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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 6: Chief Castles and Towns of the Mohawks.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 139-153 of History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925, edited by Nelson Greene (Chicago: The S. J. Clarke Publishing Company, 1925). It is in the Reference collection of the Schenectady County Public Library at R 974.7 G81h. This online edition includes lists of portraits, maps and illustrations. Some images have been relocated to the area in the text where they are discussed. As noted by Paul Keesler in his article, "The Much Maligned Mr. Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Mohawk Indian castles in the Valley from the entrance of the Mohawks about 1580 to 1775, when they migrated to Canada — Description of Garoga by S. L. Frey — A vocabulary of the Mohawks in 1634

The preceding chapter, through Cartier's account, has enabled us to visualize the savage life which the Mohawks lived in Hochelaga on the St. Lawrence. The first Mohawk castles in our Valley are known as the result of careful investigation by archaeologists covering a period of many years. Mr. Samuel Ludlow Frey of Palatine Bridge, and General John S. Clarke of Auburn, have been the chief workers along these lines, and it is largely due to their efforts that we are enabled to give lists of the Mohawk's main castles during their residence along the river before they migrated to Canada (in 1775) to join the British army during the Revolution.

The editor of this work has supplemented Mr. Frey's and General Clarke's lists by Mr. John Fea's locations of the Mohawk castles and villages described in Van den Bogaert's Journal of 1634. There has been much discussion concerning these latter sites and Mr. Fea's locations have been disputed, but they appear to the author to be as accurate as possible, and they are backed up by the geographical features cited in the Journal, which is the first written account of our Valley. Some reasons for accepting Mr. Fea's locations of 1634 are given in the prefatory words before Van den Bogaert's Journal.

Some description of the Mohawk castles of the period of 1595-1626 is here given, following which, the reader will find a list of the chief Mohawk castles and villages which they occupied from about 1580, when they came into the Valley, to 1775, when they left it to join the British in Canada.

The first four Valley Mohawk castles are here mentioned with some detail, together with a fine description of the site of Garoga, one of the first Mohawk town sites, by Mr. S. L. Frey, Honorary Chairman of the Board of Advisory Editors of this History. It is taken from an important monograph entitled The Mohawks [i.e., Samuel Ludlow Frey, The Mohawks: an Inquiry into Their Origin, Migrations and Influence Upon the White Settlers] which was first delivered as an address by Mr. Frey before the Oneida County Historical Society. The castle of Garoga was on the Garoga Creek, about ten miles north of its outlet into the Mohawk at Palatine Church. Its name is unknown and it is so termed by Mr. Frey merely for purposes of location, as were the other first castles of Otstungo, Briggs Run and Cayadutta.

[Map: Mohawk Indian Towns — 1580-1779. Map drawn by the Author 1925.]

Garoga, from Mr. S. L. Frey's The Mohawks

The town site is on the east bank of the Garoga Creek, about ten miles from where it empties into the river, and, as this one has never had the honor to be investigated and described, I will give some account of my own researches at the place, especially as the archaeological evidence is of importance, as bearing upon the origin, manners, customs, industries, and after migrations of the Mohawks.

For convenience we will call the old village "Garoga". It is a rough and rugged section of country where the old glaciers have scattered boulders in countless numbers and where hills and great banks of sand and gravel show the tumultuous action of currents, and swirling eddies of water.

The hill, on which the town was built, is very steep on all sides but one. The banks rise at a sharp angle for one hundred and fifty or two hundred feet but the top of the hill is level and contains several acres of land. Palisades, similar to those of Hochelaga, undoubtedly protected the town. The Iroquois and cognate tribes alone built these defensive structures. We have minute descriptions of them in the "Jesuit Relations," and other old writers. Sometimes there were as many as five concentric rows of palisades, the highest being thirty feet. Inside of this there was a row about six feet shorter and these two rows were connected by a platform upon which the defenders of the town could stand and upon which there were piles of stones and also tanks of bark for holding water. In case the enemy succeeded in starting a fire, the whole place could be deluged. This primitive and prehistoric water works and fire brigade was of the utmost importance, for, in attacking these wooden defenses, fire was the most efficacious weapon, and one which was dreaded more than all others. The danger was great at all times from the great mass of palisades, the piles of wood for fuel, and the extensive long houses of bark and poles.

