small text medium text large text

The Point: Indian Trails to Fort Duquesne

FromThe Pittsburg Bulletin, 31 December 1910. By George P. Donehoo.

A more bedraggled, rain-drenched, hungry, tired looking bunch of mortals never trailed along through the thickets which led to the summit of the Alleghenies. The eight of them, all clad in dripping slouch hats, flannel shirts, Khaki trousers and leather leggings and each one carrying his share of the impedimenta of haversacks, cameras, field-glasses, axes, tin-cups, bundles of maps and other "traveling dope," as the Colonel called it, trudged along Indian file through the dripping mountain forests. They looked like stragglers from some army. They might have been wandering peddlers, but for the Khaki uniforms and the sort of luggage they were carrying. They were historical students out on an expedition to trace the line of the Indian trails, the site of the old forts and the course of the road made by General Forbes in 1758, when his army was advancing towards Fort Duquesne. The quaint, historic Pennsylvania town of Bedford had been the meeting place of this party, whose members had come from Harvard, Washington, Pittsburg and other colleges and Universities. Bedford was chosen as the rendezvous because of its situation at the intersection of many of the old Indian trails, and because it was the place of beginning of the Forbes Road. In the early days when the red warriors of the Delaware and Shawnee commenced to migrate from the waters of the Susquehanna westward to the Ohio one of the chief trails which they followed was from Harris' Ferry (Harrisburg), ran over the Kittatinny and Tuscarora mountain ridges to the headwaters of the Ray's town branch of the Juniata, where Bedford is now situated. Northward from this point ran the trail to Frankstown, where it intersected the famous Kittanning path; southward, along the base of the Great Warrior Ridge, ran the trail to the headwaters of the Potomac, which was reached at Old Town, Md.; westward ran the trail to Shannopin's town (now Pittsburg). All of these trails had various branches, some of which cut through the mountain gaps and intersected the paths leading to the fording places on the Susquehanna, the Juniata, the West Branch and the upper Allegheny. Before the white man invaded this forest enshrouded wilderness these winding Indian paths were the only trails through the tree-covered valleys and over the rugged mountains. Then when the traders followed the Delaware, Shawnee and Iroquois to the waters of the Ohio these narrow pathways through the forests became the Traders' Trails over which they carried their merchandise to the Indian villages on the Ohio, Allegheny, Beaver and even to the Muskingum and Scioto valleys, where they bartered their goods for the furs and peltries of the Indian hunters. Then when the white settlers went westward into the great wilderness to build their log cabins, these Indian and traders' trails became the roadways which they traveled, and when the struggle for the possession of the great western empire west of the mountains commenced between France and Great Britain drew the attention of the world to the Ohio, these trails became the military roads, over which the armies of Braddock and Forbes cut their way.

How many of the travelers who now speed over the old Philadelphia and Pittsburg Pike in their automobiles realize through what a historic region they are passing! The region from the Susquehanna to the Ohio cannot be surpassed on the continent, if not in the world, for picturesque beauty. Far sweeping valleys, rugged mountains, grand forests and beautiful meadows are passed by in a constantly changing panorama. It is truly beautiful, but is also historic--almost every foot of it.

From the time that you cross the Susquehanna at Harris' Ferry (now Harrisburg), until you reach the shores of the "Beautiful River" at the site of Shannopin's Town (now Pittsburg) you are traveling through a region every mile of which has been made historic. There is not a valley, creek, mountain range, site of modern town or city which was not the scene of thrilling events, some of which will influence the world for all time to come. You walk the trail over which tramped the chieftains of the Delaware and Shawnee, who were fleeing from the invasion of the white race to the wilderness beyond the mountain ranges. In the pathway which they traced through the valleys and over the mountains followed the Indian traders from the Delaware and Susquehanna, and then on the waters of the Ohio there commenced the rivalry with the traders of Canada for the possession of the Indian trade, which did not end until the "world had been set on fire." For countless generations the waters of the Susquehanna had been the great Indian highway of the region east of the mountains. Down it had glided the war parties of the Iroquois from the Mohawk country on the east and the Seneca country on the west of the "Long House" in New York. Up its waters from the Potomac came the Shawnee from the Carolinas and Virginia. And then when the white men began to spread westward from the Delaware, across its winding course crossed the red men who had started on their migration to the setting sun.

From Harris' Ferry (Harrisburg) one of the main trails westward runs through the Kittatinny (or Blue) Mountains, the Tuscarora Range, Shade Mountains to Black Log (near Orbisonia). Here the trail divided, one branch running to Franks Town (near Hollidaysburg); the other striking the Allegheny Path at Ray's Town (now Bedford). The other branch of the trail ran from Harrisburg, through Carlisle, Shippensburg, Chambersburg, Loudon, and on westward to Bedford. In the days following Braddock's defeat, in 1755, the frontier settlements along the Juniata river in Shearman's Valley and along the Kittatinny and Tuscarora mountain ridges became the arena in which the red warrior of the forests and the white frontiersman fought to the death.

