ACCORDING to some historians Stephen Herman Otto Franks, better known as Stephen Franks, or "Old Franks," first appeared in what is now Blair County as early as 1734, while others give the date of his advent hereabouts as 1746. Whichever is the correct date, it is evident that Franks was in this locality as least two years ahead of his brother Israelite, the famous pathfinder and peacemaker, Conrad Weiser.
Going back into the history of Stephen Franks, he was the son of Isaac Franks, a prosperous fur dealer of Coblenz, Germany, who gave up his lucrative business to become a missionary among the Pennsylvania Indians.
On the authority of the gifted Dr. Albert Cooke Myers, formerly secretary of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission, William Penn noted a marked resemblance in physiognomy, habits, customs, and religious observances between the Pennsylvania Indians and the Jewish people. At once he became possessed of the idea that he had discovered the lost twelve tribes of Israel.
Writing on the subject to friends in the Rhineland, the information swept Jewry from Rotterdam to Basel. Prominent Jews subscribed liberally to a proselyting expedition, which was given the royal patronage of three minor Archdukes, Stephen, Herman, and Otto respectively, and it was for these otherwise forgotten moguls that "Old Franks," the fur trader, was named.
Who was the mother of Stephen Franks is not altogether clear, as the Jewish missionaries brought no women with them, and were supposed to lead monastic lives in connection with their duties. Perhaps Isaac Franks met some charming arming co-religionist among the Spanish and Portuguese Jewish colony in Philadelphia, and secretly married her, though it is doubtful if she appeared at New Judea, as the missionary settlement was first known, until after the colapse of the proselyting movement.
Among very old people in Lebanon County it is believed that Stephen Franks was born in 1710, which would be about the last year of New Judea as a centre of Jewish religious enterprise. What caused the decline of the mission is still veiled in mystery. The Indians were receptive, and loved their missionary fathers. This is proved by the scores of Indians buried outside the cement-lime-plaster walled Jewish cemetery at New Judea, a pale erected about 1704, but as fresh-looking and solid as the day it was built.
When Indians were about to die, they asked to be taken to New Judea, and buried close to their Hebrew friends. Likewise many Indian Chiefs are buried around the last resting place of that noble Jewish Colonel, Conrad Weiser, at Weiser Park, near Womelsdorf, Berks County.
As the Jewish mission disintegrated, Pennsylvania Germans and Huguenots flocked in, and in time the settlement was given a new name, Schaefferstown, which it bears today. All that remains of the Jewish mission are the walls of the temple, now the foundations of a hotel; the burial ground, the water works, and the remains of a few of the old missionaries' stone cabins.
A later German, also possibly a Sew, Baron Henry W. Stiegel, erected a "Castle" at Schaefferstown, the cellars of which are still visible. This great cultural pioneer, who made beautiful glassware, stoves, fire - backs, brasses, bronzes, bells, hunted for gold, and in the Revolution turned to wars, changing his various factories into munitions plants, may have been attracted to the locality by the traditions of earlier Jewish inhabitants. Stiegel, who lived a man of mystery no one knew for certain where he was born, some claimed he was a Baltic baron, others that he was the natural son of a Rhineland princeling, died a mystery, as there are three graves said to contain his bones.
That Stephen H. O. Franks was a gentleman sportsman is attested to not only by his respectable antecedents, but the exalted social position occupied by all of the members of his family in Pennsylvania. His brother, David Franks, known as "the father of Pennsylvania transportation," was a rich merchant in Philadelphia. He is remembered as one of the subscribers for the first Philadelphia Assembly Ball in 1748, when his brother Stephen was blazing the route to the west which became the approximate line of the Pennsylvania Central Railroad exactly a century later.
With her sister, Mrs. Abraham Marks, Mrs. Franks was listed among the "dames" or patronesses of the "wartime" assembly of 1757, while the French and Indian war was at its height, and many officers danced in glittering uniforms. David Franks' daughter, Phila, married General Oliver de Lancey, for whom de Lancey Place in Philadelphia and de Lancey Street in New York City are named.
Abigail married Andrew Hamilton, reputed to be the wealthiest man of his time in Philadelphia, while "Becky" married Major General Sir Harry Johnson, a rich foxhunting English Squire. The Franks sisters were counted among the belles of the Meschianza Pageant, held during the occupancy of Philadelphia by General Howe's redcoat army. More details concerning these German Jewish beauties can be found in Littell's edition of "Memoirs of Alexander Graydon."