Such a fortification could not be built without great labor; especially was it difficult for a people absolutely in their stone age.

In the defense of "Garoga" they must have used several thousand trees. To cut down a tree is a simple matter with a steel axe but the way these savage men did it was slow and tedious. They first built fire around the tree, and as the wood charred they hacked it with their stone axes; then they cut the logs the required length by the same process of burning and hacking; afterward the palisades so formed had to be dragged or carried to their place, the holes dug, then elevated and securely fastened. To dig such a vast number of holes was a great labor, for they had no hoes or spades, or shovels, nothing but sharpened sticks, the shells of the tortoise and the fresh water clam and their hands.

As we reflect upon this great work our admiration for the savage man increases and our inherited and traditional ideas about his laziness suffer a change. His environment was hard and if he survived at all he could not be lazy.

Within this palisaded enclosure were the "Long Houses" peculiar to the Iroquois. Some of them were one hundred feet long, but the largest over five hundred feet. They called themselves "the People of the Long House." The Mohawks guarded its eastern door and the Senecas its western.

The description already given of these houses at Hochelaga will apply to them in the Mohawk Valley; their position at Garoga can be traced to this late day by the dark earth, the burned stones, the clam shells, and the fragments of bone and pottery.

In all these communal houses, and everywhere within the palisades there was, of course, a constant accumulation of ashes, bones, debris of all kinds, and, although savages have little idea of neatness or decency, still these accumulations had to be removed, and as this was done from time to time, they were carried out and thrown down the steep banks outside the palisades. Naturally where there was so much refuse many implements and weapons would be lost and carried out with the rest.

In the course of years these banks of refuse accumulated to an enormous extent and they resembled very closely the same class of remains found in many other countries, which in Denmark have been called by the archaeologists "Kjokenmoddings" — kitchen middens.

These refuse heaps are prolific sources of information in regard to the people who lived in Garoga. The rains and winds of ages and nature's chemistry have sweetened them, and we need not fear to dig among the dust of the past. Perhaps it would not add to our comfort to reflect upon what they once were.

When the place was occupied, no woods or trees were allowed to grow near at hand, the town stood bristling with its palisades "on the crown of this difficult hill" and no enemy could approach without being seen. Now the steep banks are covered with a heavy forest, and it is no easy task to open the refuse heaps among the tangled mass of roots. But the hard work is forgotten in the fascination of the quest.

We dig a trench as near as we can, about twenty or thirty feet, from the top of the bank. The earth is black and filled with charcoal, ashes, and innumerable Unio shells, which are usually of one specie — "Unio Complanatus" and identical with those found at the present day in the Mohawk and its tributaries.

As we go deeper into the bed of ashes, we begin to find fragments of that archaic pottery, which is peculiarly Mohawk. It is "sui generis" and is one of the principal links that connect into one continuous whole the long line of Mohawk village sites, and not only so, but that connect these sites unmistakably with Cartier's village of Hochelaga; for in the museum of the McGill University can be seen many fragments of pottery, dug up on the site of Hochelaga which are identical in material, color, form and decoration to this Mohawk pottery which we find so abundantly in the refuse heaps of Garoga, and in all other Mohawk village sites. Although no whole jars are ever found, the fragments are often large enough for us to determine the shape and size, and to see that it was all made without the use of the potter's wheel. They were of all sizes, from the tiny toy made for the children to the great jar, solid and heavy, that would hold several gallons. At Garoga the pits from which the clay was taken can be plainly seen. The whole work was done by the squaws. It was worked into the proper consistency and mixed with pounded shells, or some kind of granite rock, to prevent cracking during the firing. All the jars were round on the bottom, as they were to stand upon the ground or in the ashes, and they had a flaring rim so that they could be suspended by a cord if necessary. The decoration was invariably certain conventionalized patterns of incised straight lines, but so varied that no two jars are ever precisely alike; there is a striking resemblance, but great variety, and they never advance from the straight line in their decoration. Not a curve is ever seen. The only departure from this uniformity is where the jar was made in a basket, in which case the imprint of the crossed meshes can be seen; or where, in very rare instances, the human figure was used as a decoration.

