Greetings from the Beekman 1802 history bloggers Chris and Carl. Since we’re calling our blog “Tenonanatchi Tales,” we thought we’d start with something about a Native American. We might call her a local celebrity since, although she dates back to the 17th century, she recently made the news!

The Iroquoian name Tenonanatchi means “river running though the mountains” and has been used by Native Americans to refer to the Mohawk River, along which the Mohawk Indians once had numerous longhouses. It can also be applied to other rivers and streams in the region coursing the Adirondacks Mountains to the north and the Catskill Mountains to the south. The village of Sharon Springs, south of the Mohawk, is part of the greater Tenonanatchi area.


Kateri: The Lily of the Mohawks

Kateri Tekakwitha, daughter of a Mohawk chief and a Christianized Abenaki captive, was born in 1656 at the Mohawk village of Ossernenon near present-day Auriesville, NY, on the south side of  the Mohawk River – about 25 miles from present-day Sharon Springs. Her parents and her brother died in a smallpox epidemic when she was four. Kateri survived the disease although her skin was severely scarred and her eyesight weakened. She was raised by an uncle, also a chief.

In 1666, following the destruction of a number of Mohawk villages along the south bank of the river by a French expedition with Native allies in 1666, Kateri moved with some of her people to the north side of the river. She grew up in the village of Caughnawaga near present-day Fonda.

Kateri witnessed Christianity firsthand when French missionaries visited the area’s villages. Against her uncle’s wishes, she was baptized when 20 years old under the name Catherine (Kateri is the Iroquoian pronunciation of that name). She practiced her religion with extreme devotion – reportedly sleeping on a bed of thorns – despite ostracism by her people. In 1677, she fled to Canada in a canoe with Christianized Oneida who had visited her village.

Kateri settled near a Christian community of Mohawk – also called Caughnawaga (or Kahnawake) – on the St. Lawrence River outside Montreal. She presented a plan to establish a convent on Heron Island and, although it was rejected, she was allowed to make a vow of chastity and become a nun. She continued to be fanatical in her devotions and reportedly had someone flagellate her every Sunday,

It is said that when Kateri died at the age of 24 in 1680, a miracle occurred – her pockmarks from smallpox disappeared. She was buried near the La Chine Rapids, not far from  Kahnawake. People visiting her grave have claimed to experience visions and to be cured of illnesses.

In 1884, Kateri became a candidate for canonization by the Roman Catholic Church; in 1943, she was declared venerable; then, in 1980, she was beatified, the second step toward sainthood; in December 2011, Pope Benedict XVI announced that Blessed Kateri will be canonized on October 21, 2012, making her the first Native American woman to be declared a saint.

The Jesuits maintain a shrine to Kateri at her first home near Auriesville (National Shrine of Our Lady of Martyrs); the Franciscans have a shrine at her second home near Fonda (National Shrine of Blessed Kateri Tekakwitha); and she is honored at the Basilica of the National Shrine of the Immaculate Conception in Washington, D.C. A statue of her is on the outside of the Basilica of Sainte-Anne-de Beaupré in Quebec. And she is celebrated at the Kahnawake Reserve in Quebec.

Kateri Tekawitha (sometimes spelled Takaqueetha) has been referred to as the Mohawk Maiden and also as the Lily of the Mohawks, the lily symbolizing purity in Catholic tradition.



The History Boys are

Chris Campbell has made his permanent home in Cherry Valley, NY. The Campbell family dates back to 1739 in this town, situated about eight miles from Sharon Springs. Some family members were captured by Tories and Iroquois allies in the Cherry Valley Massacre of 1778 during the American Revolution and taken to Canada, released two years later in Albany as part of a prisoner exchange. Chris is a rare book and map collector and has had a lifelong interest in history, especially relating to upstate New York and colonial land patents. He was the founder and first chairman of the Cherry Valley Planning Board and has worked as a surveyor and realtor as well as a researcher for the Otsego County map department. His hobbies include Ham radio.


Carl Waldman, also living in Cherry Valley, is a former archivist for the New York State Historical Association in Cooperstown. He is he author of a number of reference books published by Facts On File, including Atlas of the North American Indian and Encyclopedia of Native American Tribes, both originally published in the 1980s and both in their third editions. He is the co-author of Encyclopedia of Exploration (2005) and Encyclopedia of European Peoples (2006). Carl has also done screenwriting about Native Americans, including an episode of Miami Vice entitled “Indian Wars” and the Legend of Two-Path, a drama about the Native American side of Raleigh’s Lost Colony, shown at Festival Park on Roanoke Island in North Carolina. His hobbies include music and he works with young people in the Performance and Production Workshops at the Cherry Valley Old School.

by History Boys

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Robert Sacheli

My favorite statue in my childhoold parish in Rochester, NY was a small shrine to Kateri. Her statue stood in a stone-faced teepee, which was decorated with beautiful ceramic tiles of New York state woodland animals. Thanks for her story and reminding me of that.

Robin Ressler

Growing up in Schoharie County, we used to visit the Shrine at Auriesville, and got bits of the Kateri story, which, as I recall, was filtered through rose-colored glasses. Thank you for the details, and for the update on her canonization.

Monica H.

There is a beautiful statue of St Kateri at the Cross in the Woods shrine in Indian River, Michigan. It is one of our favorite stops in Northern Michigan. I always love hearing her story. Thank you for sharing!

Vitta Fernandez

Loved the story! And, if we can ever find a place to live in upstate NY…I would love to meet these two fabulous historians. I work with a bunch of people that don't know much about history and really have no interest in their past. I am VERY glad to see that history is not dead and that there are people out there that are taking an active role in their past.

As a side note…I see that Chris Campbell is a realtor! If you have any properties for rent in upstate NY…PLEASE let me know…that is the only thing that is keeping us here in NC. Any help would be appreciated.

victoria tracy

what perpect timing. for whatever reason kateri has been mentioned in my life lately and i have been doing some rentresearch on her. very very interestin i will definely be in sharon on sunday not to mention seeing my favorite josh and brent!!!