Erie people

From Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
Nation du Chat region
Total population
extinct as a tribe after mid-17th century (possibly Whittlesey tradition[1]) possibly Whittlesey tradition[1] (including those of ancestral descent)
Regions with significant populations
New York, Pennsylvania, Ohio
Erie language

The Erie people were Indigenous 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 before 1658.[2] Their nation was almost exterminated in the mid-17th century by five years of prolonged warfare with the powerful neighboring Iroquois for helping the Huron in the Beaver Wars for control of the fur trade.[2] Captured survivors were adopted or enslaved by the Iroquois.[3]

Their villages were burned as a lesson to those who dared oppose the Iroquois. This destroyed their stored maize and other foods, added to their loss of life, and threatened their future, as they had no way to survive the winter. The attacks likely forced their emigration. The Iroquois League was known for adopting captives and refugees into their tribes. The surviving Erie are believed to have been largely absorbed by other Iroquoian tribes, particularly families of the Seneca, the westernmost of the Five Nations. Susquehannock families may also have adopted some Erie, as the tribes had shared the hunting grounds of the Allegheny Plateau and Amerindian paths that passed through the gaps of the Allegheny. The members of remnant tribes living among the Iroquois gradually assimilated to the majority cultures, losing their independent tribal identities.[4]

The Erie were also called the Chat ("Cat" in French) or "Long Tail" (referring, possibly, to the raccoon tails worn on clothing). Like other Iroquoian peoples, they lived in multifamily long houses in villages enclosed in palisades. These defensive works often encompassed their fields for crops. They cultivated 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 Erie spoke the Erie language, an unattested Iroquoian language said to have been similar to Wyandot.


The Erie people were also known as the Eriechronon, Yenresh, Erielhonan, Eriez, Nation du Chat, and Riquéronon.

As to the Etymology of the name- in Native American cultures across the Eastern Woodlands, the terms cat & long tail tend to be references to a mythological creature which, depending on the tribe and time period is described as/ rendered as either a giant bobcat with a human face and a long tail, a sea serpent with deer antlers or some kind of dragon like entity. Iroquoian names associated with this creature in English include Blue Panther, Underwater Panther, Blue Snake, Horned Serpent, Comet Lion, etc. One of the various actual Iroquois names for this creatures is given as Oniare,[5] which might be the closest we can get to Erie. Geh is Iroquoian for "of the" & ronon is Iroquoian for "people" or "nation."[6]


The known boundaries of Erie lands extended from the Allegheny River to the shores of Lake Erie. They were once believed, due to a misidentification of villages by early French explorers mapping the Great Lakes, to control all the land from northwestern Pennsylvania to about Sandusky, Ohio, but archaeologists have now attributed the western half of that to another culture referred to as the Whittlesey's, who were likely an Algonquian people.[7]

A site once thought to be Erie in Conneaut, Ohio, is attributed to Whittlesey culture, who surrounded their villages with earthen embankments instead of wooden palisades and lived in longhouses, rather than wigwams, by the time of European contact. However, a second village on the east side of the river likely had been an Erie settlement.[8] Another Erie settlement was discovered in Windsor, Ohio, at the southwestern corner of Ashtabula County, which is two river valleys further west than the sites at Conneaut.[9] No significant settlement remains from prior to the Beaver Wars was ever documented in Trumbull or Mahoning Counties, leaving the exact border between the two peoples in question.


The names of only some villages have survived, and those include Kentaientonga (Gentaguehronon, Gentaienton, Gentaguetehronnon), Honniasont (Black Minqua, Honniasontkeronon, Oniassontke), and Rigué (Arrigahaga, Rigueronnon, Rique, Riquehronnon).[10]

At the time the Erie existed, their immediate neighbors included the Neutral Nation, across Lake Erie, the Wenro to the north, between the Genessee and Niagara Rivers, the Susquehannock east of the Allegheny River and two historically unknown nations- the Monongahela culture to the south of the Allegheny River (named for the Monongahela River, which itself was named after a nickname for the Lenape, who lived there later) and the Whittlesey culture to the west. The Monongahela Culture was most likely a Siouan-speaking society.



