While having a fairly large amount of evidence as to the time of the Great Iroquois League formation, we cannot tell for sure when the Mu-hee-can (Mohican) People came to occupy the valleys of the Hudson River. It might have happened not many decades after the Great Peace of the Iroquois was established, or maybe a century or so later.
According to some of the legends, the Mohican People’s ancestors came to the Hudson River after much wandering, seeking the lost homeland of ‘great waters’, finding it in this mighty river that ‘flowed and ebbed like no other’. They came to call it Muheconneok, which roughly means ‘The Waters That Are Never Still’. Here they settled, to become known to their neighbors as River People, or Mu-hee-can, Mohican as we know these people today.
But the Great League of the Iroquois (Haudenosaunee, People of the Longhouse) had spread to the west, a strong alliance of five nations, an amazing democracy and a regional power that no one could overlook or dismiss lightly. Wary of strangers, this powerful league did not hesitate when it came to waging war, in defending their towns and villages, or, like in many cases, taking the warfare into the enemy territory.
Out of the Five Nations, the members of the Great League, the Mohawks (People of the Flint) were the ones responsible for the eastern neighbors of the confederacy and their behavior. Carrying the title of Keepers of the Eastern Door in the metaphorical Longhouse of the Great League, these people took their responsibilities seriously. The wars between the Mohawk and the Mohican People were reported to last for centuries, relentless and uncompromising.
Although culturally similar to other woodland Algonquin People, the Mohican’s way of life might have been reshaped by the centuries of the constant warfare with the neighboring Great League (Iroquois). At some point, the Mohicans were reported to form an association of four or five nations as well, not a confederacy but an alliance, for defensive purposes probably, and to maintain trading ties. Unlike the Great League, there was no mutual government and no sense of political body with strict sets of laws proscribing everyone’s conduct.
Governed by hereditary sachems of matrilineal descent, the villages – fairly large settlements of many bark houses, or sometimes small to mid-size longhouses – were advised by a council of the clan leaders. All in all, these people had only three clans – Bear, Wolf, and Turtle.
However, the warfare with their powerful neighbors to the west demanded a higher degree of organization. Through later centuries, when their alliance had been probably already organized, a general council of sachems would meet regularly at their capital of Skootuck (or Shodac, eastward to the present-day Albany) to decide important matters affecting the entire alliance. In times of war, the Mohican council passed its authority to a war chief chosen for his proven ability. For the duration of the conflict, the war leader exercised almost dictatorial power.
Next to the villages, that were usually located on the elevated ground, fortified to their best, large cornfields would spread, the regular diet of maize, beans and squash supplemented by hunting and fishing, and collecting of forest fruit. For reasons of safety, the Mohicans did to move to scattered hunting camps during the winter like other Algonquin and usually spent the colder months inside their fortified villages and towns.
And so, these people continued to be a force to be reckoned with, with passing of each century more so, as it seemed.
However, at the time featured in this novel, the idea of such cooperation might have only been beginning to form, promoted by some farsighted leaders, probably, not yet to bear fruit.
They felt she was too spirited, too forward, too boyish, not as feminine and as graceful as a young woman should be. Their frowns followed her like a cloud, but she didn’t care. Other girls may have worked happily, danced beautifully, or sewn themselves pretty dresses, but they could not climb or run or swim as well as she did, the silly, giggly, empty-headed creatures that they were. The entire village may have been frowning at her, but when she spotted the enemy forces camping under the Sacred Hill, they had no choice but to listen.
Okwaho knew they were being watched. Whether by spirits or a wandering local, he could not ignore the feeling of the wary, frightened, hate-filled eyes staring out of the forest, burning his skin. But of course! Of course, the local woods distrusted them. He and his people were invaders, not coming to trade or engage in other peaceful dealings, but to raid these settlements. The enemies from the lands of the rising sun were bad, evil, impossible to understand. And yet… And yet, when the urge to prove himself lent him enough words to convince the leader of their party to send him and his friend on the mission of scouting the suspected hill, he could not have imagined what consequences this deviation from the well-planned road would lead them all into, the attackers and defenders alike.
An excerpt from “Beyond the Great River”, People of the Longhouse Series, book #1.
“When our forefathers came to the beautiful valleys of the River Whose Waters Are Never Still, they knew they had found a new homeland.”
The open challenge in his father’s voice brought Migisso back into the impressively large council house, stuffed with mats and decorations aplenty. What riches! The council house of their village was nothing but a few hastily constructed bark walls and a fireplace.
“The lands of our ancestors forgotten, we made the plentiful valleys of the mighty river our home, our only home. It is here where Father Sun blessed us and smiled upon us, showing his satisfaction. It is here where our forefathers were allowed to stay and build their villages.” The man’s gaze encircled his audience, open, imploring. “We are brothers, we who came here from the west. We are a family. We should never forget that.”
The speech was coming along well, if the grave nods and the creased foreheads were to serve as an indication. Migisso suppressed a shrug. They knew what Father wanted, and those who did not, were sure to understand now.
A cooperation, a union. The man had been struggling to make it happen for some time now, not always listened to, not always supported or understood, not even by his own fellow villagers.
Was it really that necessary to cooperate with the neighbors they barely knew, to establish some sort of a procedure? Migisso was not so sure about that, and neither were the others. The towns and villages of River People, those who came here some generations ago, were scattered throughout bountiful valleys and along the Great River, not warring, true, but not keeping close contact aside from occasional trading. Why would they? Every settlement made its own living, and there was more than enough of that. Why would they wish to seek each other’s advice, or give such if asked?
“We do live as a family, Brother.” The impressively tall man, the head of this town’s most important clan, nodded calmly, his face a blank mask. “As our clans are scattered among the villages and towns, so our settlements are spread along these lands. It is the right way of living, the way of our ancestors. Why would you wish to change that?”
“We need to keep closer ties, like the family we are. We need to protect each other.”
For a heartbeat, the leaders kept quiet, staring at the fire, each in their own thoughts. Remembering the raids, Migisso imagined, his own stomach constricting at the mere thought.
“Our villages and towns are living in peace with each other, exchanging goods and well wishes. These were the ways of our fathers, indeed, but it is not enough these days. The western beast has grown more aggressive, seeking to hurt, seeking to destroy. They have grown larger and bolder. The captives from their lands report strange happenings. These people have changed since the messenger of their evil spirits came to their lands. They have grown stronger and fiercer. We cannot contain them separately anymore. We need to unite.”
The other man’s eyes narrowed. “Does your village have captives of the enemy?”