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Another Redirect…

September 8, 2013 2 comments

To a small slice of history from my home of Santa Fe, originally posted on my personal blog. Hope my faithful readers–all six of you–enjoy it.

 

A Slice of History

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History Close to Home

September 23, 2012 Leave a comment

One reason why I chose to live in New Mexico (or perhaps why the L of E chose me) is its rich history. I know, no matter where you live, you can find interesting historical tidbits about people and places, but something about that intersection of the three cultures here, played out amidst such amazing scenery, has captivated me since my first excursion to Santa Fe and Taos more than 15 years ago.

Unfortunately, of late I haven’t been exploring the area too much to experience some of that history firsthand. I rectified that a bit yesterday, with a trip to the Puye cliff dwellings followed by a drive to Los Alamos. It was a day of contrasts: the ancestral Pueblos and 20th-century Americans, pottery shards and detritus of the Cold War. But all of it was framed by the Jemez Mountains and a sense that this is truly a unique place.

The Puye Cliffs

The Puye cliff (and mesa) dwellings date back to about the 900s and were occupied for almost 700 years. Today’s descendants of the residents live just to the east and north at Santa Clara Pueblo. The Santa Clarans administer the cliff site today and provide the guides for the tour.

Before the tour, I wandered around the Exhibition Hall, which had a one-day treat. Two state archaeologists were on hand, displaying artifacts—genuine and replica—representing some 14,000 years of New Mexico history. The state, you may know, was the home of two paleo-Indian sites that gave their name to past cultures: Clovis and Folsom. We saw arrowheads from the era, some made from obsidian, which turns up frequently at Puye (the Spanish, when confronting the Aztecs to the south, quickly learned of the acute sharpness of weapons made from this volcanic rock, and in modern times surgeries have been done with obsidian tools, which leave behind smaller scars). The discussion included a short lesson on how the paleo-Indians hunted, and how the dry New Mexico climate has helped preserve artifacts that would have disintegrated in other parts of North America.

We also heard how the first New Mexicans used the atlatl, as people around the world did to increase the range and force of their thrown missiles. The diffusion of the atlatl is a mystery: was it spread by migration and/or trade contact, or did it originate independently in areas as distant as Australia and South America? I don’t know, but I do know I love to say atlatl. Atlatl, atlatl, atlatl!

Thank you for indulging my juvenile diversion.

The archaeologists went on to explain how the ancestral Pueblo people and their descendants made a fiber from yucca, which was used for shoes, clothing, and baskets, among other items. One of the archaeologists explained that waterproofed yucca vessels could be used as cooking pots, with hot rocks dropped inside to warm a stew. In recent years, some Indians of New Mexico have been turning to that fiber again.

On the mesa

I added to the collection of shards and obsidian started by tourists before me.

For the tour itself, I chose the mesa dwellings, since I’d already seen the larger and better known cliff dwellings at nearby Bandelier. Sam was our guide, and he took us inside the kiva on the mesa, which is surrounded by the ruins of several buildings with many small rooms, one fairly well-preserved larger building, and a spot where a reservoir once sat (farming went on down below the mesa). Sam explained that artifacts still cover the site. The Santa Clarans had halted an early dig there when the Anglo professor in charge, Edgar Hewitt, took all the bones his team found of the long-dead dwellers and less than respectfully threw them into a heap, which he then covered with rocks. Today, Sam said, some tourists take home pieces of pottery they find (which is against the rules), only to return home and begin experiencing odd, supernatural occurrences. The shards are returned post haste.

To return to the welcome center, we had a choice of taking a van or walking down, then using a ladder, as the Pueblos once did, for the final descent. One woman in our party was game, so the rest of us followed. That simple choice showed the serendipity one must rely on when traveling/exploring. Although I sometimes unsteadily navigated the foot holes long ago cut into the rock, I made it down to the ladder. And on the ledge Sam pointed out petroglyphs, including one he said is perhaps the earliest depiction of a Spaniard in what became the United States. He also showed us a tiny piece of turquoise he found on the trail. The gemstone, like the pieces of obsidian we saw all around, came from mines not far from the dwellings.

