Aha! I am one marvelous step closer to my hunt for the Oneida Stone! I am thrilled! Look what my daughter discovered while surfing Google Books!
That is a very old photo of the Oneida Nation sacred stone, taken sometime over 100 years ago, when the Stone sat on a pedestal at the Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica, NY. I’d visited the Cemetery a few summers ago, looking for the Stone, but all I found was an empty granite stand where it had once rested.
The story of the Oneida Stone and my search for it is a long one. I’ve written about in times past. The Oneida Stone is a glacial erratic, not native to the area of Upstate New York. It once sat where the Oneidas (one of the Five Nations of the Iroquois League) settled. Their oral history says it “appeared” one day, so they considered it sacred. The Oneida name for themselves, Haudenosaunee, means People of the Standing Stone.
My quest– a long one with many twists and turns– began a few years ago when I stopped my car on Route 5 near the city of Oneida to inspect the curious Skenandoah Boulder. It seemed so lonely at a four corners, with only a faded old historic marker and whizzing traffic to keep it company.
I wanted to read the plaque and know why it was there. You can click the link to read the extensive history I found about this boulder. In researching it, I learned about another boulder, the Oneida Stone. I became intrigued with the Oneida Stone, especially because of its curious migration to the area of Central New York, and its subsequent disappearance after the White Man had taken it and returned it to the Oneidas.
Oneida legend says that the Oneida were led to these lands by following a moving stone; where it stopped, they settled. There is another ice-age linkage here because glaciers move staggering amounts of loose stone and boulders (glaciers are made up of about one-third stone and two-thirds ice) and deposit these stones as erratics. Erratics are non-native stones and boulders which can be found all over New York. Syenite is one type of erratic and is frequently found in Oneida territories. The Skenandoah Boulder is perhaps the largest syenite erratic. It is named for a very famous Oneida Chief Skenandoah… As you pass through village of Oneida Castle, on NY 5, note that this was once the site of the principal Oneida village, known as Kanonwalohale.
…Tradition ascribes their origin to a stone [the Oneida Stone, it is called today], which, says Schoolcraft, “is a large, but not enormous, boulder of syenite, of the erratic block group, and consequently geologically foreign to the location,” there being “no rocks like this till we reach the Adirondacks.” “This stone,” says the same author, “became the national altar,” and “when it was necessary to light their pipes and assemble to discuss national matters, they had only to ascend the hill through its richly wooded groves to its extreme summit,” an eminence in the town of Stockbridge, where, he says, this stone, and the first castle of the Oneidas was located.
The Skenandoah Boulder is not the Oneida Stone. When I asked around about where the Oneida Stone rests today, it seemed no one knew where it had gone. Even when I asked the Oneida Indians at the Cultural Center in Oneida, NY, they had no answers. Weird. Where did the Stone go?
I traced it’s history. And I found out that there were quite a few Oneida Stones. There is a very large stone here at Nichol’s Pond in Madison County, in Smithfield, NY, near Stockbridge. This is an ancient settlement of the Oneidas, their old lands. The area here was very wild, very creepy– there’s a swamp and some excavated ancient grain pits. Click the link to read more.
It was here in the Smithfield/Stockbridge area, in 1615, that Samuel de Champlain and his allies the Huron Indians traveled from Canada, to attack the Oneidas. The Oneidas managed to ward off the attack, but their settlement was later abandoned and the people moved slightly westward. (They eventually settled in the area known as Oneida Castle, in 1784.)
As you can see, that’s a mighty big stone. But this wasn’t “the” Stone I was looking for, that sat on the little plaque at Forest Hill. So while I was very happy we’d discovered the ancient settlement of the Oneidas, and a stone, I still wondered where the smaller Oneida Stone, that glacial erratic, was located.
That smaller Oneida Stone has a long history. Apparently, it used to be in the area of Smithfield/Stockbridge (incidentally, I am a direct descendant of the first white settler to live in this area of the Oneidas, talk about coincidence!), but was removed from the Oneida Nation land in 1849, when it was thought that the tribe was nearly extinct and dissolved. (It was also at this time that New York State abandoned her treaty with the Oneidas and started confiscating the Indian lands– a hotly contested legal entanglement that continues to this day).
So the Oneida Stone was taken from the Oneidas and placed here at Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica, during the cemetery’s opening ceremony. I went to Forest Hill to see the place where it sat, and to see if perhaps the cemetery records had any mention of it’s removal. Nothing. No one at the cemetery knew of it. But the granite display stand with the plaque was still there, since 1849!
It was just all so puzzling. Then, I read that the Oneida Stone had been given back to the Oneidas, in 1974. According to Anthony Wonderley in his book, Oneida Iroquois Folklore, Myth, and History, the stone now sits at the Oneida Nation council house, on their historic land given to them after the American Revolution (on the old Honyoust tract).
I went to that area, and did not find it. I asked around, and no one knew, either. I don’t know where the old Honyoust tract is, though; so I suppose that is my next step.
Back to the beginning of this post and that marvelous old photo my daughter found– this is the first time I have ever seen the Oneida Stone! So now I know what the stone looks like! I do believe this may be the ONLY existing photograph of the Stone, too. Believe me, I have searched! She found the photo and more information about the Oneida Stone in an old book, Things Worth Knowing About Oneida County by William Walker Canfield and J. E. Clark. Ya gotta love Google Books for this! It’s a treasure! The history of the Oneidas is especially riveting in the book.
P.S. Here’s a bit of trivia for you: Did you know that Hamilton College in Clinton, NY, was founded by a reverend missionary (Samuel Kirkland) to serve the Oneida Indians? The school was started as a means for educating young men– Indians and white settlers alike– who lived out in the “boonies” of Upstate New York.
And did you know that one of Samuel Kirkland’s converts to Christianity, an Oneida Indian Chief named Skenandoah, was influential in getting the Oneidas to side with the Americans during the American Revolution? The Oneidas were the only tribe of the Iroquois who sided with us. They suffered total devastation as a people because of it; it is because of their sacrifices that President George Washington made a treaty with them, guaranteeing the Oneidas their sacred lands as long as they remained a united tribe.