New book focuses on area history
THE MYSTERY surrounding Wheeling’s unique name, meaning Place of the Skull, is explored in a new book by Alan Fitzpatrick about the early history of the Ohio Valley.
A book signing featuring Fitzpatrick and his third book, “Place of the Skull: The Untold Story of Vengeance, Blood, and the British Flag at Wheeling,” is scheduled Friday, June 6, from 5-8 p.m. at Artworks Around Town at Wheeling’s Centre Market.
Also at the book signing will be artist Cecy Rose, whose painting, “Weel-lunk, Place of the Skull,” is featured on the cover of Fitzpatrick’s book.
Whether the West Virginia place is known as Wheeling, Weel-lunk or Wihl-link in the Delaware language or Kanororan as the Iroquois called it, it’s definite that the act there had an impact on the American Indians even those who had never been in that area.
Fitzpatrick noted many Indians some more than 200 miles away and a generation removed from the incident involving the skull on a post associated Wheeling with evil although they had never been there. He compared it with Auschwitz, adding that he had never been there but associated it “with great evil that happened there to Jewish people during World War II.”
The Indians, according to Fitzpatrick, did not see a difference between a place and an evil act committed there by an evil person. “We don’t blame the place, we blame the person,” he said.
Telling of the Indians’ view of Wheeling, the author explained the skull was not put a pole to warn others to stay away. “It was a place of white man’s evil – that is the only explanation.” No date is available for the skull incident, but it dates years before 1749.
An especially interesting chapter in the book pertains to “Reasons Found in the Spirit World,” explaining Indians’ ideas about what happens when a person dies and how it differs from a white person’s ideas. Revenge was part of the Indians’ reasons for severing an enemy’s head, but the author notes it was “more out of symbolic sacrifice and protection.”
In a telephone interview, Fitzpatrick pointed out that Wheeling was personal to the Indians. Mentioning the attack on Fort Henry in 1782, he said, “It was the only incident in Indian history they attacked a place for three days.”
Even Logan, who had been a friend of the white men and lived in the Yellow Creek area between Steubenville and East Liverpool and whose family was massacred across the Ohio River at Baker’s trading cabin, associated his family’s death with the “evil spirit reaching out from Wheeling,” Fitzpatrick added.
He noted in the book that Logan knew the word, Kanororan, and understood its meaning – “Logan knew beyond a doubt what had happened. That evil spirit and evil place where it dwelled would not rest until all Indians were destroyed and the land within its reach cleared.”
Fitzpatrick also linked the horrible massacre of the innocent Christian Indians at Gnadenhutten which preceded the torture suffered by Col. William Crawford to the evil spirit existing in Wheeling.
Not only does Fitzpatrick give interesting details about Logan, who returned to kill the white men after his family was slain, but his book is rich in history as he reveals information about the Gnadenhutten, Crawford and the siege of Fort Henry, which included a makeshift cannon and Betty Zane.
The Indians, according to the book, before the siege told the British officer “that the place he called Weeling held an evil spirit that could only be eradicated if the settlement at Weeling, and the fort there, were destroyed.”
Fitzpatrick also reports on La Salle’s reported trip down the Ohio River and Celeron de Blainville’s burying of a plaque at the mouth of Wheeling Creek when accompanied by some Iroquois. The Iroquois’ belief about the evil spirit at Wheeling preceded that of the Delawares.
He also provided a wealth of information of the Indians themselves, including their adoption practices, and about such diverse persons as Ebenezer Zane and Jim Girty as well as the first white traders.
“I know something terrible happened at the site of the Civic Center (in Wheeling) when a man’s head was placed on post,” he said. “The terrible act had to be murder as the Indians were not at war with the whites, and no white men other than rum traders were in that area during that time. … It was a greedy, terrible act with women and children killed,” he said.
Indicating his research shows the old Mingo trail was in that area, he said there was never an Indian village there but there’s reason to believe it was the site for a hunting camp.
The book reveals a narrative to make an impression on people of what might have happened at that site.
Fitzpatrick credits Wheeling historian Margaret Brennan for stirring his interest in the mystery surrounding Wheeling’s name. It took him three years to complete the book, including 15 months to actually write it. He added there is not much direct information available prior to 1750, and he had to go to the Pennsylvania Colonial Archives to find anything that was pertinent.
Copies of the book, which costs $19.95, will be available at the book signing. It also may be obtained at Words and Music at Stratford Springs.
Fitzpatrick, who was born in Canada and is descended from a British Ranger who served in the Revolution, is well-versed about that time period, and two of his other books also may be purchased at the book signing. “Wilderness War on the Ohio: The Untold Story of the Savage Battle for British and Indian Control of the Ohio Country during the American Revolution” costs $24.95 while “In Their Own Words: Native-American Voices from the American Revolution” may be obtained for $19.95.
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