Chapter II - Indians and Moundbuilders

History of Hampshire County West Virginia From Its Earliest Settlement to the Present
By Hu Maxwell and H. L. Swisher
Morgantown, West Virginia; A. Brown Boughner Printer; 1897

Pages 23-29

Indians enter largely into the early history of the state, and few of the early settlements were exempt from their visitations. Yet, at the time West Virginia first became known to white men, there was not an Indian settlement, village or camp of any considerable consequence within its borders. There appears to have been several villages in the vicinity of Pittsburg, and thence northward to Lake Erie and westward into Ohio; but West Virginia was vacant; it belonged to no tribe and was claimed by none with shadow of title. There were at times, and perhaps at nearly all times, a wigwam here or there within the borders; but it belonged to temporary sojourners, hunters, fishermen, who expected to remain only a short time. So far as West Virginia is concerned, the Indians were not dispossessed of it by the white man, and they were never justified in waging war for any wrong done them within this state. The white race simply took land which they found vacant, and dispossessed nobody.

There was a time when West Virginia was occupied by Indians, and they were driven out or exterminated; but it was not done by the white race, but by other tribes of Indians, who, when they had completed the work of destruction and desolation, did not choose to settle on the land they had made their own by conquest. This war of extermination was waged between the years 1656 and 1672, as nearly as the date could be ascertained by the early historians, who were mostly missionaries among the tribes further north and west. The conquerors were the Mohawks, a fierce and powerful tribe whose place of residence was in Western New York, but whose warlike excursions were carried into Massachusetts, Virginia, Pennsylvania, West Virginia, even further south. They obtained firearms from the Dutch colonies on the Hudson, and having learned how to use them, they became a nation of conquerors. The only part of their conquests which comes within the scope of this inquiry was their invasion of West Virginia. A tribe of Indians, believed to be the Hurons, at that time occupied the country from the forks of the Ohio southward along the Monongahela and its tributaries, on the Little Kanawha, on the Great Kanawha and to the Kentucky line. During the sixteen years between 1656 and 1672 the Mohawks overran the country and left it a solitude, extending their conquest to the Guyandot river. There was scarcely a Huron left to tell the tale in all this state. If a small village on the Little Kanawha at the coming of the white man was not a remnant of the Hurons, it cannot be ascertained that there was one of that tribe within the borders of this state when the white men pushed their settlements into it. Genghis Kahn, the Tartar, did not exterminate more completely than did these Mohawks. If there were any Huron refugees who escaped, they never returned to their old homes to take up their residence again.

There is abundant evidence all over the state that Indians in considerable numbers once made their home here. Graveyards tell of those who died in times of peace. The dead left on the field of battle are seldom buried by savages. Graves are numerous, sometimes singly, sometimes in large aggregations, indicating that a village was near by. Flint arrowheads are found everywhere, but more numerous on river bottoms and on level land near springs, where villages and camps would most likely be located. The houses of these tribesmen were built of the most flimsy material, and no traces of them are found, except fireplaces, which may occasionally be located on account of charcoal and ashes which remain till the present day and may be unearthed a foot or more below the surface of the ground. Round these fires, if the imagination may take the place of historical records, sat the wild huntsmen after the chase was over; and while they roasted their venison, they talked of the past and planned for the future; but how long ago, no man knows.

As to who occupied the country before the Hurons, or how long the Hurons held it, history is silent. There is not a legend or tradition coming down to us that is worthy of credence. There was an ancient race here which built mounds; and the evidence found in the mounds is tolerably conclusive that the people who built them were here long before any Indians with which we are acquainted; but history has not yet been able to deal with the question whether the Indians built the mounds or whether they are the work of another race. The strongest argument against the claim that the mounds are the work of Indians of a pre-historic time is the fact that Indians have not built mounds since they have been under the eye of the white race. This evidence is of a negative sort, but it is given weight, and properly so. The argument that the work done shows that the people who built the mounds were a more highly civilized race than the Indians, is not well supported. They were probably more industrious. The mounds in this state, and in the Ohio and Mississippi valleys, seem to have been the crude beginnings of architecture which was improved and enlarged in the pyramids of Mexico, built, or supposed to have been built, by the ancestors of the Aztecs and Mayas. If such were the case, the conclusion would not be unreasonable that the people who built the mounds were driven southwestward into Mexico by the irruption of a new people from the north, and that when the exiles reached their new home they turned their hands again to building mounds, and their experience in building enabled them ultimately to build pyramids. In Mexico today the Indians, Mayas and Aztecs live side by side, and their features and general characteristics show them to be radically the same people, not different races. They are at least as much alike as are the Germans and Spanish, the Greeks and the French; and the common origin of these nations is not difficult to trace. The limits of this work will not permit an extended discussion of this puzzling question. Neither is it proper nor profitable to enter at length upon the consideration of the origin of the Indians. It is a question which history has not answered, and perhaps never will answer. If the origin of the Indians were known, the origin of the people who built the mounds would be near at hand. But the whole matter is one of speculation and opinion. The favorite conclusion of most authors is that America was peopled from Asia by way of Berings strait. It could have been done. But the hypothesis is as reasonable that Asia was peopled by emigrants from America who crossed Berings strait. It is the same distance across, going west or coming east; and there is no historical evidence that America was not peopled first; or that both the old world and the new were not peopled at the same time; or that each was not peopled independently of the other. Since the dawn of history, and as far back into prehistoric times as the analysis of languages can throw any light, all great migrations have been westward. No westward migration would have given America its inhabitants from Asia; but a migration from the west would have peopled Asia from America. As a matter of fact, Berings strait is so narrow that the tribes on either side can cross to the other at pleasure, and with less difficulty than the Amazon river can be crossed near its mouth.

