Sa Sa Na's Monument: A Tribute To A Visitor Who Left An Impression On Owego
If you hike to the highest point in Evergreen Cemetery, you'll see the 17-foot tall obelisk standing tall against the backdrop of one of the best views of the valley. This is the final resting place of Sa Sa Na Loft. The 21 year old Mohawk woman from Canada was a stranger when she entered Owego in February 1852. Now, 167 years later, her grave has become a landmark on the hill, watching over the village.
So, who was she? There have been plenty of local myths spread about the "Mohawk Maiden," one being that she was a princess. That's false. In fact, Tioga County Historian Emma Sedore says the Lofts lived in poverty.
On one side of the monument, are engraved the words "By birth a daughter of the forest, by adoption a child of God." That inscription refers to Sa Sa Na's conversion to Christianity, which is what would ultimately bring her to Owego. Sa Sa Na and two of her siblings, brother Rok Wa Ho and sister Ya Go Weia, were traveling as a musical group to raise money for their missionary work.
“They wanted to raise money to buy books and transfer the language into Mohawk language for the Mohawk children," says Sedore.
From left to right: Rok Wa Ho, Sa Sa Na, and Ya Go Weia Loft
The Lofts gave two concerts in Owego, staying as guests in the home of a prominent judge, Charles Avery. When they finished in Owego, the trio boarded a train and headed to their next tour stop in Deposit. They played one concert there and, the next day, were scheduled to travel to their next destination. That's when disaster struck.
Sa Sa Na and Ya Go Weia had boarded the train ahead of their brother, taking seats in the back car. Rok Wa Ho was still at the ticket booth when the alarm sounded.
“A freight train way up on a hill, the engineer lost control of it," says Sedore.
The runaway train was barreling towards the parked train, gaining more momentum as it went down the hill. Sedore says some reports estimated it was going about 60 miles per hour. There was no time for the parked train to pull away from the station. Accounts in the papers the following days described the passengers scrambling to jump to safety on the platform. Ya Go Weia made it to safety, but Sa Sa Na did not. She was between two cars when the freight train hit, the blow jerking her back and crushing her instantly. She was one of three people who died in the crash.
The news quickly made its way back to Owego. Judge Avery arranged for Sa Sa Na's body to be transported back to the village and the community organized her funeral.
“When she was killed, I think everybody along the whole train route just sympathized, you know? They just thought how shocking and how sad," says Sedore.
Rok Wa Ho wrote about his grief in a letter to home, saying “we are so troubled in mind that we do not know how to express ourselves.”
Sa Sa Na was buried in the newly constructed Evergreen Cemetery, her family unable to transport her body back to Canada. The Owego community adopted Sa Sa Na as one of their own. Moved by her early and tragic death, various women's groups and churches in Owego and the surrounding area collected donations to erect the monument, which was completed in 1855.
Sa Sa Na's monument overlooks the valley.
Now, on February 18th 2019, exactly 167 years after she was killed, visitors still leave gifts to Sa Sa Na on her grave. Pennies and a necklace sit on the base of the monument. Sa Sa Na's life may have been cut short, but seeing the effort the village put into making sure she was remembered, she clearly left an impression in her short stay here. Gone, but never forgotten, the Mohawk Maiden still stands tall over the valley.