Sunday, August 13, 2017

Gettysburg's First Shot Marker

First Shot Marker, Gettysburg
Front side
As with all of the previous times I had traveled west on Route 30 from Gettysburg, I missed the marker. Even as I zipped past it, the GPS began screaming for me to find a place to turn around and head back east.

"Did you see a monument?" I asked Zech who confirmed that he too had missed the marker.

I quickly found a place to turn around I slowly drove back towards the location where the GPS claimed the monument was located. Thankfully there were no vehicles behind us as I approached the location.

“There it is,” Zech observed as I slowed down. The monument I was seeking was located at the junction of Chambersburg Pike (Route 30) and Knoxlyn Road. After making a quick assessment of the area I decided to turn around once again and return to the location, I hesitantly pulled off on the northern edge of the road parking slightly on the grass of the house next to the monument. Putting the four way flashers on, I grabbed my camera and got out.

"You coming?" I asked Zech whose look told me I was on my own so I walked westward along the very busy Route 30. The monument is located roughly three miles west of Gettysburg on top of a small hill on the north side of Route 30. It stands only a couple yards away from a nearby house and in all of my trips through the area I assumed that the marker was part of the homestead. Unsure if the house next to the monument had somebody living in it or not (and already feeling bad that I was temporarily parked in their yard), I remained along the edge of the road until I arrived at the marker. Making my way up the hillside on a well-worn path, I found myself standing at the marker known as "The First Shot Monument."

First Ahot Marker, Gettysburg
Eastern side
A note about the land that the Marker is on: In researching the monument and its history, I came across a number of articles that revealed that I did not have to worry about crossing the yard because it was now a part of the Gettysburg National Battlefield.

I made my way around the granite marker reading the words chiseled into it. On the front side of the monument (the southern side and the side facing Route 30) is written: First shot Gettysburg July 1st 1863 7:30 am. Making my way around the monument, I took in the writing on the other sides of it. The eastern side states: Fired by Cap. Jones with Sergt. Shafer's carbine. Co. E 8th Ills. The northern face reads: Erected 1886. And the west side of the monument reads: By Capt. Jones, Lieut Riddler, Sergt. Shafer.

While many people have claimed to have fired the first shot that started the Battle of Gettysburg,  one of the strongest claims is held by Lieutenant Marcellus E. Jones (he would later be promoted to the rank of Captain as it is marked on the stone). Jones was a member of the Eighth Illinois Cavalry and had been assigned picket duty along the Chambersburg Pike.

The soldiers of the Eighth Indiana, along with those from the Twelfth Indiana and the Third Indiana, were sent out to watch for any signs of the Confederate army. The unit took command of a small hill west of Gettysburg that gave them a view of the Chambersburg Pike. This advantage point happened to be in the yard of local blacksmith and gunsmith Ephraim Wisler. Please see note below for more information about Ephraim Wisler.

First Shot Marker
Northern side
Around 7:30 on the morning of the July 1, 1863, dust was spotted coming from the direction of Cashtown. Those on picket duty watched as the cloud of dust grew and soon the Confederate troops came in sight. This division of the Confederate Army was under the command of Major General Henry Heth. The pickets waited and watched as the Confederate troops started crossing Marsh Creek, about a half mile west of the Union troops. It was then that Lieutenant Jones decided to take action.

Borrowing a carbine from Sergeant Levi Shaffer, Jones rested the rifle on the rail fence and took aim at a mounted officer and squeezed the trigger. It is not recorded if he hit his target or not, but it would seem he indeed missed. But the shot was enough to draw the attention of the advancing Confederate forces. The Confederate artillery under the direction of Major William R.J. Pegram returned fire. The first round of cannon fire destroyed the trees above the Union soldiers.

The Union forces would retreat and the Confederates would take control of the farm.

Returning back to the monument where I stood, it was placed in 1883 by Jones, Shaffer and Alec Riddler (an associate of theirs) in 1883. They brought the shaft of Illinois granite to the Wisler farm (owned by James Mickler at this point) and purchased a small plot of land to erect the monument. Over half of the shaft is buried in the ground providing stability to the monument. At the time of the placement, the Chambersburg Pike was level with the marker - due to time and resurfacing the road over the years, the Chambersburg Pike had been lowered, placing the monument on top of a hill along the road.

In the years of exploring Gettysburg, I had never realized that the monument or the fact that the first shots happened miles away from the main battle. I guess that I am as guilty as countless other people who tour the battlefield thinking that all of the action occurred at the main battlefield.

After paying my respects to the brave men of the 8th Illinois who served and to Marcellus Jones whose shot touched off the battle that would rage over the next couple of days, I returned to the vehicle ready to explore more corners of the battlefield.

Please be careful when visiting the monument, there is very little parking and traffic on Route 30 can be heavy at times.

First Shot Marker
Western side
About Ephraim Wheeler: In researching the history of the First Shot Marker, I found an interesting story about Mr. Wisler and a mystery that surrounds his death.

According to some early sources, after the firing began, Mr. Wisler stepped out of his house to see what was going on. As he emerged from the building, a Confederate shot hit the ground immediately in front of him, covering him with dirt. This was enough to send him back into his house. Wisler was said to have taken to bed, never to rise again and died less than a month later - the shock of the near death experience with the cannon ball supposedly paralyzed him.
I’m not sure if he died of shock like these sources state because he did file a claim after the battle for loss and destruction of property.

