The Land Of The Susquehannock
(A large portion of the information for the following was obtained through a discussion with Paul M. Heberling, a retired anthropology professor of Juniata College, and owner of the Heberling Associates, an archaeological research company.)
The various published history books available which recount the history of the Indians of Pennsylvania, and the central Pennsylvania region in particular, all presented interesting stories of the Indians who, at one time or another, inhabited Pennsylvania. The books dealing with the entire region contained within the surveyed boundary lines of the state present no problems. But the books dealing specifically with the region that has been defined as Mother Bedford have presented us with the misconception that the Indian tribes inhabiting the entire state likewise inhabited this particular small tract in the south central portion of that state. The assumption was apparently made by the authors of the History Of Huntingdon And Blair Counties, Pennsylvania and the History Of Bedford, Somerset And Fulton Counties, Pennsylvania that since the Lenni Lenape/Delaware tribe inhabited Pennsylvania (irregardless of where within the state) they also inhabited this particular region. (It is interesting that the History Of Huntingdon And Blair Counties, Pennsylvania makes no mention whatsoever of the Susquehannock tribe.) That assumption might not be totally incorrect in view of the somewhat nomadic way of life of many Indian tribes; it is certainly safe to conclude that if a particular Indian tribe inhabited a valley lying alongside a second valley, some families might have spread into the second valley also. The problem with the history as presented in books such as the History Of Huntingdon And Blair Counties, Pennsylvania is that so much space was devoted to giving a complete history of the Lenni Lenape/Delaware tribe, but they might not have inhabited this Blair County region simply because they inhabited the Delaware River valley within the bounds of the state of Pennsylvania.
Although they differ from one another on various particular points, all of the previously published histories concur somewhat on certain other particular points. They all focus on the fact that this region was visited (if not constantly inhabited) mostly by tribes belonging to the Iroquois linguistic group. Despite the fact that a few of the sources cited above placed the Susquehannock tribe within the Algonquian lingusitic group, as was noted previously, they are currently considered to have been part of the Iroquoian linguistic group. The volume, Encyclopedia Of North American Indian Tribes, noted that although the Susquehannock were related to the Iroquois through their language and culture, they constantly carried out warfare against them. And although some Lenni Lenape/Delaware tribes may have moved through this region from time to time, visits by such Algonquian linguistic tribes were not very numerous or of any permanence.
In attempting to determine which, if any, Indian tribes might have inhabited this region we find that recent archaeological research has indicated that this region, encompassed within the artificial boundaries of Mother Bedford, was the permanent home of very few Indian tribes. The tribes which made this region their home were basically nomadic. They seldom established permanent villages in the manner that the Europeans were used to. There were a few notable villages, though. The villages they did establish tended to be located along major waterways such as the Susquehanna River and its primary tributaries. Assunepachla, on the Frankstown Branch of the Juniata River was the only established Indian village within the bounds of present-day Blair County and there is not sufficient evidence to prove that it was anything more than a trading rendezvous site.
The archaeological evidence has shown that of the many excavated sites throughout the region encompassed by Blair County none have revealed the signs of permanent habitation. A single arrowhead, or a shard of pottery found at a site may be an indication of a short stopover rather than a lifetime's habitation.
This region functioned moreso as a crossroads for the migrations of various tribes rather than a settlement region. The valleys which stretch north and southward within the long sweeping arcs formed by the mountains of the Appalachian Range created natural avenues for pathways. The rivers that cut gaps through those mountain ranges, including the branches of the Juniata and the Susquehanna Rivers created east to west avenues.
As has been already noted, we have no way of knowing what the earliest sojourners in this land called themselves. The fact that they inhabited this land prior to recorded history, they have been designated as pre-historic. And because those earliest peoples had no written language, "recorded" history (other than some pictographs) did not appear in this North American region until the Seventeenth Century with the arrival of the Europeans. The Indians who inhabited this region prior to the arrival of the Europeans have been identified and named according to time period and modern day locations where excavations have revealed their presence. The most general name given by anthropologists to the earliest of these pre historic peoples is "Lithic" Indians.
