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It’s Halloween time here in Nedrow, NY. Many of us are preparing for October 31rst, when monsters, goblins, and other creatures of the dark will begin to hobble, slouch, and shuffle to our doorsteps. As we busy ourselves with the spooky fun of All Hallows Eve, most of us will remain totally oblivious to the horrors that happened on the hill directly to the east of us in 1803.  

Witches Over Nedrow?

History and its stories are sometimes lost to time; unless the alert curiosity of prying eyes finds a little known document and begins to dig.  It’s a horrific story of Witches and wizards, and as the tale is told, it happened right here in and around our hometown of Nedrow, NY when it was known as Onondaga Castle.  It all begins with the traditions of the Onondaga Nation.

As is the case in many indigenous cultures and world religions, the belief in the supernatural is central to the faith of the Onondagas.  Many wondrous and incredible stories have been told, including legends involving giant monstrous birds that caused great havoc over the land and waters of the Onondagas. Other stories of awe and terror involve large monstrous heads flying through the skies with flaming hair.  The quis-quis, or great hog, was another monster which gave the Onondagas great trouble, as did the great bear, the horned water-serpent, the stone giants and many equally amazing tales are found among the traditions of the Onondagas.

Aside from these lofty legends of lore, a more down to earth belief among the Iroquois, which had deadly consequences, is that of witchcraft and wizardry. Within the Iroquois Confederation, in which Onondaga is a part; there existed a strong belief in witches and wizards.  In none of the six nations was the belief more prevalent, than among the Onondagas.

It was believed that these witches and wizards held nightly meetings in order to bring disgrace and trouble upon the nation.  The people of the nation believed that these witches and wizards could change themselves into wolves, foxes, hawks and turkeys and additionally they could transform themselves into shapes and materials such as trees, rocks and logs.  Other powers that were feared and attributed to witchcraft included invisibility and the ability to infuse poison and disease among their people.

Central to the history of Onondaga Castle is this story, as was told in ONONDAGA OR REMINISCENCES OF EARLIER AND LATER TIMES.  Historian Joshua V. H. Clark wrote it back in 1849.  A central figure in this story is Mr. Ephraim Webster. He was the first white settler to the area and was a trusted associate of the Onondaga Indians.

“Mr. Webster, in his conversations with the old settlers, said that an old Indian of the Onondagas used to relate, that at an ancient period, when a portion of the Onondagas had an extensive settlement and populous village on the flats east of Jamesville, that he resided there, and stepping out of his cabin one evening, he sunk down deep into an immense cavern, which was brilliantly illuminated with flamimg torches.  No sooner had he reached the floor, than he found himself instantly surrounded by hundreds of witches and wizards, who rather un-ceremoniously ejected him.

Early the next morning he proceeded to the council house, and laid the matter before the assembled chiefs.  They asked him, if he could identify any of the persons he had seen.  He replied that he thought he could.  He straightway proceeded through the village and pointed to this and that one, whom he thus signified as delinquents.  They were at once doomed for execution, and without trial or ceremony, upon evidence or whim of a single individual, numbers of both sexes were killed.  According to the tradition, the slaughter was immense; it seemed there could be no end to the alarming panic; many of the people dispersed, and for a season it was feared the nation would be completely broken up.  It is said that more than half of those who remained at home were killed, amounting in all to hundreds.”


It is important to note that the traditions of witchcraft, and the ways in which to deal with persons involved, continued into the times of the first white settlements.  The ways of execution were either by burning to death by fire or they were dispatched by tomahawk.  Usually, however, before they died, they were permitted to speak in their own behalf, frequently owning up and agreeing with the charges against them.

It was documented in several sources that after the condemned were told of their fate, a number of native men from the nation would walk to a high ledge of rocks, roll some of them out, sufficient enough to make a large hole.  They would then return to Onondaga Castle and direct the “witch” or “wizard” to depart for the place of execution.  The men of the nation would then follow the doomed to the prepared location.

After a woman was condemned to die, she would pull a blanket over her head and proceed to the site of the execution.  Once at the site, and standing on a rock at the edge of the hole, one of the men would walk deliberately up to her, and remove her blanket and let it fall to the ground.  It was at that instant that two Indians would walk up to the woman with tomahawks and do the deed, letting her body fall into the hole.  Rocks were then rolled onto the body until it was deeply buried.  The men would then cry out:  “Thus perish all witches!”

Wizards met a similar fate but instead of walking to the place of their death, they ran.

According to Joshua Clark:

“Several instances of this mode of punishment have occurred since the first settlements were made by the whites, and have been related to the author by the older inhabitants, some of whom were witnesses.”

It was also documented:

“As late as 1803, four squaws were executed according to their customs.”

One of the four directed her own execution. She requested to die by fire. Another one met her death as many did before her- as mentioned and documented above. Here’s the account of why and how she was executed in 1803.  Told by Joshua Clark:

“The Indians had purchased a beef of Mr. Webster, for purposes of a great feast. During the transaction a young man who was master of ceremonies, was charged by an Indian woman with partiality, in the distribution of the good things which were served.

The following night the young man rose in great agony, saying, this woman had choked him, and if she did so the following night, it would surely kill him.  The succeeding night he was heard to utter a terrible cry, and as he screamed, his friends rushed in, but he was dead.  No one was discovered in the room who could have effected his death.  It has been said that Mr. Webster himself saw the prints of fingers upon his throat. 

The supposed witch, when asked if she was guilty, acknowledged she was.

She was taken to the top of the hill east of the Castle, killed with an axe and buried among the rocks.”

Two other “witches” were executed as the one above. All of them courted their own deaths as martyrs would for a holier cause.

In another document of our earlier times, it was said:

“Another tradition says that about fifty persons were burned to death at the Onondaga Castle for witches.”

Although Onondaga Castle, back during the time of the first white settlements (1788-1805), encompassed a modestly larger area west of modern day Nedrow, there can be no mistake that the “…hill east of the Castle” is a place we can all relate to; needing only to take a peek out of our doors to see it.

Are the ghosts of the witches still stirring among the rocks that buried them?  Are they and the fifty witches that were allegedly burned to death looking for an ear of sympathy or are they all content to remain silent on their side of the veil; satisfied with the charges against them?

Please consider them in your thoughts the next time you look to the east.

Happy Halloween….

This story is a part of a larger volume of information that will be published in the near future: Onondaga Castle, Rockwell Springs, Nedrow:  History Of A Hamlet

Please visit the author of this post: Tom Riddell: