THE SIX NATIONS – Our Native American Predecessors

"The red man boasts no herald-roll,
But views with equal pride of soul
The painted symbol on his skin,
Allies to memory of sires
Famed for their prowess, while within
His bosom wakes heroic fires."


WHEN the white man first entered this beautiful Seneca country, he found numerous deeply-trodden paths threading the forest in different directions. They led from one Indian village to another, and occasionally branched off to their favorite hunting and fishing grounds, and here and there marked their intercourse with neighboring aboriginal tribes. These were the "trails," and were the routes pursued by the French missionaries and traders and by the Dutch and English in their intercourse with the Indians. They afterwards served to guide our early pioneers through the forest, enabling them to appreciate the value and beauty of the country.

One of these trails, the one with which we are just now more interested than any other, passed from Mt. Morris up the river to Gardeau and Caneadea, and still on to the Allegany river at Olean, leaving the valley of the Genesee in the neighborhood of the Church manor-house at Belvidere and following the valley of Van Campen's creek to some point near Friendship village, from thence taking a feasible route to the oil spring in Cuba, and following the course of the water to the Allegany at Cornplanter's town later Olean Point, afterward for a short time Hamilton and now plain Olean. Another branch of this important trail led from Belvidere up the river, following its course, in a good part of the way being identical, with our present "river road," and passing on to Pennsylvania. From the upper Caneadea village, located on the east side of the Genesee river in the town of Caneadea, nearly opposite the village of Houghton, a lateral trail branched off to the west, following up the ravine just north of Houghton Seminary, thence striking almost exactly the line of the road to Rushford as at present located, and bearing from thence northwesterly through Centerville, Freedom and on to Buffalo. This was an important trail, and was much used during the French and Indian wars and in the Revolutionary times. communicating as it did so directly with the lake frontier.

From the Caneadea village another trail passed easterly through Allen and Birdsall to the Canisteo river near Arkport, and was known by the early white explorers as the "Canisteo path." This was also a very important trail. It was over this trail that the hordes of savages, led by Mohawk, Shongo, and Hudson, passed when they set out upon their expedition against Wyoming in 1778. Many a war party has passed along this aboriginal highway of travel.

These trails were in fact the "highways" of a once powerful nation of American Indians, the Senecas, one of the original Five Nations, the Iroquois, and, later, after the adoption of the Tuscaroras, of the confederacy of Six Nations, our immediate predecessors in the occupation of this section of our country. The Iroquois have been called the "Romans of the new world:" Their federal system of government, although a pure oligarchy, sedulously, and with great ingenuity, guarded against centralization and the aggression of power, always recognizing the principles of local self-government, in the admistration of which their women were allowed a potential voice and influence, and their rights were sacredly guarded and plainly defined. It has been claimed that the ultimate object of their federal policy was nothing less than a peaceful union of all the tribes of the continent, and is perhaps without a parallel in affording to its people more than 300 years of uninterrupted domestic unity and peace.

Agriculture had to some extent begun to modify the life of the aboriginal hunters of New York when, in 1687, the Marquis De Nonville invaded the lower Genesee country. In his report to his government he claimed to have destroyed "more than a million bushels of corn." Said the late David Gray, of Buffalo, in a paper on "The last Indian Council of the Genesee," published in Scribner's Magazine, "In the midst of their fields they built their villages, some of which contained more than a hundred houses. Three sister divinities of their religion were the spirit of the maize, the bean and the squash. A fancy superior to that of the average of savage peoples stamped their unwritten legends and mythology. They had even a rude astronomy, and mapped the heavens, giving names to the principal constellations. Among them the art of eloquence was cultivated as assiduously as that of arms. Their parliament was an indigenous growth in the depths of the New York forests." Of the annual councils of the sachems Gov. De Witt Clinton wrote that "in eloquence, in dignity and in all the characteristics of personal policy, they surpassed an assemblage of feudal barons, and were perhaps not far inferior to the great Amphictyonic council of Greece."

History of Alfred, New York
A Centennial Memorial
History of Allegany County, New York
John S. Minard, Esq. Historian
Mrs. Georgia Drew Andrews, Editor.
W. A. Fergusson & Co., Alfred, N. Y. 1896