|Table of Contents||Introduction|
|Legends and Lore|
“Sachem’s Hole,” also known as Buc-usk–kil, resting place, is the site where the late Manhasset Sachem Poggatticut was laid upon the ground as he was being brought from Shelter Island to Montauk for interment in 1651.
From that point on, the area was always kept clear of leaves and debris by local tribal members traveling that route until the site was eventually destroyed by Turnpike 114.
A historical marker erected in 1935 by the State Education Department stands on that spot today.
Poggatacut, early in the year 1643, perhaps feeling death close, deeded away Shelter Island, his principal home. He delivered possession by turf and twig to Nathaniel Sylvester and Ensign John Booth. Then he and his Indians “did freely and willingly depart the aforesaid Island. He had already deeded Robin’s Island, one of his smaller holdings to Sylvester, a Quaker.
Shortly afterward, Poggatacut died and was carried to Montauk for burial. The Indian bearers stopped for the night along the trail and dug a hole marking the spot where the body of the dead sachem had lain. This spot became hallowed ground. For almost two centuries, the Montauk tribe preserved the tradition. No Indian passed that spot without stopping to clear away leaves or stones. 1
In his 1840 “Chronicles of the Town of Easthampton,” David Gardiner wrote that for more than 190 years passing Indians kept the hole as fresh as if it had been lately made. For the six generations that followed [Poggatacut’s] passing, he wrote, no member of the Montauketts would pass the spot without removing whatever sticks, stones, or leaves had fallen into it. The hole, about 12 inches deep and 18 inches wide, was still there in 1845, near the three-mile stone that set out the distance to Sag Harbor, when the Rev. N.S. Prime paused there.
An 1899 history of the Shelter Island Presbyterian Church tells the story as well. Its author, the Rev. Jacob E. Mallmann, said he had spoken to an aged Sag Harbor resident who told him that Stephen Talkhouse, for whom the Amagansett bar is named, would kneel down at the spot whenever he passed and clear it with apparent reverence, “following the custom of his forefathers.”
When the turnpike between the two villages was cut in about 1860, Poggatacut’s spot was lost. And, as Mr. Mallmann wrote, “the sacred memorial of over 200 years’ standing was obliterated.” Jeannette Edwards Rattray is quoted as saying that the place was nevertheless known as Sachem’s Hole forevermore, at least into her lifetime.
New York State erected a marker supposedly on the site in 1935, referring to Yoco as Pocgatticut, a name by which he was called in some records. The familiar yellow-and-blue sign contains several errors, from what I can tell, giving the wrong date and changing Sachem’s Hole to Whooping Boys Hollow.2
- The History & Archaeology of the Montauk. Stony Brook, NY: Suffolk County Archaeological Association, Gaynell Stone 1993. Print. pp25 ↩
- David E. Rattray, The Mast-Head: Almost Lost to Time
Yoco Unkenchie was the chief of Shelter Island’s native people, January 30, 2013 http://easthamptonstar.com/Columnists/2013130/Mast-Head-Almost-Lost-Time ↩
Legends and Lore
Lords of the Soil
The book Lords Of The Soil: A Romance Of Indian Life Among The Early English Settlers (1905) by
An Indian Shrine
With reverent steps we come To gather round his tomb, The honoured brave! And still from year to year, Shall pilgrims journey here, And many a holy tear Shall here be shed.
For three days had the body of Poggaticut lain in state, for three days had the young chief Yo-kee remained secluded within the lodge, attended only by the great medicine-man, Wee-gon. For three days neither the young chieftain nor the medicine-man, whose mission it was to comfort, had spoken, save in low murmurs, and at long intervals. Not a morsel of food had passed their lips, not a drop of water had moistened their parched tongues.
On either side of the closed entrance a warrior stood guard, upright, silent, motionless as Hindoo devotees, not a contortion of their bronzed faces, nor the quiver of a muscle, betraying the fatigue or gnawing hunger they were enduring so stoically.
Throughout the entire domains of Sea-wan-ha-ka and Manhasett-aha-quash-a-warnuck a solemn silence brooded, indicative of the great calamity that had befallen the nation.
In the three villages of Wyandance, King of the Montauks, Nowedanah, Grand Sachem of the Shinnecocks, and Momometou, Sagamore of the Matiticuks, the ordinary occupations were suspended, and not once had warriors, braves or squaws beheld faces or forms of their kings, who, like David of old, mourned in solitude, not only for a brother dead, but for a great statesman, a wise counsellor, a profound philosopher, a nobleman of nature’s fashioning, whose voice would never again be heard in the councils of his people.
Through the dense forest shades the deer, the moose, the bear and elk might roam in safety, the partridge might lead her young. No twang of bow disturbed the stillness of the leafy coverts, no hunter’s knife flashed in the green gloom, no spear of fishermen cleft the limpid waters of the bright streams.
