Sa-Sa-Na Loft, Mohawk Maiden

As our country was fighting to be free from the Crown of England, there were many hardships brought on the Iroquois by whites living in New York State. As more and more people came to America for a better life, the Iroquois were crowded out. This also caused trouble within the Iroquois Nations. Some tribes, such as Mohawk and Oneida sided with the British, others with the American Patriots.

Mohawk Joseph Brandt, (Thayendanegea) led the fight against the whites along the Susquehanna, Delaware and Mohawk Rivers. Brandt was a highly respected leader, highly educated and military strategist. Eventually, after the war, Clinton and Sullivan drove the natives out of New York, burning their food stores and homes in the dead of winter.

The Mohawks retreated north to a settlement in Canada along the Salmon River. Canada gave the Mohawk people these woods as a gift because they had joined sides with the Crown.

It was there the Mohawk people found peace at the Bay of Quinte. A mission church was planted, and the people became more formally educated. From that time on, Joseph Brandt led the education among his people. They learned English and gained knowledge of the Great Spirit, God. During that time, Joseph wrote down the language of the Mohawk.

Mohawk Chapel, given to the people from Canada. Brantford, Ontario. Wikipedia- List of National Historic Sites of Canada, Ontario. Oldest surviving church in Ontario.

Many years later it was Joseph’s granddaughter Sa-Sa-Na, who traveled to America with her older brother, Rok-Wa-Ho. Along with their younger sister Ya-Go-Weia, the young women gave singing concerts. Their goal was to raise funds for translating the Bible and educational materials in the Mohawk language.

The three had traveled by train from Albany and were received in Owego by their friend Judge Charles Avery. Avery was well educated, and respected in the town. He took a great interest in history and the accounts of the New York State natives.
Avery brought them from the train to his home for a great feast and comfortable lodgings after the cold train ride.

Even though that February was harsh, the folks in town came out on two nights to hear the concerts in the Owego Hall. Positive entertainment was always welcomed in the long winter months.

The trio was well received, as they had been on other occasions. Sa-Sa-Na was especially well liked. Both of the young women sang but it was clear that Sa-Sa-Na made the deeper impression. Her clear voice was beautiful and her singing came from deep within. Her voice carried throughout the hall and left them spellbound with songs of faith.

The family of three lodged at the home of Judge Avery and sang at the Owego Hall the second night before leaving on the train for Deposit the next day. Even for the short ride they covered their legs with a quilt they carried with them. Trains were notoriously cold, and passengers had to dress warmly.

Sa-Sa-Na and Ya-Go-Weia gave a concert one night only at the Oquaga House. Again, it was was packed with many people, despite the deep cold of February.  After the girls sang, Rok-Wa-Ho reported of the settlement in the Mohawk Woods.  He thanked them for coming to support their education and translation of books into the Mohawk language.

The next morning, the 18th of February 1852, was colder than they remembered. Everything was in a deep freeze. The passenger train fired up and was sitting by the depot. Many folks were in the depot having a bit of lunch before departing the town. Ya-Go-Weia and Sa-Sa-Na boarded the back of the train to take their seats as Rok-Wa-Ho went inside to purchase their tickets.

Suddenly, a Conductor named Henry Masterson sprang for the engine of the train, shouting warnings. He had been sitting in the depot and either saw, or heard a freight train on the same rails, coming at a great speed. People began rushing to the depot windows, others climbed down hurriedly from inside the passenger train. Mr. Masterson jumped on the train and sprang the engine forward with a jerk.

Rok-Wa-Ho ran to the train. From the back of the train, Ya-Go-Weia jumped with her hands out, and in the same motion grabbing her brother’s hand he pulled her off. Quickly, Sa-Sa-Na jumped next, but slipped and fell back into the train just as the freight train hit with a mighty ear-splitting crash.

Rok-Wa-Ho saw the fear in her eyes as she fell back. He grabbed for her, but she was gone so quickly. There was nothing he could do.