The Lithic Period can be divided into three stages: the Pre-Projectile Point stage, the Paleo~Indian stage, and the Protoarchaic stage. The three stages are sometimes lumped together and referred to as the Paleo~Indian Period. This Paleo~Indian Period stretched from the earliest migrations by Asiatic peoples onto this continent (by way of the Bering Strait land bridge) until the end of the Wisconsin Glaciation, or about the year 8000 BC. The Paleo~Indians were nomadic hunters who seldom built shelters. They generally utilized caves and natural rock overhangs for temporary habitations. They moved across the continent following the herds of big-game animals that inhabited this continent. Pleistocene Age animals roamed the North American continent after the Ice Age and included the large felines such as the saber-toothed tiger and mountain lions, the woolly mammoths, mastadons and musk-oxen and other large mammals.
Some of the cultures which inhabited the North American continent during the Lithic Period were the Folsom and Plano culture, the Sandia and Clovis culture and the Old Cordilleran culture. Evidence of these cultures has been found primarily in the central and western parts of the present-day United States.
The Pre-Projectile Point stage is so named because it was a time before stone points were used on the ends of spear shafts. Some stone and bone implements were crafted for uses such as chopping and scraping. The Paleo~Indian stage is characterized by the crafting of tools from stone such as obsidian and flint. With the stone spear points the Paleo~Indians were more easily able to kill their prey and then clean the skins from the edible meat. The Protoarchaic stage was a period of greater diversification. Excavations of sites dating to this period have revealed more specialized tools including fishhooks and stones for grinding grain. These finds indicate a developing domestic culture in which hunting began to be displaced by farming. The earliest examples of basketry come from the Protoarchaic stage and indicate domestic pursuits. The Paleo~Indians would eventually give way to the Archaic Indians of whom evidence has been found in this region.
The span of nearly ten thousand years following the Paleo~Indian stages has been divided into basically three periods. The Archaic Period stretched between roughly 8000 BC and 1500 BC. The Transitional Period lasted from 1500 to 1000 BC. The most recent division was the Woodland Period. This last period was further divided into three time periods. The Early Woodland Period stretched between 1000 and 300 BC. The Middle Woodland Period followed between 300 BC and 1000 AD. Finally, the Late Woodland Period ran from 1000 to 1600 AD. An important thing to remember when considering the history of these early Indians is that they all were part of what is called the Stone Age, meaning that, even when the Europeans encountered them in the 17th Century, they were still using stone tools. They did not achieve a knowledge of metalurgy until after the Europeans introduced it to this continent.
The Indians of the Archaic Period appear to have lived in small clans or groups of only twenty to forty individuals. Their lives were somewhat migratory. They are sometimes referred to as foragers; they survived by hunting and trapping small game, fishing and gathering edible wild plants. Although they tended to reside in the same general region they moved to be close to the best source of food as the seasons changed. During the spring and summer they stayed in the valleys so they could be close to the rivers because fish provided them with a plentiful food supply.
As the fall approached they moved further away from the rivers toward the hills where berries and nuts could be gathered. As small game moved away from the streams and prepared their burrows for their winter hibernation, the Archaic Indians followed them. As winter came on, and the small game became scarce, the Indians moved further into the mountains where they hunted bigger animals. The mountains also provided them with greater shelter from the cold winds than the open valleys could.
The Archaic Period saw the development of an assortment of new technologies such as the construction of specialized tools including knives, axes, adzes and scrapers, hammers, mauls, drills and mortars and pestles. Baskets and cloths were first created during this period. The fact that the Archaic Period Indians fashioned ornaments lends credence to the assumption that these peoples were at least somewhat stationary. A completely migratory existence would have denied them time or reason to create articles that did not contribute directly to survival.
