Peace Queen.

Oil on canvas. Ernest Smith. January 1936, 59 hrs. RMSC Collections.

Jigonsaseh ("The Peace Queen"), also called the Mother of Nations by the Haudenosaunee, was a member of the Neutral Nation who once lived near Niagara Falls. According to tradition, she was the person who advised the Peacemaker in his quest to form the Great Law. Ely Parker's mother, Elizabeth, was a descendant of this great woman and carried her name.

In this painting, Jigonsaseh stands beneath a tall pine tree, a Haudenosaunee symbol of peace. She directs the war parties (the Erie Nation on the left and the Mohawks on the right) to put down their weapons and enter her house where they will find food, warmth and time to discuss their differences.

Handsome Lake Preaching inThe Longhouse.

Watercolor. Ernest Smith. September 1936, 36.5hrs. RMSC Collections.

The Seneca prophet Ganiodaio (Handsome Lake, c.1735-1815) experienced four visions between 1799 and 1800 in which beings brought messages from the Creator about temperance and reform. Handsome Lake preached this message, the Gaiwiio ("Good Word") to all Haudenosaunee. In this painting, Smith shows Handsome Lake offering the Gaiwiio to people at Tonawanda.

Lacrosse Game.

Watercolor. Ernest Smith. May 1936, 10hrs. RMSC Collections.


In the League of the Iroquois (1851), Lewis Henry Morgan wrote about the "Ball Game", now known as lacrosse, as one of 6 principal games among the Haudenosaunee.

"Challenges were often sent from one village to another, and were even exchanged between nations, to a contest of some of these games. In such cases the chosen players of each community or nation were called out to contend for the prize of victory. An intense degree of excitement was aroused, when the champions were the most skilful [sic] players of rival villages, or adjacent nations." (Morgan, 1851:291)

Morgan also wrote that:

"Tradition relates that the war which ended in the expulsion of the Eries about the year 1653, from the western part of New York, originated in a breach of faith or trechery on the part of the Eries, in a Ball game to which they had challenged the Senecas." (Morgan, 1851: 291fn)

The game of lacrosse is now played with great enthusiasm by both Indian and non Indian teams in Canada and the United States.

[click here to see an example of a lacrosse stick collected by Morgan in the 1840s]

The Bow Maker.

Ernest Smith.RMSC Collections.

The Seneca bow, or wä-a-no, as described by Lewis Henry Morgan in his Third Regents Report to the Regents of the University (NY) was

"..usually from three and a half to four and a half feet in length, and so difficult to spring, that an inexperienced person could scarcely bend it sufficiently to set the string. To draw the string back an arrow's length when set, could only be done by practice, superadded to the most powerful muscular strength….The arrow is feathered at the small end with a twist, to make it revolve in its flight." (p. 182).

In this painting, Smith illustrates the early manufacture of this formidable weapon: splitting a hickory sapling, shaping the stave and testing the bow.

The War Party.

Tempera. Ernest Smith. January 1939, 19 hrs. RMSC Collections.

In his book League of the Iroquois (1851), Morgan wrote:

"The band took the war-path in single file, and moved with such rapidity that it was but five days' journey to the country of the Cherokees, upon the southern banks of the Tennessee. At their night encampments, they cut upon the trees certain devices to indicate their numbers and destination. On their return, they did the same, showing also the number of captives, and the number slain." (Morgan, 1851:340)

The artist, Ernie Smith, stated that the symbols shown on the trees in this painting indicate the number of captives taken in battle and by whom. Carved into the tree on the left (beginning in the top row) shows that there were 3 captives taken by the heron clan. The next row indicates that 4 men were taken by the beaver clan. The last row shows a sunset, symbolizing that the war party returned at sunset. But these symbols may also indicate the number of men from each clan who fought in battle, as detailed in the quote above.

Sky Woman.

Oil on canvas. Ernest Smith. January 1936, 40.5 hrs. RMSC Collections.

Sky woman depicts a moment in the Haudenosaunee story of the World's creation in which a woman falls from the Sky World toward the dark watery world below. Soft winged birds fly up to slow her descent. A great turtle offers its back as her resting place, while a muskrat dives for soil to place on its back. The soil spread and become the Island on the Turtle's back.

Our world sits on the back of a turtle. The turtle swims in a vast, dark, watery world where many beings, most of whom we call "Grandfathers," live. We give the Grandfathers our utmost respect for they will be our helpers in life. If we do not respect them, they can cause us great harm.

