Just about everybody who lives in Huntingdon County is instantly or not directly conversant in the legend of John Armstrong, who’s extra generally remembered as Captain Jack– the dealer and pioneer settler who, together with two companions, was murdered by three Delaware Indians close to Mount Union in 1744.
The story of Captain Jack Armstrong performed such a big function within the historical past of Huntingdon County that his title is memorialized in dozens of pure options; the mountain move referred to as Jack’s Narrows was named in his honor, as is Jack’s Spring, Jack’s Mountain and Jack’s Creek.
The truth is, wherever the title “Jack” seems on a map of Blair, Huntingdon, Mifflin, Juniata or Perry counties, it’s a reasonably protected wager that the Jack in query was Captain John Armstrong– arguably Pennsylvania’s most iconic hero of the frontier.
Nonetheless, what most individuals don’t know is the unusual story of how his long-lost bones had been lastly found greater than a century after his demise. However, earlier than we come to that time, let’s revisit the historical past of Captain Jack’s adventurous life and tragic demise.
In line with native legend, Jack was only a younger boy when he was kidnapped by the Iroquois. Throughout his captivity he discovered their language and customs, and when he lastly earned his freedom he settled on Duncan’s Island, on the confluence of the Juniata and Susquehanna rivers.
It was right here on Duncan’s Island the place, someday round 1730, he constructed a easy cabin for himself and his household. For a number of years he lived alongside the Indians peacefully, incomes an revenue by buying and selling along with his Iroquois neighbors and their bitter enemy, the Delaware.
One night, after getting back from a day of looking, he found that his spouse and kids had been murdered by Indians, and his cabin burned to the bottom. From that day ahead Jack was a modified man.
Swearing vengeance upon the Indians he assembled a militia of the hardest males the Susquehanna and Juniata valleys needed to provide, and obtained a fee as captain from the colonial governor of Pennsylvania.
Within the years that adopted, Captain Jack and his military of Scots-Irish frontiersmen not solely devoted themselves to the safety of white settlements within the valley, however mounted a campaign of untiring warfare upon the tribes of the Iroquois Confederacy.
For these exploits, Armstrong was identified by quite a lot of nicknames: The Black Hunter, the Black Rifle, and the Wild Hunter of the Juniata. His adventures had been so well-known all through colonial America that writer Washington Irving later wrote about him extensively in his biography of George Washington.
The Homicide of Captain Jack
In late February of 1744, Captain Jack and two of his servants, James Smith and Woodward Arnold, traveled to Mount Union to gather a protracted overdue debt from Musemeelin, a member of the Delaware tribe.
Musemeelin owed Armstrong some furs, however when he informed Armstrong that he didn’t have them, the merchants seized Musemeelin’s horse and a rifle in lieu of the animal skins.
This could have paid off all however twenty shillings of Musemeelin’s debt, but Musemeelin was drastically outraged. He demanded the return of his horse, however Captain Jack refused. After a prolonged, heated argument, the Indian went residence in nice anger.
A short while later Captain Jack and his males had been on their method to western Pennsylvania, and their route alongside the Juniata River triggered them to move Musemeelin’s cabin. The Indian’s spouse, recognizing the merchants, approached them and demanded the return of her husband’s horse.
Armstrong stated it was too late; he had already offered the horse to a person named James Berry. Later that day, when Musemeelin’s spouse informed him what Captain Jack had achieved, the Indian vowed revenge. He satisfied two younger Delaware warriors to affix him on a looking journey, however as a substitute of main the soldiers to the looking grounds, Musemeelin led them to a rocky mountain hole the place Armstrong, Younger and Arnold had arrange camp.
When Musemeelin and his companions reached Captain Jack’s camp they discovered James Smith alone, sitting by the hearth. Musemeelin excused himself from his companions and informed Smith that he wished to have a phrase with him in personal. He led Smith deep into the woods and shot him useless.
The sound of the rifle shot attracted Woodward Arnold to the scene, however he, too, was shot and killed when Musemeelin noticed him developing the trail. When the Indian returned to camp he laughed and informed his companions what he had achieved. The younger Delaware warriors had been horrified, however had been too afraid of Musemeelin to go away him.
Quickly the three Indians encountered Captain Jack, who was sitting on an previous log. “The place is my horse?” demanded Musemeelin. “I would like my horse proper now.”
“You shall have him,” replied Armstrong. “Come to the hearth and allow us to smoke and discuss collectively.” He led the three Indians by the woods within the course of the camp.
When the chance offered itself, Musemeelin shot Armstrong within the again, however years of traversing the rugged Pennsylvania wilderness had made Captain Jack as robust as an ox, and the assault didn’t kill him. As Captain Jack writhed on the bottom in agony and anger, the cowardly Musemeelin withdrew his tomahawk and scalped his sufferer.
