Steuben County
New York


Stacy Jackson (1872-1954)

When Grandma Was Young.

A Graphic Portrayal of Pioneer Life in the Canisteo Valley in Days When Indians Roamed Where Main Street Now Stands.
as printed in the Hornell Evening Tribune (Hornell, NY) April 16, 1924, pg. 8, cols. 1-3.

     "A kiss for your thoughts Grandma, said Elna as she saw the dreamy expression on the face of her grandmother who was gazing into the flames of an open grate.
     "Sold," said the old lady as she turned smilingly toward her fifteen year old granddaughter. 'I was thinking of my childhood and the wonderful changes that have taken place, the greater privileges, comforts and pleasure that children as well as their elders now enjoy particularly in the evening, than when I was a child some seventy years ago. Then there were no mechanical toys nor the hundreds of games you now have to select from and but few books written expressly for the young and had there been it would not have been pleasant to have attempted to read them by the dim candle light or the flickering flames of the fire. But few homes then possessed musical instruments other than an occasional 'fiddle' whereas today even the most humble home can afford a prapaphone and have at their call the world's best musicians and vocalists."
     "Grandma how did you while away the long winter evenings if you had so few instruments," inquired John, Elna's thirteen year old brother who had left his play to come forward and listen to the conversation as did also his two younger brothers, attracted as youth ever have been by tales of heroic deeds or of olden time.
     "The maxim: Early to bed and early to rise," was then generally observed and there were few who did not retire by nine o'clock while young people of your age were sent to bed by eight. Families were larger in those days, thirteen children being not uncommon and the care of the small children devolved upon the older ones. There were also other household duties to be performed, such as knitting, spinning, weaving, etc., for the womenfolk, while the men might shape an axe helve, or repair a boot. I always aspired to be appointed candle snuffer whose duty it was to make the rounds of the various candles from time to time and snip off the charred wick.
     "Story telling was much in vogue. Looking back I find among the early recollections most vividly and pleasantly impressed upon my mind were stories told by my parents, grand parents or elderly visitors. Without, the storm might rage and the wind roar and from the nearby dense forest he heard the cry of a panther or the yelp of wolves, yet within all was comfort and cheer as the room was filled with heat and light radiated by the huge fireplace piled high with fuel. The movies today do not begin to furnish the thrills us children experienced upon such occasions as we listened to heroic deeds or wonderful adventures told perhaps by the hero of the deed. There were stories of marches and battles, scouting and Indian warfare, hunting adventures, tales of the sea, and descriptions of strange lands and peoples."

Early Days in Steuben

     "Grandma will you tell us those stories that you remember," asked Elna. "Tell us of the journey of your grandfather and his bride from the Mohawk valley when they moved to Steuben county to live." said John. Each of the other boys mentioned some incident they wished told.
     "Considering that you children seem to be very well versed in the adventures of the members of our family I believe we better combine our stories to local history and traditions, thus making them interesting to your parents as well," said Grandma.
     Steuben county had undoubtedly received more attention from historians than any other county in the state. Some of these books were compiled purely from a commercial standpoint and add little to date previously recorded. Guy H. McMaser, a Bath lawyer, published in  1853, the first history of the county. This gives in detail the settlements at Painted Post, Bath and Canisteo and a brief account of the settlement of other villages. Prof. Clayton's History, published in 1877, has much data of the various townships, numerous biographical sketches and illustrations and is the most worthy of our local histories. The Landmarks, published in 1896, by Hon. Harlo Hakes of Hornell, has a large biographical section with numerous engravings. Robert's History, published in 1891, contains but little that had not been previously published. Hon. J. W. Near of Hornell, published in 1914 a two volume history with a great number of biographical sketches and much local data. Mr. Charles Erwin of Painted Post, published during the seventys two paphlets of the history of Painted Post. William M. Stuart of Canisteo, published in 1921 a volume of history and Traditions of the Canisteo Valley. Dr. Mulford of Corning, published in 1920 a history of Corning and vicinity.

