Alanson Skinner.

The Indians of Greater New York online

. (page 1 of 9)
Online LibraryAlanson SkinnerThe Indians of Greater New York → online text (page 1 of 9)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook


New \or-X


' :TER


, N.Y. 10019


Number Three



By Oscar H. Lipps

Supervisor in Charge, U. S. Indian School, Carlisle, Penn.
With map and illustrations in three colors


By William Harvey Miner

With map and illustrations in halftone


By Walter Hough

Curator Ethnology, U. S. National Museum, Washington

Each Volume 12mo, $1.00 net Delivery extra



Assistant Curator of Anthropology
American Museum of Natural History, New York

With a Map of the Region




















On that fair afternoon in September, 1609, when
Hendrick Hudson first steered the Half Moon into
the channel of the river that was destined to bear his
name, the region which is now comprised in Greater
New York and its environs was owned and inhabited
by a number of loosely confederated Indian bands, all
of which belonged to three important tribes - - the
Delawares, the Mahikans, and the Mohegans.

All three of these nations spoke dialects of the wide-
spread Algonkin tongue, and were closely related to
each other in their customs and beliefs. They had
resided in the region in which they were first found
by white men for several centuries, yet they preserved
traditions of a land to the northwest which had been
their former home.

Among the archives treasured by historians is a
curious document known as the "Walum Olum," or
Red Score of the Delawares. This purports to be a
copy of an original history of the Delaware nations,
which was first painted in red and black picture-
writing on slabs of wood, and later reduced to the


Delaware language in English characters. Consider-
able doubt has been cast upon the authenticity of
this document, but there seems to be no real reason
why it should not be accepted as genuine. Many of
our Eastern Indians formerly used picture writing to
express their thoughts, and still more adopted the
English alphabet after the coming of the white man,
so that it is not unique. Moreover, educated modern
Delawares who have seen the manuscript have not hes-
itated to believe in its genuineness.

The "Walum Olum, which has every appearance of
having been a song chanted at some of the great cere-
monies of the Delawares, first tells of the creation of
the world from chaos by the great Manito, and of the
first men, who were harassed by an evil Manito in the
form of a great snake, which introduced sin into the
golden age, until an ancient hero called Nanabush
created a great turtle, through whose aid mankind
were presently rid of the snake. The rest of the
strange legend is concerned principally with the for-
mer home of the Delawares, and of their migration.

Apparently the first remembered home of these In-
dians was somewhere in the northeast, perhaps in
Labrador, where, in the words of the "Walum Olum :
"It freezes where they abode, it snows where they
abode, it storms where they abode, it is cold where
they abode.' Since these conditions were so unfa-
vorable they decided to migrate to the south, and set
out on their travels.


After a long journey to the southwest they ar-
rived at a broad expanse of water, where there were
many islands and quantities of fish perhaps the
Great Lakes. At this point they crossed the water
on the ice. "On the wonderful, slippery water, on
the stone-hard water all went, on the great tidal sea,
the muscle-bearing sea, ten thousand at night, all in
one night, to the Snake Island, to the east, at night,
they walk and walk, all of them, ' ' says the old chron-
icle. Once across the water they settled and lived
for some time in a land of spruces and learned to
cultivate corn ; but restless spirits urged them to move
more to the eastward, and so at last they shifted
again, coming into what seems to have been the Ohio

Here they met the Talega thought to have been
the modern Cherokees who dwelt in strongly forti-
fied villages. There is, according to the best author-
ities, very good reason for supposing that these Cher-
okees were the mysterious "Mound-builders" of fact
and fancy, whose remains have so long puzzled the
layman. As a matter of fact, there is no doubt but
the mounds were built by Indians, and the tradi-
tions of both the Cherokees and the Dela wares point
to the former as the makers of the mysterious earth-
works which dot the valley of the Ohio. Many tribes
preserve stories of mounds built by them in former
times; others, like the Iroquois of western New York,
have built earthworks well within the historic period,


and articles of European manufacture have been
found in many mounds.

