Scoharie Prairie History

Schoharie Prairie lies in the northeast corner of Herrin Township. The trail from Jordan’s fort to Charles Humphreys’ blockhouse crossed this prairie. Later the road from Frankfort to Bainbridge made a crossroads.

The word comes from an Indian language, and means driftwood. The Palatinates (German emigrants) adopted the word, and named river, valley, county, and county seat in eastern New York Schoharie. The pioneer movements to the west, in which individuals were carried along on the flood as driftwood rushes downstream, gives the name a special connotation. But there is no evidence that any of the German or Dutch settlers in New York ever reached Schoharie prairie in Williamson County.

The local tradition is less imagination. The story goes that a band of masked vigilantes were whipping a hog thief in this secluded prairie, and that one of the number cried out from time to time,

“Score him, Harry!” Score harry became Schoharie, perhaps when one of the fine scholars who came to the county to teach after 1840 had his way with the spelling.

The first brick house in the county was built on the prairie in 1840 and parts of it are standing in 1939. Lavinia (Spiller) Campbell received a patent for the land March 3, 1843 from President John Tyler. But her husband, James Monroe Campbell, burned the brick and built the two-story mansion the year she made the land entry, 1840. Mr. Campbell was a son of Cyrus Campbell, who lived on Eight Mile prairie and was county commissioner of first Franklin and then Williamson County in 1839. James M. Campbell was named drainage commissioner in 1852, but resigned the position to James D. Pulley and moved to the new town of Carbondale. There he became an important contractor and builder, and in 1870 received the contract to build the first Normal hall. Some of the joists fell and killed him before the building was completed.

The Campbell’s sold four acres of their land to their neighbors, William P. and Frances (Spiller) Duncan who had lived on the prairie since their marriage in 1826. To this home of his grandparents, young Warren Webb Duncan used to come from Lake Creek to hunt.

Schoharie prairie and the “scatters” of Pond creek to the west were one of the best hunting grounds in the county. Samuel K. Casey recalls from his boyhood days that Scott Rhea taught the youth of Schoharie School to shoot, and “Webb Duncan outsmarted the wild turkey gobbler while George W. Young and his hounds tracked the raccoon and opossum to their lairs.”

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(Extracted from Pioneer Folks and Places, Barbara Barr Hubbs, 1939 which is on sale at the Williamson County Museum)