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The History of Native American Tribes. Mahican man

Mahican man

The History of Native American Tribes. Mahican house

Mahican house

   The original Mahican homeland was the Hudson River Valley from the Catskill Mountains north to the southern end of Lake Champlain. Bounded by the Schoharie River in the west, it extended east to the crest of the Berkshire Mountains in western Massachusetts from northwest Connecticut north to the Green Mountains in southern Vermont.

   Because Mahican include all Algonquin tribes between the Hudson and Connecticut Rivers, some estimates of the Mahican population in 1600 range as high as 35,000. However, when limited to the core tribes of the Mahican confederacy near Albany, New York, it was somewhere around 8,000. By 1672 this had fallen to around 1,000. At the lowpoint in 1796, 300 Stockbridge, the "Last of the Mohicans," were living with the Oneida and Brotherton in upstate New York. However, if the Mahican with the Wyandot and Delaware in Ohio were also included, the actual total time was probably closer to 600. The census of 1910 listed 600 Stockbridge and Brotherton in northern Wisconsin. Three years after the passage of the Indian Reorganization Act in 1934, the Stockbridge became a federally recognized tribe. They currently have almost 1,500 members living on, or near, their reservation west of Green Bay. There are also 1,700 Brotherton Indians (without federal status) on the east side of Lake Winnebago.

   Both Mahican and Mohican are correct, but NOT Mohegan, a different tribe in eastern Connecticut who were related to the Pequot. In their own language, the Mahican referred to themselves collectively as the "Muhhekunneuw" "people of the great river." This name apparently was difficult for the Dutch to pronounce, so they settled on "Manhigan," the Mahican word for wolf and the name of one their most important clans.

The History of Native American Tribes. Mahican chief Etow Oh Koam, known as Nocholas, the only known portrait of an 18th century Mahican chief 1710.
  The History of Native American Tribes. Tattoo on the face of the chief Etow Oh Koam

Mahican chief Etow Oh Koam, known as Nocholas, the only known portrait of an 18th century Mahican chief 1710.

  Tattoo on the face
of the chief Etow Oh Koam

   Although culturally similar to other woodland Algonquin, the Mahican were shaped by their constant warfare with the neighboring Iroquois. Politically, the Mahican were a confederacy of five tribes with as many 40 villages. In keeping with other eastern Algonkin, civil authority was not strong. Mahican villages were governed by hereditary sachems (matrilineal descent) advised by a council of the clan leaders. The Mahican had three clans: bear, wolf, and turtle. However, warfare required a higher degree of organization.

The History of Native American Tribes. George Catlin, Mohigan Chief

George Catlin,
Mohigan Chief

The History of Native American Tribes. George Catlin, Village of the Mahican

Village of the Mahican

   A general council of sachems met regularly at their capital of Shodac (east of present-day Albany) to decide important matters affecting the entire confederacy. In times of war, the Mahican council passed its authority to a war chief chosen for his proven ability. For the duration of the conflict, the war leader exercised almost dictatorial power.

   Mahican villages were fairly large. Usually consisting of 20 to 30 mid-sized longhouses, they were located on hills and heavily fortified. Large cornfields were located nearby. Agriculture provided most of their diet but was supplemented by game, fish, and wild foods. For reasons of safety, the Mahican did to move to scattered hunting camps during the winter like other Algonquin and usually spent the colder months inside their "castles" (fortified villages). Copper, gotten from the Great Lakes through trade, was used extensively for ornaments and some of their arrowheads. Once they began trade with the Dutch, the Mahican abandoned many of their traditional weapons and quickly became very expert with their new firearms. Contrary to the usual stereotype, most Mahican warriors were deadly marksmen. The mother of the famous Miami chief Little Turtle was a Mahican.

   During the 28-years between the completion of allotment (1910) and the formation of a new Stockbridge tribal government in 1938 under the Indian Reorganization Act (1934), much of their land had been lost to either tax foreclosures or sales to whites.

   Although only 16,000 acres of their original reservation remains today, the "Last of the Mahicans" are still there and very much alive.



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