Some of the old pioneers buried here led interesting lives, back when Shaver’s Creek Valley was still part of the frontier. Alexander and Ann McCormick, whose daughter Betsey was kidnapped by the Indians, are buried here, as well as Betsey’s brother Alexander Jr. And William Ewing, whose sister Katie was captured with Betsey, is also here. And there may be others who lie in unmarked graves in the middle of the cemetery plot: no marked graves have been found for Thomas and Mary Ewing, Katie’s parents, or for Betsey herself and her husband John Ewing.
The stories that follow are taken from accounts published in various 19th century sources of Huntingdon County history and from a hand-written family history. Discrepancies between the details included in different sources is common when the stories are handed down orally over time and then recounted by different persons. [See RESOLVING THE DISCREPANCIES at the end of this section.]
From U.J. Jones’ History of the Early Settlement of the Juniata Valley, Hoenstine’s 1940 reprint of the original 1856 edition, with additional notes added:
In 1782, Miss Elizabeth [actually Katherine] Ewing and Miss [Elizabeth or Betsey] McCormick were abducted by the Indians, between Shaver’s Creek and Stone Valley. They had been to the former place, and were returning home by a path, when they were surprised by a small band of roving Indians. It was late in October, at a time when no suspicion was entertained that the Indians would ever again enter the valley. None had been seen or heard of for months, and all the alarms and fears of savages had subsided; hence their absence was little thought of until they had been several days gone. It was deemed entirely too late to send a force to recapture them.
When captured, they had some bread with them, which they scattered along the path they took. The wily savages detected the stratagem, and took the bread from them. They next broke the bushes along the path; but the Indians saw the object of this, too, and compelled them to desist. They then traveled for seven days, through sleet, rain, and snow, until they reached the lake, where Miss McCormick was given as a present to an old Indian woman who happened to take a fancy to her.
Miss Ewing was taken to Montreal, where fortunately for her, an exchange of prisoners took place soon after, and she was sent to Philadelphia, and from thence made her way home. From her, Mr. McCormick learned the fate of his daughter — her communication being the first word of intelligence he had received concerning her. He soon made arrangements to go after her. The journey was a long one, especially by the route he proposed to take, — by way of Philadelphia and New York; nevertheless, the love he bore his daughter prompted him to undertake it cheerfully.
After many days’ traveling he arrived at the place where Miss Ewing and Miss McCormick parted; but, alas! It was only to realize painfully the restless and migratory character of the Indians, who had abandoned the settlement and gone into the interior of Canada. Again he journeyed on, until he finally reached the place where the tribe was located, and found his daughter in an Indian family, treated as one of the family, and subject to no more menial employment than Indian women generally. The meeting of father and daughter, which neither expected, must have been an affecting one — a scene that may strike the imagination more vividly than pen can depict it.
Mr. McCormick made immediate arrangements to take his daughter with him; but, to his surprise, the Indians objected. Alone, and as it were, in their power, he was at a loss what course to pursue, when he bethought himself of the power of money. That was the proper chord to touch; but the ransom-money asked was exorbitantly large. The matter was finally compromised by Mr. McCormick paying nearly all the money in his possession, retaining barely enough to defray their expenses; after which, they went on their way rejoicing, and, after a weary journey, reached their home in safety.
Page 440 [This account by William Ewing was originally published in Collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Vol. 1 No. 6, Nov. 1853.]
William Ewing, aged 80 years, related to Judge Adams on June 23, 1845: “That on the 14th of October 1781, the Indians took my sister a prisoner and a daughter of Mr. McCormick and attacked my brother Alexander on the road near our house by three Indians. Two of whom shot at him and wounded him in his thigh and raised the war whoop and shouted as if a dozen or more were present and chased him into our lane and two more shot at him but missed him. My brother James ran out with his gun when we heard the first shots and saw the Indians chasing his brother, but did not think of shooting until the Indians were gone. My brother Alexander was wounded through the front part of the thigh in front of the groin, which was healed in a few weeks. This was about the time Lord Cornwallis was taken by General Washington [October 19, 1781] — and shortly after all fear of the Indians or the war subsided, and the settlers looked forward with confidence to the end of their troubles. Mr. Ewing pointed to the ground where his brother was attacked by the Indians also where the girls were taken prisoner.”
