Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Crime in Austerlitz and a Death in Colonie

 Austerlitz is known for its annual Blueberry Festival  
and as the home of Edna St. Vincent Millay

People in the bucolic hamlets and villages of Columbia and Berkshire Counties learned last week that“a rolling drug factory” had been busted by police in Austerlitz, a region of second homes and organic farms only a few miles from Tanglewood, Jacobs Pillow  and other cultural attractions. The operation to manufacture  methamphetamine (lab reports are ongoing) had been set up in a family campground in a township where any kind of crime is almost non-existent.  And a young man linked to the drug lab, Agostino Jubrey, was killed in a gun battle with the police outside his home in Colonie.


As I pieced together the first reports on this incident, it occurred to me that the drug-makers had been quickly identified and stopped due to alert local people who did not hesitate to notify authorities of suspicious activities. However, after talking with many people in the area, I am not so sure it was that simple.



People at the Fox Hill Campground were unwilling to say anything for the record about an incident that can only bring bad publicity to a very attractive family-oriented site. However, chats with a few campers made it clear that the drug gang would certainly stand out in this location – yet no one reported anything until someone called in a report of Jubrey driving “erratically” on the day he died.  It is not clear yet if he was already making drugs in the tents, but the smell of the chemicals should have raised a red flag.


 St. Peter's Presbyterian Church in Spencertown was built in 1771
and is undergoing repair thanks to local fund-raising


 When I visited Spencertown, the nearest village of any size,  I found a surprising lack of knowledge of the drug lab bust a few days earlier. Some people in the village with whom I spoke had never heard of the incident and others knew only what they saw on WNYT. ( I tend to think that when the hardy  Massachusetts folk  first came over the Taconic Mountains to settle here in 1760, they were a lot more aware of everything everybody was doing.)

 Spencertown Academy, now an art center, was built in 1847 
as a institute to train teachers


Instead ofa land filled with the aroused  yeomanry of my imagination, this part of upstate may be singularly vulnerable to criminal drug labs of the kind  busted on July 14 in Schoharie., A couple, who had apparently learned their trade in Kentucky, returned from that state with all they needed to set up a meth lab in the heart of the village. In that case, officials said that the arrests would not have been possible  "without information provided to them by concerned citizens."


Although neighbors did not detect the drug-making operation operation at the Fox Hill campground, NYSP Senior Investigator Gary Mazzacano described to me how a  tip to police was crucial in the chain reaction of events that  led to young Jubrey's death. 


Jubrey, 21, rented two campsites at the far end of the campground, up against the woods,  on Monday July 19 and set up two tents.  On Wednesday July 22 at 4 pm he was apparently driving to the campground in his Plymouth Reliant when he struck a 60 year old motorcyclist at the intersection of Route 9 and Keegan Road in the town of Kinderhook and sped off. This is a busy area near the Hannaford shopping center and he probably feared that he had killed the man, or that someone had noted his license plate. However, no license tag was reported at that time. 

Speeding away from the injured motorcyclist, Jubrey evidently drove straight to the campground, about 18 miles to the east, in order to break down the drug-making operation.  There may have been one man already at the site, but the only car at that point was Jubrey’s. He called the other two or three men and told them to come out from Albany and to take the drug equipment and chemicals and dispose of it. 


The four men in the second car stopped in Ghent where they put the drug paraphernalia in a dumpster of an apartment building. The owner thereupon called the police to report illegal use of his rented dumpster. The four then continued south on 66 where they were spotted  near Konig Road by a state trooper on regular patrol. According to a Times Union report by Tim O’Brien:


Trooper James Lydon  noticed a strong chemical smell and observed chemicals and paraphernalia associated with making illegal drugs in the car. The four were taken to the Livingston Barracks to be interviewed and were released pending further investigation and laboratory results.


Scene of gun battle between police and Agostino Jubrey, 
courtesy Albany Times Union

Apparently, the trooper did not immediately connect the materials from the dumpster with drug-making, nor did the four implicate Jubrey. It was his own highly emotional state that brought him to the attention of authorities and that ultimately led to his death.


When Jubrey returned to his home in Colonie, he became involved in a quarrel with his mother and stepfather and shot his stepfather in the hand.  Meanwhile, however, someone had seen him driving erratically as he left the Fox Hill Campground and called in a car description and plate number. 


