You Don’t Know Logstown

Do you know Logstown?

Probably not.

If you heard of it,  it’s been in romanticized terms. It’s usually said to be an important Indian village downriver from Pittsburgh, in the waning days of the noble red man’s preeminence here.

Come with me. We’ll see what it really was.



Joining us will be George Washington, Meriwether Lewis (of Lewis&Clark) and Charles Dickens. George, not yet President, will even sort through and expose “fake news.”

A knowledgeable Shawnee of our time will tell us what he knows of the place.

You’ll see the first U.S. basic training camp rise from the abandoned Indian site. Its main purpose? To train Pittsburghers how to kill Indians in an organized fashion.

A renowned religious sect then takes over the land. Its followers expect Jesus to show up there. They wait 80 years. He doesn’t, and he hasn’t yet. So, we have time to explore.

It appears Logstown could be viewed less as a quaint Indian village and more as a company town, the first in a series to sprout and whither over two centuries in that part of the Ohio River Valley.

As we look back, the first thing we have to do is dismiss some sage advice about forests. They say you may miss a forest if you’re looking at the trees. No matter. We intend to look at them.

The first one is a doozy.

We find it mentioned in a diary of a Jesuit priest, Father Joseph-Pierre de Bonnecamps. The length of French names are a bother, so we’ll call him Father Joe. He accompanied soldiers from New France (Canada) to Logstown. We’re talking 1749.

“We dined in a hollow cotton wood tree, in which 29 men could be ranged side by side.”

Sounds like something from “The Hobbit” or “Harry Potter.”

It is understood to mean Father Joe’s dinner mates sat in a circle, shoulder to shoulder. Average male width today is 18 inches. If it was similar then, the inside circumference of the tree was at least 43.5 feet, making the diameter inside about 14 feet.

Add several additional feet if you want elbow room, and a few more if left-handed people are seated at the table.


This painting by Robert Griffing is inspired by Father Joe’s report of an outsized hollow tree at Logstown. The big birchbark canoes in foreground were floated and carried down from Canada. Such big sheets of bark, light and flexible, were not available in Pennsylvania. Indians here tended to stash their heavy dugout canoes rather than try to carry them. With few navigable streams going east and west, they did a lot of walking.


Do you think Father Joe may have had hallucinogenic mushrooms at dinner?

Well, people who scour the nation’s woods find similar-sized sycamores even today. No hollow ones are near that size, though. You better pack a tent.

By the way, Father Joe was a priest not a tree expert, and he was from Canada, so he was wrong about it being a cottonwood. They are not native to this area. It probably was a sycamore.

I should explain what the French were doing along the Ohio River.

The French-Indian Connection

For nearly 200 years, French companies had been giving guns, metal pans and knives, glass beads and manufactured clothing goods to Indians in exchange for furs.  Europeans couldn’t get enough furs. Their own wild animals were long gone. Indians became as dependent on the fur industry as steelworkers later became on the steel industry.

A beaver felt hat.

The furs usually were processed into felts. Most of us would not recognize them as having animal origins. A century later,  but still a good example, is Abe Lincoln’s hat. It was beaver felt; durable and very waterproof.

Tamaqua, a Delaware leader, as represented at Fort Pitt Museum. Notice his ruffled shirt. Everything he wore was manufactured in Europe or Asia — except his moccasins.

So, while Europeans were jauntily wearing animal skins, Indian men here were wearing ruffled shirts. They loved them. They were all about visual display. You can see that at the Fort Pitt Museum.

And, reminiscent of today’s opioid crisis, many, many Indians were laid low by addiction to white man’s rum.

It all was happening at trading posts. They were licensed to operate where significant Indian trails met in the wilderness.

The territory France claimed for its traders extended between Montreal and New Orleans, and well west. The British hadn’t ventured far from the Eastern Seaboard — until now.

Logstown as Company Town

Now, what about Logstown?

Historical evidence indicates it was set  up by the French as a mutual convenience for fur gatherers and fur exporters.

If you go there today, you will find the remains of a steel company town, Ambridge, built by American Bridge Co.

Jeremy Turner, a Shawnee researcher from Indiana, says his tribe came to the site in the 1730s, erecting native-type wigwams on the lower shelf along the river bank. Delaware Indians came about the same time.

Both tribes were essentially refugees, and they depended on fur traders to survive.

English-speaking settlers had pushed them west. Hunting grounds were getting sparse. And, some tribes sought to put distance between themselves and the dominant Iroquois Confederation based in New York. They soon found themselves having to choose between the English and French.

