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The Tragic Tale of the Clawfoot People of Zoar Valley

Zoar Valley is a small area near Gowanda, New York. Its history has long been associated with tales of the strange and bizarre. Perhaps the strangest tale of all to come out of Zoar Valley is that of the Clawfoot People.

In the late 19th and early 20th centuries, many of the inhabitants of Zoar Valley were all descendants of the same woman––an English prostitute who had settled the area in the early 1800s. There were over two hundred relatives of this prostitute living in the area. And all were known for their strange appearance––these were the Clawfoot People.

Due to exposure to syphilis, the prostitute was said to have passed on a genetic abnormality to all her male offspring that caused their hands and feet to be

deformed into claw-like extremities. As the family grew and the abnormality appeared among more and more of the town’s residents, the Clawfoot People became legendary in the area. They were shunned, social outcasts who became pariahs among outsiders.

This had severe psychological effects on members of the family. One man, in a fit of desperation, used an ax to remove his own fused fingers. Another well remembered tale tells of a man who was miraculously not struck with the condition. He lived a normal life and married, and chose not to tell his wife that he was a member of the infamous clan of Clawfoot People. Their first son was born and was struck with the affliction. The wife abandoned both husband and child. The curse of the Clawfoot People had struck again.

In the 1920s, the Clawfoot People took action in one of the most tragic scenarios imaginable. Every member of the family got together, male and female, and a secret pact was made. No member of the Clawfoot People would marry or have children in an effort to stop the grotesque deformity from being passed on. In other words, the Clawfoot People chose to exterminate themselves.

The Clawfoot People held true to their pact. One by one, they grew old and died off. Today, no member of their tragically afflicted lineage remains alive. What is today a condition easily corrected by surgery caused this entire family to live as outcasts to eventually choose mass death over continued life.  –Contributed in part by John Stoneman

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