First Record of Kanesteo

     The first record of the name Kanesteo is found on a map of Western New York prepared for the French government by one Pouchot," in 1758. In 1764 it is mentioned in colonial records in connection with an expedition sent out by Sir William Johnston, Indian Agent for the Crown. Some time prior to the French and Indian war which closed in 1763 a band of Delaware Indians settled at Canisteo in territory of the Seneca tribe. To this band came for refuge several white renegades and deserters from the British army. In 1762 two British traders were murdered and the traders fled to Canisteo, a village of some sixty dwellings known as Kanestio castle. The agent for the Crown demanded of the Delawares the surrender of the murders and when they did not comply be sent out in 1764 a detachment of 150 Iroquois Indians with a few British soldiers under Capt. Montour to capture the murderers and chastise the Delawares for not complying with his demand. This band burned the settlement and destroyed their live stock and implements of agriculture. The village was not rebuilt by the Indians and what became of the band is not known. The clearing of several hundred acres found here by the first white settlers was undoubtedly that made by this band of Delewares.
     Although so far removed from the seat of the main activities of the war of the Revolution, with no white setler nor Indian settlement of note, yet Steuben county figured in that struggle. On the banks of the Canisteo river near Arkport in 1778 a band of Indians and Tories from Niagara enroute to prey upon the settlements in Pennsylvania, constructed a rude flotilla of rafts and canoes to carry them to their destination. Upon their return the savages brought with them captives, some of whom settled here after the war ended. One such was Major Moses VanCampen, a soldier in the Revolution and a famous scout.

The Sullivan Invasion

     It was Sullivan's Expedition against the Iroquois confederation, allies of the British, that drove out the Indians from western New York and opened up the territory for settlement. And it was the Soldiers of Sullivan's army that led the van of settlers here. Sullivan's scouts in pursuit of Indians defeated at the battle of Newtown, near Wellsburg, came as far as Painted Post where they destroyed an Indian village of several well constructed cabins. (Diarys of Sullivan's Soldiers).
     Uriah Stephens, Jr. a native of Pennsylvania who had been a soldier in Sullivan's Army, learned from scouts who had gone farthest up the Chemung River that there were fertile flats along that stream. In 1788, accompanied by three or four others he set out from Tioga Point where they then resided, upon an exploring expedition in search of a suitable location for a settlement. From Painted Post they followed the Cohocton river to near Bath and crossed the divide to the Canisteo valley. McMaster describes their discovery of Canisteo as follows: "They came suddenly upon the brink of a deep valley through which a river rambled in a crooked channel marked by elms and willows which overhung it. The prospet was singularly beautiful. A heavy forest covered the valley. Groves of gigantic pine stood with their deep green tops in the midst of the maples, the elms and the white sycamores. So even was the surface of the vale, so abrupt and darkly shaded the ranges that enclosed it, that it seemed like a lake of timber. At the lower part of the valley there was an open flat of several hundred acres overgrown with wild grass so high that a horse and rider could pass through almost unseen." The Indians residing here when the first settlers came did not know when or by whom the clearing was made as it was cleared when his tribe cam here.
     The next summer, 1789, a company of men went to Canisteo and cut and stacked a quantity of wild grass. In the Autumn Uriah Stephens, Sr., and Richard Crosby with portions of their families started from Newtown (Elmira) to the proposed settlement. The women, children and baggage was carried in a boat and the cattle were driven along the banks of the stream. Due to the numerous rifts in the stream over which the boat was dragged by all pulling on a long rope, the trunk of trees fallen across the stream and dams of drift wood, their progress was slow, one day but six miles were traversed.

First Home in Valley

     Upon arrival at their destination they proceeded to erect a log cabin 24 by 26 feet and two stories high. Below there was but one room. A fire place was built in each of the four corners. Here the two families passed the winter very comfortably, more than thirty-five miles from their nearest neighbor. In the spring of 1790 they were joined by three other families, and others followed from time to time.
     Hornell was settled in 1790 and was called Upper Canisteo for a number of years. Benjamin Crosby and his son Richard with their families were the first settlers here. Benjamin built his cabin where now stands St. James Mercy Hospital, but shortly removed to a cabin he built where now stands the Erie Office building, corner of Center and Loder streets. He was a native of England. He resided during the period of the Revolution along the Hudson river, probably in Dutchess county, N. Y. After the close of the war he removed to eastern Pennsylvania and may have resided for a time in Newton (Elmira)

(To Be Continued)

When Grandma Was Young.

