|West Branch of the Susquehanna River, looking toward Canfield Island.|
By James Bressler
Northcentral Chapter 8, SPA
The following elements comprise a listing of sites and events that chronicle the human experience in the designated area over at least 7,000 years and contain much that is worthy of commemoration. From this list can be drawn those that collectively make this section of Lycoming County unique in character and historically important in our state and nation.
The Loyalsock Historic Complex
A Rationale for Commemoration
Defining and Understanding
From a hypothetical point in Loyalsock Creek where it merges with the West Branch of the Susquehanna River we scribe a two-mile arc beginning on the river bank to our west and thence the arc till we touch the river again to our east. The area enclosed, then, is here going to be referred to as the Loyalsock Historic Complex. It is indeed a special place, as we shall see, that deserves to be recognized as part of our historic heritage.
Often, when we think of historic places we immediately visualize such sites and events as Gettysburg where the thought of the horrors of a three-day battle of the Civil War have a profound effect on all the generations.
Or, perhaps, Valley Forge comes to mind where the depressed forces of the rebel Americans under Washington spent a grueling winter while General Howe and his British forces regaled in comfort in nearby Philadelphia.
Or it may be Bushy Run, where Colonel Bouquet in a clever military maneuver routed the attacking Indian forces and thus effectively ended Pontiac's rebellion.
There may be others important to you, but they all have one common element, they are singular events occurring at one time and important to the development of our nation and its people. Our complex is different, for we not only honor the singular events that in themselves merit our attention, as they relate to the founding and growth of a County and Nation; but also the unfolding story of man's coming to this land and the evidence he left behind. For man first set foot on the Complex some 12,000 years ago as compared to our appearance scarcely more than 250 years ago. It seems reasonable, then, that here we should include in our recognitions of heritage the people who occupied this land 98% of human time to our 2%.
From out of the east comes the sound of a plane as it nears the airport near the heart of our Complex. It rides an electronic beam emanating from the mountain beacon near Huntersville, only made visible by sophisticated and very complicated instruments, as the pilot obeys every command of that beam, when to correct to the exact flight path, and when to bring nose up for a perfect landing. All this in a pea-soup fog. Incredible!
The red man who lived on the site of this same airport was able to navigate the forests as confusing as the pea-soup fog, for hundreds of miles with an unerring arrival at his destination with no instruments at all. As though sensing some unseen pheromone path, as the ants do, he had a sense of survival, and a sense of time and space just as amazing as the work of modem science with all its complicated instrumentation. And we can now report that at the heart of our Historic Complex we can include insights into the life patterns of the Native Americans in the ancient past when this land was an unbroken forest.
So, you see, this is a many faceted effort, unlike any you have ever seen, for we believe there is a synergism at work here that makes the whole much greater that the sum of its parts. And there is this common bond: all our subjects are contained in the roughly two-mile arc our mythical rope scribed for us at the outset.
And before we move on to a more detailed description of our complex, let us be prepared to become emotionally involved at some point or other for this is our land - our heritage. From ancient times we can see the force that emotions played in the character of people and nations. Of the seven wonders of the ancient world, only one (The Pharos of Alexandria) had any utilitarian value, the rest were all responses to dynamic emotionalism. Here and now, the most imposing buildings are often churches; our lodges and many organizations are all under girded by an emotional bias. Even the pet food aisles of our supermarkets are now departments unto themselves, and the most expensive stone most of us will ever buy is worn on the third finger in response to the greatest emotions of which man is capable; and we will likely be buried in a very fancy box we shall never see, bedecked with flowers we can neither see nor smell. We take time to establish these truths merely to suggest that without this emotional attachment, our sense of history has a hollow ring and serves US no purpose.
When we go to war, our government goes to great length to reaffirm our patriotism and love of Country. But without this sense of historical attachment to our roots we become as Edmund Burke so aptly put it when referring to the mobs of the French Revolution, "They become as flies of a summer, unable to link on generation with the next."
Recognition of our complex is part synthesis of prehistory and historical accounts aimed to educate as well as to recognize a truly remarkable piece of real estate as part of our common heritage. For this is the legacy of all generations.
