Writing in The Adirondack; or Life in the Woods (1849) Joel Tyler Headley remarked that Indian Point on Raquette Lake was so-named “because there was once an Indian settlement upon it”. But until recently, the idea of large, permanent Native American settlements within the Adirondacks has been discounted by scholars. Ongoing research however, suggests that may not be the case.
On thing we do know for sure is that Adirondack interior was a seasonal hunting ground for the Iroquoian and Algonquin-speaking communities and there is considerable evidence that the Raquette Lake area was used extensively by the Mohawk.
For example, Guy Johnson’s Map of the country of the VI nations proper with part of the adjacent colonies, shows the Mohawks’ territory in 1771 extending from the Lake George and Lake Champlain valley to just west of Raquette Lake.
There is also the story of the escape of the Sir John Johnson, a Tory, from Johnstown to Montreal in 1776 whose Mohawk companions guided him to the shores of Raquette Lake, and then on to Canada. Others, including Paul Jamieson in Adirondack Pilgrimage (1986), make the argument that an Albany Road (sometimes referred to as the Old War of 1812 Military Road) followed the path of an ancient and heavily used Native American trail to Raquette Lake. So it’s clear from the evidence I’ve found, that the Mohawk (and possibly other native communities) were well acquainted with Raquette Lake and at the very least a substantial hunting camp must have been located there.
Isaac Jogues, another Jesuit captured by the Mohawks in 1642, described a Mohawk hunting expedition departing from the village of Ossernenon near the Mohawk River:
“Chiefs paraded the streets of Ossernenon lustily announcing their intention to leave for the hunt. Braves and young men, families, squaws, attached themselves to the chiefs. Some were following the trails to the mountains that lay directly south; some were heading to the highlands of the southwest, to the headwaters of the two rivers; but the majority were resolving to ascend straight to the gigantic mountains and the deep valleys of the northland.”
If such a seasonal camp existed on Raquette Lake, why Indian Point? I believe the geography and topography probably influenced the choice.
As it was with their European counterparts, the 17th and 18th century was a period of great conflict among native people in the region. In this context, the Mohawks would have benefited from choosing a location on Raquette Lake which could be defended if necessary, and from which they could observe large parties approaching.
Indian Point possesses a unique geological feature called the Crags, a series of three rock outcroppings atop the peninsula’s ridge-line. At an elevation of 2,000 feet, one can see all the way to the South Inlet (as captured in the photo by Seneca Ray Stoddard above). Anyone approaching from the Marion River or Brown’s Tract Inlet would be seen at least an hour before they could land on the shores of Indian Point. To the northwest, one can see Sucker Brook Bay.
While the Crags may have led the Mohawks to choose Indian Point, where along the shores of the peninsula was the camp itself? Since it would have been used during winter, the inner cove between the two eastern tips of Indian Point would have provided shelter from the worst of the cold winds blowing across Beaver Bay or North Bay.
Kateri Tekawitha, a young Mohawk woman of the 1600s described “camping northward of the Adirondacks…quite cozy and comfortable in their hunting lodges of bark and close-woven boughs.” According to Isaac Jogues: “There the [women], under the direction of the men, threw up the three slanting poles of the hunting-huts and tied them at the top and sewed the bark and skins firmly about the triangular frame.”
The annual construction of at least several of these lodges would have helped established significant forest clearings on Indian Point. I believe Matthew Beach and William Wood’s choice to settle in the inner cove between the two eastern tips of Indian Point is additional evidence that it was the location of the native habitation there.
When they settled at Raquette Lake, Beach was nearly sixty years old and Wood was in his early forties. They would have been attracted to an area previously cleared by what may have been at least centuries of indigenous use.
The site of the Mohawk camp would likely not have been open land by the 1830s and was likely in secondary forest regeneration. However, it would have been a young forest, far easier for Beach and Wood to clear by hand than the surrounding older forest.