Historical Sketch of Juniata County
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Historical Sketch of Juniata County

Port Royal Times
Thursday, July 20, 1876


by Rev H. C. Shindle

The County, a partial sketch of which we propose to put on record to-day, belongs to the great central transition formation of the State.--It is traversed by several mountain chains, running northeast and southwest. The range on its southern boundary having the beautiful Indian name of Tuscarora. The one on the north being called by the less euphonious name of Shade.

Through the valley meanders in devious course the limpid waters of Tuscarora creek, beautifying and fertilizing the rich valley through which it flows for a distance of not less than twenty-five miles. The basis rock formation is limestone, on which is superimposed slate rock. The valley in which the limestone is generally at or near the surface, are very fertile and well cultivated, while the mountains are rocky, precipitous, and often sterile.

Juniata was erected into a county in the year 1831. Prior to that it was part of Mifflin county, which, in turn, had been separated from Cumberland county in the year 1789. Cumberland county, again, had been erected out of Lancaster county in 1750.--Lancaster county, again, had been formed out of part of Chester in 1729, Chester being one of the original counties, numbering three, formed in 1682.

Prior to 1820 the territory now comprised in the boundaries of Juniata consisted of but four townships, but in that year a change was made, and Turbett township formed.

Previous to these events, and for some considerable time after the most of them transpired, the land now flowing with milk and honey and blossoming as the rose of Sharon, was in possession of the dusky red man.--The fertile valley, now the peaceful abode of civilized life and smiling buck, laden with the rich products of the soil, in answer to the faithful husbandry of the yeomanry that till its fruitful acres, was the undisputed hunting ground of the fierce savage.

While the Indians have impressed their former possession of this country by the beautiful Tuscarora and the liquid Juniata, the territory does not seem to have been held in sway by any one particular tribe or nation, but seems to have been common ground, occupied at will by many tribes. Among the tribes inhabiting the ground when the white settler first invaded it, were the Delawares, Monseys, Shawnees, and Tuscaroras, the three former members of a powerful confederation called by themselves "Lenni Lenape, or original people."

This claim however, by their own traditions, is unfounded, for they profess to have found a powerful and numerous people here when they first penetrated the valley. These people they claim their warriors trampled under foot as the buffalo tramples the grass, and thus acknowledging the existence of another race of people, confess the invalidity of their claim to be the "original people."

The patient instigation made by antiquarians and scientists, have long since settled the fact to the entire satisfaction of most people, that a race did exist in this country prior to the advent and on the arrival of the Indians.

The relics that have been found, not only indicate the existence of a race differing from the Indians, but far surpassing them in the grand achievements of civilization. From the character of the relics--vases, earthenware, inscriptions, and the burial of their dead--we are constrained to believe that this anterior race came originally from Egypt.--Little, however, can be said at this date concerning these people and even that is mostly conjectural.

Concerning the Indians, we are permitted to speak with more freedom, since the sources of information are more plentiful and more reliable.--Concerning the red man, much mis-apprehension exists as regards his religious character and development. Many persons esteem them as not only heathen, but idolatrous heathen. This is a grave error. The Indians were no idolaters in any sense of the term. They worshiped no "graven images." Their belief was based on a "Supreme Good," which they termed the "Maniton," or good spirit, whom they worshiped in song and dance and sacrificial feast. They also recognized an evil spirit, whom they endeavored to placate and appease by self-imposed inflictions and propitiatory sacrifices. The first missionaries among them agree in declaring that their code of morals was of a very high order, lying, cheating, stealing, and adultery they deemed scandalous offences, and held in utter abhorrence. In hospitality and kindness to the stranger within their gates, they were the peers of the most civilized and refined of the nations of the earth.--It is true there were some offsets to these commendable traits. They were crafty and bloodthirsty and vindictively revengeful. To forgive a known injury was a weakness. A hatred once formed could only be quenched in blood.

Many traditions of fierce battles between the various tribes give point to this unpleasant truth--notably among them the bloody contest that has remained in history as the "Grasshopper War." The legend is, that squaws of several different tribes had collected together for friendly and social intercourse, and whilst thus engaged the children amused themselves in trying to catch fish. Bait being scarce, one of the children, succeeding in catching a grasshopper, succeeded also in arousing the envy of his less fortunate companions. A squabble ensued for the possession of the unoffending insect, which in time waxed so warm that the squaws took part in the contest. "The combat deepened," and soon the warriors became involved, and a bloody and disastrous war was the final result.

The traditions all agree as to the cause and the sanguinary character of this fierce contest, but they do not so well agree as to the locality of the conflict. We are inclined to think that the ground occupied by Messrs. Wetzler, Strouse and Turbett was the scene of this bloody fray.