Elements of Erie shown in the general area of the Upper Ohio Valley.
Clip from John Senex map ca 1710 showing the people Captain Vielle passed (1692–94) by to arrive in Chaouenon's country, as the French Jesuit called the Shawnee

While Indigenous peoples lived along the Great Lakes for thousands of years in succeeding cultures, historic tribes known at the time of European encounter began to coalesce by the 15th and 16th centuries. The Erie were among the several Iroquoian peoples sharing a similar culture, tribal organization, and speaking an Iroquoian language which emerged around the Great Lakes, but with elements that may have originated in the south. People from the Whittlesey culture and Fort Ancient culture of Ohio and Pennsylvania may have been ancestors of the Erie people.[1]

Haudenosaunee oral history suggests that the Erie are their descendants specifically from people from the St. Lawrence River Valley. It also says the Eries defeated an unknown tribe who built earthworks.[11] Names given for this group are of uncertain origin, with one account using Alligewi, the Lenape word for the Erie themselves, and the other using Squawkihaw, the word the Iroquois used for the Meskwaki.[12] Neither group built the mounds in question,[which?] three of which were excavated by archaeologists in Pennsylvania and Ohio. These are Sugar Run Mound,[13] North Benton Mound [14] and Towner's Mound.[15] Only Towner's Mound, in Kent, Ohio, still stands. Linguists who have studied the handful of words on record believed to be of Erie origin believe the tribe was closer to the Huron than the Iroquois, however. If descended from the Iroquois, archaeology suggests they couldn't have arrived before the 12th or 13th centuries. A Huron origin would suggest them arriving even later.[a]

The editors of New American Heritage state the various confederacies of Iroquoian tribes migrated from south to the Great Lakes regions and in between well before pre-Columbian times. Conversely, others such as the editors of the 1911 Encyclopædia Britannica suggest the tribes originated in what became Algonkian territories along the Saint Lawrence and moved west and south when the Algonquian tribes moved north up the coast and spread west.


By the time of European contact, Algonquian and Iroquoian tribes traded and competed with each other and spent most years in uneasy peace. Separation between tribes living in wilderness ensured contacts were mainly small affairs before the use of firearms tipped the balance of warfare to enhance the killing ability of a people who could not outrun a bullet, a limitation which existed before guns and the ability to kill at range. Rivalries and habitual competition among American Indians tribes for resources (especially fire arms) and power was escalated by the lucrative returns of the fur trade with French and Dutch colonists beginning settlements in the greater area before 1611. Violence to control the fur-bearing territories, the beginnings of the long-running Beaver Wars, began early in the 17th century[b] so the normal peace and trading activity decreased between the tribes, who had responded to the demand for beaver and other furs by over-hunting some areas.

1715 map showing the Nation du Chat, détruite ("Nation of the Cat, destroyed") to the south of Lake Erie.

The Erie encroached on territory that other tribes considered theirs.[16] During 1651,[16] they'd angered their eastern neighbors, the Iroquois League, by accepting Huron refugees from villages that had been destroyed by the Iroquois. Though reported as using poison-tipped arrows (Jesuit Relations 41:43, 1655–58 chap. XI), the Erie were disadvantaged in armed conflict with the Iroquois because they had few firearms.[16][c] Beginning in 1653[2] the Erie launched a preemptive attack on western tribes of the Iroquois, and did well in the first year of a five-year war.[2]

Consequently, in 1654 the whole Iroquois Confederacy went to war against the Erie and neighboring tribes such as the Neutral people along the northern shores of Lake Erie and across the Niagara River, the Tobacco people between the Erie and Iroquois, neighbors to all three groups. As a result, over five years of war they destroyed the Erie confederacy, the Neutrals, the Tobacco, with the tribes surviving in remnants. By the mid-1650s, the Erie had become a broken tribe. Dispersed groups survived a few more decades before being absorbed into the Iroquois, especially the westernmost Seneca nation.

Historically the Monacan and Erie were trade allies, especially copper, but years later that relationship fell apart due to growing colonial pressure. During that period remnant Erie were believed to have migrated to Virginia by 1656 and became known as the Richahecrian when they fought along side the Nahyssans and Manahoac, against the Virginia colonialists and Pamunkey, at the Battle of Bloody Run. [18] Another branch also migrated to South Carolina and became known as the Westo. [19]

Because the Erie were located further from the coastal areas of early European exploration, they had little direct contact with Europeans. Only the Dutch fur traders from Fort Orange (now Albany, New York) and Jesuit missionaries in Canada referred to them in historic records. The Jesuits learned more about them during the Beaver Wars, but most of what they learned, aside from a single in-person encounter, was learned from the Huron who suffered much reduction before the Erie did.[16] What little is known about them has been derived from oral history of other Native American tribes, archaeology, and comparisons with other Iroquoian peoples.

