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Hail to the Chief
Is Chief Tuscan the school, the street, the milk?
by Mel White

Chief Tuscan—myth, legend, or former Maplewoodian? Did he reside here during the 17th or the 18th century? Depends on who you ask. According to the mural in Town Hall, “Chief Tuscan and members of the Leni-Lenape Indian tribe lived in this valley before the arrival of the white man (circa 1600). Legend places his campsite by the stream near Tuscan School.” The Internet spewed out an article about the Leni-Lenape, who once inhabited the area that is now Maplewood and South Orange. The writer described them as peaceful hunters who gave the early white settlers little trouble and stated that probably never more than 12 Indians were in the valley at a time. An interesting side note was the depiction of the sale of Essex County (including Maplewood), in 1678, to the English by the Indians for a long list of items including “… 100 bars of lead, 20 axes, four blankets, four barrels of beer” and a whole lot of wampum. The article also mentioned the two-chiefs legend described below.

The Trail to the Upland Plantations, by Beatrice P. Herman, published for the American bicentennial celebration in 1976, contained a section called “A Legend of Chief Tuskin” (the original spelling), which provides most of the information about the chief. Originally of the Mohican tribe from the region of upstate New York, he eventually merged with a remnant of the Leni-Lenape (or Delaware) tribe in the Springfield area. Legend has it that while camping in Springfield, Chief Tuscan and another chief fell in love with the same girl. The tradition stated that whoever won the girl’s heart would marry her and move away. Chief Tuscan, the winner, took his bride and set up camp by a brook on the south side of what is now Tuscan Road, next to where Tuscan School is today. He may have moved around, possibly back to the Springfield area, but he camped at the ravine every year and local villagers traded with him, while housewives sent him food. The chief had a colt that he was particularly fond of. When the colt died, he buried it on Tuskin Hill, stating that when he died, he wanted to be buried next to his colt. Tuskin Hill was the site of later Fourth of July and Muster Days celebrations, complete with patriotism, cannon salutes and cherry pie.

Herman’s book also reports that in 1773, Ezekiel Ball, of the locally prominent Ball family, built an elaborate home near that of his father Samuel (who fought in the Springfield battles of the Revolution) and nicknamed his home “Tuskin Hall” in honor of his good friend Chief Tuskin. This would place the chief’s time of residence in our area at around the 1770s (not in 1600, as per the mural).Tuskin Hall was passed down within the Ball family and was bought by Ernest W. Hausmann in 1854. For the next 50 years, the hall was referred to as “Hausmann homestead.” According to Maplewood Past & Present (ed. Helen B. Bates), it was located at what would now be Maplecrest Park. The building was used as a clubhouse in the early 1900s.

Back to the chief. Herman’s book states that Chief Tuscan died in 1801, and members of his tribe walked along what was then Valley Road with his remains placed on stilts and secured to a scaffold. The book describes the villagers trailing behind, staring at Chief Tuscan’s long, thick braids (and feathers), “strong features,” “rugged, lined face” and courageous, wise eyes. The ritual was to place the body in an elevated position, closer to the Great Spirit, or Manitto, who would swoop down to claim it. The actual burial was supposed to be held seven days after this ritual, but the townsfolk, not happy about this delay, obtained an order of immediate burial. Chief Tuscan’s wish was granted, though; he was buried next to his pet colt by the side of the brook on Tuskin Hill.

Maplewood historian Howard Weissman disagrees with the time period in which Hermann’s book places these events. He felt that the 1600 date was more likely than the late 1700s and suggested contacting Bea Herman’s daughter Christine to find proof of this story’s authenticity and of the date of Chief Tuscan’s death. Herman, however, was unable to access her mother’s original source material that had been stored in their library but may have been lost in a hurricane. She did point out, however, that Ezekiel Ball’s comment about his “good friend Chief Tuskin” should be considered legend rather than ironclad fact.

