Wyandot People (Détroit)
Origin and History
The Iroquoian-speaking Wendat (Huron) – whose territory lay between Georgian Bay and Nottawasaga Bay, off the eastern part of Lake Huron – were dispersed following attacks by the Iroquois in 1649. Many Wendat were taken captive and, it is estimated, they lost 630-880 warriors making it difficult for them to fend off further attacks. Nor were they able to plant and harvest crops for the coming year. The Wendat burned their villages to prevent their stores from being taken. Some Wendat, including representatives of all four Wendat nations (Bear, Rock, Cord and Deer), initially fled to the Petun (Tobacco Huron, Khionontateronon or Tionnontaté), 56km to 64km southwest of their homelands. The Petun themselves had previously absorbed Wenro refugees from Iroquois attacks.
Due to attacks by the Iroquois on them, the combined Petun, and displaced Wenro and Wendat relocated after a brief stop at Sault, south to Mackinac Island (Michilimackinac) in 1651, where the Wendat had long established relationships with the Algonquin-speaking Anishinaabe nations (including the Ojibwe, Odowa, Mississauga, Nipissing, Algonquin and Potawatomi). These 500 or so Petun, Wendat and Wenro were to become known as the Wyandot in the 1740s. The French continued to name them as Huron. Here the term Wyandot is used for the Petun/Wendat people who dispersed westwards after 1650.
The Iroquois followed the Wyandot and by 1653 the latter were forced to move and, accompanied by their Odowa allies, settled on an island at entrance to Green Bay and retreated to a more secure location at the Anishinaabe town of Teaontorai for the winter. Following the winter, the Wyandot and Odowa continued west to the banks of the Black River, where they were welcomed by the Potawatomi who allowed the Wyandot to settle amongst their 60 villages.
In 1655 a Wyandot-Odowa contingent from the Green Bay area arrived in Montréal and Trois-Rivières in canoes laden with furs, which they exchanged for French products.
By 1661 the Wyandot had moved again. This time to the south west end of Lake Superior and the village of Chequamegon near the Jesuit mission of Saint-Esprit. Here they established friendly relations with the Dakota (Sioux) 240km to the west.
In the winter of 1671 several murders took place involving the Wyandot, |Odowa and Dakota. Fearing retaliation by the Dakota and the security of the Wyandot-Odowa community at Chequamegon and having received word of a peace settlement with the Iroquois, the Wyandot decided to abandon the shores of Lake Superior in the spring and returned to Michilimackinac, which may have been their intention anyway, arriving on March 16. The French had recently established the mission of Saint-Ignace nearby. The Odowa returned to Ekaeontoton on Lake Huron. The Jesuits counted 380 Wyandot and 60 Odowa. In less than 10 years there were 500 Wyandot and 1,500 Odowa present. The Wyandot village consisted of traditional longhouses and fields, plus a chapel and within a year was fortified.
In 1683 the French established a fort, Fort de Baude, which in the early 1690s hosted approximately 700 French soldiers and traders. By 1700 about one third of the Wyandot population had been baptised. However, many were superficially Christian, probably seeing it as a cult within their own traditional beliefs. Intermarriage between French soldiers and traders and Wyandot women was prevalent.
In 1686 the Wyandot traded their furs for English goods with Johannes Rooseboom and Major Patrick McGregory, who had been sent by Thomas Dugan, Governor of New York with Iroquois support. This led to the French invading Seneca territory the following year. This did not deter the Iroquois attempting to gain control of the French trade. In 1701 Wyandot diplomats played a high-profile part in the Great Peace of Montréal between the French and their allies and the Iroquois.
In 1701 Antoine Laumet de Lamothe Cadillac founded a settlement at Détroit realising it was the key to the Upper Great Lakes trade, shutting the English out of the north-west. The Wyandot began to move south to near Fort Pontchartrain (present-day Détroit), a short distance from a Potawatomi village and a short distance from the Odowa village on the opposite side of the Détroit River. The last Wyandot left Michilimackinac in 1704. The Jesuits returned to Québec.
During Queen Anne’s War (1702-1713), between 1706 and 1712 there was open hostilities between the Wyandot and the Odowa where the former threw off domination by the latter. Peace was restored but mistrust remained. In 1712 the warriors from the British allied Fox and Mascouten nations besieged the French in Fort Pontchartrain (Détroit). The siege was lifted by the Wyandot, Potawatomi, Odowa and other French allies, who then pursued the Fox and Mascouten until they surrendered.
