WYOMING COUNTY HISTORY
Wyoming County was created by the Virginia General Assembly on January 26, 1850 from the upper portion of Logan County. There are conflicting reports concerning the county name's origin. Most historians believe that it came from a loose translation of the Delaware Indian word Maughwauwama, meaning "large or extensive plains." Others believe that it originated from a poem written by Thomas Campbell entitled "Gertrude of Wyoming." Since its formation, parts of Wyoming County have been used to form Raleigh County and McDowell County.
The first native settlers in southern West Virginia were the Mound Builders, also known as the Adena people. Remnants of the Mound Builder=s civilization have been found throughout West Virginia, with a high concentration of artifacts located at Moundsville, West Virginia, in Marshall County.
According to missionary reports, several thousand Hurons occupied present-day West Virginia during the late 1500s and early 1600s. The Iroquois Confederacy (consisting of the Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga, Oneida and Seneca tribes, and joined later by the Tuscaroras tribe) drove the Hurons out of the state during the 1600s. The Iroquois Confederacy was headquartered in New York and was not interested in occupying present-day West Virginia. Instead, they used it as a hunting ground during the spring and summer months.
During the early 1700s, southern West Virginia, including present-day Wyoming County, was used as a hunting ground by the Mingo, who lived in both the Tygart Valley and along the Ohio River in West Virginia=s northern panhandle region, the Delaware, who lived in present-day eastern Pennsylvania, New Jersey, and Delaware, but had several autonomous settlements as far south as present-day Braxton County, the Shawnee, and by other members of the Iroquois Confederacy, especially the Seneca, one of the largest and most powerful members of the Iroquois Confederacy.
The Mingo were not actually an Indian tribe, but a multi-cultural group of Indians that established several communities within present-day West Virginia. They lacked a central government and, like all other Indians within the region at that time, were subject to the control of the Iroquois Confederacy. The Mingo originally lived closer to the Atlantic Coast, but European settlement pushed them into western Virginia and eastern Ohio.
The Seneca, headquartered in western New York, was the closest member of the Iroquois Confederacy to West Virginia and took great interest in the state. In 1744, the Seneca boasted to Virginia officials that they had conquered the several nations living on the back of the great mountains of Virginia. Among the conquered nations were the last of the Canawese or Conoy people who became incorporated into some of the Iroquois communities in New York. The Conoy continue to be remembered today through the naming of two of West Virginia's largest rivers after them, the Little Kanawha and the Great Kanawha.
The Seneca and other members of the Iroquois Confederacy often traveled through the state to protect its claim to southern West Virginia from the Cherokee. The Cherokee were headquartered in western North Carolina and eastern Tennessee and rivaled the Iroquois nation in both size and influence. The Cherokee claimed present-day southern West Virginia as their own, setting the stage for conflict with the Iroquois Confederacy.
In 1744, Virginia officials purchased the Iroquois title of ownership to West Virginia in the Treaty of Lancaster. The treaty reduced the Iroquois Confederacy's presence in the state.
During the mid-1700s, the English had made it clear to the various Indian tribes that they intended to settle the frontier. The French, on the other hand, were more interested in trade. This influenced the Mingo to side with the French during the French and Indian War (1755-1763). Although the Iroquois Confederacy officially remained neutral, many in the Iroquois Confederacy also allied with the French. Unfortunately for them, the French lost the war and ceded the all of its North American possessions to the British. Following the war, the Mingo retreated to their homes along the banks of the Ohio River and were rarely seen in southern West Virginia.
Although the war was officially over, many Indians, especially the Shawnee who resided in Ohio, continued to see the British as a threat to their sovereignty and continued to fight them. In the summer of 1763, Pontiac, an Ottawa chief, led raids on key British forts. Shawnee chief Keigh-tugh-qua, or Cornstalk, led similar attacks on western Virginia settlements in present-day Greenbrier County. By the end of July, Indians had captured all British forts west of the Alleghenies except Detroit, Fort Pitt, and Fort Niagara. Then, on August 6, 1763, British forces under the command of Colonel Henry Bouquet retaliated and destroyed Delaware and Shawnee forces at Bushy Run in western Pennsylvania, ending the hostilities. Fearing more tension between Native Americans and settlers, England's King George III issued the Proclamation of 1763, prohibiting settlement west of the Allegheny Mountains. However, many land speculators, including George Washington, violated the proclamation by claiming vast acreage in western Virginia. In 1768, the Iroquois Confederacy (often called the Six Nations) and the Cherokee signed the Treaty of Hard Labour and the Treaty of Fort Stanwix, relinquishing their claims on the territory between the Ohio River and the Alleghenies to the British. With the frontier now open, settlers, once again, began to enter into present-day West Virginia.