A Graphic Portrayal of Pioneer Life in the Canisteo Valley in Days When Indians Roamed Where Main Street Now Stands.
as printed in the Hornell Evening Tribune (Hornell, NY) April, 1924.

(Continued from our last issue.)

     Richard Crosby located on the banks of Canacadea Creek, probably on the L. W. Rockwell lot on Maple street, for there is a tradition that the large and ancient apple tree on this lot was one of his orchard. He was a soldier in the Revolution. One of this name was Seargant in Wessenfell's Regiment, the Dutchess County Militia. He was appointed Ensign of the first military organization formed in this vicinity.
     The party of explorers found at Painted Post the cabins of the half a dozen settlers, this being the only settlement in Steuben county at that time. This settlement was also the headquarters of Frederick Saxton and Augustus Porter, the surveyors for the propretors Phelps and Gorham. Mr. Phelps opened an office at Canandaigua for the sale of the land.

Bought the Wrong Town

     Deciding to purchase outright the township of Canisteo and the adjoining township of Hornellsville, a company of twelve settlers selected two of their members to go to Canandaigua for that purpose. Upon their return it was discovered that they did not have the deed for Hornellsville but for the township to the south of that, that is now Hartsville. This necessitated a return of the committee to Canandaigua to have the deed corrected. Mr. Phelps only complied with their request upon their consenting to his reserving a strip a mile wide across the northern border of the township of Hornellsville.
     It was agreed among the twelve purchasers of the town to divide the township into twelve sections, each almost half a mile wide, and number them one to twelve, beginning at the east side of the town. Tickets bearing these numbers were placed in a receptacle and each of the owners blindfolded drew therefrom a ticket which determined his location.
     The division of Hornellsville township was in the same manner as Canisteo, but in this instance the tickets were withdrawn by Hannah, wife of Richard Crosby. The drawing was held in 1790 at the home of Benjamin Crosby in Hornellsville.
     All of the first settlers in the Canisteo valley were from Pennsylvania, the majority of whom were of New England, mostly from Connecticut descent. About 1812 and thereafter the immigrants were mostly from the Mohawk Valley and Central New York. Many of these likewise of New England descent, but generally from Massachusetts, and Vermont.

Once Indians' Favorite Haunt

     McMaster states:
     Southern Steuben was a favorite hunting grounds of the Indians residing along the Genesee and every winter hundreds of them came and built lodges and killed deer for their summer's stock of dried venison, and fur bearing animals for their pelts. Although in diminishing numbers, they followed this practice until 1825 when two Indians, Curley-eye and Sundown, members of a hunting party, were arrested for the murder of Joshua Stephens. Stephens was in the woods looking for strayed cattle. Two rifle bullets entered his body indicating that the shooting was not accidental, although it was generally believed that the Indians were mistaken in the identity of their victim when they fired. The Indians were arrested and taken to Bath jail. Their trial was attended by a great number of people. Red Jackst and other prominent chiefs were present. The Indians were acquitted.
     The intercourse between the Indians and settlers were generally friendly and social. During the first few years of the settlement, many of the settlers were uneasy at the presence of the Indians. The wives of many of the emigrants from the east, unused to wild life and knowing the terrible fame of the Six Nations, lived in constant alarm.
     Four or five times each year the Indians would come in large numbers from Squakle Hill to Canisteo for horse and foot-racing and play all manner of rude sports. In wrestling or "rough-and-tumble" they were hardly matches for the young settlers. The Indians were powerful of frame and of good statue and as "limber as snakes" oiling themselves when preparing for a wrestle, that they made a worthy antagonist. Elias Stephens was the champion wrestler in this vicinity and no Indian in the Six Nations could lay him on his back. A powerful young chief from Tonawanda came to try the strength of the Canisteo champion. After a rigid training and sleeping in oiled blankets for several nights he was brought into the ring formed by scores of his Indian brethern and undoubtedly the entire population of the vicinity. At the first grapple the chief was hurled to the ground with a broken thigh-bone. The Indians were very angry and drew their knives with the intention of killing the victor. The Indians were finally quieted and departed for their homes bearing the unlucky chief upon a litter formed of a deer-skin stretched between two poles.

