From last year’s bearing, still very tasty in the early spring. Somewhat dry and pithy, some less than others, but crisp and a little sweet with the expected oil of wintergreen taste. The word is formed from the name of the plant, “k8g8gwibakw” with a connecting “i” to “-men” (berry, fruit) plus “-al” for the inanimate plural. See the earlier post on the plant itself here.
It is conventional historical knowledge that, when the American Shad (Alosa sapidissima) made its prodigious late-spring spawning runs up the Kwenitekw, the silver flood of fish was stopped at Kchi Pontekw (the Great Falls), between today’s Bellows Falls,VT and North Walpole, NH. This was said to be the northernmost point on the Connecticut River for the annual migration. The 49-foot drop of the River there (over a short stretch of rapids and falls) was said to be an effective block to the passage of the shad, but not to the accompanying Atlantic Salmon who were also seeking their natal tributaries. This claim can be found in 99.9% of the sources, over a long period of time. Here’s just one recent example, from the NH Fish & Game Department:
Fish passage has been provided at the first three dams on the Merrimack River, although shad have difficulty navigating the fish passage facility at the Pawtucket Dam in Lowell, MA. On the Connecticut River, fish passage for shad is available at the three mainstream dams up to the historic limit of upstream shad migration at Bellows Falls.
There is much that can be related about this particular and significant ancient place, with respect to the seasonal gifts of sustenance and the intersections of spirit there, but those many stories will be explored elsewhere. In this post, I would like to simply document differing statements about the extent of the anadromous shad run, drawing from a local history 40 miles upstream at Lebanon, NH. In the 1908 “History of Lebanon, N.H., 1761-1887 by Charles Algernon Downs“, we find the following statement on page 189:
We can make a few observations in reflection upon this contradiction to the accepted notions about the travels of w8bimakok, the shad…
- First of all, Charles Algernon Downs may have been mistaken. But given his long and early presence in Lebanon, and his character, this seems unlikely. Indeed, the Rev. Mr. Downs may well have personally known people who had fished for shad in the Mascoma, as he stipulated. This knowledge would have been well-engrained in the local lore at the time. There may very well be other such obscure references in other historical literature north of the Great Falls.
- It would seem that, if his assertion is true, although the great rocky impediment to passage at Kchi Pontekw did indeed block the great majority of shad from traveling further upstream, a small amount found success. The many stories of the sheer number of shad that would congregate at the Great Eddy below the tumult are testimony to its effectiveness as a blockage – and its fame as a favored indigenous fishing place for millennia. Yet if vast numbers of salmon were quite successful in climbing the cataract, perhaps a percentage of shad accompanied them. The number who passed successfully may have paled in comparison to the total and thus been of lesser note to historians.
- The complex process of shad migration is informed extrinsically and intrinsically by many factors. Some are environmental and fluctuating, such as flow velocity, temperature, salinity, light levels, and competition, among others. Others are innate: the strong homing instinct of the individual fish to the original river of its birth. The fish migrate to their respective spawning streams using genetic memory informed by chemical and magnetic guidance. Recent studies have demonstrated the incredible accuracy of this instinct. Why would there be so many shad below the falls? The migration is not a race to set an indeterminate record. It might follow that shad seeking to pass Kchi Pontekw would be following the pull of their birthplaces upstream.
- It is no accident that Downs documented the appointment of fish inspectors Buck and Bailey in the years 1795-1797. Lebanon, NH (chartered July 4th, 1761) had only begun to be an organized colonial town a few years beforehand. It took awhile to get town business thoroughly refined, but immediately after these appointees were chosen, the dam across the Connecticut River downstream at Turners Falls, MA (now-called) was completed in 1798. It is a universally-acknowledged fact that all anadromous fish migrations dropped off drastically in that year, their journey effectively cut short at that point.
- As a curious side note, the name of the Mascoma River, singled out by Rev. Downs as the objective of the spawning shad in his locale, is derived from the Abenaki name for the salmon. No doubt the river was, in actual use, a shared goal by both species. That word in Aln8ba8dwaw8gan is “mskwamakw’ – pronounced muh-SKWAH-mahk-uh, nearly the same as its English variant – and means, literally, “red fish.”
- And, in an odd coincidence, the American Shad’s Latin generic name “Alosa” is identical to the Abenaki word for “to go”, which is exactly what the fish prefer to do. The Latin root, however, derives from “alausa” – a fish.
Photo from Brattleboro Historical Society: looking south on April 16, 1909, from a point on the abandoned road that climbs the bank from Chase’s Cascade on Venter’s Brook, below the “Cotton Mill”.
