October 4, 2010 1 Comment
My son Jakob had a family tree project for his Social Studies class, and he needed a fair amount of help from his dear old parents. Tiffany did most of the work for him to be honest, because once she got started researching her side of the tree she just couldn’t stop, especially after she made a big discovery. She came across some strong evidence that she’s descended from Chief Cornstalk, mighty leader of the Shawnee in the 1700s, through his daughter Bluesky.
I didn’t really know much about Cornstalk before this project, but it’s a fascinating story that had ramifications for West Virginia and even the entire country. It’s more than a little tragic, too, but I suppose much Native American history is, after the arrival of the Europeans anyway.
Basically, the gist of it is that Cornstalk’s Shawnee lost a decisive battle against the Virginia militiamen in 1774. But sometime between then and 1777, Cornstalk decided that peace might be worth trying and tried to befriend his former enemies. By that point the Revolutionary War had started up and the British were attempting to coax the Native American tribes into fighting against the rebellious American colonies. Cornstalk didn’t want this, but he felt somewhat powerless to stop the other Indian tribes. He went to warn a garrison near what is now Point Pleasant (and near the site of the battle in 1774) and was taken hostage when he admitted that he wouldn’t stop his Shawnee from attacking the colonies if that’s what the other Indian tribes wanted.
Things didn’t end well for the Shawnee chief, as he was killed out of revenge for an Indian ambush against a couple of the garrison’s soldiers. You can read the story in a little more detail, as well as find out about Chief Cornstalk’s curse, by reading my article on it here.
We drove up to Point Pleasant last weekend, intending on visiting Tu-Endie-Wei State Park, the site of a memorial to the Battle of Point Pleasant as well as a few important figures from that time, including Chief Cornstalk himself. We didn’t know that we’d be arriving in the middle of Battle Days, an annual festival commemorating the battle and the lives lost there. The kids had a good time (although Jakob grew impatient, as is his nature) and got to see an actual Revolutionary War-era cannon being fired a couple of times. Jenna especially seemed fascinated by the Mansion House Museum. Formerly an 18th century tavern, it is the oldest hewn log house in the Kanawha Valley and has been preserved as a museum. It has displays of antiques and heirlooms of the era, as well as what is believed to be one of the first large square pianos to be brought over the Alleghenies.
We had fun helping Jakob with his family tree project and are glad we were able to take the kids to the Battle Days festival and thus get them just a little bit closer to their famous ancestor. Though the story of Chief Cornstalk is tragic, it’s a fascinating reminder of the richness of history that can exist right in your own backyard.