As the digging proceeds, we find the bones of many wild animals and birds, nearly all of them broken so that the marrow could be extracted. The comparative anatomist of the Smithsonian Institution has reconstructed for me the fauna of Garoga so that now we know pretty well what wild animals roamed the woods of the Mohawk Valley in the prehistoric days. But we also find many bone implements such as harpoons, ornaments, awls and needles, and many the use of which we can only conjecture. The piercing implements are the most abundant; these were used for making their buckskin garments, and many of them are as smooth and hard and sharp as they were when first made. They are usually of the tibia of the deer, a very close and hard bone much like ivory in its texture. We find specimens of what may be called the jewelry of the Indians, and it shows how innate is the love of ornament in all mankind. These things at Garoga are generally exceedingly rude; a round piece of turtle shell; a piece of a deer's jaw with the teeth still in place, the canine teeth of the bear; the cutting teeth of the beaver; and necklace bones made either of the tarsus and metatarsus of the deer, or human phalanges. All these are perforated for suspension, and many of the latter are elaborately smoothed and worked.

Stone implements, in a more or less perfect condition, are quite common either in the beds of ashes or scattered on the surface of the fields where the village stood. The axes are all of the kind known as celts. No grooved axes have ever been found at Garoga.

The arrowheads are commonly of one type, which have been called "war arrows", made with barbs, so that it would remain in the wound when the shaft was withdrawn. There are also spearheads and scrapers, drills and knives, usually made of the mineral called chert or hornstone, and similar to those found among all savage men.

That the dwellers in Garoga had considerable artistic sense is shown in their fictile wares, in various carvings of bone, and more especially in their pipes, which are usually of clay moulded in the form of various animals, and of the human face.

The chief interest that attaches to these relics — as far as the present paper is concerned — is that they connect Garoga backward to Hochelaga and forward to the Mohawk in all the subsequent periods of their history, as long as they remained in the Mohawk Valley.

At Hochelaga and at Garoga are the same pottery and pipes, the same bone implements and arrowheads, identical in shape and material and suggesting strongly the same savage people, and, as we follow the tribe in its migrations from one village to another, we shall notice the same similarity only that there will be a gradual change as the white man's wares increased more and more in variety and quantity, and as the savage, unable to understand the newer and higher civilization so suddenly thrust upon him, assimilated all of the vices and but so few of the virtues of the white man, and so lapsed from a state in which he was abundantly able to take care of himself to a state of dependence and weakness.

Garoga was one of four castles which the Mohawks built in the Mohawk Valley (about 1595) following their retreat from Hochelaga (present Montreal) by the Algonquins about 1570. As previously mentioned, these four castles were Otstungo, Garoga, Briggs Run and Cayadutta, names given them by Mr. Frey for purposes of identification.

Otstungo

The remains at Otstungo are typically Mohawk, just as those are at Garoga, previously described. Although the site probably was occupied not more than twenty-five or thirty years (1580-1610) the amount of village debris, broken pottery, weapons, implements, etc., found at Otstungo has been enormous. The site has been dug over for a century or more but still yields ordinary relics and an occasional interesting one.

Otstungo is on a high triangular point of land, formed by the junction of a small tributary stream and the Otstungo, both of which run through steep ravines. Otstungo was open to attack only on the south side, the steep cliffs on each of the two other sides being practically a defense in themselves. It is a position admirably suited for defense and is the most famous of the four first castles of the Mohawks, in as much as it was the first known of their original Valley castles, having been known since Revolutionary days when it was probably uncovered by plowing. This castle site is on the Otstungo, a short distance from the point where this stream enters the Otsquago which empties into the Mohawk at Fort Plain, four miles east.

The earliest investigators of the site, wrongfully attributed this Indian town to the Mound Builders. There are no remains of the Mound Builders or their mounds in the Mohawk Valley, so far as known.

Briggs Run

The third castle of the Mohawks in 1600 was located on the small stream known as Briggs Run which comes to the Sand Flats over the eastern spur of Big Nose Ridge. This castle is mentioned as follows in Van den Bogaert's Journal of 1634.

