Legends of the area
by Lewis Dove, Fort Le Boeuf School District Teacher (Retired)
The historic heritage of Waterford and the surrounding area is well known. The three forts, George Washington's trip here, Pontiac's Indians, the river traffic - all these give pride and silent reminder that the land is special.
But there is more to a community than great historic events. When a local student, Malena Stiteler, became a National Merit Scholarship winner, or Brooke Freeburg sets a county scoring record in basketball, and local elementary schools set State records in reading, everyone can take pride because everyone contributed to these success stories. When a local strong man, Harvey Wright, stands flat-footed, jumps up, and kicks out a light bulb eight feet off the floor, in the ceiling of Mitchell's saw mill - it actually happened - we feel this warm awe. This is local pride - as old as recorded time.
The following tales are not intended to be always serious, but to always look seriously at what we were and are.
The Civil War was devastating to the Waterford area. The 83rd (Company E) and 111th Regiments seemingly were always in the front of the action. Officers and men fell - 53% of the total enlisted men were casualties. In 1865, they were mustered out, finally able to return home. Colonel W. O. Colt returned and brought his Southern captive with him - Frank, a dapple - gray war horse.
Col. Colt and Frank were common sights around town. Frank had the run of the town, visiting lawns and gardens, where he selected only the best. Not everyone was pleased, but no magistrate would stop the practice. Even after twenty years, the War was still closely remembered.
On July 4, 1887, the community drew together to celebrate Independence Day. Col. Colt led the parade riding Old Frank. Someone fired a cannon. Frank fell to his knees, quivered for a few seconds, and fell over - dead. The trauma and memories had overcome him.
Many in town though he needed a proper burial, with military and religious overtures. The outraged parochial leaders were against it, but they could not stop the proceedings. A grave was dug in the park, behind third base. The local four piece brass band played, "Nearer My God to Thee" before an army chaplain read a eulogy. Frank was lowered into the grave, standing upright, with a sword strapped to his old army saddle and dozens of citizens filed past and dropped flowers into his final resting place.
Teary eyes and some sobs were common as the bugler played "Taps." They buried more than a horse in Waterford that day.
On the map it's called Newman's Bridge, the place where the Waterford-Wattsburg road crosses French Creek at the far eastern end of the township. The wooden covered bridge carried traffic for fifty years, until in 1937 it was torn down to be replaced by an iron structure.
There was a cheese factory there. Karl Rockwood made a good many kinds of cheese to please the taste buds of his customers. One of the farmers, who at times sent over milk, was his sister's husband, Glenn Steves. Ormsbee, Kimmy, Clute, Middleton, and descendants of the legend, Michael Hare, also did business there, especially when milk prices were down. The factory had an ice house where ice could be purchased all summer.
Two hundred yards north stood the Baptist Church, erected in 1860. It was the center of the community for one hundred years.
Long ago, no one remembers when or even hearing when, a woman went to work in the country general store, a stone's throw from the bridge. She ran the store and the post office, but never seemed to have but one name, Juva. Where she came from no one knows. When people felt like congregating, they'd say, "I'm going down to Juva." In this manner, the area got its name.
The beautiful valley is dead now - swallowed by a government dam. Juva herself disappeared as mysteriously as she arrived many years ago. There's no trace that people lived and died there in that once beautiful valley.
Practically everything officially known about Michael Hare was given in the following disposition to John Vincent, an Associate Judge of Erie County; Judge Vincent knew him to be an eccentric personality who lived about four miles out of Waterford, on a dirt-poor farm on Oak Hill. The Judge lived in Waterford.
