Go confidently in the direction of your dreams. Live the life you have imagined.

Henry David Thoreau

Mary Jemison and the Letchworth Museum

FridayAfternoon & Evening July 8, 2016                                                           Most Recent Posts:
Letchworth State Park                                                         
Breakfast at the Glen Iris Inn and an Ode to Waterfalls
Perry, New York                                                                                      Air Quality Alert Changes the Plan



I have forotten to mention that the President of the Friends of Letchworth who did the trail book I talked about in this post did call me.  She said they do not have anyone to walk the trails. Really?    So the book has not been updated and yes it should have said reprinted not revised.  I am having trouble with the idea that they don’t know 20 people who would each take a trail and write about it.  I suggest contacting a hiking group about some volunteer service or an Eagle scout troop.  Seems to me either of those would love a hiking challenge.  She listened and agreed and said she would pass my comments on to the park manager. 

But you know how you just know nothing is going to happen?  Well that’s how I felt.  Still I did the right thing and what they do with it is up to them.  But if you come, the book is good for a sort of ‘what you might see’ and some information about how to get there but not for serious directions.  Buyer beware the 2013 edition is not Revised or All New as it states on its cover.  It has not been actually updated in over 10 years. 

Also want to point out that some folks were confusing the Nature Center and the Visitor Center.  They are two different buildings here at Letchworth.  The VC has the bookshop and not much else.  So the neat LEED building is the Nature Center. The link to the Nature Center post is above in purple.  Ok  Enough of that.



Our Afternoon



My last post was all about our morning with food and falls. There is a link to it above in blue.  I left off as we headed to the Letchworth Museum.  I went first to the Seneca Council house and since we’d already been there once David went directly to the museum.

As one of the founders of the Buffalo Historical Society, William Pryor Letchworth developed a deep interest in the first people to live in Western New York. By 1871 he was making expeditions to early sites with other "gentlemen archaeologists", and building a collection of native artifacts. These studies led to his purchase of the deteriorating Caneadea Council House, the Nancy Jemison Cabin, and creating the Mary Jemison Memorial area with her grave and statue which constitute the Council Grounds on a bluff above his Glen Iris Estate.



Today the statue of Mary Jemison is between the Council House and the Cabin.  Mary Jemison was known as The White Woman of the Genesee and many books written about her life are available in the visitor center book shop.

In 1753, members of fifteen year old Mary Jemison’s family were killed and she was captured by the Seneca along the Pennsylvania frontier during the Seven Years’ War between the French, English, and Indian peoples of North America. She was adopted and incorporated into the Senecas, a familiar practice among the Iroquois and other Indian peoples seeking to replace a lost sibling or spouse.

Mary married a Seneca man and raised a family in the decades before and after the American Revolution.  She refused the opportunity to return home, finding life in Indian society more rewarding. In 1823 she supposedly related her life story to James Seaver, a doctor who lived near her home in western New York. Seaver’s story of “the white woman of the Genessee,” as she became known, sold over 100,000 copies in 1824.

Letchworth appeared fascinated with her and purchased a cabin she built for her daughter Nancy, had her grave moved from the reservation near Buffalo where she was living when she died in 1833 and errected this statue to her.




The statue is a really beautiful detailed work of art depicting Mary carrying her first born son on a long walk to the Seneca territory.





The plaque on the house reads “The log house which originally stood on the Gardeau Flats by the Genesee River was built about 1800 by Mary Jemison, The White Woman of the Genesee, for her second daughter Nancy.  In a nearby cabin also built by her she lived about 35 years.  She lived 78 years of her life as a captive and adopted member of the Senecas during
which time she became the wife of Chief Hiokatoo and gained great influence in their councils”.  In order to understand the last phrase it is necessary to know that most Native Tribes are matrilineal and women hold great power to advise and elect chiefs.



It is difficult to take pictures in the cabin as they have both entrances blocked by wire fencing.  The original door to her cabin is inside and encased for protection.




The chimney is made of stick and mud and cooking was done on the floor before it.



The log ladder leads to the loft.  Sure looks like a hard one to climb.



The Council house was moved here from Canadea and rededicated with what Letchworth called the Last Indian Council on the Genesee October 1, 1872.  The council was attended by local tribes people and two grandsons of Mary Jemison.




The inside is bare.






