The End of the Neutral Nation and the Development of the Wyandot

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The Neutrals and the French

The first recorded contact between a European and the Neutrals was the visit by the Franciscan priest Joseph de la Roche Daillon in 1626. He spent three months amongst them, hoping to convert them to Christianity. While there he was adopted by the chief of the nation, Tsohahissen. However, this amity did not last. The Hurons were afraid that Daillon would attempt to bring the Neutrals into the profitable fur trade, and so spread rumors that he was a witch who would spread disease amongst the Neutrals. He had to flee back to the Huron nation to avoid being killed by the Neutrals.

In 1640, after the establishment of Sainte Marie among the Hurons, the Jesuit fathers Jean de Brebeuf and Pierre-Joseph-Marie Chaumonot traveled to the Neutral nation in another attempt to convert them. This mission failed abysmally. Once again, the Huron encouraged the Neutrals to think that the Jesuits were sorcerers, to protect the Huron relationship with the French, and thus their profits from the fur trade. They tried for four months to carry out their mission, but eventually, they retreated back to Sainte Marie.

Wars with the Iroquois

At the same time, the ongoing conflict between the Huron and the Iroquois flared up into a major war. The Iroquois had the advantage of the firearms supplied to them by the Dutch, and the stresses to the populations of both the Iroquois and the Huron by the epidemics of the past two decades had ended the stability of the relations between the two nations. Both sides were desperately short of people because of the numbers who had died in the epidemics, and if either nation was to survive they would have to increase their numbers by adopting from other groups. The Neutrals were literally caught in the middle, and their flints were no longer as valuable a bargaining chip as they had been in the pre-musket days

During the 1640’s, the Neutrals continued to wage war against their traditional enemies, the Mascouten of southern Michigan. As well, there were skirmishes with the Seneca of the Iroquois Confederacy along the Niagara border of the nation. They were accused of taking the side of the Hurons against the Iroquois, and in 1647 the Seneca attacked the Neutral towns to the east of the Niagara River, forcing a retreat to the western side.

In 1648/9, the Iroquois invaded Huronia, taking many prisoners back to their own nation, and killing many as well. It was at this time that the Jesuits at Sainte Marie were tortured and killed. When many Hurons fled to the Neutral Nation in 1649, the Neutrals handed some over to the Iroquois, but let the Tahontaenrat Huron remain within their territory. This angered the Iroquois, and in 1650 they attacked some towns, killing the elderly and children, and taking young women back to be adopted into the Onondaga and Seneca nations, to try to rebuild their populations.

Not yet defeated, the Neutrals attacked a Seneca town, killing 200 warriors, and the Iroquois retaliated with a final and fatal attack into the heart of the Neutral nation. 1500 warriors swept across the Niagara River and left no one behind when they left. The Neutrals were either killed, captured to be adopted, or fled to the northwest before the Iroquois could reach them. This was the end of the Neutral nation.

The Years of Wandering

The remaining Neutrals fled with the Huron to Michilimackinac, between Lakes Huron and Michigan. However, the Iroquois continued to pursue them, so in 1651 they moved to the Green Bay/Door Peninsula area of Wisconsin, where their Wyandot kin lived. Other Wyandots headed south of Lake Erie, where they fell under the control of the Erie Nation.

Iroquois war parties still were seeking out the remnants of the Huron nation, so in 1658 the group that were now known as the Wendat, or Wyandot, moved from Green Bay to the Mississippi River at Lake Pepin. However, because they started to kill too many of the beaver in the area, the Dakota threatened them with war unless they left. In 1660 they moved to Chequamegon on the south shore of Lake Superior, where in the winter of 1661/62 500 people starved to death when an early frost destroyed the corn crop. Despite this considerable loss, in 1662 the Wyandot, with the Ottawa, Ojibwe and Nipissing, decisively defeated an Iroquois war party at Iroquois Point west of Sault Ste Marie, ending attacks by the Iroquois in that region.

In 1671 the Wyandots moved again, this time back to Michilimackinac. They were being threatened from the west by the Sioux, and no longer were in danger from the Iroquois to the south-east, so the Straits of Mackinac were a safe refuge for them at that time.

The Ohio Country

As soon as 1672 they started to move south into lower Michigan. By the early 1700’s they were established in the Detroit area, and were moving even further south into the Ohio country south of Lake Erie. Iroquois who were the descendants of those Hurons and Neutrals captured and adopted by the Iroquois around 1650 started to move westward and joined with the Wyandots. They became the allies of the Iroquois Confederacy and held considerable power in the Ohio Valley. In 1761 they led the formation of the Northwest Confederacy, and were made the Keepers of the Council Fire.

In both the American Revolution and the War of 1812, some Wyandots could be found fighting on both sides of the conflict. The Wyandots were part of the last great effort by the eastern tribes to keep their land west of the Ohio, ending in defeat at Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The Shawnee leader Tecumseh’s later effort to rally the tribes was defeated as well at Tippecanoe in 1811 and the Battle of the Thames in 1813, in both cases by William Henry Harrison.

Relocation

In 1842 the Wyandot ceded their lands in Ohio to the Americans, the last nation to do so. Some remained in the east, settling on small reserves on either side of the Detroit River. The majority, however, were moved west. They were relocated first to Kansas, where they were forced to purchase land, as the government failed to provide them with the land promised in the agreement of 1842. A split developed within the nation, between those who wanted to obtain full American citizenship and renounce their Indian status, (the Citizen Party) and those who left for Oklahoma, wanting to retain their tribal identity (The Indian Party). They established a reserve of 20,000 acres there.

It is likely that most of the descendants of the survivors of the Neutrals live now in Oklahoma, in Kansas, or much closer to their ancestral home in the Anderdon Nation in Michigan.