Cameron County

Formation of County -- Location of County Seat --Courts --Officers --Trails and Roads -- Settlers -- Transportation -- Courts -- Whiskey -- Animals -- John Brooks -- Schools and Churches -- Newspapers -- The Clafflin Girls -- Desperadoes -- Store -- Townships -- Indian Atrocities


Cameron County, named for the Hon. Simon Cameron, was organized by act of Assembly, March 29, 1860, from parts of Clinton, Elk, McKean, and Potter Counties. It contains three hundred and eight-one square miles, two hundred and forty-three thousand eight hundred and forty acres, and is within the purchase of October 23, 1784, known as the New Purchase. Its history is not germane to this book, but I will give some reminiscences of the pioneer settlers, being mostly writings of John Brooks and taken from the county history.

The same Indians were here in great numbers that inhabited the northwest purchase, and countless thousands of rattle- and other snakes. If the man "who eats them alive" had been one of the pioneers, he soon would have weighed four hundred pounds.

The celebrated battle of Peter Groves with the Indians took place at the mouth of a creek called Groves Run, just near the first fork of the Sinnemahoning. It occurred long before the whites were there. John Rohrer was the pioneer surveyor in the county in 1786. Sinnemahoning was surveyed in 1805. The pioneer preaching in the county was by a circuit rider in 1810, at Sinnemahoning.

The pioneer settlement was at second fork, now called Driftwood. In 1804 John Jordan, a mighty hunter, settled there. In 1808, William Nanny settled a short distance up the Bennett's branch. The pioneers jocularly called him "Billy Nanny." Other settlers located in this vicinity. In 1810 John Earl, Sr., was the pioneer to settle on the site of what is now Emporium.

"The immigrants made their entrances by the Indian paths on foot or on horseback, or by canoes or Indian boats propelled against the current by setting poles. These boats or canoes were manned by a bowman and a steersman, who, by placing their poles with steel-pointed sockets upon the bottom of the stream, threw their weight upon the poles thus placed, and by frequent and repeated processes and propulsions (guiding the boat at the same time) often made fifteen to twenty-five miles a day against the current with a cargo of three-quarters to one ton weight in their boats. On some occasions, in case of low water in the streams, the boat's crew would be compelled to remove the gravel and fragments of rock from the line of their course, and wade for miles at a time, carrying and dragging their boats forward by their almost superhuman strength; such frequent exercises developed an unusually vigorous muscle, and it would seem fabulous to relate the extraordinary feats frequently performed by these athletics of pioneer life."

"The early settlers were a hardy, active, energetic, go-a-head class of people, hailing mostly from eastern and middle Pennsylvania, from the State of New Jersey, and from the New England States. As a class they were rude, yet honest in their dealings; though boorish, they were hospitable and generous. The first settlers in America brought with them the traditions of Europe, and the fearful condemnations for witchcraft began at Salem, in 1692. Three children of Rev. Dr. Parris complained of being tortured by witches. The excitement soon spread, and others, both adults and children, complained of being bewitched, and accused those against whom they held some pique. Rev. Cotton Mather, Rev. Mr. Noyes, of Salem, the president of Harvard College, and many others encouraged arrests, as the result of which twenty persons, suspected of witchcraft, were executed in one year, while many others were banished. Some of the pioneers of this county, in order to protect themselves from witchery, would burn hen's feathers, and assafoetida, for incense, and shoot silver slugs at rudely drawn portraits of those who were suspected of witchcraft. A kind of lunacy also prevailed to some extent; potatoes and other vegetables were planted in the moon, or rather when the horns of the moon indicated the proper time. Houses were roofed when the horns of the moon were down, so that the shingles would not cap and draw the nails; fences were laid when the horns of the moon were up, that the rails might not sink into the ground, and the medicinal wants of these primitive people were not administered to in any degree in accordance with the practice of more modern times."

"The early settlers were for a long time compelled to bring all their supplies from Big Island in canoes. Lock Haven did not then exist. Three men named Moran, Hugh Penny, and McKnight kept store at ' Big Island,' who used to furnish the settlers with their supplies and take their timberrafts as pay. The nearest store in 1820 was six miles above Clearfield town, and kept by John Irvin. Notwithstanding, the store at Big Island, though more remote, was for most purposes most convenient to trade with. Being along the river, it could be reached with the canoes, and besides, for the same reason, it was easier to convey the timber in exchange."