Played With Indians

     Foot races, long and short, were favorite diversions. In these the Indians were more successful, yet now and then a long-winded and long-legged young settler would beat the Indians at their own game. Horse-racing, that ancient and heroic pastime, was carried on with a zeal that would shame Newmarket. The Indians came on these occasions with all their households, women, children, dogs and horses. The settlers found no occasion to complain of their savage guests, for they conducted themselves with civility, generally, and even formed in some instances, warm friendships with their hosts.
     The Indians sometimes entertained the settlers with a war dance at the close of a day of sport. Gathering a great quantity of wood they would make a pile about eight rods long that would be fired when night had fallen. Arrayed most fantastically, the savages marched around the fire howling war songs, battering their drums and flourishing their knives and tomahawks and worked themselves into a brilliant state of excitement. Upon one occasion, a young buck stepped out of the line and approaching the circle of men and boy spectators inquired the name of one of the men. Upon being informed he retorted with: D-- liar, d-- hog", evidently intent upon starting trouble, but the victim ignored him and he passed to Elias Stevens made the same inquiry and upon response made the same remarks as before and was promptly knocked headlong over the fire, senseless. The dance was stopped, the drums became dumb and the savages held aloof in angry astonishment, while the spectators trembled for their scalps. The Chief, who had watched the incident however, came forward and striking Stephens approvingly on the shoulders, said "Good enough for Indian." and that he "expected his warriors to behave themselves like gentlemen and when they did not he would thank any pale-faced gentleman to knock them over the fire, through the fire or into the fire, as might be most convenient." The dance went on with renewed vigor.

Tomahawked the Pumpkins

Sometimes the Indians treated the settlers to a display of their tactics. Hiding behind a rampart of roots or lying in ambush among the bushes, at a signal given the whole party fired their guns at certain imaginary foes. The chief sprang up and raised the far-whoop, and then the 300 warriors joined in that frightful cry of the Six Nations, which to use the favorite phrase of the pioneers, "was enough to take the hair off a man's head" then rushing out, they tomahawked the pumpkins and scalped the turnips. Then dodged back to their covert and lay still as snakes.
     Elias Stephens for his prowess and resolution became an object of respect to the red gentry. Fourteen men were working in Bennett's millyard when sixteen Indians whooping furiously came in and drove the workmen out and began a dance, Stephens was told. Picking up his club he went to the mill. The Indians were capering about in high glee, brandishing their knives, yelling, and indulging in all the antics, with which the barbarians of the Long-House were wont to divert themselves. Stephnes ordered them to get out and they went without saying a word.

(continued in our next issue)

 When Grandma Was Young.

A Graphic Portrayal of Pioneer Life in the Canisteo Valley in Days When Indians Roamed Where Main Street Now Stands.
as printed in the Hornell Evening Tribune (Hornell, NY) April, 1924.

(Continued from our last issue)

     The men of Wyoming, among the first settlers at Canisteo, found among the Redskins many of their old antagonists. Tories were never forgiven, but the proffered friendship of the Indians was accepted. Shortly after their arrival an old Indian afterwards known as "Captain John" made his appearance, and on seeing the elder Stephens, went into violent merriment. Language failed him and he resorted to pantomine. One of Mr. Stephens sons supposing that the Indian was "making fun" of his father, snatched up a club to attack him, when the Indian fled. He afterwards became a fast friend of the settlers and explained the cause of his merriment. When Mr. Stephens lived near Wyoming, he was one day going from his farm to the fort with two oxen and a horse. His young son was riding the horse, and Mr. Stephens was walking along beside the oxen smoking a pipe. His shoe became stuck in a mud hole was withdrawn from his foot, and as he stopped to recover the shoe, Captain John, who was concealed in the bushes nearly, shot at Mr. Stephens but missed him and killed an ox. Mr. Stephens, for a moment forgetting his son, started to run, but was recalled by the boy and returning he took the boy in his arms and both reached the fort in safety. It was the rememberance of the excitement that Mr. Stephens expressed upon that occassion that caused the hilarity of Captain John, as he afterward explained.

