For generations, Mohawk Indians have left their reservations in or near Canada to raise skyscrapers in the heart of New York City.

High atop a New York University building one bright September day, Mohawk ironworkers were just setting some steel when the head of the crew heard a big rumble to the north. Suddenly a jet roared overhead, barely 50 feet from the crane they were using to set the steel girders in place. “I looked up and I could see the rivets on the plane, I could read the serial numbers it was so low, and I thought ‘What is he doing going down Broadway?’” recalls the crew’s leader, Dick Oddo. Crew members watched in disbelief as the plane crashed into one of the towers of the World Trade Center, just 10 blocks away.

At first, Oddo says, he thought it was pilot error. He got on his cell phone to report the crash to Mike Swamp, business manager of Ironworkers Local 440, but he began to wonder. Then another jet flew by. “When the plane hit the second tower, I knew it was all planned.”

Like Oddo, most of the Mohawk crews working in New York City on Sept. 11, 2001, headed immediately to the site of the disaster. Because many of them had worked on the 110-story World Trade Center some three decades earlier, they were familiar with the buildings and hoped they could help people escape faster. Fires were raging in the towers and the ironworkers knew that steel weakens and eventually melts under extreme heat. They helped survivors escape from the threatened buildings, and when the towers came crashing down, they joined in the search for victims.

In the months that followed, many Mohawk ironworkers volunteered to help in the cleanup. There was a terrible irony in dismantling what they had helped to erect: Hundreds of Mohawks had worked on the World Trade Center from 1966 to 1974. The last girder was signed by Mohawk ironworkers, in keeping with ironworking tradition.

Walking the iron

Mohawks have been building skyscrapers for six generations. The first workers came from the Kahn­awake Reservation near Montreal, where in 1886 the Canadian Pacific Railroad sought to construct a cantilever bridge across the St. Lawrence River, landing on reservation property. In exchange for use of the Mohawks’ land, the railroad and its contractor, the Dominion Bridge Co., agreed to employ tribesmen during construction.

The builders had intended to use the Indians as laborers to unload supplies, but that didn’t satisfy the Mohawks. Members of the tribe would go out on the bridge during construction every chance they got, according to an unnamed Dominion Bridge Co. official quoted in a 1949 New Yorker article by Joseph Mitchell (“The Mohawks in High Steel,” later collected in the 1960 book Apologies to the Iroquois, by Edmund Wilson). “It was quite impossible to keep them off,” the Dominion official said.

The official also claimed the Indians demonstrated no fear of heights. If they weren’t watched, he said, “they would climb up and onto the spans and walk around up there as cool and collected as the toughest of our riveters, most of whom at that period were old sailing-ship men especially picked for their experience in working aloft.”

Impressive perhaps, but Kahn­awake ironworker Don Angus explains that his ancestors back then were just teenagers daring each other to climb the 150-foot structure and “walk the iron.” Company workers tried to chase them off the bridge, Angus says. “I know that for a fact. They were getting in the way.”

The Indians were especially interested in riveting, one of the most dangerous jobs in construction and, then as now, one of the highest paid. Few men wanted to do it; fewer could do it well, and in good construction years there were sometimes too few riveters to meet construction demand, according to the New Yorker article. So the company decided to train a few of the persistent Mohawks. “It turned out that putting riveting tools in their hands was like putting ham with eggs,” the Dominion official declared. “In other words, they were natural-born bridge-men.” According to company lore, 12 young men—enough for three riveting gangs—were thus trained.

After the Canadian Pacific Bridge was completed, the young Mohawk ironworkers moved on to work on the Soo Bridge, which spanned the St. Mary’s River connecting Sault Ste. Marie, On­tario, and Sault Ste. Marie, Mich. Each riveting gang brought an apprentice from Kahn­awake to learn the trade on the job. When the first apprentice was trained, a new one came up from the reservation, and by 1907 more than 70 skilled structural ironworkers from the reservation were working on bridges.

Then tragedy struck. American structural engineer Theodore Cooper had designed the Quebec Bridge, a cantilevered truss bridge that would extend 3,220 feet across the St. Lawrence River above Quebec City. Because the Quebec Bridge Co. was strapped for cash, the company was eager to accept his design, which specified far less steel than was typical for a bridge of that size.

As the bridge grew, disturbing bends in the structure were explained away by Cooper and John Deans, chief engineer of Phoenix Bridge, the company building the bridge, as damage probably caused offsite before the beams were set in place. No one wanted to admit that the expensive bridge appeared increasingly unable to bear its own weight.

