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Life Beneath the Pine Boughs

The shadows were long, as it is when the night sets in.  There was muted lighting, it was warm with a little breeze whispering through the pine boughs.  One could hear the crickets  making their night music and here and there little flashes of light from the fire flies.   The multitude huddled on their bench seats anticipating and ready.   Slowly the lights became dimmer and those souls looked down upon the forest floor and began their transformation into a world read about, but not lived.

Their eyes riveted on the scene below.  Slowly a light pans along the stockade fence and pauses for a few minutes upon the hemlock barked covered long house.  Again, and slowly, the lights begin their movement as they lite one by one the camp fires in the fore ground.  From one to the other they reflected the moving portraits  of life activities of the woodland Indian of several centuries past.    Here skilled hunters were preparing the skins from the hunt, others were slowly going about the necessary tasks of their lives:  grinding corn, preparing the tobacco, drying fish, making moccasins, baskets and pottery  for use of gathering and storage;  and preparing for the winter – making new snow-shoes.   And — the  children running about amusing themselves.

Then —– here amongst those towering pines, living sentinels born many generations before those present, a story begins —–

“… Very little opportunity is given our boys and girls to study the American Indian.  The histories which are in our schools and from which our first impressions are made, speak of the Indian as a bloodthirsty savage with tomahawk and scalping knife.  They give no mention of the fact that (Benjamin) Franklin’s plan of a union which was the beginning our federal republic was directly inspired by the wisdom, durability and strength that he had observed in the Iroquois confederacy.

Just why the historians have been so unjust to the Indians is easy to imagine for the histories were written by the white men and the Indian side of the story was left untold. It was their misfortune  to have no written language.

Lewis A. Morgan, nearly a century ago, expressed this thought in these words – “We have met the red man upon the warpath and not at his fireside.  We have dealt with him as his oppressor and not as his friend.  His evil traits, every present in the mind, form the standard of judgment and when his virtues rise up before us they create surprise because the standard of estimation is universally unjust.”….

pine - champlain Iroquois algonguian

Champlain’s Battle at Ticonderoga Iroquois and Algonquain – 1609

This is a fitting place to do this, for these woods were not only once the site of an Indian encampment, but if we could fall into a sort of dreamland reverie and be put back three and a quarter centures, we might even hear the battle cries of the Iroquois and Algonguin as they faced each other in that deadly conflict on the shores of Lake Champlain near Fort Ticonderoga.

The Title of our presentation tonight is “The Birth of the Longhouse” or “The United States of the Iroquois.”

A United States, in many ways like our own.  A state of many villages like our own, many villages such as the one you see before you, a village filled with activity, laughter and good spirit….

It seems to be the general opinion that the women did all of the labor, which was far from being the truth.  The women had their special duties to perform such as gathering the wood, planting and hoeing the corn, dressing the skins, preparing the food, and many other duties which were looked upon as women’s work.

While the men did not make pottery, do needlework or engage in agriculture, yet they had their special duties to perform.

The main trails which connected the differnent nations were burned over each year and the trees on each side of the trails were girdled, so as to make easy traveling at night.

Across the swamps, miles of corduroy roads were built and many of the smaller streams were bridged.  In this way the five nations kept in direct communication with each other at all times.  Most of this work was done by the men.  The men cleared the fields and furnished the game, made their agricultural tools and weapons of war.  Their work was slow and tedious as they had only stone and bone implements with which to work.  Their hoes were sometimes made of stone but usually they used the shoulder blade of the moose.  Their rakes were made from saplings with several root prongs which were trimmed to the right length for teeth.

The Indian excelled most in making birch bark canoes which were so light they could be carried easily upon their backs, and so strong that the large ones could hold two or more tons and with proper care they would last for several years.

Their heaviest work was in making their stockades that surrounded their villages.  These stockades were made of small trees set deep into the ground and sharpened at the top.  The most exposed places were protected from attack by narrow fighting platforms which were reached by short ladders.  Upon these platforms they kept birch bark buckets filled with water in case the enemy set fire to the stockade.  Under these platforms they kept a supply of cobble stones to hurl on the heads of the enemy in case the supply of arrows ran out.

