A Forgotten People-The Pennsylvania Mountaineers




Miss Hill and members of the Women's Club:

The subject of the Pennsylvania Mountaineers was brought to public notice quite by accident. At a meeting at Lemont last fall some questions were asked of your present speaker concerning the origin of the folk tales and folk songs which he had collected, with the result that more was said concerning these unknown, but historically important people than the topic of the original discourse, and then came the request to go more into detail on the subject at a further gathering. It is indeed a compliment to have been invited here, and the only regret is that the topic is such a large one that it could hardly be covered adequately at one session. A speaker at a large gathering held recently in New York referred to the Mountaineers of Kentucky and Tennessee as "our contemporary ancestors"---a well enough characterization when all facts are not known, but it is impossible to believe that the earliest ancestors of the mountain people of the Southern Appalachians of twenty-five years ago or of Pennsylvania Mountains today were as benighted as when re-discovered by social, literary and settlement workers. But that it a trifle premature, as the Pennsylvania Mountaineers have not been discovered as yet; your speaker has tried to shed a little light on them with a dozen or more volumes of local folk lore but it is only a timid flashlight in the vast gulf of obscurity. The Pennsylvania Mountaineer of today is not a "contemporary ancestor" whatever that may mean. They are recessions from the earliest type, who must be reclaimed and brought to their own.

It is easy to sense their origins, and respect them accordingly. In the humblest cabins in the South Mountains, or the Seven Mountains or the Blue Mountains, in the hills about Keating, or in the former Black Forest you may happen upon a single oil painting of some elegant man or woman of the long ago, all that has survived the vicissitudes of crossing seas, penetrating trackless forests, fires, moving, misfortunes, that one link. with the far-distant period of gentility that elicits our respect, and ever commands our attention. As Dr. Elisha Kent Kane carried the portrait of Maria Fox, his spiritualist child-wife, strapped on his back through Arctic regions, the Mountaineers brought these family portraits into the wilderness, and marvel it is that any have remained to survive the changes and family breakups of the ensuing years. Or it may be a framed coat-of-arms, of Scottish, English, French or German origin, or perhaps a single leather-bound volume with armorial bookplate, a sabre from the Revolution or the earlier Indian Wars, a piece of silverware, with arms engraved, or pewter, or an antique mirror or furniture, silent, and often grim reminders of bygone aristocratic affiliations. With such patterns of respectability it has been the speaker's joy to mingle with these people on the basis of refined intercourse, to meet them on their highest level. At first it was for the pleasure of the companionship in remote places, then to hear the stories of long ago, but later to collect and compile from the marvelous store of folk-tales and ballads which the Pennsylvania mountain people possess. But a word further as to their origins. For years it was the special pride of writers on the Southern Mountaineers to tell of their pure English origin, "the purest English blood on earth", and the refrain was caught up by panegyrists in England, and found its way into the latest edition of the Encyclopedia Britannica, which states that the Kentucky Mountaineers are "97 per cent pure English blood." Your speaker spent some of the best and happiest years of his youthful life in the wonderland of Eastern Kentucky opening coal mines in the terrible, yet grand feud days of 1901, 1902 and 1903, when in Breathitt County in fourteen months between 1902 and 1903 there were thirty-four murders which did not result in a single arrest; but the final slaying of Lawyer J. B. Marcum at Jackson in front of the Court House aroused the entire state and the pendulum swung in the other direction. The Mountaineers of Eastern Kentucky, as the speaker knew them were of mixed blood, as much as those of Pennsylvania. They had the same names, the same dialect, manners and customs, the same traditions and legends as those of the Keystone State; if the ancestors of 97 per cent came from any special place it was from Pennsylvania, mostly by way of Virginia, as did the ancestors of Abraham Lincoln---both the Lincoln and Hanks families formerly lived in Berks County, Daniel Boone, John Hay, John Harlan, the Casselmans, Deshas, Swearingens, Showalters, Swigerts, Wintersmiths, Yeagers, Yutseys, Eversoles and other noted Kentuckians. Mabel Hite, the most heroic of Kentucky women, the "Molly Pitcher" of the bloody battle with the Indians at the fort at Bryant's Station, was the granddaughter of Abraham Hite, from Berks County. William Aspenwall Bradley, the latest and foremost historian of the Kentucky Mountaineers, has carefully elucidated their mixed or Pennsylvania origin, so that there is no longer any