Along the sandy shores and ancient forests of crystal blue Lake Erie, a proud, brave, and confident people lived long ago, building homes, raising crops, hunting game, rearing children, and surviving through harsh winters and hot summers. None of their tribe remains today to tell their story, but their name lives on in the waters of a Great Lake. The Erie Tribe would have been completely lost to history if not for the archeological evidence and archival records that have been uncovered to prove that they existed. The Erie was a relatively small nation; at its height, their population numbered about ten thousand. Archeologist Frederick Houghton writes that archeological evidence proves that Erie culture coincided in “nearly every aspect” with other Iroquoian tribes of the eastern Great Lakes area, which means that historians, anthropologists, and archeologists can understand a great deal about the Erie by studying their cousins, the Iroquois, with whom they also shared a language.
Despite their own cultural differences, the nations that comprised the Iroquois Confederacy established their political dominance across much of America’s East Coast and Midwest through conquest, and it is that aspect which has perhaps best endured among Americans in terms of the Iroquois’ legacy. European settlers who came into contact with the Mohawks in the Northeast certainly learned to respect their combat skills, to the point that there were literally bounties on the Mohawks’ heads, with scalps fetching money for colonists who succeeded in slaying them and carrying away the “battle prize”.
As it turned out, the Erie would experience some of the Iroquois’ martial abilities the hard way, because in the mid-17th century, a bitter civil war erupted among the various tribes of the Iroquois Nation which would prove disastrous for the Erie, virtually wiping them out of existence.