Dan Weiskotten's Natives of Cazenovia The Question (KEC 1/6/1998)
Who were the Indians that lived near the Cazenovia Lake?  Where did they live?  Did they interact with the tribes around Syracuse?

Dan Weiskotten's Answer (1/6/1998)
Thanks for the questions regarding the Native American occupation of the Cazenovia area. I know that this is far more than you wanted, but this is a gigantic and detailed subject that needs more explaining than just a repeat of the goodies that have been found. I just wrote this in three hours, so please forgive the lack of detail (!?!). I'm trying to keep the response down to a thousand years or less.

For more information I suggest reading James Tuck's (1971) Onondaga Iroquois Prehistory; James Bradley's (1987) Evolution of the Onondaga Iroquois; and Peter Pratt's (1976) Archaeology of the Oneida Iroquois. These should all be found in most local libraries.  Some other good references are noted where pertinent. There are no specific papers relating to Cazenovia prehistory (yet!).

A Brief Prehistory of Cazenovia and Vicinity
Daniel H. Weiskotten
January 6, 1998

There are a number of reported archaeological sites and stray finds of artifacts around the Cazenovia area. Most are poorly  documented but they are at least recorded. These reports were made over many years, come from many angles, and were made for many purposes but still give us a good idea of the "pre-Lincklaen" or pre-1793 occupation of the area. I've made a number of minor finds myself and have followed out some of the other reports to good conclusion, but there are many reports that can't be followed or artifacts for which the provenience has sadly been lost.

Part of what I do when studying the archaeological record is predicting where sites are likely to be located by comparison of data from known sites. It seems logical that prehistoric occupation (as today) was more likely to be made on elevated ground near water, but there are always those little quirky sites which don't fit any prediction or model. Stray projectile points that had been fired toward an elk or turkey but never recovered can be found anywhere, but the identification of long or repeatedly used activity areas is what helps to reconstruct the behavior of earlier groups. From early 19th century reports of Indians selling baskets and wooden hollowware to local merchants, seasonal fishing parties along Chittenango Creek, and the occasional inebriated soul, we get a clear idea of historic period activities, but the archaeological sites give us the time depth that we need to understand the broader picture. Besides Cazenovia's rich and divers history, which is so evident above ground and all around us, there is also a plethora of information that comes from below ground (prehistoric and historic). Cazenovia is far from unique in its prehistoric heritage, but it does have its story to tell and that story is important to the greater scheme of things.

The earliest occupation of the area seems related to a major change in environmental conditions that took place about 4-5000 BC which allowed the growth of a greater variety of vegetation than in previous periods when the climate was much cooler (we are very familiar with the tundra-like qualities of local winters). This environmental change allowed new species of plants and animals to invade the previously barren region. This included the hardwood forests and accompanying mammals, birds, and fishes as well as humans who sought the resources that could be found here. Most of the sites in the uplands of the Cazenovia region are small camps or tool drops which date from after this fluorescence of nature, but there are also large village sites from late prehistory when the Iroquois occupied the area and practiced horticulture across the rich glacial soils of the region.

There has been no systematic study of the prehistory and archaeological record of Cazenovia, but the finds that have been reported over the last two centuries fit well into the models formulated to describe early occupations in other areas of New York State (see Robert Funk's [1993] Archaeological Investigations in the Upper Susquehanna River Valley and William Ritchie's [various dates] Archaeology of New York State).

The earliest occupations of the area are represented by thinly scattered camps and tool drops of the late Archaic Period (as early as 4000 BC) which probably relate to resource procurement sites (hunting, fishing, gathering). There are no known major sites like those which are found in great abundance in the Chenango, Unadilla, and Susquehanna valleys to the south or along the Seneca, Oneida, and Oswego rivers to the north. Cazenovia was out of the way from these great transportation corridors and thus was peripheral to the major occupation areas. Artifacts from the Late Archaic period include diagnostic projectile points, tool production, evidence of fish and meat roasting and other procurement activities and small sites have been found at scattered locations on the shore and outlet of Cazenovia Lake, along Chittenango and Limestone creeks, in Pompey Hollow, in the Nelson Swamp and the swamps south of New Woodstock, and other places where resources were immediately available. I've even found two crude projectile points (arrowheads) in the fields along high along the Ridge Road indicating hunting in the uplands. After several thousand years of continuous occupation the stuff is everywhere. The density is not enough to indicate an aggressive occupation of the area, but the region was surely used for millenia to procure food and other resources.

The PaleoIndian Period (8-9000+ BC) and the following Early and Middle Archaic periods (4-8000 BC) are entirely missing (as far as I know) from Cazenovia's archaeological record. There are no known reported sites of the earliest occupation although the remains of early post-glacial/pleistocene animals have been found in the region. In the 1840s a Mammoth molar was found while draining the swamps on the southern edge of New Woodstock. Other remains, including those of Giant Beaver, Mastodon, as well as other Mammoth, have been found in the ancient swamps (now mucklands) of northern Madison County. Stray finds of the PaleoIndian projectile point known as the Clovis point have been made in Madison and all of the surrounding counties, so it is clear that the area was used when the area was still very cold and barren, but no such finds are reported for Cazenovia or surrounding towns. Following the demise of the large mammals of the pleistocene the Cazenovia area was still not occupied for serveral thousand years as evidenced by the lack of evidence (how I love "negative evidence").  A unique "artifact" of this early and very harsh period is the unique stand of black spruce that can still be found in the Nelson Swamp today.  This species, usually found only in the very northern most forests, is a tiny and ancient remnant of the hardy species that could survive in such a terrible post-glacial climate.

