Friday, May 29, 2015

Monument Mountain and Other Indigenous Sacred Sites Condensed from Luci Lavin

Mohican Memorabilia and Manuscripts from the Stockbridge Mission House “Indian Museum: The Persistence of Mohican Culture and Community

Lucianne Lavin, Ph.D.
Institute for American Indian Studies
Washington, CT
Presented at the Mohican History Conference at the Stockbridge Munsee Band of Mohicans Reservation in Wisconsin
October 6-8, 2011

Introduction: This paper is a result of my research in 2010 as the Scholar in Residence at the Stockbridge Mission House in Stockbridge, Massachusetts. The program was funded by Mass Humanities, a state-based affiliate of the National Endowment for the Humanities. The goal of this particular project was to broaden our understanding of the history of the Stockbridge Mohican community through a study of the Mohican artifacts and documents housed at the Mission House museum.

"On Monument Mountain in Great Barrington, just south of present Stockbridge, are the reconstructed remains of a sacred Mohican stone monument.  The ceremonial stone and wood pile was reportedly severely vandalized sometime in the third decade of the 19th century[i] and rebuilt by two Great Barrington white men in 1884.[ii] Local Stockbridge historian Lion Miles has suggested that the original monument may have been completely destroyed as early as 1762.[iii] The significant point here is that a well-documented original Mohican stone monument once stood near this spot amid the ancient trail system of the Mohican peoples.

[i] Sometime between June 1826 and April 1829 when the history book containing his paper was proposed and printed, the Reverend Sylvester Burt reported that the Native American stone pile at the southeastern end of Monument Mountain  “unhappily, a few years since, was thrown down by persons unknown, and the stones were scattered”. 1829, pg. 224. A History of the Town of Great Barrington, pp. 222-234 in A History of the County of Berkshire, Massachusetts. Edited by David d. Field, Pittsfield: Samuel W. Bush. Yet Ezra Stiles produced a 1762 sketch of a fairly intact mound whose profile shows a decided concavity in its center, suggesting prior “pot-hunting” in the center of the structure for Indian relics. Stiles shows it to be 18 feet across the base on one side and located at the southern foot of Monument Mountain just west of the road to Stockbridge (1760-1794. Itineraries, Manuscript and microfilm on file at Yale University Sterling Library, New Haven, vol. 4, pg. 103 as cited by Eva Butler on pg. 3 of her article “The Brush or Stone Memorial Heaps of Southern New England”, Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Connecticut vol.19, pp. 2–12, and also by David Wagner and David Ostrowski, 1997, pp. 3-4 in “The Stone Mounds of the Eastern Woodland People”, typed manuscript in the possession of the author dated January 1997).
[ii] Bernard A. Drew 2009, pg 43, Faded Tracks on Monument Mountain, Great Barrington: Attic Revivals Press. Drew notes that an annotation in the 1928 reprint of Charles J. Taylor’s History of Great Barrington, Berkshire County, Massachusetts (Great Barrington: C. W. Bryan & Co) noted that “At the suggestion of Mr.[Ralph] Taylor, on the 2nd of December 1884, Mr. Frank A. Hosmer and Charles F. Painter replaced a large part of the stones on the site of the original monument”; Ralph was Charles’ father.
[iii] Lion Miles (personal communication dated February 7, 2011) cited a deposition of Capt. Johannis Hogeboom on August 25, 1762: “That he was with Collo. Renselaer about three weeks ago in company with one Winchel and three Brothers of the Ferrys[Freese?] at a rock some rod over the Westehook river under a Mountain where the said Winchel & the Ferris’s swore that there had been there a Monument or pile of Stones which were all removed”. If the mountain in question is indeed Monument Mountain, then its stone pile may have been rebuilt by persons unknown prior to its being vandalized by persons unknown in the early 19th century – see endnote 108 above.
Present Route 7, which runs just east of the monument, was originally a major Indian trail known as the Old Berkshire Path. It connected Mohican Stockbridge with the Indian village of Schaghticoke in Kent, Connecticut, and the more southerly villages of the Weantinock and Pootatuck tribes in the Lower Housatonic Valley right down to the Paugussett villages along Long Island Sound.[iii]

The earliest known record of the monument’s existence is the November 3, 1734 journal entry of the Reverend John Sergeant. The stone pile was later seen and described by a number of 18th century Euro-Americans, including the Reverend Ezra Stiles, a scholar and educator who served as president of Yale University from 1777 until his death in 1795. Stiles included a hand-drawn map of its location as well as a profile drawing of the stone monument itself. *

The drawing shows an 18-foot long stone pile with two six-foot high peaks separated by a concavity.[iii] Ebenezer, John Sergeant’s indigenous interpreter, told Sergeant that he supposed the stone monument was a gesture of gratitude to the Creator, “that he had preserved them to see the place again”.[iii]

Other Indigenous Sacred Sites

Similar stone and “brush” monuments are located throughout New York and southern New England.[iii] Like the sacred structure at the foot of Monument Mountain, many were historically documented by 17th and 18th century Euro-Americans as having been created by the local indigenous peoples. In most cases, the Native Americans were loathed to explain their significance to the whites. Explanations were infrequently provided. They included (1) that the pile marked the grave of a sachem or (2) the location of an important tribal event; (3) that it was a boundary marker; (4) that a stone was placed on the pile to bring “blessings” or (5) success in hunting(and if the ritual were not performed, then the opposite would occur – failure, misfortune, etc.); or (6) that the stone was a symbol of thanksgiving to the Creator or some unknown deity.

