Adirondack: Of Indians and Mountains, 1535-1838 - Purple Mountain Press


by Stephen B. Sulavik

From the Etymology and Definition of Adirondack

(references, omitted here, are in the book):

It is generally accepted that the word Adirondack is derived from the Mohawk Indian word atirú:taks, literally meaning “tree eaters.” The acute accent indicates that the stress is on that syllable; the colon marks a preceding long vowel. Because there was no written Mohawk language when the name originated, probably in the late 1500s, various phonetic spellings of the word have been used.

The earliest recorded mention of the name (not accompanied, unfortunately, by an explanation of its origin) was in 1627 by the Dutch, who were the first Europeans to settle near Mohawk territory. It is found in the following passage by Nicolaes van Wassenaer, taken from his Historisch Verhael for June 14, 1627: “The most distant Nations from there [Manhattan Island], known to the traders, are the Indians from French Canada. Thereabout are the Orankokx, the Achkokx and others, both men and women. On entering the River [Hudson], if they bring women with them, ‘tis a sign they are friends; if they visit the yachts without these, every one must be on his guard.” Orankokx and Achkokx probably represent two phonetic spellings of the Mohawk word atirú:taks and were misinterpreted to refer to separate Indian bands.

The earliest definitive record of the word Adirondack—this time spelled Rontaks—that does define it to mean “tree eaters” was in 1724 by the Jesuit missionary Father Joseph-François Lafitau. As we shall see, there may be an earlier document that contains this definition, dating from the mid-seventeenth century, in one of the Jesuit Relations, which were annual reports from the Jesuit missionaries back to their headquarters in Paris. The precise reference and its date, however, are still uncertain.

According to J. Dyneley Prince, by 1900 another Mohawk word, ratirontaks (“they eat trees”), was in common use among the Mohawks at Caughnawauga, Quebec. They applied this name to the Algonquin bands “who formerly had their headquarters at Oka (Lac des Deux Montagnes), not far from Montreal, but who are now, with the exception of a few families still resident at Oka, scattered throughout the whole of eastern Canada.

Generously illustrated with contemporary maps and engravings, this work explores the origins and meanings of the word Adirondack through a meticulous analysis of primary documents about the Native peoples and physical place bearing the name. The earliest written accounts, journals, maps, as well as contemporary scholarship in the fields of anthropology and geology have been assembled by Dr. Sulavik to present the first comprehensive history of the 1535-1838 period in the Adirondacks. These sources have never been identified, assembled, and analyzed in one place. This will benefit scholarship as well as contribute to the general understanding of the early history of the Adirondack region.


"Anyone who has an Adirondack bookshelf will need this volume anchoring the far left end. It is where the story of this place begins, and it is told with both great accuracy and great power—a book for anyone whose heart is in these mountains." —Bill McKibben, author Wandering Home: A Long Walk Through America's Most Hopeful Landscape, Vermont's Champlain Valley and New York's Adirondack Mountains

"This informative and lavishly illustrated book will be treasured by every person who is interested in the early history of the Adirondack region. Steve Sulavik identifies and provides detailed information about the Adirondak Indians after whom these mountains are named as well as about the Indian groups who actually visited and hunted in these mountains in early historical times. He also traces the history of European exploration of the region down to 1838. Sulavik's thoroughly researched, comprehensive, and reader friendly coverage of these topics sheds light on many controversial issues and opens up a new and reliable vista on the history of this region. His study is accompanied by a comprehensive and well-annotated collection of early maps of the region and by extracts from various accounts written by explorers and early travelers that are pertinent to understanding the region. The book is equally fascinating whether read cover to cover or dipped into to learn interesting facts about the early history of this rugged and beautiful region." —Bruce G. Trigger, James McGill Professor of Anthropology at McGill University, Montreal, Canada

“It reflects prodigious research. No one has ever gotten the whole story of the origin of the word “Adirondack” straight before. . . . I have truly learned something. . . .” —Philip G. Terrie, Adirondack author and authority on the cultural and natural history of the mountains.

Adirondack: Of Indians and Mountains is a real contribution to knowledge. No one has done this for the Adirondacks that I am aware of.” —Peter C. Welsh, former Director of Museum Programs, Smithsonian Institution; former editor of the Smithsonian Journal of History; and former President of the NYS Historical Association.

Stephen B. Sulavik, M.D., first visited the Adirondacks in 1955; an avid fisherman, he became intrigued with the Adirondack guideboat, eventually becoming an authority on its builders and evolution. He then turned his passionate curiosity and well-honed research skills to the word Adirondack and to the region so named. Dr. Sulavik is a Clinical Professor of Medicine at the Yale University School of Medicine and Professor Emeritus of Medicine at the University of Connecticut School of Medicine. He has published extensively and received many awards for clinical and teaching excellence.

240 pages, paperback, 12" x 9", 31 full-color, full-page maps from European, Canadian, and American archives, many never reproduced before, 55 illustrations, bibliography, index, $27.50--A Purple Mountain Press-Adirondack Museum original
Fewer than two dozen of the hardcover edition are still available: $39.00.

Link to the book's INDEX A-M N-Z

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