Straight from 1963, this piece of the past was sent to us by Joe...
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TRADITION OF THE ORIGIN OF THE SENECA NATION. THEIR RESERVATION FROM UTTER EXTINCTION. THE MEANS BY WHICH THE PEOPLE WHO PRECEDED THE SENECA WERE DESTROYED- AND THE CAUSE OF THE DIFFERENT INDIAN LANGUAGES.
The tradition of the Seneca Indians, in regard to their origin, as we are assured by Capt. Horatio Jones, who was a prisoner five years amongst them, and for many years since has been an interpreter, and agent for the payment of annuities, is that they broke out of the earth from a large mountain at the head of Canandaigua Lake, and that mountain they still venerate as the place of their birth; thence they derive their name, “Ge-nun-de-wah,”1 or Great Hill, and are called “The Great Hill People,” which is the true definition of the word Seneca.
The great hill at the head of Canandaigua lake, from whence they sprung, is called Genundewah, and has for along time past been the place where the Indians of that nation have met in council, to hold great talks, and to offer up prayers to the Great Spirit, on account of its having been their birth place; and also in consequence of the destruction of a serpent at that place, in ancient time, in a most miraculous manner, which threatened the destruction of the whole of the Senecas, and barely spared enough to commence replenishing the earth.
The Indians say, says Capt. Jones, that the fort on the big hill, or Genundewah, near the head of Canandaigua lake, was surrounded by a monstrous serpent, whose head and tail came together at the gate. A long time it lay there, confounding the people with its breath. At length they attempted to make their escape, some with their hommany-blocks, and others with different implements of household furniture; and in marching out of the fort walked down the throat of the serpent. Two orphan children, who had escaped this general destruction by being left some time before on the outside of the fort, were informed by an oracle of the means by which they could get rid of their formidable enemy- which was, to take a small bow and a poisoned arrow, made of a kind of willow, and with that shoot the serpent under its scales. This they did, and the arrow proved effectual; for on its penetrating the skin, the serpent
became sick, and extending itself rolled down the hill, destroying all the timber that was in its way, disgorging itself and breaking wind greatly as it went. At every motion, a human head was discharged, and rolled down the hill into the lake, where they lie at this day, having the hardness and appearance of stones.
To this day the Indians visit that sacred place, to mourn the loss of their friends, and to celebrate some rites that are peculiar to themselves. To the knowledge of white people there has been no timber on the great hill since it was first discovered by them, though it lay apparently in a state of nature for a great number of years, without cultivation. Stones in the shape of Indians’ heads may be seen lying in the lake in great plenty, which are said to be the same that were deposited there at the death of the serpent.
The Senecas have a tradition, that previous to, and for some time after, their origin at Genundewah, this country, especially about the lakes, was thickly inhabited by a race of civil, enterprizing and industrious people, who were totally destroyed by the great serpent, that afterwards surrounded the great hill fort, with the assistance of others of the same species; and that they (the Senecas) went into possession of the improvements that were left.
In those days the Indians throughout the whole country, as the Senecas say, spoke one language; but having become considerably numerous, the before mentioned great serpent, by an unknown influence, confounded their language, so that they could not understand each other; which was the cause of their division into nations, as the Mohawks, Oneidas, &c. At that time, however, the Senecas retained their original language, and continued to occupy their mother hill, on which they fortified themselves against their enemies, and lived peaceably, till having offended the serpent,2 they were cut off as before stated.
There was a woman and son who resided near the fort, which was situated near a nole, which was Jenneatowaka, the original seat of the Te-hoo-nea-nyo-hent (Senecas) the boy one day, while amusing in the bush he caught a small serpent called Kaistowanea, with two heads, and brings it to his apartment; the serpent was first placed in a small warm box to keep tame, which was fed with birds, flesh, etc. After ten winters the serpent became considerable large and rested on the beams within the hut, and the warrior was obliged to hunt deers and bears to feed the monster; but after awhile the serpent was able to maintain itself on various game; it left the hut and resided on top of a nole; the serpent frequently visited the lake, and after thirty years it was prodigious size, which in a short time inspired with an evil mind against the people, and in the night the warrior experienced the serpent was
brooding some mischief, and was about to destroy the people of the fort; when the warrior was acquainted of the danger he was dismayed and soon moved to other
fort; at daylight the serpent descended from the heights with the most tremendous noise of the trees, which were trampled down in such a force that the trees were uprooted, and the serpent immediately surrounded the gate; the people were taken improvidentially and brought to confusion; finding themselves circled by the monstrous serpent, some of them endeavored to pass out at the gate, and others attempted to climb over the serpent, but were unable; the people remained in this situation for several days; the warriors had made oppositions to dispel the monster, but were fruitless, and the people were distressed of their confinement, and found no other method than to rush out at the gate, but the people were devoured, except a young warrior and his sister, which detained, and were only left exposed to the monster, and were restrained without hope of getting released; at length the warrior received advice from a dream, and he adorned his arms with the hairs of his sister, which he succeeded by shooting at the heart, and the serpent was mortally wounded, which hastened to retire from the fort and retreated to the lake in order to gain relief; the serpent dashed on the face of the water furiously in the time of agony; at last it vomited the substance which it had eaten and then sunk to the deep and expired. The people of the fort did not receive any assistance from their neighboring forts as the serpent was too powerful to be resisted. After the fort was demolished the Council fire was removed to other fort called Than-gwe-took, which was situated west of now Geneva Lake.