Myths And Legends Of Our Own Land, Complete
THE DEFORMED OF ZOAR
The valley of Zoar, in western New York, is so surrounded by hills that its discoverers—a religious people, who gave it a name from Scripture said, "This is Zoar; it is impregnable. From her we will never go." And truly, for lack of roads, they found it so hard to get out, having got in, that they did not leave it. Among the early settlers here were people of a family named Wright, whose house became a sort of inn for the infrequent traveller, inasmuch as they were not troubled with piety, and had no scruples against the selling of drink and the playing of cards at late hours. A peddler passed through the valley on his way to Buffalo and stopped at the Wright house for a lodging, but before he went to bed he incautiously showed a number of golden trinkets from his pack and drew a considerable quantity of money out of his pocket when he paid the fee for his lodging. Hardly had he fallen asleep before his greedy hosts were in the room, searching for his money. Their lack of caution caused him to awake, and as he found them rifling his pockets and his pack he sprang up and showed fight.
A blow sent him to the bottom of the stairs, where his attempt to escape was intercepted, and the family closed around him and bound his arms and legs. They showed him the money they had taken and asked where he had concealed the rest. He vowed that it was all he had. They insisted that he had more, and seizing a knife from the table the elder Wright slashed off one of his toes "to make him confess." No result came from this, and six toes were cut off,—three from each foot; then, in disgust, the unhappy peddler was knocked on the head and flung through a trap-door into a shallow cellar. Presently he arose and tried to draw himself out, but with hatchet and knife they chopped away his fingers and he fell back. Even the women shared in this work, and leaned forward to gaze into the cellar to see if he might yet be dead. While listening, they heard the man invoke the curse of heaven on them: he asked that they should wear the mark of crime even to the fourth generation, by coming into the world deformed and mutilated as he was then. And it was so. The next child born in that house had round, hoof-like feet, with only two toes, and hands that tapered from the wrist into a single long finger. And in time there were twenty people so deformed in the valley: The "crab-clawed Zoarites" they were called.
The feeling recently created by an attempt to fasten the stupid names of Fairport or of North Elmira on the village in central New York that, off and on for fifty years, had been called Horseheads, caused an inquiry as to how that singular name chanced to be adopted for a settlement. In 1779, when General Sullivan was retiring toward the base of his supplies after a destructive campaign against the Indians in Genesee County, he stopped near this place and rested his troops. The country was then rude, unbroken, and still beset with enemies, however, and when the march was resumed it was thought best to gain time over a part of the way by descending the Chemung River on rafts.