Finding Princess Aracoma

By Dwight Williamson

Dwight Williamson, Logan County MagistrateAt one time or another, most Logan Countians have walked right by a piece of history that was placed in downtown Logan to forever honor perhaps the county’s most historical figure—Princess Aracoma. The memorial, which stands on the northeast corner of the Logan County courthouse across the street from McCormick’s Department store, was placed there in 1936 by a local organization that no longer even exists in the county. Ironically, the department store also began that same year as a leased 20 feet by 40 feet storefront on the corner of Washington and Stratton streets; the locally owned family business now encompasses the entire block.

The Daughters of the American Revolution, which is a women’s organization founded in 1890 for the purposes of promoting history, preservation and education, as well as patriotism, disappeared in Logan County at an undisclosed date, but did exist as late as the 1960’s. Local women of that organization left a lasting mark in tribute of the famous Indian leader who was buried in downtown Logan following her death in 1780. The memorial, which resembles a tombstone, was placed at a specific location that actually has some unique history of its own.

According to old Logan Banner newspaper accounts, in 1915 during the growing period of the town of Logan, an extraordinary grave was uncovered at the 100 block of Stratton Street in Logan. The grave was an unusual eight feet deep and contained the skeletal remains of a female Indian who had buckhorn beads around her neck. Other items found at the gravesite led the construction workers and the rest of the townspeople to believe it to be the final resting place of the Indian princess, who fought and died after her settlement was ambushed at what is currently the site of Logan Senior High School. Since all six of Aracoma’s children died from the plaque in 1776, it is highly likely that those offspring were earlier buried close by.

Old newspaper accounts from various time periods consistently relate the uncovering of what must have been a large burial ground for the local Indian tribe. In fact, it would be suffice to say that nearly all of downtown Logan—ironically named after an Indian chief, and once named after her (Aracoma)—has been built over top of Indian remains. Even the courthouse site itself was once a burial ground.

In a 1920’s Logan Banner story concerning the first brick courthouse constructed in Logan in 1870, it told of the uncovering of Indian bones during the building of the two story structure that replaced the wooden courthouse which was burned in 1864 by Union forces during the Civil War. Stories regarding the building of the Aracoma Hotel (1916) also related the finding of Indian skeletal remains. At the time, there were no regulations in regard to construction at cemeteries, especially an Indian cemetery. However, in 2011 during the beginning stages of the construction of the State Building where the Pioneer Hotel once stood, more human bones were found and construction work was held up for numerous weeks, while archaeologists uncovered remains that later were determined to belong to native Indians.

The Princess Aracoma Memorial was unveiled October 22, 1936 at the courthouse site, and in reporting this event, the Logan Banner added some history which needs retold. According to the report, placement of the marker in recognition of Aracoma brought back many memories for some local residents, including the County Clerk at the time, J. Green McNeely. The clerk said the site of the memorial was once the location of a well that was dug in 1920 by W.F. Farley, a former County Court member.

According to McNeely, the well was dug to provide cooler drinking water than that found in the courthouse fountains. The well didn’t live up to expectations, Farley said, “and the pump was never used extensively because a vein of salt was struck when the well was dug.”

There have been six courthouses built during Logan’s history. The first courthouse was a four room structure located where the Pebbles store operates today. All other courthouses have stood where today’s courthouse is now located. Following the burning of the wooden courthouse during the Civil War, a red brick courthouse lasted until 1904 when the first stone structure was built. A large fire that started on Main Street across from the courthouse in 1912 destroyed that courthouse and a magnificent stone building was constructed in its place until 1964 when the present day courthouse was built following the election of President John F. Kennedy, who previously had campaigned from the former courthouse’s steps.

In the 1936 newspaper account concerning the Aracoma Memorial, McNeely spoke about the 1912 fire. The coldest winter in the history of the county was the setting, according to McNeely. “That was the time of the “big freeze” and the fire plugs were frozen so solid that no water could be had to put out the blaze,” McNeely was quoted as saying. ‘The river was frozen from bank to bank and snow was knee deep in the streets that year.”

Over the years, the surroundings of the courthouse have changed dramatically. There are stories about an old elm tree that stood for over 60 years next to one of the courthouses, while nearer the entrance to the courthouse was an old locust tree, which was said to be the site of a least one hanging; that of accused murder, Charlie Williams, who was taken from the jail by a mob of indignant citizens. Not long after the hanging, the old locust died.

Also, no longer present at the courthouse is the World War I Doughboy Memorial which was moved to Midelburg Island, where it still stands today in honor of all Logan County members of the military services, who died in the line of duty.

So it is, that time changes everything. Once the most important location for all of its citizens as a gathering place, the Logan County Courthouse now no longer even features benches for citizens to sit upon. While it may be the only courthouse in the state which does not have some sort of outside seating arrangements, Loganites can take heed to the fact that it likely is also the only one of its kind statewide to be built over an Indian burial site.

And—thanks to a group of caring women—it also features an 80-year-old memorial to an Indian Princess, who played a very interesting role in the history of the area.

Dwight Williamson is a contributing writer and a former reporter for The Logan Banner. He currently serves as a Logan County Magistrate.

*Published with the author’s permission and our special thanks.

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