Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

The Mohawk Valley
Its Legends and its History
by Max Reid
New York and London G. P. Putman's Sons
The Knickerbocker Press, 1901
with illustrations from photographs by J. Arthur Maney

Chapter II The Mohawks

THE earliest record of the Mohawk Indians, whose aboriginal name, as given by the Jesuit priest, Jean Brebeuf, was Agnierrhonons, contracted to Agniers, "the people of the flint," later called Mahaqua by the Algonquins, Maquas by the Dutch, and Mohawk by the English, is derived from Jacques Cartier's account of his voyage up the St. Lawrence to Hochelaga. (Montreal), in 1535.

From their traditions, they were driven out of Canada by the Algonquins, probably during the latter part of the sixteenth century, because the large village that Cartier visited in 1535 was deserted and destroyed when Champlain visited this spot in 1608.

It is probable that they made their way direct to the Mohawk Valley, but, being numerically weak, chose for new homes secluded spots deep in the forest, four or five miles from the Mohawk River, to build their palisaded castles, one of which, but recently discovered, I visited in the month of July, 1899. At that season of the year we find men all over the country attacked with a desire for a little relaxation from business or the regular routine of life, and a longing to flee from urban surroundings and spend a season in the fields and forests away from the abode of men, and, with gun and line, provide their daily food. We are apt to call it sport, but is it not, rather, the "old Adam" that is asserting itself, an inmate longing to return to the primitive condition of man and battle awhile with nature for our own sustenance ? It is true that we like to take some of the luxuries of life with us when we go into the forests, but the greatest pleasure of it all is the freedom from care and the feeling that we are providing for our wants with our own hands and by our own exertions. Our thoughts are apt to revert to the time when the hardy pioneer was obliged to live as we are living, with the addition of a great deal of hard work and suffering thrown in. And then we think perhaps of the aborigines. Their mode of life and apparent freedom from cares has a charm for us for the time being, and we imagine we would like to adopt their customs and be forever free from the requirements of society and the fear of protested notes and overdue bills payable, and the uncertainty of bills receivable. But this longing lasts only a short season, and education asserts itself and we are glad to get back to the old treadmill, thankful if we can but bring with us renewed health and strength for our battle with "the world, the flesh, and the devil."

Our sojourn in the northern forests, however, lacks one element of the life of the Aborigines; and that is the constant watchfulness against savage enemies and the necessity of selecting for a home some secluded spot which nature and their rude art could make into a fortress.

I have in mind such a spot which has lately been discovered by accident after having been abandoned for three or four centuries. In the year 1892, George W. Chapin, a woodman residing between Fonda and Johnstown, returning to his home from the latter place through a lonely wood on the bank of the Cayudutta Creek, observed a hole in the ground that had lately been made by a woodchuck. Examining the earth thrown out by the nimble feet of the rodent, he observed a fragment of pottery, which, upon examination, was found to be a piece of decorated earthenware of Indian manufacture.

The discovery having been communicated to the late A. G. Richmond, W. M. Beauchamp of the New York State Museum, and others, excavations were made which established the fact that the site of an ancient Indian fort, hitherto not known or suspected, had been discovered. Many interesting articles of Indian manufacture have been unearthed, some of which have been illustrated by W. M. Beauchamp in the New York State Museum Bulletins, and the spot described by Robert M. Hartley in the Popular Science News, June, 1896.

Within a few weeks I made three visits to this interesting spot with various friends, and must confess that it has a great charm to me; but although the articles brought away were numerous, they were of small value when compared with those secured by earlier visitors. I wish to thank Mr. Charles Gardiner of Johnstown for his explicit instructions how to find the place. He said: "Get off the station of Sammonsville; walk up the track about a quarter of a mile, or until you to an old stump field; pass through the stump field and the woods adjoining, until you come to a ravine; cross the ravine, and there you are. "

My first visit was made with Myron W. Reid for a companion, but when we arrived at the stump field, he was so charmed by the liquid, jingling notes of numerous bobolinks, that he deserted me for the time being and left me to pursue my quest alone. Thanks to Mr. Gardiner's instructions, the place was found without any trouble. Subsequent visits were made, and each time resulted in interesting discoveries. (I wish to say, however, that previous investigators, undoubtedly were just as successful or perhaps more so than I was.)

