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Native Americans in Gilmer Co.


An excerpt from the master's thesis of Bradford W. Davis




Very evidently Gilmer County was once a favorite hunting ground of the Indians. Six or seven mounds of the Mound Builders, some marks of Indian trails, battle and camp grounds, several graves and the report of a warrior killed by an early settler, all indicate this presumption. However, the true history, their pleasures, their hardships, their battles, the stories of their real lives will never be known and can only be made in the imagination of each individual as he reads about or sees these few points of historic interest left by the first inhabitants of Gilmer County.



Trails


Little Kanawha Trail
The most famous trail made by the Indians through Gilmer County was the Little Kanawha Trail. It followed the general course of the Little Kanawha River to Bulltown, near where it crossed into the Elk Valley to Webster Springs. All of its course through Gilmer County was along the Little Kanawha River. The Little Kanawha Trail was a branch of the Scioto-Monongahela, which led from the present site of Parkersburg through Doddridge and Harrison Counties, then down the Monongahela River to Pennsylvania.
Kanawha-Leading Creek Trail
The trail which showed the most evidence of its use in Gilmer County was the Kanawha-Leading Creek Trail. This is the branch of the Little Kanawha Trail which left the main trail at the mouth of Leading Creek and followed this creek to its head and over to the Hacker's Valley Camp onto the Scioto-Monongahela Trail.
Trace Fork Trail
A branch of the Kanawha-Leading Creek Trail left the main trail at the mouth of Third Run. This branch, which has been called the Trace Fork Trail, left the Little Kanawha River and went up Third Run across the hill, and down Road Run to Tanner Creek. The trail followed down Tanner to the mouth of Trace Fork, up this creek, and over and down Laurel Creek in Calhoun County. This same trail leads back to the Little Kanawha River and to its mouth. Almost all the runs this trail followed are named from it. Third Run was the third from where the main trail came to the Little Kanawha River at the mouth of Leading Creek. On Road Run the old trail marked the first road. Trace Fork still showed traces of the trail when early settlers named it.
Other Branches of the Little Kanawha Trail
A few traces of trails found by the early settlers of Gilmer County seem to indicate that from Bulltown, Braxton County, some Indians came by way of Cedar Creek or one of its tributaries down the creek to the Little Kanawha River. Still other evidences indicated that some crossed over from Cedar Creek to Steer Creek and followed it to where it came back to the old trail.

The stories of early settlers telling of the abundance of game and the names of such runs as Bear Fork, Chestnut Lick, Mud Lick, Poplar Lick, and Cub Fork, would indicate Steer Creek and its tributaries were good hunting ground.

A small branch of the Kanawha-Leading Creek Trail left the main trail at Third Run, went over by where the Bell Chapel was later built, left Sinking Creek at Panther Run, and over to Leading Creek. This old trail was later used by hunters and early settlers in going from the Little Kanawha River to hunting grounds on Leading Creek and to Ritchie County.


Mounds

Indian Mounds on Steer Creek

On the Right fork of Steer Creek, about four or five miles from the mouth, on the Fetty Farm, is a group of three or four Indian Mounds. They are similar in shape, the typical circular base and round top, and range in size from about fifteen to sixty feet in diameter. They are believed to be the tombs of some of the first inhabitants of Gilmer County, the Mound Builders. If mounds are thought of in this way, these make one of the most important points of historic interest in the county.


One of the mounds which was opened recently [i.e. circa 1938] was about forty feet across, and five or six feet high. Rocks were set on edge around this circle. After the dirt and rocks were removed, in the center were found large, flat sandstones making a level base about ten feet across and twelve to fourteen feet long. It was unusual that these stones should be sand rock since there was no more of this kind of stone near there. On these stones were pieces of charcoal and some small pieces of bones as the evidence that the bodies had been burned. On each side of the sandstone base were three holes about two feet deep which would indicate that supports had been set around this base. These may have formed a crude building or covering for the bodies.


Another mound about a mile up Steer Creek on the Blackshire Farm similar to the others was opened. In it was found evidence that two large men lay side by side. An Indian Pipe and some arrow heads were found in the mound.


Mounds Near Orton

There are three mounds on a tributary of Steer Creek near Orton. One is in the cemetary about one hundred twentyfive or fifty yards to the rith [sic. "north"?] of the road, and the other two are near the head of Eliza's Run.

These mounds are about twenty to thirty feet across, rounded on top, three to six feet high, and covered over with stones. It is well worth anyone's time who happens to be passing Orton to stop to see these mounds.




