Wednesday, February 20, 2008


Any discussion of the people who lived in the Fingerlakes before the American settlers took possesion of the land must include Bare Hill and Vine Valley. Bare Hill and near by Vine Valley were very early and important centers of occupation. For as much as a thousand years a culture that preceded the Seneca lived in this unique spot that offers a sheltered shallow bay, a stream that fish migrated in and out of, and a hill top with a majestic view of the surrounding area. This culture is known by many names, Arthur C. Parker, of the Rochester Museum, renown archeologist of Seneca decent named them the Middlesex culture. This ancient culture was closely tied too the mound building cultures. Specifically the Adena and Hopewell cultures. Another name given is the Algonquin people.
Unlike the Seneca these earlier people created sophisticated art and had extensive trade with other tribes. These people had copper artifact which indicate trade with the people that live around lake Michigan where native copper is found. The Seneca did not use copper, in fact they resented it as a material of their defeated enemies.

Discovery of Skeleton

Emily McCombs White"s story:

When Steltz Lafler was digging out a knoll at the top of Vine Valley Hill, he dug into an Indian (who) was buried there, sitting half way up, a hand held a pipe in it. It scared Stelz and he hollered to dad to come up there and see what he (contacted) Mr. Arthur Parker and took the relics.

Odd Ridges of Bare hill

At some point in my research of the archeology of Yates county i came across a copy of a newspaper clipping. It is marked 1955 and was included in the "Letters to the Editor" section. I assume it was posted in the Canandaigua or Penn Yan paper and was authoered by Roland E. Hart. It mentions "Graded Ways" similar to the ones found on Bluff Point. i've incuded two quotes from the article.

Among the natural features on Bare Hill there is one that has never been mentioned as far as i know. This is a series of low, tone ridges that were present on the hill's surface some years ago and may still be visible there as long lines of stone edges protruding from the soil, with shorter ridges at right angles or nearly so.
Similar ridges have been found on Bluff point Hill in south-central Yates county. Others have been reported to be present on Italy Hill ridge in southwestern Yates county.

The author goes on to describe the Bluff Point site and speculates about how glacier activiy could have created these ridges. I question this concept because these ridges run at right angles. If they only went East/West I would agree. This is not the case. At any rate the author continues:

Where this ties in with Bare Hill is that when two of us went up on Bare Hill about 1940, we found several long low rock ridges on the surface with shorter cross ridges, similar to those found on Bluff point.

The Two Headed Snake

Indian tradition invest Bare Hil with great interest. According to the myth cherised by the Senecas, their tribe sprang out of the ground at Nundawao. the site of their oldest village, on the high hill near Canadaigua Lake. At a certain period the tribe was threatened with destruction by a mighty snake with two head, which wrapped its folds around Bare Hill, Genundewah, encircling the last that remained of their race. As the story is told in Schoolcraft's Notes, drawn from a native source, "all were devvoured but a warrior and his sister. At length the warrior had a dream, in which he was showed that if he would fledge his arrows with the hair of his sister, the charm would prevail. He was warned not to heed the frightful heads and hissing tongues, but to shoot at the heart.

Following faithfully the directions given in his dream, he bodly shot the serpent's heart. The instantaneous recoil of the monster proved the wound was mortal. He rolled down the hill uttering horrid noies, and plunged into the Lake. here he slaked his thirst, and tried by water to mitigate his agony dashing about in great fury. At length he vomited up all the people he had eaten, expired, and sank to the bottom. The council fire was thereafter fixed at Kanadesaga. The timber was destroyed on the top and sides of the hill by the great snake, and as the tradition goes, the heads of the vanquished Indians, changed to stone, thickly strewed over the earth in that vicinity, accounted for the large number of concretions found on the surface and in slaty formations of that locality. The story of the snake is thought to be an allegory, signifying that intestine feuds produced hatered and murderous war, by which the nation wa s nearly exterminated. At length, by the affectionate interposition of woman, harmony was restore and a new era of prosperity, introduced by removing the council fire to a new place. The Seneca caled themselves Nundawao, or Nundawagas- People of the Hill. Both sides of the Lakeafford abundant evidence taht its shores were long a favorite abode and burial place of aboriginal tribes. Their arrowheads and implements and bnes of the dead are thickly strwed in the soil. The traces of an ancient fort, covering about an acre, and surrounded by a ditch, and formerly by a formidable wall, are still to be seen on top of Bare Hill. They indicate defenses raised by Indian hands, or more probably belong to the labors of a race that preceded the Indian occupation. The wall is now about tumbled down, the stones seem somewhat scattered, and the ground is overgrown with brush. The hill was literally bare when the white race took possession of the country. but since that time the forest has sprung up thickly wherever it was allowed to grow. Arnold potter, it is said raised wheat there by simply dragging it in, before he could make clearing elsewhere.