"On the fifth day of May AD 1818, before me ..... came Michael Hare a resident citizen .... aged eighty years, who being first sworn according to law on his oath makes the following declaration in order to obtain the provision of the Act of Congress entitled an act to provide for certain persons engaged in the land and naval service of the United States in the Revolutionary War, that he the said Michael Hare first enlisted in 1775 for one year in the 1st Pa. Rifle Regt. .... that in 1776 he enlisted in .... and served in a regiment commanded by Col. Hartley, that in 1777 he enlisted .... Commanded by Colonel Brodhead .... that in 1778 he enlisted under Capt. Jeramiah Laughery that in 1781 he enlisted under Capt. Thomas Stokely et al. During the war in the Westmorland Rangers that he went on an expedition down the Ohio against the Indians where he was taken prisoner and transported to Lower Canada from whence he returned in 1783. That from all the above mentioned enlistments he had honorable written discharges which were destroyed by the accidental burning of his house that he was in the battle of Long Island and the battle of Litchman Point between Cambridge and Boston and at the battle of Dorchester Hill --- and that from his reduced circumstances he stands in need of the assistance of his country"
(signed) Michael Hare
At the bottom is added:
"I John Vincent Esp. Judge as aforesaid do certify that it appears to my satisfaction that said Michael Hare did serve in the Revolutionary War as stated in the preceding declaration - he is now a resident citizen of Erie County and is very poor."
(Signed) John Vincent
The good judge, who had known hard times himself during the war, accepted Mr. Hare's word. A compassionate man had to! War records were sloppily kept and incomplete at best, and especially on the frontier, the armies were sometimes little more than pick-me-up enlistments. If the army met defeat, as this man's usually did, there were often no records at all. It was altogether reasonable that Michael Hare did indeed have the credentials he swore to before the judge.
Also, with open fire places, log homes, wooden furniture, wood shingle roofs, and flueless chimneys, fires often destroyed official records, which to a poor person of meager means, were essentially irreplaceable.
However, Michael Hare often elaborated greatly upon these events at great length and was disposed at times to inject other exploits that, in total, are hard to justify by the historic facts. Sometimes the basis of the stories are obscure, perhaps no records ever did exist. On occasion he appears to be in more than one place at the same time. This presentation, without much comment, is his own story of his life.
Michael Hare usually gave as his birth date, June 10, 1727, and that he was born in Armaugh County, Ireland. (In the above disposition he told Judge Vincent he was eighty at the time - 1818 - which should make his year of birth 1738, not 1727.) His early education and training was aimed at becoming a weaver, which profession later incidents justify, but he also told people he was trained to be a priest.
By some accounts, based on his statements, he arrived in American in 1748 and lived in the central part of Pennsylvania. He recalled being with General Braddock at the defeat along the Monongahela in 1755 and was badly injured. His account does not indicate if he fought with the Irish troops, which made up one-half of the British force, or one of the few Pennsylvania settlers (one of whom was the teamster, Daniel Boone). Some historians place him with Braddock as an Irish recruit from Ireland. In 1758, he was again under British command, when General Forbes took Fort Duquesne.
Later, in 1763, he fought at Bushy Run, again with the British army. After these battles, Mr. Hare dropped from view until 1775, when he enlisted for one year in the 1st Pennsylvania Rifle Regiment of Northcumberland County. These troops were responsible for protecting the settlers along the Susquehanna River, including the young John Vincent.
In 1776, Mr. Hare enlisted in Col. Hartley's Regiment and reported being at Dorchester Hill and Lechtmere Point near Boston. Then he fought in the battle of Long Island and Strong Point, both in New York State, and with the defeats the armies melted away.
The next year he enlisted under Col. Brodhead, whose service was to keep the Indians under check.
In 1778, he joined Captain Jeramiah Laughery's Regiment that was ordered to accompany David Rogers' Rangers to New Orleans to get supplies from the French, who were now openly aiding the Americans. When they arrived at the mouth of the Arkansas River, Rogers was informed that the supplies had been transported to St. Louis, but he needed authorization from officers in New Orleans to have them released. Rogers took six men, Michael Hare says he was one of them, to accompany him to New Orleans, and then back up the river to St. Louis.
At Licking Creek in Kentucky, Rogers was lured into a trap where he and all but seven of the sixty, or so, men were killed.
Michael Hare was taken prisoner and sent off to Ohio, under guard. He escaped his captors, though he does not tell how.
