Description of Iroquois Indian Forts and Earthworks

Description of Iroquois Indian Forts and Earthworks



       Squier,whose extensive researches among aboriginal remains in Central America and elsewhere, fitted him for the task of careful inquiry, visited this county and other portions of the State a score of years ago. His object was to determine if these enclosures had a common origin with the vast system of earth- works of the Mississippi valley, whose construction in a remote age. is assigned to the mysterious Mound-Builders. But they proved to be wanting in the regularity of outline of those unique western structures. The builders, he says, instead of planning them upon geometrical principles, like those of the west, regulated their forms entirely by the nature of the ground upon which they were built. The pottery and other relics found scattered among their ruins are " absolutely identical with those which mark the sites of towns and forts known to have been occupied by the Indians within the historical period ;' ' and, instead of placing their construction back in the ages of the misty past, it may be referred to the period succeeding the discovery of America or not long anterior to that event. The Senecas, quite likely, on being driven from (Genundewah, took the precaution to provide their new habitations with defenses against unfriendly tribes of the west and north ; for they were then in their weakest condition, and had most need of such security as their simple art of defense might afford. Earth walls would, without doubt, be first suggested as the means of local protection against assaults by hostile neighbors. These earth-works generally ' ' occupy high and commanding sites near the bluff edges of those broad terraces by which the country rises from the level of the lakes. When met with upon lower grounds, it is usually upon some dry knoll or little hill, or where banks of streams serve to lend strength to the position. A few have been found upon slight elevations in the midst of swamps, where dense forests and almost impassable marshes protected them from discovery and attack. In nearly all cases they are placed in close proximity to some unfailing supply of water, near copious springs or running streams. Gateways opening toward these are always to be observed, and in some cases guarded passages are visible."* In preparing to construct these defenses (Cusick says) "they set fire against several trees required to make a fort ; the stone axes were then used to rub off the coals so as to burn quicker. When the tree burned down they put fire to it in places about three paces apart and burnt it off in half a day. The logs were then collected at a place where they set them up around according to the bigness of the fort, and the earth heaped on both sides. ' ' Embankments were dispensed with after the introduction of the spade and other European implements enabled the Indians to plant their pickets more firmly in the ground. Traces of long occupancy are found in all these works. Relics of art, such as clay pipes, metal ornaments, earthen jars of clay tempered with pounded quartz and glass, or with fine sand, and covered with rude ornaments, stone hammers, and even parched corn which, by lapse of time had become carbonized, were discovered by Squier and others in caches or " wells." The latter, designed for the deposit of corn and other stores, "have been found six or eight feet in depth, usually located on the most elevated spot within the inclosure." Fragments of bones, charcoal and ashes and other evidences of occupancy, are always to be met with. Many of these works, traced by the pioneers, were covered with heavy forests, and, in several instances, trees from one to three feet in thickness were observed by Squier growing upon the embankments, and in the trenches. This would carry back the date of their construction several hundred years. The inclosures, though usually varying from one to four acres in area, ruins of much greater extent have been found. The larger ones were designed for permanent occupancy, the smaller, for temporary protection — "the citadels in which the builders sought safety for their old men, women and children in case of alarm or attack," or when the braves were absent on the war-path. The embankments were seldom more than four feet in height. The spot selected was generally convenient to fishing-places and hunting- grounds, and contiguous to fertile bottoms. Indeed, all indications render it probable that the occupants were fixed and agricultural in their habits