"A considerable amount of whiskey was consumed, and a canoe was not considered properly laden unless at least one barrel of the stimulant was among the stores. The trip up was generally made lively by its cheering influence. The article was then, as now, potent in its influence over the hearts of men. He who had a bottle of whiskey in his hands and a barrel in his canoe possessed the open sesame to every heart and every house. They were also compelled to convey their grain in the same manner down the river to Linden, near Williamsport, to be ground, and then pole it back again to their residences, nearly one hundred miles. Some used hand-mills for their corn, and in time small grist-mills were established at various places in the county. The first grist-mill erected within the limits of the county was located near the mouth of Clear Creek, about 1811. It had no bolt attached to it. The same year Colonel Chadwick built his saw- and grist-mill at the mouth of North Creek. This had a good bolt attached, and is said to have made good flour."

"Early in the 'thirties' William Lewis, of Shippen, tracked a wolf to his rocky den, and then called on Ben. Freeman to assist in the capture. The latter was left at the mouth of the cave to shoot the animal, while Lewis entered to hunt him out. After a long creep through the darkness, Lewis saw the glaring eyes of the animal, but on went the hunter, until the scared wolf jumped past him, only to be shot by Freeman. Lewis, proceeding farther, caught two whelps, and carried them home."

"In 1832, when the salt-works were running on Portage Creek, a strong lumberman named Magee went to the deer lick, a mile from the works, to watch for deer. Looking from his blind in the early evening, he saw two gleaming eyes among the lower branches of a tree not far away. Thinking it was a wild cat, he took a steady aim, fired, and in an instant he saw the body of a huge panther fall to earth. Without halting, he fled to the works. Returning with help next morning, the men found the panther dead, the largest ever known in this section of Pennsylvania. . . . George Parker, who resides three miles above Sizer's Springs, killed three thousand deer, three hundred elks, ten panthers, one hundred and fifty black bears, and other game, with a gun which he purchased in 1839. This was exclusive of his heavy hunting here in earlier years." He is now dead.

John Brooks, speaking of pioneers, says,--

"Occupying, as they did, the remote outskirts of civilization, they were subjected to many privations incident to this rugged section of country. Several of these early immigrants had done efficient service in the Revolutionary War and in the war of 1812. Almost all of the vocations of the industrial classes were represented, and all could aid in the work of extemporizing a cabin for the accommodation of the recent immigrant. Among these early pioneers there were but few who professed Christianity, practically; most of them, however, held some theory of religion, mostly Baptist or Presbyterian in their views. Profanity was the common spice of conversation, and God was. if ' not in all their thoughts,' in all their mouths, and invoked in execrations and imprecations more frequently than by benedictions.

The use of whiskey was general; used by clergymen and at funerals, and upon all occasions; some more recent immigrants kept no cow, but always kept whiskey in their houses, alleging that a barrel of whiskey was of more value in a family than a cow."

Some of the descendants of the early settlers yet have a remarkable prescience, and they prognosticate seasons and storms with great assurance. Their prevision enables them to anticipate all the changes of the weather, and they are remarkable for their generosity, essaying upon every opportunity to gratuitously advise all who may hear their converse of the future approaching vicissitudes, and mutations, that so much concern the lunatics. Some consult the milt or spleen of the hog, that organ situate in the left hypochondrium, and which was supposed by the ancients to be the seat of anger and melancholy; and from this organ they augur the severity of the approaching winter. Some would quench their fires to prevent the generation of salamanders. The shrunken sinews in the shoulder of a horse were cured by placing some of the hair in auger-holes, in some peculiar places, at some pecular lunation. Incised wounds also were more readily healed by anointing the instrument that made the wound. Blood was stayed, pain mitigated, and bots in horses cured by pow-wowing or reciting some cabalistic phrase.

J. J. Chadwick, in his sketch of the Methodist Church, states: "About 1806 Joseph Ellicott opened a road from Dunstown, opposite Big Island, on the Susquehanna, to Ellicottville, New York. Along its course, through the valley of the Sinnemahoning, twenty or thirty families settled previous to the general survey of the region, and, as hunting was the general amusement, every adult male had a rifle and every family a supply of hounds."

John Brooks was the pioneer historian in the county. The pioneer school was taught in the summer of 1817 by Miss Eliza Dodge, in a barn at the mouth of North Creek. The pioneer physician to practise within the county was Dr. Kincaid, father of the great Baptist missionary in India, Eugenio Kincaid. An amusing incident occurred in the doctor's practice,-- viz.: He was treating a patient at the old Dent place on Bennett's Branch. Leaving his pill-bags near the creek while he went into the house, a cow ate the pill-bags and all their contents, and when the doctor returned for them, the cow was quietly chewing her cud. I suppose the patient recovered. I don't know about the cow.

