Three Rivers
History From America's Most Famous Valleys

Indian Life in The Mohawk Valley

A Study of Aboriginal Life in This Section

by Paul B. Mattice, Enterprise & News, December 20, 1933

(Note to the reader: There are many bad typos in the original article and because of this, some of the sentences are unclear. When possible, old typos were corrected. Some sentences just didn't make sense and I tried to clarify. AJ Berry)

The idea that the Indians had not occupied the Mohawk Valley more than 150 years before the coming of the white men will have to undergo some revision in the light of new and old data. The Indians who occupied the valley that bears their name, were not the first occupants. Algonquins, Mohicans and possibly some other tribes were the first settlers. The Indians that Jacques Cartier, who discovered the St. Lawrence River in 1634-5, found were part of the Iroquois. When Samuel Champlain passed up the St. Lawrence in 1603 the Iroquois had vanished and in their place there were Algonquins of a different tongue and lineage. The Mohawks had been driven out and down into what is now New York. The theory that the Iroquois were always successful in their wars is open to question, especially before the formation of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Williams, the historian, says that the Mohawks left the St. Lawrence about 1535. The finding of Mohawk graves and utensils near Racine Falls on the St. Lawrence upholds this contention. There was also a tradition among the Mohawks that their ancestors had lived along the St. Lawrence between Montreal and Quebec. Might not the Cayadutta village discovered in 1892 and described by Max Reid in his history of the Mohawk Valley have been an Algonquin and not a Mohawk village? The local historians in the Schoharie tribe first occupying that section were a nondescript group made up of the prisoners of many nations subject to the Mohawks. That view is also open to debate. The writer believes the first Indian occupants of the Schoharie Valley were Algonquins and that after when the Mohawks were seeking refuge away from them, the Mohawk River was a natural highway, they established the Schoharie Indian villages. At a later date the Schohaire Indian population may have been made up largely by the prisoners of the Mohawk nation. Some day excavations on these old village sites at Esperance, Schoharie, Middleburgh, Fulton and Breakabeen may reveal their Algonquin origin.

Of course the Indians left no permanent works to aid in determining these things, neither did they keep any records but there was a considerable difference in the vulture and home appliances of the numerous tribes. Recent excavations near the northern end of Lake Cayuga show that the Indian occupancy of New York was long before the discovery of American by Columbus. Last summer at Savanna artifacts were unearthed establishing the fact that this was the site of an Algonquin village as far back as 1200 A.D. in the opinion of H.C. Folett of the Rochester Museum and Dr. Earl E. Bates of Cornell University. These artifacts included a "Bear Effigy" fifteen feet in length, a salamander twenty five feet long, a thunder bird and four crescents representing the phases of the moon. These effigies are supposed to represent an effort to appease the Great Spirit when food was scarce and have him supply more animals of the kind represented. The Algonquin Indians were not an agricultural people. They were meat eaters, as their fireplaces abound  with the bones of deer, bear and other animals.

Much pottery was also unearthed but none of it of patterns of the customary Mohawk or Iroquois designs. 

The Algonquins abandoned this village long before the coming of any white man. From the site of the village and the size, it had a population of more than a thousand souls. The effigies were found more than three feet below the topsoil. There are several feet of packed down ashes in the fire pits. The fire pits show no signs of corn so they were in ignorance of the cultivation of the Indian corn which the white colonists learned from the Red men later. All of the animal's effigies were found in a group with their heads pointing toward a common altar. This village evidently contained a temple of worship and was abandoned when game became scare or they were attacked by enemies. An outdoor museum is being constructed on this ancient site at Lavanna More than twenty five effigies have been uncovered to date. (Sorry, one place it says Savanna and in this place, Lavanna. No idea which is correct. Ajb)

The history of the Mohawk Indians is of great interest and much of it centers around Fort Hunter and Osserruenon, Wetdashet and Canagers were not far away. Rode, as chief sachem ruled at Fort Hunter in 1683 and from him Adam Vroman, the Schenectady fur trader received an Indian deed for land on both sides of the Mohawk within the present limits of the city of Amsterdam. To Chief Rode or his successor John Conrad Weiser and his Palatine delegation went before bargaining with the Indians at Wilder Hook for land on the Schoharie to settle on. This by both the early Indian occupants and the early pioneers the history of the Mohawk and Schoharie valleys are lined together. The story of the Indian occupation of eastern New York will never be completely told but here and there as the years go by something new will be found out about this race that had many noble qualities and deteriorated as they came in contact with the white races. Samuel Champlain as an explorer, accompanied an Algonquin war party down the Champlain Valley in the summer of 1609 and became the first white man to set foot on the soil of New York. This fact had tragic consequences for the French for it made the Mohawk Indians enemies of the French and the St. Lawrence, not the Mohawk, the boundary between the United States and Canada.

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