From Collections of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania, page 417. The following paragraph precedes the part of Ewing’s account that appears above:
My father removed to this county [Huntingdon] before the Revolutionary War. Found the country a wilderness, with M’Cormicks, Williams, Rickets, Dewits and M’Alwys [McAlevys], were all the families who resided in the neighborhood at that time. And that there were no roads; had to pack on horses or carry on our backs everything into the country; trails were made through the woods by blazing the trees that a horse and pack could barely get through. That he recollects well when the war broke out and the country was thrown in great alarm and fear. That he recollects the massacre of Donnellys at Lime Kiln Hollow [Jones 171-173], and the killing of M’lew [McClees] and a woman near M’Alwy’s [Jones 257-59]. That stockade forts were put up at M’Alwy’s, Ricket’s, M’Cormick’s and Anderson’s, and numerous other murders by the Indians through the war upon the citizens of our country.
From J. S. Africa’s History of Huntingdon and Blair Counties, 1883:
In the distressing times which followed the breaking out of the war for independence settlers [of Shaver’s Creek Valley] found protection in a stockade fort which was built on the farm of Alexander McCormick, where is now the hamlet of Neff’s Mills. The fort was located there no doubt on account of its being a central locality, and because of the prominence of Mr. McCormick. It does not appear that the fort was ever attacked, but its presence doubtless served to prevent an Indian incursion into this part of the valley, as the only depredation committed by the savages was the abduction of Mary [actually Elizabeth] McCormick, a daughter of Alexander, and Katie Ewing, a daughter of Thomas Ewing, who lived about two miles northwest from McCormick’s.
This happened in the latter part of October, 1782, at a time when no Indians were supposed to be about. It appears that Mary McCormick had been to her neighbor Ewing’s, and was returning home accompanied by Alexander Ewing, at that time a young man not yet out of his teens. When about midway between the two homes they saw a party of Indians on their way from the Warrior’s Ridge path to Tussey’s Mountain. The Indians fired several shots at young Ewing, one of which hit him in the calf of his leg, but as the force of the ball had been spent on a pile of rails near which he stood, it did not disable him so much that he could not elude his pursuers and reach his home in safety.
Miss McCormick was less fortunate. She was captured by the Indians and carried toward the mountain. On their way they also captured Katie Ewing, who had taken alarm when her brother reached his home, and against the advice of the family had started for McCormick’s Fort, meeting the Indians on the way. The two captive girls rightly conjectured that their friends would follow their trail in their efforts to recover them, and attempted to afford them a clue by breaking off some bushes as they passed along, but the Indians suspecting their purpose caused them to desist under penalty of death. As night soon came on, the trail of the Indians was lost, and although they camped but a short distance from the scene of the capture, the whites failed to discover them, and the next day they succeeded in getting out of the valley, and although diligent search was continued many days, no trace of the direction they had taken could be found.
After traveling more than a week through rain and snow they reached Lake Erie, where was a village of Indians. At this place Mary McCormick was given in charge of an old squaw, who had taken a great fancy for her, and she and Katie Ewing were separated, the latter being taken to Montreal, where she was soon after exchanged and sent to Philadelphia, and from that place proceeded to her home, which she reached after a number of months.
From her Mr. McCormick learned the fate of his daughter, and determined to go for her. He succeeded in reaching the place where Miss Ewing had left her, to find that the Indian family in which his daughter lived had gone into the interior of Canada. He followed, and after many weary days found his child, who had adopted the manners of the Indians, and was living as they did generally. The meeting between father and daughter was most affecting, but when he proposed that she should accompany him home the Indians refused to let her go before he had paid them a handsome ransom. He gave them nearly all the money he had, and after a long and tiresome journey both reached their home safe, but it was a number of years before Miss McCormick could overcome some of the wild habits which she had acquired while living among the Indians.
From a “Ewing Family History” compiled by Henrietta Ewing for Mary Lou Ewing Meng of Pontiac, Illinois:
Capture of Katie Ewing and Betsey McCormick by the Indians
There is a little difference in the story of this incident as told by historians and that told by family. The Ewing story follows. [This is Henrietta’s acknowledgement of the varying details in different accounts of the incident.]
Betsey McCormick, from Mr. McCormick’s Mill (now called Neff’s Mills) went to the Thomas Ewing home (now the Shoemaker Farm) to borrow a loaf of bread. When she started home with the bread, Katie Ewing and her brother Alexander accompanied her a little way, the two girls walking ahead. The Indians surprised the girls, and Alexander ran back to the house for a gun. The Indians shot him in the leg and made off with the girls up Tussey Mountain and spent the night at “Indian Steps.”
