1890, Alternate History, Early American History, Finger Lakes, FLX, George Washington, History, NY, Public Art, Removing Statues, statue, Uncategorized, Upstate New York

Walks Around the Finger Lakes. Yates County ~ ~ ~ Gu-Ya-No-Ga, The Seneca Chief

 

Gu-Ya-No-Ga, Seneca Chief, Friend of the Revolution, and Close Personal Friend of Geo. Washington

 

People have asked me with surprising frequency, about the inspiration for these history posts.

I say surprising, because that frequency, 91.3 MHz, is usually reserved for public radio stations.

Maybe that has something to do living one block from the WITI Tower, which for a time, was the tallest radio/TV tower in the world.   (On humid days, I’ll suddenly start receiving 88.9 Radio Milwaukee, crystal clear, on my toaster.  When they’re playing soul, I don’t mind, the toast comes out great, golden-browned and tasty.  But when it picks up heavy metal, everything gets charred, and when it’s streaming alternative art-rock bands, the bread stays pale, limp, and apathetic.)

And as for how inspiration strikes, well lately, inspiration has been on strike more than a French trade union.

Actually, no one has ever asked where these ideas came from, they just express a wish that they’d stayed there.  Well, the process is simple – I just flip through old photos, and try to remember why I took them.

This photo, for example.  I saw this bow & arrow oddity, at a little crossroads in the country, not far from Keuka Lake, surrounded by corn fields and pastures.  I guessed, the highly inaccurate brave was originally an advertising emblem, or an old tin weathervane, that blew off a barn roof one night, and the thrifty local farmers repurposed it for this memorial.  (Turns out, that might be exactly right.  Or it may have been a decoration from an old steamboat.)

I wouldn’t call this a “totem,” although that’s derived from a native word. Probably we can call it an effigy (from the French “effigie,” and the supporting post is called a “chicanerie.”)

 

So one rainy day, I looked it up, and that’s what this post is about.

First off, what are we to call this bit of homely roadside whimsy?

There’s a substantial stone obelisk, but the tin Indian is two-dimensional, and it seems like, it doesn’t really qualify as a “statue.”

So let’s call it a “Folk Art Effigy,” or “Naïve Tribute to Indigenous Peoples.”

Yep, I’m just a self-appointed roving rural art critic.  We, the editorial staff here at UpState & Away, are all about sounding pretentious, artsy,  and serious-minded.

Like those little dots on naïve.  How cool!  My imaginary editor seizes upon any chance to use umlauts, diaeresis, dipththong, all that fancy-schmancy stuff.

(Doesn’t diaeresis sound like an unpleasant digestive disorder?)

(and dipththong??  an abbreviated swimsuit, for someone with a lisp??  I have no idea.)

 

sample of Iroquois weaving

 

According to the blue sign next to it, which is an official 1932 New York State Department of Education Commemorative Plaque, that tin Indian is meant to be a “Chief of the Seneca Nation, and a Friend of the Revolution.

“Seneca” is kind of a big deal in this part of the world.  It seemed odd that I’d never heard of this chief, Gu-Ya-No-Ga.

During colonial days, the Iroquois Confederacy was the most powerful alliance of natives in the northeast, feared and courted by the Dutch, English, and French.  In 1776, the Seneca tribe was the largest in the alliance, in fact, larger that all the others (Mohawk, Cayuga, Onondaga, Oneida, Tuscarora ) combined.

 

Famous leaders included Cornplanter and Red Jacket, who fought with the British during the Revolution, and then negotiated with George Washington afterwards.  And Half King, who helped George kick off the Seven Years’ War by ambushing  some French-Canadian soldiers.  Col. Ely Parker, General Grant’s wartime aide and later Commissioner of Indian Affairs, was also a Seneca sachem.

 

The size of the “peace medal” may look greatly exaggerated, but some of the ones given out by Washington were quite large, 5″ x 7″.

 

After the Revolution, the tribe was eventually pushed onto reservations in the western part of the state, and fragments ended up in Oklahoma and Canada.  But the name still plasters the area. Town of Seneca, County of Seneca, Seneca Falls, Seneca Lake, Seneca Castle, Seneca Army Depot, Seneca Mills, Seneca Point, Seneca Foods Corp, and innumerable streets.

