MOHAWK - Discovering the Valley of the Crystals Copyright 2004
Chapter Five - Iroquois
Mohawks Get Their Comeuppances From An Old War Horse . . .
. . . and Find Religion
After years of devastating attacks on French and Huron trading parties and villages in the Saint Lawrence Valley, the French launched two attacks on the Mohawks. The first was during the winter of 1666. The commander of this ill-prepared army of 700 Frenchmen was 40-year old Daniel de Remhy, Sieur de Courcelle. After a month of trudging through the winter woods to reach the Mohawk Valley, Courcelle’s army failed to kill a single Mohawk and lost hundreds of men to hunger and exposure. They would have lost more men if not for the assistance provided by English residents at Schenectady where they stopped to rest before returning north.
The Mohawks made a grave error when they
killed the nephew of The Old War Horse.
(Illustration of The Marquis De Tracy - from Canada Archives -Despite the failure of this French mission, it was a wakeup call for the Mohawks. They sought and received a peace treaty with the French. It didn’t last long. A band of marauding Mohawks attacked a French hunting party in the Saint Lawrence Valley, making a grave error. They killed the nephew of Viceroy de Alexandre de Prouville de Tracy.
as published in The Bloody Mohawk by T. Wood Clark - 1940.)
De Tracy was a veteran of many European campaigns and had attained the rank of Lieutenant General in the King's armies. At 60 years old, De Tracy, who brought the first horses to New France, led a second attack on the Mohawks. This time the French Army was 1300 strong and well-equipped when it marched up the Mohawk Valley in mid October 1666.
Faced with such an overwhelming force, the Mohawks abandoned all four of their villages and disappeared into the northwoods. The French burned every village and destroyed crops and food supplies. De Tracy and his army returned to the Saint Lawrence Valley in early November unscathed.
The Old War Horse had given the Mohawks their Comeuppances.
Word of the attack spread throughout the Iroquois Federation. Peace treaties were made and Jesuit Missions were established among the Haudenosaunee.
The Mohawks suffered greatly that cold winter and many died of disease and starvation. The entire nation crossed to the north side of the river and built four new villages. A Jesuit mission was established at the village of Caughnawaga located on a hill overlooking Cayadutta Creek, near present day Fonda. It was here that many Mohawks “found religion.”
The Jesuits were so successful in converting Mohawks to Catholicism that traditional Mohawks developed a deep resentment towards the Jesuits and their converts. In 1667 the Jesuits and “Praying Indians” from several nations established a village in the Saint Lawrence Valley across from Montreal that they also called Caughnawaga. Hundreds of Mohawk Christians moved to this village in the 1670s. By the end of the 17th Century there were as many Mohawks living in the Saint Lawrence Valley as there were in the Mohawk Valley. They moved this “Canada” village many times over the years, eventually settling near Saint Regis in 1755. Their descendants still live there.
Kateri (Catherine) Tekakwitha
Among the many converts in the Mohawk Valley was the daughter of an Algonquin Christian and a Mohawk Chief. Her entire family had died of smallpox, so she was living with an uncle’s family when they moved to Caughnawaga on the north side of the river. It was here that she met Jesuit priests. The story of the life and legacy of Kateri (Catherine) Tekakwitha is unique in American and MohawkValley history.
Perhaps the Franciscan Friars who maintain the National Shrine of Blessed Tekakwitha located in Fonda, New York tell it best.
“Kateri Tekakwitha was a young Mohawk woman who lived in the 17th century. The story of her conversion to Christianity, her courage in the face of suffering and her extraordinary holiness is an inspiration to all Christians.
“Follow us as we share with you the life of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha, who soon will become the first Native American Saint in the United States of America. Many private miracles have already centered around Blessed Kateri, known as the Lily of the Mohawks and the holy grounds at the National Shrine of Blessed Tekakwitha located in Fonda, New York. The Shrine was founded in honor of Kateri, for it was here that she was baptized on Easter Sunday April 5, 1676, and lived her teenage years.
“Kateri was born in 1656 of an Algonquin mother and a Mohawk Chief in the Mohawk fortified village of Canaouaga or Ossernenon (modern day Auriesville) in upstate New York. When she was only 4 years old her parents and brother died of smallpox. Kateri survived the disease, but it left her face badly scarred and her eyesight impaired. Because of her poor vision, Kateri was named "Tekakwitha", which means "she who bumps into things". Kateri was taken in by her uncle who was bitterly opposed to Christianity.
“When she was 8 years old, Kateri's foster family, in accordance with Iroquois custom, paired her with a young boy who they expected she would marry. However, Kateri wanted to dedicate her life to God. Her uncle distrusted the settlers because of the way they treated the Indians and who were responsible for introducing smallpox and other deadly diseases into the Indian community.
“When Kateri was ten, in 1666, a war party composed of French soldiers and hostile Indians from Canada destroyed the Mohawk strongholds on the south bank of the Mohawk, including Ossernenon. The surviving Mohawks moved to the north side of the river and built their fortified village about half a mile west of the present village of Fonda. Kateri lived in Caughnawaga, site of the present Shrine, for her next ten years.
