“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 information 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 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 Indian and settler story-tellers he could find, in order to record and publish them 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 Indian and settler legends collected 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.
Own It Now
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 (not affiliated with The Nittany Valley Society, Inc.). The Legends of the Nittany Valley includes an excerpt from Penn State professor Dr. Simon J. Bronner’s Popularizing Pennsylvania: Henry W. Shoemaker and the Progressive Uses of Folklore and History.
The Nittany Valley Society is a non-profit entity. All proceeds from the sale of this work will go to covering production costs (e.g. ISBN purchase) and advertising for the group’s publishing efforts.
“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 2/11/13
“(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 2/1/13
Cover Image: Penn State Photos by William Ames Photography