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Murder of Cornstalk


Taken from History of Kanawha County, George W Atkinson, Charleston, WV, 1876.

The following account of this atrocious crime on the part of the whites, written by Colonel John Stuart, is taken from "Howe's History of Virginia:"

"In the year 1777, the Indians, being urged by British agents, became very troublesome to frontier settlements, manifesting much appearance of hostilities, when the Cornstalk warrior, with the Redhawk, paid a visit to the garrison at Point Pleasant. He made no secret of the disposition of the Indians; declaring that, on his own part, he was opposed to joining in the war on the side of the British, but that all the Nation, except himself and his own tribe, were determined to engage in it; and that, of course, he and his tribe would have to run with the stream (as he expressed it). On this, Captain Arbuckle thought proper to detain him, the Redhawk, and another fellow, as hostages, to prevent the Nation from joining the British.

"In the course of that Summer our Government had ordered an army to be raised, of volunteers, to serve under the command of General Hand, who was to have collected a number of troops at Fort Pitt, with them to descend the river to Point Pleasant, there to meet a reinforcement of volunteers expected to be raised in Augusta and Botetourt counties, and then proceed to the Shawnee towns and chastise them so as to compel them to a neutrality. Hand did not succeed in the collection of troops at Fort Pitt; and but three or four companies were raised in Augusta and Botetourt, which were under the command of Colonel George Skillern, who ordered me to use my endeavors to raise all the volunteers I could get in Greenbrier, for that service. The people had begun to see the difficulties attendant on a state of war and long campaigns carried through wilderness, and but a few were willing to engage in such service. But as the settlements which we covered, though less exposed to the depredations of the Indians, and had raised three companies, I was very desirous of doing all I could to promote the business and aid the service. I used the utmost endeavors, and proposed to the militia officers to volunteer ourselves, which would be an encouragement to others, and by such means to raise all the men who could be got. The chief of the officers in Greenbrier agreed to the proposal, and we cast lots who should command the company. The lot fell on Andrew Hamilton for Captain, and William Renic, Lieutenant. We collected in all, about forty, and joined Colonel Skillern's party, on their way to Point Pleasant.

"When we arrived, there was no account of General Hand or his army, and little or no provision made to support our troops, other than what we had taken with us down the Kanawha. We found, too, that the garrison was unable to spare us any supplies, having nearly exhausted, when we got there, what had been provided for themselves. But we concluded to wait there as long as we could for the arrival of General Hand, or some account from him. During the time of the stay two young men, of the names of Hamilton and Gilmore, went over the Kanawha one day to hunt for deer; on their return to camp, some Indians had concealed themselves on the bank among the weeds, to view our encampment; and as Gilmore came along past them, they fired on him and killed him on the bank.

"Captain Arbuckle and myself were standing on the opposite bank when the gun was fired; and while we were wondering who it could be shooting, contrary to orders, or what they were doing over the river, we saw Hamilton run down the bank, who called out that Gilmore was killed. Gilmore was one of the company of Captain John Hall, of that part of the country now Rockbridge county. The Captain was a relation of Gilmore's, whose family and friends were chiefly cut off by the Indians in the year 1763, when Greenbrier was cut off. Hall's men instantly jumped into a canoe and went to the relief of Hamilton, who was standing in the momentary expectation of being put to death.

"They brought the corpse of Gilmore down the bank, covered with blood and scalped, and put him in the canoe. As they were crossing the river, I observed to Captain Arbuckle that the people would be for killing the hostages, as soon as the canoe would land. He supposed that they would not offer to commit so great a violence upon the innocent, who were in nowise accessory to the murder of Gilmore. But the canoe had scarcely touched the shore until the cry was raised, 'Let us kill the Indians in the fort;' and every man, with his gun in his hand, came up the bank pale with rage. Captain Hall was at their head, and leader. Captain Arbuckle and I met them, and endeavored to dissuade them from so unjustifiable an action; but they cocked their guns, threatened us with instant death if we did not desist, rushed by us into the fort, and put the Indians to death.