Within their ledges the royal family abode, beneath the shelter of wigwams the squaws huddled, the warriors and braves spoke in the low, plaintive tones so suggestive, in the Delaware language, of profound grief, taking the place of tears in the eyes of the pale races, and their sentences were of the briefest.
The morning of the fourth day dawned in cloudless splendour, From his ocean bed on the eastern horizon the golden luminary rose majestically, turning the waters of the bay to a vast sheet of burnished silver, sparkling and shimmering with myriad crystal points, tinting the topmost tassels of the forest trees with vivid emerald, and piercing the green aisles with stealthy arrows tipped with crimson and gold.
From the villages runners had come in, bearing dispatches from the three kings and the tributary chieftains of the minor tribes. Already the grave had been hollowed beneath the green oak crowning the highlands of Montauk, the burial place of kings who had slumbered beneath the sod for thousands of moons. Swift runners had been sent in all directions, and by this means the arrangements for the funeral march had been completed in every detail.
The runners from Wyandance had conveyed the intelligence that he would meet the funeral cortege at the high bluff within the domain of Montauk overlooking the three or four miles of sandy beach stretching away to the westward between the place of look-out and Amagansett. And lastly, the tireless messenger was sent by Yo-kee to signify his acquiescence in the arrangement.
There was no outward sign of grief when Yo-kee joined his people; the period of mourning in state had passed, and a long line of warriors, braves and squaws passed in review beside the bier and looked for the last time upon the face of the dead, as he lay robed in all the panoply of a great warrior about to go forth upon a long journey.
Only the four principal men of the tribe were privileged to become the bearers; and reverently they raised the litter around which costly furs were bound, enveloping the dead.
With measured step they took their way on the march to the burial-place, Y0-kee following the bier with his retinue of warriors, all habited in gala attire, as befitted the occasion, and midway of the line the litter upon which the aged widow Lig-o-mee reclined, borne upon the shoulders of four athletic braves.
A long line of warriors and braves followed; the procession swelled to a great concourse at Dancing Meadow, where the deputation of MAttitucks, under their Sachem, Momometou, joined the train.
There was a formal exchange of greetings, then, observing a decorous silence, the entire party entered the capacious canoes, and obedient to the swift strokes of the paddles the little flotilla glided across the waters of Peconic Bay.
Disembarking at Hog-a-nock, they resumed their march through Accobonac to Amagansett, where they were joined by Nowedanah and his Shinnecock warriors. Again formal greetings were exchanged, and the journey was resumed.
Once only from Hog-a-nock to Amagansett the bearers halted during their weary march. Not once had the body been allowed to rest upon the earth, and the endurance of even the strong bearers was taxed to its utmost limit.
With willing hands, two of the young warriors scooped a little hollow in the center of a bank of fragrant arbutus, and with awed faces, as if they bore the ark of the covenant, the bearers rested the feet of the dead king within the depression and supported the form upright.
For hours the deputation of Montauks had remained at Amagansett, awaiting the arrival of the procession, while, alone upon the high point of land overlooking the shining waters, Wyandance watched for the coming of the funeral cortege.
Below extended the long strip of sandy plain, and just as the sun neared the tree-tops away to the westward his eagle eye descried the head of the column as it emerged from the deep forest and entered the pathway across the lonely beach.
Not the quiver of a muscle betrayed his sorrow, although no human eye could have witnessed his emotion. True to the teachings of his race and station, he observed the decorum obligatory upon a great chief, but his heart was full as his gaze followed the movements of the four bearing upon their brawny shoulders the littler upon which rested the remains of one who had his adviser, his well-beloved brothers.
A few stunted shrubs dotted the sandy beach over which the procession was slowly moving, straight as an arrow’s flight to where the trail wound upward to the forest-crowed headland where Wyandance watched and waited.
The three brothers gravely exchanged salutations, and the train moved on.
At a spot adjacent to the edge of the cliff overhanging the beach, and within the shadows of the Heather woods, the grave was made- not the long and narrow trench to entomb a European, but a deep well, excavated beneath the shade of a flourishing oak. Far below stretched the bright waters of the bay and the Sound dotted with islands, near at hand Man-cho-nock and Gull Island, dark with woods, and far out upon the bosom of the Sound a violet line marked the shores of the mainland and Block Island
The amber light streamed over a weird scene. Within the narrow excavation, they placed the body of the aged king, the face toward the setting sun. With slow nad measured movement the warriors gathered around the grave; outside the circle, the squaws hovered, with blankets folded across their faces. A deathly stillness reigned, even the papooses slung at their mothers’ shoulders, or clinging to their hands, made no outcry.
Presently Wyandance, bearing a bow and arrows, stepped beside the open grave, and with outstretched hand thus addressed the dead:
“Ka-har-wee! Ka-har-wee! (Brother, brother!) why hast thou left the world? Thou, whose strong arm could once bend the bow and wield the tomahawk like this, or wield the spear like this!”
His form seemed to dilate, his eyes flashed fiercely, every muscle appeared tense as the bowstring he drew to the arrow head, and instantly the arm was raised as if in the act of hurling the tomahawk and thrusting the spear.
