Northumberland had been the home of
the McGills for about ten years—at any rate it is the first place we found
them after the close of the war, and they had taken unto themselves wives
and began the process of gathering families around them. Arthur had been
married several years and had a number of children.
That he was engaged in farming was
evident by the kind of property he had gathered together. Just what
Patrick’s pursuits had been during this decade is not certain. It was always
an accepted tradition that he was a married man at the time they made the
expedition into the French Creek Country, but had no children.
Light shines dimly on these old
affairs. However, it is known that he had married Anna Maria Baird, who was
also a lady of good family of the old Scotch Irish stock; well educated for
the times; amiable, motherly, strong and resolute as became the dames of
those olden days.
Arthur McGill had fixed the date of
his departure for 1794, and
he went when the time came. It was not a trifling matter to transport family
and effects under existing circumstances from the valley of the Susquehanna
to the regions beyond the Allegheny. The blazed tree alone pointed the way
from spring to spring and from mountain top to river ford, and to make the
journey with horses, oxen and wagons was a great undertaking. Hardy men were
they to plunge into the depths of those dark forest defiles with wife,
children, babes in arms, and their little all, seeking a spot where they
could plant a habitation and found a family home for their posterity.
The spirit of the Revolution
had aroused the hearts of men, and the poor emigrant was asking himself:
"Why should I and my children always remain the down-trodden of the earth?
Why may not I become a lord of the soil and build up for myself a house from
whence I may send forth sons and the sons of sons to win achievements in the
peaceful lines of industry and art that will redound to the honor of the
name and the glory of my race?" The inspiration was upon the people, and
slowly the files were moving along the untrodden mountain ways.
As might be expected from a
man of Arthur McGill's disposition he did not propose to go empty-handed to
the new home. He had taken ample time for preparation and was not the man to
waste time and had collected a very complete outfit of things essential to
founding the new settlement. No man knew better than he just what was needed
and his goods were selected accordingly - everything for utility - not a
thing for sentiment or show.
He had three wagons of the
massive Pennsylvania type, with horses and drivers to match each vehicle,
packed snug and taut by a master hand at the business. It was a bright
autumn day in 1794, that Arthur stowed his sturdy wife and three small boys
into one of the great mountain arks fitted for the purpose, and swinging
himself into the saddle moved off out of sight behind the adjacent hills.
There was no thought of the old wagonmaster being unable to take his snug
train safely through. Patrick remained behind, and here for the first time
in the twenty-four years they had been in America the brothers were
separated for any considerable time.
Arthur made good his long,
tough journey, and one day as the sun was going down, pulled up with his
little cavalcade at the great spring and again the campfire was lighted, not
to be again extinguished for many long years.
Things moved where Arthur
McGill was, and if he wanted logs the logs rolled. There was no time spent
in jubilating over the safe arrival, but the next morning the ax was
resounding on the fine, tall young oaks thereabouts and the teams were
snaking in the "cuts" to the location selected for the domicile. Great piles
of long, smooth logs soon accumulated around the site - large boulders that
ages past had been dropped from festive icebergs - were placed for corners
and foundation stones. From a giant poplar, straight as a ribbon, puncheons
were hewn for the floors, and clapboards were riven from red oak boles to
make the roof. The raising day came - men came from afar to help, and in a
single day the house was built. The goods were transferred from the wagons,
and the family moved in, and Arthur McGill gave thanks to God under his own
vine and figtree, where he spent the remainder of his days. As he needed
more room in his dwelling, he added more structures, all of the unhewn log
variety, until his place resembled a fortress built to withstand a siege and
barring the moat and drawbridge was as strong as the defenses of Cedric the
But Patrick was still in the
Susquehanna valley. He was not as forceful as Arthur; was more cautious and
conservative, of gentle mold, studious and thoughtful, but in an emergency
could and would assume the offensive and act with prompt aggressive energy.
Circumstances beyond his control delayed his removal west for more than a
year beyond the time fixed, and, no doubt, was the cause of some uneasiness
in Arthur's family; they not being aware that he was fully protecting his
landed interests on the state records at Harrisburg.
