Upstate New York Home to One of the Oldest Native American Monuments
During the winter of 1852, residents of Owego were blindsided by a tragic accident that would take the life of a young woman they'd quickly come to love.
On February 16, 1852, three siblings, two sisters, and their older brother were on a journey through the Southern Tier from Canada and had stopped to perform and rest for two days in Owego before continuing on their journey. Their next stop was to be Deposit where they would again perform.
As the residents of Owego saw the siblings off on the morning of February 18, 1852, they didn't know that it would be the last time that they would see the siblings all alive or that the death of one would leave such a huge impact on their village for generations to come.
When the train carrying the siblings arrived in Deposit from Owego on February 18, 1852, the sisters stayed onboard while their brother went to the ticket office to buy the tickets they would need for the next leg of their journey.
While the brother was standing at the ticket window, an alarm was raised that there was a runaway freight train headed directly for the train station and that an accident was inevitable. There would be a collision between the freight train and the train that the sisters were still sitting on.
The runaway train sped out of control but the sisters had enough time to get off the train and make it to the platform. But then, the unthinkable happened.
Just as the sisters reached the safety of the platform, the older sister fell from the platform directly onto the train which was being smashed by the runaway freight train. She died instantly.
The woman was only 21 years old and was a Native American called Sa-sa-na Loft. Sa-Sa-na was a member of the Mohawk tribe and she and her siblings were very well educated. Sa-Sa-na, her brother Rok-wa-ho, and her sister Ya-go-weia were using their singing talents to travel the United States, giving concerts to raise money to take back to their tribe so that they could Christianize it and also for the money to be used to buy books which would be transferred into the Mogawk language and used to educate.
The sibling's stop in Owego was sponsored by resident and judge Charles P. Avery who made it possible for the siblings to give two concerts. The siblings stayed at the judge's home for both nights that they were in Owego.
Sa-sa-na's family was unable to transport her family back to Canada and so the residents of Owego, who had fallen in love with the young woman, convinced her family to allow her to be buried in the village, Residents even raised enough money for a monument that still stands to this day overlooking the village and the river.
According to the book Sa-Sa-Na Loft, Owego’s Indian Maiden, A Historical Anthology, Judge Avery sued the railroad company on behalf of Sa-sa-na's family. A sum of $2,000 was given to them and with it, they were able to publish books in the Mohawk language and those books were used "for the education and Christianization of the Mohawk people at the reservation in Canada.”
The front of Sa-sa-na's monument reads, "In memory of Sa-sa-na Loft, an Indian maiden of Mohawk Woods, Canada West, who lost her life in the railroad disaster at Deposit, N.Y., Feb 18 1852. Aged 21 years." The back of the monument reads, "By birth a daughter of the forest, by adoption a child of God."
The legacy of Sa-sa-na lives on to this day, over 170 years after her death as visitors can regularly be seen visiting her monument. Researchers say that while there are many other monuments honoring the lives of Native Americans, the monument for Sa-sa-na is believed to be the oldest in the United States.