Sunday, January 8, 2017

Simeon Pfoutz: Lord of the Kettle Creek Valley

Memorial to Simeon and Susannah Pfoutz
The wind whipped around me as I stepped out of the vehicle at the overlook at the Alvin Bush Dam. From the overlook along State Route 4001, I had a view of the dam and the southern end of the Kettle Creek Reservoir, one that was breath-taking and absolutely beautiful.

Standing there, my attention was drawn to a monument. The plaque on it was in memory of early settlers Simeon and Susannah Pfoutz. Simeon was the first white man to settle in the Kettle Creek Valley.

Simeon being the first white man to settle in the Kettle Creek Valley is a technicality. He was actually not the first settler on Kettle Creek. Richard Gilmore had originally staked a claim of land at the mouth of Kettle Creek. I can’t find any histories that state Gilmore actually lived on the land. However there was a James Caldwell who settled near the mouth of the creek in 1796. Caldwell was a Revolutionary War soldier who moved into the area that is present-day Westport, at the mouth of Kettle Creek. While Caldwell might have settled along Kettle Creek, Simeon was technically the first to lay down roots within the boundaries of the valley.

Simeon, though not the first in the region, is listed as the first settler of Leidy Township. The township was formed in 1847 and Simeon’s homestead was within the borders of the newly formed township, making him the first settler in Leidy Township.

Plaque on the memorial
Simeon was described as being physically strong with a sense of reckless danger that often took him on some wild adventures.

This sense of adventure is what first brought him into the region. His ancestors had settled in Perry County in the valley that still bears the family name: Pfoutz Valley. While exploring the region north of Renovo, he discovered a wilderness valley that also bears his name in the Tamarack region near the headwaters of Paddy Run.

While the valley he discovered bears his name, Simeon would settle in the Kettle Creek Valley in 1813. The piece of land he had selected as his homestead was located roughly eight miles upstream from the mouth of Kettle Creek. He spent that summer clearing the land for a farm and building a home. In the autumn of 1813 he returned to Perry County where he spent the winter with his wife and young son. The following spring he packed up and returned to Kettle Creek with his family and friend Paul Shade.

Arriving at the mouth of Kettle Creek, they unloaded their supplies onto a large canoe and proceeded up the stream. When they arrived at the location Pfoutz had selected, the two men began improving upon the initial work Simeon had done the year before.

Simeon’s adventures in the wilderness are still talked about in the region. On one of his hunting expeditions about a mile downstream from his home, Simeon discovered three panther cubs and gathering them up he headed for home. A short distance from his house he heard the terrifying scream of the mother panther. It was a race for the house with the large panther closing in on him. He barely made it to the house, dropped the cubs and grabbed his rifle, shooting the panther in mid-leap. The dead panther landed at his feet. On another hunting trip Simeon killed four panthers in one day.

In the spring of 1815 Simeon and Susannah welcomed a baby daughter, Martha (known to her friends and family as Mattie), the first white child born in the Kettle Creek Valley. In all, the Pfoutz’s would have nine children.. There does seem to be some debate on the year Mattie was born: some sources state 1815, while others state 1816. Whichever date is correct, she was still the first white child born in the Kettle Creek Valley. The first wedding that took place in the Kettle Creek Valley was Mattie to Isaac Summerson.

Simeon’s family would live through the the horrific events of 1816. The year 1816 has been referred to as “The Year Without a Summer” and also “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death,” due to much lower than normal temperatures. North central Pennsylvania had snowfalls of close to twelve inches on April 30 and again on May 10 and in many places the snow remained on the ground until late June. July and August of that year had killing frosts which destroyed any crops that were planted and managed to start growing.

See note at the end of the article for more information about “The Year Without a Summer.”

While I cannot verify this to be true, I want to share a story about Simeon, who believed he was lord of the Kettle Creek Valley due to being the first white man to settle there. He believed that everybody who settled in the valley after he did owed him a portion of their crops and harvest.  It seemed that many of the early inhabitants of the Kettle Creek Valley did not object to (or if they did, they did so silently) Simeon taking a portion of their crops.

Kettle Creek Reservoir from the memorial location
However he met his match with Jacob “Old Jake” Hammersley who settled at the mouth of the stream that bears his name along with Archie Stewart. In 1824, Hammersley settled on the east bank and Stewart built a dwelling on the west bank.

Pfoutz, believing that Jake owed him, traveled the twelve miles upstream to help himself to Hammersley’s crops. Pfoutz had gathered over half of Hammersley’s cabbage crop when Jake approached him to find out what was going on. Though Simeon was larger and stronger, Old Jake was much quicker. The fight ended with Simeon knocked down, unable to rise, and the cabbage crop completely destroyed. Jake managed to get Simeon back in the canoe and pushed it off, allowing it to drift downstream.

Simeon would continue to gather crops from the early settlers, despite their protests. Only Jake Hammersley’s crops were avoided. This would continue until Isaac “Iky” Corns arrived in the Kettle Creek Valley. Words were exchanged and Isaac beat Simeon badly in a fist fight, compelling Simeon to limit his crop gathering to his own backyard.

A side note: When he passed away Isaac Corns was buried in the Minnie Calhoun Cemetery. His body was removed to the New Maple Grove Cemetery with the flooding of the Kettle Creek Valley.

One of Simeon’s habits was picking up rattlesnakes and playing with them. He had done this countless times without incident but on August 26, Simeon's luck ran out. Simeon was demonstrating the harmless nature of the venomous snake when it sunk its fangs into him. "The Lord of the Kettle Creek Valley" would die from the snake's strike.

I reread the brief mention of the history of Simeon and Sussanah Pfoutz on the plaque before enjoying the view from the overlook. The location of the Pfoutz homestead was near the location of the memorial. The family cemetery was located on the north shore of the Kettle Creek just north of the memorial. When Kettle Creek was dammed, the family cemetery (called the Pfoutz-Wertz Cemetery) was moved out of the valley to North Bend Cemetery.

If you decide to take a  trip up the Kettle Creek Valley and stop at this monument, the overlook it is located at is on a blind curve on a narrow road. Please be cautious pulling in and out of the parking lot.

More information about the flooding of the Kettle Creek Valley can be found here: The Kettle Creek Project

Another view of the reservoir from the lookout
Some notes about 1816: The Year Without a Summer

What exactly caused the bizarre weather of 1816 has been debated over the years. It is now believed that the cause of the strange weather of 1816 was the result of volcanic activity. From 1812 to 1814 there were four volcanic eruptions that had put a large amount of ash and dust into the air and had already caused below average temperatures around the world. The explosion of Mount Tambora in 1815 was one of the most powerful explosions in history and placed even more dust into the atmosphere. This dust reflected solar heat resulting in cooler weather than normal.

Snow in June had drifts of eighteen inches high in Philadelphia. In the New England states, July and August had temperatures as low as forty degrees. The cold was bad enough that the frozen birds were falling from the sky onto the streets of Montreal and any animals left outside too long froze to death. On August 20 a snow storm moved through the New England states killing what little crops had managed to survive through the strange weather, and snow on September 26 froze what remained of the apple crop. Food crops were so scarce that prices were double and triple the normal price.

One thing that names like “The Year Without a Summer” and “Eighteen Hundred and Froze to Death” fail to reveal is the weather was not consistently cold. Temperatures would rise to almost normal, and slightly higher than normal is some cases, before rapidly plunging back to freezing temperatures.

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