It was the dream of David Franks to open a transportation route to Fort Duquesne, and farther west, which caused him to send his brother, Stephen, his brother-in-law, Jacob Feldbaum, his cousin, Noah Abrahams, a surveyor and a party of trail-blazers to work out the first pioneer route across Pennsylvania to the Great West. The expedition, some time between 1734 and 1746, travelled by canoe from Harris' Ferry, up the Juniata, and out the fork now known as the Frankstown Branch. At where Frankstown is now situated a halt was made as a result of one of the canoes having been captured by Indians at the cascades in the Shades of Death, between Cove Forge and Mount Etna, not far from Williamsburg.
The canoe containing Franks and Feldbaum was capsized in breasting the rapids, and Indians rescued the victims, while the other members of the party surrendered, rather than leave Franks and Feldbaum among the redskins. Friendly relations were soon established among captors and captives, and the party were escorted to the council house of the chief on the Geeseytown Flats, where they were all royally entertained at an all night cantico or dinner dance.
A son being born to the chief's squaw during the festivities, the infant was named "Franks" and grew up to be known as the Indian "Old Franks" after his illustrious namesake, as is mentioned in Sherman Day's "Historical Collections of Pennsylvania."
Abrahams and Feldbaum were left in charge of a trading post which Stephen Franks erected on the site of present Frankstown, while Franks pushed on with his bodyguard, opening the "Frankstown Road," which leads to the forks of the Ohio, where, according to the historian Hanna, Franks established another trading post in 1734. Feldbaum later took charge of the trading post at Fort Duquesne, and his son George was one of a party of six Germans and German Jews who successfully withstood an attack of one hundred Indians at Abraham Reiss' Fort, in Washington County, Pa., for three days, in 1782, young Feldbaum unfortunately being killed by being shot in the head through a loop-hole.
The Frankstown Road did more to open western Pennsylvania to settlement than any other cause, and was so strategically laid out that it was adopted in part by the surveyors for the Pennsylvania railroad, as previously stated. For use on the Frankstown Road, David Franks and family maintained a "fleet" of a thousand pack horses, ponies, and donkeys which carried goods of all kinds from Philadelphia to Pittsburg, and also saddle horses, which were rented to travelers and explorers.
During the thirty years between 1748 and the Revolution, when the travel became interrupted by most of the Franks family unfortunately taking the wrong side in the dispute, the transportation company prospered, and being so efficiently managed that not a single hold-up or serious accident occurred. An account of this great enterprise, which after the Revolution was extended to Gratz, Owen County, Kentucky, by Stephen Franks' grand - nephew, Hyman Gratz, can be found in a work on the Gratz family by the noted historian, Dr. Russel G. Osterweis.
As a fur trader at Frankstown, where Stephen Franks spent most of his time from 1748 to his death, about 1785, there were many opportunities for sport. It was about 1748 that the first regularly organized fox hunting club was formed at Philadelphia, and J. F. Watson in his "Annals" tells of the members pensioning their old huntsman, Sam Butler, in 1756, which doubtless served as inspiration to the well-bred German Jewish frontiersman, although as the country became cleared there was fox hunting much earlier in Lancaster and what is now Lebanon County.
In earlier years Stephen Franks used the "Dutch" method to hunt the fox, that is, he hunted on foot, with his hounds which were descended from the best English, Irish, and German packs. Later in life, when he became heavier, his black-bearded rabbinical figure seemed patriarchal mounted on a stout piebald Spanish chunk, an entire which was the only kind of horse he would ride. On days when conditions were favorable for a hunt or a wolf lurked about, Franks' Indian kennel man would blow the long horn, now a part of the relics of early fox hunting in Blair County, in the collection of the Frankstown Hunt. When the horn waked the echoes of the Canoe Mountains or reverberated among the Chimney Rocks, a picturesque crew of Ulster Scots, High-landmen, Germans, Huguenots, half-breeds, Indians, and French Portageurs would assemble in the ample stockade of the Franks' trading post, and a start made after wolf, grey fox, or herd of wapitis, or wandering black moose off the Kittanning Path.
While Stephen Franks maintained his position as a gentleman and sportsman, the hunt was internationally democratic and all were welcome from travelling European nobleman down to sport-loving half-breed, or even refugee German Gipsy from the Conestoga. After the hunt a grand outdoor feast was held, venison, or wapiti or moose meat, washed down with mead, methiglin, and applejack, made from Indian apple trees and made convivial by hunting songs in half a dozen languages.
There was usually a travelling Diana who was invited to the hunt, and it is a glorious tradition that on one occasion the brush went to Catherine Weisenberg, the beautiful, Palatine wife of Sir William Johnson, and mother of the tory warrior Sir John Johnson, and another time the wife of General John Joseph Schlosser, of Fort Schlosser, at Niagara Falls, secured the coveted prize.