This record must discuss another episode in his life - the Brodhead Expedition of 1779. (Trooper Hare mistakenly remembers this enlistment to be in 1777.) The British had turned the Indians lose to collect scalps for pay along the Susquehanna River and up into New York State. To stop the carnage, George Washington ordered four thousand troops to attack from the east and Brodhead from the West. Michael Hare, who had been a prisoner of the Indians the previous fall, joined the troops.
There were six hundred recruits, two hundred pack horses, and sixty boats, for transport. At Mahoning Creek, north of Kittaning, they left the river and traveled overland to Tionesta. Following up the river, they came upon eight Indians, killed five at Cobham (below Irvine), and then proceeded up to Kinzua, burning homes and crops. Brodhead then turned his army around, marched overland to Franklin, and back to Pittsburgh. George Washington was livid! Nothing of substance to show for much-needed supplies! Brodhead's excuse was "we ran out of shoes."
In 1781, Mr. Hare accompanied Lockley's regiment down the Ohio, to fight Indians. This expedition was ambushed and again, Mr. Hare was taken prisoner. Lockley and nearly all of his men were killed in the fight or executed when they surrendered. In Ohio, he saw the Indians as they burned and killed Col. Crawford (for whom Crawford County, Pennsylvania was named). He was marched to Detroit and then Quebec and was transported to Philadelphia, after the war.
He returned to Westmorland County and remained there until 1791, when he enlisted with a group of Rangers and regulars under St. Clair, to put down the Miami Indians in the West. This army of 2,300 men and officers, officer's wives, women cooks, and "camp followers," was totally defeated by approximately 800 Indians along the Wabash River in Ohio. Mr. Hare was scalped and left for dead. Luckily for him an Indian maiden took a shine to him and led him home to Westmorland County, a trip of at least 300 miles though the wilderness. One day, while resting under a fallen tree, the pursing Indians climbed that very tree to view the trail ahead. He was not discovered!
In 1798, Michael Hare had moved with his wife to Hare Creed, near Corry, PA. A dispute over the land title occurred; he moved to Oak Hill, on a 200 acre grant of land from the Government.
On this farm, in 1815, his first son was born. His wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1840, was either 65 or 68 years old at the time of the birth and was either 77 or 88, depending upon the record being quoted. After their second son was born, he applied through Judge Vincent for the government pension. In 1827, he taught school in his home.
Mr. Hare left this life on March 3, 1843; he had become intoxicated in Waterford and lay all night in a wet, cold puddle near the road. Pneumonia took him. A stone marker in the Waterford cemetery reads:
"Michael Hare, born in Armaugh County, Ireland, 1727; was in the French and Indian War, was with St. Clair and was scalped by the Indians at this defeat; died March 3, 1843, aged 115 years, eight months and 22 days"
"Elizabeth, his wife, died April 10, 1840, aged 90 years"
The hard-drinking man with a twinkle in his eye came to be called "Waterford's fighting Irishman." He would have enjoyed that!
The great hemlock grew on the bank on the left side of Le Boeuf Creek, just up from the lake. Seneca Indians grew corn, beans, and pumpkins on the flats below her, while they camped and built temporary homes on the high ground near the base. The French considered cutting the tree to get a better "fire pattern," in case of siege - their fort was four hundred feet to the North, on an even higher bank. They decided against cutting it down.
She saw the coming of the Virginian militiaman, George Washington, as he rode to the gate of the fort. He stayed as an honored guest inside the fort much of the next six days, before leaving to pave the way for future generations to settled in the valley.
The thirteen British marines, ten years later, escaped Pontiac's Indians and the burning garrison through a drain ditch that ran to the creek half-way to the base of the tree.
Having witnessed so much, later American honored her with the name, "Sentinel". The early settlers gave her great respect. The high school yearbook borrowed her name, as did a local newspaper. By 1983, most people had forgotten why she was revered. In that year she fell, old "in the fullness of time".
"Biggest Liar in Waterford"
George couldn't find his sow! A six hundred pound hog, bred and expecting at any time, shouldn't disappear without a trace. He looked all over town. Becoming desperate, he went to the far end of his garden to check the fence and saw one of his pumpkins "move" - kinda shake. Here that sow had eaten an opening into the pumpkin, hollowed it out, and birthed seventeen piglets, each one doing nicely. As George told this story, the boy's eyes bugged out.
