Gladys Tantaquidgeon, 106, who was, if not "the last of the Mohicans," at least the most revered elder of the Mohegan tribe and its oldest living member, died Nov. 1 at her home in the Uncasville section of Montville, Conn. No cause of death was reported.
Ms. Tantaquidgeon had devoted much of her life to keeping alive her tribe's ancient culture, and documents and material she collected helped the Mohegans regain official tribal status from the Bureau of Indian Affairs in 1994.
She once dismissed James Fenimore Cooper's 1826 tale of the French and Indian War, which she said she never read, as "historical fiction, of course." Cooper's novel ended with the death of the Mohicans' young chief Uncas, which signified the end of the tribe because he had no heirs. (Cooper used the Dutch spelling of the tribe's name, "Mohican," but the English spelling, "Mohegan," has won greater acceptance, despite the 1992 film starring Daniel Day-Lewis, which brought new readers to the novel.)
"Contrary to James Fenimore Cooper's famous book," Ms. Tantaquidgeon told the Times in 1990, "my tribe, obviously, did not die out."
Then she added with a sigh: "I let the cause down. I never married, never had any children."
The tribe is small, with about 1,600 members, 700 more than when the tribe regained federal recognition 11 years ago.
The Tantaquidgeons, whose name means "going fast," traced their ancestry to Uncas, who, unlike Cooper's fictional counterpart, lived into his eighties and left many offspring. It was Chief Uncas who established the tribe as separate from the Pequots in the 1600s and for whom the section of Montville is named.
Gladys Iola Tantaquidgeon, born June 15, 1899, was a 10th-generation descendant. Many of her male relatives, including her brother Harold who died in 1989, served as tribal chiefs.
In 1931, her family founded the Tantaquidgeon Indian Museum near her home, and she ran it from 1947 until 1997, when her health began to decline. During those years, she welcomed thousands of schoolchildren and others to examine the museum's baskets, bowls, beadwork, jewelry, dolls, clothing and other artifacts.
More recently, she gave her imprimatur to the tribe's Mohegan Sun casino, which opened in 1996 in Uncasville, for its emphasis on tribal culture.
Although she referred to it as "that gambling joint," she was pleased by the prosperity its 12 million annual visitors brought to her people.
Only the third medicine woman of her tribe since 1859, Ms. Tantaquidgeon learned herbal cures and other lore from two great-aunts and her maternal grandmother.
She studied anthropology at the University of Pennsylvania and wrote a 1942 book on Delaware Indian medicine practices and folk beliefs that was reprinted in 1972 and 1995 as "Folk Medicine of the Delaware and Related Algonkian Indians."
She learned tribal stories -- including those about the Makiawisug, or woodland "Little People" -- from a great-aunt, Fidelia Fielding, who died in 1908 and was believed to be the last person to speak the Mohegan language.
Because the tribe had no written language, Ms. Tantaquidgeon collected stories from Fielding and others and wrote them in English. It was a lifelong dream to revive the Mohegan language.
Ms. Tantaquidgeon was the librarian at the Connecticut women's prison in Niantic, teaching Native American crafts and applying her experience in working with reservation families to those in difficult circumstances.