Across from the Council House is this latice gazebo which I assume is used for the talks about Mary Jemison given by museum staff a couple of times a week.  We have missed them both times.   It also can be reserved for weddings which it is while I am at the site.






The trial from the Council Grounds to the Museum heads down hill stopping at a landing with information panels about the Seneca traditions and beliefs.



I find their tribal organization into clans very interesting.



Equally interesting is how much of their land was taken from them even though they have a soverign treaty with the United States Government recognizing them as an independent nation.  Just like all the treaties before it I guess.


They show a picture of the extent of the original lands of the entire Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) Confederacy.  Why can’t we use their name for themselves rather than the French name from the 1700’s?   The Haudenosaunee were comprised of the Nations shown here.



Spider woman is also interested in this information.  


The last part of the trail takes me to the museum I can see below.



I come in at the back of the stone building and walk around to the beautiful front door to enter.



I understand the need for the railing but wish they had not put up the wooden sides and anchored it instead to the stone pillars lining the steps.



I love the beautiful transome above the door and Side-Lites.


Inside there are two rooms.  The one on the left has many of the artifacts and feels  like you are stepping back into the 19th century with its original display cases.






Look at the size of these fluted spear points.


The center piece of this section of Letchworth’s collection is the mastadon.



A farmer found the remains in 1876 7 miles from the park.  Letchworth purchased the remains and had them mounted and displayed. An adult mastadon stood between 6 and 10 feet tall at the shoulder and weighed between four and six tons. They could live up to 60 years.







I can tell what he ate by the shape of his teeth.  Looks like he hasn’t had a cleaning in a very long time.


Imagine David as a hunter going after this potentially over 10’ tall and 12000 pounds.  It definitely took a village.


The room contains many Native artifacts not only from the Seneca but from South American and Tribes of the Western United States.  I know this type of amateur archeology and buying of relics was, and in some places still is, in high fashion during Letchworth’s time.  I am hoping that at some point these collectors, including this museum, will do the right thing and return the pottery, pipes, moccasins and other things to the tribes of the descendents of their original owners.


Plains Indians Game Bag

                            Pottery from Peru AD 1000-1400












exquisitely beaded Lakota (Sioux) moccasins


There is also an entire wall on the story of Mary Jemison including her family tree of descendents and pictures of them.


The museum has three films you can view on a flat screen in their small screening room.  There is an excellent film on Letchworth’s life, one on the 1972 flood of the Genesee, one on the dam and another that I can’t remember.


In the room on the right as you enter is the amazing story of the life of William Pryor Letchworth who was born the 4th of 8 children to a Quaker family in 1823. At the age of fifteen he began his career in the saddlery and hardware business, as a clerk in the firm of Hayden & Holmes. Just ten years later he became a partner in the firm of Pratt & Letchworth of Buffalo New York which he built into a successful "malleable iron" business.   In 1859 he bought the first of what would become his Glen Iris Estate.  For his work in preserving the council house and the statue in honor of Jemison, the Seneca honored him with the name Hai-wa-ye-is-tah, "he who does the right thing."

Pressured to run for the state legislature,  he instead accepted an appointment to the New York State Board of Charities in 1873. I was very surprised to learn of what is his true legacy beyond the wonderful gift of the park.  Using only his own funds, he traveled Europe and the United States to study the treatment of epileptics and poor children. He wrote extensively on the two subjects, publishing two books: The Insane in Foreign Countries and Care and Treatment of Epileptics.  He slowly pushed New York State forward in creating institutions and systems to care for the helpless of society. The development of epileptic centers and the foster care system can be attributed to him.

He served as President for the National Association for the Study of Epilepsy and the Care of Treatment of Epilepsy, and as President of the First New York State Conference of Charities and Corrections, as well as President of the National Conference of Charities and Correction, held in St. Louis in 1884.

The last two things I want to comment on in the museum are the from life busts of two Seneca men.  These were done by Casper Myer in the late 19th Century.  I found it very moving to look at these life pictures and hope that their descendents too have seen them.




The museum is a beautiful little treasure filled with interesting things to see.  We of course were the only people who stayed longer than one leisurely walk around.  The inside doors we see as we leave are as beautiful as the outside ones coming in.



A closer look at the wonderful stone work on a corner of the museum.