The Spaniard clutching a heart–religious symbolism, or something more nefarious?

Coyote and roadrunner, pre-Warner Brothers

The tour at Puye is not cheap–$20 for what was supposed to be an hour, though ours was more like 90 minutes, thanks to the walking descent. And Bandelier gets all the attention for cliff-dwelling attractions. But this little excursion barely an hour from my home was rewarding because of Sam—a person with direct ties to the people who once lived there. And like other ruins of ancient Southwest cultures or the surviving pueblos of New Mexico, Puye awed me again with the resourcefulness of people who could thrive in such seeming isolation in a challenging environmental setting.

Leaving Puye, I headed for Los Alamos, on a drive that offers some stunning scenery. In the town, I headed for spot decidedly less ancient than Puye and less stunning than the drive: the Black Hole. Something of a Los Alamos institution, I only heard about it because it was holding its going-out-of-business sale this weekend. The Black Hole was the all-consuming passion of “Atomic Ed” Grothus. He called it a military surplus store, but from what I saw, nothing of it was the guns and camo you usually find in such places. Grothus gathered much of his surplus from the nearby Los Alamos Nuclear Laboratory, birthplace of the atomic bomb (Grothus once worked at “the  Lab,” as everyone here calls it, until he decided he’d rather not be at a place associated with nuclear annihilation.)

A must for every home–the atomic toilet!

Grothus was not overly about selling his wares; he just liked to accumulate them. As he told NPR a few years back, his store’s name reflected the fact that things enter the Black Hole, but they never leave. I wandered through the collection of atomic-era relics, mostly wondering what I was looking at. But a group of what I assumed to be artists, at-home tinkerers, and curio buffs seemed to be finding things to their liking. When the sale is over, I wonder if some of this stuff will end up in a dump—or a museum.

Our archaeologists back at Puye said that the essence of their work is using artifacts to explain how people lived. The obsidian and shards on the mesa tell one tale. What will the electronic equipment and pumps and pipes Ed gathered say about us? At least we can say, with I hope some conviction, that the nuclear holocaust that seemed so imaginable during the Cold War is a distant memory. But what the Los Alamos scientists wrought will never go away, even if the Black Hole does. The histories of the modern era and the ancestral Pueblos will still sit side-by-side here in northern New Mexico, and the History Nerd is better for it.

Still Ridin’ the Rails

March 8, 2012 Leave a comment

Come with me on a ride back through time, when iron horses chugged across the Wild West, outlaws terrorized the trains riding the rails, and the coming of the railway meant life or death for many Southwest towns.

Or, take a slow, short jaunt into the outskirts of Santa Fe. Like the one I took this weekend on the Santa Fe Southern Railway.

On the railroad again...

To kick off a new season of train-based tourist traps—uh, trips—the SFSR offered half-priced rides on its routes into Lamy and the Galisteo Basin. (The railway also still brings some freight into the city.) Being a cheapskate as well as a History Nerd, I jumped all over this deal, taking the ride into the basin. I am also something of a train aficionado (though not to say expert, not by a long shot), and I’ve written about some of my past railway experiences here and here. This ride promised to be a short trek back into time as well as physical trip into the Santa Fe environs.

The railway came to Santa Fe in 1880, though just barely. The main route of the Atchinson, Topeka, and Santa Fe passed some 15 miles to the south of the capital on its way from Las Vegas (our Las Vegas, not the other one) to Albuquerque. Concerned Santa Feans, worried about being shut off from civilization and commerce (there is, of course, a huge difference) begged for and got a spur line that ran from Galisteo Junction (now Lamy, named for the French bishop of some renown/infamy in these parts) to their city. Today, Lamy’s stucco train station is an Amtrak stop, and Santa Fe’s station is…basically non-existent.

Inside, quite the festive atmosphere.