My father, John McGill, was
born at Duncan's Island in Northumberland County, Pennsylvania, October 19,
1795, and in six weeks from the day of his birth, the family were in the
mountain ranges on the way to French Creek Country. Their outfit was not so
imposing as that of Arthur's. It consisted of one wagon only, such as we
have already described, well suited to the purpose, drawn by a pair of very
fine oxen said to have been the first that crossed the range from east to
west. The wagon was packed with their bedding, provisions for the journey
and short forage for the beasts. Grandmother rode a strong, active, young
saddlehorse caparisoned with plush-seated side saddle, curb bit,
double-reined bridle, martingale, crupperpad with straps and all the
customary hooks, buckles and loops invented for carrying light baggage, and
in her arms rested the six weeks' old son John, taking his first lesson in
overland travel. Anna Maria led the procession, while Patrick, goad in hand,
encouraged his swift walking beasts to such speed as seemed necessary. He
was flanker, rearguard and general scout combined, and nimbly discharged his
several duties with great satisfaction to himself.
Anna Maria McGill was not a
woman to borrow trouble, but when confronted with it, she was always ready
to meet it. She was of the Maryland Bairds; a family distinguished in
colonial annals. In her veins flowed blood of ancient repute, and from the
same source, men have arisen whose deeds have added to the glory and renown
of the Republic.
On her good steed she would
have charged a battalion in defense of her loved ones, and the feudal dame
of story would have been a puff of wind in contact with this gentle Amazon
of the forest and the ford. When perilous streams were to be crossed, she
fearlessly plunged her horse into the water and found the shallow and smooth
places, and the patient oxen followed her through safely.
This compact outfit of
Patrick's was an inspiration. It moved with more safety, ease and celerity
than any of the more cumbersome trains, and was less trouble-less expense
and far more comfortable. It seems to have been suggested by his innate good
sense and judgment, as up to that time we find no account of oxen being used
in transportation over the Allegheny range, though in after years it was
fairly demonstrated that no better method was known.
They made the journey safely,
but encountered some adventures on the way. At one time after passing a
little mountain settlement, and while in the dense forest, a cross bull
suddenly obstructed the way. He was fierce and implacable, and though
Patrick confronted him with temerity and valiantly plied the goad he could
not drive the brute away. Here was an ugly dilemma. His rifle was swung to
the wagon bows, and was not in reach, otherwise the debate would have been
brief, but the old campaigner was not slow to determine the right thing to
do. His off ox was a fighter from away back that had whipped all the
ambitious bovines on the Susquehanna; so the old man slipped quickly around
and drawing the bow from the yoke, turned "Ned" loose. That was all the case
required. "Ned" walked straight for the bully; they met in fierce encounter,
and for a minute there was a whirlwind among the falling leaves in that
forest. The bull was astonished at the terrible onset-dismayed-terrorized;
and losing all his courage turned tail and fled bellowing into the brush and
disappeared, while old "Ned" returned to his yoke and they went on their
way. Had the bull slain the ox, Patrick would have killed the bull, for, at
the first dash of the encounter, he secured his gun, but even then, what
would have been the situation? With one horse, one ox, a wagon and a baby,
in a mountain defile, beyond the reach of immediate help, with winter
whispering in the peaks and threatening to submerge the gorges below, with
all these contingencies imminent, the destiny of the Patrick branch of the
McGills was in hazardous lines that day.
At another time, darkness
came down upon them before they could reach the spring where they proposed
to camp; for the days were short and twilight did not linger. There was no
road; nothing but a trail often obscured by the falling leaves, and progress
was impossible in the dark. The cattle were unhooked and cared for, and a
fire lighted at the foot of an old tree nearby, and the little party went
into bivouac in the most approved style.
Day was breaking when they
were awakened by ominous sounds, followed by a great crash. The embers of
the fire were scattered far and near. Springing up startled, they found that
the old tree had fallen, but fortunately in a direction that did no harm. It
was decayed and punky and the fire had eaten into the pedestal on which it
had stood firmly for more than a century, and it went down. Grandfather,
with all his experience, was learning new lessons in woodcraft.
The most exciting adventure
of the journey, however, remains to be told. Some place on the western
slope, if, indeed, dropping down successive declivities, may be called a
slope, was a great spring from which the waters gurgled forth in a bold
rushing stream. Here some well disposed hunter had built a cabin for the
purpose of affording shelter to such wayfarers as might need the
accommodation, and chose to avail themselves of it. The spring, I am told,
is known as the headwaters of the Black Mashon. Here in this rude hospice
the weary traveler sought rest and recuperation before making the descent
into the valley below. This mountain country was at that season of the year
infested with wolves-not, my dear Western cousins, with your little yelping
curs of the prairie, but with packs of the great timber wolves of the North,
fierce, audacious and dangerous. The moving trains of emigrants had held
them at bay during the summer months, but now, at the signs of winter, with
only an occasional pack-horse or wagon passing, or once in a while a few
returning adventurers on foot, the cowardly brutes were emboldened to come
forth from their lairs and infest the trail in search of such offal as the
emigrants had cast away along the route.
