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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