The Scope of Presentation
In order that we might define the Loyalsock Historic Complex in a coherent manner, we will use a chronological order of two parts; the prehistoric and the historic. The prehistoric account embraces the archeological work of exploration that has been ongoing almost without interruption since 1976, culminating in the discovery of the second fortified Shenks Ferry Village, and preceded by the Canfield digs and the earlier Bull Run excavation of Otstonwakin.
The historic accounts are drawn largely from several early history books and those of our own John F. Meginness. We must rely upon the accuracy of accounts of these earlier times for they are the only ones available, but we have faith in the veracity of these efforts and to the completeness of research to which such men as Meginness and Lynn were willing to go to preserve for us as accurate a compilation as was possible. Likely the number of people killed on the Lycoming Frontier was much greater than these men were able to document, but one must bear in mind there were no war correspondents, no lines of electronic communications, only the memories of the survivors. Let us be thankful for even these.
Life in the Forest: The Canfield Experience
If the complex contained no other site, Canfield Island alone would be worth our recognition for its unique contribution to prehistory. For here is a veritable Native American "hotel" where the guests have left the tools and equipment specific to their culture over thousands of years and so have opened up windows into time that tell a remarkable story. Sometimes they also left themselves and from their burials we can observe the humanness of otherwise pure Stone Age savages living in a Stone Age milieu.
Before we describe the several cultural levels we encountered on Canfield, we need to establish how the record of at least 7,000 (and likely much older) years became so well preserved. Ever since the close of the last ice age the river that washes the shore of Canfield flooded periodically and in doing so left a covering of silt on the lower part of the peninsula that is now Canfield Island. This silt was deposited as a result of a lessened water velocity at that point. Thus whatever camp sites had been used by native bands foraging there, especially those seeking suitable fishing grounds, would be covered and the next group to utilize this same spot would have a clean slate whereon to camp and in time would leave their evidence behind as did preceding bands. The result is a layer-cake like build up we call stratification. Evidence containing cultural traits unique to specific groups is neatly separated and preserved awaiting the archeologist’s trowel. We know of no other site on our river where all the necessary factors of preservation and variety of evidence come so conveniently packaged. What follows is the result of thirteen seasons of hard physical labor and many hours of curation and laboratory study by North Central Chapter, Society for Pennsylvania Archeology and the Lycoming County Historical Society in whose custody the artifacts are given. We shall begin our descriptive sketches by their order of deposits, the oldest first. This first level may not be the oldest present. It was merely the deepest we could reach safely with the equipment we had.
The Early Ones
Our deepest level was radio carbon dated to around 5,000 B.C. representing a band of Early Middle Archaic foragers who left behind a huge fired area littered with butternut hulls and a few worked cobbles that likely served as anvils on which nuts were processed. Some of these 7,000 year old butternut hulls appeared as complete as the day they were left.
In the absence of diagnostic tools we can only guess that these folks belonged to a cultural entity known to archeologists as the Stanly people who were roaming this part of the Country at this time. Since we can never know what tribes called themselves in the absence of a written language, we give them arbitrary names according to location where they are first studied and recorded.
Another Unknown Level
What we called Level 10 was similar to Level 11 just described but which provided a carbon date closer to 4,500 B.C. These bands too came to Canfield to collect and eat butternuts as well as to fish. It would be appropriate at this point to explain the process of transhumance. The Eastern Woodland people exploited certain food resources when and where they became available. They likely had a base camp from which they moved from time to time to harvest seasonal resources. One of these activities was a visit to Canfield where fishing with nets and weirs was possible and where butternuts and hickory nuts ripened in due season. Other stations in the transhumant wandering might include fall or winter hunting camps, mussel gathering in the riffles of creeks or the river, or the bounty of the spring shad run, or the gathering of other desired food crops such as apios, grapes or berries. No food was grown. Life depended upon nature's harvest.
The Laurentian People
At around 54-60 inches below grade appeared what we have identified as Savanna River, a cultural group adapted largely to riverine and forest resources on the Atlantic coastal Plain. Our carbon date for this culture is close to 2,000 B.C. These archaic hunter-fisher-gatherer bands began to produce the larger and broader spear points so prominent in the next two higher levels. Unlike the Laurentian culture, their origin is believed to be from the South.