In 1728 the Jesuits had established a mission among the Wyandot.
In 1730 the Wyandot made peace with the Catawba without consulting their Anishinaabe and French allies resulting in them ambushing an Anishinaabe war party on its way to raid the Catawba. French attempts to remove the Wyandot to Montréal failed due to lack of consensus among the Wyandot. In the same year, various troubles led to the abandonment of the Wyandot village on the north bank of the Détroit River and it was relocated on the south side. In 1742 the Jesuits relocated their mission to Bois Blanc Island at the mouth of the Détroit River (present-day Amherstburg, Ontario) where many Wyandots lived.
After settling at Détroit, the Wyandot began to hunt south of Lake Erie in the area that included the Sandusky River and the lower Maumee. Following the division caused by a rift in Wyandot leadership and a quarrel with the Odowa in 1738, Nicolas Orontondi, a Wyandot leader, and his band settled at Sandusky. There, they came under the influence of British traders and of an established nationally mixed population, Iroquois, settled on the Cuyahoga River (near present-day Cleveland, Ohio). In 1743 Orontondi went to Albany, taking a wampum belt of the treaty they had with the Iroquois and requesting trading privileges, which was welcomed.
In 1744 King George’s War broke out which accelerated the desire to trade with the British. Due to the British naval blockade French trade goods were in short supply. In 1745 British traders built a block house at Sandusky. In the same year Orontondi, with a considerable number of Wyandot from both villages, set up a separate Wyandot village near the banks of the Sandusky River. In April 1746 the Wyandot were given an exaggerated report of a victory of the French and their allies at Saratoga in November of the previous year. The Iroquois ended their neutrality and decided to fight the French.
Orontondi tried to rally various nations to drive the French out of the Upper Great Lakes area with the attack planned for August 1747. Orontondi drew sympathy from the Odowa, Potawatomi and Ojibwa and relationships with the French became increasingly strained and disrupted. The British traders continued to court Orontondi at Sandusky. The Wyandot were accused of killing five French traders on their way back from Détroit. A party of Odowa killed three Frenchmen near the Saginaw River. Orontondi incited the Miami to attack French trading posts and burn the Jesuit mission on Bois Blanc Island. Almost all Native American nations of the Ohio and Great Lakes were ready to strike the French.
To start a general attack Orontondi conducted a mission to capture Détroit. However, he lost the crucial element of surprise after the killing of the traders and a Wyandot woman informed a lay brother of Orontondi’s plans. He arrived at Bois Blanc on May 20, 1747 claiming he came in peace. He found that 14 Canadian Indians including 4 Lorette Wendat allied to the French had arrived in March. He had established close bonds with these people. With these was the Jesuit Richardie who applied ecclesiastical ‘blackmail’ on the Wyandot, many of who were ‘Catholic’. Rather than split his people Orontondi withdrew. On September 22, 150 French soldiers arrived at Détroit.
In the early spring of 1748 Orontondi destroyed the Sandusky village and block house and left with 119 warriors for the White River. About 70 warriors and their families settled Conchaké (present-day Coshocton, Ohio) while the remainder went farther east to build a new town at Kuskusky (near New Castle, Pa.).
In 1748 the Wyandot village opposite Bois Blanc Island was abandoned and new village built near the Jesuit mission. In the years that followed increasing numbers of French settled to La Pointe-de-Montréal on the south side of the Détroit River and the numbers of Wyandot living near the mission dwindled, some moving to settle along La Rivière aux Canards.
To check British activity, such as that among the Wyandot, in 1749 Captain Pierre Joseph Céleron de Blainville led a French force through the Upper Ohio intending to impress the Native Americans and burying lead plates blatantly claiming the region for the French, ignoring indigenous sovereignty. Orontondi died on May 20, 1750.
Role during the War
In 1754 Louis Coulon de Villers's expedition proceeded down the Allegheny River reaching for Fort Duquesne at the forks of the Ohio on June 26. Subsequently the French and allied Native Americans defeated Washington’s Virginians at Fort Necessity.
