securing a reasonably good
copy of the photograph, I located two experts*
who identified the necklace as a relic from the
Iroquois Six Nations Confederacy
and/or Northern Cherokee. The necklace is what they call
a 'family necklace' which
is quite common and essentially the equivalent of wearing
your genealogy or a coat of
arms around your neck. It was generally passed on
from mother to daughter in a
matrilineal society. I believe Hannah Maria wanted
us to know her heritage, though
she and her children and grandchildren were forbidden to
speak of it due to prevailing
prejudices. It is likely that at her death, Hannah was
buried with this piece of her
pendant part of the necklace is especially perplexing to even the most
expert of my
sources. At first, I thought it was a small, animal
vertebrae hanging from the main body
of the necklace. The choker portion of the necklace appeared to
be teeth or claws (possibly shark's teeth or turtle claws)
with spacers or beads between. But through further research, I
have discovered other possibilities. (see below).
Humorously, the family thought they were looking at a bear
claw necklace, which it obviously IS NOT. She may
have had that type of necklace, but it wouldn't have been a
the Snake . . .
Elders from two different tribes have indicated they believe the
necklace was a figure of a snake. In Cherokee myth
there is a story about the Uktena, which is a mythic
snake. There are many stories regarding this serpent and its
'medicine' in the cosmology of the Cherokee religious beliefs.
One of the foremost Indian historians of the19th century, James
Mooney wrote several essays on Uktena. See:
One myth about the Uktena can be read at the Cherokee
Phoenix website. On this site, there is a drawing that looks
similar in representation to the one in the photo, but I have
not yet found anyone who can verify if this is indeed what exists
on Hannah's necklace, nor the history behind it.
Other people have looked at the necklace and commented the
hanging segment represented a Celtic knot. If the pendant
represents a Celtic knot, one would reason the material from
which it is manufactured would be silver. The northeastern
Indians had a lot of metal ornamentation, which originated from
English trade goods. There are some excellent resources
that show hundreds button, gorget, and pendant designs, but none
that look like this pendant. see:
Beauchamp, William M.,
Metallic Ornaments of the
Bulletin 73. 1903
are some Mississippian culture, copper figures that resemble the
design, but are flat two-dimensional designs.
The Mohican (Mahican) tribe has a symbol that is similar
to this design, but it is flattened and two-dimensional. (see below).
Sculpted in the proper way, the symbol below could be a
manifestation of what we can see on the pendant. This is the
"Many Trails" symbol used by the Stockbridge
The Mohegan tribe, too,
has a similar symbol. One can view it at: Mohegan
The lore surrounding it is as follows, and is borrowed from the
"The button is thought to be from the mid-eighteenth
century. The carving
design in the Mohegan Tribal symbol and has very ancient
meaning. The four
large domes point to each of the sacred four directions.
The design represents
the back of the Grandfather Turtle upon whose back all life was
created or the
wigwams where the Mohegans lived.
The v-shaped designs between the mounds
of the domes are parts of the Tree of Life, which grows from
the roots of Mohegan
ancestors and branches toward future generations.
The small dots represent
people." Unfortunately, I was unable to
reproduce the button on this page, so one must
shift from this site to the Mohegan Button to compare.
The fact that the N.E. tribes are closely related and are
descended from the Leni
Lenape, or grandfather tribe, help us to understand the
similarities in symbolism and inter-
relationships between the tribes. The Seneca for
instance, have a similar traditional story.
By viewing former family genealogy it is thought that perhaps
Hannah's family actually began with the Wampanoag
When the Wampanoag underwent grave changes during the
colonization of America, the family was assimilated along the
way with tribes who resided in the inland interiors of Vermont,
Connecticut and New York. We pick up Hannah's great
grandfather, John Newberry in Groton, Connecticut in the
early 1700's, who was descended from Tryal Newberry.
