Forgotten Americans along the Susquehanna River

by Carol A Westbrook

The smoke of a thousand campfires… That’s what you’d find 600 years ago in the Wyoming Valley of Northeastern Pennsylvania, now the site of Wilkes-Barre and a couple of dozen smaller cities and towns. At the time Columbus visited America, the First People were comfortably settled in this area, which was a permanent home for many tribes, and a winter home for others. The name of this beautiful valley, Wyoming, comes from the Lenape name meaning “at the big flat river.” The big flat river referred to was the Susquehanna, which itself is named for the Susquehannock Indians, who lived along its banks. The Susquehanna is the longest non-navigable river in the US, providing little in the way of commerce and transportation for anything but small boats and canoes.

Don’t get the idea that it was all peace and harmony in the valley. There was friction among the various tribes of Indians, as incoming colonists of the 1700’s competed for resources, while displaced East Coast tribes who were moving in to the area threatened others. The migrating East Coast tribes were primarily Algonquin: Lenape, Delaware, Mahican, Shawnee, and Mohican; they, in turn, displaced the Susquehannock and Nanticoke Indians, peaceful tribes who lived quietly along the river.

And it wasn’t just the native tribes who were threatened. There was also conflict between settlers, as those from Connecticut (Yankees) fought those from Pennsylvania (Pennamites) for land each felt belonged to them, having been included in each colony’s original charter, due to oversight and inadequate surveying. These little-known conflicts, known as the Yankee-Pennamite Wars, were easily as bloody as any of the Indian battles. Fighting continued into the Revolution, though surprisingly both sides agreed to a truce so they could unite to fight the British. Even more surprising is that the conflicts were resolved after the resolution in the courts of law in the new United States of America, without a further drop of bloodshed. Among the few historic markers I found were two markers along the Susquehanna River marking the sites of the Connecticut and Pennsylvania fort, and they are only one quarter of a mile apart! Read more »

Let’s Take A Walk

by Carol A. Westbrook

When I was child, I knew every square inch of the streets in my Chicago neighborhood. I could tell you which trees grew where, which houses had the grumpy people to avoid on Halloween, which grass patches had four-leaf clovers, which stretch of sidewalk had the most black chewing-gum spots, and which Neighborhood sidewalkplaygrounds had the fastest slides. It was my world, a world of texture and wonder. I knew the detail so well because my school friends and I walked the half-mile home from school every day. Of course, that was back in the 1950's, when children were expected to walk home after school, and some of us even went home for lunch. The neighborhoods were safe then because everyone knew everyone else, and there were so many people on foot that they could look out for the kids.

Old house bestEven today, I enjoy walking through the streets of my current neighborhood in Wilkes-Barre, PA. Come along with me and I'll show you things you wouldn't otherwise notice in a car. We can peer into the living rooms of grand houses, such as the one on the right, once owned by a politician or a wealthy coal mine-owner whose mine has long since been abandoned. Some of these stately homes have been gentrified, like mine, while others are derelict. I'll point out some very big, very old trees–and a small but thriving dawn redwood newly planted in a municipal park. We'll read the historical markers about Indian chiefs long dead, whose people have disappeared from our midst. Railroad_bridge_over_the_West_Branch_Susquehanna_River_in_Lewisburg We'll cross a bridge over the mighty Susquehanna River, and then walk over the levee into the bottomlands under the rusting train trestle bridge, where frogs jump and catfish hunt them–just a half-mile from the city center.

Recently I re-visited my old neighborhood in Chicago and walked home from school again. Fifty years later, and I still remembered much of the detail. A few of my favorite trees were still standing, much increased in girth. The penny-candy stores were gone from the corners, but Al's tavern was still there (with a new name, but the same old signs). Sadly, most of the houses had barred windows, and all the yards had locked gates. I was the only person on foot. Times have changed.

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