[Note: This is a single part of what will be, by my classification, about 240 compact tribal histories (contact to 1900). It is limited to the lower 48 states of the U.S. but also includes those First Nations from Canada and Mexico that had important roles (Huron, Micmac, Assiniboine, etc.).

This history's content and style are representative. The normal process at this point is to circulate an almost finished product among a peer group for comment and criticism.

Using the Internet, this can be more inclusive. Feel free to comment or suggest corrections via e-mail. Working together we can end some of the historical misinformation about Native Americans. You will find the ego at this end to be of standard size. Thanks for stopping by. I look forward to your comments...Lee Sultzman]

Erie Location

Southern shore of Lake Erie beginning near Buffalo, New York and then west to the vicinity of Sandusky, Ohio. Their homeland may also have extended far inland to include large parts of the upper Ohio River Valley and its branches in northern Ohio, western Pennsylvania and West Virginia.


Unknown, unless wild guesses are acceptable. The French had only one meeting with the Erie but never learned how many villages there were or the extent of their territory. Estimates have varied

from 4,000 to 15,000, but the ability of the Erie to defy the Iroquois (without benefit of European firearms) seems to favor the higher figures - probably at least 10,000. There appears to have been a sudden surge in their population prior to 1653. The wide range in their population estimates could be explained by the large number of Huron and Neutral refugees who joined the Erie in 1651.


Erie is a short form of the Iroquian word "Erielhonan" meaning literally "long tail"" and referring to the panther (cougar or mountain lion). Hence their French name was Nation du Chat (cat nation). Their other Iroquoian names - Awenrehronon and Rhilerrhonon (Rhierrhonon) - carry the same meaning, although the Huron muddied the situation by using Yenresh (panther people) for both the Erie and Neutrals. Other names which seem to have been used for the Erie were: Atirhagenret, Chat (French), Gaquagaono, Kahqua (Kahkwa) (Seneca), Rhagenratka, and Black Mingua (Dutch).


Iroquian. Reportedly similar to one of the Huron dialects.


The Erie are believed to have had many villages and several divisions, but only three names have been preserved:

Kentaientonga (Gentaguehronon, Gentaienton, Gentaguetehronnon), Honniasont (Black Minqua, Honniasontkeronon, Oniassontke), and Rigué (Arrigahaga, Rigueronnon, Rique, Riquehronnon).
One clue as to the number of Erie villages came years later, when the Iroquois told the French they had destroyed 19 Kentaientonga villages in the Ohio by 1650.


With French contact limited to one brief meeting, very little is known for certain about the Erie except they were important, and they were there. The Dutch and Swedes also heard about them through their trade with the Susquehannock, but never actually met the Erie. All information about their social and political organization has come from early Jesuit accounts of what they had been told by the Huron. Although questionable because of the lack of first-hand observation, this information seems reasonable enough. The Erie had a large population, several divisions and lived in permanent, stockaded towns. Like other Iroquian peoples in the area, they were an agricultural people. They were traditional enemies of the Iroquois, and there had been many wars between them before the Europeans. The Iroquois, who always mentioned the Erie were great warriors, have verified the long-term hostility, and also add that the Erie frequently used poisoned arrows in war.


In 1615 Étienne Brulé met a group of Erie near Niagara Falls. So far as is known, this was their only encounter with Europeans. At the time the Erie were members of a three-way alliance(Neutrals and Wenro) against the Iroquois. Although it is is not known for certain, it is quite possible some of the Erie were allied with the Susquehannock and supported their wars with Iroquois. In any event, the Erie often traded with the Susquehannock and received European goods from them at an early date. It also appears that the Susquehannock were very careful to insure the Erie did not get any firearms and only a limited supply of metal weapons. Huron and Neutral traders apparently took similar precautions.

The Erie needed beaver for this trade and probably encroached on other tribal territories to get it. The result was a war with an unknown Algonquin enemy in 1635 that forced the Erie to abandon some of their western villages. In 1639 the Erie and Neutrals withdrew their protection from the Wenro leaving them to fend for themselves. The Iroquois attacked, and the Wenro were quickly defeated. Most fled to the Huron and Neutrals, although one Wenro group remained east of the Niagara River and resisted until 1643. The alliance between the Erie and Neutrals continued until 1648, when it ended after the Erie failed to support the Neutrals during a short war with the Iroquois. The failure of this alliance occurred just as the war between the Huron Confederacy and Iroquois League was reaching its final stage, and its timing could hardly have been worse. Huronia was overrun in the winter of 1648-49; the Tionontati met the same fate later that year; and in 1650 the Iroquois turned on the Neutrals. Defeated by 1651, large numbers of Neutral and Huron (several thousand) escaped and fled to the Erie. The Erie accepted these refugees but did not treat them well. Apparently, there were still bad feelings from the break-up of the past alliance. They were allowed to stay in the Erie villages but only in a condition of subjugation.

