Glimpses of the Past
People, Places, and Things in Letchworth Park History

Seneca Villages in Letchworth Park


Long before the pioneer towns of St. Helena and Gibsonville were settled in Letchworth Park, there were other, much larger communities in the Genesee Valley. These were the villages of the Seneca People, the Keepers of the Western Door of the Great Iroquois League.

Native People had lived and died in the region for countless generations. As the Seneca and their culture developed, they first clustered in villages to the North and east of the Park. But after the French Invasion of the Seneca territory in 1687 and the destruction of Ganadagan (today a New York State historical site), the Senecas spread out their villages, moving them to the south and west. By the early 1700's three of these villages lay within the present day boundaries of Letchworth Park in the Valley they called Sehgahunda.

Farthest south was Deowesta. It was located on the hilltop to the east of the Portage Bridge. Little is known of this village, but it was strategically located, being on the ancient "Carrying Road" which led from present day Portageville, through Deowesta, around the three falls and back to the River north of Big Bend.

The old river trail then continues on the west side, passing through Gadaho. Gadaho might have been a seasonal camp or a smaller village - by the Revolutionary War only a couple of cabins remained. It was there that Dehgewanus and her family found refuge after Sullivan's army burned her village at Little Beard's Town in 1779. The name of the village would outlast the village itself - the land that Mary Jemison lived on became known as the Gardeau Flats.

The Trail then continued north, crossed the Silver Lake Outlet, and entered one of the larger of the Genesee Villages, De-yu-it-ga'-oh.

Deyuitga'oh or "where the valley widens", was located on the western bank of the Mt. Morris highbanks, downstream from the present day Mt. Morris Dam. (A park overlook marks the general area today and is the first feature visitors see on the right as they enter from the Mount Morris Entrance at the very north end of the Park.) The location provided everything an Iroquois village needed - water, fertile soil, and access to transportation, hunting, and fishing. The site had attracted earlier inhabitants - the Seneca of Deyuitga'oh knew well that the mounds found near their village had been left by the Old Ones the whitemen called "moundbuilders."

The Seneca village would last for about a century, moving its dwellings every seven to ten years, but staying in the same general area and retaining the village name. These dwellings might have started out as the traditional longhouses, but by the American Revolution had evolved into clusters of log cabins, adapted from the white men.

It was during the American Revolution, that Deyuitga'oh received a new name, the one that is better known today.

After the Sullivan Invasion in the late summer and early fall of 1779, the refugees from the destroyed villages flocked to those who had been missed by the American Army. Deyuitga'oh was one of the lucky villages.

In the spring of 1780 Sir Guy Johnson, in an attempt to stabilize the situation for their Iroquois allies, tried to assign groups from destroyed villages to those who had survived. A group of the Fox people, who had either come as captives or refugees to the Western Door a half century earlier, were assigned to Deyuitga'oh. The Fox people were also called the Meskwahki-haki or Squawki-how people. The new comers would give their name Squawki-how to the old village site. When the white men came, they would call the place "Squawkie (or Squakie) Hill".

The next generation of inhabitants of Squawkie Hill would see vast changes to their village and their world. At the Treaty of Big Tree in 1797, their village would be set aside as one of several reservations. So was Gardeau to the South. Deowesta had already faded into the earth, leaving no traces behind for the new inhabitants of the land, the pioneers.(See map of Squawkie Hill)

One new comer, Samuel Magee, visited Squawkie Hill in 1802. The Village was still full of life at that time, for Magee passed a large group of women heading to the fields to work, and found the young men "playing ball" to the amusement of the older men. The games were so noisy that Magee, much to the glee of the villagers, had to lead his nervous horse through the village.

But Seneca life at Squawkie Hill and the other reservations would suffer over the next decades. A church group built a school on the reservation - one of the students who attended and learned to read and write was Mary Jemison's Grandson, "Buffalo" Tom Jemison. Other Seneca remember by white settlers as living at Squawkie Hill were Blackchief, Sharpskins, Straight Back, Tall Chief, Bill Tall Chief, Kennedy Blinkey, Jim Washington, Captain Cook, and Quaway.

By 1816 their were only about eight inhabitants left, living in a "dozen bark roofed houses of small logs" clustered around the old council house, a log building about 25 by 40 feet. Ten years later, the reservation was sold at the Treaty of Buffalo Creek. The remaining Seneca moved to the Buffalo Creek, Tonawanda, Cattaraugus, or Allegany Reservations. Among the last to go was Buffalo Tom, who left Squawkie Hill in 1828. His cabin, used by a white family for several years, was, along with some old apple trees and scattered artifacts, all that remained of Deyuitga'oh.

Beyond the historical markers, and the names "Squawkie Hill" and "Gardeau", nothing remains of the Seneca Villages that once stood in Letchworth Park. But those communities and the people who lived there are an important chapter in the history of the Park.

Tom Cook


Anderson, Genesee Echoes p 2,3

Doty, Lockwood R., History of Livingston County pp 73-75, 132, 133

Parker, Arthur, The Archeological History of New York Part 2. Albany NY: New York State Museum, 1920. pp597-598


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