The Canfield Tradition
Level 6 as we called it was by far the most prominent and productive occupation of the Canfield sequence. Here levels 6 and 5, although often separated vertically represent two interrupted occupational episodes of the same people, and so are combined as level 6. Their camp sites are characterized by distinctive traits. One of these is the very large cobble hearths on which they roasted their meat and fish. Their large spearheads, often made of an imported stone (rhyolite), are both lobate stemmed and straight stemmed.
Another trait peculiar to the Canfield level is the burial custom. Osseous materials often show cremation and the remains were heavily sprinkled with red pigment (hematite and ochre) and accompanied by liberal quantities of "killed" grave offerings. Spearheads, pestles, and the like were snapped into several parts, presumably to release the spirit of the tool.
The Transitional Period
The Level 6 or Canfield level as we have named it was the forerunner of the next cultural entity, the so-called Transitional or Broadpoint era. This culture covered the West Branch Valley like none other before it and extended its influence sphere well into New York State. They began to use carved soapstone bowls laboriously carried from far away sources. Oddly, too, they preferred the use of Rhyolite for their spear points, a stone available no closer than South Mountain near Gettysburg. They also began to experiment with the manufacture of ceramic vessels, making this a technological watershed for the American Indian. With the introduction of ceramics the way was open for the new life patterns of the Woodland Era. This new technology is one of the few innovations ever achieved by the Native Americans and made possible a more stable and effective culinary regime.
The Early Woodland Phase
The Early Woodland Era on Canfield was present around 700 B.C. and equates with the well-known Adena (first mound builders) of Ohio. They made interior-exterior cord marked vessels for use in cooking and storage. One purpose of their stay on Canfield was to quarry local flint and to chip stone tools for transport to other places in their circuit. Of special note here is their development of a reverence for the dead. This cultic practice seems to have been handed down through the millennia and developed to a very high art not only at Canfield but elsewhere too as can be seen in the huge burial mounds of the Hopewell to the west.
The Meadowood, as they are known, made special mortuary blades of chert or rhyolite which they often "killed," as did the preceding cultures, before depositing with their dead.
Level 2, or Clemsons Island, was found at around 24 inches below grade, and represents the beginning of the last phase of aboriginal life here, the Late Woodland Period. These groups made the Central Susquehanna their homeland and were either allied to or a part of Owasco tribes of New York State. They were the first farmers, appearing here after 800 A.D and persisting until around 1,200 A.D.
Their villages were always found on the best river bottom land where the soil was productive. They made large and distinctive clay vessels, and probably introduced the use of the how and arrow.
They buried their dead in mounds, a carry over from Hopewell times.
The uppermost level found on lower Canfield plain was McFate-Quiggle, a tribe quite similar to Susquehannock and for a time identified as such. It should be mentioned here, that the cultural group known as Shenks Ferry, about which more is to follow, did not occupy this part of the island in a significant way, but did live on the upper end and on the adjacent plains across Bull Run.
McFate-Quiggle appears as Shenks Ferry disappears around 1,500 A.D. Whether there is a hostile relationship between the two is a question we are still trying to resolve, but the small settlement on Canfield contrasts with the larger stockaded towns they built at such places as McElhatten, Wilkes Barre and elsewhere. Their pottery is shell tempered and highly decorated with incised lines. Much remains to be learned about them.
The Shenks Ferry Stockades
Possibly as much, or more, impressive as the cultures of Canfield Island are the two stockaded villages of the Shenks Ferry people on the large Loyalsock-Bull Run plain. These two fortified villages are landmark discoveries, one of which, the Ault Site, is presently being investigated.
These represent the Northern Phase (Stewart) of a numerous population that occupied Central-Eastern Pennsylvania as far west as the Juniata River, and were closely related to their Lancaster County counterparts. We cannot trace their origins nor are we certain as to how they disappeared. They took over much of the West Branch around 1,200 A.D. which also signals the departure of Clem sons Island tribes. Their terminal date interfaces with the appearance of the McFate from the west. In a sense they are a floating culture but during their tenure here they left some remarkable archeological remains.
