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…bringing our past into the future

Chapter 02 – The Land of Tioga


Feb 27, 2016



First Occupants- Rugged and Romantic Scenery- Game, Fish and Wild Animals- An Ideal Hunting Ground- Indian Paths- Indian Villages – French Explorers and Missionaries – Boundary Line op the Purchase op 1768- The Old Treaties- The Walker Tragedy- Indian Characteristics and Peculiarities.

The territory lying within the present boundaries of Tioga county, Pennsylvania, was originally occupied by the Seneca Indians, and was one of their favorite hunting and fishing districts. Its entire surface was heavily timbered. Pine and hemlock grew in the valleys, on the mountain sides and summits, and largely predominated the hard wood varieties, such as oak, birch, maple, etc., which occupied limited areas, principally upland. The ravines, through which streams of crystal water dashed, were filled with a dense growth of vines, briars and underbrush almost impenetrable, save only to Indians and wild animals. The luxuriant and evergreen foliage of the pine and hemlock cast a somber gloom over the narrow valleys, and so closely were their branches intertwined and locked in many places, that the rays of the flaming god of day could scarcely penetrate them. Such were the wilderness condition of this mountain region. How long it had so existed no white man knew and the aborigines could not tell.

Game of all kinds abounded in this region. The stately elk infested a portion of it, and deer were found in great numbers. Other game, too, was plentiful. The nimble squirrel chattered among the branches of the oaks, the wolf, the fox and the bear roamed among the hills and through the valleys, while the porcupine and the raccoon ivere found everywhere. The streams were filled with trout and other fish. What more could the tawny children of the forest desire? Nature had bountifully provided for them. They built their rude wigwams on the banks of the rivers and creeks, and at particularly eligible locations they had villages, while in the mountains their hunting lodges were pitched.

In this wild region the aborigines roamed at will, communed with nature, chanted songs of the spirit land and were happy. No white man had yet penetrated their domain; they were uncontaminated by the vices which go hand in hand with civilization; they knew no guile; those destroying evils – whiskey and smallpox – had not yet been introduced among them. To them ignorance of the world was bliss, and they knew nothing of the folly which accompanies wisdom.


Several Indian paths crossed and recrossed what is now the territory of Tioga county. And these trails became important landmarks for the early white settlers, who followed them in their journeyings through the wilderness, and afterward enlarged them for public highways when the county commenced filling up with settlers, several of these paths came from, central New York and were traced along the valleys and streams. From the important Seneca settlement, known to the whites as Big Tree, on the Genesee, main paths led down the Conhocton and Canisteo, coming out at Painted Post, another important point among the Indians. Prom Painted Post the path ran up the Tioga river, passing near Lawrenceville, Tioga, Mansfield, Canoe Camp, Covington and Blossburg. From this latter point it continued on via Liberty and Laurel Hill, until it intersected the great Sheshequin path running up Lycoming creek, and thence to Tioga Point, on the North Branch. The famous Williamson road afterward followed this path from Trout Run and became a great thoroughfare for early travel. Another ran by Arnot and down Babb’s creek to Pine, which it descended to the valley of the West Branch.

Starting from what is now the borough of Tioga, on the river of the same name, a trail ascended the valley of Crooked creek, thence to Wellsboro, and on by the way of Stony Fork to its intersection with the Babb’s creek path, down which it passed to the Indian village of Tiadaghton, on Pine creek. It was by this route that Van Campen and his party were taken, to the Seneca settlements, after they were captured on the Bald Eagle, in April, 1782. Although comparatively unknown to the early settlers along the river, because it traversed such a wild and inhospitable region for more than 100 miles, it was really one of the most important Indian trails, and over it many war parties passed on their way to attack the lower settlements during the troublous times of 1778-79. It was by this route, too, that the Senecas would have descended when they threatened to be avenged on the settlers at the mouth of Pine creek for the murder of two of their number by the Walker brothers and Sam Doyle, while they were on a hunting expedition in time of peace. Tradition says that a strong party of warriors really did descend Pine creek some distance below Tiadaghton, fully bent on mischief, but were recalled by runners after the State commissioners had appeased the wrath of the Indians at a conference held at Canandaigua, by promising to do all they could to arrest the Walkers and punish them.