On Aug. 29, 1907, the bridge collapsed. Of the 75 men who died, 33 were Mohawks—about half of the tribe’s high-steel workers. But the tragedy didn’t turn Mohawks away from ironworking. According to an elderly Mohawk quoted in the 1949 New Yorker article, “It made high steel much more interesting to them. It made them take pride in themselves that they could do such dangerous work. After the disaster . . . they all wanted to go into high steel.” Less than 10 years later, the American Board of Indian Commissioners claimed that 587 of the 651 men in the tribe now belonged to the structural steel union.

But to ensure that so many tribesmen were never again killed in one accident, the Mohawk women insisted that the men split into smaller groups to work on a variety of building projects. That’s when they began booming out—tribal slang for scattering to find high-steel work away from home, in New York City and other distant places.

Gangs of New York

Although Mohawks had worked in New York City as early as 1901, it wasn’t until the 1920s that they came in large numbers, working in tight-knit four-man gangs to feed the demand for workers during a massive building boom, later stoked by Depression-era public works and then post-World War II prosperity. They came eventually not only from Kahnawake, but from other reservations as well, including Akwesasne (or Akwasasne) in upstate New York, near Canada.

Mohawk high-steel men worked on virtually every big construction project in New York City: the Empire State Building, the RCA Building, the Daily News Building, the Bank of Manhattan Building, the Chrysler Building, the United Nations, and Madison Square Garden. They also continued to build bridges, including the George Washington Bridge, the Bayonne Bridge, the Triborough Bridge, the Henry Hudson Bridge, the Hell’s Gate Bridge, the Bronx-Whitestone Bridge, and many more.

During the heady boom times of the first half of the 20th century, construction of steel structures required three types of work crews: raising gangs, fitting-up gangs, and riveting gangs.

The steel columns, beams, and girders arrived at the construction site already cut to size with holes for rivets, and code marks indicated where each was to be placed. The raising gang used a crane to lift the steel pieces and set them in place, loosely joining them with a few temporary bolts. The fitting-up gang tightened the pieces, ensuring that they were plumb, and inserted more temporary bolts. Then it was time for the four-man riveting gangs, where the Mohawks excelled. Because of the dangerous nature of the job, riveters preferred to work with partners they trusted; for Mohawks, this meant relatives and fellow tribesmen.

In the riveting gang, the heater fired the rivets in a portable, coal-burning forge until they were red-hot. With tongs he then tossed a rivet to the sticker-in, who caught it in a metal can as he stood with the other gang members on narrow scaffolding beside the steel. The bucker-up re­moved one of the temporary bolts and the sticker-in then shoved the hot rivet into the empty hole. The bucker-up braced the rivet with a dolly bar while the riveter used a pneumatic hammer to turn the hot and malleable stem of the rivet into a permanent head, securing the steel. The men took turns at the four tasks, making sure to give the riveter a regular break from his bone-jarring job.

Though ironworking technology has improved over the years, ironworkers still die on the job at a rate of 35 to 50 fatalities each year—75 percent of them from falls. Akwe­sasne ironworker Oddo lost his grandfather to a fatal fall from the high steel; his father died on his 25th anniversary in ironworking, driving home from a construction site. Many graves of fallen steelworkers at Kahnawake are marked by crosses made of steel girders.

The pay continues to bring the Mohawks back: Ironworkers today earn about $35 an hour plus benefits, which in busy times yields $65,000 to $70,000 a year.

The highs and lows of steel

In 1927 a federal court judge, citing the 150-year-old Jay Treaty, ruled that the Mohawks could pass freely between Canada and the United States since their territory had included portions of both nations. But because the drive from New York City to Kahnawake took almost 12 hours, many of the men instead moved their families to Brooklyn.

By 1960, around 800 Mohawks lived there. A Mohawk steelworker conclave had sprung up near Fourth Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, with grocery stores stocking their favored o-nen-sto cornmeal and churches offering services in their native language.

But just 10 years later, few Mo­hawks remained. The new Adiron­dack Northway had halved the time it took to drive between New York and Kahnawake, and along with a growing pride in Indian culture—and rising crime in New York City—the shorter commute convinced most of the Mohawk ironworkers that it was time to go home.

Today most of the high-steel Mohawks still live in the city during the week, often sharing lodgings, and drive home to their families in Kahnawake and Akwesasne every weekend. But work has been slow since the collapse of the World Trade Center towers, and recent improvements in reinforced concrete have made it more attractive in some ways than steel: It goes up faster, requires less height for the same number of floors, is easier to modify during construction, and—most important in the wake of 9/11—it’s more resistant to heat.

