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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 7: Mohawk Indian Sites about Fort Plain, by Douglas Ayres, Jr.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 154-161 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Prehistoric village sites — Specimens found — A primeval pine-oak hill — Mohawk-Mohican battle ground — Wagner's hollow site — Ceremonial site near Freysbush Road

Mr. Douglas Ayres, Jr., of Fort Plain, is the author of the following chapter, which is the result of his archaeological researches among the Mohawk Indian village sites in and around the present village of Fort Plain. Fort Plain and its immediate neighborhood is richer in Mohawk village sites and relics than any other section of the Mohawk Valley. As these village sites and remains cover all the periods — from the prehistoric to the later years in the tribal life of the Mohawks in our Valley — the field is a particularly fertile and varied one. With regard to several of the more important locations, it may be said that two of them are particularly noteworthy. Otstungo, or Indian Hill, is nationally famous, while Tenotoge, on Oak Hill, was probably the largest Mohawk Indian town in the Mohawk Valley, of which we have any historical record.

Otstungo was one of the first Indian village sites to be investigated and, while it has been dug over for a century, it still yields an occasional relic of interest. The castle site is remarkably well adapted for defense and is one of the most picturesque and interesting of the Mohawk locations. It is situated on a beautiful winding stream and the gorge of the Otstungo is well worth a visit.

The Dutch silver coin of 1618 which Mr. Ayres found on the site of Tenotoge, may well have been lost or given to some sachem by Van den Bogaert, during his memorable journey of 1634, elsewhere described. The Mohawk-Mohican battle-ground, close to Tenotoge, probably was a scene of one of their many conflicts — perhaps during the war between these bitter enemies which was being waged on or before 1627.

Mr. Ayres has made an interesting discovery in the uncovering of a small Mohawk Indian village site in the Second Woods neighborhood, just west of Fort Plain. This location might well be called Tha-koi-e-keer-on, the Mohawk name for Little Woods Brook or Lipe's Creek, which rises near the site of this ancient Indian settlement, about two miles west of Fort Plain. The pottery which Mr. Ayres has uncovered there is of an unusual type.

Mr. Douglas Ayres, Jr., has spent many years in the investigation and study of the Fort Plain neighborhood sites. He is intimately acquainted with the topography and geology of the section and, in every way, is unusually well equipped to describe these important Mohawk locations. The chapter is historically important in that it gives us information as to the exact location and present-day condition of these Mohawk towns which had such an important bearing upon the history of America. The reader will find that Mr. Ayres has arranged his field notes in a very interesting chapter, descriptive of the Fort Plain archaeological field, which follows.

* * * * *

The Mohawk village sites in the vicinity of Fort Plain are typical of the Indian occupation of the Mohawk Valley. The prehistoric sites are situated on naturally fortified hills several miles from the river. The historic sites are generally on bluffs overlooking the river. Otstungo and Garoga were the largest prehistoric villages. Tenotoge (Oak Hill), Wagner's Hollow, Prospect Hill and The Hog's Back (Tsi-dros-o-wen-gen) were large historic villages.

A small prehistoric village site in the Second Woods, on a wooded ridge now owned by Mr. Adam Failing, has yielded some very fine artifacts. This site was discovered in 1921. A fragment of fresh water clam shell, lying on the surface of the ground where it had been dug up by some animal, gave us the clue. In exploring this village, the procedure we followed was to first locate the spots of charcoal-blackened earth, indicating the location of fireplaces. The fireplaces and areas of disturbed soil ran across the top of the low ridges forming the site. We found four rather distinct rows of blackened earth which apparently indicate roughly the approximate location of the "long houses". Among the specimens that have been found there, three human effigy clay pipe bowls are perfect. On the perimeter of each of the bowls are three neatly modeled faces. Beauchamp places the use of pipes of this type late in the 16th century. One slightly decorated pipe is perfect as to both bowl and stem.

