2, 2004, Sunday
WESTCHESTER WEEKLY DESK
In Their Footsteps
By Tina Kelley (NYT) 3032 words
HARRISON -- EVERY full moon in May, the Indian legend says,
a white deer used to come drink near the six-stepped falls in
the Mamaroneck River, back when no one but Indians lived here.
Anyone who saw it, the legend goes, would have a year's good luck.
''So from the farthest point on Long Island to the Great Lakes,
and from a hundred miles into New Jersey, these simple children
of the forest flocked to see the Great White Deer,'' according
to an account of Indian times here in the January 1956 Westchester
Eventually, another legend visited the falls regularly. Every
year, from 1805 to 1866, a man known only as Indian Dan would
come to the falls and stay for several months at a time. He would
make baskets, and usually left unfinished ones behind. He never,
it was noted in the Westchester Historian, slept inside a home.
Indian Dan has disappeared, American Indians are no longer referred
to as ''simple children of the forest,'' and the mystical sound
of the falls, on Love Lane, is drowned out by the Hutchinson River
Parkway. The old mill on the river is now a slightly disheveled
design element at Old Mill Farm, a development of seven homes
that were worth around $1 million each when they were built in
1988. The only signs for a pilgrim read ''Private Property'' near
the mill, and ''Mobil Next Left'' on the Hutch.
But the image of the white deer, polished by moonlight, remains
as a reminder of the elemental and the original, of the people
who lived in Westchester County before the Europeans arrived with
their plagues and muskets.
It is sometimes hard to see the traces of those early residents
on the current landscape, but there are rich bits of history to
be found here.
Before contact with the Europeans, about 60,000 Indians lived
in the area, according to Beth Herr, former curator of the Trailside
Museum at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, but by 1825 there were
only 125 who ''went to salt,'' the ages-old term for spending
summers on Long Island Sound, harvesting oysters and clams and
collecting wampum. ''That gives an idea of what was lost,'' she
The story of the various bands who lived east of the Hudson in
what is now Westchester, and of their long travels to new homes
as far away as Oklahoma and Ontario, is muddied by the passing
of centuries. The influence of these long-ago residents is seen
most clearly in place names -- think Mamaroneck and Chappaqua,
for example -- and in the very routes commuters drive to work,
many of them original Indian trails that were later used by horse
and wagon and ultimately paved to serve as highways. As the 350th
anniversary of the purchase of parts of the Bronx and Westchester
from the Lenape Indians approaches, there are few hints here of
the people who hunted, fished and farmed along the land suburban
New Yorkers look at as their own. Such traces might be a tangible
link to the past, like the skull and tibia of a well-known chief,
discovered by a woman gardening in Croton-on-Hudson in 1934. Another
might be an arrowhead collected at a newly turned piece of land.
Or maybe, long past midnight, there is still a glimpse to be gotten
of a white deer on a bright night, drinking sweet water from a
stream that now runs past a busy highway.
The Wappinger people, who lived in the area that is now Westchester,
were hunter-gatherers and farmers who raised corn, beans, squash,
watermelons and pumpkins, and had domesticated dogs, said Evan
Pritchard, the director of the Center for Algonquin Culture in
Woodstock and author of ''Native New Yorkers: The Legacy of the
Algonquin People of New York,'' (Council Oak Distribution, 2003).The
Wappinger society was divided into clans, Mr. Pritchard said.
And their lineages were generally traced from father to son, although
many Indian societies in North America were matrilineal. ''In
every way there was something different about the Wappingers,''
he said. He believes the name originally came from ''Wappanos,''
or ''eastern people,'' but when they later joined with southern
Delawares, they changed the name to ''Wapinkus,'' or possum, as
in ''little one with small white face'' or ''no fur on his tail.''
(Their name lives on in Wappingers Falls, in Dutchess County.)
According to Mr. Pritchard, the Lenape were part of the Algonquin,
which he said includes 84 major nations and spanned the continent.