On its tourist runs, the SFSR uses a modern diesel pulling several coaches from the 1920s—though they were used back east, in New Jersey, rather than out here. Our tour guide said that he’s also in charge of reupholstering the seats when they wear out, and he’s counted 17 layers of fabric on some. He offered some historical tidbits along the way, and of course no telling of Santa Fe history in the days of the first railroads would be complete without mentioning Billy the Kid and Governor Lew Wallace. I don’t think either man had a direct connection to the trains; perhaps they rode on the line at some point. But the tourists sure do like hearing about Billy the Kid! And the New York accent of the folks behind  me was just one sign that many of the day’s riders were tourists. I doubt many locals would take this trip, certainly not at full price, as the scenery is, in all honesty, not very compelling for these parts. And the history, too, is a little thin.

I learned the most when we reached our destination, the Galisteo Basin. Another tour guide joined us on the one open, flatbed car and talked a little about the ancient history of the region. Archaeological artifacts about 7,000 years old have been found there. So have parrot beaks, a sign that the Native American of the region once traded with peoples much farther to the south, exchanging  turquoise and other minerals mined in the nearby Cerrillos Hills. And it’s thought that some Anasazi Indians left their grand city of Chaco Canyon and settled in the basin some 800 years ago. They and later inhabitants built several thriving pueblos in the region, though few traces of them remain today. (More on all this can be found here).

No trip back into New Mexico history would be complete without mentioning the state’s role in the movie biz. Tour guide #1 recounted some of the films shot nearby, including Young Guns 1 and 2 and the remake of 3:10 to Yuma. The railway’s wooden trestle, which gave me pause when we passed over it  (will this thing hold?), was featured in the latter–I think; I was spacing out a bit at that point.

And some art along the way.

Or not spacing, exactly, but ruminating on the role trains have played in our history. They were once the largest employers of Americans. They gave us our system of time zones. And they created the wealth of some of the robber barons of the past—with government help, of course. Yes, when some people like to champion our rugged-individualism brand of capitalism, they overlook that it was the granting of government land to the railways that helped create that wealth—and then help timber interests, mine owners, and ranchers make money, too. At times, capitalism needs a dose of government intervention to thrive, and the railroads are a prime example of it. Though some would argue that not all the land grants were good for the country as whole, an idea explored in great detail at Landgrant.org.

Today, of course, we have the perennial attempt by conservatives to shut down Amtrak. And some New Mexicans grumble about the cost of our commuter line, the Rail Runner, which I love. The fact is, some people still need the trains to get from point A to point B, or to move their goods efficiently. Riding the rails is not just a pleasant Sunday excursion. Forget nostalgia—we need trains, modernized trains, to be a part our transportation network. If the SFSR’s trips can convince folks of that, then I’m all for them.

There Will Be No Blood

December 25, 2011 2 comments

Faithful readers know that it doesn’t take much to set the History Nerd into a tizzy. Just a few words can do it, as this post on the Civil War shows. This week, it was the simple phrase “bloodless conquest.” A circular from the History Book Club (the HN has been a faithful member for decades) used that phrase while promoting a new book on Stephen Kearny’s trek into California during the Mexican War. Along the way to what would become the Golden State, Kearny traveled through New Mexico, taking control of the territory for the United States. That’s where the offending phrase came in.

The sanctuary that wasn't.

The ordeal here in the Land of Enchantment, HBC’s blurb claimed, was a “bloodless conquest.” Hmm, I thought, what about the remains of that church at Taos Pueblo I’ve written about before? Didn’t the cannon fire that reduced it to rubble spill some blood too?

I suppose the copy meant bloodless in the sense of no large-scale clash of armies, and that was certainly true. When the Mexican War began, the governor of New Mexico was Manuel Armijo, a local wealthy landowner. He asked Mexico for more troops and began to muster a volunteer force. About 1,700 U.S. soldiers under Kearny were soon on their way from Kansas to New Mexico, and they knew who the enemy’s leader was. As they marched the Americans sang a little tune with words penned by one of their own: “Oh, what a joy to fight the dons, and wallop fat Armijo! So clear the way to Santa Fe! With that we all agree, O!”

