KEEPS SECRET – Alma Hill, proud summit in southern Allegany county near the Pennsylvania line, still withholds its secret from Elmer LaVern Watson, who has spent most of his 74 years in the valley below.

Others, too, have searched for the ancient lead mine the Seneca’s are believed to have worked there, and some have been at it off and on for years.  One man claimed to have stood in the entrance of the mine and seen the dull, heavy metal in seams.

Elmer lives in a weather-beaten little house just south of Pikesville, and the front windows face up to that hemlock-studded, forbidding slope.

INDIAN TALE – As a boy he used to scamper all over the hill, hunting and exploring, but he was a youth before he heard about the legend through Chief White Fox of Salamanca.  The latter had been told of the mine through descendants of Cornplanter.  White Fox said he could lead young Watson to it.

The story was that several times a year a band of Indians, usually several braves and three of four husky squaws, would leave their lands on the present Allegany Reservations, and follow the river eastward for a journey of two days. They’d stop overnight at a tavern in Bloody Corners, near Honeoye, and early the next day resume their trip.

Men used to follow them, hoping to detect their destination, and the Indians would enter Four Mile Woods walking single file.

VANISHING ACT – “Well,” Elmer says, “one by one the Indians would drop off the trail, vanishing and the followers would finally find themselves alone in the woods.  A week later the Indians would reappear, each weighted down with slabs of lead on their backs, heading for home.”

No one knows now how the tribesmen utilized the metal, Elmer declares, and later they gave up the trips to the hill.

But some of the younger Indians remembered the mine and talked about it.  A doctor in Shongo who had befriended the Seneca’s was asked by the latter what token of appreciation they could give.  “Just show me the lead mine,” the physician said promptly and the Seneca’s agreed.  They took him there blindfolded, Elmer says, and then revealed the entrance of the mine and the lead deposits.  It was night and all the medical man could recall of the surroundings next day was a fringe of pines.

DISBELIEF – Another man, a newcomer, got friendly with an Indian on the train to Salamanca and the Seneca gave him directions for locating the mine.  But  the stranger thought the whole thing was an invention and didn’t pay any heed.

Elmer himself worked on the oil rigs around Alma Hill and in the sawmills, and then went to Cleveland as a glasscutter before he had the chance to take up aging White Cloud’s offer.

For years he followed his trade to Ohio, and finally returned to the homestead to care for his parents and their small farm.

HUNTS BOULDERS – Between chores he used to search the hill, now much changed form his boyhood.  “The thing I looked for was a bed of smooth, round boulders.  It covered about as much space as a teepee, and was atop a hogback.  When I was a kid, I used to bring pebbles and drop them there.  They’d bounced from stone to stone down and down and I’d put my ear to the ground to hear them.  Those stones could have hidden the mine.”

Elmer hasn’t found the circle of boulders yet, although he believes it lies not 500 feet from the spring that provides him with water.

According to the old story, the Indians camped near a spring on the hillside and smelted the lead ore in an iron kettle.  Then they’d pour it into rough clay molds, bringing home only the refined metal.

PLANS STEPS – A widower, Elmer lives alone, mends clocks and works a small oil lease lower in the valley.  His exploration of Alma Hill is less frequent, and he spends more time planning his steps.  He believes that erosion or an accumulation of brush may have covered up the pocket of boulders.

Gas from an oil well fires the stove by which he sits, white haired and peering up at the hill through rimless glasses.  “I’ll get up there come spring,” he says.  “If I ever find those rocks, I’ll hoist them out..”


(Originally Published in the Buffalo Courier Express - 1/12/1964; Obtained from archives of Catherine Schuyler Chapter D.A. R. and transcribed by Mary Rhodes 3/5/2005)