Oneida Indian Settlement, Nichols Pond, in Smithfield

I’d been on a lengthy quest for the Oneida Stone, that sacred altar stone of the Iroquois Oneida Indians. My research and my travels had been going on for years. You can read more about it in my post about my visit to Forest Hill Cemetery in Utica, NY, and in a post about the People of the Standing Stone (the meaning of the name “Oneida”), and in another post of my efforts.

From what I have been able to ascertain, the Oneida Stone was something akin to the Ark of the Covenant for the Hebrews. The stone followed the Oneidas to their new settlements (all by itself without human intervention– some say the stone rested on a glacier, hm); when the stone was heaved into the crotch of a tree, the Oneidas were victorious in battle. They used the stone as a council landmark, too.

Now I am wondering if there were not several stones that the Oneidas called sacred– one in Smithfield here and another smaller one elsewhere. Or perhaps there was one small sacred stone and it rested on some larger stones that have been confused as being sacred? Here’s a lithograph drawn by historian Henry Rowe Schoolcraft in his book, “Notes on the Iroquois.” That looks too large to be able to fit in the crotch of a tree, and it much too large to have been placed on the memorial table at Forest Hill Cemetery, which I took a photo of, below:


Guess what, we found the stone depicted in the old lithograph.

Oneida Stone Altar Historic Marker

Kids at the Oneida Stone Altar

The uniqueness of the stone (or stones??) is that it is not indigenous to the Mohawk Valley– the stone is apparently of syenite, found in the Adirondack region. The Oneidas first settlement was somewhere near Oneida Lake, but they eventually moved to the area now known as Smithfield, NY. It is a beautiful area that commands a beautiful view of the valleys of Madison County.

Road to Smithfield

The first white settler of Smithfield was an American Revolution patriot who fought that first battle at Lexington and Concord in 1775. He was given this tract of land for his military services. Oddly enough, he is my direct ancestor; so there is a personal interest in these stories. When my ancestor settled these lands, the Oneidas had recently left the area to settle in what is now known as Oneida Castle, NY– I blogged about it when I stopped to see the Skenandoah Boulder, which rests by the side of the road right outside the town limits.

Back to Smithfield here, it is said that the Oneidas first settled in this area as far back as the 1400s. They built a large village here, with Nichols Pond at the back and a swampy moat surrounding their village to protect the people from enemies (notably, the nasty Huron Indians from Canada).

Click the photo for ALL SIZES and choose “Original” to see it close up. You can see the pond at the back of the village, the moat on either side, and a fire in the entrance.

Sketch of Champlain and Oneida Battle

You probably also see some men with guns shooting at the village. What’s up with that?

Well, I’m glad you asked! If it wasn’t for this battle, you just might be speaking in French today! This scene depicts the famous battle of 1615 here on this spot. Samuel de Champlain, founder of Quebec and buddy to those nasty Canadian Huron Indians we mentioned, decided to travel to this Oneida village and provoke a fight. The Hurons and the Oneidas had a long-standing animosity. The Hurons thought de Champlain and his French buddies (and their amazing “iron arrows”– AKA “guns”) could wipe out the Oneidas.

It was the first time the Oneidas had ever seen or heard the “iron arrows.” They were absolutely floored, but they fought back viciously. de Champlain was wounded in battle, and the French and Hurons took off for Canada, leaving the Oneidas intact but badly wounded.

The Oneidas (and their tribesmen, the Iroquois League of Nations) never forgot that battle. They made the French their bitterest enemies. When things grew heated between the English and the French over North American territory, the Iroquois allied themselves with the English to defeat the French. And that’s exactly what they did, in the French and Indian War of 1754.

Champlain Battle Historic Marker

Champlain Site Battle Plaque

Nichols Pond Park Sign with map

The area is a park now. If we had brought our shovels, we may have tried to look for some arrowheads or artifacts. but instead we roamed the vast acreage and explored the wooded area. There are trails that lead all around the pond. There were– amazing to me– hardly any insects.

Path to Wetland Overlook

The forest was strange to me, I don’t know why. I’ve been in all sorts of forests and have never been jittery, but this was eerie and forbidding.

Nichols Pond Forest Swamp

Tangled Roots at the Swamp

And it was as humid as anything. We didn’t follow the trail for very long, but we did walk to the wetland overlook of the swampy end of the pond. It’s a huge pond!

At the Wetlands Overlook

Nichols Pond Wetland

Finally, across the park was another historical marker where some archaeology had been ongoing.

