Focus on History: Mohawks occupied land in June 1957

In June 1957, a group of Mohawk Indians occupied land near the Schoharie Creek on the south side of

In June 1957, a group of Mohawk Indians occupied land near the Schoharie Creek on the south side of the Mohawk River and remained there until they were evicted by court order in the spring of 1958.

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The settlers were led by Chief Standing Arrow, also known as Frank Johnson. The 1957 encampment was meant to repossess part of an 8,000-acre tract the Mohawks said was not included in land ceded to the U.S. government by the Iroquois Confederacy in the Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1784. According to historian Hugh Donlon, there was talk of 3,000 Mohawks coming to the settlement from the Mohawk reservation on the Canadian border with northern New York.

That large influx never happened, but the Mohawks along the Schoharie fought vigorously in court when charged with hunting without a license, for example, contending they did not need a state license to hunt on their own lands. The hunters ultimately paid a $10 fine. Chief Standing Arrow himself was fined for operating a motor vehicle without a license, despite his contention he did not need a state driver’s license.

At first, landowner Elmer Buckman, a dairy farmer, did not object to the Mohawk encampment. He was quoted as saying the encampment on his land was all right as long as the Mohawks “did not make any trouble.” But as time passed, Buckman retained an attorney to get his land back and the Mohawks expanded their settlement to land owned by farmer William Dufel.

The Mohawks built a longhouse and small dwelling units. The scene was a tourist attraction in the summer of 1957, visible from the Thruway bridge over the Schoharie Creek. That ill-fated bridge collapsed 30 years later, killing 10 people. The Thruway Authority closed the new bridge following Tropical Storm Irene last month and a pickup truck operator died in the vicinity when his truck was overtaken by water from the overflowing creek on Route 5S.

Montgomery County Sheriff Alton Dingman first served eviction notices on the Mohawk settlement in January 1958. Since Chief Standing Arrow was not in camp at the time, his notice was nailed to the longhouse.

The winter was a tough one, and snow covered part of the encampment that housed some 40 people at that point, according to a Schenectady Gazette report. Sheriff Dingman and two officers parked on Route 5S and trudged through the snow to serve the legal papers at the settlement, located south of the highway. The Salvation Army had provided some assistance to the residents at Christmas, in the form of food and clothing.

In March 1958, 25 people were reported to be still living at the Schoharie Creek Indian site. After a court hearing that month that resulted in another eviction order, some of the Mohawk huts were burned, The encampment apparently ended soon after that. The Mohawks were offered land in the town of Fulton in Schoharie County as an alternative site in the area but if there was a settlement there, it was short lived.

Donlon wrote, “The Dufel corn fields between Fort Hunter and Auriesville were again in high-stalk production during the following summer.”

A group of traditional Mohawks moved into Kanatsiohareke, a settlement in Yosts, west of Fonda on Route 5, in 1993. Located on the north side of the river at the former site of the county adult home, Kanatsiohareke is a nonprofit corporation that purchased the property from Montgomery County. It is a place to which many American Indians and others travel to learn the Mohawk language and hold on to native heritage. Chief Tom Porter of Kanatsiohareke is a nephew of Frank Johnson, Chief Standing Arrow.

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