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Scribe opens eyes to another historical Mt. Pleasant-area passage

| Wednesday, Dec. 17, 2014, 9:01 p.m.
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Dietle
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'In Search of the Turkey Foot Road: Unraveling the Mystery, Charting New History, Plotting the Route,' co-authored by Western Pennsylvania native Lannie Dietle, reviews efforts to establish the road as an alternate route to the Braddock Road in the late 18th century. The book's grayscale cover is derived from an 1890s-era photograph of the road.

Consider it the untold tale of Mt. Pleasant's other historical trail.

Handed down for generations has been the story of Braddock's Road and its local role in early colonial lore.

From Great Swamp Camp at the present-day site of Greenlick Reservoir to the crossing of Jacobs Creek to its winding ascent to what today is Mt. Pleasant Cemetery, the passage has been well marked on which Gen. Edward Braddock and his British and American troops traveled in summer 1755 from Fort Cumberland, Md., to Fort Duquesne during the French and Indian War.

But another road of historical note was built some two decades later through the area, one in which Lannie Dietle, a Somerset County native, has spent the past five years researching, he said.

The product of Dietle's studies is “In Search of the Turkey Foot Road — Unraveling the Mystery, Charting New History, Plotting the Route,” a book he recently co-authored with Michael McKenzie and continues to update.

The work is published by the Mt. Savage Historical Society, and all proceeds continue to benefit the Maryland-based organization.

“It's been the most intense thing I've ever pursued,” said Dietle, 61, of Houston, Tex., who grew up in Mercer County before graduating from California University of Pennsylvania in 1974.

“It's been a real privilege to research this road. It's been an exciting part of my life,” he added. “I just want the Mt. Pleasant area to be able to know this lost part of their history.”

Passage paved a shorter, safer route

The 562-page book relays in detailed, factual documentation the account of a country exhausted by the Revolutionary War, a beleaguered Fort Pitt, and a few innovative, indomitable leaders that rise to the occasion and implement a plan to protect the frontiers of Pennsylvania, Dietle said.

“In 1778, Americans were outraged at massacres committed by Tories and British-allied (Native Americans) at Wyoming Valley, Pa., and Cherry Valley, N.Y.,” he said.

In January 1779, Quartermaster General Nathaniel Greene advised Gen. George Washington to retaliate by launching a two-pronged attack against the Native American food supply, with one division marching from Fort Pitt and another from the Wyoming Valley, Dietle said.

In order to implement the plan, they first had to create a way to get supplies to a pitifully undersupplied Fort Pitt, he said.

In preparation for the attack, Washington asked Greene and Commissary General Jeremiah Wadsworth to improve the transportation of supplies from the “frontiers of Virginia” to Fort Pitt, Dietle said. Greene in turn contacted Col. George Morgan, who was the purchasing commissary for the Western department, he said.

Morgan assigned Cumberland resident Capt. Charles Clinton and Providence Mounts, an early resident of what is now Connellsville, to cut a new, shorter road from the town of Fort Cumberland, Md., to supply Fort Pitt, Dietle said.

“It was also drier than Braddock's old road, because it avoided the Youghiogheny River,” he said.

New route merged with Braddock Road

While Washington had to cancel the attack out of Fort Pitt because of the continuing dire nature of the supply situation, Dietle said, Clinton and Mounts rose to the occasion and pushed the new road through from Cumberland just in time.

“It passed through what is now Mill Run, Normalville and Wooddale, and merged with Braddock's road in the environs of what is now Mt. Pleasant,” he said.

By June 25, 1779, Fort Pitt was adequately supplied for the campaign, with more than 400 cattle and nearly 1,000 kegs of flour on hand. Morgan made this supply miracle happen by putting 1,500 packhorses on the new road, Dietle said.

With the supply situation suddenly changed for the better, Washington changed his mind and ordered the attack out of Fort Pitt to proceed, he said.

The resulting widespread destruction of Native American food supplies was followed by one of the harshest winters on record, which decimated the game animals on which the Indians might have otherwise subsisted, Dietle said.

Many Native Americans had to retreat to Fort Niagara, where they could rely on British supplies, and most never returned, he said.

“Mercifully, (then-Col. Daniel) Brodhead shared Fort Pitt's supplies with (Native Americans) who remained in the immediate Fort Pitt area,” Dietle said.

The end result was a new degree of safety for settlers in the frontiers of Pennsylvania, he said.

“To be sure, western Pennsylvania continued to be attacked by (Native Americans) from the far west, but in the post-campaign era, western Pennsylvania suffered far fewer depredations from (Native Americans) living in New York and Pennsylvania,” Dietle said.

As a result, it was once again safe to plant crops in the spring of 1779, he said.

By the fall of 1779, the packhorse road was being upgraded to a wagon road, Dietle said.

“Shortly after the war, Washington's correspondence refers to the road as the new Turkey Foot Road,” he said.

Research spurs local response

Last winter, Upper Tyrone resident Alan Wilson reached out to Dietle regarding what he'd uncovered regarding the Turkey Foot Road.

“I emailed Lannie, and I asked if I could use a few quotes out of the book,” said Wilson, 55.

Dietle was featured as a guest blogger on Wilson's website “Fayette/Westmoreland Forgotten History,” which also contains a question-and-answer interview he conducted with Dietle on the contents of the book.

In March, Dietle and McKenzie conducted a presentation of their findings before the Bullskin Township Historical Society, an organization for which Dietle maintains a membership based on his familial ties to the area.

“A lot of people are very interested, and since it came through our township, we really were happy he came,” said Kim Brown, the society's president.

Discoveries help form fast friendships

In October, Jeffrey Hann of Bullskin was propped in his tree stand while archery hunting near his home when he discovered a trail bed he thought might be a remnant of the Turkey Foot Road.

He took photographs and contacted Wilson, who referred him to Dietle.

“Jeffrey found a new shortcut route in Fayette County that is shorter and more level than the 1794 route I documented,” Dietle said. “I'm thrilled that local people are continuing the research my book focuses on.”

By late November, Dietle, Wilson and Hann met personally in Mt. Pleasant and, from there, explored miles of woodlands in the areas of Mill Run and Jones Mills in search of undiscovered delineations of the road.

“Lannie is very dedicated, knowledgeable, thorough and compassionate about his work on the Turkey Foot Road,” Hann said. “It is my pleasure to consider him a friend.”

Wilson authored a post about the meet up on his site.

“Jeff's perspective and Lannie's scholarly overview pretty much led to my article,” he said. “To be connected to them in that area seemed to be pretty meaningful.”

Hann's discovery compelled Dietle to create an addendum to the book's online version, which allows for the addition of any yet-to-be discovered information on the road.

“This is a topic that is hard to stop researching. I keep telling my wife, ‘I'm not going to work on the book anymore,'” said Dietle with a laugh.

In addition to telling the story of how the road came to be, the new edition also delineates the route across Fayette County, and highlights the settlers and later residents who lived along the road.

For more information on the book, visit mountsavagehistoricalsociety.org.

A.J. Panian is an editor for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 724-547-5722 or apanian@tribweb.com.

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