The Ohian Iroquois have been known as the ‘Mingo’. Mingo comes from ‘mengwe’ in the Lenape language, which means ‘stealthy’ although it can mean ‘sneaky’ – the sneaky people. First used by the Moravian faction of the Lenape in the 18th century as an insult which was taken up as such by Euro-Americans particularly during the American Revolution. In the 20th century scholars have used the term to see these Iroquois as separate from the Haudenosaunee, whereas they were not. The use of the term is resisted by present-day descendants of Ohio Iroquoians.
Origin and History
Prior to contact with Europeans little is known of Iroquoians whose homelands lay in the Ohio catchment. The Erie nation (the Cat, Lynx, or Cougar people) was considered to be bands of western Seneca who lived to the south of Lake Erie from its southern shore to central Ohio and the Allegheny River. According to tradition, all were members of the Haudenosaunee League at its founding and had retreated west after a series of fracases with the eastern Seneca. At the time of the French arrival, the Erie bands lived further west than their terminal sites later in the century. There were the five bands: Arrigahaga (Riquehronnon); Kentaientonga (Gentaguetehronnon); Oniasontke (Honniasontkeronnon); Atrakwaeronon (Akhrakvaetonon); and the Takoulguehronnon.
In the year 1635, they were forced to move east under pressure from the Kickapoo pushing on their western borders. Before 1644-5 the easternmost Erie settlements around Niagara had moved west. In 1654, following some competing factions of refugee Wenro and Huron amongst the Erie, four Onondaga hunters were killed. In 1654 an Onondaga led-army attacked and took the town of Rigué and satellite settlements, pursuing those who fled and taking 600 captives back to Iroquoia. The Iroquois destroyed Gentaienton, the central town of the Kentaientonga, in 1655. Others were dispersed to Sandusky and Michigan, south to the Honniasontkeronon towards the falls of the Ohio or to the Susquehannock.
The Erie-Iroquois War did not end in 1656. Eight hundred ‘Honniasont’ took up residence with the Susquehannock in 1662 to aid them in their war with the western Iroquois and their allies. These were known as to the Dutch and Swedes as the ‘Black Minquas’. When La Salle journeyed down the Ohio River in 1669, the Seneca warned him about the dangers from the ‘Honniasontkeronons’. Gallinee writes that the Seneca informed them that after the distance of one month’s march they would encounter the villages of the Honniasontkeronon (Oniasontke) and the Chiouanon (Algonquin speaking Shawnee) before reaching the Falls of the Ohio (at the later Louisville, Kentucky). The Kentaientonga (Gentaguetehronnon), whose home was depicted on the Franquelin map of 1684 upriver of these, were long gone by then.
The expedition party of Marquette and Joliet down the Ohio River in the summer of 1673 encountered a group of Wendat-speaking Iroquoians below the Shawnee and past the Wabash River. Marquette spoke with them in the language he called Huron, the common language of the Huron, Petun, and Erie. These people were most likely Oniasontke given their location, though some distance farther west than they had previously been recorded (Iroquoian settlements moved every ten to twenty years due to soil exhaustion, lack of firewood or changes in game availability).
These displaced Erie (western Seneca and other relocated Iroquoians) became re-affiliated with the Haudenosaunee League at some point during the later 17th century. ‘Half-King’ is an English epithet for a Haudenosaunee representative of the League Council, living among the amalgamated nations of the Pennsylvania and upper Ohio area. He acted as a mouthpiece and mentor for these people within the League. His badges of office were a ‘feather broom’ and a ‘cane’, symbolic of his roles in war and peace. As a great warrior, it was a ‘Half King’s’ ultimate responsibility to keep the White Peace Carpet free from ‘crawling things’ (invading enemies) and clean of ‘bloodstains’ (internecine conflict).
Multi-national trading towns developed, such as at Logstown and Kittanning, centres of exchange between Iroquois, Lenape, Shawnee and British traders. The growing trade triggered French retaliation. The Ohio Iroquois already had a steady supply of firearms from the French.
In 1744 King George’s War (the North American name for the War of the Austrian Succession raging in Europe) broke out between the British and French. The Treaty of Lancaster was signed with Pennsylvania, Virginia and Maryland, and five Haudenosaunee national delegates (minus the Mohawk). In the signed treaty the Haudenosaunee were deliberately deceived about ceding the Ohio country which was later falsely claimed by the Ohio Company of Virginia.
