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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925

[This information is from Vol. II, pp. 1886-1889 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

Contents | Biographies | Illustrations | Maps | Portraits

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To one who knows and loves this Mohawk Valley land of his birth, this ancient river country is fraught with a meaningful message — a constant appeal to its true sons and daughters, those who know it and who understand it. The Valley of the Mohawk breathes a story of a savage and heroic past — it instills a calm and strong attitude toward things as they really are — the things of life of real worth and interest.

The Valley of the Mohawk nourishes the mind and strengthens the body and buoys the soul. There are character and sympathy in lands and landscapes as there are in men and women. And the human response to the environment of the Mohawk country is healthful and normally stimulating.

We have seen the years roll by and we fancy everything is utterly different in the now from the then. We fancy our Valley must be other than that of the days of the primeval forest, but it is as basically unchanged as the individual is the same, from the cradle to the grave.

We have about us the same everlasting hills, the craggy mountains, the sloping meadows and the luxuriant flats bordering our river — shorn perhaps of some of the original giant verdure but with the same configuration of land and hills with the same everchanging skies, floating clouds and tempests of rain and snow as when the Mohawk crouched in his smoky cabin while the lightning flashed among the giant pines or the roar and crack of thunder cannonaded the river hills.

The Mohawk country was beautiful in its savage forest coat — it is lovely now, through the changing season in its mantles of white, green and brown — it will be as wonderful, in, its way, whatever pigmy defacements the commerce and industry of the future will bring to its river levels.

Standing on a rising knoll overlooking the Mohawk River — distant from the smoke and surge of its great cities — we get a note of true appraisal of ourselves and our Valley. The impetus of the mad rush to nowhere fades from our consciousness and the mighty things of worth rise to the mind. The gentle slopes, the fertile farms, the grazing cattle, the quiet river, the distant, forest-crowned hills breathe a restful melody of beauty and tranquillity.

Every road, every hill, every prospect and every various vista has its message. That distant farm house, is the home of a relative whose ancestor cleared it from the primeval forest nearly two centuries ago — a pioneer whose two sons fought and died at Oriskany. Yonder old stone church was the center of a fortification, where the neighborhood farmers gathered and fought off Brant's savage Indians and Tories, stained with the life blood of women and little children.

Along that near-by mighty railroad with its speeding trains and mile-long freights, the little DeWitt Clinton engine shrieked and puffed its slow progress nearly a century ago.

Every Mohawk Valley landscape and landmark tells an American story to our Valley Americans.

We know our Valley's past and the mighty and modest men and women of old whose strong hands have given us a heritage of comfort and civilization. Do we merit our birthright by a proper accounting of the things worth while? Shall we so use our inheritance of this great and beautiful Valley land so that our children's children may enjoy the same high quality of association with humanity and homeland that we ourselves have had? If so let us retain our high Valley Americanism and protect our homeland from too many of the scars of materialism. Then we may hope to see our children's children the peers of the heroes and heroines of the Revolution.

We are told that our Mohawk Valley will some day be America's greatest manufacturing district. Candidly the writer does not believe it. We live in one of the greatest industrial sections of the United States today and we are sure our factories will increase in number and size and in the quantity and value of their output, — which seems fully sufficient.

Nature and man's enterprise have made our Mohawk Valley the greatest artery of commerce in the world, and we will ever retain that position. The ages carved only one mountain pass from the Atlantic coast of America to its lakes — ours is that one, and there is no other.

But when someone rises and tells us that we shall be this or that in mammoth size — we will not say, "Oh, yes, of course," but rather "Why?". Let us cross-examine all promises and see what everything has to offer for the men and women of the Mohawk Valley and their children — or rather, let us always apply the acid test as to just how everything will affect our children. On that basis we cannot go far astray. When some one tells us that our cities and towns must grow so much in size each year and have so many people in this year and that or be so much bigger than some other town-to all of these questions we will counter query: "Why so — and how will it affect the happiness and prosperity of our people?" The conventional public worship of empty bigness and bombast is fast passing away. Today we consider souls rather than statistics, men rather than money, quality rather than quantity.

If a man holds a pumpkin in one hand and a Spitzenberg in the other, he won't eat the pumpkin just because it is the bigger.

If enormous and, perhaps, unhealthy growth means the reckless placing of inflated populations regardless of the present and future proper distribution and apportionment of food, fuel, water and other human necessities and supplies, or if it means the elimination of our Valley American population and the substitution, or even addition, of an overbalancing bloc of people totally lacking in American ideals — then let us think seriously before we make such radical changes in the splendid American personnel of our Mohawk Valley people, for the mere sake of unmeaning bigness or a nonessential materialistic magnitude.

There are two adjacent Mohawk River towns with a combined population of seven thousand American people. In this combined community there are actually more real Americans enjoying more health, happiness, comfort and prosperity, than there are in many cities of ten times their aggregate population.

Our Valley Mohawks had the splendor of a national consciousness. Although we shrink from their savage barbarities yet, incongruously, they had a proper sense of values in matters concerning the preservation of their tribal ideals and their very existence as a people.

When they brought in their war captives they stopped them at the entrance of the Long House, where they were made to discard their own moccasins for those of Mohawk make. The moccasins of the captives might be more picturesque, more highly decorated, of better leather and finer handiwork — yet they had to come off and be cast into the fire. And, why? — because the Mohawk knew that while the foreign moccasins were superior to the Mohawk moccasins, yet the physical and mental fibre of the Mohawk were superior to them all — and the outward trappings of that national superiority must be retained. And the result of this nationalistic policy has preserved the Mohawk as a tribe to this very day, through viscissitudes which would have eliminated less virile people.

In New York City, several years prior to this writing, the author witnessed a remarkable and highly colored aggregation, in the line of an exhibition showing the various nationalities which had gone toward "the making of America" — rather a grand glorification of each nationality instead of the land of Uncle Sam. One came away with the idea that each of the nationalities there represented had made America all by itself. This was decidedly a wrong and dangerous attitude — the cart before the horse, indeed. If a show had been held where the alien-minded and the slacker American came and, humbly and on their bended knees, recognized what America means to them and to all the world and what all the world owes to America, then a lesson well worth while would have been given.

This history of the Mohawk Valley — Gateway to the West — is just such an exposition of Americanism for our Mohawk River towns and countryside.

The World War taught us the fallacy and silliness of the melting pot. The breeder of live stock will tell a different story. One cannot be a polyglot and be an American, or love every land but his homeland and be worth the breath of life.

There is a saying that "A great country is a country inhabited by a great people" — great in quality rather than quantity.

For over a century and a half we have had a characteristically American Mohawk Valley population. Originally its individual members cast aside their Old-World affiliations and traditions and welcomed the great and growing American spirit. One reads no sentimental twaddle about the Motherland or the Fatherland from the mouths or pens of the Colonial and Revolutionary men of the Mohawk. They were Americans and nothing else — whether their fathers had been Hollanders, Englishmen, Palatines, Scotchmen, Frenchmen, Irishmen, Swiss or Welshmen. The characteristic American ideals and traditions created by our Mohawk Valley pioneers have descended to us today. Our Americanism is true and complete, combining the solidity, solidarity, and pertinacity always characteristic of our Valley people.

Uncle Sam has no truer or better American children than those of the Mohawk Valley.

If we cherish our brotherhood of Americanism, if we give heed to the tales and legends of the Valley heroes, who gave us all we have, if we look to the spirit of the things rather than their shells, if we give regard to the righteous strength of our nationalism, then shall we tend to make our country great.

The Mohawk Valley of today is a great country.

Let us keep it so.

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