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The Oneida Stone and Things Worth Knowing About Oneida County

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!

Oneida Stone

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.

Empty Oneida Stone

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.

The Skenandoah Boulder

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.

Oneida Stone Altar Historic Marker

Kids at the Oneida Stone Altar

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!

tn_Stone3

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.

oneidacountymarker

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.

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About the Author

I've been traveling throughout New York State since I got the travel bug after touring the Herkimer Home on a school field trip as a youngster. We've been blogging about our travels since 2006 and have visited over half of New York's 62 counties so far.

Comments (11)

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  1. Never heard of this stone. I don’t know much about stones.

    Coffee is on

  2. Renee says:

    Wow, this is fascinating! Thanks for writing this! I always heard that Alexander Hamilton founded Hamilton College. I learned something new today. The Wikipedia article about the college says that Alexander Hamilton never set foot on the campus!

  3. Hi Renee. 😀 History is very fascinating. Our region is loaded with marvelous Christian heritage.

    No, Hamilton never set foot on the campus; he and George Washington were trustees. Samuel Kirkland was a minister from Connecticut; he left his area to come to the wilderness of New York State, to begin missions to the Indians here. My daughter has loads and loads of information about it (as you can probably assume!).

    The college was initially called the Oneida-Hamilton University or something like it. Hamilton was a champion for getting Congress to honor her pledges of land to soldiers and patriots, after the Revolutionary War. Hamilton was personally responsible for securing Baron von Steuben’s tract up in Remsen, for the Baron’s great work during the War. I greatly admire Hamilton.

  4. Hi peppylady. 🙂 Thx for putting on the coffee! 😉

  5. The BoBo says:

    Thanks for the info. My in laws live up in Camden. I’ll have to check out the Oneida stone the next time we’re up there.

  6. Carole says:

    Oh this is SO interesting! I LOVE historical mysteries. Keep us posted if you find out anything else. I agree, Google Books is a fantastic resource (glad you found something about Google to like. LOL) 😀

  7. Renee says:

    Thanks, Mrs. Mecomber! Feel free to write more about our region’s Christian heritage. 🙂 Historical mysteries are so cool, too. I hope you find the Oneida Stone!

    The Bank of New York (now The Bank of New York Mellon Corporation), the oldest bank in the United States, was established by Alexander Hamilton. I love interesting historical facts!

  8. Lulu Mattson says:

    Hi. I haven’t read everything you wrote about the Oneida Stone so I don’t know if you know about the Big Stone that is featured in the “Standing Stone Buffet & Grill” resturant in the Oneida Gambling Casino near Green Bay, Wisconsin. The tribe moved to this location in Wisconsin back in the 1830-40’s. Here’s the story about the stone: The people of the standing stone or ON^YOTE?AKA. Along time ago, when the Oenidas still lived in New York, they had villages. Every 10 to 20 years they had to move their village because the soil would get depeleted and the hunting would grow scarce. Each time they would move their village, a huge rock would appear outside the village gates. No one knew how this rock got there each time they moved. Since the rock was too heavy for any man-even 20 men- to move, the Oneidas believed the rock was following them and protecting them. The Onieda people took the rock as theri national symbol and called themselves the People of the Standing Stone. You can see this stone at the “Radisson Hotel & Conference Center Green Bay, 2040 Airport Drive, Green Bay, Wi 54313 ((920-494-7300. I visited the resturant with my sister about 3 years ago and saw the stone and fuond this information on one of their resturant place mats.

  9. Sandra Tarlin says:

    As I child i use to walk in Forest Hills and was very moved. I remember the stone. I have been quite taken up this weekend searching the internet for photos of the memorials. Your quest to find the stone is quite important to me. Thank you so much.

  10. Laura says:

    Mrs. Mecomber,
    Thank you so much for this very interesting article and photo’s about the Oneida Stone. I’ve been to Forest Hill many times but never stopped to check out the pedestal where the stone had once been placed.

    You might be interested to know that sometime around 1900’s, a Museum in Albany decided to create full size display models representative of the various Indian tribes in NY. They also had authentic Indian baskets, weavings, fishing tools, a baby model in a papoose, and much more from New York State tribes.

    For many years they were stored in Albany and then a few years ago the Oneida Nation was given their representative displays to the Cultural Center in Oneida, NY. They are just so beautifully detailed.

    One model was created using an actual Oneida Indian woman, while at Nichol’s Pond (above)in Madison County, NY as their background. These displays are at the Cultural Center in Oneida, NY. They are so realistic and detailed within their settings that makes this visit so special.

    • Hi Laura! Thanks for your comment.

      Yes, we have seen the displays, both at the New York State Museum in Albany and the Shakowi Cultural Center in Oneida. If you do a search for these place sin my website’s search bar, you will see the posts for these places.

      Thanks for visiting!