Chapter V
Early Incidents 

Pioneer Incidents - Early Rafting on the Mahoning and Little Toby - Hunting Wolves, Bears, Panthers, etc.

In the winter of 1800, or 1801, Stephen Roll, August Shultz, and a negro named Fudeon Vancamp, started on foot from near Easton, Pa., to come to Barnett Settlement, of which they had heard such glowing accounts. They got along on their journey all right until they reached the mouth of Anderson’s Creek, in the Susquehanna River, from which place their route lay through the unbroken wilderness. Not being accustomed to pioneer traveling, they started on the last stage of their journey, a distance of thirty-three miles, without providing anything to eat on the way. Soon after they left the Susquehanna River a heavy snow storm set in, and it continued to snow all day until the snow was over two feet deep. Fudge Vancamp, the negro, was the largest and strongest man of the party, and undertook to break the road for the other two; but the cold and hunger at last overcome him, and when within about a mile of Barnett’s he gave out and had to make the rest of the way on his hands and knees. He reached Mr. Barnett’s about midnight, so much exhausted, and so nearly frozen, that it was almost an hour before he revived sufficiently to inform his host of the situation in which he had left his companions. As soon as they learned that there were others in danger of perishing, four or five men started to rescue them. Roll was met a few rods from the house. He had made the last stage of the journey in the same manner that the negro had done. Shultz, however, had given out some two miles back, and was found almost frozen. He lost three toes off one foot, and the great toe off the other, and eventually his life was the forfeit, for he never recovered from the effects of this terrible journey, but died a few months after reaching his home again. Roll and Vancamp recovered in a few days. They both settled near Port Barnett and lived to be old men.

Mrs. Graham, when about fourteen years old, was sent one evening to bring home the cows; but the animals had strayed farther than she anticipated, and before she found them night set in, and a thunder storm coming on, she became bewildered and frightened, and lost her way. Imagining that the wolves were in pursuit of her, she feared to stop in the woods, and making her way to Mill Creek, she waded out to a large rock in the middle of the stream, and there spent the night in terror. She heard the cries of those who were searching for her, but thought their calls, as well as the barking of the dogs, was the howling of the wolves. She was rescued about daylight, when the water was rising rapidly, and before noon the rock was obliterated by the mad flood, and Mill Creek a raging torrent. Mrs. Graham said she was never sent to hunt the cows again, but had her father bade her go, she would have gone in spite of her fear, for, though kind to his family, he was strict in discipline, and none of his children ever thought of disobeying him. It is said that when his son Andrew was a married man with children and a home of his own, if his father told him to do a thing he obeyed at once, without any questioning.

The greatest economy had to be exercised in those early days of which we have spoken, both in regard to food and clothing. No supplies could be had without a long and dangerous journey of forty or fifty miles, and sometimes families found themselves reduced to the greatest straits for food. A venerable lady, of one of the "first families" of the county, informed me that the hardest time she ever experienced was living for a week on dried apples and corn bread, and that their greatest treat was to be able to have "white wheat cakes at Christmas." Another family is said to have been so hard pressed for food that they had to boil the seeds of pumpkins, and yet another who subsisted on green corn for two weeks.

Mrs. Edwin English, of Brookville, relates an incident of her father, Rev. Gara Bishop, one of the pioneer ministers of this region. He was residing in 1825 or 1826 in "Old Town" (Clearfield), and was called to perform a marriage ceremony near the line of Jefferson and Clearfield counties. Mr. Bishop drove in a sleigh - it being in the depth of winter - a distance of twenty miles to the appointed place, and on reaching the house, which stood lone and forlorn in the midst of the white waste, he inquired of the young man who came to meet him at the door, and who appeared to be the sole occupant of the house, whether he could get something for himself and horse to eat, but was informed that he could not procure anything unless he went ten miles farther on. He then inquired for the bride, and was told she would soon be there, and pretty soon his host announced, "There they come now," and looking out he beheld two women wading through the snow, which was more than "knee deep." When they reached the cabin the bride went up into the "loft" to put on her wedding dress, which she had brought in a bundle with her. She returned in a few minutes, and the simple ceremony was soon over. The groom then asked the bride whether she had brought anything with her to eat, as the preacher had had no dinner. She produced a loaf of bread, from which Mr. Bishop was supplied, and when he had appeased his hunger with this dry food, he turned his face homeward, having to drive another twenty miles before he could get anything, for his poor horse, and this, too, over roads that the heavy fall of snow had made almost impassable; and for this hard day’s journey he received one dollar.