From Cleveland's History of Yates County

The Brave and the Maiden

Many people are familiar with the story of the two headed snake but the legend of Lovers Leap is just as fascinating and seems to have faded from the memory of most. This story of love and sacrifice has been told by many culture from the story of Romeo and Juliet to Disney's Pocahontas.

The Legend of Lovers Leap

The legend is of a later day than that of the serpent, but nevertheless, descends from remote tradition. During the wars of the Senecas and Algonquins of the North, a chief of the latter was capture and carried to Genundewah, whereon a fortification, consisting of a square without bastions, and surrounded by palisades, was situated. The captive, though young in years was famed for his prowess in forest conflict, and nature had been bountiful to his person in those gifts of strength and symmetry which waken savage admiration. After a short debate, he was condemned to die on the folowing day, by slow torture of impalement. While he was lying in the "cabin of death", a lodge devoted to the reception of condemned prisioners, the dayughter of the Sachem brought him food, and struck with hi manly form and heroic bearing, resolved to save him or share his fate. Her bold enterprise was favored by the uncertain light of the gray dawn, while the solitary sentinel, wery with hi night-watch, and forgetful of his duty, was slumbering. Stealing with noiseless tread to the side of the young captive, she cut the tongs where with his limbs were bound, and besought him in breathing accents to follow her. The fugitives decened the hill by a wooded path conducting to the lake; but ere they reached the water, an alarm-whoop, wild and shrill, was heard issuing from the lips of the waking guard. They tarried not, though thorney vines and fallen timber obstructed their way. At length they reached the smooth beach, and leaping into a canoe, previously provided by the brave and considerate damsel, they plied the paddle vigorously, steering for the opposite shore. Vain were their efforts. On wind came cries of rage, and the fierce pursuit. The Algonquin, with the reckless daring of a young brave, sent back a yell of defiance; and soon after the splash of oars was heard, and a dozen war canoes were cutting the billows in their rear.

Continued below

The Brave and the Maiden (continued)

The unfortunate lovers, on landing, took a trail leading in a Western direction over the hills. The Algonquin, weaken by unhealed wounds, followed his active guide up the acclivity with panting heart and flagging pace; while his enemies, with the grim old Sachem at thei head, drew nearer and nearer, At length, finding farther attempts at flight useless, she divered from the trail, and conducted her lover to a table-crested rock that projected over a ravine, or gulf, one hundred and fifty feet in depth, the bottom of which was strewn with mis-shapen rocks, scattered in rude confusion. With hearts nerved to resolve, the hapless pair awaited the arrival of their yelling pursuers. Conspicuous by his eagle plume, towering form, and scowling brow, the daughter soon descried her inexorable sire leaping from the crag to crag below her. He paused aburptly when his fery eye rested on the objects of his pursuit. Notching an arrow on the string of his tried and unerring bow, he raised his sinewy arms but ere the missle was sent, Wun-nut-hay, the Beautiful, interposed her form between her father and his victim. In wild appealing tones she entreated her sire to spare the young chieftain, assuring him that they would leap together from the precipice rather than be seperated. The tern old man, deaf to her suppication, and disregarding her menace, ordered his followers to seize the fugitive. Warrior after warrior darted up the rock, but on reaching the platform, at the moment when they were grasping to clutch the young brave, the lovers, locked in fond embrace, flung themselves from the steep rock and perished.

From: The life and Times of Sa-Go-Ye Wat-ha or Red Jacket, by William L. Stone 1841