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History of the Mohawk Valley: Gateway to the West 1614-1925
Chapter 32: The Schoharie Valley.

[This information is from Vol. I, pp. 468-474 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 Greene," some information in this book has been superseded by later research or was provided incorrectly by local sources.]

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Description of the beautiful region of the watershed of the Mohawk River, in which the Palatines settled in 1712 — Origin of the name Schoharie.

The Schoharie Valley, in which the Palatine Germans settled in 1712, forms one of the most beautiful and interesting regions of the Mohawk Valley. While it constitutes a large part of the Mohawk watershed, the Schoharie River region has marked characteristics of its own and a geographical situation and a topography which make it quite a distinct region, as compared with the rest of the Mohawk Valley. The Schoharie Valley, with the exception of the northern ten miles of its river section, lies in the Catskill region. The other parts of the basin of the Mohawk are first, one comprising a great shale and limestone belt, paralleling the Mohawk River, which forms what is known as the Mohawk Valley Province in the modern geological histories of the State; second, the northerly part of our Valley which lies in the Adirondack country. These two districts merge in part, while the Schoharie Valley is a markedly separate section. Its broad flats and abrupt hills along the Schoharie River, form a valley region with a beauty all its own, while its upper basin has the rugged mountain picturesqueness of the wild Catskill region in which it lies.

Prior to the Appalachian revolution at the end of the Coal period, the Schoharie of that far-off day, flowed southward into the ocean. During the Devonic period, this sea had periods of advance and recession along the southern part of present Schoharie County, where the first known trees then waved their fern leaves above the shores of that primeval ocean. In 1869, at Gilboa, Schoharie County, the first of the world's tree trunks were uncovered by a great flood in the Schoharie River. These, with later additions, form one of the most important geological collections in the World and are now part of an interesting re-creation of the flora of Devonic times, on exhibition in the State Museum in the Education Building at Albany.

[Photo: The Schoharie River.]

When the great Appalachian chain of mountains was upheaved, from Georgia to the shores of the St. Lawrence, the southern outlet of the Schoharie was blocked by this mountain mass, the uplift sloped the land northward and the stream then became the Mohawk's greatest tributary. The Schoharie has a course of seventy miles or more, from its source near Haine's Falls in Greene County, about ten miles from the Hudson, to its outlet into the Mohawk at Fort Hunter. It is the third largest stream in the Hudson watershed, the Mohawk and the Walkill outranking it. The valley of the Schoharie comprises 920 miles of the 3,485 square miles in the Mohawk watershed, and it thus forms about 27 per cent., or a little more than one-quarter of the total area of the Mohawk Valley.

The greater part of both Schoharie and Greene counties lies within the watershed of the Mohawk, inasmuch as the Schoharie is that river's greatest tributary.

In the upper course of the Schoharie at the present time, are a number of Catskill mountain summer resorts and, in this same section, the waters of the Schoharie are impounded as part of the water supply of the city of New York. The Schoharie Valley region forms one of the State's richest agricultural sections and it retains more of its old-time character than that part of the Mohawk Valley situated along its great highways of transportation.

The chief tributaries of the Schoharie are Fox's Creek and the Cobleskill. On the banks of the latter stream, Howe's Cave is situated. It is one of the natural wonders in a State rich in beauty and unique landscape and geological features.

Historically, the Schoharie Valley is closely associated with the Mohawk River region. Like the latter, the Schoharie was first settled by Holland Dutch and Palatine Germans and, similarly, Schenectady and Albany were its outlets and trading points. The Colonial and Revolutionary histories of the two river regions are also linked together and the two sections were defended as one frontier by the Revolutionary American Army of the North. The settlement of the interesting and fertile valley of the Schoharie by the Palatine Germans in the year 1712, is the first link between the histories of the Mohawk and Schoharie because some Palatines are reputed to have come into Stone Arabia, at the same time. From this time forward, the story of the two rivers and their people merge into one, just as the two streams join and flow on together, at their junction at Fort Hunter.

