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Elk County
Chapter II




THIS section of Pennsylvania was the hunting-ground of the aborigines up to the close of the first decade of this century, when the first faint gleams of civilization darted through the forest, chasing, as it were, the shadows of the savages. Who the aborigines were, so far as history tells, is shown in the pages devoted to the Indian history of McKean county.

Gen. Wade and family, with a friend named Slade, came to the headwaters of the Little Toby, in 1798, and settled temporarily at what is now Little Toby, on the Rochester & Pittsburgh Railroad. In 1803 the party returned east, but the same year came hither and built a log house at the mouth of the Little Toby on the east bank. In 1806, while Wade and Slade were hunting round what is now Blue Rock, they saw an Indian girl watching them. Approaching her, the General enticed her to follow him to his home, and there introduced her to Mrs. Wade. In 1809 this semi-captive married Slade, the ceremony being performed by Chief Tamsqua. A few years later Slade moved to what is now Portland, established a trading house there, and when the white settlers came into the No Man's Creek neighborhood, Wade and Tamsqua presented to them the pipe of peace. Judge Kyler, writing to Dr. Earley, of Ridgway, in 1874, gives valuable reminiscences of early years. He states: "A large body of land containing about 100,000 acres lying in what is now Benzinger, Fox, Horton and Houston townships, the latter in Clearfield county, was patented to Samuel M. Fox (deceased), and was offered for sale and settlement by his heirs. Their agent, William Kersey, opened a road from the State road (now Bellefonte and Erie turnpike), to what is called the Burned Mill. These lands lay in what was then Jefferson, McKean and Clearfield counties, most of it in the latter, which at that time could not poll over 160 or 170 votes, and was attached to Centre county. It had but one township, called Chincleclamoose; that was the name of the township here then. A man named Amos Davis was the first actual settler. He resided, prior to 1810, some two or three years on the tract north of me, where the steam saw-mill stands. In the spring of the above year, my father, John Kyler, who lived in Centre county, came to see the country, and located his place at Kyler's Corners on Little Toby creek. That year and the summer following he packed his provisions on a horse to do him while clearing some land and putting up a cabin, and the last of May or first of June, 1812, moved his family to this couutry. Elijah Meredith had moved in a few days before, and Jacob Wilson and Samuel Miller at the time we did. Miller located at Earley, and the year following Jonah Griffith located at the farm where Centreville now is. Miller and Griffith both left the following year. The grist-mill erected by Kersey was a small affair, built of peeled hemlock logs - had one run country stones, and no bolting cloth for a couple of years. Flour of all kinds had to be sifted. William Fisher, of Centre county, who succeeded Kersey as agent, put in a bolting cloth. Soon after David Meredith and Jacob Wilson went there to grind, for every man was his own miller. There was no fire-place, but a few stones for a back wall in one corner, and in the night, while asleep, the mill caught fire; they, having nothing but their shoes to carry water, were unable to put it out, and the mill burned down. Then for more than a year what grain was raised had to be taken to Maxwell's mill, on Anderson's creek, to be ground, some forty miles. If grain had to be bought it could not be got, frequently, shorL of Centre or Indiana counties. Clearfield was divided into two townships - one Lawrence, for Capt. Lawrence of the Chesapeake, who met his death in his battle with the Shannon; the other Pike, for a general of that name killed in Canada. Our township was the latter, and Chincleclamoose became extinct. Soon after we moved to the country, father and I went to the mill to grind some grain he had raised the year before, and beat out with a stick on a quilt. Just as we were leaving for home we heard a yell, and saw a man come bustling along clad in a blanket coat. Father said 'there comes an Indian.' He, however, proved to be a Welshman named David Roberts; he had no family; he had taken a place at Instanter; had cleared also a potato patch at Johnsonburg, near Wilmarth; said he had heard there were people living in these parts, and come to see if he could find them; said he could furnish seed potatoes. Two of the settlers, each with a bag and horse, went after them, Roberts being guide and got some, but had much difficulty getting through the wood~. He paid us several visits, and when winter came went to a place called Beaulah to spend the winter with his own kind of people, and married there. In these days house floors were either split puncheon or loge hewed on one side and matched at the edges; barn floors the same. Roofs were split clapboards held in place by weight poles. I think a year after we came here settling began on Bennett's branch of the Sinnemahoning, but I leave it for some one else who will, no doubt, give an account of that place, who is better acquainted there than I am. Elk, deer and bear were very plenty here at that time, and from the number of dead trees, as well as the remains of bark shanties and the tomahawk marks still visible on the trees from which the bark was taken, I infer that this was a hunting ground much used by the Indians at one time, but they did not hunt here a great deal after the first settlers came. Those that did were reputed to be of the Cornplanter tribe. Those I knew best were Big John, Logan and Capt. Crow. Big John was a noble-looking Indian, past the middle age, fall, straight and well proportioned, Logan looked very old. The last time I saw them, Big John took an opportunity to tell us 'Logan too old to hunt, he could not; see to shoot straight.' In 1816 the land owners commenced building us a new mill, and finished it the year following, on the site of what is now Connor's mill. Permanent settlers in 1816 were the before-named Davis, Wilson, Kyler and Meredith. Others had made improvements, intending to settle, but never brought their families, or left soon after, if they did, and Davis sold in the fall of that year to a man who did not move to it, and lost it by not keeping taxes paid. William McCauley moved in the spring of 1817. The next year James Reesman, James Green, Smith Mead, Esq., and others made improvements, but only the three named were permanent. Perhaps some two years after, Leonard Morey, from Sinnemahoning, came around with a petition to have this section struck off into a new township. It was granted, and the court named it Sinnemahoning. This displeased the settlers west of the barrens, and they petitioned for change of the name, and the court named it Fox, in honor of Samuel M. Fox. The township included all of Horton within the Clearfield line, Houston in that county now, and Jay. These three townships being taken from Fox has reduced its territory to its present size. Between the years 1818 and 1823, Conrad Moyer, Tibni Taylor, John Kellar, Joel and Philetus Clark, Isaac Coleman, Uriah and Jonah Rogers, Rev. Jonathan Nichols, Alanson Vial and Hon. Isaac Horton were added to the settlement and remained permanently. The three latter named located on Brandy Camp branch of Little Toby, now Horton township, and the following named: Dr. William Hoyt, John Bundy, James B. Hancock, Chauncey Brockway, Esq., James Iddings and Robert Thompson remained a number of years and then left; but all have some of their descendants living here. From the above time to the present, population has steadily increased. It required an indomitable spirit for the first settlers, who sought a home so far in the wilderness in a dense forest of timber, to clear the ground and. render it fit for cultivation, and few had courage to at tempt it, or constancy to persevere if they did."