The name Iroquois is French, but no one is quite sure where it came from. A French scholar in the 18th Century suggested those Indians ended each address saying something similar to “Iroquois”, meaning “I have spoken.”

The English just called them the Five Nations.

It could be they rarely heard Indians finish their speeches. George Washington complains in his journals of the tedium of listening to Indians speak at conferences.

There are about 125,000 registered Iroquois in North America today. They prefer the name Haudenosaunee, which means people of the longhouses.

They include: Seneca, Oneida, Mohawk, Cayuga and Onandaga. It’s thought they’d been together for 600 years before Logstown was built. A sixth nation with ancient Iroquois roots, the Tusacarora, joined in the 1740s.  Settlers had forced  them north out of the Carolinas.

A few Seneca leaders were at Logstown to keep watch over things. They leaned toward the English.

Wigwam of the type used in the Eastern Woodlands. If your children never leave, if your parents move in and bring cousins and aunts, and your brothers and sisters, then you keep adding to the back. Before you know it, you’re living in a longhouse.

Indian Name Calling

It is not unusual for people of various tribes to live together in one village. A single tribe, however, would dominate.  Its ceremonies and traditions guided group activity.

Confused by all the tribe names? You should be. Now, lets add to the confusion.

The Iroquois in this area were known as Mingos.

Eh . . . why?

Well, it reflected what other tribes thought of them. And, it wasn’t good.

The name is considered a corruption of mengwe, which means “stealthy” or “treacherous.” They were not trusted.

A white trader may well have seen a new face at the trading post and asked a Delaware or Shawnee the newcomer’s tribe.

“Oh, he’s Mingo.”

From then on, that Indian and his tribe are called Mingos by whites. Language being what it is, it never gets corrected.

Many tribe names come down to us that way. They could be insulting, or maybe just an Indian joke on a white settler.

Adirondack, for instance, means “bark eater.”

The Algonquins didn’t call themselves that. That was what their neighbors, the Mohawk, called them.

It probably was intended to be disrespectful, but white settlers didn’t know any better. Maybe Mohawk snickered everytime they heard white people say it.

Three centuries later, the joke continues as we lean back and relax in Adirondack (bark-eating) chairs. Oh well.

There is a bit of circular justice in this, though.

The Delaware and Shawnee, who gave local Iroquois the name Mingo (treacherous), are part of the large Algonquin family of tribes . That’s the same family that Mohawks (Iroquois) earlier called Adirondacks (bark eaters).

I told you I would add to the confusion. Let’s move on.

A satellite view of where Logstown sat. The blue marker at lower right indicates where Legionville, a basic training camp for Indian fighters, was developed atop the abandoned village.

You Say Chinique and I Say Shenango

Remember, Indians had no written language. All the so-called Indian words that are part of our geography (think Monongahela, Allegheny, Ohio, etc.) are all English or French phonetic spellings of what traders or settlers thought the Indians were saying. And, they were largely illiterate. Even among well-educated, there was no standardization of spelling yet.

Turner says Indians called Logstown Chiningue (French spelling) or Shenango (English spelling). It is said to mean “beautiful one.” However, it seems too many Indian place names mean that, so I’m dubious.

There is a Shenango Township only 30 miles away, but it was named 60 years later by whites. Settlers tended to “respect” and romanticize Indian names even as they wiped out the people.

Logstown had a lower town and an upper town on the north/west side of the river, where Ambridge is today. It also had a cornfield on the other side of the river in today’s Aliquippa.

“Then about 1747, the French built about 30 log homes for the Indians in the upper town. . . This is when the town became known as Logstown ” Turner says.

But, don’t be thinking log cabins. At least not Lincoln Logs.

Turner says the French way of making log homes was to stand the logs on end, sticking posts in the ground.  They were vertical log cabins.

In fact, the last such structures remaining in America were just made a part of the National Park system. You can see them at Ste. Genevieve, a small town south of St. Louis. Somehow, houses from the same era as Logstown survive.

An example of a vertical log cabin, the Bolduc House, at Ste. Genevieve, MO, part of a new National Park.

World Powers Needed Indians

As France and England jockeyed for dominance around the world, each needed American Indians on their side. It would determine who got North America.

Logstown became the place where such things were negotiated with Indians.

They needed continued access to European goods and decent prices for their furs.

The French companies wanted furs, but their supply of goods was limited by British naval blockades. Angry Indians even killed French traders  for having too little and charging too much. The English had plenty of stuff, but they wanted land far more than furs. We know how that turned out.

There may well be a second reason for the name Logstown.

We’ll get into that in the next post as we go downriver with Charles Dickens and Conotocaurious.

