August ye 31st
I arrived at Ft. Shirley at about 4:20 PM today and met Pvt. Larry Zilch, who
was to be our Pilot throughout our first day's march along the Aughwick to our
first camping area at Standing Stone.
The weather was excessively hot and muggy, with light rain from time to time.
We set camp in a field about 200 yards from Ft. Shirley, and awaited the arrival
off more of the company. Chief Scout Lane Savage, of Hastings, PA, Ranger Pvts.
Bill Woods, Karthaus, PA, Rich Hebrank, Brunswick, Ohio, Jim Polewchak, of
Perry, Ohio, and Al Fine, of Pittsburgh, PA arrived at about 7:15 PM and set
their camps with ours. We made supper on a fire and began to get acquainted with
each other and to discuss the upcoming operation. While some men knew at least
one other in the group, no one knew them all, so it was an interesting evening
learning about ourselves. Pvt. Pete Dobbs arrived at about 11:45 PM joined the
group. It was difficult to sleep due to the heat and humidity, and the
excitement of the morrow. Men were still talking at 3:30 AM...the last time I
was awake until morning.
September ye 1st
Arose at 6:00AM had breakfast and broke camp amidst a light drizzly rain. We
assembled and moved the troops to the monument at the site of Ft. Shirley.
Several others arrived and took their places: Pvts. Joe Luciano, of Carlisle,
PA, Bryan Nye, of Hummelstown, PA, and Roger Kirwin, of Carlisle, PA.
After a few notes from Chief Scout Lane Savage regarding health and safety
issues, Lt. Col. Armstrong made a speech about the upcoming Expedition, its
importance in regard to eliminating the threat of Indian raids into the
civilized areas, and how it had become a personal thing for him, since his
brother, Lt. Edward Armstrong, had been killed at Ft. Granville quite recently,
and now it was time to take the war to the Indians' village.
The company was formed up and marched from Ft. Shirley toward Standing Stone,
25 miles distant. We had gone only about 50 yards and the rain intensified. By
the time we had approached our camp from the previous night, the Heavens opened
up and poured down a drenching, hard rain. It was actually a blessing, as it
gave some relief to the men from the oppressive heat and humidity, and helped
them stay cooler, although it did nothing for the temperature. The steam arose
from the pavement and provided yet another discomfort.
By noon they were in the village of Mt. Union by noon, and were made welcome
at the home of Scout Zilch, where his ripening garden and cool spring greeted
the company. They were given ample time to rest and partake of Scout Zilch's
The march resumed and we moved through the town, crossed busy US Route 22 and
ascended the mountain to a tram road, which runs along the side off the mountain
and parallels the highway, 3/4 to the top of the hill. It was quite hot by now,
as the sun had come out full. The trail was rocky and slow going, but offered
some great panoramas, showing the mountains with the Juniata River snaking its
It was up here that we had a near tragedy. One of the men, Pvt. Fine, went
down from heat exhaustion. Even though the men had ample water along and many
rest stops were provided, he still had trouble. We were able to get him off the
hill, but it took quite a bit longer than originally planned. Pvt. Woods is an
EMT and proved his worth at this time.
After hydrating Pvt. Fine with Gator Aid and all the water he would take, we
transported him to our campsite, Riverside Park in Huntingdon (Standing Stone)
awaited the others.
Camp was set and we awaited the public. Each camp was open to the public
until 9:00 PM, and we provided interpretive and demonstrative programs for them.
One lady and her son, who had been playing in the park, came to visit and asked
me if he, meaning Pvt. Fine who was laying on the grass while we set camp, would
be OK. I replied that he would, and that he'd had some trouble with the heat and
humidity this day. She looked at me and said, "Heat exhaustion?"
I said, "Yes." She went on that she was a nurse and she
recognized the problem. I told her that we were probably going to have him sleep
in a motel that night with another soldier to accompany him and to keep pumping
fluids into him, and she said it was a good idea.
The lady and her son looked around awhile and left. About an hour and a half
later she returned. "I have been thinking about him, and I came back
because I am worried about him. I brought my blood pressure cuff and my
thermometer. May I examine him?" she asked. I answered that she could
and called him over. After doing so and learning some of his medical history,
she insisted he be taken to the local hospital Emergency Room, to which he
agreed. Chief Scout Savage's wife, who had come to this camp took him and
followed "our" nurse to the hospital, where a full examination
was made and the doctors said he was to go home. He was close to some very
serious problems, should he continue.
The nurse, Meg Knable, and her son, Zack, stayed at the hospital the whole 3
hours and are responsible perhaps, for saving Pvt. Fine's life. He is, and we
are, eternally grateful to her.
The men turned in early, and Chief Scout Savage and I sat up and awaited the
return of his wife and Pvt. Fine. They returned to camp at 11:45 PM, ate some
very late dinner, and headed for the Savage home. Pvt. Fine was taken the next
day to retrieve his car, and went to his home.
The weather was still, at 1:30 AM, very hot and muggy...quite uncomfortable.
Tomorrow is predicted to be more of the same.
I went to my bed very hot and tired, but relieved and quite thankful for
people like Meg Knable.
September ye 2nd
Arose later than usual since we were up late last night awaiting Pvt. Fine's return from the hospital, and it had been a grueling day yesterday. We left Standing Stone at 10:00AM. The day is slightly cooler and less humid, however, it is still quite uncomfortable. My woolen weskit is so soaked through with perspiration that it could be wrung out.
