A Family Affair: The Indian Museum in the Pocono Mountains

Mal Law is not a Native American, but since 1974 when he established The Pocono Indian Museum here in Bushkill, Pennsylvania, he has been giving history lessons and recreating the life of the Delaware Indians.

Today, 38 years later, he and his wife Marge are proud owners of a two-storey, 5,000 square feet property that houses the Museum and Gift Shop. The museum is the oldest in Northeast Pennsylvania that is dedicated to showing the history of the Lenapes.

The couple’s passion to tell the story is a reminder that before the Dutch established settlements at the Delaware Water Gap in 1659 the first inhabitants of the area were Delaware, Iroquois, Shawnee, Minisink, Lenape and Paupack Indians.

The word Pocono is actually an Indian word meaning a stream between two mountains.

“It was received very well. There is nothing in the area about Native Americans,” said Law of the opening of museum. “In the Poconos people were looking for things to do.”

The Pocono Mountains has long been known as an all-season destination region, attracting tourists from Manhattan and Philadelphia. In the 1970s, it has started to earn its name as the Honeymoon Capital of the World, with some resorts enticing visitors to try their bubbly champagne glass tubs.

Law remembers the 1970s and 1980s as glorious years for tourism in the Bushkill area. There were then several resorts and the five natural falls attractions, including Bushkill Falls, the only one that is operational today.

A career in tourism is what brought Law, originally from Wyoming Valley in western Pennsylvania to the area. He was hired as the general manager of Winona Five Falls. Years later when the owners decided to convert the natural attraction to a commercial theme park he decided it was time to do something on his own.

“I was always interested in Native Americans. A man from Shawnee (Pa.) was selling Delaware and Lenape artifacts. I bought boxes of rocks, arrowheads and pottery,” Law said. He later developed his idea of a museum from his visits to the William Penn Museum in Harrisburg, Pa.

Back in 1976, Law said he found an old 1840 farmhouse on Route 209 in Bushkill in great disrepair. He liked its history, purchased it and moved his museum located in Fernwood, a neighboring hotel.

“The building has served many purposes over the years, including a boarding house, a stage coach stop, a safe house for the “Under Ground Railroad”, a ‘Speakeasy’ during prohibition and a dormitory for Camp Sunny Brook,” he said of his current location on Route 209.

Now, it is a learning center. Law said he wants visitors to change their preconceived ideas about American Indians. “They were peaceful people. They believed in the great spirit.”

Law said the Museum shows the Delaware Indian’s peaceful coexistence with other Indians. “It shows the North American history of man in Northeast Pennsylvania from 10,500 B.C. to the contact period with European man prior to the American Revolution.”

A tour of the Museum shows six rooms of artifacts. The 30-minute self-guided tour with audio recording starts with the Paleolithic Period and moves on with displays that include a bark house, a village scene, pottery making, food and clothing, herb and medicine, war bonnets and Tomahawks.

Attracting attention in one room is a picture of Nora Thompson Dean, also known as Touching Leaves Woman. She was one of the last American Delaware who could speak the language and was the last name giver for the tribe.

Law said Dean was a special guest at the opening of the Museum in Route 209. She was 80 then and living in Dewey Oklahoma.

Asked what the difference of his Museum to others around the county, Law said he built his collections out of natural curiosity.

“While the Museum is an archeological display what is interesting is that it peels away the scientific layers and allows the visitors to see it through with their own eyes.”

After a tour, visitors are invited to browse through the gift shop that offers shoppers Native American-made jewelry, Indian pottery, Indian dolls, moccasins, clothing accessories and about 600 book titles.

What’s next for Law? “I’m 67. I’ve been doing this for 38 years. I have four sons. I would like to see the Museum continue after I am done,” he said.