April 22, 1865 – October 13, 1958
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1 June 2011
by: Ken Williams, Author and
Major Israel McCreight was a
noted DuBois banker, author, conservationist, adopted member and an honorary chief
of the Sioux Indian Tribe. He was cited by the Courier
Express as a "pioneer and first citizen" of DuBois.
McCreight was born near Soldier in Jefferson County
(Winslow Township) on April 22, 1865, a tumultuous time in our country’s
history. He was born Israel McCreight, named after his mother's noted
soldier brother Israel Uncapher, a Major in the Union Army who had
fought in the Mexican and Civil Wars.
Someone thought to call the child "Major" as well and like it
or not, that childhood nickname followed him throughout his entire life
although family members often called him simply by the shortened Maj or
Maje. (pronounced Mage as in the word
The month of April 1865 had marked the end of the American Civil war.
Robert E. Lee
surrendered on April 9 and less than a week later, on Good Friday April 14,
President Abraham Lincoln was struck down by an assassin's bullet at
Ford's Theater and died the next morning.
In the days just prior to McCreight's
birth 10,000 people would watch Lincoln’s funeral procession in
Washington and then
the April 21st loading of his casket onto a train draped in black that
would take his body cross country for burial in Springfield, Illinois.
Thousands would line the railroad tracks as the train slowly passed
by. With stops in almost a dozen major northern cities thousands more
would watch a local funeral procession. The trip would
take nearly two weeks with burial not until May 4th.
McCreight was just three days old when President Lincoln's funeral
procession passed through New York. That event was watched from
his uncle's mansion by a rather sickly six year-old child who was then
asthmatic, weak and near-sighted. That once frail youngster, however,
would grow hardy and strong and become one of our greatest
presidents. Theodore Roosevelt would bring excitement and power to
the Presidency and world-wide respect for himself and for the United States.
Years later President Roosevelt would rely on Major McCreight of DuBois
to help author the President's national Conservation Policy.
That same year of 1865 would see newspaper editor Horace Greeley of the N.Y. Tribune
write the famous line, "Go West young man … and grow up with the
country." Those words would turn out to be
prophetic for the newborn McCreight.
Little did anyone know at the time just how great a part the West would
play in McCreight's life.
Once known as "The Wilderness at Sandy," the wooded hills and
the beaver-made meadow of today's DuBois was, in fact, still pretty much
a wilderness in 1865. John Rumbarger had come to the area the same
year that McCreight was born. McCreight would be in grade school before
the tiny village of Rumbarger would get its post office in 1874 and just
1873 construction of John DuBois' "Big Mill" on the East side
of town that was then known as "Swamp Siding."
However, as McCreight grew
so did DuBois grow from its start as a lumbering town to
eventually emerge and become a city in its own right and home to
McCreight. In those later years McCreight would be a major player
in the growth of DuBois.
In his history of DuBois McCreight woud write, "DuBois was
conceived in a big idea, by a man (John DuBois) able to carry out a big
idea.... While John DuBois put the town on the map, Johnny J Jones, Tom
Mix and John G McCrory are (the) names that helped to keep it there....
It is sad ... that Johnny Jones, who did so much to advertise DuBois,
lies buried in an unmarked grave in the City of Orlando; it is one more
evidence of the truth that public memory is short, fickle and
unappreciative toward those to who they owe the most."
Now, nearly 150 years after McCreight's birth that observation could
just as well be applied to Major's own contributions to the growth of
DuBois and the creation of Cooks Forest State Park.
The country welcomed peace following the Civil War, but would remained divided for years to
come, both sides having suffered the ravages of a war not soon to be
forgotten. McCreight would be four years old before the Transcontinental
Railroad joined the two ends of the nation by rail, but the land between
the Mississippi River and California was still very much "the wild
Billy the Kid would kill the first of many men while McCreight, often
barefoot, was still walking to his country school. During McCreight's
pre-teen years Wild Bill Hickok would be shot holding the famous
"aces and eights" poker hand and Alexander Graham Bell would
just be inventing the telephone. McCreight was 14 when Thomas Edison
invented the light bulb.
Those were the dramatic events of that era for the little baby who was
one of six surviving children (six others died at a young age) born to
Eliza (Catherine) Ludwig Uncapher and "Honest" John Winslow McCreight who,
in addition to his logging and farming, served as a the local Justice of
John W. McCreight’s parents ( Andrew McCreight and Ann Sharp ) had been
among "the earliest settlers in
Jefferson County, Pennsylvania. They were married in 1810 and had
thirteen children. Ann's father and hence Major McCreight's great
grandfather Captain Andrew Sharp served with George Washington in the
Revolutionary War. In 1794 Capt. Sharp had been shot and killed
from ambush by an Indian while transporting his family via house-boat
from Shelocta to Pittsburgh with plans to move to Kentucky.
Major McCreight grew up on the family
farm helping with the daily farm-related chores and other activities
which included hunting with an old Kentucky rifle given him by the
family's doctor, driving
the family’s big red oxen, logging of the Pine forests and squaring
timber to be floated to market.
Ironically Major McCreight would later be a significant supporter of
Andrew and Ann Sharp McCreight's six sons, including Major's father John, took sections of land
adjoining the family farm. The McCreight's called the settlement, Paradise," and
that was where Major McCreight grew up. That area outside Reynoldsville still retains that name
Major's mother Eliza’s ancestors came to America from Germany and she was
described as small "quick and fiery while John (an Irishman) was
serenely calm … stocky and broad shouldered." .
