What Were Iroquois Canoes?

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Iroquois canoes were water vessels made out of elm bark or a hollowed-out log. Though most styles of Native-American canoes were built to be light and swift, Iroquois canoes could be very long, as much as 30 feet in length. They could carry a passenger load of 18 people.

Elm bark was a favorite material of eastern woodland tribes for constructing both houses and canoes. The bark could be peeled off in whole sheets (elm trees were capable of growing to tremendous sizes) and manipulated in multiple ways. Elm bark was not very long-lasting in rough water, however, so the Iroquois regarded these canoes as disposable. They used them primarily for situations where a canoe needed to be constructed quickly and the longevity of the vessel was not a concern. An elm-bark canoe was advantageous because it could be left at the beginning of a long journey, if necessary, and a new one built when it was needed again. Construction was simple and relatively quick. One sheet of elm bark was folded to make the bottom and sides of the vessel. The open ends were sewn together with cedar or tamarack roots, and a sealant made of cedar, pine gum, pitch or resin was applied to make it watertight. Cedar planks could be tied across the middle to keep the sides from collapsing inward. If the Iroquois wanted a vessel that would last longer, they used half of a hollow log to make a dugout canoe, or used a much more labor-intensive version made of birch bark.