It was this tip that brought Columbia County Sheriff's Deputy Toby Van Alstyne and Colonie Police Officer David Belles to Jubrey's home just before 7 p.m. to investigate the motorcycle accident. They apparently did not know of the shooting when they arrived . But Jubrey, having already shot his stepfather, was in the family’s driveway and highly agitated:


As police arrived, Jubrey turned and fired two shots at the deputy's car. One bullet lodged in front of the driver's side door.


Belles exited his car, assumed a firing position and traded gunfire with Jubrey. At the police station Thursday, investigators showed off Jubrey's Plymouth Reliant. Three of its four side windows were shattered, and five bullet holes marked its passenger side. At the passenger front end, a dent and scrapped paint showed where police say Jubrey struck the motorcyclist.


As Belles fired at Jubrey, the sheriff's deputy drove away down Leach Avenue, turned around and exited his vehicle with an assault weapon in hand. By that time, the incident was over and Jubrey was critically wounded.


Agostino Jubrey died two days later at Albany Medical Center without regaining consciousness.





Wednesday, June 8, 2011

The Ancient Flint Mines of Coxsackie




The pre-contact Mohawk village site which we recently explored was quite self-contained and focused primarily on defense. Hunting and agriculture would have supplied basic needs and since the site was hidden away from canoe routes along the major rivers, any trade would have been necessarily limited.  However, there is evidence that life before European contact for the numerically superior Algonquin peoples along the Hudson River was far less harried and much more open to indigenous trading networks.

According to Marist College Professor Thomas Wermuth, the Mohicans often engaged in warfare against the Mohawks for territorial hunting rights, However, they were not in competition with other Algonquin-speaking tribes such as the Wappinger who lived between Manhattan Island and Poughkeepsie, and the Delaware (or Lenni Lenape) whose domains stretched southward past what is now Philadelphia. The three tribes, and their many subgroups, did not make war on each other, apparently shared similar religious beliefs, and traded goods among each other.

 Leeds Flat near Catskill was once a prosperous Mohican village
 

Although many people know the Mohicans only from the title of James Fenimore Cooper’s misnamed novel, The Last of the Mohicans, the tribe does survive to this day,  although in far fewer numbers than the Mohawks. Their tragic fate was a direct consequence of the friendly relationships they established with Henry Hudson on his appearance in 1609 and with the Dutch who followed, bringing with them waves of pestilence in the form of measles, influenza and small pox. As their numbers fell, the Mohicans were defeated in battles with the Mohawks,  the final one according to legend at RogersIsland in the Hudson River near Catskill.

The Rip Van Winkle Bridge crosses Rogers Island,
where the Mohicans were defeated  by the Mohawks


Evidence of the rich economic life of the Mohicans and those who came even before them, however, has not disappeared. In the town of Coxsackie, only a few miles downriver from Albany, is one of the most important flint deposits in the North East. For centuries this ridge was mined by indigenous peoples for the high quality stone known as Deepkill flint that was essential to indigenous technology. An expedition led by Dr. Arthur C. Parker for the New York State Museum of Natural History mapped the site in 1921, finding 200-300 flint pits and three large quarries. They also identified stations where chunks of flint were sorted and chipped to form arrowheads, spear points and other tools. 



A view of Flint Mine Hill leads to the conclusion that it is one of the most important Indian localities in the entire state. To the Indians it was a great discovery and it remains today the outstanding monument to aboriginal endeavor. Flint to the red man was a vital necessity; it was as necessary to the aborigines as steel is to the present age. Here on Flint Mine Hill was a vast aboriginal industry. Here Indians from far and wide obtained flint for their chipped implements and from these quarries flint was sent to distant regions. It seems quite probable from an examination of the hill that from 50 to 100 Indians worked upon it for a period of at least 1,000 years during seasons when work was possible, necessary and profitable.
The site is indeed vast enough to have been worked for centuries, and a total of 1835 acres were placed within the Historic District when it was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1978, thanks largely to the efforts of Mabel Parker Smith.
Clearly, we needed to visit this site, and finding it required far less effort than locating the lost village of Otstungo, thanks to a helpful article in the Hudson Register Star by Greene County Historian David Dorpfeld. Following  Dorpfeld’s directions, we located a steep wooded ridge just south of the Coxsackie Correctional Facility.
Although not marked by any signs, the site is owned by the Long Island Chapter of the NY Archeological Association in Southold, NY, according to their 1994 press release. Of course,  visitors should not remove any pieces of flint or artifacts they may come across. Also, the ground is very uneven and potentially hazardous.
 Fragments of discarded flint  and chert cover the forest floor