For many decades, “Seneca Chief” was the brand name for the most popular sweet corn in the region.  One of the largest razor and cutlery manufacturers in the world was once in Geneva, NY, and many of their old “cutthroat” straight razors were stamped with “Seneca Chief” and an (inaccurate) image of a Native American.

 

The “Seneca Chief,” first boat to travel the entire Erie Canal. This is a 1935 mural at SUNY Albany, and I don’t think the boat is accurate, but I like this anyway.

 

And the first packet boat to travel the length of the Erie Canal, in 1825, with bands playing and cannons firing, was the Seneca Chief.  (A replica boat is now being built in Buffalo.)

The name wasn’t always so popular in some circles.  For European settlers, during the colonial times, it was loaded with menace.   All during the Revolution, Seneca warriors terrorized the borderland towns of New York and Pennsylvania, a long ordeal of mostly-forgotten skirmishes, raids, ambushes, and massacres.

 

“Portage Around the Falls of the Niagara at Table Rock” George Catlin, 1847/1848. Nat’l Gallery of Art.  These are Iroquois, schlepping their canoes around the Falls.  Do you see the large ship’s anchor in the foreground? Don’t you think, that thing would drop right through the bottom of a birchbark canoe? This had to be long portage, the rapids above and below the falls are pretty wild, with thousands of tons of water going by every second. If they continued to camp there just a couple of months, until March of 1848, they could’ve watched the construction of the Niagara Falls Suspension Bridge. Which began with some kid flying a kite to the other side, and then pulling heavier and heavier strings across the river. Seriously. I think the Iroquois would’ve loved that, who wouldn’t?

 

So anyway, this memorial to Gu-Ya-No-Ga puzzled me – – a leader of a tribe that fought a bitter and bloody war against the colonists, who somehow was a “friend of the Revolution,” and then somehow, forgotten.

Were they thinking of Gu-Ya-Su-Ta (aka Guisuta, Kayasota, etc. ) who guided Washington to a meeting with the French, in 1753, just before war broke out?  But during the Revolution, that chief fought against the colonists, as did most of the Iroquois.

(The Oneida and Tuscarora tribes were the exceptions, and provided the rebels with scouts, guides, messengers, and warriors, even aiding the 1779 Sullivan Campaign, when Washington sent an army through this region on a scorched-earth mission, burning Iroquois villages, crops, orchards, and food supplies.)

 

A pipe tomahawk given to Cornplanter by Geo. Washington, during peace negotiations  (photo from NYS Museum)

 

The Iroquois were often given more that one name during their lifetime, and these names were often mangled by translations through French-to-Dutch-to-English, etc..  Others are known by  nicknames applied by the colonists, which also might have variations, so it’s easy to get confused.*

But I’d read a lot about the Iroquois, as an undergrad history major, writing my senior project about them.  And it surprised me that I’d never heard of this particular chief, who broke with his people to aid the revolutionaries.  And the first description, when I googled him, claimed he was a close personal friend of Geo. Washington!  How could I have read so many books and period documents, and missed this guy??

 

Well, here’s a clue.  The old house in back of the monument, was once a tavern.

 

 

 

And as one version tells it, one night in the 1880’s, the locals were drinking hard cider, and made the whole thing up.  As you likely have guessed by now, there was no such Seneca chief.

But in 1910, hundreds gathered to see this goofy monument go up.  Were they all in on the joke, or had they started to believe the story?  Another twenty-two years goes by, and the state education department puts up an official plaque, further legitimizing the tale.  How a bunch of back-of-beyond farmers managed all this, I have no idea, but they’re kind of my heroes.

If you do a search, there’s several article about the hoax online, I think this one may be the best:

www.crookedlakereview.com/articles/34_66/54sept1992/54wisbey.html

 

This state has always produced and attracted all kinds of hoaxes, jokesters and con men.  At the Farmer’s Museum in Cooperstown, you can still see the “Cardiff Giant,” a ten-foot-tall fossilized man, dug up by a farmer, south of Syracuse.  Which is where his cousin had buried it, a year earlier, after having a stonecarver create it.  (There was a copycat “Taughannock Giant” which they dragged up to Cornell to study.)

