The Forbidden Trail
If you study a modern contour or geodetic survey map and plot upon it the known trails of the early inhabitants, you will notice immediately that the highways of today essentially follow the routes of the ancient trails. This is understandable when we consider that travel and transportation were originally problems of human stamina. Open country was easier to traverse than heavily wooded land, and level or gently sloping ground easier than broken, hilly country. River valleys were natural travel avenues. If streams were deep enough, rafting or canoeing was easiest, but if not, the bottom lands still afforded easier movement than hilly terrain. Here, too, were found plentiful food and water, the necessities for life and travel. The Indian was no different from you or me. When traveling, he ordinarily took the easiest or most comfortable way.
Again looking at the maps, one notices that many of our principal cities, villages, and hamlets are located where these same Indians originally had their settlements, and for the same reasons. We have even kept the same names. Their settlements were usually at the junction of two streams or valleys—a spot that provided a level area for growing corn and fruit, and plenty of water and driftwood for fuel. Habitations were often at a junction of trails.
The principal trails were well worn and well marked from generations of travel. There were also other trails which had special purposes; some were even kept secret. These secondary trails were usually more difficult, but often were short cuts, or even parallel routes. Some, instead of following the lowlands, were military trails that followed the ridges and high spots so that the presence of an enemy could be spotted from afar. Sometimes the higher elevation trails were used when the river-bottom routes were flooded.
Across New York State is the famous Route 5. In its 300 miles from the Hudson to the Niagara, it closely follows the original trail made by generations of moccasined feet. "A path 12 to 18 inches wide, mostly through forest with trees bearing markings known only to the Indians." The hard packed rut was called the "Iron Path" by the early Jesuit missionaries. This was the Great Central Trail of the Iroquois and led through the lands of the five great nations from the villages of the Mohawks, through the lands of the Oneidas, to the Long House of the Onandagas, the Capital of the Iroquois Confederacy. From here, it passed through the domain of the Cayugas to the war village of Kanedesaga, at Geneva, on to Canandaigua, the birthplace of the Senecas, and on to present-day Caledonia, Batavia, and westward. It was this trail that was traveled by those who first opened New York to the white men.
The Great Central Trail was but the main artery of a vast network of trails that spread across the face of western New York. The Senecas, the warrior branch of the Iroquois and keepers of the Western Gate, using these trails in their days of conquest, knew them all. Ironically, while these excellent highways of the past enabled the Iroquois Confederacy to reach a power which has been compared to that of the Roman Empire, these same trails enabled two white armies, one of the French from Canada and the other of General Sullivan, to invade and devastate the land of the Senecas.
While the Great Central Trail was an east-west route, there were two major north-south routes using the Genesee Valley. One trail led south along the river to Canadea, the Western Door, thence to the Allegheny River and westward to Ohio by way of Cuba and Olean. The other branched off eastward at the Caneseraga to Dansville, and Painted Post and Tioga Point to the Susquehanna watershed and Pennsylvania.
Lesser known was the Canisteo Path, a secondary trail which started at Painted Post and followed the Canisteo River valley its entire length and ended at Caneadea on the Genesee where it joined the Alleghany Trail to the southwest and the Niagara Trail to the west. These well-marked and well-known trails connected the major Indian villages at Painted Post, Canisteo, Caneadea, Oil Spring, and Ichusa or Olean and on to Ohio.
However, to the Indian in a hurry westward, there was a short cut, a much faster route between Tioga Point and Olean. It was a secret trail and was known as the Forbidden Trail, and then later as the Andaste Trail. Its exact route has been the subject of much controversy among historians, and the material for several books.
In the 17th Century, the southern part of New York in our area, while under Seneca control, was inhabited by dislocated tribes such as the Mahicans and Delawares who, having been driven from their former homes by the whites, were allowed to live here as they moved westward towards Ohio.