….Now we see the hunters returning from the chase, bringing in the game which always created excitement among the Indian boys.  The women too, show interest for it is their part to dress and cook the animals.  The deer not only furnished their meat but their clothing also, and we have no modern method today that can excel their primitive way of tanning skins.

But the greatest thrill a village has is when a war party returns in triumph from some forest fight.  The war cry you have just heard tells us one is coming now……………. ( a action scene presented)

When a war party returns, if successful, the village celebrates with a great feast.  Sometimes the captive ran the gauntlet and if he survived was adopted into the tribe.  If, by chance, a war party was defeated, they gave vent to their feelings with death chants, wails and mourning. But no matter what event was to take place, it was always accompanied by the council fire.

Few white men realize what the council fire meant to the Indians.  It was the watch word in Indian government, Indian politics and Indian lfie.  Around it the old and young gathered on all occasions, sometimes to listen to a great speaker, sometimes to celebrated a victory, sometimes to mourn for the dead.  No law, treaty or business transaction of any kind was considered binding unless made around the council fire.  It was around the council fire that prayers were offered that their loved ones might be taken to that “Happy Home” beyond the setting sun, where according to Indian legends resides the “Village of Souls.”  It was around the council fire that the feast of the green corn was celebrated when, once a year, they gave thanks to the Great Spirit for giving so bountifully of her fruits.

The Iroquois had no constitution, they had no church, they had no flag, but they had something that answered for all three, something that to them was just as full of meaning and just as sacred:  They had the Council Fire — (an action scene presented)

The kindling of this particular council fire is to celebrate the Indian Thanksgiving, known as the “The Feast of the Green Corn.”  The time for holding this ceremony was when the sweet corn was ripe and ready for food.  The origin of this festival is lost and there are no traditions which profess to know when they originated except to say that they have been handed down from father to son for many, many generations.

Pine - Tom Cook

Tom Cook – (1876-1965)

The “Feast of the Green Corn” was distinctly religious.  The Indian religion taught peace, brotherly kindness, charity, hospitality, truth and friendship.  The Indian believed in one God, “Hinewau,The Great Spirit, and to him they ascribed all good.   They also believed in the evil Spirit which was similar to the devil in the Bible.  They believed that the Great Spirit not only made man but everything that is beautiful and useful on earth, while they believed that the evil spirit made all monsters, reptiles and poisonous plants.  They believed that one was for ever going about doing good, while the other was forever going about doing evil.  While they believed that the Great Spirit was the one Supreme being, yet they believed that everything that is beautiful and useful on earth had its own particular spirit.  They believed there was a Spirit of the lakes, a spirit of the rivers, a spirit of the wind, a spirit of the mountains, a spirit of the Oak, a spirit of the corn, and spirit of the tobacco.

In fact, their belief in spirits was so strong that years after they were driven out of the country, when they heard the wind rustle the leaves of the growing corn, making a sort of moaning sound, the Indian believed it was the spirit of the corn in compassion, bemoaning the fate of the Indian….

The pageant then proceeded into the religious ceremony ——

(Edited from Tenth Annual Indian Pageant – 1941)

The Story of Ticonderoga’s Forest Theatre and the Indian Harvest Festival.

For sixteen years gripping dramas of Indian Life have been presented each August on the farm of Tom Cook, two miles north of Ticonderoga Village, close by the shore of Lake Champlain.  Here nature has provided a beautiful grove of stately pines on an old indian campsite where a replica of an Iroquois Village, complete with a newly – erected longhouse, a stockade, and all equipment of everyday Indian life is situated.  This is know as the Forest Theatre.  It has an amphitheatre capable of seating some 2000 people and a lighting system which provides spell-binding effects.  It is a folk-lore festival played by local people.  It annually attracts more than 2500 people who come from the New England and Middle Atlantic states.  In the last two pageants Indians in aboriginal costumes from the six Iroquois nations have participated in tribal ceremonies.

