Town names in the Southern Tier with Indigenous origin

Local News

ELMIRA, N.Y. (WETM) – New York State has deep ties to the indigenous people that once lived here, and it’s no exception to the Southern Tier, as multiple towns and villages have names derived from Indigenous people.

To celebrate Indigenous Peoples’ Day, here are some of those towns and villages.

Chemung

The town of Chemung is located in the southeast portion of Chemung County and was established in 1788, with some reports of people living in the area as early as 1780.

According to townofchemung.com, the name Chemung derives from the Algonquin dialect which translates to “Place of the Horn” after it was reported that Natives found mammoth tusks along the Chemung River.

The whole region was home to multiple indigenous tribes including the Seneca, Cayuga, as well as the Delaware people.

Painted Post

Painted Post is situated just west of Corning in Steuben County.

The connection to Indigenous Peoples goes back to the 1780s when explorers that traveled into western New York found a large wooden post driven into the ground where the Conhocton and Tioga Rivers connect to form the Chemung River.

The post, which was first reported by General Freegift Pachen, was said to have the figured of 28 different men cut into it, and all the figured were painted red. The meaning of the post is unknown still to this day.

Because of the post, the land was known as “The Lands of the Painted Post”, and as the town developed the post was removed and moved to various locations before it disappeared entirely, according to one story.

What stands in its remembrance is a bronze statue with an indigenous man standing in front of a tall post, with his hand up in a greeting pose, the statue can be found in Village Square Park in Painted Post.

Horseheads

The Village of Horseheads has one of the more interesting stories behind its origin.

According to the Horseheads Historical Society, the Village of Horseheads is the only town and village to be dedicated after the service of the United States military horse.

In 1779 during the Revolutionary War, General George Washington had ordered Major General John Sullivan to march 4-5,000 men into what is now the Southern Tier, in order to eliminate Loyalists and nations of the Iroquois Confederacy.

Those Loyalists and natives had sided with the British, leading to the famous Battle of Newtown where American forces drove British and Indigenous fighters out of the region.

The area at the time was incredibly difficult to traverse, the soldiers were met with swamps, dense forests, and waterways that made their journey a difficult one. A result of such a journey left many of their pack horses too weak to continue, resulting in the soldiers having to put them down.

Their bodies were lined along a trail and later found by the Iroquois after the soldiers had left. Stories vary, but the most conservative story is that the natives named the burial ground for the horses, “the valley of the horses’ heads” and the rest is history. Early settlers to the area had found the bodies as well and the name stayed as Horseheads.

Montour Falls

Montour Falls is situated just South of Watkins Glen in Schuyler County.

Montour Falls was once the site of the Seneca Indigenous Tribe where there were longhouses, the council chambers, and the home of Catherine Montour, where Montour Falls gets its name.

Catherine Montour was a half-white half-Iroquois woman who the explorers called Queen Catherine, she may have known English because her grandmother was a noted interpreter.

General Sullivan’s army had destroyed every village in the area, including Catherine’s and it’s said that she and many others fled to British held Fort Niagra in Canada to hold out the winter of 1779.

She had returned to the site of her village sometime after and settlers knew her as an old wise indigenous woman.

The original settlement was known as Catherine’s Landing until 1836 when it became known as the Village of Havana before being converted to Montour Falls in 1893 after Catherine.

Towanda

Towanda Pennsylvania is located in the center of Bradford County along the Susquehanna River.

Towanda was first settled in 1828 and gets its name from Native Indigenous groups who considered the place a beautiful place to bury their dead.

The town started as a lumber town, and some of its original buildings are still standing today.

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