The Archaic Period Indians lived within the seasonal migratory pattern, moving between the valleys and mountains, but staying within the same general region. The Old Copper culture inhabited the region around the Great Lakes, the Cochise culture inhabited the southwest United States area and the Red Paint culture dwelt in the vicinities of Newfoundland and Nova Scotia. Spear points which have been identified with the Archaic Period have been found in the western portion of New York, through this Appalachian Mountain region and into southwest Pennsylvania. Spear points similar to those found at the Shriver Site near Waynesburg, Pennsylvania have been found at sites along Dunnings Creek in Bedford County. It is safe to assume that Indians from the same culture might have ventured further north through the Indian Path Valley lying to the west of Dunnings Mountain.
A new culture of people appeared on the North American continent about the year 1500 BC. Evidence of this culture has been found in the region drained by the Susquehanna River. Because the excavated evidence of this culture exhibits a transition between the Archaic Period and the more recent Woodland Period, it has become known as the Transitional Period. The period has also been called the Formative and Classic Indian culture. Because it was the period during which certain cultures, including the Anasazi and the Adena Mound Builders, reached their zeniths, this period has sometimes been referred to as the Golden Age of Indian culture. Carl Waldman, in his book, Atlas Of The North American Indian, noted the confusion that exists because of the different names applied by anthropologists to this cultural period. He noted that certain scholars refer to the period during which the Adena culture thrived as the Transitional, while others prefer to include Adena in the Woodland Period. (In fact, some anthropologists have used the name Woodland to refer to the Transitional Period rather than separating the two.)
Three types of spear points have been discovered in the region of present-day Pennsylvania which have been identified as belonging to the Transitional Period. Named for the present-day sites where they were first discovered, these projectile point types are known as Susquehanna Broad, Perkiomen Broad and Lehigh Broad spear points. Both, Susquehanna Broad and Perkiomen Broad, spear points have been found along the Raystown Branch of the Juniata River and along Dunnings Creek.
A distinctive feature of this culture is their production of carved soapstone bowls. Soapstone is soft and easy to carve. The carved bowls enabled the Transitional Indians to cook their food directly over open fire. Previously, cooking was generally performed by placing the food, such as vegetables, into a leather/skin bag, filling the bag with water, and then dropping a heated stone into the bag.
A second distinctive invention that appeared during the Transitional Period was the canoe. Prior to the canoe, the Indians travelled by land. Movement was not restricted to the valleys, but it certainly was easier to avoid crossing the mountains. The mountains comprising the Appalachian Mountain Range form valleys lying in a basically north south orientation and created natural avenues between what is present-day New York State to the Carolinas. The Susquehanna River and its many branches and tributaries and the Ohio and Monongahela Rivers travel primarily in east west directions. The canoe made it possible to travel in an east west direction through the mountain gaps cut by those rivers.
The spear points known by the name of Susquehanna Broad points are generally made from rhyolite stone. Rhyolite is found in the southeastern Pennsylvania counties of Franklin and Adams but not in this Blair/Bedford/ Huntingdon region. For spear points of this type to be found along the tributaries of the Juniata River, they would have had to have been transported from the east. The invention of the canoe made such transportation possible for the Transitional Period Paleo Indians.
The Woodland Period emerged out of the Transitional Period rather quietly. As noted above, some scholars make no distinction between the Transitional and Woodland Periods. For purposes of this study I have included the Adena culture within the Early Woodland Period. There was not a lot of activity in this region to distinguish when the Transitional Period ended and the Woodland began. Excavations have revealed that there were some migrations through this region by tribes from the west, possibly the Adena.
An identifying feature of the Adena Indians is the quartz tempered pottery they produced. Such pottery tempered with Quartz has been discovered in sites in Bedford County along the Dunnings Creek.
The Middle Woodland Period was one of continuing movement of people from the Ohio and Allegheny River valleys into this region. Pottery from this period is characterized by being tempered with Limestone. Sites throughout the Dunnings Creek area from the Middle Woodland Period have been excavated. Spear points were carved thinner during this period and are noted for their corner notched design. Although the wooden portion of the weapons did not survive over the centuries, the shape and lightness of the points would indicate that they were actually used as arrows to be shot from a bow rather than as the point of a hand thrown spear.