The Lenape had two main branches, the Munsee, associated with
New York, and the Unami, associated with New Jersey. The Wappingers
were a spinoff group, he said, and were part Lenape, part Mohican,
a more northern tribe. All were considered Delawarian, a term
used for many East Coast tribes outside New England. He said it
is most difficult to know for sure what names the groups who lived
in Westchester used for themselves.
''The Wappingers were very multicultural people, and very progressive,''
said Mr. Pritchard, who is a descendant of the Micmacs, part of
the Algonquin nations. ''The older Algonquins had certain customs
and taboos that were self-limiting. For example, they preferred
to live on the western banks of rivers. But this new group came
along and realized that all this land was not being used.''
David M. Oestreicher of Eastchester, who has a doctorate in anthropology
and is working on a book about the Lenape, said the local people
referred to themselves as Lenape, but generally went by the names
of their local villages. The Mohicans lived north of the Catskills,
but visited for trade, he said, and after some of the Lenape moved
west into New Jersey, they became known as Munsees, derived from
an area in the west known as Minnisink.
Dr. Oestreicher said the county's indigenous people were not truly
nomadic, but some moved between summer homes on the beach and
winter homes inland.
They believed in the ''one who thought us all into being,'' as
well as in lesser deities, and their most important spiritual
event was the Big House Ceremony, for 12 nights every fall, in
which people would sing about their visions.
Soon after their first contact with European ships, which in one
account the Indians described as ''tall floating cloud-houses
carrying hairy, pallid, ghostlike men,'' the area's native inhabitants
began to disappear. The first century during which Indians and
Europeans lived together here was marked by death, either from
battles or European diseases, which killed about three-quarters
of the native population, Dr. Oestreicher said.
After relatively friendly introductions, relations between the
Dutch settlers and natives rapidly deteriorated into a string
of attacks and counter-attacks throughout the region over more
than a decade. History books hold many references to such attacks,
including a Dutch official's speech in 1641 about the deaths of
10 settlers over the preceding 10 years at the hands of Indians,
and an attack by the settlers on a sleeping group of natives at
Pavonia, now Jersey City, in February 1643. In September of that
year, the Siwanoy, another band of Lenape, killed a European settler
who was a well-known resident.
The settler, Anne Hutchinson, had been run out of Massachusetts
in 1638 for running an after-church Bible study group that attracted
dozens and for questioning the authority of the church (and therefore
state) over the souls of its people.
She and a handful of family and followers settled first in Rhode
Island, then near what is now the Bronx-Westchester border, on
the west bank of the river that now bears her name. The location
of her home is widely believed to be in the Bronx. Her grand-nephew
reported that while he was framing a home for her during the summer,
a group of Indians approached twice and gestured for him to leave,
with all of his possessions, according to an article about the
topic in The New York Times in 1990. He did, but Mrs. Hutchinson
stayed, finding someone else to finish the house.
But in August, the Siwanoy raided nearby settlements and killed
Mrs. Hutchinson and everyone in her household except her 8-year-old
daughter, Susannah, who escaped into the woods and was captured
by the Indians. The river, the parkway and several public schools
now bear Mrs. Hutchinson's name.
The next winter, ''The Westchester County Historical Bulletin''
recounts in a 1951 article called ''Bits of Bedford History,''
Dutch soldiers under John Underhill attacked what some scholars
believe to be the southern end of Indian Hill Road, near the junction
of roads from Bedford to Stamford and Pound Ridge (Routes 104
and 172). They attacked the Indian village of Nanichiestawack.
(The name was believed to mean ''a place of safety.'') On the
Dutch side, 200 died and 13 were disabled, and they went on to
set fire to Indian huts, killing more than 500 people, including
women and children, who, the Dutch noted, did not cry or scream.
Today there is no sign of the massacre, or of the village that
may have meant a place of safety until the Dutch soldiers attacked.
The road is lined with stone walls and gracious homes, protected
by signs for various home security systems and a neighborhood
watch program. In 1654, the leader of the Siwanoy, Wampage, signed
the Pell Treaty as Anhooke, believed by some historians to be
an indication that he had killed Mrs. Hutchinson himself and taken
her name, as was allegedly the custom. The treaty covered 9,166
acres, including Pelham, New Rochelle and parts of the Bronx and
Westchester east of the Hutchinson River, some of which, according
to the World Wide Web site historicpelham.com, was territory the
Dutch also claimed.
