The History of New York State
Book I, Chapter II
Pt I

Editor, Dr. James Sullivan

Online Edition by Holice, Deb & Pam



The early history of the aborigines of America cannot be compiled from written records; but it is possible to translate into written history, with reasonable confidence, and in some cases positive assurance, the evidences of human activity that hare contained in the crumbling debris of former ages brought to light by archeologists. "since the remote days when man appeared upon earth, he has been writing his history," states Parker, in his comprehensive "Archeological History of New York," #1 "This writing has been, as it were, a tattooing of the brown skin of the earth mother, and the ages have covered the tracings with layers and obscured them." When unearthed, this buried history, "the accumulated debris of the centuries," is translated into he language that men of today understand, and forms an important base for historical study. "This story of ancient man and his activities is of much importance today," states Parker, for "without this knowledge history is without a basis."

For instance, it is interesting to read that "the ancient inhabitants of York, England, 2,500 years ago were living in about the same way and making the same things that the ancient inhabitants of new York made at the same time, and even 2,000 years later." The earthen pottery, the chipped arrow-points and bone awls of the British Isles "are so similar to those found in America that one can scarcely tell them from the same objects found on the sites of Indian villages of New York State." These and other exhibits indicate that primitive peoples throughout the world have passed through somewhat similar cultural stages from the primitive state, some races advancing more rapidly than American, or along different channels than those of Indian culture; and the white race showed more constructive ability than the red. Nevertheless, there seems to have been little difference, intellectually or culturally, in the primitive races of mankind. This, which is nearer fact then theory, is generality recognized by American students of anthropology, archaeology, and kindred sciences.

Students of the natural sciences found the solution of many problems by studying the condition of the American aborigines. The origin of man in American, studied in all the correlated branches of science, seems to point to the advent of man in America by migration, perhaps from the steppes of Asia, or the islands of the south.

Man rose above the beasts when he began to use objects external to his hands as tools. When in groups he learned how to shape wood, bone, and stone, progress began. He then became superior to all other animals. He discovered by experience that the harder the stone, the sharper was its broken edge. Flinty rocks, chipped with other stones. Could be made to shape wood and bone. This was the beginning of sharp-edged tools, and the discovery made man no longer a creature of circumstances for he could, within limitations, carve his own way.

The use of flints brought him soon to the realization that he had made a captive of fire for at will almost he could draw fire from the stone itself. This discovery placed him still farther from the beats, who feared fire. fire made man's domain safer and more comfortable, and perhaps awakened in his heart gratitude to the unseen powers. Fire became his deity and the Sun which warmed him became the symbol of fire.

He made arms for his own protection. Groups banded together to protect themselves, their women and children against attack by beasts, or by other groups of men, who coveted their women or their means of subsistence. The implements, made of chipped chalcedony, jasper, quartz, or flint, took different shapes, to meet various needs, some for industry and some for fighting. Throughout the world, wherever these implements are found, they show a marked similarity. "the flint spear of prehistoric France is like that of Arkansas; the knife blade from Belgium is like that of Quebec; and the arrow points of China resemble those of Egypt."

One school of archeological scholars attributes this similarity of stone implements to a similarity f reaction of impulses in primitive peoples. Another school thinks that these basic discoveries--"the use and control of fire, the art of shaping flints and the invention of the spear were made while the human race still inhabited a limited area." Parker is of opinion that "the ancestors of the human race lived in some restricted geographical area until such a time as certain initial usages had become fixed parts of the pan-human material culture."

With these facilities man grew confident of his ability to cope with the uncertainties of a nomadic life and migration reached farther and father from the primal center. Environments and local need suggested improvements in the basic implements, the same suggestion possibly coming to two or more nomadic groups at same time, though separated by thousands of miles and with no means of contact. "One man might make the discovery in South America 10,000 years later then another man who lived in a cave in the foothills of the French Pyrenees." This would explain why the same types of implements are found throughout the world.