Kearny’s men reached New Mexico in August. Armijo never received the promised reinforcements (unlike in 1841, when the Mexican government sent aid to thwart a planned attack by Texans intent on seizing New Mexico for themselves—perhaps one reason among many why Texans are still somewhat scorned here today?), and he knew his local volunteers were no match for the Americans. Also influencing him were several Americans who acted as emissaries for the U.S. government. The story goes, among Anglo sources at least, that Armijo was persuaded to abandon any thought of resistance, with some greenbacks making the decision a little easier for the guv to make. The state historian here disputes that Armijo took a bribe. In any event, the governor left Santa Fe for Chihuahua and Kearny took control unopposed. It was, as New Mexican historian Marc Simmons notes, the first time U.S. troops had conquered a foreign capital. Manifest Destiny, indeed!

Some New Mexicans welcomed the commander and his troops. After all, they were American immigrants who had settled there years before. But the Spanish and Indian populations were not as thrilled. Wealthy landowners in Santa Fe and Albuquerque, fearing the inevitable Anglo land grab, began organizing a rebellion by the end of 1846. Details of the plan leaked out and the leaders were arrested. But to the north in Taos, new leaders emerged, determined to fight for their land (proving once again that one man’s freedom fighters are another’s insurgents—or, in the language of the day, “insurrectionists”).

Fort Burgwin, named for one of the American soldiers killed in Taos.

The Taos Rebellion started with the killing of the American governor, Charles Bent, in January 1847. Also killed in the first blows of the rebellion were several dozen other Americans there and in other northern towns. The Niles Register, a prominent newspaper of the day, relayed news of the deaths, noting also that “their families [were] despoiled.”

U.S. forces moved north from Santa Fe to squash the revolt, and they found the New Mexicans in the church at the Taos pueblo. Not recognizing the hiding place as a sanctuary, the Americans opened fire. Cannon shot and flame destroyed most of the church; the ruins of it are still standing next to the pueblo’s cemetery. The better-armed Americans then killed about 150 Indians and New Mexicans. Fighting also took place in Mora. The residents there fled before the invaders destroyed all the buildings and set fire to crops. Soon after, most of the rebel leaders were captured and tried for treason, an oddity given, in the words of our state historian, “the illogic and in fact illegality of convicting citizens of another nation of ‘treason.’” But invading armies are not always known for their logic or legality, eh? In any event, the convicted were executed.

And the amazing thing about these several weeks of conflict and killing? It was all bloodless.

The HBC wording that incited this rant just goes to show that you can’t always believe marketing copy (as if anyone needed the History Nerd to affirm that…).  And it seems like another example, intentional or not, of how some people tend to whitewash certain aspects of our history. But here in New Mexico, some folks don’t forget.

Take Me Back to Taos

December 17, 2009 4 comments

A recent conversation turned to traveling, and destinations in the Southwest came up. I don’t recall if someone mentioned Arizona or New Mexico, but I quickly offered my opinion that Phoenix is a hellhole I could easily never visit again, and that one of my favorite places in the world is northern New Mexico, specifically Taos.

On the High Road from Santa Fe to Taos

One of my tablemates had never heard of Taos, which I guess is not surprising if you’ve never been to the region. Home to barely 4,000 souls, it probably only registers for culture mavens, students of US history, and skiers.

The pueblo

For most tourists, the main attraction is the Taos Pueblo, just a few miles out of town. Some times when I’m relaxing, I imagine taking that drive from the center, bearing right, heading past the tiny “casino,” and pulling into the parking lot. To your left is a cemetery and ruins of a church (more on that later), while the center is filled with the original adobe pueblo. Behind it is part of the Sangre de Christo Mountains and the unseen Blue Lake, a sacred site said to be the birthplace of the Taos Indians. To the right is another part of the pueblo. The pueblo’s claim to fame: It has been continuously inhabited for 900 or so years, longer than any other spot in the country. About 150 people live in there year round, eschewing electricity and other modern conveniences as they remain true to their culture. Other tribal members live near the pueblo and spend time there during the summer.