On the other hand, steel is still considerably stronger than concrete, and steel-framed buildings are easier to modify to suit the needs of successive tenants. Because of that, many experts say that steel structures will never completely disappear.

That suits the Mohawks, who after six generations have made high steel a tribal tradition. “It makes you a better man,” says Swamp.

Renee Valois wrote about American mummies in the May/June issue of The History Channel Magazine.

A Mohawk Skywalking Tradition

Why would people with deep traditions centered in the earth embrace the trade of building skyscrapers in a city, high above it? Indeed, for decades anthropologists, construction company executives, and even the Mohawks themselves have debated why the tribesmen originally became skywalkers and why they remain high-steel workers today.

Probably the most controversial assertion originated with an official at the Dominion Bridge Co., which trained the first Mohawk ironworkers in 1886. He reportedly claimed that they had no fear of heights and even compared them to sure-footed mountain goats.

Others have suggested that the Indians’ tradition of walking one foot in front of the other on narrow logs over rivers suited them for walking the thin girders of a bridge or a skyscraper. This suggests that they have a natural balance and agility that is probably fictional: Mohawks don’t die in lower numbers than other ironworkers.

Anthropologist Morris Frielich suggests a cultural lure for ironworking: He compares high-steel Mohawks to warriors who risked death and returned with booty. Some anthropologists have also suggested that the risky work gave tribesmen a chance to test and display their courage.

While many Mohawk ironworkers admit to taking pride in doing a dangerous and important job, they dispute the idea that they’re not afraid of heights. Kahnawake ironworker Don Angus says Mohawks simply “have more respect for heights. You’ve got to watch it up there.”

On the other hand, some historians and some Mohawks cite the tribes’ ancient tradition of building longhouses as proof that building has always been in the blood. “It’s a hand-me-down trade, and it’s tradition,” says Angus. “My grandfather and his grandfather worked on iron.” Akwesasne ironworker Mike Swamp agrees: “My father was an ironworker. My son is an ironworker. It’s a family tradition.”
Photos Copyright © 2012 David Grant Noble

Responses to "The Mohawks Who Built Manhattan (Photos)"

  1. Anonymous says:

    Awesome . . .

  2. Anonymous says:

    Excellent! Thank you for telling these mens story!

  3. Very interesting, thanks for the post.

  4. Anonymous says:

    WOW!! They were great!!.teresareilly1950@hotmail.co.uk

  5. Anonymous says:

    Great article and wonderful pictures!

  6. Ajijaak says:

    Great photos!

  7. Rebekah says:

    In cities on the eastern seaboard of Australia, the scaffolding is mainly done by Maori men from Aotearoa (new zealand), but our own Indigenous/Aboriginal men are less often able to make headway in any given industry, as a collective group. But we pray that if any such story as tall buildings coming down, will happen to us here, it will be because our men who work in the demolition industry have won the day. Blessings to the Mohawks their way.

  8. chris hall says:

    proud to b mohawk n proud to b an ironworker best job in the world one that keeps you close to the heavens....

  9. Anonymous says:

    Niawen kowa Onkwehonwe

  10. darlene stahlnecker says:

    wow.....thank u for all the hard work and sweat and tears that went into building these bridges and buildings....thank u

  11. Anonymous says:

    Thank you Mohawk Men of Steel, proud of our nations warriors and those that gave their lives on 9-11 aho

  12. Thank you, you have made us proud....

  13. Anonymous says:

    see, as an indian we are different then non natives,, im many ways yet,,, our past,,fought in all wars, did you know that natives,,,couldnt be drafted also,,still we joined freely,, too help our fellow,,,man,,,,yes we are kind people,,,but we always be warriors til the end,,, thank-you,,,wol-wewhen,,

  14. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this excellent information of the Mohawk men of steel and my gratitude for all that they due.

  15. Anonymous says:

    Great story, thank you. Not many people know this in NYC, especially their involvement on 9/11/01.

  16. Aiana Goodleaf says:

    I'm proud to see my father, Arnold Goodleaf, in these photos.

  17. Molly says:

    Thank you for sharing a living history that too few know.

  18. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article. Native pride 8-)

  19. Anonymous says:

    Excellent article! I learned an even greater appreciation of these noble people,

    and workers. I reposted the article onto my FB wall so others could also learn of their valued accomplishments, and help during the 911 disaster. Thank you.

  20. Anonymous says:

    Awesome. Must respect men who work hard to earn the pay.

  21. Anonymous says:

    This is why we are Native Strong despite adversity!