It is the opinion of ethnologists that a comparison of the grammatical construction of a large number of the Indian languages would reveal characteristics showing that all had a common origin. But the study has been barren of results tip to the present time. The language of the Indians is a puzzle, unless it be accepted as true that there is no common thread through all leading to one source. There were eight Indian languages east of the Mississippi at the coming of the Europeans.

The number of Indians inhabiting a given territory was surprisingly small. They could hardly be said to occupy the land. They had settlements here and there. Of the number of Hurons in the limits of this state, before the Mohawk invasion, there is no record and no estimate. Probably not more than the present number of the inhabitants in the state capital, Charleston. This will appear reasonable when it is stated that, according to the missionary census, in 1640, the total number of Indians in the territory east of the Mississippi, north of the Gulf of Mexico and south of the St. Lawrence river, was less than one-fourth of the present population of the state of West Virginia. The total number is placed at 180,000. Nearly all the Indians who were concerned in the border wars in West Virginia lived in Ohio. There were many villages in that state, and it was densely populated in comparison with some of the others; yet there were not, perhaps, fifteen thousand Indians in Ohio, and they could not put three thousand warriors in the field. The army which General Forbes led against Fort Duquesne (Pittsburg) in 1758 was probably larger than could have been mustered by the Indians of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois combined, and the number did not exceed six thousand. The Indians were able to harrass the frontier of West Virginia for a quarter of a century by prowling about in small bands and striking the defenseless. Had they organized an army and fought pitched battles they would have been subdued in a few months.

While the Indians roamed over the whole country, hunting and fishing, they yet had paths which they followed when going on long journeys. These paths were not made with tools, but were simply the result of walking upon them for generations. They nearly always followed the best grades to be found, and modern road makers have profited by the skill of savages in selecting the most practicable routes. These paths led long distances, and in a general direction, unvarying from beginning to end, showing that they were not made at haphazzard, but with design. Thus, crossing West Virginia, the Catawba warpath led from New York to Georgia. It entered West Virginia from Fayette county, Pennsylvania, crossed Cheat river at the mouth of Grassy run, passed in a direction south by southwest through the state, and reached the headwaters of the Holsten river in Virginia, and thence continued through North Carolina, South Carolina and it is said reached Georgia. The path was well defined when the country was first settled, but at the present time few traces of it remain. It was never an Indian thoroughfare after white men had planted settlements in West Virginia, for the reason that the Indian tribes of Pennsylvania and New York had enough war on hand to keep them busy without making long excursions to the south. It is not recorded that any Indian ever came over this trail to attack the frontiers of West Virginia. The early settlements in Pennsylvania to the north of us cut off incursions from that quarter. A second path, called by the early settlers Warrior Branch, was a branch of the preceding. That is, they formed one path southward from New York to southern Pennsylvania, where they separated, and the Warrior Branch crossed Cheat river at McFarland's; took a southwesterly direction through the state and entered southern Ohio and passed into Kentucky. Neither was this trail much used in attacking the early settlements in this state. It is highly probable that both this and the Catawba path were followed by the Mohawks in their wars against the Hurons in West Virginia; but there is no positive proof that such was the case. Indian villages were always on or near large trails, and by following these, and their branches, the invaders would be led directly to the homes of the native tribe which they were bent on exterminating.

There were other trails in the state, some of them apparently very old, as if they had been used for many generations. There was one, sometimes called the Eastern Path, which came from Ohio, crossed the northern part of West Virginia, through Preston and Monongalia counties, and continued eastward to the South branch of the Potomac. This path was made long before the Ohio Indians had any occasion to wage war upon white settlers; but it was used in their attacks upon the frontiers. Over it the Indians traveled who harrassed the settlements on the South branch, and, later, those on the Monongahela and Cheat rivers. The settlers whose homes happened to lie near this trail were in constant danger of attack. During the Indian wars, after 1776, it was the custom for scouts to watch some of the leading trails near the crossing of the Ohio, and when a party of Indians were advancing, to out run them and report the danger in time for the settlers to take refuge in forts. Many massacres were averted in this way.

The arms and ammunition with which the Indians fought the pioneers of this state were obtained from white traders; or, as from 1776 to 1783, or later, were often supplied by British agents. The worst depredations which West Virginia suffered from the Indians were committed with arms and ammunition obtained from the British in Canada. This was during the Revolutionary war, when the British made allies of the Indians and urged them to harrass the western frontiers, while the British regular army fought the Colonial army in the eastern states.

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