"January 20. In the morning, before daylight, Jeronimus sold his fur coat for four beaver skins to an old man. We set forth, at one hour before daylight, and, after marching by guess two leagues, the Savages pointed to a high mountain where their castle stood nine years before. They had been driven out by the Mohicans, and after that time they did not want to live there."

This date, 1625, when the Mohicans attacked this north side castle may possibly give us a clue as to when the Mohawks abandoned their first castles, which may have been burned or injured in the Mohican-Mohawk war of 1625-26. Following this conflict the Mohawks moved all their castles to the south side of the river, with the exception of one small village. The north shore castle pointed out by the Mohawks was near the summit of Big Nose Mountain (sea elevation 940 feet) which is the highest elevation in the neighborhood of the Noses.

Cayadutta

Cayadutta Castle stood on the east bank of the Cayadutta Creek near Sammonsville, about two miles northwest of Fonda. It has been examined by Mr. Frey with results similar to those obtained at Garoga. All the first four castles of the Mohawks in our Valley are identified by the typical Mohawk pottery, implements and weapons which are discovered therein, combined with the lack of the white trader's wares, such as iron or steel hatchets, knives, etc. The other Mohawk town sites contain trader's articles in quantities increasing with the later times.

List of the Mohawk Indian Castles, 1580-1775

The following is a list of Mohawk castles from the first settlement of the Caniengas (Mohawks) along the river, about 1580, until they left the Valley in 1775 with Col. Guy Johnson, to join the British army of Canada during the Revolution.

1580-1625.

  1. Ots-tung-o. (Indian Hill) on the Otstungo Creek, a short distance from where it runs into the south bank of the Ots-qua-go, which enters the Mohawk, four miles east at Fort Plain. Otstungo is just east of Hallsville.
  2. Ga-ro-ga. (Indian Hill.) On the east bank of Garoga Creek, on (1916), the farm of George Cristman, half way between Ephratah and Garoga.
  3. Briggs Run. About one and a half miles east of Yosts, near the peak (940 feet sea elevation) of Big Nose Mountain.
  4. Cay-a-dut-ta. On the east bank of the Cayadutta near Sammonsville.

The foregoing names are given these Mohawk castles for convenience of location, as their Indian names are unknown. All of these first castles were on the north shore of the Mohawk except Otstungo.

Villages of Van den Bogaert's Journal of 1634.

The following locations of the Mohawk villages visited by Van den Bogaert on his journey of 1634, are by Mr. John Fea, the historical writer, of Amsterdam. All of these villages were on the south side of the river except Canowarode.

  1. O-ne-ka-gon-ka. Lower Castle (probably of the Turtle Clan). On (1912) the Vrooman farm on Wasontha Hill on the west side of the Wasontha or Yatesville Creek, west of Randall. The trail which ran to the castle is probably the country road which now climbs the hill.
  2. Ca-no-ra-wo-de. Village, on the site of the Montgomery County Home and its building on the Kanajora (or Knauderack) near the Mohawk Turnpike. This was the only Mohawk village site of the time which was on the north shore of the river.
  3. Sen-at-sy-cro-sy. Village at Sprakers Basin.
  4. Can-a-ge-re. Village on (1912) the Horatio Nellis farm, just east of Canajoharie.
  5. Soch-an-i-dis-se. Middle Castle (probably of the Bear Clan) on the Brown farm on a projecting point of high land in the Happy Hollow section, about a mile west of Canajoharie.
  6. Os-qua-ge. Village on Prospect Hill in Fort Plain.
  7. Ca-wo-ge. Village on (1912) the Lipe farm west of Fort Plain, on Fort Hill near or on the later site of the Fort. Osquage and Cawoge made two Mohawk Indian villages of the period within the present limits of Fort Plain.
  8. Te-no-to-ge. Upper Castle (probably of the Wolf Clan) on (1912) the Sponable and Moyer farms, two miles northwest of Fort Plain on Oak Hill.

Mohawk Castles of 1642-1666.