Another important path left the Canisteo at Addison, New York, known as the Tuscarora, and led over the hills to near where Elkland is now situated, on the Cowanesque; thence it bore off in a southwesterly direction, crossing the upper waters of Pine creek, and descended Kettle creek to Westport, on the West Branch of the Susquehanna. Over this path war parties frequently traveled to attack the advanced settlements on the river, and as it led through a dense, wild and gloomy region, it was comparatively unknown to the whites at the beginning of Indian hostilities. It is probable that the war party, which attacked, defeated and captured Van Campen on the Bald Eagle, had entered the valley of the Susquehanna by this route. Van Campen tells us in his narrative that the party consisted of about eighty warriors, and they were descending the river in light canoes. It was their custom to approach the settlements in a body, when, on the appearance of white people, they separated into small bands and spread over the country for the purpose of murder and rapine. This war party discovered Van Campen’s boats where they had been tied up, near the Great Island, and taking his trail surprised and captured him the next morning.

As this invasion was made about the close of the Revolutionary War, it is probable that it was a portion of this war party that was pursued by Peter and Michael Grove, and party, and surprised in their camp on the Sinnemahoning and several killed. They had been down in what is now Union county and killed a number of settlers, and were fleeing in the direction of the Genesee country when overtaken.

It is probable that there was also an Indian trail up the Pine creek gorge, above Blackwells, inasmuch as there is abundant evidence of the existence at one time of an Indian village at “Big Meadows,” now Ansonia, at the mouth of Marsh creek. This gloomy canon is now traversed by the Pine Creek railroad.


The early scouts, hunters and settlers found, in various parts of the county, evidences of the existence at one time of Indian villages. One of these was at the mouth of Babb’s creek, where a cleared spot of some extent was found, showing previous cultivation. This was designated as a meadow, and there is a well-defined tradition that a chief, or man of some prominence in the tribe, named Tiadaghton, dwelt here. According to old records. Pine creek, at that time, was called Tiadaghton, but there is nothing in any of the glossaries of Indian words compiled by the Moravians to show that such a name was ever applied to any stream or mountain. Heckewelder, who is accepted as standard authority, nowhere alludes to such a name in any of his writings.

We are forced to the conclusion, therefore, that an Indian bearing this euphonious title dwelt at the mouth of Babb’s creek, and his name was associated with Pine creek by the whites in order to designate* his place of residence, and in course of time the stream came to be known by that title. Among the Indians this great stream seems to have been known as the “River of the Pines,” because it flowed from a land where this timber abounded in the greatest luxuriance. On the open space, or ¦ meadow, at the mouth of Babb’s creek, corn was very likely cultivated by the ‘ Indians, as the soil was composed of a rich alluvial deposit and was well adapted to the production of that cereal. The fishing being good at this point, offered another inducement for Tiadaghton to establish his wigwam and build up a village around him. Shad ascended Pine creek as far as the mouth of Marsh creek, there being no obstructions in the river in those days to keep them back. The mountain surroundings in this deep and gloomy gorge were sufficiently wild to suit the tastes of the most thorough Indian, and if old Tiadaghton had any romantic inclinations in his untutored mind, he could here enjoy them in the gloomy grandeur of a mountain solitude which is still without a rival in northern Pennsylvania.

As further evidence of a village having once stood here, may be mentioned the finding by the early white settlers of numerous Indian relies, such as flint arrow points and bits of broken pottery. The point, too, was an important one for war parties to tarry for rest when making a descent upon the river settlements; and white prisoners were sometimes taken through this way.

