Published on February 10, 2013 by Carol
As you approach the battlefield today in 1996, there is a curious blend of the various historic periods of this portion of the Bronx. Coming off of the Major Deegan Expressway at Exit 13 (East 233 Street), you go onto that street and proceed to Van Cortlandt Park East (Mile Square Road). On your right is Woodlawn Cemetery, on your left are abandoned tennis courts and active ball fields of this portion of Van Cortlandt Park. This portion of the park, separated from the main park by the Major Deegan Expressway, is called Indian Field. This name is somewhat of a misnomer, as the actual placement of Indian Field is hidden within the forest, and comprises, as DeVoe wrote in 1880, two or three acres surrounded by stately trees.
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Turning left onto Van Cortlandt Park East at the light, (with a gas station on the comer), the park is to your left and houses and apartment buildings are on the right. Near the intersection of the old lane, opposite Oneida Ave., is a memorial to the Stockbridges erected in 1906. The man responsible for this monument was Stephen Jenkins, member of the Westchester Historical Society and author of The Story of the Bronx, published in 1912. At the suggestion of Jenkins, a calm of rough boulders was erected in 1906 by the Bronx Chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution, and dedicated on June 14, “Flag Day.” Even today, local residents take the time to do pruning of the bushes and trees that border the small plot of land surrounding the memorial.
But what of the actual location of Indian Field, where the mortal remains of perhaps eighteen Stockbridges and other New England Native American patriots are interred? Again, thanks to DeVoe’s map of 1880, which was incorporated into a 1926 map drawn by a later local historian named Otto Hufeland, we can locate the precise spot of Indian Field. It is not near the 1906 monument, although DeVoe’s Lane is within several feet of that monument. A visitor to the battlefield must enter the old lane, now just a foot path bordered by a stone fence overgrown with vegetation, and proceed northerly along this colonial roadway. Just ahead you must cross over a paved roadway that goes east to west and leads back to Van Cortlandt Park East. This roadway connects with the park’s nursery, situated on a portion of the battlefield, which Thomas DeVoe described as “DeVeaux’s Heights.” Skirting the metal fence of the nursery, you continue along the old lane, and then quite suddenly, the forest opens up to the left of the lane. Climb up on a large fallen tree which straddles the old lane, and you can get a better glimpse of Indian Field. It is just as DeVoe described it more than a century ago, “…the cleared opening, Iying on the left-hand side of the road,…almost square, containing two or three acres of land…surrounded on three sides by large trees…”
Now, 116 years since those lines were written, and more than two centuries after the Massacre of the Stockbridge Indians, we rediscover their burial place. We can touch the very soil of their sepulcher, we can commune with the men who laid down their lives in the cause of American independence. Now that we have recovered their burial ground from decades of neglect and uncovered their history from obscurity, we must take whatever steps are necessary to venerate the true location of Indian Field. The story of the contribution of the Stockbridges, their role in both military and diplomacy during the American Revolution, and the extreme bravery exhibited that fateful August day in 1778, are all worth remembering and commemorating.