If he didn’t die of shock, then what killed him? If the story of the cannonball exploding in front of him is true, then it may be possible that Ephraim died of wounds from the skirmish. When the cannonball exploded in front of him, it may have fragmented and injured Wisler, causing the paralysis and his eventual death. If this is the case, then Jennie Wade was not the only civilian who died during the Battle of Gettysburg.

There is another possibility about the cause of Ephraim’s death. His house was used by the Confederate Army during the battle as a hospital. Mr. Wisler most likely contracted a disease of some sort from the soldiers treated there and, left unchecked, caused his death a little over a month after the battle.

What is known to be fact is Ephraim Wisler died August 11, 1863 and was buried in the Lower Marsh Creek Presbyterian Cemetery along Knoxlyn Road.

Sunday, August 6, 2017

The Babes in the Woods Murders

Memorial to the Noakes Sisters
Westminster Cemetery, Carlisle
I pulled into Westminster Cemetery on the northwestern edge of Carlisle in search of a number of graves relating to a tragic murder that shocked the residents of the Cumberland Valley and grabbed the attention of the nation. While I had the names I sought and the directions to three of the five graves, I had a vague idea where the other two were resting. I knew Zech and I would definitely have another challenge trying to locate those two graves without help, but we did have an extra hour to look around the cemetery grounds.

Heading west on Route 641, known locally as the Newville Road, we passed the first entrance to the sacred grounds and turned right into the cemetery at the next entrance. I only had to drive a very short distance to the first intersection -- the location of the three graves for which I had directions. In the middle of the intersection, beneath a large evergreen, rests the headstone of three girls.

Plaque on the Noakes Memorial
The plaque on the stone gives a brief account of their story:

The Babes in the Woods

Norma Sedgewick Noakes    Aged 14 Years
Dewilla Noakes                     Aged 10 Years
Cordelia Noakes                    Aged 8 Years

Natives of Roseville, California
Found dead in South Mountains near
Pine Grove Furnace, November 24, 1934

The morning of Saturday, November 24, 1934, should have been a normal day for the residents of the Cumberland Valley. However the discovery made by Clark Jarmine and his uncle, John Clark, while cutting firewood on the northern slope of South Mountain would be anything but normal.

The two men noticed a large green blanket spread out roughly twenty feet from the road (present day Centreville Road) with something obviously beneath it. They tossed around ideas what was under the blanket. It could possibly be a deer that had been poached, waiting for the poacher to come back and get it. Another possibility, due to the beer bottles littering the ground was it was somebody from the nearby Civilian Conversation Corps camp who got drunk and was sleeping off their night of drinking.

What they discovered was neither of those two. Lifting up the corner of the blanket they discovered the bodies of three young girls. Dropping the corner of the blanket, the two of them ran to contact the authorities of their grisly discovery.

When the authorities arrived at the scene on South Mountain, they found the bodies of three young girls who they believed were sisters due to all three having similar facial features, light brown hair and grey eyes. The girls were placed side by side and appeared to be peacefully sleeping.  An autopsy revealed that the three girls had been either straggled or suffocated by a soft blanket or pillow and had been dead approximately two to four days before their discovery.

The public’s reaction was unlike anything the area had seen before. Many people viewed the bodies at the crime scene in an attempt to identify them. After the girls were moved to the funeral home in Carlisle, over ten thousand people passed by them in the first twenty-four hours in an attempt to identify the bodies, but nobody recognized the trio. Locals, afraid that they would be discarded in the local Potter’s Field and forgotten about, raised money to have them buried in Westminster Cemetery with a proper marker. Under the guidance of American Legion Post 101, the funds were gathered for their burial.

The same day that the three girls were discovered, authorities near Altoona were investigating a murder-suicide that happened near Duncansville. The two bodies were identified as Elmo Noakes (32) and his niece Winifred Pierce (18) originally from California.

Soon a connection was made between the three girls found on South Mountain and the the two bodies found in Duncansville. The girls were identified as Norma Sedgewick and her two half sisters, Dewilla and Cordelia Noakes.

Memorial along Centreville Road
The tragedy that happened in Pennsylvania had its origins two years earlier in Roseville, California. On July 10, 1832, Mary Noakes passed away leaving Elmo to care for their two children and the daughter Mary had from her first marriage. What no one could have realized at the time that Mary’s death, that would be the first step resulting in the tragedy that happened on the opposite side of the country two years later.

Unable to take care of them by himself, Elmo sought help from his niece (by blood) Winifred Pierce. Winifred dropped out of school six months before the tragedy to become Elmo’s housekeeper and eventually his lover. This bizarre relationship caused fighting within the family.

On November 11, 1934, Elmo and Winifred hastily packed the girls in a 1929 Pontiac sedan Elmo had just purchased and fled California. A week later, on November 18, the group was spotted in North Philadelphia. They were approached by a lady who noticed the hungry and tired looking girls and offered to buy some food for the youngest.