Leaving Standing Stone by way of the Warrior's Trail, we had to pass two state correctional institutions. In order to create as little stir as possible, we transported the firelocks in the support vehicle past the prisons. It would not be wise to make any Tower Guards nervous! Their guns are loaded...! After passing the prisons and leaving Commonwealth property, we took a much-needed water break and were visited by a prison patrol and a state police officer. Both were there out of curiosity rather than an official visit. As a matter of courtesy, all State Police, Regional, Municipal, or Township police jurisdictions, as well as the prisons, had been notified in advance of our passing through their territories. This was done so that a call from a concerned citizen regarding a bunch of scruffy-looking armed men in the neighborhood would not unduly set them on alert! Sam Miller, of Alexandria, our next camping spot, arrived with a large cooler of water. After refreshing with it, we
"confiscated" it for to use for the remainder of our trek. The local Boy Scouts had loaned it, and not being needed for the duration of our journey by the Scouts, Sam readily allowed it to accompany us. It was a Godsend, although we had plenty of water, it was now easier to dispense it.
We continued along the Warrior Path to Pulpit Rocks, an absolutely stunning place of gigantic rocks standing upright 100 feet and more. It was a sacred place for the early Indians in this area. We took another much needed break here, as the temperature and humidity had, once again, become oppressive.
After resting for half an hour or so we continued toward Alexandria. Water and rest stops were made every 1 1/2 to 2 miles, depending on terrain, because it was uphill most of the way. The support vehicle became a valuable and welcome sight to the men when it came into sight at the top of another hill or around another curve. All were soaked through with sweat. It seemed the water ran out as soon as it was drunk in! The sun was out full, there were few clouds, no breeze at all, and the humidity was still high.
A cheer arose as a road sign announcing that Alexandria was 2 miles ahead was passed. Arriving, at 3:00 PM, at the campsite in the yard of the Alexandria Library and Museum, the men collapsed on the cool grass, and finally some shade under gigantic oak trees, and rested.
The camp was erected later on, and we awaited visitors from the town. Many came by to see us and to inquire about our purpose. Pvt. Kirwin entertained by playing his fiddle and singing some 18th century songs. We drilled some of the troops and fired some rounds. This brought more people. Among them was a young family, Dave and Chris Gildea and their children Maddy, Nick, and Sam. They were quite interested and spent a lot of time in camp.
Pvt. Polewchak was preparing venison stew on our campfire, and we visited while we ate. It turned out to be quite a delicious meal, and a big hit with the men. The private became our official Camp Cook after that. It turns out that he is a retired Firefighter from Cleveland and was the cook in the firehouse, so cooking for a group was not much of a challenge for him. The Pennsylvania Game Commission had given Chief Scout Savage two crop-damage-killed deer for the trek, and he had them butchered and frozen for us. The butcher had made jerky, steaks, roasts, tenderloin, and ground venison, and it all was fantastic! At about dark, the Gildea family returned to camp with a warm, fresh-baked raspberry pie for us. It seems that it was the
children's idea, and was welcomed quite appropriately by the men. The kindness of the Gildeas was to be remembered throughout the trek as a highlight for us.
There was a terrific display of lightening after dark, and we were concerned we might be in for a rough night, however, all we received was some hard rain. The main part of the storm skirted us, and we were thankful for that.
We turned in early this night, as it had been a physically draining day, and were facing 17 miles tomorrow.
September ye 3rd
Arose at 6:00AM to heavy fog. While the temperature was much cooler, the humidity was high, as one would expect with fog. Broke camp and moved out at 8:30 towards Williamsburg, 11 miles away.
Marched to the end of the village to the trailhead of the Rails to Trails section here. The water stop is 6 1/2 miles down the trail, but with no hills and easy walking along a grass path, this is easily do-able. The Rails to Trails is a beautifully maintained recreation area used heavily by hikers, bikers, and horse people of all ages. Many families were biking along it today. Our guide, Palmer Brown, was instrumental in establishing the Trail, and justifiably so, is quite proud of it. He is retired and spends most days along it, greeting people, picking up any trash that falls outside a container, and just being there to help wherever he can. This Trail has gone from canal to rail to trail in the years it has been here. One of the old canal-era locks is still in place, and is a monument to the engineers who designed and built it so long ago. It parallels the beautiful Juniata River, and some of the same scenes we saw were seen by Lt. Col.
Armstrong's men 244 years ago as they passed through here on this very path.
The sun had come out full and hot, but the cool shade of the trail made the going fairly comfortable for the men. One more water stop was made about 3 miles from Williamsburg, and afterwards we set out for the town.
We arrived at our campsite in the town recreational park at about 4 PM and began to set up camp. Tonight we are looking forward to a meal provided by two men who are spearheading a Skateboard Park for the local youngsters. While we were setting up the camp, some other local folks came and said they would be bringing dessert for us. I was unable to get the names of any of these wonderful people, but Lane did, and will be sending them a big Thank You from us when we get home.
Dinner arrived at 6:00 PM, and what a dinner it was! Pennsylvania Dutch-style chicken potpie, rolls, and pie, along with all the dishes, tableware, etc., necessary was the menu. The fellow who made it told me that his grandmother had taught him how to do it. He obviously paid attention! Then, along came the dessert...Apple, peach, pumpkin pie, fruit compote, and two bottles of wine. If this keeps up, we will have to walk home, too, to get the weight off....