During the Late Woodland Period migrations of peoples into and through this region from both the west and the east is evident by the remains they left behind. At least two different tribes from the east have been identified. As has been the case for most prehistoric cultures, they have been named according to the present-day sites where the cultures were first identified. The Clemson Island culture is believed to have lived circa 1000 AD. The Shenks Ferry culture has been dated to between 1300 and 1600 AD. Both cultures are believed to have originated in the eastern
Pennsylvania region along the Susquehanna River and moved westward. The Workman Site near Saxton was excavated in 1967 by Dr. Paul Heberling. It revealed evidence of the Shenks Ferry culture along with earlier Archaic and later Susquehannock projectile points and pottery. Post holes were discovered at the site which indicated two villages of circular shaped huts measuring twelve to fifteen feet in diameter. Dr. Paul Heberling compared them to huts built by the Owasco tribe of New York State. The site was re-examined in 1976, at which time anthropologist David Kohler identified pottery evidence of the Monongahela culture. The Monongahela culture thrived in the region drained by the Ohio River circa 1200 to 1300 AD.
The last prehistoric Indian culture to inhabit this region was, at the same time, the first historic Indian culture of the region. The Susquehannock tribe may or may not have evolved from the Adena culture which inhabited this general region during the Transitional Period. The exact date when the Susquehannock Indians arose as a distinct tribe is not known, but they were established as the dominant tribe in this region when the Europeans first made contact with them in the early years of the 1600s. The Susquehannock Indians thrived as a separate tribe into the 1670s. The tribe was first encountered by Europeans in the year 1608. Captain John Smith, a member of the company which formed the settlement of Jamestown in 1607, explored the Chesapeake Bay and ventured northward up the Susquehanna River. Captain Smith made contact with the tribe and wrote about his experience in later years. The tribe was also visited at some time circa 1608 to 1615 by the French explorer, Etienne Brule.
In one of his writings Captain John Smith noted of the Susquehannocks that "The land is not populous, for the men be fewe; their far greater number is of women and children. Within 60 miles of James Towne there are about some 5000 people, but of able men fit for their warres scarse 1500." In the book, A Map Of Virginia, published in the year 1612, Captain Smith noted that:
"Some being very great as the Sesquesahamocks, others being very little as the Wighcocomocoes: but generally tall and straight, of a comely proportion, and of a colour browne, when they are of any age, but they are borne white. Their haire is generally black, but few have any beards. The men weare halfe their heads shaven, the other halfe long."
In an account of another encounter with the Susquehannock tribe, Captain Smith stated that:
"60 of those Sasquesahanocks came to the discoverers with skins, Bowes, Arrowes, Targets, Beads, Swords, and Tobacco pipes for presents. Such great and well proportioned men, are seldome seene, for they seemed like Giants to the English, yea and to the neighbours: yet seemed of an honest and simple disposition, with much adoe restrained from adoring the discoverers as Gods. Those are the most strange people of all those Countries, both in language and attire; for their language it may well beseeme their proportions, sounding from them, as it were a great voice in a vault, or cave, as an Eccho. Their attire is the skinnes of Beares and Woolves, some have Cassacks made of Beares heades and skinnes that a mans necke goes through the skinnes neck, and the eares of the beare fastned to his shoulders behind, the nose and teeth hanging downe his breast, and at the end of the nose hung a Beares Pawe: the halfe sleeves comming to the elbowes were the neckes of Beares and the armes through the mouth, with pawes hanging at their noses. One had the head of a Woolfe hanging in a chaine for a Jewell; his Tobacco pipe 3 quarters of a yard long, prettily carved with a Bird, a Beare, a Deare, or some such devise at the great end, sufficient to beat out the braines of a man: with bowes, and arrowes, and clubs, sutable to their greatnesse and conditions... They can make neere 600 able and mighty men, and are pallisadoed in their Townes to defend them from the Massawomekes their mortall enimies. 5 of their chiefe Werowances came aboard the discoverers, and crossed the Bay in their Barge. The picture of the greatest of them is signified in the Mappe. The calfe of whose leg was 3 quarters of a yard about: and all the rest of his limbes so answerable to that proportion, that he seemed the goodliest man that ever we beheld. His haire, the one side was long, the other shore close with a ridge over his crown like a cocks combe. His arrowes were five quarters long, headed with flints or splinters of stones, in forme like a heart, an inch broad, and an inch and a halfe or more long. These hee wore in a woolves skinne at his backe for his quiver, his bow in the one hand and his clubbe in the other, as is described."