The family stayed at a campground near Langhorne from November 19 through November 21. It is believed that when they left the campground that night, Elmo murdered his step daughter and two daughters.

Elmo and Winifred drove westward and would toss their suitcase out along the way. A hunter discovered the suitcase on November 22 roughly two and a half miles away from the place the three girls were to be discovered two days later. Turning it over to authorities, they found it belonged to the family from a puzzle book with Norma's name written in it.


Grave of Winifred Pierce
Westminster Cemetery, Carlisle
That same day (November 22) their abandoned car was discovered. Though the license plate had been removed the vehicle's identification number proved it to be the one Elmo had purchased the day before they left California. Side note: I find it odd that while other details of this case were covered closely by the newspapers at the time, where the car was abandoned seems to be very vague. Most newspaper reports list it as being abandoned between Pine Grove (meaning Pine Grove Furnace) and McVeytown, which is quite a distance between the two. A couple modern sources place it as being found near McVeytown, which would make a little more sense due to the fact Elmo and Winifred must have either hitched a ride or jumped a train to end their journey into Duncansville that evening.

On November 23, Winifred sold everything they had remaining on them and Elmo used the money to purchase an old .22 rifle. That next day, he shot Winifred in the heart and head before turning the weapon on himself. Their bodies would be discovered at the Spring Meadow Railroad depot at Duncansville.

Sadly, the police, after investigating the crime scenes said the reason Elmo killed the girls was because he could not afford to take care of them. Not wanting them to grow up in poverty or in an orphanage, he made the terrible decision to end their lives.

The three girls were buried in Westminster Cemetery resting side by side, in the same order that were lying when they were discovered. Elmo and Winifred would also be buried in this cemetery, quite a distance from where the girls rest.

We finished paying our respects to the girls before attempting to find the graves of Elmo and Winifred. With only the vaguest directions to go on, it was Zech that noticed the flag flapping by itself in another portion of the cemetery. Curious about the lone flag, we walked over and it was Elmo’s grave. His grave was marked with an American flag for his service in the Marine Corps. Strangely the date on the stone for his death is wrong. It states he died November 9 instead of November 24. In the plot next to him rests Winifred.

The rest of our time of exploration in the cemetery was done in silence, stopping by the girls' grave on the way out to once again pay our respects before leaving them to rest under the watchful eye of a community that came to adopt them as their own in the wake of the tragedy.

There is a marker placed along Centreville Road that depicts the location where the girls were found. While there is no place to safely park near the memorial, there is a driveway a couple yards away where I parked and walked back to the memorial.

As always, if you choose to visit the cemetery or the memorial I ask that you do so with the respect both spots deserve.


Grave of Elmo Noakes
Westminster Cemetery, Carlisle
A note of interest: Every article I've read in the newspapers of the time regarding this tragedy states that the bodies were placed at the location around eight the night of November 23. The reasoning behind this theory (as listed in the newspapers of the time) was due to the blanket covering the bodies was damp but not soaked from the rains of November 23. The the timeline listed in many Pennsylvania newspapers on November 30 correct this error stating that the girls had to be on the mountain on the morning of November 22. For some reason many modern retellings still state that the girls were placed there the night of November 23.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

The Lost Treasure of Kinzua

Kinzua Viaduct
Postcard a part of the author's collection
It all started with an email from Stephanie, a friend I had met in college, that brought me once again into the beautiful area of the Kinzua Valley in northern Pennsylvania. Her brief email asked me what I knew about the lost loot of Kinzua.

I replied what little I knew about it at the time.

Her response was: My boyfriend and I are planning on going out to look around for it if you want to tag along…and he has an interesting story to share with you.

Standing at the edge of the railroad bridge memories of previous visits flooded my mind. One of the first times I can remember visiting the park with my family, we arrived at the same time as the train from the Knox Kane Railroad arrived. Having to stay off the bridge and tracks we watched the train slowly cross the bridge. Knowing we were out of luck for the day, we left, but would return a couple years later and this time there was no train and we were able to walk out onto the bridge.

Having a fear of heights, I took my time as I stepped out onto the bridge. While the rest of the family moved forward at a much faster pace, I took my time walking out across the bridge. Step by step, railroad tie by railroad tie, I shook with each step I took as the ground dropped further and further below me. They were on their way back by the time I made it halfway across and I joined them in the return trip.

The Kinzua Bridge was the tallest bridge in the world when it was built in 1882. The viaduct was built as an alternative to an eight-mile section of railroad that would have taken the line around the Kinzua Valley. The original viaduct was built of iron, towered 301 feet over the creek below and was 2,053 feet long.

However, due to larger and heavier train engines, the bridge was rebuilt in 1900. This bridge maintained the same height and span, but steel now replaced the wooden frame. Amazingly, the second bridge was built by a group of men, between 100 and 150 strong, working ten hour days to complete the bridge in one hundred and five days.

Freight traffic discontinued in June of 1959 and in 1963 Governor William Scranton signed the bill authorizing the state to purchase the lands that would become Kinzua Bridge State Park, officially opening in 1970. Beginning in 1987, excursion trains would cross the bridge as a part of the Allegheny National Forest tours.

My thoughts returned to the present-day as Stephanie and her boyfriend walked up. After a couple minutes of small talk, she told me the version of the story she had always heard.