Meanwhile, the Iroquois League demanded the Erie surrender the refugees, but with hundreds of new warriors, the Erie refused. The dispute simmered for two years of strained diplomacy. The western Iroquois (Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga) continued to view the refugees as a threat and were not willing to let the matter drop. The Erie were just as determined not to be intimidated by Iroquois threats. Their position, however, was becoming precarious, since the Mohawk and Oneida in 1651 had begun a long war against the Susquehannock (Pennsylvania) isolating the Erie from their only possible ally. The violence grew, and an Erie raid into the Seneca homeland killed the Seneca sachem Annencraos in 1653. In an attempt to avoid open warfare, both sides agreed to a peace conference. However, in the course of a heated argument, one of the Erie warriors killed an Onondaga. The enraged Iroquois killed all 30 of the Erie representatives, and after this peace was impossible. Although they had the advantage of firearms, the Iroquois considered the Erie as dangerous opponents, so they took the precaution of first making peace with the French before beginning the war. With their native allies and trading partners either dead or scattered by the Iroquois, the French did not need much encouragement to sign.

Assured the French would not intervene, the western Iroquois attacked and destroyed two Erie fortified villages in 1654. However, the Erie inflicted heavy losses on the Iroquois during these battles. It took the Seneca, Cayuga, and Onondaga until 1656 before the Erie were defeated. Many survivors were incorporated into the Seneca to replace their losses in the war, and the Erie ceased to exist as a separate tribe. The Erie, however, did not entirely disappear at this time. French map-makers during the next 50 years continued to place the Nation du Chat on their maps as occupying a large area south and west of the Iroquois. Unfortunately, no European explored the Ohio Valley until the 1670s, and they did not find any Erie (or anyone else for that matter). Some of the Erie, Neutrals, Tionontati, and Huron escaped (the Wyandot are the best example). Most of these were small groups, but some may have been fairly large. It took the Iroquois many years to track these people down, and the last group of Erie (southern Pennsylvania) did not surrender to the Iroquois until 1680. Where they had been hiding during the intervening 24 years is a mystery.

In 1656 an unknown tribe fleeing the Iroquois entered the Virginia Piedmont and settled near the falls of the James River (Richmond). They built a large, fortified village and terrorized the local Powhatan tribes who called them the Ricahecrian. A combined English and Powhatan army went out to expel these intruders but was soundly defeated. However, shortly after this battle the Ricahecrian abandoned their village and disappeared. Ricahecrian is a Virginia Algonquin word that seems to mean "from beyond the mountains." The Powhatan obviously believed that these new enemies had come from west of the Appalachians. They may have been a Siouan tribe or possibly Cherokee, but both of these peoples were familiar to the Powhatan. The Shawnee are another possibility, but given a date which coincides with the end of the Erie-Iroquois war, it is very possible they were Erie. Where did the Ricahecrian go afterwards? No answers...just possibilities. They may have moved south and settled among the Iroquian-speaking Meherrin and Tuscarora. Perhaps they continued to South Carolina where, during the 1670s, they may have been the Westo, another mystery tribe. Little is known about the Westo except they lived in a large, fortified village and were alien to the Carolina tidewater. Greatly feared by the resident Siouan tribes, the English were told the Westo were cannibals. The colonists eventually armed the Shawnee (another new arrival) who destroyed them in 1680.

Of course, they could just as easily gone north, or the Ricahecrian may not have been Erie in the first place. Other than the final Erie surrender in 1680, only one other identifiable mention occurred after 1656. In 1662 the Susquehannock told the Dutch they expected 800 Honniasont warriors to join them in their war with the Iroquois. Honniasont is a Iroquian word meaning "wearing something around the neck" and refers to the Black Mingua habit of wearing a black badge on their chests. The Honniasont (Black Mingua) are believed to have been a division of the Erie that lived around the upper Ohio River in western Pennsylvania. 800 warriors would require a population in excess of 3,000 and may have been an exaggeration (Susquehannock or Dutch). It does, however, indicate that there was a large group still free in 1662, but they were gone by 1679. Many of the descendents of the Erie that were adopted by the Seneca began leaving the Iroquois homeland during the 1720s and returned to Ohio. Known as the Mingo (Ohio Iroquois), they were removed to the Indian Territory during the 1840s. It is very likely that many of the Seneca in Oklahoma today have Erie ancestors.

Comments concerning this "history" would be appreciated...please direct them to Lee Sultzman..


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