J.D. Charles, Staff Writer
March 25, 2010
If you think its kind of early to be writing about Pioneers and Indians, you are right, sort of. The Shawnee Trail wont be back until the fall and spring just started. But, in the spring, my thoughts turn to outdoors pursuits, and quite often, the earlier days. With these thoughts in mind, I recently read Princess Aracoma and the Settling of West Virginia which is a slim volume comprised from a larger work by G.T. Swain taken from Swains The History of Logan County. Those unfamiliar with Swains works will be shocked at what they find when studying the history of our area and amazed at some of the familiar family names that are still around. For example, in the chapter about the settlement of this area, Swain refers to pioneers, scouts and Indian fighters named Browning, Meade, Lusk, Campbell, Floyd, Brown, Cline, Conley, Cook, Chafin, Davis, Dempsey, Ellis, Fry, Godby, Gore, Hatfield, McCoy, Justice, McDonald, McNeely, Mullins, Musick, Stone, Stollings, Toler, White and others. No doubt many of these pioneer folk who made their mark in Logan and Mingo counties in West Virginia and Pike and Floyd counties in Kentucky were the ancestors of some of the families still in these parts. The book is a treasure trove for genealogy enthusiasts. Much of the book covers history on either side of the Tug, Guyandotte and Ohio rivers from the 1770s to the 1790s and the early history of European descended settlers in Kentucky, Ohio and Virginia (since West Virginia wasnt formed until 1863). Ironically, there isnt much about Princess Aracoma herself in the book. And given as the material in it was written in the 1920s, it contains cultural biases which would be considered politically incorrect as well as downright goofy today. Swain makes the (then) common mistake of attributing the settling of the frontier to the Anglo-Saxon element, when in reality it was the Scots-Irish who did the settling, the Anglo-Saxons staying back in the colonies and only taking credit much later when the banker and the lawyer traveled to the frontier that had been settled for them. Swain also refers to the native peoples as loitering savages, and seldom gives the native cultures their due, despite the fact that some of the natives did help some of the settlers survive when attacked by hostile tribesmen, an example of which is found in the book. Cornstalk and Red Hawk are also given short shrift, their massacre summed up in less than a paragraph. What might stun most local folks is the seedy and vile picture Swain paints of Boling Baker himself, who, is more of a black-hearted villain in Swains writings than fellow renegade Simon Girty was portrayed in other historical accounts of this area. Baker is portrayed as a shameless horse thief who was overly quick to brain a child or scalp a woman, in Swains words. So much for the hero of the local outdoor drama The Aracoma Story. The book has a lot of information about the story of Jenny Wiley, too, and makes an interesting note that after the Revolutionary War was over, many old soldiers retired to the Logan County area to take up farming and other trades. There is a lot of local trivia in the book as well. For example, have you ever wondered how Twisted Gun got its name? Its not from the Hatfield-McCoy Feud era but from an earlier century when a spy named Gilbert bent his rifle barrel in the forks of a tree to keep hostile natives from using it against the whites as he knew he was going to be captured. The book is very entertaining, albeit a bit overdone in the rhetoric about stalwart Anglo Saxons with suspiciously Irish sounding names saving entire pioneer valleys from the scalping knife and tomahawk. No doubt Swain was not aware that scalping was a practice the Europeans introduced to Native Americans. And from what I gather there is a lot of suspicion today in many circles about whether Princess Aracoma herself actually existed, since the story is eerily similar to a better known account of another Indian maiden and white settler. Most historians these days laugh out loud at the idea of an Indian princess, as Native American cultures were not feudal-based societies like European cultures. In reality, there was no such thing as an Indian princess or prince for that matter, and many of the greatest chiefs in American history were actually Shamans and not war chiefs at all. Sitting Bull is a great example of that. Sill, for history buffs Princess Aracoma and the Settling of West Virginia is an interesting and entertaining read. It is printed in the USA and is published by Logan Novelties and Books in collaboration with local publishing imprint Woodland Press. The book may be a part of a series and I will definitely be looking forward to more volumes.