We had 21 visitors in camp this evening. Pvt. Kirwin entertained with his fiddle and songs, Pvt. Polewchak gave a fire-starting demonstration, and Pvt. Kirwin gave a demonstration and seminar on the Brown Bess musket and its use.
We turned in to a much cooler night than we have seen since we left Ft. Shirley last Friday.
September ye 4th
Arose at 6:00 AM, broke
camp after breakfast and headed towards the Beaver Dams (Hollidaysburg, PA).
Today will be a short day, since we will have to transport around some dangerous
highways with no safe alternate route. This will permit us to allow the men a
much-needed rest day. Tomorrow we will be ascending the Kittanning Run and going
up over Kittanning Point on the original Kittanning Trail.
We reached the campsite at
2:00 PM and got set up. It was in the public park at Hollidaysburg. The men
relaxed and visited with the public who stopped by, and later that day we
entertained some photographers from Westsylvania Magazine and the press.
We were joined here by the
Rev. Charles Beatty and his wife, portrayed by reenactors Mr. and Mrs. Jim
Newell. The Rev. Capt. Beatty was the chaplain for Armstrong's 2nd Battalion
Pennsylvania and a Company Captain during the original Expedition in 1756.
Also joining this camp is
Dave Hurst, editor of Westsylvania Magazine, who will be joining us on
our trek up over Kittanning Point tomorrow, along with his photographer.
Our Rev. Beatty held a
service for the men and preached a sermon in the style of the real Rev. Capt.
Beatty. Afterwards, he presented me with a book of Rev. Beatty's Journals after
the War. It was much appreciated, and will be read when I return home.
There was a college
graduation party going on in a pavilion in the park and we found ourselves
invited to it...so we went! Lots of food, lots of drink, lots of
music...well...something that was described as music, but...well...not this
scribe's style! We had a great time, though, answering some very good questions.
We wished the young lady graduate good luck in her future endeavors, thanked her
parents for a great time, and returned to our camp.
The evening is quite cool
and breezy. Turned in at 10:15 PM knowing tomorrow would be a long and exciting
march on part of the actual trail that Lt. Col. Armstrong and his army marched
upon long ago...
Tuesday, September ye 5th
I was awake and up at 3:15 AM, and after dressing for the field, I awoke the troops at 4:00 AM. The temperature was less than 40 degrees this morning, and a woolen Regimental felt quite good for a change. Today we were going to ascend Kittanning Point via the original Indian path which Lt. Col.
Armstrong's army followed up Kittanning Run and over the Point; nearly 3 miles. The Rev. Capt. Beatty offered a prayer for our successful venture today and a safe journey to this
evening's camp. We then transported to our drop off point near the famous Horseshoe Curve outside of Altoona where we dropped all of the men except Chief Scout Savage, Pvt. Dobbs and myself. We also had Dave Hurst, editor of
Westsylvania Magazine and his photographer, Jim Hollingshead, along. The men would ascend the hill in the darkness and await our arrival after we left our vehicles and were returned to the starting point by
Lane's wife, Deb. I have to say here that she is a godsend to us on this trip. She has provided needed supplies, medical aid, transportation, and support of all kinds and has been very cheerful while doing so. At times it means she must drive many miles to find us or to go get something needed and return.
After Chief Scout Savage, Pvt. Dobbs, Hurst, Hollingshead and I were returned, we made our way quietly up the hillside, across the tracks and dropped down into the hollow above the Kittanning Run, where we rendezvoused with the others. The time was not quite 6 AM.
An ambush by some Indian re-enactor friends had been planned, and their vehicle was at the place we left ours earlier, and the dew on it indicated that they had come in the day before and should already be in the pre-arranged location for the ambush. Since Chief Scout Savage was the only one who knew where that was, we were all on keen edges and alert this morning.
As we progressed up the Run, we began to notice Indian picture writing on some large rocks. As they were translated, it became apparent that they were threats and taunts. This served to put the men on high alert. We had chosen partners to allow cover and support fire in an ambush situation, and the men now spread out in a long column of twos, one man on either side of the trail, scanning the forest on his side for any hint of trouble.
The column moved quietly and slowly in the pre-dawn darkness. The hollow is so deep that sunlight will not reach the floor of it until several hours after daybreak. We could look up and see blue sky, but we were in virtual darkness. The trail crossed and re-crossed the Kittanning Run several times. The path was very well defined, even after all these years, and it gave a very real sense of how it must have been for Armstrong and his army.
With each footstep the heart beats quicker, partly from exertion...since it is all uphill...and partly from anxiety in not knowing when the forest might erupt in blazing gunfire and war whoops! On and on we went, crossing the Run one last time and beginning to ascend the mountain that is Kittanning Point. The day had brightened, and now we were beginning to get some sunshine at our level. The time was 7:30 AM.
We paused the column and took a break for water and some apples, and not a word was spoken. The men just sensed this was the thing to do. The partners sat down near each other, in case we were hit now, but it did not happen. After about 20 minutes, silently the men arose and began to inch upward as before. I have never seen a better collection of woods-wise men than what we had here, and it was soon to become obvious just how good a group we had.
As we reached the top of the Point and came onto a dirt road, we took another break, mainly to try to figure out why we
weren't hit along this trail. At this point, some commotion was heard in the woods on the lower side of the trail, and Pvt. Kirwin and I went to the edge to see what it was, thinking it might be Indians. As he entered the high weeds along the edge of the road, a large porcupine came out behind him and waddled across the road and climbed a tree. As we watched it and chuckled at it, we discovered there was another porky already in the top of the tree!