Dr. A.M. Clarke relates the following incident: "When I was about twelve or thirteen years of age, I was sent in the winter season with a yoke of oxen and a sled to procure a load of corn from any source from which it could be obtained, and found myself belated in the woods, but at last came to a little clearing, where there was an old man by the name of Stevens and his wife living in a poor log cabin. I was made welcome to the warmth of their fire, which was very pleasant, as I was cold, tired, and perhaps hungry. I had brought forage with me, and the team was soon cared for; and the old lady busied herself for some time in preparing a supper for me. She first fried some salt pork, then greased a griddle with some of the fat procured from the meat, and baked some corn cakes, then made what she called a good cup of rye coffee, sweetened with pumpkin molasses. I was not hungry enough to much enjoy this repast. In the morning, on inquiry of my host, I learned that six miles further down the stream (Bennett’s Branch), I could likely get the corn at a Mr. Johnson’s. I must not return without it, so onward we went in the morning, bought the corn and returned home."

One of the first settlers of the southern portion of the county, and if tradition serves us right, one of the earliest lumbermen of the Mahoning, was Jesse Armstrong, who built his cabin in a bend of the creek, now called Armstrong’s Bend, a short distance below where the mill of James U. Gillespie now stands. He, with William Neal, devised the plan of constructing a raft, and early in the spring of 1818 the two men, with Sally, Armstrong’s wife - and tradition says assisted by two Indians who had been in the neighborhood, perhaps visiting the graves of their people - started on their raft to explore the lower waters of the Mahoning, a peaceful enough stream in summer, but when swollen by the spring rains and melting snows, a veritable, rushing, foaming river. The raft, which was not one of the deftly put together square timber, or board rafts of the present day, but constructed of round logs roughly withed together, was swept down the mad current. The oars were poor, and the oarsmen and pilot unskilled and ignorant of the stream, and at length the frail craft struck on the rocks, and the crew barely escaped with their lives to the shore. Indeed, poor Sally Armstrong would have found a watery grave had not Billy Neal, caught her by her long red hair, and pulled her out of the seething flood. It is said that the eddy where this catastrophe occurred was ever after known as "Sally’s Eddy." Just before this mishap occurred, Sally had prepared some food from the stores which they had with them; but Owenoco, one of the Indians, said, "No, no; we no eat now; may be never eat;" at the same time he was trying with great strength and skill to keep the tossing craft from dashing against the great rocks that loomed up on every side. Suddenly they were drawn into the fearful eddy, and the oar of Owenoco breaking off suddenly, he lost control of the raft. Extricating themselves with difficulty from their perilous predicament, the white men and Indians finally got their broken raft safely moored to shore and tied fast to a tree. Then, by the aid of flint and torch, the Indians called down the sacred fire, which they ascribed as a gift from their Manitou, and soon the little band of lumbermen, and the poor drenched lumber-woman, were gathered around the welcome fire; all their provisions, with the exception of some bread and salt that Sally had placed in a box, which was saved, had gone down into the watery flood, with some crocks of honey, the product of the wild bees, which Sally was taking to Pittsburg to purchase finery with. The bows and arrows of the Indians soon, however, procured them food, and in the cheerful light and warmth of the fire they soon regained their spirits, and after a night’s rest, were ready early the next morning to again undertake the perilous journey, and without any more serious mishaps gained their journey’s end, being safely landed at Pittsburgh, where their dusky companions bade them farewell forever, and wended their way to Canada, there to join the remnant of their tribe.

