The Legend of Rogerís Island

Local Sketch
From the Catskill Examiner, July 19, 1884
Number 1


Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin


Few of those who pass this beautiful island with its grand old, pines and ancient oaks, its picturesque hemlocks, clinging to the masses of rock that form an impenetrable wall along its front, ever reflect that this now peaceful forest was once the scene of a deadly conflict, and the fate of a once powerful nation sealed. More than a century before Hendrick Hudson sailed up his newly discoverd, "River of the Mountains" the Mohicans were lords of the domain extending from their river, the "Shatemue," to the fine hills of what is now Berkshire. Their village and council seat, Esquatak, " the fire-place of the nation," was sought by distant tribes who were eager to obtain aid or alliance with the powerful Mohicans who could muster more than a thousand warriors for battle or foray. They were the head of all the Algonquin nations. At the height of there power and pride the Mohawks had tested their strength and been defeated, but having succeed in securing as allies the Five Nations of the Iroquois, the Mohawks out numbered and defeated in their turn the proud Mohicans. In 1617 a great treaty of peace was held at Tawasenths Creek, at which were present the Dutch and Iroquois as conquerors, the Mohicans, Mincees and Lenni Lenupos as subjugated tribes. When Hudson appeared upon the scene, and indeed, for many years after, there was nominally peace between the tribes, but its continuance rested solely upon the weakness of the Mohicans, who cherished the bitterest feeling of revenge toward their conquerors and only waited for the time when they could rise in arms and by one powerful effort regain their former supremacy. Through the fiery eloquence of some of their braves the Mohicans in 1625 again renewed hostilities, sided by the Wappingers, Minsis and some smaller tribes. The struggle continues for three years, varying fortunes, but victory resting oftener upon the Mohawks than the Mohicans. In 1628, the final effort to throw off the galling yoke of the hated Mohawks was made at a point near where Claverack now stands. Both tribes had mustered all their strength for the fray, which each knew would be the final one and which would settle the vexed question of supremacy for all time. The Mohicans retreated for the purpose of drawing their enemy onto their own ground, and on the plateau which runs between the river and the hill upon which Churchís house now stands. At a point nearly opposite Hamburg, they stood for battle; on their own selection. All day the forest resounded with the yells of the combatants. Both parties were armed with firearms obtained from the Dutch, as well as the more silent and deadly arrows. The Mohicans fought with the desperation of men inspired by the recollection of galling taunts and bitter defeats on many a hard fought field, and at sunset victory had almost crowned their arms. The Mohawks seeing the situation resolved to try stratagem. They continued the fight until dark, then apparently beaten and panic stricken, they fled in wild disorder to Vastrickís Island (now Rogerís Island). Here they speedily built camp fires, and taking bundles of sticks and logs wrapped them in blankets and placed them around the fires, which were subdued until only a few flickering brands gave light enough to dimly show the apparently sleeping figures of the tired warriors. This done they retired and lay in ambush in the surrounding thickets waiting for the foe which they knew would follow their retreat. Cautiously the Mohicans crept upon the scene and seeing the recumbent forms, as they supposed, of their careless enemies, discharged their weapons and sprang in with exultant yells to finish the work of death with scalping knife and tomahawk. With a wild war-whoop the Mohawks rushed from their cover and dashed furiously upon the panic-stricken Mohicans. The struggle was sharp, short and decisive. The braves exhausted by a dayís hard fighting, overcome with numbers and bewildered by surprise, became an easy prey; many were killed and others were captured, only to undergo the torture at the stake, and the few survivors of that awful night, fled in the darkness and left forever the hunting ground of their fathers for a new home beyond the Taghkanic hills. The Mohicans, as a nation ceased to exist.

The visitor to Rogerís Island can still see the camping ground where the midnight struggle took place. It is an open green award a few minutesí walk from the landing turning to the right. A group of enormous pines that in their youth witnessed the fray, still mark the spot. Not far South of this group are some venerable oaks beneath the boughs of which lay the Mohawk braves. Near the refreshment saloon stands another oak growing on the top of a ledge. Here a desperate struggle took place between two fiery young men. A Mohawk had followed the retreating Mohican who was making for the river, and thrown his tomahawk, which owing to the darkness, missed its aim and buried itself in the trunk of the oak. The Mohican turned at bay and a duel with knives ended by the lifeless form of the Mohican being thrown over the ledge, while his scalp was borne in triumph to the Mohawkís lodge. For many years arrow heads and other trophies of the fight were found here. The field enriched by blood resounds to-day with the laughter and merry sport of children, and the sharp click of the croquet ball has supplanted its leaden prototype. In the dense forest of hemlocks no sound is heard save the sweet trill of the wood-robin, or the faint whistle of a passing boat. The setting sun throws long shafts of light through the darkening woods, over a carpet of blood-red needles, through which whose solid faces the life blood was shed nearly two centuries ago. The war whoop is heard no more; the council fires have long since died out, but there still may be heard strange sounds, and mysterious rites are weekly held in the shadow of the forest. Near the Southern end of the island may be seen circular pit filled with stones, ashes and half-burned sticks, and near at hand beneath a group of stately hemlocks, a rude frame structure upon which Ďtis said the bier is placed when the solemn company gathers around the charmed circle of fire and perform strange antics while their victims are being roasted on the hot stones. Some belated strangers rowing past the island one night, declare that they heard an oration delivered in stentorian tones, and saw a tall commanding figure bending over the bier. They were prevented from any further investigation by such a wild shriek of unearthly laughter from a short stout figure, that their hair rose with fright, and hastily seizing there oars they made the quickest time on record to Dunhamís boat-house. If there are any skeptics who refuse to credit the legends and romances of the "Isle of the Shatemue" let them step on board the pretty steam yacht Isabella or Eloise and spend a few hours looking at the points mentioned, and they will doubt no longer, but embrace with hearty faith the "Legend of Rogerís Island."


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