in the Southern Tier
Sometime between 1300-1600, there appeared from the north and west along the Great Lakes many groups speaking a common language (the French writer Brobeuf in 1635 names 12 tribes). These people did not use the ceremonial artifacts and implements of polished stone. Ungrooved axes, longbows, arrows and war clubs were their offensive weapons, while for defense, wood and skin shields and even a wooden body armor were used. These warrior groups soon spread across New York State and established semi-permanent settlements, but they let the more peaceful Algonquin remain in New England and along the Hudson and Delaware Rivers.
The Mohawks settled the Mohawk valley, the Oneidas the Rome-Utica area, the Onondagas the Syracuse area, the Cayugas the Ithaca-Seneca Falls area, and the Senecas the area westward to the Genesee River. These five later formed the famous Iroquois Confederacy. The Niagara area was settled by a peaceful group called the Neuters, southern Ontario by the Hurons, and the south shore of Lake Erie by the Eries or Cat People.
South of the Finger Lakes in the Susquehanna-Chemung watershed, our area, came another large group called by many names. To the French they were called Andastes; to the Spanish and Swedes, Gachoos; to the Pennsylvania, New Jersey people they were variously called Canestogas, Minquas, and Capitanesses. Capt. John Smith, meeting them in 1608, named them Susquehannocks.
Locally the people were called Carantouan. Southwest of the village of Waverly, immediately to the south of the Route 17 interchange is a mounded hill locally called "Spanish Hill." This was the location of the Andaste fortress of Carantouan, described in some detail by Etienne Brule when he visited this area in 1615. He reported it as "well fortified with strong and high palisades." There was a ten acre plot on the level top of the hill two hundred feet above the river plain, steeply banked with 45° slopes on three sides. How the name "Spanish Hill" came into the picture is debatable. There are several theories, the most common being that Spanish coins and Spanish artifacts were found on the site.
At North Towanda, the village of "Ogehage," was a three-acre palisaded fort, fifty feet above the river. In West Elmira, a few hundred yards up river from the present Boy Scout administration building at Rorick's Glen is an area known to the older residents as the "Old Fort" and the "Indian Steps." Here a triangular plot, protected on the north by a vertical drop to the Chemung River, on the southeast by a ravine and on the west by a palisade of sharpened logs plus a ditch, was a fortification of the Andaste and even possibly of the Owasco era. Smaller forts have been located on high points near Big Flats and Chemung. This Andaste group was estimated to number 4,000 people, including 800 warriors.
Five of these original tribes, having a common culture and language, formed the Iroquois Confederacy, a loose organization of about 25,000 people, each tribe acting independently, yet pledged to a common defense against outsiders. The rest were invited to join but when they refused, the angered confederacy declared a "War to end war" by exterminating or forcibly adopting all the other tribes. They didn't stop with their own people but subdued all tribes from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River and Canada as far south as Tennessee. By 1700 all Indians in this area except those in New England were under their control.
The Hurons of Canada, the peaceful Neuters of Niagara, and the fierce Eries were exterminated, but the Andastes of our area were a problem. They retaliated by almost exterminating the Mohawk nation. In 1640s, supplied with guns by the Dutch, the Iroquois cleared this area and drove the remnants southward toward Virginia. Here in the final battles, about 1675, no one was spared except 100 of the best male specimens who were made captives to be used as "breeding stock." A Cayuga chief, describing our area, said "all that country is stained in blood."
The Iroquois realizing the military value of a neutral buffer zone between them and their enemies, and sensing the encroachment of the whites, invited into this Andaste void, the southern and eastern tribes that were steadily being evicted from their homelands by the relentless push of white colonization.
The Mahicans came from the Hudson valley, the Delawares moved westward into the central Susquehanna, Chemung, and Alleghany valleys. The Tuscaroras of North Carolina moved into the area around Binghamton. The Tutellos, also of the Carolinas, moved first to the South Waverly-Wilawanna area and then on to Ithaca where they were gradually assimilated by the Cayugas. Here, too, the Saponi People—a peaceful group of stone craftsmen, particularly pipe makers, settled what we now call Pony Hollow. The Conoys of Virginia and the Nanticokes of Delaware also moved into the lower and central Susquehanna Valley.