While Stephen Franks conducted one of the most successful business enterprises on the frontier, his life was dedicated to sport. A dead shot who could split a handmade rail at 150 paces, a fearless rider, an expert with the broad swords, a tireless mountain climber, fox hunting was his favorite sport. Owing it is said to an unhappy love affair in his youth, Stephen Franks never married, but was devoted to his nieces and nephews, whose international popularity was naturally very pleasing to him and he expended much effort trying to educate his little Indian namesakes, who were numerous.
U. J. Jones, author of the standard "History of the Juniata Valley," published in 1856, has much to say concerning Stephen Franks, and his establishment of Frankstown. Further sidelights on the personality of the old sporting pioneer have recently come to light in the discovery of the manuscript history of the upper Juniata Valley, by Mr. Albert M. Rung, of Petersburg, which had been missing for over ninety-one years. One historical iconoclast was "set" to make our hero a myth, by claiming that Stephen Franks was not a Jew, but a Scotch-Irishman named "Fran Frank Stephens." As the abbreviation of Francis into "Frank" was never used in the Eighteenth Century it looked "fishy" to the author of these lines and he located through the courtesy of Dr. H. H. Shenk, former Governor John S.Fisher's able State Archivist at Harrisburg, the original manuscript in which the "Frank Stephen" hypothesis convicted itself. On the old vellum it is thus given: "The first trading post at the point, at Pittsburg, was conducted by Franks" (Stephen). Nothing more need to be said, but this is mentioned to forestall further captious criticism.
While fox hunting in Blair County has an unbroken tradition from the days of Stephen Herman Otto Franks, it was carried on through the years mostly in the Dutch method, with grey foxes, but there were occasional mounted hunts, especially after the country was completely cleared, and red foxes, an importation mostly from Ireland, had worked their way to the head waters of the Juniata, and most frequently during the Civil War, when many cavalrymen home on leave rode to the hunts in their army blouses.
Now this noble sport in Stephen Franks' old hunting country has been enhanced by the formation of the Blair County Riding and Hunt Club, and its offshoot, the Frankstown Hunt, which has been registered as a standard hunting organization by the National Hunt Association of New York.
The Blair County Riding and Hunt was first organized at midnight, June 20, 1932, after a moonlight ride, at the old Cavalry stables which were at that time located at the Driving Park. Officers were Major Benjamin I. Levine, President; H. Foster Bollinger, Secretary, and Paul T. Winter, Treasurer. The Club which was then known as the Altoona Riding Club was the forerunner of the present club, which was organized April 10, 1933, at a noon-day meeting at the Penn-Alto Hotel with the following officers:
The Club has prospered from its inception, possesses a handsome clubhouse, airy stables, and, above all, a score of good hunters mostly of Virginia and Irish blood. The Frankstown Hunt has done more to make Blair County business men outdoor-minded than any other organization, and its members are worthy inheritors of the magnificent traditions handed down by Stephen Franks and his fellow sportsmen.
May the echoes of fine sport waked by "Old Franks"' hunting horn never grow less on the Blair County hills.
The Frankstown Hunt
Fourth Annual Hunter Trials
Memorial Day-May 31, 1937
Troop C Farm, 2:30 P. M.
1. These trials are primarily to show the worth of working hunters and will be over a line of country about 1 mile long with 10 fences and 2 stream crossings, natural and typical of our hunting country. Fences 3' 8" except in class 3 where fences will be 3' 2". The course will he flagged and contestants must go between flags. Loss of course means elimination.
2. All horses must be qualified hunters and the property of a member of the Frankstown Hunt or Troop C, 104th Cavalry.
3. Every horse shall carry the number provided in all classes.
4. In event of a fall, rider may remount unassisted and continue, but consideration will be given by judges in making final decision.
5. Competitors may enter as many horses as they wish and one rider may ride as many horses as he wishes, but judges will give consideration to suitability of horse to rider in the matter of carrying weight.
6. A silver trophy and 3 ribbons will be awarded in each class. In addition, in class 1, the Frankstown Plate (to be won 3 times in succession before becoming the property of the winner), will be awarded the winner for one year.
7. Officials only will be allowed near the judges' stand in the orchard.
1. Awards will be decided on the following scale:
Manners, way of going and fencing.................90%
Condition after completing course...................10%
2. Only two refusals are allowed at any fence; first refusal, 3 points; second, 5 points; third, elimination.
3. A premium of 1 to 5 points may be given for a horse showing particular care in crossing a stream or a boggy spot.
4. In case of a tie judges may require the horses to be put through such other tests as they may desire, to show handiness.
5. This will not be a trial of speed, but time of course will be considered by judges in determining proper hunting pace over the course.
6. Knockdown front, 4 points; hind, 2 points. Ticks will not count.