Sinnemahoning Country

From “History of the West Branch Valley” by John F. Meginness, 1856


There is a place called Sinnamahone,

Of which but little good is known;

For sinning, ill must be its fame

Since SIN begins its very name.

So well, indeed, its fame is known

That people think they should begin

To drop the useless work MAHONE,

And call the country simply, SIN.

But to my tale- some years agone

The Presbytery having heard

Of the sad state of Sin, resolved

To send someone to preach the Word,

And Mr. Thompson was bid see then

To the conversion of the heathen.

I shall not linger long to tell

Of all that on the way befell;

How he was lost among the bushes,

And floundered through the reeds and rushes;

Or how, when hungry, down he sat

To corn-cobs fried in ‘possum fat;

How his black coat’s unusual hue

Caused a grim hunter to pursue

And cock his gun to blow him through,

Believing, as I’ve heard him swear,

Our missionary was a bear.

“Tis true,” he said, “I never counted

On seeing such thing as a bear

Upon a good stout pony mounted;

But yet I can with safety swear

That such a very wondrous sight

We might expect by day or night,

Rather than, in our hills, to note

A parson with a rale black coat.”

The Sunday came, and with it came

All of the ragged population;

Men, women, children, dogs, to hear

The tidings of salvation.

The women came in linsey-woolsey,

And tall wool hats increased their stature;

The men in shirts and leather leggings;

The brats and dogs in dress of nature.

The men who seldom stop at trifles,

Brought tomahawks and knives and rifles.

Service began – The parson wondered

To hear the singing that they made:

Some Yankee Doodle, some Old Hundred;

The hounds, astonished, howled and thundred

Until the forest shook dread.

The singing o’er – the prayer was said,

But scarcely had the text been read,

When, panting with fatigue and fear,

Rushed past the door, a hunted deer.

Prayer, hymn and text were all forgot,

And – for the sermon matter not –

Men, women, children, followed suit.

The men prepared the deer to slaughter;

The girls to heat it to the water.

None stayed but lame old Bill French,

Who sat unwilling on his bench.

Not for the sake of hymn or prayer

Did Billy keep his station there;

But, as he said with rueful phiz, –


The Parson groaned with inward pain,

And lifting up his hands again,

Cried dolefully, “Tis all in Vain.”

Up starting nimbly from his bench,

“Tis not in vain,” cried Billy French;

“When my good hound, old Never Fail,

Once gets his nose upon the trail,

There’s not a spike buck anywhere,

Can get away from him, I’LL swear.”

This poem was obviously inspired by a real life incident that occurred sometime about 1820, at the home of Old Andrew Overturf located at the confluence of Bennett’s Branch, then known as Second Fork, and the Sinnemahoning.

Sometime, much later, A.W. Gray wrote and published this same incident in the Democrat newspaper:

Perhaps brief sketches of history may interest some of the many readers of the Democrat, I will relate an incident which serves to illustrate the rude and uncultivated manner and habits of the primitive settlers of the Sinnemahoning Country, among the first settlers at the junction of the Driftwood and Bennett’s Branch near where the present thriving town of Driftwood is situated, lived a Pennsylvania Dutchman, whom we will designate as “Uncle Billy”.

The progeny of “Uncle Billy” are largely interspersed with the present inhabitants of Bennett’s Branch, all the way from Driftwood to Benezette, and are among the best elements to society of the children of Uncle Billy. One daughter only remains and she is truly in sear and yellow leaf of life, having served out the allotted three score years and ten more than a decade since. That daughter is my authority for the following narrative. At the time I write, she was a blooming maid just gushing into womanhood.

Uncle Billy lived in a rude log house on the bank of the stream consisting of two apartments, designated respectfully as the kitchen and the room. At long intervals a Presbyterian Minister by the name of Barber, was wont to wend his way from the Big Island, as it was then called, up the West Branch and Sinnemahoning to the settlement at Driftwood, then called Second Fork to hold religious meetings. As Uncle Billy’s cabin was central, and more capacious than the others, services were held in his rooms. On this occasion the reverend gentlemen in black made his appearance in the settlement on one fine Saturday evening. The announcement was promptly made for preaching next day, (Sunday). 

Accordingly as the hour drew near, the church goers donned their toggery, which at best was but scanty habiliments, and congregated at Uncle Billy’s to hear preaching. The service was duly opened in approved orthodox style, and the minister was just warming up in his subject, when the melody of hounds was herd on hilltop. The excitement of the chase was too fascinating for the congregation, and forgetful of the occasion, men and women, all rushed from the house and joined in the hunt, except Uncle Billy, who was too rheumatic and lame to join in the chase, but he hobbled to the door and seated himself with his back to the speaker. 

The minister quite chagrined and mortified in a despondent tone remarked, “It’s all in vain, in vain”. 

Uncle Billy intent on the hunt and misapprehending his meaning, replied in his broken English: “I does not know by sure I tinks dey vill victim dem bees goot dogs, dere I Jordan’s drive, and Coleman’s bitch after im, and den tere is dem Jordan poys, dey been hell hounds der sclres”. 

As Uncle Billy predicted, the deer was captured.  History is silent, but by the light of tradition, we learn the minister never visited Sinnemahoning again for the purpose of preaching to the natives.

In addition to hosting the first formal religious gathering in the area, Old Andrew’s home also served at a polling house for the first political elections of the area.

The daughter in the narrative was Mrs. Betsy Dent, wife of Thomas Dent and mother of Miles Dent known to many as the Paul Bunyan of the Bennett’s Branch.

“Pioneers of Second Fork” presents many fascinating stories on the history of the early pioneers who came to Bennett’s Valley to settle, including the Overturfs and Dent families.

Email Jim Burke or visit Mt. Zion Historical Society's Online Store to get a copy of Pioneers of Second Fork by James Burke.