Michael Crow

  • Moundsville Daily Echo 1931
  • History of the Crow Family Related at Clan’s Reunion

Moundsville Daily Echo, Wednesday, August 5, 1931

Submitted by Eric M. Anderson.

The following history of the Crow family was related by Professor Martin Crow, of the Washington & Jefferson college fraternity, at the Crow reunion held Saturday, August 1, 1931, at Sycamore Grove, Pa. The information for the history was given by Wylie Crow, who lives on the old Crow farm within three miles of the reunion scene.

History of the Crow family by Wylie Crow, as told to Martin Crow.

The first American ancestor of the Crow family, Jacob Crow, or Jacob Gro, as he wrote his name in German on his last will and testament, came to this country about 1750, at the age of eighteen. From what part of Germany he came we have no record, but as he was said to be short in stature and dark of complexion, he probably came from one of the southern provinces. After paying his passage money for which he was indentured, he married Susannah Secris and settled on a tract of 362 acres, situated near the Great Crossings on the Youghiangheny river in Westmoreland county, Pennsylvania.

When the older children were in their teens, the family began to look for a home farther west. They traded a team and wagon for a tract of land of about 450 acres, situated on what was later to be known as Crow creek, in Greene county. On this tract were located two mounds and an earthen circle, built supposedly by the Indians, who were later to wreak such terrible vengeance on this pioneer family. The settlers moved to their new home about 1769, their son Michael being then a baby six weeks old. Their home was a log cabin, the chimney stones of which may still be seen. The first night in their new home was not one of peaceful slumber, for, fearing an attack by the Indians, the family fled into the woods, the mother and her baby Michael getting lost and wandering about till morning in a wild plum thicket not far from the house.

Soon the family made the new settlement seem like new home. They planted the apple sprouts they had carried in saddle bag over the mountains (the last of the apple trees to grow from these sprouts, a great tall tree with a twisted trunk, was still standing not ten years ago), they opened sugar camps, cleared patches for corn, built corrals for their sheep, erected a log fort near the house, and hunted for game, which then included otters, panthers, bears, wolves, deer, wild cats, wild hogs, and wild ducks and turkeys.

But the fear of the Red Man was never absent from their thoughts, as the following incident shows: The bottoms of the new farm, or plantation as it was then called, were covered with sugar trees, and the making of maple sugar was in the spring an important business. Sometimes a hundred pounds or more of maple sugar would be stored at one time under the ledges of rocks at the lower end of the bottoms. A few years after the Crows had moved, when Michael was, perhaps, a boy five or six years old, he and his older brothers were boiling down sugar water one night in the camp in the big bottom over the creek. Intending probably to work all night they had brought sliced bacon with them to cook over the fire. Little Michael, having grown sleepy as he sat watching the blazing fires, had been put to bed in a hog shed, turned down on its side. The brothers were busy watching the boiling cauldrons of maple syrup, when suddenly the dogs bristled up and ran out into the darkness, barking fiercely. They kept up these actions until the boys got afraid there were Indians lurking about in the woods. Throwing sugar water on their fires to smother them out, they awakened Michael, went together away up on top of a hill on the other side of the creek, and spent the rest of the night on a bed of leaves behind a fallen log. They had taken their bacon with them and, afraid to light a fire to cook it, they ate it raw. Michael used to tell this story to his children and it was the only time he ever really ate raw meat.

The following children were born to Jacob and Susannah Crow: John, Martin, Frederick, Peter, and Michael; Susan, Katherine, Lisbeth, Christina, and Mary. The family talked German at home, Michael, the youngest son, being nine years old before he learned English. Jacob lived to a ripe old age, dying probably in the summer of 1823, as his will was probated in Waynesburg on August 18th of the year. The date of his wife’s death is not known. They are buried together in the old family burying ground on the farm, their graves marked by cut sandstone slabs.

Hear these headstones in the family lot are two rudely hewn stone markers, each bearing the date 1791, one of the initials L. C., the others S. C. and K. C. These stones mark the graves of the three daughters of Jacob and Susannah who were killed by the Indians just across the creek from where we are meeting today.

