The Old New York Frontier/Part 1/Chapter 2

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The Old New York Frontier by Francis Whiting Halsey
Part 1, Chapter 2

Part 1.   Indians and Fur Traders
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Chapter 2.   Indian Villages in the Upper Valley


THE Indian population on the upper Susquehanna was centered in small villages. It was never large. Parkman, in reference to the whole continent, has remarked that the Indians everywhere were few and scattered. Even in parts thought to be well peopled, "one might sometimes journey for days together through the twilight forest and mee no human form." Around the Susquehanna villages small clearings had usually been made. Apple-orchards had been planted and there were frequent corn-fields; but otherwise the virgin territory bore few indications that men were dwelling upon it.

Council Rock, Otsego Lake

    The foot of Otsego Lake was a favorite resort. In that fact Cooper found the origin of the word Otsego, the particular place where meetings were held being Council Rock. A meaning cited by Campbell [1] is "clear, deep water," but other writers, like Morgan, pass the word by without defining it. Dr. Beauchamp gives the forms Otesaga and Ostenha, and says they are traditionally supposed to refer to Council Rock. In crossing from the Mohawk to the Susquehanna, Indians regularly came by way of this lake.

    The rock had unquestionably been a favorite haunt of theirs. Cooper describes it as "a large isolated stone that rested on the bottom of the lake, apparently left there when the waters tore away the earth from around it, in forcing for themselves a passage down the river." The trees that overhung it formed "a noble and appropriate canopy to a seat that held many a forest chieftain during the long succession of unkown ages in which America and all it contained existed apart as a world by itself." In times of extreme low water the rock now appears as an oval cone about nine feet in diameter one way and six the other. From the bed on which it rests it rises about four and a half feet. When the water is extremely high the rock is covered.


  • [1] Annals of Tryon County. The author of this work, William W. Campbell, was born in Cherry Valley in 1806, and died in 1881. He was graduated from Union College, read law with Judge Kent, and practised in New York, where, in 1849, he was appointed a Justice of the Superior Court. From 1857 until 1865 he was a Judge of the State Supreme Court for the Sixth District. He also served a term in Congress. His Annals were published in 1831, and a revised edition with a new title, Border Warfare, in 1849. A third edition came out in 1880 from the printing-office of John L. Sawyer, of Cherry Valley. Judge Campbell was the father of the late Douglas Campbell, author of The Puritan in Holland, England and America, published in 1892. Judge Campbell wrote his Annals while studying law in Cherry Valley. He occupied a room in the Cherry Valley Academy, afterward converted into a hotel, and burned in July, 1894. In that building, in the summer of 1892, the author had the pleasure of meeting his widow. Of all books devoted to the early history of the Susquehanna Valley, Campbell’s Annals, the first important one to be published, is perhaps first in intrinsic charm. Stone’s work is largely devoted to other parts of the country.

    It is clear that the Indians did not know the lake by the name Otsego. In Dongan’s time they called it "the lake whence the Susquehanna takes its rise." Colden, in 1738, referred to it in similar terms. The Mohawk chief Abraham, in 1745, described certain lands to William Johnson as lying "at the head of Susquehanna Lake," and an Onondaga orator at Johnson Hall, in 1765, called it "Cherry Valley Lake." In letters written from the lake in 1765, missionaries called it Otsego Lake, which is perhaps the earliest use of the name on record. On the Augsburg map of the province, dated 1777, occurs the form "Lake Assega," which would imply that the name had then found official acceptance. Excellent hunting and fishing were here to be obtained. The first settlers on the site of Cooperstown found arrow-heads and stone hatchets in great abundance. The apple-trees were of large size. Cooper thought the place had been more or less frequented by Indian traders for a century before the regular settlement began. The English early recognized the Susquehanna as a gate-way to the South. In 1721 the King was advised to erect a fort near where the river flows out of the lake.

    Remains of ancient villages on the river at points below Cooperstown have often been discovered. Small relics in considerable numbers have been preserved in private hands. Perhaps the largest collection ever made was the one destroyed in the Oneonta Normal School fire in the winter of 1892 –93. It had been formed by W. E. Yager, and numbered somewhere about 1,500 specimens. It was the only loss by that fire which State appropriations have not been able to replace. In 1892 on a farm near the old Goodyear Mills was found a cup of clay that had been used for melting lead. Another find in the same place was a pipe-bowl.

