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Most people living in northwestern Pennsylvania in 1950 were unaware that during the first half of the twentieth century a band of Indians still lived on ancestral land near the headwaters of the Allegheny River. This was the cherished land given to Cornplanter in 1791.

In the mid-twentieth century this small group of fifty families gave insomnia to federal and state legislators and to an army of engineers eager to start construction on the proposed Kinzua Dam and Allegheny Reservoir. The property of these Indian families, the soil on which they had lived and buried their families for hundreds of years, lie in the way of the engineers' project.

Since this land was given in perpetuity to the descendants of Cornplanter it did not belong to the United States government or to the state of Pennsylvania. The Senecas insisted that the land could not be condemned or confiscated against their wishes. Construction of the Kinzua Dam and the Allegheny Reservoir required the taking of both the Cornplanter Grant land-the last Indian land in Pennsylvania-and Seneca Nation reservation land in New York State. No Seneca desired to sell their land.

The land was taken even though the Treaty of 1794 states that the United States would never claim the land unless the Senecas chose to sell to the people of the United States. On April 14, 1958, the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia ruled that the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers could take reservation land by the right of eminent domain. The implication clearly was that if the United States government could make a treaty, it could also break a treaty.

The oldest Indian treaty in existence was dishonored and became the object of much concern, controversy and debate. The case went to the U.S. Court of Appeals for the District of Columbia and to the U.S. Supreme Court, but the judgment against the Indians stood. Once the bureaucratic wheels of the Corps of Engineers were set into motion they were impossible to reverse.

Along with the taking of Cornplanter Tract land and Seneca reservation land, the property of many non-Indians was also taken by eminent domain. Entire towns were cleared and their denizens relocated. The inundating of these valleys and their long-established towns and villages with water is also the story of Kinzua, for today these towns live only in memory. Gone are Kinzua, Corydon, Red House, Quaker Bridge, Morrison, Onoville, one-third of the Allegheny Reservation, the Cornplanter Tract-only a strong feeling of nostalgia remains as these names are recalled. Also required were the federal acquisition of miles of railroad, highways, and power lines.

In these valleys of the upper Allegheny River something ancient and natural is undeniably gone forever. In their place are Kinzua Dam and the Allegheny Reservoir.

---excerpt from book, © W.N. Hoover


Wiliam N. Hoover
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