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In the Classroom > Picturing America Lessons > The Truth Behind The Last of the Mohicans

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Excerpts from "The Mohicans of Stockbridge", by Patrick Frazier, Univ. of Nebraska Press, 1992

Preface, pg. xii

"In 1735 the Mohicans were at a critical juncture. For 125 years they had been trade allies with the Dutch and later with the English along the Hudson River. The lucrativeness of the peltry trade changed their economy, which, along with an increasing foreign population, affected their lives significantly. No longer just hunters, subsistence farmers, traders, self-supporters, and warriors in inter-Indian wars, the Mohicans became trappers, wholesale suppliers, consumers of European goods, soldiers of fortune in colonial wars, debtors, dependents, and victims of disease and alcohol."

pg. xiv

"I have also retrained the traditional English spelling of "Mohican" rather than the Dutch and subsequent ethnological spelling "Mahican" in order to make the work more generally familiar."

Pg. 1

"A small council meeting in July of 1734 in a simple village along the Housatonic River in Massachusetts would affect the course and survival of a nation. The issue under consideration would demand four long days of discussion, reflection, hope, and apprehension. A captain in his early forties and a lieutenant in his late thirties, both weighted with the future prospects for their people, would figure prominently in the council's decision. The path they were considering would take those who followed into a world of people who thought, talked, believed, worked, and even fought differently. Their children might forget the ways of their ancestors and their heritage. But the new path just might save the nation. They must do something, or they might indeed be among the last of the Mohicans.

The captain's name was Konkapot, the lieutenant's was Umpachenee, and they belonged to the Housatonic tribe of Mohicans. Each was a principal man in villages that lay eight miles apart on the Housatonic River, among the steep Berkshire Hills of southwestern Massachusetts. And the subject that they must weigh most heavily was whether to accept a Christian mission."

pg. 11

"To earn part of their living many Mohicans worked fall harvests for the landed Dutch gentry in New York. In agriculture, too, the Indians had come to rely on the variety of colonially produce staples that were more abundant than those traditional Indian agriculture could provide, especially when trade, war, or social dissolution intervened. In February or March of each year the Mohicans set up camp among the sugar maples for about six weeks to tap the trees and make sugar, much of it for sale. They might also get a few trade goods for their baskets, brooms, garters, mats, wooden cups and bowls, and an occasional canoe. The lucky and prudent ones could furnish themselves comfortably.

An account of one Mohican woman's possessions was probably typical, or perhaps better than typical, of the average Indian household. She had a mare and a yearling colt, a saddle and two bridles, two lengths of wampum, one large and three small hatchets, a silk shirt, three large and three small kettles with two chains on which to hang them, two mortars for grinding meal, and a small assortment of awls, pans, bottles, mats, bags, and wooden utensils…..The majority of Indians, however, even more so than the small colonial and tenant farmers, led a marginal existence."

pg. 13

"Konkapot and the rest knew that many of the old ways had gone forever. The trade, commerce, technology, transportation, agriculture, and even politics that Europeans had introduced from Albany southward had been in the Mohicans' midst for several generations, and they could not be unaffected. Some Mohicans along the Hudson were becoming more dependent for a living on trade and crafts than on hunting. Those who worked occasionally as farm laborers certainly represented a significant change from the old ways, and so did those few who intermarried with colonials. The simple ownership of a horse, as another example, could change the way of life and economy of its Indian owner. Guns, powder, and shot were preferred to bows and arrows. The wooden war club had given way to the steel hatchet, and earthen pots yielded to brass kettles and tin pans. Everywhere metal implements replaced those of stone and bone. Wool blankets and European cloth were competing with deer hides. Even wampum, still necessary for currency, for decoration, or for the conduct of public affairs, was being provided by Albany and Springfield traders, who had many other material things that Indians now needed or wanted. More important, these new Americans had the knowledge of how to make them or had the ships to import them. And the Mohicans could not help but notice that those New Englanders who had the most material goods attributed their abundance to the blessing of a god who spoke to them through their Bibles…."

pg. 14

With the English approaching from the east and the south, the Mohawks controlling access to the west, and the French holding the north, the Mohicans' physical world was shrinking. Why not, then, try to learn the successful ingredients of the surrounding culture and cast one's lot with those who were most often the winners?

pg. 51

"One bright spot was the new meetinghouse, which was near enough to completion that the Thanksgiving service could be held in it. Another was the arrival of four plows, through the charity of the New England Company. There was also the one-room schoolhouse, where the children would continue to learn their letters and their catechism. The minister and the principal tribesmen saw hope for a better future in the children."

"The ups and downs of some Mohicans reflected the stress that the proximity of Indian society to colonial society produced. Though principal men like Konkapot embraced the mission life as a spiritual and possibly temporal salvation, the pace of change made adjustment difficult, and some Indians preferred not to adjust at all."

pg. 69

"Stockbridge [in 1744] had a gristmill, a sawmill, and the beginnings of new roads. Fruit trees were blooming, corn, beans, oats, and other grains were growing, cattle, sheep, hogs, and horses were grazing, and rail fences were being built, along with framed houses and more wigwams. Indians were becoming tithingmen, surveyors, constables, and hog reeves. The Stockbridge Indians seemed to be adapting to the New England way. Konkapot had a barn, its roof shingled in colonial fashion. Umpachenee was on a committee to build a bridge across the Housatonic River and to repair the meetinghouse. One upstanding Mohican was a deacon in the church, and David Naunauneekanuk was a town surveyor. Several young women were learning to sew and were making cloth shirts and other garments. Some Indians were able to read their Bibles and catechisms, and a few had learned to write legibly."

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