History From America's Most Famous Valleys
Story of Old Fort Plain and the Middle Mohawk Valley
by Nelson Greene
O'Connor Brothers Publishers, Fort Plain, NY 1915
The Mohawks and Iroquois-A Dutch Journey Through the Canajoharie District in 1634-Local Indian Villages and Trails. It is no part of this narrative to deal at length with the Indian inhabitants of the valley, who ceased to be people of this territory at the building of the Fort Plain fortification. The reader is referred to works dealing with the Mohawks and the Iroquois. That the aboriginal inhabitants of the Mohawk valley were a peculiar combination of shrewdness, semi-civilization, childishness and the blackest savagery, goes without saying. They cultivated the native vegetables on the river flats and some of the native fruits on near by slopes. They made maple sugar, raised tobacco and trapped and fished, and handed on to the first white settlers their knowledge of the native soil and Its products. The Mohawks wore skins for clothing and made cabins of saplings and bark, which were of considerable size at times. A stockade surrounded their villages. With them is concerned a legend of Hiawatha. The members of the original five nations, in the order of their distribution from east to west, were Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas. These were joined by the Tuscaroras in 1714, and the Iroquois, after that year, were known as the Six Nations. As the Mohawks were the most warlike tribe the war chief of the Iroquois was selected from the ranks of these valley savages. At the time of the Dutch occupation, the total Iroquois population is estimated at 13,000, and must then have been considerably greater than a century later. Seventeenth century accounts would Indicate at least double the number of Mohawks living along the river, compared with eighteenth century figures obtainable. Sir William Johnson, at one time, gives the available fighting strength of the Mohawks as 150 warriors, which seems a very low figure. However the tribe could not have much exceeded six hundred people, as their castle at Fort Hunter (in the eighteenth century) is described as their largest village, and only contained 30 huts. The Great Hendrick and Joseph Brant are the leading figures of the Mohawks in the century preceding the Revolution. Both were residents of the old Canajoharie district which we are considering. The famous Seneca chief Cornplanter comes into our story and he had local interest as being the son of John Abeel, a Fort Plain trader. All of these are considered at greater length later.
Mr. John Fea of Amsterdam is the author of a very interesting article on "Indian Trails of the Mohawk Valley," which was published in the Fort Plain Standard in December, 1908. From this publication are taken the extracts which follow. The trip of the Dutch explorers, which Mr. Fea narrated, is of great local interest because it covers so much of the old Canajoharie district along the Mohawk and describes in detail the Indian villages of that tribe, of which a great part seems to have been located In the district mentioned.
Mr. Fea's paper says that this was "an expedition to the Mohawk and Seneca Indians' couhtry undertaken by three Dutchmen with five Mohawk Indians as guides in 1634-5. To us their journey through our own part of the Mohawk valley ought to be especially interesting, as they proceed from one Indian village to another. This journal is the earliest written description of the Mohawk valley. * * * * The motive of the expedition from Fort Orange, as stated in the journal, was to investigate the movements of the French traders, who were holding out greater inducements than the Dutch were giving, thereby persuading the Mohawks to go and trade their rich furs in Canada. They left Fort Orange on Dec. 11, 1634. During a journey of two days' time they covered 49% English miles. This brought them up the Mohawk valley on the north side of the river to Yosts, near the 'Nose,' at a little house in which they lodged over night. This Indian house, according to this journal, was one-halt mile from the first castle, which was built on a high hill, where they found 36 houses in rows like a street. The name of the castle was Onekagonka. The evidence of this village can be found on the bank of Wasontah creek on the Vrooman farm near the 'Nose.' After three days sojourn at Onekagonka they continued westward over the ice on the river a Dutch half mile [a Dutch mile equalling two and one-fourth English miles] past a village of nine houses, named Canowarode. This is the present county house site [on the north side of the Mohawk] and the buildings are all on the Indian village site. They went another Dutch halt mile and passed a village of 12 houses, named Senatsycrosy. They had then arrived at Sprakers. They continued past Sprakers one Dutch mile and came to the second castle with 12 houses built on a hill. This castle was named Canagere. The expedition remained at Canagere three days. They received a supply of stores from Fort Orange. Among the stuff was ham, beer, salt, tobacco for the savages and a bottle of brandy. Three Indian women came from the Senecas peddling fish. They had salmon, dried and fresh, also a good quantity of green tobacco to sell. "Here the party employed an Indian to act as guide to the Senecas. As a retainer for his services they gave him half a yard of cloth, two axes, two knives, two pairs of awls and a pair of shoes. On this day. Dec. 19,  there was a great rainfall. This castle Canagere was on the Horatio Nellis farm. Dec. 20 they departed from the second castle and marched a Dutch mile to a stream they had to cross. The water ran swiftly. Big cakes of ice came drifting along; the rainfall of the previous day loosened the ice and they were in great danger if they lost their footing Here then we behold Canajoharie creek.