It was in 1930 that Mr.(Stephen) Pell, owner of Fort Ticonderoga, loaned Tom Cook a winter’s reading about the Iroquois Indian.  It was in 1931 that Mr. Cook, with his good friend Arthur Carr, conceived a plan for recognizing the Indian thanksgiving which is observed each year when the sweet corn ripens and becomes ready to eat in the late summer.  The Indians call this the “Feast of the Green Corn”.  A group of friends was invited to a wooded grove on the Cook farm at which they ate Indian food, without benefit of knife or fork, and enjoyed an evening of Indian stories.  The party was such a success that the participants immediately organized themselves into a tribe called the “Adirondacks,” and planned to assemble again the following year.  In 1932 Tom cook wrote a script dealing with the harvest festival and again invited his guests to take part in the presentation.  This was the unpretentious beginning of the annual pageants which have since been held and which are dedicated to a better understanding of Iroquois culture.

For the next four summers a different phase of Iroquois life was enacted and each year attendance figures doubled.  On each occasion preparations were made to accommodate only the previous year’s  attendance.  Finally in 1936 the attendance at the festival reached such unusual proportions that one individual alone could no longer handle the arrangements and presentation. It was in that year that the Champlain Valley Archaeological Society and its genial president, H. Jermain Slocum of Charleston, South Carolina, assumed the sponsorship of the pageantry.

This Society which had been exploring for old indian burial places, agreed and felt that it was no more than just that they, who were, in a sense, desecrating the final resting place of the Indian, should lend their assistance in preserving a tangible record of his culture, by emphasizing his domestic life and general manner of living.

Pine -seating0002

New benches Cook’s Grove – 1947

In  1936, for the first time, a few benches were provided for the comfort of the guests, and Cook’s Grove was on the way to becoming the Forest Theatre.  The usual result followed.  Four-hundred people were expected and eight-hundred came.  It is noteworthy in these first amazing attendance figures that no advance publicity was ever released on these early pageants.  Their growth must be attributred  purely to the pleasure derived by both the performers and the audience and possibly a bit to that good American satisfaction at seeing justice done to a people who fulfilled their part of every treaty that the white man violated.

In 1937 a definite cycle of plays was started depicting the various events which climaxed Iroquois efforts to maintain their country and their league.  The story of that great white friend of the Indians, Sir William Johnson, who by his influence maintained the Iroquois nation’s adherence to the English cause in the colonies, was portrayed that year.  That same summer the Society for the Preservation of Indian Lore, with Mr. Slocum at its head, was organized.  This society has since maintained these pageants and in 1946 was incorporated.  It possess one of the finest research libraries of Indian Material in existence.

In 1938 the portrayal of Red Jacket was given, that famous Indian who, by his oratory and advocacy of arbitrating disputes, tried to help his people.  This was followed the next year by the Conspiracy of Pontiac, who tried to unite the Iroquois with the western Indians in a wag against white aggression.  The 1940 festival depicted the “Mourning Council” of the Iroquois and the defense of “Big Kettle“, who was the last of the Great Seneca Chiefs.  This series, telling the stories of the great chiefs of the Iroquois and their determined struggle to preserve their nation, provided a basis for a complete understanding of the 1941 pageant, “The Birth  of the Longhouse“, or the “The First League of Nations“.  Over three thousand persons crowded the Grove, making necessary once more the consideration of additional facilities for the accommodation of all who, like the originators  of the Festival, have become interested in the story of the American Indian.

In 1942 the pageants were discontinued because of the War (WWII) but were resumed in 1946.  Each year one of the following pageants is presented from the scripts which Tom Cook has completed to date:

  1. The birth of the Longhouse or the First League of Nations, and the Feast of the Green Corn.

  2. Sir William Johson and his Indian influence.

  3. The Conspiracy of Pointiac.

  4. Red Jacket

  5. The Last of the Senecas and Big Kettle’s Defense.

All scripts have the endorsement of the New York State Historical Association.  Sixty percent of the attendance is from out of state.  The festival is not an Indian Medicine Show, but an educational performance of high order.  The cast each year numbers from one hundred to one hundred and twenty-five, of whom about 25% are Indians from the Iroquois tribes.  The remainder of the cast come from the farmer, the butcher, the baker, and the candlestick maker, all local talent trained in folklore.

