*Dutch Hill Rockshelter Preliminary Report of Findings
*An Examination of Late Prehistoric McFate Trail Locations
*Testing at Indian Camp Run No. 2
*Upland Bedrock Mortars and the Significance of Acorn as a Dietary Supplement in Marginal Landscapes
*Shenks Ferry Material Culture in the Ohio River Valley
*An Exploration of the McFate Taskscape: A Case for Compromise
*A Mystery at the Russell City Earthwork, Elk County, PA
*Indian Camp Run Miscellany
*Paleoindian Research in Western Pennsylvania

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An Examination of Late Prehistoric McFate Trail Locations
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Andrew J. Myers

Trail (right side of photo-frost covered) leading to remote Elk County rockshelter


This paper examines likely trail locations used by members of the McFate culture who occupied portions of northern Pennsylvania, southern New York and adjacent regions during the Late Prehistoric period. These trails permitted the McFate to conduct their seasonal hunting and gathering rounds and participate in trade activity that was occurring at that time.


During the latter portion of the Late Prehistoric period (A.D. 1450-1580) groups belonging to the McFate culture inhabited portions of northern Pennsylvania, southern New York and northeastern Ohio. The McFate primarily occupied a region which extends from the glaciated Allegheny Plateau south of Lake Erie eastward across the mountainous Allegheny Plateau and concludes along the Allegheny Front in north central Pennsylvania.

According to Kent (1989) McFate Incised pottery is a hallmark of a cultural area that includes such stockaded sites such as the McFate site in Crawford County, the Elk County Earthworks and the Kalgren and Bell sites located in Clearfield County. Also included in the McFate cultural sphere are sites located along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River which extend as far east as the Quiggle site located in Clinton County (see fig. 1).

McFate Incised collar segment from Jefferson County, Pa rockshelter

McFate Incised pottery from Elk and Jefferson Counties, PA

McFate Incised pottery from the Bogus Run Rockshelter tested by Myers and Eric P. Young while employed by the Allegheny National Forest

McFate Incised pottery from Venango County

McFate Incised pottery from Venango County

The distribution of McFate cultural material occurs beyond these boundaries. McFate phase ceramics have been identified on Whittlesey sites located as far west as Cayahoga (Brose 1994) and Lake Counties (Murphy 1971) in northeastern Ohio and east to the Overpeck site located on the Delaware River in Bucks County, southeastern Pennsylvania (Kent 1989:119). In southwestern New York McFate ceramics have been found on numerous sites located across Chautauqua and Cattauraugus Counties (Schock 1974) and east into Allegany County (Per. Com. Lounsberry 1994). The Portageville earthwork located on the Genesee River in Wyoming County, New York may have represented a northeastern most outpost for McFate groups (Barber1965:70). According to White (1961), the Cattauraugus Creek located along the Portage Escarpment acted as a cultural divide between grit tempered potters located in the north and shell tempered potters to the south (i.e., McFate/Chautauqua phase). Throughout central Pennsylvania shell tempered McFate phase ceramics occur as a minority type on practically every village site of the Wyoming Valley culture and in rock shelters located in the hills surrounding the valley (Smith, 1984). In southwestern Pennsylvania McFate ceramics have been found on Johnston Phase Monongahela village sites in the Conemaugh drainage such as the Johnston site (36IN2) (Dragoo 1971), the Squirrel Hill site (36WM35) (Robson 1958), and the McJunkin site (36AL17) (George 1978). Related McFate variants have been found at Sheep Rock Shelter (36HU1) in south central Pennsylvania and at the Mohr and Locust Grove sites in Lancaster County, Pennsylvania (Kent, 1989:119).

