There are plenty of places in this world that have strange and anomalous histories, and sometimes there are bits and pieces that are not connected until years later. One very interesting tale is that of a supposed curse that was laid down by a dying Indian chief in America’s colonial years, and which may very well tie to the bizarre phenomenon of the nefarious Mothman of West Virginia. It is a story of adventure, colorful history, and the paranormal.
In the late 1700s, the area of present day Ohio, West Virginia and Kentucky was being invaded in a sense. White settlers were inexorably moving West, pouring through the region’s Kanawha and Ohio River valleys, much to the alarm of the great Shawnee, Delaware, Wyandot, Mingo, Miami, Ottawa and Illinois nations of Natives who had called this place home since time unremembered. These foreigners posed an ominous threat the likes of which they had never seen before, threatening to disrupt their way of life, raze their land, and even possibly erase them from existence. In order to combat the ominous threat posed by the white man, these tribes put aside any differences they had and formed an alliance in order to come together in solidarity to face perhaps the gravest danger in their history.
In 1774 there was a fierce battle between these forces, when around 1,200 proud Native warriors of the alliance clashed with colonial forces at the Ohio River, at the site of what is now Point Pleasant, West Virginia. The battle was a whirlwind of death and blood, devolving into more of a massacre when it became obvious that the Native warriors were hopelessly outmatched by the technology of the colonial forces, their arrows and axes losing out to the gunpowder and muskets of the enemy, and although they fought bravely and valiantly when the smoke cleared over 300 of these warriors lie dead. In the wake of the Native alliance retreat after what is now called “The Battle of Point Pleasant,” an imposing fort called Fort Randolph was built where the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers merged, ever vigilant for the appearance of another Native army looming on the horizon.
One of the greatest leaders of this confederacy was the chief of the mighty Shawnee nation, called Chief Keigh-tugh-gua, meaning “cornstalk,” who realized that fighting the colonial settlers head-on was futile and suicidal. He gradually reached out to the whites, and formed a tentative peace with them even as the other tribes regrouped and sharpened their weapons to go to all out war. Chief Cornstalk knew that this was a death wish, that it would mean the slaughter of thousands, and so he reached out to the colonial forces in order to try and work out a treaty before any more blood could be spilled on their sacred lands, choosing to keep the Shawnee nation a neutral force, although many of his tribe disagreed with this, with militant factions blooming up and threatening to tear their solidarity apart.
These flames of war were actively stoked by the British, who were well into the Revolutionary War at this point, but Cornstalk felt he could make a difference, and he did. Indeed, Cornstalk’s treaties that he managed to arrange at Fort Pitt in 1775 and 1776, were the first Indian treaties ever recognized and negotiated with the United States, and he was well-known for his powerful presence and negotiation and oratory skills. He meant to do this again in 1777, as a storm brewed on the horizon in the form of the angry Native nations and the militant factions of his own tribe planning an all out assault on the fort, something the British couldn’t have been happier about. Sadly, things would not go as planned for Chief Cornstalk.
In November of 1777, as Native warriors began amassing their forces, Cornstalk and the Chief of the Delaware tribe, Red Hawk, made their way to Fort Randolph seeking to be advocates of peace. They had both lost their taste for war, and this was a last ditch effort to staunch the coming blood flow before it even began. However, rather than be met with open arms they were taken prisoner by the fort’s commander Captain Arbuckle. Things went from bad to worse when Cornstalk’s son, Ellinipisco, approached the fort a few days later and was also taken hostage, and from worse to catastrophic when two soldiers were attacked and one killed by Natives after trespassing on Indian hunting lands nearby. Although the prisoners had been treated fairly well up to that point, the soldiers at the fort screamed for revenge, and they were all summarily executed by the bloodthirsty, vengeful troops. The deaths struck a devastating blow to any hope of peace between the colonials and the Natives. Although the ones responsible for killing Cornstalk and his companions in cold blood were brought to trial they were acquitted, and relations with the Natives devolved to a new low. It is a very bloody and turbulent part of U.S. history as it is, but what is especially interesting is the dark curse that Chief Cornstalk is said to have cast upon the land with his dying breaths. It is said that as he lay on the floor of his cell in a pool of blood after having been shot 8 times, he uttered the words:
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.