The people of Taos are sometimes called Pueblo Indians, along with the other Indians of the region. They trace their roots to the Anasazi and Mogollon of centuries past. The native New Mexicans speak three different but related languages; Taos and several other pueblos nearby use Tiwa. The Taos and tribes from the other pueblos nearby greeted the Spanish when they explored the region in 1540. Unfortunately for them, the Spanish were looking for more than just a hearty welcome. Gold topped the list, along with converts to Catholicism. Suffice to say, as in Florida and just about everywhere else the Spanish came ashore in North America, the visitors did not bode well for the Pueblo Indians.

And again

The Spanish largely ignored New Mexico until 1598, when the first settlers trekked north from Mexico. Under the leadership of Juan de Onate, they subdued various Pueblo tribes. By 1680, the Indians were feeling less hospitable, and Taos and the other pueblos united in a successful, though short-lived, rebellion. The leader, a shaman named Popé, lived for a time in Taos. The people there had shown their resistance to foreign rule even earlier, killing a missionary decades before. But after the Spanish reconquest of northern New Mexico, the Taos and their neighbors remained under Spanish rule for almost 150 years. Only to see another bunch of white-skinned outsiders seize power during the Mexican War.

The remains of the mission church

Among many US leaders of the 1840s, taking Mexican lands, especially the much-coveted California, was part of America’s grand “Manifest Destiny,” a mission from God much less entertaining than the one Blues Brothers undertook. In 1846, soon after the Mexican War began, US forces quickly took control of northern New Mexico. Charles Bent, an American trader who lived in Taos, was named the governor. Local Indians and Spanish New Mexicans joined forces to resist their new rulers, killing Bent and other Americans. The rebel leaders, along with civilians, holed up in the Taos Pueblo mission church, where a much-better armed American force carried out a retaliatory attack. The remains of the church and the graves nearby still remind the Taos of their introduction to US rule.

In later years, another American who lived in Taos, Kit Carson, did his part to endear the Americans to the Native Americans of the region. He carried out bloody attacks against the Navajo, as the US government tried to force them onto reservations. You don’t often hear as much about that as you do his exploits as a frontiersman. His house is in downtown Taos (such as it is) and serves as a museum.

New Mexicans, whether Spanish or Indian, were not too respected by the incoming Anglos. That’s one reason why it took so long for New Mexico to become a state, as American leaders doubted their ability to practice democracy. But finally, the territory joined the Union in 1912, and soon artists discovered the natural beauty of northern New Mexico. Socialite Mabel Dodge Luhan built a home in Taos and invited artists to work there. Georgia O’Keefe and Ansel Adams were just two who accepted the offer, drawn to the light and the mountains and allure of the high desert. D.H. Lawrence came too, and he later bought land outside Taos (of course O’Keefe became the most permanent transplant of all, settling down in not-too-distant Abiquiu).

Taos sunset on my last visit

Today Taos still has its cultural scene and a counterculture feel. The three influences – Pueblo, Spanish, and Anglo – live side-by-side, if not always comfortably. I’m drawn to the region because of that blending, because of the history, and because of the spiritual sense I feel as I look at the mountains or watch the sunset. After my first visit, travelers’ Stockholm syndrome took hold: I was ready to sell most of my possessions and move there. I didn’t, but I still think about it. In the meantime, I visit whenever money allows, And when I meet people who have never heard of Taos, I quickly tell them of all its splendors.

People Come, People Go

November 10, 2009 Leave a comment

When I was a kid, my father pulled out an old arrowhead that came from somewhere around our house. I don’t know if he had found it;  maybe the workmen who built our house had. Sadly, I also don’t know where it ended up, that little piece of Connecticut history.

If I still had that arrowhead, I could bring it to Nick Bellantoni. He, of course, would have seen its value as an artifact. He might have been able to date it and tell me more about who made it. And if he’d been around when it had been discovered, maybe he would have called off the house building and called in his team. Bellantoni is the state archaeologist.