It was to this valley and among these people that the whites first came in 1749. Crossing the Tuscarora at what is called Jinny's Gap, the Scotch Irish, the descendants of whom are among the most respectable and influential citizens of our county, gained a foothold, and made an impression that remaineth unto this day. Robert Haag, Samuel Bigham, James Grey, and John Grey were the hardy pioneers whose names we first meet in the history of the settlement of the county. Following hard after these come Messrs. Grimes, Scott, Patterson, Casner, Wilson, Law, Sterrett and Campbell.

In 1750, Hugh Hardy and ---Robinson settled near the mouth of Licking creek, but their settlement seems not to have been a permanent one, owing doubtless to the Indians becoming troublesome. Campbell had located near where the mansion house of David Hertzler, Esq., now stands, and the ruins of his house could be seen not many years ago.

It has inaccurately been called a fort. It was not a fort, but a block house with loop-holes, from which to fire at attacking red-skins. In July, 1763, the quiet of a beautiful Sabbath was broken by the fierce yells of the defiant savage, as he attacked, with bloodthirsty rancor, the peaceful home of Campbell, then sheltering the friends that had come over from Cumberland county to assist at the ingathering of the harvest. Campbell was wounded and taken prisoner, but returned in a year or eighteen months afterward. A man by the name of Dodds escaped, and making for Sherman's valley spread the news of disaster. In the meantime, however, the vindictive enemy had proceeded up the valley, and arriving at the house of Wm. Anderson repeated the horrid outrages of the morning. They shot down the old man, who was seated at the table reading his Bible, and also killed and scalped his son and an adopted daughter.

The news having reached Sherman's valley, a volunteer force, consisting of Wm. Robinson, Thomas Robinson, John Graham, Charles Eliot, William Christy, James Christy, Daniel Miller, John Eliot, Edward McConnel, Wm. McAlister and John Nicholson, followed in the track of devastation, marked by the relentless foe with smouldering ashes, that had once marked the peaceful homes of the settlers, and the mutilated and scalped corpses of the victims, until they reached Run Gap. The wily savage proved too much for these brave pioneers, and all of them lost their lives but McConnel and Charles Eliot.--William Robinson was found weltering in his blood shot through the abdomen, and, with his dying breath, said to Eliot, a boy of seventeen, "Take my gun, and save yourself.--If ever you have an opportunity to shoot an Indian with it, whether in war or peace, do it for my sake."

As stated already, the first settlers were Bigham, Haag, Grey, and others. These men built a fort for their better protection, and in this fort William Sterrett, the first white child born in the valley, first saw the light of day. The question naturally arises, "Why did the first settlers take possession of the valley so high up, instead of along the river, which would seem to be the natural highway for travel and the golden gate to this beautiful country?"

The answer is, that there was a line of military posts, with its forts and garrisons, stretching from Carlisle to Pittsburg, said line passing through Path valley, which the pioneers would naturally follow and deflect from these posts down into the beautiful and inviting valleys.

Another subject of inquiry is the curious fact that the poorest land was first settled and held by these men, while the richer and more fertile lands seemed to be passed by in disdain.--We can only explain this, to us, remarkable fact by saying that the clear and copious surface springs with which the poorer lands abound seemed to be the attraction. They were not used in their native land to dig deep for water, and knew comparatively little about it. When the Germans subsequently arrived, understanding the value of the limestone deposits and the art of digging deep wells, these richer sections of our county were soon settled upon and made to bloom and blossom as the rose.

The first settlement on the river was made in 1751, by Captain James Patterson, a Scotch Irishman, who, with five or six others, found a resting place near where Mexico now stands.