Reservations to attend the pageant are made on the membership plan, which provides a numbered reserved seat for persons joining the Society by paying an annual dollar fee.  Any person anywhere is eligible at any time to become a member.  For fifty dollars any person may become a life member.

If anyone of my listeners tonight had the time to delve into our files for evidence of the extent to which Tom Cook’s idea has grown, the territory and the number and kind of people it has reached, the requests we get from college students as far west as Iowa for information to be used as thesis material and in dramatic school and college work, the voluntary letters of commendation we get from educators, historians, writers, professional men, and those of the rank and file, you would indeed become convinced that our work is of educational value and you would become as much enthused as we are in this thing which has grown to such proportions.  We have built so much better than we knew, and have captured the interest and fancy of so many people, that we would be derelict in our duty not to perpetuate the work of our Society.  It is New York State’s most colorful folk festival.

Thus, it will be seen from the recital given here tonight that our purpose is primarily to educate the members and patrons of the Society through pageantry and other means of education, of the debt owed to the American Indian. By pen, deed, and work it shall be the continued objective of this Society to disseminate information through pageantry about the life, manners, culture, customs, and history of the Indian with particular reference to the Iroquois Nation, and to emphasize the contributions he made to our American way of life.  It is worthy of mention to state that our own republic was patterned after the principles practiced by the Iroquois Confederacy.

The author of our script is a dirt farmer, and it is appropriate to point out his major part in the Indian Festival on this, the farm program of the air.  Tom Cook is now acknowledged and acclaimed as being exceptionally gifted in his knowledge of the Iroquois and his ability to portrary their life and culture in a pleasing and praiseworthy fashion.  As one of the pioneers of the movement which culminated in the present Society for the Preservation of Indian Lore, Mr. Cook has further displayed his unselfish interest  by deeding twenty-five acres of his farm land which contains the Forest Theatre to the Society.

The above presentation was made by George H. Spring, Secretary and Treasurer of the Society by invitation of WGY.  It was aired over their Friday night program “Farm Paper Program” on September 26, 1947.   Due to the illness of “Jerry Slocum” Col. Jim Healey, a well known lecturer, columnist and WGY radio commentator hosted the opening ceremonies for the 1947 pageant.  In 1947 WGY, a General Electric’s pioneering  radio station located in Schenectady, NY was celebrating its 25th Anniversary of broadcasting.

pine - 1947 program cover

13th Annual Indian Pageant – “The Feast of the Green Corn” – Cast of Characters

Keeper of the Faith – Rev. Daniel T. Hill; Sachem #1 – Edward Keeler; Sachem #2 -Paul Borgeois; Sachem #3 – Father George deMille;  Sachem #4 – John Gallant; Sachem #5 – John Crammond; Hunter – Edwin Barker; Keeper of the Fire – Edith Porter Chester and Indian Mother – Evelyn Cook, descendant of Molly Brandt, with members from the St. Regis Reservation.

Atatarho, Fiery, Onondaga Chief – Bill Cook, St. Regis Mohawk, Hiawatha, Founder of the League of Nations – Harold Roeseman; Seneca Sachem – Ivan Bigalow; Cayuga Sachem – Paul Bourgeois; Mohawk Sachem – Ray Faden, St. Regis Mohawk; Oneida Sachem – Rev. Daniel T. Hill; Jin-gon-sa-sa, Queen of Peace – Miss Lois Ulcher; Keeper of the Symbols – Theodore Kleffel; Papoose Mary Ann Wallace.

Scraping and Smoking Hides:  Mary T. Burleigh, Patricia Blanchard, Kathleen Wickes and Beverly Hurlburt.

Drying Fish:  Virginia Burleigh, Joyce Johnson, Betty Johnson, Peggy Mero, Eleanore Clair.

Grinding Corn:  Patricia Ganron, Marilyn Moore, Jean Arthur and Mrs. Hayden Wallace.