A year later much of Yonkers was destroyed by about 1,900 Indians
landing before daybreak. The attack was ''to avenge the death
of a squaw whom Van Dyck, the late attorney general had killed
for stealing a few peaches.'' Van Dyck was shot in the chest with
an arrow. About 300 people were driven from their homes in what
became known as the Massacre of 1655. More than a century later,
the Indians and the European settlers had managed to make common
cause on some points, chief among them opposition to British rule.
The Westchester Historian reported how Mohican Indians volunteered
in the American Army in 1778 in White Plains, where the British
Lt. (later Maj.) John G. Simcoe, with his overwhelming force of
cavalry, charged and killed or wounded 40 of the Indians, about
half their number.'' One of the men lost there was Chief Daniel
Nimham, who led the Wappingers during the Revolution, and who
was shot by Simcoe's orderly at Cortlandt Ridge, Mr. Pritchard
said. (His name lives on in Mount Nimham, in Putnam County.)
Around the time of the Revolution, the Wappingers left the county,
moving to what became known as Stockbridge, Mass. They then were
evacuated west to New Stockbridge, near Rome, N. Y., where they
lost another leader in a battle in 1825. They then moved to Wisconsin.
Other groups of Indians moved from Westchester in the early 1700's
to western New Jersey, and they eventually settled in Oklahoma
and Ontario, Dr. Oestreicher said.
The 19th century saw the gradual disappearance of most of the
descendants of Westchester's Indians. They began to make their
presence known more through archaeology than through direct interactions
On March 21, 1934, for instance, a Mrs. Allen Spink of Croton-on-Hudson
was digging in her garden when she found the bones of a six-foot-tall
man, lying on his right side with two arrowheads nearby, according
to the Quarterly Bulletin of the Westchester County Historical
Society. She called in the coroner, and it was determined that
the man was older than 50 and had lived 300 years earlier.
His skull had a club wound and, based on marks from a scalping
knife, he had worn his hair like a chief. He also had a broken
right tibia, leading researchers to believe he was Limping Will,
who lived in Dobbs Ferry, which was known as Wequaeskeck during
his time. His Indian name was Mamaranack or Mahoanuch, for ''he
assembles the people.'' He signed several deeds, using the names
Will or Lame Will, in 1644, 1661 and 1682, when he sold Croton
Point to European settlers.
Even in the 1990's, Westchester's original inhabitants were able
to influence the lives of its current ones, when town houses were
proposed near Wickers Creek in Dobbs Ferry, near an archaeological
site that held 50,000 artifacts and included a 40-foot-long oyster
shell mound. After a decadelong battle that involved dueling archaeologists
and more than one developer, 114 units were built, with about
a 10th of an acre preserved, including a shell mound, known as
a midden. The issue of public access to the site has still not
been resolved, said Tom Morrison of the Friends of Wickers Creek
The roughly triangular scrap of land that was preserved is hard
to find, wedged in between gold-painted town houses on a hill
above the spot where Wickers Creek meets the Hudson, west of the
Metro-North train tracks and near signs that warn against dredging
near a gas pipeline. Below the midden, the shoreline smells like
low tide. A dead fish and a garbage can lid are scattered among
the shells and rocks.
Scholars of the Indian influence in Westchester didn't know of
many people living in the county today who are descended from
the original residents.
''None of the Lenape today specifically can say, 'I'm from Westchester
or the Catskills area,''' Dr. Oestreicher said. ''Some know they're
from the East Coast, some thought they were always in Oklahoma
or Ontario.'' But in the last 15 or 20 years the descendants have
been trying to rediscover their heritage.
But much has been lost over the centuries, said Darryl Stonefish,
a researcher for the Moraviantown Delaware Nation, which has about
1,000 members, half of them living in southern Ontario, about
75 miles east of Detroit. In a phone interview, Mr. Stonefish
said that when an elder in the group wrote down some stories,
the Hudson River may have appeared in some. ''I doubt anyone would
remember anything that far back, especially when we had to learn
from books where we came from,'' he said.
