Ohio Valley History… Chief Cornstalk’s Curse

By Chris Rizer - Ohio Valley History



Tomorrow is Halloween, so that means another local legend for this week’s article.

It’s November 10th, 1777. For at least a month now, Shawnee War Chief Cornstalk, Delaware Chief Red Hawk, and an unknown third chief (possibly Rene Chartier) have been at Fort Randolph as both hostages and peace envoys. The hope is that if their chieftains are held by the Americans, the Shawnee and Delaware won’t side with the British. But just in case, the chiefs have helped Captain Matthew Arbuckle make a map of the Ohio Country.

Yesterday, Cornstalk’s son Elinipsico appeared at the fort, hoping to see his father. This morning, two of Captain John Hall’s militiamen were hunting on the other side of the Kanawha River when one was ambushed and killed by unknown Native Americans. In a blind fury, Hall’s men force their way past Captain Arbuckle and murder the four chiefs.

Cornstalk, as he lay dying on the floor, has just enough time to curse those who have betrayed him. Now, everyone was a bit in shock at the time, so nobody wrote down anything about a curse. But according to the legend, the version that has been passed down is, roughly:

“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.”

With that, the feared and respected War Chief of the Shawnee succumbed to his injuries and was buried outside the fort. The other three chiefs were, reportedly, unceremoniously thrown into the Ohio.

It didn’t take long for Cornstalk’s Curse to take effect. Within two years, ferocious Shawnee attacks and British victories in the Revolution’s Southern Theater forced the abandonment of Fort Randolph and delayed the settling of Point Pleasant for another decade.

When it was finally was settled, Point Pleasant never experienced the success of other early settlements. Despite being the second town established below Pittsburgh (the first being Wheeling), despite having perhaps the best location in the entire Ohio Valley, despite having direct access to two major navigable rivers, despite the support of persons such as George Washington and Daniel Boone, it simply never grew. Nearly 30 years after it was settled, Point Pleasant still only had a single mill. It didn’t even have a church!

And it wasn’t only during the first 30 years that Point Pleasant grew slowly. The first railroads were built in the U.S. in 1830. It reached the Ohio Valley in 1853. It didn’t reach Point Pleasant until 1883. “May it be blighted in its hopes…”

“May it be blighted by nature…” I think we can all connect the dots here. We’re no strangers to floods. In 1832, 1884, 1913, and 1937, the mighty Ohio threatened to wipe Point off the map. Hundreds of other times, it caused thousands of dollars in damages. Curiously enough, one Algonquin Native American spirit is the Underwater Panther, ruler of the underworld, master of the waters, and bringer of death and misfortune.

Opposing the Underwater Panthers are the Thunderbirds, representatives of the Great Spirit on earth. The Thunderbird, it is said, controls the air, rain, and… lightning. On July 21st, 1909, the crane assembling the Battle Monument was struck by lightning. On July 4th, 1921, the Monument itself was struck. Did I mention both nights were completely clear?

“May the strength of its peoples be paralyzed…” I think we can safely put the 1990s C-8 and 2014 Elk River spills, that contaminated the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, in this category. The Superfund-worthy pollution once in the TNT Area probably fits, too. Pollution in general? The Ohio Valley is becoming known as Cancer Valley, after all.

Then, of course, there’s the Silver Bridge collapse. It’s unusual, because none of the things I’ve mentioned so far immediately killed anyone. Even the pollution takes a while. This has led some to suggest that the Mothman, said to have been seen leading up to the collapse, was a warning. Sent by who? Some say it is the totem spirit of Chief Red Hawk, who in the afterlife grew tired of Cornstalk’s vengeance. Other suggest it was one of the Thunderbirds, sent as a warning from the Great Spirit.

Either way, Point Pleasant is still here, and I’d say we’re doing better every year! I suppose we’ll just have to wait and see what Cornstalk has up his sleeve next.


By Chris Rizer

Ohio Valley History

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected]

Chris Rizer is president of the Mason County Historical and Preservation Society, reach him at [email protected]