We moved on, thinking we might get ambushed along this road, as there were low pines all along it, and made outstanding ambush cover. Nothing happened. Arriving at the place we dropped the transport vehicles earlier today, we waited for the Indians to show.
It had taken just over four hours to get here. The day was gorgeous: no clouds, about 60 degrees and a slight breeze was blowing, keeping us cool and comfortable all morning.
After eating some lunch of jerky, apples and water, we laid back on the grass to rest and discuss what went wrong with the plan. After about half an hour, Chief Scout Savage and Pvt. Woods went to find the Indians, returning without contact.
We were waiting in a cemetery, and decided that since there were many veterans of all wars buried there, as evidenced by the forest of flags on the graves, that we would fire a salute to honor them. We formed up and sent three volleys on command crashing into the countryside, echoing off surrounding hills and woods. This was a touching moment.
Finally, about an hour and a half after we arrived, the Indians finally showed. Upon questioning them, and reconstructing the day, we determined what happened.
They had arrived the afternoon before, as we thought. They went into the woods and, following a map given them, did find the ambush location. The night was very cold, and they did not make a fire, due to some locals on four-wheelers giving them cause to be concerned. They spent the night wrapped in single blankets, and being stripped for a war party, got rather chilly and spent a miserable night. We had passed their ambush spot, unseen and unheard. I believe they were laying in what sunshine was coming through the trees, wrapped in blankets, and were relying on hearing us to alert them of our presence. However, we went through so silently, and spread out over 60-80 yards or so, they never knew we were there. After finding out where they were along the trail, Pvt. Hebrank noted that he had heard what he called
"a real bad bird call" at that place, and being next in line behind him and Pvt. Polewchak, his partner, so did I, and, in fact, my partner, Pvt. Kirwin, and I froze and went on red alert at that point. Nothing came of it, and I did not see anyone or hear anything else after a few moments, so we relaxed and moved on.
Needless to say, we had some very embarrassed Indians, and some very proud soldiers and scouts! Aaahhh...the things legends are made of! Our Indians shall remain nameless here to avoid further embarrassment.....for now! But they will NEVER live this down!!
After resting another half-hour or so, we set off for the Cleared Fields, another of the
army's camping spots in 1756. Today it is near the village of Asheville. Arriving there, we made camp along the Beaver Dams Creek and were visited by about 30 local folks. As usual, we entertained them with music, demonstrations and conversation. These folks were different than what we had encountered to now. They mostly just stood and stared at us with their mouths open, and would occasionally ask something. They watched us cook, repair gear, set tents, and so on. It was as if we truly were the ghosts of Armstrong and his men! This campsite also was the finest we have had so far. It was not corrupted by modern sights, being down in the woods along a creek as it was. Most of the men remarked upon that. The owner had cleared an area just for us to use, after he gave us permission earlier in the summer when Lane was making arrangements.
One of our visitors, an elderly man whose son owned the ground we were graciously allowed to camp upon, was getting very cold, as the sun had settled and darkness was coming fast. His daughter wanted to take him home, but he was adamant that he was staying. He
didn't want to miss a thing. I walked over to him and without saying anything, removed my great coat and wrapped it around his shoulders. He smiled and said,
"Thank you, Colonel." I touched my hat and nodded to him, and the whole family came and took his picture! When it finally came time for him to leave, he insisted on returning my coat himself and when he walked over and handed it to me, he thanked me again, and saluted. I returned his salute and thanked him for visiting us, and he disappeared into the darkness on his
After the last of the visitors left at 9:00 PM, we discussed tomorrow's plans and turned in. It would feel good under a woolen blanket tonight...the first truly cold night we have had. Autumn is certainly in the air...
Wednesday, September ye 6th
Arose at 6:00 AM to a very cold morning. It was 28 degrees, according to the thermometer on the barn just up the road. There had been heavy dew last evening, and now it was ice on the vehicles and Pvt.
Kirwin's covering canvas.
We breakfasted on coffee and cakes, and prepared to begin our journey toward St.
Joseph's Mission Church, an old historic log Roman Catholic Church, between Carrolltown and Hastings, at
Hart's Sleeping Place, some 17 miles away. Rich Schall and Greg Rearick joined us for the final leg to the campsite.
On the way, the group passed Eckinrode's Mill and the spring there, where
Armstrong's men surely filled their canteens, and walked on a portion of the original trail which has been preserved.
After arriving at the church in the early afternoon, we set camp and awaited the arrival of the public. This was to be one of our largest public groups, since the Cambria County Historical Society had gone all out to publicize us. We were not to be disappointed.
Being close to Lane's home, Deb took us, two at a time, (Pvt. Kirwin and me first) to their home for a much-needed shower and clean clothes. I put on my dress uniform, all laced with silver, polished my gorget, had my wig coiffed by
Lane's daughter, Leslie, and were returned to the camp. The public was starting to arrive.
St. Joseph's Mission Church at Hart's Sleeping Place is quite interesting. It was built in 1830, blessed on October 10th of that year by the Prince-Priest of the Alleghenies, Demetrius Augustine Gallitzen, and this old log church served as the cradle of Catholicism in Northern Cambria County. Now maintained by the diocese, the church is one of Cambria
County's notable historic landmarks. Standing alone in the countryside, it is surrounded by graves of early settlers.