"After going another Dutch half mile they arrived at the third castle, named Sochanidisse. It had 32 houses and was on a very high hill. It was on the projecting point of land in the Happy Hollow district west of Canajoharie on the Brown farm. They remained over night at this castle. The journal makes mention of plenty of flat land in the vicinity. They exchanged here one awl for a beaver skin.
"Dec. 21 they started very early in the morning for the fourth castle. After marching one-half Dutch mile they came to a village with only nine houses, named Osquage. The chief's name was Ognoho, 'the wolf.' This was at Prospect hill, near Fort Plain. They saw a big stream that their guide did not dare cross as the water had risen from the heavy rainfall, so they postponed their journey until the next day. The stream we recognize is the raging Otsquago. The next day they waded through the stream and, after going one-half Dutch mile, came to a village of 14 houses, named Cawoge. This was on the Lipe farm west of Fort Plain [at the site of the Revolutionary post]. After going another Dutch mile they arrived at the fourth and last castle of the Mohawks, named Tenotoge. This was the largest village in the valley at that period. There were 55 houses, some 100 paces long. Here is mentioned a very definite landmark on the trail. "The Kill (river), we spoke about before, runs past here, and the course is mostly north by west and south by east.' So reads the journal.
"Tenotoge was on the Sponable and Moyer farms, two miles northwest of Fort Plain. Accompanied by Andrew H. Moyer, I counted 69 deep and well defined corn pits on adjoining land, then owned by Adam Failing. The whole site covered about ten acres of ground. Abundant evidence of palisades was found by the Moyer family when they broke up the ground. This large and important Indian castle has never been mentioned in New York state aboriginal records.
"At St. Johnsville the river course is due east. It then commences to curve southerly and from Palatine Church its course is almost due south to Fort Plain, a distance of three miles. On the elevated ground west of the river, nearly opposite Palatine Church, was located the great Mohawk castle, Tenotoge. From this elevation they saw the Mohawk- river course north and south as we may see it today. At this point the old Canadian trail was intersected at the river. From here they [the Dutch explorers] departed over the wilderness trail westward, passing the south edge of the Timmerman farm at Dutchtown, and what was known by the pioneers of Dutchdorf as the old Indian trail to the Senecas.
" This important castle of the Mohawks must have been the largest village, inhabited by human beings, in this section of the present state of New York; and it was located centrally within the limits of the present town of Minden. Its site was doubtless influenced by the junction of the Canadian trail with the river trail at the Caroga ford.
whole Mohawk valley at an early period was interlaced with Indian trails.
The main ones from the Hudson river passed along both sides of the Mohawk.
From the head of Lake George two trails led to the Mohawk river. The first
led southwestward through a valley between Potash and Bucktail mountains in
Warren county to the ford at Luzerne on the Hudson river below the mouth of
the Sacandaga, thence along the Sacandaga to the Vlaie at Northampton. On
leaving the Vlaie the trail took a westward direction along the south side
of Mayfield creek to Kingsborough, thence down the Cayadutta to Johnstown,
continuing- its course on the west side of the Cayadutta to the present village
of Sammonsville. From this place the trail took a circuitous course over Klipse
hill, thence through Stone Arabia to the ford at the mouth of Caroga creek.
This was the principal route from the west into Canada via Lake George and
was a favorite route traversed by the Oneidas, and as such possibly gives
reason why, in 1751, William Johnson secured from the Indians, for "himself
and others," the Kingsborough tract of land, and later taking up his
residence on the great Indian trail that passed through it."
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