Skeletal remains and cultural artifacts, such as chipped flints, guide archaeologists in determining the former presence of man in a give area. The finding of chipped stone implements and the cracked bones of extinct animals in the caves of France and Belgium indicate that man had lived in that region in the period when the cave bear, hairy rhinoceros, mastodon, and saber-toothed tiger roamed Europe. Confirmation is to be found in the carvings of these extinct animals on fragments of bone and ivory. The Magdalenian painting in the cave at Altamira is further supporting evidence. There is indeed abundant evidence in Europe, but little in America. There is no evidence to support a belief that mankind had found a footing in America at the time when human beings lived in the caves of Northern France, and saber-toothed tigers were abroad over Europe. No human remains yet unearthed in America reach the antiquity of European or of Asiatic discoveries. This fact leads scientists to believe that the American continent was without human occupants at a time when the Old world had a considerable population. Biologists have arrived at similar conclusions from the fact that no skeletal remains of the higher primates have been reported from either North or South America. The proto-human ancestors of man, they conclude, did not develop in America, the Hominidae attaining the human type in the Old World, possibly in southern Asia or the islands of the south.

The advent of man to America has been a subject that has developed many theories, some ingenious, some absurd. The aborigines of America are, by one theory, the people of the mythical Atlantis; another would connect the American Indians with the Ten Lost Tribes of Israel; another theory, which ignores discoveries, has it that the original cradle of mankind if in America. Scientists however look with more confidence upon the clearer proofs of the Old World, and look more to the northwest than to the eastward, in trying to determine how America was populated. It is generally thought that the primitive cradle was in Asia, Certainly, the Old World was thickly peopled at a time when the New world had few inhabitants. As migration from the Himalayas of India westward and northwestward gave the strong Indo-European race that people Europe, and a southeastern migration settle Aryan tribes in what is India and Persia, so might an eastward migration have taken place, the migrants struggling into and out of the inhospitable colder regions of the northeast across the Behring Strait onto the American continent. Then, in the search for more desirable food areas, or to escape other groups of men, this migration seems to have spread southward along the pacific coast of America.

This migration from the hypothetical cradle of mankind in the warm regions of Asia would naturally develop greater volume in the direction of the more inviting regions than toward the rigors of the north. So it would seem that the westward drift of population--the migration of Aryan tribes to the Bosphorus and Europe, and to the plains of India and the rich lands of Persia--would have continued to completion, after which a pressure of population backward would begin a positive migration eastward and northward into the less endurable climates. This theory would support the belief that America was not populated until long after the richer parts of the Old World had become the domain of human groups. It is feasible to think, that at first only small groups of the eastward and northern drift (the more adventurous or the most harried by foes) would attempt the passage across the Behring Strait to the new land, and once upon it, they would probably follow the waterline--the easiest line of travel--southward. Others would follow, and would distribute themselves in groups, preferably neat water because of the food therein, and eventually would settle where climate conditions were endurable and food supply was not precarious. Resistance of attempts by other groups to oust them from coveted area would develop group consciousness, and in time distinct national features.

It seems, however, that the aboriginal Americans were of one race. Throughout America the Indians show uniform physical characteristics. There is variety, of course, but not more then is shown in species of animals--the bear for instance--in the gradual process of adaptation to climate and other conditions of life. In course of time, the transplanted human groups in America lost their Asiatic characteristics, except perhaps the pigmentation of the skin. If they did not lose them entirely, they developed features sufficiently different to be distinctive. It is said that some Indians words are not dissimilar in root to those of the Welsh who were the ancient Britons #2 and Welsh shows similarity to Arabic, both being to greater or lesser extent rooted in Sanscrit, the base of most of the dialects of India. At the same time it is true that the language of the American Indians is as different from the Asiatic as any European tongue.