The children had a two-mile trek to a little country school house
through the "forest," rain, shine or winter snow.
The logs and timbers were hauled to Sandy Creek, floated to Red Bank
Creek, then downstream to the Allegheny River and down to Pittsburgh.
McCreight was eleven years old when General George Custer rode into
inglorious history at the Battle of the Little Big Horn (1876) in
Eastern Montana. Major McCreight and Sioux Indian Chief Flying
Hawk would many years later gather at the historic Wigwam in DuBois to
write the Chief's first hand account of that famous battle.
McCreight's youth was not a sedimentary life for the lazy.
The family had little spare money and
worked hard for what they had. McCreight wrote, "The boy of today
has no conception of what it took to earn a living those days."
Later in life he would write, I was,
"Born of life and hope; nurtured by a wonderful mother; schooled in
the distracted world of hard knocks to youth and early manhood;
learning Life from the big wide bare plains of the northwest, where
friends and neighbors lived from time immemorial in a world of
Finishing public school, McCreight enrolled in
Eastman College, a noted Business School located in Poughkeepsie, New
York, which at one time was one of the largest and most acclaimed
commercial schools in the country.
The school's cost of $110 required a
significant family sacrifice to make the 17 year old's enrollment "
... at all possible. (The
sale of a) young horse and a couple of steers together with the savings
of the other members of the family finally produced the sum" needed
for Major McCreight to attend college.
Eastman College students were taught business by actually performing
practical, real-world tasks that would be required of them in their
chosen careers. An excellent student, McCreight is said to have
completed his education in merchandising and banking in the record time
of just four months.
In August of 1882 he reportedly became one of the youngest persons ever
graduated. In his words, he was serious in his "study for getting
through that noted training place.... (and to that intelligent young
man), the course seemed easily met."
It was the same year that John L. Sullivan became the Heavyweight
Champion of the World. The first World Series took place that
year, Thomas Edison created the first string of electric Christmas
lights and out West Jesse James was shot and killed. It was a
fascinating time in our history.
Returning home by train after a side trip to see Niagara Falls
(" a great sight ") he passed through Driftwood where, unknown
to him at the time, two year old Tom Mix would have been at play at his
family’s homestead nearby. Mix
would later go on to world-wide fame and put DuBois on the map as an early western film star.
McCreight went to work on the family farm where reportedly his immediate
chores included shoveling manure. But the very next summer (
1883 ) while Black Bart was robbing stage coaches in the American West,
and energetic Major McCreight went to Reynoldsville in search of employment to put his
training to use. McCreight once said of Reynoldsville, "this is my old home
town and no part of Pennsylvania has more or better history than
That same year Buffalo Bill Cody, who would later become McCreight's
close friend, started his famous Wild West Show. He would tour the
country and the world. Years later, his travels would bring him to
DuBois as a guest at McCreight's famous summer home, the
McCreight wrote, I had "greased my boots, donned my blue serge suit
over my one white shirt and paper collar, tucked my gold-sealed college
diploma under my arm and walked to town; … to try to get a job to earn
some money to go west."
"Tied to the hitching rack in front of the Fuller store were
saddle horses and farm teams while under the porch covering the wooden
sidewalk, sat the proprietor on an empty dry-goods box industriously
chewing tobacco and answering a farmer's question about the coming
elections, between spits.
"As the farmer turned away, I advanced hesitatingly and addressed
the proprietor to know if I might get a position in his store. "How
old are you and what do you know about storekeeping?" was the reply
following a squirt of tobacco juice which landed squarely on a horse's
hoof clear of the walk."
"I'm past seventeen, and I have a diploma; here it is, sir";
and the merchant unfolded it to gaze upon the mysterious document, the
like of which he had never seen before. Then he continued; "are you
John's son?"---and being informed that I was, the job was settled
and (I was) to begin next day with $20 a month salary."
Employed as a clerk, he also helped out in the "private bank"
of Seeley-Alexander that was located in the same building as the G.W.
Fuller store. He eventually was hired to
do the banking work at the same wage he had earned as a store clerk.
In 1884 he was hired as cashier of the First National Bank of DuBois and
often also slept in a back room as night watchman.
In those years DuBois was a town on the move. (see McCreight's History
of DuBois) "(It) was a hive of industry; mills,
lumberyard, foundry, pattern shop, tannery, big and little stores,
railroad sidings, farms and mines boomed with bustling activity....
There were no unemployed, .... DuBois prospered!
Filled with plain, hard-working,
neighborly, self-reliant men and women
DuBois went forward in a
steady and substantial way to her
destiny as the commercial center of a
constantly widening area."
But in the Spring of 1885, just two years out of Eastman College and
already employed in the banking business albeit as just a cashier,
McCreight wrote that, " … a
fever came on (me) to see the West." Things had become too
routine for McCreight and he was soon "enroute to the rails-end in
buffalo and indian country."
It was the year Mark Twain published Huckleberry Finn, that both
Lawrence of Arabia and old-blood-and-guts General George Patton were
born, and that the Statue of Liberty arrived in New York Harbor.
Armed with little more than a positive letter of recommendation, he took
a series of trains west, eventually coming to Devils Lake in the
Northern Dakota Territory, an area McCreight would later describe as one
of America’s "last frontiers."
