Somerset County, PAGW - History of Bedford and Somerset, Chapter 1

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History of Bedford and Somerset Counties




Very little in the way of history, whether written or by tradition, that has come down to our time tends to show that there had ever been any very extensive permanent aboriginal or Indian occupation of the territory that is embraced within the limits of what is now Somerset county. It seems to be a generally accepted fact that this region of country was simply a hunting ground for tribes whose permanent seats were farther west, along the Ohio river and its larger tributary streams, and that any Indian villages or encampments were simply temporary hunting camps, which shifted and changed as game was plenty or scarce. Against this view not very much evidence can be offered. If there ever was any Indian occupation of a more permanent character, it must be admitted that it was not on any very extensive scale. As a hunting ground, these numerous valleys, these steep and lengthy mountain sides, abounding with all manner of wild animals, plentiful even at the time of the coming of the white man, the table lands and glades with their swiftly flowing streams, teeming with fish, must indeed have been a hunter's paradise.

That there was an Indian occupation more or less extensive and permanent we think is abundantly proven by the finding, even at the present day, of flint arrow heads, stone hatchets and implements in many parts of the county, as well as by the fact of the Indian traders who first penetrated these mountain wilds having found not only roving bands of Indians, but also at least a few Indian villages more or less permanent in their character. These Indians appear to have been of different tribes. Among them were a few of the Iroquois or Confederacy of the Six Nations, whose principal seats were in the state of New York. These were also known as Mengwees, finally corrupted into Mingoes. They were looked upon as being the rightful owners of the soil, and with them were made the treaties for the final extinguishing of the Indian title to this region. Others of the Indians first found here were of the Lenni-Lenape, or Delaware tribe. Their occupation of the region of country now known as western

Pennsylvania was by sufferance on the part of the Iroquois, the real owners. They were divided into several bodies, the largest of which had settled along the Atlantic coast from the Potomac river in the south to the Hudson river in the north. Their principal seat was on the Delaware river, to which noble stream they have given their name. Upon the coming of the white man they were speedily pushed to the westward by the ever-encroaching tide of civilization.

The Shawnees are said to have come from the south, and appear to have been of a wandering character, as well as of a cruel and treacherous disposition. These were the Indians mostly found in these parts by the white men who first penetrated this part of the country. It is known that there was an Indian village on a farm in Jenner township that at one time was owned by Daniel Weaver. This Indian village was called Kickenapaulins old town. It is mentioned in the journals of the first white men who are known to have penetrated that part of the county. Joseph Johns, of Conemaugh township, has in his possession a deed which was recorded on page 341, book A, deed record of Bedford county, on the 10th day of June, 1779. This early deed makes mention of "Kickenapaulins old town."

There was also an Indian village at the junction of the Castleman's river and Laurel Hill creek with the Youghiogheny river, where the town of Confluence now is; in short, in the Turkeyfoot itself. That there was such a village there cannot well be doubted, because the information concerning it has been derived from persons who had actual knowledge. Many Indian relics have also been found in that locality. In Elk Lick township there is also evidence of Indian occupation. There must have been an Indian village; there certainly was an Indian burial ground.

Its location is on the Grantsville road, a short half-mile below the Cross Road schoolhouse. Here there is a narrow valley, watered by a small stream that comes in from the southwest. In this valley, and near the Mennonite church, a half dozen or more Indian graves have been opened and examined by Daniel J. Miller, a well-known citizen of the township. Mr. Miller says that the bodies were placed in a sitting posture, with the hand thrown over the knees. He also exhibits teeth and fragments of bones that were taken from these graves. He further says that a few miles south of the Maryland line there is abundant evidence of Indian occupation. Grandsons of Peter Livengood, one of the first settlers in this region, who were born about 1804,and who remembered their grandfather quite well, informed the writer that when he settled there he found an Indian clearing on his farm. Just outside of the corporate limits on the south side of Salisbury is a long and rather narrow plat of ground having an area of about two acres that is entirely free from trees and brush. In the woods, a few steps from its south end, a spring famous for its good water issues from the hill above.