Bill's dad, Gene Mitchell, had to tell him that George Lechner exaggerated some.
During World War II, the U.S. Navy kept a guard over the garden; they bought all his cucumbers after it was found they made their best submarines. Germans might steal them.
Man talking to George on High Street. "Where do you suppose they're taking that back hoe, George?" "My Place." "Why your Place?" "It's time to dig the carrots."
George in barber shop. "Last week I shot 26 pheasants and 32 rabbits." George Coffin responds, "Do you know who I am?" "No." "I'm the new deputy game warden." Lechner, "Do you know who I am?" "No." "I'm the biggest liar in Waterford."
With George it went on and on. The one true thing was that he was a good gardener and everyone knew it. He was invited to weddings and other social events, just to tell his stories; he sure broke the ice. His greatest talent was in not taking himself too seriously.
He was found dead in the snow one cold morning. The ward nurse reported that around his neck was a medal that read, "Biggest liar in Waterford".
As a kid, Louie helped support himself and his family trapping on the Himrod lands across the flats between the Low Road and Donation Road. No fox, mink, or weasel was safe when he set his traps. The money-maker, however, was skunks - because there were so many of them. He caught hundreds! The business earned a lot of money but it cost him big time - he had to sleep outside the house in a shed or barn until the season passed. Louie learned early to survive in those hard times, in the years after 1890, when he was born.
As a young mane, he went to work for the dairy across the tracks and mill race from the Waterford railroad station. He was their stationary engineer, keeping the steam engine running. They knew they had a man who could make-do. He produced parts, gears, you name it when equipment broke down. "Jack of all trades," they would say.
He enjoyed being eccentric! When Alfred Himrod and his daughter Jean were working in the barn on the old Himrod homestead (where Carl Hunt later lived), Louie announced his arrival with an Indian war hoop - if in the house, he'd whine like a dog at the door, 'til it was opened. He took no great effort to be clean or well-dressed - often his clothes were totally unkempt. After a short visit at the kitchen table, he'd rush to the back door to spit his tobacco juice over the railing.
When World War II was raging, Louie went to work for G.E. in Erie. Few people comprehended the complexities of winding an electric motor. He became a specialist and in a short time was training the new workers. He saw through complex problems, almost intuitively.
In his living room, he kept his planetary telescope, on the walls were maps of the heavens. He explained little known terms such as "light year" or "planet" or "star" or "galaxy" to anyone who listened. He often mispronounced words, since he had never heard them spoken - for instance, he would say "Juniper," instead of "Jupiter." His information came entirely from reading and observing. All this from a man of limited elementary education.
Louie was a masterful gardener. For years, he raised vegetables for sale and "pick your own" strawberries. Once, when a patron who was picking berries complained about the number of mosquitoes, he called out, "If you women didn't wear all that perfume we wouldn't have the mosquitoes." The ladies smiled to one another.
Louie was well read. He knew the history of the area, as well as the history of the country. He loved the land! He would tell of his ancestor, Simon Himrod, who immigrated to Bedminster Township, New Jersey; of Aaron who left New Jersey, settled in Northcumberland County, PA, with the Vincents, Boyds, Lattimores, Smiths, Lytles, Andersons, and Kirks; of how they came to know Martin Strong, William Miles, and Roger (John) Alden, of the Holland Land Company; and, of the migration of that great group to Waterford and Erie County.
Louie raised Shang (ginseng) beds and harvested the roots for market and export. Always, he carried great sums of money in an old salt sack, since he put no trust in banks. Truly a colorful, unique man, he died in 1969.
His son, William, lives on Cherry street, in an attractive stone home that he built himself. It took four years, 20,000 field stones, tons of mortar, and hard toil to build the home he wanted. That kind of American "can-do" is learned, and William had an inspiring teacher.
Before the war every town and city in Northwest Pennsylvania had its baseball team or teams and they were all very good. Young boys learned the sport by shagging fly balls during batting practice and being "bat boys." When they were old enough and good enough, they filled in or earned their place on the field. While the players had great times and often joked and fooled around, the game was serious - you did your best to win. For over half a century, this was a "glue" that held a community together.
