Historical Markers
Great Shamokin Path Historical Marker
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Great Shamokin Path

Allegheny National Forest Region


Marker Location:
U.S. 119, 4 miles NE of Punxsutawney

Dedication Date:
October 16, 1950

Behind the Marker

Oil on canvas of <i>John Ettwein,</i> 1754, by John Valentine Haidt
John Ettwein, by John Valentine Haidt, 1754.
The scene described on this marker must have caught the attention of any bystanders who witnessed it: 200 Indians - probably a mix of men, women, and children, old and young - walking through the dense woods of northwestern Pennsylvania, accompanied by a German Moravian missionary and driving along with them a herd of livestock. Indian paths were narrow, no more than a few feet across, and so these trekkers must have walked in a long column, stretched out over hilly country, occasionally interrupted by creeks and streams. The weather in July would have been hot for such a journey, and the insects - mosquitoes, gnats, and pests - thick in the air. But unless recent rains had swollen the creeks and streams, water-crossings would have not have been too treacherous, an important consideration for anyone bringing livestock with them.
Map of Great Shamokin Path, west.
Map of the western portion of Great Shamokin Path, western Pennsylvania, circa...

And what were those cows doing on this trip anyway? Before Europeans arrived in North America, the only domesticated animal used by Indians was the dog. Indians did not rely on large animals for transportation or to pull plows; neither did Indians make use of animal milk in their diets or use animal manure to fertilize their fields. Transporting cows over this route must have been difficult. Why did Ettwein and his Indian companions take the pains to do so?

Ettwein was a Moravian missionary who had been working among Delaware Indians living in the northern Susquehanna Valley. During the first half of the eighteenth century, some Delaware had migrated to that location because colonial settlement was pushing them out of their original homelands in the Delaware and Lehigh Valleys. By the 1760s, those same forces were at work in their new homes. Land agents and settlers from Connecticut began invading the region shortly after the French and Indian War, once again threatening the Delawares' security. Some of those Indians had converted to Christianity under the spiritual direction of missionaries such as Ettwein. In conjunction with these missionaries, they set out along the Great Shamokin Path to establish new homes in the Ohio Country.
Map of Great Shamokin Path, east.
Map of the eastern portion of Great Shamokin Path, western Pennsylvania, circa...

These displaced Indians were traveling a route that was thousands of years old. The Great Shamokin Path connected Indian peoples living along the northern Susquehanna River with peoples in the Allegheny River Valley. This path of trade and communication figured prominently in the population and development of northwestern Pennsylvania, from ancient times through the era of the American Revolution. During the colonial era, its eastern terminus was Shamokin (present-day Sunbury), an Indian village at the juncture of the north and west branches of the Susquehanna River, and its western terminus was Kittanning, a Delaware village on the Allegheny.

Like the other Indian paths of Pennsylvania, the Great Shamokin Path was an ancient route, but most of what we know about it today comes from European traders and explorers who recorded their experiences during the colonial era. These observers agreed that such travel could be treacherous, but Europeans who accompanied marker Indians on their travels were always impressed by the skills they exhibited in navigating the wilderness.

The archaeological record and early colonial accounts indicate that for much of the 1600s, the region encompassing the Great Shamokin Path was sparsely populated, a result most likely of wars fought by the Iroquois of New York against neighboring peoples to gain access to more hunting grounds for the fur trade. That condition changed during the 1700s, as the Great Shamokin Path became a highway of migration for Indians facing dispossession in the east.

The 200 Delaware Indians who accompanied Ettwein in 1772 were a part of this exodus from eastern Pennsylvania. The cows they brought with them were evidence of the impact European colonization was having on Indian life and culture. When missionaries like Ettwein converted Indians, they did more than just seek their spiritual transformation; they sought a full-scale cultural transformation that would get the Indians to dress, talk, and work like Europeans. The Christian Delaware who migrated west with Moravian missionaries never completely abandoned their traditional culture, but they did adopt many aspects of European farming, including the use of domesticated animals. The cows trudging alongside them on the Great Shamokin Path were four-legged reminders of the profound changes European colonization had wrought on Indian life in colonial Pennsylvania.
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