Wednesday, September 10, 2014

Exclusive Question And Answer Interview

   Lannie Dietle lived his early years in Somerset County, Pennsylvania, eventually moving to Texas, and has written a book entitled "In Search Of The Turkey Foot Road." A fourth and final edition was released in August 2014, with an amazing 70% more material and an accompanying CD, with many appendices. Click here for a summary. The book is available from the Mount Savage Historical Society, and describes an early road that helped to populate several counties along the Mason Dixon line, including Fayette County. The road played a critical role in supplying Fort Pitt during the Revolutionary War, and was a key factor enabling Brodhead’s successful 1779 military expedition against the Indian allies of Great Britain. 

  Mr. Dietle collaborated on the Iron Bridge article I uploaded in February, and originally suggested the topic. He also wrote a guest blog post on the Turkey Foot Road in early February and has kindly agreed to make himself available to answer a few questions in a written interview segment and, personally, I can't wait to see his responses. Congratulations on the final edition of the book are in order and it is a real honor for us to have him available for comments on the blog, "Fayette/Westmoreland Forgotten History."

Lannie Dietle

Ten Questions and Answers Interview Segment with Lannie Dietle

Welcome, Lannie and I trust you are doing fine:

Hi Al, thanks for giving me an opportunity to talk about my favorite subject.

  Can I start by asking, when did you first become interested in the Turkey Foot Road, and when, and in what way, did you begin taking action in starting your own investigations of pertinent areas and places?

The internet is a great way for people with similar interests to connect. Several years before we ever met in person, Mike McKenzie and I began a long distance collaborative effort to discover and promote the history of Southampton Township, Somerset County, where both of us lived as youngsters. Each of us felt that the region was under-represented in the published literature.

Eventually, Mike suggested that we devote some of our effort to promoting the history of the adjacent border region in Allegany County, Maryland. Even though I had little knowledge of that area, I agreed to participate if Mike led the way, in view of all he had done to facilitate the Southampton Township studies. This change in direction eventually led us to the Turkey Foot Road–which we knew nothing about, apart from a few old traditions.

Our investigation started with a chance encounter with a 1797 reference to the Turkey Foot Road in an old Maryland law book. We had a friendly disagreement over where the road went in Pennsylvania. We ended up devoting more and more time to the subject, learning as we went. Mike’s interest was fueled by the old Mount Savage area traditions in Maryland, and mine was fueled by the old Elk Lick Township traditions in Pennsylvania.

The current alignment of the 1794 route of the "TFR"
on Quail Road southeast of Wooddale

  Was there a specific event that lead to your decision to write an historical book, and, if so, to what extent, do you feel your family and Korn ancestry played a part?

Mike was the first to suggest that our findings should be published, back when we only had enough material for a journal-length article. As part of my interest in the Korns family, I purchased Rod Korns’ book “West from Fort Bridger”, which is a study of western pioneer trails. That book led to the realization that the Turkey Foot Road was a worthy subject for a book length project.

Eventually, we came to realize that the Turkey Foot Road was part of where we came from, in both a transportive and a genetic sense. We, and quite possibly you, would simply not exist had the Turkey Foot Road not been there. The road, and the antecedent Indian and packer’s path, allowed our ancestors to settle when and where they did, and allowed their children to meet. If great-great-great grandpa had never met great-great-great grandma, things might be a tad different today! Families scattered across America can trace their roots back to ancestors who used the Turkey Foot Road in day-to-day life, or westward migration. I hope this book helps them understand their heritage.

McKenzie and Dietle recording a
GPS coordinate

  How did your 'team' of researchers come about, and how did you first meet up with Mike McKenzie and Francis Bridges?