In the history of Cameron county the advertisement of the Burlington tract is given. Observing it, Joseph Potter, Leonard Morey and William Ward set out from their homes in Susquehanna county, Penn., April 2, 1812, on the 5th reached Butler's cabin on the north fork of Pine creek, and next day pushed on to the head of the Allegheny, where they stayed with a Mr. Heirs [Ayers], thence to Lymans and Canoe Place, and on the 10th arrived at John Earls. On April 11 they went down the branch to Spanglers, thence up Bennett's branch to Dr. Dan Rogers' house, where they arrived on the 13th. This house stood a little above the large dam below Benezette. The three pioneers purchased lands on the 15th, Morey buying a mile below Caledonia, but later changing to a point near the mouth of Medix Run; Ward, where Caledonia stands, and Potter opposite the mouth of Medix Run. On the 16th the pioneers set out on their return trip, two of them revisited the place in September, and on their return spoke so highly of the country that in February, 1813, L. Morey and Dwight Caldwell, with their families, Ichabod and Sylvester Powers and William F. Luce set out to settle there. At Grass Flats Capt. Potter joined them, arid traveled to Andrew Overturf's (Dutchman) house between Bennett's branch and the Driftwood, where they arrived on the 12th. Next day they proceeded up the branch, passed Nanny's house, one and a half miles from the mouth of the branch; a mile farther landed at Thomas Dent's house; where Grant depot now is was the home of Ralph Johnson, and next was Dr. Rogers' cabin, a 16 x 20 house, where they found Amos Mix and family, and where all found shelter that night of April 15, 1813. Mix and his wife arrived there in 1812. In that year Dr. Rogers began clearing the lands a little above Summerson's eddy, but within a few years moved to Jersey Shore to practice medicine. In August, 1813, McMurtrie visited his lands to cut out a road from the mouth of Trout run to Rich Valley, and did cut four miles to where H. K. Wilson resided in modern times. In 1815 Morey purchased from Gen. James Potter 379 1/2- acres near the mouth of Trout run, and in April, 1816, began improvements, building a small grist-mill. In 1827 he sold this place to Reuben and Ebenezer Winslow. Carpenter Winslow arrived about this time. In 1818 Morey built a small grist-mill. Benjamin, son of Ralph Johnson, who died March 9, 1886, was born near Grant railroad depot, July 4, 1813.

