Indians of the Adirondacks

Long before the sounds of motor vehicles could be heard and motor boats could be seen zipping across the lakes, the Adirondack region was the setting for a more primitive life, when the quiet footfalls of an ancient culture predominated.

This area was once the homeland of historic Indian tribes which eventually became known as the Iroquois. Along with their sister tribes of the League of the Five Nations, the Iroquois of New York derived their sustenance from the riches of the land. Although farming was the main activity of the tribes which settled in the Great Lakes area, the Iroquois of the northeast relied additionally on hunting and fishing. Indeed, in many of the northern tribes, due to the absence of agriculture, hunting was a necessity, the primary source of food for the family.

Unlike the convenience and comfort of the many motels, resorts and campgrounds available today, almost all of the tribal peoples lived in villages consisting of long, bark-covered dwellings which housed up to ten families. The villages were generally enclosed by stockades, and the inhabitants raised corn, squash and beans in small garden plots. They hunted wild game including deer, bear and wildfowl, and in some areas, buffalo. And the pristine lakes and streams were abundant with fish for the taking. Dotting the region, too, were cone or dome shaped wigwams which consisted of poles covered with mats, bark, or hides.

Before the arrival of the white man and currency as we know it, the use of wampum became widespread. Used as money and as guarantees of promises or agreements, wampum were bits of seashells from the Atlantic coast, cut, punctured and strung like beads.

Far from the lightly textured and brightly colored “resort wear” we enjoy today, the clothing of these early inhabitants was made from skins. Women wore a skirt and jacket, while men donned breech-cloths, shirts, leggings, and moccasins. Skin robes were worn by both men and women to provide additional warmth and protection during the bitter cold weather of the northeast. Although it might appear that their wardrobe was mundane, the elements of fashion and style were evident in the floral designs which graced their clothing and personal objects. Originally fashioned with porcupine quills, their artwork was meant to personalize and enhance the individual’s garments. After the white man’s arrival, trade beads also were used as decoration. In the fashion of the day, Indian males; plucked out or shaved their hair, except for a long strip from the forehead to the back of the neck, which was allowed to grow and stand out from the head. Some men also grew a “scalplock”, much like our modern-day “pony-tail”, which hung down the back and was used to taunt an enemy.

Although the appeal of the Adirondacks now is one of relaxation and escape, this mountainous region, through its beauty and majesty, continues to echo a more primitive time and the existence of an entirely different early civilization.