The career of Simon Girty, otherwise spelled Girtee and Gerdes, has
become of sufficient interest to cause the only authoritative biography
to sell at a prohibitive figure, and outlaw or renegade as he is called,
there are postoffices, hotels, streams, caves and rocks which perpetuate
his name throughout Pennsylvania.
Simon Gerdes was born in the Cumberland Valley on Yellow Breeches Creek,
the son of a Swiss-German father and an Irish mother. This origin
guaranteed him no high social position, for in the old days, in the
Cumberland Valley, in particular, persons of those racial beginnings
were never accepted at par by the proud descendants of Quakers, Virginia
Cavaliers, and above all, by the Ulster Scots. After the world war
similar beginnings have correspondingly lowered in the markets of
prestige, and a century or more of gradual family aggrandizement has
gone for nil, the social stratification of pre-Revolutionary days having
completely re-established itself.
Unfortunately for Simon Gerdes, or Girty, as he was generally called, he
was possessed of lofty ambitions, he aimed to be a military hero and a
man of quality, like the dignified and exclusive gentry who rode about
the valley on their long-tailed white horses and carried swords, and
were accompanied by retainers with long rifles. There must have been
decent blood in him somewhere to have brought forth such aspirations,
but personally he was never fitted to attain them. He had no chance for
an education off there in the rude foothills of the Kittochtinnies; he
was undersized, swarthy and bushy headed; his hands were hairy, and his
face almost impossible to keep free of black beard. Analyzed his
features were not unpleasant; he had deepset, piercing black eyes, a
prominent aquiline nose, a firm mouth and jaw, and his manner was quick,
alert and decisive.
Such was Simon Girty when his martial dreams caused him to leave home
and proceed to Virginia to enlist in the Rifle Regiment. A half century
of Quaker rule in Pennsylvania had failed to disturb the tranquility of
the relations between whites and Indians, but in the Old Dominion, there
was a constant bickering with the redskins along the western frontier.
As Girty was a sure shot, he was eagerly accepted, and in a short time
was raised to the grade of Corporal. Accompanied by a young
Captain-lieutenant named Claypoole, he was sent to the Greenbrier River
country to convey a supply train, but owing to the indifference of the
officer, the train became strung out, and the vanguard was cut off by
Indians, and captured, and the rearguard completely routed.
As Girty happened to be the vidette, the Captain-lieutenant, who was in
the rear and should have come up and seen that his train traveled more
compactly, had a splendid opportunity to shift the blame. An
investigation was held at Spottsylvania, presided over by a board of
officers recently arrived from England, who knew nothing of border
warfare, and were sticklers for caste above everything else.
Someone had to be disciplined, and if a fellow could be punished and a
gentleman exculpated, why then of course, punish the fellow. This was
speedily done, and Girty was taken out before the regiment, stripped of
his chevrons, denounced by the Colonel, forced to run the gauntlet,
Indian style, and drummed out of camp.
Girty, though humiliated and shamed, felt glad that he was not shot; he
would have been had he been actually guilty of neglect; he was punished
as badly as an innocent man dare be punished to shield a guilty
superior. After receiving his dishonorable discharge, Girty sorrowfully
wended his way back to the parental home on the Yellow Breeches, his
visions of glory shattered. He did not tell his parents what had
happened, but they knew that something had gone wrong, and pitied him,
as only poor, lowly people can pity another.
Henry Fielding, a gentleman born and bred, has said: “Why is it that the
only really kindly people are the poor,” and again, “Why is it that
persons in high places are always so hard?”
About this time Simon Girty found work breaking colts on the estate of
an eccentric character named Gaspar, known in the Cumberland Valley as
“French Louis,” who resided near the mouth of Dublin Gap, on the same
side of the trail, but nearer the valley than the present Sulphur
Springs Hotel. All that remains of his ambitious chateau is the chimney,
which was recently photographed by Professor J. S. Illick, head of the
research bureau of the State Department of Forestry.
