We cannot with the antiquary wander back to the time, that remote period when this whole region was swept over by an engulfing wave that tore from the bosom of mother earth this tray shaped basin, and left these grand old hills, which long ages since became clad in Nature’s primeval garb, but we have endeavored to gather along the pathway of time some crude memorials in this lake’s history, which are fast passing away to be numbered with the oblivious past, and to rescue them from the “effacing finger of time” will be our present aim.
When we go to the buried past for items, we find the records dim, and all tradition vague and uncertain, but when we take a retrospective glance at the last decade in regard to this lake, we are obliged to say that its progress is onward, and the end not even the most sanguine can divine. The wildest daydreamer may wake on the morrow and find his schemes, air-castles and anticipations in a fair train for speedy realization and others more vast, gigantic and unthought-of-treading on their heels. Every day brings new comers and every boat comes swarming with new pleasure-seekers from all parts of our common country to mingle with those now here, to be a part and parcel to us.
Whoever has passed the shores or over the surface of this body of water, could not fail to be favorably and permanently impressed with its numerous indentations or coves; its beautiful wooded points or capes; its bold shores; its clean and gravelly beach; its cool, transparent water; its bracing, exhilarating atmosphere, and more than all, its apparent self knowledge of its own ease, beauty and picturesqueness, living in its own basin, scooped by the hand of God and surrounded by hillsides clothed in the primitive garb of nature, seemingly more fresh and more verdant by having this gem of waters to lap their base and reflect their towering and protecting forms.
With all its inexhaustible supply of fish which man in a state of nature must at times almost wholly rely on for food, which this lake had been able to give, and a thousand other inducements, it does seem that it should have a history that might well be called ancient, but when and where the human eye first caught a glimpse of it, it will be very hard to determine.
Whether it had an existence long before the planting of the forbidden tree in Eden, or a date “anterior to the fall of Lucifer,” or was partially stocked with bull-heads and suckers when God said: “Let the waters bring forth abundantly,” we know not.
This continent may have been an old one when Eden was first brought to light, as many men of science now agree, and if Adam’s early education was not neglected, he might have made the tour of America and taken in the Hemlock on his way. This may be visionary, but who knows to the contrary? When the waters “assuaged” in the days of those old mariners, Noah or Deucalion, or ages long since (as some say) this, on account of its purity, might have been kept here for the very purpose for which it is now appropriated.
Laying aside all theory and speculation, and taking the best evidence we have, - and that is tradition, - of the early occupation of the hills around us, we are prone to believe that Munsee maids were the Nereides of the lake, long before the discovery of America by Columbus, or the formation of the Iroquois League in 1450. In all probability, and we have tradition as the base, the Munsees were wholly exterminated at the death of the captive maiden On-no-lee by the Mengwees, and they in turn by the Senecas, previous to the league aforesaid.
Before the occupancy of this region by the Senecas we are unable to ascertain its name, but then became known in the Seneca tongue as the “O-neh-da Te-car-ne-o-di”, or in our language Hemlock lake - the latter word meaning lake. It was probably so named from the hemlock forest, lying along its western shore.
The story of the captive, Onnolee, is one of the numerous legends handed down to us from a very remote period, of the people who once lived, hunted, fished, and died in this locality.
Any nation, unschooled in the art of preserving records by a written language, its history must, of necessity, be vague and legendary, and these legendary remains were very often rude carvings or pictures on the war post, if they were reminiscences of glorious achievements on the battle field.
We have seen the trunks of trees and the wigwams of the wild Indian, where in his hieroglyphical way, many a story or point in history is imperfectly transmitted to later generations.
The legend of the last survivor of the Munsee nation, and hence its total extermination, has been beautifully rendered in rhyme by the lamented scholar and poet, W. H. C. Hosmer. The story is, that sometime during the fourteenth century, probably between 1350 and 1375 the Munsees, a small and friendly tribe of Indians, dwelt on Ball Hill, their village being situated somewhere on the west shore of Canadice Lake while the surrounding country was occupied by the Mengwees, a restless, warlike tribe.
