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Mohawk History & Genealogy
My ninth great-grandmother, Ots-Toch or Alstock, who was born circa 1620 in the Mohawk village of Canajoharie, New
York, was the reason for my delving into the culture and traditions of the Mohawk nation. Ots-Toch married a Dutch settler,
Cornelis Van Slyke, but never left the Mohawk village. I became intrigued with her story and wanted to know more about her
heritage and mine. Brian Brown generously shared his own research, much of which you can read on these pages.
Food sources led to a definite annual cycle for the Iroquois.
November, December, January, February:
Everyone was cooped up in the village. This was the
season for merry-making, games, story-telling, conversation, etc. People who
wanted to make new tools or weapons might have put the materials aside in summer to have
something to do in winter.
Spawning season. Most of the Natives (except the young, sick, old,
etc.) left the village and broke up into smaller fishing camps (perhaps
100-200 people). Fishing consisted primarily of netting the fish. Traps
might also be constructed, by driving poles into the muddy bottom of a stream
to create an enclosure with only a narrow entrance. Two rows of poles in a
"v" shape, funneled fish swimming upstream to the entrance of the enclosure.
Once inside, they were later collected.
Another fishing technique involved boys with "scare lines" - a cord
with a weight on the end - forming a long line along one bank of the
stream and then wading and swimming across the stream. The scare lines,
dragged on the bottom beneath them, herded the fish into the shallows where
they could be collected in baskets by waiting women. Considering the water
temperature that far north in March, it is likely this technique much more popular with the boys in August than it was in March!
Everyone gorged themselves on fish at the fishing camp. Besides the
actual work of fishing, thousands of fish had to be cleaned, then smoked.
Wood had to be gathered for the smoking. Periodically, small groups of
people would leave the fishing camps with baskets of smoked fish, walkback
to the village (20 miles or so carrying 40-50 pounds...the people were used
to physical exertion), spend the night at home, then come back to the fishing
area. When the fishing camp broke up around the first of April, almost
everyone might have to make several round trips to take all the smoked fish
home. Judging from archeological finds, fish may have been as important to
their diet as venison.
April, May, June, July, August, September:
The need to plant and tend the
crops kept the women and girls close to home. Men and boys brought in a
trickle of fresh fish or fresh meat from short (1 to several days) hunting and
fishing expeditions. This was also the season for commerce with other
tribes with which the Mohawks were at peace and for war with everybody else.
Hunting was in small groups, stalking deer, rabbit, squirrel or other
small game. Occasionally, men went after moose or bear. Fishing involved
hook and line (when just a few fish were needed for supper, they didn't need
mass production using a trap) or else was done by wading into the river and
spearing the fish (which required considerable skill and an ability to hold
still for quite a while).
Deer are fat and their fur is best before winter. This was
the main hunting season. Most of the population left the main village to
go to temporary hunting camps. Deer were herded toward waiting archers by
lines of women and children beating the brush with sticks. This was done
once every day or two, with the rest of the time devoted to gathering wood, dressing and smoking the meat. By about November 1, everyone was
back in the village before the real cold weather set in.
The Mohawk and other Indian peoples had fished
for Atlantic Salmon for centuries. Within one century, whites virtually
obliterated the species and its numbers have never returned.
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Your Name in History
Find out if your Surname is part of the Our Name in History Collection! Just type your surname into the search box
|The Van Slyke Family in America A Genealogy of Cornelise Antonissen Van Slyke, 1604-1676 and his Mohawk Wife Ots-Toch, including the story of Jacques Hertel, 1603-1651, Father of Ots-Toch and Interpreter to Samuel de Champlain
Dawes Commission Index, 1896 records of Five Civilized Tribes: Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek and Chickasaw
Dawes Commission Index, 1898-1914 Index of tribal enrollment applications for Cherokee, Choctaw, Seminole, Creek and Chickasaw