    When Gideon Hawley came down the valley in 1753, he found at the mouth of Schenevus Creek, [2] or the Charlotte, a village of some size, then inhabited and called Towanoendlough, which was the frontier town of the Mohawks. Here, some years ago, in a time of flood, many signs of an Indian burial-place were washed to the surface.


  • [2] Generally said to have been named after an Indian who lived on the stream, but A. Cusick told Dr. Beauchamp that the word meant first hoeing of corn. The form Sheniba occurs on a map dated 1790.

   Harvey Baker has described a village that existed west of the mouth of the Charlotte on the lands now owned by the Slades, and including the adjacent Beam’s Island, on which is a mound supposed to contain the remains of an Indian chief named Alatinga. An apple-orchard flourished here.

   What appears to have been another rather large village stood at the mouth of Otego [3] Creek. It had orchards extending along the northern side of the river, embracing lands afterward known as the Van Woert, Calkins, and Stoughton Alger farms. Several miles down the river, just above the mouth of Sand Hill Creek, is a whirlpool which the Indians called Kaghneantasis, meaning where the water goes round.


  • [3] Waateghe was the eighteenth-century form of this word. Later it was called Adiga, and then the form Atege occurs.

    About one mile below Unadilla Village on the north side of the river, long existed a heap of stones, called the Indian Monument. Gideon Hawley thought the pile was due to an Indian custom of throwing a stone to the spot when passing, as a recognition of the existence of a supreme being. William A. Fry, of Sidney, remembered that in 1830 an Indian arrived at the Hough farm to cast a stone upon the pile. The Indian said if the act were neglected by his tribe in any one year, the tribe would become extinct – a belief pointing to fear of God. A heap of stones similar to this was used by surveyors for one of the corners of Tryon County at a place now embraced in Schoharie. The stones were small and flat, and there were many thousands of them. Two miles farther down the river was an old Indian camping-ground. David McMaster, who was born there, remembered that in his boyhood arrow-heads were very common in a garden attached to his father’s house.

    The mouth of the Unadilla River was long a favorite resort of hunters. The hill on the Unadilla side was frequently burned over in the autumn,and hence got the name of Burnt Hill. It has since been called Mount Moses, and by that name is called in the original survey made in 1791 for the river-road running at its base. On the Sidney side of the stream, in 1772, existed an ancient fort which the Indians declared had been erected "five hundred summers ago." It contained three acres of land enclosed by a mound, and ditch.

    David Cusick, the Tuscarora Indian who wrote a history of the Six Nations, [4] went over the site of this fort in 1800, and says it was built by Sau-rau-roh-wah, an Indian of great stature, with the strength of ten ordinary men. This giant carried on war against his enemies along the Susquehanna. He would lie in ambush near the path, "and whenever the people are passing he shoots them." He "used a plump arrow, which was so violent that it would break the body in two parts."


  • [4] Cusick’s work is not held in esteem by historians, but is interesting as showing something of the character of Indian tradition. Parkman describes it as containing “a few grains of truth inextricably mingled with a tangled mass of absurdities.”

    Sau-rau-roh-wah became so troublesome that plans were laid to destroy him. A favorite dish of his, including huckleberries, was taken to him by three warriors, and while he was eating it one of them with a club, which had been concealed under a blanket, dealt him a terrific blow on the head. Running out of the fort the giant rushed toward the river, but "sank in the mire which was near the bank." The warriors then overtook and killed him on the spot. They "spoiled his house and obtained a large quantity of skin, etc., and the fort was ruined ever since." Cusick attempts to fix the date of this incident, making it eight hundred or a thousand years before Columbus landed, which would mean 500 or 700 of our era. The value of these dates is of the very slightest.

    Until recent years there existed at Sidney an Indian relic known as the Knoll. It was level on top, some fifteen feet high, and across the top measured about ten rods. A portion of it was irreverently carted away by the builders of the Ontario and Western Railroad, for use in rearing an embankment. Bones and other remains were found there, but they did not stay the hands of the spoilers. Directly across the river is another elevation of ground in which Indian relics have been unearthed.

    The name Unadilla was originally applied not only as now to the Unadilla side of the two rivers, but to lands across them included in the towns of Sidney and Bainbridge. It was a term for all the territory adjacent to the confluence and now intersected by the boundaries of three counties. When the need arose for a more definite name for the Sidney side, the names Johnston Settlement before the Revolution, and Susquehanna Flats after it, were brought into use. These terms were employed for about thirty years, and were then superseded by the name Sidney.

