This map, based on a sketch we did while living there, has 12 “hot spots” … for the benefit of folks who may be interested in this fascinating area!
The Hudson River Valley … Where the Mohicans Once Roamed
Though Elaine was born in Pennsylvania and Rich in Brooklyn, we both grew up, and met, just outside of New York City in the suburbs of Long Island. Married, and with 2 young sons, we moved up to Dutchess County, in the beautiful historic Hudson River Valley in 1983. We settled in a wilderness … we had one neighbor within a mile. Deer roamed freely in the mixed hardwood and evergreen forest, stepping softly through the fern covered forest floor. Mountain laurel and rhododendron were abundant, as were wild berries. Groves of hemlock stood out in snow-covered splendor during the sometimes harsh winters. In the spring, one could frequently hear the unique sound of grouse beating their wings, perched upon their fallen “drummer logs,” in their most unusual mating routine. In the summer evenings, as the sunlight was filtered through the forest canopy, the pennywhistle-like sound of the wood thrush filled the air. The crystal-clear, spring-fed streams were dammed by beaver, forming beautiful ponds here and there where the otter could play. In the fall, the wood pile was a source of satisfaction as locust, cherry, oak, maple, and ash were split, and the old axiom, “Wood warms you twice … once as you split it, once as you burn it,” rang true. The smell of wood smoke in the cool, crisp autumn air, streaming through the huge, stone chimney, was one of our favorite sensations. Winter was a wonderland. Throughout the year, the woods were filled with wildlife of every type. Hawks, vultures, owls, wood ducks, turkeys … songbirds of EVERY description, including the striking scarlet tanager … snakes, turtles, tree frogs, newts and salamanders … rabbits, flying squirrels, raccoon, bobcats, fox, and coyote. All were ever-present. HOW was this possible, just 80 miles north of NYC?
Our 18th century home was situated at the end of a dirt road up on a ridge called East Mountain, practically straddling the New York/Connecticut line near Wingdale, NY and Kent, CT. It was the southernmost piece of a series of ridges that ran all the way into Vermont. Thus, it was a natural barrier against most civilization and a virtual runway for wildlife. It was not uncommon for bear, cougar, or even MOOSE to be seen along this animal highway.
It was possible, almost inescapable, to imagine you were in another time. Old stone fences criss-crossed the land … back from the days when settlers divided their fields in this manner. Why up on the high ground? Because in these early days, native Indian tribes occupied the valleys below. A walk through these isolated woods would almost invariably bring you upon the rubble of a stone foundation of some earlier, pioneer home or stage stop, even a small schoolhouse. The sunken road bed of an old stage line that ran through this “living history” location was still visible in many places. If you got lucky, you’d stumble upon the old, abandoned cemetery … 31 or 33 tombstones, some still legible, bearing the family names of Preston, Patchin, and even Kennedy. One, located in the obscure northwest corner, bore the inscription, “Free Black Man”. It was a remarkable place, this East Mountain!
A view from the mountain looking eastward into Connecticut and the Housatonic River valley.
Elaine, with our own tribe, in front of the East Mountain house as we re-visited the old homestead in July ’97.
The house, situated in the midst of this near-wilderness wonderland, was a marvel unto itself. Simple by today’s standards, it was actually a somewhat luxurious abode for the time and place. Centerpiece of the place was the massive, center chimney. Everything revolved around this structure, as it provided the only source of warmth through sub-freezing (and often sub-ZERO) winter temperatures. In the living room, kitchen and dining room … the three ground-level rooms … were fireplaces, but the huge one in the living room stood apart from the others. Gazing into it, with the antique-style Jotul wood stove blazing away – casting its warm, orange glow through its front, glass door, brought you back to the colonial era. The brick-lined Dutch oven, the cast iron swivel (the proper name escapes us) mounted pot hanger … above, on the low ceilings, huge hand-hewn chestnut beams … below, wide, wooden plank floor … a winding, narrow staircase led upstairs, where that massive, stone chimney was again ever present. You could not escape the history while living in this place. It was all around you, always gnawing at you to learn more. You could not escape its pull. It could not be ignored … so, learn we did.
The colonial era, the French and Indian War, the Revolutionary era, the history and lore of the local Native peoples … it all engulfed you. Historic Albany was not very far to the north, and beyond lay Fort William Henry, Glens Falls, Fort Ticonderoga and all of Iroquoia. But, just below our home and the ridge, in the valleys formed by the Hudson (to the west) and the Housatonic (to the east) lay the land of the Mohicans.
