Aracoma, Doris Miller, Guyandotte River, Henry Clay Ragland, history, Huntington, Jim Comstock, Logan, Logan County, Logan High School, Native Americans, West Virginia, West Virginia Women, William Madison
Doris Miller (1903-1993), a longtime educator, historian, writer, and poet operating in the area of Huntington, West Virginia, composed this biography of Aracoma, a well-known Native American figure who lived in present-day Logan, West Virginia. This is Part 1 of her composition.
West Virginians can lay claim to one of America’s most romantic legends, the story of Aracoma which has grown in Logan County around the meager authentic details of an incident in the history of the region which occurred some 200 years ago.
It is a legend of romance and tragedy about an Indian Princess who lies buried in the city of Logan. The story tells of her love for a white man taken captive by her tribe, of their happy life together as leaders of a settlement of her people on the Guyandotte River until tragedy wiped out their children and many others of their tribe, and of his depredations which led to her death.
Legends are stories built by folklore on a foundation of historic fact. Folklore is history preserved by tradition by people searching for the heroic. Such is the Logan County legend, a story of a courageous woman whose death brought her to the attention of ancestors of many of the people now living in Logan County, with details added by the romantic imaginations of residents of the region who have preserved and added to the legend.
Aracoma, an Indian word said to mean “corn blossom,” was the name given Colonel (later General) William Madison by a dying Indian woman who appeared to be the leader of a settlement of Indians located on the island where Logan High School now stands. She had been mortally wounded in combat between her people and a party of 90 Virginians led by Colonel Madison, in which all of the Indians were massacred except some braves strong and fast enough to escape when they saw the tide of battle had turned against them and a party of hunters absent when the Virginians made their surprise attack.
In later accounts, Aracoma was described as a woman of dignity and courage who appeared to be about 40 years old. The Virginians had been reared in a culture that still remembered the old chivalric tradition of reverence for women. They quickly forgot their animosity in concern for this woman of noble bearing, and treated their wounded captive with compassion and respect.
Tradition says that for several hours the woman resisted every effort to get her to talk. She lay with closed eyes, stoically awaiting her fate. Then, apparently realizing her life was ebbing away and there was no hope for recapture by her people she asked for their leader.
“My name is Aracoma and I am the last of a mighty line,” she told Colonel Madison. “My father was a great chief and friend of your people. He was murdered in cold blood by your people when he had come to them as a friend to give them warning. I am the wife of a paleface who came across the great waters to make war on our people, but came to us instead and was made one of us. Many moons since, a great plague carried off my children with a great number of my people and they lie buried just above the bend of the river. Bury me with them with my face toward the setting sun that I may see my people in their march toward the happy hunting grounds. For your kindness, I warn you to make haste in returning to your homes, for my people are still powerful and will return to avenge my death.”
It was told that the battle occurred in the afternoon of a spring day in 1780 and that Aracoma died before daybreak of the following morning. After burying her in the place and manner she had requested, the Virginians soon departed to return to their homes.
This story of Aracoma’s death differed but slightly in detail as it was repeated around countless firesides for a century before the late Henry Clay Ragland wrote it into the History of Logan County. It seems to be a reasonably accurate account, authenticated by certain details of historic record.
Source: West Virginia Women, Richwood, WV: Jim Comstock (1974), p. 6-7.
For more about Doris Miller, go here: https://mds.marshall.edu/cgi/viewcontent.cgi?article=1284&context=sc_finding_aids