A valley in Western New York is inhabited by a religious community, but among them are the Wright family, known for their love of drink and gambling. One dark night, a peddler stops at their house for lodging and unwittingly displays his valuables to the greedy Wrights.
The Deformed Of Zoar
The valley of Zoar, in the far reaches of Western New York, is so surrounded by high hills and forbidding rocks that its discoverers gave it a name from the Scriptures. They were a deeply religious group who had searched long and arduously for a place like it, and on first seeing it had said, “This is Zoar, the impregnable! From here we will never depart.”
Among these early settlers in the strange valley were the people of a family named Wright. They were not troubled with the religious piety of the others that lived about them. They had no scruples against selling drink, and they did not mind the playing of cards and other forms of gambling that lasted until the wee hours of morning. Thus it was that their house became a sort of an inn for the infrequent travelers that occasionally reached the valley of Zoar.
It was some years later that an itinerant peddler passing through the valley on his way to Buffalo stopped at the Wright house for a night’s lodging. He was a talkative fellow and was soon busily engaged telling of his experiences traveling throughout the state. Before he went to bed he incautiously opened his bags and displayed a number of golden trinkets he was carrying with him. He also drew a large quantity of money from his pocket when he paid the fee for his lodging.
A little befuddled by the many drinks he had had during the course of the evening,he didn’t see the dark looks passed between his hosts. A little later he lurched to his feet and staggered off to his room with but one thought in mind to get to bed.
Hardly had he fallen asleep when his greedy hosts were in his room, searching for his money. So certain were they that he wouldn’t wake that they threw caution to the winds. They were positive the liquor had done its work and that he would sleep soundly through the whole night. But they were mistaken. The peddler was a hardier character than they had judged and the noise of the search awakened him. Seeing his luggage and pockets being rifled he sprang from his bed and put up a fight.
A blow from the fist of one of his burly hosts sent him sprawling to the bottom of the stairs. The family, murder in their eyes, closed around him and bound his arms and legs. Then they showed him the money they had taken and asked him where he had concealed the rest. His face filled with terror, the poor peddler swore that it was all he had.
The eldest of the Wrights struck the man across the face and insisted that he lied. Then, seizing a knife from the table, the evil Wright slashed off one of the frightened man’s toes to make him confess.
Again the peddler swore he had no more money. And six more toes were cut off, three from each foot. Then the depraved Wrights chopped away his fingers, and the unhappy man was knocked on the head and flung through a trap-door into a shallow cellar.
The women shared in this work, and leaned forward to gaze into the cellar to see if he might yet be dead. While listening, they heard the dying man invoke the curse of heaven on them. In his last breath be asked that they should wear the mark of their crime upon them even to the fourth generation, by coming into the world deformed and mutilated as he was then.
And so it came to pass. The next child bom in that house had round, hoof-like feet, with only two toes, and hands that tapered from the wrists into a single finger. In time there were twenty people so deformed in the valley; “the crabclawed Zoarites” they were called. And so you may see them to this day.