When the climate changed to slightly warmer about 4,000 BC the variety of plants and animals mushroomed.  The warmer climate allowed for a greater diversity of environments and many new species of plants and animals were now to be found.  The high and hilly Cazenovia area, off the beaten paths that followed the lowlands and waterways, became a sort of food and materials market for the peoples that then foraged across the land. An apparent population explosion and change in technology and resource procurement methods brought the people into the hills. It was upon these hills around Cazenovia Lake (like every where else in the northeast for that matter) that the variety of habitats provided by the lakes, streams, swamps, woodlands, and meadows gave the people the food and materials they needed for daily life. It is likely that, since the evidence is so scattered, the occupation of the Cazenovia area was on an as-needed basis. The primary centers of habitation (probably not collective villages, but more like tribal territories) would have been located down in the larger valleys of the major drainages while seasonal camps for collecting and hunting were located in the uplands.

After the Late Archaic Period and well into the Late Woodland Period (from 1500 BC to about AD 1300), there seems to be a change in the settlement or resource procurement patterns which drew the people off to other locations. There is a severe dearth of archaeological evidence which indicates that the Cazenovia area was not often visited. I'm not sure if this was because of a reluctance to come to the area (due to better resources somewhere else) or because the activities in the area left little evidence. There is considerable evidence for continued occupation of the major valley regions elsewhere in the northeast throughout this period, and it is clear that populations in other areas were flourishing, but it is not known why the people of the time left little evidence in the Cazenovia area.

A particularly noteworthy gob of negative evidence is the period known as the Late Woodland (about AD 1000 to 1400) when great social pattern changes were taking place across the Northeast.  In the Susquehanna Valley near Binghamton and Elmira and along the Seneca on Oneida rivers near Baldwinsville and Brewerton there are the first instances of related communal groups that lived in small semi-permanent villages. These groups appear to have practiced a rudimentary horticulture with the cultivation of native plants such as goosefoot, sunflowers, and other seed bearing plants. While there are many similar sites in surrounding parts of New York State there is no evidence of such occupation near Cazenovia. Unfortunately the earliest "archaeological" work in the region was done by relic collectors who did not properly report their findings and the data that they gathered is difficult to interpret. There are several odd reports of "early" pottery being found but the lack of description does not allow us to interpret this as either the early Owasco pottery (coil formed and cord-marked) or the later Iroquoian pottery (plate formed and incised).

While other regions were starting to see the development of the tribal groups that would evolve into the Iroquoian nations that occupied the area when white folks first came here, there is no evidence for this development in the Cazenovia area. Systematic and scholarly study of hundreds of archaeological sites have identified the beginnings of the development of distinct Iroquoian groups as early as AD 1000 in Ontario and by AD 1200-1300 they were predominant in other parts of the northeast (including Cayuga, Onondaga, and Mohawk).

The Iroquois cultural patterns are very much different from the preceding inhabitants and earlier researchers thought them to be invaders from some other region. One of the most recent theories of Iroquoian development is that they were not invaders but possibly local populations who adapted or developed vastly different social and technological behavior (perhaps introduced from outside) which made it appear that they were different and invasive. This change seems to be rather rapid, but in reality took several generations to become fixed. The descendants of local populations became the Iroquois of historic times.

The Onondagas, Mohawks, Cayugas, and Senecas are seen to rise out of a population base that was already near where they were later found. Noticeably lacking from this widespread trend is a progenitor of the Oneida Iroquois. Having spent many years studying the Oneida archaeological record as well as that of the neighboring nations I have yet to find an origin for the Oneidas.

What may be the earliest sites of the Oneidas lie within the Chittenango Creek drainage near Cazenovia, but they are small and have never been studied properly. The only evidence we have from them is the sad information compiled by Arthur Tyler back in the 1920s and a few scattered reports made by relic collectors who wanted to keep their finds secret except to a willing buyer. (I have no plans to do any work at any of these sites and I refuse to divulge their location only so they are protected from people who will carry on this terrible tradition). From the scant evidence available it is clear that the earliest Oneida sites are located near Cazenovia and are dated to about AD 1400 or perhaps slightly earlier (this without any formal analysis). Peter Pratt's study of Oneida sites considered only the sites east of Perryville which date to about AD 1500 and later.

As time passed, and the Oneida villages were moved periodically (for they rotted and became infested after a few years), the population slowly skipped its way across central Madison County and then on to the eastern border of the county and into Oneida County. When the American Revolution and subsequent dealings with white folks devastated the region in the 1780s and 1790s the Oneidas were settled near present day Sherrill and Oneida Castle.