Kinzua Viaduct
Postcard a part of the author's collection
Somewhere in the Kinzua Valley, within sight of the Kinzua Bridge, is the hidden loot from a robbery that occurred in 1893. The unidentified man robbed the bank in Emporium and fled northward into the wilds of northern Pennsylvania. The outlaw was discovered a couple days later wandering in the forests near Mount Jewett. The sick man was taken to town and before dying mentioned a handful of words that included: viaduct, triangular rock, glass jars, and money. The robber died before revealing the exact location of the buried loot.

Since those famous words were muttered, countless treasure seekers have scoured the woods around the viaduct, each hoping to find the buried loot that is thought to be worth between forty and fifty thousand dollars. Many believe that the loot is located in or near Wildcat Hollow, the area to the southwest of the park and to the east of Mount Jewett.

As Stephanie finished her portion of the story, her boyfriend shared some information he had found among some stuff he had received from one of his uncles. He spread out a worn topographic map and pointed out a couple features before he laid a couple photos on top of it.

I carefully picked up the photos and studied them. They were old black and whites, but they clearly showed a large triangular rock. Another one showed a picture of the viaduct, barely visible through the trees, but it was definitely the train bridge.

As I looked at the photos, I felt my heart racing. Was this the key to finding the lost treasure or were they just another false lead? Even as the thoughts ran through my head, he continued his story.

His uncle had given him the photos and claimed that the treasure was indeed there, waiting to be discovered. Supposedly his uncle had discovered the treasure and fearing the state would take it from him, he had reburied it.

I had my doubts about the story and so did Stephanie and her boyfriend. If I found loot worth that much, whether the state took it or not, I would definitely not rebury it. The fact I had made an important discovery would prevent me from hiding it again.''

Aerial view of the Kinzua Viaduct
Postcard a part of the author's collection
I was still studying the pictures when I noticed something that caught my attention. I flipped through the handful of pictures again, studying the pictures a little more carefully this time. I pointed out the one thing that bothered me about his pictures – none of them showed the rock and the bridge together.

“You still want to search for it?” they asked and I admitted I was a little excited about the possibility of finding it, so we set off in search of a rock. Yes, we went in search of one particular rock on a mountain full of them. The rock in the picture was a large rock buried in the side of the mountain and from the top looking down at it, it appeared to be triangular as it jutted out of the hillside.

The problem we discovered was that there are a lot of rocks that match that description. And I do mean a lot of triangular looking rocks in that valley.

We wandered along the side of the mountain, keeping the bridge mostly within sight and carefully checked around all of the large rocks we thought might be our one particular rock. After an hour of searching, I realized I had to head towards home and we called it a day.

One thing we did discover that morning was a possible location where the photograph may have been taken from. Ironically, if this was the correct location where it was taken, it was the one spot in the area that did not have a large, triangular looking rock nearby.

The next few weeks were spent digging through various sources and I came to the following conclusion: as much as I want to believe that there is a lost treasure buried within sight of the remains of the viaduct, I find the story to have a couple head-scratching questions.

First, where did this occur and what got robbed? The exact location of the robbery, according to the vast majority of the sources I’ve read state that the robbery happened in Emporium, which is roughly thirty miles southeast of Mount Jewett. The version I’ve shared is the most popular version of the story and is the one that Stephanie related to me that morning. However, I have read in a handful of modern sources that the robbery took place in the town of Hazel Hurst, which is just east of Mount Jewett.

The most popular version of the legend states that it was a bank that was robbed. I have found a couple of versions that claim that it was a general store that was robbed and another source states that the loot came from a coach robbery.

The second thing that jumps out to me is the claim he hid them in glass jars. I find the fact that this claim is something put in by somebody who wants to believe that this is true. If they were buried in jars, it may have been crock pots, but I find it doubtful that the bandit, fleeing from the law at that time, carried such things with him or took the time to buy/steal them.

We did not find any treasure that day, but did enjoy a nice walk outdoors and an interesting story. Maybe somewhere in the Kinzua Valley there is a fortune waiting to be discovered...but I doubt it, though I may be wrong.

The Kinzua Sky walk
A note: Due to age, by 2002 excursion trains were no longer allowed to cross the bridge. On Monday, July 21, 2003, an F1 tornado (wind speeds between 73 and 112 mph) struck the side of Kinzua Viaduct. Thankfully, no one was seriously injured though it completely destroyed the bridge.

The state park is still open and the remains of the bridge have been converted into a sky walk, complete with a glass floor on the viewing platform. It is well worth the visit if you’re in the area.

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Battle of Blanket Hill

Pennsylvania Historical Marker and Monument
Remembering the Battle of Blanket Hill
Along Route 422, about six miles east of Kittanning, stand two memorials on the northern edge of the road. One is a plaque set in rock and the other a familiar blue Pennsylvania historical marker, but both remember the Battle of Blanket Hill. The skirmish happened near this location in the early morning hours of September 8, 1756, while Colonel Armstrong led the force that destroyed the Indian village of Kittanning. More about the battle of Kittanning can be found here: Part One and here: Part Two. .

