“Like many kids growing up in the nineteen fifties and sixties, I spent a lot of my time outdoors. As an outdoors kid, I wandered the backwoods, fields and streams of Southern New Jersey. I canoed and camped in the Pine Barrens, the largest wilderness area on the east coast. In my explorations, I discovered a mystery: I found arrowheads, spearheads and other primitive tools, as well as broken pottery, evidence of an ancient people. I wondered who they were, how they lived and what happened to them.
I think it was in 1986 when I first attended the Columbus Day Festival at the Rankokus Indian Reservation near Mt. Holly, New Jersey. Richard “Quiet Thunder” Gilbert, a Lenape Indian was giving a presentation. He had reconstructed a village setting in a field along a wooded area. His display consisted of many animal pelts stretched on wood frames with dozens of beautiful bone and stone tools, painted drums and other handcrafted items he had made. Behind him was a wooden canoe he had carved from the trunk of a tree. Growing up, my heroes were the American Indians: master woodsmen who lived as free men and called the wilderness their home. We all assumed the Lenape Indians were long gone, and I was excited to realize that there before me was a living Lenape Indian who was born and raised in New Jersey not far from where I grew up! His ancestors made the very artifacts I had found in my explorations.
He gestured and spoke in a soft, relaxed tone. As I listened to his stories, answers to those questions from my youth began to unfold. We have kept in touch over the years and became good friends. The peace-loving Lenape people had a unique culture and lifestyle because of the geographical conditions around them and thrived in ancient times in our most densely populated state and surrounding areas."
Excerpt from the preface for The Original People by Marcia Adams:
“Quiet Thunder has kept the original beliefs of his people and has not sacrificed his heritage to peer pressure. The message of his people comes at you straight from his heart. In his own words he “prefers not to dwell on the murky past” but rather to explain and perhaps dispel centuries of misconceptions about their customs, culture and religion.
Soft-spoken and unassuming, he brings to his program hundreds of handmade artifacts, which he hauls in and out of his pickup truck. Children and adults linger after his program offering to help him load up his truck to spend a few more minutes with this very special person. The Chief admits that at some gatherings there will be a skeptic or two in the audience, but his tactfulness and delightful sense of humor can diffuse any challenge made upon him. Even outdoor sportsmen who fiercely defend their right to “Enjoy the thrill of the hunt” have done some re-thinking after hearing the Chief speak. His ability to laugh at life and even at himself is indeed a rare quality. When asked if he had ever killed a cowboy his reply was, “John Wayne gave us a lot of trouble.”
Highly acclaimed by the Delaware Teachers Association and the New Jersey educational system, his program has been adopted as a part of their school curriculum. His list of accomplishments, awards and appearances are far too many to include here. But just as an example, when he was invited to speak before the United Nations on “International Cultures,” he received a standing ovation at the conclusion of his presentation. He has taught first graders in the elementary schools and graduate students at universities. Hundreds of school children have written him letters of thanks for coming to their schools, promising him that they will remember what he taught them for the rest of their lives.”
Handcrafted cultural itemsHandcrafted cultural items
The idea for this book first came from Marcia Adams, a historian from Delaware who recorded and transcribed some stories from Quiet Thunder. After beginning the project, she was called to other commitments, so I continued the project. I believe strongly that this is an important story to be shared and feel priveliged to bring it to a wider audience and the world at large. I have transcribed and compiled well over a hundred hours of the spoken recordings of the chief, and with great care, converted his spoken word to the written page, preserving his voice. The manuscript has been carefully reviewed and approved by the chief. This project has been over seven years in the making,