These are twin forts, one on Bull Run now underneath the interstate highway (I-180) and the other on the Ault property near the confluence of Bull Run and the River. An interesting observation about all Shenks Ferry sites is that they were always located where Clemsons Island Indians had camped before.
The monumental work of erecting a stockade wall around the entire village, complete with a deep moat that required the moving of huge volumes of earth, ranks these enterprises among the more amazing feats of primitive people who possessed only the crudest of stone tools for accomplishing their work.
The art of pottery making in the Eastern Woodlands reached its zenith here, with exquisitely decorated rims on pottery walls so thin (often 2mm or even less) that we simply cannot understand how they made them.
The use of smoking pipes originating in Early Woodland times with fireclay smoking tubes, had also been highly developed here, and some of their pipes are works of art. One of these forts (Bull Run) later became the village of Otstonwakin and the home of Madame Montour. That village no doubt stretched out along Bull Run to the site of the second fort on the Ault property. Periodically some remnants of the Madame Montour era are unearthed such as trade beads, musket balls and gunflints. For with the demise of the Shenks Ferry and McFate, we now enter the next division of our complex, the contact period, and the momentous events that were to follow and in which the Loyalsock Historic Complex is so deeply involved.
In summary, the chronological placement of cultural remains of 7,000 years of human development on Canfield Island, the discovery of two Shenks Ferry fortified villages scarcely a kilometer apart become significant episodes worthy of commemoration.
The Lycoming Frontier in the Contact Period
When Conrad Weiser made his long perilous journey from his Womelsdorf home to the Six Nations capital at Onondaga (Syracuse) in March, 1737 on official colonial business, he stopped at Otstonwakin, the home of Madame Montour. In so doing he became the first white man on record to pay a visit to an important station of our Loyalsock Historic Complex and ushered in a new era in Indian-European relations.
Madame Montour was a much esteemed leader among her red colleagues although she was not totally of their race.
The town of Otstonwakin was essentially a Delaware town although at any given time a number of tribal groups might be living there. The Delaware (Lenape) occupation of the Susquehanna Valley came about when in 1675 the Iroquois dispersed the indigenous Susquehannocks, creating a vacuum that was filled by allowing the Coastal Delawares to occupy the land as underlings. This subservient status was never fully accepted by the Delawares and eventually was a factor in alienating large numbers of them to the French during the French and Indian war.
Otstonwakin was strung out from the site of the upper Bull Run stockade of the Shenks Ferry to the vicinity of the lower stockade on the Ault site now being excavated.
Madame Montour is thought to have come to Otstonwakin about 1728, but by 1755 the village was entirely deserted, having suffered not only late frosts that destroyed their corn crop but also from a small pox epidemic that decimated much of the population.
Andrew Montour, Madame's eldest son, became famous as an interpreter for many Colonial diplomats to various Indian tribes since he was able to speak several Indian dialects as well as English. His service to the Colony of Pennsylvania was so highly esteemed that the Penns awarded him a large tract of land on which Montoursville now rests and which was known as Montour's Reserve, another entity of our complex worthy of commemoration. More about this later.
Otstonwakin, although isolated in a virgin wilderness with only the river and a number of foot trails as links to the outside world, nevertheless became an important point of contact to introduce the earliest Moravian Missionaries in their attempt to convert the "heathens" to Christianity. Since this work was an important aspect in early Indian relations and since all these missionaries visited Otstonwakin from which to launch their crusades, it is important that we include this work in the account of our Complex.
The Missionaries and Otstonwakin
What the Jesuits had attempted among the Hurons in Canada during the 1600's was now vigorously pursued by the Moravians in the Frontier country of Lycoming. This missionary work was aimed at converting as many Indians as possible to the Christian faith. But more importantly they required a base of operation, or towns where Indians were concentrated. Such a base, naturally, was Otstonwakin.
The era of the Moravian Missionaries, one must remember, was accomplished at a time when no roads save the few established Indian trails entered the area and no white settlements were yet to be found since this land had not yet been purchased by the Penns from the Six Nations who claimed it. Any adventure of this sort, then, was of a perilous nature, since living off the land was not a trait in which these clergymen were skilled.