He wrote, "These were days when the old west was really wild and
His time there would influence
McCreight for the rest of his life, fostering his love of nature and
respect for Native Americans. McCreight noted, "...the
extermination of the (buffalo) herds for their hides and the consequent
sacrifice of (the American Indian,) the original proprietors of the vast
interior of the continent, is a stained page" of America's history.
Of his arrival at Devil's Lake McCreight wrote, as I "stepped
down from the platform of the local train at the end of the track on the
frontier of north-central Dakota Territory the first persons to meet and
greet (me) was a small band of Sioux Indians who had come, in their gala
dress, to witness the coming of the wonderful fire-wagon; they were a
fine healthy lot; and as the travel- worn youth with his carpet-bag and
lunch basket looked about for someone from whom he might ask directions,
the chief stepped up and with extended hand" welcomed the young
Later McCreight wrote, "Indians had killed (my) own
great-grandfather ( Captain Andrew Sharp in 1794 )and carried on a war of extermination against (my)
forbears in Pennsylvania in the old days. That kindly greeting by the
old Sioux Chief quickly dispelled much of the prejudice that had filled
his heart through childhood, and soon the youth (McCreight) began to
think that Indians were not such terrible folks as Eastern people
believed they were."
"Half in fright and with a puzzled hand-shake, the boy made his
way toward what seemed to be the white man's town, he passed by a large
pile of bones, and wondered what it meant."
"It was not many days until he was informed, for soon he found
himself in full charge of the business of buying and shipping buffalo
bones including the very pile which had so aroused his curiosity on
arrival in the far west;—for this was Indian and buffalo country then,—but
it proved to be the end for both shortly thereafter. It was the last
year for the buffalo; and it was the last year of the happy, healthy,
life for the Indians ... "
The lives of the Indians became "pathetic," simply trying to
keep their families "from starvation. But the white folks were busy
with making money in this new country of new and varied opportunity;
they were not interested in Indians—that was a matter for the
Government, they said, and ignored the helpless suffering natives when
they saw them; there were no welfare societies then, and the Government
was far away. Like the buffalo, the native tribes were thus set on the
way to extermination." And, "Upon the heels of the
vanishing buffalo came the homesteader" and the Indians fate was
McCreight noted the whole process was " a heartless exploitation of
innocent and helpless people." Our treatment of "The
Indian race is the one (thing) which the people of the United States
(should) most dread at the judgment bar of Almighty God. Our
present generation unfortunately have only the faintest conception of
the nation's (terrible) history in this respect."
The tons and tons of buffalo bones gathered off the prairies,
which McCreight described as a wilderness of whitened skeletons,
were shipped East to fertilizer factories. After the Civil War
"thousands of trappers, traders and professional hunters; the gold
seekers and adventurers and the rum peddlers ... overflowed the Indian
country, and as conquering hosts, swooped down on the helpless buffalo
herds and annihilated them." Taking just the hides, the
skinners left behind millions of tons of meat to simply rot on the
"The buffalo furnished a living for the Indians of the plains. The
Indians only killed the buffalo for use of food and raiment. His tents.
his beds, his moccasins, his lariats, his thread and many other useful
articles, not forgetting his food. The only good that came from
destroying the buffalo was to rid the country of the Indians."
From 1872 to 1874 records showed that the Sante Fe railroad alone had
shipped back over 10 million pounds of buffalo bones along with
thousands and thousands of hides.
McCreight was initially hired by Sam Dodd, a stockman and contractor, the owner of a meat and livestock
marketing business under contract to the U.S. Army post at nearby
Fort Totten. He was to initiate their bookkeeping system of accounting
and to oversee the company’s finances, eventually becoming paymaster
and purchasing agent.
It was during this time that he began to deal with the Indians who came
to trade buffalo bones and hides. The "bone business" had
become a multi-million dollar business during its brief existence and
while in the Dakotas McCreight was in charge of a large share of that business, branching
out from around Devils Lake, purchasing and shipping the items back
East, primarily to St Louis and other markets.
McCreight recalled being "Caught out on the wild prairie 30 miles
from home (in the) the worst Dakota blizzard ever known, saved by unguided
ponies, dragged to home and safety for five hours... 24 people died, and
uncounted livestock perished. Just one of many narrow escapes from death
such as the ice-quake opening a gap 20 ft. wide a second (after my
passing, as I drove
the pony from a day at the fort [Totten], alone at 32 below zero."
For more detail regarding McCreight’s two year adventure
out West the
reader is referred to several of his writings, in particular
"Buffalo Bone Days" and "Go West Young Man." Both
are noted in the bibliography and along with McCreight's History of
DuBois make superb reading.
Known for his honest dealings, McCreight become friends with many of the
American Indians, a relationship that lasted even after his return to
Pennsylvania and did much to shape his adult life.
After nearly two years in the wild west he returned to the DuBois
area in 1886 citing an "urge to see the girl I left behind
was just 21 years old. The
tales of Sherlock Holmes were the talk of Queen Victoria's England,
Grover Cleveland was our American President, and Apache Chief Geronimo
surrendered ending last major US-Indian war.
Coming back to the area on what was planned as a short vacation
McCreight was... "approached
by the former Reynoldsville banker, F. K. Arnold, (then)
president of the First National Bank of DuBois City, to buy
part of his stock and take (a) position as Assistant Casher and
Director .... and by the winter of '86 DuBois had its
youngest bank officer and
Thus began some four
decades of noteworthy business affairs and banking for McCreight before
retiring from the bank at age 60 in 1925. Even then he continued
his involvement in community affairs. His successes in both areas made
McCreight an important figure in the history of DuBois.