This was the time when the white man began his push into the Kentucky-Ohio area. The distance from the colonial centers of Philadelphia and Baltimore to Fort Allegheny [Pittsburgh], the gateway to the Ohio country was not great "as the crow flies" but getting there by a direct route was another problem. The mountain ridges of western Pennsylvania running generally north and south present a formidable barrier to east-west travel. The early colonials went westward to this area through the Virginia passes, particularly the Cumberland Pass, but the east coast Indians had their own trail to the northward. This trail, because it passed through Iroquois-controlled territory and actually skirted the southern edge of the Iroquois homeland, was to them a strategic route, and for security purposes, was barred to both unfriendly or undesirable tribes and to all white men. This trail starting at Tioga Point of the Susquehanna and ending on the Allegheny River became known as the Forbidden Trail. The threatened penalty for unauthorized use of the trail was to by "burned at the stake" or "roasted."
In 1765 Sir William Johnson was appointed Indian Agent for all the northern British colonies. This appointment was not popular in Pennsylvania where the Penns wished to do their own negotiating and trading with the Indians. In 1759 when Teedyuscung, a Delaware chief, announced that he had been invited to a great Indian Council in Ohio, Governor Hamilton of Pennsylvania promptly named him as a special emissary of the province and appointed the Moravian missionary Christian Frederick Post to accompany him as advisor. The plan was to ask the western Indians not to join the French and to invite them to come to Philadelphia for a treaty. The embassy party was to include two Christian Delawares as interpreters and John Hays, a Scotch-Irishman, as a traveling companion for Post. Teedyuscung for reasons of his own, rather than travel the difficult mountain trail straight across Pennsylvania, decided on the northern route over the easier Seneca-controlled, but Delaware-settled, trail that followed the present southern New York border. Reaching Tioga Point, the party consisted of two white men and twelve Indians.
Their first stop was at the "Snake Hole." This was a village on the level just west of the present hamlet of Chemung. They were already on the Forbidden Trail but being with the famous Delaware Chief, were, while coldly received, well treated and allowed to go on. They passed by French Margaret's (Newtown), and next stayed at Kobustown (West Elmira).
Here at the village of the Delaware Wolf Clan, they were again well treated but warned about going on. Passing thru Big Flats on June 2, 1760, they stopped next at Atsingsing [present day Corning]. Here they were joined by some Tioga Point Indians who reported that a few days before they saw strange shadows of horses and men fighting on the moon. Two horses, one from the east and one from the west fought. The one from the east won the battle. Then small men appeared from the east and drove all before them. The Indians claimed this to be an omen that the white men from the East would overwhelm the red men. The Delawares and Senecas at Atsingsing called them fools and cowards, and ridiculed them saying they had seen nothing on the moon. [A study at the New York Planetarium showed that on May 29, 1760, there was a partial eclipse of the moon visible just at sunset in a narow band across upstate New York. Such an eclipse would have been visible from the Chemung-Tioga area but not in the deep valley at Corning. The hill to the west would have blocked this view.]
At Painted Post beyond Atsingsing, there was no longer any doubt that the travelers were in trouble. They were to proceed no farther until permission was received from the Seneca Council.
They stayed there for two weeks, getting some encouragement, much discouragement, even threats of death, but no official approval or disapproval of their request to continue. A jealousy of command sprang up between Post and Teedyuscung which, with the confused and somewhat antagonistic reception by the local Indians, made their stay quite nerve wracking.
Determined to continue, they proceeded up the Tioga to Passagachkunk. Here the historians begin to disagree. The Pennsylvanians placed this village on the Cowanesque River at the site of Elkland. The New Yorkers placded it on the Canisteo River near present day Canisteo, probably at the mouth of Colonel Bill's Creek.
Again, Teedyuscung, Post, and Hayes were met with a mingled reception of welcome and threats. The Delawares would have allowed them to proceed but stalled because no definite permission had arrived from the Onondaga Council. After another couple of weeks of semi-belligerent treatment, they received the Seneca answer. Teedysucung could go on to the Ohio country but the two whites had to turn back. The threat of roasting was now real. Even the friendly Delawares cautioned of "bad storms" with the possibility of "falling limbs crushing one's head."
