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8. Old Paths, New Roads

Map of Ho-De-No-Sau-Nee-Ga, or The Territories of the People of the Long House, in 1720

"Ho-De-No-Sau-Nee-Ga," a map created in 1851 by Rochester anthropologist Lewis Henry Morgan and republished in a 1901 book upon the "People of the Longhouse." It shows "the Home Country of the Iroquois with the Aboriginal Names of their Villages, Lakes, Rivers, Streams & ancient Localities, and the Courses of their principal Trails."

Very few travelers in the Genesee Valley today are aware of these underlying routes, locations, or names; we see instead a modern landscape of freeways, restaurants, and traffic signs. But a 1917 article by Robert Bruce in American Motorist argued that the "trails of the Iroquois and their contemporaries have become the motor-car routes of today" (17). Even before automobiles, in 1884, George H. Harris had made a similar point that “the broader roads of the white population...follow the old trail courses” of indigenous peoples.

After comparing a contemporary road map to that of Lewis H. Morgan— as Bruce does — it's not hard to see why he was "struck by the coincidence, not only of the trunk lines, but also many of the other modern routes, with the former trails of the Six Nations" (pan and zoom to see details). The difficult thing to accept is his embrace of Manifest Destiny rhetoric to glorify the romance of highways: "[The routes] were laid down and trodden deep by the red man centuries before the white man's axe sounded in the virgin forests of New York state....The evolution has been from the trail to the tote road, to the turnpike, and finally to the modern thoroughfares which connect all parts of the commonwealth" (17, 20). These 18-inch-wide rails once connected living grounds for indigenous peoples, where they built their homes on specific sites and created farm plots for their crops.

The Seneca Nation was the largest among those comprising the Haudenosaunee, a confederacy that existed before the United States Constitution. Seneca lived throughout the western Finger Lakes region of New York, including the Genesee Valley; by the time Morgan created his map in 1851, most of the Haudenosaunee lands had been seized as a result of colonization (click on the map for more information). The locations listed below are just a few of the Native American trails and paths that are found in the Genesee Valley, each of which is chosen as a crossroad with subsequent transportation.

Maybe we’re not so conscious of historical routes as we drive, anymore, because our culture no longer openly celebrates Indian Removal. But underneath the modern highways, restaurants, and motels the pathways—both geographical and historical—remain.