Bidwell Lore – Muh-he-con-neok or “People of the Waters that are never still,” Part II

Welcome to week 35 of Bidwell Lore! This week we continue our introduction to the Mohican story with Part II of our article Muh-he-con-neok or “People of the Waters that are never still.”  We will stay with this topic through early next year and it coincides with our winter lecture series, Hidden in Plain Sight: Native Peoples and the Struggle to Recover Their History in New England. Our next lecture will take place on January 13 and you can register for it here

Last week we began introducing you to the Mohican peoples and ended the article with a discussion based on Jean O’Brien’s book, Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians out of Existence in New England.

As we said last week, the book is broken down into four chapters: Firsting, Replacing, Lasting, and Resisting, and this week we continue to look at these important distinctions made by Jean O’Brien.


Stockbridge, which in 1737 was originally named Indian Town, is void of any place names. However, the Indian Burying Ground monument makes a statement acknowledging Mohican extinction. In 1877, the Laurel Hill Association erected an obelisk on the Indian Burying Grounds, the only visible reminder of Mohican presence. Carved on the face stone is, “Ancient Burial Place of the Stockbridge Indians 1734 The Friends of Our Fathers 1877.”

William Cullen Bryant wrote “An Indian at the Burial Place of His Fathers,” a romanticized poem, where the tragic heroic Indian suffers extinction. Below an offering of two parts of the poem, the noble savage and the disappearing Indian:

The forest hero, trained to wars,
Quivered and plumed, and lithe and tall,
And seamed with glorious scars,
Walk forth, amid his reign, to dare
The wolf, and grapple with the bear.
This bank, in which the dead were laid,
Was sacred when its soil was ours;
Hither the silent Indian maid
Brought wreaths of beads and flowers,
And the gray chief and gifted seer
Worshipped the god of thunders here.
But now the wheat is green and high
On clods that hid the warrior’s breast,

But I behold a fearful sign,
To which the white men’s eyes are blind;
Their race may vanish hence, like mine,
And leave no trace behind,
Save ruins o’er the region spread,
And the white stones above the dead.
Before these fields were shorn and tilled,
Full to the brim our rivers flowed;
The melody of waters filled
The fresh and boundless wood;
And torrents dashed and rivulets played,
And fountains spouted in the shade.
Those grateful sounds are heard no more,
The springs are silent in the sun;
The rivers, by the blackened shore,
With lessening current run;
The realm our tribes are crushed to get
May be a barren desert yet. [1] 

An 1871 Laurel Hill Annual Report expresses the need to memorialize the Mohicans of Stockbridge using the language of romanticism. First to deny “exterminating” them and then to reinforce the Indian mission myth of cordial peace and amity and not the fifty or so years it took to dispossess the Stockbridge Mohicans of all 23,040 acres of land in Indian Town. Thus “replacing” them:

“At various meetings of the Committee during the past year, there has been much discourse concerning some memorial to that interesting tribe who were once the possessors of these mountains and valleys. They have, indeed, left their names upon our streams and various favored haunts among us, which they loved and embalmed in their quaint traditions. But their pale-faced successors, though guiltless of the sin of extermination, and municipally connected for more than ½ a century in the bonds of cordial peace and amity, have never done entire justice to their rude virtues, as they have gradually faded along their inevitable westward way. The early burial place of their chief, their councilors, their youth and their braves, is in close proximity with the sacred enclosure where we lay our own beloved to their final rest. Memorials suggested by remembering hearts and faithful hands testify to their jealous care wherewith we cherish our dear departed. But the Redman lies in his lonely untended sepulcher, without even the humble mound to tell where he sleeps. It seems eminently fitting that some structure should be raised to tell that we have not entirely forgotten him. The wishes of the Committee are a unit upon this subject, and only the wherewithal is lacking to add another record to those that will transmit the memory of the fallen defenders of our country and of the great New England theologian to an appreciative posterity.” [2]


“Lasting,” chapter 3, takes up the narrative construct of Indian extinction through what is called the ‘last of the [blank] syndrome, whereby local historians occasionally tell stories about people they identify as the last Indian who lived in places they claimed as their own. This chapter ends with an overview of the various ways local texts make Indians disappear to complement the more extreme claim of the ‘last of the [blank].’” [3] 

Orlando C. Bidwell’s contribution of the history of Monterey to Beer’s 1885 History of Berkshire County, Massachusetts, with Biographical Sketches of its Prominent Men, in Two Volumes, weaves the story of extinction in this romanticized disappearing act. “There is abundant evidence that this valley was once the either the abode or one of their much frequented hunting grounds. In very recent years arrow heads, stone pestles, and other Indian relics have been plowed up in various parts of the valley. We can imagine these to have been hunting grounds fit for the most exquisite Indian taste.”


