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Abenaki Native Americans, basketmakers, have long history in Lake George

This article focuses on the Norman Johnson family, one of the last Abenaki families selling baskets to tourists at Lake George. Members of the Johnson clan and related Abenaki families, who accomplished much to contribute to the development of Lake George, are still living in the area, according to authors and anthropologists Christopher Roy and David Benedict.

LAKE GEORGE - Of the 100,000 or more visitors who visit Lake George annually, there are but few who know of the existence of a family of full-blooded Native Americans in the village. But over many decades, many knew Norman Johnson not from his background, but as the man who sold sweet-grass baskets and birch-bark canoes.

On September 8, 1912, the New York Times published a substantial article entitled "Basketmaking Indians of Lake George" focusing on the last Abenaki family making a living from the basket trade in the Lake George area - the family of Norman and Angeline Sarah (Otodoson) Johnson. The article noted how little tourists knew about the Johnsons, despite the estimate that "one out of every ten" had likely encountered Norman Johnson as a basket- and canoe-seller.

The Times article observed, "Further than that they would not know, unless, perchance, they had casually dropped into the little one-story structure that serves as a store for the sale of baskets and birch-bark souvenirs and as the Summer home for the family of Johnson, who are nine in number." Many visitors were likely unaware of the family's history - that the "old lady is a full-blooded but exiled member of a still-existing tribe of Indians."

The Times correspondent detailed the experience of purchasing a basket from the Johnson family. The sides and counters of the salesroom were "piled ceiling-high with baskets that give forth the fragrant aroma of sweet grass somewhat less pleasing now, perhaps, because of the intermingling of the odors of the last cooked meal that was prepared behind a pair of half-closed curtains, multicolored and of intricate design....A boy, or perhaps a girl, with characteristic high cheekbones and jet black hair, is behind the counter to sell the goods. After making change for the customer, a word is passed about the weather."

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