A Story by Judy Hartley
The sun was low in a brilliant sky. It looked like a giant yellow ball so afire that you could almost feel the heat. Above the river a few insects flew about without a lot of energy. It was almost dusk. Something bright and sparkling caught Chum’s eye so much so that he jerked his fishing pole up and nearly out of the water. He stared transfixed as the small sparkle became many sparkles and twinkles and grew larger. Then, before he knew it, an old woman more wrinkled than any of the elders on the reservation and with gray hair only slightly disheveled was standing beside him. He could only gape at the sight until something internal nudged him and he moved over on the old car seat he had been sitting on at the riverbank and with his hand out he gestured for the woman to sit beside him.
‘You don’t know me’, she began, ‘but I know you.’ ‘We are family, you know, and I have a story to tell you because I want you to know and remember who you are.’ Then she began…
I am Sarah Towsey. I am your great, great, great…oh, dear, so many greats…grandmother.
Before you were Brothertown and before your family lived here on the reservation, your people
my people, all of us lived so long ago along another river, east, hundreds of miles away
We were called Tunxis and our land was called Tunxis Sepos, heard of it? I didn’t think so.
Some of life there was good, in fact, very good –fresh water from the river, salmon and shad, too.
Lots of game in the woods and soil so rich we grew maize, lots of it!
Then there were the parts of life that were not so good—fighting, so much fighting.
We, Tunxis, liked peace but some other tribes did not. We lived in fear of their attacks.
Well, then, something unbelievable happened…
These strange white-skinned people came with yellow, red or brown hair and strange clothing, too
Why, we’d never seen anything like it!
They were hard to figure out. They smiled and seemed friendly but we couldn’t understand a word, if you know what I mean.
They were powerful, too! They had guns and could shoot dead anything that moved yet by their smiles and gestures we could tell they did not mean us harm.
Well, we did trust them and they brought along a man named Stanton who could, sort of, speak Tunxis. We understood bits and pieces of what he was saying and it seemed he was saying that if we let them live on the land near us that they would protect us from attacks.
This seemed like a pretty good bargain so our sachems Pethus and Ahamo agreed.
We had a few concerns here and there; for example, now we had to pay rent to live on our land…
Isn’t that a head-scratcher?
But, well, we were protected from the Pequots and the Mohawks, that’s something isn’t it?
There were some big wars like King Philips war and the French and Indian war that affected us all
Nevertheless, we fought on the side of the white-skins and thought we were pretty good friends.
The white-skins were called the English, settlers, colonists. We learned some new words.
It was our understanding that the land we lived on was granted to us by the Creator and, even after the English we understood they agreed that the land was ours forever but things didn’t work out that way
By the time I was born our land was getting too crowded and we were poor from paying dues and fines – you name it—the English had a way of seeing that we remained poor
And there were strict rules that had to be followed in order to please the English and their laws
Sadly, we realized that we had exchanged our freedom for security
Further, we were being choked, smothered, if you know what I mean, by so many colonists
By that time we no longer had sachems to speak for us; we were literate and could speak for ourselves so
We did speak, we sold our land and we moved!
Before we left, though, we requested and received a book of English law
We thought it would be helpful in establishing a new town on new land.
Well, I walked north to Stockbridge with your father but after he died I walked on to Brothertown
My son, your ancestor, Benjamin, had married a Brothertown woman and he lived there.
Things were not great in Brothertown because more settlers kept moving in just like before
Buying and selling land – we Natives have never understood—but I used the money I had to buy lot 45 in Brothertown and thought it was mine forever
Seems I was wrong. I had to give back the land I thought was mine.
Benjamin and his wife were young so they headed west to new land
My body ached and I had trouble eating and sleeping. I walked back to Stockbridge.
Did I mention, our life was hard. So much uncertainty and we had to walk, walk, walk, so long, so far…
Well, Benjamin made it all the way to southern Wisconsin and lived in a new town called Brothertown
He died and is buried there.
His descendants lived to move farther north in Wisconsin to a newly established reservation.
The best thing about the reservation is –no more moving!!
You have a good life here! You are FREE to come and go, take part in the larger culture if you choose.
Remember me and your ancestors because we live on in you.
Today my heart is content.
I can sleep -- at last.
Chum knew but he turned to look at her anyway…she was gone, just like that. What remained were Sarah’s words in his heart.
- Deed from James and Rachel Wawowos and David and Sarah Tousey to Thankful Shilling
- Committee Report on the Distribution of Tunxis Land into Lots
- Memorial of the Tunxis Requesting the Sale of Their Lands
- Deed from Rachel Wawowos and Sarah Towsey to Timothy Root
- Deed from Sarah Deliverance to Seth Wadsworth