  22. Anonymous says:

    I was so happy to finally hear some good news about any Native Culture in our country doing something good instead of something bad all of the time. Am so proud of the these men who gave their lives; saved lives; and built something that other were proud to write about.

    On a differant note does anyone in the mohawk;Iroquoi; tribe know of the names Comeau (Como) being of the tribe or chiefs of the tribe? My grandmother Emmajane Comeau from Canada brother I was told and have the paper was chief of the tribe in New York. Please e-mail of any info at helen.sawyer56@yahoo.com Thankyou helen

  23. Harley Kills Enemy-Hanna says:

    Throughout the years/centuries, our Native peoples have "never ceased to amaze me".

  24. Tsitha Goodleaf says:

    I'm proud to say all my brothers & father had the talent and the nerves for this type of job, along with all their native & non-native brothers, relatives,& friends. A job where their accomplishments were seen by many.

  25. Excellent article and proud to say my father is a Kahnawake Mohawk who worked 47 years as an Ironworker!

  26. Anonymous says:

    Thank you so much for sharing this awesome story! It is always wonderful to hear a story from a native's perspective.

  27. Anonymous says:

    gee love the pictures... and love that the mohawks helped build the tower. keep me posted:)

    wow, for the guy who is standing on the iron beam(? i think thats what it is?)

  28. Anonymous says:

    As a young ojibway child growing up in Manitoba, my Dad told us of our brothers to the east and of their bravery. He called them "high riggers" and my uncles spoke of them also. It made us very proud!!

  29. Anonymous says:

    Well done Men of Steel your Bravery knows no Bounds.xMaureen...Dublin..Ireland.

  30. Anonymous says:

    My dad and brothers who, although Tuscaroras and not Mohawks, worked the high steel too. Have always been so proud of them - after this article, even moreso.

  31. mark d jamieson says:

    you know your the best when the union hall calls you to go to work that was my dad norman "froggy" jamieson R.I.P. local 6

  32. Anonymous says:

    YES to Tuscarora steelworkers! My Tusky uncle, Ted Wright [RIP], a steel riveter from Six Nations Reserve, as well as many Tuscarora cousins and family members have 'boomed out' for decades. Thank you for this wonderful post, on a solemn day that reminds us of our profound dependence upon one another.

  33. Anonymous says:

    Nice tribute...I too recognize my father Roger Little Horne in these photos.

  34. Holly Montour says:

    PRIVILEGE TO BE NATIVE and proud of all our mohawk men.

  35. PJ Hill says:

    My father, a Kanien:keha'ka, is the last in his line to continue this tradition. I regret that I didn't know him earlier in my life to learn the craft to carry it on myself. Love ya, Dad! Gordie Hill :-)

    PJ Hill

  36. Anonymous says:

    When these Towers were being constructed, I lived in a small studio apartment facing the towers.. I worked a grave yard shift in Jersey City at that time and when I got back to the apartment at 7am, I would see these Iron Workers already on site building.. I watched the towers rise, and was always told that the workers were all indian... Never was told what tribe... until now... Thank you to the Pendelton Woolen Company for this information, and thatk's to the courage and talent of these workers..

  37. Naomi GS says:

    What strength in these "Mohawk" Steel workers as well as there families. More power to you!

  38. Anonymous says:

    niaweh kowa for this, the day this happened I was up on the reserve it took several days and lots of phone calls to account for everyone. beautful tribute. we left that day got thru worked on my sisters camp on the roof ridge. I watched levi peters at age of 72 walk that like the most graceful cougar. oh yes i am in great awe of these men. walk proud konaronkwa

  39. Unknown says:

    In minnesota we have the Como Zoo..does that help?

  40. Unknown says:

    That was a jokes btw

  41. Unknown says:

    In minnesota we have the Como Zoo..does that help?

  42. Anonymous says:

    Courage, simple courage. Knowing what they can do and doing it. Seems a native way, a survivors way. Maybe better even, continuity of survival to adapt and grow.
    With that, I wonder if there are any Mohawk iron workers that remember the massive rectangular tube of the concrete core cast inside the steel exoskeleton they framed. It was usually about 5-10 floors below the top, but the elevators ran inside it to exit at the top of the concrete cast tube housing the shafts, which ever, taller floor, that was. The iron workers had to climb temporary stairs with their gear that pierced the floors surrounding the core which did not yet have concrete on them.
    Any iron workers who do remember, are asked to write their recollections and email to elanuslecurus at lycos doot comm. Castenango would approve.

