History of Warren County, Chapter 2

CHAPTER II

NATURAL FEATURES, ETC

Topography - Character of Forests - The Soil - Its Products - Minerals - The Animal Kingdom - The Eries - The Kahquahs, or Neuter Nation The Hurons - The Iroquois - Earlier Occupants - Inferences.

IT is deemed fitting, before beginning the record of events, to give a brief description of the natural features of Warren county, together with its occupants, its neighbors, and its relations with the rest of the world, as these existed when the first European came into this vicinity.

The configuration of the surface of the country is the same now as then, and may be described in the present tense. Generally speaking, it is a region of rough and broken superficies. At one time in the world’s history, without a doubt, it was a comparatively smooth table - land, sloping somewhat sharply from the east to west - southwest; but time’s erosions, and the action of the elements during a period beyond the record o€ man, have so changed its exterior that it is now, and for many centuries has been, a land varied with hills, plains, and narrow bottoms. The Kinzua hills, the highest elevations in the county, attain an altitude of nearly two thousand two hundred feet above tide - water. From thence as we proceed westward the hills decrease in height until the western border of the county is reached, where the highest points are only a little more than three - fourths as high as the hills or mountains towering above the valley formed by the waters of Kinzua Creek.

As already indicated, the county is well watered and drained by numerous streams which have played no unimportant part in its settlement and subsequent development. These, together with the minor runs and rivulets, have cut the surface into the irregularly shaped hills and valleys seen today, and have fashioned the bold, precipitous bluffs and hillsides so noticeable along the chief water - courses, more especially in the eastern part. West of the Allegheny and Conewango, however, at some distance back from those streams, the surface assumes a less rugged appearance, and contains a greater number of arable acres per square mile, The county is singularly free from swamps of any extent, and, besides its limpid, swift - flowing streams, springs of pure, soft water generally abound, and frequently are to be found on the highest lands.

Thus far the natural characteristics of Warren county are the same now that they were two centuries ago and had been for unknown ages before, save that less water flows along the streams in summer than when their banks were shaded by the primeval forests. Some new names have been applied by the white man, but in many cases even the names remain unchanged.

The outward dress, however, of these hills and valleys is widely different from what it was during the French occupation. The land originally - excepting, perhaps, the crests and precipitous sides of the highest hills and the few acres of bottom land devoted to the culture of corn, etc., by the Indians - was heavily timbered with pine, hemlock, cherry, whitewood, oak, chestnut, hickory, maple, beech, ash, butternut, and all other varieties indigenous to this portion of America. As fine forests of pine, without a doubt, as ever grew on this continent then occupied the lands along the Brokenstraw, the Conewango, the Tionesta, and the Kinzua. Large bodies of the same species of timber were also to be seen in many other localities; but in the vicinity of the four streams named was centered the bulk of Warren’s timber of commerce. The beech woods of Farmington and the hard - wood uplands of Sugar Grove were also noted as early landmarks.

The soil of the county was - and is - of mold, clay, and loam, variously intermixed, and, as time has proven, is easily cultivated and well adapted to the culture of wheat, corn, oats, barley, buckwheat, rye, etc. Vegetables and the hardier varieties of fruits also do well. In speaking further of the original forest growth and the soil’s fitness for the production of farm products, we will for convenience of description divide the lands of the county into three classes: First, oak and chestnut mainly comprised the timber of the hilly parts, the soil of which has been found well adapted to the growth of the cereals. Second, on the more level lands and those bordering the streams grew a mixture of timber, such as whitewood, cucumber, maple, cherry, beech, butternut, hickory, and occasionally oak and chestnut. This class has proved suitable for the cultivation of the coarser grains, corn, etc., and produces grass in abundance. Third, the pine and hemlock lands, once considered valuable only for their timber; but time and experience have shown that, when cleared and intelligently cultivated, valuable farm lands are the results.

Iron ore and bituminous coal are found in various localities, and quarries of sandstone abound in most parts of the county. These stones are of a superior quality for building purposes, making nearly as good an appearance as granite and other varieties brought from a distance.

In the long ago the animal kingdom was amply represented. The deer strayed in great numbers through the forest. In the thickest retreats the gray wolf made his lair. The huge black bear often rolled his unwieldy form beneath the nut-bearing trees, and frequently the wild scream of the panther, the fiercest of American beasts, startled the Indian hunter into even more than usual vigilance. The porcupine and the raccoon were common, as well as the wildcat and the Canada lynx, and squirrels of various kinds leaped gayly from tree to tree. Here the wild turkey and the partridge often furnished food for the family of the red hunter, pigeons in enormous quantities yearly made their summer home, numerous smaller birds fluttered among the trees; the eagle, hawk, and crow occasionally swept through space just above the tree tops; the streams of pure, sparkling water teemed with America’s choicest fish - the speckled brook - trout; and, besides some varieties of harmless reptiles, thousands of deadly rattlesnakes hissed and writhed among the rocks, on the hillsides, and in the valleys of every portion of the county.

