DESCRIPTIVE AND INDIAN OCCUPATION.
Position and Extent of the Counties—Prominent Natural Features—Indian Occupation—This Region Never the Home of any Considerable Body of Red Men—Traditional Accounts of Them—Wars Between Neighboring Tribes—The Delawares in Possession, but the Six Nations the Acknowledged Owners of the Land—Other Paragraphs.
IT will be seen, by reference to the map of the Commonwealth, that Bedford, Somerset and Fulton, the counties affording subject-matter for consideration in the following pages, are situated side by side in the southwest quarter of the state. In extent Bedford and Somerset are among the largest of Pennsylvania’s grand civil divisions, being two of the eleven counties each of which contains more than one thousand square miles. Hence, from Ray’s Hill on the east to Laurel Hill and the Youghiogheny river on the west, and from the Maryland line northward for a distance of about forty miles, an area is embraced of 2,105 square miles, or 1,347,200 acres. Fulton county is less than half the size of either Bedford or Somerset, and contains but 442 square miles, or 282,880 acres. Its eastern boundary is the Cove and Tuscarora mountains. The adjoining divisions are Cambria, Blair and Huntingdon counties on the north, Franklin county on the east, the State of Maryland on the south, and Fayette and Westmoreland counties on the west.
The Allegheny mountains are the chief and central figure in the topography of the counties. This range strikes in a northeast direction, N 30° to 35° E, and after crossing the Pennsylvania border, runs for nearly forty miles in an unbroken straight line. Throughout this distance and for many miles more it forms a distinct water-shed between streams, which, here taking their rise, flow southwesterly into the Gulf of Mexico and southeasterly into Chesapeake Bay; and although its flanks are here and there indented by shallow ravines, hollowed out in the course of time by mountain torrents, the continuity of the ridge is nowhere broken in these counties by deep gaps extending through the mountain mass. At the Maryland border its summit attains an elevation of nearly twenty-eight hundred feet above sea-level, an altitude which is maintained by it with slight variations throughout the whole length of these counties and many miles beyond.
These counties are likewise traversed by several ranges of mountains which are scarcely inferior in light to that of the Allegheny proper. The entire region is picturesque and healthful. Famed mineral waters, possessing wonderful medicinal properties, are abundant, and as a result these salubrious mountain districts are favorite resorts, annually, for great numbers of summer visitors and tourists. The soil is especially well adapted for the various purposes of agriculture, while beneath the surface lie vast deposits of limestone, coal and iron ore. However, as matters relating to the topography, drainage, soils and minerals of this region will be treated at considerable length in other chapters, we refrain in this connection from further mention of such topics.
THE INDIAN OCCUPATION.
Neither in written history nor in tradition has the claim been made that the region of country now embraced by the counties to which this history is devoted was ever the permanent home of any considerable number of the savages known to us as North American Indians. These narrow valleys, precipitous mountain sides, and high table-lands or "glades," intersected here and there by pure, bright, swiftly-flowing streams, afforded the soils of the forest magnificent hunting grounds, yet no better, probably, than a few generations ago abounded everywhere throughout the continent.
When the Indian traders, who preceded the actual settlers by several years, first came into this region, they found it occupied in part by roving bands of Indians, who had a few temporary villages, or, more properly speaking, camps, but whose permanent towns or settlements were located upon streams greater in magnitude than these counties can boast. These savages were of the Delaware and Shawnee tribes and a few Iroquois, or "Mingoes," as they were commonly called, who represented the powerful Six Nations of New York. The last named were recognized as the real owners of the lands southward to the Potomac and westward away beyond the western limits of Penn’s Province, and it was only by their permission that the less important tribes were allowed to occupy the hunting grounds of which these counties then formed a part. True, the cowardly Delawares and the perfidious Shawnees always boldly claimed these grounds as their own (except when confronted and rebuked by the chiefs and head men of the Six Nations); yet the Penns wisely recognized the claim of the Six Nations to this territory, and it was with that great confederation of red men they treated when the purchases of 1754—58 and 1768 were made.
Concerning the early history of the tribes once the occupants and claimants of these regions, the most rational and lucid accounts are obtained from the journals of the Moravian and Jesuit missionaries, men who, during the seventeenth and eighteenth centuries, penetrated this region far in advance of the boldest hunters and trappers. They were informed by the old men of the Delawares (the Lenni Lenape, or original people, as they called themselves) that many centuries previous their ancestors dwelt far in the western wilds of the American continent, but emigrating eastwardly, arrived after many years on the "Namoesi Spu" (the Mississippi) or river of fish, where they fell in with the Mengwes (Iroquois), who had also emigrated from a distant country, and approached this river somewhat nearer its source. The spies of the Lenape reported the country on the east of the Mississippi to be inhabited by a powerful nation, dwelling in large towns erected upon their principal rivers.