The Late Prehistoric period was marked by at least two events affecting the lives of many groups located throughout the Northeast such as the McFate. These events include the Neo-Boreal climatic cooling episode which affected growing season and participation in an active network of trade. The Neo-Boreal or Little Ice Age global cooling episode significantly altered the lifestyles of many groups that had become dependent on farming as a primary form of subsistence. Beginning around A.D. 1450 and lasting until around A.D. 1850 temperatures throughout the Northeast dropped one to two degrees Celsius cooler than present. This was the lowest decline in temperatures since the end of the Late Pleistocene (Campbell and Campbell 1984). These effects were particularly disastrous for many Iroquoian groups located throughout the Northeast occupying territory only marginally suited for aboriginal maize horticulture (Johnson et al 1979). According to Yarnell (1964), at least 120 frost free days are required to support a viable horticultural maize economy. Throughout much of the McFate territorial sphere the growing season seldom exceeded 120 frost free days. This suggests that many groups such as the McFate may have relocated their primary agricultural villages into areas with longer growing seasons and possibly supplemented this activity by year round hunting and gathering forays. Johnson et al. (1979) proposed that the McFate may have adapted to the effects of the Little Ice Age in similar fashion as the Ottawa who were located in a comparable environmental setting in the upper in the Upper Great Lakes region. According to Fitting and Cleland (1969), the Ottawa were semi-sedentary. They lived in agricultural villages which for most of the year were occupied primarily by children, woman and older men who tended to the farming activity. Both male and female hunting parties left the village in the summer while only male groups departed in the winter. These hunting parties traveled no more than 75 to 100 miles from the village. They returned to the comforts of village life with their bounty periodically. Johnson et al. (1979) view the McFate village sites in the French Creek valley as horticultural sites while upland stockades such as the Elk County earthworks represent the hunting base camps. More than likely, these base camps were linked by a system of trails leading to and away from hunting territories.

A series of representative sites possibly linking the two destinations were documented on topographic maps of various scales and reveal the plausibility of the existence of a network of trails.

The McFate were located in an important region from the vantage point of trade. Within the central region of their primary territorial sphere are the headwaters of the Allegheny River (Ohio River), West Branch of the Susquehanna River and the Genesee River. These drainage systems when viewed as trade routes and/or trails link the eastern lower Great Lakes with the Ohio Valley and the Chesapeake Bay. According to Johnson (1993), the Monongahela who were located just south the McFate were apparent middlemen in the Chesapeake Bay-Nuetral whelk shell trade and controlled the beaver pelt trade on the upper Ohio River. According to Wright (1967), trade networks that had formerly been used in the Middle Woodland period were gradually restored during the Late Prehistoric period and the use of these networks continued to grow as a result of the fur trade during the Proto-historic/Historic periods. By the year 1620 as many as five hundred and possibly more than six hundred ships loaded with trade goods had reached New England alone (Wallace 1991). It is conceivable that prior to 1620 the fur trade already involved numerous groups. Although there is no evidence of direct contact between the McFate and European traders, it seems likely that they played an important role in the early stages of the fur trade. According to Matlack (1986) the Bell Site in Clearfield County is associated with trade goods such as copper beads, however, they were likely obtained by trade with native groups. This could account for the appearance of the McFate ceramics at Johnston phase Monongahela villages in southwestern Pennsylvania, Whittelsey sites in Northeastern Ohio, and on other sites located beyond the McFate primary territory.


To observe possible travel routes used by the McFate a data base consisting of rock shelters, open air campsites, and upland stockaded forts was compiled by examining the site files found at the Allegheny National Forest and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History. A sample of sites, located in portions of Cameron, Clearfield, Elk, Forest, Jefferson, McKean and Warren Counties, were plotted on 1/24,000, 1/50,000 and 1/250,000 topographic maps. This permitted local and regional analysis of site locations and their relationship to nearby topography. Trail systems were then formulated by examining the following criteria: the density of sites found in a particular drainage corridor and the direction in which the drainage aligns, the location of a particular site and its relationship to an important topographic feature, and the occurrence of long parallel drainage corridors linked by sites located usually in the headwaters. Often times the newly proposed trails directly linked with previously recorded late prehistoric and historic trails.