Some time about 1830 "Buck" Clafflin settled at Sinnemahoning and started a store. It was here that Victoria (Mrs. Woodhull) and Tennie C. Clafflin were born, and ran barefoot until from three to five years old. The Shafer house was erected on the Clafflins' old home.

The pioneer election of county officers was held October 11, 1860. The pioneer sessions of court had to be held in a frame school-house. The Philadelphia Land Company had, however, already become alive to the advantages of the situation, and this corporation donated five thousand dollars toward a court-house, on condition that it should be located on lands owned by them, about a quarter of a mile west of the rising village. The situation suggested was eminently desirable, being a sightly knoll; and, as individual enterprise furnished the remainder of the necessary funds, the pioneer court-house required no levy of taxes. In December, 1860, a newspaper, called The Citizen, opened a journalistic career, although there was at the time only twenty-seven buildings and not more than one hundred and ten inhabitants in the village, which was incorporated as a borough in 1864. Previous to incorporation it was known as Shippen, being a part of Shippen Township. But a century previous, a shrewd reasoner, that cities are the result of geographical situation, had cut the name "Emporium" on the bark of a tree when its site was naught but a savage wilderness, and this name was put in the act of incorporation as a borough, with the confident expectation that the conceptive possibility would swiftly crystalize.

In 1900 I. H. Musser wrote the following data of Cameron County:


"Before the advent of the white man the Indians had a town on the Sinnemahoning just east of the First Fork, and in historical times it was called 'The Lodge.' Many relics have been discovered on the site of it. This is probably the only place within the present limits of the county for which there is undisputed evidence of an Indian town.

"The first settlement by a white man was on the site of Driftwood, then called the Second Fork, as the site of the village of Sinnemahoning was called the First Fork. This was in 1804, and the settler was John Jordan, who, with his family of wife and five sons, made the wilderness his home, built his cabin, and began a clearing. But if the country was a wilderness in every sense of our modern acceptation of the term, it was a paradise in one respect, and that was in its home for game. The deer, the elk, the bear, the panther, the wolf, not to speak of smaller game, the delight of the present huntsman, such as pheasants, quails, squirrels, etc., made the mountains and the well-watered bottoms their home and roamed almost unmolested through the dense forests of pine, hemlock, oak, and other woods. The streams were alive with the gamiest of trout, salmon, pike, and the other members of the finny tribe that have always appealed the strongest to the sportsman. And last, but by no means the least dangerous, was the rattlesnake, which even to this day does not hesitate to continue the losing contest for the maintenance of its ancient rights with the aggressive human member of the animal kingdom. Jordan was a hunter, and this perhaps more than anything else influenced him in the selection of his new home. He was at the time about forty years of age, and in the prime of life. He is said to have killed ninety-six elks, besides any amount of other game.

"In 1806 Levi Hicks, Andrew Overturf, and Samuel Smith settled on lands between the First and the Second Forks, Hicks occupying what in recent time is known as the Shaeffer farm. Smith was a single man. The same year was opened the public highway, leading from Dunnstown, nearly opposite the present Lock Haven, up the river to Cook's Run, thence across the mountains to Driftwood, and from thence northward to Ellicottville, New York, where the Holland Land Company had an extensive scope of territory. This company was instrumental in no small degree in having the road laid out. In 1811 the pioneer grist-mill in the county was built at the mouth of Clear Creek. In 1812 Hicks sold out to Jacob Burge, who had come to the vicinity a year or two previous, and moved up the Bennett's Branch. He (Hicks) made the first raft and floated it down the Sinnemahoning, and was thus the pioneer in an occupation that was the chief industry along that stream for many years.


"As stated before, game was plenty, and formed a most important article for the table. The woods were full of game of all kinds, and the hunter had every opportunity to indulge in the sport, dangerous though it may have been sometimes.


*' It is not to be supposed that a section of country as wild as the West Branch was a hundred years ago would not furnish at least some desperate characters. Of such were Lewis and Connely who for a number of years infested what is now Centre, Clinton, and Cameron Counties. They committed so many deeds of outlawry, and the local officers seemed so far unable to deal with them, that the state offered a reward of six hundred dollars for their apprehension, dead or alive. Having done considerable robbing in the vicinity of what is now Lock Haven, they escaped to the Sinnemahoning country and, continuing their lawlessness, were finally surrounded at a house on Bennett's Branch, where both were wounded, Connely mortally, dying in a short time, and Lewis, being captured and taken to the Bellefonte jail, died soon after.

"The pioneer store was opened in 1829 or 1830, at Sinnemahoning, by Buckman Clafflin. Here Mrs. Victoria Woodhull and Tennessee Clafflin were born.

