Curse of Chief Cornstalk

Chief Cornstalk - Shawnee Indian 1700's

Chief Cornstalk (his native name meant "blade of corn") was probably born in the Pennsylvania area, but he and the Shawnee people were pushed into and settled into the Ohio area, near present-day Chillicothe, by the late 1730's.

As the Shawnee people attempted to claim some space as their own (more correctly RECLAIM ANY space, of which the white settlers were overtaking), Chief Cornstalk attempted and succeeded in gaining ground by decidedly questionable means. The Chief was not entirely alone in efforts to eke out a space for native peoples, and the Shawnee people were part of a seven Indian nation confederacy which attempted to protect their space.

Keigh-Tugh-Gua - Cornstalk headed one of the most powerful of the tribes in the seven nation confederacy, The Shawnees, and he was feared by some, highly respected by others, but above all else, he was determined, along with his people and the 7 nations, to both secure ample space and then protect their lands through any means necessary.

Events recorded in Hardesty collection of the West Virginia Heritage Encyclopedia, display that Chief Cornstalk and his Shawnees obtained lands in two areas, on at least two occasions - by means of clever ruse and by deception. On these occasions, Cornstalk gained the trust of white settlers in order to gain access to the land and move about freely. Once in place, Cornstalk had his indian warriors attack and kill the white settlers in order for Shawnees to claim the land. This is reported to have occurred in the area of Greenbrier County Virginia, at the settlement near Muddy Creek.

The very next day, Cornstalk and the Shawnee warriors repeated this tactic at a white settlement called the Clendenin Settlement, which is located near current-day Lewisburg. In the second massacre, more than 50 settlers were killed.

These events occurred back-to-back on June 26 and 27, 1763.

Indian Head Dress

Additional Context and Possibilities

During the time when Chief Cornstalk and the other Indian nations were trying to survive as a people and mark out territory, his actions against certain white settlers were not the only aggressive events going on.

Tensions between French and English settlers ran high, and other native tribes were in full-blown battles in surrounding areas against both French and English settlers.

American land was basically considered free land to whoever could settle on the land - without respect to the Native bands who had already experienced generations of living in the country. Natives were considered uncivilized and were dehumanized and were rarely even considered to be human beings by many white or immigrant settlers.

Partly nomadic behavior was observed by non-native intruders, as well, and these intruders mistook native roving behaviors and lifestyles to mean that Indian people had no claim to lands - or were so uncivilized they didn't know how to settle on the lands or how to live properly. This gave non-natives the justification they needed to overtake any land they wished - with force or otherwise.

Cornstalk and Shawnees Side With The French

In the 1770's Chief Cornstalk and the Shawnee warriors sided with the French during the French and Indian war. The Shawnee were mainly trying to preserve land in Ohio, but they pressed forward into Western Virginia, hoping to widen the gap between peoples, and prevent further infiltration into Ohio by white settlers. Thus, Cornstalk led raiding parties into west Virginian areas, trying to drive white settlers farther away from Shawnee territory.

In the Pontiac Rebellion of 1763, the Shawnees were involved, protecting their interests but were defeated by Colonel Henry Bouquet in 1764. Bouquet seized but did not kill several Shawnees, including Chief Cornstalk. Bouquet was not intent on killing but was intent on getting a peace treaty signed, and Chief Cornstalk finally agreed not to take up arms anymore against the English.

Cornstalk Abides By Peace Treaty Before His Death

Many peace agreements were signed - and broken - by all sides between the 1760's and 1780. Unfortunately, Chief Cornstalk didn't quite reach it to the year 1778. He was killed in November 1777.

Before his death, Cornstalk had agreed to abide by the agreements in a much earlier treaty from 1768, called The Treaty of Fort Stanwix, but many of the Shawnees resisted adhering completely to the terms, which included giving up some but not all of their land in Ohio.

Cornstalk had been at peace for a time with all in the region at the time of his death, but he was still killed over what a few of his misbehaving Shawnees were doing. They were continuing to raid and cause havoc, and try to acquire land, even though Cornstalk had signed a treaty agreement.

Cornstalk found out about some particularly bold and harmful plans some of his Shawnees were going to enact on the Ohio region where, by terms of the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, they had lost some portions of land. Cornstalk acted immediately and, knowing that some of the Shawnees were beyond his scope of control, he travelled as quickly as possible to go warn the settlers in the Ohio region where the outlaw-Shawnees were going to attack.

Cornstalk's son, Elinipsico, travelled after his father to support in warning the Virginian and Ohio settlement parties about the raids that some Shawnees were planning to exact upon the Ohio lands and settlements. Elinipsico and Chief Cornstalk both got as far as the fort at Point Pleasant, West Virginia, and reported what they knew.

Shortly after their arrival, bad news also arrived - about Shawnees that had just ambushed and killed an important American soldier. The colonists saw red and exacted revenge upon the Shawnees by killing their Chief. Elinipsico, along with Chief Cornstalk were both killed at Point Pleasant, along with other natives who were held captive at the time.

It is said that because Cornstalk was killed in response to events that were outside of his control and because his son was also killed but that both were innocent of wrongdoing - Chief Cornstalk issued a curse with his dying breath.

One version of the Chief Cornstalk Curse legend (some embellishment, in my opinion, but good storytelling)

"Wow" or "Bah" What do you think?