The morning Zech and I headed to Kittanning, we followed Route 422, and though it doesn't follow the exact route of the Frankstown Path, it still gave us a sense of the long journey that the captives were forced to take and that Colonel Armstrong's men took for their attack on Kittanning. An excellent resource for those who may be interested in following the Frankstown Path is Indian Paths of Pennsylvania by Paul A. W. Wallace. In his book he goes into great detail where the paths went and the roads that are closest to where the Indian paths once existed.

We were roughly ten miles from Kittanning when Zech announced that he could see the historical marker ahead of us on the northern side of the road. There was a small pull-off along Route 422 and I parked there while taking pictures. The people living in the house next to the markers paused to stare as we got out of the vehicle to take pictures of the memorials. Though I was well off the road, I did not feel comfortable standing along the road as the traffic passed by at high rates of speed. Please note: in my opinion this is not a safe place to allow small children out to explore. I would recommend keeping them in the vehicle if you choose to visit.

As I got back into the vehicle, I couldn’t help but wonder if the countless vehicles passing by even realized the importance of this place. It was near this spot, while Colonel Armstrong's main force invaded Kittanning, a group of men would fight for their lives.

On the evening of September 7, 1756, Colonel John Armstrong’s guides reported they encountered a handful of Indians, in their words, three or four of them, sleeping along the trail. Not wanting to have the surprise attack foiled, Colonel Armstrong left Lieutenant James Hogg and twelve other men to watch the sleeping Indians, with orders to attack at first light. Colonel Armstrong and the rest of his men made a wide detour around the sleeping party and continued on their march to Kittanning.

Colonel Armstrong's men, who were already tired from the long march with very little rest, left their blankets and "unneeded" supplies with Lieutenant Hogg and his men. This action would cause the place to be known forever as Blanket Hill.

The night must have crept slowly by as the men eagerly waited for first light. As morning approached, Lieutenant Hogg gave the command and the group of soldiers crept through the underbrush toward the camping Indians.

No sooner did the soldiers make it to their concealed positions than an Indian walked past them, unaware of their presence. However, some of the soldiers fired shots at the Indian and somehow managed not to kill the warrior and he escaped the ambush. The soldiers then turned their attention to the other Indians camped around the smoldering remains of the fire.

And then it all went downhill.

Monument for the Battle of Blanket Hill
The three or four Indians that Lieutenant Hogg and his men were expecting had been replaced by a band of very angry Indians. It is not known if the guides made a mistake and there were more Indians than thought at the fire or if this group arrived sometime during the night. Whichever is the case, Lieutenant Hogg and his men were outnumbered.

The Battle of Blanket Hill lasted roughly an hour as Lieutenant Hogg's men fought for their lives against the Indians. As the battle continued, Lieutenant Hogg lost three of his best men and he himself was wounded twice. These wounds prevented Lieutenant Hogg from fighting and he hid in a thicket, waiting for Colonel Armstrong's troops to return.

Then into this battle arrived a Sergeant from Captain Mercer's Company with a handful of men. The group was not there to reinforce Lieutenant Hogg and his men. This group cowardly fled from Kittanning when the fight began and had wandered into the fighting at Blanket Hill.

This group immediate saw Lieutenant Hogg and, despite Hogg's warnings, removed him from the thicket where he was hiding. Lieutenant Hogg was still protesting when the men lifted him up on a horse. The group made it only a short distance when four Indians appeared on the trail. The cowards left Lieutenant Hogg to defend himself as they ran for a safer place.

The Indians attacked, killing one of the cowardly soldiers and wounding Lieutenant Hogg a third time, this time in the stomach. At this point, Lieutenant Hogg had no real choice but to flee for himself. He rode a short distance before he collapsed from his wounds and died.

While the fighting was going on, more men returning from Kittanning were arriving on scene. Both sides were still taking shots at one another, but the battle here was over and the attack by Lieutenant Hogg and his men was a complete disaster.

Plaque on the monument
Many of the men arriving at Blanket Hill on their return from Kittanning would spot a group of Indians and would flee the trail in search of a safer route back to civilization. Among these men was Captain Mercer. He was persuaded by a few of men to take a different trail due to the warriors patrolling the trail. Maybe it was due to his loss of blood, but he reluctantly agreed and went with the men, taking with him four of the recovered prisoners.

While making their way along the trail, the small party was ambushed by a group of Indians. A number of them fell on the first volley and the survivors fled. Captain Mercer was one of those who survived the ambush and fled for his life. When he and two of his companions stopped to fix the bandage on his wound, they were approached by an Indian. The sight of this Indian caused the other two men to run away, leaving Captain Mercer to defend himself.

Captain Mercer managed to hide himself behind a log and the Indian, seeing the other two running away chased after them. Having been overlooked by the Indian, the Captain managed to escape into a plum thicket where he spent the night, eating fruit to ease his hunger.

The next morning, Captain Mercer started his long journey homeward. Along the way he encountered a man he thought was an Indian and after a stand-off with the man, he discovered it was one of his own men. Together the two of them continued toward safety, though they were both weak and could barely stand, let alone walk.  Near present-day Frankstown, Captain Mercer's companion sank to the ground and Captain Mercer abandoned him. Captain Mercer traveled roughly seven more miles before he too collapsed. Shortly after he dropped to the ground in despair, a group of Cherokees employed by the British Government discovered him and took him to Fort Lyttleton. Soon after his arrival, the group of Indians returned with the companion he had abandoned along the trail.