The migration was probably spread over scores of generations, over thousand of years. "The ancient period when the distribution of the race was complete, from the icy northlands of Alaska through the Central and south American tropics to the bleak snow-covered tundras of Patagonia, was one far back in point of time," writes Parker, "and, it may be, followed the substance of the last glaciation in the north."

There is no reason to believe that the aboriginal Americans were more turbulent or warlike than other contemporary human groups. With time and comparative peace, would come an in increase of population, which could not be accommodated in the narrow Pacific Coast area, between the mountains and the sea. So the different groups, which had now become distinct linguistic stocks., developing many complex cultures, began to spread out in all directions from the sea. Those that remained in the Pacific Coast area developed some of the most highly distinctive culture traits. Other groups, of more nomadic tendencies, had to concern themselves more with the pressing needs of the moment. West of the Sierra Nevada there was not congestion and the linguistic stocks were widely distributed. The entire interior of Alaska and of Western Canada was held by divisions of the Athapascan stock, though the Eskimoan race held the coast, except about Cook Inlet. They even excluded the Athapascans from Hudson's Bay. Southward, the trend of the Athapascans was along the Rocky Mountain foothills into the arid sweeps of New Mexico, Arizona, Texas (western) and Chihuahua (Mexico). The Athapascan stock also was to be found in a few isolated spots along the pacific in Oregon and Northern California, but generally they settled in the least desired lands. Maybe, they had no option. They were characteristically peace-loving, and may not have wished to contend with the more belligerent tribes for the richer areas. In the rigorous north, the culture of the Athapascans was limited, but southern divisions of this stock--the Navaho and apache--developed complex culture.

While the Athapascans stock swept from the north to the south, the powerful Algonkian stock spread out, fanlike, from the Rockies to Labrador and to the New England coast. It held the southwestern shores of Hudson's Bay, most of the region north of the Great Lakes and spread down the Atlantic coast. Its northern neighbors were the Eskimo and Athapascan peoples; its western course as checked by the tribes of the Sioux and, in Tennessee, by the Muskhogean stock. The Algonkians, however, held most of the Mississippi Valley from the source to the mouth of the Ohio. The Siouan stock occupied a desirable tract extending from east Assiniboia southward into southern Arkansas. Beyond were the Cheyenne-Arapahoe tribes of the Algonkian stock, and the Shoshoni.

The Shoshonean stock occupied the Rocky Mountains region, pushed across to the Sierra and on, southward, into California, reaching and holding a strip of the seacoast. Its territory included southwestern Wyoming, all of Utah, Nevada, and the western half of Colorado and also reached into northeastern New Mexico and northwestern Texas. Traces of the Shoshoni are found southward in Mexico. Indeed, it is said that "the Shoshoni, the Paiute, the Bannock, the Comanche, and the Hopi are but northern kinsmen of the Aztecs."

Caddoan stock occupied land adjoining that of the Sioux, in North and South Dakota. Another group was in Nebraska, and other smaller bands farther south among the Kiowan stock. South of the Kiowan stock, between the Shoshonean stock on the west, the Muskhogean on the east and the Siouan on the north, was the principal division of the Caddo people. South and east of them were the Natchesan, Tonican, Attacapan and Chittemachan groups.

The Muskhogeans dwelt in the eastern part of the South. They occupied most of the Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia, northern Florida, and advanced wedge-like northward through western Tennessee into Kentucky and along the south bank of the Ohio. The Algonkeans lay to the northward, deriving benefit from the contiguity. Indeed, the material culture of the Muskhogeans exercised more influence upon the cultural development of the northern tribes than is generally supposed.

The Iroquoian stock, which includes the Cherokee, the Wyandot-Huron, the confederated Five Nations, the Erie, the Neuter, the Tuscarora and other smaller tribes wedged itself into the lands of the eastern shores of lakes Ontario, and Erie. The southern tip of Lake Huron and part of Indiana. The Iroquois tribes spread over all of northern Ohio and all of New York, except the triangle running from Lake George to the Delaware River, and occupied all of Pennsylvania, save a small strip on the eastern border. The Iroquoian stock was also to be found in parts of Virginia, Tennessee, North and South Carolina, Alabama and Georgia.