Hart's Sleeping Place was so-named for the trader, John Hart, who traveled the Kittanning Path, sleeping in a hollow tree which stood near this place. It is said that when there was likely to trouble from unfriendly Indians passing through, that the friendly Indians would stick a red tomahawk in the tree, thereby warning Hart and he would sleep elsewhere until it was safe. The tree is long gone, and today there is a monument standing where the tree stood 2 centuries ago.
The visitors to our camp, over 150, were treated to music, demonstrations, and camp life, as is our custom. In addition, we had Capt. Killbuck, an Lenape Indian, portrayed by Nathan Kobuck, who gave a talk on Indian customs and demonstrated scalping technique and the role of scalping in our frontier history.
One of the most poignant moments on our trek came in the form of four men, representing the area
Veterans' groups, who made a presentation of an American Flag to me after making an impressive speech. I, in turn, presented it to Lane Savage for his work in making this happen. Here is the text of the speech:
"Lt. Col. Armstrong, men of the KITTANNING EXPEDITION 2000."
"The local Veterans of this area welcome you as Brother Veterans. As
Provincial Troops, you are protecting your homelands and loved ones. We
support you as you carry out your endeavor. We thank you for the
important roles you will play in helping create this new country."
"Twenty years after your actions at Kittanning, an important document
will be signed at Philadelphia. This document will declare to the world
that the thirteen colonies are to be an independent country. Your
actions, and the contribution you have made, will insure the safety of
"In the years following the Kittanning campaign, the colonies will obtain
their independence from England. There will be new lands opened to
settlers and these lands will become states. In all, there will be 50
states. Your fellow countrymen will be involved in wars fought here and
in foreign lands."
"Citizens of this nation, which will become known as the United States of
America, will enjoy freedoms such as no citizen in the history of the
world has ever known."
"As brother veterans who have bled for this land, we present to you, and
your men, Lt. Col. Armstrong, the flag which we have fought for and
carried on the traditions set forth by you and the men of the original
I thanked each of these men for what they had done for us, and for their sacrifices, and had a very nice evening chatting with them.
Our evening meal was a delicious beef stew provided by Cambria County Historical Society member, Dave Huber, and his mother. The public was all gone by 9:00 pm, and we were entertained by John Moore, of Northumberland, a writer for the Harrisburg and Sunbury newspapers. He portrays a character he calls Susquehanna Jack, and we exchanged tales of the frontier for the next couple of hours. He will be joining us for our march tomorrow.
We turned in, full and happy, but very tired, and tomorrow was not far away...
Thursday, September ye 7th
Arose before daybreak, and while having breakfast, watched a beautiful
sunrise. The day promises to be a glorious one! The sky is clear and the
temperature, while cool, is quite pleasant. We were in no hurry today, as we had
had a very busy the evening before entertaining the 150 + visitors who came to
see us here at St. Joseph's Mission Church.
After packing the equipment, we moved to the monument where the trader, John
Hart, slept in his hollow tree, and took pictures. Then we started along the
road toward the next landmark about 4 miles ahead. We had been promised water
and food at the home of Amy Dolges. Susquehanna Jack and I went on ahead and
located the place, and while we waited for the rest of the men, Amy, her family
and friends made us welcome. We answered their many questions and posed for
photos with some of her co-workers who took their lunch break to come here to
see us. Amy provided us with sandwiches, water, coffee, popcorn, homemade
cookies, and apples from her tree. All in all we spent over 2 hours here with
this wonderful lady and her family and friends. Eventually, we had to force
ourselves to hit the trail again, and resumed our march toward Cookport.
Along the way, we crossed the West Branch of the Susquehanna River. We were
not too far from its source, so this mighty river, which is a mile wide in
places further downstream, and eventually makes its way to the Chesapeake, was
only about 15 yards wide...not much bigger than a lot of creeks.
Being at this place reminded me of the story of the miraculous escape and
return from Kittanning in 1756, after Lt. Col. Armstrong's raid, of Captain
Hugh Mercer. Mercer had been wounded early in the firefight, and on the retreat,
not being able to keep up, he became separated from the rest of the army. When
he did not turn up at Ft. Shirley some time after the others had, he was given
up as having died along the way somewhere or had met his fate at the hands of
the Indians, who were pursuing the army. Capt. Mercer somehow made his way to
the West Branch of the Susquehanna near Chincklacamoose (Clearfield, PA today),
found a bark canoe, and set off downriver. He avoided all contact, traveling
mostly at night, and eventually made his way to Ft. Augusta (Sunbury, PA today),
where he was taken care of and returned to good health. He had survived on
berries and rattlesnake meat, some of which he had in his haversack when he
arrived at Ft. Augusta and which "was still sweet." His ordeal had
taken well over six weeks. Hugh Mercer survived his wounds and the wilds and
during the American Revolution became General Hugh Mercer, one of George
Washington's top aides.
We arrived at the fairgrounds at Cookport late in the afternoon and began to
set camp for the night. We were joined there by Dr. Robert Millward and a film
crew from Indiana University of Pennsylvania. They are making a video, Injecting
Life into History Through Art and Drama. Its purpose is to make history come
alive for students and will help them to make connections between past and
present events. The Pennsylvania frontier from the late 1740s through the
early 1800's is the time frame of this project. It will focus on the
frontier paintings of Robert Griffing and period reenactors. The video is to be
made available to schools throughout the state as an aesthetic component to
teaching history. Dr. Millward and his crew interviewed each of us, and has
promised a copy of the product for us.
