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LISTEN: Haunted History Month – Chief Cornstalk and the Mothman

The Mothman statue in Point Pleasant. Photograph by Richie Diesterheft.
Original at https://www.flickr.com/photos/puroticorico/5070036148/in/album-72157625012302513/

In honor of the Halloween season, the Dominion Post and the Aull Center are proud to bring you a special audio piece of a spooky story from West Virginia history.

What follows is a transcript of the audio piece.

NARRATOR: From the Dominion Post and the Aull Center in Morgantown, this is Haunted History Month. I’m your host Chris Schulz.

NARRATOR: Our friends at the Aull Center are presenting Haunted History month, a series of events related to all things, spooky spectral and mysterious from Morgantown and West Virginia history. The Dominion Post is proud to be partnering with the Aull Center to bring you the scariest of these local stories. I invite you to join me on this terrifying trip.

In 1966, people reported seeing a strange sight in the skies above Point Pleasant.

Multiple people, on separate occasions, gave the same description: a man-sized creature with glowing red eyes and a ten foot wing span. Some said it was just a heron, gone astray from its migration. Others cried mass hysteria, or the result of a clandestine government operation.

Whatever the explanation, the legend of the Mothman was born. Now, every year on the third weekend in September Point Pleasant, West Virginia celebrates the Mothman with a two day festival.

Continuing Haunted History Month, the Aull Center’s Nathan Wuertenberg explores the origins of the Mothman on a trip to the festival.

NATHAN: My friends had dragged me to the Mothman Festival, and I was cranky about it.

I’m not a believer in the paranormal, and never have been, although I find ghost stories 100% terrifying no matter how little credence I may give them. But, I wanted to see my friends, and they wanted to see the festival, so there I was, being unpleasant in a town called Point Pleasant.

I was hot, I was sweaty, and I was loudly voicing my skepticism. I was not being a nice Mothman companion. Fortunately, my friends have met me before, and anticipated my curmudgeonly-ness. I got a consolation prize.

Mothman is the lifeblood of Point Pleasant, and the town knows it. Right in the center of downtown, smack dab in the middle of daily life, is a statue of the Mothman, all in chrome, with beaked features, glowing red eyes, and the tattered wings of a – you guessed it – unnaturally large moth. It’s a sight to behold, and during the festival it serves as the centerpiece of a tableau of the weird, wacky, and creepy.

Monster hunters, parents with strollers, and the occasional Captain America jockey for position to have their pictures taken with it while thousands of festival-goers pass them by and crane their neck, shielding their eyes from the sun to get a glimpse of the Mothman in all his glory.

If an alien species landed in Point Pleasant – they do seem to favor small towns in the movies – they’d probably think that it was founded by the Mothman. It wasn’t. The town grew out of a military camp started by Colonel Andrew Lewis of the Virginia militia in 1774. But, while the Mothman’s statue occupies the center of town, Lewis’ stands in a less prestigious corner of the community.

Two blocks down the street from the Mothman statue towards the Ohio River, you’ll find a line of statues in chrome, just like the Mothman. They stand behind a nondescript building on a local bike path. If you’re not paying attention or get lured away by the sound of music from the nearby riverside amphitheater, you’ll probably miss it. But, that’s where you’ll find Colonel Andrew Lewis – if you’re looking for him – and, you’ll find the Shawnee Chief Cornstalk right beside him.

Those two statues were my consolation prize.

Mothman may have put Point Pleasant on the map for a lot of people, but the Battle of Point Pleasant imprinted the town on the land itself. It was the only pitched battle of Dunmore’s War, the eighteenth century’s most hipster of wars – because you’ve probably never heard of it – and yet it might be one of the most impactful events in early American history.

A number of scholars have argued that the Battle of Point Pleasant should be seen as the first battle of the American War for Independence.

They’re wrong.

Granted, there is some temporal overlap. When Lord Dunmore returned from the battle with the Virginia militia, he was feted as the greatest governor the colony had ever had. Within a few short months, however, Virginia’s colonists had begun to interpret the relatively generous treaty terms that Dunmore had negotiated with his Shawnee adversaries as a sign that he, like other royal officials, was “soft” on the Indians, and might use them to suppress a colonial rebellion.