The Onondaga populations that had developed in central Onondaga County also moved their village periodically and by about AD 1500-1550 this brought them to the western shore of Cazenovia Lake and then to the eastern side and southern end of Pompey Hollow where several major village sites are found. These sites date between AD 1500 and about 1620 and are the epitome of Iroquoian habitation sites with beautiful artwork in bone and pottery, and well fashioned tools and smoking pipes. Their villages contained the classic Iroquois longhouse and were situated atop well fortified promontories with palisades so as to ward off invaders.

By the late 1500s European trade goods began to come into the Onondaga region and the Indians modified the scraps of brass and iron into forms of ornaments and tools with which they were familiar. Iron axes, copper kettles, and glass beads quickly became important commodities for which the prized beaver was traded. The Onondagas, like the Oneidas, gradually moved throughout their territory and eventually ended up in the lowlands in Onondaga Valley where they were when the American Revolution decimated their homeland.

I would also like to point out that the most important event to the Iroquois was the founding of the Haudenosaunee or Iroquois League. This event, which served as a unilateral agreement of preservation, was instrumental in the preservation of the Five Nations Iroquois throughout the turmoil of the 16th century to the present. There is considerable debate as to when the formation of the League took place, with some saying that it was thousands of years ago and others believing that it happened after contact with the Europeans. Archaeologically and ethnologically it is believed by the most respected scholars (by whose respect?) that the League was formed in the 16th century. Since the Onondagas are the founding fathers of the League, and they occupied villages along the shore of Cazenovia Lake and in Pompey Hollow at that time, it can probably be rightfully claimed that our neighborhood saw the development of one of the greatest alliances the world has ever known (now I'm sounding too much like Arthur Tyler!)

As we have seen, the traditional territory of the Onondaga Iroquois lies to the west of Cazenovia and the territory of the Oneidas lies to the east. That isn't to say that Cazenovia was a no-man's land, but that was a clear temporal, spatial, and cultural demarkation between the activity areas of the two groups. While there is a large prehistoric (c. AD 1500-1550) Onondaga village site at the head of the lake there are several small, but earlier (c. AD 1400), Oneida village sites in the Chittenango Creek valley east of Cazenovia. The temporal difference of several hundred years and the relationship to other sites in the tribes' sequence of periodic village movements makes it clear that there is no overlap - even as early as the 14th century.

The archeological record fits well with the territories as described in a document prepared for the 1784 treaty of Fort Stanwix (see William Starna [1988:9-10] "The Oneida Homeland in the 17th Century" in Jack Campisi and Lawrence M. Hauptman's The Oneida Experience: Two Perspectives). The land which the Oneidas and Tuscaroras "shall be secured in the possession of" by this treaty was bounded on the west by a line run up Chittenango Creek, through the falls, to the lake outlet, and then south. The description reads in part: "where the water runs over a Ledge of Rocks and from thence runs up the said Creek to a Lake out of which it empties called Anagwolas and from thence to the head of the Owego River." The ledge of rocks is Chittenango Falls, and the lake, called "Anagwolas," is Cazenovia Lake (see my response to KEC's question regarding Lake Owahgena).

So, you can see that the archaeology and history mesh well ... that is until white folks screwed up things (again). Those of us present day Cazenovians that live on the western side of Cazenovia Lake, despite the 1784 description, eventually ended up within the Oneida Territory by default when the Onondaga lands were taken by the State in the late 1780s. When the New Military Tract (Onondaga County, etc.) was set out in 1789 the dividing line was run straight south (now the county border) from the Deep Spring instead of in the zig-zag line along the creek as described in 1784. This really isn't any rip off of Onondaga or Oneida lands (albeit related to the greatest rip-offs ever perpetrated by whiteman) as the 1789 boundary did follow the general trend of the old division and took some here, gave some there, etc. all the way to the Susquehanna River. Check a state map to see how long this line is (over 90 km - 55 mi).

I give you all that not only so you have an idea of how the Cazenovia area fits into the general settlement pattern of late prehistory, but also to explain a little bit about the purchase of land at the head of the lake by the Oneida Nation a few years ago. The land they bought contains a known major Indian village site called the McNab Site which dates to about AD 1500-1550. The former landowner's plan was to divided the property and sell it for housing so, being concerned with the very high likelihood that there would be burials found (Iroquois Burial Patterns were the subject of my Masters Paper) as well as the loss of an incredible archaeological resource, I went before the Town Bored with concerns that these matters be taken into consideration. Unfortunately there are no mechanisms in place to deal with such issues. The members of the Onondaga Nation who were present (it was their heritage that was at stake) also had no way to deal with it, but the Oneidas do ($), and so they did. This creates somewhat of a dilemma as this important prehistoric Onondaga village site is now being considered by the Nations as an Oneida heritage site = only because it is within the Oneida land-claim area (see George Shattuck 1991 The Oneida Land Claims: A Legal History) and they were able to shell out the cash for it. This still doesn't change the fact that the Onondagas lived there several centuries ago (at the same time the Oneidas were located in their villages in central Madison County, around Siloam). Maybe the Oneidas were the founders of the Great Iroquois League?

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