Mashantucket Pequot Museum Library and Archives Blog

Thursday, November 5, 2009

Shkook: Snake Stories in Pequot Country

The following text and images are taken from a vitrine display currently on exhibit directly outside the Research Library.

As Museum staff prepared for the summer 2009 exhibit “Pequot Lives in the Lost Century,” we began to identify key issues in Pequot history – resistance to encroachment, protection of sovereignty, military service, community ties, the urban experience, and life on the reservation. We were also on the lookout for good stories for future exhibits. As staff conducted new oral histories and reviewed older ones, a particular theme emerged. There were lots of Pequot stories about snakes. Inspired by the richness of the oral histories, the research team began to dig a little deeper. What we found was remarkable.

One of the first European accounts of Pequots (in 1626) involved a ritual offering at a snake den along the Connecticut River. During the following century, two Pequot sachems, Robin Casacinnamon I and II, both signed documents with snake “marks.” Local histories recount and exciting tale of rattlesnake extermination. In a passionate plea for the restoration of their lands, auctioned illegally in 1856, Pequots were concerned that they would “perish without bread or water in a den of red snakes [copperheads].”

By the early 20th century, one Pequot family (Martha Hoxie and her husband Napoleon Langevin) set up a platform at the bottom of Lantern Hill and conducted “snake dances” with copperheads, while serving ice cream and hotdogs. Other Pequots, including Earl Roy Colebut, earned an income by collecting copperheads for the Bronx Zoo as the zoological garden was expanding its poisonous snake collection and producing anti-venom. Martha “Aunt Matt” Langevin, who lived next to the copperhead den at Mashantucket, was well known for being able to shoot and kill these snakes from a considerable distance with her gun. Away from home some Pequots were known as “copperheads,” a reference to the snakes at Mashantucket and for others it was part of their personal identity including the late Clifford “Copperhead” Cyrus Sebastian, Sr. -- Dr. Jason Mancini, Senior Researcher, MPMRC

Image credits: Top, Signatures of historic Pequot leaders, Cassassinamon I & II. Courtesy of MPMRC Archives & Special Collections. Bottom, Three men with snakes - From left: Napoleon Langevin, George Von Buehren, “Ben” Guebert at old Warren House near Warren Pond and Rattlesnake Lodge Center Groton. Photograph May 30, 1915. Attributed to Cornelius Terry. Image courtesy of MPMRC Archives & Special Collections.