“French Louis” Gaspar was a Huguenot, a Gascon, and prided himself on a
resemblance to Henry of Navarre, and wore the same kind of fan-shaped,
carefully brushed beard. His wife was also of French origin, a member of
the well-known Le Tort family, and a woman of some education and
character. They had several daughters, all of whom married well, and at
the time of Girty’s taking employment, but one was at home–the
She was a slim, dark girl, with hair and eyes as black as Girty’s, a
perfect mate in type and disposition. It is a curious thing while
unravelling these stories of old time Pennsylvania, that in seeking
descriptions of the personal appearance (which is always the most
interesting part) of the persons figuring in them at an early day,
scarcely any blondes are recorded; the black, swarthy Indian-like
visages so noticeable to strangers traveling through Pennsylvania today,
were also prevalent, commonly met with types of our Colonial period.
Eulalie Gaspar could see that there was something on Girty’s mind, and
tried to be kind to him and encourage him, but she asked no questions,
and he volunteered no information. If he had not received such a
complete social setback at Spottsylvania, the youth might have aspired
to the girl’s hand, but he now was keenly aware of the planes of caste,
realizing that he stood very low on the ladder of quality.
He seemed to be improving in spirits under the warm sun of encouragement
at Chateau Gaspar, as “French Louis” liked to call his huge house of
logs and stone, for the Huguenot adventurer was much of a Don Quixote,
and lived largely in a world of his own creation. Eulalie, hot-blooded
and impulsive, often praised his prowess as a horseman, and otherwise
smiled on him.
There was a great sale of Virginia bred horses being held in the market
place at Carlisle, and, of course, “French Louis” mounted on a superbly
caparisoned, ambling horse, and wearing a hat with a plume, and attended
by Simon Girty, were among those present.
The animals ranged from packers and palfreys to fancy saddlers of the
high school type, and although Gaspar had every stall full at home, and
some wandering, hobbled about the old fields, he bought six more at
fancy prices, and it would be an extensive task to return them safely to
the stables at the “Chateau”.
It was near the close of the sale when a young Virginian named Conrad
Gist or Geist, one of the sellers of horses, who had been a sergeant in
Girty’s regiment, and witnessed his degradation at Spottsylvania, came
up, and in the presence of the crowd, taunted young Simon on being
court-martialed and kicked out of camp.
Girty, though the humiliating words were said among divers of his
friends, bit his lips and said nothing at the time. Later in the tap
room, when “French Louis” was having a final jorum before starting
homeward, the Virginian repeated his taunts, and Girty, though half his
size, slapped his face. Gist quickly drew a horse pistol from one of the
deep pockets of his long riding coat, and tried to shoot the affronted
youth. Girty was too quick for him, and in wresting the pistol from his
hand, it went off, and shot the Virginian through the stomach. He fell
to the sanded floor, and was soon dead.
Other Virginians present raised an outcry, in which they were upheld by
those of similar social status in the fraternity of “gentlemen horse
dealers” residing at Carlisle. Threats were made to hang Girty to a tree
and fill him full of bullets. He felt that he was lucky to escape in the
melee, and make for the mountains. Public opinion was against him, and a
reward placed on his head. Armed posses searched for him for weeks,
eventually learning that he was being harbored by a band of escaped
redemptioners, slaves, and gaol breakers, who had a cabin or shack in
the wilds along Shireman’s Creek. It was vacated when the pursuers
reached it, but they burnt it to the ground, as well as every other roof
in the wilds that it could be proved he had ever slept under.
By 1750 he became known as the most notorious outlaw in the Juniata
country, and pursuit becoming too “hot”, he decided to migrate west,
which he did, allying himself with the Wyandot Indians. He lived with
them a foe to the whites, more cruel and relentless, the Colonial
Records state, than his adopted people.
Some of his marauding expeditions took him back to the Susquehanna
country, and he made several daring visits to his parents, on one of
which he learned to his horror and disgust, that Eulalie Gaspar, while
staying with one of her married sisters at Carlisle, had met and married
the now Captain Claypoole, the author of his degradation, who had come
there in connection with the mustering of Colonial troops.