The Indian trail then became a trail of blood which led from the smoking ruins of the log cabins to the Indian villages on the Allegheny and Ohio. Many a young Scotch-Irish wife was carried away by these war-painted warriors to the distant villages on the Beaver or Muskingum, where she remained to bear children to her feather-crested husband, who had perhaps tomahawked and scalped her earlier lover.

Then came the days when this region was dotted with the frontier forts, which were built for the protection of the settlers from the hostile Delaware, Shawnee and Iroquois. The region in which they were situated, between the Susquehanna and the Ohio, was perhaps more bitterly fought for by the red warriors than any other domain on the American continent. During these years of conflict the frontiers of Pennsylvania were literally drenched with blood.

From Bedford we started westward over the old Indian trail, which led to the Ohio. Over this pathway tramped the proud Shawnee and Delaware as they journeyed beyond the mountains; over it, with trains of pack-horses, traveled the Indian traders; over it the army of General Forbes cut the roadway to Fort Duquesne; over it rushed the Highlanders of Bouquet to the relief of Fort Pitt, surrounded far off in the wilderness by the savage warriors of Pontiac; and over it journeyed the homeseekers from almost every nation under the skies. You want beautiful scenery with a historic setting? Here it is. The Appian Way is a mere by-path compared with this highway. Not only in beauty, but in its historic significance. This roadway led the Anglo-Saxon race into the greatest empire this world has yet known, compared with which, in extent, riches and influence, the Empire of Imperial Rome was trivial.

We skirt around the bluff, above the Raystown Branch of the Juniata, where once stood the historic old Fort Bedford, and then pass the northern end of Will's Mountain, which runs southward to Cumberland, Md. After an easy jaunt of four miles we reach the point where the famous Glade Road forks and passes across the mountains to the southward to the Monongahela river. About nine miles west of Bedford we reach the quiet village of Schellsburg, near the foothills of the Alleghenies, where still stands the old stone tavern at which stopped all of the pack-horse trains and coaches in the early days. In the days when there were no taverns in the place this was one of the stopping places of the Indians and traders before commencing the ascent of the Allegheny Ridge. A short distance below the town, on Shawnee creek, was situated the place known as the "Shawnee Cabins." This was one of the first villages of that tribe as it moved westward, early in the eighteenth century. Many of the relics of these days are yet plowed up in the fields along the creek. No doubt Peter Chartiers, that famous half-breed Shawnee warrior, passed this way as he went westward from his home on the Susquehanna. On the hill, just above Schellsburg, stands one of the most unique churches in America. I doubt if you can find another like it. The high pine board pews, gallery about the three sides, "bee-hive" pulpit--everything in the building just as it was in the days when the first settlers met there to worship.

About six miles beyond the "Shawnee Cabins" we commence the ascent of the Allegheny range. Instead of following the course of the present pike we cut right up over the tree-covered mountain, following the course of the Indian trail and the Forbes road. If you are in a machine you will take the easier course of the present road, but if you want to know what tramping over the mountains is like, and want to know why the French commander smiled when he heard that the British were going to send an army to drive him from "La Belle Riviere"--just take this tramp over the trail, which is still nearly as overgrown and as rough as it was in the days when the Indian runners carried the news to Fort Duquesne. It is about six miles to the summit of this ridge, and nearly every step of the trail is through deep underbrush, over moss-covered rocks and fallen logs, but when you reach the top of the mountain what a view you have! Mountains and sweeping valleys enshrouded in the endless forests. If you are as tired and as hungry and as wet as we were when we reached it--you will enjoy it anyhow. On the summit, in a heavy forest still stands the clearly marked remains of the breastwork which was erected by the advance of Forbes' army in 1758. The lines of the fort are easily traced although they are overgrown with great oak and chestnut trees which look to be over a century old.