With the help of the Hurons, the Delawares finally
overthrew and drove out the Cherokees and lived in
abundance in their fertile territory. Perhaps the In-
dians increased too rapidly in this pleasant country,
perhaps they warred over their possessions ; but at all
events, a division occurred, and various bands split
off from the main body and started out in different
directions to seek their fortunes elsewhere.

Among these, two groups subsequently known as
the Nanticokes and the Shawnees went to the south.
The main body journeyed eastward until they came
to the salt water, probably in New Jersey. Part of
these went northward up the Hudson almost to Al-
bany, where they were halted by the Mohawk villages,
formidable outposts of the Iroquois league. These
wanderers were probably the tribe afterwards known
as the Mahikans, or ' ' Wolves. ' The rest of the Del-
awares settled down along the Delaware River in
New Jersey and Pennsylvania, and ranging north-
ward around the west shore of New York Bay and
the Hudson as far north as Saugerties, they again
met the Mahikans, who had preceded them.

Here our information, so far as the Walum Olum
is concerned, is at an end, but from the traditions
preserved by the remnant of the Mohegan tribe -
still residing in New London County, Connecticut -
a little more has been gleaned.


According to their story, the Pequots, whose wars
with the New England colonists made them famous,
sprang from the Mahikans, and, later, a band of ren-
egades under the leadership of Uncas, revolted from
them and settled down between the parent tribe and
the Hudson, on the Thames, Yantic, and Quinnebaug
Rivers, north of Long Island Sound. These malcon-
tents, remembering their traditional descent from the
Mahikans, called themselves by this name, pronoun-
cing it, in their dialect, "Mohegan.'

When the early settlers arrived at Manhattan, they
found these tribes in possession and came in contact
with their various local bands. To enumerate all of
these is useless, save for the archaeologist, but it may
be of interest to consider the more prominent of the
local groups within the area under discussion.

The Delaware tribe was split into three bodies.
First of these was the Munsey or Minsi ("The Moun-
taineers"), who dwelt largely in the Hudson High-
lands and the mountains near the headwaters of the
Delaware. Bands of this division lived along the west
bank of the Hudson for some distance. The second,
the Unami, also lived south of the Minsi along the
Delaware River in central New Jersey, and beyond
them dwelt the Unalachtigo, with whom we need not
concern ourselves.

The most important of the Minsi sub-bands in this
region were the Esopus, who held the west bank of the
Hudson near Kingston; and the Wappingers, who


dwelt on both banks of the stream farther down.
These tribes are often spoken of by the early settlers.

Of the Unami, a larger number of bands are im-
portant. The Haverstraws lived on the west bank of
the Hudson in the locality which bears their name.
The Tappans dwelt also on the west shore of the river
from the Hackensack River north. They once claimed
a part of Staten Island. The Aquackanonks resided
from near the vicinity of Paterson, N. J., westward.
The Hackensacks were found in the valleys of the
Passaic and Hackensack Rivers southward to the
north shore of Staten Island, and the Raritans or
Assanhicans dwelt on the southern part of Staten

As for the Manhattans or Reckgawawancs, as they
are sometimes called, there is some little doubt as to
whether they were a Mohegan or a Delaware band.
The evidence seems to show that they were a sub-
tribe of the Unami Delawares. They also occupied
part of the mainland nearby.

The Mohegan peoples held Westchester County
and the east shore of the Hudson. Of these the most
important were the Siwanoys, who lived along the
coast to and beyond the Connecticut boundary; the
Weckquaesgecks, who dwelt in the vicinity of Yonk-
ers ; and the Sintsincts, who resided on the east banks
of the Hudson to the north of them.

Long Island was occupied by a group of tribes
quite closely related to the Mohegans. They formed


a small independent confederacy, often termed the
Matouwacks. They were so much alike that there is
reason for supposing that they were one tribe.

The Canarsies lived in the vicinity of Brooklyn, the
Matinecocks from Flushing to Glen Cove and Oyster
Bay, and the Rockaways in the neighborhood of Rock-
away beach and eastward.

There were numerous other small bands, the most
interesting to us being the Poosepahtucks, the Shin-
necocks, and the Montauks, a few mongrel descendants
of whom still linger on the eastern end of Long Island
near Poosepahtuck, Montauk, and Southampton.