Patriarch lumbering magnate John DuBois had died while McCreight was out West
and his nephew and heir John E DuBois ran the family business as the newly returned McCreight
established himself at the bank. DuBois was still a town on the
On July 20, 1887 the young entrepreneur married blue-eyed Alice Humphrey
and put down roots that would fasten him to DuBois for the next 71
years. Later he would call Alice his "housekeeper and boss."
In 1950 he wrote, "I picked her
when she was ten. I delivered a half bushel basket (of apples) ... to
the Humphrey home in Prescottville; she came to ... take in the load....
That was the moment (her fate was sealed) ... and I must declare
"that she is the best wife--the best mother and the best woman that
ever filled the job of living with a man."
In 1957 the Courier Express wrote of the McCreights, "considered by
many the First Citizens of DuBois, ...They started their life together
early in the morning for the wedding ceremony was performed at seven
o'clock in the morning in the bride's home on Jackson St.,
Reynoldsville. It was a fancy wedding. The bride was attired in all
white fluffy stuff. The groom, too, was decked out in a super
manner---something that DuBois and Reynoldsville had never seen before.
He wore the finest wedding suit ever made by the Guthmillers, of DuBois
... famous tailors in this area. (The suit cost $27, was silk-lined and
black, with grey trousers and a tall grey plug hat."
Together the couple would parent seven children: Donald, Mary Catherine, twins
Jack and Jim, Martha Louise, Major Israel Jr, and Rembrant, the youngest
who was adopted into the Sioux tribe in a ceremony at the Wigwam.
The youngest son Rembrandt died prematurely on December 4, 1937
of what the family called "the worst form of a terrible
McCreight wrote, it was a "terrible suffering of the family and
particularly myself and Alice ...." to watch their son battle a
lengthy illness with
no available cure. When Rem died a full-blooded Sioux flew to
DuBois from a Wyoming reservation to
attend the funeral as a representative of the tribe. It was a
personal tribute that
reflected the high esteem that the Sioux had for McCreight and his
family. Rembrandt was only 28 years old.
Deeply affected by that tragedy, Major would write, Rem was "one
of the finest and most popular young men of his time."
Read "A Boy Scout Goes West," an account of eleven year-old
Rem's trip West
The couple’s first child (Donald) had been born in May following
the marriage of Major and Alice. The very next month on June 18 the
"Great DuBois Fire of 1888" destroyed most of the city’s
entire business district including the two week old Deposit Bank which
McCreight had just started on June 4 in the lobby of the old Commercial
In that one disastrous day the future
suddenly looked very bleak indeed for both DuBois and McCreight.
When the fire alarm was called out
smoke was already rising from the Baker House. "It was a hot day
and wind was blowing;. there was no effective means of fighting it,
and soon adjoining structures were ablaze. The heat was oppressive and
the winds scattered the roaring fire in every direction; it leaped
across the streets and railroad track and soon both sides of Long Avenue
toward the hill section, was a sweeping flame. A brisk and increasing
wind sent it faster and faster up the hill, while ... it spread west
crossing Main street (then swept) north and south .... soon there were
more men fighting exhausting than were contending with the fire."
By evening McCreight's new bank was "like the town, a mere pile of
McCreight’s "Memory Sketches" (A History of DuBois
1874-1938) cited below in the bibliography for a fascinating and first-hand account of the
Great Fire, the history of
DuBois following the fire, and more about McCreight himself.
Undaunted, McCreight recovered his safe from the ashes of the hotel basement
where it had fallen when the floor burned away and he was soon set up again
for business in the old DuBois opera house that was one of the few
available buildings left standing after the devastating fire.
A used carpenter's work bench became a counter and an old table was
found for bookkeeping and correspondence. It was all the office furniture to be had.
Both McCreight's and another DuBois
bank shared that location for some six months "as the people
gradually dug out their property lines and rebuilt. We built a new
building ..., there to win new business rapidly. That bank was to
eventually be" increased in size three times (to become) ... the
biggest bank and offices in all the region."
Shortly after the new bank building opened in 1892, McCreight, armed
only with his fists, single-handedly thwarted an armed robbery. Hearing
the robbery in progress, McCreight rose "
... and stepped into
the lobby; ... (the bandit) reached for his hip pocket to pull
his gun, but before he could draw, (I) was on him in a rage;
caught his arm and grabbed him by the throat; instantly (we) were
on the floor in a desperate struggle; ..... (we) rolled on
the dusty floor in a death-grip (to) come near to the front door, and
the bandit made a terrific effort to gain his feet as if to
get out; (we) arose from the floor and (I) succeeded in
getting (my) right arm free ...; with a hard smash on the jaw
from the (my) right, the bandit fell backward down three steps
to the walk, where he managed to again get to his feet just in time to
meet the second smashing knockout blow ...; this time he
tumbled into the ditch off the wood sidewalk; ... (I) saw him get up
again and stagger across the street and disappear around
the Commercial hotel corner; and then, covered with dirt and
blood, and exhausted from the
fight (I) staggered back to the wash-room and cleaned up... It was
in the days before electric alarms and police were nowhere to be
Literally rising from the ashes, the years following the great fire
were a period of positive and progressive rebirth for DuBois and for
McCreight’s growing banking business. As a
successful banker he would say of the banker of his day, "it was
his duty to accommodate anyone in need of his advice or financial aid.