Patterson was not only a fearless but a reckless man, and he had not lived long in his newly chosen home until the Indians both feared and hated him. He and his companions cleared land on both sides of the river, built two log houses with loop-holes, for protection from the Indians, and the bold manner and character of Patterson so impressed the savages with dread that they lost all fear, and did not take the usual precaution of building a fort into which the settlers might retire in times of danger. Patterson was not only bold, but cunning; and one of the ways in which he deceived the untutored Indian and filled his savage breast with awe, was by indulging in the harmless recreation of shooting mark. But with him it was not recreation, but business! He would perforate his mark at close range, and stand it against a tree some four hundred yards from his door, and as soon as he saw any Indians in the vicinity, he would pick up his rifle and blaze away at the target until his visitors got close enough to discover that he was hitting the mark at all, when he would cease firing. These curious aboriginees would be sure to walk up to the board and examine the character of the shooting, when perceiving that every bullet had gone straight home at that fearful distance, their hearts quailed within, and earned for Patterson the soubriquet of "The Big Shot." His bravery, however, did not always screen him from the attack of the wily foe. In 1755 the Indians had become so bold in their depredations that Patterson considered discretion the better part of valor, and retreated to Sherman's valley. A few years after he returned only to find his land in possession of others, and held by warrantee deed from the legal owners. Nothing daunted, he "squatted" on new territory and began the battle with the wilderness anew. In common with many others, he held the claims of the Penns to this land in utter contempt, and neglected taking a legal title for the tract he occupied from the Land Office. This contempt of law, whether just or unjust, on the part of many of the original settlers, gave rise subsequently to many complications and unfortunate transactions. Parties would take out a warrantee deed, paying the fees thereof, for a tract or section of land, only to find it already in possession of one of these original pioneers. Conflicts would arise, the legal owners appeal to the authorities that had sold and taken pay for the land, and at length force was resorted to in order that the squatters might be dispossessed and the purchasers secured in their claims. A force was organized and sent up this valley by the Proprietary Government for the purpose of enforcing its claims. On finding a squatter they either compelled him to enter into a written covenant to withdraw from the disputed territory or reduced his improvements to ashes. The latter process has given the name that still remains to "The Burnt Cabins," at the head of the valley.

Patterson seems to have seen subsequently the unwisdom of defying the Land Office, and having changed his view became like most new converts, as active in taking out warrantee deeds as he was formerly active in opposing and decrying the process. At least we find the bold squatter of former years in possession of immense tracts of land, recurred to him by due process of law. He seems to have thus held at one time nearly all of the eastern part of Turbett township.

Thus far we have endeavored to trace the history of the ground we this afternoon occupy, together with the futile fields, the historic Tuscarora and Licking creeks, the lovely Juniata, and the bold mountain that obstructs our vision on the south, in something of a continuous order. In the time still allotted to us, we propose to indulge in the narration of incidents and facts which kink helpers have furnished, which, though set down without any attempt at chronological order, we believe will prove not without interest.

On the farm of Lawrence Wetzler there had been a block-house erected for the protection of the settlers.--Long after the necessity for such a house had passed away, it was converted into a corn-house and woodshed, doing duty as such until a very recent period. Indeed some of the timbers are still in existence.

A short distance from the site of the block-house the remains of a foundation for a house can be distinctly traced. During its erection an Indian stealthily crept up to the brow of the hill, close to where the house of Philip Strouse now stands, and lying down upon the unoffending builder killed him, and the work remained unfinished, a monument of the bloodthirsty craft of the savage.

The prices of land in those early days is a subject of no little interest, and we propose to note a few examples.

Jno. Cummings owned the crest of Tuscarora mountain, comprising tracts now owned by Benj. Jacobs, Cyrus Noon, Dr. G. M. Graham, Stewart Turbett, John Wisehaupt and others, three hundred acres of which he sold for a blind bridle.

Valentine Wisehaupt's and Dr. Graham's farms were taken up by warrantee deeds in 1755 by a Mr. James Kenny, for which he paid $63.14.

The farm of Jesse Saylor was taken up by Wm. Kenny in 1769, he paying $17.50 therefore.

The land now held by David Kepner, Wm. Rice, Jesse Saylor, Jno. Rigby, S. R. McMeen, John Weimer and W. S. Weimer, was taken up in 1793 by Wm. Robinson, and cost $10.19.

The ridge owned by Samuel Kepner, and originally comprising 300 acres, was taken up in 1801 by John Anderson, and cost $44.38.

The land now belonging to Mr. Jacob Groninger was taken up by James Armstrong in 1762. It comprised 150 acres, was called Taylor's Hope, and cost $53.13.

John Lytle took up a piece of land in 1794, containing 350 acres, at present owned by David Kanagy, Jacob Kanagy, B. C. Groninger, Daniel McConnel and Gibson Weimer. For this valuable tract he paid $5.87.

David Lytle took up a piece of land containing 75 acres, now owned partly by Jacob Kanagy, B. C. Groninger, Geo. Groninger, and Wm. Groninger, in the year 1764, for which he paid $15.61.

As an instance of the large size of the original tracts, we may mention that the original survey, known as the McAfee survey, comprises the land owned by Jerome Thompson, John Hassler, C. Bender, Christopher Richards, Daniel McConnel, Robert Flickinger, Geo. Boyer, --Kerlin, Benj. Jacobs, J. Koons' heirs, Wm. Kohler, J. M. Kepner, Benj. Byers, George Simmers, David Haines, Sophia Orris and others.

