The Beaver Wars of Lake Erie (early
The arrival of the white man quickly made
tremendous impact on the people's that were living here.
That of course is an understatement of what eventually
to those people. But in the early days of contact between
the white man and the Indians, the white's man's influences
were being felt resulting in the beginning of the end for
the red man.
One of the interesting effects of the
contact was what became known as the Beaver Wars.
The British first came to the eastern
coast, particularly the New England area, as we know it
today. There they encountered the Iroquois Indians who had
settled around Lake Ontario and along the Mohawk River (in
New York state.) In the early 1600's, five tribes formed a
confederacy. The five tribes were the Onedias, the Mohawks,
the Senescas, the Cayugas and the Onondagas. They called
themselves Haudenosaunee or
people of the long house. The actual name Iroquois is a
variation of a French term for snake that the Hurons gave to
this group of Indians. A sixth tribe, the Tuscaroras, joined
this confederation in about 1722. Although there were other
tribes of Indians who shared a similar language and who even
were related to the members of the confederacy, only the six
tribes were members.
Fur hats were in huge demand in Europe.
America had plenty of fur bearing animals. It was the Dutch
who first started trading with the Iroquois for furs but the
English later dominated the trading.
This lead to several significant things.
First, the Iroquois favored the English over the French.
This is contrary to almost all the other Indian tribes east
of the Mississippi. By the time the French and Indian War
came, the many of the Indian tribes had already chosen sides
and enemies. When the Revolutionary War came, the Iroquois
fought against the colonists. Secondly, in pursuit of Beaver
pelts, the favored fur for use with hats, the Iroquois moved
into the Ohio Valley and the Great Lakes Region. This area
was rich with beavers but it was also occupied by other
One of the tribes, the Eries, happened to
be related to the Iroquois tribes. But that didn't make an
difference when it came to fighting over beaver land. The
Eries were wiped out by the Iroquois tribes. This conflict
came to be known as the Beaver War since it was fought over
control of land for hunting deer and beaver. Yes, Lake Erie
was named for this group of Indians.
The Iroquois pushed into the entire area
around the Great Lakes.
This economic conflict among the Indians of this region
resulted in a large displacement of all the other tribal
confederations. The Hurons, Neutrals and Susquehannocks were
defeated and all but destroyed. Surviving Indians fled
westward essentially emptying all the tribes out of the Ohio
Valley and what is now the Lower Peninsula of Michigan.
The Lakota Indians, for example, were
pushed westward into the Great Plains.
The Iroquois had given themselves a
tremendous advantage in their conflict with the other
tribes. One of the primary reasons they wanted to trade with
Dutch and then the English was to acquire guns. The
rifles available at this time were called
arquebus. Needless to say, this gave
the Iroquois a huge advantage over the Hurons and other
tribes who were armed with bows and arrows.
The Iroquois also sought to disrupt the
trade of Hurons, Mohawks, Wyandot and other tribes with the
French. Many battles were fought with the French along side
their Indian allies against the Iroquois. The French wanted
to protect their fur trade. Many French missionaries were
killed along side the Indians in the villages. The battles
were not necessarily regular and frequent. Many battles were
silent raids on villages where all inhabitants were either
killed or taken prisoner. Those that survived were taken
back to the Iroquois camps and integrated into the Iroquois
In 1665 the French brought in more troops
to do a counter attack against the invading Iroquois.
Starting in January of 1666, the French Carignan-Salieres
regiment lead by
Alexandre de Prouville counter attacked
against the Iroquois home land. Unable to find any major
groups of warriors, they resorted to burning villages, homes
and crops. Many Iroquois very likely starved the next
winter. The Iroquois sued for peace with the French. That
peace lasted about 16 years. Many of those hardened French
troops stayed in Canada rather than go back to Europe. These
troops were all veteran soldiers who had fought the Turks.
So when the governor formed a militia he had armed and
experienced men to call on.
The conflict resumed between the Iroquois
and the French in 1683. Governor
Louis de Buade
decided to enrich himself by trying to expand his fur trade
in the Iroquois controlled areas. This bloody war lasted ten
more years. One thing that altered the balance was the
remaining Carignan-Salieres soldiers. They had not
only acclimated to living in Canada, they also learned the
Indian way of guerrilla fighting from their Algonquin
allies. This group could be called Canada's first standing
By 1698, The Iroquois came to see
themselves more and more as a tool of the English especially
when it came to the perpetual conflict with the French. In
1701, 39 Iroquois chiefs signed the Great Peace of
Montreal with the French and the English. The Iroquois
agreed to stop fighting and allow the Indian refugees who
had fled west to return. Eventually the Shawnee would gain
control of the Ohio Valley and the Lower Allegheny River
References and Links:
Barr, Daniel P., ed. The Boundaries
Between Us: Natives and Newcomers Along
the Frontiers of the Old Northwest
Territory, 1750-1850. Kent, OH:
Kent State University Press, 2006.