IMG_1350

Bellantoni holds a net sinker, used by CT Indians, well, to sink their fishing nets

Most states, by law, have a state archaeologist. Connecticut’s is supposed to “identify, manage, and preserve Connecticut’s archaeological resources.” In his job, Bellantoni works with Indian tribes to preserve skeletal remains; reviews privately funded development projects to watch for any impact on culturally important sites; and assists local officials in preserving history (among other duties). Last weekend, Bellantoni was in West Haven to speak about Connecticut’s Indian heritage, as he and other archaeologists understand it.

The talk was kind of an Archaeology 101, since the audience was mostly curious laymen attending a Native American arts and crafts festival. Bellantoni discussed the basic chronological periods archaeologists use to classify the different Indian cultures in North America: paleo (roughly 13,000 to 7,000 years ago), archaic (7,000 to 3,000 years ago), woodland (3,000 to 600 years ago), and contact (time of the first European explorations).

He also talked about the last great Ice Age, when the ice was a mile thick over Connecticut. The gigantic glacier, and later its melting waters, shaped southern New England. Pointing to Long Island Sound just a literal stone’s throw from the lecture hall, Bellantoni explained that it was once a fresh-water lake. The rising seas linked the lake to the Atlantic, and covered up some Indian villages in the region, meaning some archaeological treasures are almost impossible to find. The Mashantucket Pequots and scientist/deep-sea explorer Robert Ballard are teaming up to search for submerged sites off the New England shore.

Bellantoni described the hunter/gatherer lifestyle of Connecticut’s first settlers, noting that mastodons once plodded across the region. Archaeologists have located the huge mammals’ remains at six CT sites. Then he discussed the transition to a farming-based, more sedentary lifestyle, centered around the three main Indian crops across the Americas: beans, corn, and squash. But even as agriculture rose in importance, Connecticut’s Indians moved between seasonal sites. And the Sound, with abundant sea life, remained important to their culture.

IMG_1351

Connecticut has about 5,000 known archaeological sites.

With no written records, archaeologists study the artifacts the Indians left behind, and the signs of their impact on the environment. High-powered microscopes let the history detectives decipher the “scars” on arrowheads and other stone tools. The distinct markings help the archaeologists determine which were used to cut meat, which were for leather or plants. Some tools contain microscopic blood residue from slaughtered game, letting the scientists pinpoint which animals a long-ago hunter killed.

Along with going over the nuts and bolts of his trade, Bellantoni made three observations that struck me. We modern folk, out of the Western/Near Eastern tradition, are a people of technology. We have made great changes in lifestyle based on technological advances, and we judge other cultures by their technology, or lack thereof. From Columbus on, the Indians were judged inferior because their technology was inferior—no guns, no mills, no metal tools. Never mind that they had adapted well to their environment and had developed a spiritual worldview that some would argue surpassed the West’s.

The second point was environmental. As much as some moderns praise the Indians for their rich, respectful relationship with nature, sometimes they had a negative impact on their surroundings. The archaeological evidence along the Sound shows signs of the overfishing of oysters. At one point, the Indians were hauling in oysters as big as a man’s shoe. Over time, the catch featured oysters more like the size of the modern mollusk. (And a recent NYT article showed a native people’s negative impact in South America: Deforestation of the ecologically vital huarango tree in Peru started several thousand years ago, as the Nazca cleared the trees to plant cotton and corn. The decimation continues today.)

So, maybe romantic notions of the pure aborigines and indigenous people of the world have to be put in perspective. The ancient Indians were people, people trying to survive. They did some things very smartly. They did some things that affected their environment in harmful ways. Of course, you can’t overlook the fact that an invading people basically destroyed their lifestyle and introduced their own ills.

And that leads to the third point. Several times, Bellantoni wondered what some far-future archaeologists will think of the remains they find from Homo sapiens Americanus. The long-abandoned refrigerators filled with plastic containers. The silicone breast implants near decayed bones  (my example, not his). The radioactive waste dumps. I wondered if the audience had ever pondered this point, one I have: We Americans will not be around forever. For all the talk of a city on a hill and the indispensable nation, our empire will fall, as all the ones before it have. Americans will not endure, just as America will not endure, not over the epochs. We will be merely the  studied; no longer the studiers or makers of history (assuming, as Bellantoni did say in a less-than-cheery moment, 21st-century humans don’t annihilate the world first with nuclear weapons).