Of all these there is no question. Indeed, of all the living things enumerated in the foregoing paragraph, all yet exist here, with the exception, perhaps, of the gray wolf, the wild turkey, and the panther. But whether or not the buffalo ever honored the upper Allegheny valley with his lordly presence has been a matter of considerable speculation and debate. We think that he did. It is well authenticated that when the French first appeared on the stream, flowing but a few miles westward from the western boundary of Warren county - by the Indians known as the "Wenango," by the French as the "River Le Boeuf," and by the English and Americans as French Creek - great numbers of buffalo were found there. For that reason the river was named Le Boeuf, or Beef River, by the exploring French missionaries, and many years subsequently the fort built on or near the site of Waterford by the French was given the same appellation - Le Boeuf. The buffalo is an animal of great endurance, over on the move by day and frequently at night, and capable of traversing many miles in each twenty - four hours. There was none to molest or make him afraid other than small parties of Indian hunters. He was free to roam in any and all directions. Hence we infer and conclude that, at a time when these animals frequented French Creek valley in such large numbers, they also at intervals visited the Allegheny and disported in its cool, clear waters.

At the time of which we are now speaking, the date of the coming of the first French missionaries and traders to these regions, the country bordering the southern shores of Lake Erie, and for a great but unknown distance to the south of it, was in the possession of two strong tribes or nations, known as the Errieronons or Erie or Cat nation, and the Andestiquerons or Kahquah nation. As Eries and Kahquahs they were generally known, and these are the names we have adopted in speaking of them.

The French also called the Kahquahs (who occupied territory to the eastward of the Eries) the Neuter nation, because they lived at peace with the fierce tribes which dwelt on either side of them They were reported by their first European visitors to number twelve thousand souls. This, however, was doubtless a very great exaggeration, as that number was greater than was to be found among all the Six Nations of the Iroquois in the day of their greatest glory. It is a universal habit to exaggerate the number of barbarians, who cover much ground and make a large show in comparison with their real strength. They were undoubtedly, however, a large and powerful nation, as size and power were estimated among Indian tribes. Their chief village was located on or near the site of the city of Buffalo, N.Y., though others were found throughout the wide territory occupied by them.

The greater part of the shore of Lake Erie, however, was occupied by the tribe from which the lake derives its name, the Eries. This name is always mentioned by the early French writers as meaning "cat." On Sauson’s map, published in 1651, Lake Erie is called "Lac du Chat," Lake of the Cat. There were certainly no domestic cats among the Indians until introduced by the whites, and the name must be attributed to the wildcat or panther. It may have been assumed by this tribe because its warriors thought themselves as ferocious as these animals, or may have been assigned to them by their neighbors because of the abundance of wildcats and panthers in the territory inhabited by the Eries.

To the northwest of the Neuter nation dwelt the Algonquins, or Hurons, reaching to the shores of the great lake which perpetuates their name, while to the eastward of the former was the home of those powerful confederates whose fame has extended throughout the world, whose civil polity has been the wonder of sages, whose warlike achievements have compelled the admiration of soldiers, whose eloquence has thrilled the hearts of the most cultivated hearers - the brave, the sagacious and far - dreaded Iroquois! They then consisted of but five nations, and their "Long House," as they termed their confederacy, extended from east to west through all the rich central portion of the State of New York. The Mohawks were in the fertile valley of the Mohawk River; the Oneidas, the most peaceful of the confederates, were beside the lake, the name of which still keeps their memory green; then, as now, the territory of the Onondagas was the gathering - place of leaders, though State and other conventions have taken the place of the council fires which once blazed near the site of Syracuse; the Cayugas kept guard over the beautiful lake which now bears their name, while westward from Seneca Lake ranged the fierce, untamable "men of the hills," better known as the Senecas, the warriors par excellence of the confederacy. Their villages reached westward to within thirty or forty miles of the Niagara, or to the vicinity of the present village of Batavia, N.Y.

For many years deadly war prevailed between the Iroquois and the Hurons, and the hostility between the former and the Eries was scarcely less fervent. Betwixt these contending foemen the peaceful Kahquahs long maintained their neutrality, and the warriors of the East, of the Northwest, and of the Southwest suppressed their hatred for the time, as they met by the council fires of these aboriginal peace - makers.