The site of this ancient Indian fort is located on a high, broad point of land, between two ravines, which grow deeper as they approach the bed of the Cayudutta Creek, that flows by its western boundary. Both ravines run in a southerly direction and through the easterly ravine flows a small permanent stream. The approach to the high ground of the Indian village from the Cayudutta Creek seems to have been through the latter ravine, which becomes a narrow, slaty gorge as it approaches the flats of the Cayudutta Valley, and owing to the dense growth of small trees and underbrush the entrance is not easily seen from the creek below. The gorge itself is quite picturesque, and its present condition suggests a possible method of defence used by the Indians, large trees having been felled and thrown into the bed of the creek, forming a rotten trunks they present an obstacle not easily overcome by the investigator. As you enter the gorge from below, you encounter a series of slaty ledges, over whose moss-covered surface the stream trickles slowly, making a series of slimy steps extending upward for twenty or thirty feet, or to the level of the higher ground of the forest. On the west side of the gorge these slaty steps have been worn smooth and rounded by countless footsteps, up to a point about ten feet from the entrance, where a trail is seen ascending the side of the hill to the plateau above. As the trail or path approaches the top, it is worn in some places from four to six inches deep along the edge of the hill, showing that the place had been occupied for a considerable space of time by a numerous population.

The plateau itself extends north to a considerable distance and is well covered with trees of large size and the rotten trunks of many monarchs of the forest. The place suggests seclusion, and its stillness is almost oppressive. The only evidence of life observable was the scurry of a solitary partridge chick and the dismal croak of a pater familias crow, evidently solicitous for the safety of his little family in the top of one of he tall pines. Take it all in all, I would not recommend it as a very desirable place for a Sunday-school picnic. This spot has undoubtedly been visited by a number of " diggers," as is seen by the upturned black earth, plentifully sprinkled with small fragments of fresh-water clam-shells and occasional bits of pottery.

It is evident that this spot was once an Indian fortification, as the line of the palisade is seen stretching across the plateau from ravine to ravine. Although I was unable to secure many relics of intrinsic value, my search was quite successful and resulted in unearthing a stone axe, a broken stone pestle, a few bone tools, and flint implements, together with forty fragments of as many decorated vessels of Indian pottery. One of the most interesting articles that have been unearthed is a brass or copper bead, about six inches long. This was found by Mr. A. G. Richmond a few years ago, and is valued from the fact that it enables archeologists to fix the probable date of the occupation of this secluded spot by the Indians. As this is the only article found there that would indicate that the occupants had ever come in contact with white men, it must have been occupied previous to 1609, and subsequent to the discovery of the river St. Lawrence, in 1535. Many archeologists are of the opinion that the Iroquois were the people whom Jacques Cartier met at Hochelaga, (Montreal) and Stadacone (Quebec) on the occasion of his ascent of the St. Lawrence in 1535, and they advance the theory that they were driven out of Canada between that time and 1609, when Champlain found a new people at Stadacone (Quebec) and Hochelaga (Montreal) entirely deserted.

W. M. Beauchamp, in a recent communication, says: "I should date the Mohawk Fort (Cayudutta) a little before 1600, and think they had these long brass beads from the French, they are much alike and unquestionably European. We are to remember, however, that the Iroquois had villages as far down as Quebec in 1535, and seem to have often visited the mouth of the river where vessels often touched."