This people bore the name of Allegewi. They were tall and strong, some of whom were of gigantic size, and from them were derived the names of the Allegheny river and mountains. Their towns were defended by regular fortifications or intrenchments of earth, vestiges of which are yet shown in greater or less preservation throughout the Mississippi and Ohio valleys, and in the regions of the Great Lakes. The Lenape requested permission to establish themselves in their vicinity, a request which was refused, but leave was given them to pass the river and seek a country farther to the eastward. But while the Lenape were crossing the river, the Allegewi, becoming alarmed at their number, assailed and destroyed many of those who had reached the eastern shore, and threatened a like fate to the others should they attempt the passage of the stream. Frenzied at the loss they had sustained, the Lenape eagerly accepted a proposition from the Mengwes, who had hitherto been spectators only of their enterprise, to conquer and divide the country. A war of many years’ duration was waged by the united nations, marked by great havoc on both sides, which resulted in the conquest and expulsion of the Allegewi, who fled by way of the Mississippi river, never to return. Their country was apportioned among the conquerors, the Iroquois choosing the neighborhood of the Great Lakes, and the Lenape, or Delawares, possessing themselves of the lands to the south.
Many ages after, during which the victors lived together in great harmony, the enterprising hunters of the Lenape tribes crossed the Allegheny mountains and discovered the Susquehanna and Delaware rivers and their respective bays. Exploring the Sheyichbi country (New Jersey), they arrived on the Hudson river, to which they subsequently gave the name of the Mohicannittuck. Returning to their nation, after a long absence, they reported their discoveries, describing the country they had visited as abounding in game and fruits, fish and fowl, and destitute of inhabitants. Concluding this to be the country destined for them by the Great Spirit, the Lenape proceeded to establish themselves upon the principal rivers of the east, making the Delaware, to which they gave the name of Lenape-Wihittuck (the river of the Lenape), the center of their possessions.
All of the Lenape nation, however, who crossed to the east side of the Mississippi, did not reach this country, a part remaining behind to assist that portion of their people who, frightened by the reception which the Allegewi had given to their countrymen, fled far to the west of the Namoesi Sipu. Finally the Lenape became divided into three great bodies. The larger one-half of all settled on the Atlantic and the great rivers which flow into it. The other half was separated into two parts; the stronger continued beyond the Mississippi, the other remained on its eastern bank.
Ultimately those on the Atlantic were subdivided into three tribes—-the Turtle, or Unamis, the Turkey, or Unalachtgo, and the Wolf, or Minsi. The two former inhabited the coast from the Hudson to the Potomac, settling in small bodies, in towns and villages, upon the larger streams, under the chiefs subordinate to the great council of the nation. The Minsis, called by the English the Monseys, Munseys or Muncies, the most warlike of the three grand tribes, dwelt in the interior, forming a barrier between their nation and the Mengwes. From the Minisink on the Delaware, where they held their council seat, they extended themselves to the Hudson on the east, to the Susquehanna on the southwest, to the headwaters of the Delaware and Susquehanna rivers on the north, and to the range of hills now known in New Jersey by the name of Muskenecun, and by those of Lehigh and Conewago in Pennsylvania.
Various small tribes emanated from these, who received names from their places of residence, or from some circumstance remarkable at the time of its occurrence. Such, it is very probable, were the Delawares, Shawnees, Nanticokes, Susquehannas, Nishamines, Conoys, and others, resident in or near the borders of the Province at the time of its purchase by Penn.
For some years the Mengwes remained near the Great Lakes with their canoes, in readiness to fly should the Allegewi return. The latter failed to appear again, however, and becoming emboldened, and, their numbers rapidly increasing, they stretched themselves along the St. Lawrence, and became, on the north, near neighbors of the Lenape tribes. In the course of time the Mengwes and Lenape became enemies, and, dreading the power of the Lenape, the Mengwes resolved to involve them in war with their distant tribes to reduce their strength. They committed murders upon the members of one tribe, and induced the injured party to believe they were perpetrated by another. They stole into the country of the Delawares, surprised and killed their hunters and escaped with the plunder.
The nations or tribes of that period had each a particular mark upon its war clubs, which, left beside a murdered person, denoted the aggressor. The Mengwes perpetrated a murder in the Cherokee country, and left with the dead body a war-club bearing the insignia of the Lenape. The Cherokees in revenge fell upon the latter, and thus commenced a long and bloody war. The treachery and cunning of the Mengwes were at length discovered, and the Delaware tribe of the Lenape turned upon them with the determination to utterly extirpate them. They were the more strongly induced to take this resolution, as the man-eating propensities of the Mengwes according to Heckewelder, had reduced them in the estimation of the Delawares below the rank of human beings.