"On the preceding day, Cornstalk's son, Elinipsico, had come from the Nation to see his father, and to know if he was well, or alive. When he came to the river opposite the fort, he hallooed. His father was at that instant in the act of delineating a map of the country and the waters between the Shawnee towns and the Mississippi, at our request, with chalk upon the floor. He immediately recognized the voice of his son, got up, went out and answered him. The young fellow crossed over, and they embraced each other in the most tender and affectionate manner. The interpreter's wife, who had been a prisoner among the Indians, and had recently left them, on hearing the uproar the next day, and hearing the men threatening that they would kill the Indians, for whom she retained much affection, ran to their cabin and informed them that the people were just coming to kill them; and that, because the Indians had killed Gilmore had come with Elinipsico the day before. He utterly denied it; declared that he knew nothing of them, and trembled exceedingly. His father encouraged him not to be afraid, for that the Great Man above had sent him there to be killed and die with him. As the men advanced to the door, Cornstalk rose up and met them; they fired upon him, and seven or eight bullets went through him. So fell the great Cornstalk warrior - whose name was bestowed upon him by the consent of the Nation, as their great strength and support. His son was shot dead as he sat upon a stool. The Redhawk made an attempt to go up the chimney, but was shot down. The other Indian was shamefully mangled, and I grieved to see him so long in the agonies of death.

"Cornstalk, from personal appearance and many brave acts, was undoubtedly a hero. Had he been spared to live, I believe, he would have been friendly to the American cause; for nothing could induce him to visit the garrison at the critical time he did, but to communicate to them the temper and disposition of the Indians, and their design on taking part with the British. On the day he was killed we held a council, at which he was present. His countenance was dejected; and he made a speech, all of which seemed to indicate an honest and manly disposition. He acknowledged that he expected that he and his party would have to run with the stream, for that all the Indians on the lakes and northwardly, were joining the British. He said that when he returned to the Shawnee towns after the battle at the Point, he called a council of Nation to consult what was to be done, and upbraided them for their folly in not suffering him to make peace on the evening before the battle. 'What,' said he, 'will you do now? The Big Knife is coming on us, and we shall all be killed. Now you must fight, or we are undone.' But no one made an answer. He said, 'then let us kill our women and children and go and fight till we die.' But none would answer. At length he rose and struck his tomahawk in the post in the center of the town-house: 'I'll go,' said he, 'and make peace;' and then the warriors all grunted our, 'ough, ough, ough,' and runners were instantly dispatched to the Governor's army to solicit a peace, and the interposition of the Governor on their behalf.

"When he made his speech in council with us, he seemed to be impressed with an awful premonition of his approaching fate; for he repeatedly said, "When I was a young man and went to war, I thought that might be the last time and I would return no more. Now I am here among you; you may kill me if you please; I can die but once; and it is all one to me, now or another time.' This declaration concluded every sentence of his speech. He was killed one hour after our council."

Thus closed the life of perhaps the greatest Indian chief and warrior that has ever lived in America. He feared death less than he feared the white man. He met his fate calmly, and died like a patriot. His murder was a disgrace to the men who committed the awful crime, and left a blot upon the history of our county which time nor change can ever erase. The Governor of Virginia offered a reward for the apprehension of the murderers, but without effect.

Point Pleasant, which was first settled in 1774, did not flourish for many years. It had no church, the state of society was bad, and it was for a long time the popular superstition among the old settlers that the place was cursed with this fiend-like act. This superstition, however, has passed away with the old citizens, who were contemporaneous with the great chief, and now, I am glad to say, Point Pleasant is on the road to prosperity. Its people of the present day honor the memory of these unfortunate Indians, though proud of the distinction which their tragical death has given the place.

The bones of Cornstalk lie buried in an unpretentious grave in the court-yard at Point Pleasant; but, should the scheme to erect a monument to the memory of the heroes who fell in the great battle at that place succeed, as it is earnestly hoped that it will, the remains of the great warrior will be exhumed and placed in the same grave with the whites who fell in the contest with him, and above their dust will stand a momument to tell posterity the manner and circumstances of their deaths.


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