No, Conotocaurious is not a river-dwelling dinosaur. It is an Iroquois name for a man meaning “devourer of villages.” We’ll see what happens when he shows up at Logstown.

Any thoughts on Logstown as a company town? Did I miss something? Please, contribute your thoughts in the comment section below.

Next: Logstown Part 2

Originally posted 2018-05-15 15:21:05. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Pitt, Why the Hogwarts-Like Cathedral?

Just Ask

Why did Pitt decide to build a high-rise to house itself? At the time it was built, I would guess it might have been relatively easy to spread out with lower buildings instead. I’m not aware of any other similar high-rise universities. Was high-rise a fad? — Wayne Narr, Houston


The Answer

There are four main reasons why a towering Hogwarts-like Cathedral of Learning is in Oakland to astonish the eye.

  • Oakland was already running out of room in the 1920s.
  • A tenacious visionary came from Davenport, Iowa.
  • Pitt was fully private then. It had no accountability to taxpayers and the people they elect.
  • Wealthy families contributed millions to make it happen. They overcame faculty opposition, the Great Depression and technical difficulties of blending Gothic architecture with a modern skyscraper.
Young people who grew up associating education with Harry Potter's Hogwarts are drawn to the vaulted confines of the Cathedral of Learning. Public tour information is available here.

Young people who grew up associating education with Harry Potter’s Hogwarts are drawn to the vaulted confines of the Cathedral of Learning. Public tour information is available here.

It took 11 years to build. What did we get for their efforts?

Well, we got a quirky skyscraper comfortably standing amid every city planner’s dream: greenspace.

After 90 years, the 535-foot tower is still the tallest education building in the Western Hemisphere. Granted, few have wanted to take higher learning so literally.

John Bowman did.

He was chancellor in 1921, having just come from the University of Iowa.


John Bowman

Pitt was already 137 years old. It was following an ambitious 1907 plan for a 42-acre campus on the side of Herron Hill.

But,  it had built only five relatively modest, classic Greek-style buildings. That architect envisioned underground escalators that would get students up and down the steep slope.

Bowman, remember, was from Iowa. A hillside campus did not appeal to him. Even if it would look like Greek temples perched between escalators.

It was right after World War I and enrollment skyrocketed. Temporary wooden buildings were set up.

Bowman looked down from Herron Hill and  imagined a single Gothic tower rising from a flat, 14-acre area known as Frick Acres.

It wasn’t exactly empty. It included nice homes, gardens, and tennis courts.

Frick Acres before it was cleared to make way for the Cathedral of Learning

Frick Acres before it was cleared to make way for the Cathedral of Learning

But, Bowman got help. Andrew and Richard Mellon liked the idea. That made other important people like it. Frick Acres  residents did not go willingly, but they could not stop “progress.” The Mellons bought the land and gave it to the university.

Pitt, with institutional grandeur, attributes the following statement to Bowman:

“The building was to be more than a schoolhouse; it was to be a symbol of the life that Pittsburgh through the years had wanted to live. It was to make visible something of the spirit that was in the hearts of pioneers as, long ago, they sat in their log cabins and thought by candlelight of the great city that would sometime spread out beyond their three rivers and that even they were starting to build.”

Blah, blah . . . Yeah, he was a romantic. And, a marketer.

A far more believable quote is attributed to Frank Lloyd Wright, the famed architect whose work is as far removed from a Gothic tower as one can get.

“It is the largest ‘Keep Off the Grass’ sign I have ever seen,” he grumbled.

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Originally posted 2016-02-03 00:12:02. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

Pittsburgh’s Worst Flood Ever? See What That Really Means

The following film clips preserve flickers of a disaster that is fading from memory.

Few of today’s Pittsburghers and Johnstowners were around in 1936 when  much of the Mid Atlantic region flooded like never before or since.

It was March, after a particularly cold and snowy winter.

Heavy rain combined with melting snow and ice to make what became known as the St. Patrick’s Day Flood. It actually occurred over two or three days.

The flood was in the midst of the Great Depression. Petitions for projects to control and slow the amount of water flowing toward Pittsburgh went unheeded by a cash-strapped Congress for years — until after the disaster.

Actually, it wasn’t until after it happened again to a lesser extent in 1937.

Even then, floodgates of money didn’t open wide. Enough funding trickled through in the 1940s and 1950s to build dams, locks and other projects on tributaries to the Monongahela and Allegheny rivers.

Several small upriver towns disappeared from the map after they were sacrificed for Pittsburgh. High water is stored where they once stood.