Mrs. Emily E. Gillis, of Gilroy, in Santa Clara Co., Cal. (daughter of the pioneer Gelott, and wife of Charles, eldest son of Enos Gillis), writing to the editor of the Democrat in 1885, states that her father came in 1814, and on June 19 of that year he and Eliza Morey went down the Sinnemahoning, thirty-five miles, in a canoe, to be married by Squire Lusk, accompanied by Erasmus and Cephas Morey, W. F. Luce and Mrs. Caldwell. It took two days to return. Mrs. Gillis, Sr., died August 18, 1850, and her husband, September 29, 1854.

Capt. Potter Goff settled on Bennett's branch in Jay township, in 1817, with his wife and six children; Joel Woodworth, his son-in-law, accompanied him. He died on the home farm (in recent years the W. F. Luce farm), November 12, 1846, aged seventy years. His first wife died in September, 1834, and in 1836 he married, the widow, Ann M. Luce.

Chauncey Brockway and his wife and child came in December, 1817, from Galway, Montgomery Co., N. Y., 400 miles by wagon, and 90 miles up the Susquehanna. He was married in 1816, and the first child was born in April, 1817, so that his wife had to take the infant pioneer with her on this great journey, and settled on Bennett's branch, seven miles from any neighbor. In 1821 the family moved to Brandy Camp, near Ridgway, thence up the Toby that spring, and to Illinois in 1854, where his wife died in 1885, and himself on December 4, 1886. In April, 1818, Joseph Crandell and Lyman Robinson, sons-in-law of Brockway, arrived and purchased on the hill north of Caledonia on the Gen. Boyd estate.

Jonathan Nichols came in March, 1818, accompanied by Hezekiah Warner his son-in-law. Both brought their families and settled on the Gen. Boyd lands, north of Kersey' s. Nichols was a Baptist preacher and a physician, the first of either profession in the county except Dr. Rogers. He moved to Brandy Camp in Horton township about 1821, where he died in May, 1846. Under him Dr. Clark, a son-in-law, studied medicine. Hezekiah Warner, who also moved to Brandy Camp, returned to Caledonia and purchased lands from Thomas Leggett and Jabez Mead in 1825. There he was joined by Zebulon Warner in store and tavern keeping and lumber milling. Starr Dennison settled on Spring run in March, 1818, and resided there until his death in 1844. Ebenezer Hewett came from Saratoga, N. Y., the same year, and located a large tract, four miles above Kersey run. In December he was followed by Col Isaac Webb, of the same county, who cleared a farm two miles above Kersey run. He was a surveyor, and a man whose memory was proverbial. Consider Brockway followed his son, Chauncey, in 1819, and located north of Kersey run about four miles on the Kersey road.

Isaac Horton, Sr., who settled at Brandy Camp in 1818, died in 1873, David Johnson, who settled at Johnsonburg prior to 1821, learning that James L. Gillis had located at Moutmorenci, four miles away, determined to move west if Gillis would not. He did move, and by 1824 the Montmorenci farm of 400 acres was cleared, and a saw- and grist-mill, carding-mill and several improvements were made by the new pioneer on Mill creek a little west of the farm. In 1871 O. B. Fitch, afterward proprietor of the Thayer House, carried on this farm. It was subsequently purchased' by Maurice M. Schultz who set men to work to restore the farm, and under him it has reached its present productiveness.