Joseph Noble, another Maplewood historian, also agreed with the 1600s as being the appropriate time frame for the original men (the translation of Leni-Lenape) to be in our valley and for Chief Tuscan’s period of residence by the brook. Noble felt that the legend of the two chiefs was probably true and that Chief Tuscan did indeed bring his bride to live by the brook, but he says it most likely occurred much earlier than the late 1700s. Part of his reasoning goes back to the sale of Essex County by the Indians to the British. Once the Indians sold the land, it stands to reason that they left soon thereafter and would not have still been around by 1801.

At Tuscan Dairy Farms, Peter Stigi, an executive representing the firm, was not able to give a definite answer about whether the company was named for Chief Tuscan; he commented, though, that it would be one way to answer the question of where the name came from. So there’s still a possibility!

Herman’s book continues that in 1921, the Board of Education considered several names for the future Tuscan School. When “Tuscan” was suggested as an option, old legends were explored, and two campsites and artifacts were discovered that proved that some of the stories were true. There were news clippings provided by Mary Osborne, who lived in the former brick schoolhouse at 18 Tuscan Road. On the basis of their findings and her clippings and stories of descendants who had known Chief Tuscan, the building was named Tuscan School.

Many Tuscan students (sometimes under the guidance of former art teacher Vincent Nardone) have gone digging in the creek area, searching for the grave of Chief Tuscan. But his remains were never found, and the jury is still out on the details of his life. Pick the version that works for you.

Mel White went to Camp Lenape when she was a somewhat reluctant Girl Scout. She was approximately four minutes from her home, on Collinwood Road, but grew so homesick that she had to be retrieved midweek.

1600: Chief Tuscan

“The first inhabitants of the valley which is now Maplewood were a tribe of American Indians know as the Leni-Lenape. The translation of their name is most appropriate; it means “original men.” They were a small peaceful group, sometimes know as the Delawares, who were part of the Indian culture of the Eastern Woodland.

Primarily they were hunters; the forest abounded with deer, beaver, and smaller animals. Their dependence on wild game caused them to live in small groups rather than in large tribal villages. Nuts and wild fruit were also gathered, and they raised a few crops of corn and beans. Their houses were made of bent branches covered with strips of elm bark. This type of wigwam was quite serviceable but wen a family moved on in search of better hunting, it was no great loss to abandon it. Baskets were made from strips of wood or cane, and boxes were formed from birch bark sewn together at the edges with grass. Wooden bowls were hollowed out of logs with fir, and sleeping and floor mats were woven from reeds or back. They made a primitive type of pottery from the local clay which turned gray after being fired in their camp fires. Many tall jars have been found which seems to indicate that they preferred this style

There is a local legend that two Indian chiefs had a contest for a girl whom each wished to marry. It was agreed that the winner would take the girl and, to insure peace, would move away. Chief Tuscan was successful, took his bride, and moved to the little ravine behind the present day site of Tuscan School parallel to Tuscan Road. He lived there happily for several years and after he died he was buried nearby. To this day the site of grave has never been discovered.

The scene chosen for the mural illustrates the camp of Chief Tuscan as he and a friend return from a successful hunt proudly carrying deer. It is afternoon in early fall, just at the beginning of Indian summer, and the smoke from the campfire merges with the blue haze in the woodland glade. The tumbling brook looks much as it does today. Beside it stand Chief Tuscan’s wife and his family clad in deer skin. The young boy and the pet fox are equally interested in the results of the hunt. The wife has been grinding corn or maize for a simple meal but now with a freshly killed deer there will be a feast. What cannot be eaten immediately will be dried or smoked. The skin of another deer is being cured and stretched between two saplings

Probably there were never more that ten or twelve Indians living in this valley at any one time. The early white settlers had little trouble with them as they moved westward following the wild game displaced by the farms. In 1678 Essex County, including Maplewood, was bought by the English from the Indians for 50 double hands of powder, 100 bars of lead, 20 axes, 20 coats, 10 guns, 20 pistols, 10 kettles, 10 swords, 4 blankets, 4 barrels of beer, 10 pairs of breeches, 6 anklers of liquor, and 3 troopers’ coats. The few remaining members of the Leni-Lenape tribe now live on reservations in Oklahoma.”

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