The sources of our information on the appearance,
manners, and customs of our local Indians are far
from satisfactory, although we have three means of
reconstructing their old life. These are, first, the ac-
counts left us by the early settlers; second, the re-
mains of their arts and handicrafts, which abound in
the soil ; third, the statements of surviving natives.

The first of these is very meagre, for our fore-
fathers were far too busy fighting the savages to
bother with writing about them. The second source
is very one-sided, for it shows us only the more im-
perishable of their tools and utensils ; and, in the case
of the third, the Indians themselves have been so
much modified by contact with the whites that they
have lost or forgotten much of their old time ways.
By the aid of all three of these methods, however, we
are enabled to gain an insight into the life of the ab-
origines whose birthright we enjoy.

In the ' * Remonstrances of New Netherland, and the
Occurrences there, addressed to the High and Mighty
Lords States General of the United Netherlands, By


the People of New Netherlands, ' ' l there is a very
good description of our Indians.

The natives are generally well limbed, slender
around the waist, broad shouldered ; all having black
hair and brown eyes ; they are very nimble and swift
of pace, well adapted to travel on foot and to carry-
heavy burdens ; they are dirty and slovenly in all their
habits; make light of all sorts of hardships, being by
nature from youth upward accustomed thereunto.
They resemble Brazilians in color, or are as tawny as
those people who sometimes ramble through Nether-
land and are called Gipsies. Generally, the men have
very little or no beard, some even pluck it out; they
use few words, which they previously well consider.
Naturally they are quite modest, without guile and
inexperienced, but in their way haughty enough,
ready and quick-witted to comprehend or learn, be it
good or bad, what ever they are most inclined to.

In the Journal of David Pieterz De Vries (1665), 2
there is the following description:

The Indians about here are tolerably stout, have
black hair, with a long lock, which they let hang on
one side of the head. The hair is shorn at the top
like a cock 's comb. . . Some of the women are very
well featured, having long countenances. Their hair
hangs loose from their head ; they are very foul and

On the 22nd of September, 1676, Dankers and

1 O'Callaghan, Documentary History of New York, Vol. 1,
p. 281.

2 De Vries, David Peterson: Voyages from Holland to Amer-
ica. N. Y., 1853 ; p. 154 et seq.


Sluyter, two traveling preachers of an old religious
sect the Labadists after a voyage of nearly four
months in the good ship Charles, saw at the Narrows
off Staten Island,

. . . some Indians upon the beach with a canoe,
and others coming down the hill. As we tacked about
we came close to the shore, and called out to them to
come on board the ship. The Indians came on board
and we looked upon them with wonder. They are
dull of comprehension, slow of speech, bashful, but
otherwise bold of person and red of skin. They wear
something in front of them over the thighs, and a
piece of duffels like a blanket around the body, and
that is all the clothing they have. Their hair hangs
down from their heads in strings, well smeared with
fat, and sometimes with quantities of little beads
twisted in it out of pride. They have thick lips and
thick noses, but not fallen in like the negroes, heavy
eyebrows or eyelids, brown or black eyes, and all of
them black hair and thick tongues. After they had
obtained some biscuit and had amused themselves
climbing here and there, they also received some
brandy to taste which they drank excessively, and
threw- it up again. They then went ashore in their
canoes, and we, having a better breeze, sailed ahead

The picture which the word "Indian" conjures up
to most of us is that of a tall, dark, austere man wear-
ing a splendid trailing headdress of eagle feathers, a
buckskin shirt ornamented with the scalps of his en-
emies, and leggings and moccasins of leather. Indeed
we are accustomed to seeing pictures of the purchase


of Manhattan Island by the Dutch, in which the na-
tives are all represented in this picturesque garb,
which, as a matter of fact, is the costume worn only
by the Sioux and other tribes of the Western plains,
and is as foreign to the Indians of the woodlands as
can be imagined.