Judge James L. Gillis, who died in Iowa in July, 1881, was born in Washington county, N. Y., in 1792. In 1812 he was commissioned lieutenant of an Ontario county cavalry company in Col. Harris' dragoons. After the affair at Lundy's Lane he was made prisoner by the British, treated in the barbarous manner of that time, and put on board a transport to be taken to England. He and several others captured a boat belonging to the transport, and reached the bank of the St. Lawrence river, but all were retaken and were said to have been subjected to cruelties, of which even Indians were ignorant, until exchanged at Salem, Mass., after the war. In 1822 he settled in what is now Elk county (within sixteen miles of a neighbor and seventy miles of a post-office), as the agent of Jacob Ridgway, to whose niece he was married in 1816. In 1830 he moved six miles from his farm to the present town of Ridgway. Gov. Porter commissioned him associate judge of Jefferson county; in 1840 he was elected representative, again sent to the senate, became one of the first associate judges of Elk county, and in 1856 was elected congressman; later he was agent for the Pawnees. In 1858 Capt. Hall defeated him for congress. Through his efforts Elk and Forest counties were organized, the latter by joint resolution and to oblige Cyrus Blood, one of the pioneers. He was charged with complicity in the abduction of Morgan for giving away Masonic secrets, but was acquitted. Mrs. Houk, of Ridgway, C. V. Gillis, of Kane, Mary B. Porter, Augusta A. Noxon and Cecilia A. Whitney, of Chautauqua county, N. Y., Bosanquet, Henry and Robert, children of the useful pioneer are living. Enos Gillis, a brother pioneer, is referred to in this work.

W. P. Wilcox, who in 1831 came to what is now Williamsville, as agent far the Richards & Jones Land Company, later the McK. & E. L. & I. Co. In 1835 he was representative, and was re-elected three times successively, then served in the senate, was elected a representative again in 1857 and in 1859, and died at Port Allegany in April, 1868. In the winter of 1832 - 33, L. Wilmarth, Arthur Hughes and George Dickinson bought land of J. L. Gillis and Mr. Aylworth, and also water-power for lumbering business. There was but a handful of people in Ridgway at this time. Hughes and Dickinson began to build mills. Col. Wilcox settled here. Mail accommodations were established.

Rasselas W. Brown died June 27, 1887. He was born in 1809 in Herkimer county, N. Y., and iu 1837, with his brother-in.law, W. S. Brownell, of Smethport, went to Michigan, stopping at Wilcox en route. He returned to Williamsville in October, purchased land near by, and on March 16, 1838, brought into the wilderness his wife and two sons, J. L. Brown, of Wilcox, and W. W. Brown, of Bradford. In 1841 he moved to Rasselas, where he died.

Joseph S. Hyde settled at Caledonia in 1837, but shortly after moved to Ridgway as an employee of Enos Gillis, and operated the old Gillis mill, above the present Hyde grist-mill, until it failed to pay expenses. In 1840 he moved to Wisconsin, but returned, and in July, 1842, married Jane Gillis, a daughter of his former employer. Subsequently he resided at Montmorenci, Sharpsburg and other places until 1846, when he purchased from Gillis & McKinley a mill which stood on the site of the present Ely mills. He made this a success, and soon after engaged in lumbering. Only a few years elapsed until he became known as the lumber king. He was the most progressive citizen of Elk county until his death, June 30, 1888. Shortly after he moved to Ridgway, without money and without friends, he wanted Dickinson to sell him an ax on credit, but the merchant refused, when Hyde said to him: "Keep your d--d ax; I will see the day when I can buy and sell you." J. S. Hyde became a millionaire and owner of 36,000 acres, a store at Little Toby, established in September, 1882, being among his enterprises.

Early in the "thirties" Irishtown was settled by Irish immigrants. Catherine (Rielly) Mohan, who died in Fox township, June 22, 1886, was married in 1836 to Larry Mohan, but both had resided in this county prior to that year. Other names given in the history of the Catholic Church of Kersey' s or Centreville belong to that period.

In September, 1844, the first declaration of citizenship was made by Thomas Rielly, a native of Ireland. His example was followed that year by Michael White, Thomas Fletcher, John Sullivan, Patrick Shelvy, Michael Brown, Patrick Malone and Lawrence Mohan, all natives of the Emerald Isle. In 1845 thirty natives of Germany and one of England declared their intentions. Jeremiah Calahan was admitted to citizenship in September, 1845, also Robert McIntosh and Patrick Whelan (both Irish), Conrad K. Huhn (a German) and Joseph Hetzell (a Frenchman). The records for the last forty-five years tell of the remarkable immigration to this county, thousands of names, principally Germans, filling records A and B.