They turned back to Pennsylvania over the same route that they had come. Since they did not travel the western section, for the time being the western section of the path could not be identified.
In 1764 the Eastern Iroquois under Sir William Johnson, angered by the defiance of their orders by the pro-French Delawares and Senecas, sent an expeditionary force into the Chemung River area and devastated the entire valley from Tioga to Canisteo. (Fifteen years later Sullivan did the same to the Iroquois of central New York.)
Three years later in 1767 the Moravian missionary David Zeisberger came to Dihoga [Tioga Point] and secured permission from the Cayugas to settle his Delaware and Mahican Christian converts at Sheshequin, near the mouth of the Chemung. He then ventured on an exploratory tour to the Ohio country by way of the old Andaste or Forbidden Trail.
Accompanied by two Indian convert assistants, Joseph Anthony and John Papenhank, and one pack horse, he headed westward to the Allegheny River, and became, thereby, the first white man to completely follow the route attempted by Post and Hayes in 1760.
Zeisberger's journal for October 3rd reported "about noon we arrived at Assinesink [Corning] previously burnt and laid waste by the Mohawks. Curiosities in the shape of pyramids of stone are here to be seen. From them this place derives its name. The two largest are over 2 or 3 stories high. In some cases a flat stone rests on the top as if to keep off the rain—whether these pyramids are natural or made by human hands, I will leave to others to decide. Here the Tiaogee [Chemung] divides into two branches, one goes north into the land of the Senecas, the other along which we pursued our way extends towards the west. We passed Knacto [Painted Post] and Woapassique [Addison], two old Indian towns. The way was very wild and difficult." [The stone piles mentioned by Zeisberger were just west of Gibson until the DL&W RR was built. Most of them were blasted apart then to make room for the railroad tracks.]
On this trip Zeisberger had been stopped and reproached for traveling on the Forbidden Trail, but because of his religious reputation he was allowed to continue. On another later trip in 1768 he reported no inhabitants in the valley between Wilawanna and the home of James Davis at present day Addison.
Both Zeisberger and Hayes kept diaries of their travels. These diaries are still in existence and available to historians. However, neither of the men were scholarly writers so their efforts need considerable patience and study to be deciphered. Zeibereger, particularly, wrote exactly as one would talk, but in a mixture of English and Moravian German plus some Onondaga and Delaware terms. Hayes' diary was not much better.
Numerous researchers have studied these documents and have come up with different interpretations and conclusions. Outstanding was the 1871 book of Moravian Bishop De Schweinite, The Life and Times of David Zeisberger. Since this was the only published interpretation, De Schweinite's routing of the Forbidden Trail by way of the Cowanesque River was accepted by most people. Anthony Wallace of the Pennsylvania Historical Commision in his book on Teedyuscung—King of the Delawares, published in 1945—printed a map that used De Schweinite's research and showed Pasigachkunk as being on the Cowanesque at the present site of Elkland. Now two books by accepted scholars made the claim that The Forbidden Trail followed the Cowanesque in Pennsylvania.
Back in 1893 two leading historians of this area, General John S. Clark of Auburn, New York, and Senator Charles Tubbs of Osceola, Pennsylvania, disagreed publicly on this subject but after much comparing of notes and sources, Senator Tubbs reluctantly admitted that the route up the Canisteo probably was correct. This research conclusion was, however, not published widely enough to effect the thinking of most of the Pennsylvania historians. In the 1930s the Pennsylvania State Highway Department installed historical road markers on Route 49 in the vicinity of Elkland identifying the route as part of the Forbidden Trail.
One researcher, a Pennsylvanian, firmly believed that the westward trail actually started below Elmira at the mouth of Seeley Creek and continued up the creek through Pine City over Jackson Summit to Lawrenceville. Then, he believed, it went up the Cowanesque to the headwaters of the Genesee and on westward from the vicinity of Genesee, Pennsylvania. From a topographical standpoint this route would be entirely feasible and would have the feature of bypassing every major Iroquois-controlled village between the Susquehanna and the Allegheny Rivers except the "Snake Hole" near Chemung and Olean on the Allegheny. But this routing was discounted because Atsinasink [Corning] was not on this route.