The Mohican homelands surrounding Monument Mountain -- Great Barrington, Sheffield, New Marlborough, and adjacent areas -- include a number of archaeology sites dating from just prior to European contact back thousands of years into the Mohican past.[iii] The landscape also includes loci with artificially constructed stone piles, sometimes referred to as “cairns,” and earthen mounds. Concentrations of dozens of these small stone piles have been identified in Sheffield and in New Marlborough.[iii] None of these stone piles have historical or archaeological documentation, however, and so there is no definitive proof yet that they were indeed created by indigenous peoples.[iii]

This is also true for all but possibly one of the several mound features located in Sheffield, New Marlborough, and Great Barrington. * As with the stone piles, none are recorded in the state archaeological site files housed at the Massachusetts Historical Commission with the exception of the large, flat-topped mound overlooking the Housatonic River in Great Barrington.

The site is estimated to date from 4,000 to 8,000 years ago, based apparently on an amateur collection of artifacts from the mound.[iii] Artificial earthen mounds in northern New England and eastern Canada -- some with stonework, have been excavated by professional archaeologists and dated to that same time period.[iii]

Native American oral traditions also mention sacred places in caves, near large boulders and other rock formations, and on hilltops.[iii]  Native American carvings on boulders and rock outcrops are found throughout New England.[iii] They likely represent indigenous ritual, as do the rock art of more western tribes.[iii]

Potentially sacred localities such as caves, large boulders, hilltops and other rock formations all occur on Monument Mountain, which also contains some rock carvings that may or may not be of indigenous origin.[iii]   * As with the “cairns” mentioned previously, above-ground cultural features are notoriously difficult if not impossible to date, and there are as yet no early historic records documenting them as Native American. However, as one noted Massachusetts archaeologist quipped regarding the lack of archaeological information, “the absence of evidence is not evidence of absence”.[iii] This is also true for the absence of historical documentation. It is very possible that some or all of the cultural features discussed were once part of the Mohican sacred landscape. *

[iii] Hayden L. Griswold and Matthias Spiess 1930, Map of Connecticut, Circa 1625, Indian Trails, Villages, Sachemdoms, compiled by Mathias Spiess and drawn by Hayden L. Griswold, C.E. and published by the Colonial Dames of America Connecticut Society.
[iii] Ezra Stiles, in the original manuscript of his Itineraries, op. cit., Volume IV, page 104. Ezra Stiles’ drawing of the monument shows a large mound 18 feet long and six feet high with a distinctive concavity where the top of the cone should have been, suggesting that vandals had already been digging into the mound for “treasures”. It is unclear when Stiles first saw the stone monument, as the drawing appears in a 57-page booklet labeled “September 18, 1786” that described Stiles itinerary to Albany in that year. In the booklet he described an October 17, 1786 trip to Stockbridge (Lion Miles, personal communication to the author dated March 15, 2011). But this was by no means his first visit to Stockbridge.  He had been a serious contender for the position of Stockbridge minister after the death of John Sergeant in 1749. Drew reported that in an 1878 letter to the Amenia Times, an N. Reed noted that he had visited the stone pile on Monument Mountain in 1820 and in 1856, and that when he returned in 1877 it was “gone”. This story contradicts that of Reverend Burt, who claimed it had been vandalized a few years prior to 1829. Perhaps the stone pile had been rebuilt more than once? In 1878 a Berkshire Courier reporter visited the site and noted the center of the stone pile had been excavated to several feet below the ground surface and the rocks scattered (Drew, op. cit.)
[iii] Ibid, pg.  41.
[iii] Other stone and brush (wood) piles were found throughout Connecticut and  eastern New England (For example, see Eva Butler 1946, op. cit.; Constance A. Crosby 1991, “The Algonkin Spiritual Landscape”, pp. 35-41 in Algonkians of New England Past and Present, Peter Benes (ed.), Amherst: Boston University; Patricia E. Rubertone 2001, pp. 166-167 in Grave Undertakings: An Archaeology of Roger Williams and the Narragansett Indians, Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press; William S. Simmons 1986, pp. 252-254 in Spirit of the New England Tribes: Indian History and Folklore, 1620-1984, Hanover, NH: University press of New England; Ezra Stiles 1916, Extracts from the Itineraries and Other Miscellanies of Ezra Stiles, D.D., LL.D, 1755-1794, with a selection from his correspondence, Franklin B. Baxter (ed.),New Haven: Yale University Press). 