A proportion of the Mohawk population, surviving famine and smallpox, emigrated either to the Ohio to join existing Iroquoian settlements.. The Ohio Iroquois now outnumbered those in what is now regarded as New York state.
In November 1747 a party of young Ohio Iroquois warriors arrived in Philadelphia to express their concerns about unwelcome French and British interest in the Ohio country. They told Pennsylvania that if they had better weapons, they would fight the French. Scarouady, their leader, an Oneida, asked why the English, having brought them to war, they would not fight. They were given a plausible answer and presents. From this point Pennsylvania, who had previously treated solely with the League council, changed its policy.
In 1748 Céleron de Blainville lead a large party of 3,000 men from Montréal down to the Ohio to reassert what they considered France’s territorial borders.
In 1750 Captain Philippe-Thomas Chabert de Joncaire, a French agent and former Seneca captive, set himself up at Logstown (Chiningué), the Ohio Iroquois capital. In the same year the Virginia Ohio Company obtained a Royal Grant for land at the junction of the Allegany and Monongahela Rivers, which was not the Crown’s to give. Canassatego, an Onondaga ‘half-king‘, accused Conrad Weiser, an interpreter and diplomat for Pennsylvania, of connivance with Pennsylvania and Virginia on the encroachments into League territory along the Ohio. The following year Joncaire demanded that English traders be expelled but was rejected by the Ohio Iroquois and Haudenosaunee delegates.
In 1753 Andrew Montour, an Oneida/Algonquin/French interpreter and negotiator for Pennsylvania and Virginia, brought news to Onondaga that the French were moving from Montréal to the Ohio Valley with a large army to erect forts on top of the lead plates left by Céleron de Blainville. The League kept neutral. Meanwhile the French and their Saint-Laurent and resident allies harried English traders out of the Ohio country.
Tanaghrisson, an Ohio Iroquois councillor resident at Logstown known as the ‘Half-King’ to the British, demanded the French leave. Scarouady asked Virginia and Pennsylvania for aid against the French.
Role during the War
In November 1753, Robert Dinwiddie, lieutenant-governor of Virginia, sent George Washington to travel to the French posts and demand that they vacate them. At Logstown, Washington asked Tanaghrisson to accompany him as a guide and spokesman for the Ohio Iroquois. Three Ohio Iroquois warriors, including Gayasutha, an influential Seneca war chief, also accompanied them. Tanaghrisson agreed to return the symbolic wampum he had received from French. At Fort LeBoeuf, Joncaire's first reaction, on learning of this double cross, was to mutter of Tanaghrisson, "He is more English than the English." But Joncaire masked his anger and insisted that Tanaghrisson join him in a series of toasts. By the time the keg was empty, Tanaghrisson was too drunk to hand back the wampum.
On December 31, 1753, whilst visiting Logstown, Washington took a detour and visited ‘Queen’ Alequippa, an influential and pro-British Ohio Seneca clan mother, whose village was about 5 km from the mouth of the Youghiogheny (near the present-day city of McKeesport, Pennsylvania). She expressed great concern that they had passed her by in going to Fort Le Boeuf.
In February 1754, a band of backwoodsmen under Captain Trent crossed the mountains to build a storehouse and stockade at the forks of the Ohio, where Pittsburgh now stands, a spot that Washington had examined when on his way to Fort Le Boeuf, and which he had reported as the best for the purpose. Tanaghrisson and the Ohio Iroquois assisted Trent. On April 17, Captain Claude-Pierre Pécaudy de Contrecoeur arrived with 500 French troops and 18 cannon. As the Virginians left, Tanaghrisson shouted his defiance to them. On the way back they met Washington and 186 men of the Virginia Provincials on their way to garrison the abandoned fort.
In May, during his expedition in the Ohio Valley, Washington was on the Youghiogheny River, a branch of the Monongahela, exploring it in hopes that it might prove navigable, when a messenger came to him from his old comrade, Tanaghrisson, who was on the way to join him.