Waterford was among the best - maybe they were the best. The names and memories of the players still strike a warm spot around the coffee shops. The brothers Bud and Gene Mitchell were up there with the greats. They still recall the playing of Neil Bartholme and Merle Heard. "Remember when Hoot hit that home run," it went up to the wooden part of the steeple on St. Peter's Church." Hoot Gibson hit a lot more than one - the rest did, too.
Nanny Whittelsey was a truly great ball player, the whole area for miles around agrees with that. He was a strong, well-built athlete, even in his advanced years. When he was well over fifty, he was still able to play with the best of them, and in his fifty's he pitched a perfect no hit, no run game.
World War II changed town baseball as well as a lot of other things. The young men were called up. Everyone else worked a seven day week and often a twelve hour day. Travel was cut to a minimum. People's minds were occupied with greater anxieties than sports. With peace, young men rebuilt their lives, while high school baseball came into its own.
Postwar Waterford baseball was marked by the coming of Carm Bonito, a no-nonsense teacher-coach from the high school. A player, coming back after striking out, was heard to remark, "That third strike was a bad call." Carm got his attention, "If you'd hit the second strike over the fence, you wouldn't have to worry about it."
Red and Dell Shields, Tom Crocker, Chet Russell, John Senkalski, The Owens', the Peters' Dean Scott, Bill Powell, Dick Fuller, - the list goes on and on. Al Rinderle was a professional quality shortstop and Fran, his brother, could and did play any position, as well as pitch. Waterford High School can be proud of this era.
Let's consider one game - Wesleyville, at Wesleyville on April 23, 1953. "Koko" was catching (the scorer could not spell "Couchenour"). Bill Skiff was pitching. The usual "no run" defense was behind him. It was a windy day, warm and dry, with little spirals of dust rising up like miniature hurricanes and blowing in from the outfield. The Wesleyville team was accustomed to hitting the long ball and scoring quickly and often.
|Inning one||Waterford||4 runs|
| ||Wesleyville||3 strike outs|
|Inning two||Waterford||4 runs|
| ||Wesleyville||3 strike outs|
|Inning three||Waterford||0 runs|
| ||Wesleyville||3 strike outs|
|Inning four||Waterford||0 runs|
| ||Wesleyville||2 strike outs - pop-up to first base|
|Inning five||Waterford||3 runs|
| ||Wesleyville||3 strike outs|
|Inning six||Waterford||0 runs|
| ||Wesleyville||2 strike outs; walk-thrown out at 2nd base|
|Inning seven||Waterford||0 runs|
| ||Wesleyville||3 strike outs|
Against a very good team, a perfect game! No hits, no runs, no errors, 11 runs, and 19 strike outs in a seven inning game. Outstanding!
The 1953 record was 14 wins, 0 losses, and three no-hit games - two by Bill Skiff and one by Chet Russell. They were Erie County Champions. Erie County winters are easier to bear with memories like these.
Old Mossback of Lake Le Boeuf
"He was eight feet long and every inch a fighter,
Eighty pounds of mean and ornery pike.
The Frenchmen couldn't catch him and the English wouldn't try;
And the Seneca claimed that fish would never die."
From the "Ballad of Old Mossback," by James Skiff, whose great grandfather caught many giant muskies at Lake Le Boeuf
Chet Semour is the only man who ever actually hooked Old Mossback and survived to this day to tell about it. He was fishing in - lets start at the beginning.
Lake Le Boeuf is fed by three main streams - Le Boeuf Creek, Boyd's Run and Shaw Run that feeds the adjacent "Hidden Lake." Setting on the edge of Waterford, it has been a fishing paradise since the Indians and then the French and then the English came to claim and conquer the land - long before the Americans. Muskies thrive in the unique environment of the small lake; only Chautauqua is competition.