Extensive river flooding has not occurred since, making these flood films all the more stark to modern Pittsburgh eyes.



Cleaning Up

Flood Control


A few notes:

  • The first 1936 newsreel estimates damage at $25 million in Pittsburgh. It was actually $250 million, or the equivalent of $4.3 billion today. It is said 100,000 structures were destroyed.
  • The danger of typhoid was real, but no cases developed. A boil-water advisory may have prevented an outbreak.
  • The final death figure was estimated at 69 in Pittsburgh. More than 500 were injured.
  • Electricity was out for eight days. It was quite cold, but most homes were heated by coal furnaces that did not use electric blowers, so houses had heat — if they weren’t flooded.

Originally posted 2016-05-18 11:12:57. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

How Pittsburgh ‘Saved’ the Whales, For a While

Whale oil lamp

[/media-credit] Whale oil lamp

Before Oil Came From the Ground

Most of us are dimly aware (no pun intended) that before electric lights, but after candles, the civilized world got around at night with oil lamps.

Few of us know that initially most of that oil came from harpooned whales whose blubber had been boiled.

So, it was a great relief to the whale population when someone in Pittsburgh turned light-bearing people away from whales, and toward  the foamy sludge bubbling up around salt wells.

It seems incredible now, but then our forefathers and foremothers didn’t see any  value in the petroleum oozing out of the ground.

Samuel M. Kier was different. He was a visionary who historians call the Grandfather of the American Oil industry.

But, hold off, he wasn’t an historic visionary right away.

His  first vision was to use crude oil to cure all health ailments. For a price.


So-called patent medicines (they were neither patented nor regulated in any way) were in their prime in 1848.  That’s when Kier discovered the petroleum that Mother Nature spewed forth onto his shoes could perform amazing wonders.

Just drink it, or apply it to the affected areas, and the lame could walk, the blind could see. It also was a good lubricant.

Suffering from’s the King’s Evil? It’ll take care of that, too.

Oh, you don’t know if you have King’s Evil or not?

Well, it’s tuberculosis. Millions had it then.

Maybe that’s why it had so many names. Consumption was one. People wasted away as it consumed them.

Ignorant, superstitious victims used to think they could be cured by a monarch touching them, or by touching a coin that the monarch touched. It was proof to them that God ordained the king to be king.

Well, they didn’t know about Kier’s Genuine Petroleum.

Actually, Kier’s wife, Nancy, had a lot to do with him bottling the remedy. She was suffering from the King’s Evil, and her doctor prescribed a medicinal oil from Kentucky that looked and smelled familiar.

Kier had it analyzed.  It was identical to the stuff contaminating his salt works.


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Originally posted 2015-11-24 23:06:29. Republished by Blog Post Promoter


When Racism Greeted

A Black Musical Genius

In Pittsburgh



Perhaps the most significant black artist ever to perform in Pittsburgh was pelted with stones, rotten eggs and curses of “Nigger!”

You haven’t heard of this?

Well, community shame tends to have a short shelf life. And, it did happen a long time ago.

It was May 16, 1843. The protagonist of this story was the most important name in American music you never heard of: Francis (Frank) Johnson.

People who know the evolution of American music know about him.

Johnson, we’re told, had uncanny skills with a new instrument — the keyed bugle. That was a bugle with keys like a flute. Later, valves replaced the keys, leading to the cornet and trumpet.

A keyed silver bugle like the one Frank Johnson used to delight audiences.

He also was a whiz on violin. He combined those skills with genius-level composition talents. That fueled a cultural force that started the Brass Band Era.

Frankly, I’m not a fan of brass bands and marches, but for a long time, it was THE  music of America; roughly between the mid 1800s and early part of the 20th Century.

A Divided Nation

Johnson, probably born in Philadelphia, was a free black traveling a divided nation. Much of it kept imported Africans and their offspring as slaves.

In nonslave states and territories, free blacks were seen by poor native-born whites and Irish immigrants as taking jobs away from them.

Then, as now, America was quite polarized. People had points they wanted to make to the stupid people on the other side.

There were those who thought slavery was wrong. Often, the same people favored restrictions on alcohol, and thought women should be allowed to vote.

Others — probably more — thought women could not vote responsibly, alcohol was a daily staple that should not be taken from free men, and black slaves were personal property that no American should have to give up to do-gooders.

It was into that rift that Frank Johnson and his bands played.

Not that he didn’t escape occasionally. Before coming to Pittsburgh, Johnson achieved great fame when he played for an 18-year-old woman in London.

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Originally posted 2017-05-16 00:52:15. Republished by Blog Post Promoter

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