This month we pay tribute to the Native American people and their significant contributions to our history and culture. Although the month is dedicated to all native people, the National Museum of the American Indian stresses that native people are not all the same. In their book, Do All Indians Live In Tipis?, they state that “Native people are best understood as thousands of distinct communities and cultures” each of which have “distinct languages, religious beliefs, ceremonies, and social and political systems.”
Here in North Castle, most of the people who were living in our area prior to the arrival of Europeans were the Siwanoys, who belonged to the larger Wappinger Confederacy. Their legacy is evident throughout town, starting with the name Armonk, which is derived from the Siwanoy word Warramaug, meaning “a good fishing place.”
Other place names remain with us today. In 1696, Siwanoy Chief (Sachem) Wampus sold 93 acres of land here. His name was later given to Wampus Pond and Wampus Elementary School. Mianus, North Castle’s Northeastern river, was named for Sachem Mayano, who presided over the sale of land in the Greenwich Connecticut area. The name for Kensico Dam and Reservoir came from Sachem Cockinseko. Coman Hill School is , depending on the source, named either for a Sachem Cohamong, or is another variation of the word for “the fishing place between the hills.”
From 1900-1902, Armonk was the site of several important discoveries of native artifacts. Dr. Raymond Harrington of the American Museum of Natural History led an archaeological exploration of rock shelters in the New York City area, and found that they were particularly numerous in Armonk. Rock shelters were used as inns or camping places as native people traveled from one place to another. The shelter they considered the most interesting was Finch’s Rock House, located on what is now known as Windmill Farm. A discussion of the many important discoveries that were made at the rock shelters can be found in the North Castle Historical Society pamphlets, which are linked on the library’s website.
The library is a great source for learning about the local history of North Castle, and the Native American people in general. Doris Finch Watson, who was North Castle Town Historian and whose family had a rich history in the area, had written many of the pamphlets. In her own words, “As we glance toward the hills and streams of our present township, perhaps we should pause a moment to remember those who lived here first, the Indians of North Castle –Our Native Americans.”