Early Settlers in Cairo found Indian Friendly

By Grace Story Webber, Cairo Township Historian
Published in the Catskill Daily Mail March 13, 1952


Newspaper article courtesy of Linda Larsen. Transcribed by Arlene Goodwin


(Editor’s Note: This is the third in a series of articles on the history of Cairo Township prepared by Mrs. Webber recently received a letter from the State Education Department at Albany, stating that "you have made an important contribution to local history with your collecting and recording of historical materials. . . Your annual report is a valuable device for summarizing you activities for your local officials and for this office as well."

Mrs. Webber’s last article dealt with Indians in the Cairo area, and where they lived. Today’s considers their possessions and occupation.)

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"On our coming into the house, two mats were spread out to sit upon," very likely these were made of skins, according to Robert Juet, of Limehouse, who wrote the surviving narrative of the voyage of The Half Moon commanded by Henry Hudson in 1609. He continues: "Immediately, some food was served in well-made wooden bowls. Two men were dispatched at once with bows and arrows in quest of game, who soon brought a pair of pigeons and a fat dog which was skinned with shells from the water or collar bone from animals.

Many Handicrafts

"The women and their children employed themselves in many ingenious handicrafts: baking-trays, wooden spoons and ladles, wood-dishes, shovels and rakes, brooms baskets of all kinds and sizes which were enriched with the most beautiful colors, which they alone knew how to extract from vegetables substances, and canoes, many receptacles for holding fruit and other things curiously adorned with embroidery, not inelegant done with the sinews of deer and leggions and moonesans (their spelling), a very comfortable and highly ornamented substitute for shoes and stockings.

"They also had a beautiful manufacture of deer skin, softened to the consistence of the finest chamois leather, and embroidered with beads of wampum formed like bugles. These they formed out of shells, with great art and industry, which had the appearance of fine white porcelain, veined with purple. They had belts, garters and other ornaments, formed, first of sinews, divided to the size of coarse thread."

The men sometimes assisted the women in the more laborious part of their business, but oftener occupied themselves with fishing in the creeks and ponds, in hunting, and drying and preserving by means of smoke in sheds erected for that purpose, the fish, fowl and game.

Improve In Archery

The boys exercised themselves in trying to improve themselves in archery by shooting birds, squirrels and raccoons, which were used for food. In this way they proved their ability and were allowed to go with the men on their annual hunting trips in the far country.

The deep, dark and widespread forests, the high, rough mountain cliffs, the wild ravines and caves of the mountains, made then a chosen favorite of lynx, panther, wolves, bears and deer. The Indians hunted these animals and dressed the skins for clothing, bedding and rugs for the floors as well as using the rougher skins on their houses. First the women scraped the skins and then soaked them in a mixture of chopped oak and chestnut bark for tanning. Then the skins were stretched, dried, and rubbed with fat. After that they were smoked over a slow fire. That shrunk and toughened the skins but left them as soft as ever.

Corn Main Food

Besides the meats from the animals, the main staple of food was corn which was ground by crushing between two stones and baked into cakes in the ashes of the fires. Squash and pumpkins were gathered and stored in pits for use during the winter. Strawberries were either dried or mixed with maple syrup which were poured over cakes and used as we would desserts. There were beans as well as hickory nuts, chestnuts, black walnuts, butternuts and hazelnuts to dry and store for later use. They gathered mushrooms, wild onions and garlic which they mixed with nut and sunflower oil to use in flavoring the meats. Then the sassafrass and other herbs had to be gathered and prepared for sickness and the tobacco for smoking. The Indians of this locality lived well, and this is what the white people found when they settled in the township of Cairo.

Played Big Part

The old Indian trails played a very important part in the early history of Cairo. It may be sufficient to say that there were trails along all the larger streams and some of the smaller creeks. Cairo was well supplied with waterways, so there were many trails crossing the township. Often the trees, along the trails, bore hatchet marks. In this way, the Indians pointed out the paths for the white people who followed. It is quite remarkable that the Indians should have been able to locate a trail through a primeval to make many improvements, with in shortening the distance or securing a better grade.

The Great Central Iroquois Trail going from Albany to Buffalo and also the Lake Champlain and Hudson River Trail, going from Canada to the ocean, were of great importance during the Indian times and also during the early colonization period as well as today. The Great Susquehanna Trail, later the Susquehanna Turnpike, today Route 145, was second in importance only to the two previously mentioned trails, both of which ran north and south, and which were connected by the Susquehanna Trail.

This is the heritage which the first white people, who came to Cairo found:--roads ready to travel, a great variety and quantity of food as well as a friendly people to help in every way.

The next articles will tell of the first white people to come to Cairo.

If anyone has old maps or documents of local interest, which they would lend, it would be of great value in the preparing of the coming articles.


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