Chet and his brother, Ted, were fishing between their grandfather Chet Comer's livery and the island, when Old Mossback came up from under his boat. Fear set in that the boat would overturn in its wake. The fish was way in excess of five feet and was close to seventy pounds. Then it struck! The line pulled 'till the reel literally smoked. Then, after diving deep into the seventy foot depth, the fish went high into the air, convulsed its body, and spit the plug far across the bow of the boat. That incident in the 1930's was the last reported sighting of the creature.
Sitting and drinking his morning coffee, Chet spoke almost reverently about Old Mossback. Others, listening to their friend's experience, added other incidents about the uncanny wisdom, even intelligence, of the monster. All agreed, he was "too smart" to ever get caught. The lake keeps its secrets.
One of the men, an old time fisherman who enjoys great respect from the group, quietly talks about his repetitive dream that comes just before sleep. In semi-dark, the old muskie hits his plug, the battle begins, man against his protagonist, reel him in, let him run, reel him in. Always in the end, Old Mossback slips away but the fisherman knows he'll return. In his life the conflict is never-ending.
Old Mossback was never framed and hung on a wall; the aging fish was crafty and snarly. Maybe he learned some lessons living with the older bones beneath the surface.
Lake LeBoeuf, named by the French mapmakers after water bison which once existed on the shores, was Old Mossback's kingdom; his preferred hideout was an old sandbar, according to the tale among anglers. Muskies are known to be territorial and solitary and can live to be 20 years of age; Mossback must have been one of the elders. He thrilled and eluded the muskie hunters of the late1930's and well into the 40's and maybe even the fifties.
Reginald C. Exley, Sr., was one of those muskie hunters. A resident of the borough Fairview, twenty miles to the north, he also served as that community's mayor. On his way to the lake, he likely drove past the statue of George Washington, dressed in a British military uniform, on a small island in the middle of the Waterford's main highway, State Route 19.
The statue was erected (1922) to commemorate his visit to the old French Fort LeBoeuf on the shores of the lake in 1753 when he was still a British officer. Washington's visit was to get the French to move out of territory claimed by Great Britain; the diplomatic mission failed and hostilities soon broke out, the French and Indian War. The unique statue, the only one depicting Washington in a British uniform, was later moved off of the highway (1945) and placed in a small park closer to the lake where it still stands.
Exley was captivated with the thought of landing Old Mossback, said to be over five feet and more than fifty pounds; the stories claim he was the meanest fish ever born. Exley first experimented first with live frogs in homemade nets. As a frequent and avid muskie hunter, he was aware that the bullfrog was the meal of choice for the fish. The effort proved to be an unsuccessful venture.
Exley then decided to carve out of a chunk of an old telephone pole an artificial bullfrog. Exley eventually created a set of two metal wings on either side of the lure to give it the movement and action similar to the plentiful bullfrog population in the lake. The wooden lure was painted to look like a bullfrog and Exley began to catch more muskie than before. The famous LeBoeuf Creeper, the original bullfrog muskie lure, soon became the lure of choice throughout the region.
Eventually, the first wooden LeBoeuf Creepers were produced at the LeBoeuf Bait Company and years later were made of plastic in two different sizes at several locations. They were a popular lure sold in hardware stores and bait shops throughout the small villages of the area; places like Union City, Mill Village, Edinboro and Wattsburg.
Many muskie's were caught using the creeper lure, the framed pictures have many stories; other lures are reported at the bottom of the Lake LeBoeuf, the spoils gained by a successful muskie. These are artifacts now as well.
But Old Mossback was smart (or real lucky) and was never captured; he likely died near his lair, without any public flair. Exley died of heart attack a few years after he created his homemade waddling bullfrog lure, although, as the story goes, he did have some respectful and fearsome strikes from Old Mossback.
For several reasons, including patent disputes, the famous LeBoeuf Creeper was discontinued in the 1960's; no longer produced, it is more of a collector's item today, an artifact from another era. An occasional lure can still be found at garage or estate sales, hidden in some long-ago tackle box, some maybe at the bottom of lake. No one knows for sure exactly what's beneath the surface, except for Old Mossback.
Thank you to Lewis Dove, Fort Le Boeuf School District teacher (retired), who furnished the above information. Mr. Dove has written many booklets and books about the history and people of Waterford.