Cornstalk’s curse and other area legends

A tradition in my mother’s family says that our ancestor, Parker Adkins (1725-1792), was on friendly terms with the Shawnee Indians, and may have sired a daughter by “Bluesky”, a daughter of the famous chief “Cornstalk” (“Keigh-tugh-qua”). However, when (due to the murder by whites of the entire family of the Mingo Indian leader John Logan) war became unavoidable, he joined the Virginia army of Colonel Andrew Lewis and participated in the Oct. 10, 1774 Battle of Point Pleasant – an engagement West Virginians like to call “The First Battle of the American Revolution” because it involved British prohibitions against settlement in the Ohio Valley (one of the many complaints that led to the outbreak of rebellion six-months later at Lexington and Concord) and because the Virginians felt that the Royal Governor, Lord Dunmore, had betrayed them by not coming to their aid at the mouth of the Kanawha … Parker Adkins’ name is inscribed on the Battle Monument at Tu-Endie-Wei Park in Point Pleasant, W.Va.

Although he and his warriors fought valiantly, Cornstalk lost the 1774 battle. Three years later, he and another Indian named “Red Hawk” arrived at Fort Randolph (built near the site of the previous battle) to warn settlers that the British were inciting the younger Shawnees to attack American settlements. He even drew maps for the Americans to help them in the coming conflict. Later he was joined by his young son, Ellinipisco, and all were detained at the fort for interrogation. On Nov. 10, 1777, when a member of a hunting party was found dead and scalped across the Kanawha, an angry mob of Rockbridge County militiamen (who had a long-standing grudge against Cornstalk for alleged 1763 massacres in their area), overruled Captains Arbuckle and Stuart and stormed the cabin where the Indians were kept and shot them down in cold blood. In a conversation a few years ago with a DAR lady at the Point Pleasant museum, I was told that the chief’s daughter, “Bluesky”, after hearing of the deaths of her father and brother, committed suicide, and that Parker Adkins (who had served in the Montgomery County militia) took his nine-year-old daughter back to his farm in southwestern Virginia where she was welcomed into his family and became my great-great-great-great aunt Charity Adkins. This is why our people are more than familiar with the story of “Cornstalk’s Curse”!

This popular bit of folklore alleges that, sometime during his captivity at Fort Randolph, Cornstalk realizing that death was a hand, made a speech that went something like this: “I came to your house as a friend, and you have murdered me. You kill my young son, Ellinipisico. For this may the curse of the Great Spirit rest upon this spot. May it be cursed by nature. May it’s hopes be forever blighted …” He further stated that the White Man would conquer the Valley, but his unlimited greed would cause the land to become uninhabitable, the water undrinkable, and the air unbreathable …

During the century following Cornstalk’s death, the town was plagued by floods, fires, an other natural disasters. On July 21, 1909, the crane that was to be used to set up the Battle Monument in Tu-Endie-Wei Park was struck by lightning and the dedication ceremony was postponed. On July 4, 1921, the Monument itself was damaged by another lightning strike. The second-century brought disaster to the entire Ohio-Kanawha Valley region. Most of these disasters were not caused by Mother Nature (or Gitchee-Manitou) but by human beings in their pursuit of land and profit …

These include the December, 1907 Monongah Mine Disaster that killed 310 miners in the Kanawha Valley (the worst mine disaster in American history); the pollution of large areas around Point Pleasant by munitions-manufacturing between World Wars I and II; a 1953 barge explosion that killed six men at Point Pleasant; the Silver Bridge collapse that killed 46 motorists the week before Christmas in 1967 (James G. Jones, Professor Emeritus of History at Glenville State College alleged in his 1979 book “Haunted Valley” that the “winged creature” reported at the time of the disaster may not have been a “mothman”, but the totem-spirit of Cornstalk’s murdered companion “Red Hawk”); the Nov. 14, 1970 plane crash in Charleston that took the lives of the entire football team of Marshall University; the 1970 bombing of the Mason County Courthouse that claimed four lives; the February, 1972 Buffalo Creek dam collapse up the Kanawha Valley from Point Pleasant; the January, 1978 derailment of a freight train carrying toxic chemicals that permanently damaged all Point Pleasant water wells; and the 1978 Willow Island Disaster at St. Mary’s, W.Va. that killed 51 workers …

In the third-century after Cornstalk’s murder, the effects of the “curse” may have intensified with the 1994 Shell Chemical explosion at Belpre, Ohio that killed three workers, the 2006 Sago Mine disaster that killed 13 miners, a 2007 barge accident downriver near Kentucky that dumped 8000 gallons of toxic fuel into the Ohio, the April 5, 2010 Upper Big Branch Mine Disaster that claimed 29 lives, and last (but not least) the Jan. 9, 2014 Elk River chemical spill that cut off water supplies to 300,000 residents of nine counties in West Virginia and remains unresolved to the present day …

We might also add to this list the numerous recent accidents connected with the hydraulic-fracturing process. These would include numerous fires, explosions, and unexplained “accidents” (often dismissed or downplayed by authorities) connected with drilling for shale-gas or the transportation and injection of toxic waste-materials. In the latter category, we might include the 4.0 magnitude earthquake on Jan. 31, 2011 near Youngstown, Ohio; the 2.6 magnitude quake that rocked Marietta on Sept. 4, 2011; or the 3.5 magnitude tremor on Nov. 20, 2013 that shook Athens County. Or can we omit the May, 2014 toxic-waste spill at a Morgan County well-site, or the two most-recent June, 2014 explosions in Belpre and upriver in Monroe County?

Or should we just regard “Cornstalk’s Curse” as silly, superstitious nonsense brought about by “collective guilt” over our treatment of Native Americans. As a confirmed skeptic of such nonsense, I tend to believe that Shakespeare was correct in saying that “The fault, dear Brutus is not in our stars, but in ourselves.”

Fred O’Neill lives in Marietta.