The "Painted Rocks" of the Mohawk: Rufus Grider's Research in 1887/1888

painted rocksHi Res Image (59K)

Rufus Grider created five retrospective images of the Painted Rocks, and these will be presented on this webpage. He used the same technique he had used elsewhere to recreate lost history. He recorded the physical attributes of the site as it appeared to him in the 1880s, and then introduced into his paintings vanished components of the site described to him by eyewitnesses and local experts.

In a manner of speaking, we were following in Grider's footsteps when we undertook our field research in 1990. One hundred years earlier his motivation had been much the same as ours:

"As it is of great importance that the history of our country be preserved, it also became a matter of interest to me to search whether any traces still existed of the Painted Rocks. I found at Amsterdam three living persons who remembered them, and met a fourth who now lives in Wayne County, N.Y. Having interviewed them all and obtained all the evidence obtainable, I had the rocks pointed out to me by my friend LeGrand S. Strang, who was much interested in the matter." Rufus Grider, 1888.

At that time a number of persons could still recall the site in detail, and related to him their recollections. It was from these descriptions that Grider rendered his artistic recreation of the appearance of the site (above).

But the first step of his process of recreation was to capture the landscape as he saw it - as it existed in 1887:

"The rock I found to be a Ledge of Rocks, forming the north shore of the Mohawk River opposite the Central R.R. freight house. The ledge is submerged only during an ice flow, when the river overflows its banks. The ledge is 100 perhaps many more feet in length, and 10 or 12 feet above the usual water flow."

Painted Rocks from a distanceHi Res Image (33K)

One of his watercolors (above) places this ledge of rocks in the broader context of the Mohawk Valley in the vicinity of Amsterdam. Anyone who is familiar with the river knows that there are rarely any rock outcrops along the bank, and it is as easy to identify the historic formation today as it was in Grider's day.

Grider records, as a caption to one of his paintings, the process by which he created his images:

The "Painted Rocks" at Amsterdam N.Y. as they appeared before & after A.D. 1836. The Rocks were never disturbed, the drawings have disappeared - the rocks were sketched Oct. 21, 1887 by R.A. Grider - The landscape so far as trees are concerned was made to conform to descriptions of those who knew the place say 50 years ago. R.A. Grider of Canajoharie N.Y.

If we read the statements recorded by Grider from informants who had direct knowledge of the Painted Rocks, we can easily see how he came up with the restrospective images he created in 1887:

"The rocks contained 12 or 15 Indians, with two canoes, two Indians in each canoe, one at the bow the other at the stern, going west, other Indians on foot. A duck flying above eastward." John Winnie, 1887.

"I lived all my life in the vicinity of the rocks. I lived on the south bank of the river when the canal was made. Our house was just opposite the rocks and was the first house built [in] the present Port Jackson, and is still standing. There were figures on the rocks, at least 9 in number, they were painted with red colors. My grandfather was a soldier in the Revolutionary Army. He, when passing the rocks in a boat, was shot at by an Indian who lay in ambush and wounded him. It was covered with pines and undergrowth." David DeForest, 1887.

"I was born in Amsterdam in the year 1826 and lived there until I was 21 years old. I remember well the painted rocks. I was very fond of being on the water; and before I was 14 years old I and another boy named Abram Pulling (now deceased) became the owners of a rowboat, and in it passed many hours on the river, and rowed past the "Painted Rocks" more times than I can remember. There were two canoes going upstream, as if racing, with two Indians in each canoe. There were ten or twelve Indians on the bank who were walking westward and apparently watching the canoes race. The work was done with red paint. The figures were about four feet high, and could be plainly seen from the opposite side of the river." George P. Livingston, Clyde, NY June 25th, 1888.

Painted RocksHi Res Image (59K)

Grider presents in his Notebook, two affidavits regarding the accuracy of his recreations. The first is by Mr. Livingston, his informant from Clyde, who writes:"The above is a good representation of the "Painted Rocks" at Amsterdam, and vividly recalls to my mind some of the scenes of my boyhood days." The painting he refers to is the one Grider drew showing only the reconstructed features as they would have originally appeared.

The second is written on a business slip (above) to which Grider has attached a miniatiure of one of his paintings of the rocks: "The above is a correct representation of the painted rocks as I remember them. Moses T. Kehoo, Amsterdam May 19th, 1888."

The eyewitness testimonials Rufus Grider collected in 1887 and 1888 describe a complex of pictographs of apparently Native American origin. We can only assume the paintings which Grider created of how these pictographs looked when they were visible are accurate.

The pictographs

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