Chapter 01 - Indians, History of Columbia and Montour Counties

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Chapter I - Indians
History of Columbia and Montour Counties, Pennsylvania

 

CIVILIZATION struck the native savages of this continent like a blight. The great and populous tribes and their strong bands of warriors and hunters, fiercer than any -wild beast and as untamable as the eagle of the crags, have faded away, and the remnants of the once powerful and warlike nations are now huddled upon reservations, and in stupid squalor are the paupers of our nation, begging a pitiful crust of bread, or in cold and hunger awaiting the allowances doled out by the Government for their support. The swiftness with -which they are approaching ultimate extinction, the stoicism with which they see and feel the inevitable darkness and destiny closing upon them and their fate is the most tragical epic in history. Soon their memory will be only a fading tradition. To real history they will give no completed chapter, because they did nothing and were nothing as factors in the grand march of civilizing forces. They gave the world no thought, no invention, no idea that will live or that deserves to be classed with the few things born of the human brain that live and go on forever. As a race they had no inherent powers of self-development or advancement. Like the wild animal they had reached the limits of their capacity, and had they been left here undisturbed. by the white race, they would have gone on indefinitely in the same circle-savages breeding savages. Such are nature's resistless laws that the march of beneficent civilization is over a great highway paved with the bodies and broken bones of laggard nations-nations who pause within the boundary line separating the ignorant savage from intelligent progress. Nature tolerates none of this sentimental stuff of "Lo, the poor Indian." It wastes no time in futile tears over the sufferings of ignorance and filth, but "removes" them and lets the fittest survive, and to them belong the earth and the good things thereof. Ignorance is the worst of deformities, and it is sickness and premature death to any people or nation. Knowledge is simply the understanding of the physical and mental laws. In the briefest words, this is all there is of it. It is not in reading Latin or Greek, no more is it in metaphysical mathematics--the committing to memory of books or the other thousand and one things that were once so eagerly memorized and esteemed the perfect wisdom.

The one characteristic that will ever redeem the memory of the Indian race from contempt is his intense love for his -wild liberty and his unconquerable resolution never to be enslaved-a menial drawing the wood and receiving the blows of the lash from a master's hand. He would sing his death song and die like the greatest of stoics, but he would not 'be yoked. When penned up as a criminal, he beat against the iron bars like the caged eagle, and slowly perished, but died like an Indian brave, and rejoicing that thus he could escape the farther tortures that to him were far beyond death itself.

The treatment of the red men by the Government has not been wise and generally was not just. Often cruelly robbing them-not in the sense we took their lands, because their title of priority amounted generally to no more than did the possession of the nest of bumble bees, or the migrating birds and buffaloes-but Government traders swindled them of their pelts, furs and game, and gave them the worst evils of our civilization-whisky, powder, lying, deceit and hypocrisy. Government agents and missionaries preached and enjoined upon them our splendid Christian code of morals, and the busy traffickers robbed swindled and debauched and murdered them without hindrance or rebuke. Our National Indian Bureau has, from its foundation, been the failure of the ago-a failure horribly expensive in our public treasury and the blood and lives of our people. Earnest and noble missionaries took their lives in their hands and went among them, carrying the Cross of our Lord and Master. Often entire tribes would in a day, after hearing the first time the story of Calvary and the Cross, profess religion, ask to be baptized, and in a body, because for the moment Christians. But they were Christians as they understood it, and when Joliet had thus converted a tribe, they adopted the flag of the Cross, and with this war banner, a talisman of victory and death to their enemies given to them by the great Manitou, they went gladly forth on their holy mission for scalps. This was but ignorance, the intense credulity of ignorance trying to cleanse the filthy body by putting on clean clothes, that only soiled the clothes and did not clean the body at all. It was an attempt to make these people moral and Christianize them by commencing the wrong way. The first thing to do was to give them comprehension, if possible, some rudiments of true knowledge -to see the difference between truth and error, and then better morals would o of themselves inevitably follow. The Government made even a worse mistake in its use of them-treating with them as independent nations, and at the same time as national wards, to be fed, clothed and armed-independent people, public paupers, under distinct rules and laws of government; giving them lands and taking them from them at will; penning them up, like the great western cattle ranches, and sending them agents and traders to feed them on rotten food and cheat them; fill them with the fiery liquid of hell to stupefy and drive them to starvation and death. When this long and terrible tragedy has been played out to the end, the curtain rang down upon the last sad scene, then will not some philosopher rise up and tell the world how all this mistake could have been mostly spared us? On behalf of our people and Government the way was plain and simple, when the Anglo-Saxon placed his foot upon this continent never to take it up, had taken possession of it by right of discovery and purchase and organized his government, had he simply said to the Indian, as to his own people, you are one us-.not a voter, but a citizen-and so far as liberty and property are concerned, you are under the same laws as the white man and none other; you must obey the law and be a good citizen, otherwise we will punish you as we do our own. Now live as you please, but you must support yourselves or starve. This rich world is before you, take care of yourselves and we will protect you as we protect ourselves, no more and no less. This plan, it seems, was too plain and simple for our fathers, or for us to adopt. Yet it is among the, fundamental principles of all just and wise governments. A good government should be neither a hangman nor a great boarding-house keeper. It was not made to feed and clothe its people, nor anybody; nor is it an institution for the distribution of alms. A man is a demagogue of fearful proportions, or one of amazing ignorance, who believes that it is the duty of the Government in the abstract, to tax one citizen in order to feed and clothe another citizen. Such fallacies are a moister perversion of all healthy ideas of the purposes for which governments were instituted among men. Infuse the people generally with such notions of the powers and duties of rulers, and dry rot, decay and dissolution await it.