In late 1754 the Shawnee leaders presented a tomahawk and war belt to the Wyandot, with a declaration of ‘eternal war on the British’ (Several Shawnee warriors had been seized in South Carolina). They also presented British scalps to the Wyandot. The Wyandot Sastaretsi (leader) replied: ‘We are in mourning because of the misfortune which has befallen you, little brothers. As you consider us your elders, we are ready to help you in your affliction’ and ritually consoled them with gifts of wampum. The Sastaretsi then received, ‘... with joy, the captive, the scalp, the belt and the tomahawk you gave me,’ but he cautioned, ‘... the tomahawk will remain lowered until Father Onontio (the Governor of Canada) has told you and us where it shall fall.’
However, there were two factions amongst the Wyandot, pro-French and pro-British whose divisions deepened in towns. Messages between warriors went ‘underground’ to avoid being blocked by leaders. In March 1755 Wyandot warriors started slipping away to join the French at Fort Duquesne the Forks of the Ohio. On July 9, 1755 these Wyandot warriors were part of the Native American force that defeated General Braddock’s army at the Ambush on the Monongahela . The warriors returned home with, amongst other trophies of war, the first horses to come into Wyandot possession.
From 1756 it is likely that some Wyandot war parties raided settlements on the borders of Pennsylvania. (The son of Indian agent Christopher Gist (1706–1759), Thomas was captured in 1758 by a Wyandot war party near Fort Duquesne. taken with other prisoners to their town opposite Fort Pontchartrain (Detroit), Gist was adopted by a Wyandot family and well-treated but escaped after a year) .
On July 1, 1757 at a council at Niagara a Canadian Iroquois delegation told an assembled group of Wyandot, Odowa, Miami and Wea that they had taken up the hatchet for the French and would not put it down again.
In 1758 a Sastaretsi opposed a French proposal presented by wampum belt to attack the Iroquois Confederacy (Haudenosaunee). He said: ‘How can I who am the Flesh and Blood of the Six Nations and in whose Towns Numbers of our Friends & Children are living and settled, declare war against them. Where are there any of the Nations now present, that are not allied to the Six Nations also. To take up the hatchet against them, would in my Opinion be wrong. Therefore, I declare before you all, that I will not comply with what is proposed by this Belt.’
In July 1759 the Wyandot leaders signed a treaty with the British at Fort Pitt. They had come, ‘... as agreed upon Council held over the Lakes by the Beaver King [Tamaqua of the Lenape] with their Nations.’ Within months Wyandot war captains came to Fort Pitt to bury the war hatchet under a tree of peace.
In 1760 there was an outbreak of dysentery amongst the Wyandot around Détroit. The British occupied Fort Pontchartrain (Détroit) on November 29, 1760. The Wyandot and other Ohio nations feared that the occupation of the forts would lead to the British attacking them.
In 1761 at Détroit an Ohio Iroquois led plan was hatched at a meeting with Wyandot and Anishinaabe nations to strike British forts along the Niagara portage and throughout the Ohio country. However, in September Sir William Johnson arrived in Détroit to ratify the peace between the British and the western nations. Local Native Americans, the ‘Odowa League’ (Wyandot, Odowa, Potawatomi, Ojibwa) of whom the Wyandot were recognised as the titular head, reported the plan to Captain David Campbell and it was diffused.
In September Sir Jeffrey Amherst was appointed Governor General of British North America and authorised to carry out Indian Policy. which included reducing the costs of trade goods and the ceasing of giving presents, a cultural act of goodwill. There was already lack of trade goods and this policy angered the Native Americans. He also withheld the sale of gunpowder and lead, where families depended on hunting and pelts for trading, and banned the sale of alcohol.
By May 1762, Croghan was reporting great distress: every British post registered complaints from Native American of the shortages of powder and other supplies. There was also crop failures, epidemics and famine. The Ohio and Lakes nations asked for British assistance which did not come. The British were once again seen as merciless enemies. In the following year the Wyandot participated in Pontiac’s war of liberation.
At the time of writing there is no specific description of Wyandot dress known to the author. However, they are likely to have followed the general fashion for Native Americans in the region.
The French soldier J. C. B. observed Wyandot delegates amongst many other nations representatives at a council at Michilimackinac in 1753. He described: ‘Generally speaking, [they] do not keep any hair on their bodies.... keep it only on the back of the head. There it is cut short, leaving one of two long strands, dyed black [?], which they braid and let hang to their shoulders. There is none on the rest of the body, for they are careful to pluck it. Some even pull out eyelashes and eyebrows, as well as any down the body.’
