PUTNEY GREAT MEADOWS (K’TSI MSKODAK)
A Brattleboro Words Trail Site
The Great Meadows in Putney, Vermont at twilight. Courtesy Rich Holschuh.
A Land Acknowledgement
Like every place in the United States, Brattleboro was built on stolen land, and the European settlers who came here during the colonial period did everything they could to drive out the Indigenous people who lived here. Those people are the Sokoki Abenaki (or, translated into English from the original Sokwakiak, the People Who Separated), and despite centuries of persecution they survive today. Their native tongue, Aln8ba8dwaw8gan—the Western Abenaki language—survives as well, but is greatly endangered. To the Sokoki Abenaki, this place is known as Wantastegok, the Place of the River Where Things Are Lost, referring to the confluence of Kwenitekw with Wantastekw, what we now call the Connecticut River and the West River. Every corner of this land holds their stories. This research site on the Brattleboro Words Trail documents the history and enduring presence of the Sokoki Abenaki and their homeland, Wantastegok.
Rich Holschuh, public liaison for the Elnu Abenaki Tribe, connects language to land in a brief natural history of the Great Meadows:
Written history tells us that when the British first ventured up the Kwanitekw in the early 1700s, they found a glorious stand of yellow pine covering K’tsi Mskodak, the Great Meadows of Putney, Vermont.
George Sheldon’s History of Northfield (MA) recounts “The Indians had not burnt over the country above West River; and the meadows in Putney and vicinity were covered with a magnificent growth of yellow pines.”
This fertile floodplain, encompassing 500 acres of well-drained sandy loam, projects eastward toward New Hampshire nearly a mile, with the Connecticut River sweeping in a broad arc around its fertile expanse.
“…the Abenakiak knew this place and its grove of trees well…this stalwart of the forest was called “pasaakw”—pah-sah-ah-kwah.”
— Rich Holschuh on the red pines of Putney Great Meadows
Today, we think of yellow pine as a group of North American species found from the mid-Atlantic states southward. Consequently, this description seems completely incongruous—until we recognize the intricate and evolving bond between a language and a people.
It turns out that “yellow pine” was the eighteenth-century British settler’s vernacular for the red pine, Pinus resinosa; a web search turns up the fact that Northern Yellow Pine is, in fact, a term still used for salvaged, antique red pine which had been harvested back in those days. Red pine is notably denser and thus harder than its more common cousin white pine, and was used for flooring and shipbuilding extensively; early on, it was eagerly sought out by the white settlers and then, in keeping with colonial attitudes, clearcut.
The stand at K’tsi Mskodak certainly caught the attention of the merchants in New London, Connecticut, already a well-established center for shipbuilding. In 1732, a party of seventy men was sent upriver to cut the tall, arrow-straight pines for the use of the King’s Navy—it was British law that all such trees were Royal property. Accounts indicate that the trees were cut and floated down the river continuing into the following year. Save for Massachusetts’ frontier outpost 16 miles downriver at Fort Dummer (at the south edge of what is now Brattleboro, Vermont), this was an exceedingly rare venture into the northern unknown by the English interlopers.
On the other hand, the native people, the Abenakiak, knew this place and its grove of trees well. In the Western Abenaki language, this stalwart of the forest was called “pasaakw”—pah-sah-ah-kwah—with two morphemes, pasa + akw combining in prototypical Algonquian polysynthetic style. The suffix -akw is seen often in the naming of trees, meaning a rigid object, or perhaps more specifically in this instance, a “woody stem.” The prefix pasa- is a bit trickier: it seems to translate loosely as “swollen.” To bolster that approximation, the more common descriptive prefix psa- means “to be full of.” This generates a compounded word that means “swollen tree” or “tree full of” and conjures the meaning behind the naming.
This text was originally published in Sokoki Sojourn: Observations and Experiences in the Kwenitekw Dawnland.
On The Map
89 Great Meadows Ridge, Putney, VT 05346
Putney Great Meadows
About the Research sites
The Brattleboro Words Project is working with the community to identify specific sites and themes significant to the study of words in Brattleboro and surrounding towns. Research Teams – classrooms/teachers, amateur historians, veterans, writers, artists and other community members — will produce audio segments and other work to be incorporated into audio walking, biking and driving tours tours.