That was how the little towns were built into big ones - the
accommodating banker. It was how and why little banks grew into big
ones, it was what built the United States into a great nation."
He often told the story that, "... some years ago, a smallish,
middle-aged man stuck his arm into the (tellers) ... window and said:
"I want to shake hands with you. I owe you all I have and I can
write my check for a million!" A handshake followed and (McCreight) expressed surprise, asked who he was and why he came with
such a remark. He said: "I came out of my way just to shake your
hand and tell you that you loaned me the first hundred dollars I ever
had--and on my own name. It was not the hundred dollars--for I repaid
it, but because you had confidence in me. It gave me confidence in
myself and I went out and made good. I now have one hundred and one
stores, thanks to you."
McCreight wrote, "Opening the new century was the spread of Big
Business and (it) soon affected our growing town (of DuBois)."
"Coal was king" and McCreight was sought out by coal,
lumbering, and railroad heads in acquiring thousands of acres of land in
the region "from Tyler to Sagamore" and
beyond that; (developments) were based "all on (McCreight's) plans .... and he was
"mostly responsible for the building of the Buffalo &
Susquehanna Railroad --spending many millions for that company, all
without a contract or any writing or limit of control.
It was his (McCreight's) work that brought the Erie Railroad to the coal
was obviously a highly trusted and competent "mover and shaker" of
"This was (McCreight) doing big
things in a big way but (it) seemed at the time to be merely in the day's
In 1906 he worked on drafting the nation’s conservation policy for
President Theodore Roosevelt and helped organize Pennsylvania’s State
Conservation Society. McCreight was the moving force and the key sponsor
of action to maintain and save Cooks Forest, helping insure its
preservation and emergence at a lovely Pennsylvania State Park enjoyed
by thousands over the years. McCreight
would write, Cook Forest would be "for the use of all the people
for all time."
"The work on its acquisition was started in 1910, ran through the
next 17 years, (and) cost McCreight a personal fortune of $10,000 ....
In this effort he had to lead the drive to raise $200,000 from the
public, as well as to secure the passage of the necessary legislation in
Harrisburg. The Park will stand forever as a monument to his
"Buffalo Bill was a
regular DuBois visitor, and with his great Wild West Show staging three hundred
horses and three hundred and fifty actors, including one hundred and
fifty Indians (mainly Sioux), he drew crowds of ten and twelve thousand
patrons each performance."
In 1908 McCreight’s old acquaintance Buffalo Bill Cody had come to
DuBois on one of those visits with his "biggest and best"
Wild West Show which included in its Indian cast Chief Iron Tail who had reportedly been one of the models
for America’s Buffalo Head Nickel.
At the Battle of Wounded Knee in 1890 Iron Tail was twice seriously
wounded, and eight members of his family were killed, including his
mother, father, two brothers, sister, wife and infant son. Buffalo Bill
Cody was said to have often referred to Chief Iron Tail as, " …
the finest man I ever knew, bar none."
Reported by McCreight, Buffalo Bill "Cody stood about six feet
tall. His was a kindly countenance, and he always had a kindly word for
everyone (and) ... when mounted erectly on his big white horse with
flowing mane and tail, (he) made a thrilling picture that was famous all
over the world.
He had taken his Wild West to Europe and exhibited in London, Paris,
Amsterdam, Rome and Venice. In London, Queen Victoria asked for a
special performance for herself and guests. The Sioux Chief, Red Shirt,
put on a spirited war dance, the Queen applauded, and presented Red
Shirt with a royal tribute."
Buffalo Bill and Iron Tail organized
a large ceremony in DuBois with only four whites permitted in attendance
– Buffalo Bill, Major McCreight, McCreight’s wife Alice and Bill
Hines, a local newspaperman from the DuBois Journal.
With great pomp and pageantry, with speeches, dancing and native
American ceremony conducted by the Indians, Major McCreight was made an
honorary Sioux Indian Chief by Chief Iron Tail.
The noted DuBois banker, businessman,
writer, and conservationist became Chief Tchanta Tanka, an honor very few
white men would ever receive. McCreight
recalled it as "a rare and even brilliant occasion."
His Indian name Tchamta Tanka reportedly translates as "Great
It was a well chosen and appropriate
name for Major McCreight who later wrote, I "always contributed to
making (the Indians') lives a little more cheerful, when and wherever
possible — and that has continued to the present day. There is no
honor among many (I have) received, so highly valued as that solemn
ceremony performed by famous chiefs many years ago in the presence of
Col. W. F. ( Buffalo Bill) Cody, making (me) a "blood brother"
and Chief of the Sioux."
"World War I (would adversely affect) the former success of the Wild
West Show and before his death in 1917, (Buffalo Bill's) fortune had
been wiped out and he died a poor man. In the days of is scouting,
Cody had fought the Sioux and killed some of them,, but in the after
years he became one of their best friends. His war days name to the
Indians was "Long Hair" and Pa-Has-ka." After the
DuBois ceremony he sponsored making McCreight a chief, he always addressed him
as Tchanta Tanka.
In 1929, Chief Flying Hawk, a warrior chief and successor to Sitting Bull, named McCreight
as his successor for his services on behalf of the American Indian.
Flying Hawk had been in nearly all of
the battles with United States troops during the Great Sioux War of
He had fought along with his cousin Crazy Horse and his brothers Kicking
Bear and Black Fox II in the Battle of the Little Big Horn in 1876, and
was present at the death of Crazy Horse in 1877 and following the
Wounded Knee Massacre of 1890.