Patrick was aware of all
this, and since the bull incident his gun was not slung up in the wagon to
any great extent. For twenty-four hours he had observed signs of the
prowling devils, so on their arrival at the hospice he at once proceeded to
put matters in shape to stand a siege. The wagon was placed parallel with
the building and blockaded to afford protection to the animals. Fires were
arranged for, on either flank and rear, and an ample supply of fuel
provided. The infant John was safely stowed under the arch of the wagon
cover, out of harm's way, and seemed to take things very philosophically.
Pans, kettles, coffee pots and skillets were arranged at hand, and the
deadly rifle primed with murderous intent. Night closed in and everything
was still. The usual night birds were not heard-they had withdrawn from the
scene. Vigilant and alert, the defenders stood at their posts. Midnight
passed and there was no sign, but the watchers were not for a moment
deceived by the silence; it was too silent, and told of the presence of a
sneaking, cowardly foe.
A faint glow from the embers
of the fire reflects the gleam of two yellow savage eyes, out in the
darkness. "Crack," the rifle speaks - a dead wolf - and simultaneously a
fire flashes up - another and another, as if lighted by electric circuit.
Anna Maria was getting in her work - a howl as if the gates of hell were
thrown open paralyzes the still night air - recedes - dies away in the
distance. The projected rush of the gang had been disconcerted, and they
fled back to reorganize.
The gray timber wolves of the
North are cunning and strategic beyond other wild animals. They act in
concert, and though veritable cowards alone, gain courage with numbers. Old
hunters used to tell how the pack by cunning and strategy would capture and
destroy the fleetest deer on the range. They are sagacious and sensitive to
sound, and any new note or sound unfamiliar to their ears will send them
scampering until they have learned the cause.
The gang that waylaid our
travelers was strong in numbers, consequently, in dangerous mood. They
scented the domestic animals and for days had been on the trail, their
numbers increasing as they advanced, and they were no doubt familiar with
the point of attack.
A shadow was seen further out
in the woods. "Crack!" - another dead wolf, and an answering howl came from
far away on the hillside. They now had not long to wait for another onset.
The fires were not an unfamiliar sight to the wary beasts - it was the
sudden and unexpected flash that frightened them. This time they advanced
with a bold front - the flash of the rifle and the expiring yelps of the
leader did not intimidate them and they swarmed up howling toward the little
barricade, when the infernal clatter of those pans and kettles called a halt
and they fled in dismay to their place of rendezvous among the rocks.
The besieged now looked on
one another and smiled - the horrid night would soon be past and with
daylight safety would be assured. They looked for another attack, but they
had yet one resource to fend against assault - the dinner horn was brought
forth ready for action. The beasts came as was anticipated, and from this on
adopted different tactics. They scattered around the camp and howled
dismally - would approach noisily on one side while another gang tried to
sneak up on the other side, but they were met by vigilant defenders, and the
rifle now cracked frequently, and every time a varmint went to join the
harpies. It was close to daylight when there were signs of another rush.
They were becoming bolder and more terribly fierce, and their approach more
compact and determined, and just when they seemed ready to make the deadly
onset, the dinner horn pealed forth a heavenly blast that echoed from
hilltop to hilltop, and filled the murky forest with a roaring melody,
divinely sweet. The fierce howling of the wolves diminished to a miserable
whine, and a roar like the rushing of a tempest told of the mad flight of
the now thoroughly frightened gang.
Anna played the horn as if
she was sounding the hosannas of the saints, and as the last echo rolled
back from the mountain crags, the sun tipped them with amber and gold and
the day of deliverance was at hand.
The barricades were now
thrown down, the animals watered and fed, a frugal meal dispatched, the
mistress vaulted into saddle, Patrick handed up the boy, and the unique
outfit rolled and tumbled down the mountain and across the stream to safety.
No other incident deemed
worthy of mention occurred to impede their progress, and in the finest
weather ever experienced in Western Pennsylvania at that season of the year
they pushed briskly on to their destination and finally, at the close of
day, pulled into the little clearing John Fredebaugh had made on the banks
of French Creek in February, 1793.
The blaze of their campfire
quickly brought Arthur to the scene. It was the first intimation he had of
their approach. His doors and stores were open to them, but Patrick said
"Nay, nay, we are used to camping and we will bide here the night, and
to-morrow I'll build the hoose."