Parkman says: "In the vocabulary of the language appended to the journal of Cartier's second voyage, Canada is set down as a word for town or village. It bears the same meaning in the Mohawk tongue." " The language of Stadacone, or Quebec, when Cartier visited it, was apparently a dialect of the Iroquois." You will probably remember that Cartier's first voyage was made in 1534, at which time he struck the mainland at Gaspe, opposite the island of Anticosta, and that he kidnapped two young Indians. These young savages returned with him in 1535, acting as interpreters, and are said to have been a part of a war party from Hochelaga, speaking a different language from the Indians of Gaspe, at which place they were found by Cartier. There was also a tradition among the Agnies (Mohawks) that their ancestors were once settled in Quebec, and relics found at Montreal correspond with articles found in Iroquois burial-places in western New York. Therefore we think it is safe to assume that the Cayudutta fort was probably one of the earliest settlements of the Iroquois (Mohawks) in the valley of the Mohawk and a place of great historic interest from the prehistoric character of the relics found there.

Parkman, in his Pioneers of France in the New World, says:

When America was first made known to Europe, the part assumed by France on the borders of that new world was peculiar, and is little recognized. While the Spaniard roamed sea and land, burning for achievement, red-hot with bigotry and avarice, and while England, with soberer steps and a less dazzling result, followed in the path of discovery and gold hunting, it was from France that those barbarous shores first learned to serve the ends of peaceful commercial industry.

A French writer, however, advances a more ambitious claim. In the year 1488, four years before the first voyage of Columbus, America, he maintains, was found by a Frenchman. Cousin, a navigator of Dieppe, being at sea off the African coast, was forced westward, it is said, by winds and currents, to within sight of an unknown shore, where he presently described the mouth of a great river. On board his ship was one Pinzon, whose conduct became so mutinous that, on his return to Dieppe, he made complaint to the magistracy, who thereupon dismissed the offender from the maritime service of the town. Pinzon went to Spain, became known to Columbus, told him of his discovery, and joined him on his voyage in 1492.

In the year 1535 Jacques Cartier, a Frenchman, sailed from the ancient town of St. Malo, France, and entered the bay of St. Lawrence, as Cartier named it, in August or September of the same year. Having with him the two Indian lads captured in his former visit to these shores, he found them of great assistance in communicating with the natives. They are supposed to have spoken the Mohawk dialect. It is said that the Indian name for the St. Lawrence River was Hochelaga, and that the present site of Quebec was called Stadacona, whose king's name was Donnacona. Cartier says that the country below Stadacona (Quebec) was called Saguenay, and that above, Hochelaga. At Stadacona, Cartier was told of a large Indian town, many days' journey above, which was called Hochelaga, and had given the name to the river and country also. Passing up the river with a small galleon and two open boats and about fifty sailors, on the 2d of October, 1535, they reached the mysterious Hochelaga. Their landing was made just below the present quays of Montreal, and thronging the shores were a thousand or more Indians awaiting the strangers. The next morning they were conducted to the Indians' town, lying under the shadow of the mountain which Cartier named Mont Royal--Montreal; "hence the name of the busy city which now holds the site of the vanished Hochelaga. "

A later writer, Lescarbot, insists that the country on both sides of the St. Lawrence, from Hochelaga to its mouth, was called Canada. The derivation of the name Canada is undoubtedly Indian, and not Spanish, and it is a singular fact that in the vocabulary of the language of Hochelaga appended to the journal of Cartier's second voyage, Canada is set down as meaning town or village, and that it bears the same meaning in the Mohawk, and both languages are dialects of the Iroquois.

Quoting still from Parkman's notes: " That the Indians of Hochelaga belonged to the Huron-Iroquois family of tribes is evident from the affinities of their language and from the construction of their houses and defensive works. This was identical with the construction universal, or nearly so, among the Huron-Iroquois tribes." It is said that in 1860 a quantity of Indian remains were dug up at Montreal that evidently belonged to the Iroquois and not to the Algonquin type. There is said to be a tradition among the Agniers (Mohawks), one of the five nations of the Iroquois, that their ancestors were once settled at Quebec. A tradition recorded by Colden in his history of the Five Nations (Iroquois), that they were formerly settled near Montreal, is of interest. The tradition declares that they were driven thence by the Adirondacks, which was the distinctive name of the tribes of the Algonquins located in Canada.

It is said that when Champlain, in 1603, passed up the St. Lawrence, sixty-eight years after Cartier's visit, "Hochelaga and its savage population had vanished and in their place were a few wandering Algonquins of different tongues and lineage."