During these visits Girty occupied at times a cave facing the
Susquehanna River, in the Half Fall Hills, directly opposite to Fort
Halifax, which he could watch from the top of the mountain. The narrow,
deep channel of the river, at the end of the Half Fall Hills, so long
the terror of the “up river” raftsmen, became known as Girty’s Notch.
The sinister reputation of the locality was borne out in later years in
a resort for rivermen called Girty’s Notch Hotel, now a pleasant,
homelike retreat for tired and thirsty autoists who draw birch beer
through straws, and gaze at the impressive scenery of river and mountain
from the cool, breezeswept verandas.
But the most imposing of all is the stone face on the mountain side,
looking down on the state road and the river, which shows clearly the
rugged outlines of the features of the notorious borderer. An excellent
photograph of “Girty’s Face” can be seen in the collection of
stereoscoptic views possessed by the genial “Charley Mitchell”
proprietor of the Owens House, formerly the old Susquehanna House, at
It was after General Braddock’s defeat in 1755 that Captain, now Major
Claypoole, decided to settle on one of his parental estates on the
Redstone River, (now Fayette County) in Western Pennsylvania. Being
newly wedded and immensely wealthy for his day, he caused to be erected
a manor house of the showy native red stone, elaborately stuccoed, on a
bluff overlooking this picturesque winding river. He cleared much land,
being aided by Negro slaves, and a horde of German redemptioners.
When General Forbes’ campaign against Fort Duquesne was announced in
1757, he decided to again try for actual military laurels, though his
promotion in rank had been rapid for one of his desultory service; so he
journeyed to Carlisle, and was reassigned to the Virginia Riflemen, with
the rank of Lieutenant Colonel of Staff.
He was undecided what to do with his young wife in his absences, but as
she had become interested in improving “Red Clay Hall,” as the new
estate was called, he decided to leave her there, well guarded by his
armed Virginia overseers. The Indians had been cleared out of the valley
for several years, and were even looked upon as curiosities when they
passed through the country, consequently all seemed safe on that score.
However, while Lieutenant-Colonel Claypoole was at Carlisle, before the
Forbes-Bouquet Army had started westward, an Indian with face blackened
and painted, in the full regalia of a chief, appeared at the door of
“Red Clay Hall” and asked to see the lady of the manor, with whom he
said he was acquainted–that she would know him by the name of Suckaweek.
This was considered peculiar, and he was told to wait outside, until
“her ladyship” could be informed of his presence. Eulalie Gaspar
Claypoole, clad in a gown of rose brocade, was in her living room on the
second story of the mansion, an apartment with high ceilings and large
windows, which commanded a view of the Red Stone Valley, clear to its
point of confluence with the lordly Monongahela. She was seated at an
inlaid rosewood desk, writing a letter to her husband, when the German
chief steward entered to inform her of the strange visitor waiting on
the lawn, whom she would know by the name of Suckaweek.
Taking the quill pen from her lips, for she had been trying to think of
something to write, the dark beauty directed the steward to admit the
visitor at once, and show him into the library. Hurrying to a pier
glass, she adjusted her elaborate apparel, and taking a rose from a
vase, placed it carefully in her sable hair, before she descended the
“Suckaweek” (Black Fish), which was a pet name she used to call Girty in
the old days, was waiting in the great hall, and the greeting between
the ill-assorted pair seemed dignified, yet cordial. They spent the
balance of the afternoon between the library and strolling over the
grounds, admiring the extensive views, dined together in the state
dining room, and the last the stewards and servants saw of them, when
informed their presence would be no longer required, was the pair
sitting in easy chairs on either side of the great fireplace, both
smoking long pipes of fragrant Virginia tobacco.
In the morning the Indian and Madame Claypoole were missing, and an
express was sent at once to Carlisle to acquaint the Colonel with this
daring abduction of a lady of quality. The news came as a great shock to
the young officer, who obtained a leave of absence and a platoon of
riflemen to engage in the search for his vanished spouse.