Names, First Heard in Other Tongues, Live On
THE original inhabitants of Westchester County have left their
mark on its maps, leaving a number of place names and paths that
evolved into major highways. The following list was compiled with
the help of Evan Pritchard, David Oestreicher, Web sites including
www.white-plains.com and www.westchestergov.com/parks/Parks.htm,
and ''The Place Names of Westchester County,'' by Richard M. Lederer
Jr. (Harbor Hill Books, 1978).
Armonk: From Warramaug, good fishing place.
Chappaqua: ''Place where the brush makes a rustling sound when
you walk through,'' ''a separate place'' or ''rustling or rattling
Croton: Named after a sachem or leader, Kenotin, whose name meant
Katonah: After a sachem named Ketatonah, which meant ''great mountain''
or ''principal hill place.''
Kisco: Muddy place.
Mamaroneck: A chief's name, translated as ''He has stripes on
his arms,'' perhaps referring to tattoos, or ''a gathering where
streams come together.''
Ossining: After Sint Sink or ''place of stone.''
Nepperhan: A mispronunciation of Nappeckamax, a fort at Yonkers.
The name meant ''our people's field by the water,'' or ''cold
running water,'' or ''the place of fish traps.''
Pound Ridge: Named for the pound or enclosure made of saplings
that the Indians used to trap and contain game until they needed
to butcher it.
''A lot of numbered roads around Westchester are trails that have
been paved over,'' Mr. Pritchard said.
Route 6: Part of what originated as the Sagamore Trail near Cape
Cod, while Route 9 was part of the international trail system
that went from Montreal to Bowling Green in Manhattan. It is better
known as Broadway.
Route 22: White Plains Road, which was originally a trail from
Montreal to Louisville, Ky. It was known as ''the common path''
as it headed north into White Plains, and as the Potiticus Trail
north of New Castle. That name probably was related to the Putitucks
tribe near Redding, Conn., Mr. Pritchard said.
Route 100: Known as the SuccabonkTrail, while Route 129 was the
North Succabonk Trail.
Taconic: Cold river.
Tuckahoe: A root that is good to eat, perhaps jack-in-the-pulpit
or golden club. Others translate it as ''mushroom.''
White Plains: The Weckquaesgeek tribe called the area Quarropas,
meaning white marshes or white plains, for the fogsthat hung over
the swampland for days.
Wickers Creek, Dobbs Ferry: An Anglicization of its Indian name,
''Weckquaesgeek,'' which Mr. Pritchard translates as ''birch bark
by the water.'' TINA KELLEY
CAPTIONS: Photos: In Harrison, waterfalls off Love Lane, once
clearly heard, now mingle with present-day sounds. An engraving
of a Lenape Indian is in Ward Pound Ridge Reservation's library.
(Photo by Suzy Allman for The New York Times)(pg. 1); A fence
separates a section of what was once an Indian shell midden that
was preserved when a town house development was built near Wickers
Creek, top. Insert: Oyster shells found near the shell midden.
Artist's rendering, probably from the late 19th century, depicting
the purchase of White Plains, left. Beth Herr, former curator
of Trailside Museum at Ward Pound Ridge Reservation, works in
the Delaware Indian Resource Center. (Photos by Westchester County
Historical Society, below left; Suzy Allman, below; and Jim Simpson/The
New York Times)(pg. 8)
Chart/Map: ''Westchester's Indians''
These are the names of Indian groups that lived in what we now
know as Westchester. Scholars now refer to them collectively as
Lenape or Wappingers. The smaller groups in Westchester often
referred to themselves by the names of their villages, some scholars
believe. These are some of the names of Indian groups that lived
here, superimposed on a map of the county with contemporary names,
some of them Indian as well.
Map of Westchester shows the locations and names of Indian groups.
(Source by Westchester Historical Society)(pg. 8)
Copyright 2004 The New York Times Company