Om May 23 Contrecoeur despatched Ensign Joseph Coulon de Villiers, Sieur de Jumonville and 35 soldiers to demand that the Virginians withdraw from ‘King Louis’s territory’.
At sunrise on May 28, Washington's party met with Tanaghrisson's 12 warriors. A council was held where Washington and Tanaghrisson agreed to attack the French encampment. Two Ohio Iroquois warriors led the way. They found the French encampment at dawn. Tanaghrisson and Scarouady led their men in a circle left and right to cut off any escape and directed Washington to ‘go up the hill’. Washington fired the first shot down on the French soldiers, the Virginians' fire was ineffective. Following this, it was the Iroquois who did most of the damage and eight Frenchmen were tomahawked in their panic. Jumonville surrendered. Jumonville was killed by Tanaghrisson, his tomahawk splitting his head open, reportedly saying, ‘Thou are not yet dead, my father’ referring through ritual and diplomatic language to the Onontio, the French father as mediator, alliance maker and gift giver, thereby explicitly denying French authority. Premediated, it was Tanaghrisson who had goaded Washington into the ambush at Jumonville Glen. The repercussions of the act were to be felt through the colonies and across the Atlantic.
Washington then retired to Fort Necessity. On June 3, Tanaghrisson joined Washington, along with the elderly clan mother Alequippa, and some 30 Native American families. Tanaghrisson had set Scaraoudy with a belt of wampum and four French scalps to be forwarded to the Six Nations Iroquois and other nations, informing them of what had happened and ‘to uphold the first blow’. He would say more when the Shawnee arrived in the morning but only 3 families of Shawnee and Lenape arrived. Washington presented Tanaghrisson with a gorget of George II and pretentiously bestowed the name ‘Dinwiddie’ upon him which he said meant ‘the Head of Everything’. Similarly Alequippa’s son, Kanuksusy was presented with a medal and named ‘Fairfax’ and Scarouady his own name. It would take more than names to retain their allegiance. Washington was out of his depth. Many Ohio Indians were sceptical about throwing in with the British. On June 18, about 40 Lenape, Shawnee and Iroquois delegates arrived. They had been told that the Virginians were intent on destroying them, ‘... wherefore we who keep in our Towns, expect any Day to be cut to pieces by you.’ Washington replied that the British were the Indians’ true friends but then he lied: his army was there ‘to maintain your rights, to restore you to possession of your lands and to guard your women and children while the warriors were away fighting the French.’ His small force could hardly add weight to this argument.
On June 18, Washington met with Tanaghrisson, who told him that he had been unable to convince the other councilmen (actually the clan matrons) to assist Washington and said that he would also be unable to help the Virginians and left. He was also affronted that Washington had been dealing with Shingas, a Lenape diplomat.
On July 3, the French attacked and defeated Washington in an engagement at Great Meadows. Following this Tanaghrisson abandoned Logstown, and he, Scarouady and their followers moved east to Aughwick on the Juanita River where there was a trading post. He stated that ‘Washington would never listen to them, but was always driving them to fight by his Directions.’ Tanaghrisson died in October 1754. Alequippa died in December 1754. Scarouady remained loyal to the British.
By 1755, it seems that most of the Ohio Iroquois had changed allegiance.
However, on May 19, eight Ohio Iroquois, including Scarouady, Kanuksusy and Tanaghrisson’s son, Kahuktodon, joined General Braddock’s Army. The alliance was celebrated that evening, the Iroquois warriors taking up Braddock’s hatchet, singing the war song and concluding with a war dance. They remained with the army for the entirety of the campaign.
On July 9, four Ohio Iroquois warriors joined the other 650 or so Native Americans, mostly from ‘northern nations’, who fought alongside the French at the combat of the Monongahela. On July 10, a further 16 Ohio Iroquois arrived after the defeat of Braddock's Army.
In 1759, there was a general famine in the Ohio country due to the disruption of the war.
In 1760, several Ohio Iroquois warriors aided the southern British colonies in their war against the Cherokee. On their return, hungry, they were refused sustenance at forts that the British had taken over.
There was an increasing concern amongst the Ohio Iroquois and the Seneca that, the British occupying former French posts and constructing new ones, they were being encircled by the British, splitting the Ohio off the League. Even so the British were breaking their promise to evacuate the Ohio country. It was considered that the British were planning to invade Iroquoia.