Captain Mercer was not the only person to get lost while fleeing to safety. Over the next couple weeks, a number of lost men arrived at one of the many forts in the Susquehanna and Juniata River Valleys.

The final tally presented by Colonel Armstrong was: seventeen killed, thirteen wounded, and nineteen missing. Among those killed were Lieutenant James Hogg and John Baker, the former captive who had helped plan the attack with Armstrong.

As I stated above, if you choose to stop and read the markers remembering Blanket Hill please do so with respect and caution. There is a small parking area, but it is in front of a private residence, and traffic speeds by on Route 422. They can be easily read and viewed from the roadside: please do not trespass on the private property.

A note: While not a part of the events at Kittanning, the plaque at Blanket Hill also remembers Fergus Moorhead who was captured by Indians in March 1777. During the ambush that took him prisoner, his traveling companion, Mr. Simpson, was killed and scalped.

Sunday, July 9, 2017

The Destruction of Kittanning: Part Two

Monument for the Indian town of Kittanning
Corner of Market and North Water Streets
Please note: This is the second of three articles about the Battle of Kittanning. The first part can be .found here:Part One.

The town was preparing for a festival the day Zech and I arrived in Kittanning. Parking in town was non-existent as we drove around searching for a place that was close to my intended goal. Most of the parking spaces were filled with vendors preparing for the events of the weekend but the traffic and crowds were not going to deter me from the place I came to visit.

I finally managed to find a place and Zech hopped out with a quarter for the meter as I grabbed my camera and made sure that the batteries were still good. After all, I had no desire to walk the three blocks to the monument, in what was easily the hottest day of the year so far, to discover my batteries were dead.

"I have a problem," Zech said as he stared at the meter.

"Not working?" I asked.

"It won't take the quarter." I stared at him in disbelief.

'Great,' I thought. 'I found the only parking meter in town that doesn't work.'

"Get in and we'll find another spot," I sighed.

"No, no," Zech replied quickly. "It doesn't take quarters...you got a dime or nickel?"

Resolving the issue, we were soon making our way through the vendors who were setting up for the festival. I could see the large monument from a distance and soon we were crossing North Water Street and were standing at the monument for the Indian town of Kittanning.

On a large slab of rock is a plaque honoring the Indian town of Kittanning. Erected on September 8, 1926, the marker remembers the importance of the Indian village located here and its destruction by Colonel Armstrong and his troops.

As I stood before the memorial to the Indian town, my mind returned once again to the morning of September 8, 1756.

The surprise attack on the residents of Kittanning was a success for Colonel Armstrong. One of the dreaded Indian Chiefs of the Pennsylvania frontier, Captain Jacobs, was dead. He was shot down with his family as they tried to flee their burning home.

Chaos was reigning as the battle raged on. Despite the success of the plan, Colonel John Armstrong was wounded. His troops were in complete confusion due to lack of sleep and exhaustion from the long march. The Indians living here were in complete confusion due to lack of sleep and surprise. Smoke filled the air from Captain Jacob's burning cabin.

Not content with victory, Captain Armstrong ordered that all of the homes in Kittanning be burned to the ground. He wanted the total destruction of the Indian village as his revenge for his brother's death at Fort Granville.

While the fighting was occurring in the village, Captain Hugh Mercer had command of the hillside overlooking the river flats. While it is not exactly known where Captain Mercer was located, I would imagine this spot was somewhere close to the present-day courthouse in Kittanning. Wounded early in the battle (he was shot in the arm), Captain Mercer and his men remained on the high ground.

From this vantage point, Captain Mercer was able to see Indians led by Shingas crossing the river in an attempt to cut off any escape. Word was sent to Colonel Armstrong about the warriors crossing the river, but Armstrong refused to leave the burning village. Though worried about the approaching reinforcements, Colonel Armstrong was not content with leaving until more homes were burned. His later estimate was thirty homes were set on fire that morning.

And then, to add more chaos to an already chaotic scene, Captain Jacobs' house exploded.

The gunpowder stored within it literally blew the roof off of the building, killing those still inside the burning house and wounding those close to the explosion. According to some reports, the explosion was so loud it was heard at Fort Duquesne which was located almost forty miles downriver. From the other buildings there came smaller explosions as the gunpowder exploded and loaded weapons fired due to the fire's heat.

A number of the rescued prisoners claimed that there was enough powder and weapons stored that the Indians would have been able to wage a ten year war with the colonists. The captives also revealed that two battalions of Frenchmen were to join Captain Jacobs the next morning in order to attack Fort Shirley.

While this information must have worried Colonel Armstrong, one piece of information had to worry him the most. The previous evening, a group of twenty-four warriors had left heading toward Fort Shirley to do some spying. These were the Indians they had stumbled upon the evening before - Lieutenant Hogg was ill prepared for what was happening six miles from here with his own attack.