We had about 50 visitors in camp this evening. It is quite refreshing to see
so many youngsters interested in what we are doing. One young lady named Megan,
age 11, asked some extremely well thought out questions and visited, along with
her Mom, each of us. They were in camp for about 2 hours. She seemed very
disappointed when Mom said they had to go and get her brother from football
We sat by the fire and recounted the many kindnesses shown us so far on our
trek, and the many fantastic people we have met. One incident which stands out
loud and clear was the several school busses that passed one afternoon as we
trudged along the road, and the smiles and "thumbs up" signs
from many of the kids aboard those busses. When your feet, legs, and hips hurt
from walking, and your musket feels like it weighs a hundred pounds, and you are
feeling rather miserable, little things like that are wonderful morale boosters.
They give one the stamina to reach down a little deeper and push on...
Tomorrow we head for Shaver's Spring...2 days from our objective, and we have
not encountered any hostiles yet. The scouts will be sent ahead to reconnoiter
the trail to Kittanning, and are to report to me their findings. The closer we
get, the more apt we are to be detected...and secrecy is the key to a successful
Friday, September ye 8th
We awoke to a very red sunrise today. It had clouded up overnight, and the red dawn held ominous signs.
After breaking camp we went six miles to a Kittanning Trail Monument placed by the Indiana County Boy Scouts in 1976 as part of their United States Bicentennial celebration. After stopping to take photos of it, we moved on. We passed by an area known as Shawnee Bottoms. There were four log cabins here many years ago, according to local legend, which were occupied by some Shawnee. The Bottoms is a large flat place along a stream known as Two Lick Creek. This day it is planted in corn, and judging from its height, the Bottoms is quite fertile. It is easy to see why the Indians would choose it for a home site.
Pvt. Kirwin, Pvt. Dobbs and I had gone ahead, and while we waited here for the others we had a visit from a local man, born and raised within a mile of where we stood, who had no idea of the existence of the Bottoms, nor of its history. He only knew that it was a cornfield. It is, indeed, sad when such history becomes lost. Fortunately, we knew and were able to tell him of it, and hopefully he will pass it on to others. Maybe it will ignite a desire in him to learn more.
We had not yet encountered any rain, but the sky remained overcast. Perhaps the red sky this morning was not as ominous as we first thought it might be. However, the air was hanging heavy with humidity, and was beginning to remind some of our start over a week ago. Since that time, the men had developed the easy gait and swing of veterans who are used to going everywhere on foot. We are constantly thinking as we stroll on, about
Armstrong's men, and 18th century armies, in general, and how tough they were. We have toughened up quite a bit since we left Ft. Shirley, and we have had comparatively easy going. We do not have the woods and streams and hardships to contend with that they had. We have our own set of hardships: blisters, rubs and galls, tired and aching 21st century muscles, and other maladies that come from modern living. We have come to a deep appreciation of and admiration for
Armstrong's men. They were tough buggers!
We arrived at Shaver's Spring (Indiana, PA) and set camp in the park. Mack Park is a large public park with a fairgrounds...grandstand, animal barns and pens, a public swimming pool, and soccer and baseball fields, as well as a conference center building...quite different than when the Colonel and his army camped here in 1756!
Before we set camp, we wanted to visit the actual Shaver's Spring, so we did just that.
Shaver's Spring is still in existence. It is inside the cafeteria of the Student Union Building on the campus of Indiana University of Pennsylvania. It has had a planter built around it to protect it and prevent it from being filled in with trash and whatever by students. We entered the building and found the spring, much to the surprise of students and faculty who happened to be there at the time. To say we raised a few eyebrows and elicited a few comments is an understatement! After all, we were not very clean, rather weather-worn, and could have smelled a lot better, I suppose...I mean, wood smoke and sweat are not on Estee
Lauder's top fragrances list, but we didn't care. We were on a mission.
After we gathered around the Spring/planter and took photos, we started out of the building. As we passed a table where 5 students sat, four men and one woman, one of the fellows reached up and touched my arm. I stopped and said,
"Hello," to him. He asked what this was all about. I explained who we were and what we were doing, and he said,
"You mean you all are doing 126 miles?" I told him that was correct, and he looked me up and down, and said,
"Well, brother, you are a tougher dude than I am!" I guess this old
"Dude" impressed him. We all laughed and then invited him and his friends to visit us in the park, and we went on our way. We returned to the park and set camp.
There are a number of sizable oak trees here in the park. One was recently cut down, and its stump remained. This tree was hollow in the center, a fate that befalls most oaks of this size. The outer shell contained 87 rings, and was about 7 inches thick. The center was hollow across for over two feet, making this tree quite old. In fact, we determined that it, as well as several others here were mature trees when Lt. Col.
Armstrong's army camped here two nights before they hit Kittanning, 244 years ago. I kept looking at the trees as I sat at my tent, and wondered...
This evening we had some interested folks stop by, but not what we expected, as posters had been put up all over the town. And our impressionable friends from earlier did not come by. I guess Friday nights at a University are spent in more interesting pursuits than sitting in a smoky camp listening to some bad smelling old guys drone on about the past!!
(At least they were when I was a student...so who can blame them. Their loss...)
It has begun to settle upon us that this adventure will end in two more days. Tomorrow we go to Kittanning, and will be stopping by
Armstrong's army's last campsite before the attack on the town...
As we went to sleep this night, we had an awful lot to reflect upon, and that soon...too soon...it would be over. Tomorrow will be a very special day...one not to be forgotten.