The Munsees had so long lived in peace with other tribes that they little dreamed their small band was in danger. No ominous ghost, or serpent’s rattle had brought them warning that the fall of their nation was at hand, but at the solemn hour of midnight, when sleep and stillness brooded around their homes, the Mengwees, with one fell swoop, bathed their tomahawks in the innocent blood of their quiet, unwarned defenseless neighbors. The onslaught was complete, for nothing was left of people or wigwams, save Onnolee, by some called a maiden, by others the cherished wife of the bravest chief of the nation. She was taken, bound to the red belt of a famous leader, called Mickinac, and compelled to follow him, but at noon they rested for dinner beneath the branches of a spreading oak.
While he was partaking of his parched corn and smoke-dried venison, she cast into the dust that offered her, and with eagle eye and stealthiness of hand saw and grasped from his belt, and with one mighty thrust buried his belt-knife deep into the side of her captor. Her aim was perfect and the act effective.
And from that high rock she sprang.”
It is said, for more than three hundred years afterwards, that “oft in the stilly night” of summer, as moonbeams stole glances to kiss the tiny waters of the lake, the sainted form of the once beautiful Onnolee could be seen to rise from its watery home, and either vanish in upper air or return again to the bosom of the deep.
Of the Iroquois, of which the Senecas were a part, it is only necessary to say that they were able, at one time, to sound their war hoop from the “dark pine forests of Maine to the barren shores of the Superior, and the southern fastness of the Tallapoosa.” When and where they commenced the work of retaliation, nature presented no barrier to a successful campaign; they had a daring will and hand to execute.
A more splendid race of savages than the Senecas perhaps never manned a war canoe or drew a bow, and though sometimes driven back by superior force, yet they were never beaten.
It is said that when the marauding Sullivan came through the country of the Senecas they retired, but bent the top of a hickory down and withed it around the body to show that they were bent, but not broken. No savage nation ever had better warriors, better orators, or better statesmen.
Though the habits of the native denizen of the forests were migratory, yet how strong and deep seated were his attachments for home. He loved his hunting and fishing grounds, but, more than all, he loved the graves of his fathers, and desired that his bones might mingle with theirs, as strenuously did the old Hebrew Patriarch, that his might be carried back to Cannan.
The heart-broken son of the wilderness, in his last melancholy march towards the reclining sun, paused and took a farewell look at the hunting grounds of his race and the graves of his ancestors; but these are no more his to look upon, nor will the guardian Manitou watch over the young warrior and his dusky maiden in their moonlight wooing on the beautiful Hemlock, and the plowshare of the pale-face has obliterated all traces of the graves of his kindred.
The first white man among the Senecas that we have account of, were the Franciscan Father, Le Caron, in 1616, and Daillon in 1626, who was a Recollet missionary, and as the Hemlock was one of the great fishing grounds of the Seneca nation, and as vast numbers encamped around the lakes in the fishing season, it is not improbable that they erected the cross (the emblem of salvation) on its shores as early as the first date.
We can, as we look back to the earliest advent of the white race into the Indian country, but mark the strong contrast between the Spanish, English and French. The first came for gold, the second for territory, but the French, of both the Jesuit and Catholic orders, were men of faith and love. Whether they taught truth or falsehood; whether on the whole it had been better or worse for the cause of Christianity had they never been here, is foreign to our purpose.
It is enough for us to know that they were truly devoted to the cause of bettering the condition of the savage. “They went even where the sword of the conqueror could not cleave his way.
They build churches in the wilderness which were time-worn and crumbling when the first emigrant entered the forests. They preached to savages who never saw the face of another white man though they lived to three score and ten. They prayed upon the banks of lonely lakes and rivers which were not mapped by geographers for over a century after their deaths.”
They took the wandering native by the hand, received him as a brother and won him over to listen patiently. They traveled unarmed and alone where an army could not march, and their affection and devotion to their mother church were never forgotten, and their latest prayer was for the salvation of the simple native.
Passing along over the establishment of the first regular permanent missions in Western New York in 1656 at East Avon, Bloomfield, West Mendon and Victor, down to the treaty of 1763, which forbade the introduction of more recruits of the Jesuit order, and we arrive at the time when the English came into possession of this locality. At this time a few Indian traders lived where Geneva now stands.