  43. Anonymous says:

    It is of no surprise to me that Indigenous peoples of this land played an essential role in the making of the steel forests that we now know as cities. We may have disputed the development of the land that was never to be sold as if they were some piece of meat, but we nevertheless did what we had to do in order to survive after the Europeans arrived.. I honor and respect those that built the steel forest but detest its existance.. Wakan Tankan

  44. Anonymous says:

    My name is Tj Bronson and my given name is Chinaugua..Pronounced-Schi-nAh-gwa-Meaning: Raging Wolf of the Cheyenne/Aropoho Nation. I wrote the comment below.

  45. Ella says:

    That sure is a lot of steel that blew away in the wind that day.

  46. Denzil Wolff says:

    I to was a ironworker, retired now. Seeing these pictures and stories of brother ironworkers made me very proud. Through the years I able to work along side of Mohawk Ironworker and they are truely the high iron walkers.

  47. Patricia Hill says:

    Hon, niawen kowa for the great coverage of our Mohawk people walking the high steel.

  48. Anonymous says:

    Mohawks WERE drafted into the Army. Many natives were drafted. My father, from Akwesasne, served in North Africa and Europe as a triple A gunner.

  49. The Mohawks walked steel in NYC long before the advent of the skyscrapers.The 1850 census shows my gggGrandfather there. He went from being a Cooper to an Ironworker, building the first tall buildings before the scrapers went up. I honor his memory...Charles Edward Strang...niawen kowa Grandfather...and all the other courageous Mohawk men that continue to touch the sky!

  50. This country needs more positive accounts of Natives and what they contributed to this country instead of the constant 'negative' image of the Original Americans.

  51. Anonymous says:

    Excellent Article thanks for sharing ....

  52. Anonymous says:

    My Father was also an ironworker from Seneca Nation he worked on the Gateway Arch. So proud of Him, he's gone now but can still see pictures of him during the building of the Arch

  53. Anonymous says:

    courage, respect and family values all part of the Mohawk way of life and living.

  54. Anonymous says:

    Great Article and great pictures !

  55. Anonymous says:

    My father-in-law , a native Mohawk, worked the bridges and skyscrapers for many years in Boston. He had several brothers who worked in NYC. Brave men.

  56. Anonymous says:

    It's about time First Nation peoples got well deserved recognition for their contributions to their own countries' development.Keep up the flow of praise.

  57. Anonymous says:

    Olioni to my Brothers Native Pride IS Alive! From an Abenaki sister

  58. Anonymous says:

    Thank you for this story! Excellent!!!

  59. Anonymous says:

    So interesting, thank you.

  60. Anonymous says:

    Awesome photos and the story.......thanks

  61. Anonymous says:

    My tribe was here... THANK YOU for these pics..

  62. Anonymous says:

    An amazing story that deserves a wide audience. Thank you for sharing.

  63. sarit says:

    amazing no other words

  64. Sheryl says:

    Love this. My Dad was an Ironworker for Dominion Bridge Local 97 for many years. He has such fond memories of his time... building bridges, buildings, the original roof of BC Place Stadium. So many stories. I am so proud of him. A couple of my cousins are now Ironworkers. We are Interior Salish from British Columbia in Canada. Much respect to all the Ironworkers out there, as well as their families.

  65. Anonymous says:

    Awesome reading. Sometimes indigenous people just have the ability, capability to just be. it's in their essence of being.

  66. susan brandstetter oneida says:

    Some of the ironworkers and their friends/families who are also artists have been decorating their hardhats and this has become quite a respected art form. Anyone interested in further exploring these extraordinary workers might want to look into this growing group of artists and works. I'm sure a google search of Mohawk ironworker hardhats art or similar would give a good start. I've seen a few and they are wonderful!

  67. Anonymous says:

    I am proud of all these men, but they were not only just Mohawk, my uncle Richard Buck, who was Cayuga Bear, worked on steel projects most of his life. He used to take his own crew until he fell but even after his fall, after he recovered, he still supervised his crew.

  68. Unknown says:

    great story great legacy!!!

  69. Anonymous says:

    great story bout real brave men with amazing pictures to show it ! very nice !
    duke hoyer,germany

  70. Anonymous says:

    tomohawkman: Natives were not considered poeple until in the 1960's. So no they were not drafted, they had to sign away their Indian Statis Rights and then they could volunteer for Military Service.Point of Information! I too am very proud of my Mohawk Heritage, my military service( in peace time ) and my life in construction!!

  71. Anonymous says:

    Luv this comment..just had to reply..thank you!