A Lakota Sioux chief, historian and philosopher, Flying Hawk is notable
in American history for his classic accounts of the Battle of the Little
Big Horn, Crazy Horse and commentaries on Native American
and McCreight co-authored a number of articles and books and he was a
frequent visitor to McCreight's Wigwam in DuBois.
He died in 1931.
READ "ST. CATHERINE'S INDIAN" (
One of many fascinating tales included in McCreight's writings is the
story of Chief Rain-in-the-Face. The chief had been arrested by
Gen George Armstrong Custer's younger brother Tom Custer. The
chief was charged with murder, imprisoned, manacled, and thrown in an
unheated guard house where he" suffered terribly" at the hands
of his captors.
Escaping to Sitting Bull's camp, "... he made his boast
that he would cut out Tom Custer's heart and eat it, - a threat that he
himself said he made good at the Custer fight two years later. In
telling about it he said:
"I had sung the war song. I had smelt powder smoke. ..... I was
like one ( crazy) that had no mind. I rushed in and took their flag; my pony fell
dead as I took it. ... I jumped up and brained the ...flag man with my
war club, and ran back to our line with the flag. The long sword's blood
and brains (had) splashed in my face. I felt hot and blood ran in my
mouth. I could taste it. I was mad. I got a fresh pony and rushed back,
shooting, cutting and slashing. This pony was shot, and I got another.
This time I saw Little Hair (Tom Custer) - I remembered my vow. I was
crazy; I feared nothing. I knew nothing would hurt me, for I had my
white weasel tail on. I don't know how many I killed trying to get at
him. He knew me. I laughed at him and yelled at him. I saw his mouth
move, but I there was so much noise I couldn't hear his voice. He was
afraid. When I got near enough I shot him with my revolver. My gun was
gone, I didn't know where. I leaped from my pony and cut out his heart
and bit a piece out of it and spit it in his face. I got back on my pony
and rode off shaking it. I was satisfied and sick of fighting; I did not
Tom Custer (Little Hair) was a two-time Medal of Honor winner in the
Civil War, the first soldier ever so honored. His remains at the
little Big Horn battlefield were identifiable only by a recognizable
tattoo of his initials on one arm. He was only 31 years old. In his
Wigwam collection McCreight had the War Bonnet and War Shirt of the
famous Sioux warrior , Rain-in-the-Face, who claimed to have struck
Little Hair down at the Little Big Horn. It was but one of many treasured relics in the famous McCreight
"Rain was shot through the thigh in the Custer fight. With a razor
... from one of the dead soldiers, he cut deeply into the front of his
leg for the bullet ... (and also cut deeply into his other leg) he
eventually got the bullet, but was forced to walk with crutches all the
rest of his life because of his (wound and) self-surgery. (He) ... was
acknowledged to have ... courage unmatched by any other Indian."
Iron Tail was an Ogala Sioux who had also fought with the famous Chief
Sitting Bull at the 1876 Battle of the Little Bighorn.
He performed with Buffalo Bill's Wild
West Show and also became a close friend of Major McCreight. "He was one of the models for the
Indian Head nickel."
McCreight wrote, "Iron Tail was not a war chief and had no
remarkable record as a fighter; he was not a "medicine" man or
conjurer, but a wise counselor and diplomat---always dignified, quiet
and never given to boasting and seldom made a speech; cared nothing for
gaudy regalia; very like the famed War Chief Crazy Horse in this
respect and he always had a smile, was fond of children, horses and his
Of Crazy Horse McCreight had written, "We murdered him, then
erected a monument to him! If we erected a monument to every great
Indian we murdered, there would be many of them, not just one."
"Among the great war chiefs, statesmen and orators of the Red Race,
it would have been more appropriate if his statue had been erected in
the Hall of Fame."
"In 1915, Iron Tail was with Colonel Cody's Wild West (Show) ... in
Philadelphia, when he took sick with pneumonia. I (McCreight) sent a
wire to Cody to send or bring the chief to The Wigwam for recovery as
soon as he was able to travel. The sick chief had asked to be sent home
to the hills of South Dakota. He was placed on a sleeper and was found
dead in his berth at Fort Wayne next morning. His sudden death was a
great shock ....
In the late 1900's McCreight
had observed, "There were a good many burglaries and bank
robberies, and, it being the time when night-burglars could blow safes
with nitro-glycerin in an hour's time, these raids were becoming more
and more frequent and (I) often went scouting to and around the outside
of the bank, at 2 o'clock A. M., armed with (my) .32 Winchester."
"Along with the majority of American businessmen, McCreight faced
fiscal bankruptcy when the Panic of 1930 paralyzed the country. He
recalled, "Through the 1930's and 1940's it was a continuous
struggle to live." With
the help of his holdings in the DuBois Brewery, timber and property
sales, and his life-long business acumen, however, McCreight survived
being nearly wiped-out and eventually became debt free and wrote,
"along about 1940 I was slowly retiring" at age 75.
McCreight served on the local WW I Draft Board and served on the DuBois
School Board for 20 years, twelve as President of the Board of
Education. In 1902 he
was President of the street railways ( DuBois Electric and Traction
Company ) and in 1903 a Director. The DuBois Electric Light
Company was later sold to become the Pennsylvania Electric Company. He
was, of course, President of the local DuBois bank and was owner
operator of the Hotel DuBois. His efforts as Secretary of the DuBois
Board of Trade in 1896 helped secure the B. R. &
P Railroad "Car shops," a major employer and economic coup for
As a member of the DuBois Board of
Trade he was instrumental in having the DuBois Brewery locate in DuBois.