It is mentioned by Van Campen, after his defeat and capture, in April, 1782, by a body of Indians near where Mill Hall, Clinton county, now stands, that he and other prisoners were taken to Pine creek, which they ascended. At a certain point they stopped, when the Indian hunters went out in pursuit of game, and quickly returned, “bringing along a noble elk,” which “was soon dressed and prepared for roasting.” “The prisoners,” he continues, “were allowed the same liberty that was taken by the warriors themselves; they cut from the animal as much fresh meat as they wished, and roasted it on the coals, or held it on the end of a sharpened stick to the fire.” Here a prisoner, named Burwell, who was shot through the shoulder, had his wound dressed in the following primitive but effective manner: “Having collected a parcel of suitable herbs, they the Indians] boiled them in water, thus making a strong decoction, in which they dipped the feathers of a quill, and ran it through his wound.” The operation was a severe one, but the inflammation was reduced and the wound soon healed.

Another wounded prisoner, named Henderson, did not fare so well. He had four of his fingers shot off, as he was raising his gun to fire, by a bullet from an Indian rifle. Van Campen says that on the second day of their march he passed him sitting on a log with “a countenance sad and pale,” and two Indians standing by his side. He did not go far “before he heard a noise like the sound of a tomahawk entering the head, and in a few moments the two Indians ran by bearing a scalp and carrying a hatchet dripping with blood!”

On resuming their march. Van Campen informs us, “the remains of the elk were divided among the warriors and prisoners, each carrying his portion as a supply against further need.” “Pushing up the valley,” he continues, “they soon came to the head of Pine creek; thence striking across the country, they reached in half a day’s travel, the head waters of the Genesee river.” Down this stream they passed until they arrived at the Seneca settlements.

Similar evidences of the existence at one time of an Indian village were found by the early hunters and settlers at “Big Meadows” now Ansonia at the mouth of Marsh creek. Even at this late day flints, arrow heads, etc., are brought to the surface in the digging of graves in the cemetery at Ansonia, which, so tradition has it, was an old Indian burying ground. When the whites came to this spot they found a large cleared space bearing evidence of having once been under cultivation.

The finding of numerous Indian relics in and around Tioga borough evidence the existence there at one time of an Indian village of considerable importance. George V. Smith, a son of Dr. Robert B. Smith, of that place, who is an enthusiastic student of archaeology, has quite a large collection of these relics of a departed people, to which he is constantly making additions. It embraces arrow-heads and spear-heads of flint; large and small implements of blue stone for skinning and dressing hides; implements for fishing; pipes, a huge stone mortar, in which the Indian ground his corn, together with the pestle for grinding, as well as hatchets, tomahawks and knives. Rot the least interesting of these rare and valuable relics are the fragments of several Indian skeletons unearthed by Mr. Smith oii the site of an ancient burying ground near Tioga borough.

This collection also contains a number of valuable utensils, and a large amount of pottery. In June, 1889, Mr. Smith unearthed, almost within the limits of Tioga borough, the fragments of three Indian jars, which, with great difficulty, have been completely restored. These jars were made of clay, strengthened by very coarse sand or fine gravel, after which the whole was burned or baked in a bulrush basket, the bulrushes being burned away, leaving their imprints on the exteriors of the jars. These huge clay jars present an interesting study in the development of decorative art, for all three are decorated with lines and dots, no attempt, however, being made at effigy. The interiors are smooth. The largest of these jars is seventeen inches in height, and, when whole, had a capacity of nearly half a bushel.

Not far from where these interesting relics were unearthed, were found the remains of several fire-places, from which he took a number of animal bones, embracing those of the deer. He also took from one of these fire-places nearly a pint of charred corn and beans.

The relics in this collection evidence not only the existence at one time of an Indian village at Tioga, but of an Indian burying ground in which a large number of interments were made.


The first white men who probably visited the Senecas were French. We have no evidence that the early explorers penetrated to any extent what is now the territory of Tioga county, but as they were an adventuresome people, it is not unreasonable to assume that they visited what are now the northern borders of the county, and probably ascended the Tioga river for some distance. So intent were the French on the acquisition of territory that they penetrated unknown wilds in search of information regarding the land and the natives; and they never failed to establish friendly relations with them, because they cultivated feelings of amity and never violated their pledges.

