Professor J. Frederic Burtt of the Lowell Technological Institute, vice-president of the New Hampshire Archeological Society and recognized expert on Indian traditions, spoke on this subject before the Wilmington Rotary Club in March 1954.
Professor Burtt had a number of items on display with him, arrowheads, spear points, stone knives, hammers and other tools, including a stone crusher for corn, shaped like a police club but about twice the size. Made of granite, it was used in the same way as a rolling pin.
North American Indians are originally 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 peoples of this immigration.
A number of these small fluted points, some 5,000 to 8,000 years old, were found in a sand pit in Ipswich while it was being bulldozed, and others were found near Lake Moosehead , in Maine.
The speaker believed that the name “Red Skin” originally came from the combination of decorations that Indians beautified themselves with and dirt that they did not wash off. Red ocher, from Mount Katahdin, Maine, was once used extensively by Indians in this region along with graphite, which was found locally, campfire soot, and white clay.
Indians rarely bathed and allowed sweat and grime to accumulate, in part to protect themselves from mosquitoes, a practice followed by the early white settlers in this area.
Originally, before the arrival of the white man, there were between 20,000 and 30,000 Indians in the Merrimac Valley, but by the time the white men settled in New England there were no ‘There were maybe 200-300.
Samuel Champlain, the French explorer, descended the lake that bears his name and descended to the mouth of the Merrimac in 1609, and Captain John Smith was also in New England at that time.
From the white men, the Indians caught a plague that wiped them out, for all intents and purposes. It was once thought to be smallpox, but some now think it may have been measles.
The Shattuck farm in Andover provides silent proof 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 these fires were used by the dying Indians, and the only group that escaped was a hunting party, which returned and found all the Indians dead.
The Merrimac River was the center of the Indian tribe that lived here, and many names speak of it today. If sometimes when you are driving and you see a promontory or a nice looking point on a river or a lake, and you think, “I would like to live there”, there is a good chance that the Indians will see it. did, because they chose these points as their homes.
They lived on hills, overlooking the water. Living on the hills, the wind swept away the mosquitoes, and from the water they drew much of the food on which they lived.
At that time, there was a large quantity of fish in the Merrimac. Sturgeon, shad, salmon and eel, and many other fish were found in large numbers. Salmon go upstream to spawn, up the cold Pemigewasset River, while shad would go to Lake Winnipesaukee, for the warm waters there.
Haverhill, on the Merrimac, was known to the Indians as the Pentucket. Lowell was known as Wamesit and Pawtucket, which was the Indian word to describe the falls. The Concord River, which flows into the Merrimac at Lowell, was called Messquidquet, or “grassy stream”.
Those of you who have fished the headwaters of the Concord River know this to be true. Higher up the Merrimac, Kings Island, where the Vesper Country Club is located, was known as Wickersee, “Basswood’s place”, and Nashua was “the creek at the cobble bottom”.
The Indians were planting, in the fields near the water points, and they had a lot of vegetables in their gardens that we have today: corn, squash, pumpkins, squash, green beans and even watermelons, which they used to calm fevers. They cleared the land by surrounding the trees, that is to say by removing the bark so that the tree would not grow. Then the sunlight could reach the ground. After a while, the dead trees would fall and they would have a clear place. Sometimes they just set the forests on fire.
They planted their beans near their corn, so that the corn became a bean pole. Then they planted their other plants, squash, etc., further away.
There are many places here in Wilmington, Tewksbury and North Reading where Indian relics have been found. One of the favorite spots for Indians was Burtt’s crossing of the Shawsheen River, and another was Knight’s.
The site near the North Reading Sanatorium was a favorite camping spot, where the gravel pit is located. Just to the right of the sanatorium entrance, in the woods, I found quite a few Indian pottery.
Island in the Marsh (Abigail’s Island, near Wilmington DPW) was also a favorite camping spot for Indians, and at North Billerica at the falls, was a large encampment, as was the site of the Lowell Technological Institute (now part of UMass Lowell).
In fact, while they were digging a foundation for the institute, an Indian skeleton was found, a man about 45 years old and about 5 feet 4 inches tall.
There is an extensive collection of relics at the Academy of Andover.
A good source of Indian relics are the piles of seashells they left in various places along the New England coast. While searching through such a heap of seashells near Ipswich, I found the skeleton of an Indian woman, which I now have at home.
These piles of seashells were very large, for the Indians would congregate in these places for the purpose of eating oysters, clams, quohaugs and lobsters, and when they were done with the seashells, they threw them in piles. In Androscoggin, Maine, there is a 35-acre field, filled with such piles of seashells.
In these piles are many arrowheads, knives, pieces of pottery and other relics, and it is in these that we find the best preserved skeletons. If an Indian died during a feast at one of these places, they would simply bury him in one of the heaps of seashells and throw other seashells on top.
The Indians who died at the campsites were buried in the camp ground, and then a ceremonial fire was lit for eight days, right above the grave, which hid the graves of their enemies. Using modern science, today we can verify the dates of the ash, by tracing the radioactive carbon-14, and we can date the fires, in an interval of 250 years.
The Indian trails were very, very narrow, maybe only four inches wide. The Indians followed each other, in single file on the tracks, and the lumps of pigment and sweat that fell from the Indians marked the tracks very clearly. Nothing would grow on them for many years after the Indians left. The narrow paths made the Indians walk in what one might call “ding-toed.”
Professor Burtt, exposing the relics he had taken with him, then explained some of the more subtle points about them.
“We classify any arrowhead over two and a half inches long as a spearhead,” he said.
The long and thin are their knives, and the small are for hunting fish. The spears they used for fishing had a long, thin blade, and the spear was tied to the Indian’s wrist with a thong, so that it would not be lost. There are all kinds of arrowheads, some in Ohio marble, others in Pennsylvania stone.
Locally the Indians used almost all kinds of rocks to make arrowheads, and I was told that a good Indian could make an arrowhead in about five minutes. They would take a large boulder and smash it into several pieces, dropping it with all the force they have.
Among the fragments, they would choose the best pieces. and shape them into arrowheads by chipping or chipping. Frequently, they protected their hands with deer skin, when they struck the stone they were shaping, with another, to shape it.
The long exposed granite club was used to crush nuts and corn. It was fashioned for this purpose. Quite frequently, these crushing stones were suspended from trees, with counterweights, like a sort of pestle.
Small pieces of stone would continue to shatter from these stone pestles and would be mixed with the corn and nuts that had been crushed. The result was that the molars of many Indian teeth were very crushed, as we have found in many skeletons. It reminds us of the grinding action of some toothpastes that are sold because “they whiten the teeth”.