Orlando C. Bidwell also authored the 1885 Beer’s history of Tyringham, which unfolds the complex origins of Township #1, later Tyringham and Monterey, and discusses the creation of Townships 2, 3, and 4, amounting to 144 square miles of land, or 192,160 acres. Mr. Bidwell’s mention of the Mohican people is found in the following sentence only to explain how the venture came about: “The territory was purchased of the Stockbridge Indians by Captain Ephraim Williams and Colonel Nahum Ward.”
Although local histories may not fit neatly into 1820 to 1880, they will nonetheless, in most cases, provide the evidence of the vanishing Indian. Monterey as a breakaway town from Tyringham shared a common history from 1739 to 1847. Tyringham itself started its life as Township #1 in 1739.
New England’s Monterey: Stories of the Town – Its Church is divided into two parts: “Things Temporal” and  “Trends in Religion 1750 – 1950.” The book, apparently published in 1951, was sponsored by Monterey Congregational Church on the 200th anniversary of the church’s founding. “Things Temporal” starts with, “Let us go back in imagination to the days long ago, when John Chadwick and Daniel Garfield entered the wilderness of Tyringham and started stablishing homes for themselves in the spring of 1739.
On page 9, “Here the nearest place of worship was Stockbridge where the mission was established for the Indians, a distance of twelve miles over difficult roads.” [4] “During the French and Indian Wars, there arose suddenly a great alarm about the Indians’ coming. Abigail Herrick came in haste on horseback to herald the Indian’s coming. People fled at once. When they returned, trees had grown through the rafters of the church.” [5]
By page 12, a casual mention of Native people, “Friendly Indians from the Stockbridge Mission came very spring and camped in Tyringham Valley. While there, they tapped the maple trees and taught the first settlers the use of sap. This is thought to be the first use of sap in America by white settlers.” [6] 

Hence the Mohicans were mentioned, not as first stewards of the land, but only as was necessary to tell the English history.


Tyringham A Hinterland Settlement, Eloise Myers, 1989, Hinterland Press, in its index lists nine instances with the word Indian: 

Page 22, “Day after day Rev. Adonijah Bidwell recorded deaths from small pox, among them was, ‘Joe, the Indian, died today of small pox.’”

Page 33, “The Indians developed an industry here in Tyringham long before the white men arrived, viz.: the art of making maple sugar from the large grove that surrounded the Garfield home, (McDowell’s). Store sugar, carted from Hudson, the commercial center of early Berkshire, was expensive. So each spring the settlers made and stored their own soft maple sugar in wooden buckets to alleviate the high cost of sweetening.”

Page 35, “Deacon Hale, [7] descendant of one of the first settlers of America, [8] was one of the first to settle in Housatonic Township No. 1. In the French War he assisted in building Fort Massachusetts in Adams and was stationed in Stockbridge. He settled in Tyringham in 1747 and erected one of the oldest frame houses in the town. That is, he built first, only the east end, but when he received the Indian alarm (there had been murders in Stockbridge) he took his family and moved to Enfield Conn. Four years later he returned and finished the house before 1750.” [9]

Page 42, “About noon they heard a gun and Eli (Hale) thought it was someone shooting game for a sick person at Mr. Heath’s, at the next house east, so he went out to inquire how the sick person was. He met five Indians with guns and spoke with them, then  went to see some cattle in the pasture. Soon after meeting the Indians he heard another shot and turned back home. His mother saw the Indians crossing the little brook on a log, as there was no bridge there at the time thinking they had shot Eli, she ran out the back door across lots to Col. Herricks, who lied where Jerome Crittenden has since lived. The Herrick family were at church, all except Sibyl, a niece of Col. Herricks, and two small children. Sibyl hid the children with Mrs. Hale, in a field of grain and went across, which were mostly woods, till she crossed the brook near the mountain road, just east of the Elijah Garfield place, then turned and went through the swamp and woods to the church. She gave the alarm and soon a party armed with guns were on the way to Hop Brook. The Indians had gone along, stopping at the Solomon Heath house and frightening a woman who was there alone. It was not known that the Indians did any injury to anyone, but the fright was long remembered.”[10]