In 1842 the German Union Bond Society purchased 35,000 acres from the United States Land Company, or Boston Company, and in the fall thirty-one families settled a few miles north of Kersey's; thirty-three families came in the spring of 1843. The first piano was brought into Elk county (and it may be said into the territory now divided into five counties) in 1845, by Ignatius Garner. The same year he organized a brass band company at St. Mary's, the first band in the territory. The first mail carried through Elk county was that by William C. Walsh, from Milesburg to Smethport, in 1828. The first post-office was at Richard Gelott's house, where the Barr Railroad depot now is, then called Bennett's Branch. The next office was presided over by Vine S. Brockway at his home, and the third at Kersey' s, where James Green was sworn to fulfill the duties of master by L. Morey, March 12, 1828. This office was kept where is now Centreville. Reuben Aylesworth was the next master, keeping the office at Ridgway. Williamsville came next, with W. P. Wilcox, master. Next came Bunker Hill and then Smethport - the end of the route. Among the successors of Walsh was a Mr. Coone (who carried a spinning-wheel from White's, near Smethport, to Ridgway on horseback and Daniel Hyatt. Erasmus Morey was the second postmaster at Bennett's Branch, commissioned July 4, 1828. This office was changed to Caledonia, when Zebulon Warner took charge. Erasmus Morey, born at Chariton, Mass., May 16, 1796 settled on Bennett's Branch in 1813, and on July 4, 1828, succeeded the pioneer postmaster at that point. Mr. Morey and John Brooks are two pioneers who have done the part of good citizens in preserving records of pioneer times, which would otherwise be lost forever. The latter, in his reminiscences, speaks of old-tim~e farming and milling:

Axes and hoes were clumsily made by the rough blacksmith. Grain and hay were stacked in the fields or yard or put into round log barns. Threshing was done with flail, or trampled out with oxen or horses; the grain was separated from the chaff by winnowing it through the meshes of a riddle, made for the purpose, while the breezes would carry away the chaff; or in a calm, two persons would raise and maintain a blast by a dexterous swinging movement of a double linen bed sheet, while the third person would winnow the threshed grain from the riddle. Corn and buckwheat 'were sometimes ground on hand-mills, and sifted through sieves made from dressed perforated sheep or deer skins, drawn over a wide oaken hoop. The nether or bed stone in the hand-mills was fixed to a bench constructed for the purpose, and the upper or runner stone was made to revolve on its spindle by means of a pole, the upper end of which was passed into an augur hole in a board fastened overhead, and the lower end of the pole was fitted into a hole drilled in the upper surface of the runner, near the periphery. The miller would seize the pole with one hand, sweeping it around, and with the other feed the mill with grain. Another device was substituted for a hand-mill, yet more rude in construction, and was constructed by cutting down a medium-sized tree, leaving the stump with its surface even and level, into which a bowl-like excavation was made by cutting and burning, which would hold about a peck. A hard-wood pestle was then made to fit the excavation, and this was fastened by withes to the top of a small sapling bent for a spring-pole, which grew, or was planted near the stump. The operator would then place corn or buckwheat in the mortar, and seizing the pestle with both hands would, per force, thrust it into the mortar, crushing and grinding the grain therein. The spring-pole would draw up the pestle again, when released from the hand, and again would be thrust into the mortar, and thus by repeated processes the grinding would be accomplished. There were some gristmills erected, driven by water-wheels; the mill-stones were made from the fine conglomerate rock, which is found in abundance in this section. Linen or cotton bolting cloths were attached to reels and driven by machinery, by 'which the bran was separated from the flour and meal. Of course the flour was coarse, and contained much of the gluten, and the phosphates with the starch, and was therefore adapted to make good bread, that would maintain vigor of muscle, of bone and of brain, as well as the fat of the system.

Native forest fruit was then abundant [as explained in the first chapter], game was plenty, the rivers were streams of crystal liquid. Women frequently performed a part of the farm service in that age, some,with sickle and rake in hand,doing the work of a harvest man. Others, with hoe and fork, did good work in the hay and corn field. One of them is remembered as placing her child in a sap-trough near by, when but little over a week old, while she split more rails in a day than her husband. These cases are not adverted to as exemplary, but as facts incidental to pioneer life. Oxen were generally used both for farming and for lumbering. And in one instance Major Bennett, who made an improvement on the Potter reserve, at Benezette, on Bennett's Branch, yoked his much cows to plough his garden and his fields. Bennett afterward removed to Crawford county, where some of his descendants still reside. The attractions for farmers were greater in that section than in this.

Source: Page(s) 579-589, History of Counties of McKean, Elk and Forest, Pennsylvania. Chicago, J.H. Beers & Co., 1890.
Transcribed December 2006 by Nathan Zipfel for the Elk County Genealogy Project
Published 2006 by the Elk County Pennsylvania Genealogy Project

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