Before the massacre of the girls, however, came stories of other earlier adventures of the Crows with the Indians. One of the most popular of these stories is another about Michael, who, being the youngest son as I have said, was made in family tradition the hero of many exploits. It was when Michael was eight or nine years old that he was allowed to accompany two of his older brothers, Frederick and Martin on a trip to the Farley home over another fork of the creek. Arriving there, they found the Farley’s fled for fear of an Indian attack and learned that the Indians had murdered two white men who had been living down the creek a short way. The older brothers persuaded Michael with his dog to remain in the Farley house while they should go and help bury these two men. They expected to be gone not more than two or three hours, but, thinking they might be able to capture the Indians if they followed them at once, the brothers set out with a party on the trail. Not for two days did they return. All day Michael remained alone in the Farley house, baking himself and his dog johnny cakes from the meal he found in the cupboard and drinking some cream from the churning, which the family in their precipitate flight, had left undone. At night the youngster lifted up one of the puncheons in the floor, crawled down under, and, after strapping his dog’s mouth shut with his suspender to keep it from barking, spent the night in safety. And there he was when his brothers returned, though if they had not returned when they did, Michael would have set out alone to try to reach the fort at Lindley’s mill, over twenty miles away. The anxiety the family felt when neither Michael nor his brothers returned for two days may well be imagined.

The next story, that of the hunting expedition to Big Fish creek, is in contrast, tragic, as it ends with the murder of John. it was a few years later that John, Martin and Frederick went back on this creek to hunt elk, reported to be numerous in that vicinity.

When the boys were getting ready to go they noticed that John was delayed in one way and another. For example, he had trouble molding his bullets. Finally Frederick and Martin went on ahead, leaving John to follow. Still John seemed to hesitate, and after he had crossed the ravine below the house and had climbed part way up the opposite bank, he was seen to stop a time or two and look back towards home, as if he thought it was farewell.

They had been encamped on Big Fish creek only a night or two before the Indians attacked. Frederick and Martin came into camp late in the evening with a wild duck. John had not yet come in. Just when the boys tossed the duck on the ground, the Indians ambushed behind a bluff, gave a fierce yell and fired their guns, shooting the tip off of Martin’s ear and wounding Frederick in the muscle of the right underarm. Martin, seeing Frederick throw up his arm and toss his gun backwards, supposed he was badly wounded or perhaps killed. Before the Indians could reload their muzzle loaders, Martin dashed up the creek, not daring to wait and see what really had happened to his brother. Frederick was not, however wounded seriously, and was only a short distance behind Martin in their mad races for life. Behind them chased the Indians, uttering blood-curdling whoops. At the end of a little bottom Martin dashed across the creek as a tomahawk whizzed by his head and landed on the gravel bar before him. He sought refuge in a dense wood while Frederick, still unnoticed by Martin, fled up a hill in the opposite direction.

Martin remained hiding quite a while. As he listened in the darkness, he heard more gun shots echoing across the valley, these being no doubt the shots that killed John when he, probably coming in to see what had happened, found the Indians waiting for him. When the prolonged stillness seemed to indicate that the Indians had gone, Martin ventured to make a noise like an owl to signal to Frederick if by chance he might still be living. After two or three attempts he was rewarded with an answer hoot. Hardly able to believe his ears, he signaled again and so the boys got together. Frederick had succeeded in stanching the flow of blood from his wound by chewing sassafras leaves and holding them against the torn flesh. The two set out for home immediately.

A day or two later they returned found John’s body near their tent, his breast pierced by five bullets and his throat slashed from ear to ear. Having rolled their brother’s body in a blanket, they buried him on the spot in a shallow grave which they dug with their hunting knives. On a nearby beech tree they carved the date and his initials, but his living marker has long since died and rotted away.

Occasionally the pioneers in the years following had suspicions of other Indian attacks and, after warning all the people in the neighborhood, shut themselves in their fort for a day or two. On one of these occasions Michael, still just a boy, distinguished himself by venturing, after everyone had gone into the for at night, to take a message to a forgotten family over near the present site of Majorsville. On his return he saw two top knots silhouetted against the moonlight in the path before him. He took a roundabout way home and escaped harm. No attack was made on the settlers by the Indians at this time.

We now come to the well known story of the massacre of the three Crow girls, Susan, Kathern, and Lisbeth. This occurred on Sunday morning, May 1, 1791. The tree girls named and their sister Christina, were going on foot to see an old couple who lived at Ryerson Station. They had stopped to play with a snake in the ripple of the creek just below the Indian rock when their brother Michael, who had been after a stray horse up Crabapple, came along on the horse going home. He stopped to talk a moment and asked Christina if she didn’t want to get behind him and go back. She said she would rather go on with the girls. He then galloped on down the creek, noticing that his horse snorted and pranced about uneasily.

