For over two hundred years, the events of November 10th, 1777 have remained, as President Theodore Roosevelt wrote, “one of the darkest stains on the checkered pages of frontier history.”
For nearly the same length of time, one single primary source has relayed to us the events of that day. Colonel John Stuart’s “Memoir of the Indian Wars” describes in great detail the chieftains’ arrival at Fort Randolph, Cornstalk’s efforts to help and support the Virginians, the arrival of Elinipsico, the death of Robert Gilmore, and the subsequent murder of the Native Americans in the fort by the Rockbridge County militiamen. Considering it was written nearly thirty years later, when Colonel Stuart was an old man, the detail is remarkable.
His account is backed up by several other documents from 1778, including the murder trials of John Hall, Hugh Galbraith, Malcolm McCown, and William Rowan. These confirm Stuart’s recollections, but they don’t offer much else in way of details.
Unfortunately, both accounts leave out one crucial detail. John Stuart wrote, talking here about Cornstalk’s arrival at the fort, “Captain Arbuckle thought proper to detain him, the Red Hawk, and another fellow, as hostages, to prevent the nation from joining the British.” He later writes in detail about Cornstalk, Elinipsico, and Red Hawk’s deaths, before finishing with “the other Indian was shamefully mangled, and I grieved to see him so long in the agonies of death.”
The records of the murder trials, likewise, charge the four men with “…suspicion of felony in being concerned in the murder of the Cornstalk Indian, his son Elinipsico, Redhawk, and another chief of the Indians on the 10th day of November last…”
We know when the chieftains arrived. We know why they were held at the fort. We know that they helped the Virginians map the Ohio Country in preparation for the coming war. We know what triggered their murder, and we even have detailed accounts of their final moments. The only piece of the story we don’t know is the identity of the fourth chieftain. Or should I say, the only piece we have forgotten, as his identity was once known to historians.
In a 1902 article in the West Virginia Historical Magazine, Revolutionary War historian J.T. McAllister wrote of Fort Randolph, “there occurred the brutal murder of Cornstalk and his son, Elinipsico, and the two Indian warriors Red Hawk and Petalla.” This information apparently came from his own collection of original documents, likely a letter or pension record, and in most cases, I would be hesitant to take that at face value. Unfortunately, though some of his papers are held at the College of William & Mary, it is unknown if this particular document survives.
However, this same letter is later referenced by noted historians Reuben Gold Thwaites and Louise Phelps Kellogg. In a footnote regarding a letter written by Captain Matthew Arbuckle, they write, “the other Indians were Red Hawk and a chief who having lost one eye was familiarly referred to as ‘Old Yie’. His Indian name appears to have been Petalla.” Again though, this is based on McAllister’s document, which Thwaites and Kellogg would have seen but may or may not still survive. So the question becomes, can we trust them as historians? To know that, we have to know them.
Thwaites was Secretary of the Wisconsin State Historical Society, President of the Mississippi Valley Historical Association, and a member of the American Antiquarian Society. Kellogg, though titled simply as Thwaites’ research assistant and editor, was equally qualified as a historian, having received her Ph.D. while studying under Frederick Jackson Turner and edited over forty volumes of historical research alongside Thwaites. Both were also close friends and colleagues of our own Virgil Anson Lewis, who cited their research in many of his later works.
In each of their works, they rely solely on primary sources from the 18th and early 19th centuries. Their “Documentary History of Lord Dunmore’s War,” for example, contains well over two hundred original letters and journals that tell the story of the war in exacting detail. Notes in their works are limited solely to clarifications and explanations of the documents, simply plain information with as little interpretation as possible.
In short, if Thwaites and Kellogg agree that the fourth chieftain was Petalla, you can take it as gospel! The next step will be to figure out who Petalla was. Was he a Shawnee chieftain, like Cornstalk? Or perhaps a Delaware, like Red Hawk? Or another altogether, perhaps a representative of the Mingo or Wyandot? Only further research will tell.
Information from the writings of Stuart, McAllister, and Thwaites & Kellogg.
Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.