The Original Inhabitants of Avon

During the last ice age, 15,000 years ago, Asia and North America were connected near the Bering Sea by a 1,000 mile wide grassy plain. Hunters followed herds of large game animals across the land bridge to spread over North America during the next ten centuries. These people were named 'Clovis Point People' by archeologists because their distinctive stone tools were first found in Clovis, New Mexico. Descendants of the Clovis People moved south and east of the Bering Strait eventually reaching Lake Erie.

People first inhabited the area that is now Ohio about 12,000 BC. About 8000 BC, the peoples of the Archaic tradition began to occupy the land, followed by the Mound Builders. The Mound Builders were extinct by the time the first European explorers reached Lake Erie in the 1600s, and in their place were the Eastern Woodlands tribes, known as the Iroquoian-speaking people. The Erie Indians were located along the 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.

The Iroquois consisted of five distinct nations linked by language and culture. By the fifteenth century, however, they had allied in a powerful confederation. This kept internal peace and allowed mutual defense against outsiders. The country of the Five Nations stretched across New York from the Mohawk River to the Niagara River. Ranged from east to west were the Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca. These people became known as the Six Nations during the eighteenth century when the original five accepted the refugee Tuscarora from North Carolina.

The Eries were traditional enemies of the Iroquois, and there had been many wars between them before the Europeans. After the arrival of the Europeans, the Erie needed beaver for 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. The Beaver Wars reached the western Great Lakes during the 1640s.

English traders along the Connecticut River in 1640 had tried to lure the Mohawk away from the Dutch with offers of firearms. To counter this, the Dutch reversed their previous policy and began selling large guns and ammunition to the Mohawk in whatever amounts they wanted. This dramatically escalated the violence in the Beaver Wars in the St. Lawrence Valley and Great Lakes.

The Neutral Nation were an Iroquoian people (the Attiwandaron 'people who speak a slightly different language'). The Neutrals were an agricultural people, growing corn, beans, squash and tobacco, and supplementing their diet with wild game and fish. Their palisade riverside villages were moved as the soil became exhausted. The term Neutral was used by French explorers because of the peoples refusal to become involved in warfare between the Huron Nation to the north and the Iroquois Nation to the east. The Hurons and Iroquois visited and traded with the Neutrals, and at times would wage war in Neutral territory if they were not accompanied by members of the Neutral tribe.

An 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.

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.

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.

A legend of the Lenni Lenape (Delaware), recorded on the "Lenape Stone," may be an account of the movement of the Iroquoian peoples into Ohio and the land that became Avon. It reads as follows: "The Lenni Lenape (according to the traditions handed down to them by their ancestors) resided many hundred years ago in a very distant country, in the western part of the American continent. For some reason, they determined on migrating to the eastward, and accordingly set out together in a body. After a very long journey, and many nights' encampments by the way, they at length arrived at the Mississippi. The tradition goes on to say that at this river the Delawares fell in with the Mengwe (Iroquois, or Five Nations), who had likewise emigrated from a distant country, and had struck upon this river somewhat higher up. Their object was the same with that of the Delawares; they were, proceeding on to the eastward until they should find a country that pleased them.

The spies which the Lenape had sent forward for the purpose of reconnoitring, had long before their arrival discovered that the country cast of the Mississippi was inhabited by a very powerful nation, who had many large towns built on the great rivers flowing through their land. Those people were called Alligewi, and traces of their name, may still remain in the country, the Allegheny river and mountains having been named after them. Many wonderful things are told of this famous people. They are said to have been remarkably tall and stout, and there is a tradition that there were giants among them, people of a much larger size than the tallest of the Lenape. It is related that they had built regular fortifications, possibly the works of the mound-builders.

When the Lenape arrived on the banks of the Mississippi, they sent a message to the Alligewi to request permission to settle themselves in their neighborhood. This was refused them, but they obtained leave to pass through the country and seek a settlement farther to the eastward. This agreement, that the Lenape should cross in peace, might have been symbolized in the rock writings and historical song records of the tribe, by the figure of the pipe on the left of the stone, just above the water, and opposite the fish. "They accordingly began to cross the Mississippi," continues the account, "when the Alligewi, seeing that their numbers were so very great, and in fact they consisted of many thousands, made a furious attack on those who had crossed, threatening them all with destruction if they dared to persist in coming over to their side of the river. Enraged at the treachery of these people, and the great loss of men they had sustained, and besides, not being prepared for a conflict, the Lenape consulted on what was to be done, whether to retreat in the best manner they could, or try their strength, and let the enemy see they were not cowards, but men, and too high-minded to suffer themselves to be driven off before they had made a trial of their strength.

The Iroquois, who had been satisfied with being spectators from a distance, offered to join them on condition that, after conquering the country, they should be entitled to share it with them. Their proposal was accepted, and the resolution was taken by the two nations to conquer or die. Having thus united their forces, the Lenape and Iroquois declared war against the Alligewi, and great battles were fought, in which many warriors fell on both sides."