We shall mention briefly the names of these persons and their activities while in our Historic Complex.
The Moravian activities began in 1742 and lasted until around 1748, but during these six years the following parties were active here:
Count Zizendorf, accompanied by his daughter Benigna, Anna Nitchman, Martin Mack and two Indian guides stayed at Otstonwakin.
Bishop Spangenberg visited Otstonwakin in 1745. He was accompanied by Conrad Weiser, David Zeisberger and several Indians.
David Brainerd visited Otstonwakin in 1746 and preached to a large body of Indians in the vicinity of the present Loyalsock Township Fire Hall.
David Zeisberger visited Otstonwakin in 1748 accompanied by J. Martin Mack but found the town deserted, many of the occupants having succumbed to small pox and being the victims of famine.
With the coming rift between the British and French over control of much of Pennsylvania, the native population composed largely of Delaware and Shawnee were caught up in the cross current, so that missionary work became more difficult, if not unprofitable. The lure of French trading posts on the Ohio and Allegheny rivers succeeded in drawing numbers of Indians to the French Cause.
By 1755 the conflict between the two great Colonial powers was joined and Otstonwakin became a memory. But the taxation to pay for the war imposed on the colonies by the British Crown, was to become a serious breach of faith between the two and the stage was set for the next great conflict, the American Revolution.
Before we leave the era of the French and Indian War behind us, there are several related actions that are nevertheless important historic events in our area. First is Montour's Reserve and second the Legend of the Cannon Hole.
In 1768, following the opening of the land office to process the lands deeded to the proprietary government in the treaty of Fort Stanwyx, a tract of 880 acres including the land where Montoursville and the airport are now located was given to Andrew Montour in appreciation for the valuable services he rendered during the war with the French and Indians. This tract became known as Montour's Reserve and took in the sites of both Otsuagy (east of the Loyalsock) and Otstonwakin. The south boundary was the river.
The Cannon Hole
According to accounts found in the Pennsylvania archives, the French designed not only to occupy the Forks of the Ohio (Fort Duquesne) but also the Forks of the Susquehanna at present Sunbury. With the construction of Fort Augusta in 1756 by the Proprietary Government, the French laid plans to take over this strategic point as well.
Accordingly, M. St, D’Ours organized a small expedition at the site of present Clearfield, consisting of rafts and boats carrying several small brass cannons and a modest contingent of men. The flotilla progressed down river, reaching the south banks of the river near the present Kremser's Landing. Encamping at that point; they sent scouts overland on the Sheshequin trail to reconnoiter the fort before launching an attack. Fort Augusta was, of course, much too strong a post to be subdued with the equipment on their rafts. Not being able to retreat upriver with the rafts and not wishing to let their munitions fall into the hands of the British, they reportedly dumped the Cannon into the deep water at that point and abandoned the expedition.
The news of their actions leaked out somehow and ever since this deep hole has been known as the Cannon Hole.
Following the French and Indian Was and Pontiac's rebellion, the stage is now set for a review of the stirring events that occurred in the area of our Complex during the struggle for independence.
The Loyalsock and the American Revolution
The shot fired at Concord heard round the world rippled scarcely an echo in the Loyalsock wilderness. After all it had been only seven years since this land had been purchased from the six nations at the treaty of Fort Stanwyx and only a few cleared areas broke the awesome silence thus far. Sam Wallis, by devious means had acquired most of the best river bottom land upriver from his Muncy Manor homestead (built in 1769). This greed for land was, of course, to be his undoing later on when he could not meet the debts on time.
Only the well-known Indian trails, the Susquehanna Path, Shamokin Path or Chinclacamoose Path, whatever you wish to call it (they are all the same) was the chief mode of foot travel from the East, while the Sheshequin trail, which crossed the river at the head of Canfield Island, was the chief artery north and south. The Susquehanna Trail was widened in this area enough to permit horse drawn wagons to use but to call them roads would be a euphemism.
The Loyalsock Creek to the north begins its long drawn out flood plain at the Allegheny front near the present sportsman's grounds. This glacial outwash laid down a deep, fertile plain that would attract the first settlers into the region. The present airport, as well as most of the land adjacent to the Loyalsock, is in our Historic Complex.