“When Kateri was 18 years of age, she began instructions in the Catholic Faith in secret. Her uncle finally relented and gave his consent for Kateri to become a Christian, provided that she did not try to leave the Indian village. For joining the Catholic Church, Kateri was ridiculed and scorned by villagers. She was subjected to unfair accusations and her life was threatened. Nearly two years after her baptism at the Kateri Shrine in Fonda she escaped to the Mission of St. Francis Xavier, a settlement of Christian Indians in Canada. The village in Canada was also named Caughnawaga (Kahnawake). Here she was known for her gentleness, kindness, and good humor. On Christmas Day 1677 Kateri made her first holy communion and on the Feast of the Annunciation in 1679 made a vow of perpetual virginity. She also offered herself to the Blessed Mother Mary to accept her as a daughter.
“During her time in Canada, Kateri taught prayers to children and worked with the elderly and sick. She would often go to Mass both at dawn and sunset. She was known for her great devotion to the Blessed Sacrament and to the Cross of Christ.
“During the last years of her life, Kateri endured great suffering from a serious illness. She died on April 17th, 1680, shortly before her 24th birthday, and was buried in Kahnawake, Quebec, Canada.
“Kateri’s final words were. . ."Jesus — Mary — I love you." Witnesses reported that within a few minutes of her death, the pockmarks from smallpox completely vanished and her face shone with radiant loveliness.
“Before her death, Kateri promised her friends that she would continue to love and pray for them in heaven. Both Native Americans and settlers immediately began praying for her heavenly intercession. Several people, including a priest who attended Kateri during her last illness, reported that Kateri had appeared to them and many healing miracles were attributed to her. Fifty years after Kateri's death the first convent for Indian nuns was established in Mexico and they pray daily for Sainthood for Blessed Kateri.”
For more information see http://www.katerishrine.com/index.htm
There are shrines devoted to Kateri in Maine, Oklahoma, Michigan, Quebec Canada and Mexico.
Discovery: National Shine of Kateri Tekakwitha
September 23, 2004, 75 degrees, Sunny
I had driven by the Shrine many times in my travels up and down the valley. It’s right next to Route 5 just west of Fonda. From the road it didn’t look like much. Just a red building and some statues on the side of a hill. However, after reading about the life of Kateri, and the very distinct possibility that the Roman Catholic Church would soon declare her a saint, my curiosity was peaked. Hence this discovery trip.
As noted elsewhere, my wife, Gert loves discovery trips that don’t require getting wet or climbing hills, so a trip to Fonda on a sunny day seemed like a good idea. We invited Lorraine and Denny Gillen to join us.
This renovated Dutch barn houses the Chapel and Museum.
There was no one there when we arrived at 10 a.m. except a caretaker. He told us the doors were unlocked at the Chapel and Museum, noting that the chapel was upstairs in the red building and the museum was downstairs. He also pointed out the gravel road that ran up the hill to the Indian village site.
The red building that is so visible from Route 5 was once a Dutch barn. It served as such for 140 years or so before it was renovated in 1938 by Franciscan Friar Thomas Grassman, the founder of the Shrine. Today the upper floor is dedicated to Kateri and the lower floor is an Indian museum.
We climbed the stairs and entered the Chapel, noting the unique blend of Mohawk and Catholic designs in the paintings, statues and other displays. Light coming through the siding indicated this was not an all-season building.
The downstairs museum was very impressive. In addition to an array of mostly Iroquois artifacts, there were miniature replicas of the 1660s Caughnawaga village.
Although Gert and her sister weren’t too excited about it, we hiked the quarter mile or so through hardwoods and giant white pines to the top of the hill. While Denny and I explored the village site and the nearby Tekakwitha Spring, the ladies stood in the shade at the edge of the woods.
The Kateri Chapel is located upstairs in the red building.
Caughnawaga was discovered in 1950 by Father Grassman, and later excavated under his direction. Today it is the only completely excavated Iroquois village site in America. Color-coded stakes mark the locations of the stockade that surrounded the village, plus the longhouses and individual bedposts. A large sign explains what each stake represents in addition to providing other information about the village.
The museum featured a miniature replica of the Mohawk
Village site that was discovered on the hill above the Shrine.
A spring, on the other side of the hill, was the source of water for the village and is dedicated to Kateri Tekakwitha. Denny was tempted to drink from the housed spring, but opted instead to dip his hand in the ice cold water.
After I photographed the village, spring, monument, historic markers and other signs in the area, we headed back down the trail. Along the way, I heard much grumbling about the fact that there was a paved road right in front of the village site, so the uphill climb from The Shrine was not necessary.
It was 11:15 when we arrived back at the Jeep. Although we hadn’t visited the Gift Shop or walked the Stations of the Cross (the statues on the hill), we were very impressed with our first trip to the National Shine of Kateri Tekakwitha.
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