July 10, 2010

The Aracoma Story

The Aracoma Story:  Historical drama rehearsals already underwayRehearsals are now underway for The Aracoma Story—Spirits & Legends summer production that will begin showing soon.

A cast of about 70 local residents from all across southern West Virginia are spending the next several weeks under the guidance of director Bill France, a press release from The Aracoma Story Inc., said.
What's the story about?

The Aracoma StoryLogan County, West Virginia, lays claim to one of America's most romantic legends, the story of Princess Aracoma. The story grew in Logan County around the authentic details of an incident in the history of the region more than 200 years ago.

The story asserts that Princess Aracoma and Boling Baker moved into this valley sometime close to the year 1760 and lived in peace on the island (today's City of Logan) until 1780.

"The Aracoma Story" blends tales of the Shawnee Indians with the story of young love. Boling Baker, a scout from General Braddock's Army, is captured by the Shawnee who are led by Chief Cornstalk. He is rescued from death by Cornstalk's daughter, Aracoma, and adopted into the tribe that moved to the island in the Guyandotte Valley. The drama tells how Baker and Aracoma's people were weakened by disease and how a raid, led by Baker to steal horses, ended in the destruction of this adoptive tribe.
Comment:  How many times have people told variations of the Pocahontas legend? I don't know, but with a couple centuries of "historical" legends, plays, novels, movies, comic books, and so forth, it seems like dozens.

I hope we're not supposed to believe any of these stories. Forget the obvious fact that few if any tribes had royalty such as "princesses." How is it that every legend involves a beautiful young chief's daughter saving a handsome young white man? What about all the times when the chief's grandmother or uncle or brother-in-law saved someone? What about all the times the person saved was a little girl, an old man, or a runaway slave? Did the Indians forget to record these legends?

Is Aracoma's story helpful?

I suspect the producers think they're helping Indians by telling this probably phony tale. But have they thought about the message they're sending? I'm guessing not.

Let's recap how the legend goes: Savage Indians capture civilized white man who's minding his own business. Indians look like monsters because they're willing to kill an "innocent." Only the intervention of a princess (more noble and honorable than the cutthroats around her) saves the princely white man.

And how does the story end? Judging by the summary, Baker's horse raid led to a deadly reprisal by settlers. So the virtuous white men simply overreacted to a nasty Indian attack. They weren't out to dispossess the Indians by hook or crook. They were minding their own business when the villainous Indians stole their property. Then they had to fight back.

In short, the Indians brought their misfortune on themselves. If they had just lived in peace like their white neighbors, they'd still dominate West Virginia. But they got greedy and suffered for it.

Life in Aracoma's land

I'm not sure if Aracoma and her people died in 1780. But Tecumseh, the famed Shawnee freedom fighter, was born in 1768 in nearby Ohio. He and the semi-historical Aracoma were contemporaries.

We don't know much about Aracoma's life, but here's what Tecumseh's early life was like:At least five times between 1774 and 1782, Tecumseh's village was attacked by colonials and later American armies as the Shawnee allied with the British during the American Revolutionary War. Following his father's death, his family moved back to Chief Blackfish's nearby village of Chillicothe. The town was destroyed in 1779 by Kentucky militia in reprisal for Blackfish's attack on Boonesburough. His family fled, and moved to another nearby Kispoko village, but their new home was destroyed the following year by forces under the command of George Rogers Clark. The family moved a third time to the village of Sanding Stone. That village was attacked by Clark in November of 1782, causing them to move again to a new settlement near modern Bellefontaine, Ohio.

Violence continued unabated on the American frontier after the American Revolution as the Northwest Indian War. A large tribal confederacy, known as the Wabash Confederacy that included all the major tribes of the Ohio and Illinois country, joined together to repel the American settlers from the region. As the war between the confederacy and the Americans grew, Tecumseh became a warrior and took an active part fighting along with his older brother Cheeseekua beginning at age fifteen. Tecumseh participated in several battles, including the 1794 Fallen Timbers, which ended the war in favor of the American settlers.
Did any of this make it into The Aracoma Story? I'm gonna go out on a limb and guess no.

What Aracoma tells us

The message of the Pocahontas Aracoma legend is this: White men came in peace. Savages who didn't understand the concept tried to kill them. The noble white man joined the Indians and tried to help them. And a few noble Indians tried to help the white man because his way was true.

Despite all this effort to save the savages from oblivion, they were doomed to fade away. Why? Because of diseases, misunderstandings, and a few overzealous white settlers. Federal and state policies, not to mention a culture of greed and entitlement, had nothing to do with it. It was an accident of fate that destroyed the Indians, not an avaricious Euro-American philosophy of conquest and genocide.

In short, the good whites and good Indians tried to save the bad Indians from the bad whites, but failed. The important thing to remember is they tried. Good Christian Euro-Americans did and do the right thing when given half a chance. Any failure on their part isn't their fault.

For more on the subject, see Pocahontas Bastardizes Real People and Tonto and the "Good Indian."

Below:  Non-Indian Laura Hatfield plays Princess Aracoma, further cementing the idea that Aracoma was as noble and pure as a white woman.


RavenScholar said...

Chief Cornstalk? Really?

When will people get over the idea that there is no such thing as an "Indian Princess" and there are just daughters of Native American Cheifs?

Rob said...

"Cornstalk" was the English version of his Indian name, but yes, the man really existed:


Little is known of Chief Cornstalk, whose Indian name was Wynepuechsika, before the 1750s, when he fought with the French against the British during the French and Indian War. In 1763 he led an expedition of warriors against white settlements along Muddy Creek in Greenbrier County in what is now West Virginia. Over the next decade, he continued to lead the resistance to white encroachment into the Ohio River Valley.

In the early 1770s, Chief Cornstalk became the leader of a confederacy of Indian tribes living in Ohio, including the Shawnee, Wyandots, Delawares, and Mingos. On Oct. 10, 1774, he led a large war party against troops from Virginia. The battle took place at Point Pleasant, near the juncture of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers in present-day West Virginia. Both sides suffered heavy losses, and Chief Cornstalk later signed a peace treaty with Virginia governor Lord Dunmore.

During the American Revolution the British tried to build a coalition of Indians to fight against the colonists. Chief Cornstalk alone refused to join, although many members of his tribe opposed him. Chief Cornstalk, however, had come to believe that his people's survival depended on their friendly relations with the Virginians. In the spring of 1777, he visited the garrison at Point Pleasant with a small contingent of Indians, and he informed the colonials of the coalition that was forming. While the Virginians waited for reinforcements, the Indians were held as hostages. Following the killing of a white man outside the fort by other Indians, Chief Cornstalk and his men (including his son, Elinipsico) were murdered by the soldiers.

Rob said...

Given the reality of Cornstalk's life, The Aracoma Story sounds even more phony. Here's an indication of where it came from:


As the posting notes, "Much of the Aracoma story has been based on legend and tradition." My impression is that the "white renegade Boling Baker" did trigger a settler attack on a Shawnee village. But storytellers probably exaggerated or invented everything leading up to the final battle for romantic effect.