1) The trail segments were often linked by a series of key site locations which occurred near important topographic features such as saddles and stream and river confluences. Upon examining the data base, temporary site types such as rock shelters and open air campsites, were often found either in the heads of the low order drainages or near river and stream confluences. Lantz (1969) noticed that rock shelter sites were commonly located in the headwaters of low order drainages. The low order drainages were used as paths of least resistance to cross the many ridges located throughout the Allegheny Plateau. Many long trail segments were linked by sites located on saddles between adjacent corridors. It was proposed that if a rock shelter or other site type occurred on a drainage divide at the head of two twenty-mile drainages then the trail system could extend at least forty miles. River and stream confluences were also popular locations for temporary site types. At these locations the trails would split often requiring a river crossing. Both the headwaters locales and the river and stream confluences may have marked the beginning and end points of a daily journey.

2) Many major trails followed navigable water routes such as the Clarion River and West Branch of the Susquehanna. In the region separating the upper Ohio River and the Susquehanna River many long travel corridors exist that are separated only by narrow ridges. The navigable drainages flow in opposite directions; the Ohio River drains to the southwest and the Susquehanna River drains to the southeast. To travel through this region one of the river systems would have to be walked while the other could be traveled by some form of canoe. Hasentab (1987) has proposed that many sites were located on portage routes between adjacent navigable waterways. A traveler may have walked into the headwaters of one drainage and then crossed a divide into another. After traveling downstream a certain distance, a port of entry may have been reached and the journey could then proceed by water.

3) When the McFate utilized the trail systems a population increase seemed to occur exceeding all previous eras. This can be viewed by looking at various rock shelter sites containing McFate cultural material. In many instances a seemingly poor rock shelter with limited space and a lack of protection from wind and rain had been occupied. These site types were often chosen in spite of being located within a short walk of a large rock shelter or rock shelter complex (i.e., >3 overhangs). It would be logical to assume that the protective and spacious rock shelters would be chosen first over all others if found to be vacant. Groups frequenting the trails during the late prehistoric period must have been large enough to necessitate use of all available rock shelters in a given vicinity. Similarly, size and/or quality of a particular rock shelter did not appear to be indicative of a particular individual’s status. Identical cultural material can be found at both the large and small rock shelters as if site selection was made only on a first come first occupy basis.

4) Several of the stockaded forts that were occupied by McFate groups were located within a short distance of historically recorded paths. It would seem likely that the locations of these particular McFate sites were selected due to their close proximity to a particular trail system. In order to further examine routes outside of the data base sample, previously recorded historic trails located throughout the McFate sphere were investigated. It was surmised that these routes could have also been used by the McFate. George (1974) noted the strong correlation between Historic period Indian paths and the location of Monongahela culture sites in southwestern Pennsylvania. The logical assumption was that the historic trails presumably had prehistoric antecedents (Johnson et al. 1989:3). For example, the McFate site in Crawford County is located near a cross roads of several historically known paths including the Venango Path which linked Erie with Pittsburgh and the Kuskusky Path which ran from Meadville to New Castle. The Quiggle site in Clinton County is located near the Great Shamokin Path which ran east to west linking Sunbury to Kittanning and the Pine Creek Path which linked the Genesee River to the West Branch of the Susquehanna near Jersey Shore. Similarly, the Catawba trail or Iroquois Main Road that linked southern New York with southwestern Pennsylvania and points further south is located only two miles east of the Elk County Earthworks.


Trail System Linking Buckaloons to the West Branch of the Susquehanna (Trail 1)

Trail system one originated at Buckaloons on the Allegheny River west of Warren, Pennsylvania and traveled into the Tionesta Creek and Clarion River drainages and may have ultimately reached the West Branch of the Susquehanna River (see fig. 2). This trail may have tied in with the Presque Isle Portage trail (Wallace 1987:140) that journeyed from Erie south to Fort Le Boeuf (Waterford) located on French Creek and the Brokenstraw Trail that followed along the Brokenstraw Creek to Buckaloons (Wallace 1987:25-26). Another possible route leading to Buckaloons began around the western side of Chautauqua Lake and likely journeyed south along the Little Brokenstraw Creek to Pittsfield before reaching the Brokenstraw Trail. Regardless of the route chosen to reach Buckaloons a rather prolific trail corridor seems to begin just to the south across the Allegheny River and follows the ridge toward the Tionesta Creek. This system seems to directly align with traffic using the Brokenstraw drainage. After following the ridge toward the Tionesta Creek a crossroads of sorts was reached that separated the Tionesta drainage from the Allegheny River. The density of sites including McFate occupied sites became high in that area. This particular trail continued south toward the Tionesta Valley and seemed to expand in width as five north to south corridors received usage.