"The Cameron Citizen was the first to enter the journalistic arena in the county. It had been founded at Smethport by F. A. Allen in 1853. Allen sold it to Lucius Rogers in 1858, who moved the plant to Emporium on the formation of the new county, and on December 28, 1860, the first number was issued. William R. Rogers was a member of the firm at Emporium. The next year Lucius Rogers received an appointment to recruit a company for the war, and, leaving for the field, the Citizen was discontinued in the latter part of August, 1861.

"The Cameron County Press was founded in 1866 through the efforts of a number of Emporium gentlemen who wanted a Republican paper, and who purchased the material of the defunct Citizen. They then sent for Mr. C. B. Gould, who at that time was a resident of Binghamton, New York. Mr. Gould came, and after meeting with much discouragement, not the least of which was the condition of the printing material, issued the first number of the Press, March 8, 1866, and thus began a career in the county that was distinguished for honor and integrity not less than for success in the editorial field. The paper was a small affair at first, but, with increasing prosperity, it was enlarged until at present it is an eight-page, forty-eight column paper. In 1877 the office was burned with all its contents, and without any insurance, but Mr. Gould began anew, and success again crowned his efforts. On May 25, 1897, Mr. Gould died, and he was succeeded by Mr. H. H. Mullin, his son-in-law, as editor and publisher. Mr. Mullin has been connected with the office for thirty-two years, and prior to Mr. Gould's death had for some years been the de facto editor.


"No county in the State has a better drainage system than Cameron. Except the extreme northwest, the entire county is drained by the Sinnemahoning and its tributaries, and this stream flows into the West Branch of the Susquehanna at Keating Station, in Clinton County, not more than seven or eight miles from the Cameron County line. The divide between the Susquehanna and the Allegheny River systems crosses the northwest corner of the county, barely a mile from the boundary, but within that area rises a small stream that mingles its waters with the streams of the Mississippi system. The main stream of the Sinnemahoning rises in Potter County, within perhaps a mile of the Allegheny River, and. flowing almost due south, is joined by the Driftwood Branch at the village of Sinnemahoning, and thence flows southeastward, leaving the county near Grove Station. It receives within the county, after its juncture with the Driftwood, Wyckoff and Upper Jerry Runs.


"The area of the county is three hundred and eighty-one miles, or two hundred and forty-three thousand eight hundred and forty acres. It is therefore one of the smaller counties of the State, there being but nine less in size.


"Cameron County contains five townships--Shippen, Portage, Lumber, Gibson, and Grove--and two boroughs,--Emporium and Driftwood. The villages of more or less importance are Sinnemahoning, Sterling Run. Cameron, and Sizerville.

"There is but one recorded conflict that took place on the Sinnemahoning during the period of the Revolutionary War. Farther down the West Branch numerous actions took place that in almost every case could be designated by no other name than massacres, for whether it was the Indian or the white man, each fought only from ambush and tried to exterminate the ambushed party. Perhaps the most important event of the war was what was called ' The Great Runaway.' This was in 1778, immediately after the Wyoming massacre, when, the news reaching the people along the West Branch, they hastened down the river to Fort Augusta, leaving their fields and crops to the savage. A few ventured to return shortly after to gather their crops, and a number were killed by the Indians, among the rest James Brady, whose son Captain Sam Brady amply avenged his death and became the hero of perhaps more exploits than any other border-man of his time.

"In 1780 occurred the affair on the Sinnemahoning. The Indians had made an incursion into Buffalo Valley, Union County, and had committed depredations as far as Penn's Creek, fully twelve miles back from the river. The Groves, noted Indian fighters, lived a few miles east of the present Mifilinburg, where their descendants are still to be found. The elder Grove was killed, but by whom or in what way was not known until a pretended friendly Indian, while drunk, revealed the manner to Peter Grove, a son of the murdered man, by imitating the elder Grove undergoing tortures inflicted by the 'friendly' and his companions. Peter wisely said nothing, nor did he by his countenance reveal any idea of revenge, nor of horror at the recital of the revolting crime, but he immediately after headed a scouting party in pursuit, and at Grove's Run in the present village of Sinnemahoning they attacked the party of twenty-five or thirty Indians while they were asleep and killed a number of them, but as there were only five or six in Grove's party, the Indians rallied and drove them off, without, however, any injury being sustained by Grove and his friends. Five or six Indians were killed in this engagement. On their return the whites waded the creek for a considerable distance to avoid pursuit."

SOURCE:  Pages 486-493, A pioneer outline history of northwestern Pennsylvania , William J McKnight, 1905


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