City at the Water's Edge: A Natural History of New York

By Betsy McCully | Go to book overview

4
Land of the Lenapes

According to an old Lenape legend, as retold by Hitakonanu'laxk (Tree Beard), there was a time long ago when the game animals disappeared from the Land of the Lenapes. When the chiefs dispatched their best hunters to find them, they discovered the animals had gone to the Land of the Giants, in the far north, where the spruce trees grow. The hunters reported back to the chiefs, who then dispatched a band of warriors to rescue the animals. But the warriors would discover that the animals were quite unconcerned about their situation. When the War Chief asked the Chief of the animals, a large elk, why they seemed so unconcerned, Elk replied, “You think we are here against our wishes, but this is not so! We wish to remain here and we are content. The Giants have treated us better than you ever did when we lived in your lands! … You have wasted our flesh; desecrated our forest homes, and our bones; you have dishonored us and yourselves.” When the War Chief asked Chief Elk how they could make things right with the animals, Chief Elk replied, “Honor and respect our lives, our beings, in life and death. Do what you have failed to do before. Stop doing what offends our Spirits.” The War Chief gave his promise, and the animals returned with the warriors to the Lenape homeland. That is why, as the storyteller concludes, “Ever since that time we Lenape have always offered tobacco and shown the utmost respect when hunting or upon killing an animal for food. We never took more than we needed, and we used as much of the animal's remains as we could.”1

Paleoindians entered the Hudson Valley sometime after retreat of the glacier, at least 12,000 years ago. Dutchess Quarry Cave, a site near Monroe, New York, has been dated by archaeologists to 12,580 years ago. There may well have been earlier coastal settlements, but any evidence would have been submerged by the advancing sea. The vast coastal plain was a mosaic of habitats. Patches of tundra, extensive black spruce woodlands, peat bogs, huge glacial lakes, and rushing rivers offered abundant resources for humans to exploit.2

New York City became free of ice by eighteen thousand years ago, although it would not be until around six thousand years ago that the sea would reach

-45-

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City at the Water's Edge: A Natural History of New York
Table of contents

Table of contents

  • Title Page iii
  • Contents v
  • Acknowledgments vii
  • Introduction - Coming Home ix
  • 1: Bedrock New York 1
  • 2: The Teeming Shore 16
  • 3: At the Glacier's Edge 32
  • 4: Land of the Lenapes 45
  • 5: Staking Claim 62
  • 6: Muddied Waters 76
  • 7: Footprints 96
  • 8: Forests for Trees 111
  • 9: Urban Flyway 127
  • 10: Weathering 146
  • Notes 161
  • Index 177
  • About the Author 186
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