A stone monument once overlooked the Housatonic River in the area of New Milford, Connecticut (Butler op. cit. pg. 5).  It supposedly marked the grave of the eminent Weantinock sachem, Waramaug, who died in 1722.  In the early 1800s it was vandalized by whites; the scattered stones supposedly were used to build a nearby mansion. Frank Speck reported that the 17th century Mohegans of southeastern Connecticut built a stone pile above the road leading from Norwich to Hartford as a boundary marker for the northern extent of their tribal lands; like the Stockbridge Mohicans did at the Monument Mountain stone pile, Mohegan members would add a stone to the pile each time they passed. He also reported a stone pile several feet high on the Schaghticoke Reservation in Kent, on which early 20th century Schaghticokes still added a stone as they passed to pay respects to the ghost of a murdered Schaghticoke whom they thought haunted the area (Frank G. Speck 1945, pp.19, 22 in “The Memorial Brush Heaps in Delaware and Elsewhere, Bulletin of the Archaeological Society of Delaware, Vol. 4, No. 2). Stone piles were also found in New York (Butler 1946, op. cit. pp. 7-8; Dunn 1994:32-33; Miles 2006 op. cit.; David R. Wagner and David Ostrowski 1997, op. cit.).
[iii] As shown within individual site forms on file at the Massachusetts Historical Commission in Boston.
[iii] Lion G. Miles (personal communications to Lucianne Lavin 2010) has visited such a cairn concentration in Sheffield, centered about a rock shelter, or overhang, and a second cairn concentration in New Marlborough. The author has also visited the latter locality, where cairns are both concentrated and dispersed over a wide area. They are much smaller versions of the original Monument Mountain stone pile, with a number of small stones mounded on top of a flat boulder or bedrock outcrop.
[iii] According to Lion Miles, there is “some historical documentation on one of the stone heaps in Sheffield” at the New York Historical Society (Miles personal communication to the author dated March 4, 2011).
[iii] Massachusetts Historical Commission site survey form, MHC No. 13-BK-126; the form was submitted by a member of the Berkshire County Regional Planning Commission. See also Anonymous 2007, pg. 57 in Great Barrington Open Space and Recreation Plan, November 2006, Revised July 2007. Photocopy on file at the Stockbridge Mission House, Stockbridge, MA. The mound is 202 by 200 feet along its base and 14 feet high. The author of the Great Barrington Open Space and Recreation Plan suggested that the mound was the locus of the “Great Wigwam”. Stockbridge historian Lion Miles, however, believes that the historical evidence puts the Great Wigwam near the base of Vossburg Hill (personal communication dated February 7, 2011).
[iii] Dr. Frederick Matthew Wiseman described the Middle Archaic L’Anse Amour burial mound in Labrador, a one meter high and eight meter wide circular tumulus, and the Middle Archaic Tumulus II, a nine meter wide burial mound at the Bradon site  in Quebec pp. 109-110, in his 2005 book Reclaiming the Ancestors, Decolonizing a Taken Prehistory of the Far Northeast, Toronto: University Press of New England. He also discussed the Late Archaic Ketcham’s Island Site mound in western Vermont, a low earthen mound that was built over the remains of a five meter wide circular dwelling and a red ochre burial (pg. 146).
[iii] For example, see Melissa J. Fawcett 1995, pp. 48-53 in The Lasting of the Mohegans. Part 1, The Story of the Wolf People. Uncasville, CT: The Mohegan Tribe.
[iii] Edward Lenik 2002, Picture Rocks: American Indian Rock Art in the Northeast Woodlands. Lebanon, NH: University Press of New England.
[iii] Among the Shoshone, the creation of rock art is still a part of tribal puberty rites.
[iii] Bernard A. Drew, op. cit.
[iii] Peter Thornbahn, 1988, discussing the lack of archaeological evidence for village sites in southern New England, cited by Timothy Binzen 2009, pg. 10 in “The River beyond the Mountains:; Native American Settlements of the Upper Housatonic During the Woodland Period, pp.7-17 in Mohican Seminar 2, The Challenge—An Algonquian Peoples Seminar, Shirley W. Dunn (ed.), New York State Bulletin 506.Albany: University of the State of New York, New York State Education Department."
Luci's entire article can be found here, quite intact, unlike this post above:
{I used some photos of a few "figures" from Eva Butler from my copy of the above Bulletin, which I finally located, which may be of particular interest to Tommy Hudson. I haven't forgotten, Tom.}  

1 comment:

  1. Wow, great research. I feel that I should provide a link to this on my blog! I'll get to work on that soon. Thanks and take care