Bellantoni’s work helps us learn more about the Indian world of long ago. Archaeology in general helps us see the links between our culture and distant ones, and hopefully remind us that any given people and their artifacts are just a blip in the grand historic scheme.

Holland on the Hudson

October 14, 2009 Leave a comment
Some tough times at sea for ol' Henry

Some tough times at sea for ol' Henry

To complete this week’s totally unplanned explorers’ trifecta, let’s take a look at Henry Hudson. New York, Amsterdam, and history nerds everywhere have been celebrating the 400th anniversary of the English sea captain’s jaunt up the river that now bears his name. Hudson, of course, was not looking for a good knish or a papaya smoothie when he sailed into New York Harbor. He, along with many other European explorers of the era, thought he could find a northern route across North America to Asia, the much-longed for Northwest Passage.

Hudson’s river didn’t stretch quite that far, and his ship the Half Moon could only sail to present-day Albany before it had to turn back. But Hudson’s journey convinced the Dutch to start trading with the Indians of New York, leading to the settlement of Manhattan and the river valley up to Albany. And don’t forget that the settlers from Holland also brought with them ice-skating, pancakes, and going dutch on dates.

Hudson didn’t spend any time in Manhattan, not even to christen the parkway named for him. He soon returned to England and put together another expedition to search for the Northwest Passage. Earlier, he had tried to sail due north over the Arctic Circle to reach Asia. That trip ended in failure. This time, he reached what is now Hudson Bay, where his crew mutinied, forcing him, his young son, and a few others into a small boat. The captain and his small band died a frozen death as the mutineers returned to England. (Thanks to Russell Shorto and his wonderful The Island at the Center of the World for these details.)

So peaceful - before the Dutch. And taxis.

So peaceful - before the Dutch. And taxis.

A few years later, the Dutch began their commercialization efforts in earnest, hoping to stoke a profitable fur trade with the Iroquois and other tribes of the region. Robert Juet, who had served under Hudson on the Half Moon, told Dutch officials that the Indians “were seeming very glad of our coming.” Sure, Bob – because you left, too! When the Dutch finally put down roots, and the English followed, the tribes might have had a different take on this alien invasion.

Adriaen Block came after Hudson, scouting the region and claiming a good chunk of neighboring Connecticut for the Dutch. (The upcoming 400th anniversary – mark your calendar, it’s just five years away! – of Block’s reaching modern-day Hartford will stir even more worldwide attention than this year’s doings for Hank.

Sure.

Still, we have Block Island. And a typically woeful attempt at urban revitalization in Hartford named Adriaen’s Landing.) Block’s boat for his Connecticut excursion was actually built on Manhattan or neighboring lands, after his first vessel burned. Friendly Indians helped the Dutch through the winter, providing them with food.

Still not too bad after the Dutch - it was those damn English who screwed it up!

Still not too bad after the Dutch - it was those damn English who screwed it up!

The first Dutch settlers came in 1624 (or at least the Dutch sent them—most were Protestant Walloons), landing on Governor’s Island. Some split for Delaware and Connecticut, some went north along Hudson’s river, a few stayed put. From those humble beginnings sprung the city that never sleeps, and where probably the most lasting Dutch presence is in place names—Brooklyn, the Bronx, Staten Island, the Bowery, the Catskills. A Dutch-themed tour of Manhattan, however, tries to put the lie to that notion.

This post might have stirred some Hudson-mania; you might have thought of proudly wearing a Henry Hudson 400th anniversary t-shirt, to mark the start of the Anglo-Dutch influences that shaped the growth of the Grote Appel. Bad news — the Henry Hudson 400 Foundation sold out in September. But you can still raise a jenever to the old guy, maybe while planning your next trip to the wonderful city he never could have imagined rising out of the Indian villages he saw in 1609.