In the early 1700's, Hendrick Aupaumut, Mohican Historian, wrote that a great people traveled from north and west. They crossed waters where the land almost touched. (According the John Quinney, Hendrick Aupaumut committed the oral history of the Mohicans to writing, in the mid 1700's, a non-Indian took the manuscript to be published and it was reportedly lost. When found, the manuscript's first page was missing. Two versions of the manuscript exist: one is the Massachusetts Historical Collections and one in Electa Jones' book Stockbridge Past and Present. What is meant by the "north and west" and "waters where the land nearly touched" is not known. The Bering Strait theory is questionable, based on current research.) For many, many years they moved across the land, leaving settlements in rich river valleys as other moved on.
Reaching the eastern edge of the country, some of these people, called the Lenni Lenape, chose to settle on the river later renamed the Delaware. Others moved north and settled in the valley of a river where the waters, like those in their original homeland, were never still. They named this river the Mahicannituck and called themselves the Muh-he-con-neok, the People of the Waters That are Never Still. The name evolved through several spelling, including Mahikan. Today, however, they are known as the Mohicans.
Because the Mohican people chose to build their homes near the rivers where they would be close to food, water and transportation, they were sometimes called River Indians. Their homes, called wik-wams, (wigwams), were circular and made of bent sapling covered with hides or bark. They also lived in long-houses which were often very large, sometimes as long as a hundred feet. The roofs were curved and covered with bark, except for smoke homes which allowed the smoke from fire pits to escape. Several families from the same clan might live in a longhouse, each family having its own section.
The Mohicans' lives were rooted in the woodlands in which they lived. These were covered with red spruce, elm, pine, oak, birch and maple trees. Black bear, deer, moose, beaver, otter, bobcat, mink and other animals thrived in the woods, as well as wild turkeys and pheasants. The sparkling rivers teemed with herring, shad, trout and other fish. Oyster beds were found beneath the river's overhanging banks for some distance up the Mahicannituck. Berries, cherries and nuts were abundant. It was a rich life.
Mohican women generally were in charge of the home, children and gardens, while men traveled greater distances to hunt, fish or serve as warriors. After the hunts and harvests, meat, vegetables and berries were dried. These along with smoked fish were stored in pits dug deep in the ground and lined with grass or bark.
During the cold winter months, utensils and containers were carved, hunting, trapping and fishing gear were repaired, baskets and pottery were created, and clothing was fashioned and decorated with colorfully dyed porcupine quills, shells and other gifts from nature.
Winter was also the time of teaching. Storytellers told the children how life came to be, how the earth was created, why the leaves turn red and so on. Historians also related the story of the people: how they learned to sing, the story of their drums and rattles, what the stars could teach them. Children learned the ways of the Mohicans, their extended family: how to relate to each person, as well as to all the gifts of the Creator, and how to live with respect and peace in their community. They also learned that they had responsibilities, so they began to learn skill.
In early spring, the people set up camp in the Sugar Bush. Tapping the trees, gathering the sap and boiling it to make maple syrup and sugar was a ceremony welcoming spring. There were many ceremonies during the year whenever something needed special "paying attention to," such as planting of the first seeds - the corn, beans and squash - and the time of the harvest.
The Munsee, part of the Lenni Lenape or Delaware people settled near the headwaters of the Delaware River just west of the Mohicans. Their lifestyles and languages were similar to those of the Mohicans.
The Mohican lands extended from what is now Lake Champlain south nearly to Manhattan Island and on both sides of the Mahicannituck (Hudson River), west to Scoharie Creek and east into Massachusetts, Vermont and Connecticut.
The Mohicans never forgot that they were relatives of many other tribes who had traveled with them over the centuries. Mohican leaders often sent warriors to assist their allies when they were in danger of being attacked. But these were temporary alliances and did not result in a powerful confederacy such as that of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois.
The Coming of the Europeans
In September 1609, Henry Hudson, a trader for the Dutch, sailed up the Mahicannituck into the lands of the Mohicans. He found himself in an area rich in beaver and otter, the kinds of furs the Dutch most coveted. By 1614 a Dutch trading post was established on an island later named Castle Island.
