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'Day of Remembrance' in Turners Falls for Native victims of 1676 massacre

A gathering in Turners Falls, Massachusetts, this Saturday aims to remember the hundreds of Native people killed during the Great Falls Massacre of 1676.

The Pocumtuck, Abenaki and Nipmuc lived near the falls year-round. Indigenous people from several other tribes, including the Wampanoag and the Narragansett, would visit every spring to fish on what's known today as the Connecticut River.

At the time, the region was in the midst of King Philip's War. Native tribes were pushing back against the English, who were taking over tribal lands.

David Brule is president of the Native advocacy nonprofit, the Nolumbeka Project, which organized the day of remembrance.

"Some say this is true. Some say it's made up. There apparently was a cattle raid by Native people," Brule said while standing on the Gill side of the river, on the site of what was once a Pocumtuck village. "Seventy head of cattle were stolen and brought back here by the Native soldiers. And that triggered a furious desire on the part of the farmers in the area to seek revenge."

Brule said Captain William Turner and about 150 colonial soldiers decided to retaliate.

"Tied their horses at the top of the ridgeline," Brule said, pointing across the river, "waited for dawn and swept down here and began killing people on May 19. There was not much of a fight because these were noncombatants."

The victims were mostly elderly, children and women. Some tried to escape by hiding in caves. Between 200 and 300 Native people were killed.

The colonial soldiers retreated. Native soldiers followed, killing about 50, including William Turner. Much later, the falls were named after Turner.

Nancy Eve Cohen is a senior reporter focusing on Berkshire County. Earlier in her career she was NPR’s Midwest editor in Washington, D.C., managing editor of the Northeast Environmental Hub and recorded sound for TV networks on global assignments, including the war in Sarajevo and an interview with Fidel Castro.
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