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.

Kendall and the Weathersfield Pine: Another Memory Marker

pines meetinghouse hill rain autumn

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 travels weathersfield 1

kendall travels weathersfield 2

 

kendall travels weathersfield 3

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.

 

Brattleboro Historical Society in the Reformer: Native American Past in Brattleboro

Indian Rock Wantastegok Larkin Mead

Sketch of “Indian Rock” at the mouth of the West River, by a young Larkin Mead, later a nationally-known sculptor.

The Brattleboro Historical Society has begun submitting a regular feature to the local Brattleboro Reformer daily. This week’s column takes a look at the misrepresentation of established Native presence in the state’s long-mythologized history books, and offers some corrections of perspective into the present. I was able to help contribute to this welcome piece by the Society.

Full article here, excerpt below:

In 1828 the Brattleboro publishing company of Holbrook and Fessenden produced “A History of Vermont: From Its First Settlement to the Present Time.” It was the first known Vermont History book used in Brattleboro schools.

When writing about the “native inhabitants,” author Francis Eastman wrote, “not a vestige of them now remains – gradually the encroachments of the whites have pushed them farther and farther on” to the west and north of the United States and Canada.

In many early histories of Vermont, Native Americans were hardly mentioned. A Vermont school book used from 1890 to 1925 starts this way, “Very few Indians lived in Vermont when white men first came here, though hunting parties and war parties often passed through, and sometimes a party would camp all summer in a good place.” You can see that early history books did not give Native Americans much claim to Vermont…

A Find Across Time: Diver Uncovers Native American Petroglyphs

annettte spaulding west river michael donovan keene sentinel

Earlier this month, under a dozen feet of water and 28 inches of sand, Annette Spaulding found something she had sought for more than 30 years. It was the outline of an eagle wing. An unknown Native American had etched it into a rock slab on the West River an unknown number of centuries ago. The rock formed the river’s bank until 1909, when construction of a dam at Vernon, Vt., raised water levels on the Connecticut River and its tributary, the West River.

Along with lowlands and barns and houses, the rising water submerged at least three Native American petroglyph, or rock carving, sites near the confluence of the two rivers, according to Spaulding’s research.

The largest one is said to depict nine figures — five eagles, a person, what looks like a dog and two wavy lines with small heads, which Spaulding suspects are lampreys. It’s known as Indian Rock. A handful of 19th-century accounts and depictions reference the site, including a drawing by a 10-year-old boy from Chesterfield, Larkin Mead, who grew up to be a renowned sculptor. But then the river rose, and the location of Indian Rock became murky.

Read the full account in the Keene Sentinel by Paul Cuno-Booth of this recent development at Wantastegok. Photo by Michael Donovan.

Not Relics of the Past: Conserving the West River Petroglyphs

 

west river petroglyph brattleboro annette spaulding

A group has hopes of purchasing land near petroglyphs under the Connecticut River (correction: Wantastekw/West River) with the goal of preventing future development on land it sees as culturally meaningful.

“This is all part of the Abenaki people trying to re-establish themselves… to raise awareness and reinforce the idea that these are not relics of the past,” said Rich Holschuh, a member of the Vermont Commission on Native American Affairs from Brattleboro.

“These are significant to people who are still here… people who still observe their significance and incorporate that into their lives because they are the descendants of these people.”

Abenaki people and other members of the public hope to preserve the land, keeping it open for hiking and other recreational activities. The project is also about protecting the Hogle Wildlife Sanctuary.

Read the full story by Chris Mays, with photography by Kristopher Radder, in the Brattleboro Reformer.