As soon as we set foot into the woods, we found evidence of ancient flint work literally everywhere. The forest floor was covered in fragments of flint, large and small, and the trees had pushed up amid layers of broken flint. Initially working our way up a short ravine, we found so much flint debris that it appeared that the ancient workers must have been sorting flint at the head of the ravine and throwing discards down the slope.
 An old cart road on Flint Mine Hill

Only a hundred feet into the woods we found a long unused cart road, and realized that this might well be the farm road of Colonel Jacob Dunaef mentioned by Dr. Parker as the way into the mines. From all appearances, the road had seen no use in many decades.
 One of the larger of several hundred flint pits
Possible flint-working station

Following the road uphill, we passed what had to be numerous flint pits, as evidenced by the layers of broken flint surrounding each depression. We also saw sites where non-flint boulders had been arranged, possibly to serve as workshops or fire pits for cracking the rocks.


We then came downhill, following Dr. Parker’s map, and walked south along the ridge in search of the large quarries he described. Once again there were signs of a long unused cart road. After passing some flint pits not too different from those on the brow of the hill, we startled a deer and then saw what was unmistakably a large prehistoric quarry, about 150 by 50 feet, and up to thirty feet deep. The piles of discarded flint that littered the area appeared to be the bluish high quality stone for which the mine was known. Just to the south was another, somewhat smaller quarry. 
 The large quarry
ancient excavation on the quarry wall

How could prehistoric men, equipped with tools of wood or stone, have performed such wonders, even if succeeding generations and cultures returned to this hill? According to an article by Charlie Brown in the Greenville Press (1/28/99), the ancient workers used a fire and water method to extract the flint, a practice dating back 12,000 years to the very first human hunting bands in the region:
“A fire was built on the rock to get it as hot as possible. Then water was poured over it to crack the rock so it could be removed. This process, repeated over and over, created huge quarry holes – over 300 at this site, some of them 40 feet deep and 60 feet wide. Waste chip piles are still there, including partially completed or broken tools.

An article in the Albany Times Union (4/8/62) by John Douglas also expressed the view that the site had been used for 12,000 years, back to a time when the first nomadic hunters reached this area in pursuit of mammoth and other large game of the late Glacial period.  These “paleo-Indic” people, as Douglas called them, may have had similarities to the Eskimo or Inuit:
“No one knows how the paleo-Indic men discovered the flinty hill at Coxsackie. But there is no question they did. The fluted projectile points – called Clovis points – characteristic of the breed and unquestionably of Coxsackie flint have been found in at least two locations, one in Pennsylvania and the other at Bull Brook hard by the Massachusetts shore.”
According to Douglas, the area was free of human inhabitants for 5000 years following the departure of the paleo-Indic people. Possibly, they were ancestral Inuit who followed the retreating ice to the polar regions where they lived at the time of European contact – and that only later did a new wave of migrants originating in Asia reach the East coast, becoming ancestors of the people who encountered Europeans in the early 17th century. And the newcomers were soon mining flint here. (A projectile point made with Deepkill flint was found in 1967 at an Archaic site near Lake George, and carbon-dated to 1700 B.C )

 Rock Shelters dating back to Archaic times have been 
excavated on Kalkberg Ridge west of the flint mines

Deepkill flint points have also been found at this rock shelter on
the Taghanic Creek several miles to the east in Columbia County

Whoever the very first inhabitants may have been, the identification of Deepkill flint from Coxsackie with Clovis points from the very earliest period of human settlement in this part of the continent has been supported by scholarly work at the Bull Brook and the Wapanucket  sites in Massachusetts, indicating that this site is among the most ancient flint works in the Americas.
 Possibly an ancient hammer stone?
Given that flint was taken from this ridge for thousands of years, it is fascinating to speculate on how the work was organized. Clearly, much work was done on site and numerous arrow and spear points were recovered by the 1921 expedition, as well as by souvenir hunters. Both Dr. Parker and John Douglas noted that flint cores can be found in abundance at this site. In all likelihood, choice pieces were taken back to home villages for working during the long winters. And given the abundance at the site of such easily portable cores, weighing no more than 20 pounds each, it is probable that that they became objects of trade.
 Flint cores of this size are plentiful throughout the site

