Just Me

Just Me
Look,I'm just sayin'

Sunday, June 25, 2017

family lore and legends

 I have a vague memory of a lady we called Miss Pokey. Miss Pokey was the janitor up at the telephone company. Well that is what I called the telephone switchboard up on the corner of Newtown and Main. She lived in Amagansett and was a friend to my great grandfather. He would take my sister and I there to visit every once and a while. As I said, my memory is a little vague after fifty plus years. You see, Miss Pokey passed away February 6, 1963. I was nine years old.
 The real reason I remember this lady is because she was an Indian. Her name was Pocahontas Phaorah and was a member of the Montauk tribe. She claimed to be the last full blooded member of that tribe and that could very well be the truth. She was born on Indian plains in Montauk. I remember her as a short, heavyset lady that was always happy. She was asked to walk in a parade and I remember her laughing about that. She told me this fat little old lady ain't walking in moccasins in no parade. It was hilarious to a kid. You know she was just another old person to me. When you are a kid like that you don't have the awareness that you sitting with history. Imagine the stories she could have told. Her ancestral land was purchased by a man named Benson. His idea was to turn Montauk into the Miami of the north. That didn't exactly work out for him. Miss Pokey and her family were given homes to live in, along with some money in exchange for that land. Many years later the Montauk tribe tried to sue to regain their land. The suit failed.
 I haven't studied much of the history. When I was in school the Montauk tribe was barely mentioned. I don't recall any student claiming to be a member of that tribe. Surely they must have been some descendants around. Miss Pokey had been married several times and had children. Times change and now there is much talk of Native Americans and how they were wronged by the white man. Back then we just weren't paying attention. I know I didn't really give any of that much thought. The Indians at Montauk had sold their land , more than once and that was that. The only other Indian I knew personally was a man called Tez. He was a friend to my father and his Indian name was Red Thundercloud. He said he was a Catawba. He wasn't pure blooded however, although he tried his best to hide that fact. Regardless he was a good friend and a very intelligent man.
 There was another tribe close by, the Shinnecocks. When I was growing up they lived on a reservation. They didn't have a very good reputation. I remember a teepee by the side of the road where they sold moccasins and I would guess other stuff. I was never allowed to go there. As I said their reputation wasn't the greatest. Funny I don't remember having ever met a single member of that tribe although I'm certain I must have. Again I guess I just wasn't paying attention. I think that is because none of these tribes were the " cool " ones. We heard about Apaches, Crow. Blackfoot, Comanche and Arapahoe. Those tribes were some bad folks, always attacking the wagon trains and such. Yes that was all in the movies and on television shows but to a kid that was all real. Our Indians never went on the warpath ! Nope, our Indians got beat up by a tribe from Rhode Island. Not very exciting stuff.
 I lived just a short distance from a place called soak hides. As the name implies it was a spot used to soak hides for tanning. The Indians used that spot back in the day. I understand that some man unearthed a lot of artifacts from that area. I wouldn't doubt that one bit. I knew of several burial sites. Their graves were marked with three stones arranged in a sort of triangle. These graves were in northwest woods and I expect have long since been built upon. If you weren't paying attention they would be very easy to miss. I never personally went looking for them or any other artifacts, I just stumbled across them playing in the woods. I don't remember who told me about the stone arrangement and what it meant. maybe it was Miss Pokey.
 As I write these posts of mine things do come back to me. I do have a fuzzy vision of Miss Pokey and a sense of what she was like. My sister has memories of her but my sister is older than I. Don't tell her I wrote that though. There was another famous Indian I heard talk about. His name was Stephen Talkhouse. ( Taukus )  At least that is what the history books say about his name. He was famous for walking long distances. He was even in a walking contest at one time. I think he won. But, growing up I just heard tales of him walking on and off Montauk, going to East Hampton or Sag Harbor. Many people, including great grandfather, spoke of him as though they knew him personally. I believed that as a kid but the facts show otherwise. Stephen Talkhouse passed away in 1879 and great grandfather was born in 1878. If he knew him he sure had a fantastic memory and so did the others. Well, we all like to associate ourselves with famous or historic figures. Facts can be manipulated to satisfy a need. Now Stephen Talkhouse is mostly associated with a bar ! Guess folks like the association as it has been there for quite some time now. Family lore and legend said that great grandfather had a walking stick that once belonged to Stephen Talkhouse. That walking stick was then given to Chief Red Thundercloud, my Dad figuring he would be the best caretaker of such an object. I did see the walking stick when I was young, remember it well for some reason, probably because of the association with an Indian ! Was the story true ? I have no idea but I rather doubt it. That's the problem with getting older you start to discover what is real and what is myth. I'll always tell the tales though. I grew up knowing Indians, on Long Island. That much is true.