Daylong festival 'Revisiting Indiantown' in Stockbridge on Saturday

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STOCKBRIDGE — Descendants of some of the town's early settlers, a Native American group now known as the Stockbridge Munsee Community, are planning a public celebration Saturday billed as "Revisiting Indiantown."

Describing the daylong festival as "another historic return by the tribe," Tribal Historic Preservation Officer Bonney Hartley noted that the presentations will delve into the the group of American Indians that arrived in Stockbridge in 1734 and "what happened to force the tribe to leave within only 50 years."

A land grant in 1736 had been approved for Indiantown, she said. Shortly thereafter, John Sergeant, a European settler, created a mission house to promote Christianity.

"The words of ancestors from Stockbridge — Chief John Konkapot, the town's original settler, Chief Umpachenee, Chief Aupumut and others — will be read aloud by their direct descendants on Saturday morning," Hartley explained. "We'll share the work we do in our homelands."

The Mohican tribe had moved to Indiantown after migrating from their nearby Hudson River Valley homelands. They became known as the "Stockbridge Indians" but within a few years, more European colonists arrived, eventually forcing the tribe to move westward from 1783 into the early 1800s, first to Oneida, N.Y., where they renamed a settlement there as New Stockbridge.

Then, they headed to Indiana's White River Valley, where land they had been promised turned out to already be occupied by white families.

The tribe finally thought it had found a new base at Lake Winnebago in Wisconsin, a settlement they also renamed Stockbridge, but after losing that land, most of the members moved to their current home within the Menominee Tribe's reservation in northern Wisconsin, where the Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican Nation had been formed in 1856.

Some of this Saturday's events in the Stockbridge Town Offices gymnasium already are filled through preregistration, but additional seating will be available for walk-ins.

Hartley encouraged the public to participate in a self-guided "Footprints of Our Ancestors" walking tour on Main Street starting at 9 a.m. from the Town Offices and continuing throughout the day.

Signs describing historic landmarks will be posted at 11 locations along Main Street, and there will be special tours between 2 and 5 p.m. from the Stockbridge Library and at the Trustees of Reservations' Mission House, the National Historic Landmark at 19 Main St., built between 1739 and 1742 by Sergeant, the Christian missionary.

Event highlights include the 10:30 a.m. "Words of Our Ancestors" reading in the Town Hall Gymnasium, the keynote speech by Tribal Council President Shannon Holsey at 11:30, and an informational vendors' fair from 1 to 2.

The fair includes archaeological displays from area Mohican sites, community items for sale and a viewing of a historic Stockbridge Mohican wooden bow discovered last summer in the home of local residents Greg and Paula Gimblette.

During restoration work on the stone fireplace in the 1750 house he purchased 27 years ago, said Greg Gimblette, a mason noticed the bow and pulled it out of an opening in the adjacent wall.

"We had a good clue as to what it was and I kept to myself," he explained, until his friend, former Police Chief Rick Wilcox, introduced him to tribe member Hartley.

She found documentation that tribal meetings had been held in the historic house before the Munsees were forced to leave the town.

Hartley was excited about the discovery, Gimblette said, and she learned that "it was made of hickory for use as a hunting bow with an 85-pound pull."

"Paula and I thought it was the right thing to do to return the bow to its original owners," he commented. The "repatriation" will take place during an early-evening private reception at the Mission House.

Currently, there are around 1,500 members in the federally recognized tribe of blended Mohican and Munsee natives, who are both Algonquians. They are governed by a seven-member Tribal Council elected by the community on a 25,000-acre reservation in the towns of Bartelme and Red Springs, Wis. The tribe operates the North Star Mohican Resort and Casino in Shawano County.


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