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

Sovereign People: Ancestry in the Land


The Iroquois lived in large bark-covered, barrel-roofed longhouses which extended up to four hundred feet long and twenty-five feet wide. A single longhouse could shelter up to a dozen families through a harsh winter, each with its own private space and a fire it shared with others.

Longhouses had either one or two entrances, each adorned with the clan animal of the resident family. Doorways were covered with hide or bark doors. Roofs had covered fire holes that could be opened to provide ventilation and light.

The family sections contained raised platforms covered with reed mats or pelts that served as seats during the day and beds at night. Articles of clothing were hung on the walls or stored in bark bins and baskets along with food and supplies.

In the warmer months, cooking and other domestic activities took place outside the longhouse.

Image: Longhouse Detail, Scale Model of Cornplanter's Grant
Charles F. Rakiecz, Jr., 1997, Alcoa Foundation Hall of American Indians, Carnegie Museum of Natural History
This model of the settlement of Burnt House at Cornplanter's Grant in 1800 shows the activities of the four hundred Seneca who lived in thirty log cabins scattered near the river. Information such as the dimensions of structures and number of livestock comes from detailed journals kept by the Quakers whom Cornplanter invited to teach the children.

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