The French Catholic missionaries, zealous in the work of converting the children of the forest to Christianity, also found their way into Tioga county years before its settlement began. Interesting relics evidencing their presence in the Cowanesque valley are now in the possession of Hon. Chas. Tubbs, of Osceola. The story of their finding is as follows: In September, 1872, Ira M. Edgcomb built a saw-mill on the north bank of the Cowanesque river, near the mouth of the North Fork, two miles above Westfield. He employed workmen to excavate a pit in which to lay the masonry foundation for the engine. When about four feet below the surface they found two candle sticks, rudely wrought in red pipe stone, and a silver plate. One of the candle sticks and the plate is in Mr. Tubbs’ possession. The silver plate is four and one-half inches in diameter. The rim is seven-eighths of an inch wide. The upper surface is gold washed. The under surface is inscribed with the Roman capital letters I. H. S., the initials of the Latin words, Jesu Hominum Salvator (Jesus the Savior of men). Each letter is five-eighths of an inch high, and a Roman Catholic cross, six-eighths of an inch high, is engraved on the plate, having its base on the center of the bar of the letter H. The candle stick is in two pieces. The base is rectangular, and is two and one-half by two and three-fourths inches square, and three-fourths of an inch high. This is surmounted by the upright part, which rises one and one-half inches from the base, in a rectangular form, and at this point changes to cylindrical shapes. The total height is five and one-fourth inches. Four dowels of native lead project upward from the base and fit into corresponding holes in the upright. The bore in the top to receive the candle is one and three fourths inches deep by three-fourths of an inch in diameter.

As no excavation was made outside of the pit in which these were found, it is probable that other similar relics are under the surface near the same spot. These candle sticks and the silver plate doubtless formed a part of a Catholic service set, and belonged to the furniture of an altar erected in the wilderness by some early missionary priest on which to celebrate the sacrifice of the Mass. To what catastrophe their presence in the debris deposited by the Cowanesque river is to be attributed, is beyond even conjecture. They may have washed down from a point higher up the stream, or may have been hidden by some missionary, who paid with his life for his zeal and devotion to his holy faith.


The line of the purchase of 1768, which ascended Towanda creek, skirted along Burnett’s Ridge – now in Lycoming county – and then bore westward until it intersected Pine creek, down which it passed to the West Branch of the Susquehanna river, near Jersey Shore. It then followed the river westward to Canoe Place – now known as Cherry Tree – in Indiana county; thence it passed westward until it struck the Allegheny river at Kittanning. At Canoe Place the counties of Clearfield, Cambria and Indiana corner. The place was deemed of such historic importance that the legislature of 1893 passed a bill appropriating $1,500 for the erection of a monument to mark the spot where the famous cherry tree stood. The monument, hearing a suitable inscription, was completed and dedicated in November, 1894. It is somewhat imposing, is thirty-five feet in height from the water level of the stream, and bears the names in conspicuously-carved letters, “Clearfield,” “Cambria,” and “Indiana.”

After crossing the second fork of Pine creek, from the east, the line proceeded west until it intersected what was termed in the treaty, “Yarnall’s Creek,”* which it followed down to Pine creek. There has always been some doubt regarding what was termed “‘Yarnall’s Creek.” The conclusion is that it is what is now known as Babb’s creek, which empties into Pine creek at Blackwells. Down this stream was an Indian path, and it would therefore he a natural route for a boundary line.

There is another curious, if not mysterious, feature connected with this boundary line, which has never been satisfactorily explained. After the treaty of 1768, the Indians set up a claim that Lycoming creek was what they meant by the name Tiadaghton. The whites -demurred, of course, but the Indians insisted. There is nothing in existence to show that this title was ever applied to Lycoming creek. Moravian travelers often ascended it on their way to Onondaga, but in all their writings – and they kept copious journals – there is no reference to any name that can be tortured into Tiadaghton. Evidently the Indians set up the claim for the purpose of retaining this section for hunting grounds, as it covered a fine territory for that purpose.