As a lifelong resident of the area, Mike was instrumental in developing our local contacts. During his boots on the ground research in the Mount Savage area, Mike interviewed Barrelville resident Donald Bartgis, who advised him to contact Francis Bridges. Francis had been attempting to puzzle out the Mount Savage area route several years before we began our study. Through his involvement in the Western Maryland Chapter of the Archeological Society of Maryland, Francis knew that Harry Ringler, Sr. had been collecting information on the various route traditions in Greenville and Elk Lick Townships in Pennsylvania. After talking to Harry several times by telephone, I knew that I had to fly up and finally meet these guys, and go over the ground with them. That little expedition is when I first met Mike, Francis, and Harry in person.

While we were chatting in Harry’s living room, his son Harry “Cork” Ringler, Jr. stopped by for a brief visit, and ended up contributing to the internet collaboration in various ways. Cork is a cartographer for Somerset County, and made a major contribution by sharing copies of the rare warrant survey maps of the county. These maps served as a valuable index to the original property surveys, enabling me to perform a detailed study of the route through review of the relevant surveys, and comparison to depression era aerial photographs.

Nancy E. Thoerig of Mount Savage was the final member of the team, and committed a huge amount of time to the project. We began corresponding after I asked her a question about a topic covered by her book “History of St. Patrick Catholic Church in Mount Savage, Maryland”. My initial inquiry led to occasional e-mail exchanges regarding Arnold’s Settlement. Through this correspondence, she became aware of the book effort. As a courtesy, she sent an e-mail concerning earlier research by the late Alice Carney. This led to a telephone call, and an offer for her to review the draft. As a result of this exposure, she agreed to serve as editor.

The title “editor” doesn’t begin to capture the scope of Nancy’s involvement. Although she spent countless hours trying to improve my convoluted writing, her most important contributions were in the realm of challenging conclusions and assumptions, and pushing and prodding and making suggestions where information was unclear, incomplete, or disorganized. After the initial edition of the book was published, she also tackled promotion, and was able to secure a surprising number of newspaper reviews of the book in Maryland, Pennsylvania, and Ohio. Our collaboration has now extended beyond volunteer work, and I rely on her for reviewing various technical writing projects, where she can be paid appropriately for her expertise.

  Would you elaborate, however briefly, on just what steps were involved with the most important elements of writing your book, (development, publishing, distribution, advertisement, concept, design, etc.), and how did you end up making your final decisions?

The most important aspect of writing this particular book was a supportive wife, who tolerated my daily obsession with an obscure eighteenth century road over the course of five long years. Thank you, Cheryl, for the gift of time and understanding.

The research would not have been possible without the availability of searchable internet archives of eighteenth and nineteenth century books, magazines, maps, surveys, aerial photographs, and satellite imagery, and cooperative librarians, archivists, and various interested parties across the United States. Foremost among those interested parties are Mike, Francis, Harry, Cork, and Nancy, but dozens of other people also shared their knowledge.

The bulk of the research was performed remotely, piecing bits of evidence together from a wide range of sources. A number of research trips were conducted independently by Mike, Francis, and myself. In my case, traveling from Texas, a critical aspect was developing a detailed itinerary of places to visit, organized by GPS coordinates. This allowed me to maximize the value of my limited time in the area, visiting the maximum possible number of relevant sites, libraries, and local residents.

Publication at an economically viable price is made possible by the hearty cooperation of the printing department of Frostburg State University. Distribution is handled by the Mount Savage Historical Society. All proceeds benefit the society, and are being used to help to maintain the museum. Speaking of the museum, they now have a full scale reproduction of the first map to show the post-Revolutionary War route of the Turkey Foot Road—the 1792 Howell map.

  Could you tell us a little about your background and career field, and if it is pertinent, in what way did this help influence your research of historical areas?

My career for the past 31 years has focused on developing specialty seals that are used primarily in oilfield drilling equipment. My key contributions are developing geometry improvements to the sealing elements, providing written engineering advice on how to best implement the seals in customer equipment, and managing intellectual property.

We take a rigorous approach to developing, testing, and implementing our products, and for better or worse, some of that habitual meticulousness manifests itself in the book. This doesn’t make it a light and easy read, but I hope it makes it a worthy read as the first book length study of a historically important route.

