Origin and History
The Wyandot, an Iroquoian-speaking people, were initially established on the north shore of Lake Ontario, from downriver of the source of the Saint-Laurent River, along with three-quarters of the northern shore of Lake Ontario, to the territory of the related Neutral People, extending north from both ends to wrap around Georgian Bay.
In 1609, a chief of the Arendarhonon tribe, went to Québec and concluded an alliance with the French, who designated the Wyandot as the “Huron.” By that time, their confederacy numbered some 30,000 inhabitants established mainly on Georgian Bay and consisted of:
- the Attignawantans (People of the Bear)
- the Attigneenongnahacs (People of the Cord)
- the Arendarhonons (People of the Rock), who had joined the confederacy around 1590
- the Tahontaenrats (People of the Deer), who had joined the confederacy around 1610
- the Ataronchronons (People of the Bog), who had not attained full membership in the confederacy and were considered as a segment of the Attignawantans
From 1634, the Wyandot suffered heavily from epidemic diseases (mainly measles and smallpox) and about 50% to 66% of them died, decreasing the population to about 12,000.
During the “Beaver Wars,” the Iroquois Confederacy, who could easily obtain firearms in exchange for furs from Dutch traders in New York, soon established military superiority over the Wyandot, who had to convert to Catholicism to obtain a musket from French traders in Canada. In March 1649, a party of 1,000 Iroquois warriors (mostly of Senecas and Mohawks) entered Wyandot territory and burned the French mission villages of Saint-Ignace and Saint-Louis (both in present-day Simcoe County, Ontario), killing about 300 people. After this invasion, the Wyandot burned 15 of their villages to prevent their stores from being taken and fled as refugees to surrounding tribes. About 10,000 fled to Gahoendoe (present-day Christian Island). Most who fled to the island starved over the winter. In the spring of 1650, the survivors migrated to Wendake (aka Lorette), a new settlement located near Québec. Other Wyandot along with survivors of the Petun People, who had been attacked by the Iroquois in the fall of 1649, relocated to Upper Lake Michigan, settling first at Green Bay, then at Michilimackinac.
Role during the War
In the summer of 1756, a party of Wyandot warriors from Wendake took part in the French operations on Lake Champlain. On August 23, a party of Wyandot warriors and Canadiens reconnoitred the southern part of Lake Saint-Sacrement (present-day Lake George).
In February 1757, a party of Wyandot warriors from Wendake joined Rigaud’s forces for a winter raid against Fort William Henry on the shores of Lake George. On their way to Fort Saint-Frédéric (present-day Crown Point) they were detached from the last division under M. de Longueuil to join the first division under M. de Saint-Martin. At the end of July, 26 Wyandot warriors from Wendake and 26 from Détroit joined the French army assembled at Fort Carillon (present-day Ticonderoga) for the expedition against Fort William Henry.
On September 5, 1760, Governor James Murray signed a treaty of peace with the chiefs of the Wyandot then residing at Wendake.
In 1639, the Jesuit Relations described the Wyandot people:
- “Their only covering is a beaver skin, which they wear upon their shoulders in the form of a mantle; shoes and leggings in winter, a tobacco pouch behind the back, a pipe in the hand; around their necks and arms bead necklaces and bracelets of porcelain; they also suspend these from their ears, and around their locks of hair. They grease their hair and faces; they also streak their faces with black and red paint.
Wyandot wore body paint and beads, and red was a favourite colour.
On the warpath, the faces of the warriors were painted black, red, green or violet.
Some Wyandot warriors plucked the hair on one side and not on the other; some had a bristly hairstyle that the French compared to the bristles of a boar.
Headdress: a cap called the gustoweh decorated with wild turkey feathers and one upright and one trailing hawk or eagle feather. Contrarily to the gustoweh worn by the Iroquois, which had opened sections, the headdress of the Wyandot was a closed cap. The cap was usually not worn in summer.
Breechcloth: a buckskin belt with a rectangle of duffel cloth (often black bordered in red) pulled under it, front and rear. Fringed blackened buckskin could also be used in place of duffel cloth. The breechcloth usually hung almost to the knee.
Moccasins: blackened buckskin moccasins rising several cm above the ankle. They were decorated with porcupine quills or dyed moosehair in various patterns.
During colder months, in addition to the items of the summer dress, warriors wore:
- a sleeveless deerskin extending down to the knees (sleeves could be fastened with straps to the coat in cold weather) with fringes at bottom
- leggings made of broadcloth (they were fastened to the belt of the breechcloth with straps)
- decorated garters when leggings were worn
- moccasins made of bear skins with the fur turned inside
- mittens from beaver and bear furs
Bows and arrows with flint tips were the traditional weapons of Wyandot warriors. By mid XVIIIth century metal knives and hatchets were common, as well as tomahawks with iron blades.
The Wyandot warriors who migrated to the region of Québec gradually acquired firearms from the French.
Aubrey Buser, Charles: Wyandot Clothing retireved on December 22, 2020
Sainte-Marie among the Hurons – The Life of the Huron Wendat
Waldman, Carl: Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, Third Edition, pp. 94-96
N.B.: the section Role during the War is mostly derived from our articles depicting the various campaigns, battles and sieges.