Page 87, 88, “These people (The Shakers) were intense spiritualists. Julia’s sister, when seventeen years, would lie for hours in a trance, after which she would tell of the mansions and other wonderful things she had seen. That these Shaker children were not unlike those of Salem at the time of the witches, may be judged from the fact that at one period, a half dozen of them affected to be under the ‘influence’ of the Indians. One young man, pretending to be thus affected, would eat raw meat out of the cellar. An old Indian known as Sylvester Spy, had his hut on the opposite side of the valley, about halfway to the top of the mountain. It is said he was accustomed to frighten the children intentionally. Another George Konkapot, who was six feet tall, would conceal himself in the lime kiln to scare young people. Indian relics were constantly being plowed up and as the old Shakers narrated Indian tales, around the fire at night, it is no wonder that the children were inclined to be fearsome.” [11]


To return to Jean O’Brien’s book, Firsting and Lasting: in Chapter 4 she says:
‘Resisting,’ focuses on the contradictions that are found even in single texts about Indian extinction and Indian fates. Because non-Indians failed to recognize the Indianness of New England Indians, and because they denied that Indians could be part of modernity, they produced narratives that failed to understand and account for Indian persistence. They displayed uncertainty about Indian fates, exposing cracks in their façade of New England modernity purified of Indians. Local texts reveal performances of this uncertainty when they included Indian participants at historical commemorations that purported to explain Indian extinction, and they collectively report an Indian geography of survival even if only incompletely.” [12]
Possibly more to the point for Bidwell Lore readers has been the shift in research authored by native scholars like Jean M. O’Brien (White Earth Ojibwe); Amy E. Den Ouden, author of Beyond Conquest; as well as Lisa Brooks, whose books Our Beloved Kin A New History of King Philip’s War and The Common Pot shift the focus towards the goal of decolonization that was defined at the outset of last week’s article. As we hear those new voices and begin to share a new perspective on Mohican presence in the Berkshires, more articles will follow. Most important, however, is the debunking of the extinction narrative. The Mohican people are alive and well as the Stockbridge-Munsee Band of the Mohicans community in Wisconsin, the last stop in their trail of tears. Readers are encouraged to go to to learn more. 

Next week we look at the Mythology of Indiantown.

Article written by Rick Wilcox with editing by Heather Kowalski.

[1] William Cullen Bryant apparently paid a visit to the Indian Burying Ground prior to 1879 and subsequently wrote the poem.
[2] 59 members of the tribe fought in the Revolutionary War. The last portion of the sentence probably refers to the Rev. Jonathan Edwards or possibly the Rev. John Sergeant, both ministers during the mission period.
[3]  Introduction, page xxiv.
[4] Monterey Town Records indicate that Rev. John Sergeant on several occasions came to Township # 1 to preach.
[5] At Stockbridge in the summer of 1756, a small raiding party of Indians loyal to the French attacked the Chamberlain house on Prospect Hill Road, killing two children and badly wounding a hired hand, Mr. Owen, who was protecting Mrs. Chamberlain, while her husband jumped out a window and ran off. The subsequent alarm causing a mass exodus, that included Mohicans, from Stockbridge and other towns to Great Barrington for a short period of time.
[6] Probably not, however. The first written record of tapping trees for maple sap was recorded by Rev. Samuel Hopkins in his book Historical Memoirs Relating to the Housatonic Indians, 1753, S. Kneeland, Boston. Hopkins mentions Rev. Sergeant going out with the Mohicans during the weeks in the woods spent sapping probably around 1734-1735. Likely at Maple Hill in what is now West Stockbridge.
[7]  A Bidwell cousin.
[8] Watch your language. Implies that there was no one here before that first English settler arrived. Early writings in the Berkshires often contained the words “howling wilderness,” which seems to imply there was no one living here, hence the land was theirs for the taking. Another example was that the Mohicans were often called Indian “Claimers” because they could not produce a good English deed as proof of their ownership of the land in question.
[9] Introduction, page xxiii.
[10] It would seem likely that five Indians with guns could have done pretty much anything they liked, suggesting they had no ill intent. Also, that the Mohicans were known to be friendly towards settlers was common knowledge at the time. Another myth is born.
[11] To call this local folklore a myth is to be too kind, as it reduces natives to a caricature as well as representing them on the edge of extinction. Myers’s book is filled with fun and interesting information, and a great deal of it is probably accurate historical data, but unfortunately there are no footnotes or endnotes to identify the sources of any of her material, making the shift between fact and folklore more difficult to ascertain.
[12] Firsting and Lasting: Writing Indians Out of Existence in New England, O’Brien, Introduction, page xxiv.