Fishkill Ridge
Community Heritage

Original Habitants of the Hudson River Valley


Dutchess County Barn May 2, 2004, Sunday

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 Historian.
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 said.
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, 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 with whites.
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 Archaeological Site.
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 and, 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 land.''
Croton: Named after a sachem or leader, Kenotin, whose name meant ''wild wind.''
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

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