Camp and Battle Grounds


DeKalb Camp and Battle Ground
At the present site of Old DeKalb near where Millseat Run empties into the Little Kanawha is one of the temporary camp grounds and battlefields of the Indians. Evidences have been found here in the form of stones rounded on one side to fit the hand and flat on the other, believed to be caused by wear from rubbing on buffalo, deer, or other animal skins. A tomahawk, a piece of stone resembling a knife, numerous arrowheads both complete and unfinished, and the three oblong mounds of stone that mark the graves of warriors on the hill close by help to support the belief that here Indians stopped and perhaps fought. Since this camp ground is on one of the trails used by the Indians in going from the Ohio to the Allegheny, one can easily imagine that a second tribe came and fought here for possession of the rich hunting grounds. The two kinds of arrowheads, the long slender black stones and the short but broader, lighter grey flint, has aided this belief rather than the idea that white men overtook a group of warriors returning with their white captives to their more permanent camps across the Ohio River. But whatever may be the belief of how it all happened, the evidence still may be found in the forms of arrowheads and the graves of the battle by the brave warriors.
Beech Bottom Camp Ground
On the right-hand side of the Little Kanawha River about one-half mile below the mouth of Middle Run, on the Johnson Westfall Farm, was the Beech Bottom camp ground. Here have been found many arrowheads, tomahawks of both stone and iron, pieces of pottery, and rounded stones and scrapers for rubbing down skins. Even yet when the ground is newly plowed or after a rain many arrowheads may be found.
Steer Creek Camp Ground
On the Right Fork of Steer Creek, near the mounds, another camp ground was found. There were found many arrowheads, and an Indian pipe made of soapstone, complete in every respect with a bird at the bottom of the bowl.
Hays City Camp Ground
At the bend of the Little Kanawha River at what is now Hays City, pieces of flint, tomahawks, and many arrowheads have been found as evidence that the Indians once camped there.
Leading Creek Camp Ground
Near the mouth of Leading Creek was another camp and battle ground as indicated by arrowheads of two kinds found there.



Indian Graves


When the Indians went to their happy hunting grounds, all their personal possessions were buried with them, even to a bit of corn meal or other food to give them a start on their new journey. Although tribes in different sections in North America buried their dead in various ways, most of the graves that are known in Gilmer County, aside fromm the tombs of the Mound Builders, are of a similar type. These stone-piled graves of the Indians have been numerous over the county, but now only a few may be found. The rather shallowgraves, probably due to the lack of tools for digging, were filled with earth and layers of flat stones to the top of the ground. Then an oblong pile of rocks of various shapes was piled above the ground. This served as a protection from wild animals. Since some graves have a larger pile of stones than others, it is believed it was the custom of the Indians to place a stone on the grave each time a friend visited it as a token of affection much as flowers are used by people today. Where the graves have been opened, a skeleton has usually been found, together with arrowheads, and sometimes a tomahawk, pipe, beads, and some other ornaments.


During cultivation the rocks have been hauled away and the land plowed until in many instances all trace of the grave has been lost. There are, however, a few graves that may still be seen.


Location of Some Indian Graves




Other Points About Indians


Last Indian Killed
The last Indian killed in Gilmer County was shot on what is now the Huffman farm by Michael Stump about the year 1804 or 1805. Michael Stump, Sr., was the first white man to live on Steer Creek. He moved there in the spring of 1804. One morning he saw an Indian hiding in a tree not far from his home. He took the Indian to be a spy hiding and waiting for a chance to kill him and his family. Mr. Stump did not take the chance, but shot the Indian.
Last White Man Captured in Gilmer County
The last white man captured by the Indians in Gilmer County was Joseph Cox, as he was riding down Leading Creek in March 1794. His horse refused to run. The Indians took him to Chillicothe, Ohio, and spared his life as he played fool and availed himself of the Indians' peculiar consideration for idiots and lunatics. The following year the Indians made their last raid in Gilmer County.
Home of Captured Indian Woman
On the head of Road Run lived Nancy Sillman, a full-blooded Indian. She was captured when a girl on the North Fork of the Hughes River and brought to Gilmer County by the Sillman family. She later married their son, John Sillman.
Schoolcraft, Indian Captive
The first settler on Big Cove Creek was a man by the name of Schoolcraft, who had been captured by the Indians when he was a small boy. The Indians fell upon the family of John Schoolcraft near Buckhannon while the men were at the fort electing a captain. The savages killed the women and eight children and took two boys, Jacob and John, as their prisoners. They were kept until they were nearly grown, when they made their escape by saving a small amount of ammunition each day. The Indians pursued them but they hid under a creek bank while their pursuers passing on soon came dangerously near a fort, from which they made a hasty retreat, again passing by the boys still hidden under the creek bank.After some time the boys went on and soon came in sight of the fort which had caused the Indians to retreat. The people of the fort were ready for battle as the boys were dressed like Indians. But the young men held up the butts of their guns as a symbol of surrender and were taken into the fort. There they were recognized by an old man as his long lost sons. One of these same Schoolcraft men was the first settler on Big Cove Creek in Gilmer County.


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