After the Haudenosaunee routed the Erie in 1654 and 1656, the group dispersed.[20] In 1680, a remnant group of Erie surrendered to the Seneca people.[20] Erie descendants merged with Haudenosaunee in Ohio, who lived on the Upper Sandusky Reservation from 1817 to 1832, when Ohio forcibly removed its tribes to Indian Territory. These included the tribes who would form the present-day Seneca-Cayuga Nation in Oklahoma.[20]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ In Virginia, visiting Susquehannocks were described by an admiring Captain John Smith. Further, Tuscarora and Cherokee lived in the south from before Jamestown was founded, and the powerful Susquehanna had a lock on the Susquehanna basin into the upper Chesapeake Bay shores, probably into the northern Shenandoah Valley.
  2. ^ Beaver Wars are usually blamed upon the Iroquois who were believed to have a joint population dwarfed by surrounding tribes.
  3. ^ If the Erie tribe had used poison on their arrows, they would have been the only tribe in North America to do so.[17]


  1. ^ a b "Chapter 8. Archaeology" (PDF). Ohio Department of Natural Resources. pp. 8–9. Retrieved 17 October 2022.
  2. ^ a b c d Alvin M. Josephy, Jr., ed. (1961). The American Heritage Book of Indians. American Heritage Publishing Co., Inc. p. 197. LCCN 61-14871. [while the Iroquois were mopping up the Huron] ...the Erie... struck first in 1653. The next year [a counter-offensive] ...a victory which should have won the war on the spot, but ... two more years of fighting were required before the Erie, too, had been vanquished.
  3. ^ "THE ERIE INDIANS". Avon Historical Society. Retrieved 2022-11-26. in 1656, after one of the most relentless and destructive Indian wars, the Erie were almost exterminated by the Iroquois. The surviving captives were either adopted or enslaved.
  4. ^ According to The American Heritage Book of Indians the Susquehannock were poised to wipe out the Iroquois after administering severe drubbings into 1668, only to be laid low by multi-year disease epidemics in 1669-1671. By 1672-1673 they were beset on all sides and, like the Erie, went extinct as a tribe because of their high mortality rate. Their small percentage of survivors had to disperse among kindred tribes. The Iroquois adopted their remnants under the terms of a formal treaty in 1678. Some of the Susquehannock fleeing during 1676 triggered Bacon's Rebellion in the south.
  5. ^ "Oniare, the Iroquois horned serpent (Onyare, Oniont)".
  6. ^ English-Cayuga/ Cayuga-English Dictionary; Froman, Francis; Keye, Alfred; etc.; University of Toronto Press, Jan, 2002
  7. ^ "Whittlesey Culture - Ohio History Central". Retrieved January 29, 2020.
  8. ^ Brose, David S.; Wentzel, Gregory; Bluestone, Helga; Essenpreis, Patricia (1976). "Conneaut Fort, a Prehistoric Whittlesey Focus Village in Ashtabula County, Ohio". Pennsylvania Archaeologist. 46 (4): 29–77.
  9. ^ "Prehistoric Earthworks / The Prehistoric Erie". Historical Market Database. Retrieved 22 September 2023.
  10. ^ Gabriel Sagard
  11. ^ The Iroquois Book of Rites; Hale, Horatio; 1883
  12. ^ The Iroquois Trail: Footprints of the Six Nations in Customs, Traditions and History; Beauchamp, W. M.; 1802.
  13. ^ Sugar Run Mound and Village: Hopewell/ Middle Woodland in Warren County, Pennsylvania; McCanaughy, Mark A.; 2003
  14. ^ The North Benton Mound: A Hopewell Site in Ohio; Magrath, W. H.; 1945
  15. ^[permanent dead link] [bare URL]
  16. ^ a b c d ERIE HISTORY, "The Erie needed beaver for this trade and probably encroached on other tribal territories to get it. The result was a war with an unknown Algonquin enemy in 1635 that forced the Erie to abandon some of their western villages.", 2016-0612.
  17. ^ 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
  18. ^
  19. ^
  20. ^ a b c May, Jon D. "Erie". he Encyclopedia of Oklahoma History and Culture. Retrieved 18 October 2022.


  • 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. Archived from the original on 2005-12-17. Retrieved 2008-03-16.
  • 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.{{cite book}}: CS1 maint: location missing publisher (link)
  • White, Marian E. (1971). "Ethnic identification and Iroquois groups in western New York and Ontario". Ethnohistory. 18 (1): 19–38. doi:10.2307/481592. JSTOR 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.

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