The writer's own recollection of this "Long Field," as it is called, goes back for a period of about sixty years. At that time it had all the appearance of a fallow field, surrounded on all sides by the forest primeval. Except that the wood on the west side has been somewhat thinned out, it is so at the present time. The oldest people of the community, born and reared in the vicinity, and themselves long since gone, always said that this " Long Field" was in the same condition that it now is when the white man first settled in the valley of the Castleman's river. They further said that the very first settlers who were still living in their time, all said the clearing of this field was not the work of the white man. Had it been the work of any settler, there certainly would have been traces of his house existing within the memory of old people who were living fifty years ago. We believe, also, that it is a part of a tract of land which never had any improvements of any kind until within a very recent period. The "long field" has always been looked upon as the work of a people who preceded the white man.


There had from the earliest times been more or less intercourse between the western Indian tribes and those who dwelt on the eastern slope of the continent. and along the Atlantic coast, as well as between those who dwelt in the north and the south. This was particularly the case where the several tribes were the offshoots of a common stock.

At the time of the coming of the white man into eastern Pennsylvania there were numerous and well defined Indian trails leading westward across the country. Of these the principal ones were the Kittanning path and Nemacolin's trail. The Kittanning path was to the north. It does not pass through any part of Somerset county as it now exists, and is only mentioned because it is one of the best known of these old Indian trails. Nemacolin's trail was to the south, and it takes its name from a Delaware Indian chief, who pointed it out to Colonel Michael Cresap, of Old Town, Maryland, as being the most feasible route for a packer's trail to the junction of the headwaters of the Ohio river. It must, however, have been a traveled Indian path for ages before the time of the Indian whose name it bears. This was in 1749. At that time the province of Virginia laid claim to a large part of western Pennsylvania. It is quite probable that most of the Turkeyfoot region was included in this claim.

In 1749 a company known as the Ohio Company had been formed in Virginia for the purpose of trading with the Indians along the Ohio river. To Colonel Cresap, as agent of this company, had been deputed the business of finding the best way of reaching the Ohio river, and he adopted the suggestions of the Indian chief. In a general way it may be said that this Indian trail, as made known by the Indian chief, presently became the route for Braddock's road. Nemacolin's trail only crosses the extreme southwest corner of Somerset county, passing through Addison township for a distance of about a half-dozen miles. But nowhere between the Youghiogheny river and Fort Cumberland does it appear to have been more than a few miles distant from the southern boundary of the county.

The Catawba trail, from the south, passed through Bedford county. From some point in that county a branch of it diverged in a southwest direction and across the Allegheny mountains, toward the Youghiogheny river, which it crossed near Somerfield. Between Nemacolin's trail and the Kittanning path other trails passed from the east to the west. One or more passed north through the valley between the Negro mountains and the Laurel hill. In later times these Indian trails became the natural routes for the wagon roads and turnpikes of civilization. The Forbes road followed such a path in the north of the county, while the famous Glades road followed a similar one through the central part of the county. It is also said that a similar trail diverged from this last in the vicinity of Somerset, passing where Simon Hay afterwards built his mill, to Fort Cumberland.


It was by the Indian trails or paths that the first white men penetrated into and through the wilderness that then covered Somerset county. These, it may safely be said, were Indian traders, who were probably guided by friendly Indians. But who the first were to make this then perilous journey, or when it was made, are questions that probably can never be answered. It may have been very early in the first half of the eighteenth century. Among these early traders were George Croghan, John Frazer, John Harris, Rea or Ray, Denning or Dunning, and Ferguson. It may be accepted to a certainty that at one time or another all of these men passed through this region prior to 1755, and they may even have been preceded by others. But none of these traders, or any before them, have left any impress on the history of this county.

The first white man who is positively known to have crossed the territory of Somerset county was Christopher Gist, as agent of the Ohio Company, and the time was in the year 1749. He is known to have traveled by Nemacolin's trail, which led him through Addison township to what later became known as the Great Crossing. In 1750 he again passed through Somerset county, this time through the present townships of Shade, Quemahoning and Jenner. Of this journey he left behind him a journal or diary. Christopher Gist seems to have been a native of North Carolina, and was a surveyor.