Armstrong and his wife exchanged their logs for such provisions and wearing apparel as they could carry, and returned on foot to Punxsutawney. It was after night when they came in sight of their cabin, where Adam Long and his wife dwelt with them. The loud barking of the dog announced their coming, and Adam said to his wife, "I bet a deerskin it bees Jess and Sall comin’," and soon the weary travelers were seated around their own fireside, enjoying the rest they so much needed, and while they partook of the repast of bear’s meat, etc., that Mrs. Long hastily provided for them, they told the story of their perilous journey and its successful ending, and Adam Long in turn narrated, the story of his fight with the bear whose skin was then drying on the wall of the cabin, and which he had killed near their very door. "Oh, Lor’! but I am tired" said Mrs. Armstrong, "I would not do that again for all the plagued raft and honey. I feel so crippled up I can scarcely walk." "Yes," said Adam, "put ye give the hunny to te fesh, an’ to te alegatorsh." "Yes, I lost my seven crocks of honey, and if it hadn’t been for Billy Neal I would have went with the honey. I’ll always respect him for that. Jesse never tried to put out his hand to catch me," said the irate dame. "Why Sally," said Armstrong, "you know that when you jumped in I was trying to save myself on the other side of the raft." "But what te tivel you do mit Neal?" said Adam; "did de Injun kill him, or did you sell him mit your raft?" "Oh!" said Jesse, "Neal went with us to Pittsburgh, where we left him. We got on Leslie Ramsey’s boat. I helped push the boat up to Kittanning, and Sally and me come afoot from there along the Indian path. We come it in two days."

Then Adam Long told his story of the bear’s death. His dog had started the bear on the hill above the creek, and they had followed it from crag to crag until it at last, just on the bank of the creek, it turned to give them battle, and caught the dog in its embrace, when the hunter dealt the huge beast a powerful blow with his hatchet. The furious animal relaxed its hold of the dog and sprang at Adam with extended jaws, and seemed to realize that the conflict was for life or death. The hunter’s gun was useless. He had no time to aim at the bear, but springing aside, he drew his long keen hunting-knife, and returned to the charge. The huge black beast was standing erect and received the thrust of the knife in his neck, and as Long was about to give him another blow with his knife he struck him with his powerful paw and stretched him on the ground, while his knife flew from his hand into the creek, and had not the dog at this juncture come to the rescue, poor Adam would never have lived to tell of this exploit; but seeing his master at the mercy of their common enemy, he sprang upon the bear and there ensued a fierce struggle; but the bear was badly wounded, and the dog at last threw him almost into the creek, when the bear gave up the contest, and springing into the water, made for the other shore, the brave dog still holding on to his flank. Adam Long had by this time recovered his faculties, and reloading his gun fired at the bear, the ball taking effect in his shoulder. He then plunged into the creek and encountered him upon the other shore with his hatchet, and soon dispatched him. He believed that the huge beast would have weighed at least four hundred pounds. Adam always loved to narrate this story.

Long had left Westmoreland county to escape being pressed into the service to fight the British in the War of 1812, preferring to be a Nimrod than an Achilles.

As we have said before, the country abounded in wild animals when the early settlers first came; the bear and wolf especially being the terror of the farmer, and the ever vigilant foe of his sheep-fold and pig-pen. Many are the hunting stories related of those times, but we only reproduce a few of them, which come to us well authenticated. In the year 1806 a law was passed allowing a bounty of eight dollars for the scalp of each wolf or panther, and as the skins of these animals were also very valuable, nearly every man turned hunter, not only for the purpose of protecting themselves and their flocks from the depredations of these beasts of prey, but also for the revenue they derived from killing them. They would watch the dens of the wolves when the young wolves had attained a certain size, and capture them, trying to time their visit when the old wolves were absent.