The site of a once large Mohican village, a stone’s throw away from our East Mountain home, at the confluence of the Housatonic and Ten Mile Rivers
Adjacent to this village site is the present day home of an off-shoot of the Mohican people on the Schaghticoke Indian Reservation. Remnants of semi-destroyed tribes gathered here and called themselves Scaticooks (meaning scattered). Only four families occupy the small reservation today. It is a gentle, if somewhat sad, reminder of the proud peoples who once lived in the area.
Living in the seclusion of semi-wilderness, in the southern foothills of the Berkshires, it was easy to believe time had stood still. There were no passing cars, no mail delivery; no plows, school buses, or peddlers. No street noise, no lights. There were woods and ponds, meadows and streams, birds and raccoons, coyote and fox, overgrown fields and neglected graves. There was solitude. There was quiet. There was history … unbroken, unavoidable, enticing history. Here we lived, in a pre-Revolutionary War house on the outskirts of the original old Dover settlement, in a wildlife haven, literally in the middle of Mohican homelands. East, west, and north of us were principal Mohican villages. The rivers and streams, all Mohican names. This old house, the abandoned cemetery, the old foundations; this mountain, the nearby rivers, and the surrounding valleys begged one’s attention. We HAD to explore legend and lore, fact and fiction, of these river valleys. Like accidental tourists, we commenced our historic ‘travel’ with the many regional names.
Mohican, Mohegan, Housatonic, Hoosic, Schaghticoke, and Scaticook. Translation of such words was like shining a light on the historic past; illuminating bits of stories, catching a brief glimpse of lives. The names revealed geographical and personal importance of the many rivers, lakes, mountains, valleys, and forests; where game was hunted, where geese were plenty, or which rocky mountainside was a favorite bear den. We could, through these names, discover where a village was situated, where an important council was held, or the site of a battle. Through this rich historical road map, a sketch of the people of these woods emerges. Living, as we did, in Mohican country enabled us to learn, understand, and appreciate the richness of cultures that had preceded our own era. Living, as we did, in the semi-wilderness, compelled us to acquaint ourselves with the settlers who built new lives in this fertile region, and the Indian people who hunted our woods, drank from our creek, and whose feet left a sunken trail before our front door. Who were these people whose trails we unavoidably followed? Who were these woodland people?
The Northeast Woodland culture was comprised of two distinctively different linguistic groups; Algonquian and Iroquoian. Within these two were many subdivisions. The vast territory of these ‘forest’ peoples encompassed the northern Great Lakes southward to North Carolina, the Atlantic seaboard westward to the Mississippi Valley. Though the central region of the Northeast Culture area, New York and the eastern Great Lakes, is known as Iroquoia, it once was solely, totally home to the Algonquians. The Iroquois (Algonquian for “adder” with a French suffix), some evidence suggests, once inhabited the southern country that straddled the Northeast and Southeast Cultures, south of the Tidewater region. At some point, they began a northward migration, pressing forward until they came to the valleys of the great river (Hudson). Here, they must have thought, was a beautiful country, for their journey ended. These strangers were no rag-tag band of refugees and though they were not yet at their peak, they were strong enough to invade enemy Algonquian territory, take land they desired, and set down their own roots. With the formation of a powerful confederacy and a political shrewdness unparalleled among the native peoples, they eventually dominated the people of the northern woodlands. They came, they saw, they conquered. Yet, despite subjugation or aggressive warfare by the people of the longhouse, the Algonquians wrote their own subtle reminder of whose country it was. Rivers, streams, creeks, and lakes; mountains, valleys, towns, cities, counties, and states; Algonquian names saturate regional geography and history, a permanent legacy bequeathed to all.
Despite the clashes of these two peoples, there was a common bond shared by all Northeastern Woodland people; the forest. Beautiful mixed woods flourished in this country of valleys, mountains, rivers, and lakes. Trees; the cultural identity mark…. a source of shelter, fuel, tools, food, medicine, utensils, baskets, ropes, and ceremonial items. Ash, chestnut, cherry, walnut, alders, willows, and elm; oak, maple, birch, beechnut, pine, cedar, hemlock, … the list goes on and on. Such was it still in 1742, in the valleys between the great rivers, in the “Taghonic” (forests),…. in Mohican country.
