Mahican Indians

Mahican Indians
Tribal Origin: Algonquian Family

Also known as: Mohican

Native Name: Muhhekunneuw, or ‘People of the Great River’

Home Territories: New York, Wisconsin, Vermont, Massachusettes, Connecticut

Language: Mahican

Alliances: Munsee tribe

Enemies: Mohawk

The Mahican government was similar to a democracy, although the main leader (the secham) was essentially a king. The chiefs and other officials were appointed by election.

The sachem and chiefs main role was keeping the peace. However, when war was necessary, the ‘heros’ (a title given to the best warriors) were put in charge until the hostilities ended. Then rule was returned to the sachem.

The Mohican tribe, aka the Mohegan, inhabited the northern end of the Hudson valley, in present-day New York, southern Vermont, western Massachusetts and the northwest of Connecticut.

Once a strong powerful nation, they became embroiled in the French and Indian Wars (1688-1763). By 1782 only 138 Mohicans remained.

The Mohican tribe spoke in a related dialect of the Algonquian language family.

The meaning of the name ‘Mohican’ is derived from the Algonquin word “Muhhekunneuw” meaning “people of the waters that are never still”. The Mohican (Mohegan) tribe were originally part of the Pequot people from the upper Hudson River Valley in New York near Lake Champlain.

During the early 1500’s the people moved to the Thames River Valley in southeastern Connecticut and split into two tribes, the Mohican and the Pequot.

The Mohican (Mohegan) tribe established their territory in the inland forest areas of the upper and western portions of the Thames Valley, whereas the Pequot settled closer to the Connecticut coast.

The Mohican tribe were hunters and farmers who raised crops of beans, corn and squash. They were a powerful, highly organized tribe who lived in heavily fortified villages of longhouses or in temporary shelters of wigwams (wetu) during the summer hunting season.

Like the Pequot, the Mohican tribe had a strong political structure. Their leader was a grand sachem who was supported by a tribal council. In 1633 the Mohican became allies of the English, an alliance that lasted for nearly a century.

They were the bitter enemies of the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy, especially the Mohawk tribe who frequently attacked their villages.

The Mohican tribe supported the British throughout the French and Indian Wars (1688-1763). Disease and warfare reduced the number of Mohicans to just 138 by the 1782 census and they joined the Oneida tribe.

The Mohican tribe lived in fortified villages of Longhouses in the winter. In the summer when they travelled away on hunting expeditions they built a temporary pyramid or dome shaped shelters called wigwams.

The Mohican Wigwam was built with wooden frames that were covered with woven mats, sheets of birchbark and animal skins. Ropes were wrapped around the wigwam to hold the birch bark in place.

The simple clothes worn by the early Mohican tribe were made from animal skins or birchbark. These included long breechclouts, leggings, long cloaks and shoulder to waist length mantles. These were made from the skins of deer (buckskin) raccoon, beaver, otter and moose.

Mohican Women wore wraparound skirts, dresses tunics and cloaks. The women wore a girdle made of the fin of a whale or of “sewant”, meaning shell beads.  The lower part of their dresses and skirts were ornamented with fringe and often decorated with Wampum.

The men had mantles or cloaks of feather, and later decked themselves with a sash made from plaid cloth that was thrown over the right shoulder and knotted over the left hip. The young men of the tribe wore a head band made from deer hair that was dyed scarlet.

Moccasins were made of one piece of animal skin with a long tongue and a high collar that could be left up or folded down. The moccasins were greased on the outside for additional waterproofing. Both the men and women had moccasins embroidered with flower designs.

When the Europeans introduced trade cloth to the Mohicans, they adopted a more European type of dress.

The food that the Mohican tribe ate included the ‘three sisters’ staple crops of corn, beans and squash.  Fish such as sturgeon, pike and a variety of shellfish such as oysters, clams, lobsters and scallops were an important part of their food supply.

Hunters provided meat from deer (venison), moose, black bear and smaller game like squirrel, rabbit,  duck and wild turkey. The Mohican food also included nuts, vegetables, mushrooms and fruits (blueberries, strawberries and raspberries).