By far the commonest headdress among all our local
tribes was, to make a bull, none at all. As has been
pointed out, the men often shaved their heads and
left standing a ridge of hair, like a gigantic cock's
comb, several inches high and two or three fingers
broad, running from the forehead to the nape of the
neck. This they often made longer and more fero-
cious by the addition of dyed deer's hair. 3 The elab-

s In 1902, old Wickham Cuffee, one of the last surviving
Indians on the Shinnecock Reservation, Shinnecock Hills, Long
Island, told the writer that the ''long ago people,'' who had
no metal tools, used to singe the hair off the head by rubbing
it with red hot stones. This was difficult to accept as any thing
more than a mere fancy, until a statement made by Catlin
(North American Indians', Vol. II, p. 23) was found which
seems to settle the matter. Catlin says that the custom of
shaving the head and reaching the hair was practiced by the
Osage, Pawnee, Sauk & Fox, and Iowa, and among no other
nations of whom he knew, and he adds: "I found these peo-
ple cutting off their hair with small scissors, which they pur-
chased of the fur traders; and they told me that previous to
getting scissors, they cut it away with their knives; and be-
fore they got knives, they were in the habit of burning it off
with red .hot stones, which was a very slow and painful opera-


orate eagle feather headdress was unknown to all Del-
aware, Mohegan, and Iroquois tribes.

Shirts were also a minus quantity. Most of the
Indians, men and women, went naked to the waist,
wrapping a skin about the upper part of the body in
cold weather. From the words of an eyewitness 4 we
learn :

The women ornament themselves more than the
men. And although the winters are very severe, they
go naked until their thirteenth year; the lower parts
of the girls ' bodies only are covered. All wear around
the waist a girdle made of a fin of a whale or of sea-
want (wampum). The men wear between the legs
a lap of duffels cloth, or leather, half an ell broad and
nine quarters long ; so that a square piece hangs over
the buttocks and in front over the belly. The women
wear a petticoat midway down the leg, very richly
ornamented with seawant, so that the garment some-
times costs three hundred guilders. They also wrap
the naked body in a deer skin, the tips (edges) of
which swing with points (fringe). A long robe fast-
ened at the right shoulder by a knot, at the waist by a
girdle, served the men and women for an upper orna-
ment, and by night for a bed cover. Both go, for the
most part, bare headed. The women bind their hair
in a plait, over which they draw a square cap, thickly
interwoven with seawant. They decorate the orna-
ments for the forehead with the same stuff. Around
the neck and arms they wear bracelets of seawant, and
some around the waist. Shoes (moccasins) and

4Arnoldus Montanus (1671); O 'Callaghan : Documentary
History of New Yorlc.


stockings (leggings) were made of elk hides before
the Hollanders settled here. Others even made shoes
of straw, but since some time they prefer Dutch shoes
and stockings.

Several of these articles of apparel are still found
among one or two of the tribes of the Middle West who
have not yet become completely civilized. The curious
cap drawn over the women 's plaited hair is still to be
seen among the Menomini, Sauk and Fox, and Winne-
bago, though leather has been supplanted by cloth and
wampum by glass beads.

In the "Remonstrance of New Netherlands," there
is another account that is worth repeating.

/ The clothing as well of men as of women consists
''of a piece of duffels, or of deerskin leather or elkhide
around the body, to cover their nakedness. Some
have a bearskin of which they make doublets; others
again, coats of the skins of raccoons, wild cats, wolves,
dogs, fishers, squirrels, beavers, and the like ; and they
even have made themselves some of turkey feathers;
now they make use for the most part of duffels cloth
which they obtain in trade from the Christians; they
make their stockings and shoes of deerskins or elk-
hides, some even have shoes of cornhusks, whereof
they also make sacks. . . They twine both white
and black wampum around their heads ; formerly they
were not wont to cover these, but now they are begin-
ning to wear bonnets or caps, which they purchase
from the Christians; they wear Wampum in their
ears, around the neck, and around the waist, and thus
in their way are mighty fine. They have also long
deers-hair which is dyed red, whereof they make


ringlets to encircle the head; and other fine hair of
the same color, which hangs around the neck in braids,
whereof they are very vain. They frequently smear
their skin and hair with all sorts of grease.

De Vries, who probably knew the Indians better
than any other white man of his time, gives a brief
description in his Journal.

