“There is no spot of ground a hundred feet square in the Pennsylvania mountains that has not its legend. Some are old, as ancient as the old, old forests. Others are of recent making or in formation now. Each is different, each is full of its own local color.” —Henry W. Shoemaker
When we speak of the Nittany Valley, we should recognize that the American Indians were here first. They gave their names to the places we inhabit today—Nittany, Waupalani and Bald Eagle, for example—and they first gave voice to the spirit of the place. Later came the pioneering educators and students of what would become The Pennsylvania State University, who breathed in and gave form to that spirit, even naming themselves for it: they became the Nittany Lions.
Little is known of the factual history of the American Indians in whose spirit we live today. Almost all that is known are their legends and stories, passed on by the few who survived in this area by the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Fortunately, a young man from McElhattan, Henry W. Shoemaker (1880-1958), began hearing these stories as a boy. He made it his life’s work to seek out all the American Indian and settler story-tellers he could find, in order to record and publish their stories before their words disappeared into history.
In the years since their initial publication, there has been much debate over the authenticity of the legends as products of a genuine oral tradition, with many historians suggesting that most if not all of them sprung from Shoemaker’s fertile imagination. In considering the legends’ impact on the people of the Nittany Valley, such questions, while undoubtedly relevant for scholars, are largely immaterial. Whether Shoemaker’s stories are truly relics that have survived from our long forgotten past, products of his own creative impulse, or a bit of both (which is most likely), their influence is indisputable. For the purposes of this publication in particular, they should be taken at face value, not as historical artifacts that reveal the precise history of peoples past, but as unique stories—our stories—that evoke our common cultural history and confer greater meaning on our present.
The legends appearing in this work are only a small sampling of the total number of American Indian and settler legends collected or written by Shoemaker. They are chosen for their relation and proximity to the Nittany Valley. Most locations are within less than an hour traveling time, and you can easily visit them. While some are mythical sites, there is enough information in the legends to actually locate where they are situated. But most are actual historical sites with markers. Visiting all of them will take you on journeys into places where story and history, imagination and myth, as well as timeless feelings merge. In doing so, you’ll enter into the spirit of the Nittany Valley—the spirit that was here long before any of us arrived, and that will remain long after we pass through.
Those interested in the works of Henry W. Shoemaker may also enjoy complete republications of his original books available through Penn State University Press Metalmark Books. “The Legends of the Nittany Valley” includes an excerpt from Penn State’s Dr. Simon J. Bronner, specifically from his book “Popularizing Pennsylvania: Henry W. Shoemaker and the Progressive Uses of Folklore and History.”
The Nittany Valley Society offers “The Legends of the Nittany Valley” in audiobook format, recorded with Ben Novak, Tom Shakely, and Chris Buchignani and produced by volunteers. It is available to own on Audible, Amazon, and Apple, and is also available for free here:
“Søren Kierkegaard said that ‘Life can only be understood backwards; but it must be lived forwards.’ We need to remember and learn the past, even if those lessons are couched in the guise of myth and folklore. Whether or not you have a connection to Central PA now, through the stories about King Chun-Eh-Hoe, Princess Nita-nee, the Indian brave Lions Paw, and the Great Getchi-Manitto, you will feel the connection by the time you finish the book.” —Amazon User Review
“(T)hese stories are often romantic. Sometimes wondrously, sometimes tragically. In our practical age romanticism leaves some of us cold, but for most I think these will prove a treat—whether read in solitude or shared with your sweetie.” —Amazon User Review
“This book is great reading no matter how you tackle it, but I’ll let Carl Sagan sum up my feelings about it: ‘A book is made from a tree. It is an assemblage of flat, flexible parts (still called ‘leaves’) imprinted with dark pigmented squiggles. One glance at it and you hear the voice of another person, perhaps someone dead for thousands of years. Across the millennia, the author is speaking, clearly and silently, inside your head, directly to you. Writing is perhaps the greatest of human inventions, binding together people, citizens of distant epochs, who never knew one another. Books break the shackles of time—proof that humans can work magic.'” —Amazon User Review