The Marker

2013 December 105
The Marker

First Posted on 

(on the day of the massacre of the people of the Conestoga 250 years ago)

Come with me now, Bright Souls
and we’ll sit in a circle together.
Silently a while.  Then we talk.

Light six candles
for the people of the longhouse
who died that wintry dawning.

The air is filled already
with too many words.
The day carries so many mutterings
on the wind, on the wings
of the vulture, drifting
above the broken fields.

Sheehays, Wa-a-shen,
Tee-kau-ley,
 Ess-canesh,
Tea-wonsha-i-ong,
Kannenquas.

If we are to keep awake,
to live in the place
where the heart stays open,
then perhaps we must look
into the teeth of the story.
Together we gaze at those shadows.
Together we speak their names.
Together we listen for the sparrow’s call.

At the place of the great stone
I did not speak their names.
I left my shell there at that place
in the glittering sun.

Some days I cannot bear the darkness,
but I will close my eyes and sing
while you keep vigil near me.
And when you falter, too,
I will have found the strength renewed
to witness the tale while you sing to me.

Perhaps you will not believe me
when I tell you: As I drove
that road toward the River,
six deer ran across blue shadows
cast by afternoon sun on snow,
over the fields to the road.
They paused a moment to watch
the golden fish of my car approach,
then slipped across Indian Marker Road
and were gone, past the still pond
and into a fringe of wood.

Paxtang Boys and Proud Boys

Today is a weighty day, a day with heft.

  • Here, in PA, we’ve got a wintry mix, clouding the sky and filling the air, adding a mood both festive and anxious.
  • Here in the US, we are rolling out a hopeful new vaccine for a viral pandemic that is currently killing more of us daily than the number killed on 9/11.
  • Here in the US, our Electoral College will cast their votes for a new president in an election more volatile than any since that of Abraham Lincoln.
  • Here in the US, many of us are still gasping in the wake of a seditious attempt by several states, the sitting president, and 126 elected House Republicans to destroy our democracy, an attempt thwarted by our judicial branch, in a display of the importance of multiple branches of government creating checks and balances on the abuse of power.
  • Here, on the planet, we gaze in awe at meteor showers and planets in conjunction, and a total solar eclipse visible from our southern hemisphere. Some of us are even now commemorating the stories and legends of sky-portents in the days of the coming of the Child of Light.
  • Here in PA (and in the US), we remember the murderous ride of the Paxtang Boys at dawn on this day in 1763, when they massacred six of the last remaining Susquehannock people in cold blood.
  • Over the weekend, we watched their heirs and legacies–Proud Boys and others–bellowing in the streets of our capital, attacking historically Black churches and desecrating Black Lives Matter flags. Will we stand up to them, this time?

Here is something I wrote last year about the Paxtang Boys’ ride and the ways in which we have loosed them again upon the innocent. Today, when the Proud Boys are marching, it feels more grimly apt than ever. At the end, I’ve included a poem I wrote after visiting the site of the massacre on this day in 2013:

On this day in the walk through the December labyrinth, I mark the death of six people in a small village fifteen miles from here on the other side of the river. On December 14, in 1763, a group of angry white men from the Paxtang area of Harrisburg saddled their horses in the darkness and rode to Conestoga, to a small village a couple miles from the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, where they burned the houses of the few remaining members of the Conestoga group of the Susquehannock people, and brutally murdered the six people they found there.

Fourteen residents of the village were away at the time, and escaped to Lancaster City, where they requested protection. Officials placed them in the county workhouse/jail on Water Street in the City for their protection. Two weeks later, just after Christmas, on December 27, the murderers broke into the jail and massacred everyone, men and women, elders and children.

The Paxtang Boys, as they were called, gathered reinforcements over the following days, and rode to Philadelphia, intent on murdering Native people taking refuge there. Only the forceful eloquence of Benjamin Franklin, who confronted them outside the city, kept them from continuing their murderous rampage. As far as I know, none of the men ever had to face justice for their murders. And in my research, I have found no account of anyone who tried to protect the villagers, either in their village or in Lancaster’s jail. Other than the cold comfort of locking them inside a jail cell (which proved in the end no protection at all), no one was able to offer the last remaining members of the Conestogas safe harbor.