As the fur trade expanded and furs became more difficult to find, tensions developed between the Mohicans and the Mohawks, Haudenosaunee people to the west. Each group wanted to maintain its share of the fur trade business, as well as retain friendly relations with their European allies. Not only did conflicts occur between the Mohicans and the Mohawks, but the Native people were also caught in wars among the Dutch, English and French. The Mohicans was eventually driven from their territory west of the Mahicannituck. In the early 1700's, indebtedness, questionable land purchases and cultural conflicts caused them to move farther east near the Housatonic River in what were to become Massachusetts and Connecticut.
The Mohican economic pattern was greatly changed by contact with the Europeans. They stopped making many traditional items because new tools, iron kettles, cloth, guns and colorful glass beads were available at the trading posts. The English, who eventually replaced the Dutch in this area, chose to "civilize" all the Native people in what they called "New England." The vast lands, which the Mohicans had used for gardens, hunting and fishing, began to have boundary lines and fences when shared with non-Indians. Since their lands were declared to belong to European monarchs by "right of discovery," they found that they could not defend their ownership in the courts of the colonists. As more and more Europeans arrived, the Mohicans, like other Native people who had traditionally depended upon themselves and the resources of Mother Earth, found themselves dependent on white people and what they could provide.
The coming of the Europeans into the lands of the Mohicans affected them in another catastrophic way. Europeans brought diseases with them: smallpox, measles, diphtheria, scarlet fever. Native people, unfamiliar with these diseases, had not built up immunity to them, and hundreds of thousands - sometimes whole villages at a time - perished. These diseases greatly decreased the number of Mohicans.
European Christians with missionary zeal also entered Native villages for the purpose of converting the people from their traditional spiritual practices to Christianity. Some Native people, noting that the Europeans seemed to be prospering in this new land, felt that perhaps the Europeans' God was more powerful, and agreed to be missionized. In 1734, a missionary named John Sergeant came to live with the Mohicans in their village of Wnahktukuk. He earnestly preached the Christian religion, baptized those who accepted his teaching, and gave them Christian names such as John, Rebekah, Timothy, Mary and Abraham.
In 1738, the Mohicans gave John Sergeant permission to start a mission in the village. Eventually, the European inhabitants gave this place the name "Stockbridge," after a village in England. It was located on the Housatonic River near a great meadow bounded by the beautiful Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts. In this mission village, a church and school were built. The Mohicans, we well as other Native people who relocated there, became known as the "Stockbridge Indians."
Between 1700 and 1800, European countries battled for control of the land called America. The French and Indian Wars were really conflicts between England and France over territories they had taken from the Native people who were recruited to help them fight. The Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 were fought between the American colonists and England. The "Americanized" colonies no longer wanted to be governed by the Mother country. The Stockbridge Mohicans, as well as the Oneida, Tuscarora and other Native warriors, supported the colonists in their revolution. In one battle, the Battle of Van Cortlandt's Woods, a number of Stockbridge Mohicans lost their lives. When the surviving warriors returned home, they discovered that plans had already been made to remove them from Stockbridge.
The lives of the Mohican people were drastically changed by the fur trade, European missionaries, disease and war. All of these worked together to cause of breakdown in their traditional Mohican life and beliefs. Their spiritual ceremonies were replaced by European customs. Fewer and fewer of the people spoke the Mohican language; thus their thought patterns about the natural world were altered. The ancient arts of basket and pottery making continued, but other seasonal occupations were abandoned. In order to survive, the Stockbridge Mohicans adopted the trades and behaviors of their non-Indian neighbors: farming, lumbering, worshipping in church, sending their children to schools. But, as the eighteenth century neared its last twenty years, their lives were to change even more drastically.
It became apparent after the Revolutionary War, with their numbers greatly reduced and intruders (called "settlers") using unscrupulous means to gain title to the land, that the Stockbridge Mohican people were not welcome in their own Christian village any longer. The Oneida, who had also fought for the colonists in the war, offered them a portion of their rich farmland and forest. The Stockbridge Mohican accepted the invitation and moved to New Stockbridge, near Oneida Lake, in the mid-1780's. Again they cleared forests and built farms. A school, church, and sawmill were built. The tribe flourished under the leadership of Joseph Quinney and his counselors.
