First Putney Road Bridge at Wantastegok

Three Bridges West River 1911

The famous Three Bridges at the mouth of Wantastekw/West River, looking southeast from the north bank of the River. The confluence with Kwenitekw/Connecticut River can be seen under the bridge to the left, which carries the Vermont & Massachusets Railroad, later the Boston & Maine. The covered bridge in the center carries Putney Road; the steel truss structure farthest to the right carries the West River Railroad. Note the high water, following the construction of the Vernon Dam ten miles downstream in 1909.

Two stories, like two rivers, converge at the south approach of the original trestle bridge built to carry Brattleboro, Vermont’s Putney Road over the mouth of Wantastekw/West River, just above its confluence with Kwenitekw/Connecticut River. This was not the town’s first ever bridge to span the River; the initial structure  was up the West less than  a mile away, and was constructed sometime in the 1770s. That is another story for another post. A succession of covered bridges followed that early trestle bridge at the mouth, until the last one was replaced by a steel truss slightly upstream in the twentieth century.

 

Three Bridges West River

A direct view at the north entrance of the  covered bridge that succeeded the original trestle bridge of 1796 – “Walk Your Horses.”

Thomas St. John mentions in his Brattleboro History compendium  – under the entertaining “Pike Fishing 1848” entry – the fact that:

“During the Civil War and later, a popular summer evening stroll was taken out the Asylum Street, then down the path leading through the meadows of Holland Pettis to a view of Indian Rock, then along by the old covered bridge, and the return to the Common by the Putney road. William Cabot had purchased a cigar store Indian, and for years it could be seen, propped up before the south entrance to the covered bridge.”

I have not yet been able to locate the original source for this Cabot-Cigar Store Indian anecdote; the full explanation of why William Brooks Cabot may have chosen to place such a carved wooden likeness in that location is, again, another account unto itself. But suffice it to say that Mr. Cabot, scion of one of Brattleboro’s prominent banking families, had a lifelong fascination and familiarity with northeastern Indigenous Peoples. Coupled with local historical knowledge, it is not surprising that he took this particular action at this specific place. And that leads to another, earlier account centered on the building of the trestle bridge itself in 1796, at the behest of John Blake, Esq.

“An examination of the files of the “Rising Sun,” one of the earliest newspapers published in Keene, N. H., between 1795 and 1798, shows definite information of the dates of opening [of] the bridge over the West River in Brattleboro…”

Dateline: Keene, N. H., Nov. 15, 1796.

“Last week, as the workmen at West River Bridge, Brattleboro were leveling the land adjoining the southward abutment, they dug up the bones of an Indian with some Indian implements. From the figures cut on the adjacent rocks, it appears that the place has been no mean rendezvous of the savages.”

Not only did the paper’s editors make note of the juxtaposition, but it would seem that – in recalling the incident many decades later – William Cabot was aware on a certain level that the presence of burials in the vicinity was closely linked to the nearby petroglyphs, only a few hundred feet to the west. Although it is the first such exhumation on record (that I have located thus far), this would not be the last time the ancestors of the Sokoki Abenakiak  were taken from their resting places in the name of progress.

Centered on this place of great power, Wantastegok, these Old Ones are witness to the understanding that in death, as in life, the People and the Land are one and the same. N’mikwaldam – we remember.

Phone Seminar with Doug Harris on Ceremonial Stone Landscapes

mass forest rescue doug harris CSL seminar

A phone seminar with Doug Harris, Deputy Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Narragansett Tribe. Sponsored by Mass Forest Rescue. Doug is one of the most active Native educators and activists in New England, advocating tirelessly for these oft-threatened traditional cultural properties. The reality is that there is still great disrespect, ignorance, and arrogance surrounding these sacred features within the landscape.

Sunday, March 26, 7 pm. Registration deadline: 3 p.m. March 26.

The Ancient One Returns Home

armand-minthorn-umatilla-ancient-one

Uytpama Natitayt — Kennewick Man, or the Ancient One, an ancestor of the First People of the Columbia Plateau — is finally home.

More than 200 of his relatives came together at an undisclosed location on the Columbia Plateau early February 18 to lay him to rest. They came from the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, from the Nez Perce Tribe, from the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Reservation and the Wanapum Tribe and the Yakama Nation.

Religious leaders from each of the Native Nations jointly conducted a ceremony. And then Kennewick Man’s remains were returned to the earth, just as loved ones first laid him to rest some 9,000 years ago. The ceremony was private.

See the full article in Indian Country Today.

The Vernon Dam Part 2 from BHS and BAMS: Flooding Wantastegok

This is Part 2 of a two-part story, within the podcast series from Brattleboro Historical Society, produced by Joe Rivers and his BAMS history students. You can check out Part 1 here. It gives additional background to the subsuming of critical areas in Sokwakik, and particularly the flooding of  the Retreat Meadows, by the completion of the Vernon, Vermont hydroelectric dam in 1909. Prior to this date, the now-flooded meadows – known as mskodak in Aln8baiwi – were prime farmland for the Sokwakiak who dwelt here, and subsequently the European settlers that arrived in the mid-1700’s. There are multiple newspaper reports of native burials being exhumed within this alluvial bowl, just west of the mouth of the Wantastekw (I will be documenting them here over time). Sokoki Abenaki heritage and interests were ignored and ravaged, a situation which remains ongoing and challenging.

Judge to Consider Shutesbury Burial Site Concerns

shutesbury-solar-farm-native-burial-site-concerns

A lawsuit aimed at temporarily preventing a large-scale solar project from being constructed on land that some suspect is a Native American burial ground is not yet settled.

A status conference on the federal civil rights lawsuit, filed by three Shutesbury and two New Salem residents against the developers and the Planning Board that approved the project, is set for Friday at 10:30 a.m. The conference before Judge Mark G. Mastroianni will be held at the U.S. District Court in Springfield.

The aim of the lawsuit is to make sure the 6-megawatt project on the 30-acre Wheelock Tract off Pratt Corner Road, owned by W.D. Cowls Inc., doesn’t go forward until tribal historic preservation officers and others can get onto the property and determine if it is a burial ground or sacred site.

Read the full report in the Greenfield Recorder.

Shutesbury MA OKs Solar Project on Possible Burial Ground

shutesbury hearing

Tensions flared again Tuesday  as the Planning Board approved a special permit for a 30-acre solar installation. After nearly a year of debate, the permit is a compromise between the developer and residents concerned about a possible Native American burial ground.

Full story in The Greenfield Recorder.

Ask First and Respect the Answer

Archaeologists have returned to a known burial site to make a second excavation, on the grounds of Seabrook Station on New Hampshire’s coastline. A previous dig there in the 1970’s, as the nuclear power plant was being built, uncovered and removed seven burials; it took over 25 years for those remains to be repatriated. Astoundingly, the current  investigation involved no consultation with the indigenous Abenaki people, descendants of the people who lived and died in this northern New England shore. Action to address this negligence and address the lack, and disregard, of official policy is now being taken.