The marriage had seemed a happy one, but in discussing the case with his
father-in-law, “French Louis,” indiscreetly admitted that his daughter
had once seemed a little sweet on Simon Girty, the outlaw. All was clear
now, the motive revealed.
It was the truth, the lovely “Lady” Claypoole, as she was styled by the
mountain folks, had gone off with the seemingly uncouth renegade, Simon
Why she had done so, she could never tell, but doubtless it was a spark
of love lain dormant since the old days at Chateau Gaspar, when she had
seen the young outlaw breaking her father’s unmanageable colts, that
furnished the motive for the elopement.
In the glade, where at an early hour in the morning, Girty and his fair
companion joined his entourage of Indians and white outlaws, Simon, in
the presence of all, unsheathed his formidable hunting knife, a relic of
his first campaign against the Indians when he belonged to the Virginia
“Long Knives,” and cut a notch on the stock of his trusty rifle, which
was handed to him by his favorite bodyguard, a half Jew, half Indian,
named Mamolen, a native of Heidelberg in Berks County.
Although during the past eight years he had personally killed and
scalped over a hundred Indians and whites, Girty had never, as the other
frontiersmen always did, “nicked” his rifle stock.
Turning to Lady Claypoole with a smile, he said: “Some day I will tell
you why I have cut this notch; it is a long and curious story.”
In order to have her safe from capture or molestation, Girty took the
woman on a lengthy and perilous journey to Kentucky, “the dark and
bloody ground.” To the country of the mysterious Green River, in what is
now Edmonson County, land of caves, and sinks, and knobs, and
subterranean lakes and streams, amid hardwood groves and limestone, he
built a substantial log house, where he left her, protected only by the
faithful Mamolen, while he returned to fight with the French and Indians
along the banks of the Ohe-yu, “The Beautiful River.”
The defeat of the allied forces by the British, and the abandonment of
Fort Duquesne, were sore blows to Simon Girty’s plans and hopes, but his
position and prestige among the Indians remained undimmed.
Claypoole, though promoted to full Colonel, did not take part in any of
the battles, being intermittently off on leave, hunting for his recreant
wife, and spluttering vengeance against “that snake, that dog, Girty,”
as he alternately called him. It seemed as if the earth had swallowed up
the lovely object of the outlaw’s wiles, for though Girty himself was
heard of everywhere, being linked with the most hideous atrocities and
ambushes, no Indian prisoner, even under the most dreadful torture,
could reveal the Lady Claypoole’s whereabouts. The reason for that was
only two persons in the service knew, one was Mamolen, the other Girty,
and Mamolen remained behind with the fair runaway.
It was not until after the final collapse of the French power in 1764,
and the western country was becoming opened for settlement, that Colonel
Claypoole received an inkling of Eulalie’s whereabouts. It did not
excite his curiosity to see her again, or bring her back, but merely
fired his determination the more to even his score with Girty. When he
was sober and in the sedate atmosphere of his correctly appointed
library on Grant’s Hill, in the new town of Pittsburg, he realized how
foolish it would be to journey to the wilds to kill “a scum of the
earth,” he a gentleman of many generations of refined ancestry, all for
a “skirt” as he contemptuously alluded to his wife.
But when in his cups, and that was often, he vowed vengeance against the
despoiler of his home, and the things he planned to do when once he had
him in his clutches would have won the grand prize at a Spanish
If it was Girty’s destiny to notch his rifle once, Nemesis provided that
Colonel Claypoole should also have that rare privilege. At a military
muster on the Kentucky side of Big Sandy, during the Revolutionary War,
Simon Girty boldly ventured to the outskirts of the encampment, to spy
on the strength and armament of the patriot forces, as he had done a
hundred times before. Colonel Claypoole, riding on the field on his
showy, jet black charger, noticed a low-brewed face, whiskered like a
Bolshevik, peering out through a clump of bushes. Recognizing him after
a lapse of over a quarter of a century, he rode at him rashly, parrying
with the flat blade of his sabre, the well directed bullet which Girty
sent at him. Springing from his mount, which he turned loose, and which
ran snorting over the field, with pistol in one hand, sabre in the
other, he rushed into the thicket, and engaged his foe in deadly combat.
