The Champion Turkey Hunter of the Alleghenies

When John was 37 years old, the Civil War broke out and he decided to volunteer to serve in the Union Army.  He walked 61 miles to Harrisburg only to be turned down at the recruiting office.  Upon completion of his physical, he was informed that he was suffering from “galloping” consumption and was dying, therefore unfit to serve.  If you are like myself, I am wondering what in the world “galloping” consumption is.  I quickly googled and discovered the explanation. It was a phrase used to describe a very aggressive type of Tuberculosis that caused breathing difficulty, fevers, and almost always ends in death. When asked about the event before he died, several decades later, he graciously said that the doctor was not a “dang’d fool, he was only mistaken.”

Gantz spent his life as a farmer and an avid hunter.  The story is told of one particular day of hunting when he shot two wild turkeys in the morning, returned home for lunch, and then went back into the woods where he shot two additional turkeys before dinner.  It is said that he shot 500 turkeys in a single season. How could he possibly utilize that many turkeys you may ask?  Well, during this time period Pennsylvania was the largest lumber producer in the country and hunters such as John were hired to hunt game to feed the many lumberjacks that worked in the mountains.

When Gantz turned 90 (keep in mind he was supposedly dying at age 37), he was asked what he felt were the contributing factors to his long life and good health.  His response was that he never hurried (a lesson we could all learn from), and that he always ate healthy food (some of which I am sure involved turkey).  He also mentioned that he kept his “human machinery” oiled by ingesting a hometown elixir called WISTO.

Gantz even became part of an advertising campaign for WISTO, touted by its maker, Lewistown pharmacist Edwin S. “Doc” Eby, as a drink which promotes “Vim, Vigor and Vitality.” The WISTO name was derived from the middle letters of Lewistown.  It contained a combination of vegetable ingredients and was served as a syrup mixed with soda water.  It was available at soda fountains in various locations across Mifflin County.  In the ad, John was pictured with his double barrel shotgun and described as the “Oldest Champion Turkey Hunter of the Allegheny Mountains.” That shotgun, along with some other treasured family keepsakes, including a copy of the WISTO ad, are now in the hands of his great-great-great grandson, the aforementioned, Peter Ort.

Gantz outlived two wives with whom he had six children and continued hunting until the ripe old age of 91.  He was healthy and mentally sound until the end, and died at his daughter, Elizabeth Ort’s house at the age of 94 ½.  Elizabeth was Peter’s connection to John as she was his great-great grandmother.

I hope you enjoyed this story, another page out of the book that is our local history, and as you sit down to your turkey dinner this Thanksgiving, I hope you pause a moment to remember the “Champion Turkey Hunter of the Alleghenies.”

Rhonda S. Kelley, Executive Director, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce

If you would like to read more interesting stories from our Juniata River Valley’s past, contact your local historical society.  Mifflin County Historical Society, (717)242-1022, and The Juniata County Historical Society, (717)436-5152,