He wrote, " ...
a letter was received from Hahne advising
(DuBois) that they had decided to locate elsewhere, and called their
negotiations off. A pressing request by (McCreight) to Hahne for the
party to come and have another look, brought them to DuBois again; this
time they were convinced that DuBois was likely to grow, and its
geographical position as central in a large area would be basis for
developing a large trade; they decided to reverse their recall order and
go ahead at DuBois."
McCreight was given the honor of spading the first shovel of dirt for the laying of
the DuBois Brewery's foundation and became Secretary, Treasurer and a
joining with founder and President
Frank Hahne, Sr.
He helped secure the DuBois Municipal
Water Works, promoted the Buffalo-Pittsburgh Route 219, helped organize
and was the first president of the DuBois Kiwanis Club and was one of
the founders of the DuBois Country Club.
He belonged to, served as President and was
an active member in the DuBois Board of Trade and in the "Acorn Club," an association
of business men who discussed and furthered the needs of the DuBois
area. He is credited with founding the very first high school Forestry
Club in the state of Pennsylvania right in DuBois.
McCreight once noted, I was all at practically the same time the "Deposit
National Bank-Cashier & Director; DuBois Brewing, Secretary and
Director; DuBois Electric, Secretary and Director; DuBois
Traction, Secretary and Director; Mutual Building and Loan Assistant
Treasurer and Director; . Citizens Building and Loan Association -
Treasurer; Mutual Home & Savings Association.- Treasurer; DuBois
Boro (practical Treasurer); Garfield Lodge-Worshipful Master; Acorn Club
- President; School Board-President; Coal Properties (3) -
Representative Agent; Board of Trade - Treasurer and
and Keystone Building and Loan Association - Local Treasurer;" and
belonged to the
Pennsylvania Bankers Association and the American Bankers Association, as
well as serving in number of local positions and local activities.
Apart from the DuBois School Board McCreight did not seek office in
political public elections although he worked actively for the
candidates of his choice. Once when McCreight was "in the board room at the bank ….in
conference with some Republican politicians, who were trying to persuade
him to run for a political office (his mother) … came into the bank,
and went back to see her son. (He) introduced her and explained the
situation. He said, "Mother, what do you think?" She answered
briefly, "The McCreights have always been honest, but they have
never been politicians!" Eliza left, and … Major, (certainly
wearng a big grin) said, "Gentlemen, my mother has given my
answer." even been
invited "to a reception at the White House given by President
McKinley to the visiting
members of the Mystic Shrine in May 1900, which gave (me) the pleasure
of shaking hands with the chief executive, whom ( I ) had so much
admired and worked so hard to help elect."
McCreight's History of DuBois" reads
like a "who's who and here's how' narrative of his and others' activities in
business, manufacturing, transportation, lumbering, railroads, coal, and
conservation, all of which contributed to the growth and development of
DuBois and the surrounding area.
Years later a family member would recall Major McCreight as "…
an individualist and an honest man. No one understood him fully— (not)
even his own family." In 1942 he would simply describe himself as "Tchanta
Tanka,--- last living chief of the Sioux,--- all that is left as a
of the strenuous times lived on the last frontier."
McCreight had eventually retired to his summer home named "The
Wigwam" which was located on a picturesque hill above Route 119
south of DuBois, enjoying his retirement, feeding birds and chipmunks
from his kitchen window, traveling with his beloved wife Alice, and
reflecting on a philosophy of life. (The
Wigwam is featured in a PSU TV short available online)
A 1955 Courier Express article noted,
"As Mr.McCreight sits quietly these summer days on his hill-top,
smoking his pipe and gazing over the city for which he has done so much,
visions must pass before his eyes of years gone by; of the stirring
events in an active life; of his growing family in their younger days;
of the great men of his time who have driven ... to his mountain home;
of the battles he has fought and won ..... As the shadows grow longer he
may, too, have visions of the future; of a thriving (DuBois) which will grow
because he helped lay the foundations well ... because of the type of
philosophy and labor which he represents. This newspaper wishes (him
in his retirement ...." (Courier Express)
A life-long friend and defender of the Indian, on the grounds of the
Wigwam was an old-time council house of the Mohawk tribe of the Six
Nations, the Iroquois Confederacy that ruled the Eastern forests for
hundreds of years before the coming of the white man. McCreight was an
adopted member of the Mohawk tribe. The Wigwam itself
was a virtual museum of Indian artifacts gathered and presented to
McCreight over the years.
McCreight was a member of the DuBois Presbyterian church but in 1946
wrote , "To be a modern Christian, is to acknowledge the existence
of a super-man, the representative of a supreme being, or a human
delegate born on earth of a woman who conceived not by man, but a
spirit. With profound respect and enthusiastic approval of the teachings
of Christ ... it is impossible to believe in the fantastic tales of him,
written a century or more, after his crucifixion by a Jewish rabble ...
written by humans long after his death ...
the Bible a delightful historic book
Yet, to accept it literally as Truth, is not possible in this
enlightened age! That would be contrary to all the laws of nature and
wholly without the bounds of scientific knowledge!"... yet, it must
be conceded His is the best system for guidance of human conduct, but,
we must not overlook Confucianism or the influence of Mahomet ....