He was soon on top of the surprised Girty, and stamping on him, like
most persons do with a venomous snake, at the same time shooting and
When his frightened orderly, leading the recaptured charger, rode up,
followed by a number of excited officers and men, and drew near to the
thicket, they were just in time to see Colonel Claypoole emerging from
it, red-faced but calm, carrying a long rifle.
“I see you have put a notch in it already,” said one of his companions,
as he eagerly wrung his hand.
“So I perceive,” replied the Colonel, “but it was hardly necessary, for
I have only killed a snake.”
There are some who say that Colonel Claypoole’s victim was not Simon
Girty at all, but merely a drunken settler who was coming out of the
bushes after a mid-day nap, and a coincidence that the fellow was armed
with a rifle on which there was a single nick. Yet for all intents and
purposes Colonel Claypoole had killed a good enough Simon Girty, and had
his rifle to prove it.
Other reports have it that Simon Girty survived the Revolution, where he
played such a reprehensive part, to marry Catharine Malott, a former
captive among the Indians, in 1784, and was killed in the Battle of the
Thames, in the War of 1812.
C. W. Butterworth in his biography of the Girty family, says that Simon,
in later life, became totally blind, dying near Amlerstburg, Canada,
February 18, 1818, was buried on his farm, and a troop of British
soldiers from Fort Malden fired a volley at his grave.
“I have been reading your legends of the old days in the ‘North
American,’” said the delegate to the Grange Convention, stroking his
long silky mustache, “and they remind me of many stories that my mother
used to tell me when I was a little shaver, while we were living on the
Pucketa, in Westmoreland County. There was one story that I used to like
best of all. It was not the one about old Pucketa the Indian warrior for
whom the run was named, but about a less notable Indian, but more
esteemed locally, known as ‘Poplar George.’
“It isn’t nearly as interesting an Indian story as the one that Emerson
Collins tells, of the time when his mother, as a little girl on the
Quinneshockeny, went to the spring for a jug of water, finding a lone
Indian sitting there all by himself, looking as if he was in deep
thought. As he made no move to molest her, she filled her jug, and then
scampered back to the house as fast as she could tote the jug there.
“She was a little shy about telling of her strange experience, but
finally, when she mentioned the subject, her mother said, ‘maybe the
poor fellow was hungry.’ Quickly spreading a ‘piece,’ she hurried back
to the spring, but no Indian was to be found, only a few prints of his
mocassined feet in the soft earth by the water course. If it hadn’t been
for those footprints she would have always felt that she had not seen a
real live Indian, but a ghost.
“It was the last Indian ever heard of on the Quinneshockeny, and he had
probably come back to revive old memories of his happy childhood. No,
Poplar George was hardly like Emerson Collins’ ‘last Indian,’ as he, my
mother averred, was part Indian, part ghost. He was also the last Indian
that ever visited the Pucketa, which had been a famous stream in its day
for redmen, from the time when old Pucketa, himself, came there to spend
his last days, after having been driven out from his former hunting
grounds at the head of Lost Creek, which runs into the ‘Blue Juniata’
“The principal part of this story revolves around two large trees that
used to stand near the Pucketa, one a big tulip or ‘whitewood’ tree,
hollow at the butt, so much so that a half grown person could hide in
it, and a huge water poplar tree, or ‘cottonwood,’ a rare tree in
Pennsylvania, you know, that stood on lower ground directly in line with
it, but on the far side of the creek, which ran parallel with the road.
It wasn’t much of a road in those days, I’m told, isn’t much of one yet,
little better than a cow path, with grass and dandelions growing between
the wagon tracks, and worn foot-path on the creek side of it. Many’s the
time I’ve gone along that path to and from school, or to fetch the cows.
