Onondagas ("Men of the Mountain"), one of the five Iroquois tribes in the state of New York. They were the head of the confederacy, the atotarlio, its great sachem, being the first of the 14 sachems of these tribes. The councils of the confederacy were held at Onondaga, and the wampum belts or records of treaties were here preserved. Their territory extended from Deep Spring near Manlius, Onondaga co., W. to a line between Cross and Otter lakes. The Onondagas were early at war with the Hurons, Montagnais, and Algon-quins of Canada, and later with the French. They took a prominent part in the destruction of the Hurons and Neuters. Finding the Erics and Susquehannas less easy to subdue, they made peace with the French in 1653 and solicited missionaries. A French settlement was formed among them at Ganantaa in 1657, but was abandoned the next year in consequence of a plot for the massacre of the settlers. Garakonthie, an Onondaga chief, for many years labored to effect a lasting peace with the French. In 1662 a large Onondaga force ravaged Montreal island and killed Lambert Closse, the greatest Indian fighter of Canadian annals. After De Tracy's Mohawk campaigns they made peace, and in 1668 the French mission was reestablished.
England was now extending her influence, and Onondaga became the centre of the intrigues of the two nations. After the fall of James II. the Iroquois were won to the English side, and a fort was erected at Onondaga. In 1696 Fron-tenac, at the head of a large force, invaded the Onondaga country, and the Indians retired to the woods after destroying the fort and their village. French envoys were sent to Onondaga in 1700, and deputies of the tribe soon after signed the general treaty of peace at Montreal. In 1709 the Onondagas again took up the hatchet against the French, and the missionaries finally retired. After this the Onondagas generally served against the French, though occasionally neutral, till the overthrow of the French power. At the outbreak of the American revolution a council was held at Onondaga, but as the Oneidas and the Tuscaroras opposed their joining the English side, each tribe was left to its own course; and in 1777 the council fire at Onondaga was formally extinguished. After Van Schaick's expedition against them, they joined the English. The war left them helpless. On Sept. 12, 1788, they ceded all their lands to the state of New York, except a reservation specially set apart for them, and a small annuity was promised them.
They have continued to hold this tract, a part having embraced Christianity, while others adhere to their ancient rites. Schools are maintained on the reservation, and they have improved slowly. Of 464 Onondagas, 339 are on the reservation, the rest being with the Senecas and Tuscaroras. Their population has not increased or diminished materially during the past 50 years. In the province of Ontario, Canada, there are 410 Onondagas, making the whole tribe 864. Two centuries ago (1677) they were able to raise 350 fighting men. The Onondaga is regarded by the Indians themselves as the noblest and purest of the Iroquois dialects. A French Onondaga dictionary, from a manuscript of the 17th century, was published at New York in 1859.