In 1772, a series of incidents between settlers and Indians in West Virginia ended what had been nearly eight years of peace. During the spring of that year, several Indians were murdered on the South Branch of the Potomac River by Nicholas Harpold and his companions. About the same time, Bald Eagle, an Indian chief of some notoriety, was murdered while on a hunting trip on the Monongahela River. In the meantime, Captain Bull, a Delaware Indian Chief and five other Indian families were living in Braxton County in an area known as Bulltown, near the falls of the Little Kanawha River, about fourteen miles from present day Sutton. Captain Bull was regarded by most of the settlers in the region as friendly. But some settlers suspected him of providing information to and harboring unfriendly Indians. While away from home in June 1772, the family of a German immigrant named Peter Stroud was murdered, presumably by Indians. The trail left by the murderers led in the general direction of Bulltown. Peter's brother, Adam Stroud, had a cabin nearby and seeing smoke rising into the sky, raced to his brother's cabin. He gathered up what was left of the bodies and buried them. He then headed for Hacker's Creek where he met with several other settlers who agreed to join him in an attack on Bulltown. They killed all of the Indians in the village, including Captain Bull, and threw their bodies into a nearby river. News of Captain Bull's murder quickly spread across the western frontier. Following what the Indians referred to as the Bulltown massacre, Shawnee Chief Cornstalk, who had led numerous raids against West Virginia settlers in the past, began to organize the Indians in a concerted effort to drive the whites from their territory.
In 1773, land speculator Michael Cresap led a group of volunteers from Fort Fincastle (later renamed Fort Henry) at present-day Wheeling, murdering several Shawnee at Captain Creek. Among other atrocities, on April 30, 1774, colonists murdered the family of Mingo chieftain Tah-gah-jute, who had been baptized under the English name of Logan. Although Logan had previously lived peacefully with whites, he killed at least thirteen settlers that summer in revenge.
Virginia Governor John Murray, Earl of Dunmore, worried about the escalating violence in western Virginia, decided to end the conflict by force. He formed two armies, one marching from the North, consisting of 1,700 men led by himself and the other marching from the South, comprised of 800 troops led by western Virginia resident and land speculator Captain Andrew Lewis. Shawnee chieftain Keigh-tugh-qua, or Cornstalk, along with approximately 1,200 Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo, Wyandotte and Cayuga warriors, decided to attack the southern regiment before they had a chance to unite with Lord Dunmore's forces. On October 10, 1774, the Indians attacked Lewis' forces at the confluence of the Kanawha and Ohio Rivers, at present-day Point Pleasant, in Mason County. During the battle, both sides suffered significant losses.
Although nearly half of Lewis' commissioned officers were killed during the battle, including his brother, Colonel Charles Lewis, and seventy-five of his non-commissioned officers, the Indians were finally forced to retreat back to their settlements in Ohio's Scioto Valley, with Lewis' men in pursuit. In the meanwhile, Lord Dunmore arrived and joined forces with Lewis. Seeing that they were now outnumbered, Cornstalk sued for peace.
Although western Virginia's settlers continued to experience isolated Indian attacks for several years, Cornstalk's defeat at Point Pleasant was the beginning of the end of the Indian presence in western Virginia. The Indians agreed to give up all of their white prisoners, restore all captured horses and other property, and not to hunt south of the Ohio River. Also, they were to allow boats on the Ohio River and promised not to harass them. This opened up present-day West Virginia and Kentucky for settlement. Cornstalk was later killed at Fort Randolph near Point Pleasant in 1777 in retaliation for the death of a militiaman who was killed by an Indian.
During the American Revolution (1776-1783), the Mingo and Shawnee, headquartered at Chillicothe, Ohio, allied themselves with the British. In 1777, a party of 350 Wyandots, Shawnees, and Mingos, armed by the British, attacked Fort Henry, near present-day Wheeling. Nearly half of the Americans manning the fort were killed in the three-day assault. The Indians then left the Fort celebrating their victory. For the remainder of the war, smaller raiding parties of Mingo, Shawnee, and other Indian tribes terrorized settlers throughout West Virginia. As a result, European settlement in the state came to a virtual standstill until the war's conclusion. Following the war, the Mingo and Shawnee, once again allied with the losing side, returned to their homes. However, as the number of settlers in the region began to grow, and with their numbers depleted by the war, both the Mingo and the Shawnee moved further inland.
European Pioneers and Settlers
David Hughes may have been the first Englishmen to set foot in present-day Wyoming County. Some reports indicate that he first explored the area in 1784, while others suggest that he arrived in the county in 1777. He did not establish a home in the area, but returned to the area in 1780. He was accompanied by Edward McDonald who was interested in finding a permanent settlement in the western frontier. McDonald returned in 1784 and later obtained a patent for 840 acres in the county. Due to Indian unrest, he did not develop the land until 1802.
During the summer of 1787, a band of Mingo Indians raided settlements along the New River, stealing twenty horses. Captain James Hull and about twenty men, including John Cooke, Sr., chased the Indians, eventually traveling through the county, near present-day Oceana.