The territory known as "The Half Moon" was offered to a Mr. Henry Brackbill as payment for services in carrying a surveyor's chain for one month. Brackbill refused the offer.

The property known as the Wills tract, on part of which John Koons, Esq., now resides, contained 800 acres, and was offered to Mr. James Turbett for one hogshead of whiskey, worth one dollar per gallon. This offer was also rejected.

Says an aged citizen: "My grandfather was one of six brothers, all blacksmiths, who worked together in the same shop at Easton, Pa., a century ago. They were engaged in making axes and shoeing horses for the Continental army. Shortly after my grandfather removed to this county and set up his shop on the Juniata, where Mexico now stands."

One of these brothers enlisted in the army, and after passing through some very trying experiences, concluded that he would take a furlough without going through the regular formula made and provided for such cases. Knowing that it was very possible he would be sent for, he invented a trap by which to catch the officer instead of the officer catching him.-- The plan was on this wise. His shop contained a very large window, and for a shutter he had spiked several very heavy plank together, and hung it as wheelwrights do a flood-gate.--To keep it up and open, he had a small peg inserted at the proper place in the frame. This peg had attached to it a cord, which reached to the anvil. Touching the cord the peg would be withdrawn and the heavy planks fall like a thunderbolt. His door he bolted, and awaited in patience the coming of his expected visitor, meanwhile hammering away at his iron in perfect security. It was not long he had to wait. An officer soon appeared upon the scene and demanded admittance. "You can't come in at the door," said this son of Vulcan, "it smokes too much in here when the door opens, come around by the window." The unsuspecting officer proceeded to carry out the instructions of his shrewd blacksmith friend, and began to crawl in through the window. At the critical moment a piece of red hot iron suddenly touched the cord, the ponderous gate fell, and the officer was pinned as fast as a rat in a dead-fall. Without waiting to offer any explanation of his rude joke, the soldier blacksmith betook himself to flight, reached Canada, and never returned to the States.

Another of the brothers came and settled near Thompsontown pursuing his trade as a blacksmith. Involved in a lawsuit he was compelled to go to Carlisle to attend the session of court. The case in which he was a party, coming up, it had not progressed very far until he saw that he would lose it. Not waiting for the verdict he made a bee line for home over the intervening hills and mountains, and on his arrival gathered up all his tools, bellows, &c, and placing them on a heap set fire to the pile and emigrated to Jersey ??? returning to the scene of his ??? conflagration.

Mr. Benjamin Kepner, one of the early settlers of this locality, seems to have been the pioneer in the business of transportation. Procuring the largest tree he could find in the county he shaped and fashioned an Indian canoe from it, by hint of much labor. In this canoe he had a man name Horiet Were accustomed to carry loads consisting of fifty bushels of wheat clear down to Middletown on the Susquehanna.

This same gentleman is said to have built the first house in Port Royal after it had been laid out as a village. It is the stone house now in the occupancy of Henry B. Simons.

Another account however, claims that the first house was built by a man named Goshorn. The writer of this sketch has not the means to decide the question. The village was incorporated as a Borough under an order by an Act, dated April 4, 1843, David R. Porter being Governor, John W. Rice, Samuel McFadden, and George M'Cullogh being appointed to carry out the provisions of the Charter. The hamlet on the opposite side of the creek, more recently called Port Royal and in which the post office was located prior to the building of the railroad, was named Tammanytown.

Zachariah Hench, one of our oldest citizens, says: "I helped to reap the grain harvest on the land now occupied by Port Royal or Perryville in the year 1815. Shortly after, it was laid out as a town, the land being owned by Henry Gross.

Lewis, the robber, whose exploits filled your young hearts with an indefinable dread when we read of them in our youth, once paid our town (or rather the site of our town) a short visit. The story runs, that there used to be a solitary log hut somewhere near where the house of Jonathan Orr is now which was used as a sort of stopping place or tavern for the boatmen who transported the exports of the valley down the creek and river to the eastern markets.--Lewis, on one occasion, stopped at this hostelry, but soon learned that those who had the majesty of the law to uphold and enforce were upon his track. Quietly slipping out he urged his way up the river, but was overtaken in the "narrows" and after a desperate conflict wounded, and captured. He died subsequently of his wounds in the prison at Bellefonte, Centre county. Tradition has it that previous to his enforced flight the robber secreted a great quantity of treasure on the farms of John M. Kepner or G. W. Jacobs. As an evidence of the widespread character of this tradition we simply remark that not a month ago a party of six strangers called upon the above gentlemen and solicited the privilege of searching for this "Pot of Gold."