A portion of a typical Mohican village, as seen at the American Indian Institute in Washington, CT.
Our time capsule home (circa 1760) was situated in a hollow between two ridges of the mountain. Behind the house, beyond the eastern ridge that merges with a portion of the Appalachian Trail, at the New York/Connecticut border, is the Schaghticoke Reservation. (Scaticook and Schaghticoke mean the same. Connecticut is Mohican for “the long river”. Originally quonehtacut, quinnehtukguet, or connittetuck.) Created in 1742 on a 2000 acre parcel, the drastically reduced 400 acre tract extends from the eastern slopes of the mountain to the Housatonic (at the place beyond the mountains ) River. There was, in 1740, a mixed population of 600 “scattered” Connecticut Indians, mostly from the eastern side of the Housatonic River, who resettled at this Mohican hunting camp. Regularly joined by other Housatonic Indians, the camp was often large. From the river bank encampment below, the hunters watched as deer browsed on mountain vegetation above in plain view. The Indians of these valleys frequently burned the mountain woods to better spot game. Burnt forest lands brought forth lush, tender flora that attracted wildlife in abundance. From Schaghticoke, the hunters followed along the Weebutook River (beautiful hunting grounds), later known as Ten Mile River, and ascended the mountain in search of game, following the aged cliff trails that wound their way upward to the crest. These semi-cleared mountain tracts, like manna from Heaven, would later become planting fields for white settlers searching for farmland. They remain, even today, divided and marked by acres and acres of criss-crossed stone wall fences.
How did Schaghticoke, a seasonal hunting camp, become a permanent village, and then a reservation? It was a consequence of colonial attitudes, more than colonial settlement needs. The Connecticut English pressured the Indian population, even though many villages were entirely Christian, to move westward simply because they would not abide ANY Indians, or for that matter, ANY “foreigners” (German Moravians or French Jesuits) in their midst. They were fearful, it would seem, of anything non-English and non-Calvinist. Surrendering to the pressure, the tribes of the Connecticut River Valley began moving westward. In 1731, chief Gideon Mauwee and his people left their Naugatuck village on the east bank of the Housatonic and headed for the “hunting camp” at Schaghticoke. The settlement became a magnet, a refuge for Christian Indians who were being exiled from their homes all across the long river country. From Schaghticoke (Scaticook), large numbers continued west, first crossing into New York at the base of East Mountain, then turning northward in the valley to the Mohican village at Shekemeko. Some journeyed further north, past Albany, to another Mohican town named Schaghticoke at the confluence of the Hudson and Hoosic Rivers.
In 1740, Moravian missionaries came to Scaticook, which they called “Pachgatock”. During the next three years, unwilling to live with continued Connecticut colonial hostility, many more Scaticooks traveled north along the Housatonic. Believing the grass to be greener in Massachusetts, they headed for the village of Gideon Mauwee’s cousin, Mohican sachem Aaron Umpachenee; Stockbridge was their destination. Schaghticoke’s population fell into steady decline. There was a slow, steady exodus from Schaghticoke that marked these people as truly “scattered”. In later years, it was not colonial pressure that reduced their numbers, but the allure of the world. For the few remaining families, it is a great effort to hold on to what little there is left.
Returning to East Mountain … the western ridge, which rose in the front of the house, overlooked the valley. To the north, west of the Taconic Mountains, was Shekemeko (Chicomico, “the big house”, near present day Pine Plains). This was the village of the Mohican sachems Shahash and Tschoop. Having sold most of their land in 1724 to New York, the Shekemeko Mohicans had but a square mile left. It was a beautiful, pine tree rich, fertile square mile. In 1740, after a previous meeting in New York City, these chiefs invited the Moravian missionary Christian Henry Rauch to Shekemeko. The Mohicans were not won over easily, and Rauch’s mettle, patience, and Christian love was severely tested. The object of barbs, ridicule, and hatred, Rauch proved sincere and pious. Though he was at first ill treated, and once nearly axed to death, the Moravian persevered. In the end, he won the admiration, respect, and friendship of the Shekemeko Mohicans, particularly Tschoop and Shahash, who took the Christian names Johannes and Abraham. In two years, there would be 32 Moravian settlements, including Bethlehem, Pennsylvania, the central mission, among the Mohicans and Delaware. The Moravians were very successful, which didn’t please the Calvinist ministers of Stockbridge or the newly established Sharon township. They too courted the Hudson Valley Mohicans, hoping to persuade them to join the Stockbridge community. In the end, the Stockbridge Mohicans remained in the Calvinist fold, while their brethren at Shekemeko, Wechquadnach, and Schaghticoke followed the Moravian path.
