American Indian village appears at Meadowcroft

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The methods American Indians used to tan hides, make fish nets and embroider are just some of this weekend's reenactments at the Meadowcroft Village of Rural Life.

The American Indian Heritage Weekend is one of Meadowcroft's largest events of the year and draws thousands to the Avella section of Jefferson.

"To fish, the Indians living here [in Southwestern Pennsylvania] used spears, arrows, hooks made of bone and even a concoction of wild plants that stunned the fish and made them rise to the surface," said John Boback, Meadowcroft's director of education.

Weather permitting, there will be fishing demos for the public to try Indian methods.

Leading the demonstrations will be a group of at least ten historic interpreters, who will dress in period style and demonstrate pine needle basket weaving, cooking techniques and how logs were burned out to make cups, bowls and other containers," said reenactor "Ghost-in-the-Head" Johnson, an event organizer who claims a half-Huron ancestry.

New this year is a 1770s-style Indian log cabin recently constructed in an outdoor interpretive area behind the visitor center that compliments the wigwam structure located in Meadowcroft's prehistoric Indian village.

"One of the limiting factors that prevented the prehistoric Indian culture from building log cabins was the lack of steel axes," Mr. Boback said. "With the arrival of settlers, Indians learned how to make log cabins. Ours is typical of the cabins built by the Iroquois Mingos who came from New York to live in the Ohio Valley."

According to Mr. Boback, dome-shaped wigwams had been used by prehistoric Indians living in our area for more than 1,000 years. They varied in size from 10 to 30-feet in diameter and were clustered in villages. Made with a frame of saplings and covered with bark or woven mats of cattails, they had dirt floors, a fire pit in the center for heating and cooking and a hole in the dome to let out smoke. Sometimes, they held sleeping platforms along the interior walls.

"Indians had few possessions," Mr. Boback said. "Food such as ears of corn, was hung from the ceiling, but more often, they dug underground pits for food storage."

The wigwam in Meadowcroft's 1570s-era Indian village measures 20-feet across with a 9-foot domed ceiling.

"The nice thing about the addition of our log cabin is it allows us to show how dramatically life changed for the Indian from the 1570s to the the 1770s, when the fur trade was an important activity," Mr. Boback said.

Another addition at Meadowcroft is a small loop trail leading to and from the Indian village that's lined with about two dozen interpretive signs identifying plants along the trail and how the Indians used them.

The village will be closed to the public Friday as a German television crew films the site for later broadcast in Germany. That film will be on American Indian food and its preparation.

"Our American Indian Heritage Weekend is not a reenactment, a pow-wow or an encampment," Mr. Johnson said. "It's an active, living American Indian village, and we invite the public to come in and try their hand at some of the things our ancestors did on a daily basis."

Hours are 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission: $10 for adults, $9 for seniors, $5 for ages 6-16. Details: 724-587-3412.

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Dave Zuchowski, freelance writer; First Published September 20, 2012 9:15 AM


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