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Cornstalk’s Curse: Not the Source of Mothman

Fifty years ago, Mothman flew into the imaginations of the residents of Point Pleasant, West Virginia, a small town in the western part of the state. For 13 months, eyewitnesses recall seeing a 7’ tall, red-eyed winged creature. Though it never threatened anyone, its size was menacing. Mothman may have snatched a German Shepard. Other than that, it did not kill or maim. It merely fascinated. To understand the Mothman phenomena, one must look at the possible explanations as to why a creature would appear in an isolated part of a small state. One such explanation is Cornstalk’s Curse.

One local legend states that a chief of the Shawnee Indians placed a curse on the area as he lay dying from multiple gunshot wounds. Keightughqua, loosely translated as “maize plant” or “Cornstalk,” was gunned down at Fort Randolph in 1777. Some claim that his last words were to place a curse upon the land where murdered. Mothman is not a consequence of a curse. Indeed, it is doubtful Cornstalk cast a curse at all.

Keightughqua, Hokolesqua, and Colesqua are all the same man. His colloquial name translates to “maze plant” or “blade of corn.” Today, he is referred to as Cornstalk. Records of Cornstalk’s birth do not exist. His birth is estimated to be between 1720-1735, possibly in Ohio. Eventually he ascended to Chief and led raids to keep the British out of Ohio. Fort Randolph was built as an outpost near Tu-Endie-Wei, “Mingling of the Waters” or “Where Two Rivers Meet.” The Battle of Point Pleasant commenced on October 10, 1774, between the militia of Virginia and the Shawnee and Mingo tribes. A peace treaty was signed and the battle ended. The Revolutionary War impeded peace. Three years later, Cornstalk returned to the fort to alert soldiers of an impending raid. Soldiers held Cornstalk, his son, and other Indians from the Shawnee tribe. After a Virginia soldier was killed, soldiers inside the fort turned on Cornstalk and his entourage. He was murdered on November 10, 1777. In 1794 the town was officially chartered as Point Pleasant. Initially he was buried at the fort. In 1840 his grave was unearthed for a street. The few artifacts, mostly 3 teeth and 15 bone fragments, were interred in an aluminum tin can at the county courthouse. Finally, in 1954 the Mason County courthouse was razed and the remains were re-interred at the Tu-Endie-Wei Park. None of the credible historic accounts of Cornstalk’s life and tragic death mention a curse. Was there a curse? Highly doubtful. However, this does not deter people.

Supposedly the curse was to last 200 years, thereby ending in 1977. Believers identify several unique events as proof of the curse’s existence. These include floods, airline crashes, and Mothman.

Disaster records only show events beginning in 1907. Did the curse lay dormant for 130 years? Doubtful. In fact, the events are not truly unique.

West Virginia sits in coal country. Coal was discovered in West Virginia in 1742. The first commercial coal mine opened in 1810. Fifty-three of 55 West Virginia counties have coal deposits. Of those, 43 have “mineable coal.” Today, coal is mined in 28 counties. In 1907 Monongahela coal mining accident claimed 361 lives. It remains the deadliest US coal mining accident. Unfortunately, Monongahela is 3 hours away from Point Pleasant. It’s not remotely close to the land where Cornstalk was murdered. Therefore, this accident was not caused by the curse.

Few people point to a couple of floods in West Virginia as being the direct result of the curse. They specifically cite the floods of 1913 and 1937. West Virginia has experienced large-scale flooding. However, the floods in 1913 and 1937 were neither the largest nor the deadliest within the 200 year period that the curse supposedly covered.

According to a ranking of the “Deadliest Floods in West Virginia, Ranked by Fatalities,” the deadliest flood occurred in 1972. The Buffalo Creek flood killed 125 people and injured more than 1,100 people. It left nearly 4,000 people homeless. Heavy rainfall, though not extraordinary, was to blame for the dam breaching; however, the fatalities could have been considerably less had the Buffalo Mining Company not turned away sheriff deputies and begun evacuations. Most importantly, though, is that this dam is located in the 2outhern part of the state, 2 hours away from Point Pleasant. The curse was not responsible for this flood. It was an act of nature.

The second deadliest flood occurred on August 9, 1916 at the Cabin Creek and Coal River valleys. Early reports claimed the number of deaths may reach as high as 150 people. Sadly, the deaths numbered between 40-60 people. The monetary damage totaled $5 million dollars. A heavy downpour was responsible for this flood. According to Google Maps, Cabin Creek is an hour and 15 minutes away from Point Pleasant. It is nowhere near where Cornstalk “cursed” the land.

On the contrary, proponents of this turn to the floods of 1913 and 1937. The Parkersburg Flood of 1913 was a flood closest to Point Pleasant. It was hardly the deadliest. This flood was caused by the accumulated snowmelt. Although it was an inconvenience for local residents, the flood was not deadly. There was a larger flood that year. It occurred a few days prior to this flood; however, it did not impact or affect the area. There may be some confusion about the two floods among people who believe in the curse.

The other flood cited as related to the curse is the flood of 1937. This was a flood that affected a large area and numerous states. In West Virginia, it was centered around Huntington. Five people died locally of the 400 people in the entire valley. Although 25,000 people were affected and economic damages totaled $17 million, this flood did not cause the most damage in West Virginia. Further, West Virginia fared much better than the other states.

Neither of these floods can be considered devastating to West Virginia generally or Point Pleasant specifically. They do not support a curse. In fact, they discount it when one considers all of the other natural disasters in the state.

On June 23, 1944, the deadliest tornado to strike the state landed in Shinnston, West Virginia. One hundred and fifty-three people were killed in West Virginia, Ohio, Pennsylvania, and Maryland. Nine miles from the Monongah mine, the Shinnston tornado formed at 8:30 PM. The F4 tornado killed 66 people in Shinnston and surrounding area. Several tornadoes spawned from severe storms across the Appalachian region. To date, this remains the deadliest tornado to hit the state. Shinnston is 2 ½ hours from Point Pleasant on the other side of the state. Although this was a tragic natural disaster, it was not the consequence of Cornstalk’s curse.

A tragedy did occur in Point Pleasant. On December 22, 1953, a petroleum barge exploded killing 6 men and injuring 22 others. The barge was empty and docked for cleaning. One would presume that a curse would affect a fully loaded barge with full of employees.

Only one event directly relates to Point Pleasant and includes Mothman. In 1967 the Silver Bridge connecting West Virginia with Ohio collapsed. Witnesses claim to have seen Mothman lingering by the bridge prior to the collapse.

Cornstalk may or may not have cast a curse. However, the curse is not the basis for Mothman. But that’s okay since there are many, many more possible reasons for Mothman sightings.


Note: This piece is part of a larger manuscript Mothman: Debunking the Debunking written by Lesia Miller Schnur. If citing this paper, please remember to cite the author, title, and blog site. Thank you!