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Ambush at Indian Park

by Joseph Grafius

         published in the Montoursville Echo, July, 2015

           





 The Wychoff and Covenhoven families were some of the earliest people to settle in the area that would become Lycoming County (which at that time was still part of Northumberland County).  During the 1770's, these two families made their homes near the Loyalsock Creek.  Several stories were written by John F. Meginness in his History of Lycoming Countyregarding these pioneers and the struggles they endured in the West Branch wilderness.   Albert Covenhoven and Peter Wychoff migrated from New Jersey around 1770 to seek a better life for their families.  Albert and his family of five children settled on the west bank of Loyalsock Creek just down from the present day Montoursville Bridge.  Soon after the family arrived and built primitive living quarters, a flood displaced them.  Although they lost most of their possessions, the family was able to relocate to higher ground and establish a new homestead.  Peter Wychoff, along with his wife and seven children, staked out land on the east side of the Loyalsock Creek, near the location of present-day Indian Park. 

 Imagine the land between Montoursville and Newberry being covered with dense forests for as far as you could see in all directions.  In the low lands along the river were acres of swampy marshlands, sometimes reaching as far north as present-day Third Street.

 There were only several dozen log homes scattered throughout this five mile stretch of territory.  To add to the early hardships of pioneers, many had to defend themselves against the Native Americans who did not want strange men taking over their land.

            One of the stories that has been recorded of this time period involved Peter Wychoff's older brother, William, and two of Albert Covenhoven's sons.  William and Old Man Wychoffť as he was called, came to this area several years after his brother, Peter, cleared enough land to start a farm.  One spring day in 1776, William was working in his own little tannery while his nephews were trimming grass in a nearby meadow. 

  The boys' dog started barking at the tree line and, because the dog persisted, the boys felt sure that Indians were in the vicinity.  The Covenhovens got their guns and yelled to Old Man Wychoff to follow them to a safer site. After going a short distance, the dog again alerted them to something in the bushes.  Suddenly, the dog sprang into a thicket and grabbed an Indian by the leg.  The Indian who was bitten jumped up and shot the dog. 

 At the same time, his comrades who were in hiding started to shoot at William and his nephews.  The men scrambled for cover, getting behind the nearest trees.  Unfortunately for Old Man Wychoff, the tree he chose was rather scrawny.  Added to that, the old man was hump-backed with age and could not stand up straight to be fully protected by the tree.  Seeing this easy target, the Indians focused their fire in his direction.  Bark was flying off the tree as the musket balls tried to find their mark.  One of the Indians made his way to William’s left flank to get a better shot at him.  Robert Covenhoven spotted the Indian but, as he was trying to load his musket, a bullet struck his ramrod and shattered it.  Thinking quickly, Robert used his spare cleaning rod to reload and was able to take aim just as the Indian was beginning to crawl over a log.  Robert fired a fatal shot at the warrior who must have been the leader of the raiding party because the other Indians stopped shooting.  This gave William and the Covenhovens a chance to retreat back down Mill Creek while the Indians gathered up their comrade and fled the scene.  The pioneers avoided a disaster that day by using their wits along with some luck.  Just a few months later, the pioneers would face a new challenge when the colonies declared their independence from England.

 Copyright 2012 by Joseph Grafius, So. Williamsport, PA      E-mail us with any questions or comments.