But land companies, desirous of making profits from the land, proposed that New York State remove all Indians from within its borders. The pressure for removal was great. John Sergeant recorded in his journal of August 1818, "About one-third of my church and one-fourth of the tribe (70 souls) started from this place for "White River." Their leader, John Metoxen, led the group to the White River area in what is now Indiana to settle among their relatives, the Miami and the Delaware. When they reached their destination, after about a year, they found that the Delaware had already been coerced into selling their land.
Meanwhile, missionaries, agents from the State of New York and commissioners from the War Department were negotiating with the Menominee and Ho-Chunk (Winnebago) for a large tract of land on which to relocate the New York Indians in what is now Wisconsin. A treaty was negotiated in 1822. The Stockbridge Mohicans was on the move again. The group that had traveled to Indiana with John Metoxen were the first to arrive on the Fox River at Grand Cackalin (Kaukauna), also called Statesburg. For the next several years, those who had remained in New York followed, traveling by foot, wagon or sometimes steamship on the Great Lakes.
Perhaps the first English-speaking people in the state were in the John Metoxen group. Electa Quinney, the first public school teacher in Wisconsin, was a Stockbridge Indian woman. The first Protestant minister, as well as the first Christian Temperance Union, came with the Stockbridge Mohican people. Again they established a church and a school.
Meanwhile, the federal government was forcing Indian nations to agree to land session treaties, often physically moving them to lands far distant and different from their original homelands. In 1832, Congress had enacted President Andrew Jackson's Indian Removal Act by which all Indians from the east would be moved to lands west of the Mississippi River. A group of Stockbridge Mohicans, fearing the inevitable, moved to Indian Territory in 1839. Many died while making this journey. Some reached Kansas and Oklahoma and married into other tribes. Most simply gave up and returned to Wisconsin, which had gained statehood in 1848.
During this period a group of Munsee joined the people at Stockbridge, Wisconsin, and were accepted into the community. Known as first as the Stockbridge and Munsee, eventually this community was simply called the "Stockbridge-Munsee."
The federal removal policy caused dissension among the people who remained in Wisconsin, which led to political divisions in the tribe. Presented with the opportunity by government agents, some Stockbridge people relinquished their Indian status and became tax paying citizens of the United States, while others chose to retain their tribal membership and form of government. New lands were explored, new moves considered. As a result of the Treaty of 1856, the Stockbridge and Munsee moved to the townships of Red Springs and Bartelme in Shawano County. But the conflict between the Citizen Party and Indian Party was to have repercussions for many years to come.
In the late 1800's, almost every Native nation in the United States had been assigned to reservations. The reservation land of the Stockbridge-Munsee was mostly covered with pine forest. Farming was attempted but the land was sandy and swampy and so forestry became the base of the economy. However, services promised in treaties were inadequate and of poor quality. Poverty prevailed for most people. Treasured wampum belts and other cultural artifacts, craft materials and even traditional clothing were sold to collectors for a pittance.
In 1887 the General Allotment Act was passed by Congress. This law divided up reservation lands and allotted portions to individual people. This was not new to the Stockbridge Mohicans, whose lands had been allotted in Massachusetts, New York, Kaukauna and "down below" in Stockbridge. The policy proved to be a very successful way of removing land from tribes by making it possible to deal with individuals who had little experience with private ownership. Some people who needed money sold their allotments to business dealers who wanted the forest for lumbering. Some dealers connived to get the land, and some elements were built into the Act of 1887 allowing lumber barons to secure un-allotted lands. This happened on the Stockbridge Reservation. The lumbering companies cut down the trees and moved out, leaving land with little economic value.
Some families sold lakeshore property in order to make their mortgage payments on land they had purchased or to which they held title. Other Indian individuals lost their allotments because they were unable to meet tax or loan payments. Thus the tribe began to see its reservation land disappear. Hard times continued and grew even worse during the Great Depression in the 1930's.