Some time in the spring of 1823 two men, named Timblin and Porter, came to David Postlethwaite’s, in Perry township, to get some whisky - Mr. Postlethwaite kept a "still house" at the time - stating that they were going to hunt for wolves. During the evening the two hunters imbibed so much whisky that Postlethwaite concluded they would not hunt any wolves that evening, and after they left he went to his brother John and told him that if they were going to hunt the wolves they must do it that night, as the other parties would likely start in the morning. They knew where the wolves had a den in a cavern under a huge rock, about three-quarters of a mile from Postlethwaite’s, and about a quarter of a mile from the present Brookville and Indiana road. Just as they came round the rock, David told his brother that the old wolf was in, for he had heard her. His brother doubted this at first, but soon found that David was right. It was then about dusk in the evening. David said, "Well, John, will you go in and shoot her?" "No, I’ll be ----- if I do," said John. "Well, if you wont, I must," said his brother, and at once prepared to go into the den, taking with him his gun, hunting-knife, and a long pole, nine or ten feet long, to feel for the wolf, so that he should not get too near her unawares. After proceeding into the hole about fifteen feet he came to a short turn to the left, where the passage became so narrow that he could proceed with difficulty; about six feet further on he came to another turn to the right, and feeling ahead with his pole, touched the wolf. He had some difficulty in getting her to look towards him, so that he could see her eyes to fire at. He finally got a good aim, leveled, and fired at the brute’s eyes, and then got back as fast as he could past the first turn in the passage, when he listened to see whether his shot had taken effect; but for a time the report of the gun as it reverberated through the cavern was deafening; when this died away he knew by the absence of the old wolf’s breathing that she was dead. His brother then went in and brought her out and nine whelps with her. David’s bullet had struck her a quarter of an inch from the eye. Rattlesnakes were also very plenty, and the danger from them was very great. Some time in the fall of 1823 David Postlethwaite found a rattlesnake den not more than half a mile from his house, and killed forty or fifty of the reptiles. The next spring he and Nathaniel Foster went out to the den to have "a spree killing rattlesnakes." Just as the two men were starting from the house, they met James Stewart, a neighbor, who was coming to Postlethwaite’s on an errand, and invited him to accompany them; so the three, armed with a club apiece, went to the den and in less than two hours had killed three hundred snakes. Mr. Postlethwaite, who related the story to our informant, said that they counted them, and that from forty to sixty dead reptiles lay in a circle of ground not more than ten feet in diameter.

In 1834 or 1835 a man named Long, and John and Jacob Kahle, sons of Frederick Kahle, caught eight young wolves from a den near the present town of Sigel. Long made a hook and fastened it to a stick four or five feet long, and John Kahle, the oldest boy, who was about fourteen, went in and fastening the hook into the hide of a young wolf would pull it out. He took a pine torch with him, and had a rope tied to his foot, and when he would get hold of a young wolf he would pull on the rope and the others would pull him out. This was repeated eight times, but on the ninth trial he caught the old wolf; she growled and snapped her teeth at him. He jerked on the rope but was not strong enough to pull her out. When he got out and told Long, the latter offered him ten dollars if he would go in and bring her out; and on his refusal, tried to get Jacob to go in. Long then made several attempts to go in after her himself, but did not succeed in getting very far. He then tried to get the old animal by blasting the rock with powder; but this also failed, and they then closed up the entrance to the den; but she worked herself out through some other opening, and escaped with her remaining young one. When they commenced to capture the young wolves they thought the old wolf was not in the den.

About the year 1816 Lewis Long and his son William shot five wolves without moving out of their tracks. They first killed the leader of the pack, and then called the rest back by imitating their howling.

William and Jackson Long were noted hunters, hunting and trapping being their occupation for many years, and they had many daring and hair-breadth escapes. Their sure and trusty rifles did much to rid all this wilderness of the dangerous wild beasts that infested it. As their game grew scarce in this region, they removed to the wilder sections, "Boone’s Mountain" being a favorite hunting-ground. Both lived to be old men. The impression prevails that a she bear will fight for her young until she dies, but this is not always the case. In 1836 William and Mathew Smith, of the Beechwoods, gave chase to a bear with three cubs; two of the latter ran up a tree and were captured, while the old bear ran off with the remaining cub, and never came back to look for the missing ones. In 1831 Mrs. Nancy McGhee, of the same locality, heard the pigs squealing, and exclaimed: "The bears are at the hogs," and Mr. McGhee being absent, she and the hired man, Philip McAfferty, each picked up an ax and hastened to the rescue of the imperiled swine. The bear had one down and was preparing to make a meal of it, but fled on their approach; but the hog was so badly hurt that it had to be killed. The panther was the most cautious and crafty animal that the hunters had to contend with. In 1833 Jacob Vasbinder found a panther’s den on Boone’s Mountain. He went with his boys, dogs, and guns to kill the old and capture the young animals. One of the dogs got loose, and unnoticed ran ahead and frightened off the old panther, and scattered the young ones so that they only caught one alive. The dogs killed the rest. The one that was captured was about the size of a cat. It was kept for about a year and then sold to a traveling showman.

