Wednesday, February 23, 2011

W. S. Mount

To keep off the dull times lately, I've been looking at paintings that might include zigzag stone fences in the stage of being formed gradually and haphazardly as field clearing stones are "thrown up" against wooden rail fences, just like it says in all those stone wall books, from Eric Sloane in the middle of the last century to Professor Robert Thorson in the begining of the present century.  
So, here is just a little more about William Sidney Mount, who included wooden zigzag fences in his paintings. Mount's House and Studio in Stony Brook just happens to be located on opposite  side of Long Island Sound from the mouth of the Housatonic River, the river system I've lived along for most of my life, looking at an abundance of zigzag stone rows that just don't play by the rules (much like it appears to be the case in Mounts paintings). 
"William Sidney Mount (November 26, 1807 – November 19, 1868) was an American genre painter and contemporary of the Hudson River School.
Mount was born in Setauket, New York and trained at the National Academy of Design in New York. Although he started as a history painter, Mount moved to depicting scenes from everyday life. Two of his more famous paintings are Eel Spearing at Setauket (1845, New York State Historical Association, Cooperstown) and Bargaining for a Horse (1835, New-York Historical Society, New York City). The largest collection of his works is located in the Long Island Museum of American Art, History, and Carriages.

(Mount 's painting and a photograph of the House. The interesting stone "retaining wall" appears in both. I was wondering if he just forgot to include the stones that should be accumulating along the sides of these Worm Fences or was perhaps inclined to laziness and just left them out.)
His home and studio, the William Sidney Mount House, is a National Historic Landmark. One of the local elementary schools in The Three Village Central School District is named in his honor, as is PS 174 elementary school in Rego Park, Queens. A residential building is named after him on the Stony Brook University campus."

"W.S. Mount was an artist, musician, and inventor...He attended séances at Thomas Hadaway’s house, which is now the Country House Restaurant. A séance is when people get together and try to contact the dead. W.S. Mount felt that Rembrandt, a great Dutch painter of the 17th century, was helping him with his painting skills through the séances...(and) Mount was the first American artist who painted African-Americans in a nice way."

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Cracking Nuts 1856

Detail from: William Sidney Mount (American painter, 1807-1868) Cracking Nuts 1856
The painting shows a zigzag stone wall, I suppose, being gradually formed as the fable states, in the great frenzy of stone wall building, just a few years before barbed wire became fashionable, somewhere in the untamed wilderness of Long Island.
There's a photo of a nutting stone sitting on a zigzag row in Woodbury CT
near the end of this post:
Above: two men not building stone walls.
Is that New Haven CT above? Painter George Henry Durrie and some non-zigzag stone rows with wooden rails added...

And then there's Guy Wiggins, painting out in the general area of Old Lyme CT (not to be confused with Lyme, East Lyme, New Old Lyme or Lemon Lyme):
Pictured above is something often called a "cow run" in the Fables and Folklore of Connecticut and Beyond but it also just might be an Indian trail with associated fire break stone rows, an ancient remnant of a very successful land management system whose age is unknown and is not likely to be studied scientifically when we have a perfectly good myhtic legend already in place. Grassy Hill below is Open Space Land, I believe, (and has aerial photography from 1934 available online at the CT State Library) where a similar Indian Trail has followed evolution to become a cart path and possibly an unpaved road of the early 1900's.)

Friday, February 18, 2011

Stone Row in Melting Snow

Along the old Indian Trail...

Saturday, February 12, 2011

An Abundance of Rarities?

(or "Mr. Thorson, Look at These Walls")
This is page 78, the begining of the 7th Chapter, of a Field Guide to Stonewalls, an expert opinion that you can see states: "Zigzag traces, though rare, are low walls that were accumulated piece meal beneath a Virginia rail fence (aka the zigzag or worm fence)."
Once again I'll invite the expert, and anyone else who cares to, to look at this link,, to a whole town full of these "rarities." It's aerial photography from 1934 and if you don't see a massive number of zigzag rows, you need an eye doctor appointment because you could spend a considerable amount of time counting all the zigzag "segments" that appear anywhere that you choose to randomly click to magnify.
Human nature being what it is, it was easier to leave these stone rows alone since the first Europeans showed up here in 1672. Unless you needed a handy supply of stones to build something or perhaps allow access into a field.
This spring, it will be 21 years that I've been looking closely at the stone rows you can see in the frame numbered 07599. I can't help it since I've lived right there in the middle of it since 1980. I've never found a haphazardly built zigzag stone trace, but I've found many of these rows that still exist, and have protested their destruction time and time again (and even documented the destruction of a segment bordering property owned by my wife, as well as property acquired by eminent domain in the 1960's that the family retained use of, in posts from the spring and early summer of 2007).

