Logstown2: Where Drowned Trees Went

Ohio River trees contemplate becoming floating logs like those that may have given Logstown its name. Credit: Albertus Gorman.

Do You Know Logstown?

Well, you know it better now after reading the first post of this series . You learned the Indian village downriver from Pittsburgh was more company town than quaint Indian village.

Now, we’ll explore another reason for its name — other than the log cabins built there by a French fur-trading company.

Charles Dickens and Conotocaurious will act as our guides.

What? You don’t know Conotocaurious?

Wax likeness at Mount Vernon of 19-year-old George. The figures at the museum show him at various ages. They were created under the guidance of Jeffrey Schwartz, a forensic anthropologist from the University of Pittsburgh.

Sure you do. You carry his picture around.

His Iroquois name means devourer or destroyer of villages.

You know him by his English name: George Washington.

He was only 21 when the governor of Virginia sent him to this region to find any French official and formally tell him to get lost.

It was all about getting wealth; the rich getting richer and everyone else looking for a piece of the action. It was there for the taking. The British took it,  Indian land, that is.

Land is worth little, though, if people won’t settle there. Aren’t people afraid of Indians?

No problem. Build forts, safe havens, with government money when possible. Raise armies and militias, again with taxpayer money when possible, to get rid of the Injuns. They will go away., and the money will flow. And, that’s how it went down.

When the bills came due,  though, taxpayers didn’t want to pay. And, the United States was born.

Common sight along bends in the Ohio after it rips out tress upriver.

By the way, it’s only appropriate for the rich to get richer. It’s not greed. It’s good stewardship.

Isn’t it interesting, though,  that George’s face ended up on our money?

Believe it or not, it was not an unhandsome face.

We’re used to old stodgy George wearing a powdered wig on the walls of our childhood classrooms.


In reality, he was a tall athletic sort (6-foot, two-and-a-half inches) with reddish brown hair pulled back in a pony tail. He had blue-gray eyes, a strong nose and a few pockmarks that added to a look of toughness. That’s good for a leader.

He was admired for his horsemanship and grace on the dance floor, both important skills for studs of his day.

So, it was 1753 when the young stud arrived in Logstown for the first time.

He and his guides in their canoes had been dodging the other reason for Logstown’s name: floating trees.

They are common in the Ohio and pile up like so many wrecks on the river bends. Logstown was on one such bend.

Having a Dickens of a Time

Charles Dickens warily floated by nearly a century after the town disappeared. He was in a new-fangled steamboat. The logs were still there. Ol man river, he keeps on rollin.

Dickens wrote the following:

“. . . The river has washed away its banks, and stately trees have fallen down into the stream. Some have been there so long, that they are mere dry, grizzly skeletons. Some have just toppled over, and have earth yet about their roots, are bathing their green heads in the river, and putting forth new shoots and branches. Some are almost sliding down, as you look at them.

“And some were drowned so long ago, that their bleached arms start out from the middle of the current, and seem to try to grasp the boat, and drag it under water.”

If it had pulled him under, it may have dragged him back to a time when he could have visited the native inhabitants he admired so much.

Journals indicate a good deal of ammunition was used every time visitors arrived in canoes.

You couldn’t telephone ahead, so visitors fired shots from a quarter mile away. Scouts often foretold their arrival anyway. Villagers and traders would then respond with an extended volley reminiscent of the Fourth of July. A hundred or more shots might be fired.

It was an implied warning, I suspect, as much as a welcome.

It annoyed Pierre Joseph Céloron de Blainville. He arrived at Logstown with 250 soldiers and Indian warriors intending to establish a French monopoly over the fur trade. He sent notice ahead to the Indians to stop the shooting, or he would have his soldiers level their guns at the town.

The Indians stopped. An old woman also obediently took down a British flag flying beside French flags.

Four years later, the future president stepped out of his canoe and introduced himself to Tanacharison, a Seneca chief.


Tanacharison, a Seneca chief often called the Half King by nonIndians. He shared chiefly duties at Logstown with Scaroudy. Their main job was to watch over other tribes for the dominant Iroquois Confederation.