[Illustration: AGED FLAX-SPINNER AT WORK, SUGAR VALLEY]
“In my boyhood there were two big stumps which always arrested my
attention, the stumps of the ‘cottonwood’ and the tulip which I have
already mentioned. The native poplar stump, which was chopped breast
high for some reason, had been cut before my day, but the tulip tree had
stood a dead stab for many years, and was not finally cut until my
babyhood. I was too young to recall it, and its stump had been sawed off
almost level with the ground.
“When my mother was old enough to notice things, say along six, or seven
or eight years of age, both trees was standing, and despite their
venerable age, were thrifty and green; the hollow trunk of the tulip did
not seem to lessen its vitality. Trees in those days, of all kinds, were
pretty common, and regarded as nuisances; the farmers were still having
‘burning bees’ in the spring and fall when all hands would join in and
drag with ox-spans the logs of the trees that had been cut when they
were clearing new ground, and making huge bonfires, burn them like a
modern section foreman does a pile of old railroad ties, and by the way,
the time is going to come soon when tie burners will be as severely
condemned as the instigators of the ‘burning bees’ in the olden days.
“Trees were too plentiful to attract much attention or create affection
or veneration, but these two trees had a very special human interest.
“Long after the Indians passed out of our country they came back as
ghosts or ‘familiars,’ just as the wolves, panthers and wild pigeons do,
so that the stories of folks seeing them after they became extinct,
while not literally true, are in a sense correct. Closely associated
with the life of the big cottonwood was an old Indian, mother said; he
wasn’t a real live Indian, yet not a ghost, was probably a half ghost,
half Indian, if there could be any such thing.
“The tulip tree was inhabited by a very attractive spirit, an Indian
girl, an odd looking one too, for her smooth skin was only a pumpkin
color and her eyes a light blue. They all called her ‘Pale Eyes,’ and
she was described as slight, winsome and wonderfully pretty. The Indian
man, because he spent so much time under the cottonwood or water poplar,
became generally known as ‘Poplar George.’ He would appear in the
neighborhood early in the spring, in time to gather poke, milkweed,
dandelion and bracken for the farmer’s wives, and to teach the young
folks to fish, to use the bow and arrow, and snare wild pigeons and
“It was a sure sign of spring when the young people would see him
squatting before a very small fire of twigs under the still leafless
branches of the ancient poplar tree. He would remain about all summer
long, helping with the harvest, so he must have been real flesh and
blood, in a sense, and in the fall he gathered nuts, and later cut some
cordwood for those who favored him–but in truth he never liked hard,
downright work overly much.
“He was a creature of the forests and streams. When he went away in the
fall, after the wild pigeons had left, he always said that he wintered
south, on the Casselman River, where the weather was not so severe, in
that wonderful realm of the Pawpaw, the Persimmon and the Red Bud.
“Often when he took the young folks of the neighborhood on fishing
trips, and his skill with the angle and fly were unerring, the pretty
Indian maiden, ‘Pale Eyes,’ would turn up, and be with the party all
day. When asked who she was, he would sometimes say that she was his
daughter, other times his niece, or grand-daughter, but when anyone
asked of ‘Pale Eyes,’ she would shake her pretty head, indicating that
she only spoke the Indian language. Poplar George could speak Dutch and
a little English.
“No one knew where Poplar George slept, if it wasn’t in the open, under
the cottonwood tree. If he slept in barns, or under haystacks, no one
had ever seen him coming or going, but a detail like that, mattered
nothing as long as he was kindly and harmless, and took good care of the
“He was a master of woodcraft, much like that old Narragansett Indian
‘Nessmuk,’ who furnished the late George W. Sears with his inspiration
as well as ‘nom de plume.’ Poplar George could call the wild birds off
the trees, so that they would feed on the ground before him, the
squirrels and even the shy chipmunks climbed all over him, and extracted
nuts from his pockets.
