North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World
In the Forest: Animals and Humans
Hunting and Fishing
The Iroquois people were rooted in the land, and designated each person an important function as the seasons changed. Men were hunters and warriors, providers and protectors of the community. Women owned the houses, gathered wild foods, cooked, made baskets and clothing, and cared for the children.
Hunting was the major contribution Iroquois men made to their families' subsistence.
In addition to deer, hunters also stalked the black
bear, and, in spring, the passenger pigeon.
Fish were an integral part of the Iroquois diet. The abundant waterways provided
white and yellow bass, walleye, shovelnose sturgeon, and brook trout, among other
The Cornplanter band of Seneca held great annual fish drives. First, men built a
V-shaped fence, or weir, across the river. They forced the fish into the weir
with a giant rake, which was pulled toward the weir by horses on opposite shores.
Waiting fishermen speared the trapped fish.
Until the late 19th century, passenger pigeons (Ectopistes
returned to their annual nesting grounds by the millions each spring. Early in
March or April, passenger pigeons flew north in flocks so large
that their numbers darkened the sky and their flapping sounded
When the birds arrived in the Eastern Woodlands, they selected
breeding sites. They depleted the supply of available nesting
material filling the trees with nests. Thousands of passenger
pigeons hatched each spring.
The Iroquois only hunted the young pigeons, or squabs, leaving
the adult pigeons to breed again. They offered sacred tobacco and
gave thanks for the privilege of hunting the pigeons. However, such
practices were not followed by non-Native hunters, and the passenger
pigeon population steadily declined. The last attempted nesting in
northwestern Pennsylvania was in 1886. Passenger pigeons then
disappeared into extinction.
Image: Powder Flask, Powder Horn and Shot Bag
Flask: Anishinabe (Chippewa), early 1800s, Horn and bag:Northeastern United States, ca 1820s
Flask: Dog hide (Canis familiaris), unidentified wood, sinew, commercial
cotton; L 19.5 x W 10.0 x H 5.0 cm; 23102-16942, gift of John A. Beck
Horn and bag: Commercial leather, cattle horn (Bos taurus), unidentified
wood, commercial cotton and linen, steel, horn; L 26.0 x D 5.5 cm;
bag: L 18.5 x W 30.5 x H 6.0; 6569-5 a & b, gift of Herman B. Hogg