Beyond the dome we call the sky is Sky World. Here live the creator and our ancestors who have reached this place by slipping under the western rim of the dome. A large tree with sweet fruit and bright flowers light the Sky World. Our Grandmother, Sky Woman, fell from here to the back of the turtle when the Ancient Chief uprooted the tree for her to see what was beneath it. It was the turtle which offered its back as a home for the woman from above, and here grow the trees, plants and other forms of life with which human beings co-exist.

Many beings share the back of the turtle with us. Everything here is alive, and we maintain a relationship with them as brothers and sisters. Some of these beings are very powerful. Like the Grandfathers around us, they deserve our respect. Still other beings come to teach us lessons, threaten us when we do not walk the correct path or help us overcome some of the dangers we as human beings face day to day.

The Council with Tadodaho.

Ernie Smith. April 1936, 12.5 hrs. RMSC Collections.

The Council with Tadodaho is one of six paintings completed by Ernie Smith that tells the story of the formation of the Great Law. In his work League of the Iroquois (1851), Lewis Henry Morgan wrote:

"At the establishment of the League [Great Law], an Onondaga by the name of To-do-dä-ho had rendered himself a potent ruler, by the force of his military achievements. Tradition says that he had conquered the Cayugas and the Senecas. It represents his head as covered with tangled serpents and his look, when angry, as so terrible, that whoever looked upon him fell dead. It relates that when the League was formed, the snakes were combed out of his hair by a Mohawk sachem, who was hence named Hä-yo-went'-hä, "the man who combs." To-do-dä-ho was reluctant to consent to the new order of things, as he would thereby be shorn of his absolute power, and he placed among a number of equals. To remove these objections in some measure, and to commemorate his magnanimity, the first sachemship was named after him, and was dignified above the others by special marks of honor; . . . Down to the present day, among the Iroquois, this name is the personification of heroism, of forecast, and of dignity of character; and this title has ever been regarded as more illustrious than any other, in the catalogue of Iroquois nobility. " (pp. 67-68).

In this painting, Smith illustrates the conference where the Peace Maker and his spokesperson, Hiawatha, negotiate with Tadodaho. In Haudenosaunee tradition, Hiawatha combed the snakes of discord from Tadodaho's hair when he agreed to being part of the Great Law.

Handsome Lake and the Three Messengers.

Ernie Smith, 1936. Tempera. RMSC Collections

Beginning in 1799, the Creator sent to Ganiodaio ("Handsome Lake") messengers, who relayed instructions on how "things ought to be upon the earth." In this painting, Smith shows Handsome Lake as he rises from his bed to see the messengers coming toward his home: "….there standing in the clear swept space I saw three men clothed in fine clean raiment. Their cheeks were painted red and it seemed that they had been painted the day before. Only a few feathers were in their bonnets. All three were alike and all seemed middle aged….Now in their hands were huckleberry bushes and the berries were of every color." (Parker on the Iroquois, 1968, p. 24). They told him what the Haudenosaunee needed to do to adapt to their ever-changing world.

Handsome Lake traveled throughout Haudenosaunee territory until his death in 1815 to deliver this "Good Message", or Gaiwiio. People continue to follow these "longhouse" teachings in New York State and Canada.

The War Party.

Ernie Smith, 1936. Watercolor. RMSC Collections.

Ernie Smith called this painting, Wë-no-de'o-së:, meaning "they are getting ready to go to war." According to Morgan, "…the existence of the war was indicated by tomahawk painted red, ornamented with red feathers, and with black wampum, struck in the war-post" (Morgan, 1851: 339). This post, or Gä-on-dote', was a large, red-striped post that was generally placed in the center of the village.

Before going into battle, the elders painted each man with a different design that had a special significant to that person. When the men returned, they would remove their tomahawks from the post as an indication that they had been successful in their pursuits.


Flight from Little Beard's Town.

Ernie Smith, 1936. Watercolor. RMSC Collections.

Smith's inspiration for this painting were stories told by the elders who related the events surrounding General John Sullivan's invasion of Haudenosaunee territory in 1779. Most people fled their villages before the soldiers arrived, though many older people refused or were unable to leave their homes. When Sullivan's troops arrived, they burned the houses and crops. Little Beard's Town, one of the towns Sullivan destroyed along the Genesee River Valley, was the home of some of Smith's ancestors.

The Hunter.

Ernie Smith, 1938. Watercolor. RMSC Collections

Although the Haudenosaunee diet has long been associated with the "Three Sisters" (corn, beans, and squash), they supplemented this food with deer meat. Smith commemorates their hunting skills in this painting. After killing the deer, the Haudenosaunee honored its spirit by thanking the animal for giving its life so that they could have food for their families.