Here's one for example:

An example of a Native American cultural motif at a junction of ancient stone rows, a Serpent connected to more than one possible Native American Legend.
You can read more and see more here (or pretend it's all "field clearing" by "Yankee Farmers"):

Friday, February 11, 2011

Neweneit Na Ahas

or "The Prophecy of the Fourth Crow"

As told by Robert Red Hawk Ruth and Translated by Shelley DePaul

"Lomewe, luwe na okwes xu laxakwihele xkwithakamika."
Long ago it was said that a fox will be loosened on the earth.

"Ok nen luwe newa ahasak xu peyok."
Also it was said four crows will come.

"Netami ahas kenthu li guttitehewagan wichi Kishelemukonk."
The first crow flew the way of harmony with Creator.

"Nisheneit ahas kwechi pilito entalelemukonk, shek palsu ok ankela."
The second crow tried to clean the world, but he became sick and he died.

"Nexeneit ahas weneyoo ankelek xansa ok koshiphuwe."
The third crow saw his dead brother and he hid.

"Neweneit ahas kenthu li guttitehewagan lapi wichi Kishelemukonk."
The fourth crow flew the way of harmony again with Creator.

"Kenahkihechik xu withatuwak xkwithakamika."
Caretakers they will live together on the earth...

We have chosen to tell the story of the Lenape in Pennsylvania through “The Prophecy of the Fourth Crow,” an ancient story passed down among the Lenape for generations. This story relates the ways in which Lenape people have struggled to survive and to keep their community and culture intact. Chief Red Hawk summarizes the current interpretation of the Prophecy in the following way: “We now know that the First Crow was the Lenape before the coming of the Europeans. The Second Crow symbolized the death and destruction of our culture. The Third Crow was our people going underground and hiding. The Fourth Crow was the Lenape becoming caretakers again and working with everybody to restore this land.”

Painted Lenape drum made of deer hide and wood. Music, particularly drumming and singing, remains an important part of Lenape ceremony and celebration. Photo: Lauren Hansen-Flaschen.
And I add: I'd never heard this story until yesterday when I found it, reading an old magazine in a doctor's office. As I looked for an image to add to this post, I found this one that looks to me to be a turtle with the wings of a crow...

Wednesday, February 09, 2011

Evidence for early hunters beneath the Great Lakes

by John M. O’Sheaa, and Guy A. Meadows:

"...reveals the presence of a series of stone features that match, in form and location, structures used for caribou hunting in both prehistoric and ethnographic times. These results present evidence for early hunters on the Alpena-Amberley corridor, and raise the possibility that intact settlements and
ancient landscapes are preserved beneath Lake Huron."

more:,1607,7-153-10366_46403_46404-241037--,00.html & 

Monday, February 07, 2011

Stone Wall Mythology; Legends and Folklore

"If the scientific explanation is too hard to understand, make up a deceptively simple fable."

- Rev. Nocents' Toothbrush (corollary of Occam's Razor)

     There is a New England myth that Native American People made no “stone walls,” until after 1620. All stone walls, which are really stone fences, which are really very long rock piles, are solely the hard work of European colonists and successive waves of immigrants, as the legend goes. In this floodplain valley where I’ve lived for over thirty years, the date can be moved up to 1672-3 when a group of English speaking people following Indian trails from a settlement at the mouth of the Housatonic River bumped into the Native American inhabited ________ Wigwams, as our local folklore says. That folklore also says that there were cleared fields and open forests, “the most beautiful of lands seen so far” according to a New Milford CT local history, managed by Indian fires which made it easy for the new settlers to travel and to plant crops the first year of their removal, “quite to” this floodplain “intervale.”

This story about Indian fires is quite commonly repeated in early histories. The stonewall story goes right along with it.

Nobody knows the exact number of stone walls, the stone wall fable goes, but estimates stretch to about twenty thousand miles in Connecticut alone, enough to almost go around the Earths Equator. The fable says things like “it would have taken 1,000 men working 365 days a year about 59 years to build all the stone walls in Connecticut.”

Well, nobody knows how many Native American People lived in what became known as New England, but the earliest of European visitors say it was a very crowded place. And there was always something burning.

The Indians were vey successful at creating a human made landscape in North, Central and South America, the most current research is beginning to realize, for a very long time .

