Juniata County’s Grasshopper War

I also appreciate the show’s inclusion of the nearby Indian reservation.  It helps the viewer understand some of the hardships and difficulties this racial class has endured in the past and still faces today.  Issues such as housing, education, and discrimination.  It made me think of our own local history.  Native Americans were the first to hunt, fish, and live in our Juniata River Valley.  It prodded me to do some digging.

As I was researching our local tribes, I came across an article written by John Witthoft, former Pennsylvania state archeologist and faculty member of the University of Pennsylvania’s Anthropology Department, called “The Grasshopper War” Folktale.  There are many variations of this folktale, but one of the best-known takes place in Juniata County in the 1730’s near the flats at the mouth of Licking Creek on the Juniata River.   As the story goes, there were two Indian villages located across the creek from each other.  The two villages lived side by side in peace, hunting, working, and playing together.

One day the children from the two villages were playing and a young boy from one of the villages discovered a large and particularly beautiful grasshopper.  A boy from the neighboring village saw the unusual grasshopper and decided he should have it.  The boys began to fight over the grasshopper, and it didn’t take long for the mothers of the children to become involved in the disagreement.  You can guess what happened next as the fathers observed the chaos and joined the melee. It is believed that the disagreement between the tribes soon escalated to a full-on battle.

Local archaeological sites in the area seem to back up the story, or at the very least point to significant loss of life from some sort of battle.  Many relics have also been discovered in the area such as arrowheads, spear points, and bones in a number of documented Indian burial mounds. A large Indian mound along with the ruins of a fort were discovered two miles above Academia in Juniata County.  It is called Books Indian Burial Mound and is located on Indian Mound Road, just off Highway 75. There is a sign designating the spot.

It is said that when early settlers arrived at this location there was a massive pile of bones as high as a hunter’s cabin (15 feet) and the pile covered an eighth of an acre.  Another described it as being 12 feet high and one hundred feet in diameter.  That’s a lot of bones!  The farmer who owned the property is said to have hauled out the bones and scattered them through his field plowing them into the soil.  Students at the local Tuscarora Academy would often visit the site looking for teeth, arrowheads, pipes, and other relics.

Were these burial mounds in Juniata County part of the “The Grasshopper War?” No one knows for sure, but I spoke to a few locals who, when I mentioned the Grasshopper War, knew exactly what I was talking about.  The story obviously has been passed down through generations. Either way, there are valuable lessons we can learn from this story.

How often in our country’s history, our local history, and in our own personal lives do we allow something very small to become unnecessarily large, causing division and conflict?  We see country against country, political party against political party, family member against family member, often warring over things unnecessarily, things that could have been resolved through communication, forgiveness, and understanding.  May we learn from the past and take a lesson from “The Grasshopper War” and be careful that what we are fighting over is worth the price we must pay.  Rhonda S. Kelley, Executive Director, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce