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Wyandot Government: A Short Study of Tribal Society Bureau of American Ethnology

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In the social organization of the Wyandots four groups are recognized—the family, the gens, the phratry, and the tribe.


The family, as the term is here used, is nearly synonymous with the household. It is composed of the persons who occupy one lodge, or, in their permanent wigwams, one section of a communal dwelling. These permanent dwellings are constructed in an oblong form, of poles interwoven with bark. The fire is placed in line along the center, and is usually built for two families, one occupying the place on each side of the fire.

The head of the family is a woman.


The gens is an organized body of consanguineal kindred in the female line. “The woman carries the gens,” is the formulated statement by which a Wyandot expresses the idea that descent is in the female line. Each gens has the name of some animal, the ancient of such animal being its tutelar god. Up to the time that the tribe left Ohio, eleven gentes were recognized, as follows:

Deer, Bear, Highland Turtle (striped), Highland Turtle (black), Mud Turtle, Smooth Large Turtle, Hawk, Beaver, Wolf, Sea Snake, and Porcupine.

In speaking of an individual he is said to be a wolf, a bear, or a deer, as the case may be, meaning thereby that he belongs to that gens; but in speaking of the body of people comprising a gens, they are said to be relatives of the wolf, the bear, or the deer, as the case may be.

There is a body of names belonging to each gens, so that each person’s name indicates the gens to which he belongs. These names are derived from the characteristics, habits, attitudes, or mythologic stories connected with, the tutelar god.

The following schedule presents the name of a man and a woman in each gens, as illustrating this statement:

Wun-dát English. Man of Deer gens De-wa-tГѓ­-re Lean Deer. Woman of Deer gens A-ya-jin-ta Spotted Fawn. Man of Bear gens A-tu-e-tÄ•s Long Claws. Woman of Bear gens Tsá-maГўВЃВї-da-ka-é Grunting for her Young. Man of Striped Turtle gens Ta-há-soГўВЃВї-ta-ra-ta-se Going Around the Lake. Woman of Striped Turtle gens Tso-we-yuñ-kyu Gone from the Water. Man of Mud Turtle gens Sha-yän-tsu-wat′ Hard Skull. Woman of Mud Turtle gens YaГўВЃВї-däc-u-räs Finding Sand Beach. Man of Smooth Large Turtle gens HuГўВЃВї′-du-cu-tá Throwing Sand. Woman of Smooth Large Turtle gens Tsu-ca-eГўВЃВї Slow Walker. Man of Wolf gens Ha-ró-uГўВЃВї-yû One who goes about in the Dark; a Prowler. Woman of Wolf gens YaГўВЃВї-di-no Always Hungry. Man of Snake gens Hu-ta-hú-sa Sitting in curled Position. Woman of Snake gens Di-jé-rons One who Ripples the Water. Man of Porcupine gens HaГўВЃВї-dú-tuГўВЃВї The one who puts up Quills. Woman of Porcupine gens Ké-ya-runs-kwa Good-Sighted. THE PHRATRY.

There are four phratries in the tribe, the three gentes Bear, Deer, and Striped Turtle constituting the first; the Highland Turtle, Black Turtle, and Smooth Large Turtle the second; the Hawk, Beaver, and Wolf the third, and the Sea Snake and Porcupine the fourth.

This unit in their organization has a mythologic basis, and is chiefly used for religious purposes, in the preparation of medicines, and in festivals and games....