The Headless Frenchman of the Kettle Creek Valley: Part Two

The Kettle Creek Valley

Note: The first part of The Headless Frenchman of the Kettle Creek Valley can be found here: Part One

As I stood looking over the Kettle Creek Reservoir, I knew I had more questions about the restless spirit the roams the valley. H. Cranmer, who was the “expert” on the ghost of the headless Frenchman, blamed sightings of the ghost on natural gas escaping from the ground. There may be some truth in this as Dorcie Calhoun discovered natural gas after seeing it bubbling up through the waters of Kettle Creek. Note: Dorcie’s story can be found here: Dorcie Calhoun.

Looking at the stories of the headless ghost, I began to note various clusters of sightings. My immediate thought is: if the headless ghost does exist, then there could possibly be four different ghosts not just one. Of the stories told about the headless ghost, the tales seem to be clustered into four different locations over a stretch of twenty-some miles.

The first cluster centers around the Three Sisters, two large white pines that grew in the mountains west of Cross Fork. This was the version that first introduced me to the Legend of the Headless Frenchman. The brief mention of the headless ghost appeared in an issue of Patrick Reynolds’ Pennsylvania Profiles stating the ghost of a headless Frenchman haunted the area of the Three Sisters near Cross Fork.

This version of the legend states the group of French explorers journeyed up Kettle Creek to a point above present-day Cross Fork. It was in this region they discovered a vein of silver. The group dug silver out of the ground and was in the process of refining it when they were attacked. While the majority of the French explorers were able to escape, one of the Frenchmen was taken prisoner and executed. The Frenchman is still wandering the area where they had mined the silver.

According to Cranmer’s writings, a short distance from the Twin Sisters was an ancient shaft rumored to have been dug by the group of Frenchmen in their search for silver. At one time the chimney of the smelter used by the Frenchmen to refine the silver stood on the ridge between Hammersley and Windfall Runs – this location was within a mile of the ancient shaft. According to Cranmer, this chimney was destroyed by members of the Civilian Conservation Corps, who used the stones for another project. Note: I’m not exactly sure if the Twin Sisters still stand. However, a trail bearing their name runs northward from Cross Fork for eight miles to a spot along Red Ridge Road.

The Headless Frenchman who haunts this location is the most gruesome of the legends. This ghost wanders the ridge carrying his decapitated head under one arm. Of course, he is very particular when he decides to show up – according to legend, he only appears at midnight of the full moon in October.

The second place the Headless Frenchman is rumored to roam is near the mouth of Kettle Creek, where it empties into the West Branch of the Susquehanna. This is the area where – according to legend – the French explorers were shown a cave filled with refined silver by the American Indians living in the West Branch Valley. The cave was filled with “golf ball” sized pieces of silver that were to be exchanged for firearms. After being shown the cave filled with silver, the group continued their journey up Kettle Creek. However, greed took over one of the explorers and he returned to steal the silver. Failing to find it, he was captured, tortured and killed by having his head cut off. The ghostly figure was known to haunt the area where he was executed, doomed to search for his head for eternity.

This version merely states the headless Frenchman haunts the area around the hidden treasure. Looking through newspaper articles and talking with a number of people familiar with the legend, there does not appear to be a description of this version of the Frenchman’s ghost.

The question of whether or not the cave of silver exists has been debated. My personal thoughts are this story is too similar to other stories of lost caves of silver that litter the landscape of Northern Pennsylvania. The trapper is shown the cave, tries to return to steal the silver, and then is executed for his theft. This version of the legend closely resembles the story of a lost cave of silver that is rumored to exist near Tionesta.

Despite doubts, the August 12, 1950 edition of The Lock Haven Express shows a picture of Harry Walters, of Shintown, showing a hunk of silver he had found. The exact location of the cave was Harry’s secret, but he did reveal that it was in the location where the Headless Frenchman roamed. The picture in the newspaper definitely shows a Harry holding a spherical rock, larger than a golf ball and heavier, that was filled with silver.

While I do not have an answer that satisfies me with the origin of the silver, The Portsmouth Herald (Portsmouth, New Hampshire) covered the story of the Headless Frenchman in their August 18, 1950 edition. In it they claim that it is not silver that Harry is showing, but some other ore that has become “silverized over the years.”

The third headless ghost is connected to the logging railroad that existed north of Cross Fork. This version of the legend is connected to the Legend of the Headless Frenchman, but it does not appear to be guarding any silver. In fact, this ghost seems to be closer related to the headless ghosts that like to haunt railroad tracks.

The story goes on an October night in the early 1900s, an unnamed Swede was walking the railroad tracks from Austin to a lumber camp located north of Cross Fork. At some point during his journey, he realized he had been joined by a figure who was walking next to him. The Swede attempted to start a conversation with the mysterious figure, who only let out a low moan. Confused, the Swede turned to see a headless figure walking next to him. The fear of the supernatural overtook the man and he ran the rest of the way to the lumber camp.

A couple nights later, the figure was spotted again on the tracks. The headlamp of a lumber train illuminated the figure that was clearly seen by the engineer and the fireman. The figure was seen waving its arms wildly over its head before jumping off the tracks and disappearing into the woods. If this figure was spotted again, it was not recorded at any place that I could find.

The fourth headless ghost is the one that haunted the area of Road Hollow near Hammersley Fork. This is the location where Kyle’s great-grandfather had his experience and two men from Lock Haven would grab the attention of the nation in August 1950 with their experience involving this headless ghost.

To be concluded.

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