Like so many other ministerial actions large and small, Dunmore’s actions against the Shawnees became proof of a larger conspiracy to oppress the American colonists. In that way, colonists may have seen the Battle of Point Pleasant and the later War for Independence as on some level linked. But, that’s as far as the connection goes.

In reality, the Battle of Point Pleasant and the War for Independence are part of a much, much larger and longer war, one that can only be perceived if you interpret events from the perspective of groups like the Shawnees.

To them, Dunmore’s War and the War for Independence were simply the latest in a long line of colonial incursions on their sovereignty. Those incursions were inherently violent, regardless of whether or not they occurred as part of a battle or war. The colonization of Native lands was conquest, not settlement, and was deliberately contingent upon the destruction of indigenous lives and livelihoods.

That doesn’t mean, however, that groups like the Shawnees always or even usually responded to colonization with violence. Instead, their responses were determined by the cultural, demographic, and technological tools at their disposal at any given time, tools that combined and overlapped as Native communities worked and fought to survive and thrive.

Throughout the 1760s and early 1770s, colonists flooded onto Shawnee lands in what is now West Virginia, and tensions mounted between the two groups. Those tensions erupted in the Yellow Creek massacre of April 1774, when several colonizers led by Jacob and Daniel Greathouse murdered several of the Mingo leader Logan’s followers near the site of what is now the Mountaineer Casino in New Cumberland, West Virginia.

In order to catch Logan’s party unawares, the Greathouses first offered them alcohol. When the attack commenced, Logan’s father, sister, and brother were all killed. One member of their party, an infant, was spared, not because it was an infant, but because its father was white.

Logan, who had before favored peaceful means for resisting colonization, chose to retaliate, and his Shawnee allies followed in his wake. While Logan sought revenge for his murdered family, however, the Shawnees had slightly larger ambitions. As the conflict escalated, they used the diplomatic skills they had honed over the previous decades to reach out to indigenous communities across eastern North America for aid.

Ultimately, their hopes were dashed. Despite their best efforts, the Shawnees were unable to convince the vast majority of communities they contacted to join them. The ravages of the past century of conflict with colonizers and other Native groups had taken its toll, and when the Shawnees met the Virginia militia under Lord Dunmore on October 10, 1774 at the Battle of Point Pleasant, they did so alone.

When the battle was over, and the Shawnees had retreated, Colonel Andrew Lewis established a camp at the convergence of the Ohio and Kanawha Rivers, and Point Pleasant shortly followed. The new colonial settlement was born in blood, like so many before it.

The Shawnee leader Colonel Lewis faced at the battle was Chief Cornstalk. Cornstalk had originally opposed the war but, because Native leaders typically lacked coercive authority in their communities, nonetheless led his followers into battle when he discovered that the majority supported it.

Afterwards, he chastised his council by suggesting that every man, woman, and child in the community be sent against Dunmore until they had all been killed. When his suggestion received no response, Cornstalk declared that he “would go and make peace” and strode from the room.

In the treaty talks that followed, the Shawnees agreed to stop hunting south of the Ohio River, but retained their lands to the north. Logan refused to attend the negotiations, reportedly issuing a declaration that became known as “Logan’s Lament.”

“There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature,” the lament reads, so “who is there to mourn for Logan? Not one.”

NARRATOR: That was just a teaser of the full presentation Nathan has prepared on the history of the Mothman. To hear the rest and understand how the bloody European conquest of America is linked to the modern Mothman myth, you can check out Nathan’s presentation of “Chief Cornstalk and the Mothman” this Tuesday, October 15th starting at 7pm at the Aull Center.

For more information about other Haunted History Month events at the Aull center, be sure to check them out on Facebook at facebook.com/aullcenter. That’s A-U-L-L Center, with no spaces.

Special thanks to Nathan Wuertenberg.

Music this week is from filmmusic.io. The songs, “Lightless Dawn” and, “Ghost Processional” are both by Kevin MacLeod, and used here under the Creative Commons license.

That’s all for this week’s episode. Thanks for listening.

This has been Haunted History Month, brought to you by the Dominion Post and the Aull Center in Morgantown, West Virginia.