Splintered boards flew haphazardly, the boiler burst and hot water shot in the air. Someone still on the train screamed as wheels screamed their own, metal on metal grinding.

Rok-Wa-Ho jumped back as the debris flew all around him. He turned and looked around him in disbelief. Where was Sa-Sa-Na? Where was Ya-Go-Weia?

He looked back at the crash site and tried to find his sister, but the grizzly site was too much for him. It didn’t seem real, and suddenly he felt enveloped in a fog. He looked again for Ya-Go-Weia and found her on her knees swaying back and forth in a mournful cry. She seemed to be in a fog also, but then he felt chill on his cheeks. Rok-Wa-Ho wiped tears from his eyes and gently helped Ya-Go-Weia to her feet. He took her inside to put her by the fireplace and some of the men came to talk with him.

What had happened? Did the brakes fail? Where was the engineer of this freight train?

Rok-Wa-Ho went with the men to find Sa-Sa-Na but they were without hope. She had been crushed between the colliding trains. Two others died from burns within the train.

The conductor of the freight train, after losing control of the train on the long downhill grade, jumped from the train and let it crash into the passenger train.  Due to his negligence, Judge Avery saw to it that the railroad was held liable. A settlement of $2,000 was made to the Loft family.

The NY and Erie Railroad ran along these hills. The grade was gradually up and down, but without brakes the train only took on speed.

Here are the tracks near the depot, as you can see they run quite level. The loss of control was eight miles back from here.

Judge Avery arranged for Sa-Sa-Na’s body to come back to Owego and it was held in his family vault. A memorial service was held in Owego, which stirred the hearts and sympathies of those who knew her. The family announced that money from the railroad would be used to publish religious and educational books in the Mohawk language, so fulfilling the purpose of their journey.

Rok-Wa-Ho and Ya-Go-Weia stayed with the Avery family until they could travel back to Canada. In April Rok-Wa-Ho had written a friend saying they were “in deep affliction for the loss of our dear beloved sister, Sa-sa-na,” yet they had not been at home. They had remained with friends at Grand River.

Eventually Avery persuaded the family to let Sa-Sa-Na be buried in the Evergreen Cemetery on the hill overlooking the Susquehanna River.

Sa-Sa-Na had left such an impact on the people of Owego, that the women began a fund to raise money to build a monument for Sa-Sa-Na’s grave. The monument stands seventeen feet tall, with a rose, broken stem and leaf gone. The inscription is:

“By birth a daughter of the forest, by adoption a child of God.”

Today, 165 years later, people are still drawn to the monument of Sa-Sa-Na on the hill by the woods.

The monument of Sa-Sa-Na Loft in Evergreen Cemetery, Owego, NY.








Total Eclipse and Real Community

My sister Julie and I made a plan to hike in the Great Smoky Mountains. During the planning stage, we discovered a total eclipse would be within our reach.

Julie spent hours on research, buying maps, and NASA approved eclipse glasses. Fontana Dam was the perfect spot for us to capture this unique event. Our added bonus was that across the Dam was the Appalachian Trail.

I read an article on how to set my camera to shoot the eclipse. I had my doubts, being such a novice. What is raw image anyway? And how do I use it?

Before daylight we took our gear, water and food and headed towards Fontana Dam. We heard about the possibility of heavy traffic, but we were fortunate to find very little.

We came upon a great overlook of the lake.

Fontana Lake

I was pointing,” Oh, oh, oh!”

Julie used her quick driving skills to pull off. There we watched the sun rising over Fontana Lake, and the hazy Great Smoky Mountains in the background.

There was an over-eager young man with a camera lens so enormous, I thought he’d need a strap to hold it up. He flitted back and forth shooting the sunrise, and speaking out words of glory.

We met again at the next overlook and I approached him, hesitating…oh he’s a professional, and I such a novice. I never want to bother people…

We made introductions and I asked if he might look at my camera settings to see if they would do to capture the moments we were all waiting for. He said they would do, but gave me a great tip, which I began using right away.

