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Local native hikes northward on a 239 year-old trail

By Staff | Aug 1, 2018

CAROL SHETLER/The Luminary Randy Watts, a historian from Turbotville, is hiking from Fort Freeland to Fort Niagra, New York, following a 239 year-old route in which his relatives were forced to march north as prisoners. At the iron railroad bridge at Longreach farms west of Muncy, the hiker took a break before heading onward to Montoursville.

TURBOTVILLE – A trek to scope out the trail taken 239 years ago by prisoners captured at Fort Freeland, is currently ongoing by Randy Watts of Turbotville. The route from the fort (adjoining Warrior Run High School) to Fort Niagria, New York, resulted from the battle which involved part of the hiker’s family. James Watts, Randy’s fifth great-grandfather, was the first casualty of the battle. Killed by John Montour, the Indian was soon wounded by a volley.

Among the 24 men captured were the dead man’s sons, Francis and John Watts. Randy said, “The Indians fighting with the British, were to confiscate cattle and burn the settlers’ buildings. Herded north with the men were 119 cattle, possibly including the sheep Watts went to check on when killed. Along the way, Francis Watts escaped.”

Part of the condition of surrender, Randy reported, was that “The women and children be given safe passage to Fort Augusta at Sunbury.” About 10 years ago, Randy led the Turbotville Boy Scout group to Sunbury. The hiker is past president and currently on the board of the Warrior Run-Fort Freeland Heritage Society. He strives to impart local history to others, saying, “Scouts can wear a citizenship badge in local history.”

In preparing for the current trek, Randy did physical conditioning. The nationally ranked wrestler and retired coach had previously hiked the Appalachian Trail.

The day before leaving, Randy Watts visited the Turbotville gravesite of Clymer Watson. “I felt a ‘kindred spirit’ with him as he died in 1949, the year I was born. The late Nellie Hoy shared a story about Clymer, a blind man who walked around the community in the company of his dog. She said that he walked to Michigan to visit relatives with shoes made to protect the canine’s paws.

When morning broke July 28, the very day the prisoners were forced northward, Randy made a few stops. Leaving the fort, he followed Sulpher Spring Road to Musser Lane, he visited Harry Betz and later Linda and Gerald Gordner. After a cup of coffee, he was off along the river to Pepper Street and near the boat launch, a kind woman gave him water. It was at Longreach, Muncy Farms at the famed iron railroad bridge where the Luminary author caught up with Randy. It was about four in the afternoon when he lifted his backpack, put on his hat, readied his walking sticks and was on his way to Montoursville to spend the night with relatives.

The exact location of the trail is unknown. However, long ago notations by the British General, coupled with early Indian maps scoured over by Randy and co-historian Roger Swartz, leaves them to believe a part of the real trail will be covered. The hiker predicts the trek will take more than two weeks. “I depends on the number of stops and how many people I meet. I like to talk,” he said.

Keep up with Randy Watt’s trekking progress in next week’s Luminary.