It is likely that feathers and other items were worn in the hair according to the man’s spiritual experiences.
Gustoweh decorated with bunches of split wild turkey, hawk and other feathers and ribbons were worn by Wendat councillors. Speck (1911) stated in his paper on the Wendat of Lorette that: ‘The characteristic chief's head dress is a large bunch of hawk feathers attached to the crown of a sort of cloth skull cap with a decorated headband and a few ribbons hanging behind.’ This tradition may have also been carried on by Wyandot councillors.
A circular roach of red dyed deer hair and black turkey beard secured with a bone spreader may have been worn. It is fixed to the head 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.
Tattoo and Paint
Tattooing of the face and body was practiced 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. The French soldier J.C. B. stated that: ‘Many... are accustomed to tattoo the whole body.’ He goes on to state: ‘ He dips the points [of the needles] in the colour desired, which is prepared from alder charcoal or gunpowder; from red earth or vermillion; or blue, green and the like; all bright colours.’ Peter Kalm, a Swedish speaking Finnish botanist, wrote in 1750/1751 that many Wendat (and hence probably Wyandot) men, ‘... have figures on the face and on the whole body, which are stained into the skin, so as to be indelible... These figures are commonly black; some have a snake painted on each cheek, some have several crosses, sone an arrow, others the sun, or anything eels their imagination leads to. They have such figures likewise on the breast, thighs and other parts of the body; but some have no figures at all.’
J. C. B. observed that: ‘Others are satisfied with painting the face and body in different colours, first rubbing themselves with bear grease, and then daubing on black, red, blue and green’ and ‘They painted themselves red and black, then sang the war song’ and ‘They do this by dipping their fingers in the colour with which they want to paint their faces in every direction, forming stripes across and down the face.’
Reverend Elliot writing in 1836 described the face paint of member of the Snake Clan of the Wyandot. ‘The most striking kind of painting was that of the face, with the appearance of rattlesnakes. By a reddish kind of paint, the snakes their scales, heads, tails, and hissing tongues, were drawn always to life, in bunches on their faces, writhing and folding in each other, and emitting their poisonous venom, so as to present the beholder at first sight a most shocking spectacle.’ Divine, Jr. (2019) states: ‘Each Wyandot clan possessed certain markings that easily identified each warrior’s clan. Each warrior likely had his own style of painting that would have brought him special protection, power, and courage. Many of the warriors’ faces were often painted red... The painting of the body with red ochre was an indication of life, and the painting of body black with charcoal was an indication of death.’
Ears and Nose
J. C. B. stated that: ‘Most of the Indians split the ends of the ears from top to bottom, without cutting the edge which holds them together. They bend a long flat lead strip through and around the length of the slit. The weight of the lead naturally stretches the flesh. When healed, the remove the lead and substitute brass wire twisted like a corkscrew, and bent into a half circle as large as the opening. The amount sometimes to five or six inches. When the man walks, this flaps and looks like a pump going up and down. Often the weight of this pulls the upper part of the ear loose, and when this happens, they let it dangle... But whether left hanging or not, the savages tie the two ears together behind the head when they go to war or go hunting, so they will not be hinder in running. It is only when they dress up that they let their ears hang. Then they put feathers and pieces of fur dyed various colours into the wire. This makes a plume on each side of the head.’
Ornaments, Necklaces and Neck Pouches
Broaches of silver, replacing those of copper or brass, became increasingly abundant through the 18th century in adorning clothing and available at Détroit. There were 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.
Necklaces of wampum, imitation wampum or glass beads were likely to have been worn. Pendants could have consisted of large shells or silverwork such as French coins with the king’s head, cross of Lorraine or a crucifix. 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].
A tobacco pouch could also have been worn around the neck and in which was kept a man’s personal pipe. The tobacco pouch made of the skins of animals with the hairy side turned outwards.
‘The Indians are fond of wearing rings upon all their fingers.’
Breechclout and Apron
J.C.B. recorded that ‘The loincloth is made of deerskin or cloth obtained from Europeans. It is a quarter or third cloth that the men wind between their legs. The piece of cloth is held in place around the hips with a cord. The two ends of the loincloth are folded over in front and in the back, with the end in front longer than the one in the back.’
Pierre Pouchot, writing between 1755 and 1760, generically, recorded men wearing, ‘... a breech-cloth, which is a quarter of an ell 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.’
