North-South-East-West: American Indians and the Natural World

hunting gearIn 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 species.

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.

Passenger Pigeon
Until the late 19th century, passenger pigeons (Ectopistes migratorius) 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 like thunder.

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

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