The chief said he knew who he was. “Your are Conotocaurious.”

At least that is how George told the story.

It’s thought the name stems from George’s great-grandfather, John Washington.  John helped put down a so-called Indian uprising in Virginia and Maryland in the late 1600s. Five chiefs traveling under a flag of truce were killed.

The Seneca,  part of the six-nation Iroquois confederation, had not forgotten.

That is remarkable since they had no written language. Oral accounts retained the memory over four generations and 400 miles of wilderness.

Male Indians, however, were warriors. They could respect brutality. George knew that much. He referred to himself as Conotocaurious  whenever he was among them.

Father of a Nation,  Eater of Villages

As it happened, unfortunately, he eventually justified the name. During the Revolution, George ordered a campaign in New York State that wiped out at least 40 Iroquois towns.

Wax figure of George as he would have looked at 45 during the Revolution.

Perhaps, Tanacharison was a prophet rather than an historian. Let’s give him credit for being both.

George attacked the Iroquois people because, unlike him, they remained loyal to the British king.

In their loyalty, they savagely slaughtered colonists where they could find them.

The British government, in fact, paid them for each settler scalp they turned in. It gave so much for a man’s scalp, a little less for a woman’s, and not so much for a child’s.

Just as much scalping was done by settlers. Eight colonies offered money for the tops of Indian heads.

Scalps, you understand, were portable proof of killings.

It’s sad that you just couldn’t trust people to be honest about how many people they killed.

This American cartoon published during the Revolution depicts British Col. Henry Hamilton buying “Patriot” scalps from Indians. Like the Patriots, the Indians were fighting for political independence and protection of land and property.

Excuse’ Moi?

So, George and Christopher Gist, their scalps protected by Logstown chiefs who accompanied them, made their way to a newly built French fort near Presque Isle to deliver an eviction letter from the governor of Virginia.

Virginia claimed this part of Pennsylvania and the Ohio Territory. More importantly, the Indian territory was coveted by the Ohio Land Co. It was a Virginia-based land development company. George and Gist were employees. The governor was a stockholder.

The French commander laughed at the eviction letter. He sent George back with another letter. It directed the governor to forward the eviction notice to his boss in Montreal.

Hahaha. Have some more wine, Conotocaurious.

George crosses the icy Allegheny on his way back to Williamsburg. He is about to fall into the icy Allegheny and spend the night on an island. Fortunately, the river freezes over during the night — and he doesn’t. He finishes the crossing on foot. Two days before, an Indian guide wheeled around and fired his gun at an astonished George. It missed.

Pittsburgh, Born in War

It started a global war, the Seven Years War, between the two colonial powers. France lost most of North America to the British.

It’s the war  in which Pittsburgh was born.

The French erected Fort Duquesne at the Point. The British made a few more failed attempts to evict them before they finally sent an army of 6,000. The French saw it coming and said, au revoir. Fort Pitt was built, and a town around it.

In America, we call it the French and Indian War. Just to be clear, the French and Indians were not fighting each other (for the most part). Those two were fighting against the British and their colonists.

Since the British won, the victors who settled here named the war after their enemies, the French and Indians.

George last visited  Logstown in 1770 while scouting land to award Virginia veterans of that war. He mentions stopping there, but says nothing about people. It is believed to have been abandoned seven years earlier during Pontiac’s Uprising, a last-ditch effort by local Indians to stop settlers.

George’s Journal

Shhhh. . . George, our future president, is about to read from his journal:

Oct. 22, 1770 — The river from Fort Pitt to Logstown has some ugly rifts and shoals, which we found somewhat difficult to pass, whether from our inexperience of the channel, or not, I cannot undertake to say. From Logstown to the mouth of Little Beaver Creek is much the same kind of water; that is, rapid in some places, gliding gently along in others, and quite still in many.

That is something to remember. The Ohio River was not the deep, quiet menace it is today. Before dams, locks and dredging, it was often a noisy shallow stream.

