<<Home Niagara Falls Reporter Archive>>


By Bob Kostoff

The early Neuter Indian fortress named Kienuka was truly a citadel of peace located atop the Niagara escarpment where the Tuscarora Indian Reservation is now situated.

This fortress was the home of an Indian "Queen of Peace."

The late city historian Edward T. Williams researched Kienuka as part of a Works Progress Administration (WPA) project to compile a guide. Field researchers were hired to uncover "many forgotten or little known items of local interest," Williams wrote.

The fortress was constructed in the Neuter nation because they were the peacemakers between the bitter enemies and constantly warring tribes of Senecas to the east and Hurons to the west. Warriors of each tribe could meet in Neuter territory in complete safety.

Although the Neuter Indians were friendly with both Hurons and Senecas for an extended period, they were by no means pacifists. They warred with other tribes, and later even fought the Senecas, who about wiped out the Neuter nation.

Williams wrote, "East of Lewiston but just outside the limits of the Niagara Frontier, as made by Sir William Johnson in his great treaty with the Seneca Indians in 1759, is the site of one of the most interesting spots in all America in Indian history, the ancient rock citadel of Kienuka."

The word Kienuka came to mean fort or stronghold. In earlier times, it was designated "Gau-strau-yea-" in the Iroquois language. That meant "bark laid down," as pieces of stripped bark were laid for the flooring.

The Indian significance of this name, Williams said, was that "persons going in should be most careful and act according to the laws of the place or they might slip and fall to their destruction."

The Iroquois Confederacy was formed among the five nations (Tuscaroras joined later to form the sixth nation) to keep peace among various factions. They formed a type of constitution or set of laws designed to keep the peace.

"As tradition has it, when the confederacy was formed a virgin was selected and ordained as queen peacemaker and she was stationed at Kienuka to carry out her office of seeing that the peace was kept. Her Indian name was Ge-keah-saw-sa," Williams wrote.

The Indians dug trenches on the three sides of the fortress away from the sharp drop of the escarpment. Huge poles were set in the trench extending a dozen feet above the ground as added protection.

The queen's house was situated in the middle of the fort, and longhouses were built in two rows, one on each side of the queen's residence. The entrances to the fort were on the east and west ends, with doors to the queen's residence facing these entrances.

The ablest warriors were selected as the queen's guard to assure that her decrees to keep the peace would be obeyed. No Iroquois nation could wage war against another without the queen's permission.

No blood was to be shed inside the fortress. If an execution of some member was decreed, it took place outside the fortress.

All fugitives, Williams said, were safe from attack while they remained in Kienuka.

The queen made sure food was ready at all hours to greet any travelers. The queen would lead the fugitive into one end of the house, which was divided with a deerskin curtain. When the pursuers arrived, they were led into the other end of the house.

After food was served and discussion held, the curtain would be pulled aside and the adversaries would face each other to work out their differences in a peaceful manner.

Even if a compromise was not reached, the Iroquois law forbade a pursuer to murder the fugitive even after he left Kienuka. Only the queen could give permission for such an execution.

To maintain a peaceful atmosphere within fortress walls, no running was allowed. No one aside from the keepers could move faster than a walk within the enclosure.

Niagara Falls Reporter www.niagarafallsreporter.com April 5, 2011