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Cornstalk

'Fighting' Chief Cornstalk was born in 1720 and became a prominent leader of the Shawnee nation just prior to the American Revolution from 1775 to 1783. His name, Hokoleskwa, translates loosely into "stalk of corn" in English, and is spelled Colesqua in some accounts. He was also known as Keigh-tugh-qua and Wynepuechsika.

Cornstalk opposed European settlement west of the Ohio River in his youth, but he later became an advocate for peace after the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774. His murder by American militiamen at Fort Randolph during a diplomatic visit in November 1777 outraged both American Indians and Virginians.

Some claim that he spoke a curse on the land just before he died but there is no way to verify it. Many connect this to the legendary Mothman creature. Bob roach who also build the Mothman statue, build a statue of Cornstalk that is located in the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Early Years

Historians believe he may have been born in present-day Pennsylvania, and with his sister, Nonhelema, moved to the Ohio Country, near present day Chillicothe, when the Shawnee fell back before expanding white settlement. Stories tell of Cornstalk's participation in the French and Indian War from 1754 to1763, though these are probably apocryphal. His alleged participation in Pontiac's Rebellion from 1763 to 1766 is also unverified, though he did take part in the peace negotiations.

Dunmore's War

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Cornstalk monument located at Logan Elm State Memorial in Pickaway County, Ohio.

Cornstalk played a central role in Dunmore's War of 1774. After the 1768 Treaty of Fort Stanwix, settlers and land speculators moved into the lands south of the Ohio River in present-day Kentucky. Although the Iroquois had agreed to cede the land, the Shawnee and others had not been present at the Fort Stanwix negotiations. They still claimed Kentucky as their hunting grounds. Clashes soon took place over this. Cornstalk tried unsuccessfully to prevent escalation of the hostilities.
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Cornstalk's gravesite in Point Pleasant, West Virginia.

Attempting to block a Virginian invasion of the Ohio country, Cornstalk led a force of Shawnee and Mingo warriors at the Battle of Point Pleasant. His attack, although ferociously made, was beaten back by the Virginians. Cornstalk retreated and would reluctantly accept the Ohio River as the boundary of Shawnee lands in the Treaty of Camp Charlotte.

Cornstalk's commanding presence often impressed American colonials. A Virginia officer, Col. Benjamin Wilson, wrote of Cornstalk's speech to Lord Dunmore at Camp Charlotte in 1774: "I have heard the first orators in Virginia, Patrick Henry and Richard Henry Lee, but never have I heard one whose powers of delivery surpassed those of Cornstalk on that occasion."

American Revolution

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With the American Revolution began, Cornstalk worked to keep his people neutral. He represented the Shawnee at treaty councils at Fort Pitt in 1775 and 1776, the first Indian treaties ever negotiated by the United States. Many Shawnees nevertheless hoped to use British aid to reclaim their lands lost to the settlers. By the winter of 1776, the Shawnee were effectively divided into a neutral faction led by Cornstalk, and militant bands led by men such as Blue Jacket.
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An 1872 drawing of Cornstalk from Frost's Pictorial History of Indian Wars and Captivities

In the fall of 1777, Cornstalk made a diplomatic visit to Fort Randolph, an American fort at present-day Point Pleasant, seeking as always to maintain his faction's neutrality. Cornstalk was detained by the fort commander, who had decided on his own initiative to take hostage any Shawnees who fell into his hands. When, on November 10, an American militiaman from the fort was killed nearby by unknown Indians, angry soldiers brutally executed Cornstalk, his son Elinipsico, and two other Shawnees.

American political and military leaders were alarmed by the murder of Cornstalk; they believed he was their only hope of securing Shawnee neutrality. At the insistence of Patrick Henry, then governor of Virginia, Cornstalk's killers, whom Henry called "vile assassins", were eventually brought to trial, but since their fellow soldiers would not testify against them, all were acquitted.

Legacy - The Curse [Urban Legend]

In 1840 Cornstalk's grave was rediscovered and his remains were moved to the Mason County Courthouse grounds. In 1954 the courthouse was torn down and he was reburied in Point Pleasant. A local legend claims that he took his revenge in the 1960s by sending the mysterious Mothman to terrorize Point Pleasant. Legends arose about his dying 'curse' being the cause of misfortunes in the area. Lore has it that Cornstalk spoke saying '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.' This event was later supplanted by local MothMan stories, though no contemporary historical source mentions any such utterance by Cornstalk.

Debunked?

In Rosemary Ellen Guiley's 'Monsters of West Virginia' book, published in 2012, It is said that 'Recently, the curse was debunked as fiction for an outdoor play written in the early twentieth century, presented at Point Pleasant'. The book goes on to say 'A man taken by surpise and shot multiple times at point-blank range and who was not killed instantly probably would not be able to muster much consciousness for anything in his final moments, let along the dramatic pronouncment'. Some still believe that the fictional play could be based on an already existing oral story telling or even a true event.

"Fighting Chief Cornstalk's Remains Laid to Rest Again"

Full Story from Charleston Gazette Newspaper, September 21st 1954

"The last page of a sad chapter of American history was written at this Ohio River community today [September 21st 1954]. Chief Cornstalk, the Shawnee Indian leader who was taken hostage and murdered by white men to whom he had come to talk peace, was given a final resting place in a small park near the field of his most famous battle. His oft-moved grave now lies beside those of Colonial soldiers killed in that struggle the battle of Pt. Pleasant, Oct. 10, 1774 and Frontier Heroine Ann Bailey. In a lengthy ceremony at noon today, Cornstalk's last remains, three teeth and 15 bone fragments, were sealed in an aluminum box in the center of a four-ton stone monument bearing the simple inscription: 'Cornstalk.'