Musemeelin Stands Trial
After Captain Jack and his servants did not return residence, suspicion instantly fell upon Musemeelin. A gathering of the native militia was held on April 9 on the residence of Joseph Chambers in Paxton, and it was determined that they need to journey to Sunbury to seek the advice of with Chief Shikellamy earlier than taking motion.
Chief Shikellamy was the overseer of the Six Nations of the Iroquois Confederacy, whose tribes had been at warfare with the Delaware for years. Shikellamy ordered eight of his males to go together with the militia to apprehend Musemeelin and drive the killer to take them to the scene of the crime.
This get together, consisting of a number of white males and 5 Indians (three of the Indians determined to run away in the course of the evening) was headed by James Berry, the person who had bought the killer’s horse.
After a protracted, exhausting search they positioned the our bodies of two of the victims and buried them the place they’d fallen, close to the spot that’s identified to this present day as Jack’s Narrows.
A sworn affidavit from April 19, 1744, signed by members of the search get together, identifies the members of this group as Jason Armstrong, Alexander Armstrong, Jacob Armstrong, Thomas McKee, Francis Ellis, John Forster, William Baskins, James Berry, John Watt, and David Denny.
It was Berry who found what was left of Captain Jack, and within the April nineteenth letter, which was written by Alexander Armstrong and addressed to the governor, an outline of the homicide scene was offered:
James Berry, a small distance from the aforesaid sleeping place, got here to a white oak tree which had three notches on it, and shut by this tree he discovered a shoulder bone.
The affadavit states that Berry, believing this bone to be from the shoulder of Captain Jack, confirmed the bone to his companions. The white males concluded that it was certainly the shoulder bone of Captain Jack, and surmised that the remainder of his physique had been eaten by Musemeelin.
The killer vehemently denied this accusation of cannibalism, however then one of many white males ordered Musemeelin to carry the bone as a way to see how he would react. The official report describes the unusual occasion that adopted:
…as quickly because the Indian took the bone in his hand, his nostril gushed out with blood.
The Delaware tribe, astounded by what Musemeelin had achieved, turned the killer over to the militia, and he was put in jail at Lancaster. Musemeelin was tried for the murders in Philadelphia, however the trial resulted in acquittal.
A Thriller Solved After 145 Years?
A mile or so upriver from Mount Union lies the tiny village of Mapleton. Through the late nineteenth century, Mapleton was the positioning of a domestically well-known unexplained phenomenon. For over 1 / 4 of a century, residents of the village had reported seeing three unusual lights hovering over a distant spot on close by Rocky Ridge.
From swamp fuel to ball lightning, not one of the urged scientific explanations appeared to make sense; the mysterious lights all the time appeared on the identical time in the identical spot, and was all the time at its most good in late February.
The Altoona Instances provides an in depth description of the phenomenon, which had the looks of three rockets:
Each would pop up from the bottom and stay for a couple of minutes about three toes above the floor, after which disappear in succession. These lights had been on a line and appeared to level to a bigger, brighter gentle like that from a lantern, which swayed back and forth over a crevice within the rock.
On February 27, 1889, three males from Mapleton– Thomas Logan, A.Okay. Skipper and John Grove– made up their minds to resolve the thriller of the Rocky Ridge lights as soon as and for all.
Armed with picks and shovels, the three males traveled to the spot the place the sunshine had final been seen, decided to have interaction in a little bit beginner geology. As early because the seventeenth century, it had been identified that some phosphate minerals emit a faint glow when uncovered to oxygen. The boys questioned if phosphorus, or another naturally-occurring substance, is likely to be the supply of Mapleton’s notorious phantom lights.
The boys commenced digging, and at a depth of about six toes their picks struck two giant, flat stones. They lifted the stones and had been astounded at what their eyes beheld– the stays of a human skeleton.
The bones had been so previous and brittle that they crumbled to mud on the slightest contact. Uncertain of what to make of their discover, the three males raced again to Mapleton to report their discovery.
As may be anticipated, dozens of curious locals hiked to the spot in an try to put the thriller to relaxation. It wasn’t till a couple of week later when one of many older residents of the village visited Rocky Ridge and observed one thing odd and vaguely acquainted subsequent to the unmarked grave. It was a big, historical white oak tree– with three deep notches in its trunk.
Have been the three mysterious lights that hovered over Rocky Ridge every February the spirits of Captain Jack Armstrong, James Smith and Woodward Arnold? The exact location of their wilderness graves has been misplaced to historical past since 1744, and whereas there could also be a superbly rational rationalization for the phenomenon, one newspaper account of the 1889 discovery closes with this fascinating sentence:
Since their discovery, the singular gentle which has been seen nightly for years has disappeared.
Writer: Marlin Bressi, supply: paoddities.blogspot.com
Marlin Bressi is an writer and historical past buff who presently resides in Harrisburg. As a nonfiction author he has authored 4 books, the latest of that are Bushy Males in Caves: True Tales of America’s Most Colourful Hermits and Pennsylvania Oddities.