Large rockshelter associated with the Minister Creek trail system

Traffic followed the Minister Creek, which is an identified trail (see: Minister Creek Trail-Lantz 1969), Fools Creek, Upper Sheriff Run, Lower Sheriff Run and Bobbs Creek south into main stem of the Tionesta Creek. The trail then turned east and journeyed to Lynch where the Bluejay Creek enters the Tionesta Creek. The Bluejay Creek was then followed to its headwaters near Pigeon located on a saddle associated with numerous sites that linked the Tionesta Creek and the Clarion River. To enter the Clarion River, Spring Creek was followed to the main stem of the Clarion River at Hallton. From Hallton, the trail followed the Clarion River to the vicinity of Portland Mills, a location containing several route options which ultimately reach the Susquehanna drainage. The Little Toby Creek, Belmouth Run, Laurel Run and Dog Hollow Run all received heavy McFate movement. By following the Little Toby Creek south, the Chinklacamoose Trail or Great Shamokin Path (Wallace 1987:61,174) could be reached. By following Belmouth, Laurel and Dog Hollow Runs, located in the vicinity of numerous McFate sites including the Split (36EL4) Rock shelter (see: Herbstritt and Love 1975), the trail could reach the base of Boones Mountain. This separates the Clarion drainage from the West Branch of the Susquehanna. From there it joined with the Kersey Road. From the History of Elk County, “ in the year 1810, William Kersey, land agent for the Fox and Norris Company, Massachusetts traveled the Indian Trail across Boones Mountain to erect a gristmill” (Wessman, 1981:303). According to (Wallace 1987:78) this route linked Luthersburg to the head of Elk Creek near Kersey in Elk County. It was apparently an offshoot of the Great Shamokin Path which at approximately 15 miles west of Clearfield journeyed north, crossed over Boones Mountain, and Helen Mills before it turned northeast.

Split Rockshelter (36EL4)

Chautauqua Portage Variant Linking the Upper Allegheny to the West Branch of the Susquehanna (Trail 2)

Trail system two may have been an extension of the Chautauqua Portage trail (Wallace 1987:136) which was a part of a well known travel route that existed between the St. Lawrence and the Ohio River systems. The Chautauqua Portage trail ran nine miles from Barcelona Harbor to Mayville on Chautauqua Lake. From Mayville the trail continued around the lake shore reaching the town of Celeron. It was near this location that the Conewango Creek was then followed south to the Allegheny River (Ohio River) at Warren. This route was used by the French including, De Longueuil in 1739 and Celoron de Blainville in 1749 (Wallace 1987:136,137). At Warren instead of following the Allegheny River into the Ohio country another route may have crossed the Allegheny River near the mouth of Dutchman Run and entered the ancestral Tionesta Creek corridor. Southward, the trail continued through Sheffield and on to Brookston where a trail split occurred. One route followed the south branch of the Tionesta Creek to the Elk County Earthworks, a cluster of four known stockades, constructed by the McFate. The other route followed Bogus Run to its headwaters and reached the Bogus Run (36FO56) Rock shelter, located on a narrow saddle between the Tionesta Creek and the Clarion River.

(36FO56) Bogus Run rockshelter ideally situated on a divide seperating the Upper Allegheny river from the Clarion river and points south

Both routes continued south towards the Clarion River. From the Elk County earthworks the Clarion River was reached via Bear Creek placing the traveler near Portland Mills. From Bogus Run, Spring Creek was likely followed once again reaching the Clarion River at Hallton. The Clarion River was then followed to its mouth via the Little Toby Creek. Following a similar scenario as trail one, this route crossed Boones Mountain divide into the Susquehanna drainage (see fig. 2).

