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This webpage reproduces part of
Historic Old Fort Niagara

Claud H. Hulzén, Sr.

Old Fort Niagara Association

The text is in the public domain.

This page has been carefully proofread
and I believe it to be free of errors.
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Part 2
This site is not affiliated with the US Military Academy.

 p7  In the Beginning

According to the Cherokee legend, after the animals, through the efforts of the humble little water-spider, had built up the earth and had come down from Galunlati beyond the arch, to live in the hills which in turn had been made by the great Buzzard, the father of all present buzzards, as he flew low over the soft mud and flapped his wings, digging out valleys and building up mountains; and after someone, no one knows who, had tied the four cords at the cardinal points of this big flat earth to the rocky anchorage of the heavens, the problem of heating and lighting the world presented itself. The animals, therefore, put the sun above the earth and set it in a track to go every day across the island of the earth from east to west just overhead. It was too hot this way and Tisiskagili, the crawfish, had his shell scorched and burnt red so his meat was spoiled. Accordingly, the conjurors kept putting the sun one handbreadth higher until it ran on its track seven handbreadths above the earth. It still passes across this path today through the Seventh Heaven.

Through the dark ages from the origin of this Cherokee legend until Fort Niagara came into being, many things happened. Civilizations were developed and exterminated. Vast populations grew into being and perished. Rare cultures evolved and dissolved before we have any accurate historical record of life leading up to the beginning of the Old Fort.

Undoubtedly this ancient triangle, marking the stepping off place of an alluvial plain in the bottom of prehistoric Lake Ontario, was the rendezvous of copper-skinned fishermen back in the days of Onguiara, the Attawandaronk Village just under the Niagara Escarpment; when Old Fortress Kienuka, the House of Peace, sat upon the edge of the escarpment, and when 400 years ago Dekanawida, Mohawk Chieftain and Hiawatha, the prophet, set about to organize the Iroquois group into the greatest confederation of native Americans.

Iroquois League

The story of Dekanawida, born of a mortal mother and a divine father according to Iroquois legend, and his disciple Hiawatha, is most entrancing. Hiawatha must not be confused with the Legendary Chippewa God, Nanabozbo, whose exploits have been immortalized by Longfellow under the name of "Hiawatha." The Iroquois Hiawatha was an Onondaga chief. The supreme compromise effected by Dekanawida and Hiawatha in bringing about unity between the nations is exemplary, and one of which our international diplomats today may take cognizance. It is said that the most bitter opponent Dekanawida and Hiawatha encountered was a powerful chief of the Onondagas called Atotarho or Wathatotarho, a man of great force of character, haughty, crafty, and remorseless, possessing Orenda (magic) of great power. Tradition describes him as a monster from whose head grew instead of human hair, great serpents whose terrible folds enveloped his body. By his strategy Atotarho prevented Hiawatha from addressing the Onondaga Council, of which he, Atotarho, was chief. By his magic arts he brought about the death of Hiawatha's seven daughters.

It was not until the tribes of the Mohawks, the Oneidas, the Senecas and the Cayugas had joined the Confederacy that Atotarho and the Onondagas were won over; and their consent to enter the League was gained only by granting them unusual concessions. It was agreed that the Onondagas should be the leading nation of the Confederacy; that their chief town should be the Federation capital where the great council of the League should be held and where its records should be preserved; and that the Onondaga Nation should be represented in the Council by thirteen senators while no other nation had more than ten. It was further agreed that no act of the Federation Council to which the Onondagas objected should be valid. Furthermore, to enhance the personal dignity of Atotarho, five Federal chiefs were designated as his special aides.

Following are the three great double doctrines or principles upon which the Iroquois Confederacy was founded:

(1) (a) Health of mind and body.
(b) Peace among individuals and groups of individuals.
(2) (a) Righteousness in conduct; its advocacy in thought and speech.
(b) Equity in the adjustment of rights and obligations.
(3) (a) Physical strength or power; order.
(b) Orenda, or magic power, of people and institutions.

Based upon this code, Dekanawida and Hiawatha built a mighty political unit  p9 which had for its purpose its own preservation. It was complete in every phase according to the requirements of the stone age in which it took place. It was a model social order which evolved a culture in many ways superior to white man's culture of the day, according to many anthropologists. Its democratic form of government more nearly approached perfection than any that has been tried to date. It is claimed by many that the framers of the Constitution of the United States of America copied from these Iroquois practices in founding the Government of the United States.

The essence of the great experiment of Dekanawida and Hiawatha lies not in the fact that their League was based upon such ideal doctrines, but rather in the fact that over a period of 400 years that form of government and social order worked successfully, the five great nations of the Iroquois living over all that period in harmony and accord, banded together for internal preservation and external strife. It was this formidable organization of civil government planned upon such a firm foundation with which the French and British and the early Americans were to contend in the winning of a new land.

Page updated: 15 Oct 13