The Marker

At the T, where Indian Marker Road meets River Road, is a Plaque that commemorates the site of Conestoga Indian Town, where the last of the Conestogas lived–the Conestogas, who were the last of the Susquehannocks, a large and prosperous people at the time of the European invasion, tall of stature, who fished and farmed and traded and hunted and built large settlement-towns along the Susquehanna River. By 1763, their numbers were so greatly reduced by war, illness, attacks by colonists, and forced repatriation, that only this small village remained.

Yesterday I visited the marker again, on the 259th year since the genocidal ride of the Paxtang Boys murdered six of the remaining inhabitants of the tiny town. Someone had been there before me. A bundle of dried sage hung from the marker on a red string, new feathers were tucked into the crevices, and fresh roses were laid at the base of the marker. I added my stone, and turned to the east, where Chief’s Hill rises into the winter-grey sky.

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

Several years ago, I memorized their names, feeling the new combinations of vowel and consonant slide up my throat and across my tongue, clicking my throat closed at those interruptive hyphens, wondering how close I was getting to the sounds they used for themselves. Then, a year or more after I had memorized their names, I woke up one morning, aware that I had been chanting them in a dream.

Today, in a pouch I often wear around my neck, I carry the list of their names, and of the final fourteen who were murdered on December 27th of that year, when the Paxtang Boys rode again.

I have no doubt that people were shocked and aggrieved and outraged at the murderous acts of the Paxtang Boys. Still, none of them were brought to justice. The murders of the Conestogas, the final act of genocide, went unavenged. Though Benjamin Franklin himself called out for justice upon them, justice was never done.

And today? What does justice look like, for the Conestogas? For other First Nations people here?

And who are the Paxtang Boys of today? Are we stopping them? Are we putting ourselves between them and the vulnerable people they would destroy? Who will speak out and stand up for the ones who stand in the path of the riders?

For more detailed information about the Susquehannocks, their origins, and this story, please buy a copy of Ghost River, a graphic novel with extensive interpretive text. From the web page: “Written by Lee Francis 4 (Sixkiller, Tales of the Mighty Code Talkers), illustrated by the incomparable Weshoyot Alvitre (Deer Woman: An Anthology, Sixkiller) and edited by Will Fenton (The Library Company of Philadelphia), this new graphic novel from Red Planet Books and Comics chronicles the last days of the Conestoga People and brings their story to light; a story of despair and hope, loss and love, ancestors and the ghosts of history that are always with us.”


Gratitude List:
1. Snow Day! (Ice Day, actually) My school does not do Remote learning during snow days, so I am resting and writing and folding clothes and reading. . .
2. The people who work for justice, who truly care about restoration, who believe that people are more important than institutions and structures
3. Boundaries. Good, strong, solid, clear boundaries
4. That one scarlet leaf up there in that bush
5. Fairy ice along every twig of the tiny Japanese maple on the hill.
May we walk in Beauty and Justice!


“We are the nurturers, the encouragers of all the dreams, all the seeds deep in all the hearts where the future of a redeemed and rescued land now dwells. So we hold fast and see beneath the snow, always calling others to recognize their own magnificent possibilities, to see and plant and join our hope with theirs.” —Vincent Harding, Hope and History


“How does a woman know? She listens. She listens in. Like light on waves.” —Margaret Atwood


“Every moment is a gift of life.” —Thich Nhat Hanh


“Only a fool knows everything.” —African proverb


“Note to self: If you want to have loving feelings, do loving things.” —Anne Lamott


“If you are not in the arena getting your ass kicked on occasion, I am not interested in or open to your feedback. There are a million cheap seats in the world today filled with people who will never be brave with their own lives, but will spend every ounce of energy they have hurling advice and judgement at those of us trying to dare greatly. Their only contributions are criticism, cynicism, and fear-mongering. If you’re criticizing from a place where you’re not also putting yourself on the line, I’m not interested in your feedback.” —Brené Brown


“God made mud. God got lonesome. So God said to some of the mud, “Sit up. See all I’ve made….the hills, the sea, the blue sky, the stars.” And I was some of the mud that got to sit up and look around. Lucky me. Lucky mud.” —Kurt Vonnegut


“‪The fact that feathers are naturally occurring objects is beyond awe inspiring.‬” —Jarod K. Anderson, The Cryptonaturalist


“‪The best poems are owls. A reflection of the landscape, but singular and strange. Smooth and effortless as smoke. A trick of the eye that scatters bones in the underbrush, hard and real.‬” —Jarod K. Anderson, The Cryptonaturalist

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.