  1. Os-se-rue-non or Os-ser-nen-on (1642-1659). On the east side of the Aurieskill at Auriesville. Here is the Shrine which marks the slaying of Father Jogues in 1646. The name of this castle is given in various forms as: Assure, Gandawague, Kaghenewage, Kahaniague, Caughnawaga, etc. The latter names are probably more correct than its usual title, as Osseruenon was the Turtle Clan village and Gandawague has been translated "At the Turtle Village" or literally "Turtle Village At."
  2. Gan-da-wa-gue (1659-1666). In the winter of 1659-1660, the castle of Osseruenon was ravaged by smallpox and the diminished Turtle Clan removed to Gandawague on a high point of land on the west side of the Aurieskill and about a mile or more distant from the old castle.
  3. An-da-go-ron. The castle of the Bear Clan, on the hill back of the red brick house about a mile or more west of Fultonville.
  4. Te-non-to-ge-re. The castle of the Wolf clan, on the steep hill do the south side of the Plattekill or Onagerea, and back of the little village of Sprakers Basin. The name is also given as Teonnontogen.

All of the above Mohawk castles, except Osseruenon, as previously described, were burned in De Tracy's great raid of 1666, after which the Mohawks removed to the north side of the river.

Mohawk Castles, 1666-1693.

The following locations of the Mohawk castles, during the period from 1666 to 1693, are from the Journal of Greenhalgh the explorer of 1677. The four castles were all on the north side of the river. The Bear Clan had their village on the north side of the Mohawk River, almost opposite their old one while they were building their new castles of Canagorha and Canajorha. Greenhalgh's account has been supplemented by the results of the personal investigations of Mr. S. L. Frey and Gen. John S. Clarke.

The Wolf Clan rebuilt Tenontogere, a short distance west of their old castle at Sprakers, on the west side of the Plattekill or Onagerea. Here they probably lived while they were constructing their new castle of Tionondogue or Teonnontogen at Wagners Hollow on Garoga Creek, about one and a half miles east of Palatine Church. The castles and locations of the Mohawks were as follows according to Greenhalgh's list of 1677, together with the names he gave them.

  1. Kahaniaga (Caughnawaga) Castle of the Turtle Clan. On the rise of ground, known as the Sand Flats on the west side of Fonda. The Jesuit spring is on the east side of this rise, near the F. J. & G. R. R. tracks in the Cayadutta ravine.
  2. Can-a-gor-ha. Castle of the Bear Clan, on (1885) the Fox farm on Briggs Run, near the east side of Big Nose Mountain and about one and a half miles east of Yosts.
  3. Can-a-jor-ha. Castle of the Bear Clan. On the headwaters of Kanajorha Creek about two miles north of the Montgomery County Home on (1916) the Rice farm.
  4. Ti-on-on-do-gue or Te-on-on-to-gen. Castle of the Wolf Clan. On the Garoga at Wagners Hollow, one and a half miles east of Palatine Church and two and a half miles northeast of Fort Plain.

The site of Teonontogen was moved to a better defensive position, a mile westward, in 1689. The latter site was that of the castle destroyed in 1693. Its location is at present indefinite.

All of the foregoing are the palisaded Mohawk castles of the period. Including these castles there were (in 1668) seven large villages along a river stretch of about twenty miles.

All the foregoing castles were burned in the French Canadian raid of February 8, 1693. The first three castles were burned and the invaders took 300 prisoners at Tionondogue which was destroyed in the attack.

Ogsadaga, 1693-1700.

After this disaster, the Mohawks were reduced in numbers and all three clans (Turtle, Bear, and Wolf) gathered together and built a tribal village called Og-sa-da-ga. It was located on a hill at the western end of Tribes Hill, which is so named because of this tribal town. The Mohawks lived here while they planned and worked upon the three castles which they built along the south shore of the Mohawk, which were their final ones in the Valley. In these latter castles the order of the three clans was reversed from that of their previous sites.

Mohawk Castles of 1700-1775.

