Tuesday, August 3, 2010

Chief Cornstalk - Shawnee

Chief Cornstalk - Shawnee

Chief Cornstalk (aka Keigh-tugh-guawas, Hokolesqua, Wynepuechsika, Peter Cornstalk and Peter Fry) born in 1720, in Mason County, Virginia (now West Virginia). He became chief of the Shawnee Native Americans and led them to battle against the Americans (particularly the Virginians).  He later became the chief of many tribes.

The Battle of Point Pleasant

The greatest battle in which he led his forces was the Battle of Point Pleasant on 10 October 1774.  On that date, when the white settlers were moving down into the Kanawha and Ohio River valleys, the Native American Confederacy prepared to protect their lands by any means necessary. The nations began to mass in a rough line across the point from the Ohio River to the Kanawha River, numbering about 1200 warriors. They began to make preparations to attack the white settlers near an area called Point Pleasant on the Virginia side of the Ohio River. As word reached the colonial military leaders of the impending attack, troops were sent in and faced off against the Indians. While the numbers of fighters were fairly even on both sides, the Native Americans were no match for the muskets of the white soldiers. The battle ended with about 140 colonials killed and more than twice that number of Indians. The tribes retreated westward into the wilds of what is now Ohio and in order to keep them from returning, a fort was constructed at the junction of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers.  Many Native Americans were killed and many Americans were killed.  Overall, the Native American forces were defeated. 


As time passed, the Shawnee leader, Cornstalk, made peace with the white men. He would carry word to his new friends in 1777 when the British began coaxing the Indians into attacking the rebellious colonies. Soon, the tribes again began massing along the Ohio River, intent on attacking the fort. Cornstalk and Red Hawk, a Delaware chief, had no taste for war with the Americans and they went to the fort at Point Pleasant on November 7, 1777, to try and negotiate a peace before fighting began. Cornstalk told Captain Arbuckle, who commanded the garrison, that he was opposed to war with the colonists but that only he and his tribe were holding back from joining on the side of the British. He was afraid that he would be forced to go along by the rest of the Confederacy.

When he admitted to Arbuckle that he would allow his men to fight if the other tribes did, Cornstalk, Red Hawk and another Indian were taken as hostages. The Americans believed that they could use him to keep the other tribes from attacking. They forced the Native Americans into a standoff for none of them wanted to risk the life of their leader. Cornstalk’s name not only stuck fear into hearts of the white settlers up and down the frontier, but it also garnered respect from the other Indian tribes. He was gifted with great oratory skills, fighting ability and military genius. In fact, it was said that when his fighting tactics were adopted by the Americans, they were able to defeat the British in a number of battles where they had been both outnumbered and outgunned.

Although taken as hostage, Cornstalk and the other Indians were treated well and were given comfortable quarters, leading many to wonder if the chief’s hostage status may have been voluntary in the beginning. Cornstalk even assisted his captors in plotting maps of the Ohio River Valley during his imprisonment. On November 9, Cornstalk’s son, Ellinipisco, came to the fort to see his father and he was also detained.


When his bloody corpse was returned to the fort, the soldiers in the garrison were enraged. Acting against orders, they broke into the quarters were Cornstalk and the other Indians were being held. Even though the men had nothing to do with the crime, they decided to execute the prisoners as revenge. As the soldiers burst through the doorway, Cornstalk rose to meet them. It was said that he stood facing the soldiers with such bravery that they paused momentarily in their attack. It wasn’t enough though and the soldiers opened fire with their muskets. Red Hawk tried to escape up through the chimney but was pulled back down and slaughtered. Ellinipisico was shot where he had been sitting on a stool and the other unknown Indian was strangled to death. As for Cornstalk, he was shot eight times before he fell to the floor.  This was on October 10, 1777.

Burial and Monuments

The bodies of the other Indians were then taken and dumped into the Kanawha River but Cornstalk’s corpse was buried near the fort on Point Pleasant, overlooking the junction of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers. Here he remained in many years, but he would not rest in peace.

2 Monuments and 1 Marker

Marker for Chief Cornstalk

In 1794, the town of Point Pleasant was established near the site of the old fort. For many years after, the Indian’s grave lay undisturbed but in 1840 his bones were removed to the grounds of the Mason County Court House where, in 1899, a monument was erected in Cornstalk’s memory. In the late 1950’s, a new court house was built in Point Pleasant and the chief’s remains (which now consisted of three teeth and about 15 pieces of bone) were placed in an aluminum box and reinterred in a corner of the town’s Tu-Endie-Wei Park, next to the grave of a Virginia frontiersman that Cornstalk once fought and later befriended. A twelve foot monument was then erected in his honor.

And this is not the only monument dedicated to the period in Point Pleasant. Another stands 86-feet tall and was dedicated in August 1909, one month behind schedule. Originally, the dedication ceremony had been set for July 22 but on the night before the event, the clear overhead sky erupted with lightning and struck the upper part of a crane that was supposed to put the monument into place. The machine was badly damaged and it took nearly a month to repair it. The monument was finally dedicated and stood for years, until July 4, 1921. On that day, another bolt of lightning struck the monument, damaging the capstone and some granite blocks. They were replaced and the monument still stands today. But what is this bedeviled obelisk that seems to attract inexplicable lightning on otherwise clear evenings? It is a monument to the men who died in the 1774 Battle of Point Pleasant, when Cornstalk and his allies were defeated.

Family Tree

To find the family tree for Chief Cornstalk in Roots Web, click here. This will take you to his individual information page. To see his ancestors, click on the Pedigree tab. To see his descendants, click on the Descendants tab.


If you are LDS (a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints) and you have a new FamilySearch account, you can find Chief Cornstalk and his descendants on new.familysearch.org. Once you are in new.familysearch.org, type in your user name and password. Click on the Search tab. Click on the Search by Number tab. Type in L4YH-9BV in the Person Identifier box. Click on Search

Chief Cornstalk’s pedigree with children will appear. At this point you will be able to move around and see his ancestors and descendants. If you have trouble, contact your ward family history consultant.

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