The pottery from the Failing site is distinctive, although typically Iroquoian none of the potsherds bear the characteristic incisions on the lower edge of the rim which is a decoration common to the bowls from other prehistoric sites such as Otstungo, Garoga and Cayudutta. Among the rarer decorations on the bowls from the Failing site are the corn-cob and the cord impressions and the imitation of the stitches made in ornamenting baskets with porcupine quills. Articles of earthenware are more common than those of chipped stone. I have found only one celt with the cutting edge and this specimen was imperfect. The other fragments of celts were from the handle portion. Two chipped stone implements of granite with blunt faces instead of a cutting edge are rather unique in that they seem to have been employed for hammering, although they may be remnants of large pestles as they are two and a half and three inches in diameter. One thread-stone has been found on the Failing site. It is grooved deeply by the wearing of thongs which were pulled across it to smooth and round off the leather.

One day while digging here in an undisturbed bed of clay-soil my pick struck two fine sharp arrowheads of triangular form lying one exactly on top of the other and held in close contact by a thin layer of clay. In ancient times I pictured a Mohawk hunter sitting down to rest. As he rested he laid his two favorite shafts with newly fashioned points beside him. Perhaps the red man lost them in the pine-needles or perhaps he had concealed them there, for future use. At any rate none had disturbed them until my pick brought them to light.

It would require too detailed an account to discuss all the specimens removed from the various sites. A few specimens from Otstungo are worthy of consideration. The Otstungo prehistoric site embraces about six acres situated on the top of a high perpendicular cliff of Utica shale, overlooking the Otstungo Creek. The primeval forest on Otstungo was pine, as is the second growth today. We work around the virgin pine stumps and strike shallow trenches six feet wide and six inches deep between them. We cut a root. Out from under it tumbles a decoration of a pipe. It is an imitation of a great horned owl. There are the large round eyes, the facial disks, the ear tufts, the beak — crude, but easily recognizable as the silent-winged forest hunter whose hunting-cry must have often boomed through the Otstungo woodland. Some very fine stone axes, pestles, arrowheads, spears and bone implements have been excavated from this Mohawk fort. It has been dug over for a century.

On land now owned by Mr. Victor Bauder and embracing about one-half of the ancient Otstungo village site there grew a virgin pine which measured, when cut, 7 feet 4 inches across the butt. This butt log ran up 15 feet and then branched into four forks each one of which was three feet in diameter. From this tree fourteen thousand feet of lumber was sawed. The only woodsman whom Mr. Nathan Bauder, then owner of the woods, could obtain to cut this tree was Mr. Hiram Delong. Others feared to assist Mr. Delong, as it was thought the tree was too large to be felled in any given direction and that the danger of being hit by the falling tree was very great. Mr. Delong felled the tree alone in four hours with an axe, making an eighteen inch cut completely around the tree.

A primeval pine that must have rivaled this tree in size once grew on the cliff's very edge at Otstungo. A tremendous wind must have uprooted it, for it remains today flat on the edge of the cliff, its stump splintered and jagged, and the upper part of the tree sawed off to permit the removal of other trees. The wood, although shorn of its bark, and weathered very grey, is still hard and dry.

Tenotoge on Oak Hill, in the locality northwest of Fort Plain known as Dutchtown, combines the vestiges of the aboriginal culture with the introduction of the white trader's articles. From this village site a tremendously expansive view is obtainable. To the northwest lies the Garoga Creek valley and in the blue distance the Adirondack foothills near Rockwood and Garoga Lake in Fulton County. Far to the northwest the uplift beginning at Little Falls runs in a broken line of hills northeasterly. To the south stretches the Valley of the Mohawk and on the southwest horizon lie the rolling, wooded summits of the Cherry Valley hills. To Tenotoge came the French and the Dutch traders. From Oak Hill the junction of the Canadian trail from Lake George with the river trail and the ford at the mouth of the Garoga could be seen.