Now that we have described the setting, it is easier to understand the tumultuous events that are about to unfold.
While Washington's rag tag army and the British regulars were maneuvering their forces in the present states of New York, New Jersey and at times Pennsylvania, the situation became untenable for the people there. A general exodus occurred into the interior; and as was the case in the Loyalsock area, a goodly number of Dutch and others decided to take their chances on the Pennsylvania frontier where they would try to carve out a new life far from the contending armies. As fate would have it, they chose the Loyalsock area from its mouth upward toward Farragut to construct their rude huts and barns, and to clear enough land for subsistence farming. But if they expected peace and tranquility, how rude was the introduction to the realities of war. For, as one can see, from New York State Guy Johnson was highly influential in inciting his Seneca warriors to strike the colonial forces in the name of the Crown. To the south, through the West Branch Valley, as well as at Wyoming by way of the North Branch, the Colonial armies were vulnerable, for the interior counties such as Berks, Lancaster, and Chester were essential to Washington as a base of supply. To reach them, so the British reasoned, what better way than to strike the West Branch frontier (Loyalsock mostly) and the Wyoming gateway from the North Branch. Indian raiding parties required no supply trains or artillery and could do their missions quite well on nothing more than the existing trails. The stage is now set for the bloodiest tragedy our county (then Northumberland) was ever to see and one which shattered so abruptly the dreams for a peaceful life by our newly arrived refugees from New Jersey.
What ensued, and what can never fully be told because of poor or nonexistent communications of the times is in itself worthy of commemoration. Perhaps it would not be mislabeling the events by calling them the Battle of the Loyalsock, although the nature of the fighting was largely one of ambush, kill and run rather than pitched battles.
It is a startling event, when we consider it in the larger context of the Revolution to note that during the on-going raids on the Lycoming Frontier (specifically within our Loyalsock Complex) more lives were lost than in at least three Revolutionary War battles well known to students of history: The Battle of Cowpens, the Battle of Princeton and the Battle of Trenton. But who was there to herald these tragedies. Is it not reasonable for us to do this honor even at this late date, that our generation may know the cost in human lives, to secure the land on which we live now? For death is final, whether by a mini ball or grape shot at Antietam or Gettysburg, by a machine gun bullet at Normandy, a spear thrust at Thermopylae, a bullet from an Indian musket, or a skull-splitting tomahawk blow on an innocent victim on Loyalsock.
They all are part and parcel of the price someone paid in our behalf, whether willingly or otherwise. We shall chronicle a few of these tragedies, knowing many must go unremembered.
Ambush of the Captain Berry Party
A war party had slipped silently into the Loyalsock area by way of the Sinnemahoning path bent upon killing and looting whomever they could among the settlements there. Ironically, a friendly Indian had preceded this party to warn the whites at Fort Reed (now Lock Haven), however, a drunken so-called soldier shot him dead as payment for his good deed. Had the warning been heeded the fateful events of June 10, 1778 might have been avoided. But back to our story.
From Wallis's where many local families had fled for safety, an expedition under Captain Berry was hastily organized to try to recover some horses the Indians had stolen during the night. Horses are easily tracked and proved an effective way to lure any tracking party into ambush.
The twelve men in Captain Berry's Party followed the horse tracks to the Loyalsock and so on up past the narrows and to the present vicinity of the Snyder farm, meanwhile Colonel Hepburn from the Wallis strongpoint had sent our word by messenger for the party to return since they knew Indians were in the vicinity but Captain Berry chose to ignore the warning. Several members in the party, among whom were Robert Covenhoven and his brothers, aware of the danger of ambush, warned Captain Berry to return to Wallis's by way of the hills east of the Snyder farm but they, too, were ignored.
As they approached the Narrows (near the end of Four Mile Drive), the whole party suddenly was fired on from ambush and most were shot down. Four, including the brothers of Covenhoven and a Negro slave from Wallis's were taken as prisoner, the Negro later burnt at the stake. This horrible tragedy, however, was only a prelude of things to come later in the day. One should note here that in all the attacks herein described the mode of attack was typical Indian: ambush, surprise, kill, scalp and run before any relief party could come to the aid of the stricken. The British then paid a premium for every scalp brought back to Fort Niagara.