Julie and I drove a short way towards the dam and found a small parking lot at the top of the hill. Just two or three spots were left. We grabbed ours and found a few people had spent the night in cars or slept on the ground.

The energetic photo-tip friend, Shaun was just two cars down, already shooting Fontana Lake.

After our breakfast of hardboiled eggs and cold pre-cooked bacon we loaded our backpacks with food, water and my camera. I strapped a tripod onto my backpack and we headed downhill to the dam.

Surrounding us was a magnificent lake, calm and blue under the hazy mountains. As we anticipated the hour, more people began arriving. The air was full of energy as we became a new community of people anticipating the glory. We would share with total strangers, a great event which would never happen again the same way.

There, planted in the middle of the bridge over the dam was our photo-tip friend, Shaun. Already unloading his travel wagon, he sat in a chair with an umbrella attached. Other photographers began setting up around him.

My sister and I set up across the bridge and watched boats arrive on the lakeside. With boats anchored; some folks took a swim while they waited.

I taped my filter paper on the lens and attached it to the tripod, feeling a bit uncomfortable as I looked for the sun in my view finder. Moments passed, and our photo-tip friend, Shaun found us.

“I just want to see if you’re all set up.”

Shaun, taken by Julie

I thanked Shaun and began searching again for the sun in my view finder. I was remembering the raw image and wondering how it really worked.

More folks gathered in an amazing array of the young and old. People came with hi-tech telescopes, fancy cameras, and cell phones. There were children with parents, hikers off the A.T., and friendly dogs. They came bearing chairs, umbrellas, blankets and tent-like covers to shade from the hot sun.

Watching the day turn to night.

The energy was remarkable and all I could think about was how God’s glory brought together young and old, Asians, Scandinavians, Scots, and others to our melting pot of Americans.

Crazy me in awe!

Did these folks plan their vacation and fly over the pond for this event? Surely these people shared many religious beliefs or possibly none at all, but we had this one thing in common.

As the moon began to shade the sun and we saw a crescent began to appear, voices began exclaiming aloud. We smiled, and we looked around to see the expressions of others; the children (some bored), and the sharing went on…

In the sweating heat we waited, looking occasionally for the moment of total eclipse. My sister snapped shots of people watching. Serious photographers kept their eyes glued to their cameras.

The climax; when the sun was totally covered, brought awe-struck voices in unison. I looked at my sister and tears were in her eyes. I tried to speak, but nothing came out but a croak. It was God’s glory!

On the outside was a thin distinct white ring. Surrounding the ring white lines appeared in all sorts of shapes. The air was strange. We looked around us and it was dark, but not. The “darkness” was not dark. Venus and stars were visible in the half-light. It was eerie, but not, and looking back to the moon covered sun, I wanted to weep at God’s glory.

The diamond effect appeared, and as a community we began to put our glasses back on.

Someone in the crowd cried, “Do it again!”

There we were in a place unfamiliar to most of us, sharing in the glory of God. I wondered, did anyone know it was Creator God? Was it only a fluke of nature for some? Did anyone see the eclipse-glory and believe there might be a God?

This one magical event in history brought us together, and we shared our joy. There was no distinction of race or color. No one decided to give any opinions or demands. No one declared what race or color could attend. We were people…humans made by the true God.

We lingered, not wanting to leave. We took photos for other families and they did the same for us. We talked of the awesome sight and marveled.

How could such a large group of strangers share so easily, but for wanting the exact same thing? We sought this eclipse, and found unity with strangers.

We close ourselves off from each other with our busy lives, and put God away for when we really need him.

Is it possible that God wanted to be noticed? Did he want his children; his creation to look up?

And that amazing eclipse was just a little thing for him to do.



  • You may wonder why I didn’t post my eclipse photos. They are still raw footage in my camera card waiting for a day when I get back home and make sense of them.