One of my deep shadows this December is a fear of how we have let the Paxtang Boys out to ride again: white people’s rage, racism, privilege, a sense of entitlement to power and economic security, greed and grasping, fiercely protective anti-otherness. I need to keep probing this shadow, exposing my fear of today’s Paxtang Riders, so that I can be ready to stand against them, to stand between them and the vulnerable people they are intent to destroy.

Today, so many who have been seeking safe harbor within the borders of my country have been denied that safety, have been turned away to wait in squalid camps where they are in danger of looting and rape and kidnapping and murder, have been separated from their parents/children by my government and thrown into cold cells, have been forced to hide for fear of deportation. I cannot escape the irony of the modern-day name of the road where the stone marker memorializes the Paxtang Boys’ massacre of local indigenous people: Safe Harbor Road.

How shall we prepare ourselves to be Safe Harbor in days when the Paxtang Boys are riding again?

Here is a poem I wrote in 2013, after I visited the site of the stone marker at the place where the massacre occurred, at the corner of Safe Harbor and Indian Marker Roads. The names of the six who died on this day are in the poem.

Come with me now, Bright Souls
and we’ll sit in a circle together
silently a while. Then we talk.

Light six candles
for the people of the longhouse
who died that wintry dawning.

The air is filled already
with too many words.
The day carries so many mutterings
on the wind, on the wings
of the vulture, drifting
above the broken fields.

Sheehays, Wa-a-shen,
Tee-kau-ley, Ess-canesh,
Tea-wonsha-i-ong,
Kannenquas.

If we are to keep awake,
to live in the place
where the heart stays open,
then perhaps we must look
into the teeth of the story.
Together we gaze at those shadows.
Together we speak their names.
Together we listen for the sparrow’s call.

At the place of the great stone
I did not speak their names.
I left my shell there at that place
in the glittering sun.

Some days I cannot bear the darkness,
but I will close my eyes and sing
while you keep vigil near me.
And when you falter, too,
I will have found the strength renewed
to witness the tale while you sing to me.

Perhaps you will not believe me
when I tell you: As I drove
that road toward the River,
six deer ran across blue shadows
cast by afternoon sun on snow,
over the fields to the road.
They paused a moment to watch
the golden fish of my car approach,
then slipped across Indian Marker Road
and were gone, past the still pond
and into a fringe of wood.

Twelvenight: Rachel Weeps

One thing about the Fool. The Fool somersaults and tumbles, one minute leaping high, and then pratfalling underneath the table the very next. The Fool shows us our up-and-down-selves, our extremes, our fluctuations, our truth. The Fool may tell jokes, but in the next breath comes a story to break your heart and tear you open.

In the Christian tradition, the holy blessed silence and the ringing song, the quiet candlelight, and the stories of shepherds and magi, are followed by a story so terrible we can hardly encompass it. We want to look away. Please, let me get back to finishing the Christmas cookies and playing that funny new game. Let me get back to gazing at the twinkling tree with a cat on my lap and that new book in hand. But this story will not be ignored.

I am leading worship in church this Sunday, and even the lectionary can’t make up its mind. We begin with the Hallelujahs! All creation celebrates the coming of the Child of Promise! Holy, holy, holy.

Then we enter the doorway of the Gospel reading and everything changes. An angry king, desperate to hold onto his own power, hears of the birth of a new king and orders a genocide of baby boys. Our hearts read this part fast, and rush with the Holy Family through dark of night, across a border to a safer land. We turn our faces away from the carnage they have left behind. We cannot bear to look. Yet even as we approach the border to safety with the vulnerable Mary-Joseph-Jesus, we hear Rachel wailing in the distance behind us.

Through the long hallways of space and time, we can still hear her howling her grief-rage, her despair. Whenever atrocities occur, Rachel’s voice from Ramah, from Bethlehem, rises, howling despair through the hollow places in our bones.

Herod’s men have ridden throughout history, committing unmentionable atrocities in every land. Men’s histories speak of strategy and honor in war, omitting the rape of women and children, the murder of the innocents. Even today, textbooks in the United States tell children that slavery, while not a good thing, was a dreamy transaction that protected and provided for the enslaved, making little or no mention of the inhuman atrocities committed by the powerful against the powerless. Their history books tell of brave frontier communities battling fierce Native warriors, forgetting that it was the Europeans doing the invading, committing genocide against the communities that thrived here before them.