Instinctively every warrior drew his form to its full height, as the chieftain stood there, the very incarnation of an Ajax defying the lightning.
Suddenly the tension of the muscles relaxed, his demeanor changed, his voice rose plaintively, as he continued his adjuration.
“But now thy hand lies low and a child might conquer thee. Thou comest from the shores of light, thy face is toward the place of darkness, like the setting sun. Take this bow and quiver of arrows to be your protection on your long and dangerous journey to the land of spirits.”
Bending over the grave, he placed the bow and arrows beside the dead and took his place in the circle of warriors.
Tomahawk in hand, Nowedanah approached the grave and thus spoke:
“Ka-har-wee! Ka-har-wee! The Great Spirit has called thee to the happy hunting grounds. Never again will you know what it is to tire in the hunt or chase, never again will you be hungry or cold, for always the eye of the Manitou will be upon thee while you hunt the buffalo, the deer, the wolf and the bear. No more war there! No more warpath in the land where you will meet with the fathers that tradition tells us have been there for ages of moons. Take this tomahawk to defend yourself against the enemies that lie in ambush in the dark forests and the dismal swamps you must cross in the land of shadows.”
Placing the tomahawk beside the bow and arrows, Nowedanah retired to give place to the King of the Mattitucks.
Momometou’s gift to the departed was a robe of fur, which the chief assured his dead brother would protect him from the dews of night and storms of the day.
With a firm step Yo-kee took his station beside the grave.
An ornament of almost priceless value, when viewed from the Indians’ standpoint, girded his waist, a belt of the precious suck-au-hock wrought in strange devices, and of a length to sweep below the knee. In his hand, he carried many fathoms of seawan strung upon the tough sinews of the deer. At his feet couched a milk-white dog, who raised his appealing eyes to his master’s face, as if he comprehended the purpose for which he had been brought.
Yo-kee’s sonorous voice range out clarion-like:
“My father: Your ways leads through the pathless wilderness which the feet of the living have never trod, and dreary deserts which must be passed before you reach the happy hunting grounds where the wise Mon-go-tuck-see, your father, will welcome his son.”
“Can my father, the wise King who had reigned over the warlike Manhasetts, go to a strange land with an empty word? Take this belt as a record of the transactions between the sons of Mo-go-tuck-see, the four kings of the Manhassetts, and the bold, bad enemies, the Narragansetts, the Pequots and the Mohawks.”
Drawing his tomahawk from his belt he raised it. It fell with crushing force, and the dog at his feet lay lifeless before him.
Twining the seawan about the dead animal’s neck, he again raised his voice in the invocation.
“Take with you this dog as a sacrifice to Thalon-ghy-a-waa-gon; let him bear upon his neck the wampum with which to cheat the enemies sent by Ho-bam-o-koo to stay your flight to the happy hunting grounds. Yok-ee has spoken”
Carefully depositing the slain animal within the grave, he placed the belt upon the offering of his kinsmen.
A very babel of sounds followed, and while the bearers filled in the fresh mould the tom-toms were furiously beaten, to frighten away the evil spirits, and singing the death-chant the warriors moved in a circle about the grave, accompanying their wailing notes with the pantomime of twanging the bow, throwing the tomahawk, paddling the canoe, or casting the spear.
These ceremonials completed, the throng moved away on the homeward route, to the village of Wyandance.
The time for mourning had come, and throughout the village naught save the sound of wailing was heard. Within the chief’s lodge the four kings sat in council. Numerous fires blazed in the green dells of the Heather woods, where the beavers had gathered in groups to rehearse the deeds of the dead warriors and smoke the calumet, the cries and moans of the squaws floating in the air about them like the wails of lost souls, and they hacked their flesh with sharpened stones, tore their hair, and besmeared their faces with ashes, crooning swaying their bodies and exhibiting every phase of the grief pent within their breasts until the time allotted to silence had passed.
But human nature is the same with the red man as the white, and presently the clamour ceased, while the squaws prepared the feast, to which their lords sat down with keen appetites, sharpened by the fasting and fatigue they had endured; but it was long past midnight when all sounds of mourning ceased, and wrapping their blankets around them the warriors lay down to slumber. 1
Daniel Denton also mentions this site in his Description of New York, 1670;
The strong attachment and veneration which the Montauk Indians had for their Chief is evidenced by the following fact. Within a short distance of Saggharbor, in the forest, is a shallow excavation which these Indians were formerly very particular in keeping clean; each one in passing, stopped to clean it out, of any dirt or leaves which may have fallen into it. The reason they gave for so doing, was, that a long time ago a Montauk Chief having died at Shinnecoe, the Indians brought him from the place to Ammagansett to be interred, in the usual buring place; and during their journey, they stopped to rest, and placed the body of their dead Chieftain in that excavation during the meanwhile; –in consequence of which the spot had acquired a species of sacred character. . .2