Pale-face scholars have long theorized about the origin of the American Indian. Some have held that the first humans on this continent arrived here from Asian via the Bering Straits; others have tried to explain their ethnology on the basis of cataclysmic geological eruptions which distorted the ball of earth and separated the mass of land into continents, thus trapping men wherever they dwelled, imprisoning them between the seas. Several reputable scholars held that the American Indian was one of the lost tribes of Israel, transplanted here by supernatural powers, just as Moses and his followers crossed the Red Sea.
But what did the Indians have to say about it? Particularly those Indians who lived in our Berks and Lehigh Valleys, the Lenni Lenape, known to the English as the Delawares, what was their version?
Two Moravians missionaries knew these tribes very well. They were John Gottlieb Heckwelder and Christopher Prylaeus, both operating from Bethlehem during our colonial period. Prylaeus received his instruction in Indian language and lore from Conrad Weiser, making his home at the Weiser cabin, near Womelsdorf, for several months while he learned at the feet of the veteran Indian agent, Weiser. These men have recorded many details about Indian customs, religion and language and they give to us what the Delawares believed about their own origins.
Came from Earth’s Interior?
The Indian believed that his forebears emerged, somehow, from the interior of the earth. Rabbits, foxes and groundhogs, animals that burrowed holes, were relatives and the Redmen eschewed eating the flesh of these animals. While the various tribes held different versions as to how their progenitors had crawled out of the bowels of the earth, there was common agreement that they came from the nether regions.
There were three major subdivisions of the Lenni Lenapes, or the Delawares: viz: the Minsi, or Wolk tribe, the Unamis, or Tortois tribe, and the Unalachittigos, or Turkey tribe. Of these only the Minsi had a definite version of the emergence.
According to Minsi mythology the Indians lived under a lake, deep in the earth; one of their men found a hole through which he ascended to the surface and found solid land. While walking he found a dead deer, and shouldering his burden he carried it back into the subterranean abode of his fellow tribesmen. There the deer was eaten. The other Indians found the meat so delicious that they followed the discoverer to the surface of the earth “where they could enjoy the light of heaven and have such excellent game in abundance.”
Similar traditions were found among the Iroquois and mid-western Indians.
Reader, before you scoff too much, reread the first paragraph and then decide where and when you will raise an eyebrow.
There is no object more than symbolic of the growth and development of the United States than the covered wagon, known universally as the Conestoga wagon. It is not surprising that the boat shaped bodies and the convex tops, covered with white linen should have earned the fantastic name of “Ships of Inland Commerce” as they moved through the green hills of Pennsylvania, westward bound. On the western prairies they were called prairie schooners, but their constant and abiding name is Conestoga wagons, derived from the place of their construction, on the banks of the Conestoga Creek, in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania.
Also there is no other word as American as the word “stogie.” It refers to an American product and derives its name from Conestoga. The drivers of the six-horse teams that set out over the mountains, westward-bound, wanted a good, long smoke of rich Lancaster tobacco.
What is the meaning and origin of the Indian word, Conestoga?
In 1608, one year after the first English settlement in America, Capt. John Smith explored the lower reaches of the Susquehanna River and drew a map of the region. His explorations carried him as far north as the Octorara Creek in Maryland, but he did not reach the present boundaries of Pennsylvania.
In 1670 Augustin Hermann, one of the patentees of the settlement of German Mystics at Bohemia Manor, explored Susquehanna and constructed a map on which the creek is shown and its name spelled Onestego. The Bohemia Manor settlement was similar, in some respects, to the Ephrata community. It was located in present day Maryland, not far from Chesapeake City. Bohemia River, Maryland, a favorite fishing spot for many Berks countians, derives its name from the old-time religious settlement.
On Franquelin’s map of 1684, two years after the Penn Settlement point of the junction of the Conestoga and the Susquehanna is marked and named Conestoga Fort. On Popple’s map of 1733 the creek itself is named Conestoga and as early as 1704 William Penn had made a treaty with the Indians of Conestoga Manor.
The French explorers had learned of these Indians on the Susquehanna and had named them the Andastes. To the Virginians they were known as the Susquehannocks. They were part of the Iroquois family and in that confederacy they were known as the Conestogas which means “the people of the forked roof poles.”
