National Geographic : 1950 Jul
The National Geographic Magazine A day and a half's work brought us to Athens, Pennsylvania, a highlight of our trip. The Susquehanna system is a many-branch ing path through mountains, and Athens is one of the crossroads. Clinton (page 76) had followed the upper river to Athens. There he met Gen. John Sullivan, his commanding offi cer, who had brought an army north along the Susquehanna from Wyoming Valley (the Wilkes-Barre region). With combined forces representing a large segment of George Washington's army, the Sullivan-Clinton expedition moved northwest up the tributary Chemung River into the heart of the Iroquois homeland. There it destroyed for all time the fighting power of the Six Nations, traditional allies of the British. In 1783, George Washington, who had con ceived the Sullivan-Clinton campaign, traveled up the Mohawk,* then overland the few miles to Otsego Lake and the source of the Susque hanna. He observed that he "could not but be struck with the immense diffusion and im portance of [inland waterways], and with the goodness of that Providence which has dealt her favors to us with so profuse a hand." The men of Clinton and Sullivan also recog nized these favors and returned after the war to help transform the howling wilderness they had marched through into the neat farms that have graced Susquehanna valleys ever since. One group, moving up the Chemung Valley ten years behind Sullivan, founded Horse heads, New York. A Tablet Tells a Story On Hanover Square we saw a tablet in scribed: "In 1779 near this spot General John Sullivan mercifully disposed of his pack horses worn out by faithful service in the campaign against the Six Nations of the Iroquois. The first white settlers entering this valley in 1789 found the bleached skulls and named the place Horseheads." "That inscription suggests a Coolidge con densation," said one citizen. "There isn't a superfluous word in it." Even before the Revolution, scattered settle ments existed in Wyoming Valley, around Athens, and along the West Branch of the Susquehanna. Many pioneers came from New England, especially Connecticut. By the 1750's Connecticut's agrarian population had soared to a crowded 130,000; so citizens formed the Susquehannah Company for ex pansion. They felt that Connecticut's charter gave them the right to a westward-extending strip of land as wide as their colony. Iroquois representatives sold them a huge rectangle which now forms most of the north- east portion of Pennsylvania-a fifth of the State. But during four decades Connecticut claimed the area and fought three small but fierce wars for it. And before the dispute was settled, about 1803, the fiery Yankee John Franklin even tried to establish "Sus quehannah" as a separate State, with Athens as its capital. A Pioneer of Pennsylvania Leaving our canoes at the Athens bridge, we drove to Spanish Hill (page 84), the flat topped rise just northwest of town. This acropolis of a North American Athens broods beside the road, guarding its hoard of New World antiquities. We climbed 230 feet to its mesalike summit. On the 10-acre crown, once fortified with palisades by an unknown race, we surveyed the area where Etienne Brule, first recorded white man to enter what is now Pennsylvania, met the Carantouan Indians. Here the young Frenchman, Champlain's emissary, talked hundreds of braves onto the warpath against the Iroquois. But the attend ing ceremonials delayed their departure, and they arrived at Onondaga (near Syracuse), the appointed battle place, several days after Champlain and his Huron allies had been defeated. With Iroquois between him and Champlain, Brule returned to Spanish Hill, and, for rea sons not fully clear, whiled away his time by canoeing down the Susquehanna, to salt water and back. "And the amazing thing," said Charles Lucy, who helped guide us about the Athens-Sayre Waverly region, "is that all this took place in 1615 and 1616-four years before the Pil grims landed at Plymouth Rock." How did the "Spanish" creep into Spanish Hill? Dr. Elsie Murray, devoting a lifetime to preserving her valley's place in history, knew the answer. I found her in Athens's Tioga Point Museum, which she directs. "The legend about gold-hunting Spaniards penetrating into this area before Brule is more than idle fancy," she said. "The first settlers reported hearing Indians calling the hill Espafia, and standing in awe of it." We returned to our canoes and paddled south three miles to Tioga Point to look for arrowheads. Surely here, where the Indian-rich Chemung and Susquehanna Rivers join, there must be at least one! * See "Drums to Dynamos on the Mohawk," by Frederick G. Vosburgh, NATIONAL GEOGRAPHIC MAGA ZINE, July, 1947.