By the time the village was engulfed in flames, Colonel Armstrong made his way to Captain Mercer's spot to have his wound tended. Once it was treated, he gave the order and the troops began a long, chaotic retreat to safer areas and to help Lieutenant Hogg and his men.


The plaque on the Kittanning monument
Arriving at the place he left Lieutenant James Hogg, Colonel Armstrong was dismayed to discover the plan for a surprise attack on the group of sleeping Indians had failed. His dismay turned to disappointment and anger as he discovered a number of his men, men who should have been participating in the attack on Kittanning, standing around waiting for the rest of fighters to arrive. 

Leaving behind anything that was not necessary, they marched back to civilization and safety. Well, that was the way Colonel Armstrong reported in his letter to Governor Denny sent from Fort Lyttleton. However, I cannot imagine that the group marched back. It was a full panic as the group fled for their lives. Though Colonel Armstrong does not record it, I cannot help but think that they were shot at along the way by the Indians of Shingas' village.

In Colonel Armstrong's letter to Governor Denny, he admits he was no idea of how many of the enemy had fallen during the attack, though he believed that between thirty and forty Indians were killed. Conflicting reports record that the Indians only lost a handful of warriors that day. At the start of their "march" back, he claimed they had a dozen scalps, though some of the scalps had been lost along the way.

After the burning of Kittanning, captives on the western shores of the Allegheny witnessed the cruel torture of an Englishman who had tried to escape with Colonel Armstrong. The man was recaptured and returned three days after the destruction of the town. After torturing the man with different types of fire torture, they ended his agony by pouring hot lead down his throat.

The attack on Kittanning did not stop Indian raids on the frontier, but it did have an effect on the Indians living in Western Pennsylvania. Though Kittanning would be used occasionally by Indians in the future, the town was abandoned. Most of the Indians who survived the attack moved west of Fort Duquesne, preferring to keep the French fort between them and the English.

"So Kittanning was completely destroyed?" Zech asked bringing me back to the present day.

"Most of it. Colonel Armstrong had burned the buildings, but the threat of Shingas' men caused him to retreat before he set the cornfields on fire. But the mission was deemed a success by Colonel Armstrong and also by the Provincial Government."

The memorial for Kittanning and the Colonel Armstrong's attack stands at the corner of Market Street and North Water Street, at the place where Route 422 turns and crosses the Allegheny River, There is a small park along the river for relaxation.

Notes about the aftermath of the Battle of Kittanning: Colonel Armstrong would one day have a Pennsylvania county named in his honor with Kittanning being its county seat. Captains Hugh Mercer and James Potter would eventually have counties named after them for their service in the Revolutionary War.

Colonel Armstrong would also be rewarded with a special medal struck in his honor for his actions at Kittanning.

Another point of interest involves Indian Chief Shingas: After the events of 1756, Shingas seems to have had a change of attitude and way of life. Christian Frederick Post, a Moravian missionary who went to the Pennsylvania frontier to attempt peace, recorded that Shingas was a great warrior and was very kind to those he had taken prisoner. He is noted by a number of missionaries during this time period for the peaceful way he treated his prisoners.

Shingas attended a number of peace treaties, including the Lancaster Treaty of 1762. This treaty discussed the return of English prisoners and the claim of lost Delaware lands. The Delawares would renew their peace with the English settlers.

Shingas was last recorded in July 1763 when he and Turtle Heart participated in the Siege of Fort Pitt. On July 26, 1763 the two of them had approached Fort Pitt under a flag of truce and talked to Captain Ecuyer and requested he withdraw the troops from the fort. Soon after the events of that day, Shingas disappears into history.

The destruction of Kittanning will concludes with the Battle of Blanket Hill, which can be found here: Battle of Blanket Hill..

Sunday, July 2, 2017

The Destruction of Kittanning: Part One

KIttanning War Memorial
Standing in front of the War Memorial near the Armstrong County Courthouse, I could see down Market Street to the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, the spot where Route 422 crosses the Allegheny River. Kittanning, a corrupted version of the Indian word, roughly translates as "At the Great River" and later that day, as I stood on the Benjamin Franklin Bridge, I understood why the Indians called the place Kittanning - even in the modern world, the river here maintains a great beauty that is hard to describe.

"Did you read this?" Zech asked, drawing my attention back to the Armstrong County War Memorial. I scanned through the names on the wall, and while all sacrifices were and are important, my attention focused on those who died during the French and Indian Wars. Though I had visited a number of war memorials that day, this one was unique in its own way.

I read the words on the monument, "This monument recognizes the unique circumstances that placed American Indians, particularly the Delaware and Senaca (sic), against the colonial government that became the United States. With the exception of Captain Jacobs, the names of those Delawares who fell at the Battle of Kittanning and the 29 who died during the Border War are lost to history."

As I stood taking in my surroundings, my mind drifted back to the events leading up to the battle fought here on September 8, 1756.

Kittanning was one of the most important Indian towns in Western Pennsylvania and was the home of Delaware Chief Captain Jacobs. It is believed that the village had between three and four hundred residents at the time of Colonel Armstrong's attack. The majority of those taken captive by the raiding Indians in Eastern and Central Pennsylvania were brought here - children would be distributed among Indian families and adults either taken prisoner or tortured and killed.

