I’ve been fascinated with the valleys of Tully-Preble-Homer-Cortland for almost a decade now, as I started driving between the Syracuse area and Cortland semi-regularly. The one thing that fascinated me most was the fact that a Finger Lake does not exist where Route 81 runs between Homer (exit 12) on the south and Tully (Exit 14) on the north. I once asked an earth science teacher why this was and she explained that there were no terminal moraines. I started reading about the geology of the Finger Lakes and I’ve learned a lot about the area at it developed over the past 400,000,000 years.
Around the same time I began reading more and more about the history of Central New York, especially the period surrounding the Revolutionary War, ~1770–1790. Most of the towns and villages I drive through have some sort of historical marker and many of those focus on the development of the area in 1795–1805 or so and I wondered what existed here just before all these places began to be settled by white European-descended peoples. I knew the area was the territory of the Six Nations of the Iroquois, as the British called them, up until the end of the Revolutionary War in 1783. As I began exploring west and south from Syracuse, where I lived, I learned more about the 1779 Sullivan-Clinton Campaign agains the Six Nations and all the historical sites related to that time. This led me to learning more about the Haudenosaunee in general.
I began researching and writing my Master of English thesis on contemporary Haudenosaunee literature in the Fall of 2015, and I chose to focus on this after reading a bunch of history. Some of the history I read was transcribed Haudenosaunee oral history which traced the beginnings of the Haudenosaunee Confederacy when Hiawatha, an Onondaga warrior whose family was massacred by enemies and later met up with the mysterious Peacemaker who paddled across Lake Ontario in a white stone canoe.
Hiawatha discovered his family had been massacred and ran into the woods with unconsolable grief. He found himself at the shore of Tully Lake and sat there, thinking about drowning himself. While he sat there, a flock of ducks took off from the surface of the lake, drawing the water up with them, revealing the bottom of the lake to Hiawatha. There he saw white shells with bits of purple. As he crossed the now-dry lake bottom, he picked up the shells. Rather than return home, Hiawatha travelled north and followed the Seneca River from Onondaga Lake west, away from his people. In the woods, the river widened into Cross Lake and Hiawatha built a hut there to live as a recluse. Over time, he turned the white and purple shells into beads and strung them together to console himself.
Hiawatha traveled north, following the Seneca River to where it connects to the Oswego River and eventually to the shore of Lake Ontario. While he camped there, he saw a stranger crossing the lake in a white canoe made of hand-carved stone. This was the Peacemaker. They traveled to the Mohawk, Cayuga, Seneca, and Oneida nations and slowly converted all the individual tribes to their idea of a peaceful alliance. All four nations, Hiawatha and the Peacemaker converged upon Onondaga to heal the evil chief Tadadaho. After this, the Haudenosaunee came together in peace and have remained together for centuries, to this day.
I am planning a video journey to visit the sites of Hiawatha’s life, at least as much as I can today, researching places and versions of the oral histories which use slightly different landmarks (for example, the Seneca version and the Onondaga version are each centered around their own tribe and its territory). The closest site to my house would be Tully Lake, and so this is where I started .