Lost to us are the myths and rituals that undoubtedly surrounded such essential work, but they must have formed a major part of coming here. Also lost is any record of conflict over the site, or treaties that may have fostered sharing of the resource. Dr. Parker offered a theory that a guild of flint craftsman lived near the hill and controlled access, but there is no solid evidence for his theory. 
 Indigenous people camped in this meadow just east of the ridge.

There is, however, evidence of extensive camping on the flat fields between the ridge and the railroad.  According to an article by Diane Galusha (publication and date unknown) local farmers had been uncovering arrow heads and other implements for years from these fields surrounding the hill and it was one of their number, Jefferson Ray, who brought the site to the attention of Dr. Parker, who postulated that large groups camped temporarily on the fields while they worked the flint. The ground, according to Parker was “so filled with flint chips that they might have been shoveled out by the bushel full.”
Although his group was only funded to stay for a single month in 1921, Parker quickly grasped the vast size and scope of the site. Following the visit, he donated over three thousand flint implements, as well as stone hammers and mauls, to the New York State Museum of Natural History. (now the New York State Museum) 



We lingered in the woods for a long time, imagining the busy scenes that once took place here. Then, looking down, we saw the feather of a red-shouldered hawk, a sign perhaps that the spirits of this place welcomed us?


Sources without an internet link are from the files of the Greene County HistoricalSociety

Friday, May 27, 2011

Finding the ancient Mohawk village of Otstungo

A version of this post was published as In Search of Sacred Ground in the Albany Times Union June 12, 2011.




 Paul Keesler

 The late Paul Keesler was one of the great chroniclers of the Mohawk Valley and his descriptions of rambles and fishing expeditions are well worth reading. In his final work, Discovering the Valleyof the Crystals,  he tells of one of his classic expeditions, this time up the Otsquago Creek, a tributary that joins the Mohawk at Fort Plain, in search of a prehistoric Mohawk Village. Paul and Ron Gugnacki meandered “along the bottom of a steep-wooded bank, past a small tributary, around a sharp bend and along the bottom of an 80-foot high shale cliff.  Looking up at the top of the cliff, Paul says he knew “this had to be the site of the long ago Indian village. Located at this sharp bend in the creek---slate cliff  on one side, steep gully on the other---it was a high-ground peninsula, defensible on three sides.”  Respectful of the ancient people, Paul had no desire to disturb the ground, and  reports a real sense of awe as he thought about the lives that were lived here. But he and his friend did find some evidence that they were at the village site:

We had no interest in digging where so many others had cut away the topsoil, but it would be nice to find some evidence that this was indeed a village site. So, we climbed down into the gully on the side opposite the cliff. There was only a trickle of water in the  bottom of the gully, but we found a pool that had collected water and sediment. Here we discovered some mussel shells and a tiny piece of pottery.


Amish newcomers have revitalized farming
near Hallsville and Freys Bush

But after an initial visit to tiny Hallsville and the Otsquago gorge, we could not find the topography Paul described. The Amish farm folk with whom I spoke are newly arrived in the area and knew nothing of “Indian Hill,” as local people once called the village site. So we left, disappointed but not discouraged in our search, and turned to an often reliable old source, the 1925 History of the Mohawk Valley:Gateway to the West, edited by Nelson Greene, which contains this intriguing comment from Douglas Ayers:

Otstungo was one of the first Indian village sites to be investigated and, while it has been dug over for a century, it still yields an occasional relic of interest. Some very fine stone axes, pestles, arrowheads, spears and bone implements have been excavated from this Mohawk fort. The castle site is remarkably well adapted for defense and is one of the most picturesque and interesting of the Mohawk locations. It is situated on a beautiful winding stream and the gorge of the Otstungo is well worth a visit.