The horse had scented the Indians who were hiding behind the rock, now inscribed with the names of the unfortunate girls. No sooner had Michael ridden out of sight than they emerged, to Indians and one renegade white man named Spicer. They brandished their tomahawks to warn the girls to keep silent and advanced to capture them. They led the girls up to the creek bank to a little flat. One of the older girls said to Christina, the youngest, “Pray to God to prepare us for what is before us.” The Indians sat down on a log and asked them questions about the forts, etc., in the vicinity. Spicer doing the talking for the two Indians. Then they prepared to kill the girls. Grasping the victims clasped hands with one of their own, each Indian preceded with his free hand to tomahawk a girl. When Spicer who had to hold two girls, struck the larger, the other, Christina, jerked her hands loose and started to run. An Indian punched her in the back with his gun and she fell on her hands and knees, but scrambled up again immediately and ran on. Glancing over her shoulder as she ran, she saw Spicer hit her sister three times in the temple. She escaped and the Indians also made their getaway.

Christina flew home and told the news of the gruesome tragedy. Right away the family, grief stricken and in terror for their lives, set out on foot to the fort at Lindey’s mill. Michael carrying little Mary on his shoulder. This fort, near Prosperity, was likely a garrisoned station, while the Crow fort was small and unprotected.

Meanwhile another of the girls, probably Lisbeth, who had been scalped but not killed outright, came to herself enough to crawl down the creek and get a drink. She was found still alive Tuesday morning, by a hunter named Enlow, and carried down the road to the shade of a clump of trees growing around the great boulder in the bottom by the road. Here the family, accompanied by a posse of armed men, found her and her protector that same day. She could still talk and said to her brother, “Oh Michael, why didn’t you come sooner!” She was taken home and a doctor sent for (The nearest doctor in those days was usually at Uniontown), but he arrived too late to save her. She died the next day. He said she might have lived if she had not lain so long with her scalped head exposed to the hot sun.

So Lisbeth was buried beside her two sisters, already interred in one grave, and rough hewn stones were set up to mark these first graves in the family burying ground.

Some years later when the sole survivor of this tragedy, Christina, was a young woman, Spicer and an Indian had the boldness to ride up to the Crow home one summer day and ask for a drink of buttermilk. The horn had just been blown for dinner, and Christina and her mother Susannah were in the garden gathering vegetables. Christina looked up and exclaimed to her mother, “Law, those are the very men that killed the girls!” The mother abruptly refused the request for buttermilk, and the men, suspecting probably that they had been recognized, rode horridly away. As the Crow men came in from the bottoms where they were having a log rolling, they saw Spencer and the Indian, gay in their fancy blankets, riding down through the fields. One of them took Michael’s gun (They of course always went armed to work) and leveled it on a bright flower which formed a spot like a target in the back of one of the Indians. He took aim and in play snapped the half-cocked trigger.

As soon as the log-rollers reached the house, the women hastened to tell them who the strangers were. Everyone came on into dinner, but Michael and another man held a whispered conversation aside. They then ate a hasty lunch, shouldered their guns, and started out on foot to follow Spicer and the Indian. All that afternoon they walked as fast as they could uphill and ran down hill on the level, following easily the fresh hoof prints. But those pursued must have sensed danger and trotted their horses, for by nightfall Michael and his companion had not yet come up to them. It seemed the chase was lost, and, tired and wet with sweat, Michael and the other made camp. The next morning they pushed on to see how far they were behind the Indians and found it just a short distance to where their fire, yet smouldering, indicated the site of their camp. According to Michael they then gave up the pursuit and started home. But as it was then against the law to kill and Indian, peace having been made, Michael may not have told all. And the man who went with him, when questioned, neither denied nor affirmed the accusation, but merely replied that they were close enough to count the buttons on the Indian’s coat. So the conclusion of this episode will always remain untold.

The Crows may not have taken revenge on the Indians this time, but in the story I a now about to relate, they paid back in kind. Two of the boys, again Martin and Frederick, decided they would take a scout out into Ohio and play Indian. After going out about Coshocton, they came upon an Indian camp and at once concealed themselves nearby to await darkness. It will be seen that their procedure paralleled roughly that of the Indians when they attacked the boys and killed John on Fish creek After a while two Indian warriors came in. They built a fire, cooked their supper, danced and played on the bones, and finally one of them went into their tent and lay down to sleep. When the other had gone away, the Crow boys stole up to the tent, pulled up a peg, and lifted up the edge right by the Indian’s head. One of the boys held up the flap and the other shot the Indian in the head. Then they jerked his blanket off him, took his gun and belt, and fled through the woods toward home. Still hurrying along the next day at noon, they stopped at a pool for a drink. Looking at their fine Indian blanket, they found it bespattered with the brains of the fellow they had shot. They tossed it over in the weeds, but brought belt and the gun, a very pretty weapon, on home. However, the gun proved also to be useless. But the boys felt no doubt that they had done something to square their account with the Red Man.