In the disposition of this important question it seems that William Penn and Lord Baltimore were more than a century in advance of their age. Their treatment of the Indian is the fairest page of our two centuries and a half of contact with that people. In pity for the ignorance of these children of the forest, they leaned to error's side often in their great charity, justice and integrity in all transactions concerning them; paid them their prices for their possessions, respected every right of theirs and often, rather than reach a fatal disagreement, repaid them for what they had already purchased. If there was any advantage, they gave rather than took it; approached them with kindness and fatherly love rather than the rifle and the stake. In return for all this the people of Pennsylvania should have been spared the tomahawk and the murderous incursions upon their scattered and defenseless frontier settlements. But they were not. A savage knows little of gratitude. His ideas of commerce are simply to sell you anything you want, regardless of whether he owns it or not, and he tries to collect again and again every time he fancies be needs it, the price of the purchase.

In 1768, at Fort Stanwix, the Six Nations, in solemn treaty sold to the proprietaries what was then erected into Northumberland County, now embracing eleven rich and populous counties of this portion of the State. The whites took peaceable possession of their purchase, the Indians retiring to the hills, but for years many still remained within the boundaries of the " new purchase. " A village of Delawares remained where Danville now stands, at the mouth of Mahoning Creek. It was a feeble and harmless remnant of a once powerful race, that had been conquered and nearly destroyed by their more powerful enemies of the five tribes. The terrible ordeal of the war of the Revolution was swiftly approaching and the Indians in the hills lent a willing ear to the emissaries of Great Britain, and the murderous raids down the beautiful valley of the Susquehanna, and -the bloody massacre of the Wyoming are to us the sad' memories of the Indians' treachery and shocking cruelties. In 1776-77 the' raids and murderous forays of the painted savages caused such alarm and terror among the people of this wild region that all who could get away fled for their lives to the older settlements or to the stockades and forts nearest at. hand. A chain of forts had been erected along the line of our northern border. One of these was at Washingtonville and the other was Fort Mead. At. this long distance of time we can have but little appreciation of the dread apprehension that for these long years rested upon these hardy borderers, especially the women and children, like a hideous nightmare. The Indians continued these depredations and retreats to their mountain fastnesses until the expedition of Gen. Sullivan in 1779, which cleared this portion of the borders of both the British and Indians, driving them as far north as Ithaca, Newton and Painted Post, in the neighborhood of Elmira. Thus, in the year 1780 the set- tlers were enabled to return to their homes in Montour County and resume their peaceful avocations of subduing the forests and planting their virgin: fields.