 

photo from the Farmers’ Museum (Cooperstown, NY) website

 

P.T. Barnum (“There’s a sucker born every minute”) was a Connecticut Yankee, but he knew just where to open his museum/circus/menagerie – – NYC, right on Broadway.  Where he displayed the “Fiji Mermaid” (in reality, a hideous mashup of taxidermied monkey and fish), an old lady posing as George Washington’s 161-year-old nanny,  Tom Thumb’s baby, and other con jobs.

Farther back in time, 1823, in the midst of an epidemic/depression, a couple of guys hired some fife & drum bands, and organized a parade of 1,000 workers, who paraded up Manhattan, with shovels, picks, saws, etc. for an emergency, massive operation.  The workers had been persuaded, by a stirring speech and a barrel of whiskey, that to save their city from sinking, they needed to cut the island in half, and anchor it with massive iron chains.

Except…the story, which I’ve seen mentioned in a number of books and magazine articles, is itself baloney, and never happened.

 

I suppose Washington Irving qualifies as a hoax-ster for his Knickerbocker “history” of early New York, but it’s harmless, good fun, has some real history blended in, and is a wonderful and charming piece of writing.

 

 

More recently, in the 1980’s, George Plimpton wrote a Sports Illustrated article, and eventually a book, about Hayden Siddhartha “Sidd” Finch, who studied yoga in Tibet, played French horn, and pitched 168 MPH fastballs for the Mets.

New York has also produced some less charming cons, like Bernie Madoff and Clifford Irving (who not only wrote a fake bio of Howard Hughes, but after he got out of jail, had the brass to peddle another book about his deception, The Hoax.)  And what’s-his-name, who left NYC for Washington, always tweeting gibberish from his bathroom.

In the old days, sometimes it took a cast-iron plaque, bronze statue, or carved stone tablet to create a persuasive myth.  And those were simple country folk, pre-Internet.  Apparently, all us modern-day sophisticates can be cozened & bamboozled with something as ephemeral as a tweet —  a tissue, or rather, toilet paper of lies.

So…this little monument.  Misinformation?  Propaganda?  Thou shalt not bear false witness, etc.?  Let us ponder this, deeply.

Nah.  This is Upstate New York, and it’s November – – so chill out.  I guess some people might find this folk art/fake memorial, to be offensive and disrespectful, but personally, I’m filing Gu-Ya-No-Ga under the “mostly harmless, and kinda funny” category.  It’s really not about Native Americans at all, it’s about some rural types, indulging in a bit of storytelling, maybe putting one over on the local newspaper editor.  And the story, and strange little monument, have been hanging around long enough, they’re historical items in their own right.

I’m going to write more about these blue history markers, which are getting to be antiques themselves, that’ll be my next post.  So far, scanning through hundreds of them online, the Go-Ya-No-Ga plaque is the only one I’ve found, that is simply baloney-on-a-stick.

 

 

This illustration is from “The Pilgrims’ Party” (1931), one of a series of histories for children by Sadyebeth and Anson Lowitz.

More of a fable, a bubbe-meise (grandmother’s tale) than real history.  The sanitized Disney/Hallmark version of Thanksgiving may stick in your craw, but perhaps it’s a way to get kids interested in history, and real Native Americans, maybe not such a bad place to begin telling the more complex tale, about the reality of what happened between the Puritans and Wampanoags.

Well, like Squanto in the children’s book, it’s time to go prepare the traditional holiday pop corn, or parched maize.  Maybe they didn’t really have popcorn at the first Thanksgiving, but Native Americans, including the Iroquois, did cultivate a number of varieties of corn, and some of it really was popped in heated clay vessels.

I’m feeling grateful, relieved, and thankful for quite a number of things, this Thanksgiving, and glad we have this holiday, cheers.