The surviving sons and daughters of Jacob and Susannah were by this time all growing up and making homes of their own. We cannot, for lack of time and information, tell in detail about the various branches of the Crow family, and we here suggest that the descendants of Christina, who married a McBride and moved to Ohio, of Mary who married a Gray, of Frederick who settled for a time on Fish creek, of Martin who lived for a while on what is now the Hewitt farm and then settled in southern Ohio, and of Peter who settled on Fork ridge – we suggest that the descendants of these, if they have been located and are here today, should continue the separate family stories. Of Michael, my own grandfather of whom I have told several incidents already, I shall relate briefly the remaining life history.

Michael married Nancy Johnson, the daughter of a local cabinet maker, William Johnson, several of whose pieces of sturdy black walnut furniture are yet treasured by the Crow family as heirlooms. Nancy bore sixteen children, twelve of whom lived to grow up, among them being William, John, Jacob, and Michael; Sally Paterson, Elizabeth Spillman, Charlotte Carrol, Susannah Braddock, Nancy Joab, Mary Lazier, and Margaret, who was never married. The four boys settled in four different states, William in Ohio, John in Indiana, Jacob in West Virginia, and Michael in Pennsylvania. Before his father’s death Michael, that is Michael who was the son of Jacob, lived on the upper place, now the home of M. L. Crow. After Jacob’s death in 1823, Michael, having contracted with his father as early as 1803 to purchase his plantation for the sum of two thousand dollars, to be paid in trade in annual allotments of corn, whet, oats, rye, salt, and pork, moved to the home place. When a young man, Michael loved to hunt. Deer was his favorite game. For hunting he had his wife make him of home spun a red wool hunting shirt, which is still in possession of the family. Many stories are told of his good marksmanship. Even as a little boy he was reputed to have shot a wild boar which had treed him down by the creek and had the bad manners to bang about the foot of the tree – Another time – this when he was a man – he was returning one night from in about Wolf run with the carcass of a deer slung over his horse when he met a mad dog in the road. The dog turned on him, glaring and frothing at the mouth. With but one shot to save himself, he took aim and fired, blowing the dog to pieces – Another time when he was walking home after dark, he heard a rattlesnake in the weeds. He stopped and waited till it rattled again. Then guessing by the sound, he struck with his stick several times. The next morning he went back to the place, and there lay the snake dead. He cut its rattlers and we have them yet, a souvenir of his prowess as a hunter.

Frederick’s ability is also attested to by this story. One day he came upon a panther kitten in the woods and shot it. Right away he heard a crashing of brush and there was the mother panther. Just a little way from him she stopped, fixed her eyes on him and began flipping her tail back and forth like a cat ready to spring. Without taking time to measure he poured some powder from his horn into the barrel of his gun, spit out a bullet (for emergencies a bullet was always carried in the mouth), rammed down the charge and fired. Fortunately one shot was all that was needed.

When in his prime Michael was also known for his feats of strength. When the men of the neighborhood gathered at a muster, he could out do most of his opponents in heaving the “shoulder stone,” or in tossing a rail. A fellow by the name of Barger, having heard that Michael was “a good man,” came one day in corn-hoeing time to challenge him to fight.

“Why Barger, what’s the matter with you? I don’t want to fight you,” said Michael leaning on his hoe.

But Barger was not ot be put off. Siding up to Michael, he landed a good blow on his cheek, and the fight was on.

The dust of the corn field flew as they struck and dodged. Presently they went down in a clinch, and Barger was on top. It looked bad for Michael, but he got his arm around Barger’s neck and held him so close he couldn’t strike. They scrambled around in the dirt, and all at once Michael was on top. Then what a beating he gave Barger. Barger would not yell quits until his eye was swelled shut and his face so pummeled that it looked like raw meat. Michael’s oldest son, William, who was hoeing corn with his father and witnessed this fight, said he never saw a man get such a thrashing as Barger did. When it was over Barger slunk out of the field without saying a word. But he didn’t take Michael on for any more fights.