In May, 1780, Robert Curry and his wife were traveling on horseback on their way from Northumberland to the Mahoning settlement, and when near, midway of the two places they were attacked by the savages. He was killed and scalped, his skull being broken into fragments by blows with the tomahawk. She was taken prisoner. They greatly admired her jet black hair. They told her sly was "heap pretty squaw," and promised they would not 'hurt her. When night overtook them and they went into camp, they tied her hands and feet with hickory bark. When the savages were sound asleep, she out the bark from her wrists and ankles with a pair of scissors that she had concealed, and which the captors had failed to find in the search of her person. She then stole away and fled for life into the darkness. She had gone no great distance when she was missed, and they commenced a vigorous search with lighted torches. She saw she was pursued, and hastily concealed herself in the top of a fallen tree. They passed over the trunk of the tree, and as they did so kept crying out, "come out squaw, we see you." But she lay only the closer in her hiding-place, satisfied they had not seen her. After a long search they abandoned further efforts, and soon broke camp and continued their journey. When convinced they were well gone she ventured out and returned to the place where was her murdered husband. She had her husband's mangled body brought to Danville, and buried in the old, first cemetery, the third interment in this old graveyard. The Indians approached a cabin (the exact spot nor the name of the family cannot now be definitely known, but it is supposed it was near the north line of Montour County), they found there a mother and two daughters. They murdered the mother and look the daughters prisoners; they started to attack another settler's house, when the eldest girl prisoner told them not to go there as there was a number of white men assembled there for mutual defense. The Indians cautiously reconnoitered, and found this was true, and they seemed pleased at this can-ion given them, and concluded they would not murder the girl, but promised her protection. They were about to murder her young sister, however, who they said was too small to make the journey to Canada, where they were going. The older sister now begged and entreated to spare her little sister, promised that she would carry her in her arms when she could not keep up; that she should not delay the party in their travels. The Indians listened to her earnest pleadings, and spared the child on condition that she would tarry her when she could not travel fast enough or gave out. One of the men cut off a portion of the eldest girl's dress, and made a band to put over her shoulders, in which the young one was placed. When they camped that night he made her a pair of moccasins, which were of great service in the toilsome journey. Many times the party attempted to steal horses on which they could expedite their journey, but without success. They were obliged to keep in the rear of the settlements on the way, and, as expert thieves as all Indians were, they suffered often seriously for food. Amid all these weary marches and sufferings the brave girl, without a complaint, bore the weight of her sister, and the party finally reached Montreal in safety. Here they remained a year when the elder sister was exchanged and returned to her home, but was obliged to leave her sister in captivity. One of the Indians claimed they could not part with the child, that his squaw had come to love her, and they must keep her. This was the last her friends ever heard of her. The returned captive afterward married Mr. Davis, of Limestone Township.

In 1782 three boys were passing along the road or trail, loitering and playing. When they turned and started home, one of them, named David Carr, loitered behind until the other two passed out of view, when he was pounced upon by the Indians from their hiding-place in the bushes close by, and carried off a captive. He remained a prisoner with the savages several years.

MADAME MONTOUR

A name destined to forever remain in America, not so much for who she was or what she did, but because her name has been given to this county, to Montour's Ridge, Montoursville, and many other places of historical interest, ,that will keep it ever green and fresh in the minds of all people. Already you may ask the average citizen here in Montour County, the young generation of course, and they can not tell you whence the name is derived. It is but little the historian now can tell you of Madame Montour. She was a white woman by birth, and an Indian by adoption and choice. What her maiden name was is not known. She had the name of Montour from her dusky husband, Roland Montour. As the name is clearly French, Roland must have been given a French name by the French settlers in Canada, and even his Indian name, if he had any, is as completely lost as is the Madame's. Her superior intelligence, it seems, manifested itself even to the dull brains of the savages, ere she had long made her home among them and become one of them, and they yielded much to her superior powers. That she never turned renegade to her own race is the one fact that has preserved her grateful memory, and is the sole cause of the name of Montour being now known to mankind at all. It is not known how long Roland lived after their marriage. It seems they had four children, one, a daughter, who married an Indian, and at one time lived near Shamokin. There were three sons. Some chroniclers have tried to identify Madame Montour to be that squaw, "the old fury Queen Esther," but this evidently was incorrect. The Madame was ever friendly to the whites, and had it in her power, especially in the meetings of the whites and Indians, in forming treaties. The esteem with which in her day she was regarded, may be somewhat inferred by the verbal message sent by Gov. Gordon by his deputies. He said: " Give kindest regards to Madame Montour and to her -estimable husband, and speak to them to the same purpose. Count Zinzendorf speaks in terms of great praise of her in his account of the Indian troubles in the Wyoming. She took an active part in the treaty of Lancaster in July, 1774. This was a very important agreement with the Six Nations, and it is proper to concede more to Madame Montour in bringing the Indians to agree to it than to any one else.

She left two sons, one of whom lived to be a much respected man in his day, looking much more like a sun-tanned French officer of the army than a dirty Indian.

Where Madame Montour died and where she was buried is not now known, and probably never will be ascertained.

Source:  Page(s) 3-7.   History of Columbia and Montour Counties. Battle, J.H., Chicago: A. Warner, 1887.