I will state something of the nations about Fort
Amsterdam; as the Hackinsack, Tapaense, and Wick-
quasgeckse Indians; and these are embraced within
one, two, three, or four miles of the entrance of the
river. . . Their clothing is a coat of beaver-skins,
over the body, with fur inside in winter, and outside
in summer; they have, also, sometimes a bear's hide,
or coat of the skins of wild cats, or hefspanen (rac-
coons). . . They also wear coats of turkey's feath-
ers, which they know how to put together; but since
our Netherland Nation has traded here they trade
their beavers for duffels cloth, which we give for
them, and which they find more suitable than beavers,
as they consider it better for rain.

What a treasure to the artist and scholar alike one
of those beautiful old turkey-feather cloaks would be !
But alas, our forefathers have not preserved for us a
single piece of these handsome costumes which they
describe. The Iroquois of Western New York still
make many curious articles of corn-husks. Mats, mat-
tresses, bottles, and even masks for their sacred cere-
monials are still woven by them from this odd ma-
terial, and there are one or two pairs of Iroquois corn-
husk moccasins still in existence.


During the Civil War, when nitre to make gun-
powder was needed in the South, the powder makers
were obliged to seek it in certain of the great caves of
Kentucky. Here, preserved by the chemicals in the
soil, they found numerous dessicated bodies of long
dead Indians, and several of these were wrapped in
, turkey-feather cloaks, which must have been much
like those of the old Manhattans and their neighbors.
In addition, several pairs of moccasins, woven from
corn-husks, were also disinterred, and some of these
are still in existence in museums, although the feather
robes have been destroyed.

Like all Indians, and, indeed, like the ancient Brit-
ish and Celtic tribes, the natives hereabouts loved to
paint their dusky skins. "Their pride,' says De
Vries, "is to paint their faces strangely with red or
black lead, so that they look like fiends. They are then
valiant, yea they say they are Manette, the devil him-
self. ' The women "sometimes paint their faces and
draw a black ring around their eyes. '

Another old writer says :

Their ornaments consist of scoring their bodies, or
painting them of various colors, sometimes entirely
black, if they are in mourning ; but mostly the face.

Long before the name of the Turkish bath was ever
heard of, there was a similar custom almost univer-
sally practiced among our Indians. De Vries says:

When they wish to cleanse themselves of their foul-
ness, they go in the autumn, when it begins to grow


cold, and make, away off, near a running brook, a
small oven, large enough for three or four men to lie
in it. In making it, they first take twigs of trees, and
then cover them tight with clay, so that smoke cannot
escape. This being done, they take a parcel of stones,
which they heat in a fire, and then put in the oven,
and when they think that it is sufficiently hot, they
take the stones out again, and go and lie in it, men
and women, boys and girls, and come out so perspir-
ing that every hair has a drop of sweat on it. In this
state they spring into the cold water ; saying that it
is healthy, but I let its healthfulness pass. They then
become entirely clean, and are more attractive than

Tattooing was also frequent, among the Delawares
at least, and there are accounts of some of the old
men who even at a much later time than this were
covered with figures representing their exploits in

The Indians hereabouts knew nothing of the conical,
painted tipi, so largely used by the tribes of the
Plains and of northern Canada. Their dwellings
were mostly of two kinds, the commoner of which was
a round, dome-shaped lodge. The other was a long,
angular house, not unlike the famous long house of
the Iroquois. The dome-shaped house, according to
some of the surviving Shinnecock Indians of Long
Island, was made of poles bent over and stuck into
the ground. Other poles were bent crosswise over
these, and the saplings were lashed together where
they intersected. The framework was then thatched


with grass, or covered with bark, or mats made of
reeds. A hole was left at the top, in the center, di-
rectly over the fire, for the smoke to escape, and a
little circular bench was made all around the inside
of the wall for the inhabitants to sit or sleep upon.

These houses usually averaged thirty feet in cir-
cumference, and, contrary to what one would imagine,
they were water-tight when well-made and were said
to be warm, even in winter. To this latter statement

1 3 4 5 6 7 8 9

Online LibraryAlanson SkinnerThe Indians of Greater New York → online text (page 1 of 9)