What is the Mohican Tribe?

Eleanor Newman

The Mohican Tribe, also known as Mahican, is a band of American Indians currently based around Wisconsin. The tribe originally settled in the Hudson River Valley, spanning an area that today includes parts of Vermont, Connecticut, and upstate New York. Mohicans speak an American Indian language called Algonquin.

Like many Native American groups, the Mohican used canoes for trading, fishing, and warfare.
Like many Native American groups, the Mohican used canoes for trading, fishing, and warfare.

Before the arrival of white settlers, the Mohican tribe were hunter-gatherers. They lived in a richly wooded and wild area populated with otters, deer, black bears, wild turkeys, oysters, and fish. Men hunted for meat and fish, and women gathered wild rice, berries, and nuts. Women also smoked meat and fish to store and tended to gardens. During the long, cold winters, Mohicans told stories, made clay pots, and repaired their tools to prepare for spring.

Deer were one type of food commonly hunted by the Mohican tribe.
Deer were one type of food commonly hunted by the Mohican tribe.

The Mohican tribe first made contact with European settlers in 1609, when a Dutchman named Henry Hudson began exploring what would become known as the Hudson River. Hudson was intrigued by the Mohican's supply of beautiful furs. Word of the Mohican tribe's riches spread, and Dutch merchants established a trading post in the area in 1614. Thus began an infiltration of European culture that slowly eroded the traditional practices of the Mohican tribe.

Mohicans sold their furs for beads, tools, and guns. They stopped making traditional crafts. English merchants replaced Dutch traders, and began building fences and demarcating property lines in what had been open wilderness. Europeans also brought devastating diseases; hundreds of thousands of Native Americans succumbed to smallpox, measles, and scarlet fever.

In 1738, a missionary named John Sergeant started a village named Stockbridge in the Mohican lands. He converted many Mohicans to Christianity. Mohican beliefs and customs continued to be replaced by European ones.

When the Revolutionary War broke out, the Mohicans agreed to fight for the colonists. The war brought them nothing but trouble, however, as fighting slowly encroached on their land. Mohican fighters returned to their territory, only to find it had been given over to white settlers.

After the war, the New York government ruled all Indians must be removed from their lands. The Mohicans then began a long migration westward, seeking a new home. The community broke up and scattered to Indiana, Kansas, and Oklahoma, but many Mohicans reformulated as the Stockbridge-Munsee Community and based themselves in Wisconsin.

Most people know the Mohican tribe from James Fenimore Cooper's book The Last of the Mohicans, which has been made into a movie several times. The Stockbridge-Munsee Mohican descendants point out, however, that their community has outlived the book's predictions. The tribe is "alive and thriving" in Northern Wisconsin.

On their reservation, the Mohican tribe runs a casino, a community center, and a golf course. The community also began a historical society in the 1970s to research and preserve Mohican history. They sponsor research trips back to the original Stockbridge village and preserve artifacts in the Arvid E. Miller library located on the reservation.

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