To this time each tribe of the Mengwes had acted under the direction of its particular chiefs, and, although the nation could not control the conduct of its members, it was made responsible for their outrages. Pressed by the Lenape, they resolved to form a confederation which might enable them better to concentrate their forces in war, and to regulate their affairs in peace. Thannawage, an aged Mohawk, was the projector of this alliance. Under his auspices, five nations, the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas and Senecas, formed a species of republic, governed by the united councils of their aged and experienced chiefs. To these a sixth nation, the Tuscaroras, was added in 1712. This last tribe originally dwelt in the western parts of the present state of North Carolina, but, having formed a deep and general conspiracy to exterminate the whites, were driven from their country and adopted by the Iroquois confederacy. The beneficial effects of this system early displayed themselves. The Lenape were checked, and the Mengwes, whose warlike disposition soon familiarized them with firearms procured from the Dutch, were enabled at the same time to contend with them and to resist the French, who now attempted the settlement of Canada, and to extend their dominion over a large portion of the country between the Atlantic ocean and the Mississippi river.
However, becoming hard pressed by the Europeans, the Mengwes, or Five Nations, sought reconciliation with their old enemies, the Lenape; and for this purpose, if the traditions of the Delawares be accredited, they effected one of the most extraordinary strokes of policy which aboriginal history has recorded.
When Indian nations are at war, the mediators between them are the women. However weary of the contest, the men hold it cowardly and disgraceful to seek reconciliation. They deem it inconsistent in a warrior to speak of peace with bloody weapons in his hands. He must maintain a determined courage and appear at all times as ready and willing to fight as at the commencement of hostilities. With such dispositions Indian wars would be unending if the women did not interfere and persuade the combatants to bury the hatchet and make peace with each other. On such occasions the women would plead their cause with much eloquence. "Not a warrior," they would say, "but laments the loss of a son, a brother or a friend. And mothers, who have borne with cheerfulness the pangs of childbirth and the anxieties that wait upon the infancy and adolescence of their sons, behold their promised blessings crushed in the field of battle, or perishing at the stake in unutterable torments. In the depth of their grief they curse their wretched existence and shudder at the idea of bearing children." They conjured the warriors, therefore, by their suffering wives, their helpless children, their homes and their friends, to interchange forgiveness, to cast away their arms, and, smoking together the pipe of peace, to embrace as friends those whom they had learned to esteem as enemies.
Such prayers thus urged seldom failed of their desired effect. The Mengwes solicited the Lenape to assume the function of peacemakers. "They had reflected," said the Mengwes, "upon the state of the Indian race, and were convinced that no means remained to preserve it unless some magnanimous nation would assume the character of the woman. It could not be given to a weak and contemptible tribe; such not be listened to; but the Lenape and their allies would at once possess influence and command respect." The facts upon which these arguments were founded were known to the Delawares, and in a moment of blind confidence in the sincerity of the Iroquois they acceded to the proposition and assumed the petticoat. This ceremony was performed at Albany amid great rejoicings in 1617, in the presence of the Dutch, whom the Lenape afterward charged with having conspired with the Mengwes for their destruction.
The Iroquois now assumed the rights of protection and command over the Delawares, but, still dreading their strength, they cunningly involved them again in war with the Cherokees, promised to fight their battles, led them into an ambush of their foes and deserted them. The Delawares at length comprehended the treachery of their so-called friends of the north, and resolved to resume their arms, and, being still superior in numbers, to crush them. It was too late, however. The Europeans were now making their way into the country in every direction, and gave ample employment to the astonished Lenape.
On the other hand, the Mengwes denied the story told by the Lenape. They always asserted that they had conquered the Delawares by force of arms, and made them a subject people. And though it was said they were unable to detail the circumstance of this conquest, it is more rational to suppose it true than that a numerous and warlike people should have voluntarily suffered themselves to be disarmed and enslaved by a shallow artifice, or that, discovering the fraud practiced upon them, they should unresistingly have submitted to its consequences. This conquest was not an empty acquisition to the Mengwes. They claimed dominion over all the lands occupied by the Delawares, and their claims were distinctly acknowledged by the early whites. Parties of the Five Nations, afterward known as the Six Nations, occupied and wandered over the Lenape country at all times at their pleasure.
The Shawnees came from the south. They were a restless, wandering tribe, and had occupied regions now embraced by the states of Tennessee, Kentucky and the Carolinas before coming to Pennsylvania. After passing a few decades in this province they migrated, or rather were driven, westward and by the middle of the eighteenth century the entire tribe had settled on the Ohio river and its large tributaries.
