized that some Erie fled to Virginia and then South Carolina, where they became known as the Westo. Some were said to flee to Canada. Members of other tribes claimed later to be descended from refugees of this defunct culture. Some members of the Seneca people in Oklahoma and Kansas claim to be descended from the Erie nation.
Because they were located further from areas of early European exploration, the Erie had little contact with Europeans. Only the Dutch fur traders from Fort Orange (now Albany, New York) and Jesuit missionaries in Canada report on them in historic records. The Jesuits learned more about them during the Beaver Wars. What little is known about them has been derived from oral history of other Native American tribes, archaeology, and comparisons with other Iroquoian peoples.
- Tooker 1978 and Snyderman 1948, "doubts poisoned arrows". Anthony P. Schiavo, Claudio R. Salvucci, Iroquois Wars: Extracts from the Jesuit Relations and Primary Sources p.11 ISBN 1-889758-37-X
- Bowne, Eric E. (2005). The Westo Indians: slave traders of the early colonial South. Tuscaloosa, Ala.: University of Alabama Press. ISBN 0-8173-1454-7. OCLC 56214192.
- Bowne, Eric E. (2006), "Westo Indians", The new Georgia encyclopedia, Georgia Humanities Council and the University of Georgia Press
- Engelbrecht, William E. (1991), "Erie", The Bulletin: Journal of the New York State Archaeological Association (102): 2–12, OCLC 17823564
- Engelbrecht, William E.; Lynne P. Sullivan (1996). "Cultural context". In Lynne P. Sullivan (ed.). Reanalyzing the Ripley Site: earthworks and late prehistory on the Lake Erie Plain. New York State Museum Bulletin 489. Albany: University of the State of New York, the State Education Department. pp. 14–27 [volume References, 176–87]. ISBN 1-55557-202-2. OCLC 38565296.
- Hewitt, J. N. B. (1907), "Erie", in Frederick Webb Hodge (ed.), Handbook of American Indians north of Mexico, part 1, BAE Bulletin 30, Washington, D.C.: Government Printing Office, pp. 430–32
- Smith, Marvin T. (1987), Archaeology of aboriginal cultural change in the interior Southeast: depopulation during the early historic period, Ripley P. Bullen Monographs in Anthropology and History 6, Gainesville, Fla.: University Press of Florida, OCLC 15017891
- White, Marian E. (1961), Iroquois culture history in the Niagara Frontier area of New York State, University of Michigan Museum of Anthropology Anthropological Papers 16, Ann Arbor, Mich., OCLC 18903624
- White, Marian E. (1971), "Ethnic identification and Iroquois groups in western New York and Ontario", Ethnohistory 18 (1): 19–38, doi:10.2307/481592
- White, Marian E. (1978), "Erie", in Bruce G. Trigger (ed.), Handbook of North American Indians, Vol. 15: Northeast, Washington, D.C.: Smithsonian Institution, pp. 412–17
- Wright, Roy A. (1974), "The People of the Panther-a long Erie tale (an ethnohistory of the southwestern Iroquoians)", in Michael K. Foster (ed.), Papers in linguistics from the 1972 Conference on Iroquoian Research, Mercury Series Paper 10, Ottawa: National Museum of Man. Ethnology Division, pp. 47–118, OCLC 1429124
- "Erie History", unreferenced amateur history by Lee Sultzman
- Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture – Erie