 

 

P.S. about complicated names:

  • You’ll find George Washington’s affectionate nickname, “Town-Destroyer,” which is still used by the Haudenosaunee (“Iroquois”) can be rendered as Conotocarius, Conotocaurious, Caunotaucarius, Conotocarious, Hanodaganears, and Hanadahguyus.  If you search for these on the web, you’ll find history websites using all of those examples.  And despite their centuries-old alliance, each Iroquoian tribe in NY had it’s own language, which also complicates things.  (If you want to hear a bit of Onondaga, you could watch the children’s movie “The Indian in the Cupboard” (1995), when the character Little Bear is singing in that language.)
  • There were quite a few leaders, from different tribes, called “Half King,” for example, not to be confused with “Half-Town,” who was Cornplanter’s brother.  A chief called Tah-won-ne-ahs (or Tenh-Wen-Nyos, or Thaonawyuthe)  was known to the colonists as Chainbreaker, or Governor Blacksnake.  OK, you get the idea. Confusing.
Standard

 

 

 

 

 

 

I was lying on the ground, gasping for oxygen after summiting the highest peak in my county, and trying to staunch a nosebleed with a handful of alpaca wool.

I was surrounded by decaying carcasses.

 

 

So, good opening, right?

Maybe…dramatized, just a bit.

I wasn’t actually prostrate, for example, but I am prone to exaggeration.

Technically, there was no need for oxygen, no nosebleed, no alpaca wool.

The “carcasses” were just old tree stumps.

Some people are into bicycling or making yarn – – I’m learning to spin alternative facts.

 

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One of our more intimidating trails – up to a 1 and a 1/2% grade!!!  And in places, some really tough weeds.

 

In Seneca County, NY, the highest elevation soars to … 1640 feet above sea level.  Not too impressive.  An easy stroll up the hill, through woods and pastures.   The neighboring counties top out at 2,000 – 2,200.  You don’t need ropes or mountaineering boots – – the only thing spiked around here, is the apple cider.

I’ve found it’s really hard to hire sherpas, or rent an alpaca, to carry stuff for you, for anything under 20,000 feet, they find it an embarrassment.  Sometimes a kid with an ATV will give you a lift.

 

 

 

Come to think of it, there actually are some alpacas around here.  Upstate New York has over 600,000 dairy cows, but you’ll also run across pastures with sheep, goats, and llamas, and every once in a while, alpacas, bison or ostriches.

 

 

But no mountain goats.   It’s just that all summer, I’ve been reading WP stories of mountains.  Rocky Mountains and Alps and Andes and Carpathians, hiking & rock climbing – – and I’ve been wanting to write “summiting,” like the cool, more  adventurous bloggers.  I’m going to post a story about climbing a volcano in Chile, but today, it’s about the decidedly tame, non-volcanic region where I grew up.

 

 

This old stump triggered this story – – with a bit of imagination, it resembled a rocky mesa

 

All summer, I’ve admired pictures of spectacular ranges, peaks, alps, buttes, mesas, and cliffs.  The masses of stone are almost overwhelming.  Evidence of titanic energy and uplift – – lava flows and volcanoes, and the weathered faces of former seabeds, eons of sediment, pushed sky-high by tectonic plate movement.

Everything’s standing tall.  I’ve visited some of the western states, gone to the mountains, and met a lot friendly  folks with positive attitudes.  It’s a forward-thinking, upward-trending kind of place out there, in the West.

 

 

Here in the East, in Upstate New York, the landforms are pretty modest.  Like our infrastructure and many of our residents, the topography is half-cracked, old and crumbling.  Once upon a time, the Taconics, on the eastern side of the state, were as tall as the Himalayas.  Eons and a couple of Ice Ages flattened out the hills, and smoothed out the valleys.  Instead of purple mountains majesty, we run more to gullied hillsides covered with cow pastures, and what we call “mountains” in the Finger Lakes, are wooded hummocks really.

 

 

About 130 miles east of here, New York does have mountains, but less than half the height of the Rockies.  The Adirondacks top out at 5343 feet, and the Catskills at 4180.

 

New York’s official motto is “Excelsior” i.e.”Higher,” (didn’t you think that was Colorado?), “Ever Upwards,” but some days, it seems we’re really more about erosion and running downhill – – of land, civility, ethical standards, you name it.

The state has amassed a mountain of debt, over $64 billion, and climbing.  We’re specialists in fits of pique, more than peaks, and slippery slopes.  Our legislators recently voted on the Official State Sport, and chose “Backsliding.”

 

 

 

 

When you travel from New York City to central New York, where I grew up, it’s all downhill, economically.  NYC is still a Himalaya of financial services, and much of Upstate is an eroded depression of former manufacturing centers.

