Battlefield project moves forward, researchers shift focus to getting permission to study land

Last modified: 11/16/2015 2:25:03 PM
TURNERS FALLS — With much of the work complete in the first phase of a study of the Battle of Great Falls — a decisive fight of King Philip’s War that took place on the banks of the Connecticut River between present-day Gill and Montague — efforts are already underway to secure a second grant from the National Park Service for the next phase of archaeological research.

During its monthly meeting this week, the project’s advisory board and Dr. Kevin McBride, leader of the Connecticut-based research team conducting the study, offered suggestions about the first draft of the researchers’ technical report, which was recently completed along with narratives from two Native American tribes. The group also discussed plans for moving forward, including obtaining permission from landowners in core study areas to conduct archaeological work.

Last week, the team held an informational meeting for landowners in the Riverside section of Gill — the area where it’s believed approximately 150 English militiamen led by Capt. William Turner carried out the battle’s initial attack during the early hours of May 19, 1676, killing about 300 Native Americans.

“The meeting was a smashing success,” said Ivan Ussach, chairman of the Gill Historical Commission. He said between 20 and 25 residents attended and eight or nine handed in permission forms to allow researchers on their property.

This initial phase of the project involved gathering data and looking for artifact and document collections pertaining to the war, and was funded by a $60,000 site identification and documentation grant from the National Park Service’s American Battlefield Protection Program. To be considered for a second grant, McBride said the Park Service will want to see enough landowner consent, as well as letters of support from local historical commissions, among other things.

Ussach said researcher David Naumec told him they were “good to go” in terms of landowner permission after the Gill meeting.

Next steps, according to Montague Town Planner Walter Ramsey, include getting permission to study properties in Montague and Greenfield, including the Factory Hollow side of the Fall River, the Greenfield swimming pool, where it’s believed Turner was killed, and White Ash Swamp.

McBride said those areas could change as archaeologists begin their work, searching for artifacts primarily with metal detectors.

“When they get on the ground, this is going to evolve,” he said.

Ramsey said he’s reached out to FirstLight Power, which owns land in study areas on both sides of the Connecticut River, as well as in Factory Hollow.

“They’re probably the largest land owner in the study area,” he said. “They would be huge to get on board.”

Ramsey said it will likely take time to hear back, since approval would have to come from the company’s corporate office.

The aim of the project is to eventually create a cultural center in town.

During the meeting, the board also discussed the narratives it received from the Nipmuc and Stockbridge-Munsee tribes, which detail their accounts of the battle as well as its lasting effects. The group is still waiting on narratives from the Narragansett and Wampanoag Tribe of Gay Head (Aquinnah) tribes.

David Tall Pine White, representative from the Nipmuc tribe, said by sharing their story, his people are “attempting to better serve the future by understanding the past.”

Advisory board member Peter Miller expressed concern, however, that the narrative didn’t fit the study’s objective.

“There was no detail about the battle or aftermath,” he said. “I thought that was a main objective of the report and it wasn’t there.”

White said after all the Native people have been through, it would be ignorant to assume that kind of history still exists.

“We don’t have a book to go through like you guys do ... you guys wrote the history,” he told Miller. “Those things were forgotten because of what happened to our people, because of the trauma.”

Doug Harris, representative from the Narragansett tribe, said Miller is looking for a Euro-centric extraction from Native American history, and that’s not the way things work. Writing the narratives has been a spiritual process, not an academic one, he said.

“I don’t think we can convey the difficulty in trying to do that,” he said. “I’m still struggling with this, my paper is not yet on the table.”

The group also spent time discussing the first draft of the research team’s technical report, which is due to the National Park Service in February.

Stockbridge-Munsee tribal representative Bonney Hartley questioned whether the tribes’ narratives would be included in the final report, which is due April 1, and if so, how they would be incorporated. Ultimately, the group decided once all the tribes have submitted their narratives, representatives will discuss what they’d like to see done. Project Coordinator David Brule suggested including the narratives at the beginning of the report to help frame it and give it context.

“It would be very helpful for non-tribal people to get that perspective,” White said. “I think it’s a great idea.”

Historian Peter Thomas also offered several suggestions for improving the report, including taking into consideration how changes to the landscape may affect the study area.

“Huge changes in the river occurred in the 19th century,” he said. “The shorelines that are there today are not the same shorelines that were there 100 years ago, they are not the same shorelines that were there 400 years ago. ... Where you might find archaeological remains versus what you see today is really important.”

Nolumbeka Project President Joe Graveline added that he, along with co-founder Howard Clark, hope to use supporting historical documents to “realign” some of the report.

A copy of the draft is available at the Turners Falls Library, as well as on Montague’s website under the “news and notices” section.

The public is invited to submit comments to Ramsey by email at planner@montague-ma.gov until Jan. 6, and comments can be made at the board’s next meeting on Dec. 2.

You can reach Aviva Luttrell at: 
aluttrell@recorder.com 
or 413-772-0261, ext. 268
On Twitter follow: @AvivaLuttrell


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