In 1834 the Long brothers and Andrew Vasbinder captured a full-grown elk. They surrounded it with their dogs and forced it to take refuge on a high rock. Here the dogs did not dare approach it, for it would have soon trampled them to death with its sharp hoofs. The hunters after some trouble succeeded in throwing a rope over its head, and thus captured it; but they forced it home too roughly, and it only survived the capture three weeks.

The boldest feat on record is that of Jackson Long, a son of William, who as late as the year 1850, entered a panther’s den and shot the savage animal by the light of his glowing eyes.

We have no record of any deaths occurring from wild animals, but the above incidents will show how wary the early settlers had to be at all times, and the perils they had to undergo in ridding the county of these beasts of prey. In those times "vigilance was the price of safety."

In 1828 the Little Toby lumbermen came to the conclusion that money could be made by running their lumber to Pittsburgh, but the accumulation of driftwood, rocks, and short bends in the stream, caused it to be un-navigable, and much work had to be done removing the drift, blasting rocks, and making new channels, so that no rafts could be started for the market until in May, 1830, when the lumber from the three mills on Little Toby, operated by the Brockways, Philetus Clarke, J. Horton, H. and L. Warner, Alanson Viall, and perhaps some others, was with much labor and difficulty got ready to run. The late Dr. A.M. Clarke gives the following account of this first attempt at lumbering on Little Toby:

"I went with the first lumber that was sent from Little Toby to Pittsburgh. It was a great company craft, awkwardly put in and poorly managed from beginning to end. After a great deal of trouble by the way, and much staving, the rafts were all collected and coupled together in one unwieldy raft at Miller’s Eddy, on the Allegheny River. On account of the exceeding rough appearance of this raft it was called the ‘Porcupine.’ Want of experience and lack of skill nearly wrecked the whole business, for in their anxiety to get to market, and encouraged by their pilot, the unwieldy craft - I think it was three abreast, and thirty-two platforms long - was started in very high water. They soon discovered their mistake, but were unable to land, and went rushing forward, and miles of foaming water were traversed before the frightened crew effected a landing. I was sent to take care of my father’s share in the adventure. We went down in May, 1830, and came back in July. Our best sales were made for five and ten dollars per thousand feet for common and clear stuff.

"I was but a stripling in size, weighed perhaps one hundred pounds. Of course I was of no account among the ‘Olean Hoosiers.’ One day at ‘Dalrymple’s hotel,’ which was the lumbermen’s headquarters at that time, while sitting in the waiting-room, quietly waiting for dinner, suspecting no mischief, I felt a severe pinch above my knee, making the muscles tingle with pain. The hand that gave the pinch belonged to a tall, robust, heavy lumberman from Smithport, named Gideon Irons. I sprang up on the instant and gave him a blow with all the force I was able. I suppose he felt my puny fist, for looking down on me, he cooly said, ‘Pretty well for Little Toby."

Another lumberman gives the experience of lumbering on the same stream more than ten years later:

"In April, 1842, Nelson Allen, Patrick Cairns, and others started from what is now Brockwayville, on a raft for Pittsburgh. They soon ‘stuck,’ but the water was rising and they got off again. It was quite late when they reached a place where they could land for the night. There was no house near and they could get no fire started, and they had to lay all night in their wet clothing on some hemlock boughs, benumbed with cold. But little sleep visited them. The next afternoon they reached a good landing place, but still no house, and fearing to run the risk of not being able to effect a landing if they ventured on, they tied up. They had very short rations for dinner, and a long fast was before them. Soon another raft came down the stream, the crew of which called to them for bread, but they had none to give. A piece of raw, salt pork gave them a small ‘scrap’ apiece. The men suffered severely from the wet and cold and for want of food, as it was two o’clock in the afternoon of the next day before they reached a house of entertainment, and where the good women of the house found it hard to find food enough to satisfy the almost famished raftmen. From this place they ‘ran out’ to Pittsburgh without further trouble. But for all this suffering and hardship they only received seven dollars and fifty cents per thousand for their timber."

These are only a few of the many perils and privations attendant upon early lumbering in Jefferson county waters.

Source:  Page(s)  44-52, History of Jefferson County by Kate M. Scott. Syracuse, N.Y., D. Mason & Co., 1888.

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