Pottery:  Jacqueline Thibault, Lorraine Arthur, Alice LaRock, Barbara Hopkins, Nancy Vilmore and Judy Davis.

Tobacco:  Kay Jacobsen, Phyllis Austin, Jessie Carr, Carol Stull, Eleanor Crammond.

Snow Shoes:  Mrs. Rita Quinn, Mrs. Frank Grimes, Geneva Barney, Sandra Platt, Doris Moore and Colleen Grimes.

Basket Weaving:  Diane Pyrke, Judy Pyrke, Anne Burleigh, Jean Anauo, and Jean Miner.

Klan Mother:  Dorothea Snow

Moccasins:  Claire Contois, Jeanette Poulos, Rosanne LaPointe, Grace LaRock and Beverly Murray.

Smaller boys:  Glen Keeler, Bobby Keeler, Paul Burroughs, Fred Stull, Dick Anauo, John Whitty, Edward LaRock, Jack Gallant, Michael Gunning, Bobby Wickes, Paul Gallant, Roland Miner, Richard Johnson, John Arthur, Billy Provencher, Billy LaFrance, Tommy Gunning and Armin Morin.

For this performance there were 40 Chiefs and representatives from Iroquois Reservation, Grand River, Province, Ontario, Canada, members of the Six Nations. Approximately 20 Indians from the Mohawks and St. Regis Reservation were present and in ceremonial attire who featured tribal dances and customs.

An Indian Prayer

pine - Ray Fadden xmas 1992

Oh father, whose voice I hear in the winds and whose breath gives life to all the world, hear me.  I am a man before you, one of your many children.  I am small and weak.  I need your strength and wisdom.  Let me walk in beauty, and make my eyes behold the red and purple sunset.  Make my hands respect the things you have made. My ears sharp to hear your voice.  Make me wise, so that I may know the things you have taught my people, the lessons you have hidden in every leaf and rock.  I seek strength, father — not to be superior to my brothers, but to be able to fight my greatest enemy, myself.  Make me ever ready to come to you with clean hands and straight eye so that when life fades as the fading sunset, my spirit may come to you without shame.    Tom Whitecloud

From Ray Fadden’s 1992 “Seasons Greetings” to this writer – William G. Dolback

pine - 1947 bk back cover hh

1947 Booklet – Hancock House & Monument Indian Pageant – Theo Kleffel artist

The Ticonderoga Historical  Society’s archives hold a significant collection of photographs, manuscripts, and artifacts from the Forest Theatre and Indian Pageant.  The second floor Exhibit Room has a “walk-in exhibit where one can experience the sense of being in a Longhouse.


  1. Learn more about this subject.  Two related articles on this subject are  on our web page archives:  “Ticonderoga’s Indian Pageant, A Historical Account” by Arthur A. Carr. (2/1/2014) and “Original Kleffel Art Work Donated” (10/6/2013)

  2. H. Jermain Slocum, (1885-1948) was a financier and nephew of Russell Sage. A memorial ceremony took place at the Grove on August 6, 1948.  He was made a blood brother of the Mohawk Indians.

  3. In one of the last great financial contributions to Ticonderoga, Horace Moses provided the funds to the “Society” to have built the stockade, longhouse, lighting and other items to make the 1947 festival the great event it was.

  4. Ray Fadden – Was a well know teacher and activist for the Indian cause.  He founded the “Six Nations Indian Museum” that is located in Onchiota, NY

  5. George H. Spring – besides being an officer of the “Society for the Preservation of Indian Lore” was the long serving – 26 years – Director of the Ticonderoga Chamber of Commerce, retiring in 1963.

  6. On May 12, 1962 a special meeting of “The Society for the Preservation of Indian Lore” was held to dissolve the Corporation.  Members present at this meeting were: Thomas J. Cook, John Pell, George Spring, Edward Hamilton, Ray Fadden, Benoni Phillips, Arthur Carr, Jane Lape and Edna Spring

The Ticonderoga Historical Society is interested in Native American material, and items from Forest Theatre and Indian Pageant.  Donations are welcomed.


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