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Thousands of years before European settlers named the town of River Crest, the native tribes inhabited forests and the banks of the picturesque body of life-giving water. The river snaked through a densely wooded area later to be called “Penn’s Woods” – Pennsylvania. The Len'api (or Delaware Indian) named it for what it provided at its mouth in the Chesapeake Bay. Many miles to the south of River Crest the ancient tribes fed on its bounty, naming it, Sisa'we'hak'hanna, or Susquehanna – “oyster river”. Or “winding river” or “muddy river” or “long reach river”. There have been many names, all appropriate for the longest river on the east coast of the United States.
No one knows if those freshwater shellfish delicacies were available many miles to the north, but fish and game were surely plentiful there. Still, despite its beauty and abundance of woodland creatures, the mid-Atlantic climate was harsh in winters, and many perished. Early Europeans settlers found not only the weather to be inhospitable in the winter months, but also the native inhabitants who resided there before them, living off the land and its waterways.
Conflicts arose between the European newcomers and the “old ones”, the ancient indigenous tribes. Small, isolated skirmishes became increasingly regular and troublesome. What were initially battles fought in small encampments along tiny but growing river towns escalated into regional battles and wars between the white men and The Five Nations of the native peoples. Many died on both sides. Much grief and hardship had found its way into this bucolic and pastoral setting. That suffering would not be forgotten.
The Susquehannock, a proud, and powerful native people, made their way away from the encroaching established settlements and into the surrounding hills, their anguish and grief unresolved. Anger was still a driving force within them. Their undying love for their murdered families, those lives interrupted and ended too soon. Their bodies and their souls were in pain, their numbers reduced to a fraction of their once-powerful tribe. However, their spirit remained and was not vanquished. They were the last remaining of their kind.
These anguished natives spoke to their ancestors. They pleaded for a direction, from which they could go on. They asked forgiveness, if they had somehow caused the invaders to come. They asked for guidance to help sort through their pain and suffering, their loss and betrayal; to find a way to satisfy their hunger and for strength to assuage their weariness. They wailed and sang their pleas and praises night after night, day after day, through collective ritual and silent prayer, there in the hills surrounding the little settlement of those who had taken their place.
Then, on a hot summer night all the forces of nature rained down on the hill known as Red Ridge. The skies opened and hurled the most deadly streaks of fire into the iron rich hills, setting it ablaze. The entire tribe was eliminated, incinerated in an instant from the face of the earth with great force. Their invocation was halted abruptly, their pleas incomplete, their questions, unanswered. Their immolated anguish remained in the hills like an infinite number of charged particles, unresolved, incoherent pure emotion seeking form and purpose.
In the centuries that followed, the settlers endured many hardships of their own, not unlike the extinct tribes. The floods, insurrections, disease and starvation, early deaths of innocent children, crimes, and fires all came in abundance. They prayed to their spiritual guide, their God, seeking resolution. They sought the condemnation of the wicked and praise for the holy and righteous. They cast off the most difficult and unpleasant of their emotions to the surrounds of their environment: the pain and hurt, despair and repression; turning instead to a larger, unseen force; a heavenly voice to absolve them, to guide them in their lives. Their voices, their prayers, were directed to the heavens above— but echoed through the surrounding hills.