Jemima Wilkinson and a few Friends on the west bank of Seneca lake, and two or three traders on Genesee river, and we have all the pale-faces in what was then called the “Genesee Country.”
About 1765 the Rev, Samuel Kirkland came as the first Protestant missionary among the Senecas. The earliest maps of the province of N. Y. viz : 1616, ‘18 & ‘31 are wholly silent in regard to Western New York, but in a map dated, 1768 the earliest one extant, giving anything like a correct view of any part of this region defining the boundaries according to the treaty of Fort Stanwix, we find no lakes laid down west of the Seneca.
In 1771 Guy Johnson, who was then the deputy agent of Indian affairs, drew and inscribed to Governor Tryon “a map of the countries of the Six Nations” and Canandaigua lake and the smaller lakes in this vicinity were not down, but they were known to exist, for he says “there are other lakes hereabouts but they cannot be laid down with certainty.”
In 1779 General Sullivan passed through Richmond and Livonia, touching the Hemlock near the residence of Prentice Chesbro thence north around the foot of the lake and towards the head of the Conesus, after destroying large quantities of beans and corn on the planting grounds of the Senecas at the foot of the lake.
Sullivan’s forces were composed partly of young stalwart men from the sterile soil of the mountains and hill-sides of New England.
The contrast, the change of the rugged scenery of the far eastern home to the beautiful landscapes, fine rolling up lands, fertile vales, and lovely lakes of this western Canaan, must have been with them in dreamland, as well as, in their wakeful hours, long after their return to their native land. Many of them, guided by that star of empire that ever wends its way westward, as soon as, the Revolution was over and state titles were settled, passed this way, and took a portion of the much wished for heritage, from Phelps and Gorham purchase in 1788 and ‘89, but said purchase was not mapped till 1790, when the Hemlock, for the first time, had a place on the maps of Western New York, but as the Canadice lay not on a township line, it was left out - may be it was not known to the surveyors.
The first map giving the lakes in this vicinity their true position was drawn in 1804, but made Hemlock much smaller than the Canadice, but in a map dated 1809, the lakes were given their relative size and true location.
Livonia, which encloses the northern end of the lake, was settled in 1789, Conesus in 1793, and Canadice in 1795. The first near settler to the Hemlock was Philip Short, who took up lands near the foot in 1795. Maloy the Hermit came from the lakes east of this, and built a cabin on what is now called “Blake’s” point, in about 1800, and after living there three or four years, went to Ohio. Hawley, Daniels, Little, Mitchell and Blake have each had their names attached to this point. John Hanna was an early settler on the lands now owned by Russell R. Jaques, and sold to Darius Jaques in 1824.
John Emmonds was also an early settler south of the St. James Hotel, on the west end of the Joseph Wemett farm, and east side of the road. Perez H. Curtice, Abner Goodrich, Hiram Bowen, Martin Bowen, Tom Saxby, Elijah Goodrich and Roswell and Charles Bliss, all had early home on the shores of this lake, and all of whom we will speak of hereafter.
Sir William Pultney and William Bowers who owned quite a tract of land in the town of Conesus and bordering on this lake, and that from a noted Indian chief of that name, and Canadice is from the Indian name of its lake, Ska-ne-a-dice.
Long before the formation of the town of Springwater, the whole interval at the head of the lake, some three miles in length was called “Hemlock Valley”, and said name was applied to the present village of Springwater, by the earliest settlers for many years afterwards. The hill that bounds the eastern shore is called both Ball and Bald, the former, from being a pretty true segment of a circle some thirteen or more miles in diameter, and the latter from its bald appearance in a very early day, caused by the frequent fires of the Senecas. The former is by far, at present, the more appropriate name.
Marrowback, the western hill, is said to get its name from the fact that two men, one from Turkey Hill in the western part of the town of Conesus, and the other from this hill once engaged in personal conflict: the one from this hill getting the better of his adversary, a by-stander said to the vanquished, “he has too much marrow in his back for you, sir.” How much truth there is in this, or how else it obtained its name we are unable to say.