The Legend of Crow Wings

Tattooing was another popular custom among the Delaware, with designs covering the entire body, including the face.  Common themes included animals, birds, and reptiles.  One account described a warrior whose tattoos told the story of his life’s adventures, placed strategically between his arrow wounds.  Each tattoo color had a specific meaning:  white symbolized peace, while black represented evil, grief, or death.  These paints were made from natural materials found in the woods. Women use these paints sparingly, but men in the tribe were much more liberal with them.

The Delaware lived in small, close-knit villages of typically no more than six houses.  Community was everything to them.  During this period, settlers began to arrive, changing the lives of the Native Americans forever.  One lingering legend from these tumultuous times occurred in 1777 near Stone Creek in Mifflin County when the Donnelly family was brutally attacked by local Native Americans. Both father and son were killed, but the daughter heroically managed to escape.

Following the attack, enraged settlers began a campaign against the Native Americans.  One particularly cruel settler, Jacob Nittman, captured a young and beautiful native girl named Crow Wings.  She was given this name because of her strikingly dark hair that she always wore in pigtails.  Nittman roughly grabbed the terrified girl and took her to his isolated cabin in what is now Detweiler’s Hollow. He mercilessly tied her to a tree and left her there to die in the frigid temperatures. He left on a hunting excursion, but ironically became the hunted as a group of Native Americans sought to kill him.  He avoided capture, however, and survived a terrible blizzard that swept through the Juniata River Valley.

Upon his return, Nittman found Crow Wings still tied to the tree, her lifeless body, covered in ice and snow. Her haunting beauty, still evident, though her skin was now a pale, icy blue.  The scene around her was eerily quiet, with only the wind breaking the silence.  It was almost as if the forest itself was morning her death. The cold embrace of winter that had stolen her life seemed almost poetic, overshadowed only by the stone-cold heart of Nittman.

Following her death, a warning was passed down through the generations:  those who traveled through Detweiler’s Hollow after dark should beware.  It was believed the Crow Wings still roamed the area as a beautiful snow maiden.  Travelers were warned not to be beguiled by the enchanting figure which haunted these woods, for she would entice them with a kiss only to bury them in an avalanche of snow.

This local legend and others like it are one reason I am so immensely proud of our Native American heritage, which is such an integral part of our community.  So many of our communities proudly bear Native American Names which stand as a testament to the connection we enjoy to our rich history.

I take great pride in the Native American names that grace so many places in our community, from rivers and towns to buildings and trails. These names are a testament to our rich heritage and serve as a constant reminder of the deep connections we have to the history and culture of our unique area.


Rhonda S. Kelley,

Executive Director, Juniata River Valley Chamber of Commerce