Indian Faces On The Rocks

 

This section of the Connecticut Valley has few, if any, evidences of the permanent residence here of Indians before the arrival of the first settlers. Frequently, stone arrowheads and mortars found show that the Indians were here temporarily, as it is known that the good fishing in this locality at certain seasons of the year called them here.

Probably the most pronounced and interesting memento of the savages, and one looked upon by thousands of curiosity seekers, has been the Indian faces cut by some unknown hands and tools on the surface of two or three large rocks just south of the west end of the toll bridge here. At the present time, they are almost entirely obliterated and the curious ones are obliged to use sharp eyes, and some imagination, but, within the memory of the older citizens of the present day, they stood out with great distinctness. The building of the branch railroad to the paper mills from the railroad yard, about forty years ago, covered a portion of them; others have been covered by the dumping of the cinders from the boilers of the mills, and still others destroyed by the frequent blasting by river-men in improving the channel for logs. The present redevelopment of the waterpower does not reach quite as far north as these mementoes of early days.

An interesting account of these Indian faces is given in Hall's "History of Eastern Vermont," dated about 1848. This was accompanied by illustrations showing how these faces looked before the action of man and the elements had combined to render them less distinct. This account says:

" The picture writing of the Indians, which is to be seen in two localities in eastern Vermont, affords satisfactory evidence of the fact that certain tribes were accustomed to frequent the Connecticut and the streams connected with it, even though they were not actual residents of the pleasant banks within which those waters were confined.

"At the foot of Bellows Falls, and on the west side of the channel of the Connecticut are two rocks, on which are inscribed figures, the meaning of which it is difficult to determine. The larger rock presents a group of variously ornamented heads. The surface that these heads occupy is about six feet in height and 15 feet in breadth. Prominent among the rest is the figure occupying nearly a central position in the group. From its head, which is supported by a neck and shoulders, six rays or feathers extend, which may be regarded as emblems of excellence or power. Four of the other heads are adorned each with a pair of similar projections. On a separate rock, situated a short distance from the main group, a single head is sculptured, which is finished with rays or feathers, and was probably intended to designate an Indian chief. The length of the head, exclusive of the rays, is 14 inches and its breadth across the forehead in its widest part is ten inches. These sculptures seem to have been intended to commemorate some event in which a chief and a number of his tribe performed some noted exploit or met with some disaster. The former supposition is undoubtedly the more correct. It is well known that the Indians were usually careful to conceal the traces of their misfortunes and eager to publish the evidence of their successes.

"The rocks are situated about eight rods south of the bridge for common travel across the Falls. That on which the group is pictured is during much of the time under water. The other, which is farther from the river, is not so much affected by the wash of the stream. Whenever a freshet occurs, both are covered."

The illustrations in Hall's volume showing the images on the rock are accompanied by a cut showing a general view of the falls and toll bridge. The picture was made evidently between the time of the building of the Cheshire Railroad to the other side of the river, and before the bridge was built so the cars came into Bellows Falls. Only the toll bridge is shown and "a train on the Sullivan Railroad is seen passing upon the other side of the river."

In his travels through the northern part of the United States in the years 1807 and 1808, 'Edward Augustus Kendall, Esq., referred to the sculptures at Bellows Falls and endeavored to prove by them that the characters on the rock at Dighton, Mass. (or the "Writing Rock on Taunton River," as he designated it) were inscribed by the Indians. He gave an interesting description of the hieroglyphics comparing the similar characteristics of the two. Among other things, he says, "In more than one of the heads sculptured at the Great Falls, we see an exact similitude to the heads sculptured on the Writing Rock and particularly in the circumstances that a single dot or hollow is made to serve both for nose and mouth; that no ears are given to the human heads, and that the crowns of the heads are bare. Thus, we ascertain that in the sculptures observed upon the Writing Rock there is the strictest similitude, in workmanship and drawing, to those observed upon the rocks at the Great Falls. Thus, all questions are answered, except those that regard the nature of the tool by the edge of which the rocks have been wrought upon and the occasions upon which the figures have been wrought. With respect to the nature of the tool, every difficulty

would be dismissed by supposing that the sculptures were not wrought till after the introduction of iron by the Europeans; but there appear to be good reasons for thinking them more ancient, and we shall, therefore, in all probability, be compelled to believe that the tool was of no better material than stone."

 

Based on: The Connecticut River Valley in southern Vermont and New Hampshire: historical sketches, Rutland, Vt.: Tuttle Co., Marble City Press, 1929.

 

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