Tourmate #1: Natural Forces and Native People

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Natural Forces and Native People

The placid scenery of the present-day Hudson River Valley where you now stand, is the result of massive, sometimes violent forces of geology. In a far-distant past, continents collided creating tall mountain ranges that rivaled the Himalayas in Asia. Millions of years of erosion, and vast sheets of ice wore them down to the present state, and created the Hudson River's "ancestor".

We are not the first people to have experienced the Hudson River. For thousands of years before the founding of the United States of America, Native People traveled and lived along these waterways. They hunted, following the seasonal movements of wildlife, seeing the skies darkened by migrating birds. They traded flint and furs and made war along these same routes. They lived beside the waterways, giving names that remain with us today: Schaghticoke, Kayaderosseras and Saratoga. (Say: "Scat a coke" "Kay der oss er rus")

As you explore Hudson Crossing Park, be sure to pay attention to the signs of nature about you: bird calls, the rush of river water or a footprint in the earth. You might hear the echoes of melting glaciers or the soft footfall of a hunter from long ago.

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Conflict and Settlement

For generations, the rivers and lakes of our region provided Native People with reliable routes of travel and communication. These waterways were utilized by European groups exploring and settling in the lands claimed by the Native People. Some, like the French, coming from the north were mostly interested in trade rather than large-scale settlement. Other Europeans, especially the English, were intending to stay and exploit the resources of the land.

As these competing powers expanded their influence in North America, their interests and ambitions collided head-on. For nearly three quarters of a century England and France contested control of the continent. Caught in the middle during these wars, the various Native People would align themselves with the two powers, occasionally playing them off against each other.

The resulting conflicts were a startling contrast and mixture of European and Native warfare. Permanent forts built by the contending European powers established some control but outside the range of their defensive cannon, brutal, merciless raids and ambushes made life precarious for settlers and Natives alike.

Eventually, the English proved stronger, expelling the French from almost all of North America by 1763. Their land-hungry colonists saw the removal of the French as a signal to seize whatever lands they desired.

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Corridor of Commerce

Long before contact with Europeans, Native People traded among themselves for a variety of commodities. Items like furs, flint, corn and tobacco were exchanged over networks of trails and waterways including the Hudson River that flows in front of you. These water trails reached from the Atlantic seaboard into the Great Lakes region and beyond.

The arrival of Europeans brought desirable trade goods such as iron tools, firearms, woven cloth and, unfortunately, alcohol. In exchange, the Europeans wanted furs, especially those of the American beaver. Native People whole-heartedly plunged into this new trade, resulting in disruptions of old routes, and changes in their diplomacy.

Along the shores of the Hudson, the Mahican people were the first beneficiaries of trade with the Dutch via Fort Orange, today's Albany. Their neighbors to the west, the Mohawks, forced out the Mahicans and established themselves as the main trade partner: the Mahicans fled east into what is now Connecticut. (Note: Say "All Benny" for Albany)

For the Mohawks, direct trade helped them prosper but created friction with other groups of the Iroquois Confederacy who thought they should be able to trade directly without the Mohawks' interference. Even more seriously, the Iroquois raided against traditional foes, taking the furs those people had gathered. Warfare along the frontiers eventually exhausted the different Native People as they contended for hunting grounds and took revenge for the deaths suffered in conflicts.

The fur trade forever changed the way of life for the Native People, making them dependent upon European trade goods. Because of the demands of this trade, once plentiful animals, such as beaver would all but disappear.

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Magnet for Tourism

As they toiled through the Hudson River Valley, most travelers were more intent upon reaching their destination than observing their surroundings. Not so Peter Kalm, a Swedish naturalist who journeyed here, working under the direction of Carl Linnaeus, with the intent of discovering all he could about North America's plants and animals.

Peter Kalm trod the very ground you stand upon; his careful observations give us a window into the past when the Hudson River was home to multitudes of huge sturgeons; to the times when passenger pigeons flocked in their millions and American chestnut trees dominated the forests. Kalm's journals give us an entry to a lost world.

It was not a paradise. Kalm noted the dangers of walking in the forests where branches and even entire trees could come crashing down without warning. He was equally fascinated and terrified by rattlesnakes. Kalm wrote that the mosquitoes in this region were worse than any he had encountered in his journeys.

Kalm also noted that humans could be a danger as well in these parts. The time of his journey, 1748, was a brief intermission of the vicious wars between England, France and their Native allies. On frontiers such as this, the decisions made in faraway European capitals often were ignored by one side or the other.

Although he lived in a time where humans regarded the natural world as a limitless pantry, Kalm already recognized the danger of over exploitation:

But since the arrival of great crowds of Europeans, things are greatly changed: the country is well peopled, and the woods are cut down; the people increasing in this country, they have in part extirpated the birds, in part scared them away: in spring the people still take both eggs, mothers and young indifferently, because no regulations are made to the contrary. And if any had been made, the spirit of freedom which prevails in the country would not suffer them to be obeyed."

As you enjoy the trails here at Hudson Crossing Park, watch for plantings of Mountain Laurel. This flowering shrub owes its scientific name "Kalmia Latifloria" to naturalist Peter Kalm.