The Ohio Company had a land grant of nearly four hundred thousand acres along the Ohio river. Gist was to search out and discover these lands. His instructions were to particularly observe the ways and passes through the mountains, also the courses and bearings of the rivers and mountains, as well as the nations, strength and numbers of the Indians inhabiting the country and with whom they traded. He was also to note the quality of the land, and to make as good a plan of the country through which he would pass as possible, and to make a true report to the company. He was also authorized to take with him such number of men as he deemed necessary. Gist set out on this journey from Old Town, Maryland, on Wednesday, October 31, 1750. Old Town is on the Potomac river, some fifteen miles east of Cumberland. It still preserves its ancient name, and is also said to justify it in its appearance.

From Gist's journal we find that he followed the old Indian path along Warrior Ridge, north thirty degrees east, a distance of about twenty-one miles, where he and his party stayed all night. This was in the present Southampton township, Bedford county. The next day, Thursday, November 1, they journeyed due north one mile, and north thirty degrees east three miles. Here Gist was taken sick, and they remained all night at this place. On Saturday they proceeded north eight miles to the Juniata river, a large branch of the Susquehanna, where they stayed all night. On November 4 they crossed the Juniata and went up the stream south, eighty-five degrees west, sixteen miles. By this time the party must have passed the place where Rea, the Indian trader, located. As Gist makes no mention of him, he must have come in later. On Monday, the 5th, they continued on the same course, south eighty-five degrees, west six miles reaching the top of a large mountain called Allegheny. For the second time Gist is now about to enter what is now Somerset county, but at a different point from his first entrance, and still the first white man who is positively known to have set his feet on its soil.

On the 6th, 7th and 8th of November there was snow, and the party remained on the mountain top. Gist had killed a young bear, and there was no lack of provisions. On Friday, November 9, the journey was resumed, north seventy degrees, west about eight miles, where they crossed the Stony creek, which Gist supposed to be a branch of the Susquehanna. There being at the time a heavy rain falling, they entered an old Indian cabin, where they remained through the night. The bad weather continued on Saturday, and there was no traveling. On Sunday, the 11th, the journey was resumed, north seventy degrees, west six miles, crossing two branches of a creek, which must have been the Quemahoning creek, although no name is mentioned. On Monday, November 12, north forty-five degrees, west eight miles, crossing a great Laurel mountain. From this it will be seen that Gist and his party spent about four days in traversing the county. From this record of courses and distances, Gist's route of travel might even at this day be traced with reasonable accuracy. Having now passed beyond the western boundary of Somerset county, it is needless to follow his farther movements on this journey. The route was over an Indian trail, and is substantially the same over which the Forbes road way afterwards opened.

In 1754 John Harris, an Indian trader, made a table of distances over this same trail, or trader's path, which it had now become. From this we quote: From the Shawnee cabins (in Bedford county) to the top of Allegheny hill, six miles: to Edmunds' swamps, eight miles; to Stony creek, six miles: to Kickenapaulin's, six miles: to the Clearfields, seven miles. This table makes the distance somewhat greater than that given in Gist's diary.