Death of John Thompson and Peter Shufelt
With the general alarm about Indians in the vicinity, the concentration of fleeing settlers at Wallis's (Halls Station) meant that fledgling farms with their livestock had to be left behind. So it was with the farm of young John and Juda Thompson, whose clearing took in an area near the present intersection of Four Mile Drive and Northway Road and near the Sheshequin trail on Miller's Run. John Thompson decided to return to his farm from Wallis' and retrieve whatever livestock he could and bring them to safety. He was accompanied by Peter Shufelt and William Wychoff. They were on horseback, following the trail of Captain Berry.
As they neared the rude farmstead, they decided to stop in the house to prepare a hasty meal before the return trip. The horses were first to snort the alarm, for the Indians were concealed in the barn and suddenly surrounded the house where the three men were eating. Upon seeing the approaching enemy they grabbed their guns and tried to escape into the woods but Peter Shufelt was shot down at once. Thompson stopped to fire at his pursuers and was himself shot down. Meanwhile, sixteen-year-old William Wychoff was severely wounded but was taken prisoner, and eventually recovered. We mentioned earlier that the war party had entered the valley by way of the Sinnemahoning path, but on their return trip they used the Sheshequin trail up Lycoming Creek, having done their mission of death and destruction well for their British instigators.
With the death of John Thompson, ensued one of the most touching episodes ever recorded here regarding the fate of his wife, Juda, and their four-year-old son next to be described.
The Epic Journey of Juda Thompson
As we mentioned earlier, the Thompsons were among the (1777) settlers from New Jersey who had chosen to take their chances in the Loyalsock wilderness frontier rather than life in the war zone of contending armies near the coast.
The death of her husband, John, left her a widow with a boy of four. Alone in a hostile, unforgiving wilderness world, Juda Thompson began an epic hegira unthinkable except to one in such dire distress.
Somehow she managed to find her way to Fort Augusta pulling a crude little cart in which she placed the little boy and a few items of clothing and the precious family Bible to sustain her. From thence, through storm, sunshine, dangers of the wilderness trail land savage adversaries, across streams and over mountains she pulled the little cart with its precious cargo 250 miles to her former home in New Jersey by way of Easton. It would be interesting to retrace her route but we believe she used the newly opened path from the Blue Mountains to Fort Augusta later known as the Kings Highway and in general present state Route 61. But in her day houses were few and far between.
No wonder her epic trek was likened to the return of Naomi from the land of Moab.
Interestingly, the little boy, John Thompson, Jr. grew up to be a prominent judge of Hunterdon County courts and raised a large family. Juda Thompson died in 1796, but the Bible, every leaf of it water stained and worn, the hasps brittle and crumbling, was passed on through descendants and finally found its way to the Pacific Coast, zealously guarded by a descendant of a remarkable woman and her unshakable will to survive.
But the fates of John Thompson and his two companions together with the tragic ambush of Captain Berry's party are but a few of the atrocities witnessed within the Historic Complex. Even earlier, almost as soon as the settlers arrived from New Jersey, the Indian raiding parties had begun to do their work of destruction. Among the victims were both the Brown and Benjamin families who had settled as neighbors on the Loyalsock plain.
The Brown and Benjamin Family Murders
Among the first wave of Jersey settlers to arrive at Loyalsock was Daniel Brown. His two daughters were married to two brothers named Benjamin, who were then neighbors to the Brown family, when the first alarm came that a raiding party was near, the Benjamin families rushed to the Brown house in preparations for defense.
The attack on the Brown house ensued and during the fight an Indian was killed which infuriated the savages more than ever. Somehow they managed to set the house on fire which caused the occupants to come to a swift decision on what to do. Should they come out and face certain death by tomahawk or be consumed by the flames.