A surviving section of the 1780's route of the Turkey Foot
Road of western Somerset County

  How much did any Historical Societies such as Mount Savage help with the presentation of your material?

 Several of the regional historical societies have excellent publications that facilitated the understanding of people and places along the route. Foremost among these publications are the “Casselman Chronicle” and the “Laurel Messenger”, which are produced by the Springs Historical Society, and the Somerset Historical Center, respectively. Several of the local historical societies and communities also maintain libraries and archives of regional materials. For example, the Somerset Historical Center has a library, an archive of loose materials, and an extensive map collection. The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission is the go-to place for the study of early Pennsylvania surveys, and the Archives of Maryland were indispensable to the study of early Maryland history. Much to my surprise, I also found a significant amount of pertinent information in Houston area university libraries, and some of the most significant finds were located in the historical archives of a university in Illinois.

  Could you enumerate something for the readers here, (without giving away too much from the upcoming fourth edition), what you would consider the most important or more fascinating local regions and, possibly, any specific remnants near the old path that stood out the most, and also what are so memorable about them to you?

The most striking landscape scars from the old road are on private property in the Barrelville, Maryland and Salisbury, Pennsylvania areas. These mostly inaccessible locations are documented with photographs and GPS coordinates in the book. The GPS coordinates allow the reader to study the route using leaf-off satellite imagery. One important landscape scar is, however, visible directly from Ord Street, in the town of Salisbury. This surviving remnant was used to reach the Casselman River fording site.

There are several locations in Maryland and Pennsylvania where one can drive directly on surviving portions of eighteenth and nineteenth century route variations. One such location is in the historic Arnold’s Settlement region near Mount Savage, Maryland. Other surviving segments are located in the environs of Pocahontas, Salisbury, Harnedsville, and Ursina in Somerset County, and Nicolay and Wooddale in Fayette County. I hope that someday, a few of these locations can be documented with historical markers.

My personal favorite can only be seen in the springtime. An otherwise invisible 1804 route variation temporarily appears as a dark green crop mark across a field on the eastern flank of Savage Mountain. The old roadbed alters the moisture content of the ground, compared to the rest of the field, creating darker vegetation.

The path of the abandoned 1804 portion of the Maryland
route of the "TFR" here visible as a crop mark

  Is there anything particularly insightful you would like to mention that would be enlightening to other people interested in the old history of the surrounding counties of PA, Maryland, W. VA and VA?

As a descendent of the early pioneers, the contribution of the Turkey Foot Road to the success of Brodhead’s 1779 military campaign resonates deeply with me, so bear with me as I quote from the book: Difficult as the ways of war may be to digest, Brodhead’s operation was a success, and we are here today to talk about it. Even though war is incomprehensibly cruel, the descendants of the pioneers of western Pennsylvania owe a certain debt of gratitude to Brodhead and his army for protecting the lives of their ancestors. This debt extends to the men who cut the road that made Brodhead’s campaign possible, to the packhorse drivers who risked their lives to deliver the precious supplies, and to the settlers along the road who provided forage and other assistance to the packhorse trains.

  Are there any plans in the pipeline for another book or articles down the road?

Apart from my career, this book is the most intense commitment I have ever made to a single subject, consuming many thousands of hours over the course of five years. Although it has been an honor and a privilege to lead the investigation of what turned out to be a historically significant subject, right now I can’t imagine committing a similar amount of time to researching another book length historical topic! I tell myself‒and my wife‒that from here on out I will stick to just writing occasional articles. 

   What are the most important things in your life that you feel you would most like to be remembered for?

I don’t fancy that I will be remembered for anything, but I do like to think that several of my inventions relating to floating seal mechanisms and hydrodynamic lubrication will survive past my inevitable expiration date. At the end of the day, the thing that gives me the most personal satisfaction is simply knowing that my career, coupled with the intertwined careers of my admittedly more talented colleagues, benefits other families by helping to produce some US jobs in manufacturing and related fields. We won’t ever be remembered for this small and admittedly mundane contribution to society, but there it is. Just like every other productive citizen, we simply went to work each day and performed our small part in helping to make this eighteenth century idea called America a functioning reality. 

