Everyone loves legends and the people and things that inhabit those mystical worlds. The Hudson Valley and Catskill Mountains with its great mix of cultures and history was a perfect breeding ground for these often strange or even scary characters.
Here’s a sampling of just a few characters that I found to be fascinating. Just a taste, you’re going to have to do some research and reading to find more on this cast and their stories.
The Catskill Witch
From her perch atop Round Top and North Mountain, the Catskill Witch allowed the day and night to enter the Hudson Valley. She made the stars and clouds and scattered them in the Catskill Mountains and Hudson Valley skies. She brought the rains that flooded streams and transformed herself into a bear or deer to lead native hunters a merry and often hazardous chase through the lands. Fear of her ferocity led in a twisted turn of events to the forming of Catskill Greek.
The Dunderberg Goblins
Donderberg Mountain lies on the west bank of the Hudson River in what today is Bear Mountain Park. The name is of Dutch origin and means Thunder Mountain, and thunder and storms there were. The head goblin, the Heer, a robust fellow outfitted in Dutch attire of the time would sound the word to which his goblin followers would stir the skies to rain down its waters and thunderous lightening. The goblins would then jump onto any ships in the area and head them to nearby rocks and shoals to their destruction.
Where the Croton River empties into the Hudson River at Croton-On-Hudson in Westchester County, there was a burial ground of the Kitchawan tribe. Having had enough of the trespasses of white settlers onto this sacred ground, the Kitchawan constructed a palisade to keep them out. Ultimately this fortification was used as a defense against invading tribes from the north. The Kitchawan fought their attackers to the last. Chief Croton realizing that defeat was eminent, cast a curse on the invaders, and jumped into the roaring fires. To this day his spectral spirit can be seen roaming the area at Croton Point on the Hudson River where the battle took place.
Chief Shandaken and His Daughter Lotowana
Chief Shandaken and his daughter Lotowana lived on Onteora Mountain in the Catskill Mountains. Many of the braves sought Lotowana’s hand but she had promised herself to a Mohawk brave. On a wager, a local hermit and scoundrel by the name Norsereddin sought her hand but was rebuked by Lotowana. On her wedding day Norsereddin presented Lotowana with a present, a gesture of his good will towards the newlyweds. Opening the present resulted in a tragic ending and the campfires of Chief Shandaken’s tribe were never again seen on Onteora Mountain.
The Wild Bull Of The Hudson Highlands
A wild bull who once terrorized residents of the Hudson Highlands lived atop Mount Taurus in the Hudson Highlands. Eventually the bull was chased from his mountaintop lair to a hill directly across the Hudson River from Storm King Mountain. There the wild bull fell from the cliff and was killed, giving rise to the hill’s name, Breakneck Hill (or Breakneck Mountain).
Winnisook or How Big Indian NY Got Its Name
Winnisook was a seven foot tall indian who dwelt in the Esopus Valley. He was known by the name of “The Big Indian”. Winnisook had asked for the hand of a local girl named Gertrude Molyneux. While she agreed, her parents did not. Ultimately the two ran off together and were not heard from for some time. Eventually Winnisook was spotted in the area by local farmers, and the chase was on. The place where Gertrude found his body ultimately came to be known as Big Indian.
Nick Wolsey’s Vengeance
A tragic and somewhat eerie tale of love, murder, and vengeance. Near the banks of the Hudson River in Coxsackie NY once lived the trapper Nick Wolsey. He married Minamee, a girl from a local tribe, and no doubt would have lived happily ever after but for a jealous brave of Minamee’s tribe. Years later the jealous admirer sneaks into Wolsey’s home and murders his wife and young child. Wolsey takes bizarre revenge on the culprit that involves the culprit, his wife’s body, and a horse. From that day on it is said that “on still nights the horse can be heard sweeping through the woods along the Hudson and along the Mohawk like a whirlwind, and that as the sound goes by a smothered voice breaks out in cursing, in appeal, then in harsh and dreadful laughter.”