William H. Egle, in his book, History Of The Commonwealth Of Pennsylvania, stated that the Massawomekes that Captain Smith spoke of were the tribe later known by the name of Mohawk.
In his book, Indians In Pennsylvania, Paul A.W. Wallace noted that Susquehannock was not the name which this tribe called itself. That name has been lost over the centuries, and may never be rediscovered. The name Susquehannock does not appear in current Indian usage and was apparently picked up by Captain Smith from his interpreter, who is believed to have been a member of the Powhatan tribe. The translation of the name presented by Mr. Wallace of "people of a well-watered land" would seem appropriate in view of their inhabiting primarily the waterways of the central Pennsylvania and eastern Maryland region. The Delaware Indians called the Susquehannocks by the name Minquas. This, though, was more of a private joke aimed at the Susquehannocks because it translates as "stealthy" or "treacherous". The French traders who infiltrated this region at an early date called the tribe by the name of Andastes, which is believed to be derived from the Huron word meaning "log-eater" (or rather, "foreigner"). The French also called the Susquehannocks the Gandastogues, meaning "people of the blackened ridge pole", and later bastardized into the name Conestoga by the English.
At the time of the first Indian/European contact the Susquehannocks were still a stone-age people without the benefit of any kind of metal weapons or tools. They resided along the Susquehanna River in at least one permanent village which Captain John Smith identified as Sasquesahanough. That village has been identified as existing near what is today Washington Boro in Lancaster County along the east side of the Susquehanna River and about a half mile north of the Blue Rock Ford. At least five other towns were named by Captain Smith, but none of them have been recently located and identified. They included: Attaock, Cepowig, Quadroque, Tesinigh and Utchowig. Members of the Susquehannock tribe made their way north and westward by way of the Juniata River and its various tributaries and made settlements in this south central Pennsylvania region.
Despite the conflicts between the Five Nations and the Susquehannocks, the latter tribe belonged also to the Iroquoian linguistic group. Their villages were laid out in a manner similar to the other Iroquoian tribes. The villages were generally stockaded or simply palisaded and the shelters built within the stockade were of a structure that has become known as "longhouses". The longhouse was usually constructed of wood poles tied together in a rectangular shape with a vaulted roof. The longhouses were so named because their lengths varied between fifty and over a hundred feet long. The width of each longhouse was generally eighteen to twenty-five feet. Bark was placed over the pole structure and lashed down. About every twelve feet along the length of the roof vent holes were allowed to remain uncovered. Along a central corridor running the length of the structure, fires for cooking and heating were located beneath each vent hole so that the smoke could rise and exit from the structure. A number of families occupied each longhouse and each family maintained their own fire. To either side of the central corridor platforms for sleeping were constructed. These were raised off of the ground floor so that rain, entering through the smoke vent holes, would not soak the inhabitants. The sleeping platforms were piled high with bear and other animal furs for use as covers. All of the members of a single family slept together on their section of the platform to conserve and share body warmth. A second, higher platform was used for storing of the family's possessions, including their cooking pots and utensils. In most cases, the individual family sections within the longhouse would be curtained off to provide a sense of privacy from the other families occupying the longhouse. In the matrilineal tribes of the Iroquoian linguistic tradition the oldest female occupying each longhouse was the acknowledged head of that longhouse.