Parrish Rockshelter Complex(36FO42)a/k/a Warrant Rockshelter (36FO106) is one of a number of utilized rockshelters clustered just south of the drainage divide between the Clarion river and Tionesta Creek

Trail systems 1 and 2

Kinzua Creek-Clarion River Portage (Trail 3)

This trail began in the upper Allegheny River and entered the Clarion River near the vicinity of Kane. It began along the Allegheny River which it followed south to the mouth of the Kinzua Creek. It continued south along the Kinzua Creek following a course described by (Wallace 1987:129) as Pigeon Path. This particular trail followed the south branch of the Kinzua Creek toward its headwaters at Kane. From there it crossed the divide and entered the Clarion River drainage near the Seneca spring in East Kane (see fig. 3).

Proposed routes of trails systems 3, 5, 6, 9, and 11

Tionesta Creek (Trail 4)

This trail may have been a short cut from the upper Allegheny River to Franklin. Portions of the trail were described by (Wallace 1987:129) as pigeon path used by Seneca hunting parties while gathering pigeons. It was also popular with the McFate and began in the upper Allegheny River and journeyed south until reaching the Kinzua Creek. Instead of following the Kinzua Creek drainage to the divide at Kane as did trail 3 this route turned west at Dunkles Corners and climbed over Gibbs Hill before entering the Tionesta drainage near Ludlow. At Ludlow the trail continued southwest following along the East Branch of the Tionesta Creek toward Donaldson. From there the main stem of the Tionesta Creek was followed to Tionesta where it joined with the Allegheny River (see fig. 4).

Tunungwant-Clarion River Portage (Trail 5)

This trail may have linked the Niagra Frontier and points in Cattaraugus County, New York with the Clarion River and West Branch of the Susquehanna River. The northern most portion of this trail was known as the Cattaraugus Path which ran from the Buffalo Creek through Cattaraugus to Salamanca where it made connections with several trails including one that journeyed west to Warren (Wallace 1987:33). The proposed trail begins near Riverside Junction south of Salamanca at the mouth of Tunungwant Creek. It continued south to Bradford where a trail split occurred. One route followed the Kendall Creek into its headwaters and passed over the ridge into the Potato Creek of the upper Allegheny River. It continued south eventually climbing over a ridge and into the Driftwood Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek en route to Emporium. The other route continued its southerly course along the Tunungwant Creek eventually reaching the headwaters. From there the divide was crossed separating the Tunungwant from the Kinzua Creeks near Tally Ho. The path then entered the Clarion River drainage near the vicinity of Lantz’s Corners and Mt. Jewett. From there the Clarion River could be traveled south (see fig. 3).

Possible Variant of the Goschgoschink Path (Trail 6)

This trail may have been a variant of the Goschgoschink Path which according to (Wallace 1987:61) ran from West Hickory, through Luthersburg to Clearfield. The proposed route may have been a short cut from the Allegheny River at West Hickory to Brookville and points beyond. This route left West Hickory and crossed the Allegheny River near Endeavor. From there Beaver Run was traveled into the headwaters. The trail climbed over the divide at Whig Hill, entered the Tionesta drainage, and proceeded south toward Kelletville. It then followed the Salmon Creek south to its headwaters located near Marienville and entered the Clarion River drainage. The trail proceeded south following such drainages as the West Branch of the Millstone Creek and Maple Run to reach the Clarion River in the vicinity of Clarington. After crossing the Clarion River the path then proceeded over a divide and into the Redbank Creek drainage. It could then continue south to Sigel and join the Catawba Path or rejoin the Goschgoschink Path at Brookville. Another version of this trail may have began at Tionesta and followed the Coon Creek southeast to Vowinkel and crossed the divide into the Maple Creek before reaching the Clarion River near Clarington (see fig.3).

