Chapter 1 - History of Huntingdon County

Created: Monday, 21 March 2011 Last Updated: Wednesday, 26 February 2014 Written by Nathan Zipfel Print Email

CHAPTER I

ABORIGINES OF HUNTINGDON COUNTY - DOUBTS CONCERNING THEM - FIRST WHITE VISITORS - INDIAN TRADERS - THEIR CHARACTER - THE OLD INDIAN WAR-PATH.

But little is known concerning the Aborigines of Huntingdon county previous to the settlement of the whites among them. Of course, such knowledge could be gathered only from the traditions of the Indians themselves, few of which have been retained by us, the scenes upon the savage stage having vanished with the actors. Even the names of the various tribes that may have lived here have passed into oblivion. It is true that some facts in relation to the native inhabitants of Standing Stone have been preserved, but of so meager a character that it is uncertain to what nation they belonged. Writers on this subject state that they are supposed to have been Oneidas, but after giving the matter as thorough an examination as the limited data at hand affords, I am inclined to the contrary opinion, if, indeed, it is sufficiently free from obscurity and doubt to admit of an opinion at all. The supposition to which I refer is founded upon a theory, that the name Oneida signifies, in our language, "Standing Stone," and that the Oneida Indians of New York were of Southern origin. But some authorities, in contradiction to this theory, have given the name a different interpretation ; and as to their emigration it must have taken place, if at all, many years before white visitors came to the ancient village on the Juniata. On the capture of New York from the Butch in 1664, the Five Nations, of which the Oneidas were one, were living in that State and entered into an alliance with the English. If the entire Oneida nation had regarded the stone, as they are said to have done, with "superstitious veneration," and had believed that if it should be taken away from them they would be dispersed, they certainly would not have gone to a distant country leaving it behind them. By surmising that only a portion of them went to New York, one or more of their tribes remaining here, we but add to the uncertainty and by no means reconcile the conjectures on the one hand with the well-attested facts on the other.

Of the white men who first came within the limits of the county, we know almost as little as we do of the Indians, They were probably traders whose avocation led them to make journeys between the East and the Ohio river. That persons engaged in that business did make such journeys before the earliest record we have of them, is evinced by many circumstances. In a letter written by George Croghan, who resided on the Susquehanna river, about five miles west of Harris' Ferry, now Harrisburg, he mentions a trader who had just arrived from the Ohio, and gives other intelligence from which it may be inferred that the making of such trips was not then an uncommon occurrence. In fact, Croghan himself is mentioned as "a considerable trader," as early as June, 1747. He was well acquainted with the Indian country, and with the best roads to the Ohio, and was selected to convoy the expedition which we shall presently describe as of especial interest in the history of the county.

The traders did not belong to that class of persons who reduce to writing the events of their daily lives. It does not appear that anything transpired with them which they deemed worthy of remembrance. They did not penetrate the new country in the spirit of explorers, seeking discoveries of value to the world and benefit to themselves. Even a passage of hundreds of miles through an unbroken forest made no impression on their unappreciative senses. Intent upon traffic, they transported their wares on pack-horses from one end of the province to the other, with a view to profitable commerce with the Indians, whose innocence of mercantile transactions, at that early day, rendered them an easy prey to cupidity and avarice. In later years, when, with the utmost vigilance, it was impossible to prevent the French on the Ohio from obtaining information which the interests of the English required they should not possess, it was said of these traders by Governor Morris, that they were "mostly a low sort of people, generally too ignorant to be employed as spies, but not at all too virtuous." lie was speaking of George Croghan when he made this remark, but rather excepted him from the sweeping assertion. As we become more familiar with the life and character of the latter, as developed in his connection with the affairs of this county, from the time of which we write until 1756, we will be better able to judge wherein he differed from his fellow traders. It is not strange that men of the qualities ascribed to them by Governor Morris, should have perpetuated so little concerning themselves and should be so soon forgotten.

The route taken by these commercial travelers of the olden time, was along the old Indian war-path, coming from the eastward through the Tuscarora Valley, Shade Gap, Black Log, Aughwick, Woodcock Valley, Hartslog Valley, Water Street, Frankstown, Hollidaysburg, and crossing the Allegheny mountains at or near Kittanning Point. It was this trail that gave Huntingdon county its early importance. It was the great highway between the east and the west, and continued to be so for many years. The traders, the agents of the government, and the pioneers, as they moved westward, followed it. In 1754, when there was a pressing necessity for military operations against the French on the Ohio, and the ways and means of moving troops and conveying supplies were under consideration, there was no other road to the Ohio than this path, which a Governor Morris described as " only a horse way through the woods and over mountains, not passable with any carriage." Travel was not diverted from this route until 1755, when the road was made to enable Braddock and his army to march against Fort DuQuesne.

 

SOURCE:  History of Huntingdon County, in the state of Pennsylvania: from the earliest times to the centennial anniversary of American independence, July 4, 1876 (1876); by Milton Scott Lytle