Like other Indian tribes, the Kahquahs guarded against surprise by placing their villages a short distance back from any navigable water - in this case from the Niagara River and Lake Erie. One of those villages was named Onguiaahra, after the mighty torrent which they designated by that name - a name which has since been shortened and transformed into Niagara. In dress, food, and customs the Kahquahs do not appear to have differed much from the other savages around them: wearing the same scanty covering of skins, living chiefly on meat killed in the chase, but raising patches of Indian corn, beans, and gourds.

Such were the inhabitants of a region which was then crossed by no imaginary lines of latitude and longitude, State, county, or township, and such their surroundings, when first visited by the French.

Of the still earlier occupants of this territory but little will be said, for there is really very little from which one can draw a reasonable inference. The Iroquois and the Hurons had been in New York and Canada for many generations before the advent of the white man. Their earliest European visitors heard no story of their having recently migrated from other lands, and they certainly would have heard it had any such assertion been made. True, there were some vague traditions among the Iroquois tending to show that they originally came from Canada, but at a period long before their discovery by the whites. The Eries and Kahquahs must also have been for a goodly time in the localities occupied by them, to have acquired the strength in numbers, and the power necessarily required to maintain their positions - the first, as the deadly enemies of the Iroquois; the second, as a great neutral nation standing between these opponents.

Says Crisfield Johnson, in his interesting "History of Erie County, N.Y." - whose views on this topic coincide with our own - "All or any of these tribes might have been on the ground they occupied in 1620 any time from a hundred to a thousand years, for all that can be learned from any reliable source. Much has been written of mounds, fortifications, bones, relics, etc., usually supposed to have belonged to some half-civilized people of gigantic size, who lived here before the Indians, but there is very little evidence to justify the supposition.

"It is true that numerous earthworks, evidently intended for fortifications, have been found in this county, as in other parts of Western New York, inclosing from two to ten acres each and covered with forest trees, the concentric circles of which indicate an age of from two hundred to five hundred years, with other evidences of a still earlier growth. These prove with reasonable certainty that there were human inhabitants here several hundred years ago, and that they found it necessary thus to defend themselves against their enemies, but not that those inhabitants were of an essentially different race from the Indians who were discovered here by the earliest Europeans.

"It has been suggested that the Indians never built breastworks, and that these fortifications were beyond their patience and skill. But they certainly did build palisades, frequently requiring much labor and ingenuity. When the French first came to Montreal they discovered an Indian town of fifty huts, which was encompassed by three lines of palisades some thirty feet high, with one well - secured entrance. On the inside was a rampart of timber, ascended by ladders and supplied with heaps of stones ready to be cast at an enemy. When Samuel de Champlain, the founder of Canada, at the head of a large body of Hurons and accompanied by ten Frenchmen, attacked the principal village of the Onondagas, near Onondaga Lake, in October, 1615, he found it defended by four rows of interlaced palisades, so strong that, notwithstanding the number of his followers, the firearms of his Frenchmen, and his own gallant leadership, he was unable to overcome the resistance of the Onondagas, and was compelled to retreat across Lake Ontario.

"Certainly those who had the necessary patience, skill, and industry to build such works as those were quite capable of building intrenchments of earth. In fact, one of the largest fortresses of Western New York, known as Fort Hill, in the town of Le Roy, Genesee county, contained, when first discovered, great piles of round stones, evidently intended for use against assailants, and showing about the same progress in the art of war as was evinced by the palisade builders.

"True, the Iroquois when first discovered did not build forts of earth; but it is much more likely that they had abandoned them, in the course of improvement, for the more convenient palisades, than that a whole race of half - civilized men had disappeared from the country, leaving no other trace than these earth - works. Considering the light weapons then in vogue, the palisade was an improvement on the earth - work, offering equal resistance to missiles and much greater resistance to escalades.

"Men are apt to display a superfluity of wisdom in dealing with such problems, and to reject simple explanations merely because they are simple. The Indians were here when the country was discovered, and so were the earth - works; and what evidence there is, goes to show that the former constructed the latter.

"It has been claimed that human bones of gigantic size have been discovered; but when the evidence is sifted and the constant tendency to exaggerate is taken into account, there will be found no reason to believe that they were relics of any other race than the American Indians.

"The numerous small axes or hatchets which have been found throughout Western New York were unquestionably of French origin, and so, too, doubtless, were the few other utensils of metal which have been discovered in this vicinity.

"On the whole, we may safely conclude that, while it is by no means impossible that some race altogether different from the Indians existed here before them, there is no good evidence that such was the case, and the strong probabilities are that if there was any such race it was inferior, rather than superior, to the people discovered here by the Europeans."

SOURCE: Page(s) 15-20, History of Warren County, J.S. Schenck & W.S. Rann, Syracuse, New York: D. Mason, 1887