doubt of it. Being near to channels of emigration the racial lines of the Pennsylvania mountain people have become still more and more complex. They have more strains than those of the Southern Appalachians. Doubtless most of those of Pennsylvania German origin have Indian blood in their veins, and there was the Greek admixture which occurred in the first quarter of the Nineteenth Century, to fuse with the early Spanish strain which flowed from Esopus into Pennsylvania by way of the Minisink and clear across the State, so that many of our Indian fighters like Gunsaulus, Ganoe, Franciscus and Nunez were of pure Spanish stock. Then there is the French Huguenot, that all prevading strain, the pure French stock from Gallic France, that flowed back into Pennsylvania by way of the Palatinate, Holland, Belgium, Switzerland, England and Ireland, and under the generic title of "Pennsylvania Dutch" have produced such men as Bouquet, the deliverer, of Fort Duquesne, Pershing, Hoover, Newton Diehl Baker, Replogle and other outstanding figures. There is very little German blood in the Pennsylvania Dutch, the German sounding names are mostly Swiss or Germanized Huguenot, if there is any Teutonic blood at all it is Holland Dutch, which strain was predominant along the frontier in pioneer days when Robert Couvenhoven, the Van Campens, Michael, Peter and Wendell Grove, the Wykoffs, the Van Gundys, the Van Horns, the Van Scoyacs, Van Dykes, and Van Pelts were the terror of the redmen. Then there is the Scotch-Irish strain, which less than all the others intermarried and fused with other strains of pioneer stock keeping proudly aloof, true to their traditions of long lines of ancestors who settled in Ireland at the time of Cromwell's invasions and the Battle of the Boyne. The Scotch-Irish became great land owners, and withdrew from the mountains to the vicinity of the County Seats or migrated South and West. The English Quaker stock has also spread out among our mountain people; here and there substantial stone meeting-houses now for the most part deserted bespeak their early presence in our midst, but they have intermarried freely, and they are an integral part of the blend that has produced our mountain people. What have these mountain people given to Pennsylvania to warrant so much attention being devoted to their beginnings? Very much considering their obscurity but they are susceptible of giving more when their rich treasure-houses are drawn upon. They have handed down a great deal of valuable general and local history, many traditions, legends, proverbs and vocabularies and above all the old ballads. The best accounts of the warfare about Port Duquesne can yet be obtained from the old people living contiguious to the Lincoln Highway, part of which was the original Forbes Road. where General Forbes and Colonel Bouquet led the Royal Americans, the Virginians, or "Long Knives", the Highlanders, and other fighting units to and from the victory. The most fair and just account of the causes leading up to the Indian warfare in Pennsylvania still remains with the old people in the West Branch Valley; they have saved the correct version of the Tiadaghton Declaration of Independence of July 4, 1776, from oblivion. If you wish to hear the story of the big game which formerly abounded in our forests, the bison, moose, elks, panthers and wolves, go to the mountain people of Centre County, they have saved the epic of our big game fields, also of the flights of the wild pigeons, the untold millions of birds which darkened the sun in their migrations, their disappearance the darkest of avian tragedies, all can be told to you in the foothills of the Seven Mountains or the lordly Alleghenies back of Unionville. Then there are the tales of lumbering and rafting day's, of the old canal, of the Civil War, all stored up in the retentive minds of our mountain people. If you prefer ghost or witch stories or tales of Lewis and Conley, the Doane Brothers and other outlaws, the mountain people have these in plenty. Their vocabulary is partly Shakesprian and partly Lowland Scotch, and the spelling of the older folks is entirely in the form of the Bard of Avon's First Folio. Compare their language with the glossary in Wilson's "Tales of the Borders" and you will be amazed at the number of familiar words. And the ballads, they must not be overlooked, for they are among the literary treasures of our State, and will be fully appreciated some fine day. Your speaker collected one hundred and ten of the ballads, and published them in book form several years ago. Recently he received a letter from Prof. John Harrington Cox, head of the English Department in West Virginia University, and the great authority on folk-songs in which he said: "I congratulate you on your collection of ballads, gathered in the Pennsylvania mountains. Are you aware that you have secured some of the rarest and finest of the older ballads in the English language?" It made your speaker feel that this work has been worth while. The musical instruments of the Pennsylvania mountaineers harkened to an archaic period-the wolfskin or groundhog skin drum, the "David's Harp", almost