In 1799, John Cook, Sr. applied for and received a land grant of 92 acres near the forks of the Laurel Creek and Clear Fork. He moved to the county in October 1799 with his wife, Nellie, their four sons (Thomas, John Jr., William, and James), and a daughter-in-law. They built a log cabin near the Laurel and Clear Forks in 1799 and it remained standing until 1922. It is said that his children were the first to call the area Wyoming County.
After moving into the county, the Cook family met a man named Milam, who supposedly lived in the area for some time, moving to and from three hunting lodges he had constructed. In 1800, Captain Ralph Stewart and his family settled in the area, just a few miles from the Cooke's cabin.
In 1802, Edward McDonald and his family moved onto his land near Big Bottom Fork. He was accompanied by his son-in-law, James Shannon, and several slaves. They cleared land for a plantation at the main fork of the Guyandotte River. The plantation flourished until the Civil War when Union forces burned it to the ground. In the meantime, the Cooke and Stewart families intermarried, creating a strong bond between the families that lasted for generations. A census taken in 1890 revealed that a majority of the county's residents were direct descendants of John Cook, Sr.
In 1804, Thomas Morgan acquired 200 acres of land near Indian Creek. His farm did well, but his farm animals were constantly being attacked by roving bands of wolves. He built a log wolf trap to deal with the problem and the area became generally known as "Wolf Pen Creek."
Important Events of the 1800s
The first meeting of the Wyoming County court was held in June 1850 at John Cooke's home, near present-day Oceana. The act creating the county specified that the county seat was to be laid out on the lands of William Cooke, Sr., one of John Cooke's sons. The town was laid out that year and originally named Cassville, in honor of Lewis Cass, a famous American statesman. Leroy B. Chambers operated the town's first business, a retail store, and served as the county's first clerk. James Cooke was the county's first sheriff. At that time, the county was sparsely populated. The 1850 census revealed that there were only 1,645 people living in the county at that time.
On July 19, 1850, the County Court awarded contracts totaling $2,000 for the construction of three public buildings, a courthouse to be constructed by John Lambert, a jail, constructed by Mitchell Cooke, and a smaller brick building for storage and other community activities. The county courthouse was completed in August, 1851. It was a large, barn-like structure containing a court room, two jury rooms, a sheriff's office, and a small room for the prosecuting attorney. The building was in use until November 7, 1907, when it was destroyed by fire.
In 1851, Cassville was renamed Sumpterville because another settlement was also calling itself Cassville, creating confusion for the mails. In 1853, the town changed names again, this time to Oceana, in honor of Chief Cornstalk's youngest daughter. However, most of the town's residents and others residing in the areas referred to the town as the Wyoming Court House.
Wyoming County's government ceased functioning during the Civil War. Following Virginia's decision to succeed from the Union, those loyal to the northern cause met at what became known as the Second Wheeling Convention on June 13, 1861 to create a new Virginia government headquartered in Wheeling. The new government was initially called the Restored or Loyal Virginia Government. The Second Wheeling Convention gathered again in August 1861 and adopted a "Dismemberment Ordinance" that provided for the creation of a new state, called Kanawha, that included thirty-nine counties, including Wyoming County, subject to the approval of the voters in those counties. The referendum was held on October 24, 1861. Because it took place during the war, only 19,000 of the 48,000 eligible to vote in these counties participated in the election. The dismemberment ordinance was approved 18,408 to 781. Another convention met in Wheeling in November 1862 to write a constitution for the new state. During its deliberations, the state was renamed West Virginia and nine more counties, including several that were still under Confederate control, were added to its boundaries. Wyoming County was represented at the Constitutional Convention by Captain William Walker Jr., who was assigned to the Committee on Education. On January 21, 1862, Wyoming County residents Captain Richard M. Cook and Johanus P. Hoback were also admitted as delegates to the convention.
Judge Henry J. Samuel reconvened the Wyoming County government following the war's conclusion.
The county's residents voted to move the county seat to Pineville in 1907, primarily because it was more centrally located. Pineville was established on the lands of Rev. William H. Cook. Located at the junction of seven Indian trails, it was initially settled in 1840 and known as Rock View. It was incorporated with that name by the West Virginia state legislature on February 16, 1871. The town was renamed Pineville by John W. Cline who reopened a post office there in 1880. He could not use the name Rock View because that name was already being used by another town at that time. The name Pineville was derived from a nearby large pine forest. Wyoming County built a temporary, second courthouse in Pineville in 1908. It was a simple, one-story, wooden framed building. In 1916, it was torn down and replaced by a larger, $79,000 stone building. In 1958, an annex was added to the building.
Bowman, Mary Keller. 1965. Reference Book of Wyoming County History. Parsons, West Virginia: McClain Printing Company.
James and Dawn Cook. 2002. "Early History of Wyoming County," in Genealogy in Wyoming County. On-line at:
Dr. Robert Jay Dilger, Director, Institute for Public Affairs and Professor of Political Science, West Virginia University.
Justin Williams, undergraduate research assistant, Institute for Public Affairs, West Virginia University.
March 1, 2002.