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Students learn about "Ghosts of the Mountains"

MEYERSDALE  - Fifth grade Social Studies students at the Meyersdale Elementary School enjoyed a visit from a local historian and retired teacher, Mr. Dennis Stahl.

Each year, Stahl visits MAES to make a presentation on the Monongahela Indians, or as he calls them “The Ghosts of the Mountains.”

Mrs. Mandy McNelly said this presentation is a favorite of students.

In Social Studies, we cover a unit called, The First ‘Americans.’ We cover the great migration, culture regions, and artifacts. The fifth graders take part in several activities and projects over the course of that month. We make our own regional maps, use Native American symbols to write messages, create posters on the different Native American tribes that settled in this country,” McNelly explained. “As the kids get a feel for that time period and the people that settled here, I think it's meaningful for them to learn that these people actually lived in their community as well.”

Stahl explained to the students that the Monongahela people lived in this area, and had several villages along the Casselman. Evidence of their villages and remains were discovered in the 1930’s when the Works Progress Administration assigned teams of archeologists to explore this region.

“These people lived here long before we did, they are gone. The only thing that is left is their ghosts and graves,” Stahl explained.

Locally, three major sites were found in Meyersdale, Confluence and the Stonycreek area. Artifacts discovered the tribes were quite extensive.

Stahl explained to the students that burial pits were also discovered during that time and evidence of their way of life was found, allowing experts to speculate about their villages and customs.

“We have no way of knowing what their tribal name was, but an archeologist named Mary Butler, one of the few female archeologists of her time, recognized the items being discovered were not linked to known tribes. She gave the name Monongahela as their villages were discovered along creeks and rivers that lead to the Monongahela River,” he explained.

The Monongahela are believed to have built their villages in a circular pattern with rudimentary fencing on the outside, no doubt to protect the inhabitants from the Timber wolves and bears that lived in this area at that time.

Stahl said extensive evidence was found chronicling how the white-tailed deer played an important role in their survival.

“They hunted and used every part of the deer, from the antlers to the hooves, they used every part,” he said.  

Stahl said research indicates these villages were in this region from 800 to 1500 BC.

“They were gone before European settlers and artifacts have been found in Ohio, Maryland, West Virginia and Pennsylvania. Many things went wrong at same time. The temperatures were getting colder and began to affect their crops, that lead to more hunting which lead to less animals. Groups began fighting with each other and their is evidence that the Seneca and Iroquois may have come through and killed many of the Monongahela people,” he explained. “As their numbers would have decreased it would have been very common to have other tribes take over. There is no one here to share their history, but some are still buried here and we have what they left behind to help us remember they were here.”

Following his presentation, Stahl allowed the students to examine pieces of his extensive collection of artifacts. He also fielded questions from the students.

“I enjoy watching my students make those connections, as Mr. Stahl explains where the Monongahela tribes actually set up their communities in Meyersdale. I think this makes the students feel like they are actually a part of the history, and in some ways, it comes to life,” McNelly added. “It's also so important for them to know the history of their town, and to keep passing along these great stories and findings. “