  1. I-con-der-o-ga. Castle of the Wolf Clan. On the east side of the Schoharie Creek at Fort Hunter. Fort Hunter was built to protect this castle in 1710 and Queen Anne's Chapel was erected for their religious education in 1711. This was palisaded and was the Lower Castle.
  2. Ta-ra-jo-rees. Village of the Turtle Clan. On the southern point of Prospect Hill, Fort Plain. This was a small village compared with the castles of the Wolf Clan at Fort Hunter and that of the Bear Clan at Indian Castle. It was not palisaded. Many of its warriors were killed in the battle of Lake George in 1755, after which the depleted tribe moved up and was merged in the Canajoharie Castle of the Bear Clan at present Indian Castle. Tarajorees was the Middle Castle. Fort Frey (1701-11) at Palatine Bridge was built to defend this castle.
  3. Can-a-jo-ha-rie. Castle of the Bear Clan. On the site of the Willis Greene farm at Indian Castle, west side of the Nowadaga Creek. Fort Hendrick was built to defend this castle in 1756. This was the largest Mohawk village of its time and was also known as the Upper Castle of the Mohawks, also as the Great Castle of the Mohawks.

During the latter part of the foregoing period the Oneida Indians had their main town at present Oneida Castle, on Oneida Creek at the western limits of the County of Oneida. They also had a small village on Oriskany Creek, at the site of the present village of Oriskany.

A study of the foregoing list will show that these Mohawk towns were all located on both sides of the River in present central and western Montgomery County, with the single exception of the Upper or Canajoharie Castle (1700-1775) at present Indian Castle. The Mohawk locations were generally in the territory on both sides of the Noses between the Schoharie River and Garoga Creek. Their villages and cabin sites were numerous and many relics have been found at these latter locations. The region between the Noses and Fall Hill was called "Canajoharie" by the Mohawks and its eastern end was a favorite dwelling place with them.

Tsi-dros-o-wen-gen or the Hog's Back is a high ridge of land (with an elevation of over 800 feet) running along the south shore of the Mohawk, from Prospect Hill in Fort Plain to Cliff Street in Canajoharie.

It was a favorite Indian dwelling place, admirably suited for defense, where one of their main castles and several smaller villages were located at different times. Its cabin sites must have been many as relic hunters find Mohawk relics along the entire steep ridge between the two towns of today.

It may be mentioned in passing, that this is the first published complete list of the Valley Mohawk Indian castles, to the author's knowledge.

Van den Bogaert's Journal of 1634, seems to designate all the Mohawk Castles and towns, big and little, of that time. Aside from this one instance only the main towns or castles are given in the different periods listed above.

It has often been said that the Mohawks changed the locations of their villages frequently. The removals noted above were in two instances (1666 and 1693) caused by the total destruction of all their castles by French raiders. Osseruenon was deserted in 1660 because of a terrible plague of smallpox and the Turtle Clan of this castle then moved a mile west. In only one or two instances is there mention of their moving a town from one location to another during a time of peace. When they obtained iron or steel axes and hatchets from the Dutch, there was no further need for periodical removals. The white man's hatchet and axe enabled them to bring their firewood and bark for their cabins and new palisades to replace the old ones, from some distance. In the latter part of the Valley Colonial period (1700-1775) the Mohawks lived in their Upper and Lower Castles for seventy-five years. They then built log houses and had no more need to move than the white man, and there might be some Mohawks around these sites today, if the Revolution had not broken up their Mohawk Valley life and tribal existence. There is no recorded reason why the Mohawks removed, about 1642, from their second to their third series of river locations.

The history of the Mohawks, after the settlement of Fort Nassau (Albany), in 1614, is carried along with that of the white pioneers where it probably belongs, in the succeeding chapters. In these the reader will find interesting descriptions of several of the Mohawk castles listed above.

Where the story of our Mohawks in our Valley was a foggy mystery fifty years ago, it is now almost as clearly defined as that of the early settlers along our river. This is due to the painstaking investigation and research of several eminent scholars mentioned elsewhere.

Mohawk Indian Vocabulary

The following Mohawk Indian vocabulary is that which is appended to the Van den Bogaert Journal of 1634. The editor considers this an appropriate place for this list of some of the most essential words of the Mohawk dialect of the Iroquois tongue, and it is printed so that Mohawk Valley people today may gain some insight into this savage speech which is said to have been one of the most difficult of the Indian languages for the white man to learn. In this 1634 vocabulary there are several words relating to the white man, his tools, weapons, etc., which of course, would not be present in the aboriginal Mohawk language of the period of the first four Valley Castles.

[Photo: Indian Hill.]

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