Tuesday, October 15, 2019


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Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center Hosts Lenape History Program
Written by Bradley Schlegel Correspondent

Children gather around a table full of many fascinating pelts, weapons, pots for cooking, jewelry and Lenape Indian artifacts displayed by Puff. 

        Darius Puff, a local Lenape historian, opened his presentation Saturday by telling the audience that the Lenape Indians' migration to North America from Asia came across a small strip of land "surrounded by dark and angry water," in Alaska.

        He surmised that strip to be the Bering Strait, a narrow sea passage between the eastern most point of the Asian continent and the western most point of the North American continent located just south of the Arctic Circle at the northern edges of the Bering Sea.

        According to Puff, history says the group needed "one night" to cross through it. He said no one is sure how long it actually took.

        "They were on foot, and there were no horses," he said. "You know how long a night is in Alaska? We're probably talking about six months."

        The group made its way through Alaska and western Canada to the continental United States where they broke into three groups when they ran into a great river, which Puff suspects is either the Mississippi or the Ohio river, and "had a fight with people who were already living there," according to Puff.

        "Those that decided not to cross the river, disappeared from our history," he said.

        Puff told the audience that one group ended up in the Hudson River Valley region in upstate New York. He said a larger group inhabited land on both sides of Delaware River all the way to the Susquehanna River.

        During a Lenape history program for kids at the Schwenkfelder Library and Heritage Center, Puff said further details were not available since none of them were written down.

        He could not provide a time period for the migration or the number of migrants. After the presentation, Puff estimated that it occurred sometime before 1300 A.D.

        "Our way of telling history is by speaking and listening," he said.

        The public needs to understand Lenape history and culture because it is our shared history, according to Maggie Buckwalter, the museum educator at the facility, located at 105 Seminary Street in Pennsburg.

        "We need to see not only what the historical aspects of these first people of our valley are, but also look at today's Lenape, such as Mr. Puff, as people who have very important cultural knowledge to share," she wrote in an email. "We need to not be ignorant of facts of the past, of the people who lived here before white people, of what their culture was like, and of the many stories of these First Nations people of today."

        A retired Boyertown Police officer who lives in Colebrookdale Township, Puff told the audience of 35 people that his heritage included Lenape and English.

        "Don't ask me what percentage I am Lenape," he said. "I can't tell you."

        Puff learned of his Native American heritage from his grandmother. After the presentation, he said he learned from her of an interracial marriage involving an ancestor.

        Wearing a linen cloth shirt, deerskin leggings and elk skin moccasins, he educated attendees about the daily lives of Lenape tribe during the 18th century. Puff displayed multiple pelts, weapons, pots for cooking and jewelry. He told the crowd that its women made the decision to have them take sides against the English in the French and Indian War.

        "The French were considered the lesser of two evils," said Puff, who celebrated his 69th birthday Sunday. "We switched sides later in the war because our side was losing."

        He said the women were also in charge of agriculture activities, which included growing corn, squash and varieties of beans.

        Puff, who has been averaging approximately 40 presentations "for the better part of 20 years," said his goal is to educate children that a group of people lived here long before their ancestors arrived.

        According to Puff, tribes moved as their hunting, fishing and agriculture opportunities dwindled.  "The natives were not nomadic," he told the audience. "But they did move around."





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