Proposed routes of trail systems 4, 7, and 10

The East Hickory Trail (Trail 7)

This trail linked the Allegheny River at East Hickory in Forest County with the Allegheny River east of Warren and may have been a shortcut or bypass of Buckaloons and Conewangotown. The trail followed the East Hickory Creek into its headwaters and crossed a divide before entering into the West Branch of the Tionesta Creek (see fig 4). The trail then likely joined the main stem of the Allegheny River near Warren. This trail could also have joined a path called the Browns Run/Kinzua Trail which followed Browns Run east to its headwaters before it traversed the ridge to Jakes Rock (Lantz 1969:1-5).

The Minister Trail (Trail 8)

The Minister Run trail was first reported to Stan Lantz by Paul Yeagle of Warren, Pennsylvania. Portions of this trail are intertwined with the proposed Trail System 1 and Trail System 7. According to Lantz (1982), the Minister trail begins at the Tionesta Creek and journeyed north along the Minister Creek into the headwaters. From there it climbed north over the drainage divide and entered the Farnsworth Branch and West Branch of the Tionesta Creek.

Cornplanter-Venango Trail Variant (Trail 9)

At the town of Tidioute in Warren County a trail system linked the Allegheny River with Titusville on Oil Creek and may have been a variant of the Cornplanter/Venango Trail that linked the upper Allegheny River with the mouth of French Creek near Franklin in Venango County (see Wallace 1987:41). The proposed route left Tidioute and followed the Tidioute Creek and other nearby drainages west and entered into tributaries of Oil Creek. The route extended to Titusville and points to the south (see fig. 3).

The Clarion River Road (Trail 10)

The Clarion River road was well known to McFate groups. Numerous sites occur sporadically throughout the valley from its headwaters in McKean County to its mouth located near Foxburg in Clarion County. A long direct east to west running route existed that could link the West Branch of the Susquehanna River with the Allegheny River via the Clarion River corridor. The trail may have started in Emporium and followed West Creek into its headwaters located near St. Marys. From there it may have entered Elk Creek where the trail became navigable. Elk Creek enters the Clarion River at Ridgway. From here the journey west could continue to the Allegheny River and points along the main stem of the Ohio River (see fig. 4).

Sinnemahoning Path (Trail 11)

This trail system linked the Upper Allegheny River, Genesee River and points in the Susquehanna drainage and is actually part of three known trails. The most northerly route had possible connections north of Olean in Cattaraugus and Allegany Counties, New York. At Olean the Ichsua Path journeyed south to Port Allegheny, Pennsylvania. At Port Allegheny the trail was then called the Sinnemahoning Path which entered the Susquehanna drainage after crossing the ridge at Keating Summit. It proceeded east along the West Branch of the Susquehanna River before ultimately reaching the Great Island at Lock Haven (Wallace 1987:76,155). Early settlers used portions of this route to reach the Driftwood Branch and Bennett’s Branch of the Sinnemahoning Creek (see fig. 3). They followed a route similar to the Forbidden Path (Wallace 1987:46) which journeyed west from Tioga in Bradford County, Pennsylvania, continued across the Genesse River and reached the Allegheny River south of Portville, New York. A description of this route appeared on a handbill printed in 1811 in Burlington, New Jersey advertising 140,000 acres for sale in M’Kean and Clearfield Counties (Hughes 1981:7-9).


Although numerous routes and trails must have existed, this paper discusses only a few of the direct routes used to pass from drainage to drainage. Most of the routes described here were traditionally used over time by groups much older than the McFate. In fact, every tributary seems to have been explored over time regardless of location. Certain tributaries due to there alignment with other drainages had become important travel routes which linked distant locations while others may be viewed as only minor travel routes perhaps associated with local hunting exploits. As other sites are recorded in the future new trails will ultimately be exposed adding to this somewhat fragmented puzzle. Future papers could focus on the relationship between historic trails and significant McFate village sites and base camps in an attempt to further study the relationships between various sites and groups and the concept of cultural diffusion being passed between those groups.


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