The descent to the western slope of the Allegheny ridge is just about as rough tramping as you will find anywhere. We pushed through the underbrush, so heavy that we could hardly get through at all, in a drenching mountain storm, and then cut across Edmunds Swamp at nightfall to our stopping place, about as tired and wet and hungry mortals as ever trailed along that pathway from "Ray's Town." Then over hills, through valleys and across winding little mountain streams we reach Stoystown, most beautifully situated above Quemahoning creek. Just below the present town, on the branch of Stony creek, was formerly located the famous stopping place on the Indian trail called "Kickenapawlings." This was a small village of the Delawares, named for one of their chiefs, who seemed to wander about giving his name to various Indian settlements--as there are at least three places which bear his name. On a bluff, not far from Quemahoning creek, stood another of the breastworks erected during the road cutting of Forbes' army. At Stoystown the line of the Indian trail and the Forbes road coincide with the present Pike, having been to the northward for many miles after leaving Schellsburg. West of Stoystown the old trail skirts along the course of the present road to Jenners, where it again leaves the Pike, taking the more direct trail across the Laurel Hills. The journey over this great mountain ridge, of about twelve miles is over rocks, fallen trees, and through heavy laurel underbrush, in a region as wild and as uninhabited as it was in the days when the Delaware and Shawnee traveled the trail to the Ohio. Over the greater part of this mountain the old trail of the Forbes road is clearly marked. In some places, where the rains of over a century and a half have ran down the cleared pathway of the Indians and traders, the old trail is cut deep into the surface of the still heavy forests. A great scar on the mountain side, marking the course of these early travelers into the lands beyond the mountains. After a hard day's tramping, we descend into the rich and fertile Ligonier Valley, at the site of the historic Fort Ligonier. About this spot cluster the memories of Washington, Forbes, Bouquet, Burd, St. Clair and many others who made history during the French and Indian War and the Revolution. The clear, tree-bounded Loyalhanna creek recalls the first settlers in the place, who here had their village and named the stream the Loyalhanna, which, in the Delaware means "middle stream," as the waters of the creek are midway between those of the Juniata (at Bedford) and those of the Ohio, at Pittsburg. In the days when the great Pontiac aroused the red men to drive the white men back across the mountains, the little garrison at Fort Ligonier, shut off in the dark forests and surrounded by howling savages, held out until relieved by Bouquet. Had this post fallen Fort Pitt would have been doomed.

From Ligonier westward we cross the Chestnut ridge, past the place where General Arthur St. Clair spent the last days of his life in extreme poverty, and descending into Youngstown we cut across the rich farms of "Old Westmoreland." At the Twelve Mile Run we again leave the course of the present Pike crossing through the grounds of Saint Vincent's Monastery, past old Unity Church, and crossing the Pennsylvania Railroad, after a tramp of about twelve miles we reach a cross-road where stands a blacksmith shop and a few houses surrounded by beautiful farms. Here once stood the first court house of the English-speaking race west of the mountains, in the little village of Hannastown. Hundreds of automobile parties pass this spot every summer without having the slightest knowledge of its history. The little village of log houses, a court house, jail and fort was the first seat of justice of the Anglo-Saxon race west of the Allegheny Mountains. Talk of "historic setting!" This almost unknown village, which was burned by the Indians in the summer of 1782, has about as much romance, history of thrilling events, and sent forth from its log cabins as many great actors in the drama of life as any city on the Continent. A few miles west of it, on the top of a barren hill, is the location of one of the most wonderful battles ever fought in America. You have crossed that hill top, above Harrison City, and perhaps did not know that you were passing over the very roadway which Bouquet's Highlanders drove the terrified Indians in the Battle of Bushy Run. On the little round knob, to the north, his wounded and thirst-suffering soldiers spent that awful night before the second day's battle, in which the Seneca, Wyandot, Delaware and Shawnee warriors were driven howling through the forests. His defeat on that hot August day would have meant the destruction of the English power west of the mountains and the fall of the only two remaining posts in Western Pennsylvania.

Through Harrison City we follow the line of the Forbes road on through Murraysville, where we strike the Frankstown road, which follows the high ground into the city of Pittsburg, thus avoiding the dangerous defiles of the Turtle Creek Valley. One line of the old Indian trail followed down this valley, joining the road which Braddock's army so suddenly finished on the banks of the Monongahela. The Forbes road entered the present city of Pittsburg by way of Frankstown and Penn avenues, reaching "The Point," where now stands the freight station of the Pennsylvania Railroad, and the historic Bouquet Block House--preserved through the efforts of the Daughters of the American Revolution. Here, where once stood the wigwams of the Delaware, Shawnee and Iroquois now stands the sky-scraper and the mill. And where once wound the narrow Indian trail through the deep forests, now winds the road of steel connecting the Atlantic with the Pacific. The Indian has gone from the shores of "The Beautiful River," but he has left the memory of his residence in the names of almost every mountain, river and creek from the Susquehanna to the Ohio. The narrow, winding trail over which he walked from the lands of his ancestors across the mountains became the pathway of his conquerors, who drove him to the lands of the setting sun, beyond the Mississippi.

Organizations. Narrative. Outline. Neighborhoods. Main Menu.