“The old Indian was an odd person to look at, so my mother said; of
medium height, meagre, wrinkled and weazened, tobacco colored, with
little black shoe-button eyes, and a sparse mustache and beard. He
dressed in rags, and was often bare-footed, yet he never complained of
the cold. He was always jolly and cheerful, had always been the same; he
had been coming to the Pucketa Valley for several generations before my
mother’s day; in fact, no one could remember when he hadn’t been there,
but that wasn’t saying much, as it was a new country, dating only from
the time when Pucketa and his tribesmen had enjoyed it as a hunting
ground for big game.
“Once when some hunters killed a bear, they were going to nail the paws
on the end of a log barn, but Poplar George begged for them, and invited
the children to a feast of ‘bear paw cutlets’ under the cottonwood tree.
My mother sat beside ‘Pale Eyes,’ and took a great fancy to her; she was
able to talk with her in sign language, and Poplar George, seeing how
well they got on together, occasionally interpreted for them.
“Mother managed to learn that ‘Pale Eyes’’ abode was in a huge hollow
tulip tree, but that she, too, wintered in the south, but beyond the
Maryland line. Those were all gloriously care-free, happy days, and my
mother, in later life, never tired talking about them.
“Once in the fall when the buckwheat harvest was in progress, millions
of wild pigeons came in, and mother could never forget the sight of old
Poplar George sitting on a ‘stake and rider’ fence, with a handsome cock
pigeon resplendent with its ruddy breast, pearched on one of his wrists,
while it pecked at some buckwheat seeds in his other hand. Beside him
sat the demure ‘Pale Eyes,’ a speckled squab of the year in her lap,
stroking it, while other pigeons, usually so wild, were feeding in the
stubble about them, or perched on the stakes of the fence.
“Some of the boys of sixteen years or thereabouts, grown lads they
seemed to my mother, wanted to be attentive to ‘Pale Eyes,’ but she was
so shy that she never let them get close to her. As it was a respectable
backwoods community, and all minded their own business, no further
efforts were made to have her mingle in society.
“There was a rich boy, Herbert Hiltzheimer from Philadelphia, whose
father was a great land owner, and who sometimes came with his parents
to stay with their Agent while inspecting their possessions, who, at
first sight of ‘Pale Eyes,’ fell violently in love with her. On rainy
days he was not allowed out of doors, and sent word to Poplar George
that ‘Pale Eyes’ should go to the Agent’s house, and play with him. Old
Poplar George replied that he was willing if his niece would consent,
but she always ran away into the depths of the forest, and was never
once induced to play with him indoors. She did not dislike the city boy,
only was very timid, and was afraid to go inside of a house.
“My mother was made a confidante of by Herbert,who offered her five
dollars, a collosal sum in those days, if she would induce ‘Pale Eyes’
to at least come into the Agent’s yard, and play with him alone. He had
her name cut on everything, even on the window frames, and wrote verses
about her which he carried in his pocket, and sometimes tried to read to
“In the fall he was taken back to Philadelphia to school, but said that,
the evening before, when he walked up the lane, weeping over his
misfortune, he opportunately met the fair Indian maid alone at the tulip
tree, and actually kissed her. She broke away and ran into the hollow
trunk, and while he quickly followed her into the aperture, she had
“The lands on which the cottonwood and the tulip tree stood were a part
of a farm belonging to ’Squire George Garnice, an agreeable, but easy
going old gentleman, who never learned to say ‘no’ to any one, though
not much to his detriment for he was very generally respected.
“One fall some of the Fiedler boys suggested to him, that he let them go
on his property and cut up a lot of old half-dead good-for-nothing trees
for cordwood and of course he assented. The first tree they attacked was
Poplar George’s favorite, the mighty cottonwood. They were skilled
axemen, and cut a level stump but too high for these days of
conservation. Soon the big poplar was down, and the boys were trimming
off the sweeping branches. Before cutting into stove lengths, they
hopped across the creek and started on their next victim, the hollow
tulip tree, the home of ‘Pale Eyes.’