  72. Derek Cook says:

    Proud to be a Mohawk Ironworker!

  73. Anonymous says:

    I saw the pictures of that period when the Natives were working in Manhattan and they were just about finishing the Empire State Building, people should know that they help build Manhattan from the beginning, and they built strong structures that should almost last forever, it should be taught in the History Books.

  74. Anonymous says:

    Amazing how they used no protection planks to walk on. Not afraid of hights and balancing themselves working.. Nice pictures of memories!!

  75. Anonymous says:

    I only wish there were a few more pics and more names given. Are there other articles or books on this subject?? I am told that my father was one of these workers during the late 50's early 60's. Proud but at the same time diaappointed as he never told his "home" family about me as I am the product of those that stayed in NYC but returned "home" to Kahnawake weekends and holidays. I'm sure there are many more same situation.

  76. anglars says:

    For all of the NDN ironworkers - thank you for what you do.. you bring pride to our Native people....

  77. Wendy McBain says:

    A very interesting piece of history to read about. Thank You for sharing! May the Creator Bless the men who have passed ,also the men and their families who still do this work now. Thank you to the workers who went to the Twin Towers Sept.11,2001 to help all Nations of people in need of help. God Bless you All!

  78. Anonymous says:


  79. Anonymous says:

    My ancestors..makes me proud..My Grandfather was part of this and was from Kahnawake along with my mother and our family. God Bless America <3

  80. Anonymous says:

    My brother in law Tim Brant from Tyendinaga Mohawk territory has been an ironworker for many years. I am very proud of him

  81. Anonymous says:

    Very proud to be Mohawk. My grandfather was an ironworker and many other family members including my Uncle Matty - who they called "The General". Natives were born to be ironworkers - they love that they do! My uncle - even at 70 or older was always wanting to go to work with his son Chad - who is also an ironworker - when he & my auntie cam to Brooklyn. When 0/11 happened the native men as well as other ironworkers, firemen, paramedics & all that helped - are all heroes.

  82. Anonymous says:

    I am so proud of my Iroquois Ancestry. Dad always said our ancestry made us unafraid of heights, I remember dad working on a dam way up there walking on high beams, helping to get other younger ones across, alot of men would not do this job. I remember him saying his boss saying whoever can walk across this beam can keep there job and there was dad in his 50's getting men half his age across that high beam.

  83. Anonymous says:

    In 1974 I asked some Indians in Seattle about Indian high steel workers and they said that Indians did it because it was a good paying job that most whites did not want. It was there for the taking. Period.

  84. Anonymous says:

    just remember new york who really built and connected your cities? the kahnyen'keha'ka- mohawk nation !!! to our elders and present iron workers we owe this thanks!!! and reminds of a song by nahko bear(mohawk) build a bridge! and heres a link ona! http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=eoTX5ff9Ze0

  85. Linda Sunday says:

    My husband Eric Sunday is a true hero from September 11th they were working in new York and went there to help out and ended up saving two new York firefighters and was commended for his heroic act he is a hero

  86. Anonymous says:

    This is a great story

  87. Anonymous says:

    Mohawks… psssshhhht. Navajos built the atomic bomb & developed code that the Japanese never broke.

  88. Anonymous says:

    proud to be indian and proud of our ironworkers

  89. As Mohawks, we are proud of the Ironworkers. They risked their lives when there was no safety rules. If some believe that the jobs are easy, it is if its on the GROUND. The height makes the difference. They do go close to the sky and every day is good to be alive because it is sgtill dangerous. A note to the CODE Talkers, thank you. In Europe, the Mohawks and many other Native Americans were part of the Talkers/Speakers during the WWII and have been honored . (Alma Ransom)

  90. Unknown says:

    Great photos

  91. Anonymous says:

    So proud to be native. My dad was a Skywalker.

  92. Anonymous says:


  93. Anonymous says:

    Such an amazing and forgiving people. Their ties to our mother earth knows no bounds. Great people !!!

  94. Anonymous says:

    A story of heroes! Fantastic!

    Dutch reader

  95. We are one. The more of us who realize this the better off we will all be.

  96. Unknown says:

    Wonderful article. Thank you for sharing

  97. anishnaabekwe says:

    That is a great accomplishment for your people,but i
    t is totally unnecessary to reject the Mohawks. They truly are a brave tribe of people. I am sure that all of our First Nations have many accomplishments to be proud of.

  98. Thank You For great article, AND I Will always Have respect for Iron Workers

  99. Anonymous says:

    My great respect and awe go to them.