Our Evening

I know I said yesterday that my Ode would be our last look at the falls but we decide tonight to make the 9 mile trip back up to see them lit at night.  There are two lights on the middle falls beginning at dusk.  My camera didn’t do a great job but the falls  certainly looked lovely as did the sliver of a moon in the sky above Glen Iris.





Tomorrow is our last night at the campground before moving on to the Finger Lakes.  We’re headed out of the park to the 10th Annual Perry Chalk Art Festival.   Perry is a small town, a village really, but we hear this annual event is well worth a visit.   David is particularly excited about their “Taste of Summer”.


  1. am sure I will be making a lot of notes about what you find to do in the Finger Lakes area, as that is on our list of things to do. . .

    I would say enjoy. . .but I'm sure by now. . .10 days later, you already have most of it done (wink, wink)

    1. Glad it's helpful Janice. I do love hearing from you. I've pretty much given up trying to stay up to date. It gets in the way of living my life. I figure the information is good whenever it gets posted. Hope you think so too.

  2. Glad to see you got to visit the museum. A neat little place just the right size for me:)

    1. Exactly! It was just enough, but not too much too be overwhelming. There was a LOT of information in those two rooms.

  3. Perhaps the park would offer you a site in the campground if you were to volunteer to revise the trail guide. That would be right up your alley I'm thinking.

    1. Interesting idea Judy. I hope they get someone to do it.

  4. I was glad to read toward the end that he was honored for doing the right thing, because initially I thought it was awful that he moved her grave. Her statue is beautiful. Spider Woman :-)))) I agree that we should be required to use the original tribal names - it makes me laugh when people get all huffy about people not speaking English in this country. Love these little museums packed full of so much information. The Mammoth is very impressive! The falls are beautiful all lit up.

    1. Everyone at that time seemed to feel she'd only gone to the reservation to be with her people and by then the area wasn't a reservation any more so he brought her back to where she'd lived. Her family was apparently glad too. You'd really love this area.

  5. Thank you for the great information and photos of this area. Dolly and I are heading that way this September to celebrate our 50th anniversary. I feel much more comfortable heading to that part of the country because of the information and photos in your blog.

    1. Good to hear from you again Doug. I wondered where you went. So glad my ramblings have made you more comfortable. Sounds like a wonderful way to celebrate. 50 years is quite something. Hope they have a lot of rain before you get here. That will make it spectacular.

  6. I was thinking the same thing as Judy, they should offer a site or two to good hikers to update the book. The things we workampers think of :) Hope you're enjoying the finger lakes, we love that area!

  7. Thought you would enjoy the history and Native American connection to this park. Your photo of David at the falls with the lights is WONDERFUL!!! It sort of looks like a Native American gazing at the falls:o))

  8. A look at Letchworth's life will make one feel pretty useless by comparison. He was so very dedicated, hard working and principled and definitely made a difference in the matters he chose to attend to. An inspiring character.

  9. The waterfalls are lovely in that light. The mastadon skull impresses me as well.

  10. I've never been to the Finger Lakes area of New York, but now that the mastodons are extinct, I guess it's safe for me to go there... :cD

  11. Sadly, almost all parks could use much volunteer help, and paid employees, yet there's very little money to even pay a volunteer coordinator. Think about doing it yourself.

    I love how you, and several others, share such a complete story of many places I've never heard of. I do like how people like Letchworth have spared and shared history by preservation just wish things weren't moved out of situ. The little museum is wonderful, inside and out. 1800's entrepreneurs often did good. Wonder why that can't happen today. So glad you went back for a night view of the falls.

  12. Just getting a chance to catch up on my blog reading, I've really enjoyed your post about Letchworth and hope to go there someday. Growing up in NY Iroquois history was a must in school, sadly I've forgotten so much of it. Great waterfall pictures.

  13. I second Nancy and Bill's comment about the picture of Dad looking at the falls at night - that's a great shot, I think. Very ethereal. 4 to 6 tons!! Those beasts were huge - what a history is recorded there at the cabin and the museum - very interesting. Letchworth lived a full life for sure.

  14. The story of Mary Jamison is fascinating—and the bronze of her is beautiful. We would definitely enjoy the museum and would linger, just as you did. That's why it's always good when museums are small—I always run out of time in big museums because I don't like to miss anything!


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