The town of Logan was once named for her and there remains a community that bears her name, a coal company which has borrowed her name, a drug store featuring her name, a monument honoring her name at the Logan County Courthouse, a former hotel in Logan named for her, and there even has been a play performed almost every year since the very beginning of the theater company that is also named for her — Aracoma Story, Inc.
So, just where was this historical Indian leader buried after she was shot and mortally wounded by soldiers attacking her village on what is now Midelburg Island in Logan well over 200 years ago?
A portion of Aracoma’s dying words in 1780 have been recorded as being “Bury me with my face toward the setting sun so that I may see my people on their march to the happy hunting grounds.”
Just 37 years old when she died, Aracoma, who is often described as a princess but actually was not of that type royalty since it didn’t exist in Indian life, was granted her dying wish and was buried in the Indian graveyard which now consists of nearly all of the downtown section of Logan. Wherever she was placed, I’m sure she was laid facing across the Guyandotte River in a westerly direction toward Mt. Gay. The question is, where at?
If you’re expecting a definitive answer, I don’t have it, but here’s some material I have uncovered in researching over the years.
Most people should remember that during the Cole Street construction of the State Building in Logan a few years back at the site where the former Pioneer Hotel once stood between Stratton and Main streets, Indian bones were uncovered and a screeching halt was called to the work for several weeks while archeologists gathered bones and possibly other relics from the site. It was later confirmed the bones were Indian bones, which didn’t exactly come as any surprise.
Considering the Pioneer Hotel was constructed there many years prior, one can only imagine how many graves were uncovered during that construction period. With no laws concerning the disruption of graveyards (Indian burial grounds in particular), the remains likely were just tossed aside and carted off, possibly even dumped into the Guyandotte.
There are recorded newspaper articles which describe the uncovering of what was believed Indian bones when the first brick courthouse was built in Logan during the 1870s following the burning in 1862 of the wooden structure during the Civil War.
There exists different accounts of Indian bones and other related items being uncovered in various parts of the town of Logan — from across Dingess Street from Logan City Hall to at least the courthouse. It seems an Indian graveyard encompassed what later became the seat of government for a county named after an Indian Chief.
An early 1900s newspaper story speaks of what was believed to be an Indian grave during construction of a building near what is now the Logan Nazarene Church in Logan, and even then there was speculation that the gravesite was that of Aracoma.
However, a 1938 newspaper account said workers excavating for a water line on the corner of Stratton and Cole Streets, which today would be near the entrance to the Hot Cup café, discovered two Indian skeletons, beads, a tomahawk and what was described as “other relics.”
The newspaper graphically described the find as “All parts of skeletons. Bones of the legs, arms and feet as well as pieces of skulls, one almost intact.” The story said that “two jaw bones, one that of a child and the other an adult, contained teeth perfectly intact.”
It seems that the area around Cole Street has always been a hot bed for the discovery of Indian remains, and I remember in 1979 when the skeletal remains of a body was revealed during work on underground telephone cables. Carbon dating at the time revealed the skeletal remains as that of a female who lived in about 1770 and died around the age of 40.
In 1976, pottery fragments, a glass bead, and more bones were located underneath Cole Street, all of which were also carbon dated as existing around 1770. What is significant about these finds is that even though carbon dating can vary either way for up to 60 years, there are only nine sites in West Virginia that are known to have existed as Indian villages prior to the year of 1700. Because of measles and smallpox being brought back to villages by Indians who made contact with English settlements along the Atlantic Coast, about 80 percent of the Indian population disappeared in what is now West Virginia, including most, if not all of Aracoma’s seven children.
Most of the surviving Indians were then driven out of the region by raiding Iroquois tribes. However, historians believe that the Indian location in Logan may have been the last major village occupied, probably because of its remote location from the Iroquois nation.
Since Aracoma is known to have settled on “the islands” (now Midelburg Island) during the 1770s, it is highly likely that she had knowledge of a previous village existing there, which would explain the 1,000 gravesites that have been discovered beneath the town of Logan since its existence.
Perhaps a 1949 Logan Banner report is of significance. Here’s the story:
“Down through the years more than a thousand skeletons, identified as belonging to the Shawnee tribe which once inhabited this region and whose village stood on ‘Big Island,’ now Midelburg lsland, located on the Guyan River northwest of the new bridge, have been discovered in cellar excavations dug for new buildings and for laying water and sewer lines.
“It was thought that the end had almost been reached a few years ago when Stratton Street was excavated for water line repairs, but now extractors have come upon a virgin patch of interred Red men in the excavations for the new Guyan theatre building on Main Street, close by where the remains of Aracoma were believed found.”
It was in 1916 when workmen xcavating for the Guyan Dry Good Co. building facing on Stratton Street found a grave, according to the Banner story, “evidently placed there by whites, for it was more than eight feet deep while the Indian graves are commonly three to four feet deep.”
“The bones were apparently those of an Indian woman of high rank, for the neck was encircled by elk horn beads and there were trinkets and treasures present,” the story related. “It was generally assumed at the time, on the basis of all the known facts at hand that the skeleton was that of Aracoma.”
Five other entire skeletons were found in the same excavation but all of those were described as “ordinary Indians” for they were closer to the service and there were no beads or other evidences of rank in the graves, according to the newspaper account.
So common was the unearthing of skeletons in those days that the public paid scant attention to them and in several instances, the story reported, “Children were found making mud pies in the skulls.”
For this writer, I find it eerily ironic that no particular burial place can be definitively claimed as the exact spot where Aracoma was laid to rest. What one can be certain of, however, is that the legendary leader of her Shawnee tribe was buried underneath the ground that first became Lawnsville, then Aracoma, and today is known as Logan.
The irony — at least for me — is that there is another “lady” of historical significance from our local past whose gravesite has also never been completely established. She, too, met an untimely death.
Perhaps you have heard of her — MAMIE THURMAN.
As Halloween rapidly approaches and chill winds begin to blow, I must boldly say that it just might be that Logan’s touristic future could very well lie underground.
After all, Logan is the only town/city in West Virginia that was built atop of a graveyard.