There was a firm belief among the first settlers that there existed a lead mine in the vicinity of Port Royal. Most persons assigning the Herringbone ridge as the locality. This belief was founded upon the fact that the Indians finding themselves short of lead, would replenish their stock in so short a time that it was inconceivable to the whites that the source of supply was very distant. To this fact was added the constant and unvarying assertion of the Indians that the lead mine was in this immediate neighborhood. Every attempt, however, by bribes, promises, cajoleries and fire-water to draw from the Indian the secret of its locality failed, and, if existing, the place remains unknown to this day.

Among the traces still existing of the occupation of this valley by the Red Men are three Indian mounds, one at the head of the valley, one near Academia, and one directly opposite the Tuscarora R. R. Station. Many relics, such as beads, pipes, stone tomahawks, &c., used to reward the antiquarian in his researches among these monuments of an extinct race.

An interesting incident is said to have occurred in 1848 in connection with the visit of some Indian braves to their "Great Father," as they styled the President, as commissioners from their tribe in the far west. Arriving near Mexico they began to scan the face of the country very carefully, and suddenly halting, said they must cross the river to what is known as the "slip rock." A boat having been procured a number of them crossed over, climbed the ridge, scattered and began a quest which ended in the discovery of an immense tree. One of them immediately prepared to ascend this lofty giant of the forest and arriving at the very top proceeded to disengage and bring down the horns of a huge antler. They remarked that the buck's horn belonged to their tribe and they had specific instructions to bring it with them to their home in the distant prairies. What its history, what its import, or what its value to these wild children of the forest is, of course, a mystery that the chronicler will not try to unravel.

That this county held within its embrace the skeleton of a monster animal belonging to an antediluvian species is doubtless known by very few. Yet the discovery of a mastodon or mammoth is an event of which our fellow citizen Dr. J. P. Sterrett may well feel proud. While still a student in the medical office of our aged and much respected citizen Dr. Joseph Kelly, the Doctor, in one of his rambles, along the banks of the Tuscarora in company with a companion since dead, discovered the remains of a huge monster which the motion of the water had partly revealed to the gaze of the passer-by. The doctor endeavored very carefully to trace out and unearth the entire skeleton, but the action of the air was so rapid upon the crumbling parts that it could only be cleared of the super imposed earth and sand and gazed upon for a moment then it would crumble into dust. Its tusk, which was clearly outlined measured sixteen feet. A whole tooth was found which, together with some piece of bone, have been in possession of the Doctor for many years. With this tooth as a starting point, by a process of comparative reasoning and careful analysis, the Doctor concludes that the monster must have weighed not less than sixteen tons.

As an indication of moral progress over which all good men rejoice in this Centennial year, we remark the following. All the old histories which we examined in the preparation of this sketch contain the following item "The exports of Juniata county are whiskey and wheat." It is within the memory of many, not by any means the "oldest inhabitants," either, when the smoke of no less than twenty-one distilleries told of the sad process of converting bread into poison on this side of the river alone. It is cause for gratitude to God that not one remains to mar the beautiful landscape of this heaven blessed valley from the river to the end thereof among the mountain.


Pushing the light canoe over the limpid waters of the "Blue Juniata," penetrating the wilderness over the bosom of the beautiful Tuscarora in quest of the speckled trout, the majestic salmon or the fierce pike, roaming through the valleys abounding in game of every kind and in grandest profusion, scaling the frowning brow of the dark hued Tuscarora mountain, here lived, hunted and loved the untutored child of the forest.

Unsophisticated, gentle and hospitable he welcomed with open hands and generous heart his future lords and masters. The appearance of the first white man was the peal of his doom, could he have but heard with presient ear the clang and clash of his own sad future. Betrayed, debauched and oppressed, he turned upon his betrayers and died with bitterness in his heart, blood upon his hands and the murder of innocents on his soul.

Here, too, wrestled with nature the sturdy pioneers that we are proud to call our fathers! With a hand to hand conflict with the wily savage, their relentless foe, they attacked the deep recesses of the woods and laid the monarchs of the forest low.--With inadequate implements and unwieldy oxen they tilled the forbidden soil, sometimes falling in the very furrow they were turning by the swift arrow of the hidden enemy. Hard the contest, long the night, their dying ear only catching the refrain of the angel of the future as she sang them to sleep with the proclamation "The morning cometh!" The morning has come, and you, dear hearer, look up into the face of the glad sun and thank God for the brightness of his effulgent rays. But they sleep. Their toils are ver, their dangers past, and they sleep in the silent graveyards that the ploughman has long since obliterated. They sleep their last sleep, they take their last slumber. May their sleep be peace!

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