On the Tenotoge site I found, in 1923, a trader's white clay pipe stem with the Fleur-de-Lis of France stamped upon it. Another pipe, presumably French, has upon the bowl the letters "I H S", from the Latin, meaning, "Jesus Saviour of Mankind." In the summer of 1924 I unearthed a little evidence of Dutch influence. It was a thin silver coin bearing the date 1618, and the word Zelandia (from the province of Zealand, Holland) on one side and on the other side a rampant, crowned lion clutching a bunch of arrows in one paw. This coin was pierced for suspension as an ornament. It lay in a fireplace pit when found, not over six inches deep. Other common traders' objects are copper rolls, iron knives, copper sheets, beads, and other iron implements, found on the site of Tenotoge. One of the most interesting objects from Oak Hill is a small sandstone disk about one and one-fourth inches in diameter engraved with numerous lines. In the center of one set of apparently aimless lines is a rather neat figure of a bear.

Besides being a village site, Oak Hill served the Mohawks as a storehouse for corn. Here, and on a ridge running parallel to the village site, but two hundred yards farther down the hill to the south, are at least fifty corn pits which are still quite plainly visible. Near Oak Creek which runs along the south side of Oak Hill is another little ridge with about a dozen corn pits. Into these pits the Iroquois placed baskets of elm tree bark. Between the baskets and the wall of the pit charcoal was packed to absorb the moisture. Over the baskets peaked roofs of bark shed the rain and kept out the snow and wild animals. Pits of this kind seldom yield any relics, but in one pit on Oak Hill I dug up a small fragment of a bowl with a crude effigy of the human face. The earthen bowls were doubtless used to carry the grain to the village when it was needed for food and so broken fragments are likely to occur near the pits.

Oak Hill (the site of the Mohawk town of Tenotoge in 1634) is geologically speaking a drumlin. A drumlin is a glacial deposit of unsorted material which lies parallel to the general glacial flow. Oak Hill trends roughly northwest by southeast. The underlying rock outcrops on Oak Hill which are exposed in the creek gorges consist solely of Utica shale. On the top of the hill lie gray gneiss bowlders torn from their parent rock masses in the Adirondacks by the glacier and deposited in jumbled heaps many feet above the Utica shale beds which represent a younger deposit than the Pre-Cambrian rocks to which the gneiss belongs. The summit of Oak Hill is 780 feet above sea-level as recorded on the U. S. geological survey map. It was around these glacial-transported bowlders [sic] that the Tenotoge campfires were lighted by the Mohawks.

Towards the southern edge of the hill is a creek which is locally known as Oak Creek. On the southern side of Oak Creek on wooded land, now owned by Mr. Ambrose Failing, is an extremely interesting glacial deposit called an esker. An esker is caused by the deposition of stratified gravel and sand in the beds of streams flowing in, on or under the ice sheet. Such streams are evidence of a melting glacier, and they frequently may be studied today emerging from the ice caves in certain modern glaciers. When the ice melts away entirely the sub-glacial stream deposit is left winding like a narrow artificial embankment above the surface of the surrounding country. The sides of the deposit may slump when the ice-retaining walls melt.

The Oak Hill esker is a fine example of this kind. The sides are steep and, towards the north, there is a drop of about 50 feet. The top of the esker is wide enough for a footpath and also to allow the growth of a row of fairly large beeches, hemlocks and pines. This esker was examined by Prof. F. F. Burr, of St. Lawrence University, in July, 1924. Professor Burr pronounced it to be one of the most striking deposits of this type he had ever seen.

There is a tradition in the Dutchtown section of Fort Plain that just south of Tenotoge the Mohawks once battled with the Mohicans. I can quote no exact authority for this statement but I have in my collection what might be considered proof that a battle was fought there. This consists of two iron trader's axes which were plowed up by Mr. Henry Beck on his farm on a ridge bordering Oak Creek on the north and about a quarter of a mile south of Tenotoge. This ridge is a small esker, similar in formation to the more prominent esker farther east along the same stream. This small esker was utilized by the Mohawks as a corn pit site and at least a dozen pits are still discernible. The esker on the Beck farm is soon lost in the general height of land forming a plateau bordering Oak Creek. On this plateau the Mohawk-Mohican battle may have been waged. Along with the axes an iron chisel and what resembles an old-time shotgun barrel have also been found. The axes are hand forged and bear respectively four and six pointed stars within circles arranged in a triangle on their flat surfaces. This is evidently a manufacturer's stamp. It is to be hoped that some one will be able to throw more light on what is perhaps the site of an intense Indian struggle for supremacy.