Champlain, in 1609, met them again on the shores of Lake Champlain, called by the natives Iroquois Lake. Champlain's account of the meeting is so interesting that I will transcribe it in his own words:

At nightfall we embarked in our canoes to continue our journey, and as we advanced very softly and noiselessly, we encountered a party of Iroquois, on the twenty-ninth of the month (July, 1609), about ten o'clock at night, at a point off a cape which juts into the lake on the west side. They and we began to shout, each seizing his arms. We withdrew towards the water and the Iroquois repaired on shore and arranged all their canoes, the one beside the other, and began to hew down trees with villainous axes, which they sometimes got in war, and others of stone, and fortified themselves securely.

Our party, likewise, kept their canoes arranged, the one alongside the other, tied to poles so as not to run adrift, in order to fight all together, should need be. We were on the water about an arrow shot from their barricade.

When they were armed and in order, they sent two canoes from the fleet, which consisted of twenty-four canoes and sixty savages, to know if their enemies wished to fight, who answered they desired nothing else; but that just then there was not much light, and that we must wait for day to distinguish each other, and they would give us battle at sunrise. This was agreed to by our party. Meanwhile the whole night was spent in dancing and singing, as well on one side as on the other, mingled with an infinitude of insults and other taunts such as the little courage they bad; how powerless their resistance against our arms, and that when day would break they should experience this to their ruin. Ours, likewise, did not fail in repartee, telling them they should witness the effect of arms they had never seen before, and a multitude of speeches as is usual at a siege of a town. After the one and the other had sung, danced, and parliamented enough, day broke. My three companions and I were always concealed for fear the enemy should see us preparing our arms as best we could, being, however, separated, each in one of the canoes belonging to the savage Montagnaes.

After being equipped with light armor, we took each an arquebus and went ashore. I saw the enemy leave their barricade; they were about 200 men, of strong and robust appearance, who were coming slowly towards us, with a gravity and assurance which greatly pleased me, led on by three chiefs. Ours were marching in similar order, and told us that those who bore three lofty plumes were the chiefs, and that there were but three, and they were to be recognized by those plumes, which were considerable larger than those of their companions, and that I must do all I could to kill them. I promised to do what I could, and that I was sorry they could not clearly understand me, so as to give them the order and plan of attacking their enemies, as we should undoubtedly defeat them all; but there was no help for that; that I was very glad to encourage them and to manifest to them my good will when we should be engaged.

The moment we landed they began to run about two hundred paces toward their enemies,who stood firm, and had not yet perceived my companions, who went into the bush with some savages. Ours commenced calling me in a loud voice, and making way for me opened in two and placed me at their head marching, about twenty paces in advance, until I was within thirty paces of the enemy. The moment they saw me, they halted, gazing at me and I at them. When I saw them preparing to shoot at us, I raised my arquebus, and aiming directly at one of the three chiefs, two of them fell to the ground by this shot and one of their companions received a wound of which he died afterwards. I had put four balls in my arquebus. Ours on witnessing a shot so favorable for them, set up such tremendous shouts that thunder could not have been heard; and yet there was no lack of arrows on one side and the other.

The Iroquois were greatly astonished seeing two men killed so instantaneously, notwithstanding they were provided with arrowproof armor, woven with cotton thread and wood; this frightened them very much. Whilst I was reloading, one of my companions in the bush fired a shot which so astonished them anew, seeing their chiefs slain, they lost courage, took to flight and abandoned the field and their fort, hiding then-selves in the depths of the forest, whither pursuing them, I killed some others. Our savages also killed several of them and took ten or twelve prisoners. The rest carried off the wounded. Fifteen or sixteen of ours were wounded

After having gained the victory, they amused themselves plundering Indian corn and meal from the enemy; also their arms which they threw away in order to run better. And having feasted, danced and sung, we returned three hours afterward with the prisoners.

The place where this battle was fought is in forty-three degrees, some minutes latitude, and I named it Lake Champlain.

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