Contributed by Clarke A. Green
Many historic pathways cross the relatively few acres of land occupied by the Horseshoe Scout Reservation. Some, like the line that Mason and Dixon surveyed in 1763, are and easy to follow. Others are obscured by time and reveal their story only on close examination.
Buzzards Rock in the 30's or 40's
Contributed by J. Roland Minshall
During the summer of 1988 a team of archeologists from The State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg conducted an excavation of the Horseshoe Rock Shelter, or Buzzards Rock. Scouts have hiked to Buzzards Rock to search for arrowheads since the camp was founded in 1928. During the excavation Scouts participated in the work and the artifacts they unearthed were taken to the Museum for careful study that links us with a fascinating history.
Over thousands of years the rock shelter served as a temporary campsite for people in search of food and materials like quartz for arrowheads and soapstone for cooking vessels. Animal bone fragments, charcoal from their fires, flakes of quartz left from the tool making process, a few of the tools themselves and shards of pottery help paint a picture of what went on and when. Layers of activity are deposited over centuries; the deepest reveal the earliest artifacts. Most are so old that they cannot be attributed to a distinct culture or people but are the remains of eras that may have lasted for thousands of years. The earliest artifacts indicate that the shelter was first occupied nearly eight to ten thousand years ago.
We can guess at the political structure and practices of these early cultures, but these interpretations bear a haze of uncertainty. Visitors to Buzzard's Rock left clues similar to those found in other sites throughout the Susquehanna Valley. Through generations they formed villages, dissolved into smaller wandering bands, forged alliances, fought wars, suffered, prospered and returned to the earth. The names given to their cultures 'Minguannan' and 'Shenks Ferry' refer to the sites they occupied and are a poor substitute for what their real names must have been.
We know so little about these thousands of people and thousands of years.
Archaeologists look at an artifact somewhat like a letter carrier reads the address on an envelope. The type of stone, the method of chipping and the oft-times subtle differences in shape and size of an arrowhead indicate its origin. A fragment of pottery contains an unwritten record; simple incised patterns left by the makers are as telling as a fingerprint. As is the presence of quartz ground down to fine sand or crushed shells used to strengthen the clay.
Some of the more recent layers revealed artifacts that corresponded with the historic record. Sometime in the late 1500's a group of people moved south from the upper Susquehanna River near present day New York State. They were driven south by pressure from the great Iroquois Nations and the allure of trading with the ever-increasing population of European settlers. Villages were founded along the Susquehanna River near present-day Columbia, Pennsylvania.
The first record of historic contact with these peoples was written by Captain John Smith. During his exploration of the Chesapeake Bay, Smith's ships where unable to navigate any farther north than the fall line of the Susquehanna River near presentday Port Deposit Maryland. It was here that sixty men who his native interpreters called 'Susquehannock'; (roughly translated as roily water people), visited his party. What they called themselves is uncertain. French explorers later called them by the name that finally became Conestoga- 'gandastouge' or people of the blackened ridgepole; coined for the poles of their long houses. Susquehannock was the name that stuck, and it is the name they use today.
The Susquehannocks deep, melodious speech, their stature and the bear and wolf skins they wore amazed Captain John Smith. His meeting with them initiated long years of trade and conflict that ended with the Susquehannocks being driven from their land and the small remnant of their once flourishing culture perishing in horrible circumstances.
It is almost certain that Susquehannock hunting and gathering parties used the Horseshoe Rock Shelter during these years. Excavations revealed a very telling clue- one triangular arrowhead formed from a piece of brass.
The presence of brass indicates that the point was deposited there after European contact. Brass kettles were highly prized because they were more durable and transportable than fragile pottery. One kettle could stand years of constant use and could have been passed down from generation to generation. When it's useful days were over the brass itself was cut into other ornaments or utensils. The brass point may have been made in response to some threat or emergency. A brass point was easier to make than a stone point; it would not break if it missed its mark and though the material was more precious than the stone a good many points could be formed quickly from one kettle.
The Susquehannocks camped near the present day Conowingo Dam. The falls and rocks in the river slowed migrating shad at this point in the river and made it an ideal fishing spot. Materials excavated at these sites and at Buzzards Rock support the idea that the Susquehannocks used the shelter.
The Susquehannocks had an advanced political and military culture that accentuated their keen trading skills. As European settlements grew so did their dependence on trade with Native Americans. Furs, notably the beaver, became a valuable commodity as European fashion favored beaver-felt hats. Traders formed companies that battled bitterly over rights to land and trade with the Susquehannock. Other tribes entered the fray and finally a full-blown war ensued in the early 1700's.
This war, the introduction of European diseases such as smallpox and migration westward decimated the Susquehannock population. A small remnant retreated to their villages along the river to try and survive the winter of 1763.
By then settlements dotted the surrounding land. Settlers feared attack and thievery by Anglo and Indian alike in this remote frontier where the rule of law was yet to be established.
These fears were inflamed when it was alleged that some settlers murdered that winter were victims of the Susquehannock. (Responsibility for the attack has never been conclusively determined, but it was certainly not the Susquehannock; then so reduced in numbers and strength as to have been incapable of such and act.) A small group of men known as 'The Paxton Boys' formed near present day Harrisburg, intent on eliminating the perceived danger. In early December they attacked the village at Conestoga leaving only a few women, children and old men alive. These few survivors were sheltered by sympathetic authorities in the Lancaster poor house. Unsatisfied, the Paxton Boys broke in the poor house a few days later and killed the remaining Susquehannocks, about fourteen in all.
News of this inhumanity reached Philadelphia where Benjamin Franklin condemned the perpetrators as “white savages”. Efforts to bring the Paxton Boys to justice failed and the deed went unpunished.
The camp's earliest occupants have been the subjects of legend since Scouts lit the first campfire at Horseshoe. The truth behind these legends may not be as dramatic but it is equally compelling. It is as much a mistake to consider the Native Americans more than human as it was of our fore bearers to consider them less than human. They suffered the same shortcomings and enjoyed the same strengths as we.
This is perhaps the most inspiring thing to remember as we present day campers walk the paths these Native Americans established.