The valley's official name, Kishacoquillas, was named in 1754, after a Shawnee chief (Chief Kissikahquelas, aka Kishacoquillas). He led the 20 families of the Shawnee village of Ohessen. Kishacoquillas is an Indian term that stands for "the snakes have gone into their dens."
The first known human inhabitants of the region were the Paleo-Indians over 11,000 years ago. They were hunter-gatherers who lived in small bands and were nomadic in nature.
Tribes in Pennsylvania began to develop into distinct groups during the Late Woodland period of approximately 1000A.D. Farming of corn, beans, and squash became well established and the bow and arrow were introduced as new methods for hunting.
The Susquehannock were the most prosperous tribe in central Pennsylvania during the early colonial period, with settlements of up to 3000 people (2). The Juniata Iroquois, also known as the Standing Stone People, additionally inhabited the area with the Susquehannocks (1). The European fur trade became an important source of goods, but also degraded the Native American culture by introducing diseases, and alcohol, land grabbing, and furthering inter-tribal conflicts (2). When the Dutch began giving firearms to the Five Nations of Iroquois in New York, the local Susquehannock and Juniata Iroquois were displaced by the New York Iroquois (1)(2).
The Shawnee occupied the area from 1725 to the late 1750's (1). The valley was officially named in 1754, after a well-respected Shawnee chief (Chief Kissikahquelas, aka Kishacoquillas). Kishacoquillas (meaning, "the snakes have gone into their dens.") led the Shawnee's village of Ohessen, but was most widely regarded for his loyalty and conciliatory efforts in keeping the Shawnees neutral in the pending French and Indian War (1).
At the time of the Albany Purchase in 1754, when most of western Pennsylvania was purchased from the Iroquois League of Six Nations by the colonial government, only a few scattered Indian villages remained (2). This began the period when the first European immigrants populated the area (2)
The Scotch-Irish were the first European immigrants to arrive (1). They are credited with clearing the land, and establishing a systematic scheme of local government, but they moved farther west as more permanent farmers began to appear (1). The first Germans to move to the area were members of the Church of the Brethren (1).
Tribes in Pennsylvania began to develop into distinct groups during the Late Woodland period of approximately 1000AD. Farming for corn, beans, and squash became the main food supply; in addition, there was the introduction of the bow and arrow for hunting.
The Shawnee tribe briefly occupied the area in the late 1600’s; however, the Iroquois due to the area’s excellent hunting eventually pushed them out. They hunted and fished the grounds in the Big Valley.
The Iroquois inhabited the land following the Shawnee’s until the mid to late 1700’s with sparse, occasional settlements. The Scotch-Irish reached the area in the 1720’s. Mifflin County was then established in 1789 by a well educated, politically active, war hero named Thomas Mifflin.
The Amish began to arrive in the early 1790's (1). They found Kishacoquillas Valley, what we now call 'Big Valley', to be rich in soil and limestone that made for very productive farms. The family farm is an important feature of the Amish society, both as a means of income, and as an ideal setting for developing a wholesome way of life (1). Today, these two religious cultures still thrive side-by-side in the county. Big Valley's largest industry is still agriculture, in part because of the large Amish population living there. Farming practices in the area range from the current modern agricultural technologies, to the Amish's practices used since the 18th century.
Three distinct Amish groups can be identified in the valley, the "Old Church" ("Alt Gmay", now called the Byler Church), "Old School" ("Nebraskans"), and the Peachey Church (1). In the local community, these groups are often referred to by the color of their carriage tops. The Byler Church are know as "Yellow-toppers", Nebraskans are know as "White-toppers", and the Peachey Church is know as "Black-toppers" (1). These visible differences represent just a glimpse of the cultural differences of the groups. Though there are differences in the three lifestyles, all have retained an Amish identity.
This identity is based on a deep religious belief system that calls for members to live the life they preach of simplicity, community, peace, and in an ever material world, non-conformity. To a visitor of the valley, one would see this represented by the continued use of horses for transportation and farm work, plain cloths, one-room school houses, lack of electricity to their buildings, the continued use of the German language, hand-crafted items, and the lack of mechanized equipment.
(1) Mifflin County Amish and Mennonite Story 1791-1991, by S. Duane Kauffman, 1991 Mifflin County Mennonite Historical Society 1946
(2) Juniata Watershed Management Plan
Mifflin County Amish and Mennonite Story, 1791-1991 by S. Duane Kauffman
The Indian Tribes of North America
Map of the Kishacoquillas Valley area (Huntingdon and Mifflin Counties)
Mennonite and Amish Folklore and Folk Arts
Kishacoquillas Valley Railroad
Nearby places with strange-sounding names
Juniata River Watershed Fact Sheet
What to See and Do in the Juniata Valley
Pennsylvania on the Eve of Colonization
Mifflin County Genealogy