Ticonderoga’s Indian Pageant, A Historical Account
The following undated personal narrative, authored by Arthur A. Carr, speaks to his remembrance in the birth and development of the Indian Pageant, held at the Forest Theater in Cook’s Grove, Ticonderoga. NY. This writing and associated photographs are from a large collection on this subject held in the Ticonderoga Historical Society’s archives. It is part of a larger Arthur Carr Family Collection donated to the Society over many years.
“The Hunt” A scene from the Forest Theater
“Having been connected from the beginning with the effort that came to be known as the Ticonderoga Indian Pageant, and as it now is a thing of the past, it seems proper that as I prepare from the files of the Society and from other sources (a) historical deposit that something be, by me, recorded.
Mr. Stephen Pell came to the family home at Fort Ticonderoga every summer during his life. For several generations the Pell family had owned the wide acres on which the ruins of the old fort stood. In the 1920s Stephen Pell became most interested in the restoration of the fort and in the community as a place to live. In order to widen his acquaintance in the neighborhood he joined the Grange. One of the active and leading members of that organization at the time was T.(homas) J. Cook most usually call(ed) Tom Cook. He sensing the difficulty of the city bred Mr. Pell was having in making easy acquaintance with the rural group in the Grange, took particular notice of him and made much effort to have him feel at home among the country folk. This gained a friend for Tom Cook. One that for the remainder of his life was such. The one mutual interest of Stephen Pell and Tom Cook was the Indian. Expressing a desire to know more about the original inhabitants of our valley Tom found himself in the fall of 1930 with an armful of books which Mr. Pell brought to him before his return to his winter home in New York City. These were loaned for the winter. When they were returned in the spring Tom’s appetite for knowledge of the Indian, especially the Iroquois was aroused indeed.
Previous to this Tom and I had become fast friends largely through a mutual fascination for the woods and mountain trails many of which we had tramped together in company of such others F.G. Thomas, F. D. Hawksley, Westill Densmore, Walter Johnson, and Frank and Brydon Locke. During the summer of 1931 Tom had much to say about his discoveries in the Pell books on Indians. One day, probably in July, he was discussing the ceremony of the Iroquois held in mid-summer at which he thanked the Great Spirit for corn, concluding with a feast upon the roasted green ears. We fell to wondering if the simple ceremony could not be reproduced with spiritual profit by contemporary folk. The result of this conversation was the bringing together of perhaps six or eight of the group that had fared forth together many times along the woodsy trails of our hills, for a corn roast and trial of this ancient ceremony which Tom had found preserved by an early writer who had observed it among the Iroquois before their contamination by white culture.
Thus on an August evening in 1931 was started, unconsciously, an affair that came to have wide interest and influence. We few men found the ceremony performed in the quiet calm of the forest some miles from a highway on the Cook farm strangely moving. It wa not difficult to get the group together the following year. Meanwhile Tom’s interest in the Iroquois flared to white heat. He read everything that he could find on the Iroquois.
There were at the time in Ticonderoga four elderly men who were great friends and who in their second boyhood had great fun in a pseudo fraternity of the four which they called an Indian tribe. The four were F. T. Lock, W.W. Jeffers, Rev. Willard Harmon, and L. F. Perry. Taking the initial two letters of the four surnames they named their “tribe” Lojehape. I think it was the following year that we invited this “tribe” to join us in the observance of the Iroquois feast. The ceremony we again found moving and the fellowship about the fire on into the soft August night most pleasant.
By this time Tom’s reading had given him an exalted idea of the worth of the primitive Iroquoian culture and fired him with a desire to let the world know about this thing hidden under our scramble for dominance. More than this Tom had become greatly grieved at the wrongs done the Indians. Wrongs in land deals as well as wrongs almost inherent in the impact of our culture upon theirs. It must have been in 1933 that we invited in our women, put on a primitive feast with only foods such as the Iroquois might have served on birch bark plates, etc. As I remember it was here that Tom began telling something of the life and culture of the Iroquois. This led, the following year, to an enactment, in a very modest way, of some possible scenes from primitive Iroquois life.
About here came into our group a young historian who came to Ti as Curator of the Headquarters House of the New York Historical Society. (New York State Historical Association) (Headquarters House — Hancock House, present home of the Ticonderoga Historical Society) Edward Alexander was extremely personable, fun-loving, and much interested in the reconstruction of primitive culture. Through the interest of Ed. Alexander and Dr. Fox and the organizations that they influenced, this thing which had meanwhile grown each year, gained much publicity and wide interest.
The eating part of the feast soon had to be eliminated. I think that we had no feast after the one that attempted to duplicate a primitive one. The Indian scenes were enlarged. Mostly they were a sort of tableau. Not having time to train actors the meaning of the scenes was explained by word of mouth from the side. We found this most effective by alternating the narration between Tom and I, placed behind trees on either side of the small staging space. The whole being lighted by a small fire.
By 1936 the attendance had become so great that the small space with a backdrop of slab-built palisades was greatly inadequate. At this time Mr. H. Germain Slocum, was much interested in archeological work in this valley. Becoming acquitted with the project at Tom’s woods, he threw his efforts and much-needed financial support behind it. Much more elaborate scripts were produced. Mr. Slocum built a stadium among the forest trees to seat some 2500 people, and in 1937 a society was organized to care for the vastly expanded activities. This was incorporated as “The Society for the Preservation of Indian Lore” with Mr. Slocum as its head. The record of the society can be traced through its preserved minute book.