  100. Anonymous says:

    Have there been ANY official New York ceremonies to celebrate these amazing Mohawk men? Their story is a superb and amazing part of Iroquois, Mohawk, New York and American history. Are there any monuments or parks in Little Caughnawaga erected in honor of these brave men? Is there a bar in that neighborhood with photos of these men up all over the walls honoring this part of New York history?? If not, there should be. I would make that a destination. Pendleton Blankets has recently made a tribute blanket to the Mohawks who built Manhattan. Because, they should be honored. Wonderful job brave, brave Mohawk men of the high steel. Betty in TX

  101. Kim Nault says:

    Nie:wen gowa to the courageous Skywalkers and for their contributions on Turtle Island!! But! I do know a few Haudenosaunee who are afraid of heights, but im not naming anyone from my family hahaha. o:nen!

  102. Grandpa John was a steamfitter who worked with these guys-Rockefeller Center..all hard working American skilled workers who built our country.

  103. Unknown says:

    Proud to be Mohawk!!

  104. Unknown says:

    Hello..Lost bird seeking for 24 yrs.. am looking for my biodad.. Ive met my birthmom.. Sarah Gowell..and I was born 10/02/1965 and put up for adoption.. I have a deep knowing and want to claim the path of the ancestors and elders truly mine ..with love and reverance.. a mohawk elder told me my Cree / Mohawk grandmother walks with me and I still have bio family alive..Id like to believe in miracles .. and bring my spirit home.. any help..did you " know sarah ? Do you maybe know who did ? I am here ..remembering..but cannot claim that which is mine ..without you.. Its time Sken:non leatolls@gmail.com

  105. Unknown says:

    Opportunity for a good wage is not listed in the discussion of reasons though such ideas as "natural ability, warrior history, etc." are. This conflicts with the fact that most people who have not had access to well paid employment usually go for it if they finally have a chance and bring family and their social network if they can. If we look at immigrants who came to the US to work, rarely do we say that certain ethnic groups were naturally better at digging ditches, factory work, etc. Excellent write-up!

  106. Unknown says:

    It was great 5o get a little history of the "high steel" workers. Thanks.

  107. Timtak says:

    I think that the fact that the Mowhawk religion and mythology centres on the Sky People and the Sky Woman probably has something to do with their ability to walk the iron.

    And by mythology I don't mean something that is wrong. There are a number of artists, mystics, and thinkers that attest to an intra-psychic other or sky woman
    Navajo Mythology's Spider woman
    David Bowie: Spider in the sky in "Take my tip", Glass spider tour spider, Life on Mars Video
    Louise Bourgeois' Maman Spider
    Jacob Boehme's Mother (see the end of this page https://www.flickr.com/photos/nihonbunka/26797083056)
    Lao Tsu's "Mysterious female" or "Spirit of the Valley"
    Adam Ant's down looker (Adam Ant had psychotic episode in which he saw himself ant sized, hence the name. This may be that which he represents in the end of his Goody Two Shoes video https://youtu.be/27Tj-Xo_eqI?t=2m18s)

    A number of psychologists such as Adam Smith, Sigmund Freud, and George Herbert Mead, also posit the need for, and existence of an intra-psychic other but they rarely go into detail about where, phenomenologically this "Other" hangs out.

    It seems to me that the other may be logged in our first person, looking out of our eyes, allowing us to identify with our tiny mirror reflection. As first person, the Other is very tall, as tall as the sky.

    The Mohawk with their Sky People mythology may have become psychologically or spiritually aware of the Other (which is normally hidden) within themselves, and this may have enabled them to take a more rational or er 'down-to-earth' attitude to heights.

  108. GREAT STORY and PHOTOS!!!
    Jan Jenson

  109. I just came across your site--very good. I made all but one or two of the photographs you show in 1970. Thanks for crediting me. Would the creator of the site kindly contact me through my web site: www.davidgrantnoble.com? I need some advice.... David

  110. Respect for hard working people !!!

  111. Anonymous says:

    Can anyone help?

    My great-great-grandmother Rachael was a full blooded Mohawk born in 1855 who lived in the Bronx among the sky walker family of Mohawks. Twenty years later she married my great-great-grand father James Park. At some point they moved to Rhode Island where she established a yearly family gathering for a clam bake. After she passed so did the gathering.

    Recently an Indian of a different tribe said the three feather necklace she wore meant she was a shaman. (Please note the attachment photo and the feather necklace she wore). That might be true in that Indian’s tribe but not so with the Mohawks. Could this be true?