More than sixty sites, both temporary and permanent, have been identified between Tioga Point and Canisteo. Artifacts ranging from Iroquois and Delaware points and pottery of the latest culture to pieces dating back to 1000 BC have been found on the river terraces and on fortified high points of the valley. On this subject Ellsworth Cowles of Corning has a talk entitled "Ghost Towns of the Chemung."
The Senecas themselves took over the control of the Chemung, Upper Alleghany and lower Genesee areas, using it both as a hunting and fishing preserve and a buffer zone against the whites. The Cayugas became the "Keepers of the Southern Door" at Tioga Point.
From the Delawares our valley acquired a name. Early Indian travelers had observed huge bones and tusks, evidences of the mammoth, protruding from eroded banks of the stream. Hence, the area between Tioga Point and West Elmira was called Shumong, "The Place of the Horn." Our present name Chemung is a corruption of the original name and has an entirely different and undesirable meaning.
Again, early travelers proceeding westward observed the palisaded rocks of the Narrows and the strange formations of the Chimney Rocks of the Gibson-Corning area. This area, including Big Flats, became known as Atsinasin, or Achsinin, meaning "Rocks on Rocks" or "Piles of Rocks." It is from this Delaware word that we have the present name Sing Sing Creek we associate with Big Flats.
Isolated Iroquois family groups were settled in this area and their constant reports enabled the Iroquois Tribal Council to keep a firm control on the activities of the displaced peoples. Here too, they controlled the important east-west route from the eastern seaboard to the Ohio Valley. The Virginia settlers had a route to the Ohio via Cumberland Gap but this was not accessible for the Red Man. The shortest distance was due west from Philadelphia but this involved the difficult and hazardous crossing of the numerous mountain ridges of central and western Pennsylvania.
By coming up the Susquehanna, Chemung, and Canisteo Rivers as far at present day Canisteo there was a relatively short and easy overland trip to Genesee and on to Shinglehouse, near Olean, on the Alleghany. From here on, it was water travel down the Alleghany to the Ohio. By comparison it was an easy trip, but also it did not enter the Iroquois homeland. Known as the Andaste or Forbidden Trail (Tioga Point to Olean), it was forbidden to the passage of white men under the pain of death by "Roasting" (burning at the stake). As the only available water-level route from east to west, it could be called the thruway of its day. It has been replaced generally by the original Route 17.
It was from the southern gateway at Tioga Point that the frontier raiding parties of embittered Delawares (with tacit approval of the pro-French Senecas) launched their famous raids into the Wyoming and upper Susquehanna Valleys. It was only after these raids and the defiance of the successful Delawares had embarrassed the Eastern Iroquois (friendly to the English) that it became necessary to clear the area. In 1765 a party of 500 Mohawk and Oneida braves sent by Sir William Johnson drove out the Delawares, burned and destroyed the Chemung Valley as far west as Canisteo so that for about ten years the valley became a void. It was because of this raid that Queen Catharine left Lowman for the North. When she returned she resettled at Montour Falls. However, they again, in 1777, moved their outposts into our valley and now, being friendly with the British, from here launched their raids that brought on the Sullivan-Clinton expedition of 1779. This campaign is a subject all in itself.
The crushing of the Indian strength in southern and western New York again left a void which was rapidly filled by the land-hungry colonials and land speculators. From here on the story of our area is one of white occupancy. Fourteen minutes of the geological time clock have been accounted for.
I'd like to conclude with a statement by Dr. Erie A. Bates, well known historian of Cornell University in the 40s and 50s. He said "A knowledge of local history leads to pride in one's community that in turn leads to community involvement and community responsibility.
"Niawe." (Thanks are given.)
"Naho." (This is the sum of my words.)
© 1991, Alfred G. Hilbert