Editor’s note: Paul Ray Blankenship passed away Sept. 30, 2010 after a long illness. He was a retired teacher and college professor, who wrote several books about the history of Oceana and surrounding areas. As a tribute to his achievements, his columns will continue in this newspaper. The following excerpt is reprinted, with his permission, from “From Cabins To Coal Mines, Volume I.” This is the first part of “Indian Territory.”
It is well established that Wyoming County and the Oceana area were criss-crossed by several Indian trails leading from the valleys of western Virginia to the Indian towns of Ohio. When the first settlers arrived, beginning in 1799, only stories of Indian ventures and some archaeological evidence of their villages and their paths of travel remained.
Rev. G. P. Goode’s historical research reports that the ruins of an Indian village, with the remains of pole lodges, were found in 1802 when Edward McDonald and his son-in-law Capt. James Shannon first came to Wyoming County. This village stood on land that became part of the McDonald Plantation in a section that later became the farm of Matthew W. Hinkle (1868-1948). Elsewhere on the McDonald land was the site of an Indian burial mound. According to Rev. Goode’s research, done ca1938, Cozer McDonald, a 70-year-old descendant of the McDonald slaves, reported that the Indian burial site contained some 8-10 graves and that beads and other Indian relics abounded in the area.
The remains of the Indian village and the existence of the burial site seems to indicate that the Indians may have used the area for more than temporary hunting grounds.
An Indian trail from the village ran up Clear Fork River where it divided, with one trail extending up Laurel Fork, leading into present Raleigh County, and another trail following Toney Fork into present Boone County. This means that the trail ran through the present town of Oceana.
Other archaeological structures provide ample evidence of the Indian culture in Wyoming County. Evidence of two stone forts, one located on Indian Creek south of Pineville, and another smaller one located near Glen Fork, has been documented. Of the Indian Creek fort, Rev. Goode wrote that on November 16, 1938, he “visited the ruins with a son... of William Toler. As had been reported the old fort had stood in the middle of an old sandy field on the old Peter Belcher farm at the mouth of Fort Branch... The foundation stones were still in position and the fort had been rather oval in shape, and about 66 feet in diameter one way and about 75 feet the other way or 225 feet in circumference. The stone had been carried from a hillside 600 feet away and there seemed to have been enough stone to have built a single wall seven feet in height.”
Through the efforts of a Wyoming County civic club, Laurel Garden Club of Mullens, and the State Road Commission’s Roadside Park Service, this fort structure was reconstructed in 1959 using the stones that were part of the original fort. The intent was to develop a roadside park which would serve as a tourist attraction. It was reconstructed on Route 16, about half way between Pineville and Welch and dedicated August 26, 1959. Sadly, however, the project, after being completed, fell into ruin because of neglect and lack of money to develop and maintain it. Little or no indication of the restored fort now exists.
The other stone fort, much smaller than the Indian Creek fort, was located, according to Rev. Goode’s 1936 research, “in the middle of the Larkin Allen corn field in the middle of the new town of Glen Fork Junction near the Bellmeade Coal operation... It seems to have been circular and about 15 feet in diameter...”
Theories for the reason the stone forts were constructed range from their use for defensive purposes, which would imply that a permanent village was nearby, to their use for religious and ceremonial purposes, or both.
In addition, two small mounds have also been located in Wyoming County. One mound, thought to have been made by the Indians, was located at the mouth of Toney Fork “in the bottom in front of Billy Walker’s store,” according to Rev. Goode’s research. The other mound was located on Trace Fork of Little Cub Creek, according to Goode.
The most obvious evidence of the Indians’ tenure in the Clear Fork valley is the abundance of flint arrowheads and other artifacts which have been unearthed and collected by residents. Letah Chambers Cook (1894-1985), wife of George Wayne Cook, had a large collection of Indian arrowheads and artifacts which she had gathered over the years on the family farm west of Oceana.
James Robert Lewis (1946-1978) owned a significant collection of arrowheads which he had found primarily along Upper Road Branch in Oceana (now Poplar Lane). The author, while preparing ground for the construction of a patio, unearthed several arrowheads in the same area.
There is strong belief among local citizens that the petroglyphs located at Lillyhaven, west of Oceana, was carved by Indians, the message, according to one interpretation, portraying the sun, a man, a woman, some children, and a journey. However, the newest theory asserts that the message on the rock was written in an ancient Irish language called Ogam.