The term Andastes is much older than the Iroquois name Conestoga. In one of his earlier journal Conrad Weiser speaks of an Andastes fort that he came upon in the wilderness north of Muncy, PA. His red companions on that journey informed him that the Andastes had once been a powerful tribe, but that was before the memory of any person living then. The Iroquois conquered these people in 1685 and many of them fled to North Carolina. Weiser’s discovery of the fort was in 1737.
The Rev. John Heckewelder was a Moravian missionary who spent many years among the Indians of Pennsylvania and Ohio. During the corse of his life among them he learned their language and, in 1822, published his “List of Names” and their meanings. Berks Countians will be interested to clip and file this article for reference because we have selected all of the names which Mr. Heckewelder gave about places in Berks.
Tulpehocken – Tulphocoon – Tulpewihacki – the land abounding with turtles. (One recent writer was misled to state that Tulpehocken meant land of the tulip- ed.)
Cacoosing – Cocoosing – Gokhosing – the resort of owls.
Monocacy – Manakasy – Menagassi – creeks with some large bends.
Manatawny – Menatawny – Menetonik – where we drank (were drunk)
Maxatawny – Machsithanne – the stream on which the bears have a path.
Moselem – Maschilamekhanne – trout creek.
Oley – Olink – Wolink – Olo – Wahlo – a cavern cell, a sink hole, a hole dug to bury things – or a track of land surrounded by hills.
In Lancaster County
Cocalico – Achgookwalico – a stream issuing from a mountain.
Conewago – Guneuagi – a long strip of land.
Other Pennsylvania Names
Pocono – Pokohanne – a stream issuing from a mountain.
Mahantango – where we had much venison.
Tobyhanna – a stream on which shrubbery grows luxuriously.
Philip Guinther cleared a settlement at Lehigh Landing soon after the war for Independence. Lehigh Landing, near present day Mauch Chunk (Present day Jim Thorpe) later was given the more classical name of Lausanne. Phillip fended for a living for his family by hunting in the Bear Mountain or Mauch Chunk Mountain as it was known to the Indians. He shot the game and sold the surplus meats and hides to nearby stores in exchange for the commodities that his family needed.
One night he returned from the hunt dispirited because he had not bagged any meat for his hungry family. Slowly he trod the summit of Mauch Chunk Mountain. Dejectedly his head hung low. A drizzling rain dampened his spirits and he knew that his brood of youngsters were hungry for meat and he had none. It was twilight and his eyes were not keen. His foot stumbled and an object was loosened from the crust of the earth. There was enough light, however to show him that the stone upon which he had stumbled was, black, very black.
Philip Guinther had heard of the stone coal which some Indians had brought to a blacksmith in Powder Valley. He picked up the rock which his foot had dislodged and carried it to his cabin. The next day he carried the stone to Col. Jacob Weiss who was then stationed at Fort Allen now Lehighton. The colonel was alert to recognize the possibilities of the discovery, and, accordingly, he took the specimen to Michael Hillegas and others who were qualified to adjudge the merits of the ore. It was anthracite coal.
Michael Hillegas and his partners formed the “Lehigh Coal Mine Company” in 1792. They paid Philip Guinter a handsome sum to lead them to the spot where he had stumbled. With the money realized from his adventure Philip Guinther built a grist mill near his original settlement and abandoned his hunting activities.
From 1792 until 1806 the Mauch Chunk Mines were not operated on large scale. Stone coal was used only by blacksmiths and a few forges. After Shoemaker showed the world how stone coal could be burned in furnaces it became black gold indeed. In 1820 Lehigh Coal Company mined only 365 tons. Thirty-five years later, in 1855 it produced 1,275,000 tons of the black mineral. The total tonnage prior to the Civil War was almost 10,000,000 tons from the Lehigh Coal Region.
The early German settlers of Pennsylvania bore the brunt of savage attacks made by Indians during those terrible years from 1755 to 1763 when the unguarded frontier of the province left the northern frontiers open to redskin raids. This list of victims is far from complete. The several cases selected for mention here serve to show the horrors which our pioneer forebears suffered.
