Beginning in the 1600s, the Iroquois Indians participated in the fur trade principally with Dutch and British merchants, although a few Iroquois also traded with the French. The Indians gave beaver and other animal hides to European traders in exchange for muskets, iron tools, blankets, and colorful glass beads, among other items. By 1650 A.D., the Iroquois hunters and trappers had killed off most of the fur-bearing animals in their homeland. To satisfy their desire for more European trade items, the Iroquois turned toward the rich hunting grounds of their neighbors in the Ohio Country. The Indians who lived here were weakened by European diseases that had swept through their villages, killing many of them. Armed with guns, the Iroquois killed or drove out the Indians they found living here. This struggle over the Ohio Country became known as the Beaver Wars. Between 1650 and 1700 A.D., the Iroquois waged a war of extermination. They claimed the land for the Iroquois Confederacy, but most Iroquois hunters and warriors did not live in the Ohio Country. They came primarily to hunt the deer and beaver, returning to their homes in the East after a hunting expedition. The exception to this were the Erie Indians, who lived along the south shore of Lake Erie from New York to approximately modern-day Cleveland, Ohio.
The best historic records of the Beaver Wars come from The Jesuit Relation, a series of letters and accounts written by Jesuit priests who came to America to teach the Indians about the Catholic religion. These records include some of the first written references to the Indians who lived in Ohio before the Beaver Wars:
"Our Iroquois, have discovered beyond the Cat Nation other and numerous Nations who speak the Algonquian language. There are more than 30 villages whose inhabitants have never had any knowledge of Europeans, they still use only stone hatchets and knives... Our Iroquois carry fire and war thither..."
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.
- Richter, Daniel K. The Ordeal of the Longhouse: The Peoples of the Iroquois League in the Era of European Colonization. Chapel Hill: The University of North Carolina Press, 1992.