In 1761 Gayasutha, an Ohio Seneca, along with the Genesee Seneca leader Tahaiadoris, attempted to create a unified attack by Native American nations on the British intruders into their sovereign territories. They travelled to Detroit in attempt to enlist other Nations in a plan to strike British forts along the Niagara portage and throughout the Ohio country. Local Native Americans reported the plan to Captain David Campbell who confronted the two Iroquois diplomats. They disavowed the plan and returned home.
The fears of the Ohio Iroquois and other Native Americans manifested at a conference in 1762 at Lancaster, when Pennsylvania sought Seneca permission to build a fort at the west branch of the Susquehanna River the south-east frontier of Seneca territory. This was rebuked by the Seneca, an expression of anger, which had grown deep. The Odowa leader Pontiac would later organised a war of liberation in 1763.
By the mid-18th century men’s hairstyles seem to have become more ‘standardised’ being typically, a shaved head with a round patch of hair left on the crown to which ornamentation could be attached. This could be braided into plaits or worn quite short. James Smith described his adoption by the Kahnawake Mohawk in 1755, and is also likely to apply to their Ohio Iroquois kin generally. He had his hair shorn to a patch 7.5 to 10cm (3 to 4 inches) square on the crown. The remaining hair was cut off with scissors and braided into three scalplocks, two of which were wrapped around with a narrow-beaded garter and the other plaited to the full length and silver broaches ‘stuck’ to it. Later when Smith’s face and body had been painted, a warrior bound one of the youth’s scalp locks erect for about six inches and tied a cockade of red feathers to it. Hair is to do with the spirit of a person passing on into the Sky World following death, helped by the great celestial eagle-spirit; a feather of the eagle often adorned a man’s head. The head depilation practice may have grown out of a desire to honour Hinun, the Great Bald Eagle Man-being [aka the Thunderer - The bald eagle was the true ‘war eagle’ and snake killer; the earthly counterpart of Hinun, the Thunderer]. Any beard hair and eyebrows were plucked out.
Bald eagle (Haliaeetus leucocephalus) feathers were the most favoured of all plumes worn by the Haudenosaunee league and are likely to have been worn at least by the Western Seneca in the Ohio country. Worn on the head it symbolised both the League and a link between the wearer and the Sky People, a prayer for life. Every Haudenosaunee man was entitled to wear an eagle feather.
A circular roach of red dyed deer hair and turkey beard secured with a bone spreader could be worn by passing a scalp braid through the spreader and secured with a wooden pin to the head. Mounted in on the spreader was a socket made of turkey leg bone into which a single eagle feather was fixed so that it could revolve with the wearer’s movement.
A ‘helmet’ called the gustoweh made of either buckskin or cloth covering a frame of wood splints and decorated with feathers was often worn by men at special occasions. Each nation could be identified by the number and positioning:
- the Mohawk: three upright eagle feathers
- the Oneida: two upright feathers and one down
- the Onondaga: one feather pointing upward and another pointing down
- the Cayuga: a single feather at a forty-five-degree angle
- the Seneca: a single feather pointing up
Tattooing of the face and body was practised as an alternative to painting. Tattoos in the form of some animal, such as an eagle, a snake or other figure were ingrained with powdered charcoal. Linear patterns were also used extensively. Robert Rogers wrote in his Concise Account generically, but considered primarily regarding the Iroquois, that, ‘... they have the shapes of these animals curiously pricked and painted on several parts of their bodies...’
Pierre Pouchot, a French engineering officer writing in the late 1750s stated, generically, that men spent up to three or four hours decorating their head and goes on the say: ‘They practice of dressing their faces artistically in red, black and green, in fanciful designs, and which they often change two or three times a day, does not allow us to judge the natural colour except of eyes and teeth, which are very small but very white. The lips are stained with vermillion’. Robert Rogers observed one style: ‘Their heads are painted red down to the eyebrows, and sprinkled over with white down...’ and also that their, ‘... faces painted with divers colours, which are so disposed as to make an awful appearance.’
Ears and Nose
Robert Rogers wrote that: ‘The gristles of their ears are split almost quite round, and then distended with wire or splinters, so as to meet and tie together in the knap of their necks. These also are hung with ornaments, and have generally the figure of some bird or beast drawn upon them. Their noses are likewise bored, and hung with trinkets of beads...’