On June 8, 1756 Felix Wench (Wuench) was plowing in his field near “The Hole” in Swatara Gap (Schuykill County), when some Indians, Hiding in ambush shot him through the breast. Two shots were fired, the second Killing one of the horses in the plow. Wuench ran, crying for help but the Indians caught up with him. For a short time he defended himself with a whip which he carried but the savages overpowered him. They cut his head with their tomahawks and scalped him.
Mrs. Wuench heard her husband’s cries for help. She ran out of the house but was captured by the murderers. The Indians removed three small children from the house and then set fire to the property.
A servant lad, who was not in the house at the time, saw the flames. He ran to the home of a neighbor, George Miess, to summon help. Miess and his son gave chase to the redskings as they hurried away carrying Mrs. Wuench and the three children with them. (Pennsylvania Gazette – June 17, 1756).
In November, 1755 a group of settlers journeyed along the road which leads over the Blue Mountain from Bethel to Berks County to Pinegrove in present day Schuykill County. They were “going on the watch” near the spot where Fort Henry was built a year later when the party was attacked by Indians.
The following persons were slain; John Leyenberger, Rudolph Kendall, George Wolf, John Apple, Casper Spring, George Bauer, Frederick Wieland, Jacob Ritzman.
This list was furnished by Peter Spycker of Tulpehocken, November 28, 1755 at the request of Governor Robert Hunter Norris.
The report of Captain Jacob Morgan (C. Saur’s Newspaper, December 1, 1755), described the terrible condition in which Caspar Spring’s body was found. The cleft skull of the victim permitted the dead man’s brain to protrude, there were two tomahawk wounds on his chest, a shot in the back “and other things which modesty forbids to mention.”
On the first of March 1757, on a farm belonging to Philip Bussart, a workman named Mulhaurs was breaking flax. Suddenly a shot rang out and Muhlhaurs fell dead. George Minier’s son, who was a witness to the murder was shot while running to the house. The boy succeeded in getting his gun but died before he could fire it. Phillip Bussart, the owner was armed. He succeeded in killing some of the attackers but he was severely wounded and his son was killed in an attempt to escape. This encounter took place orth of the Blue Mountains between Fort Norris and Fort Hamilton. (Appendix: Gordon’s History of Penna., 1829)
The horrible massacre of the Brethren at the Moravian settlement in Gnadenbutten caused the death of 11 persons. Among them were the missionaries Martin Nitchman and his wife.
To list all the victims of this terrible type of warfare would call for a more extensive treatment of the subject. We have the lists of the names where they were furnished by the local magistrates and contemporary accounts in newspapers as sources of information. The names are overwhelmingly of German origin, proving that the pioneer settlers from the Palatinate served as the buffer between the hostile Indian tribes and the English settlements on the seaboard.
One very touching case was reported by Conrad Weiser on November 19, 1755. “Another party found a woman just expired with a male child on her side both killed and scalped. The woman lay upon her face. My son Frederick turned her about to see who she might have been, and to his companion’s surprise they found a babe of about 14 days old under her, wrapped up in a little cushion, his nose quite flat which was set right by Frederick, and life was yet in it, and recovered again.”
The mother’s dead body had shielded the tiny infant. (Penna. Archies II pp. 503-504).
…Bei ‘N Ewich Yaeger
Graeff, Arthur D. Scholla: Indian Outrages. Reading Times. April 28th, 1941
Archival Notes: In the 74 years since this article has been written there have been great strides in the field of history, as well as every other field of human knowledge. Our historians of the past tend to present black and white arguments of who was right and who was wrong, in this particular case between the colonists and natives. The author Arthur Graeff clearly shows his own bias on the subject of violence between the groups. As historians in the modern era we have to be very critical in the examination of our sources. In many cases we only have tiny slivers of the whole story. Native Americans as a marginalized people left little to no records, also the majority of the colonists were illiterate or had limited education. With that information in hand, it is easy to see how narrow and one sided our tunnel vision looking back on history is. Our historical records focus on watershed events like raids and massacres from colonial perspective. Lost to time are the perspectives of the natives, as well as the the daily relations, interactions, and transgressions between both parties. Without condoning or condemning either group let us remind ourselves that humans are humans. We are self-interested and will act in accordance to what we believe is best for ourselves and our respective groups. As far as the extent of the violence between the groups I believe we can all cite similar brutality in our modern era between different groups of humans.