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, 1799-1999, Volume I.” This is part one of the legend of Chief Cornstalk’s daughter, Princess Ceana.
According to historical accounts, the town of Oceana was first named Cassville in 1850, then named Sumpterville by court order dated November 22, 1851, and then finally named Oceana, in 1853. The first name of the town honored the American statesman, Lewis Cass; the origin of the second name is unknown except that it apparently derived from a family or place name. The town was named, by all traditional accounts handed down for many generations now, for the Shawnee Indian princess who was the youngest daughter of Chief Cornstalk and the sister of Aracoma.
The following is one version of the legend, somewhat embellished for the expressed purpose of dramatic narration:
Perhaps about 1760, the 16-year-old Indian princess Aracoma married a white renegade, Boling Baker, who had deserted from the British army in 1756. At the time, the main Shawnee Indian town, presided over by Chief Cornstalk, was located in Ohio, near present Chillicothe.
As a wedding present for Princess Aracoma, Chief Cornstalk provided them with a village of their own which was built at “The Islands” where Logan now stands. The chief sent them off to their home on the Guyandotte River, along with Indian braves to hunt and fish, and to defend the village, and women to help with the maintenance of the village and with the crops. The Indian village prospered and Princess Aracoma became the mother of several children.
It seems that Aracoma’s younger sister, Ceana, wanted to visit the village at “The Islands.” Cornstalk granted permission, sent runners to inform Aracoma, and assigned his young daughter a contingent of warriors and some women to accompany her on the journey.
One of the warriors selected to escort the princess was a young brave who looked upon the princess with much favor. The journey to “The Islands” would take several days. They would travel at a somewhat leisurely pace, even though Ceana was quite anxious to see her older sister. The small Shawnee band crossed the Ohio River where the Big Sandy River, which the Indians called Chatterawha (“river of sand bars”) joins it. This river valley was bounded on the west by Kentucky which they called “the dark and bloody ground” and on the east by the high mountains of the Guyan Valley.
The Indians journeyed southward on foot, following mostly the river, before crossing over the mountains to a place where the Guyandotte flowed toward the home of Aracoma.
About two days into the journey, the Shawnees reached the spot where they turned eastward. The waters of the Guyandotte River, which the Indians called Se-co-nee (“narrow bottom river”), were just beyond the mountains. Traveling across the ridges toward the Guyandotte and arriving at one of the many tributaries which flow into the Guyandotte, the Shawnees rested for the night, feasting on game and berries which were plentiful.
The next morning, the small band of Indians rose before dawn to begin the trip onward down the Guyandotte. Apparently the darkness and the heavy mist rising from the river caused the party to lose its sense of direction and, by some stroke of fate, the little Indian band turned up the stream, instead of crossing it and continuing on up the Guyandotte. They traveled on up the stream, thinking that before long they would reach the home of Aracoma. Keen as the warriors were, they knew they would smell the smoke of the village fires long before they could see the village.
After traveling for awhile, there was not even the faintest smell of smoke in the air and the village was not in sight. The warriors finally realized they were traveling along the wrong river bottom. Evening was falling.
Meanwhile at “The Islands,” Aracoma knew that her sister should have arrived, unless something had gone wrong. Fretful and worried and fearing some danger, Aracoma dispatched some runners down the Guyandotte to locate the traveling party.
The warriors with Princess Ceana decided they would scout the area and locate a route to the Indian village, without having to retrace their steps back to the stream’s juncture. They would also hunt for game to provide food.
The young brave who favored the princess was designated to stay with the princess and her women companions. The others took off to scout and hunt.
While the other Shawnee women made preparations for camp, the princess decided to take a stroll into the woods, perhaps to gather some berries or perhaps just to observe the magnificent scenery. She wandered farther away from the others than she realized.
As the shades of the evening sun began to descend upon this day’s journey, the Indian brave and the princess’ attendants began to worry that the princess had not returned to the camp. The distraught brave left the camp in search of the princess. The women likewise fanned out in different locations to search for the princess.
As he rushed through the forest, the Indian brave squalled loudly, “Ceana! O, Ceana! Where are you?”
In the distance, he could the faint sounds of the women making the same call. “Ceana! Ceana! Where are you?”
There was no reply.
“Ceana! Where are you?” reverberated through the forest. But the Shawnee Indian princess, the daughter of Chief Cornstalk, was not to be found.
Lost?... Attacked by some wild animal?... Captured by another Indian tribe?... Slain by a white hunter?...