The Curse of Cornstalk

Statue of Chief Cornstalk, Point Pleasant, WV
Statue of Chief Cornstalk, Point Pleasant, WV | Source

Battle Days

Battle Days is a festival that takes place in Point Pleasant every year during the first full weekend in October.  Commemorating what many call "the first battle of the Revolutionary War," it is a time to reflect on the Battle of Point Pleasant, which took place on October 10, 1774.  

Various activities are available during the festival, including a parade, craft demonstrations, historical character impersonators, an art show, and more.  It takes place in the Tu-Endie-Wei State Park, which is open year-round and features monuments to Chief Cornstalk, Colonel Andrew Lewis, "Mad" Anne Bailey, and other important figures from the Battle of Point Pleasant and its aftermath.  The park's centerpiece is an 84-foot granite obelisk honoring the Virginia militiamen who died during the battle.

Cornstalk mural, Point Pleasant, WV
Cornstalk mural, Point Pleasant, WV | Source

Chief Cornstalk, whose name in his native tongue was Keigh-tugh-gua, was the mighty leader of the Shawnee, the most powerful of a group of Native American tribes allied against colonial expansion in the 1770s. Although Lord Dunmore, governor of Virginia, had signed peace treaties with the Delaware and Six Nations of the Iroquois, Cornstalk's Shawnee had allied themselves with Logan's Mingo tribe to turn the frontier "red with the Long Knives' blood."

Things would not end well for Chief Cornstalk and his tribe. On October 10, 1774, a group of Virginia militiamen led by Colonel Andrew Lewis, a veteran of the French and Indian War, defeated Cornstalk and his men near what is now Point Pleasant, WV. The battle raged all day, but in the end the Native Americans were no match for the superior firepower of the Virginians.

After a time, Chief Cornstalk decided he wanted to make peace with his former adversaries. In 1777, when the American colonies had started to rebel and the British were in the process of coaxing the Native American tribes to help them against the colonies, Cornstalk brought word of this to his new friends. Cornstalk and a Delaware chief named Red Hawk met with Captain Arbuckle, commander of the fort built near the site of the Battle of Point Pleasant. Although he was against war with the American colonies, Cornstalk was afraid the Shawnee would be forced to fight alongside the Native American confederacy with the British. When he admitted that he would let his men go to war against the colonies if the other tribes did, Cornstalk was taken hostage along with Red Hawk and another Native American.

At first, Cornstalk was treated well as a hostage, even helping Arbuckle's garrison with maps of the Ohio Valley and battle tactics. But when a couple of soldiers from the fort were ambushed by Native Americans, Chief Cornstalk and the other captives were killed out of revenge. Cornstalk himself was shot eight times before he fell to the floor.

As he lay dying, he uttered the words of his curse: "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."

Chief Cornstalk was buried near the fort. The Shawnee's remains lay undisturbed even after the town of Point Pleasant was established in 1794 near the site of the famous battle. In 1840 his remains were moved to the grounds of the Mason County Courthouse, where they remained until the 1950s when the courthouse was torn down. Today Cornstalk's remains are interred in a monument in the Tu-Endie-Wei State Park in Point Pleasant.

Could the Curse of Chief Cornstalk be the cause of various catastrophes that have happened to Point Pleasant and the surrounding region over the centuries? Things like the Mothman appearances and subsequent collapse of the Silver Bridge in the 1960s, a toxic chemical spill from a train wreck that poisoned the town's water supply in 1978, and the deaths of 51 men in that same year at the nearby Willow Island power plant have all been blamed on the Curse of Cornstalk.

(For a personal side to this story, check out my blog post here).

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