Saturday, October 12, 2013

Not the Last of the Mohicans

Recently I looked through the paperback Haunted Catskills by Lisa LaMonica.  It looked like an interesting book on my home area to read on a rainy fall evening.  I was very dismayed by one statement in the book, that my friend Stephen Kent Comer was the only linear descendant of the Mohicans in the Columbia County, N.Y., area.  Steve doesn't even live in Columbia County, but in central Rensselaer County. 

I was born in Columbia County and grew up there, almost smack dab in the center.  I've been able to document that I am a descendant of the Catskill band of Mohicans.  I was even living on the one tract of land that Tataemshatt, a chief of the Catskill band in the late 1600s, claimed the band had never given up.  There were also three other families of known Native descent in the village of Philmont, perhaps more.  There was also Simpsonville, an old area of Hudson where people of triracial ancestry lived until redevelopment fever hit the city and their homes were torn down.  There are descendants of the Mohicans who made the Taghkanic baskets still living in the area.  I have personally known six men and one woman from the Hudson Valley who were descended from Mohicans from this area and some are still living here.

The Mohicans have long suffered from a lack of identity in their homeland.  The only thing I was told about my ancestors in school was that they were here and then they moved away, followed by much more information on the Haudenosaunee (the name preferred by the Iroquois).  Partially because the two names start the same way, the Mohawks and Mohicans have been confused for a long time.  They were part of two different cultural groups with different languages and traditions.  Not all Mohicans belonged to the Stockbridge Mission or the Moravian mission at Shekomeko.  Not all Mohicans left the homeland.  Unfortunately someone named James Fenimore Cooper wrote a book called The Last of the Mohicans, and too many people took his mismash of history for truth.  Once again an author makes it sound like no one with the ancestry of its indigenous people is living in the Mohican homeland, or that no one with that background identifies with it and cherishes it.  I truly wish that Ms. LaMonica had been more careful in her research and had not reinforced the myth passed down by Cooper.

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