The great Washington himself must be reckoned on as one among the earliest white men who are positively known to have penetrated into and traversed any part of the territory of Somerset county. In all, counting the outward and homeward journeys, "the father of his country" was within the limits of Somerset county not less than eleven times. His first westward journey was made in 1753, leaving Will's creek, or Fort Cumberland, on the 15th of November. His party was composed of four frontiersmen, two of whom are said to have been Indian traders: one, John Davidson, acted as Indian interpreter: Jacob Van Braam, as French interpreter: Christopher Gist was the pilot. They traveled over Nemacolin's trail. This was the occasion on which he visited Venango and the fort at French creek. He returned home by the same route. In the following year, 1754, he again passed through the county in an attempt to reach the Forks of the Ohio. This was when he cut the road from Cumberland to the great crossing of the Youghiogheny river. The road then cut through the mountains is usually known as the Braddock road, although it is said on good authority that the Braddock road did not at all places follow the exact route that Washington's road did, although substantially it was the same road improved by Braddock when his army marched westward. About seven miles of the road are in Somerset county. It crossed the Youghiogheny river at a short distance south of the village of Somerfield. After reaching the Great Crossings, Washington, before proceeding further with the road, determined to examine the river to see whether it might not afford an easier way of reaching his objective point. With a lieutenant, three soldiers and an Indian guide he embarked in a canoe and began the descent of the river. At or near the Turkeyfoot, the party met Peter Stuver, an Indian trader.

The Turkeyfoot is the junction of the Castleman's river and the Laurel Hill Creek, also known as the North fork, with the Youghiogheny river. When at the Turkeyfoot Washington noted that it would be an advantageous place for the erection of a fort. According to Washington Irving, the river was explored for a distance of about twenty miles, when, becoming convinced that an army with its stores could never be moved over so rapid and dangerous a stream, Washington returned to the Great Crossing. He is said to have had a force of about one hundred and sixty men, but, as is well known, his expedition ended in disaster, and he returned to Fort Cumberland by the same road that he had constructed.

In the following year, 1755, he was with Braddock's ill-fated expedition, and so came within the borders of Somerset county once more. Braddock's army crossed the Castleman's river, near Grantsville, Maryland, on June 16, 1755. Although the distance is but little over sixteen miles, it did not reach the Great Crossing (Somerfield) until June 23d. Here, according to the map with "Orme's Journal," the army encamped on the Somerset county side of the river. At the Great Crossing Washington became ill, and under the peremptory orders of General Braddock himself he remained behind. For ten days the future father of his country lay upon a bed of sickness on the banks of one of our mountain rivers. On July 3d he went forward to rejoin the main army, while still so weak that he was forced to ride in a wagon.

In 1758 Washington again passed through Somerset county, with the Forbes expedition, being in command of the First Virginia Regiment. In 1770 he made another journey to the Ohio river over the Braddock road.

In 1784, after the close of the Revolutionary war, Washington made his last journey through Somerset county. He traveled over the Braddock road. In his, journal he says: "Sept. 10, 1784. Left Fort Cumberland. Dined at Mr. Given's, at the forks of the roads leading to Winchester and the Old Town, distant from the latter about twenty miles, and lodged at Tomlinson's, at the `Little Meadows,' 15 miles further. "Sept. 11th. Set out half after 5 o'clock from Tomlinson's, and in about one and a half miles came to what is called the Little Crossing of Youghiogheny. Breakfasted at one Mount's, on the Mountain 11 miles from Tomlinson's. The road being exceedingly bad, especially through what is called the shades of Death. Baited at the Great Crossing of the Yohogheny, on Braddock's Road (Somerfield), which is a large water distant from Mount's miles, and a better road than between that and Tomlinson's." The Little Crossings referred to above is not in Somerset county, but in the state of Maryland, about two and a half miles south of Mason and Dixon's line. The stream is our own Castleman's river, but in those early days it was also known as the Little Youghiogheny river. Washington did not return home over this road. Every spot of earth that Washington's feet pressed in the line of duty has become for all time sacred soil in the eyes 9 of every American citizen. In all communities, places where he is known to have been or to have visited are pointed out with pride. This, we think, is a sufficient reason for having said so much about Washington in this history of Somerset county.

With the Braddock expedition were two men, Casper Phillipi and Casper Harbaugh, who in later years became settlers in Somerset county. It may justly be said of them that they were the first two known white men who came into Somerset county who finally settled in it.

[Source: The History of Bedford and Somerset Counties by Blackburn and Welfley, published in 1906. Chapter 1, pages 1- 9. Transcribed and donated by Batha Karr <[email protected]>. ]

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Last Revised: March 3, 2003

2003. Carol Hepburn for Somerset County, PAGW