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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