I can think of no better way to end October, and usher in Native American History Month, than with Mason County’s oldest legend.
We all know the story of Chief Cornstalk’s brutal murder in 1777 at the hands of James Hall’s Rockbridge Militiamen. He had arrived at Fort Randolph just a few weeks before, along with Delaware Chief Red Hawk and another unnamed chieftain, to warn the Americans that the British were trying to incite another frontier war. The three of them wished to abide by the Treaty of Camp Charlotte and remain neutral, but Cornstalk himself admitted that if the other tribes joined the British they would have only one choice. Join, or die. Thus, they were taken prisoner for use as potential hostages, and they spent the next few weeks helping the Americans plan for the coming war. On November 9th, Ellinipsico arrived at Fort Randolph, searching for his father, and the two were reunited. The following day, two men from Hall’s company crossed the Kanawha River to hunt, and one was killed under mysterious circumstances.
Hall and his men assumed that he was killed by a Shawnee hunting party, supposedly led to Fort Randolph by Ellinipsico. However, John Stuart points out in his memoir that only one shot was fired, the other man stood out in the open for a number of minutes waiting to be rescued, and nobody actually saw any natives. Either way, Hall’s men cried out for revenge, rushed into the fort, forced their way past Captain Matthew Arbuckle and into the cabin where the chieftains were staying, and killed them all. Cornstalk himself was shot at least seven times.
Every account more or less agrees on the story so far. What they don’t agree on is what came next. Some accounts say that Cornstalk miraculously survived this barrage, at least for a few moments, and in those last seconds of life, he told his murderers, “I was the border man’s friend. Many times I have saved him and his people from harm. I never warred with you, but only to protect our wigwams and lands. I refused to join your paleface enemies with the red coats. I came to the fort as your friend and you murdered me. You have murdered by my side, my young son. For this, may the curse of the Great Spirit rest upon this land. May it be blighted by nature. May it even be blighted in its hopes. May the strength of its peoples be paralyzed by the stain of our blood.”
Now, I’m normally not one to give much credence to curses and the like, but it’s hard to deny that our area has certainly had a row of bad luck. It’s historical fact that the city of Point Pleasant had of rough beginning. Indeed, it was nearly 40 years between the first settlement and any serious population/economic expansion, and it was another 40 years after that before the railroad and other major industries reached Point Pleasant. Contrast this with the quick growth of Gallipolis and Parkersburg! By the 1870s, the Weekly Register was noting that Cornstalk’s 100-year curse was just about up and hoping for quick change in the city; however, it seems they spoke too soon.
Over the next century, a number of disasters struck Mason County, and Point Pleasant in particular. First of course are the major floods of 1884, 1913, and 1937. In 1896, a disastrous fire destroyed almost an entire city block, coincidentally, where Fort Randolph once stood. In 1909, on the night before the dedication, lightning struck the crane that was set to place the capstone on the Battle Monument. Did I mention that it was a clear night, with no storm clouds in the sky? In 1953, an empty petroleum barge tied up on the riverfront exploded, killing 6 and injuring 22.
Most would say the curse finally ended in 1967 following the arrival of the Mothman and the collapse of the Silver Bridge, which killed 46. Some say it ended in 1954, when Cornstalk’s remains were moved for the final time and he was laid to rest at Tu-Endie-Wei. In this case, the Mothman is a spirit animal sent as a warning. And yet, with all of the chemical spills and contamination over the last 40 years, some would say the curse has yet to end…
Information from John Stuart’s Memoir of the Indian Wars, the Weekly Register, and the various stories passed down about the curse.
The next meeting of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society will be the week of December 17th. A concrete date, time, and location will be announced soon.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society.