Necklaces and Neck Pouches
In the French and Indian War period, Pierre Pouchot stated that men, ‘… wear around the neck, a collar pendent like our order of knighthood [probably referring to the gorget worn by army officers at that period]. Washington presented Tanaghrisson with a gorget of George II. At the end is a plate of silver, as large as a saucer, or shell of the same size, or a disc of wampum.’ Robert Rogers wrote that, ‘Their breasts are adorned with a gorget, or medal of brass, copper, or some other metal; and that horrid weapon the scalping-knife hangs by a string which goes round their necks’
Pouchot notes that: ‘The forearm is ornamented with silver broaches, three or four fingers wide, and the arms by a kind of wristlets made of wampum or coloured porcupine quills with fringes of leather above and below’. ‘The Indians are fond of wearing rings upon all their fingers.’
Breechclout and Apron
Pierre Pouchot, writing between 1755 and 1760, generically, recorded men wearing, ‘... a breech-cloth, which is a quarter of an ell [about 45”] of cloth, which they pass under their thighs, crossing before and behind upon a belt around the waist. Sometime the cloth is embroidered. When they travel, to avoid being chafed by the cloth, they put it simply as an apron before them.’ Typically, at this period the embroidery on breechclouts was likely to have been linear designs carried out with white seed beads. In 1776 Joseph Bloomfield wrote of the Haudenosaunee, and likely to be applicable to the Ohio Iroquois as well, that: ‘They in general go naked except a Clout which they wear to cover their Nakedness. Once in a While throwing a Blanket over their Shoulders.’
The Iroquoians wore tight fitting leggings with the seam up the front of the leg. Half leggings came into fashion around the turn of the 18th century. These were tied to the waist belt supporting the breechclout and held below the knee with garters, were made of blue or red duffel cloth. It is likely that skin leggings continued to be worn when hunting or at war, although in wet weather these would take longer to dry and hence uncomfortable. Sometimes skin leggings were worn over cloth ones. Full leggings were likely to have been worn in cold weather. It is likely with intermarriage and the merging of pan Indian villages in the Ohio country that side seam leggings with a double flap on the outside of the leg. These flaps could be decorated with ribbonwork and or linear designs with white seed beads for best wear.
Pierre Pouchot observed that, generically, ‘... they wear garters of beads [probably loomed wampum in geometric patterns of white and dark blue black], or porcupine quills [in red, black and white amongst the Iroquois], bordered four fingers wide, which are tied on the legs.’ Garters were also made of woven woollen fibres typically dyed red with white bead patterns incorporated into the weave.
Characteristically Iroquois moccasins were made of skin smoked with basswood to produce a dark brown colour. The moccasin was made of single skin with a puckered seam up the instep. The cuff of the men’s moccasin was separated at the heel so that the two sides spread apart, whereas the cuff on women’s moccasins was a continuous band. The cuffs of moccasins for best wear could have been decorated with embroidery of moose hair, or woven and embroidered porcupine quill work.
A European shirt, cut in contemporary European fashion, was also popular and could be daubed with grease and paint to waterproof it. These were made of cheaper fabric for the Indian trade Some of the most requested fabrics included cotton, calico and chintz.
Broaches of silver, replacing those of copper or brass, became increasingly abundant through the 18th century in adorning clothing and also came to be used as money. There several designs of broach. The simplest and most numerous was a ring across which a tongue extended like a buckle. This is affixed to cloth by pinching the material up so that the tongue penetrates it twice and when drawn back holds it firmly in place. Smaller ones can often line the edges of breechclouts, etc. whilst those of larger diameter decorated the upper body of shirts. Another very common broach fixed in the same manner is a circular ornate disc perforated with punched out or embossed regular patterns which can have embossed or crenulated edges sometimes known as a round buckle.
Blankets and Coats
Trade blankets, usually of blue or red woollen cloth, and skin robes were worn for warmth. At the time French blankets were considered of better quality than those supplied by the British. In the winter of 1747 Pennsylvania government sent matchcoats, strouds, blankets, powder and lead to keep certain Indian ‘friends’. In August and September 1748 Conrad Weiser handed out strouds, shirts, and thousands of wampum beads to the Ohio Iroquois. For Tanaghrisson and Scarouady he donated strouds, powder, knives and vermillion to be distributed at their discretion.