One of the Benjamins decided to come forth and hope for mercy from the savages. As he opened the door, he was immediately killed by a tomahawk blow and scalped before his shrieking wife who was carrying and infant in her arms. All the others who emerged were captured and forced to march with their captors through the wilderness to Fort Niagara. Meanwhile the Brown family chose to die in the flames rather than endure the torture by the assailants. This was the opening blow of the Loyalsock Frontier murders and was to be repeated time and again until General Sullivan's famous expedition that devastated the homeland of the Seneca forever.
The last episode we wish to describe here occurred after the evacuation of the West Branch Valley in what was then known as the "Big Runaway". Memorable events of June 10, 1778 such as the Plum Thicket Massacre on what is now West Fourth Street, Williamsport is behind us. But the devastation caused by the raiders was so great, and the means of defense almost entirely lacking that Colonel Hunter ordered the evacuation of the valley. Only the ripening fields of grain remained of the otherwise fledgling farms, the buildings all being burnt by the savages. Groups of armed men returning from Fort Augusta to harvest grain if they could, sets the stage for ambushing of one of these harvesting parties, among whom was the son of Captain John Brady, the red headed James Brady.
The Death of James Brady
The farm on which the grain cradlers were at work is on or near the site of Madame Montour's Village on the large flat from Bull Run to Loyalsock Creek. The date was August 7, 1778.
Work commenced on Friday and was to be completed the next day. But the reapers placed their guns around a tree and proceeded to cradle the grain, unaware of what was about to happen. The weather was foggy and the reapers had placed a sentry who was not able to detect the attacking Indians until they were nearly on top of them.
The reapers retired as fast as they could but James Brady ran for his rifle and was immediately shot down as well as several of the militia men, four in all. The rest of the party was able to get to high ground near the present Met Fab plant and looked back to see the Indians retire as fast as they had come, bearing the fresh scalps of their victims.
James Brady, upon recovering consciousness made his way uphill to the house that stood there where the cook for the party, Jerome Van Ness did what he could for the scalped victim. Meanwhile word got to Fort Muncy and a relief party under Captain Walker was at once dispatched to see what could be done to take care of the wounded Brady and pursue the marauding party.
Brady was taken to the river edge in a delirious condition, placed in a canoe for the long, sad trip to Fort Augusta where his mother was waiting. But the stroke of the tomahawk, the scalping and other wounds were too much and after five days of delirium he died. But before he died his consciousness returned long enough that he was able to identify his attacker: Chief Bald Eagle or Woapalanne, the infamous scourge of the Frontier. He is also the Indian whose statue in the form of a Toth woodworking masterpiece stands near the entrance to Brandon Park.
If we can see fit to honor a rogue of his ilk, one so much an enemy of the settlers, does it not seem justice to do as much for a well known frontiersman who died doing his duty for his fellow men on the Loyalsock Plain. Chief Bald Eagle lived near Milesburg at what was known as the Bald Eagle's nest and was a constant threat on the frontier. Two separate expeditions neither successful, were sent out from Fort Augusta to capture him. Chief Bald Eagle met his end on the Allegheny where he himself stopped a bullet and justice came full circle.
A Closing Statement
The foregoing narratives are but a part of the historic drama that engulfed the entire West Branch Frontier during the Revolution, but they are drawn from events that happened within the Complex and so are germane to our purpose here. We have scarcely mentioned many of the famous personalities that were integral parts of the drama. We think of Robert Covenhoven, the scout and Indian fighter who provided so great a service to his fellow men during the dark hour on the Loyalsock. He, however, through skill, sagacity and luck survived the conflict and was not among the martyrs we honor here.
A synoptic listing of the narrative subjects has been prepared for those who wish to gain a quick overview of the scope of the Loyalsock Historic Complex without the details.
An Interesting Sidelight
We have already described the Cannon Hole and its role during the era of the French and Indian War. About two arrow flights north of the Cannon Hole, but south of the airport runways, during the closing phase of World War II was located a large concrete pad. On it was being tested the largest reciprocating aircraft engine Lycoming ever built. This experimental engine, as I recall, was either 36 or 48 cylinders and was so large that no aircraft was ever built that could use it. It is now a museum piece at Wright Patterson Air Force Base.
Strange comparisons here: neither the St. D'Ours expedition to take Fort Augusta, nor this large engine ever got off the ground. They both died a borning.