By the treaty of 1768 the territory afterward covered by Tioga county remained as Indian land. When Berks county was organized, March 11, 1752, its territory only extended on the north to the purchase line of 1749, which included what are now the counties of Dauphin, Schuylkill, Carbon, Monroe, and Pike. The purchase line touched the river a few miles below Sunbury. By the purchase of 1758 the line crossed the river into what is now Snyder county and took in a great extent of territory on the west and south side of the West Branch, passed the famous Cherry Tree – or what was sometimes designated as Canoe Place – and then continued to Kittanning on the Allegheny. Canoe Place was so named because it was stipulated in the treaty that the line should cross the West Branch at the highest point to which a canoe could be pushed. As the river flows from the west after Muncy hills are passed, it can readily be seen why the land was designated as lying to the south. The primary object of this treaty was to acquire lands to reward the officers for their services in the Bouquet expedition. Extensive surveys and allotments for this purpose were made in what is now Union county, and in Bald Eagle valley, Clinton county.

By the treaty of 1768 the territory lying east and north of the river, as far westward as Lycoming creek, and northward to Burnett’s Pidge and Towanda creek, belonged to Berks county until March 21, 1772, when Northumberland county was erected. It then fell to the latter, and was under its jurisdiction until the organization of Lycoming county, April 13, 1795, when it was embraced in that county.

From 1768 to 1784, a period of sixteen years, the dispute as to the true boundary line of 1768 was continued between the whites and the Indians. At the treaty and purchase of 1784 – when the Indians sold all their land lying west of Lycoming creek for $10,000 – they frankly admitted that Tiadaghton was what was known by the whites as Pine creek. As the line ran, very little of the territory of Tioga ever belonged to Berks county. The Indian line shows a curve, bearing northward, in what is now Morris township, which probably took in a portion of its territory. After 1784 all this disputed territory fell to Northumberland county. After April 13, 1795, Lycoming covered the following wide domain: Its southern line, commencing near the mouth of White Deer creek, followed the Indian boundary line of 1768, via Canoe Place (Cherry Tree) to Kittanning, on the Allegheny river; thence up that stream to the mouth of Conewango creek, at Wainen, which it ascended to the New York State line; thence along that line until it intersected the line of Luzerne county (erected September 25, 1786), which it followed in a southeasterly direction, until it connected with the northern line of Northumberland county, which it followed westwardly, crossing the Muncy Hills and the river near the present railroad bridge at Montgomery; thence down the river to the place of beginning. The immense territory contained within these boundary lines comprised over 12,000 square miles. Such was the extent of the parent county of Tioga.


This affair, which created a great deal of excitement at that time, and agitated the Senecas to the verge of war, was caused by an Indian boasting, while under the influence of liquor, at a public gathering at a tavern near the mouth of Pine creek, that he had tomahawked and scalped John Walker during a raid near what is now the village of Winfield, Union county, in August, 1780. Walker was an old man and had several sons, the oldest of whom was named Benjamin. The elder Walker had warranted a tract of land lying north of the river and on the east side of Pine creek, but during the Indian troubles he and his family had fled to the house of a friend at Winfield, where they were surprised by a war party and the old man and several others cruelly murdered. Not content with boasting to Benjamin Walker and two of his brothers that he had killed their father, he made grimaces and contorted his body to show how their father acted when he was in the act of scalping him. This fiendish as well as imprudent act so enraged the Walker boys that they resolved on revenge. Accordingly, they secured the assistance of a man named Sam Doyle, who had seen much service during the Indian troubles, and going to the camp of the Indian that night slew him. He was accompanied by a young Indian, who protested his innocence, but the enraged party refused to listen to his appeals I for mercy and killed him also. They then threw the dead bodies into Pine creek, at a point about a quarter of a mile west of the junction of the Fall Brook with the Beech Creek railroad, where they remained until a rise of the water soon afterward deposited them on a sand bar and they were discovered.