“One of the boys, the youngest, Ed, had gotten a new cross-cut saw, and
begged them to try it on the tulip. They notched, and then getting down
on their knees, started to saw a low stump, for some reason or other.
They had sawed in quite a distance on both edges of the hollow side when
they heard a piteous shrieking and wailing down the road, toward the old
“Leaving saw, axes and wedges, they ran to where the cries came from,
and to their horror, found ‘Pale Eyes’ lying on the grassy bank beside
the road at the orchard, her ankles terribly lacerated, front and back,
clear in to the bones, and bleeding profusely. On this occasion she was
able to speak in an intelligible tongue.
“‘Run quick to the ’Squire’s, and get help,’ she said, in Pennsylvania
German; ‘I am dying, but I want something to ease this dreadful pain.’
“The sympathetic boys, without waiting to inquire where she received her
grevious hurts, scurried down the road and through the ’Squire’s gate.
The old gentleman was in his library, drawing up a legal document, when
the long, lanky youths, hatless and breathless, burst in on him.
“‘Oh, sir,’ they chorused, ‘the Indian girl, ‘Pale Eyes,’ you know, has
cut herself, and is dying up the road, and wants help.’
“The ’Squire always kept an old-fashioned remedy chest in his desk, so
seizing it, and adjusting his curly wig, so that it would not blow off,
he ran out after the nimble mountaineers. As they left the gate they saw
old Poplar George running across the orchard in the direction of the
wounded girl. Evidently he, too, had heard her cries.
“When they reached the spot where marks on the greensward showed where
‘Pale Eyes’ had been lying, she was nowhere to be found, neither was
Poplar George. There were no signs of blood, only a lot of sawdust like
comes from the workings of a cross-cut saw.
“The old ’Squire was nonplussed, but consented to accompany the boys to
the scene of their wood cutting operations. ‘Pale Eyes’ was not there
either, nor Poplar George. The newly formed leaves of the cottonwood–it
was in the month of May–although the tree had only been cut and sawed
into but an hour before, were scorched and withered.
“The ’Squire showed by his face how heartbroken he was to see the two
picturesque trees so roughly treated, but he was too kindly and
forgiving to chide the boys for their sake. As he was standing there,
looking at the ruin, a number of school children, among them my mother,
came along, for it was during the noon recess, or dinner hour. They saw
the butchered trees, and learned of the events of the morning; several
of them, prosaic backwoods youngsters, though they were, shed bitter
“‘Dry your eyes,’ the ‘’Squire urged them, ‘else your people will think
that the teacher licked you.’ Then they all chorused that it was a shame
to have ruined the retreats of Poplar George and ‘Pale Eyes.’
“Evidently ’Squire Garnice was wise in the lore of mysticism, for he
shook his head sadly, saying, ‘Never mind, you’ll never see Poplar
George nor ‘Pale Eyes’ again.’
“It was a dejected company that parted with him at his gate. The old
’Squire was right, for never more was anything seen or heard of Poplar
George and the mysterious ‘Pale Eyes.’ They must have been in some
unknowable way connected with the lives of those two trees, the
cottonwood and the tulip–their lives or spirits maybe, and when they
were cut into, their spirits went out with them.
“I knew of a wealthy man who had a cedar tree in his yard, that when he
fell ill, the tree became brown, but retained a little life. Finally it
was cut down as an eyesore, and the gentleman died suddenly a few days
afterward. That tree must have contained a vital part of his spirit.
“By fall the tulip tree looked as if it had been dead for years, and the
bark was peeling off. As the wood of the poplar would not burn, and set
up a fetid odor, the Fieldler boys never bothered to finish cutting down
the hollow tulip tree, of which the shy wood sprite, ‘Pale Eyes,’ had
been the essence.
“Much of the mystery and charm of that old grass-grown way along the
gently flowing Pucketa had vanished with its Indian frequenters. But the
memory of Poplar George and ‘Pale Eyes’ will never be forgotten as long
as any of those children who were lucky enough to know them, remain in