The Mythical Captain Green Massacre

Just a couple hundred yards from the Jersey Shore exit of Interstate 80, at the eastern end of Sugar Valley. Although I had stopped at the marker a number of times before, I recently stopped to take a couple pictures of the monument while on my way to visit the recently placed markers for the Tea Springs Civilian Conservation Corps Camp a couple miles east of the monument’s location.

I parked in the gravel lot across from the gas station and crossed East Valley Road to the monument just a couple feet off the road. The marker states the massacre happened roughly one mile south of this spot, where Green’s Gap cuts through the mountains, connecting Sugar and White Deer Valleys. I scanned the mountains to the south – the relative peaceful setting was broken by vehicles passing on Interstate 80.

The monument was placed in 1916 through the efforts of author Henry Shoemaker, who recorded the incident in his book Juniata Memories in a story entitled “Green Gap.”

In late 1800 and the first month of 1801, the farms near the headwaters of Cocolamus Creek, in present-day Juniata County, were victims of Indian raiders. Animals were stolen and farm buildings were burned. These settlers appealed to the state government, who turned down the request for help. They created their own militia headed by Captain Harry Green, who had moved to the area from Milton. Captain Green was selected to lead the group because he was a veteran of the Revolutionary War.

In the cold month of February, raiders once again hit the region, taking with them a number of cattle. Captain Green believed the raiders were camping in the mountains south of the Susquehanna and he volunteered to lead a posse to enact revenge. He selected seven unmarried men to go with him and upon hearing rumors of Indians camping in Sugar Valley, they set off to recover the stolen livestock.

Upon entering Sugar Valley, Captain Green’s men noticed smoke of a campfire near present-day Carroll. They cautiously approached the campsite, but discovered the camp had been recently abandoned. Captain Green and his men tracked the group over the mountain to present-day Mill Hall and then followed the West Branch upriver until the group of Indians crossed it near present-day Farrandsville – at no time did they discover any trace of the missing livestock.

As Captain Green’s men returned to Sugar Valley, the group encountered Joe Sunfish near the confluence of the West Branch and Bald Eagle Creek. He informed the posse they had entered Sugar Valley through the wrong gap and the raiders had recently been spotted in the valley. He proceeded to inform them the raiding party was led by the Seneca warrior Stiffarmed George, was who the group wanted. This group of raiders was also camping in Sugar Valley.

The group followed Joe Sunfish’s directions and upon reentering the valley approached the gap where the raiders had made camp. When they arrived, they discovered the camp empty, but the area was littered with the bones of the stolen cattle.

With the sun setting, the group decided to make their camp for the night at the same location the Seneca raiders had been using. The men wrapped themselves in blankets and one by one the men fell asleep. As the men slept, the raiding party returned. Silently they descended upon the rangers and tomahawked and scalped the men – none of Captain Green’s party had stirred as death overtook them. The scent of blood in the air brought wolves and other predators which devoured the slain men.

A couple days later, two hunters – John Colby and Samuel Jones – discovered the horrific site. The two men gathered the bones and buried the remains under a large pile of rocks. Word was sent to the state government, but nothing was ever done. Shoemaker also states that Stiffarmed George eventually received his punishment in 1803. He supposedly died on the gallows in Buffalo, New York for the murder of a white man.

The story of Captain Green and his men are remembered to this day in the naming of the gap after Captain Green. Note: At one time, there was a Captain Green Memorial Area a little farther east from where the marker stands. Though it does not exist anymore, it does still show up on some modern maps.

Although the majority of regional historians will tell you that the massacre did not happen except in the mind of Henry Shoemaker, it still remains a story that is told and retold throughout Central Pennsylvania. Sadly many still believe this massacre actually happened.

The first problem with his story is the date the massacre happened. According to the monument placed here by Shoemaker, the massacre happened in 1801, which is much later than other raids into Central Pennsylvania. The Dean Family Massacre was one of the last known raids in Central Pennsylvania and that was in 1781 and occurred many miles west of Sugar Valley. There were a couple of raids along the western border through 1791, but no other raids where reported this far into the heart of Pennsylvania in the 1800s. Note: More about the Dean Family Massacre can be found here: The Dean Family Massacre.

However, the best piece of evidence that the massacre never occurred actually comes from Shoemaker himself. The start of “Green Gap” he writes the following: “Jones makes no mention of it, nor does Rupp, or Sherman Day or Meginness.” Shoemaker notes four of the early Pennsylvania historians failed to mention it, then one must question why he was the only one who had ever recorded it before. Scanning through the regional histories, no other historian talks about this fabled massacre – if it did happen, then why did only Shoemaker write about it? The answer is because it only happened in Shoemaker’s world.

Shoemaker also made the claim Captain Harry Green was a Revolutionary War officer who had first lived in Milton, before settling near the headwaters of Cocolamus Creek. Many have attempted to discover this Captain Green in the lists of those who fought during the Revolutionary War, but have failed to discover that man. Captain Green is a man of mystery, who most likely only existed in the mind of Henry Shoemaker.

As I stood there, I knew that the massacre as described by Shoemaker did not happen as he recorded it. However, the Captain Green Massacre was not a complete creation of Shoemaker’s imagination, but was loosely based on real events that happened over one hundred miles away when a group of Bedford militia were massacred by a mixed group of Seneca and Tories. What Shoemaker did was take a real event, fictionalized it, and placed it within the borders of Clinton County.

With that thought running through my mind, I turned my attention to the southwest as I headed toward the massacre that inspired Shoemaker’s fictional story.

Continued in The Massacre of Captain Phillips’ Rangers.

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