When I look around where I live, I see miles and miles of zigzag stone rows. Aerial photography of the state from a 1934 survey allows me to see many more that are no longer there. I’ve done my best but I can’t find a single zigzag “stone wall” that meets the criteria for how these walls or fences are supposed to be made according to the legendary zigzag stone wall fable. These walls are supposed to be remnants of a process in which stones are thrown up against a wooden rail fence over a long period of time (much to the relief of those poor guys who had to work around the clock building those stone walls no matter the weather, I would imagine). The stone zigzags I see are carefully constructed. They occur in many other places than at the edge of fields. These rows of stone, zigzag and otherwise, only began to make sense to me as firebreaks when I first read William Cronan’s Changes in the Land as well as every other book or article I’ve read since about Indians and their fire management of their environments in the western hemisphere. It is a simple explanation, not really that hard to understand, and if Indians began doing so, perhaps as the culture changed from Paleo-Indian to Early Archaic 10,000 years ago when the stone hearth concept occurred to someone somewhere and someone then applied that concept to the landscape to better their survival (unless it was the other way around), there would be a more reasonably explained time period to build all those miles and miles and miles of “stone walls.”

Call those walls the boundaries or “bounds” that limited the burns, as in the quote:

“The natives are very exact and punctual in the bounds of their lands, belonging to this or that prince or people, even to a river, brook, &c.” - Roger Williams, in his Key (CHAP. XVI. Of the Earth and the Fruits thereof).

Williams defended Indian Land Rights in a further exchange with Puritan leaders by saying, “they hunted all the Countrey over, and for the expedition of their hunting voyages they burnt up all the underwoods in the Countrey, once or twice a year, and therefore as Noble men in England possessed great Parks, and the King, great Forrests in England onely for their game, and no man might lawfully invade their Propriety: So might the Natives challenge the like Propriety of the Countrey here.”

The Puritans replied: “We did not conceive that it is a just Title to so vast a Continent, to make no other improvement of millions of Acres in it, but onely to burne it up for pastime,” as if sustainability of was a kind of recreation.

If Williams did see stone rows as the “bounds” of hunting grounds, or the resource zones of all the “fruits” he lists in his “Key,” as the firebreaks used by Indians as they safely and selectively burned their cultural landscape, he never wrote it down. At about the same time Fence Laws suddenly sprung up – as did those early wooden fences, so easily and quickly built, in fashion said to have possibly originated with Native American Snake Fences, their hunting fences and in one case around their cornfields, as Claude C. Coffin wrote in a 1947 CT Archeological Society Bulletin article about wooden and stone fish weirs along the Housatonic River. What could have been easier that to add the rails over Indian fire breaks and claim the “voyd places of the Countrey by the Law of Nature, (for Vacuum Domicilium cedit occupanti:),” and claim the land for your very own? I said earlier that I’ve never found a zigzag “wall” formed as in the fable, but I find here and there chestnut rails added to these carefully made artistic constructions.

Take a look here:

Saturday, February 05, 2011

Waking Up On Turtle Island 2011

Looking through old sketch books during the summer of 2010, I noticed some drawings were dated "1990." That surprised me a little bit because in my memory I had the year 1991 as the beginning of just when I began to seriously doubt the "colonial origins" of the famous New England "stone walls" that are like some sort of trademark of the Connecticut landscape that I'd loved to wander since early childhood. I thought I was approaching a 20 year anniversary of observation, study and discovery, but as it turns out, it's 21 years after all that I have been Waking Up on Turtle Island.

It also turns out that January 31, 2010 might have been the last day I ever woke up on Turtle Island. I've been shoveling snow since the day after Christmas, filling buckets with sand and salt, digging my friend Kevin's plow truck out of driveways where it has gotten stuck, and eventually even clearing snow off of a 60 foot long by 10 foot wide flat-topped trailer that my brother-in-law Fred parked on the property back in the early 1960's. We had a tremendous amount of snow fall and buildings all over the state were collapsing.

I know now that some of the little pains and sensations I had been experiencing weren't exactly minor discomforts from breathing in frigid air or from lifting shovelfuls of snow up so high, but were these two little blockages in certain arteries that feed oxygen to certain muscles of my heart.

It's just by plain luck - and by my wife's insistence in the Emergency Room that I needed some immediate help as the chest pains had returned and intensified - that I'm sitting here, two stents in my heart, and writing about Waking Up on Turtle Island...
Tim MacSweeney