The placing of the road markers in Pennsylvania irritated the New York historians who, using the same research material (Hayes' journal), plus the physical description of the country, were convinced that Post's journey took him up the Canisteo Valley instead of the Cowanesque. Furthermore, the name Passigachkunk in Delaware means the same as Canisteo in Seneca (Board Place or Place of Boards).
The New Yorkers based their arguments on two very descriptive statements in the Hayes diary. First, "Teedyuscung and Christian Frederick Post stood in the narrow steep-walled valley at Passigachkink and looked up the Forbidden Trail.." Then, "We waited for an escort back—this is an ordinary country. Nothing but mountains and rocks and pine timber."
To those of you who know both the Elkland and Canisteo areas, the broad valley of the Cowanesque certainly doesn't fit Hayes' description. The New Yorkers therefore insisted on the Canisteo route through the narrow Cameron Valley.
Beyond Canisteo, also following the topographical features, it was assumed by many that the path followed the present-day route of the Erie railroad. Another theory favored the Hornell, Almond, Angelica, Belfast route (that of the Southern Tier Expressway).
In the meantime William A. Hunter of the Pennsylvania Historical Commission had found additional information which had definitely located the trail. He published a pamphlet on Pennsylvania trails in 1952, but few people in our area read it. Mr. Hunter had restudied the diaries of Zeisberger and Hayes and with these and other rough notes found in recent years, was able to identify positively the route so well that in a 1971 book by Dr. Paul Wallace )researched by Mr. Hunter) the route of the Forbidden Trail can be followed so closely that you feel you are retracing the footsteps of the Indians. Much of the distance of the trail can be paralleled by an automobile. (It is interesting to note that a child reading one of the diaries aloud helped to solve the mystery. Written in a misspelled combination of English and Pennsylvania Dutch, it could be deciphered only when pronounced exactly as written.)
The highway markers had been removed in the late 1940s, and the New Yorkers were vindicated in the location of Passigchkunk. It has been spotted in our present day Canisteo area. From there westward the trail, as now accepted, was no longer a water route, but swung south along the swampy ridge through Hartsville to just east of Andover. The path crossed the valley, went up to follow the ridge of Beech Hill, then dropped into the Genesee River Valley in the vicinity of Shongo. The trail recrossed into Pennsylvania, just west of Genesee, and went to Kinney's Corners, Eleven Mile Spring, and on westward across the Pine Barrens to Shinglehouse on Oswayo Creek. Here travelers made or secured canoes for travel to Ceres, Ichusa [Olean] and on down the Allegheny River.
It has long been suspected by historians that Zeisberger was not the first white man to travel the trail. Sketchy information suggests that Etienne Brulé, the French explorer, used part of this route in 1615 on his way to Carantouan (Spanish Hill) at Waverly to enlist the Andastes to help fight the Iroquois. His accounts, however, merely state he traveled from the Niagara country and came to Tioga Point from the west skirting the southern and western edges of the Seneca country. But research during the 1980s indicates the Broulé's story of a trip in this area was a fabrication.
The 1976 Bicentennial reawakened interest in our local history. With the information that the Forbidden Trail passed near Andover, New York, the village of Andover selected as a project the location and marking of the trail. Local research had identified the trail westward from Canisteo. On October 9, 1976, in a public ceremony a marker was placed on Route 417 at the Shovel Hollow Road, east of Andover, to show where this path had crossed that highway. The local committee, notably Mrs. Rosemary Berger of Andover and Mr. Nicholas Ives at Shongo, New York, with the help of Boy Scouts, marked the trail westward to maintain its identity for future generations.
The Forbidden Trail is no longer an intriguing mystery nor the subject of controversy between the historians of the Twin-Tier counties of our two great states, but there still remains the romance of the name and the soothing fact that it indeed was partially in both states. Its exact location is another triumph for those who labor to complete the jigsaw pictures of history from fragments of the past.
© 1991, Alfred G. Hilbert