Not long after this, in 1794, the quaint town of Point Pleasant would be founded right there where Cornstalk had died and so many of his people had been ruthlessly slaughtered. In 1840, Chief Cornstalk’s remains were disinterred and relocated to the Mason County Court House, and they were moved yet again in the 1950s and reburied at Tu-Endie-Wei Park, with a 12-foot tall monument in his honor erected to overlook his grave. It would seem from the tragic events that would plague Point Pleasant that perhaps Chief Cornstalk did not approve of any of this, and his supposed “curse” is written all over the history of the town and the surrounding area.
The series of tragic events over the years reads like a horror story. In the 1880s a fire destroyed a large chunk of Point Pleasant. In 1907 there was a horrific mining disaster at nearby Monongah, West Virginia, an underground explosion that would collapse the tunnels and claim the lives of over 360 miners. Spookily, the erection of a monument to Chief Cornstalk in 1909 was beset with some acts of God when a crane working on the 86-foot-tall statue was struck by lightning, delaying its construction and dedication ceremony, and the statue itself would be also be struck by lightning in 1921 on an otherwise clear evening, damaging it. On April 21, 1930, the Ohio State Penitentiary was ravaged by a fire that would burn prisoners alive in their cells and kill 320 people. In 1913 and 1937 the Ohio River experienced catastrophic floods that nearly erased Point Pleasant from the map. 1944 saw 150 people killed in a series of tornadoes that tore through the region, and in 1953 there was a horrific barge explosion that killed 6 men.
Of course there is the notorious Silver Bridge collapse in December of 1967, which sent 46 people to the bottom of the Ohio River and which was surrounded by all manner of paranormal phenomena. The following year, in 1968, there was a terrible plane crash, when a Piedmont Airlines Flight 230 fell from the sky at Kanawha Airport along with 35 doomed souls. Another tragic plane crash occurred on November 14, 1970, when a Southern Airways DC-10 smashed right into a mountainside near Huntington, West Virginia, to kill 75 people.
This tide of death and carnage would continue well into the 70s and beyond. In March of 1976 the Mason County Jail at Point Pleasant was targeted by a terrorist attack when the husband of one of the inmates, a Harriet Sisk, blew himself, his wife, and three police officers to smithereens with a suitcase packed with explosives. In 1978 a train carrying toxic chemicals spectacularly derailed at Point Pleasant, contaminating the water supply. That very same year 51 construction workers were killed at the nearby town of St. Mary’s when their scaffolding collapsed as they were working on a cooling tower at the Willow Island power plant. Eerily, the supposed “curse” died down after this, fitting into the common notion that Chief Cornstalk’s curse was meant to last just 200 years.
Many of you might have already made the connection between this supposed curse and the bizarre entity known as the Mothman, but for those who haven’t it is very famous lore that the days leading up to the fatal 1967 collapse of the Silver Bridge spanning the Ohio River were haunted by all manner of strangeness, from UFOs, to Men in Black, to the insidious entity known as Indrid Cold, to numerous sightings of a winged entity with glowing eyes known as the Mothman. This strange entity is widely believed to have had some connection to the disaster, whether just an observer, a portent of what was to come, or even the very one that caused it, and with the Cornstalk legend it takes on a new light, as there are some who feel that it could be part of the curse or even the “Great Spirit” the chief spoke of.
The connection between an old Indian curse and Mothman might seem tenuous, but it invites speculation on whether the Mothman phenomenon and the disaster it hovers around could have their basis further back in history than many might think. There is also the matter of whether this “curse” was ever real at all, and if it was just how much it ties into all of the tragedy that befell this normally peaceful place, and as the paranormal researcher John Keel once said, “When it comes to the paranormal world, nothing is what it seems to be.” Was this all coincidence or just bad luck? Was there ever any connection to the events of the Mothman phenomena of Point Pleasant and the curse of Chief Cornstalk? There is no way to really know for sure, but one thing we do know is that West Virginia is orbited by its fair share of strangeness, and a bloody history that may or may not be influenced by an insidious curse.