Of the Delawares and Shawnees, the Indians who were the chief occupants of this region at the time it was first visited by the Europeans, but little more can, or indeed need be said in this connection. We entertain for their memory no feelings akin to admiration or respect, nor is it probable that present residents hold dissimilar views. Though placed here by the Creator for some inscrutable purpose, yet the Anglo-Saxons, at least that portion of the race represented by Americans, have ever been more secure, contented and refined when separated from the savages by a wide expanse of territory. First instigated by the French, and afterward by the British, they, for more than a quarter of a century, ravaged the frontiers and destroyed the homes of the ancestors of people now citizens of these counties. Revengeful, cowardly and ruthless in their nature, they frequently spared neither age, sex nor condition. The prattling babe as well as the tottering, decrepit grandparents, all, all fell victims to a ferocity of disposition and cruelty of purpose never exceeded.
It has been stated that Queen Alliquippa, before locating near the confluence of the Youghiogheny and Monongahela, resided at the point in Bedford county now known as Mt. Dallas. Many evidences also indicate that at a time antedating any knowledge of the past, so far as regards this part of the state, the Turkey-foot region in the southwestern quarter of Somerset county was the abiding-place, or place of assembling at frequent intervals, of a race who were the predecessors of the Europeans on this continent; but whether they were the Lenape, the Allegewi, or some other unheard-of people, will never be known. We conjecture, however, that they were the Allegewi, for "Fort Hill" seems to have been a fortified position at some very distant period in the past, and the occasional discovery of the remains of a people who were of gigantic size also lends plausibility to the supposition.
Numerous Indian paths, or trails, traversed these counties in various directions, but the principal ones in all this region were the great "Kittanning Path" on the north, and "Nemacolin’s Path" on the south. The former did not cross these counties as now formed. It led from Kittanning on the Allegheny river, in a southeasterly course, across the present counties of Armstrong, Indiana and Cambria, to the headwaters of the Juniata river in Blair county, and from thence it followed down the valley of that stream toward the seaboard. It was a broad, well-defined trail, and during the days of Indian occupation it frequently resounded to the stealthy tread of large parties of hostiles as well as to the measured, heavier footsteps of the Scotch-Irish provincial troops of Armstrong and other commanders sent in pursuit of them. "Nemacolin’s Path," or trail, derived its name from the fact that when the "Ohio Company" of Virginia was preparing to go into the Indian trade at the head of the Ohio, in the year 1749, one of the principal agents of the company, Col. Thomas Cresap, of Old Town, Maryland, employed a Delaware Indian named Nemacolin (who lived at the mouth of Dunlap’s creek, on the Monongahela) to indicate the best route for a packhorse path from the Potomac to the Indian towns on the Ohio, a short distance below the junction of the Allegheny and Monongahela. The old Indian pointed out the path in question as being the most feasible route, and it was adopted. Washington, in 1754, followed its line with his troops as far as Gist’s plantation, in the present county of Fayette, and the following year Gen. Braddock made it, with few variations, his route of march from Fort Cumberland to Gist’s, and thence northwardly to near the point where he first crossed the Monongahela. Although this was designated for many year "Nemacolin’s Trail," it was, doubtless, traveled by Indian parties many years, and perhaps ages, before the birth of the Indian whose name it bore. It led, as before indicated, from the "Forks of the Ohio" (now Pittsburgh) to the Potomac river, at the mouth of Will’s creek (where Cumberland, Maryland, now stands), crossing in its route the present counties of Allegheny, Westmoreland and Fayette and the southwestern corner of Somerset. From the two main trails above described minor ones diverged at various points, and intersected the counties affording subject-matter for these chapters in all directions.
The trails were the highways of the Indians—-the thoroughfares over which they journeyed on their business of the chase or of war, just as white people pursue their travel and traffic over graded roads. "An erroneous impression obtains among many at the present day," says Judge Veech, in his Monongahela of Old, "that the Indian, in traveling the interminable forests which once covered our towns and fields, roamed at random, like a modern afternoon hunter, by no fixed paths, or that he was guided in his long journeyings solely by the sun and stars, or by the courses of the streams and mountains. And true it is that these untutored sons of the woods were considerable astronomers and geographers, and relied much upon these unerring guide-marks of nature. Even in the most starless night they could determine their course by feeling the bark of the oak-trees, which is always smoothest on the south side, and roughest on the north. But still they had their trails or paths as distinctly marked as are our county and state roads, and often better located. The white traders adopted them, and often stole their names, to be in turn surrendered to the leader of some Anglo-Saxon army, and finally obliterated by some costly highway of travel and commerce. They are now almost wholly effaced and forgotten. Hundreds travel along or plow across them, unconscious that they are in the footsteps of the red man."
SOURCE: History of Bedford, Somerset and Fulton Counties, pp. 15-20.
Return to Bedford County Genealogy Project
(c) Bedford County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project