If I am remembered for anything in the field of historical research, I hope it will be the discovery that the Turkey Foot Road was cut to support Brodhead’s 1779 military campaign, and was routed through the environs of present-day Salisbury and Ursina to take advantage of the forage that was available from the early settlements. I’m very grateful to have had the opportunity to unravel the mystery surrounding the Turkey Foot Road, document some previously unknown regional and national history, and plot the route. Although I led the endeavor, the research could not have been accomplished without the help of Mike, Francis, Harry, Cork, and Nancy, and various other individuals. I am very thankful for their assistance in turning the idea of a book on the Turkey Foot Road into a reality.

  Well, Mr. Dietle, this was enlightening. I would like to thank you personally, on behalf of my website visitors, for sharing your thoughts, observations and photos, and being so open to give us such a fascinating glimpse into your research and experiences!

  On a personal note, having early ancestors that spent much of their lives very near to areas of the Turkey Foot Road, for example in Wooddale, I find it all the more fascinating concerning this richly detailed book. This makes one appreciative of these  significant discoveries and indebted to you and your fellow researchers.

Thank you for your efforts in promoting regional history, and thank you for a chance to talk about the new book. Take care.

We would like to add a postscript in the form of a brochure Lannie was thoughtful enough to include with a brief, but succinct explanation of this unique book:

  In Search of the Turkey Foot Road 

To order, visit

The book "In Search of the Turkey Foot Road" traces a historic and nearly forgotten route that helped to populate several counties along the Mason Dixon line, including Somerset and Fayette counties, Pa. and Allegany County, Md. The road was cut in 1779 as a military supply road from Fort Cumberland to Fort Pitt, at a time when Fort Pitt was desperately under-supplied. The original purpose of the road was to bring supplies to Fort Pitt in support of an attack on the food supplies of British-allied Indians. The attack, which was planned by George Washington, was intended to help protect Pennsylvania and New York settlers from Indian raids, and to chastise the Indians for deadly raids that occurred in 1778.

At one point, Washington cancelled the attack because of the dire supply situation. Eventually, he changed his mind when the new road was completed, and was used to bring in ample supplies. The ensuing military campaign was successful, leaving the Indians without their annual crop of corn. The following winter was especially harsh, killing off many of the game animals the Indians might have used to subsist on. As a result, many of the Indians had to retreat to Fort Niagara, where they could survive on British food supplies. Most never returned to western Pennsylvania, and settlers were able to plant crops the following spring with a new degree of safety.

"In Search of the Turkey Foot Road" is a fascinating read through history in our own backyards. Meticulously researched and abundantly documented, and flavored with bits of interest in anecdotes and footnotes, the book is a critical analysis of primary sources that will cause you to marvel at the magnitude of information processed by the authors. With 562 print pages and over 1,000 figures and appendices on a companion disk, the book is sure to satisfy any reader’s curiosity about the people, places and events that transpired along the Turkey Foot Road.

The serious reader soon finds that this book is more than a story about a road. Parts of the Turkey Foot Road, disguised by different names, still take us where we need to go; and this historic transportation corridor continues to define us today as descendants of those who braved the elements and events of the early American wilderness to make homes, and leave legacies, in a boundless new land of opportunity.

Thanks to the authors, the elusive, and perhaps otherwise lost Turkey Foot Road now can be known to all. The route has been identified in considerable detail using maps, property surveys, depression era high resolution aerial photography, crop marks, surviving landscape scars, local guides, and oral traditions. Using GPS coordinates from the book, a dedicated reader can explore much of the eighteenth century route between Cumberland, Maryland and Mount Pleasant, Pennsylvania using internet satellite imagery services, such as the Google mapping service.  

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