 The Otstungo prehistoric site embraces about six acres situated on the top of a high perpendicular cliff of Utica shale, overlooking the Otstungo Creek. The primeval forest on Otstungo was pine, as is the second growth today. We work around the virgin pine stumps and strike shallow trenches six feet wide and six inches deep between them. We cut a root. Out from under it tumbles a decoration of a pipe. It is an imitation of a great horned owl. There are the large round eyes, the facial disks, the ear tufts, the beak — crude, but easily recognizable as the silent-winged forest hunter whose hunting-cry must have often boomed through the Otstungo woodland.


Then I turned to the professional archeologists, whom Paul said had studied the site in 1985-87. After decades of ransacking by souvenir hunters, it might seem that the Otstungo site would have little to offer to serious research, but Dean Snow, a leading authority on Iroquois pre-history now at Penn State after many years at SUNY Albany, thought differently. When his team carefully excavated the site, a variety of fragments of ceramic and stone fragments was found, as well as evidence of cook fires. He found this surprising after a century and a half of looting, but notes that the hilly ground was never plowed. Those artifacts from the site which have not vanished can be found at the Smithsonian, the University at Albany, the Seneca-Iroquois National Museum and other locations.
 
Snow  placed the site in the Chance Phase of the Late Woodland Period, well before the ultimately devastating contact with Europeans. Radiocarbon dating indicates the site was first settled around 1450 and abandoned around 1525. He says that,  “The single excavated longhouse here is probably understood in greater detail than any other Iroquois longhouse.” The well-defended location, distant from the rich soil and transportation of the river, is a clear indication of the insecurity of the Iroquoian-speaking Mohawk people at that stage, surrounded as they were by hostile Algonquin-speaking tribes. 

 Dean Snow


After studying the map provided in Snow’s report, we set out for a second try at finding the ancient village of Otstungo. As it happened, his map was more than two miles off. Perhaps this was deliberate, to prevent more souvenir-hunters from ravaging the site.

After more fruitless searching along the Otsquago Creek north of the hamlet of Hallsville, we encountered an old-timer named Pete who told us we were on the wrong creek. “Go back to the bridge,”  he said, “and you can follow the creek straight down to Indian Hill.” 


Plunging into the woods full of poison ivy and ticks, we soon decided to switch to wading along the Otstungo Creek.




 Navigating with care along the slippery shale that formed the creek bottom, we saw ahead a cliff that exactly matched the photograph from Paul’s book, and the even older one from Nelson Green’s history. The geography matched the description in Joseph Bruhac's October 1991 National Geographic article, "A Mohawk Village in 1491:"

This village at Otstungo is sited on a neck of land whose walls of shale fall away to a creek on three sides. A trench and a stockade protect the landward entrance.

This cliff, about eighty feet high, would certainly have presented an impassable barrier to the enemies of the village, and it took us a while to locate what may have been the landward entrance, across a tiny stream. A trench and stockade at this point would complete the village’s defenses, and if they were penetrated, the steep slope was a final barrier to enemies, who would have faced a fusillade of arrows and rocks as they struggled upward.





The slope was steep but could be climbed. Somewhat winded, we reached the level space on top of this impressive mount, just about six acres in extent, as Greene had described it.  There was ample space here for the longhouses studied by the SUNY Albany expedition 24 years ago, as well as for crop land. 




The village site was densely overgrown and it required imagination to see it peopled with the 400 to 600 people believed to have lived here five centuries ago. 

 Imagined aerial view of the village, courtesy National Geographic

We pictured the village life, particularly the life of the women,  as Bruhacs had described it:

Inside the turtle Clan Longhouse in, Otstungo, more than 120feet long and 20 feet wide with six central hearths is home to 12 families. The women do not have many children, usually three. Infant mortality is far lower than in Europe where childhood diseases yet unknown in America take a dread toll and nutrition is excellent. Maize, the Indian corn, is a food close to ideal for both young and old. The women valuing their freedom would not like to be tied down with more children than they have, with help of other clanswomen, can conveniently care for. So they practice abstinence while nursing and take medicinal birth -control herbs.

Good archeologists that they were, the SUNY team had left no trace of their work. Their notes reveal a painstaking study of the ground. They located longhouse sites and evidence of cooking fires, but found few artifacts. The 19th century souvenir-hunters had done too much damage to the site to allow an even more comprehensive analysis of the way these people had lived.

 Artist's depiction of longhouse, courtesy National Geographic

Like Paul Keesler eleven years ago, we could not help but experience a sense of awe in this sacred place. Descending from the village, we briefly searched in the stream directly below, as he did, and found a couple small fragments that may be a piece of pottery and a sinker for an ancient fishing net. Or perhaps they were simply pebbles.