It is appropriate to give here some account of the geography of this beautiful region, which was a veritable "land of promise" to its Palatine German pioneers. This, and the description of the Schoharie Indians, are taken from the writings of Brown and [Jeptha R.] Simms, who continue to be the main authorities on this subject. Simms' "[History of] Schoharie County and Border Wars of New York" and his "Frontiersmen of New York" constitute a veritable mine of historical material concerning the Colonial and Revolutionary Mohawk Valley, which includes that of the Schoharie.

Simms' account of the origin of the meaning of "Schoharie" is generally accepted. He says:

"The word Schoharie, or the word from which that was derived, when originated, not only signified 'flood wood' but a certain body of flood-wood. At a distance of about half a mile above the bridge, which crosses the Schoharie in the present town of Middleburgh, two small streams run into the river directly opposite each other. The one on the west side, coming from a northwest course, was formerly call the Line kill, being the northern boundary line of the first Vrooman patent — which instrument embraced that part of the town of Fulton, now called Vrooman's Land. The other stream is called Stony Creek, and runs into the Schoharie from a southeast course. John M. Brown, Esq., in a pamphlet history of Schoharie published in 1823, attributes to this stream, which he calls the Little Schoharie, the origin of the latter word. The two streams mentioned, falling into the Schoharie at that place, produced in the latter a counter current, which caused a lodgment of driftwood, at every high water, directly above. The banks of the river there were, no doubt, studded, at that period, with heavy growing timber, which served as abutments for the formation of a natural bridge. * * * At the time the Indians located in the valley, who were the owners of the soil when the Germans and Dutch first settled there, tradition says there were thousands of loads of wood in the wooden pyramid. How far it extended on the flats on either side is uncertain, they being at that place uncommonly wide; but across the river, it is said to have been higher than a house of ordinary dimensions, and to have served the natives the purposes of a bridge, who, when crossing, could not see the water through it."

This "Schoharie" was called To-wos-scho-hor, by the Schoharie Indians, the name referring to the natural bridge of driftwood. The word is evidently of Mohawk origin.

Of the Indians inhabiting the Schoharie Valley, Simms wrote (in 1845) as follows:

"The Mohegans settled near the mouth of the Little Schoharie kill, in the present town of Middleburgh, and were living separate from the main body of the tribe, long after Conrad Weiser and his German brethren located in their immediate vicinity. One good reason for this was that they spoke a different language from the principal part of the tribe. They also had a small castle near the present residence of Henry Mattice. * * * Besides the village of the Mohegans already located, the Schoharie tribe had several others, one of which was on the farm formerly owned by Alexander Vrooman — on the west side of the river. Nearly opposite that, on the other side of the river, they had another; and a distance of several miles farther up the valley, on the farm of the late Peter P. Snyder, a third. At each of the former, they had a small castle and, at the latter where they dwelt many years after the two northern villages were abandoned, they had a burying ground. Those villages were all within four miles of the present Court House. Within the recollection of some now living [in 1845] twenty-one wigwams [cabins] were yet standing upon the Snyder farm and a few old apple trees, still [1845] to be seen there, are supposed to have been planted by the natives. Near this orchard, many burials are said to have been made at this place of sepulture; nor, indeed, were the manes of nature's children without companions to share the potage taken along at their death, as a portion of the consecrated ground was set apart for the defunct slaves of the early Germans.

"The fifth and most important village of the tribe, where dwelt Kharighondontee and his principal chiefs, was in Vrooman's Land, where they had a strong castle and a place of burial. This castle [as it stood prior to the Revolution] was built by John Becker, who received from Sir William Johnson, as the agent for the British government, eight pounds for its erection. It was built at the commencement of the French war and constructed of hewn timber. The Indians held some four hundred acres of land around it, which they leased for several years. Contiguous to this castle, along both sides of the river, could have been counted at one time seven huts; and relics of savage ingenuity are often now [1845] plowed up near its site. An angle of land, occasioned by a bend in the river on which this castle stood, was called the 'Wilder Hook' by the Dutch, who settled near it, and signified the `Indian's Corner'. Among the old people in that vicinity, it is still known by the same name.