like the Cruet of the early Scottish Bards, the dulcimer, used at mountain dances up to Civil War times, and the fiddle or violin. These old-time instruments are not used so much now, but the inspiration given these people by the visits of Ole Bull to our mountain towns have made them more than ever a music Loving race. Captain J. G. Dillin, a singularly gifted antiquarian of Philadelphia has a collection of violins which every person present ought to see. If folk-lore was treasured in this country as it is in France or Scotland, he would be engaged for extension work, and sent out to show and explain his fiddles in every County Seat in the Commonwealth. Every one of the fifty odd violins in the Captain's collection were secured in the backwoods of the Pennsylvania mountains, in attics, hay lofts, over hog pens and corncribs, discarded and dilapidated. His joy has been to clean and revarnish them and then identify them, and to date every one has been either a Stradivarius, a Guarnarius, an Amaeti, or some similar classic make. Evidently our "contemporary ancestors" had taste in the choice of musical instruments. Captain Dillin is also writing a notable work on the so-called "Kentucky rifle," which originated in the small wayside gun shops along the outposts of civilization, first in Lehigh, perks and Lancaster counties, and gradually as the frontier moved westward to Mifflin, Union and Centre counties. They were taken to the Kentucky frontiers for border warfare; but they were devised and perfected by our native mountain gunsmith. Your speaker is to have the honor of editing this epoch-making book, and it will truly be a labor of love, to help in a humble easy way to lay all this patriotic lore before our people. The Pennsylvania Mountaineer has always been essentially American. His ancestors were mostly officers in all of our earlier wars, he preserves the finest and purest traditions of the struggle for Independence. In that respect he is a contemporary ancestor. He has no foreign blood to draw his inmost sympathies this way or that, he abhors propaganda or foreign alliances, he only knows one race, one flag, and one heart---America. People who are by Right of Birth of the Cincinnati, Colonial Dames, or Sons or Daughters of the Revolution, are our real elite, or American aristocracy and they alone can make such a hateful thing tolerable in a democracy, for they are born gentlefolk. The Pennsylvania Mountaineer is silent, proud, and never loses his self respect; he never talks of himself or tells his troubles, instinctively he knows a gentleman on sight and acts accordingly, and driving in to town, even in the most dilapidated equipage behind an antique mule he never forgets his descent from some Colonial Chief Justice or Surveyor General. The women are of unusual beauty, of an odd dark type, unlike anything your speaker has ever seen in any ether part of the world. The girls are slender, with black eyes, and hair, which often has a slight curl to it, the complexions are like ivory, the features are finely cut, and aquiline, As there is sometimes a blue-eyed kitten horn, one meets a blue-eyed Pennsylvania mountain girl once in a thousand times, but she is a rarity. Their beauty is neither Arab or Gypsy, and even far removed front Indian types; who can classify it? Is it a type new in the art of physignomy? Now what can we do for the Pennsylvania Mountaineers, living at our very doors, of our blood, but hardly known by most of us? Are they holding their own, progressing or retrograding. The last mentioned is alas the case, and for the same reasons which William Aspenwall Bradley ascribes as the cause of the decline of the Kentucky Mountaineers; the destruction of the forests and the killing off the game. Time was when the Pennsylvania Mountaineer was self-sufficient and self-sustaining. The wasteful lumbering of the past half century, the all-engulfing forest fires which the gallant Gifford Pinchot has been endeavoring to stop, and time reckless destruction of wild life, have made the most self-reliant specimens of our mountain people forsake their beloved wilderness for the cities, where they have lost their identity in the maelstrom of industrial life. The less hold and less stalwart members have remained to struggle against even harder living conditions, yet impelled to remain though they are loath to admit it, through their love of thee lofty mountains and rushing torrents. Poverty, lack of contact, small schools, fewness of churches, and similar reasons have started them on a downward grade. They need our help, especially the children but they will never ask it. Pennsylvania has helped nobly for a quarter of a century to maintain schools, industrial centers, settlements and hygienic workers in Kentucky, Tennessee, and North Carolina; will you not spare a tithe in service to help the mountain people who live not twenty miles away? Settlement and social workers, good, able, and sincere volunteers should visit sections of Union, Mifflin, Snyder, Centre, Clearfield, Cameron, Clinton, Berks, Adams and Franklin counties, and give the regions a survey, and then map out a program that will