Cold comes in with the holiday season (copy) (copy)

Motorists traverse through a deep fog on a Florida section of the Mohawk Trail.

How did the automobile highway Route 2 from Williamstown to Charlemont, in historically Mohican territory, get to be called the Mohawk Trail?

A trail or trails ran more or less southeast-northwest between the Hudson and Connecticut rivers long before the people of European extraction arrived. A number of tribes used the trails, however, to the first white settlers of Deerfield in the 1670s, one passage stood out.

A few years earlier, the Mohawks, who lived along the river of that name west of the Hudson, came over the trail to destroy a Pocumtuck village. Maybe it was a trading dispute, maybe rivalry between speakers of different languages or maybe there’s some truth to the legend of the Pocumtuck’s treacherous murder of Mohawk prince Sahady.

In any case, when the white settlers arrived, they found fields cleared, relieving them of a lot of hard work, and no one around to claim them — an example, they believed, of providence rewarding them. Those fields contained some of the richest soil in New England, capturing much of the sediment from the Connecticut due to the way the Deerfield River turns north to join that river.

From Colonial days on, there was a rough road over the Hoosac Range, following the old trail, but nothing passable by automobiles. North Adams petitioned and the state responded, building what it saw as this country’s first deliberately designed scenic road, opened in 1914. The state didn’t initially name the highway, which was still unpaved — and shoveled, rather than plowed, in the winter.

Clinton Q. Richmond, a North Adams hosteler, proposed holding a pageant in celebration. His idea was to use the proceeds to erect a large statue of a Native American at Whitcomb Summit, the high point of the refurbished road. North Adams hired professional pageant organizer Margaret McLaren Eager, who consulted with local historians, uncovering the story of the ancient trail that the road more of less followed — although it continued east to Greenfield, several miles north of Deerfield. Scene three of her “Pageant of the Old Mohawk Trail” featured the Mohawk raid on the Pocumtucks. (Scene one was a depiction of glacial Lake Bascom. Scene two, the arrival of the first Native American.)

The country’s western frontier was described as relentlessly moving west until the end of the 19th century, when the census bureau defined it as closed. As well, the country was responding to the perceived romance of the Indians, no longer considered threatening after Wounded Knee. Thus, in the pageant, the settling of Western Massachusetts was seen a prologue to moving west across the continent. There was no scene in the pageant of the violence between Anglos and Native Americans, however — nothing about driving the Indigenous population out of their homelands.

Although the statue of the Native American never materialized, entrepreneurs seized the theme both in downtowns and in the restaurants, motels and gift shops they established along the trail. Promotional brochures followed, all proclaiming the wild beauties of the Mohawk Trail and its Native American heritage. As Robert Quay notes in his engaging 2004 Williams College thesis, “Mohawks, Model Ts, and Monuments,” driving west from Boston was seen as an educational experience that recapitulated the history of the country, from settlement in the east to the frontier of crossing the Hoosic Range and back to civilization in North Adams.

Who should be credited for naming the Mohawk Trail? Not Native Americans. Was it the early settlers of Deerfield? Anglo historians who kept alive the story of the raid? The pageant director? Or was it the businesspeople inspired by the pageant? The state was persuaded by the hoopla, coming to call the section of Route 2 from Williamstown to Orange the Mohawk Trail. Eventually the state paved it and used massive plows to clear it in the winter. It was heavily traveled by tourists and others, especially in the leaf season.

Until 1957, when the Massachusetts Turnpike opened, sucking away most of the traffic. Tourist destinations along the trail faded, leaving abandoned buildings. Some businesses hung in there. The recent revitalization of the Wigwam Western Summit suggests there may still be life in the “Old Mohawk Trail.”

At least, that’s how it looks from the White Oaks.

Lauren R. Stevens, a writer and environmentalist, is a regular Eagle contributor