I drove slowly along the dirt road that leads to the Scotia Shooting Range, scanning the woods in search of a mythical creature that is supposed to roam the region known as the Scotia Pine Barrens, or just The Barrens to locals. The leaves were changing, decorating the drive with shades of reds, yellows and oranges, making this season my favorite time of the year.
The Barrens are now a part of State Game Lands 176, but at one time this area was an important part of the region’s iron industry. When iron ore was discovered here in 1784, it brought industry into the region and small towns grew up around the iron deposits. The most famous of these communities started in 1881 and was named Scotia, meaning “Little Scotland” by owner Andrew Carnegie. Carnegie sold his properties to the Bellefonte Furnace Company in 1899 and by 1911, the mines had all closed due to more abundant, cheaper iron that was obtained elsewhere. The community of Scotia went through a long, slow death as families moved elsewhere in search of work. By 1923 only Wilson H. Ghaner remained and with his death in 1933, the last resident of Scotia passed. In 1942 the lands that were once a thriving mining community were purchased by the Pennsylvania Game Commission and became State Game Lands 176.
Parking in a small lot along the main road that runs through the Scotia Pine Barrens, I got out and looked around at my surroundings — autumn was displaying its full glory. I grabbed my jacket, orange vest and matching hat and my walking stick and started walking along a grassy road that lead deeper into The Barrens.
There was a slight chill in the air that told me that winter was on its way and soon those leaves would be replaced with a blanket of white. I couldn’t help wonder when the first snowfall of the season would be. I have studied the woolly bear caterpillars that I have spotted while out and about. It has been told over and over if the woolly bear has a thick orange band that it is indicating a mild winter on the way, but if the band of orange is narrow, it will be a hard winter. Of course, this is all folklore, though some studies indicate there may be a connection between the width of the band and the type of winter. I found myself rushing autumn by asking questions and wondering too much about what the upcoming winter would be like.
However, my reason for traveling through The Barrens was that I was in search of a mythical creature whose appearance is connected with the coming of winter. In the past, those living in the region of the Scotia Pine Barrens have been forewarned of the upcoming winter by a legendary beast capable of predicting the number of storms that would sweep over the region. The magnificent beast was known by the older generations as the Schnae Harsh and was commonly referred to by the younger generations as the Snow Deer. The snow-white stag that made its home in The Barrens was described as being the size of a full-grown elk with a gigantic set of antlers.
The story of the Schnae Harsh first appears in the February 22, 1945 edition of The Centre Democrat. The Legend of The Snow Deer, first recorded by Henry Shoemaker, informed the residents of Central Pennsylvania of the fabled stag.
According to tradition, the early settlers of the Scotia Pine Barrens dreaded the monstrous stag that brought with it only misery and despair — to see it meant another terrible snow storm was on its way. These were not the storms that left a couple inches — these snow storms brought feet of snow to the region, often trapping people inside for days, if not weeks. Those who had spotted the magnificent beast claimed it led to the first snow storm through the Pine Barrens. They stated the earlier in the year the Schnae Harsh was first spotted, the more storms the region would have. Some residents claimed the date the beast was seen would be the number of terrible storms to hit the region that year. To be seen on the first, meant one severe storm; to be seen on the twentieth of the month meant twenty storms before winter was over.
The residents of The Barrens tried to kill the monstrous stag, but nothing seemed to work, though many tried to end the reign of the Schnae Harsh. Bullets had no effect on the creature and it could easily bound over pitfall traps dug to capture it. Absolutely nothing residents attempted stopped the dreaded Schnae Harsh and most learned to live with the misery it brought upon Central Pennsylvania.
Enter into the story Pappy Frybarger.
Pappy Frybarger was a veteran of the Revolutionary War who settled in The Barrens. He, like his neighbors, dreaded the arrival of the Schnae Harsh. Though he had heard stories about the mythical monarch as it raced through the Scotia Pine Barrens, he had yet to see the beast for himself.
There was a touch of winter in the air as Pappy Frybarger set to work to cut wood. His job was interrupted as the forest suddenly shook violently tossing leaves everywhere and a roar like that of a cannon filled the air. Running towards him was the dreaded Schnae Harsh, leading a violent blizzard into The Barrens. Grabbing a freshly cut pole, Pappy swung at the monstrous stag, and drove it into his wagon shed. With a thunderous clap, the Schnae Harsh rammed into the doors at the rear of the shed — the doors held and the monstrous stag exploded into chunks of snow and ice. The storm it had brought into The Barrens had vanished as quickly as it had arrived.
As the snow and ice melted, a set of antlers was left behind — a forked white oak bough with dried leaves still clinging to them. Word spread quickly that Pappy Frybarger managed to stop the dreaded Schnae Harsh and soon his neighbors arrived to see what remained of the creature. The chunks of ice and snow had vanished, but the antlers remained. Pappy Frybarger nailed the oak-bough antlers to the wall above the wagon shed doors for all his neighbors to see.
Of course, with the story coming from Henry Shoemaker I have my doubts of the validity of the story. Despite it being one of his stories, it has not stopped me from exploring The Barrens in search of the legendary beast. While I have not found the beast, I have seen plenty of white-tailed deer, squirrels, and grouse while walking through The Barrens.
Though winters continued after the defeat of the Schnae Harsh, the years of severe storms seemed to have come to an end. The winters became milder, though from time to time severe snow storms still hit the region. Maybe the Schnae Harsh still exists and comes around from time to time in order to lead the most violent of blizzards once again through the region.
I’m still watching for its return.