  A fragment of ancient pottery? Or not.


So much is lost in the mists of time, but the village site does reveal some facts about life a century before Henry Hudson’s Half Moon sailed up the river that now bears his name. Clearly, the people who lived here were in great fear of enemies. The site is far from the rich soil and easy transportation afforded by the Mohawk River, and would be invisible to all but the most determined enemy. Perhaps villagers even waded to and from the village to avoid footprints.  Although safe, the site was inconvenient in many ways. Many villagers, from the elderly to children and new mothers, would have been confined to the hilltop most of the time. Water would have to be carried from the stream up the steep slope. (An enemy raid was to be feared but a long siege was not, so the lack of water on the hilltop would not present a major risk.)

 A storyteller at Otstungo, courtesy National Geographic


Who were the enemies who drove the villagers to take so much care for their own safety? In all probability, the Algonquin-speaking tribes who surrounded on all sides the small Iroquoian-speaking cultural island in what is now central New York state. It was not until the 17th century, when the Mohawks gained firearms from the Dutch that they were able to extend their sway in all directions, even into Ontario and the Ohio valley. By then they had  moved to the banks of the river and established the string of powerful villages first visited by Harmen van den Bogaert in 1634. But they may also have lived in fear of their own related tribes, the Onondaga, the Oneida, the Seneca, and the Cayuga.

It was not just the possession of European technology that transformed the fearful villagers of Otstungo into a virtual empire, whose friendship the Dutch and then the English eagerly sought. It was their own creation of the continent’s first republic, the Iroquois Confederacy, which took place near the time that Otstungo was inhabited. Bruhacs describes the genius of the leader known to whites as Hiawatha, and it is intriguing to imagine the Peacemaker’s visit to this very hilltop:

The Great League began, Haudenosaunee tradition explains, with the coming of the Peacemaker . He was a human messenger sent by Tharonhiawakon, the Creator, at a time when the five nations were engaged in blood feuds, cousin killing cousin, worse than the man eating monsters in stories. The Peacemaker joined forces with a woman named Tsikonsaseh an elder who always tried to counsel her people toward peace, and the man Aiontwatha, known to later generations as Hiawatha. Together they went from nation to nation bearing the Creator's message of peace.

 Tsikonsaseh and Hiawatha, courtesy US History Images

Monday, May 9, 2011

Women of Little Falls, a century ago


 A couple years ago my brother gave me a scrapbook of family photographs from the late 19th and early 20th centuries, composed by my grandfather. The photographs were pasted into a large ledger book and those of family were identified. The book also contains many pages of people whom I cannot identify. They appear to be from a collection of studio portraits, probably from the Bucklin or Abbot studios which were in business in Little Falls at that time. The great majority are of young women, and only a few are of children, couples or weddings. This selection may be due to a specialization by the photographer or simply to the appreciation of my grandfather for feminine pulchritude.  In the same section of the book are several photographs of street scenes, but these are of poorer quality, perhaps due to the limitations of outdoor photography in that era.

 Main Street  of Little Falls with trolley tracks visible

In only a few cases is a name  noted in pencil:
 
 Mae Watley

Bessie Shults

  Nolan Sisters

"Frank Meade's sister"

 Portraits of couples are rare in this collection: 


And wedding portraits, usually a staple for studio photographers, are also rare, as in this photograph of three bridesmaids: 


 Portraits of children, or mothers with children, are beautifully done, but not common in the collection:





 Group portraits of friends or sisters can be found:


Some ladies chose to be photographed in outdoor costume, including fashionable hats:




Pages of what may be proofs or perhaps the equivalent of inexpensive photobooth snapshots, reveal a sense of fun in the subjects not present in formal portraits.





Although there are plenty of pictures of men in the proofs, formal male portraits of any age group are not featured in this collection, except for this of an elegant older gentleman. (I like to think of him as the photographer)


 But whoever the photographer was, there can be little doubt that his customers must have been pleased with his flattering portraits:















And then there is the photograph of this very mysterious woman, so different from the other portraits.


Perhaps visitors to this site will find an ancestor among this group of beautiful women, and if they do, I would appreciate hearing from them.