Whether Islam or Christianity is responsible for most bloodshed, misery
and torture, is a moot question, for arising from each, the peoples of
the world suffered in grief, agony, despair and death, more than from
all other wars known to history! And all this, contrary to the teaching
of both Jesus and Mahomet! Or of that taught by Confucius, or Buddha.
That there is another world--other
than the one in which we live--is not proven--never can be! We can only
wonder--we can hope!
I believe there is no other heaven than the owned home--with a big and
happy family in it. No man or woman need look for a better one! No Pope,
priest nor preacher ever did or ever can supply one as good. And that is
the kind I have--have always had. Christ never urged another kind!
For churches I have no quarrel; their
pastors are all alike to me …. they aim for the same star--and hope to
reach the same refuge. They have always had my good will--and what
support I could afford always without taking sides or affecting any
choice of creed. They
all promise a better life in a better world--but none of their promises
have ever made good. They must prove it before I believe. And they would
if they could; like me, they can only hope.
I believe in the majestic, all-powerful and unalterable law of Nature
and the unknown and unknowable Universe--all of which is controlled in
its behavior, by the sun. This part of my religion, came from my
association with the Red Race. The never-ending, never changing source
of all life on earth is, to them, the only thing worthy of worship--and
maybe they are right! Who knows?"
"If George Washington, Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, (and)
Abraham Lincoln ... were agnostics, then you can class me as one!"
Of our treatment of Native Americans, McCreight had written, we treated
them "not as Christians would, but by brutal and unprecedented
savagery … (and) carried on a relentless campaign of extermination of
them and all their rights and properties (to a virtual) …
extermination of the race, except a tiny remnant still held imprisoned
in our reservations; … (I support those) … men who fought bravely to
defend against the unrighteous invasion of their homelands and the lives
of their families … I saw at first hand … the period of their
Eighteen United States Presidents had
been sworn into office during his lifetime, two world wars had come and
gone, and mankind which once fought with muskets and war clubs had
turned to atomic bombs to resolve its conflicts. We were on the
verge of putting man into space. It had been a long and tumultuous
epoch for the world and a truly remarkable life's journey for the
amazing DuBois banker and Indian Chief who in 1865 had first opened his
eyes in the tiny pioneer settlement of Paradise.
Major Israel McCreight, Chief Tchanta Tanka, passed away quietly in his
sleep on October 13, 1958 and was buried in Morningside Cemetery.
He was 93.
"It is but seldom in the history and life of a community that
such a man as Mr. McCreight has lived, a man possessing the
forcefulness, the initiative and the drive such as energized his
character. He ... was a man who was a leader, and was not content unless
he was endeavoring to lead the way along paths which he believed to be
in the right direction." (Courier
In 1957 McCreight wrote, I "have been getting old for several
years, a day at a time." At the time he was 92 years old and would
soon become ill. That same year Ray Fadden, self proclaimed Mohawk chief
Aren Akweks and frequent Wigwam visitor, wrote a letter to McCreight
which could almost serve as Chief Tchanta Tanka's eulogy:
".... you will be remembered by the truths you have written in
your many books and articles about the Indians … though your body may
pass on your thoughts will continue to live, will speak for us. During
your life on this Earth, you have done many many good things …. our
hearts are with you. You are an Indian born again in a white body, sent
here by our creator to tell the world today the true story of our
people. When you leave Mother Earth … (the) Ancient Ones will welcome
you with outstretched arms. The prairies and forests will look golden
and green to you and your moccasins will walk on smooth grasses. The sky
will be blue and … from the bark lodges you will see smoke rising into
the sky. Your ears will hear the good music of singing … (and) the tom
toms … (Those you see) will be smiling at you as you walk to greet
them. Remember this, Brother, this is how it will be for you."
However, McCreight's bold legacy is not only in his numerous writings
and his support of Native Americans, but also in the business and
industry he supported that helped the city of DuBois grow and in his
foresight that preserved for all peoples and all time the wooded
grandeur that is Cooks Forest.
By 2011 his beloved and famous Wigwam, the once warm and lovely showplace for McCreight’s memorabilia
and famous Indian relics and an always open meeting place for family,
business acquaintances and friends, both white and Indian, suffers from total disrepair and
appears near collapse.
Its glory days long past, this truly historic structure unfortunately
may be beyond saving. The interior of his happy "owned home with a
big and happy family in it" has been long since desecrated and
stripped of McCreight’s Indian artifacts and the floor is now rotted
due to an equally rotted and badly leaking roof. The exterior suffers from
severe neglect and the ravages of time and weather.
Few today even know of its existence or location and, like McCreight who
served the DuBois community for decades, the Wigwam could easily become
just a distant memory to be forgotten were it not perhaps for those who
sometimes emerge to keep the history of DuBois and the surrounding area
We can only hope …..
MORE TO COME: A SLIDE SHOW FOLLOWS THE
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Chief Flying Hawks Tales
Custers Last Stand
Sacajawea - Americas Greatest Heroine
Buffalo Bone Days
Puffs From The Peace Pipe
Buffalo Bill As I Knew Him
A Boy Scout Goes West-Rembrandt McCreight
The Killing of Pat McWeeney
Major McCreight Autobiography
Go West Young Man
Family of Noted Pioneers
Sixteen Year Battle To Save Cooks Forest
Memory Sketches of DuBois
LEFT: Major McCreight
RIGHT: Buffalo Bill and Chief Iron Tail visit McCreight in DuBois ca