In this vintage photo, the Connecticut River is flooding the Hunt Farm (upper right) and Meadows, due to the construction of the Vernon Hydroelectric Dam, completed in 1909. On the far upper left you can see the ferry road (red arrow) that came down the bank on the Hinsdale (east) side of the river. The path is overgrown, but it is still there; as the leaves begin to fall you can find the trail and walk down to the now-abandoned Boston & Maine Railroad bed. The barn marked with the blue arrow still stands at the intersection of NH Rt. 119 and Old Brattleboro Road. The relocated Vernon Road (now VT Rt. 142) – moved to accommodate the rising water level – is obvious in the mid ground with its parallel guard rails.
The ferry mentioned here (red arrow again) has, of course, much older stories attached to it. It crossed the Kwenitekw to the site of Fort Dummer on the west bank (later, the Brooks farm) near where the short trees can barely be seen (green arrow) projecting from the floodwaters, just beyond the railroad’s telegraph poles (yellow arrow). Fort Dummer (built in 1724 and pre-dating the ferry by decades) was strategically built here because it was a traditional fording place for Abenaki travellers and later by the soldiers and first settlers – of course, that’s why the trails led to this point. Those foot paths later became the first colonial roads – thus Old Brattleboro Road (blue arrow again). The cemetery used by the Fort Dummer garrison and early settlers lies just east of this intersection on a knoll to the north side of the road. The current NH Rt. 119 from this point south to the NH State Liquor Store is a relatively recent replacement route (this is the point where the Old Brattleboro Road rejoins its new counterpart).
The daughters of Louis Watso and Katherine Tahamont. The Watso family kept a shop on the shores of New Hampshire’s Lake Sunapee following the turn of the last century.
From the Ne-Do-Ba website:
Louis Watso was born about 1874 and descends from an Abenaki War Chief. He married Katherine Tahamont on 20-Jan-1893. Katherine was born 5-Jan-1878 at Odanak or upstate NY. Louis died in 1959 and Katherine died 18-May-1943. Both are buried in Claremont NH, where they spent much of their lives. This couple had three daughters that grew to adulthood;
- Jessie born 25-Feb-1897 at Odanak, married Mr. Barton
- Eva born 7-Jun-1899 at Odanak, married Mr. Perry
- Mable born about 1900, Married Mr. Turner
The Watso family continues, the Abenaki continue. #respect
And again, on page 146:
From “The Wonders of Creation; Natural and Artificial: Being an Account of the Most Remarkable Mountains, Rivers, Lakes, Cataracts, Mineral Springs, Miscellaneous Curiosities, and Antiquities in the World”
Compiled from Geographers, Historians, and Travellers of the Greatest Celebrity, in Two Volumes, by D. R. Preston, author of The Juvenile Instructor, &c. Pub. by John M. Dunham, Boston, 1807.
A historical plaque at Bellows Falls claims “Here first canal in United States was built in 1802”; more accurately, it may hold the title of “the oldest canal in the US still used industrially.” A British-owned company, the Bellows Falls Canal Company, was chartered to make the Connecticut River navigable in 1791. It spent 10 years building nine locks and a dam to bypass the 52 foot high Great Falls; the canal was completed in 1802. The first bridge across the Connecticut River anywhere on its course was constructed by Col. Enoch Hale in 1785, crossing exactly at this narrow, deep chasm, from Bellows Falls, VT to Walpole, NH.
The book quoted above was published in 1807, as a compilation by D. R. Preston of scenic descriptions by a number of well-traveled contributors. It is quite possible the above entries describing the Great Falls were written previous to the opening of the canal in 1802, which would have drastically impacted the water volume and dramatic impact of the cascade in the gorge.
The Historical Society of Cheshire County will offer the first lecture of its 2018 Wyman Tavern Lecture Series Tuesday, July 24, at 7 p.m.
Lynn Keating Murphy, Abenaki Indian, master educator, and descendant of the Sadoques of Keene, will discuss the history of her family in the Connecticut River Valley and Quebec and their basket-making traditions. The history of the Sadoques family intersects with this area, and provides insights into the complex story of the Abenaki people in the region. The talk will be held at the historical society’s headquarters, 246 Main St. in Keene, and admission is free.
The theme of this year’s Wyman Tavern Lecture Series is “Indigenous people, history and culture into the 21st century.” The Wyman Tavern Lecture Series will continue Aug. 29 when Keith and Kathy Stavely do a book signing for their early American cooking book — “United Tastes: The Making of the First American Cookbook” — and Linda Stavely prepares samples of early American recipes including a Native-American-inspired dish.
On Oct. 7, The Colonial Theatre will host a showing of “A Good Day to Die” — a 2010 documentary that chronicles the American Indian Movement that fought for the civil rights of American Indians.
The series concludes Nov. 3 with a “Basket Day” at the historical society. Members of the public are invited to bring their baskets, and basket experts will be available at the full-day event to identify and record the age, origin, physical characteristics, and known history of each basket. Basket Day will end with a talk by basket expert Lynn Clark on the history of Native American baskets in the Monadnock Region and New Hampshire, and by Lynn Murphy on her family’s Abenaki Indian basket history.
More information: visit hsccnh.org or call 352-1895.