Beaver Wars
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The Beaver Wars
Desire to trade more beaver pelts with the English caused the Iroquois of New York area to move westward. The Ohio Valley was rich in beaver & deer and other Indian Tribes. The resulting conflict was called "The Beaver Wars"

The Beaver Wars of Lake Erie (early 1600's-mid)

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 happened 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 Indian tribes.

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 the 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 tribes.

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 army.

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 area.



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.


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