The Ramapo Mountain people are people who in live the hills in the Ramsey-Ringwood area. They claim to be descendants of Lenape Indians (specifically the Ramapough Indian tribe), and although they have applied for benefits that are given to Indian tribes, they have been turned down several times. Apparently the families do have Indian blood in them, but it is mixed with blacks, slaves, and Hessians and this invalidates their claims requesting indian tribe status.
There are numerous rumors and stories surreounding these people, most of them unflattering. There are some things that can be stated with certainty. Many of the people in this community are very poor, some of them allegedly have no electricity or running water. There are also many many health problems stemming from decades of illegal dumping of toxic materials by mobsters and the Ford motor company. There is a strong sense of community and distrust of outsiders. This attitude, coupled with their remote location in the hills, and their lower economic status has led many to look at them as hillbillies or backwoods people.
Most people knew very little about these people until they were featured in an article in Weird NJ in the mid 1990’s. The article touched off a firestorm for several reasons. The article refered to them as Jackson Whites, which to them is the equivilent of calling a black person a nigger. As often happens with anything printed in Weird NJ, the article made it’s way around, eventually finding its way into the hands of local radio station Z-100. The morning dj’s read the article on the air which only caused more controversy as more people learned about them and took the story as gospel. It should be noted that the basis for the article was an article written by a “researcher” many years ago, which also prompted controversy. The article was fairly balanced in what it said, presenting both side of the argument.
So who are “Ramapo Mountain people”? What is their true background? No one can say for sure exactly.
The people who live there have been the subject of numerous news articles over the last 10 years. Lately they have been in the news because there was a Ford plant that operated nearby about 4 decades ago. There was a lot of illegal dumping of paint and toxic chemicals in the old mines around the area. The area had been labeled a Superfund Site at one time but the area was deemed clean. After many years of residents complaining about strange illnesses, odd smells, brown water, and finding paint sludge in their yards, the EPA & Ford have come back and new cleanups have begun. There is no doubt that the horrible health problems that afflict so many of the residents are due to exposure to hazzardous chemicals. There have also been troubles with sinkholes, some of which have caused homes to be condemned. Finally there was a fatal shooting of a local resident by a park officer, which touched off a firestorm of controvery over police brutality.
I have not visited the area yet for several reasons. First, I want to do my own research. I’ll start by reading the book by David Cohen called “The Ramapo Mountain People”. Mr Cohen researched their history and appears to have covered it pretty well. I’ve received emails from local residents criticizing the book, others have supported it. There’s some other things I want to check out too, like the state of NJ’s report of the validity of their efforts to be formally recognized as an indian tribe. If I go up there without knowing the real history, I’m asking for trouble.
Some readers have emailed me and offered to let me meet the tribal leaders. I intend to take them up on the offer some day. Unfortunately this entire site has been suffering from a lack of attention, and as I re-wrote this page in December 2008 to clarify what is and isn’t known. I am not trying to perpetuate any myths or local tall tales.
Below are some emails I’ve received. I will not censor what other people say. Some of them do refer to the residents as JW, and I know that word bothers them. I understand that, and I don’t think people should call them that. I don’t know these readers and only print them to show what some people have thought or said about them.