Like many great legends, ours starts with a bear.
It all started in 1953 with our matriarch and founder, Theresa Lazore Gutherie, affectionately known to many as Theresa Bear. She opened and operated a 2-pump fuel station and souvenir shop located in the Akwesasne Mohawk Territory of northernmost New York State.
The St. Regis Mohawk Reservation comprises twelve square miles, and is located at Akwesasne—Land Where the Partridge Drums. It lies near the Adirondack Mountains in the St. Lawrence valley, within the exterior boundaries of both North Eastern New York State and Southern Canada. The Mohawk are one of the Six Nations who joined together in the 1600’s as the Iroquois Confederacy, or also known as the Iroquois League which translates to “League of Peace and Power”. In the Confederacy, the Mohawks are known as the “Keepers of the Eastern Door” and take great pride in this responsibility.
For over 400 years, tobacco has played an important role in Iroquois culture. Tobacco has long been a domestic plant grown in small gardens within the village area which the men took primary responsibility for raising. Its principal use was as a ceremonial offering thrown into the fire. The rising smoke carried messages of thanksgiving and other “good thoughts” to the Creator. In addition to its religious uses, men smoked tobacco in their pipes. It is said that “good thoughts” came while smoking and therefore was frequently used when important matters were to be discussed and decided.
This same tradition of unity and culture was embraced by the early members of the Tarbell family. Theresa “Bear”, matriarch of the Tarbell family, started her own business, The Bear’s Den Trading Post, on the Mohawk reservation with two gas pumps and a small Native gift shop in 1953. Through her teachings and strong work ethic the Tarbell Family has continued to push forward, making dynamic decisions and venturing into new markets.
One of those new ventures is in the tobacco market, quickly becoming one of the largest distributors of Native-made cigarettes on the Mohawk Reservation. After refining the distribution process for many years, the family realized that there was a void in the cigarette market for a high quality, great tasting cigarette that people can afford to enjoy.