West Virginia: Pioneer Trail (continues)

Chapter 3 continues here with an overview of the West Virginia wilderness, featuring America's newest national park - the New River Gorge. Also featured is the Seneca Rocks/Dolly Sods wilderness region of West Virginia's highlands. (20 min.)



West Virginia. The state of West Virginia came late to the statehood collection; not gaining its own freedom until the Civil War (1863). For a long time, Virginia ruled the vast hinterland up to the Ohio River, although its northwestern settlers often had a mind of their own.

A fair distance east of the Ohio, the New River springs to life in the Blue Ridge Mountains near Boone, North Carolina. Its headwaters expand over 2,000 miles north into Virginia, joined by the Little River, then to West Virginia to be joined by the Greenbrier, through the New River Gorge, and then merging at the confluence of the Gauley to become the Kanawha, and finally bending west to the Ohio River near Point Pleasant

Here once was the Land of the Shawnee. The “Virginians” (a term many natives used to refer to all “greedy” American colonists) saw to it that the forests gave way to tobacco and coal. The New River Coalfield sprung forth with dozens of coal towns. The C&O (Chesapeake & Ohio) railroad pierced the forests to relieve the land of its black gold. A history of the coalfields is another story of a kind of frontier grit and triumph, plus tragedy. Warren G Harding, the President of the US, declared martial law in West Virginia on August 30, 1921, deploying the National Guard to put an end to a union-inspired uprising at the Battle of Blair Mountain.

Long before though, before any permanent settlements were made in Wood County, bounding on the Ohio River, Capt. James Neal, with a party of men, descended the Monongahela and Ohio rivers in the fall of 1785, to the Little Kanawha River. Their purpose when starting was to go to Kentucky. But having landed on the south side of the Little Kanawha, about a mile from its mouth, they camped. During the winter of 1785 and 1786 they erected a block house, which was afterwards known as Neal's Station. A few inhabitants settled nearby, including in what is now Washington County, Ohio, while the Northwest Indian war festered up until the year 1795 and the peace treaty of Greenville, Ohio.

By other accounts the earliest white settler along the Ohio river, in Wetzel County, was Edward Doolin, who came about the year 1780, and made a settlement near Doolin’s Spring, one mile from the mouth of Fishing Creek. He built two cabins, one for himself and wife and the other for his negro slave. It wasn’t long after, apparently, that a band of natives (probably Delaware/Lenape) paid Doolin an unwelcome visit and abducted his slave. Doolin himself was shot dead and scalped the next day in his front yard. Mrs. Doolin and newborn were not molested although the lady was promised their return and offer to marry a great chief.

Nearby residents of Mrs. Doolin buried Edward and took her safely by canoe to a nearby blockhouse. In later years Mrs. Doolin remarried, moved to Kentucky, and attended the wedding of her daughter to young Daniel Boone, a descendant of the famous frontiersman and Indian scout, the Daniel Boone.

Notes: The Chesapeake and Ohio Railway Co. (C&O), or Chessie System, emerged in 1868 with the consolidation of the Virginia Central and the Covington and Ohio railroads. C&O and the B&O didn’t merge until 1987.

Sketches of Wood County : its early history : as embraced in and connected with other counties of West Virginia : also brief accounts of first settlers and their descendants : including accounts of its soils, timber, minerals, water, and material wealth. by Shaw, Stephen Chester, 1808-1891). Pub .date 1878, Publisher Parkersburg, W. Va. : G. Elletson).