The Eskimoan stock in America seems to have been always that which they still are, a circumpolar people; but the Eskimos "show a close cultural affinity to other boreal people," and must be looked upon as a distinct division of the American races. The area which they occupy stretches from the Aleutian Islands to the tip of Cape Prince of Wales, and northward into the Arctic Circle.

It does not seem that there was much intertribal warfare among the aborigines. Some groups were more restless and predatory than others, perhaps because living conditions were not ideal with them. Although, however, tribal boundaries were somewhat flexible and at time changed, because of pressure by stronger groups, the hunting grounds of the various stocks seemed to be well recognized, and in the main respected. Boundaries could be more rigidly maintained among the various tribes of the same linguistic stock. Under the Iroquois governing code, for instance, a tribesman who pursued a deer from the Onondaga country into that of the Oneida might slay the animal, and take away the perishable meat, "but its pelt must be left hanging conspicuously near the trial and marked in such a way as to show that a person without the group had killed it."

There were some wars, of course, and in the course of centuries stocks have increased and decreased in numbers. Some have been exterminated, either by warfare of by absorption into other stocks. Generally, during a war there was no progress in material culture and almost invariably the greater wars were waged by the nationals that had become superior in material culture during long period of peace. these peace-loving people, in their more settled life, had accumulated wealth in movable property. This was coveted by less fortunate tribes, and so to ward off raids by predatory tribes fortifications were built. Probably the greatest Indian wars were those in which the mound-building people were reduced and expelled from their country between the Ohio and Mississippi rivers. A later war of importance was that in which the Huron-Iroquois pushed aside the Algonkian tribes, and established themselves where they were found at the opening of the historic era. It is doubtful, however, whether the aboriginal wars of pre-historic times resulted in heavy mortality. Though fearless and ruthless in war, the Indians were resourceful and honorable and favored deliberations by their elders with those of their adversaries. So as to reach peaceful settlement in council if possible Most wars were based on the struggle for existence and [probably a contributing factor was the encroachment of wild animals. For instance, buffalo herds may have made agriculture so precarious for the mound-building people that a readjustment of territory south and east became imperative and this could only be effected by invading the Muskhogean and Algonkian area.

Coming more definitely to the aboriginal occupation of New York we find that there have been several waves of occupation. How many there have been will never be known, but it seems quite clear that the Iroquois who were the last aboriginal people to occupy the land were not the first.

The area embraced by the present State of New York was probably looked upon as desirable by all of these early groups. Its physiographic features are undoubtedly inviting. The region "seems always to have been designed as a great natural empire." In variety of landscape there may not be its superior upon the continent. Its geographical position, physical features and natural resources; its waterways, soil, vegetation, and general fertility must have marked out the land as a most desirable possession. Its position at the head of the Great lakes was probably of as great strategic importance to the Indians as to the English. Its numerous waterways were of even greater value to the Indians, for their light craft could pass them from lake to sea and the portages presented no insuperable difficulty to them. The Hudson from its source afforded access to a considerable area. Over the divide near Fort Edward, the Champlain watercourses could be reached by two general routes, one touching Lake George and the other Lake Champlain. These portages were later of value to the English, and during provincial days were well guarded by Fort Edward at the point of debarkation on the Hudson, by Fort Ann on Wood Creek, and by Fort William Henry at the southern end of Lake George. Westward along the Mohawk an all-water route ended in the Oneida portage near the present site of the city of Rome. A portage of eight miles at this point brought the voyager to the Finer Lakes drainage basin and Fort Stanwix protected the route. Through Wood Creek and Oneida Lake all the lakes of Central New York could be reached. By way of Irondequoit Bay and the mouth of the Genesee River, or along its tributaries, the Genesee country was reached. Tonawanda Creek, Cattaraugus Creek and other water routes or land trails connected the Niagara and Cattaraugus regions with the overland trails and with the water route down the Alleghany to the Ohio. Leaving the Hudson near Albany, the great natural route from the east to the west was by the Mohawk Valley. The routes to the south country were along the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers. The Susquehanna could be reached from the Mohawk trail and these waterways brought the Pennsylvania regions and the Chesapeake county within reach of the New York tribes. The natural overland trails that followed the ancient shore and beach lines of the larger lakes were also of great importance and eventually, in the course of white settlement, these Indian trails became the wagon roads, and finally the routes of the railways.

