THE LEGEND OF TOM LIONS

As reported in the June 1997 Jacob Hochstetler Family Association "Family Newsletter"

 

The earliest mention of Tom Lions dates back to Sept. 19 and 20, l757, when the horrible massacre of the Jacob Hochstetler family occurred at their home in Berks County, Pa. Had it not been for this nefarious figure, the massacre and captivity might have been averted. Tom was an Indian brave, who flits in and out of our family history. He was known as Tom Lions, sometimes spelled Lyon. Tom Lions can be seen in the background, lurking in the shadows, and the Hochstetler story would not be complete without studying about him. Old Tom Lions lived among the people he had fought against, after warfare between the whites had ceased. There are many stories about him, some true and some surely not.

 

While the Hochstetler family in 1757

was huddled in their cabin basement

with their home burning, beating

back the fires, the Indians were

waiting on the outside for the family

to emerge. Meanwhile it was morning,

daylightwas approaching, and the

Indians were reluctant to stand up

to being fired on unless undercover.

Knowing the fire and smoke would

attract settlers, they began to leave

the scene and disappeared into the

woods. The family, thinking the

Indians had all left, emerged through

a basement window. Tom Lions, one

of the raiding party, about 18 years

of age, had lingered behind to pick

ripe peaches, and saw them escaping

from the burning building. He gave

the alarm, and the departing Indians

quickly returned and surrounded the Hochstetler family. The mother, a daughter, and a wounded son were quickly murdered and scalped. The father, Jacob, and two teenage sons, Joseph and Christian, were taken captive. Again, if it hadn't been for Tom Lions lingering behind, it is likely the Hochstetlers would have escaped the massacre and captivity.

 

During this time the Amish-Mennonite people were living in northern Berks County, PA, south of the Blue Mountains along three streams, the Northkill, Iris Creek, and Maiden Creek. The Indians raided the settlements, during the French and Indian War, in which they were on the side of the French, coming through gaps in the Blue Mountains, a wall of rock extending north of that area.

 

During the Revolutionary War and the years following, all the Amish Mennonites left, some moving south to Lancaster, Chester and Lebanon Counties, others moving two hundred miles west to Somerset and Cambria Counties, all in PA, from Johnstown south to the Maryland line. The U.S. was then very young, and Indians were still on the land. Although they had ceded the land to the U.S. government by then, the Indians did not leave until. long after the first settlements were made by the whites. The westward migration was slow, but it was sure, though the atrocities continued until in the next century. By 1800-1815, a goodly number of our ancestors lived in central and w Pa., and even in eastern Ohio.

 

After most of the Indians had retreated westward, even including the ones who were Christianized by the Moravian Missions, Old Tom Lions remained in eastern Ohio- During the years 1808 and 1812 the earliest we found Tom Lions, who had already pitched his hut in a a ravine about a half mile west of U.S. 62, between Berlin and Bunker Hill in Holmes Co. Through this ravine flows Lions Run in a southeastern direction emptying into Doughty Creek. Most of the-Indians had moved westward, while Old Tom Lions just "stayed." One record describes Old Lions' dwelling place as not a wigwam, but rather two cabins made of buckeye logs, with a small ground spot or area between, and a loop covered with balsawood bark.

 

From 1757 to 1808, there are few references to Tom Lions, but he certainly was a member of Indian raiding parties who attacked many white settlers in Pa. during those 50 years. In the latter part of his life he would boast and tell of his experiences, especially when under the influence of whiskey. Without a further history of Tom Lions among the white settlers, the history of Holmes and adjoining counties would be incomplete.

 

In his later years, Old Tom Lions gave the impression that he, though a minor chief, was not on friendly terms with other Indians. It was also said that even in his old age, he never overcame his savage lust for blood of the whites and his hatred for them. He had a very mean disposition, both with the whites and with other Indians. One report describes Tom Lions as a very aged, full blooded, ugly-looking savage. He was dark, large for an Indian, of coarse features, high cheek bones, and large protruding lips. When ornamented with a silver clevis and doubletrees in each ear and on-his nose, and smoking from a bowl and through the handle of his tomahawk, he had a grotesque look. He was feared by the whites, and considered extremely repulsive.

 

He hunted, trapped, and often begged corn meal from white settlers, sometimes traded wood ladies and woven baskets for meal and also threatened whites when not given provisions. He claimed to have a rawhide upon which were strung 99 dried tongues of enemies he had killed. He threatened people that theirs might become the 100th of those tongues. However, some people said they were deer tongues. Some believed that by stringing the 100th tongue on the rawhide, Tom would be immune to a white man's bullet.

 

On some occasions Tom would boast, he would tell of his stealthy approach of cabins in the dead of night, when the inmates were asleep and as silently as possible push a hole in the clay mortar of the chimney into the fireplace. He would attach a charge. Lions denounced Gen. Wayne as a "bad man, swear that he could be heard three miles." While describing the fight, Old Tom gestured and grinned as if in the midst of battle, impressing the whites.

 

Superstitions arose about the death of Tom Lions, It was reported that, on leaving a tavern, Old Lions was killed by a gang of toughs, probably drunk.

 

Another tradition says he was killed by a white person and his body thrown in a swamp.

 

Some say a 16-year-old boy became so enraged at Lions' boasting that he heft a gun to his shoulder and shot him.

 

Others say Jacob Miser shot him.

 

Some say Christian Olinger, a witch doctor, shot him with a silver bullet, because he was invulnerable to an ordinary.

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