The monument and remains had been removed from the grounds of the old Mason County courthouse, which is being torn down to make way for a new court building. It was at least the third time the chieftain's body had been interred. After his death In 1777, he was buried near Fort Randolph the Colonial outpost at which he had been killed. Then in 1840, street- builders here unearthed his grave, and the remains were moved to the courthouse grounds, This year [1954], with the decision to raze Mason County's old courthouse and erect a new $700,000 structure in its place, it was decided to move the grave to historical Tu-Endie-Wei Park at the junction of Ohio and Kanawha Rivers. Amateur archaeologists began digging last Saturday morning, and after 10 hours of fruitless labor, it was feared that the chief's remains might not be found.

But early Sunday, persistent diggers came upon rust stains from the metal box in which Cornstalk had been reburied. In loose earth, they found the teeth and bone fragments which were decided to be 'undoubtedly those of Cornstalk.' The reburial today was directed by members of the Pt. Pleasant chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution. The story of Cornstalk's seizure and murder is one of the dark spots in American history.

Born about 1735 in what is now Ohio, the future chieftain was named 'Kei.gh-tugh-qua,' meaning 'maize plant' hence the English name 'Cornstalk.' Little is known of his early life, but by 1763 he had become a Shawnee tribal chieftain and led war parties against several white settlements. In 1764, soldiers raided his tribal town and took him captive. He was carried to Fort Pitt as a hostage, but escaped the following year. In the following years, he became Sachem of all Shawnee tribes and finally king of the northern confederacy of Indian tribes, composed of the Shawnees, Delawares, Mingoes, Wyandottes and Cayugas.

On Oct. 10, 1774, he led 1,100 of his braves against an equal number of Colonial troops at Pt. Pleasant and after a violent battle, was defeated. Following his defeat, Cornstalk pursued a peace policy and forbade his braves to molest whites. But in 1777, with the American Revolution at its height, he returned to Pt. Pleasant with two companions to warn settlers that the British were trying to incite his tribesmen to attack them.

Fearing an attack, Colonial soldiers seized Cornstalk and his companions and imprisoned them in Fort Randolph as hostages. A month later, Cornstalk's son, Ellinipsico, came to the fort to see his father. During his visit, a soldier walking near the fort was killed by an Indian and other soldiers rushed to Cornstalk's quarters to kill him In revenge. Cornstalk, who is described by historians as a handsome, intelligent, and highly honorable man, stood calmly in the doorway to his room and faced his slayers. He was felled by nearly a dozen rifle shots. The soldiers then entered the room and killed Cornstalk's son and two companions. The murder of their chieftain turned the Shawnees from a neutral people into the most implacable warriors, who raided Virginia settlements for 20 years after the incident."

Cornstalk Folk Tale:

'The Curse of Chief Cornstalk' by Chester Funkhouser

"In evening, when the sun sets low and bathes the hills in its afterglow, a sadness spreads across the land like a melancholy curtain drawn by unseen hand and sometimes a death chant fills the air, and seems to linger there like an aged echo, of a long time ago when the old chief shook his fist and swore to bring death and disaster to every white man's door. Death and disaster for them and kin, forever more. When I was a boy I heard the old folks talk, the deadly curse of Chief Cornstalk, that come in peace to end terrible war, that had killed Indians and white men, all the score. He rode into fort, a group of trappers, whiskey made mean, jumped him, stabbed the chief and his son. The son lay dead on the court house floor, The bloody old chief rose and staggered out the door. He shook his fist at the heavens and this else he swore: 

You and all your sons and kin will pay for this deadly sin. Death, disease and disaster shall follow you all, forever, and here after. This land was once ours for miles around, now becomes your dark and bloody ground. Do not think that you have won for this land is cursed from this day on. Then he yelled a final battle cry and fell into the dusty street to die.

Shortly there after, there came a flood that buried half the town in a sea of mud. Strange sickness began to spread and when the epidemic was over, sixteen were dead. There up in the sky, vultures swarmed over head as though in celebration of the dead. In later years, the village people called their home 'The village of tears'. They expected the worst and surrendered their fate to a dead man's curse. I remember being there during an Indian summer and heard the taught beat of a distant drummer. It was a real pretty day in early November, this is the way it happened, I remember.

I was watching horses in the field below, as the horses tails swished to and fro, as they slowly grazed cross the valley floor, like I had seen them there many times before. Suddenly the horses stopped and just stood there, the horses raised their heads and sniffed the air. First one, then two, and four, stood like statues along the valley floor. I sat on the hill watching in silent wonder, as I observed the spell that they were under. I heard a distant thumping as though someone were softly drumming. Drumming like I'd never heard before. Then it stopped and all was still, except for a puff of smoke rising from the hill.

First one, then two, and four, as though they released from a hidden door. I watched the horses rise above the trees, carried by the evening breeze. Then the horses turned as one and galloped into a fast run, as though escaping from some unseen horror. They raced toward the open barn door, the drumming, drumming softly, drumming, echoing across the valley floor, repeating like a huge heart beat, with each beat a little louder, with rumble over head. The soft groaning of lost souls moaning, The Curse of Chief Cornstalk and his band of warriors."

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