Indian Statue: The Indian — A Case of Mistaken Identity
Teedyuscung was a large and brawny man. It is said that he could drink a gallon of whisky a day without consequence. A Native American chief, he was described as haughty in air, and proud of his race. Teedyuscung eventually rose to the kingship of his people. During his time in power, he negotiated with other tribes, as well as the newly arrived colonists. He arranged for compensation for the lands the colonists now occupied. He was a well known and successful leader, making him the most famous member of the Lenni Lenape tribe among the colonists.
Despite common misconceptions, this man is not the person depicted in the statue located less than half a mile off Rex Avenue in Valley Green. It is not of any one specific person. The 15 foot statue was sculpted in 1902 to commemorate the migration of the Lenape tribe from the area. It is for this reason that the man depicted has his hand to his brow, and is looking west; the direction the Lenape moved. This statue of a kneeling Lenape warrior is fixed on Council Rock, the place where the pre-colonial Lenape Indians are believed to have held their meetings.
John Massey Rhind sculpted this work after Mr. and Mrs. Charles W. Henry commissioned its creation as a tribute to these Lenape Indians who hunted and fished in the Wissahickon prior to the arrival of colonists. Unfortunately, the sculpture is highly inaccurate. Instead of depicting a typical Lenape, Rhind gave his sculpture a war bonnet, the stereo typical headdress found on many images of Native Americans. Such a headdress is found on Western Plains Indians, not East Coast Forest Indians like the Lenape.
This white Lenox marble statue originally cost between $6000 and $7000. Sadly, such a beautiful work of art suffered much abuse over the years. For the past century, visitors have developed a tradition of signing or even carving names and initials into the Indian’s ribs, legs, arms, and back. In 2003, the Friends of the Wissahickon (FOW) worked to renovate the statue and make it more accessible. The FOW used private donations to construct steps to the statue, as well as to build a retention wall on the slope leading down to the statue. The statue was cleaned through a process that shot glass powder at the Indian. This removed the paint and ink graffiti, while preserving the marble underneath.
So why was this statue thought to be of Teedyuscung? He was the most iconic local Native American. He worked with the colonists establishing the area we recognize today. He was the leader of the people the statue represents, and, therefore, he is a strong symbol. Adding to the confusion, one person mentioned Teedyuscung in his dedication speech for the statue. The name stuck, but by now most locals are aware of its inaccuracy. They use the name as an affectionate nickname rather than actual historical reference.
This Indian statue has truly become a landmark in the community. Whether the destination of a picnic, or just a stop along the way on a hike of the Wissahickon, visiting the Indian is a tradition shared and passed down by many families. Parents bring children to marvel at his height, and the youth gather at his feet to socialize. “Teedy”, as he is affectionately known, serves both as a recreational icon of the community of Northwest Philly, as well as reminder of another important community that lived there long before any colonists arrived.
- "Dams and Statues." Dams and Statues. Friends of the Wissahickon, 2015. Web. 09 July 2015.
- Bauers, Sandy. "Beloved Statue Is Cleaned, but Mystery Persists Old Indian Statue Gets His Makeover, but Graffiti Returns." Philly-archives. N.p., 22 Oct. 2002. Web. 09 July 2015.