The Crow home in these early days was the center of various industries, many of which were community projects, like the corn-huskings, log-rollings, apple-cuttings, and quilting bees. Other industries were carried on for the benefit of the whole community, such as carding wool, grinding grist, and curing meat. The Crow smoke house often hung full of pork, which was doled out in harvest time as wages to the hired hands. For clothing the men tanned deer hide, which was used for pantaloons and moccasins, while the women carded and spun and wove. They dried fruits and vegetables instead of canning. Sugar making we have already referred to. All the common grains were raised on the farm, harvested and threshed by hand and later ground into meal or flour. They carried their produce including butter and eggs to Wheeling in wagons.

The girls would make these long trips to the market, taking one of the boys along to ride the lead horse. They traded their products for such farm and household necessities as were not made at home. The farm was, however, almost an independent unit.

A great business man, Michael was also a great builder. Shortly after his father died he erected a tread mill (or horse mill), and the first brick house in all the country around. Also to provide the whiskey then considered an essential commodity he built and operated a still house, the logs from which were taken from the old fort. The tread mill was used for carding wool by day, when it was driven by a team of oxen, and for grinding grain by night, when it was run by a team of horses. Neighbors usually arranged to come to the mill in pairs, each carrying his grain in a sack across his saddle and each supplying one of the two horses needed to run the mill.

An amusing incident is told of how one day, when they were carding wool with the oxen, the great tread wheel, thirty-feet in diameter, got out of control, and the faster the oxen tramped the faster the wheel revolved, until such a din and clatter arose as to bring everybody on the run. The wheel was stopped by dropping into place a great wooden beam, which acted as a brake. So the steers were saved from running themselves to death or breaking their legs.

This mill was supplanted in 1845 by a water mill, built by Michael Crow when he was an old man for his youngest son, also named Michael. The water mill, with its great stone dam, five acre mill pond, high undershot wheel, and the finest of French burrs, ground grain for the community for fifty years, running day and night in the busy season. An up and down sawmill was added, also run by water power. Hence the names Crow’s Mills, as the little growing village with its mills, store, blacksmith shop, and post office, came to be known. But came the inventions of steam power, and the roller flour mill and rapid railroad transportation. And now all that remain of Crow’s Mills are traces of the land dam, a few moss covered stones at the edge of the creek, and some old timbers made into the framework of other buildings.

The brick house, which Michael Crow I built about 1825, was, as I have said, the first in this section of the country. Two stories high, it had lower and upper porches, halls, and six rooms. in 1871, this house was thought to be leaning, and Michael Crow II, using the same bricks, doors, etc., rebuilt it a short distance below its original locations.

Michael I and Nancy his wife were both rigid in their observances of religious rites. Michael donated money toward the building fund for the Presbyterian church at Haneytown and was one of its organizers. Though it was eight miles away, he and his family attended regularly.

Michael died in 1852, in his 83rd year. His wife died the next year in her 72nd year. They are buried in the family lot on the farm.

The farm then passed into the hands of Michael Crow II. He married Sarah Jane Lucas of near Burnsville. She bore him twelve children, nine of whom grew to maturity, and three of whom still survive. Michael II we have already described as a miller. He, like his father, was a great businessman, handling about eight hundred acres of land besides the flour and lumber mills.

During his time the Crow farm was noted as the home of a flock of beautiful peacocks, the first pair of which was given by Berridge Lucas to his daughter, Sarah Jane Crow, when she named her first born Berridge Lucas Crow.

It was during Michael II’s time also that an event occurred which marked the end of deer hunting in this part of the country, a diversion so often indulged in by the Crow’s. The last deer ever to be seen around here to the mill by the dogs and worried so much that it ran out into the mill pond to get away from them. Jacob Crow, brother of Michael, ran out into the pond and held the deer’s head under water until it drowned. Its antlers were taken off its head and kept as a souvenir. Thus ignominiously came to its end in this country the last of the deer, an animal that had roamed the wilds in frontier days and furnished thrills to many a hunter in the chase.

Michael II was much interested in education and sent several of his children to college. He spent a great deal of time in reading, mostly religious literature. Every morning his home was the scene of family worship, and every Sunday found the family at church in Haneytown, where for over 30 years he served as elder. He died in 1908 in his ninetieth year. His wife had died in 1879 in her fifty-sixth year. They also lie in the old burying ground in a stone vault, which Michael had constructed many years before his death.

Without making any attempt to trace the story of the present generations of the Crow family, which is scattered far and wide over the United States, I now bring to a close this history of our family, a record of the pioneering spirit – of courage in the face of danger, of endurance in the face of hardships, of unremitting toil to establish a home on the frontier, and of continued effort to be of service to the people of the community – a family record of which each members may well be proud.

July 29, 1931.

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