The tragedy at Devil’s Hole near Niagara Falls makes this hiking spot both a beautiful place to walk, and a perfect spot to learn local history.
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. Just a mile and a half north of Niagara Falls, this riverside gorge is more than just a hiking spot.
A conflict between the Seneca People and the British left a legacy of fright and superstition that still remains. Even two hundred years after this epic battle, the blood spilled in this gorge offers a tale not soon forgotten.
The Battle At Devil’s Hole
Devil’s Hole was named for its treacherous terrain, but it was a terrain 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. It was a British mission part of an ongoing crusade called “Pontiac’s Rebellion“.
There were twenty-four British in the wagon train–numbers that paled in comparison to the waiting Senecas. They were no match for the nearly four hundred Senecas poised to do close range battle. Nonetheless, three of the British were able to escape. Those three men mad it to nearby Lewiston for help.
When the backup arrived back at Devil’s Hole, the tribe was already prepared. They easily 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. By an amazing comparison, the Senecas are reported to have suffered only a single injury.
Fort Niagara to the north became an even more established stronghold for the British forces despite this battle. But the area known as Devil’s Hole was largely avoided by settlers for decades afterward.
Devil’s Hole was a moniker the area earned for its difficult terrain making it tough to navigate. The battle in 1763 only reinforced the nickname among locals, and it stuck.
Hiking At Devil’s Hole
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.
Devil’s Hole Cave
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