Wednesday, January 13, 2021

'It's Been Erased': Stockbridge Mohicans Retell, Reclaim Their Story In Berkshires

 By NANCY EVE COHEN • JAN 11, 2021


A cairn on Monument Mountain, where the Stockbridge Mohicans left stones in the 1700s. It was looted in 1840 and later reconfigured.

“The Stockbridge-Munsee Band of Mohican Indians today are based in Wisconsin. But their homeland spanned the Housatonic and Hudson river valleys, and stretched from Manhattan to northern Vermont.

Over the decades, members of the tribe have come back to the Berkshires to protect cultural sites…Hiking up Monument Mountain, in Great Barrington, I come across Chris Graham, and his dog Sophie. I asked if he knows why it’s called Monument Mountain.

"I don’t," said Graham, who hikes here often. "I know that there’s the monument at the top of it, the inscribed rock."

That inscription describes the donation of the land to The Trustees. But the name — "monument" — refers to something left behind by the native people, explained retired Stockbridge police chief and local historian Rick Wilcox.

"There is an actual pile of stones or a cairn on the far side of the mountain. It was along the Indian trail between Great Barrington, Sheffield and Stockbridge. They would travel by that path and when they went by it, they would drop a rock on the pile," said Wilcox, on a walk up the mountain.

It’s considered a sacred site. But treasure-hunting vandals looted the pile in 1840. It was later reconfigured, but it’s not well-marked. Before we found it, Wilcox took me to the wind-swept summit.

"They call this part Squaw Peak," Wison said.

But "squaw" is now considered a derogatory slur. The Stockbridge Mohicans have asked the Trustees to change the name to “Peeskawso,” meaning virtuous woman. The Trustees is doing that, as well as renaming a trail and adding signage to better reflect tribal culture.

As we descended, Wilcox pointed out the monument — the stone pile, around 5 or 6 feet tall.

"It’s wonderful to be able to see it. And it’s unfortunate that it was desecrated," Wilcox said. "You know, so much of their history has been hidden or wiped out, and so this I guess is in some ways an example of a piece of their history that was kind of brought back to life."

1 comment :

pwax said...

Donation piles are one of the only types of rock pile acceptable to conventional archeologists. I see them (or think I do) routinely at the edges of sites.

But I have a bee in my bonnet about them: Donation piles mark the location of significant events and are inherently meaningless *in themselves*. They do not have design, nor do the sites have design. So focusing on them is focusing on the one part of the topic of rock piles, where the piles and sites have no structure and have no information. In terms of advancing general knowledge, they are a dead end.