A region so united by natural agencies must, therefore, have seemed especially desirable and potential to Indian groups. The land itself was naturally so fertile, fish and game were so abundant and other living conditions so inviting, that one is not surprised to find that the most powerful Indian confederation grew up in it. Climate also, probably had important part in developing in the Indians of New York a more vigorous mentality than that shown by aboriginal stocks in more temperate regions. The warm summers and fertile soil yielded the abundance of good that sustained the New York aboriginal stocks in vigorous physical activity during the rigorous but exhilarating winter months. Physical vigor brings mental keenness. The wide variations between summer and winter temperatures in New York seem to benefit the human frame. Certainly when the white race began to occupy the land of the red men they found in New York State tribes of Indians worthy of their respect. Within the borders of New York at that time were probably 6,000 Indians. They were living on tracts of land that they had held "from very early time." They wore little clothing in summer or winter and seemed to thrive. "One Jesuit father who lived among the Mohawk people states that he saw one warrior braving a wildcat skin through which he had thrust his arm, holding it one the windward side." These people lived in bark houses, unheated save by the floor fires lighted for cooking.

The incoming white men, with their superior tools, were able to derive greater benefit from the natural resources of the region. Utensils of iron, copper, tin, glass added to their conveniences. Sheep, cattle, and horses were assets the Indian had not had. The wool of the sheep, the milk of the cow, and the carrying capacity of the horse gave the whites considerable advantages over the aboriginal Americans. Their implements of war increased the advantage and the most advanced state of European civilizations gave them cultural advantages, practical initiative, and conscious superiority that enabled them to become eventually the paramount race on the American continent.

The presence of man in the New York region during the glacial periods has not up to now been suggested; at least not with any archeological basis. No paleoliths, such as have been found in Europe and elsewhere, have been brought to light in this State; the rock shelters have yielded some rude flints, but none that indicate remarkable antiquity. Man may have lived on earth 50,000, maybe 500,000 years ago, as a study of geology suggests, but he left nothing by which scientists might know of his occupation of the New York region in the immediate post-glacial times, at which time apparently certain Asiatic tribes were migrating over Behring Strait, and settling along the Pacific coast. When distribution began, more seem to have travelled southward into South America then eastward. Parker thinks that many parts of North and South America had been long settled and that there may have been millions of red men in America before any considerable number crossed the rocky Mountains and the prairie to begin a migration by slow stages to the Atlantic Coast. The oldest evidences of man's presence in New York seem to be on some of the upper terraces. In western New York are several strange sites where the artifacts are crude and all osseous matter completely absent. Carbonized material in the pits show that fire had been used. Along the headwaters of the Hudson are similar ancient sites; but their age cannot be determined nearer then that they are likely to be older than other sites where the artifacts are less crude.

Archeological study, however, convinces the student that long before the Iroquois other aboriginal groups lived in the New York region. At various times before the Iroquois occupation, Algonkian tribes occupied almost every part of the State. There is evidence, also, that bands of the mound-building people lived in New York, and at an earlier time there may have been an Eskimoan occupation.


The History of New York State, Lewis Historical Publishing Company, Inc., 1927

This book is owned by Pam Rietsch and is a part of the Mardos Memorial Library

Transcribed by Holice B. Young

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