Historically speaking

| 28 Sep 2011 | 02:51

    Most people know that White Deer Plaza and Lake Mohawk were named by Princess White Deer, a beautiful and world-famous Indian dancer from Canada and a member of the Mohawk tribe of the Iroquois. She was invited to do so in 1927 by the lake developers, the Arthur Crane Company, headed by Herbert Closs. Their formidable publicity department felt that such an event would spark nationwide interest and they were right. Some people, however, might not know that the Crane Company decided to gain even more publicity for the lake in 1938 by hiring a full-blooded American Indian family to work as gatekeepers. Chief Sebastian Big Mountain of the Comanche tribe, his wife, Princess White Dove of the Apache tribe, and their three children came to Lake Mohawk from in Down Neck, Newark. Arthur Iron Horse had been born out west and Sebastian Laughing Water was the first Indian baby ever born in the City Hospital of Newark. Their daughter, Maryann White Cloud, was also born in Newark. In the early 40s, they welcomed a new son, the first full-blooded American Indian baby born in northern New Jersey in 121 years. He was given the official Indian name of Red Fox William Mohawk Big Mountain, in an elaborate ceremony known as Moccasin Rites in May 1941. Many people, including a large number of American Indians dressed in full regalia, attended the event. Naturally, there was lots of publicity. James Ott took movies of Lake Mohawk and the Moccasin rites of the Big Mountain family later drew a crowd of 350 members. Princess White Dove would eventually have another son named John Little Beaver and a daughter Nancy Frances Sky Eagle. Because the northern end of West Shore Trail already had a gatekeeper, a man dressed in a uniform based on those worn by the Canadian Royal Mounted Police, the family moved into the little thatched cottage at the end of West Shore Trail across from Hemlock Park, as it was called then. Chief Big Mountain, formerly a bareback rider with the Ringling Brothers circus, a model and a bit player in the movies, also served as a forest ranger for the Crane Company. He was an expert archer and often gave lessons to club members. The family soon became an important part of the community and children were always welcome to visit their home. Family and club members were devastated when Princess White Dove (Mary Lucy) died in 1952 after a long illness. She left six children ages 4 through19. Her husband Chief Big Mountain was in poor health and died two years later at age 77. He had served as gatekeeper for 15 years. They are both buried in Sparta Cemetery. Article by Judy Dunn In April, I wrote a column about Walter Bura, a young man who built a machine in 1939 that catapulted him into the air for 130 feet and into Lake Mohawk like a human cannonball. With no information on what ever happened to him, we were left only to wonder. Well, wonder no more. I received a call from Mrs. Laurette Connors McNiel who lives on West Shore Trail. She knew Bura at the Marine Pool and remembers him as a very handsome, charming and enthusiastic man, an Errol Flynn hero type. Very genuine, a good dancer and a people person, he married a local girl, Dorothy Schaeffer. During one of his performances in New York, something went wrong and he lost a leg. Although he was very distraught for awhile, he eventually got a prosthetic leg and became an advocate for veterans coming back from World War II. Local historian Bill Truran googled him and found an article that Bura was appointed chief of the Veteran Administration Division of Prosthetic Devices in 1945 with the job of speeding new inventions to the wearable stage. Bura walked so well that no one realized his leg was cut off above the knee and he was credited with having revolutionized the Army's methods of teaching amputees to walk. Many thanks to both of these readers for their help. To suggest a topic of local interest, please call the author at 973-729-4325. The next meeting of the Sparta Historical Society will be held on September 8 at 7:30 p.m. in the Sparta Ambulance Building, 14 Sparta Avenue.