On this day in 1763, the Paxtang Boys mounted their horses for a second time, to finish the terrible job they began on the 14th of the month when they wiped out everyone–mostly elderly people and children–in the last village of Conestoga people in Lancaster County. On this day, while the people of Lancaster City were at holiday concerts and parties, the Paxtang Boys rode into Lancaster, bribed or threatened the jail-keeper (unless he was in league with them), and savagely murdered the remaining villagers–children, elders, and others who were being kept in the poorhouse for their own safety. Rachel’s voice sounded through the halls of history, for there was no one left of the Conestogas to howl and wail. The genocide was complete.

They were completely and utterly defenceless. They were scalped and dismembered. Their names were Kyunqueagoah, Koweenassee, Tenseedaagua, Kanianguas, Saquies-hat-tuh, Chee-na-wen, Quaachow, Shae-e-kah, Tong-quas, Ex-undas, Hy-ye-naes, Ko-qoa-e-un-quas, Karen-do-nah, and Canu-kie-sung.

Herod’s soldiers, and the slave-owners, and the Paxtang Boys all continued to live respectable lives in their communities, powerful and dignified. Rachel’s life, and her sisters’ lives down throughout history, have been inexorably altered, marked by the horrors of the brutality committed by “respectable law-abiding” citizens.

And today? Where are Herod’s men enforcing Herod’s lust for power against the powerless? Where are the Paxtang Boys, claiming to keep their communities safe from the Other, instead committing atrocities against the Other? They won’t look like wild and raging desperadoes. They’ll be cloaked in the garb of respectability and community sanction.

Can you hear Rachel weeping? Can you hear her howls rending the air? She is inconsolable.

Can we welcome the holy child of light and promise, and turn our faces away from children torn from their parents and placed in cages? Can we gaze on the graceful face of Mary and ignore the wailing of her sister Rachel, her sisters Maria and Raquel and Isabella and Jimena?

Advent 14: Becoming Safe Harbor

On this day in the walk through the December labyrinth, I mark the death of six people in a small village fifteen miles from here on the other side of the river. On December 14, in 1763, a group of angry white men from the Paxtang area of Harrisburg saddled their horses in the darkness and rode to Conestoga, to a small village a couple miles from the Susquehanna River in Lancaster County, where they burned the houses of the few remaining members of the Conestoga group of the Susquehannock people, and brutally murdered the six people they found there.

Fourteen residents of the village were away at the time, and escaped to Lancaster City, where they requested protection. Officials placed them in the county workhouse/jail on Water Street in the City for their protection. Two weeks later, just after Christmas, on December 27, the murderers broke into the jail and massacred everyone, men and women, elders and children.

The Paxtang Boys, as they were called, gathered reinforcements over the following days, and rode to Philadelphia, intent on murdering Native people taking refuge there. Only the forceful eloquence of Benjamin Franklin, who confronted them outside the city, kept them from continuing their murderous rampage. As far as I know, none of the men ever had to face justice for their murders. And in my research, I have found no account of anyone who tried to protect the villagers, either in their village or in Lancaster’s jail. Other than the cold comfort of locking them inside a jail cell (which proved in the end no protection at all), no one was able to offer the last remaining members of the Conestogas safe harbor.

One of my deep shadows this December is a fear of how we have let the Paxtang Boys out to ride again: white people’s rage, racism, privilege, a sense of entitlement to power and economic security, greed and grasping, fiercely protective anti-otherness. I need to keep probing this shadow, exposing my fear of today’s Paxtang Riders, so that I can be ready to stand against them, to stand between them and the vulnerable people they are intent to destroy.

Today, so many who have been seeking safe harbor within the borders of my country have been denied that safety, have been turned away to wait in squalid camps where they are in danger of looting and rape and kidnapping and murder, have been separated from their parents/children by my government and thrown into cold cells, have been forced to hide for fear of deportation. I cannot escape the irony of the modern-day name of the road where the stone marker memorializes the Paxtang Boys’ massacre of local indigenous people: Safe Harbor Road.

How shall we prepare ourselves to be Safe Harbor in days when the Paxtang Boys are riding again?

