Monday, January 17, 2011

When Rochester Hosted Indians


March 1967
  When Rochester YMCA Indian Guides march down Main Street for parades in the full tribal regalia, they are actually treading down the same path that real-life Indians trod many suns ago— or is it moons?
   Chances are that the 20th Century Indian Guides look a little more prosperous than the Indians seen around Rochester when the settlers first arrived. There is no record of the local Indians being decked out in feathers from head to toe or in fine buckskin. In fact, historical records of Rochester area paint a rather pitiful picture of the “aborigines” as they were then called.
  Record books say that the Indians buried their dead in three different places near or within the present city limits. Two of them were in the South Hill area, near the present Rochester Paper Company. While the first settlers found no Indian village here when they arrived, there were signs that there had been a village what is now two miles south of town. There were mounds of dirt indicating earth had been thrown up around winter wigwams. Digging uncovered ashes and charcoal. Some land had once been tilled for farming.
  ONE ACCOUNT tells of an encampment of Indians along the Clinton Rover during the spring fishing season of 1825. The tribe of some 30 Indians devoted several evenings to ceremonies that included a drummer using a hollow long and a flute-type instrument capable of playing four notes,. It would be said that this concert under the stars was an omen of bigger things to come to Rochester— the Meadow Brook Festival, we assume.
  The evening’s program consisted of dances, passing around a pipe to men and women and the delivery of short speeches. The dances were pleasant for the participators as long as they kept sober, “but became scenes of confusion and frequent bloodshed by reasons of too freely partaking of the fire water of the pale-face,” history relates.
  Another account of 1824 tells of Indians in the South Hill area building a huge fire, then tossing in two white dogs for sacrifice.
  Some of the Indians who lived around here were Josh, the chief among them. Wab-a-shaw, No-shane, Peter-wa-was, Pete-on-e-quate, Ca-cob, As-te-quam, Al-vij Hyde, Jij and Not-tuc-e-to.
  ROCHESTER’S FIRST heart-breaking love story took place when in 1831 when a young man named William Fisher from Pennsylvania married Nooh-tuc-e-too’s daughter, said to be a beautiful girl. He lived with her for a year but then moved with his parents to St. Joseph, Michigan.
  Ca-cob was a light-fingered Redskin. He was caught lifting some tobacco from Rochester’s first merchant, Seneca Newberry. Ca-cob was tied to a stake in the village, whipped and ordered never to return.
  We-se-gah, history says, was quarrelsome and filled with “pugilistic propensities,” especially when consuming the spirits. Once he attacked Alexander Graham, Rochester’s first home builder. After a struggle of “nearly an hour’s duration,” Alex finally over-powered the Indian. The account says that We-se-gah drew his blanket over his face, sat down and waited for Graham to dispatch him according to Indian custom by burying a tomahawk into his head.
But Graham told his conquered foe to leave and the dusky fighter followed the good advice and was never seen in the neighborhood afterwards.
  Wonder why that technique doesn’t work on the hot–rodding “indians” we’ve got today?