Note: Mark Bushnell is a Vermont journalist and historian. He is the author of “Hidden History of Vermont” and “It Happened in Vermont.” Mark called me for comments as he was putting this VTDigger column together.
When Rev. David McClure of Dartmouth College ventured down the Connecticut River to Bellows Falls in 1789, he was on a scientific mission. As a natural philosopher – what we might today call a scientist – McClure was interested in stone carvings he had heard about from a local man. The carvings, cut into an outcropping on the Vermont side of the river, depicted a series of faces.
“The figures have the appearance of great antiquity,” McClure wrote, noting that the British colonists who first settled the area a half-century earlier had observed them. The faces were life-sized images consisting of a simple oval with markings for eyes, nose, mouth and perhaps ears, McClure wrote. Some had lines sticking out of their heads that various observers have taken to be feathers, horns or rays.
McClure’s was apparently the first written account of the carved rocks, which have been described as the oldest pieces of art in Vermont. How old? Though experts agree the carvings were made by Native Americans, they are unwilling to ascribe a specific date, or even era, to the petroglyphs, which literally means “stone carvings.” They could be anywhere from 300 to 3,000 years old.
The written observations of McClure and subsequent visitors during the 19th and early 20th centuries are invaluable because they offer a snapshot of these artifacts, which have been changing over time. If descriptions of the petroglyphs have varied since McClure’s visit, so too have the interpretations of their meaning.
Read the full article in VTDigger here.
Edward Augustus Kendall was a British traveller, translator, social campaigner and writer. He is best known to Americans as the author of a journal with the self-explanatory title of “Travels through the northern parts of the United States in 1807 and 1808, in 3 volumes” (New York, I. Riley, 1809). His name will come up elsewhere on this blog as a chronicler of the petroglyphs at “Indian Rock,” as he knew the carvings at the mouth of Wantastekw/West River, at Wantastegok/Brattleboro. That account is also found in the aforementioned travel journal; fyi, the references to Vermont instances of Native carving are all recounted in Volume 3.
Kendall recounts that he saw a pine tree in Weathersfield, VT with carvings on four different facets of the trunk. He may have made some leaps of logic in his explanations, but the observation itself stands as an example of memory marking in the landscape utilizing trees, similar to that of Quintin Stockwell’s account at Pocumtuk. We can discuss his interpretations of the individual figures that he witnessed in another post down the line. As Kendall’s book hasn’t been digitized to my knowledge, but it has been scanned, I post here screenshots of his narrative from the pertinent section:
Kendall’s historical attribution of the pine carvings may be a little off too, dating it to the 1704 Deerfield raid. But that’s not something we need to disparage right now. Suffice it to note that his record is another example of awighigan encoded in landscape features.
Edward Augustus Kendall, “Travels Through the Northern Part of the United States, in the Years 1807 and 1808,” Vol. 3, 1809, p. 207.
It’s time to begin a concerted effort to post markers from the many story trails I am tracing, some faint, some bold, as a part of the project I call “Reclaiming Wantastegok.” Some are drawn from the (often scant) written European record, others are extrapolated from the land itself. This an exercise in, as Lisa Brooks has phrased it, “reclaiming Native space.” Stories are told, changed, omitted, discarded, forgotten, fabricated. But they are all still here, responsive to those who will listen – this is the land where they originate – they are of this landscape. Indeed, indigeneity is expressed as that which is original to a place – in fact, inseparable from it – and they are the aspects, be they human or other-than-human, that define it, with its complex relationships, as distinct.
Some of these traces may lead in several directions. Others may circle back and overlap. Still others may open up into a network of connections as yet unseen. Together, they can help to re-imagine, restore, reclaim, and revitalize what it means to “be this place.” The Sokwakiak Abenaki are the original people of this place. These understandings are for/with/of/from them – the Aln8bak, their ancestors, their allies, and all of their relations. Kchi wliwni – with great thanks. K’wlibaamkani – good travels for you.