The girls tried to drop little pieces of the bread, but were noticed by the Indians. They then tried dropping pieces from their clothing, but were again stopped. The Indians traveled 5 days till they reached Lake Erie where Betsey McCormick was given to an old squaw who took a fancy to her. The Indians with Katie Ewing traveled the St. Lawrence to Montreal, Canada.
In Spring, the Indians made sugar from the maple sap, and the Indian children (Katie with them) were sent with buckets to collect the sap. When they came near a ferry, where the Indians sometimes crossed the river to trade, Katie threw the bucket away and running to the ferry man asked him to take her across to the white people.
At the close of the Revolution, the Americans held by the British as prisoners in Montreal were exchanged for British soldiers held as prisoners in Philadelphia. Katie was among the prisoners exchanged and was sent home to McCormick’s Fort, which was on the farm now owned by Carl Cummins and was built by lumber furnished by the father of Betsey.
Katie Ewing gave Mr. McCormick the first word he had of his daughter, and he started on horseback to find Betsey, but his saddlebags were robbed and he had to come back for more money and start again. When he came to Lake Erie, the tribe who had Betsey had moved on into the interior of Canada. At last he found her among the Indians, being treated as all Indian children were. The Indians did not want to let her go, but after much persuasion and almost all the money he had, they allowed her to go with him. They arrived home safely.
Betsey later married a brother of Katie [John], and they lived in West Township.
RESOLVING THE DISCREPANCIES
Jones’ version of the kidnapping story begins by getting both the girls’ first names wrong, which raises some red flags concerning its accuracy. Then the idea that the girls were missing several days before their absence was noticed would seem highly unlikely, even if it were not contradicted by Africa’s version which introduces Katie’s brother Alexander into the story. That version of the story is corroborated by William Ewing’s account, given in 1845 when he was 80 years old.
Stories like this one, which are recounted again and again through the years, tend to retain certain details (even particular wording) from earlier versions, while omitting others, and at the same time adding new elements, either from memory (as in William’s case) or simply fabricated to “improve” the tale.
William Ewing’s account is interesting for his emphasis on his brothers’ actions, rather than on the kidnapped girls. He comments at length on Alexander’s wound and recovery, and on James’s prompt response to hearing shots fired and then forgetting to fire his gun until too late. He also fixes the time of the attack by association with Cornwallis’s surrender to General Washington, which occurred in October of 1781, not 1782 as both Jones’ and Africa’s versions assert.
Jones’ account of the route Alexander McCormick traveled to find his daughter and bring her home is thrown into doubt by the remainder of the story, which has McCormick arriving at the place where the girls parted — somewhere near Lake Erie — and then going further into the interior of Canada. The Indians had certainly followed a path to reach that area, and McCormick would have more than doubled the distance he traveled if he had gone by way of Philadelphia and New York, rather than following the Indian path. If he were headed for Montreal, travel by way of Philadelphia and New York would make sense. But to reach Lake Erie from Central Pennsylvania, in a time of difficult travel, one would hardly choose to go 200 miles east and then north.
The “true” story can never be known. The only eye-witness whose account is recorded was William, who told what he remembered 65 years after the event. There is no recording of the event in the McCormick family Bible, but it is the source for the information on Elizabeth, or Betsey’s, name. Alexander McCormick’s daughters were Sarah, Ann, and Elizabeth, so Africa’s account is wrong in calling her Mary. The Ewing Family History account calls her Betsey, and the story as told by descendants of Alexander McCormick also says it was Betsey who was kidnapped. Thomas Ewing’s will, as well as other sources, confirms that he had a daughter, Kathrine (as it’s spelled in that source).
Elizabeth McCormick married John Ewing September 11, 1787 (Africa, p. 56), and Katie Ewing married James Huston of Centre County. Elizabeth and John’s graves have not been found. Katie and James Huston are buried in a tiny family cemetery in Potter Township, Centre County. Katie’s stone records her age at death in years, months, and days, making it possible to calculate that she was born about August 29, 1767. She would have been 14 years old, and Betsey, born February 16, 1770 (according to the family Bible), would have been 11 when they were kidnapped.
Persons who know of additional sources of this kidnapping story are asked to post that information in the FORUM on this website. Other stories concerning persons buried in Ewing Cemetery are welcome for inclusion in this section of the website. Please post them to the FORUM.