1950s: Mohawk, Kanatsiohareke History


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Mohawk_FilmPosterA film called “Mohawk” premiered in Amsterdam in 1956 and used some footage from the 1939 movie “Drums Along the Mohawk.” The 1956 movie was distributed by 20th Century Fox.

The movie tells the story of an artist assigned to the Mohawk Valley to paint frontier scenes. The artist is involved romantically with three women. There is a vengeful settler in the film trying to start a war with local Indian people. The film was directed by Kurt Neumann and starred Scott Brady and Rita Gam.

Amsterdam movie fan Emil Suda said the 1956 movie lifted shots of the burning of a settler’s cabin from “Drums Along the Mohawk” and used a sequence in which Henry Fonda’s character in the 1939 movie runs to escape Indian pursuers. Online sources said the 1956 movie also used footage showing a Mohawk attack on a fort originally used in the 1939 film.

The Schine Theater Chain based in Gloversville announced the 1956 film would premier at its appropriately named Mohawk Theater in Amsterdam in April. There were “premieres” in other Mohawk Valley communities with Schine theaters.

According to a newspaper announcement, Mohawk actor White Cloud was to attend the Amsterdam opening and do a knife throwing exhibition. Mohawk chiefs Hubert Garrow, Norman Tarbell, and Lawrence Terance and their wives from the St. Regis Reservation were to be guests at an Elks Club luncheon the day of the premiere.

Associate producer Richard Einfeld said several background scenes in the movie were shot in the Mohawk Valley. Mohawk Theater manager Irvin Weber said the film showed the Mohawk as tragic victims of progress and not “blood-thirsty savages.”

Mohawk Encampment

A little more than one year later, in June 1957, Mohawks occupied land west of Amsterdam near the Schoharie Creek on the south side of the Mohawk River.

The encampment was led by Chief Standing Arrow, also known as Frank Johnson. Standing Arrow meant to repossess part of an 8,000 acre tract he said was not included in land ceded to the U.S. government by the Iroquois Confederacy in the Fort Stanwix Treaty of 1784.

Author Edmund Wilson visited Standing Arrow and wrote about the encounter in his 1959 book Apologies to the Iroquois.

Kanalogo1Mohawks along the Schoharie fought in court when charged with hunting without a license, contending they did not need a license to hunt on their own lands. Chief Standing Arrow was fined for operating a motor vehicle without a license, despite his contention he did not need a state driver’s license.

Sheriff Alton Dingman served eviction notices on the Mohawk settlement in January 1958. In March, 25 people were reported to be still living at the encampment. After a court hearing that month, some of the Mohawk camps were burned and the encampment ended.

In 1993, traditional Mohawks moved to Kanatsiohareke, a settlement in Yosts on Route 5 west of Fonda. Located on the north side of the river, Kanatsiohareke is a not-for-profit corporation that purchased the property from Montgomery County.

Native Americans and others travel there to learn the Mohawk language and maintain native heritage. Chief Tom Porter of Kanatsiohareke is a nephew of Chief Standing Arrow.

A version of this story first appeared in the Daily Gazette.

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