Saturday, September ye 9th
We arose at about 6:30 AM to another nice day. The sun was coming up to a clear sky, but it was quite pleasant. After breakfast we broke camp and headed out toward Kittanning, 24 miles distant. We will transport today because of the dangerous highway between these two points, and because of a very important stop along the way we had to make. There is no parallel route nor is there time enough to follow an alternate route. We would need at least two more days, and we just do not have them.
This was the beginning of a very special day for me. I was soon to be in my home territory, and from here on out, the terrain is as familiar as the back of my hand, there are homes and landmarks that conjured up memories that have been stored away in my head for 40 years or more.
We passed through the village of Shelocta, and past the restaurant that is owned by one of my old high school band friends, Sandy Kaye Perry (Smith). I wish we could stop, but we are now on a tight schedule. Up the highway a couple of miles is the home of one of my favorite teachers, Herman Rupert, 10th grade Biology and
Driver's Education. Next is the little town of Elderton, and my high school. We lived here, Mother, Dad, my sister and I until Dad went off to WWII. The familiar road passed under us as I told my traveling companion, Pvt. Jim Polewchak, about every inch, it seemed, of the route. Through the village of Whitesburg and then we turned off the highway and onto a dirt road and followed it until we came to an area known as Blanket Hill. There we pulled off and indicated to the men which of the several hills was the actual site of
Armstrong's depository the night before the raid.
At about nine or ten o'clock on the night of September 7th, 1756, the army of 307 men arrived here. It is five miles to Kittanning; Armstrong thought about six miles. This is when they encountered their first Indians. A few rods in advance, a guide, or scout, discovered a fire with 3 or 4 men sitting around it.
Armstrong, in his report, says, "Whereupon, with all possible silence, I
order'd the Rear to Retreat about one Hundred Perches in Order to make Way for the Front that We might consult how we could best proceed without being
discover'd by the Enemy." When the guide reported again that he could only see three or four Indians in the party, someone proposed to fall upon them and kill them without further ado; but the risk of alarm was too great. On the other hand the Expedition could not afford to wait until the Indians went to sleep. Lieutenant James Hogg, of Captain George
Armstrong's company, was left with twelve men and the guide, with instructions to attack the Indians at daybreak. The troops left their horses,
"with what Blankets and other Baggage we then had," at this place, known to this day as Blanket Hill, and leaving the road in order to get past the Indians, made their silent and difficult way through the woods toward the town.
The actual attack and battle will be explained in tomorrow's Journal, however, it is prudent and necessary now to say that several of the white captives who escaped to Armstrong stated that two batteaux of French soldiers were due to arrive in Kittanning this very day from Ft. Duquesne, intending to go with Captain Jacobs to attack Ft. Shirley the following day, and that 24 Indians had left the night before from the town. It then occurred to some of the troops that this party of 3 or 4 was, indeed, the advance party of 24, and Lt. Hogg and his detail were in grave danger. Had the troops known, as they prepared to retreat, that a French party had already arrived at Kittanning, they might have been even more alarmed.
In the meantime, Lt. Hogg prepared to carry out his orders. As the affair was reported to Armstrong, when Hogg attacked that morning, he had found, not
"Three of four Indians" but "a Number considerably Superior to
his"; and although three Indians were thought to be mortally wounded, the
hour's engagement ended with Hogg twice wounded and three of his twelve men dead.
Lt. Hogg was badly wounded and hid himself in a thicket. Here he was discovered by a sergeant and a few others of Captain
Mercer's men who had withdrawn early from the battle, perhaps when their captain was wounded. These men put Hogg on a horse, and carried him with them in their retreat; but upon meeting four Indians this party scattered, leaving the wounded officer to his own devices. Wounded again in this encounter, Hogg
"died in a few hours" after riding some distance.
Most of the horses and all of the blankets and provisions left on the hill the night before were captured by the Indians after having been left by the army. To this day, this hill is known as Blanket Hill. This hill is not easily accessible by the road, and is on private property, so we stopped at a place where we could see the hill easily from a few hundred yards away.
After putting on our battle gear, we marched up the slope and stood facing the hill. We stood in silence for a few moments, then I told the men what happened here so long ago, pointing out the hill before us. We then drank a toast to these brave souls, all 307 of
Armstrong's army, and to the Indians who died in the attacks. We had discussed an appropriate beverage for this occasion the evening before, and after considering rum, whiskey, wine and a couple other things, we settled on something we are sure they all had: coffee.
The coffee was poured from my canteen into a silver cup and each of us, in turn, made his toast and then sipped from the silver cup before passing it to the next man until it came to the end of the line. Pvt. Kirwin, at the end of the line toasted Lt. Hogg and the others who died here and perhaps remained there, unburied, and then he poured the rest of the coffee in the cup onto the ground, saying,
"This is for you. Drink with us."
I then called Pvt. Kirwin front and center, and ordered "Mourn Arms!" He performed this maneuver flawlessly. We said a silent prayer, and returned to the edge of the road where we then took pictures of the group with Blanket Hill in the background. Our simple Ceremony of Remembrance was deeply emotional for us all.
Before we left for the final leg of our trek, we placed a relic of our own on the hillside...a relic of Kittanning Trek 2000...for posterity. Pvt. Hebrank had the dubious honor of burying his worn out hiking boots which he had thrown away in a trash barrel in Indiana last night, and I found them and brought them here just for this occasion! We had one more stop along busy US Route 422; to view the roadside markers telling about Blanket Hill, which are some distance from the actual site, but do tell the story. After photographing them, we headed west toward the town.