When the news of the killing of the Indians reached their friends in the “Genesee Country,” they became greatly enraged and threatened vengeance. This so alarmed the white settlers on Pine creek and the river that they petitioned the State authorities for protection. The latter sent commissioners to treat with the Indians, and straightway offered a reward for the arrest of the guilty parties. Doyle was apprehended, tried and acquitted, but the Walkers escaped from the country and became fugitives. The sympathies of the whites were really with the Walkers, but the threat of an Indian invasion so frightened them that they made a pretext of arresting the culprits to allay the wrath of their red neighbors. The fact that Doyle was found not guilty showed the prevailing sentiment of the people – that the Indians richly merited the punishment they received for their atrocious crimes, even if it was meted out to them in time of peace and was murder in the eyes of the law.

Soon after his acquittal, Doyle became interested with Charles Williamson and assisted him in building his famous road through Tioga county, and in laying out the city of Bath. It may seem strange that after his experiences with the Senecas he should locate so near to them. He lived about three miles below Bath, and died there in the early twenties.

Benjamin Walker and his two brothers were never arrested. Friends kept them concealed until they had an opportunity to escape from the country. Two of them, Benjamin and Henry, made their way to North Bend, on the Ohio river, and when Indiana became a State they settled in Dearborn county. In course of time Benjamin was joined by his wife, Ann Crawford, who was a daughter of Major Crawford, of Pine Creek township, Clinton county. He raised a family of ten children and died in 1848, aged nearly ninety years. The other brother, Joseph, disappeared from notice, but there is a tradition that he followed the Indians into the Genesee country, and probably perished at their hands.


It is remarkable what an accurate information the aborigines possessed of the geography and topography of the country. With no knowledge of the compass and destitute of means for accurate measurement, they seemed to possess an intuitive knowledge of places, however remote they might be, and how to reach them by the most direct route. Their mode of life frequently led them hundreds of miles into a strange country, either in pursuit of game or of an enemy. Yet they never seemed to have any fear about finding their way back. This knowledge came from experience and keenness of observation, acquired by leading a nomadic life in a country which was in every respect a “howling wilderness.” In a word, they were compelled to depend on the signs of nature – to observe closely and quickly, and remember accurately every minute detail, either in the configuration of the country, or the trees, rocks and streams. Their paths, therefore, were always laid out by the must available routes and by excellent springs of water; but they were only of sufficient width for one, for they always traveled in single file – one behind the other. They knew the best fording places on rivers and creeks, and thither their main paths were directed. From their great thoroughfares numerous smaller trails branched, which were used as “cut offs” in shortening distances when they did not want to visit important points, but were desirous of being as expeditious as possible in making long journeys. In exercising their natural engineering abilities, they were guided by the stars and the moss on the bark of trees, as to the points of the compass, whilst their intuitive knowledge of location enabled them to penetrate the thickest and gloomiest of forests and reach their destination with safety. Nature furnished them unerring signs as guides, which they never mistook in their movements. Consequently, it was rare for an Indian to lose his bearings in the depth of the forest. So advantageously were their paths located that the whites, when they came to build roads, generally followed them.

Peculiar as a race – lost to their ancient people – they seemed destined to fulfill their mission and slowly fade away. Possessing many noble qualities, yet the great wrongs they suffered goaded them to commit deeds of violence and blood. They knew no guile until they came in contact with civilization; they possessed the attributes of purity until contaminated by the vices of a race claiming to be their superiors; they were temperate until taught by white men how to degrade themselves by the use of “fire water.” Some writers have styled them the Romans of the New World; but like the Romans of the Old World, they drank of the bitter cup and passed away.

* On the draught of the State Road (built in 1799), preserved in the land office at Harrisburg, the cabin of James Yarnall is noted, also that of Samson Babb. Yarnall afterwards settled on the Cowanesque, and gave his name to a small stream in that valley. Some of his descendants still live there.

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