Thursday, January 5, 2017

Catfish January 5, 2017

Copyright © 2017       John F. Oyler

January 5, 2017


Veteran readers of this column are aware of my fascination with Catfish Path, the ancient Indian trail from what is today Washington, Pa., to the Ohio River, roughly following the Chartiers Creek valley. The southern terminus of the trail was Catfish Camp, allegedly named for a Native American whose name, in the language of the Delawares was Tingooqua. I have assumed there was someone with that name, but never knew for sure that he actually existed.

Last Fall when I attended the re-enactment of the termination of the Mason-Dixon Line survey, I was surprised to see a re-enactor portraying a Delaware named Tingooqua, who was called Catfish by the English. When I asked the re-enactor, Ed Robey, what he knew about the real Tingooqua, I was rewarded with a fine collection of articles about him. Not only was Tingooqua a contemporary of the earliest settlers in this area, he was an extremely significant contributor to the history and heritage of our region.

The most relevant reference was in “The Journal of Charles Mason and Jeremiah Dixon”. I had acquired a copy of it but had not yet been able to read it in detail. Sure enough, early in October, 1767, they report “About two miles west of the Monaungahlea we were paid a visit by Catfish, his nephew, and squaw”. This was indeed the encounter that we had seen the re-enactors reproduce.

The Journal then reports that the chief of the (Iroquois) Indians accompanying the surveying expedition parleyed with Catfish, presented him with wampum, explained the purpose of their mission, and convinced him of their peaceful intent. Catfish, a Chief of the Delawares, was described as being “very well dressed, nearly like Europeans”.

Colonial Records of Pennsylvania describe a meeting in Philadelphia on December 4, 1759, in which two Delaware chieftains, Teedyuscung and Tingooqua, met with Lieutenant Governor James Hamilton. Tingooqua, who called himself a messenger from the Kuskuskes Nation, presented the Lieutenant Governor with four strings of wampum and declared that the “eleven nations on the west of Allegheny” supported the peace treaty Teedyuscung had negotiated with the Penn family and that they looked forward to many years of peace in the future.

According to Paul W. Wallace’s “Indian Paths of Pennsylvania”, New Kuskusky Town was located about where New Castle is today. It does appear that Tingooqua’s permanent village was at that location and that Catfish Camp was a temporary camp used by travelers.

Boyd Crumrine’s “History of Washington County” documents the existence of Catfish Camp in what is now downtown Washington and also mentions “a small stream entering Chartiers Creek” named Wissaameking, the Delaware word for Catfish, at that location. This information is reported on the Jefferson Township website currently and amplified by reporting that Tingooqua moved his camp several times as settlers built cabins near it. Incidentally, in several documents Tingooqua is also referred to as “Wissameek”.

Tingooqua was even a character in a well-known historical hoax. In 1945 a committee from the Greene County Historical Society published a three volume history of the early days in that area based on old documents allegedly uncovered by a man named William Horn. Included was an improbable version of the well documented 1749 expedition of French Canadian Celeron de Blainville in which he buried lead plates documenting France’s claim to the Ohio Country.

In contradiction to a large body of documentation on the location of these plates, several of which have been located, this document reports that several were buried in Greene County, by the equally improbable combination of de Blainville, Peter Chartier, Christopher Gist, and Tingooqua. I am surprised they didn’t include George Washington!

A committee of local historical societies investigated the Horn papers and concluded that they had all been forged. In 1946 they published an article reporting their findings, which have not been refuted. Being included in a fraud certainly reinforces the proof that Tingooqua was a real, contemporary person.

I am pleased that my mythical Chief Catfish has been replaced by a flesh and blood Native American, a significant contemporary of the first settlers in this area. Perhaps I should refer to Catfish Path as Tingooqua’s Trail in the future.

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