Initial Discovery

The Mohawk River and its tributaries have been draining the central portion of present day New York State since the retreat of the Wisconsin glaciation beginning about 10,000 years ago. During most of the time since, tributaries have been eroding bedrock and incising valleys. With the retreat of the ice, dense hemlock and pine forests reclaimed the region and essentially swallowed the immense cascades of the great falls of West Canada Creek.

Woodcut image after William H. Bartlett, Trenton Falls, View Down the Ravine, 1837
Woodcut image after William H. Bartlett, Trenton Falls, View Down the Ravine, 1837
These falls are believed to have been referred to as Kuyahoora by the native Mohawk. The "Leaping Waters" of the Deyoghtoraron or "stream with colored waters", was held in great spiritual regard by these native peoples for centuries prior to the arrival of European settlers. In fact, Lewis Henry Morgan stated that the Seneca (and most likely other Haudenosaunee tribes) believed that the Deyoghtoraron was the source of the Kanienkehagen or Mohawk people. Although there is some debate as to the origin of the ideology of the Mohawks as "The People [or keepers] of the Flint", there is speculation that the "flint" is in reference to the euhedral quartz crystals otherwise known as "Herkimer Diamonds", which can be found weathered out in the stream bed or in outcroppings of the Little Falls Dolostone along the banks of West Canada Creek (Keesler, 1999).

iroquoisterritorymap634wIn addition to the creek's being a source of the Herkimer Diamonds, Lewis Henry Morgan believed that it was the true source of the Mohawk River, which in the Seneca dialect was called the Te-uge'ga (most likely a shortened form of Te-ugh'-ta'-ra-row; (Keesler, 1999).

Regardless of its spiritual position in Iroquois folklore, West Canada Creek, like many rivers and streams in the region, served a more tangible and purposeful role to the native tribes. It was an important landmark, roughly determining the western territorial limit of Mohawk lands and the eastern boundary of the Oneida territory. Thus, West Canada Creek provided both the Oneida and the Mohawk with a natural, north-south oriented travel route to access their territorial regions to the north in the Adirondacks, the Tug Hill, and the St. Lawrence and Black Rivers.

nyriverterritoryrivermap634wIn addition to being used by the Iroquois, West Canada Creek was utilized initially by European traders, trappers and eventually by later settlers. Since their expansion into the Mohawk River Valley in the late 1600's to early1700's, the earliest European settlers relied upon water-based travel routes and old Iroquois trails for land routes. There was an abundance of Mohawk and Oneida villages in close proximity to both the Mohawk River and West Canada Creek, so there were many such trails through the dense forests of the region. It was through the utilization of these paths that native tribes were able to communicate the extent of territorial boundaries to these earliest settlers, including Sir William Johnson, Superintendent of Indian Affairs for the British Crown. Despite the long recognition of West Canada Creek as a significant landmark, it was first physically documented as delineating the western boundary of the Royal Grant, a tract of 90,000 acres of land purchased by Sir William Johnson from the Mohawk Indians. He petitioned the King of England to recognize the purchase as his Kingsland Grant. This petition dated May 22, 1769, notes the western boundary as "the West Bank of another Creek or Kill called by the Indians Deyoghtoraron (meaning 'colored waters') by the Christian Canada Kill" (Keesler, 1999). Although the source of the transition in name from Deyoghtoraron to West Canada Creek is uncertain, it is believed that Canada, or Kanata in earlier spellings, was first used as the Iroquois term for creeks located near a village. In this sense, both East and West Canada Creeks were named Canada because of the presence of Native American villages at their confluences with the Mohawk River. It was not until some ten years later that the first physical landform map of the Province of New York was produced in 1779 by order of Major General William Tryon. The region was surveyed by Claude Joseph Sauthier and the map was printed in London, England for the purpose of delineating boundaries of counties, manors, patents, townships and other tracts of land within the province (Keesler, 1999). Despite the depiction of West Canada Creek on the map, no reference is made specifically to the falls.