    One of the meanings assigned to Unadilla by local tradition is "Pleasant Valley." It has also been said to stand for some kind of a stream. The meaning given by Morgan, our best authority, is "place of meeting," which refers to the meeting of the two streams. The word has been spelled in many ways. As in the Fort Stanwix deed, we find Tianaderha, so Gideon Hawley, in I 1753, wrote Teyonadelhough. Richard Smith cites the form Tuna-derrah. Other forms are Cheonadilha and Deunadilla, while Unendilla and Unideally are common. Joseph Brant, in a letter to Persefer Carr, wrote “Tunadilla.” All these forms resulted from the white man’s efforts to put into writing the word as pronounced by various tribes. The form Unadilla comes nearest to the Oneida dialect, which has the charm of greater softness than the others. Stone is at a loss to understand why the pioneers were not content to accept as final the spelling adopted by an educated Indian like Brant.[5]


  • [5] The reader will be impressed with the likeness of the form Teyona delhough to the name of another Indian village referred to by Gideon Hawley as Towanoendalough, which also was a place where trails and streams met. A word much like it, Teondaloga, was applied by the Indians to Fort Hunter, the place where the Schoharie joins the Mohawk, the meaning of which was, where two streams come together. Another form for the Fort Hunter place is Iconderoga, which closely resembles Ticonderoga. Other words in Iroquois dialects for places at the junction of two streams are Tiorunda, now Fishkill; Tiosarande, now Luzerne, and Tiogen, now Tioga Point. Between Teyonadelhough and Teondaloga there is very close resemblance. Each is the English spelling of a Mohawk utterance, and they seem originally to have been the same word. The present spelling of Unadilla was adopted when the town was formed. In the Poor Master’s book of 1793 it is written as we write it now. How long the name had been in use before Hawley used it is, of course, matter of conjecture. But it was the name of a place before it ever was applied to a stream. In 1683 the Indians called the river "the Kill which falls into the Susquehanna." The stream had obviously at that time received no name.

    Near Afton, on an island, was a village called Cunahunta, a word sometimes written Conihunto, and Gunnegunter, but most important of all these Indian settlements was Oghwaga, [6] where at the time of the Revolution existed the largest Indian town in the valley, with an orchard, a church, a fort, and many other signs of civilization. It was long a central trading post for the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers, where Indians from the Far West and South met traders from Albany and. Schenectady, who, for furs, gave in exchange guns, powder, blankets, and knives. This importance of Oghwaga began very early – before 1650 I think – and probably as soon as the Dutch had become well established as traders in Albany. The Oghwaga Indians were detachments from the Mohawks, Oneidas, and other tribes, and in 1757 the place had become what Stone calls "an aboriginal Port Royal, where many of the Six Nations who had become disgusted with the politics of their several cantons were in the habit of settling."


  • [6] Spelled in almost every conceivable manner. Among the forms are Oneaquaga, Oughquagy, Onoaughquagey, Ononghquage, Auquauga, Anaquaga, Oughquogey, Anaquegha, Onaquaga, Aughquagee, Ochquaga, Aughquagey, Oquaca, Oguaga, Anaquaqua, Oquage, and Okwaha. The form Okwaho is used in the Marcoux Dictionary, which gives the meaning wolf. This was a term applied to one of the Mohawk tribes. Gideon Hawley wrote Onohoghquage. Dr. O’Callaghan employed the form Oghquaga. For the present village in the town of Colesville, the spelling is Ouaquaga. At Deposit a hotel uses for its name the form Oquaga, which is also employed for a small lake of this name. The northerly branch of the Delaware has been called the Coquago branch. Wilkinson wrote Oquago, and Washington Anaquaga. Stone adopted the form Oghkwaga. Sir William Johnson wrote Oghquago – though not always. Brant, after the battle of Minisink, used the form Oghwage. Brant was a Mohawk Indian who knew how to spell. The word is pronounced in three syllables. In order to secure such pronunciation the author has taken the liberty of converting Brant’s final "e" into an "a," making it Oghwaga. A. Cusick told Dr. Beauchamp he thought the word meant place of hulled-corn soup.

