Bidwell Lore – Early History of the Mohicans

Welcome to week 56 of Bidwell Lore! This week we continue to introduce our new series The Plan for the City on the Hill, Township No. 1 – Tyringham and Monterey, The Original “Hinterland Settlement.” Today we will share the early history of the Mohicans in this area, before the arrival of the Colonists.

The Native Americans told and retold their oral history for millennia; in the late 1700s, it was written down: “A great people traveled from the northwest: crossed over the salt waters, and after long and weary pilgrimages—planting many colonies on their track—took possession and built their fires upon the Atlantic coast, extending from the Delaware on the south to the Penobscot on the north. They  became, in process of time, divided into different tribes and interests; all, however, speaking one  common dialect.”

Archaeological studies suggest these migrations occurred 15,000 to 20,000 years ago. One tribe moved north and settled near a river (now called the Hudson) whose waters, like those in their original homeland, ebbed and flowed. They named this river the Mahicannituck and called themselves the Muh-he-con-neok: the People of the Waters That Are Never Still. They are sometimes called the River Indians. Today, they are known as Mohican.

Life as a Mohican
Mohican Women generally were in charge of the home, children, and agricultural fields, while men traveled greater distances to hunt, fish, or serve as warriors. After the hunts and harvests, meat, vegetables, and berries were dried. These, along with smoked fish, were stored in pits dug deep in the ground and lined with grass or bark. 

During the cold winter months, utensils and containers were carved; hunting, trapping, and fishing gear were repaired; baskets and pottery were created; and clothing was fashioned and decorated with colorfully dyed porcupine quills, shells, and other gifts from nature.

Winter was also the time of teaching. Storytellers told the children how life came to be and historians related the story of the people. Children learned the ways of their people: respect for each person, as well as to all the gifts of the Creator, and how to live with respect and peace in their community.

In early spring the people set up camp in the Sugar Bush. Tapping the trees, gathering the sap, and boiling it to make maple syrup and sugar was a ceremony welcoming spring. There were many ceremonies during the year whenever something needed special “paying attention to,” such as planting of the first seeds – the corn, beans, and squash – and the time of the harvest.

This image shows an educational wigwam village on the Stockbridge-Munsee reservation in Wisconsin.

Their homes, called “We-ko-wohm” (wigwam), were circular and made of bent sapling covered with hides or bark. They also lived in longhouses which were often very large, sometimes as long as a hundred feet. Several families from the same clan might live in a longhouse, each family having its own section.

The Mohicans’ lives were rooted in the woodlands in which they lived. These were covered with white pine, birch, red spruce, elm, oak, chestnut, maple, hemlock, and beech. Black bear, deer, moose, beaver, otter, bobcat, mink, and other animals thrived in the woods, as well as wild turkeys and pheasants. The sparkling rivers teemed with herring, shad, trout, and other fish. Oyster beds were found beneath the river’s overhanging banks for some distance up the Mahicannituck. Berries, cherries, and nuts were abundant. It was a rich life.

Thank you to the Stockbridge-Munsee for helping the Museum originally put this story together in 2018For those who would like to learn more about the Native story, we encourage you to visit the webpage of the Stockbridge-Munsee Community where their history is explained in more detail. 

In the next article we will discuss the original Mohican territory around the Berkshires and how the arrival of the Europeans impacted their way of life.