Plucky Major VanCampen

     Another meeting of two old enemies took place on the banks of the Canisteo was that of Major Moses VanCampen and John Mohawk, when there was every prospect of a bloody fight. Major VanCampen, from the Wyoming Valley in Pennsylvania, was a very early settler at Almond. He was known to the Indians of the Iroquois confederation as a powerful, daring and sagacious ranger in the border wars of Pennsylvania, and was especially obnoxious to them for breaking his bonds and killing while they slept a war party that held him captive. Mohawk, who was a member of the war party that held VanCampen and as he fled he was wounded badly by a tomahawk thrown by VanCampen. When they next met at Canisteo Mohawk was anxious for revenge for the wound that had left his neck set slightly awry from the blow of the tomahawk. The settlers rallied for the defence of VanCampen. After much wrangling it was decided that the two parties should divide while VanCampen and Mohawk advanced between them and hold a "talk". After a conference of considerable length, it was finally conceded the war was over and they ought to forget past injuries. Mohawk offered his hand; "the threatened fight became a feast, and keg of spirits tapped and the hills rang riot."
     VanCampen's wonderful adventures and hair-breadth escapes read like the pages of a "Blood and Thunder," and were there not witnesses to vouch for them, they are unbelievable.
     He resided in the Wyoming Valley, in Pennsylvania, during the period of the Revolution. During that conflict he was a soldier in the Wyoming Valley Militia, and served as a Scout under General Sullivan upon the expedition into the Indian country in 1779. While the army was encamped at Tioga Point, he was engaged in scouting about the Indian encampment at Chemung, and on one occasion entered the encampment at night to count the number of sleeping savages, himself dressed as an Indian.

How He Escaped

     In March, 1780, accompanied by his father, his son, an uncle and Peter Penace, they went to their farms to do some work. They were there attacked by Indians and his father, son and uncle were killed. He was wounded and with Penace taken prisoner. The Indians with the two prisoners then started for the west, and the next day another prisoner, Abraham Pike, was added to the party. On the fourth day VanCampen secured a knife dropped by one of the savages and that night when the Indians were sleeping he cut his bonds and those of the other prisoners, and with their own weapons attacked the sleeping savages. VanCampen with a tomahawk dispatched five and Penace with rifles dispatched four. Pike's heart failed him and he did not perform his part. The tenth Indian, John Mohawk, awakened by the guns managed to escape athough badly wounded. The tomahawk that VanCampen used upon this occasion is now preserved in Letchworth Museum, at Portage Glen.
     Upon another invasion by the Indians a few months later, VanCampen was again captured and taken to their encampment near Salamanca, there to Niagara and turned over to the British who transferred him to Quebec, where, after a few months in prison, was "exchanged" and sent to New York by ship.
     Of the youth of Canisteo, McMaster writes as follows: Infant Canisteo of course followed in the footsteps of senior Canisteo. When fathers and big brothers found delight in scuffing with barbarians, and in racing with Indian ponies. It would be strange if infant Canisteo had taken of its own accord to Belles Lettres and arithmetic. The strange boy found himself in a den of young bears. He was promptly required to fight, and after such an introduction was admitted to freedom of trap and fishery. And for infant Canisteo, considering the passion for wild life which plays the mischief with boys everywhere, a more congenial region could not have been found. The rivers and brooks were alive with fish, the hills stocked with deer, the groves populous with squirrels, the partridges drumming in the bushes, the raccoons scrambling in the treetops, while their little ill-tempered Iroquois play-fellows, with their arrow practice, their occasional skirmishes, and their mimic war-play, furnished all the diversion that any youth could desire.