Battle of the Island

This was originally published on Martha Sparks’ My West Virginia Mountain website and is reprinted here with her permission and our special thanks.

Aracoma Courthouse Memorial“In Memory of Princess Aracoma who with her tribe made the first
settlement in this valley. Her death occurred about 1780”
Memorial located at the Logan County Courthouse

The team of John Breckenridge, with his two scouts, Green and Carter, began their journey to Logan as soon as it was light enough to travel on that day in 1779.

The scouts were trying to locate the Indian lodges and their surroundings. A heavy fog hung over the river, hiding the island and all the surrounding valley from their view of what would become the city of Logan, West Virginia.

What they could see, however, was beautiful! They could see the mountains piled together with huge rocks crowning their summits and the valley below seemed to be guarded on every side.

Slowly the sun rose above the mountains and melted away the mist, revealing the beautiful valley, as it was in the beginning and still is today.

A large creek (Island Creek) whose banks were lined with grass, flowering shrubbery and huge trees to shelter from the sunlight, flowed from the west and divided itself as it emptied into the river (Guyandotte) to form a lovely island.

The island (Midelburg Island) was covered with a luxuriant growth of river cane, and near the southwestern point there were 10 Indian lodges. Around each there were several groups of Indians. Near the center were many horses and a few cattle leisurely grazing.

Breckenridge feasted his eyes on the grandeur through a looking glass and was enchanted with the scene until “Guyan” Green reminded him of the duties that lay ahead of him.

The group of scouts returned to the camp the travelers had made at the mouth of the creek (Stollings) to discuss with the others what they had found.

The party determined that rafts should be constructed and that Breckenridge should cross the river with half the command and approach as near as possible to the island, where they would rest until nightfall.

They would then cross the upper arm of the creek and make a dash on the lodges and capture their horses while killing as many Indians as possible.

William S. Madison was to leave his camp just before nightfall and secure a position near the lower mouth of the creek. When the firing began on the upper part of the island, he would open fire on the lower part of the island to create confusion among the Indians.

By mid afternoon, Breckenridge had arrived at a lookout point near the island. He discovered the Indians were crossing the river at the lower end of the island in an excited manner. It was apparent that they had learned of the approach of his command and were crossing to attack his camp. He sent a message to notify Madison of danger and to advise him to march to the attack while daylight was still available.

With 40 men, Madison moved swiftly to the offense. The Indians were surprised but fought well, until the firing began on the island behind them. Most fled for their canoes at the lower end of the island. Six of the Indians were killed, 10 wounded and the rest captured. There no fatalities in Madison’s command.

Among the wounded Indians was a woman, who from her dress and bravery, was at once recognized as leader of the Indian party. With the exception of this woman, the wounded Indians received quick disposition. None of the men wanted to be bothered with a captive Indian.

In the battle, Breckenridge captured 50 horses, a few cows, and 50 bushels of corn. So ended what is know as the “Battle of the Island”.

The men could not pursue the escaping Indians because darkness was slowly covering the island. The Indian woman was kindly cared for. Breckenridge used every method in his power to try and learn the history of the woman, but she refused to talk.

At last, seeming to believe there was no hope of her being recaptured by her own people, she called for Madison and began to speak.

 “My name is Aracoma, and I am the last of a mighty line. My father was a great chief and a friend to your people. He was murdered in cold blood by your people when he came to them as a friend to give them warning. I am wife of a pale-face who came across the great waters to make war on my people, but came to us and became one of us. I am dying, bury me with my face toward the setting sun, that I may see my people in their march to our happy hunting grounds. For your kindness, I warn you to make haste in returning to your homes, for my people are still powerful and will return to avenge my death.”

Before morning came, her proud spirit had taken it’s eternal flight. Madison and his men buried the body of Aracoma according to her request.

Before returning home the men burned the lodges and gathered only what they could take with them. They took skins, corn, horses and cattle. The rest of the afternoon was spent drawing maps and making notes to help them in the future.

Early the next morning, the party left for the New River settlements without harm from Aracoma’s tribe.

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