Here is a poem I wrote in 2013, after I visited the site of the stone marker at the place where the massacre occurred, at the corner of Safe Harbor and Indian Marker Roads. The names of the six who died on this day are in the poem.

Come with me now, Bright Souls
and we’ll sit in a circle together
silently a while. Then we talk.

Light six candles
for the people of the longhouse
who died that wintry dawning.

The air is filled already
with too many words.
The day carries so many mutterings
on the wind, on the wings
of the vulture, drifting
above the broken fields.

Sheehays, Wa-a-shen,
Tee-kau-ley, Ess-canesh,
Tea-wonsha-i-ong,
Kannenquas.

If we are to keep awake,
to live in the place
where the heart stays open,
then perhaps we must look
into the teeth of the story.
Together we gaze at those shadows.
Together we speak their names.
Together we listen for the sparrow’s call.

At the place of the great stone
I did not speak their names.
I left my shell there at that place
in the glittering sun.

Some days I cannot bear the darkness,
but I will close my eyes and sing
while you keep vigil near me.
And when you falter, too,
I will have found the strength renewed
to witness the tale while you sing to me.

Perhaps you will not believe me
when I tell you: As I drove
that road toward the River,
six deer ran across blue shadows
cast by afternoon sun on snow,
over the fields to the road.
They paused a moment to watch
the golden fish of my car approach,
then slipped across Indian Marker Road
and were gone, past the still pond
and into a fringe of wood.

The marker at the corner of Indian Marker Road and Safe Harbor Road.

Envisioning:
(At the beginning of Advent, my pastor asked us to hold the swords-into-ploughshares vision in our heads, to look for stories of people choosing that vision. For the next little while, I am going to look for such stories as my daily morning meditation.)

This week, a friend of mine who lives in Arizona wrote about visiting Casa Alitas, a program of Catholic Community Services of Southern Arizona, which provides immediate assistance to migrants who have been released by ICE and the border patrol onto the streets without any assistance, after their grueling journeys and government processing. Sometimes as many as 240 people come to the Casa Alitas hospitality center in a day. The worker and volunteers of Casa Alitas hold a vision of a community which offer help and safe harbor to people in the direst of circumstances. You can go the Casa Alitas website and click on the donate link at the bottom of the page to help them offer safe harbor.

Walk in Beauty

leaf2

Every December, as we begin to seek our way down the steps into the last darkness before the light returns, I carry within me the story of the Conestogas, the last tiny village of Susquehannock people who lived in Lancaster, who were brutally massacred by the Paxtang Boys, a band of white men who wanted to wipe out the Native people.

I suppose it’s because last week I was going through some of my poetry that mentioned them that their names were in my head, but this morning during my insomniac looping, the names began to appear in my brain-loop, like messages: Sheehays, Wa-a-shen, Ess-Canesh, Tea-wonsha-i-ong, Kannenquas, Tee-kau-ley. These were the six who were murdered in their village in Conestoga on the morning of December 14, 1763. I tried several years ago to memorize their names, but I didn’t realize that I had managed it until the wee hours of this morning. They appeared like a message. Two weeks later, the marauders broke into the Lancaster jail, where the remaining six adults and eight children of the Conestoga band were being kept for their protection, and killed them all.

May we do better in these days. May we be more effective at standing between the vulnerable ones and the marauders. How can we keep the Paxtang Boys from riding again?

* * * * * * * *

Today’s Prompt is to write a poem that begins: I Want __(Blank)__. I am tired and I still have work to do, so this will be a little riff.

I Want the Moon
by Beth Weaver-Kreider

I want the moon on a platter.
I want my cake and a side of pie.
I want a day when no one needs me.
I want a Michelangelo sky.

I want to wander in an oak grove.
I want to sing incantations in the rain.
I want to run away to islands.
I want to come back home again.

I want to sleep in a seaside hammock.
I want to memorize every color of blue.
I want to write a thousand poems.
I want to spend more time with you.

Gratitude List:
1. Sometimes things just work out better than you expect them to. Big sighs of relief.
2. These two little (not-so-little) rosy-cheeked folks at my table.
3. How Jon takes care of us when I can hardly remember to take care of myself.
4. Leaves
5. The comfort of knowing that you are there, holding all this, too. So many of us are doing the Work, day by day and minute by minute.  So much love.

May we walk in Beauty!