It's a true tale that's stranger than fiction.

Zoar Valley, New York (Google Maps)
Zoar Valley, New York (Google Maps)


The Zoar Valley is a region of natural gorges near Gowanda, New York-- a small village about an hour south of Buffalo in the Western part of the state. By the late 19th century, most residents in the area found that they were suffering from the same physical deformity... their feet and hands would twist and distort like claws.

How could it be that an entire population exhibited the same strange deformity? Was there something in the water? Were they banging lobsters? What exactly was going on here?

As it turns out, many of the residents of Gowanda were descendants of the same woman-- an English prostitute who suffered from untreated syphilis. Because of this, the woman passed on a genetic mutation to her descendants, who then passed it on to theirs... in total, there were hundreds of people who suffered from this claw-like deformity.


It didn't take long before the "Clawfoot People" started to gain notoriety throughout the Zoar Valley. Its residents were shunned and treated as social outcasts.

This obviously had severe psychological effects on these people. One legend says that a man grew so ashamed of his condition that he separated his fingers with an axe.

Another story surrounds a man who was miraculously NOT afflicted with the malady, and had a relatively normal life, marrying a woman and having a son... but the son WAS born with the affliction, which caused the wife to completely abandoned her family.


Finally, in a move that was equal parts sad and brave, every single person who was afflicted mutually agreed to not have children, so that they would pass on the genetic mutation no further. It was a pact that everyone surprisingly upheld. By the early 20th century, the Clawfoot People all died off, and today there are no traces of the deformity in area.

These days, the very same affliction can be corrected with surgery, thanks to modern scientific advancements... but back in those days, it seemed like there was no hope.

An extremely sad tale about how an entire population willfully made themselves extinct.




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