The pilgrims met The Wampanoag tribe
led by Massasoit when they landed at Plymouth. Another arm of the
intermarried with the Newberry's in the 1840's has been
traced back to the Wampanoag of Gay Head. Hannah's sister
Lecty was married to George John Wixon who descends from
After following this research into archaeological tribal history, it
is possible that my primary assumption that the "teeth
or claws" scenario is incorrect. In studying a
monograph from the Rochester
Museum and Science Center,( who have
a tremendous collection, and house the Louis Henry Morgan
Iroquoian exhibit) I found a photo which I think may
illustrate the chocker portion of Hannah's necklace.* The
necklace below is an antiquity from the 1600's. The
description is as follows. Shell
necklace (detail) from the Power House Site, Seneca Iroquois, c. A.D.
bird effigies, length of bird effigies 4-6 cm (RMSC 856124)
My sources say the items on Hannah's necklace gave her
"important or special"
tribal social standing, such as a "Beloved
still continues regarding her status.
Very little is available biographically about Hannah
Maria. Her life
was controlled by her circumstances. She was apparently not
literate, though her brothers and father were. (A family journal
exists written partially in her father's hand. Other
accounts of the family are written in her husband's hand.)
family lore said that she was a medicine woman. At this point in time
(2005) the native people who have chosen to
comment on her status say that there is nothing special about
her tribal affiliation. Born in 1823 and raised up in an LDS
after 1831 but not baptized until 1843, any uniqueness as
to her heritage was probably lost forever, as times were brutal for
native people. One thing is certain, in the autumn of her life
she attempted to bring her two worlds together posing for
a photographer wearing her family necklace.
complete answer, when it comes, will ultimately be from elders of the
proper tribe within the Six Nations or the modern
Mahican Confederacy or Cherokee Nation. The New England tribes
pushed to near extinction, joined with other the Iroquoian
and pushed to the western frontier.
of those joined their cousins and brothers in New York, before being
west to Ohio and then to other reserves, where
the United States government always forced them to cede their lands to
settlers. It is interesting to study and understand the
dynamics and relationships with the tribes. One would think that each
was an entity in itself, and to some extent that is true, but
all the tribes are inter-related and the process of understanding
relationships can boggle the mind of the uninitiated.
Hannah's line was diluted with European ancestry, as was
often the case. In the early 19th century we believe the line was
re-infused with Northern Cherokee ancestry. There are many
possibilities but written records are scattered, or non-existent.
None-the-less, hard to come by. This search too - continues.
looking into this family history, I have come a long way down a
fascinating and exciting road. On the way, I have metIt seems that
all the older Elders who might have known, have passed on.
members from the mid-west who heard the same stories
about their direct ancestors for the past 180 years. There
still exists within
the Newberry family, a homestead steeped in Iowa State history in
Lee County, Iowa - where the original
people set down roots in the 1830's.
Finally, I have met a lot of wonderful, supportive people
who have selflessly helped to locate evidence, and in the process
forged many new
friendships. To these generous folks
who are flung like pebbles across our vast continent, I say - thank
you for your
generosity and sharing spirits!
The knowledge has passed on with them. So perhaps one day
an answer will come to us, but for now, I must put this
aside, and ask the ancestors to send an answer. If it
comes, I will surely let you all know.
Wado, Sue Simonich
A special thanks to . . .
Donald R. Nicholson, Ph.D. (retired) Native American
Stewart, Archaeologist and Artist and owner of Archaic
*Gwen Pouillon for all her encouragement and
*Janice Newberry Robinson for all her encouragement
Gunter, (Cherokee) fellow researcher
(this is a short list)
Hammett, Julia E. and
Beverly A. Sizemore, "Shell beads and Ornaments: Socioeconomic
Indicators of the Past". In Proceedings of the
1986 Shell Bead Conference: Selected Papers. C. F. Hayes III, ed. Pp.
125-138. Research Records No. 20.
William M., Metallic Ornaments of the
fall I have contacted a non-Native author Lois Sher Dubin who has
written an beautiful and authoritative volume
American Indian Jewelry and Adornment, Abrams, N. Y., N.Y.;
however, she was unable to give any answer regarding
this particular object.
I also queried various museums in New York and Washington
D.C.. None of whom were able to help very much.