"The Indians gave names to most of the mountains and prominent hills in the county, among which were the following: On the west side of the river, directly opposite the brick church in Middleburgh, is a mountain rising several hundred feet and covered with timber of a stunted growth. The traveler will readily notice this as being the highest of the surrounding peaks which hem in the valley for a considerable distance on either side. This mountain the Indians called Ou-con-ge-na, which signifies "Rattlesnake Mountain," or "Mountain of Snakes." It was literally covered with rattlesnakes in former times. The next peak above, on the same side of the river, which has a very bold termination toward the Valley, they called O-nis-ta-gra-wa and spoke it as though written O-nis-ta, graw-waugh. It signifies the "Corn Mountain." Between that and the river, was the Wilder Hook, at which place the flats are well adapted to the cultivation of Indian corn. It was this consideration which gave to the mountain its significant name. The next hill above the Onistagrawa, now known as Spring Hill, the Indians called To-wok-now-ra; its signification is unknown. [Oucongena is 2060 ft. sea elevation and 1440 above the Schoharie. Onistagrawa is 2080 ft. sea elevation and 1450 ft. above the Schoharie.]

"At Middleburgh, two valleys meet; the one through which the Schoharie wends its way, and the one through which the Little Schoharie kill runs some distance before it empties into the former. Consequently, on the southeast side of the river as it there courses, the mountain ridge which confines the river to its limits on the eastern side, suddenly terminates and again appears east of Middleburgh village. The termination of the hill alluded to, which lies southeast of the Onistagrawa and distant perhaps two miles, was called by the Mohegans, who dwelt at its base, Mo-hegon-ter, and signified "Falling Off," or "Termination of the Mohegan Hill." It served not only to designate the locality and preserve the name of the Connecticut Indians, but, like many of their words which have a twofold meaning, it denoted a hill terminating at a valley. A fraction of the Stockbridge tribe of Indians, who emigrated from Massachusetts, also dwelt near the Mohegans."

Mohegonter rises 1286 ft. above the sea and 625 feet above the Schoharie. The continuing height, south of the Little Schoharie is 2140 ft. above the sea and 1470 ft. above the Schoharie River.

Simms estimates that all the Schoharie Indians could muster 300 warriors and, from that figure, concludes that the total Indian population along the Schoharie, was 2,200, an estimate which is probably somewhat too high.

Concerning Indian trails in the Schoharie, Simms says:

"Brown enumerates the five following footpaths as being in use by the Schoharie Indians, when the whites first settled among them. The first began at Catskill and followed the kill of that name up to its source at the Vlaie, from whence it continued down to Middleburgh. Over a part of this path now [1845] runs the Loonenburg turnpike. The second began at Albany and led over the Helleberg, down Fox's Creek valley and terminated in Schoharie. By this path the Germans traveled who first settled Schoharie. The Old Road, as now called, from thence to Albany, follows very nearly the route of that path. The third commenced at Galock's dorf and led to Schenectada, through Duanesburgh. By this path, the Dutch, who first settled in Vrooman's Land, proceeded from Schenectada. This path was much used for several years by the Schoharie Germans, who went to the ancient city, with grists upon their back, to get milling done. The fourth led from Kneiskern's dorf down the Schoharie, from thence through the towns of Charleston and Glen to Cadaughrity and ended at Fort Hunter. This path was much traveled by the natives, who went from the Mohawk to the Susquehanna valley. The fifth led from Kneiskern's dorf northwest to Canajoharie. This path, says Brown, was much traveled by the early Germans, who often went to visit relatives at the German Flats. It continued in full use, he adds, until after the year 1762, at which time Sir William Johnson reviewed a brigade of militia, of which he was general, near the upper Indian castle of the Mohawks. Besides those enumerated, the Indians must have had other paths, perhaps of less notoriety, leading in different directions from Schoharie. One traversed not a little by the Indian hunter, led directly up the Schoharie to near its source, and from thence to the Susquehanna and Genesee valleys; while another, of some importance to the hunter, must have led up the Cobleskill to its source and, from thence, to Otsego Lake."

The foregoing gives some noteworthy features of the Schoharie Valley to which the Palatines came in 1712. Subsequent chapters cover their settlements along the Schoharie and Mohawk rivers.

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