Local Legends: Mothman
Last week, my brother and I went to visit Point Pleasant, WV with a few friends. Our goal was to visit the home of Mothman, one of the local legends of West Virginia.
The Mothman was first reported November 15th, 1966. Two couples were driving near the old TNT bunkers when they spotted a strange creature. One of the women described it as a man with huge wings wrapped around itself. Its muscular looking body was a dirty gray color, and its eyes were a fiery red. When they first spotted the creature, it was walking with a wobbly gait, as though it might topple at any moment. But when the headlights of their car fixed on it, it took off straight into the air. Then the creature, according to their report, chased their car for miles, keeping up with them even when the driver in his panic sped up to 100 mph.
Since then, there have been numerous claimed sightings of the Mothman. In 2016, one person even brought forward pictures of a creature jumping from tree to tree. Many claimed the picture resembled the fabled Mothman, and though the photographer himself declined an on-camera interview, he insisted the photos were real.
If you visit the Mothman Museum, you’ll find several theories surrounding the creature. Some believe that what the couple saw that night was simply rare sighting of a sandhill crane; the second largest species of crane in America, with a wing span of up to six-and-a-half feet. Another theory is that the Mothman is a result of Chief Cornstalk’s curse. Who was Chief Cornstalk, you ask?
Chief Cornstalk’s Curse
Chief Cornstalk was a well-respected leader of the Shawnee nation. When colonists began moving into the Kanawha and Ohio River Valleys, a confederacy of Native American nations fought to defend their lands. On October 10th, 1774, the Battle of Point Pleasant was fought. The tribes were defeated and the Shawnee signed a peace treaty to avoid more bloodshed (see Ohio History Central for more information).
Later after this event, Chief Cornstalk befriended the settlers. In 1777, he carried word to Fort Randolph that several tribes were planning to attack the fort. He was detained, in hopes that having him there would keep the other tribes from attacking. Though hostages, the soldiers reportedly treated Chief Cornstalk and his fellow captives well, and he assisted the soldiers of the fort with making maps of the Ohio Valley. But on Nov. 10th, 1777, two of the soldiers were attacked by Indians when they left the fort to hunt. Outraged, soldiers within the fort went against orders and executed Cornstalk and his companions as revenge. As he lay dying, stories claim that he proclaimed a curse on the land:
“I was the border man’s friend. Many times I have saved him and his people from harm. . . I refused to join your paleface enemies with the red coats. I came to the fort as your friend and you murdered me. You have murdered by my side, my young son. . . For this, may the curse of the Great Spirit rest upon this land. May it be blighted by nature. [And] may it even be blighted in its hopes. May the strength of its peoples be paralyzed by the stain of our blood.” (Source: American Hauntings)
Along the river walk of Point Pleasant, you’ll find murals of Lord Dunmore’s War.
A statue of Chief Cornstalk stands beside that of General Andrew Lewis, and the chief’s memorial rests in the park at the end of the path. Along the walk, you’ll also see a statue of Anne Bailey, the third and final of Point Pleasant’s local legends that we’ll discuss today.
Local Legends: Mad Anne Bailey
“I always carried an ax and auger, and I could chop as well as any man… I trusted in the Almighty… and I knew I could only be killed once, and I had to die sometime.”–Anne Bailey, in 1823 interview with Anne Royall
Like Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett, Anne Hennis Trotter Bailey was a famous pioneer whose exploits grew into tall tales as her fame spread. Her life is one I plan to read more about, for though I’ve found mention of many stories told about her, I’ve found only a few so far.
Anne Bailey (or Hennis, as was her maiden name) was born in Liverpool in 1742, and moved to America at 19. There, in 1765, she married Richard Trotter, a frontiersman and solider, and they had one son, William, during their marriage. Richard Trotter joined the militia during the time of Lord Dunmore’s War. He was killed in the Battle of Point Pleasant, the same battle where Chief Cornstalk led the Shawnee in defending their home.
When Anne heard of her husband’s death, she responded with fierce determination. She left her son in the care of her neighbors, dressed in the garb of a frontiersman, and set out on a life of adventure and hardship. Anne rode to recruiting stations and urged men to volunteer as soldiers. During the Revolutionary War, she travelled between forts, carrying messages from Point Pleasant to Lewisburg. She became known as both Mad Anne and as the “White Squaw of Kanawha,” and was widely respected.
Of all her feats, her ride to save Fort Lee in 1791 became her most famous.
Soon to be under siege by native tribes, the fort hurried to prepare. They discovered they were low on gunpowder, and their only hope was help from another fort. At 49-years old, Anne bravely volunteered to ride the 200 mile (roundtrip) journey to Lewisburg for supplies. She made the trip in three days, plunging through hostile territory alone. When she arrived back at the fort, she was rewarded with the black stallion she’d ridden. With her return, the siege was lifted and the fort saved.
After the death of her second husband, John Bailey, in 1802, Anne chose to live in the wilderness. She continued her rides between forts, carrying mail and messages, and she made her last trip in 1817. At 76, her son William asked her to move home, and she lived in a cabin on his property. She died on November 22, 1825, in her home surrounded by family.
One of the greatest joys of travel is learning the local legends of an area.
Though I went to Point Pleasant seeking a particular story, learning about Chief Cornstalk and Anne Bailey was perhaps the highlight of the trip. Every place we go is rich with its own history and memories, as rooted in the land as the trees. I hope as you travel, you’ll take the time to find the stories each place offers.
What local legends have you found on your journeys?
Buck, Stephanie. “‘Mad Anne’ Bailey was a frontier warrior and Revolutionary War hero who got wilder with age.” Timeline. April 25, 2017.
Royall, Anne. “Anne Bailey.” Extracted from Sketches of History, Life, and Manners in the United States by a Traveller
Published in 1826. West Virginia Archives and History.
“Anne Bailey.” History of American Women.
“Anne Bailey’s Ride.” Ye Journal of Mad Anne Bailey: An American Heroine.
“The Cornstalk Curse.” American Haunting.
“Lord Dunmore’s War and the Battle of Point Pleasant.” Ohio History Central.