The Disasters Mentioned:

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An Account of Wrongful Execution and The Resulting Curse

After discovering the body of a fellow soldier at a garrison near Kanawha River, the garrison soldiers were overwhelmed with rage and emotion. In the incident, two soldiers were attacked and one was killed, while the other soldier managed to flee - to recount to other soldiers that the ambush and other soldier's death was caused by Indians.

The enraged soldiers went directly to the fort at Point Pleasant to where prisoners, including Chief Cornstalk and his son, were being held. Cornstalk rose and faced the soldiers head on when they crashed angrily through the doorway. His bravery and directness in the face of the obvious stalled the soldiers for a moment in their attack. After a momentary pause, the soldiers opened fire with muskets, killing the handful of prisoners, including Elinipsico, where he sat on a stool. Chief Cornstalk was felled in no less than eight shots and lay on the floor, dying...

Before the Chief expired, he looked directly upon his assassins and said, with his last breaths:

"I was the borderman'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 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."

After these words were issued, Chief Cornstalk expired.

The other Indians' bodies were taken away and dumped in the Kanawha River.

Chief Cornstalk was buried near the fort on Point Pleasant, at a spot near the junction of the Kanawha River and the Ohio River.

More Connections Between the Chief's Curse, Point Pleasant, The Silver Bridge Disaster and Mothman

Strange Events and Tragedies Near Point Pleasant

December 6 1907: The worst coal mine disaster in American History. 310 miners killed in Monongah, West Virginia

June 1944: Tornado disaster. 150 people lost their lives when a tornado raged through the tri-state area.

December 15 1967: Silver Bridge disaster. 46 people were flung downward to their demise, to die on impact with or drown in the Ohio River below the bridge when Silver Bridge. It is said that just prior to this event, there were several Mothman sightings in the Point Pleasant area - and that strange lights and other paranormal events were reported around this time.

August 1968: 35 people died when a Piedmont Airlines plane crashed near Kanawha Airport.

November 14 1970: another plane crash. This time, a Southern Airways DC-10 crashed into a mountain, killing 75 people, near Huntington, West Virginia.

March 2 1976: Mason County Jail explosion. Prisoner, Harriet Sisk has been incarcerated for the murder of her infant daughter. Her husband came to the prison with explosives inside a suitcase, intending to kill Harriet and himself and to level the building. Mr. and Mrs. Sisk, along with 3 law enforcement officers were killed in the explosion.

January 1978: freight train de-railment and toxic chemical spill. A freight train hauling toxic chemicals de-railed at Point Pleasant, spilling thousands of gallons of toxic chemicals. The chemicals and toxins contaminated Point Pleasant's water supply and all of Point Pleasant's wells had to be abandoned.

April 1978: Labourers killed in a freak accident. Near Point Pleasant, at the town of St. Mary's, 51 men were killed in a construction accident when the scaffolding they were on at the Willow Island power plant suddenly collapsed.

Paranormal investigation - EVP Session, Chief Cornstalk's Curse

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Comments 11 comments

The Lost Dutchman profile image

The Lost Dutchman 7 years ago from Flanders (Belgium)

A less known true spooky story (at least, less known by me... a Lost Dutchman)... But a fascinating read again!


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 7 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide Author

Thanks for the comment, Lost Dutchman. I think this curse legend gets lost in the hype about mothman and the silver bridge disaster because the latter two topics are so fantastic and flashy.


Chad A Taylor profile image

Chad A Taylor 7 years ago from Somewhere in Seattle...

Native American history is often viewed through white puritan stained glass and the truth is obscured. A good read that often shatters this glass is "Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee" by Dee Brown. It looks like you may have already read it!


Ivorwen profile image

Ivorwen 7 years ago from Hither and Yonder

Very interesting. Are these disasters the only one's known? It seems to me, that if the place was cursed at the time of his death there would be many more stories, especially from the 1800's.


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 6 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide Author

Oh, Chad, Chad, CHAD, C H A D, CHAAAAAAAD...you've brought up a topic (history obscured through white puritan stained glass) that requires about seven or eight volumes of books to cover! I haven't read the book and author you've mentioned but I've studied excerpts of it - I'm part Cree, myself, and I have done quite a lot of North America culture study. I often have shattered glass all around me whilst my head and heart is buried in my studies.

My interest is piqued and I'm on a search for that Dee Brown literature - to read over Christmas holidays.

Ivorwen - be my guest - if you turn anything up on disasters and stories from the 1800's, I'll put 'em on this hub, for sure! I think you're right tho' - seems to me there might be some history missing here. Perhaps oral tradition has been lost (this is my biggest, most sound guess) from the 1800's and this is why the timeline here starts around 1907.


JY3502 profile image

JY3502 5 years ago from Florence, South Carolina

Another great piece MythBuster. You've really done your homework.


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 5 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide Author

Thanks for reading, JY3502.


cant tell you 5 years ago

go on to your bunny man hub i have a very old comment


pawlpawl 5 years ago

"Eyes of the mothman" is a documentary coming out in a few days and really elaborates on the Cornstalk Curse as a strong connection to the mothman/UFO sightings in the late 60's. This is a strong part of the history of Point Pleasant that very few beyond the city know of. Good read, and you guys should deffinately check out the documentary when it releases on February 22nd.


mythbuster profile image

mythbuster 5 years ago from Utopia, Oz, You Decide Author

Hello pawlpawl, thanks for the heads up about the documentary. I will look for it!


mquee profile image

mquee 5 years ago from Columbia, SC

Very nice piece of history. Well done and enjoyable to read.

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