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The Tragic Story of the Womapog Tribe

23 May

Headdress

In 1951, deep in the wilds of the Adirondacks, in upstate New York, researchers made an almost miraculous discovery. Almost 50 years after the industrial revolution took place in the United States, an uncontacted tribe of indigenous people was observed for the first time. It would be last time a new indigenous people would be contacted in the country.

Immediately after discovery, a fierce debate arose. Over the course of two years, two sides fought it out in the press and in the courts if the tribe was to be contacted or not. In 1953, the former won and researchers descended upon the tribe.

The tribe was very receptive to the researchers. There was no hostility, in fact, the opposite was the case. The tribe was hospitable to the outsiders. At first, the natives mistook the researchers for a displaced tribe. Not only did the tribe take them in as a rescue mission, daughters were offered to the researchers in marriage to strengthen the newly formed bond.

The tribe, at the time of first contact was as primitive and self-reliant as could be. They were primarily hunters and gatherers, though they practiced a good bit of agriculture. It was observed that they had no contact with other tribes so there was no trade practiced.

The tribe quickly adopted many features of modern life that the researchers unintentionally introduced. The first was modern clothes. The tribespeople appeared to have had an insatiable appetite for garments with colors and patterns.

The next feature adopted worried researchers. The tribe migrated from hunting and gathering and moved towards more of a typical “American” diet. The change was very quick as was the adoption of the use of electricity. The researchers tried not to change the Womapog way of life, but failed. The Womapog were practically modernized in a matter of three years. They eventually gave up hunting and gathering all together. They grew very few crops. Some of the food crops that they were cultivating when the researchers made contact made way for tobacco and marijuana, both accidentally introduced by the new guests.

This shift caused a great conflict for the researchers. In very little time after discovery, the tribe was completely dependent on them. Funds started to run out quickly. Supporting the tribe was not in the budget. Furthermore, as the tribe modernized, interest in them waned. The more they looked like the rest of the country, the less compelling they became.

A few members of the Womapog tribe broke off. They were never seen or heard from again. After the fiasco the researchers caused, they were reluctant to follow deserters. It has been rumored a few survive today, deep in the forest. Sightings of them have become almost as mythicized as those of Bigfoot.

In little less than one decade, the grant was almost gone with no perspective of being renewed. Few researchers were left. In 1962 a team of five remaining researchers were on site and they were not so much researching as playing the role of social workers to keep the tribe alive.

Late in March, 1962, a two hundred years storm was forecasted to come suddenly and violently. Researchers were advised to evacuate immediately. They were to be helivaced out and there was only room for them. In later interviews, it was said, with heavy hearts they made promises of returning and said their goodbyes. Little did they know at the time, it would be forever.

The storm lasted over a week. Heavy snow, Arctic temperatures and hurricane force winds caused massive destruction. All roads that led even near the site of the tribe were decimated. The last five researchers, who barely escaped, raised funds privately to make a rescue attempt. A month and a half later, they acquired the necessary funds. It would take another two and a half weeks to get to the tribe. It was too late.

The researchers, now a rescue team, descended upon a horror movie scene. Not one Womapog tribesperson survived. There was evidence of cannibalism. Womapog oral tradition stated that cannibalism was never practiced and in fact was a major sin in their belief system. Mothers were frozen in place trying to warm their children, who shared the same fate.

This was the last time an indigenous tribe was contacted on the North American continent. The case has been studied all over the world and has spawned new protocols for contacting indigenous peoples. In the 1990’s, a monument was approved in the New York State Senate to erect a monument at the site of the tragedy for the Womapog people. Until today, the project has not been started. Works are in the way to make a movie about their story.