Prof. J. Frederic Burtt of Lowell Technological Institute, vice president of the New Hampshire Archeological Society and and acknowledged expert on Indian lore, spoke on that subject before the Wilmington Rotary Club in March 1954.
Prof. Burtt had a number of exhibits with him, arrowheads, spear heads, stone knives, hammers and other implements, including a stone grinder for corn, shaped much like a policeman’s billy club but about twice the size. Made of granite, it was used much in the same manner that a rolling pin is used.
The Indians of North America originally crossed from the Asian continent and the original emigration has been traced to various parts of the North American continent. Small fluted points have been found in many places, typical of the people of this immigration.
A number of these small fluted points, about 5,000 to 8,000 years old, were found in a sand pit at Ipswich, while it was being bulldozed, and others have been found in the vicinity of Moosehead Lake, in Maine.
It was the speaker’s thought that the name “Redskin” originally came from the combination of decorations with which the Indians beautified themselves, and the dirt which they didn’t wash off. Red Ochre, from Mount Katahdin, in Maine, was once used plentifully by the Indians of this area with graphite, which has been found locally, soot from campfires, and white clay.
The Indians rarely washed, and allowed sweat and grime to accumulate, partly as a protection against mosquitoes, a practice which was followed by the early white settlers in this region.
Originally, before the white man came, there were some 20,000 to 30,000 Indians in the Merrimac Valley, but at the time that the white men settled in New England, there were perhaps only 200-300.
Samuel Champlain, the French explorer, came down the lake which bears his name, and down to the mouth of the Merrimac in 1609, and Capt. John Smith was also in New England at that time.
From the white men, the Indians caught a plague which wiped them out, for all practical extents and purposes. It used to be thought that this was smallpox, but some now think that it may have been measles.
The Shattuck farm in Andover gives mute evidence of this. About 10,000 campfire sites were found on this farm, left there by the Indians, presumably at the time of the plague. Tradition has it that those fires were used by the dying Indians, and the only group that escaped was a hunting party, which came back and found all the Indians dead.
The Merrimac River was the center of the tribe of Indians who lived hereabouts, and many names today tell of this. If sometime when you are driving, and you see a nice-appearing headland or point on a river or lake, and think, “I would like to live there,” the chances are that the Indians did, for they chose these points as their homes.
They lived on hills, overlooking water. Living on the hills, the wind would sweep away the mosquitoes, and from the water they got a large part of the food on which they lived.
In those days there was a large supply of fish in the Merrimac. Sturgeon, shad, salmon and eels, and many other fish were to be had in large quantities. The salmon go upstream to spawn, going up the cold Pemigewasset River, while the shad would go to Lake Winnipesaukee, for the warm waters there.
Haverhill, on the Merrimac, was known to the Indians as Pentucket. Lowell was known as Wamesit, and as Pawtucket, which was the Indian word to describe the falls. The Concord River, which enters the Merrimac at Lowell, was called Messquidquet, or “brook with grassy bottom.”
Those of you who have fished the upper reaches of the Concord River know this to be true. Further up the Merrimac, Kings Island, where the Vesper Country Club is, was known as Wickersee, “the place of Basswood,” and Nashua was “the brook with the pebbly bottom.”
Indians used to plant, in fields near water supplies, and they had a lot of vegetables in their gardens which we have today: corn, squash, pumpkins, gourds, pole beans and even watermelons, which they used to allay fevers. They would clear the land by girdling the trees, that is, removing the bark so the tree would not grow. Then the sunlight would be able reach the ground. After a while, the dead trees would fall, and they would have a clear place. Sometimes they would just set fire to the forests.
They would plant their beans near their corn, so that the corn would become a beanpole. Then they would plant their other plants, squash, etc., further on.
There are numerous places here, in Wilmington, Tewksbury and North Reading, where Indian relics have been found. A favorite place for the Indians was Burtt’s crossing of the Shawsheen River, and another was Knight’s crossing.
The site near the North Reading Sanatorium was a favorite camping spot, where the gravel pit is. Just to the right of the sanatorium entrance, in the woods, I have found quite a bit of Indian pottery.
The island in the swamp (Abigail’s Island, near the Wilmington DPW) was also a favorite camping place for the Indians, and in North Billerica at the falls, was an extensive encampment, as was the site of the Lowell Technological Institute (now part of UMass Lowell).
In fact, when they were digging a foundation for the institute, a skeleton of an Indian was found, a man about 45 years old, and about 5 feet 4 inches in height.
There is an extensive collection of relics in the Andover Academy.
A good source of Indian relics are the shell heaps which they left at various places along the New England coast. While searching through a such a shell heap near Ipswich, I found the skeleton of an Indian woman, which I now have in my home.
These shell heaps were very large, for the Indians would gather at these places for the purpose of eating oysters, clams, quohaugs and lobsters, and when they finished with the shells, they threw them in piles. At Androscoggin, in Maine, there is a field of 35 acres, filled with such shell heaps.
In these heaps can be found many arrowheads, knives, pieces of pottery and other relics, and it in these that we find the best preserved skeletons. If an Indian happened to die during a feast at one of these places, they merely buried him in one of the shell heaps, and threw some more shells on top.
Indians who died at the camping sites were buried in the ground at the camp, and then a ceremonial fire was kept burning for eight days, right above the grave, which hid the grave from their enemies. Using modern science, we today can check the dates of ashes, by tracing the radioactive Carbon 14, and we can date the fires, within a range of 250 years.
Indian trails were very, very narrow, perhaps only four inches wide. The Indians would follow each other, in single file over the trails, and bits of pigment and sweat which dropped from the Indians, marked the trails very clearly. Nothing would grow on them for many years after the Indians were gone. The narrow trails made the Indians walk in a fashion that could be described as ‘ding-toed.’
Prof. Burtt, exhibiting the relics which he had taken with him, then explained some of the finer points about them.
“We classify any arrowhead over two and one half inches long as a spearhead,” he said.
The long, thin ones are their knives, and the small ones are for fish hunting. The spears that they used for fishing had a long thin blade, and the spear was fastened to the Indian’s wrist with a thong, so that it would not be lost. We find all kinds of arrowheads, some of Ohio marble, some of Pennsylvania stones.
Locally the Indians used nearly all kinds of rock to make arrowheads, and I have been told that a good Indian could make himself an arrowhead in about five minutes. They would take a large rock and smash it into many pieces, by dropping it with all the force they have at their command.
From the fragments, they would choose the best pieces. and fashion these into arrowheads by flaking, or chipping. Frequently, they protected their hands with deer skin, as they struck at the stone which they were fashioning, with another, to shape it.
The long club which was exhibited, made of granite, was used to crush nuts and corn. It was fashioned for this purpose. Quite frequently these crushing stones were hung from trees, with counterweights, as a sort of pestle.
Small pieces of stone would continue to break from these stone pestles, and be mixed with the corn and nuts which had been ground. The result was that the molars of many Indians’ teeth were very much ground down, as we have found in many a skeleton. It reminds us of the grinding action of some of the toothpastes which are sold because “they whiten teeth.”