"Fighting" Chief Cornstalk (1720 - 1777) was 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 of 1777 outraged both Native American and Virginians.
Artist Bob Roach built a statue of Cornstalk which is located along the Ohio River Floodwall in the town of Point Pleasant, West Virginia alongside other historical figures associated with the area.
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.
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.
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."
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 native 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.
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 10th, an American militiaman from the fort was killed nearby by unknown native, 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.
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's national park Tu-Endie-Wei Park at the junction of Ohio and Kanawha Rivers.
Debunking "The Curse":
In 1921, a fictional outdoor play written in the early 20th century was held in Point Pleasant WV. The play was based on the town's history with dramatized and fictionalized elements. In the play, Cornstalk says "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." No historical source mentions any such utterance by Cornstalk. The story of this "two hundred year curse" was then passed down from generation to generation through oral story-telling despite it being information from a fictionalized play. The story was finally debunked when a transcript of the play was discovered.
In the 2012 book Monsters of West Virginia, Rosemary Ellen Guiley explains how the story was "recently ... debunked as fiction". She added: "A man taken by surprise 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 alone [such a] dramatic pronouncement".
In 2017, the Small Town Monsters documentary film "The Mothman of Point Pleasant" reaffirms that the story was fiction derived from an outdoor play. In the film, Dennis Bellamy of the Mason County Visitors Bureau and Point Pleasant resident Lyn-Fawn Cornwall-Robinson tell of how the transcript for the play was discovered and how the play came to be believed.
In 2018, local historian and re-enactor Craig Hesson was interviewed by WOWKTV about The Battle of Point Pleasant. When asked about the alleged curse he explained “It was a part of a play done in 1921 ... they needed to make it more exciting, and I think they did ... but the real history is much more interesting.”
Sources: Monsters of West Virginia by Rosemary Ellen Guiley (2012), Page 45 The Mothman of Point Pleasant Documentary by Small Town Monsters (2017) https://www.wowktv.com/news/special-reports/the-hidden-history-of-the- battle-of-point-pleasant-part-3/ (May 2018) https://web.archive.org/web/20200209093444/https://www.wowktv.com/news/ special-reports/the-hidden-history-of-the-battle-of-point-pleasant-part-3/
Fort Randolph was an American Revolutionary War fort which stood at the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, on the site of present day Point Pleasant, West Virginia, USA.
Built in 1776 on the site of an earlier fort from Dunmore's War, Fort Randolph is best remembered as the place where the famous Shawnee Chief Cornstalk was murdered in 1777.
The fort withstood attack by American Indians in 1778 but was abandoned the next year. It was rebuilt in the 1780s after the renewal of hostilities between the United States and American Indians, but saw little action and was eventually abandoned once again. Two centuries later, a replica of the fort was built about a mile away.
The site where Fort Randolph was built emerged as a strategic location in the years before the American Revolution. In the Treaty of Fort Stanwix of 1768, the British acquired title to present-day West Virginia from the Iroquois. Thereafter, British colonists and land speculators began to explore the region. One of the first to do so was George Washington, a planter and politician from Virginia, who in 1770 made a long canoe trip down the Ohio River to examine the land around Point Pleasant. Many other British colonists and surveyors did the same over the next few years.
The American Indians of the Ohio Country, who hunted on the land south of the Ohio River, had not been consulted in the 1768 treaty. The eventual result was Dunmore's War in 1774, fought primarily between militia from Virginia and Shawnees and Mingos from the Ohio Country, led by Chief Cornstalk. The Battle of Point Pleasant, the only major battle of the war, was fought on the future site of Fort Randolph. After the battle, a small fort called Fort Blair was built near the battlefield. With the outbreak of the American Revolutionary War in 1775, however, Lord Dunmore, the Royal Governor of Virginia, ordered the abandonment of the fort, one of his last actions before being forced from office by the American revolutionaries.
In 1776, the Virginia Assembly, alarmed at the defenseless state of their western border, ordered a new fort built on the site. Virginia militiamen under Captain Matthew Arbuckle, Sr., built Fort Randolph in May 1776. It was named after Peyton Randolph, the first president of the Continental Congress, who had died the previous year. The fort, along with Fort Pitt and Fort Henry, was intended to prevent Indian raids into western Virginia and Pennsylvania.
The forts failed to deter raids, and so in 1777, the Americans made preparations for an offensive expedition into the Ohio Country. In November, Cornstalk made a diplomatic visit to Fort Randolph in order to discuss the rumored expedition. Shawnees who followed Cornstalk wanted to stay out of the war, but Cornstalk warned the Americans that he would not be able to keep all of the tribe neutral. Although the proposed campaign had been cancelled because of a manpower shortage, Captain Arbuckle decided to detain Cornstalk and several other Shawnees as hostages in order to ensure that the Shawnees stayed neutral. When an American militiaman was killed outside the fort by Indians on November 10, his enraged companions charged into the fort and murdered Cornstalk and the other three Shawnee prisoners. Virginia's governor Patrick Henry brought the killers to trial, but they were acquitted because no one would testify against them.
On May 20, 1778, about 200 Wyandots and Mingos under Dunquat, the Wyandot "Half King", surrounded Fort Randolph and began a week-long siege. Unable to compel the surrender of the fort, the Indians then moved up the Kanawha to attack Fort Donnally, which also withstood attack. Apparently because resources were needed elsewhere, Fort Randolph was abandoned by the Americans in 1779. Indians burned the fort after it was abandoned.
The fort was rebuilt nearby in 1785 during the growth of violence which led to the Northwest Indian War.
A replica of the fort was built in 1973–74 and dedicated on 10 October 1974, the 200th anniversary of the Battle of Point Pleasant. The town of Point Pleasant had spread over where the fort had stood, and so the rebuilt fort was located at Krodel Park, about one mile from the original location.
"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 , 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."