Every little city around here has stories about “we used to make…”  from shoes to cigars, fire engines to cameras, steel to furniture.  My village was known at one time for its pianos and organs, but its well-made wagons and sleighs were the most famous – I’ve run across them several times in museums around the Northeast.  The company successfully evolved into a maker of car bodies, making various types of “woodies,” until those went out of fashion, and it folded in 1957.

 

 

A 1942 GMC “Waterloo Woodie”

 

All these economic peaks are ancient history, and long gone, along with many skills and well-paying jobs.  The region now looks to “agritourism” to climb back up.

 

 

 

Still…even though good jobs are scarce, the lakes and surrounding hills are beautiful.  The region is ever more popular as a busy tourist destination.  Waterfalls, boating, fishing, wineries, cheese-making, cideries, Amish farms, distilleries.  In my little village, and neighboring Geneva, there are hundreds and hundreds of hotel rooms, and in summer & autumn, they’re often booked solid, and the restaurants are crowded.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So, while we’re waiting for a table…we started with mountains, and then wandered into the local economy…maybe now, a little glass of vodka, and a two-paragraph detour to the Russian Empire.  Not to climb the Urals, but to visit Potemkin villages.

Grigory Potemkin was one of Catherine the Great’s boyfriends, and a pretty interesting guy, who fought wars, built fleets of ships, calmed the Cossacks, etc.  Like Rooster Cogburn in “True Grit,” a one-eyed fat man, that you shouldn’t underestimate.  But sometimes he’s only mentioned for something that probably didn’t happen.

Potemkin governed the Ukraine, and whenever the Empress of Russia came to inspect,  supposedly he’d nip out and have cute little sham villages erected along her route,  staffed with smiling serfs, washed and dressed in embroidered peasant clothing, so Catherine would believe everything in her realm was just peachy.

 

 

These pop-up “Potemkin villages” may be kind of a myth, but sometimes, that’s how I think of the Finger Lakes.

Except without the borscht.

 

 

Visitors here (to New York, we’re done with Russia now, please keep up) follow the embroidered Chamber of Commerce pamphlets and winery tours, and see a Potemkin village, a flower-strewn facade of summer cottages, lakeside music fests, rose gardens, boat tours, balloon flights, microbreweries, and one hundred wineries.  The Amish in their horse-drawn carts add a touch of quaintness.

 

 

 

 

And just o’er the hills and not far away from the wineries and waterfront properties, are ramshackle trailer parks and rundown farmhouses, heated with woodstoves, not because that’s so cozy and nostalgic, but because they cannot afford the heating oil.  Pillars fall from dilapidated Greek Revivals, and big brick Victorians go topless, as their roofs cave in.

 

 

The local farm co-op went bust and closed all its stores in 1999, and half the shops in the rural hamlets are boarded up.  Deer season’s a big deal, not as a sporting proposition, but to stock up the chest freezers for winter.

 

 

 

Politicians and state officials sometimes venture here, to look down upon the hayseeds, chew the scenery, and talk endlessly of natural beauty, tourism, agri-tourism.

Eliot Spitzer once left his Manhattan penthouse and drove by, while campaigning for governor.  (And lasted for well over a year in office!  before resigning after a prostitution scandal.)  He compared the area’s economy to Appalachia, apparently not recognizing, that the hilly Southern Tier region (bordering Pennsylvania) actually is part of Appalachia.

 

 

More about hills.  The hillocks and ridges to my north, closer to Lake Ontario, are mostly glacial deposits called moraines, eskers, and drumlins – – piles of sand, clay, boulders, and gravel, dumped by melting glaciers when the Ice Age melted away.

 

 

And we’re still getting dumped upon.

The highest point near my hometown?  It’s a series of terraced barrows, where we gather and store up earthly wealth.

In other words, a giant garbage dump, hundreds of feet tall.  Now that the Ice Age is done leaving glacial till, a huge corporation is ringing the till, trucking in trash from NYC and out-of-state, and pumping money into local elections, to make sure their supporters are running things.

 

 

Waterloo is between the northern ends of Seneca and Cayuga, the largest of the Finger Lakes, almost forty miles long, and in places, 400-600 feet deep.

