According to Jesuit documents, Iroquois and Mahican tattoo designs were first stenciled on the skin and then pricked into the flesh with trade needles or little bones until the blood flowed. Then, crushed charcoal (or sometimes red cinnabar) was vigorously rubbed into the open wounds.

Iroquois women, however, were rarely tattooed. But when they did, the purpose was usually medicinal, as a remedy to cure toothache or rheumatism. According to the Jesuit priest Lafitau, these women "content themselves with having a little branch of foliage traced along the jaw. They claim that the nerve by which the humour flows over the teeth is thus pricked, so that it can no longer fall there and that thus they cure the pain by going to the source of the ill."

Iroquois men tattooed to signify achievement on the field of battle, including cross-hatches on the face to record successful military expeditions, or other small marks on the thighs to indicate the number of enemies killed. According to a Jesuit relation of 1663, one Iroquois war-chief bore 60 tattoo marks on one thigh alone! Many other markings, which have lost their meaning and function, were placed upon the face and body, although some were probably totemic.

Nevertheless, nearly all Iroquois men's tattoos were distinct to them. According to the account book of Dutch trader Evert Wendell dated August 13, 1706, "a young Seneca, living in Canosedaken, his name Tan Na Eedsies," visited Wendell in Albany, New York and completed his transaction by drawing a pictograph next to his order. This drawing identified Tan Na Eedsies, and the tattooed patterns on his face, neck, and chest were considered equivalent to his personal signature.


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