    As early as 1748 Oghwaga had become a missionary station, and in the Revolution was a head-quarters for Joseph Brant. Among the apple-trees the first settlers ploughed up many Indian bones. The apple-trees produced fruit, fair and round, and often a pound in weight. Many curious trinkets were unearthed, and near the old castle war-implements. The Indian path over Oghwaga mountain was plainly visible for more than sixty years after the Indians ceased to travel it. These Indians formed a large tribe. In 1770 they sent one hundred and twenty-four representatives to the congress at German Flatts. In 1772 some Indians living at Oghwaga were known as the Ochtaghquanawecroones. The town lay on both sides of the river, just below a large bend in the stream. The present village of Windsor occupies a part of the site. Just below Oghwaga lay another town called Tuscarora.

    The trails which followed the Susquehanna and its branches formed the great route to the south and west from Central New York. Into the most dis-tant regions the tribes of the Iroquois from the ear-liest ages had gone over this highway of their own building for purposes of war, plunder, and pleasure. Along the banks of this stream trails had been deeply worn by red men’s feet. Generations had passed over them, and the white man, coming later, put them to use before constructing roads of his own. In many cases the white man’s roads were actually built by widening the trails, as was the case with the present road from Sidney to Unadilla on the northern side of the river and the main thorough-fare of Oneonta. [7]


  • [7] Formerly written Onoyarenton, and applied also to the creek of this name – its meaning, a stony place.

    An Indian trail, as described by Morgan, was from twelve to eighteen inches wide, and was often worn to a depth of a foot where the soil yielded readily. In time of war, trained runners were employed to carry messages to distant points. Along these well-worn paths relays of men were known to cover the space from Albany to Buffalo in three days. One Indian could run one hundred miles in a day. This extraordinary skill has been ascribed to the absence of horses in America before the coming of Europeans. Indians, from necessity, acquired the accomplishment of the horse. They did more. They performed feats which only the well-trained bicyclist can perform to-day. They made century runs.

    The upper Susquehanna and its branches, includ-ing the Unadilla, penetrated lands in which dwelt or hunted Mohawks, Oneidas, and Onondagas, while the Chemung penetrated the lands of the Senecas. These rivers, uniting at Tioga Point to become one river, flowed down from a large territory in which dwelt the Iroquois nations. That territory, as Morgan points out, is shaped somewhat like a triangle, of which Tioga Point is the apex, while its base is the great central trail from the Hudson to Lake Erie. Thus in Indian times, as in our own, this latter locality, the base of the triangle, possessed the greatest of all New York highways. Down these streams from the Long House of the Iroquois went almost every Indian who journeyed to the south, with Tioga the great central point of meeting.

    The Susquehanna trails followed both sides of the stream; the one taking the north bank meeting at the Unadilla River the Oneida trail coming from the north. Proceeding up the Susquehanna, one trail went on to Otsego Lake and Cherry Valley, while the other followed the Charlotte,[8] crossing from the head of the stream to Cobleskill [9] and the Schoharie,[10] whence a trail ran along that stream to the Lower Castle of the Mohawks at Fort Hunter, and to Albany, with a branch following Catskill Creek to the Hudson River. For the Mohawk country, the Hudson River Valley and for lands east of the Hudson, here lay the most direct route west by the Susquehanna and Ohio, and south to Chesapeake Bay. On this subject of highways a truthful and pathetic speech was made in 1847 by Peter Wilson, a Cayuga chief, before the New York Historical Society, in these words:

The Empire State, as you love to call it, was once laced by our trails from Albany to Buffalo – trails that we had trod for centuries – trails worn so deep by the feet of the Iroquois that they became your roads of travel, as your possessions gradually eat into those of my people. Your roads still traverse those same lines of communication which bound one part of the Long House to the other. Have we, the first holders of this prosperous region, no longer a share in your history! Glad were your fathers to sit down upon the threshold of the Long House. Had our forefathers spurned you from it when the French were thundering at the opposite gate to get a passage through and drive you into the sea, whatever has been the fate of other Indians, the Iroquois might still have been a nation, and I, instead of pleading here, for the privilege of living within your borders – I might have had a country.

  • [8] The Indian name of this stream was Adaquetangie. When Sir William Johnson got his patent to the valley, he changed the name to Charlotte as a compliment to the Queen of

George III., Queen Victoria’s grandmother.

  • [9] Originally Cobus Kill and of German origin. An Indian name for it, given by Dr. Beauchamp, is Otsgaragu, meaning Hemp Hill.
  • [10] Many forms occur in earlier writings. Dr. Beauchamp gives the meaning, driftwood.

Next: Chapter 3. The Coming of White Men (1614-1740)[edit]