Oneida Grain Pits at Nichols Pond

The pits were net extremely large– they were perhaps the size and depth of a kiddie pool. I do wonder how they stored squash and corn in soft soil pits, especially in the forest during New York’s steamy summers and wet autumns. But that’s another investigation…

As for the Oneida Stone, I’m still looking. From what I have been able to gather, “the” syenite stone was taken from the Oneidas in 1849 and set in Forest Hill Cemetery. The Oneidas were almost completely eradicated as a people. But they have come back to their ancestral lands, and the stone was returned to them in the 1970s. It is said that the stone now rests outside the door of their official council house, somewhere south of Oneida, NY. I hope to find it when I go out that way, soon. So the quest continues!

UPDATE: Since the writing of this article, I found the Oneida stone! Read about my story.

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 (8)

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  1. heidi says:

    I have to say that I was completely ignorant of any of this until reading your blog and am absolutely fascinated. History is just so very interesting and I read your post twice since I enjoyed it so much. Thank you for the pictures and the great read. Excellent!!!!

  2. Carole says:

    That was fascinating! I look forward to hearing about your continuing quest… I enjoyed all the pictures too. Thanks for sharing this very interesting piece of NY history. NY stinks when it comes to taxes and politicians, but you gotta admit, we have some pretty rockin’ history! 🙂

  3. Me says:

    Ok- and “I” didn’t say this- but you know the Shako:wi Cultural Center?- Of course you do- next to that is a road that goes through the “Oneida Nation” (all “official” 32 acres of it remaining) at the end is a loop with some stones in the center of it. And a Cultural Building.

    However, here’s the thing you need to remember, Indians tend to be very touchy about sacred things (you wouldn’t want a bunch of tourists going through your church, would you?) so actually getting someone to talk to about it would be difficult. But if you were to go to the Shako:wi Center they might be able to give you some information.

    Also the Oneidas have a presence at Fort Stanwix Tuesdays through Thursdays and I’m sure they might be able to give you some information.

  4. Really interesting post.

    My ex was Mohawk and Delaware from The Six Nations of the Grand River. His family would have originated in the area before the Revolutionary War. His ggg(enough greats?)Grandfather was Joseph Brant.

    I have always been fascinated with the history of the various nations before they came to Upper Canada as Loyalist refugees.

  5. I forgot to mention, when we used to go up the Upper Ottawa to a friend’s cottage every summer, we would go up and down the beaches looking for arrowheads (see my post last week for the “Garbage” theme ). My husband NEVER found a single one… EVER.

    We always used to joke that it was an Algonkian curse on him because he was Mohawk. I think he was just not very observant (which, of course, was another long-running joke).

    • Your comments are extremely interesting! I am of Algonquian heritage (goes waaay back and is probably quite diluted by now, but it is there!). Pretty amazing that he is Mohawk! I live in the Mohawk Valley. 🙂 I wrote a post about it, too– you may find some interesting information. Just search “Mohawk Valley” in my Search Bar. You’ll get lots of history!

      Thanks for visiting. I love your blog and will return frequently.

  6. Carrie says:

    Nya:weh / Thank you Mrs Mecomber, for posting this info and the photos. I have not yet ventured down to this area of NY yet, … well, not for a historical journey anyway … (I have had to come down for hockey tourneys with my kids). Something for you and your readers to understand about the so-called “Huron Indians” … they are actually Iroquoian … but they were Christianized by the French Jesuits. The term “Huron” was given to them by the French, and from what I’ve been able to learn / find, it has a somewhat derogatory (of course) meaning … back-country people, or hillbilly types … or sometimes you will see it as a term for ‘wild boar’, which the French thought they resembled in the way some of them wore their hair. These “Huron” call themselves Wendat, or Wyendot … having to do with living on the back of the Turtle … (Turtle Island). There was great animosity between the Five Nations Confederacy and this other group of Iroquoian speaking people once the French became involved with them. Now, some research indicates, that the tension was there before the French arrived, and some indicates that the trouble came because of the French; however, one must remember that there were other colonists who arrived before the French and English … namely the Dutch and Germans, so trouble was brewing for a some time before the French / English arrived, and many people were already dead from disease and battle with these new settlers.
    I am just learning much of this myself, while on the road to understanding my own ancestors … the Bearfoot Onondaga, Six Nations Confederacy, Haudenosaunee, Onkwehonwe.

  7. Melinda Ryan says:

    Hi – don’t know if you even look at these comment any more…..but I would be interested in the name of your American Revolutionary ancestor. The reason I ask is that I am a member of the Nichols clan after which Nichols one was named. I would be interested in any information you can share or ideas of where to go for more info.