During the 18th century European dress continued to be sought by the Iroquois. For some principal men certain items remained a symbol of their role amongst their people, particularly when dealing with Europeans who would have recognised the status of the wearer by his dress. Hats and coats (but not breeches) of European origin and of higher quality marked men as diplomatic mediators. An Oneida diplomat visiting the Pennsylvania Council in 1755 noted that, ‘The French are more politick than you. They never employ an Indian on any Business, but they give him fine cloathes [sic], besides other presents...’
Halters Halters or tumplines were carried on raids for captives. These were a woven braid made of twined vegetable fibre some 350cm long with a broad central portion for a neck band of about 70cm and 7cm wide which could be decorated with false embroidery with dyed moose hair in bold geometric patterns. Colours were white, grey, blue, orange and black and could have the edges of the centre portion beaded with white seed beads.
The Ohio Iroquois were likely to have principally obtained their firearms from Euro-American traders based in Pennsylvania and Virginia by the mid-18th century. George Croghan, who had established posts on the upper Ohio, and Christopher Gist working for the Ohio Company on behalf of the Virginian commissioners were distributing guns as gifts from the Crown. These trade guns were short, light flintlock muskets of .66 or smaller calibre, called fusils, fuzee or fuke and were approximately similar to the later ‘Northwest gun’.
The French found it necessary to counter this demand for British fuzees and by the beginning of the 18th century were importing their own versions and the words carabine, mousqueton, and fusil-court start to appear on invoices of that period. The Ohio Iroquois are also likely to have been armed with firearms manufactured in France at the Tulle arsenal. The .62 calibre ‘fusil de chasse’ or hunting musket has a 44-inch octagon-to-round barrel and the lock plate is marked with the name of the arsenal spelt as TVLLE. After 1745 the ‘V’ changed to a ‘U’. Characteristically the stock had a drooped ‘cow’s foot’ butt.
The Ohio Iroquois were recognised as possessing a few Pennsylvania long rifles by 1750.
A powder horn and a shot pouch would have been worn over the shoulder and high up under the arm to minimise them flapping about whilst moving. Shot pouches were often made of woven fibre with white bead patterns woven into the threads; bags of deerskin with sewn wampum panels with small white geometric patterns on a dark blue-black field or of black dyed skin with quillwork and white bead edging with a fringe of metal cones filled with red dyed deer hair (thunderbird and underwater panther designs are absent from Iroquois quillwork, where the Thunderer is envisaged as a man-being form). Straps were of woven fibre or loomed wampum. A knife was carried in a sheaf, often decorated with red, black and white quillwork, hung around the neck and a tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt at the back.
Belts were either of skin wrapped twice around the body and tied at the front or of finger woven wool, being enriched by the addition of white beads, which were carried on a special thread in zig-zag or diamond and hexagonal designs V and W designs predominated in narrow sashes. Beads were also worked into the deep yarn fringes (20 inches to a yard long). Sashes were usually red but shades of blue, sage green, old gold and white were also made. Red sashes sometimes had three-quarters to one-inch-wide borders of dark green or other colours with white beads woven into the border. One sash dated 1741 is of black wool with a zig-zag pattern worked with white beads.
Pierre Pouchot described generically the equipment carried by Native American men. ‘They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the skin of an otter, beaver, cat or bird taken off whole and tanned, into which they put their pipe tobacco and steel. They have also a pocket hanging like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting or war. They have an ox horn with a shoulder strap for carrying powder. Their knife is hung in a sheaf from the neck, and falls upon the breast. They also have a crooked knife or a curved sword, and they make great use of this.’ Warclubs, tomahawks would have been worn in the waist belt. James Bloomfield, writing in 1776, stated that the hatchet was stuck in the ‘girdle behind’ in time of war.
Warren Johnson writing in 1760 observed that: ‘... in Action have on, only a Lap [breechclout], & Indian Shoes, & their Ammunition Slung round them, with Balls in their Mouths which prevents their being thirsty.’
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Larry Burrows for the major update to this article