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Legends, Traditions, and Laws of the Iroquois, or Six Nations, and History of the Tuscarora Indians


“In the town of Cambria, six miles west of Lockport, a Mr. Hammon, who was employed with his boy in hoeing corn, in 1824, observed some bones of a child, exhumed. No farther thought was bestowed upon the subject for a time, for the plain of the Ridge was supposed to have been the site of an Indian village, and this was supposed to be the remains of some child who had been recently buried there. Eli Bruce, hearing of the circumstance, proposed to Mr. H. that they should repair to the spot, with suitable instruments, and endeavor to find some relics. The soil was a light loam, which would be dry and preserve bones for centuries without decay. A search enabled them to come to a pit but a slight distance from the surface. The top of the pit was covered with small slabs of the Medina sandstone, and was twenty-four feet square, four and a half feet deep, planes agreeing with the four cardinal points. It was filled with human bones of both sexes and ages. They dug down at one extremity and found the same layers to extend to the bottom, which was the dry loam, and from their calculations, they deduced that at least four thousand souls had perished in one great massacre. In one skull two flint arrow-heads were found, and many had the appearance of having been fractured and cleft open by a sudden blow. They were piled in regular layers, but with no regard to size or sex. Pieces of pottery were picked up in the pit, and had also been plowed up in the field adjacent. Traces of a log council house were plainly discernable. For, in an oblong square, the soil was poor, as if it had been cultivated, till the whites broke it up, and where the logs of the house had decayed, was a strip of rich mould. A maple tree, over the pit, being cut down, two hundred and fifty concentric circles were counted, making the mound to be A. D. 1574. It has been supposed by the villagers that the bones were deposited there before the discovery of America, but the finding of some metal tools with a French stamp, placed the date within our period. One hundred and fifty persons a day visited this spot the first season, and carried off portions of the bones. They are now nearly all gone and the pit plowed over. Will any antiquarian inform us, if possible, why these bones were placed here? To what tribe do they belong? When did such a massacre occur?”

The above is taken from the writings of Mr. Schoolscraft. On account of the questions above, I propose to give a tradition, (which the Tuscaroras have preserved,) to give the antiquarians and critics a question to solve. Was the great massacre above made in the circumstance of the tradition below, to wit: There was a settlement or Indian nation where appeared several white men under the cloak of missionaries, (the reason I use the term cloak is by the way it terminated), and preached to them the gospel of Jesus Christ, and the great love evinced by the Father in sending his only son to suffer and die on the cross to redeem the red children of nature, as well as the pale faces, from their degradation, shame and woe, to that of endless felicity beyond the shores of time. And that they wished to erect a house of worship in their midst, in which they might do their oblation to the Great Spirit, and that if they embraced the gospel they would have annuities from the government, to all of which the simple people of the forest made their assent. They immediately went to work, dug for the cellar, and erected the building on abutments of wood, and alleged that they would finish the cellar afterwards. When the chapel was finished the Indians began to worship in it. Now the time of the annuity arrived. The Indians were told to all congregate and into the church, men, women and children, and all those who refused to enter, should be omitted in the distribution of the annuity. Consequently the building was entered by them and filled jammed full. But there were two suspecting Indians who kept a proper distance away, ambushed, to see the result. After it was thought all had entered, there was a company of soldiers with guns and burning faggots, surrounded the building and set it on fire on all sides, after they had fastened the door. In this condition they all perished within the flames. I will not make any attempt to give a sketch or in any way write in words the horrors and heart-rendings cries and moans of the dying children of nature in the flames, through a disguise of sheep’s clothing, but will leave it to the conjecture of the reader.

After the flames had subsided, these two Indians repaired to the doomed spot, and found a heap of bones hob-nob, and they observed that some of the skulls and bones of the different parts of the body were fractured and broke open, supposed to have been done by, the falling timbers of the burning house. It is said, “in one skull, two flint arrow-heads were found.” How easy for the artifice of the white men that accomplished the massacre in the manner they did, to have sunk these two flint arrows into one of those skulls, to leave the conjecture in after times to have been done by an Indian war.

Mr. C. P. Turner, with an honorable age of 72 years, in 1878. told me that he visited the deposit of these bones, the next day after they were uncovered, saw the skull with the two flint arrows in it, and saw the great deposit of bones in this mound, and also said the pile was in hap-hazard, and not “in regular layers,” as stated above. He also saw bones which indicated being those of a child about 20 inches in height.

The Tuscaroras who preserve this tradition are located in the vicinity in which this mound of bones were found. All historians are very cautious to leave out or omit from the pages of their history, any circumstance in the nature of the above tradition.