The decision had ramifications. Friendship with the Moravians drew suspicion and Shekemeko was targeted by New York colonials and officials for harassment. At one point, the Moravians missionaries were ordered to swear two oaths; one to King George, the other against Catholicism. Diplomatically, the Moravians explained that though their sentiments echoed the spirit of the oaths, their consciences forbade them to swear to it. They were permitted to return to their villages, oaths unsworn, but it was only a matter of time before they, and their Mohican congregations would be forced out of New York. Threats, harassment, and constant suspicion took their toll. By 1746, the Moravians closed the Shekemeko mission and most of the Mohicans resettled at the newly built Gnadenhutten settlement, 30 miles from Bethlehem. Within 10 years, Shahash, or Abraham, removed himself and his family to Gnadenhutten also. Shekemeko was over, a faded memory. This pretty little village of the big house, nestled among pine covered hills, had seen its last of the Mohicans.
Once again, continuing along the mountain trail in a northeasterly direction, one travels through heavily wooded, game laden Berkshire Mountain foothills. Crossing into Massachusetts (massawachusett, “great hill“), and descending to lower ground, the trail intersects the Housatonic River, which now winds east to west. At this junction, where the river wraps around the base of a small mountain on its way southward, is Stockbridge, the Calvinist settlement of Mohicans from the Hudson and Connecticut Valleys. Though they were often embroiled in colonial family feuds and religious conflicts, the Stockbridge Mohicans remained loyal to the English and constant in their adherence to Calvinist beliefs. In a few years, 1751, the Great Awakening would stir their spirits and incite their revivalist passions. Jonathan Edwards, the theologian giant of 18th century New England was coming to Stockbridge.
What has become of the “River Indians” who once dwelt in the valleys of the Hudson and Connecticut? Those who followed the Moravians passed into obscurity. Many of these “praying Indians”, along with the Delaware, were victims of massacres by angry settlers or hostile Indians. Some went to Canada, joining the “French” Indians; many died during the French and Indian War fighting for the English cause, and during the American Revolution fighting for the colonial cause. The Stockbridge Mohicans, as history has shown, fared the best, if not fare thee well. Their descendants now live in Wisconsin on the Stockbridge Reservation, named for their former Massachusetts settlement. Rarely spoken of as Mohicans anymore, they are known simply as “Stockbridge Indians”.
To REALLY find the Mohicans, as they were, travel to these valley homelands. Drive along the beautiful Taconic Parkway that winds its way through Mohican lands. Look deep within the adjacent woods as you pass through. If the imagination is alive, if the heart is inspired, you can almost see the Mohican people moving beyond the forests…… among the sugar maples in early spring, fishing the clear waters in summer suns, harvesting corn in the autumn moons, tracking deer in the mountains’ winter snow. Though it is true that you can never really go home again, trying is every bit worth the trip. Nostalgia is a wonderful place!
Trudie, a source of much Mohican related information, is, ironically, married to a Mohawk.
On the reservation grounds is a small Indian cemetery. Note the birth date on this particular marker … she was a baby during the events depicted in The Last of the Mohicans.
Eunice Mauwee, granddaughter of chief Gideon Mauwee, lived to be 104 years old. Born in the French and Indian War era, her life spanned more than a century, carrying Eunice to the eve of the Civil War. What a source of knowledge this “Indian princess” must have been! To see what she had seen; heard what she had heard …
And so it was, until we inexplicably were drawn to the very center of the filming of The Last of the Mohicans, as it was being filmed, in July 1991. Embarking upon our own migration, leaving behind the river valley country that was Mohican land, we journeyed to the mountains of western North Carolina. It’s a long story, but there we were, practically immune from the actual presence of the filmmakers, having traveled from the historic lands of the Mohicans from the past to the soon to be celluloid MohicanLands of our favorite film. As it once was with the historic sites of the real life Mohicans, now, at nearly every turn, we are reminded of the filming which once took place here … and, if you look REALLY hard, you might just catch a glimpse of a long-haired DDL or Eric Schweig running through the forests … here, in western North Carolina!