The only lakefront property, however, in the town, is occupied by a state park.  In this county, mostly agricultural, and with a substantial Amish population, per capita income is less than $27,000.  So, since before I was born, Seneca Falls, the village immediately to our east, has accepted millions of dollars to host “Seneca Meadows.”

This sounds lovely, but it’s actually a landfill, covering hundreds of acres between the villages.  Six thousand tons of garbage are trucked in daily, almost all of it from downstate, New Jersey, and Pennsylvania.  Millions of tires are “recycled” by grinding them up, and using them as a substitute for gravel in drainage beds.   So much methane is produced, that it’s tapped to supply an electric-generating plant.   A mile of plastic piping is strung between tall poles, spritzing a flowery deodorant 24/7.

 

 

It’s a well-run operation.  The trucks and earth-movers are precisely choreographed.  Technically, we’re informed, these man-made hills are called “dry entombment.”  And sure, isn’t that cheerful-sounding.  The operator reaps tens of millions of dollars, every year.  A lot of locals aren’t excited about the new landscape, hundreds of feet tall, but there’s only 19,044 active, registered voters in this county, and NYC has 4,420,737, so guess which direction the local politicos and state authorities flop.

So pile it high.

 

 

 

 

 

 

I guess when you don’t have mountains, we have an urge to create them.  Barrows, cairns, pyramids, we like to pile stuff up.  Sometimes around here it’s piles of rocks, raked out of the fields by generations of farmers.  Sometimes a heap of rusting harrows, seed drills, broken stanchions, and old cars.  Defunct breeds gravitate to the hamlets and small farms – – Mercury Sables, Pontiac Sunbirds, and brontosaurus-sized Oldsmobiles – – following hereditary paths laid down by dinosaurs, woolly mammoths, AMC Eagles and Pacers.

The old cars migrate up into the hills to die and return to the earth, mostly rusting away in ravines and farmers’ side yards.

 

 

Hiking around our little hills and patches of woods, it’s sometimes hard not to envy those cool state-of-the-art Westerners, cruising in their Land Cruisers, trekking with nano-tech jackets, mirrored Oakleys, freeze-dried goji berries, GoPros streaming adventures in the huge wilderness areas and high peaks, all drama and dramatic vistas amid giant spruce and firs.

 

 

Meanwhile, back in the unexciting Upstate boondocks…I find there’s always something interesting in these woods and creeks, and there’s a sort of charm in the quiet green valleys around here.  And no choking forest fires!

 

Part of the new economy. Microbreweries are popping up everywhere around here.  Hops (used as a preservative and flavoring in beer) have been grown in NY since the early 1600’s, and Upstate dominated the market in the 1800’s. The large-scale production is now in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho, but small-scale growers are beginning to be a familiar sight.

 

Let’s go back up to the highest part of my county.

I’ve walked many times along the Hector Backbone, the ridge running between the longest of the Finger Lakes, Cayuga and Seneca.  Part of the ridge is within the Finger Lakes Forest – a mixture of pastures, 2nd-growth woods, and pine or oak plantations,  16,000 acres managed by the USDA.  The remnants of the original hemlock woods, clinging to the ravines, are beautiful, but the pine plantations aren’t looking that great, chewed up by beetles and wind storms.  The foresters are now planting red oaks instead.

There used to be a hundred small farms along here.  A lot of the little hill farms were already eroded, marginal, or abandoned, before the Depression finished them off.  On your walk, if you see a half-dozen ancient sugar maples in a row, you’ll inevitably find an old stone foundation nearby.  The houses and barns are long-gone, but even after eighty years or more, I’m still tripping over rusty old buckets and scraps of iron and wire, hidden under the leaves and humus.  Stone walls, painstakingly stacked by immigrants and Civil War vets, that used to define fields and pastures, still run straight as an arrow through the forests.

 

 

I started writing this at the height of summer, and now it’s fall.

Like most of my high school classmates, I’ve found a job out-of-state, and moved away.

 

 

And believe it or not, I’m gonna miss this place.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Autumn, Finger Lakes, FLX, History, Nature, NY, Uncategorized, Upstate New York, Waterloo

Walks Around The Finger Lakes. Fall of 2018

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