The plan to rescue the captives held there began almost immediately after the fall of Fort Granville. Colonel John Armstrong was seeking revenge for the murder of his brother during the siege of Fort Granville. More information about the siege can be found here: Fort Granville.

With the help of John Baker, who escaped from Kittanning, Colonel Armstrong devised a plan to attack the Indian settlement. Baker claimed that over one hundred prisoners were being held captive at Kittanning at the time of his escape. Outgoing Governor Morris agreed to the plans put together by Armstrong and Baker and the planned attack would continue under Governor Denny.

Colonel Armstrong gathered men at Fort Shirley throughout the end of July and beginning of August 1755. On August 30, the force left the fort and started a westward march. On September 3, the group led by Colonel Armstrong joined with an advance force to make Colonel Armstrong’s party 307 men strong.

They began the one hundred and twenty-six mile journey towards Kittanning. Surprisingly, they made the complete journey without being discovered, although six miles from Kittanning the attack force was almost discovered. Approximately ten in the evening on September 7, 1756, scouts came back with the report of three or four Indians sleeping along the trail. Armstrong left Lieutenant James Hogg with twelve men to attack the party at dawn.

The rest of the party arrived at the Indian villages early in the morning after finishing the last thirty miles of the march. As the men approached Kittanning through a cornfield, a loud whistle stopped the men in their tracks. Fearful that they had been discovered, John Baker informed them that it was an Indian calling to his mate. Fires began to appear around them in the cornfield and Baker informed Colonel Armstrong that they would soon be out. The purpose of the fires was to drive the gnats away.

Pennsylvania Historical Marker for Kittanning
Along Business Route 422 in town
It was daybreak before Colonel Armstrong was ready to attack. Most of his men were asleep or fighting to stay awake due to the previous day’s march. In the past four days the men had marched close to one hundred and fifty miles to attack the Indian villages at Kittanning. By the time the sun began peaking over the eastern mountains the full line of soldiers had yet to arrive.

With the threat of daybreak and being discovered, Colonel Armstrong sent a small detachment to the hillside overlooking the town. He gave them twenty minutes to get into position before his large force began to move through the cornfield. When the men arrived at the edge of the field, the soldiers opened fire upon the village.

Surprised by the attack, Captain Jacobs gave the War Whoop and the battle began in full.

Though tired, Colonel Armstrong's men mostly stayed in the fields using the corn as cover. The Delawares warriors returned fire, hoping that they were hitting their unseen attackers. The command for the Indian women and children to flee was given and they did not waste time seeking the safety of the woods.

The commotion on the eastern bank of the river definitely aroused those Indians living on the western bank. The small settlement on the western side of the Allegheny River was the home of Chief Shingas, the noted terror of the Pennsylvania frontier. Shingas had some of his warriors firing across the river while others prepared their canoes to cross the Allegheny to help Captain Jacobs and his men.

With the fighting going on in the cornfields, Captain Jacobs retreated to his house. Captain Jacobs maintained a log cabin for his home complete with portholes from which those inside could shoot through. The building was well protected and Armstrong noted that those within rarely missed; every shot wounded or killed one of Colonel Armstrong’s men.

During the battle, one of those inside Captain Jacobs’ cabin shot at Colonel Armstrong and wounded him. This action seems to be the moment that changed Armstrong's attack plan. He immediately gave the order to put fire to the building, with Captain Jacobs, his family, and the other defenders still within. Those within began to sing, accepting their fate as men as the building began to burn.

As the fire grew hotter, three Indians tried fleeing the burning building. Two men and a woman jumped out of the burning building but were shot down while trying to flee. The female was the wife of Captain Jacobs and one of the males with her was their son - the other was not positively identified in any of the records. Captain Jacobs tumbled out of a window and was instantly shot and killed.

"So this is it?" Zech asked bringing me back to the present day. "This the monument you were searching for?"

"No, I still have one more...the destruction of Kittanning isn't quite over...."

The Battle of Kittanning continues here: Part Two.

A note about two of the captives held at Kittannning: John Turner, who was living in Buffalo Valley was at Fort Granville during the attack, along with his wife and stepchildren, was brought here after surrendering Fort Granville. By the time the party arrived at Kittanning, John Turner's fate was sealed. He was immediately tied to a post and tortured. For three hours, he was tortured by the Indians. Not to be gruesome, but he suffered greatly. The pile of wood that surrounded him was set a fire and as it burned, his torture continued. Red hot gun barrels were forced through various parts of his body, his scalp was brutally ripped from his head, and burning splinters were stuck into his flesh. I cringe just imagining the pain and suffering he underwent at the hands of the Indians. After three hours of torture a young Indian boy was lifted up and allowed to end Turner's life by sinking a hatchet into his head.

According to some, the reason the Indians tortured John Turner was due to the death of Simon Girty, Senior. The elder Girty was killed in a drunken brawl with an Indian known as "The Fish." John Turner took up Girty's fight and killed "The Fish." This Indian was known by those living in Kittanning and upon seeing John Turner recognized him as the killer of their friend.

Another interesting note about John Turner is he was the stepfather of the infamous outlaw Simon Girty.

Another captive held here was Rachel Leininger and her story can be found here:Regina's Song.