Saturday, September ye 9th
Three miles to the town.
We passed my home, and I resisted with all my might the temptation to stop. I did, however, slow to nearly a stop and look up the lane, and at my buddy
Butch's house at the foot of it. Ah, the times we had there! We moved out here from town in 1954, in the Spring. I had not seen it since 1991, when it was sold after Dad died. A young couple, who had a small boy, had bought it, and I was pleased to see their name still on the little sign at the end of our lane where our name had been for so long. That young lad should be about 12 by now...my age when we came out here. I would dearly love to tell him of the wonders of the woods and fields, and of the things we did as kids, but it cannot be...I only hope he has discovered them on his own. It was a wonderful place to grow up.
But, I digress.......
As we approached the town and descended the long hill and entering the town itself, I noted to Pvt. Polewchak that the cornfields were here....Shingas's Town was over there, across the river. Up there, on the flat below the Court House, stood Captain
Jacob's house. Lt. Col. Armstrong came in this way before dawn to attack. The upper town was north, along the river, and the towns covered nearly a mile.
We turned across the river and went up the other side, to a place where it was now safe to walk the road, and where we were to meet men who would take our vehicles to the campsite, so we could march the last 2 miles. As we approached the rendezvous point, we saw a familiar face waiting for us. Pvt. Al Fine, whom we lost the first day to heat exhaustion and some other complications, was waiting for us. His doctor AND his wife had cleared him to join us for the final leg of the march. We were pleased to have him back! Also joining us were Privates Tom and Will Lisak, father and son, who had been with us for two days, from Alexandria to Hollidaysburg, and Rich Schall, one of the organizers from Kittanning, and a boyhood friend whom I
hadn't seen since about 1960, until we began to put this event together. Will Lisak, by the way, is 15 years old, and is an accomplished woodsman, as good as or better than many men I know who play this game. It was a delight to have him along.
I had asked Pvt. Kirwin if he, being an Englishman, would like to carry the Ensign, the same kind which flew over every Pennsylvania Provincial fort during the French and Indian war, on this last leg and into camp. He replied that he would be honored to do it. We unfurled the flag, Pvt. Kirwin became Color Sgt. Kirwin, and he carried the Ensign proudly at the head of our column. The men fell into line and we started out. What a spectacle! Residents were coming out of their homes all along the way to applaud us and photograph us as we passed. It was a stirring gesture, and caused goose bumps to arise. We returned their respect with an
"Eyes right" or "Eyes left!" and as we passed I saluted each group.
The silence was broken only by the sound of the cadence on the road, and an occasional chorus of
"Mattie Brown" by Color Sgt. Kirwin. The cadence of twelve men, all in step at 64 steps a minute...a proper cadence for an 18th century army..., was deafening. The familiar gait fairly rang in our ears. I did not have to tell the lads to look sharp. They all had the proud look one would expect from those who had accomplished what they had. Every one knew what this moment meant to him personally and to us as a whole.
At last we started down the long hill we had been told would be the landmark we were to note, as the Hunting and Fishing Club would be at the bottom. We had also been told there were well over 100 people awaiting our arrival, and the armed men in camp would fire their firelocks when they saw us starting down the hill.
We began to see people waiting, but I was certainly not prepared for what I saw. There, at the entrance to the field where we were to go, were my own men, The 3rd Battalion Pennsylvania of the Pennsylvania Regiment, The Augusta Regiment, standing in line and as we approached, Sgt. Toot called out,
"Pennsylvania! Rest your firelocks!" and the men responded, giving us honors as we passed. We returned their honors by an
"Eyes left!" and a salute. I had the chills, my knees were weak, and I will admit, a tear or two snuck out of my eye and rolled down my cheek. I knew they were coming to Kittanning, but I did not expect this...
One of the first people I saw when we entered the field was my old 10th grade Biology and
Driver's Education teacher, Herman Rupert, whose home we had passed earlier today. He was dressed in frontier clothing and was camping there, too. Not bad for an 85 year old fellow. He looked just like I remembered him, only a bit grayer. I never knew he had this interest. We had a wonderful reunion, and he updated me on quite a few of my friends and old teachers, many of whom are gone. I was very sad to hear about that.
We marched past the Indian village, constructed for this event, and the Indians there shouted halloos and shot their muskets in salute. We posed for pictures forever, it seemed, and accepted the congratulations of many people. We stayed right there as long as someone wanted to take a picture.
It was over. The feeling descended on us like a stage curtain. Hugs and back slaps, jibes and jokes, and the realization that we were no longer just us. This was the goal we had strived for and we achieved it. It was a bittersweet moment.
Camp was set in a military style, with my tent, as commanding officer, at the head of the company street set by my men from home, and I ordered that the
trekkers' tents be set alongside and in line with mine, to give them the honor usually reserved for officers. After all, they certainly deserved it.
More visitors, interviews, photo ops, and soon darkness was upon us. Dinner was prepared, and afterwards, we just visited around until it was late. A couple of the Indians began to harass the troops with taunts and threats. Truthfully, they rapidly became obnoxious. An idea began to take shape in my head. They would regret what they were doing. I very quietly passed the word to all my soldiers and scouts, about 40 of them, that the Colonel would be waking them quite early and we would attack the Indian village at dawn...just as happened in 1756. As I told each man, a smile came to his face, a slight chuckle rolled from his throat, and his head nodded approvingly...