The Wagners Hollow site on Garoga Creek has yielded some very fine bone implements and many arrowheads.

Farther north the prehistoric Garoga site, situated on a prominent hogsback jutting out into a natural amphitheatre, was once a strong Mohawk fort. It was of the same period as Otstungo to which an age of 300 to 350 years can safely be ascribed. Unfortunately but very few relics now remain on the Garoga site as it was thoroughly excavated by the Peabody-Harvard Museum, about 1910.

Within the village limits of Fort Plain are several areas once occupied by the Indians. The Taregiorus site, or the Middle Village (1700-1755) was on the southeastern point of Prospect Hill near the former Rean bee farm.

A number of graves have been exposed by drawing sand from the garden now owned by Mr. Jesse Brown on Institute Hill in Fort Plain. The burials were of the historic period. Scattered burials have also been discovered here and there in the Fort Plain cemetery, where fireplaces have also been uncovered. There was a fair-sized village of recent occupation on Sand Hill, on the edge of the plateau overlooking the river. This was Cawoge of the Dutch journal of 1634-35.

Before the Mohawk was dredged for the Barge canal, there was a camp site on the extreme upper end of Lipe's or Abeel Island. The gravel dredged from the river obliterated this site. The occupation may have been Algonquin, as a grooved axe was found there. This specimen might have belonged to an Algonquin captive of the Iroquois, or it might have been acquired by them in trade.

One ceremonial site near the Freysbush road is less well known than the village sites. This place is near the location of Revolutionary Fort Clyde and is in the woods of what was formerly known as the Robert Nellis farm. Here the Mohawks came for their annual festival of the green corn dance. Fifteen years ago the ring of depressed ground where the dance took place was still quite plain. It reminded one of an old path in which the pine needles and forest debris of the years had collected. The diameter of the circle was about thirty feet and it was roughly bounded by huge old pine stumps. Some stumps lay also within the circle. In recent years all traces of this dance-circle have been destroyed by pasturing cattle in the woods and by cutting down trees. The Dutch called this site the Danskammer, meaning the "Dance Chamber."

In considering the Indian in his natural forest life as the first traders found him we are impressed by the poetry in his life. A race who, looking down upon the Mohawk, could name it Canneoganakalonitade — "river which flows like a small continuing sky," when seen through the tree tops — was possessed of an aesthetic sense which the Twentieth century can hardly exceed, even if it has been able to harness the waters of the Mohawk. The redmen were the true nature lovers. It is well to keep uppermost in the mind the cultural side of the Indian rather than his worst traits as manifested in warfare. Much was unrecorded by the early historians of Indian life. Much was forgotten. It is only by little fragments of evidence that we can piece together the picture of the Indian as he once lived. The archaeological evidence gives us bare facts. But to our imagination we must turn for the background and the color in which to clothe the facts of our findings.

Can it fail to stir the imagination to picture Oak Hill in the days of Tenotoge? Two warriors toil up the hillside with a deer slung between them. They are greeted by a cluster of women grinding corn in wooden mortars with stone pestles. The men drop the deer. They fling aside their stone axes, and bows, and quivers of arrows. They enter the Long House and eat. As the day wanes and the last rays of the sun dance through the swaying pines and the whispering oak leaves, the Mohawks sit about their lodges. In the distance the Adirondack foothills are purpling in the dusk. The forest is merging with the shadows. An Indian nods in slumber. His pipe falls into the lodge fire. The dying embers crack it. The ashes conceal it. There it has lain through the centuries. If only it could tell the real story.

Douglas Ayres, Jr.

Fort Plain, N. Y., September 9, 1924.

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