For those persons who have either attended one of the many productions of “The Aracoma Story” or have perhaps read about him somewhere, the name of Boling Baker should be familiar. But, for those readers who may not know, Baker was an Englishman who became a deserter from the British army during the early 1700’s and was later captured by the Shawnee Indians under the leadership of Chief Cornstalk. Aracoma, the Chief’s beautiful daughter, rescued Baker from death by convincing her father not to have him killed. He later was adopted into the tribe and married Princess Aracoma, who became the leader of her people following the death of her father at the Battle of Point Pleasant in 1774.
Baker and Princess Aracoma led her tribe to settle in what was described as “a beautiful valley” that is now Logan. Their village was located on what was called “the island” and today is known as Midelburg Island. It is widely known that Aracoma died after what was called the “Battle of the Island” when her tribe was attacked and their settlement destroyed by frontiersmen John Breckenridge and William Madison in 1780. Six Indians were killed, 10 wounded, and many captured, according to historical reports. Smallpox had already taken its toll on the Indian village, which buried its dead in their burial grounds that is now consumed by downtown Logan. At the time of the attack, it is not known where Boling Baker was on the island, and some controversy surrounds his whereabouts. However, a recently uncovered account may help to explain what happened some 236 years ago—on the “island.”
Boling Baker, described as a renegade white leader of the Shawnee tribes after the death of Cornstalk, lived a hunted life. Tradition has it that on a stormy night in the closing days of the 1700’s an old man with flowing white hair and white beard stopped at a hunter’s cabin on the headwaters of Cole River and asked for food and shelter. He refused to give his name or much other information, but as the embers of the hunter’s fire died on the hearth, it is said that he told “in slow halting tones” the following story:
“I am an Englishman, and came to America as a young man with General Braddock in 1775. Because I struck an officer, I was placed under arrest. Fearing punishment which was sure to be given me by my commander, I escaped to the Indians. The Shawnee accepted me as a member of their tribe and I married the daughter of the great Chief Cornstalk. I lived with them for years, learning their ways, sitting at their council fires and leading them on raiding expeditions.
He reportedly gazed into the glowing coals of the fire a moment before he continued. “When the war between the Americans and the English broke out I was anxious to join the Shawnees to the American cause, but the murder of Cornstalk prevented it. Chief Cornstalk was advised by me to go to Fort Randolph and offer the services of his people. While he was there the soldiers killed him. I was left with only the remnants of a mighty race to lead, not long after the deaths of most of my braves.”
“My only resort was to persuade as many Shawnees as possible to remain neutral during the war. With my followers we made our home on the River of the Islands; the valley was our hunting grounds and our lodges were set up on the island below the Shawnee “burying place” at a bend of the river. We lived in peace until an expedition of settlers followed my band from a settlement on the Bluestone to our island lodges. There my men were massacred, but I escaped with a few braves and 20 horses over “the backbone,” crossed the mountain range and entered the valley many miles below our camp. “I returned but once after my escape. My wife had been captured and died. I found her grave, marked by the settlers, in the burying grounds at the bend of the river. I vowed to return to the spot to die. I am an old man now. My days are numbered. Winter is coming on and I fear that I will not reach the side of my wife before I die. That is my story; believe of it what you will.”
After everyone was asleep that night the old man took the hunter’s rifle and went outside the cabin. A shot was heard and the hunter awoke. He sloshed out into the chill drizzle of autumn rain and found the old man dead—shot through the heart; a forked stick in his hand showing how he had ended a turbulent, hunted life during which his only happiness was found in the valley of the Guyandotte with his princess-wife and peaceful Shawnees.
The hunter buried the old man at the headwaters of Cole River. He was thought to be Boling Baker.
BITS and PIECES
As of December 28th, law enforcement in Logan County had written close to 4,000 citations on charges stemming from speeding to littering…..the tickets consist of a total of over 5,000 charges…..for those who may not know, the court costs on just about any charge on a citation is $160.25…..as The Banner does every year, next month Martha Sparks will probably publish the total of misdemeanor and felony charges for the year of 2015…..as of this writing, the felony count is up to around 800 and I believe that to be somewhat less than last year, but Chief Magistrate Court Clerk Deanna Briggs will have those totals soon…..if you read the above story in regard to Boling Baker, you will have noticed that Baker said he escaped from the fight on the island by escaping over “the backbone”…..for those who may not know where that is, let me tell you that it was the mountainous property to the right of the former State Police headquarters at Canton Lane…..of course, there was no road at the time, so the mountain was much closer to the river in the 1700’s……much later, when northern forces were marching on Logan to burn the courthouse in 1862, it has long since been rumored that certain persons took many of the courthouse records and buried them somewhere on the “the backbone” to save them……while speaking of the Civil War, it’s suffice to know that West Virginia is the only state born out of the Civil War…..here’s a few interesting notations concerning our fair state:…..we are the northernmost Southern state and the southernmost Northern state…..we are home to the original “Rocket Boys” and the first American woman to win a gold medal in gymnastics in the Olympic Games; Gilligan lived here, and Barney Fife (Don Knotts) was born in West Virginia; country music great Hank Williams died here, and Brad Paisley learned guitar in his native state, while John Denver wrote about us; then, of course, there is our own Eugene Landau Murphy Jr.…..the list could go on and on, but the bottom line is that we have through the years dealt with adverse conditions such as mine wars and long strikes, terrible floods, and mining disasters, yet, most of us will never leave our hills and hollows…..I personally cannot imagine ever living anywhere where there are more people than there is trees…..QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “If you’re currently getting high in Colorado today, enjoy it. “As of January 2017, I will enforce federal laws.”—Chris Christie, speaking of his opposition to legalizing marijuana usage…..Christie is currently somewhere near the bottom in all political presidential polls…..speaking of the election, I personally hope Donald Trump defeats Ted Cruz…..there’s just something about the Texan that irks me…..DID YOU KNOW that the first confirmed casualty from Logan County during World War II was a fellow named Frank Reed, who was a former Logan High football star in 1936?…..Reed, who was killed in Dec. 1941, was the grandson of a former Logan City Police Chief named J.M. (Mitch) Henderson…..great efforts have been turned in this season by Logan High graduates and Marshall University students and basketball players Stevie Browning and Shayna Gore…..Gore, who just turned 18 in September, was quoted in the Charleston Gazette as saying, “I’m just a baby.”…..she is the youngest player on the Herd’s female squad…..“Baby Boomers”, which are people who were born between 1946 and 1964, are credited with redefining American politics, social values, culture, and American music…..Bill Clinton (1993) was the first “baby boomer” to become President…..known by some as the “ham salad” king of Logan County for helping to make Valley Market’s deli what it is today, I’ve recently spotted Bernie Sidebottom on a couple of occasions working in the deli at the Food King store in South Williamson, Ky……a sure signal of bad economic times is the fact that there was no Salvation Army bell ringers in the immediate town of Logan this season and Baisden Brothers Hardware will not be giving out 2016 calendars…..FINAL NOTE: Most of us today take too much for granted. One sobering thing we should consider is that honeybees pollinate 80 percent of the food eaten in the United States. Albert Einstein was quoted as saying: “If bees disappear from the earth, man would have no more than four years to live.” We currently have a shortage of honeybees nationwide. I hope 2016 will be a better year for everyone………..including the honeybees.
Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.