Vale Of Wyoming
( Originally Published 1900 )
The railroads cross the height of land between the sources of the Lehigh and the affluents of the Susquehanna, through the Sugar Notch, at about eighteen hundred feet elevation. When the train moves out to the western verge of Nescopec Mountain there suddenly bursts upon the gladdened sight the finest scenic view in Pennsylvania—over the fair Vale of Wyoming, with all its gorgeous beauties of towns and villages, forests and farms, under the bright sunlight, and having laid across it the distant silver streak of the glinting Susquehanna River, all spread out in a magnificent picture seen from an elevation of twelve hundred feet above the river level. For nearly twenty miles the Susquehanna can be traced through the long, trough-like valley, from where it breaks in through the Lackawannock Gap in the North Mountain, under Campbell's Ledge, far to the northward, away down south to where it passes out the narrow gorge at Nanticoke Gap. The long ridges of the Nescopec and Moosic Mountains enclose the valley on one side, and over on the other are the great North Mountain or Shawnee range, and the higher ridge of the main Allegheny range behind. In the distant northeast the view is prolonged up the Lackawanna Valley. In this splendid Wyoming Vale, spread out like a map, is a landscape of rich agriculture, dotted over with towns and villages, coal-breakers and huge culm-piles, the long snake-like streaks of railways crossing the scene bearing their little puffing engines. It looks much like what one sees out of a balloon. Here is the village of Nanti-coke, then Plymouth, then the spreading city of Wilkesbarre, and, far beyond, the foliage-hidden houses of Pittston, near the gorge where the river flows in. Between them all are clusters of villages and black coal heaps, with myriads of the little green and brown fields, making distant farms. The river reaches sparkle in the light as the long shadows are cast from the mountains, and the train runs rapidly down the mountain side and across the valley to its chief city, Wilkesbarre.
When the broad and shallow and rock-strewn river Susquehanna, on its way down from Otsego Lake in New York to the Chesapeake, breaks through the North Mountain, its valley expands to three or four miles in width, making a fertile region between the high enclosing ridges which the Indians called Maughwauwama, or the " extensive flat plains." This sonorous name underwent many changes, finally becoming known as Wyoming. Luzerne County is the lower and Lackawanna County the upper portion of this noted valley, which is the greatest anthracite coal-field in the world. These Wyoming coal measures underlie seventy-seven square miles, having veins averaging eighty feet in thickness, and about eighty thousand tons to the acre, the aggregate de-posit of coal being estimated to exceed two thousand millions of tons. The large population and enormous production have caused all the railways to send in branches to tap its lucrative traffic, so that it is the best-served region in Pennsylvania. It has two large cities—Wilkesbarre, in Luzerne, and Scranton, in Lackawanna. Wilkesbarre is on the eastern Susquehanna river bank, a town of forty thousand people, named after the two English champions of American Colonial rights. It covers much surface in the centre of the valley, with suburbs spreading far up the mountain sides. But from almost every point of view in the city the outlook is over black culm-heaps or coalbreakers or at rows of coal cars, so that there is a monotony in the steady reminder of the source of their riches, the omnipresent anthracite. About twelve miles northwest of Wilkesbarre, up in the North Mountain range, is the largest lake in Pennsylvania—Harvey's Lake—elevated nearly thirteen hundred feet and covering about two square miles. It is named after one of the early pioneers from Connecticut, and its outflow comes down to the Susquehanna near Nanticoke Gap. Its pleasant shores are a favorite resort of the Wilkesbarre people. The flourishing city of Scranton is about nineteen miles north of Wilkesbarre, in the Lackawanna Valley. It has grown to a population of a hundred thou. sand people, and is picturesquely situated among the coal mines, with a higher elevation than Wilkesbarre, being nearly eleven hundred feet above tide, at the confluence of the Roaring Brook with the Lackawanna River; and it has extensive iron industries, being the chief city of northeastern Pennsylvania. The Wyoming and Lackawanna coal pits, while the greatest anthracite producers, are not generally so deep as those of the Lehigh or Schuylkill regions. The deepest Pennsylvania shaft goes down seventeen hundred feet near Pottsville. Some of the Wyoming galleries run a mile and a half underground from the shaft, following the coal veins underneath and far beyond the Susquehanna.
This noted Wyoming Vale, in the early history of the Pennsylvania frontier, was bought from the Iroquois Indians, the "Six Nations," by an association of pioneer settlers from Connecticut. Good management, due largely to the judicious methods of the . early missionaries, kept them at peace with the Indians. Count Zinzendorf, with a companion, came up from Bethlehem in 1742, before the Connecticut purchase, and founded a Moravian mission among the Shawnees in the valley. It is said that they were suspicious of European rapacity and plotted his assassination, and the historian relates that the Count was alone in his tent, reclining upon a bundle of dry weeds, destined for his bed, and engaged in writing or in devout meditation, when the assassins crept stealthily up. A blanket-curtain formed the door, and, gently raising the corner, the Indians had a full view of the patriarch, with the calmness of a saint upon his benignant features. They were struck with awe. But this was not all. The night was cool, and he had kindled a small fire. The historian continues : " Warmed by the flame, a large rattlesnake had crept from its covert, and, approaching the fire for its greater enjoyment, glided harmlessly over one of the legs of the holy man, whose thoughts at the moment were not occupied upon the grovelling things of earth. He perceived not the serpent, but the Indians, with breathless attention, had observed the whole movement of the poisonous reptile; and as they gazed upon the aspect and attitude of the Count, their enmity was immediately changed to reverence; and in the belief that their intended victim enjoyed the special protection of the Great Spirit, they desisted from their bloody purpose and retired. Thenceforward the Count was regarded by the Indians with the most profound veneration."
When the Revolution came, the settlement was a thriving agricultural colony of about two thousand people, scattered over the valley, with a village on the river shore just above the present site of Wilkes-barre. In June, 1778, a force of British troops, Tories and Indians entered the valley and attacked them, and on July 3d the terrible Wyoming massacre followed, in which the British officers were unable to set any bounds to the atrocious butchery by their savage allies, who killed about three hundred men, women and children. The poet Campbell has painted the previous pastoral scene of happiness and content in " Gertrude of Wyoming," and told the tale of atrocity perpetrated by the savages, which is one of the most horrible tragedies of that great war. This poem tells of
"A stoic of the woods—a man without a tear."
Beside the river below Pittston and near the village of Wyoming, having the great North Mountain for a background, was Fort Forty, the scene of the chief atrocities of the massacre, the site being now marked by a granite obelisk. Here is the burial-place of the remains of the slaughtered. " Queen Esther's Rock" is pointed out, where the half-breed Queen of the Senecas, to avenge the death of her son, is said to have herself tomahawked fourteen de-fenceless prisoners. Most of the survivors fled after this horror, and they did not return to the valley until long after peace was restored, when the infant settlement was renewed in the founding of Wilkesbarre. Far up on the side of the grand peak guarding the northern portal of the Lackawannock Gap is the broad shelf of rock which embalms in " Campbell's Ledge" the memory of the great English poet who has so graphically told the harrowing tale.