The Wyandot traditionally probably wore front seam skin leggings fitted tight to the leg and this style both in skin and cloth may have persisted. J.C.B also stated that leggings of ‘deer or elk skin’ were worn but were not trimmed. However, with intermarriage with Anishinaabe women side and association with these people generally side seam leggings may have come into fashion. These were fitted tightly to the leg with double flaps or wings hanging feely down the outside. Some had a single flap at the back with the front stitched on the inside forming the outer seam of the legging. Each flap was decorated with ribbon, edge beading, moose hair embroidery, broaches and braid. Obviously, these were for best wear and that on the trail plain half or full leggings of blue or red cloth, or buckskin would be worn. J.C.B wrote that they were made, ‘... of two half ells of cloth (a French ell is 54”), or one ell of milton cut in two parts, one for each leg, and sewed down the leg as wide as the calf, so that the leg can enter. Outside the seam a piece four or five inches wide is left which flaps freely along the leg; or the lower end may be tucked into the shoe and fastened at the top by a garter above the calf. When it is wished to make this kind of stocking ornamental it is trimmed with ribbon sewed together or in points on the edge of the flapping outside strip. To ornament this the savages often add porcupine quills fashioned in various colours, as well as animal fur dyed red. They also fasten little bells sold to them by Europeans.’
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, blue, yellow and white], 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. J.C. B. noted that garters could also be timed with little bells, ‘... or with small pieces of copper three or four lignes in length, made like the ends of shoelaces but widened to a cornet shape [cones]. They are attached so closely that they touch and make a sound that can be heard from afar when the man or woman is wearing them in motion.’
Moccasins were made of smoked moose or buckskin with a puckered centre seam along the instep. They had cuffs split at the back (women’s moccasins were made with a single cuff around the ankle). A two-piece moccasin style with a separate vamp, probably adopted from the Anishinaabe, was also worn. They are fastened under the cuff and tied at the instep with a thong. During the winter moccasins are made larger so that they could be lined with rabbit skin, moose hair and or old blanket and the cuffs wrapped up around the ankles. Snow shoes were worn during the winter.
J.C.B described moccasins being, ‘... gathered at the toe and are sewn above and behind with a raised flap on either side. This is turned down over the cord below the ankle which ties on the shoes. Often these folded edges, as well as the front and back of the shoes, are decorated with ribbon or dyed porcupine quills of various colours, with red predominating. Sometimes, they add some glass beads and tiny copper bells, which are either round or long and trumpet shaped.’
A European shirt, cut in contemporary European fashion, was also popular and could be daubed with grease and paint to waterproof it over the shoulders. At Détroit clothing (probably including cloth too) formed 75.58% of all trader’s expenditure between 1715 and 1760. Shirts were usually of linen or muslin usually in white or plain colours. Some of the most requested fabrics included cotton, chintz and calico in bright prints. Shirts could also have front and cuff ruffles.
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’.
During the 18th century European dress continued to be sought by some principal men as 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. For the Wyandot these were likely to have been obtained from the French at Détroit. These are likely to have been in a military style in blue, red or yellow unlined woollen fabric, about 40” long and laced with fine brass wire.
Pierre Pouchot described generically the equipment carried by Native American men. ‘The men wear a belt about six inches wide, made of wool of different colour, which the Indian women make very neatly, of flaming designs. They hung to this belt their mirrors and their tobacco pouch, which is the sin 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.’
By the beginning of the 18th century the standard trade musket that armed the Wyandot was 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. From the 1740’s the Sandusky Wyandot also obtained their firearms from Euro-American traders based in Pennsylvania. 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’.
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 likely to have been absent from Wyandot quillwork, where the Thunderer is envisaged as a man-being form, although intermarriage with Anishinaabe women may have introduced such designs). Straps were of woven fibre or loomed imitation or real wampum. A knife was carried in a sheaf, often decorated with geometric quillwork, hung around the neck.
A tomahawk or warclub was carried stuffed through a belt or sash at the back or on the hip. Woven woollen sashes were wrapped twice around the waist with the fringe hanging down before. Pouchot describes, ‘The men wear a belt about six inches wide, made of wool of different colours, which the Indian women make very neatly, with flaming designs. 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 like a wallet, for carrying their balls and lead for hunting and war. They carry their mirror and tomahawk upon their hips.’
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Larry Burrows for the initial version of this article