    Also, the Mohawks had three clans: turtle/wolf/bear. If she was from the Bronx and the sky walkers lived would she have belonged to the wolf clan, or another? Is there a way to tell?

    Thank you for your time and input.

    Bill Park


  112. wish there was more room for more words. I watched in awe the documentary on PBS 'into the danger zone-skywalkers' and was taken by the complete bravery of these men, these Mohawks, so very interesting, Ive spent days reading information about both, I'm hooked, Ive always had an interest in the Indian nation (my friends here in Scotland call me 'wolf girl') people could learn so much from these wonderful men and women if they only opened their eyes and ears. Love to you all. x

  113. Anonymous says:

    Birk Albert: Alot of these "skilled american workers" that helped build your country came from north of the border. So happy these guys are finally getting the recognition they deserve! Lets hope the U.S. gov steps up and helps them with the health troubles that seem to be surfacing with those who rolled up their sleeves and dug in at 9/11. These people deserve to be looked after (first responders too) and not forgotten or swept under the rug.

  114. Anonymous says:

    What incredible men they certainly got balls of steel.

  115. Anonymous says:

    Older brother can be proud and history should recongnize him, tiawenkh.

  116. Anonymous says:

    Very informative article. I now recall reading about these men in a grade six textbook back in 1991 or so, but wasn’t aware of the way that they had shaped NYC. I also didn’t know about the vital role that they had played in the 9/11 rescue effort, because of their knowledge of the structure and design of these buildings. More recognition is needed for their unique talents and the way that they have passed these through the generations.

  117. Paula Ross says:

    Me and some ladies were just talking and I don't know how the subject came up but she mentioned the "iron walkers" and that they were Native American. I was fascinated to learn of these men who contributed to our nations history . I feel that I have been robbed of not knowing this in our history books. Like so many other different groups that were left out and the many contributions they have made to make this country great

  118. Unknown says:

    Thankyou for sharing these very Powerful and moving Photos of the unsung, unseen heroes of the Sky Scrapers

  119. Anonymous says:

    I grew up in Brooklyn with two Mohawk men who were cousins. They were both born between 1948-1952 and they worked on the original "twin towers" World Trade Center buildings. Their grandfather worked as a steel worker on the Empire State Building!

  120. Anonymous says:

    These are amazing men, who were born to climb. My husband is one, he is Snohomish and Canadian Indian. Climes over Mountains, places where it is unthinkable for most people to go, the creator made all men with certain gifts, this is obviously one of them, but it is so easy to see the flaws instead of the strengths.

  121. Anonymous says:

    Where are the questions??

  122. Anonymous says:

    This is an interesting post, and rightly honors the indigenous Indian men who have participated in the structures of New York and some other locations as well. I am an Ironworker of over 50 years. My Late Father and Younger Brother were both Ironworkers as well, and were proud of it. I have to admit to being a bit taken back when I am routinely asked if I am of Indian decent when it becomes known that I have been an Ironworker, and a "High Steel Connector" for many years. Although there were a number of Indian Ironworkers throughout our building history, They were a very minor percentage of the Ironworker Journeymen since inception in 1896. I do not know the actual percentage, but I would hazard a guess at less than 1% of total Journeymen to date. It is another myth that there was some special "Indian Balance" that was particular to Indians on the High Steel. An Ironworker is an Ironworker and the skills of a "Good Bridgeman" have only to do with the individual and the dedication to honing the skills necessary for this demanding and dangerous profession - (men and women of any race). I started in 1965, and received my Journeymans "Book" in 1968 (with some Vietnam service sandwiched in there). I loved the profession, and have been over 1000' feet in the air at times, erecting skyscrapers, transmission towers, Bridges and many other structures. I still hold an active card at 72. I do not mean to disparage any Ironworker of any race, and certainly not the Native Americans who have earned the right to be called an "Ironworker"..... But I would not perpetuate the myth that it is an overwhelming Indian specialty, and that there is some sort of special skill set that is proprietary. I honor ALL Ironworkers and the extraordinary work ethic of anyone who professionally ventures out on the High Steel..

  123. Unknown says:

    And many volunteered on 9/11 to move the heavy steel as part of the rescue operations. They continued to volunteer, despite the dangerous conditions: asbestos, chemicals and expose that lead to the cancers suffered by the firefighters and other emergency personnel. The multiple rats eating human remains made many ill. Only after any chance of rescue was passed, did they seek payment. Their request was refused.

  124. Anonymous says:

    I love all the pictures. This was very interesting. I guess you don't realize what goes into building and how hard the steel workers work.

  125. Anonymous says:

    Really nice

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