Ghosts of the Mountains

Meyersdale Area School District  |  Posted on

Veteran educator Dennis Stahl recently shared his extensive knowledge and research on the Monongahela Indians to fifth grade students at MAES.

On November 22, fifth grade Meyersdale Area Elementary School students learned how history truly surrounds them with a presentation by veteran educator Mr. Dennis Stahl. Stahl shared a program entitled “Ghosts of the Mountains,” chronicling the fascinating history of the Monongahela people in this region.

Stahl explained to students that the Monongahela Indians lived in camps throughout Somerset County and the surrounding areas. Excavation efforts have indicated these people lived in this region from approximately 800 to 1500 B.C.

The Monongahela Indians were the first people here and mainly lived in Pennsylvania, Ohio, West Virginia and Maryland. Stahl explained how, after years of finding Native American artifacts by farmers, researchers were secured to come to this region during the Great Depression to conduct excavations through the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and Works Progress Administration (WPA). Much of the excavating completed locally was completed by crews with the WPA. Securing this work was not an easy task and Stahl said local activist Flora Black used her influence to bring the work to Meyersdale and the surrounding areas.

“She helped to coordinate the efforts to have the WPA come here and help local folks get work and help perform the excavations,” he explained. “Fort Hill was among the largest sites they found, but camps were found throughout this area, just steps from where you are sitting now.”

Stahl explained camps were found on what is now the Somerset County fairgrounds and along the Casselman, particularly in areas where work was later done for the completion of State Route 219.

The Monongahela encampments were small and scattered throughout the region, mostly along creeks and rivers. They were hunters and gatherers, living off the land. Just as hunting for white-tail deer remains a regional tradition, those same deer were the mainstays of these people as they hunted for deer, using every aspect of the carcass. They used every bit of the animal for their survival. Stahl said the people also hunted rabbits, groundhogs, birds and bears.

The role of females in camps cannot be underestimated, as Stahl said their expertise in gathering and farming helped keep families alive during the harsh winter months.

According to Stahl, the Monongahela people were small in stature and led difficult and short lives, most only living until they were in their 40s.

“They worked and hunted where we are sitting today, and then they disappeared.”

By the 1500s, the Monongahela disappeared entirely, leaving only traces to be found hundreds of years later. Stahl said many factors led to their disappearance – disease, other tribes, over-hunting and a dramatic climate change.

At the conclusion of his presentation, students were able to examine artifacts from Stahl’s extensive collection, marveling over touching pieces used by Native Americans 600 years ago.

Fifth grade teacher Amanda McNelly said Stahl’s presentation plays an important role in her social studies classes.

“We do a unit on our country’s first natives. Students learn about the nomads, the Bering Strait, homes, customs, artifacts, hunting, gathering, farming and more. Stahl helps to tie the unit together and makes the material more relatable by introducing the 5th graders to the Monongahela Indians, who once lived right here in Meyersdale and surrounding areas,” she explained. “We are all very appreciative of his local knowledge and his annual visits.”