do the greatest good. Schools should be centralized, not as at present, tiny shanties with four or five pupils and a young half-educated teacher. Make the children come together, a hundred under one roof, and give them the best teachers obtainable. Out of the schools should develop social and industrial centers, where all can get acquainted and learn useful trades. Above all they should be taught domestic hygiene, that the white plague, which has no business among mountains 3000 feet high can be bred out for good. Let the preachers ease up on technical discussions of some abstruse question of dogma, and get down to every day facts and be as outspoken as Roman Catholic priests even with the very young on the topic of morals. And above all meet them in this intensive clean up campaign as equals and fellow Americans, not as high-browed patronizers. The missionaries in Kentucky quickly found that they were dealing with gentlefolk, and treated them accordingly, hence big results, and there is no reason why a similar procedure cannot be instituted in Pennsylvania. Who will be the first volunteer to help the Pennsylvania Mountain children, our children of the Revolution, whose ancestors opened the pathways to civilization by driving back the Indian foes. The speaker will be glad to furnish names and places where the most good can be done. The Pennsylvania Mountaineer will be a richer field in the years to come than those of many parts of the South, for our mountain people live mostly between the hard and soft coal measures, and not like in Kentucky have had their wildernesses penetrated by mining and the consequent foreign element. The glowing accounts furnished by the earlier travelers and volunteer workers in the Southern Appalachians brought a galaxy of brilliant writers into hitherto unknown lands of romance and mystery, "Charles Egbert Craddock", James Lane Allen, John Fox, Jr., and William Aspenwall Bradley, all have done their share to give the Southern Mountaineers immortality. Surely we must have some young writers here who will do justice to the Pennsylvania mountain people, rich in traditions, courage and charm, full of physical loveliness and the joy of living. Pennsylvania writers seem to love to sneer at what we have near home---"Tillie, the Mennonite Maid" a brilliant book was an affront to a hard-working, yet noble people, and when it was staged in Reading, but a single night sufficed to spell its local unpopularity. Nelson Lloyd, of Bellefonte, seemed to best catch the spirit of our Mountaineers, and coin it into the pure gold of romance. Was ever a more charming book written than "A Soldier of the Valley," and the pity of it is that it has not been followed up by others. J. P. Mowbray's "Tangled up in Beulah Land" is out of print and hard to get, but almost equals in charm, Lloyd's best work. Dr. S. Weir Mitchell also essayed a Pennsylvania Mountain romance "Far in the Forest", but it is said that he tried to absorb the local color during a week's trout fishing trip near Germania, Potter County, and it lacked that much. even though from the pen of a Master. The field is here, and will enrich the writers, as well as draw the right kind of publicity to the needs of our mountain folks. We want to keep them in the mountains, where they went to advance the line of civilization, and to man the forts for defense against the Indians. They are needed to be the conservators and artisans of our forests of the future, as wardens of our re-planted game fields, and re-stocked streams, if the women of this State will demand that the next Legislature turns over some of the $400,000 fishermen's license funds to fight pollution. We cannot have law-abiding mountaineers when they are hurried off to jail for hooking a trout a quarter of an inch under size, while a corporation can dump vile refuse that kills fish by the millions. Upon the beautiful Loyalsock, once called "the finest trout stream in Pennsylvania", a coal mine owned by a State Senator is killing all the fish in the main fork, while another coal mine also owned by a State Senator is killing all the fish in the north fork or "Little Loyalsock". Mr. Pinchot desired to locate some Adirondack lean'tos for campers along the creek, but a recent inspection has shown the water unfit to drink, so that they can only be erected where the state happens to own springs. If humans cannot drink this water, how can the fish endure it. No wonder they give up the struggle and float down streams, stark and dead. Let us set a good example, by giving a square deal to our Mountaineers and our work among them will have its reward. They will be our best reserve corps of riflemen in future wars, if we have to have them, and at all times they will be our truest patriots, preserving the spirit of the fathers intact, no matter how many foreigners flock to our shores. We can never forget that Sergeant Alvin York, called by Marshall Foch "the hero of heroes", was a Tennessee mountain boy, drafted into the Army. The Pennsylvania Mountaineers will be leven of patriotism and Americanism, as strong and solid, and unsullied as the "imperishable hills" among which they live.