by Chris Clemens
New York is no stranger to bloody clashes between the Native tribes and those who later encroached. The Battle of Devil’s Hole (aka “Devil’s Hole Massacre”) took place on the edge of present day New York right alongside the Niagara River about a mile and a half North of the falls. The conflict between the Seneca People and the British left the legacy of fright and superstition that still remains on the grounds over 200 years later.
Devil’s Hole was named for its treacherous terrain, but nonetheless one that the Senecas knew well and cared deeply for. When a British convoy of wagons passed through Devil’s Hole on September 14, 1763 it was met by hundreds of Senecas in ambush, a mission that was part of a greater crusade called “Pontiac’s Rebellion“. There were twenty-four British in the wagon train and though they were no match for nearly four hundred Senecas engaged in close range battle, three of them were able to escape and make it to nearby Lewiston for help. When the backup arrived, the tribe was already prepared and defeated the second round of British who were forced to retreat entirely.
It’s estimated that over one hundred British soldiers were killed in the attacks that day and that the Senecas suffered only a single injury. Fort Niagara became an even more established stronghold for the British forces, but the area known as Devil’s Hole was largely avoided by settlers for decades afterward. As stated above, “Devil’s Hole” was a moniker that the area earned because of its difficult terrain that made it so tough to navigate. After 1763 and the bloody battle that took place on the soil in that area, locals reinforced the name by telling the story of the massacre.
Devil’s Hole is now a New York State Park and its picturesque picnic tables, greenery and family friendly recreation areas seem a far cry from the skirmishes of the late 1700’s. While the history of the battle is written and in the books, the superstition surrounding the area continues to unfold. It’s believed that if a rock is removed from the area that the person who removed it will have bad luck. Though the park’s history and location to the Niagara River are very cool, I went in search more specifically of the Devil’s Hole Cave.
While descending the stairway path along the ravine on the East side of the park, just a few hundred feet in you’ll begin to see indications on the right side to make your way toward the entrance to the cave. It takes a little bit of paying attention but there’s no mistaking it when you’ve arrived.
Developed slowly over 420 million years ago, the Cave is made from a DeCew Dolostone and is dark grey. With only about a 10 foot opening and about 20 feet in depth, there isn’t much to do in the cave other than check out the defaced walls from the local party scene and step over beer bottles and garbage. In its current state it’s difficult to imagine that the Cave once was the location of immense spiritual properties and overlooked one of the bloodiest battles in the entire region. Nonetheless, if you’re into hiking or caves or battle history, Devil’s Hole is a great stop.
Oh, and if you want a souvenir, I extracted a rock myself and have had no problems at all in the luck department!!
IF YOU GO…
DIRECTIONS: There’s plenty of free available parking for the park. Public restrooms and picnic tables are available. Wear sturdy shoes for the trail, which is not at all handicapped accessible.
Chris Clemens is the Founder/Publisher of Exploring Upstate. From his hometown in Rochester, he spends as much time as possible connecting with the history, culture, and places that make Upstate New York a land of discovery. Follow him on Twitter at @cpclemens