George sounds like the real estate agent he was in much of the journal. I have spared you those long descriptive passages of West Virginia. If you desire to read them, you can find them here.

. . . The river abounds in wild geese, and several kinds of ducks, but in no great quantity. We killed five wild turkeys to-day. Upon our arrival at the Mingo Town, we received the disagreeable news of two traders being killed at a town called the Grape-Vine Town, thirty-eight miles below this; which caused us to hesitate whether we should proceed, or wait for further intelligence.


Oct. 23, 1770 — Several imperfect accounts coming in, agreeing that only one person was killed, and the Indians not supposing it to be done by their people, we resolved to pursue our passage, till we could get a more distinct account of this transaction. Accordingly about two o’clock we set out with the two Indians, who were to accompany us in our canoe . . .

. . . The Cross Creeks, as they are called, are not large; that on the west side is biggest. At the Mingo Town we found and left more than sixty warriors of the Six Nations, going to the Cherokee country to proceed to war against the Catawbas . . 

He Heard It Through the Grapevine

George continues:

Oct. 24, 1770 . . .  eight miles up, is the town called the Grape-Vine Town; and at the mouth of it is the place where it was said the trader was killed. To this place we came about three o’clock in the afternoon, and finding nobody there, we agreed to encamp, that Nicholson and one of the Indians might go up to the town, and inquire into the truth of the report concerning the murder.

Oct. 25, 1770 – About seven o’clock, Nicholson and the Indian returned; they found nobody at the town but two old Indian women (the men being a hunting); from these they learned that the trader was not murdered, but drowned in attempting to cross the Ohio. . .

If you think the Martha that George left for this trip was a sweet, but dumpy woman, think again. This painting was done for a recent biography of her. Forensic experts took a mature painting of her and reversed the aging process. The result looks like actor Helen Hunt.

Oct. 26, 1770 – . . . At the end of this reach we found Martin and Lindsay, two traders, and from them learnt, that the person drowned was one Philips, attempting, in company with Rogers, another Indian trader, to swim the river with their horses at an improper place; Rogers himself narrowly escaping  . . . Opposite to this island the Indians showed us a buffalo’s path, the tracks of which we saw . . .

Oct. 28, 1770 – . . . we found Kiashuta and his hunting party encamped. Here we were under a necessity of paying our compliments, as this person was one of the Six Nation chiefs, and the head of those upon this river. In the person of Kiashuta I found an old acquaintance, he being one of the Indians that went with me to the French in 1753. He expressed a satisfaction at seeing me, and treated us with great kindness, giving us a quarter of very fine buffalo. He insisted upon our spending that night with him, and, in order to retard us as little as possible, moved his camp down the river just below the mouth of a creek, the name of which I could not learn. At this place we all encamped. After much counseling over night, they all came to my fire the next morning with great formality; when Kiashuta, rehearsing what had passed between me and the Sachems at Colonel Croghan’s, thanked me for saying, that peace and friendship with them were the wish of the people of Virginia, and for recommending it to the traders to deal with them upon a fair and equitable footing; and then again expressed their desire of having a trade opened with Virginia, and that the governor thereof might not only be made acquainted therewith, but with their friendly disposition towards the white people. This I promised to do.

However, George knew well that Virginians saw little money to be made in trading with Indians. They saw money in land development.

But, Indians wanted European goods very badly. They depended on them.

Like any consumer today, they shopped around for the best deals. English and French traders didn’t want them shopping around.

George, the statue, looks interested in what Guyasuta, the statue, has to say atop Mount Washington. Not so much in real life. His journal indicates Indian speechmaking, councils and ceremony were tedious.

Oct. 29, 1770 — The tedious ceremony, which the Indians observe in their counsellings and speeches, detained us till nine o’clock. . . 

George wrote he spent nine weeks and a day away from Martha during the scouting trip, mostly along the Kanawha River in what is now West Virginia and Kentucky.

A quick note near the end of his journal illustrates the impossible situation Indians faced. He was in  Maryland on his way back to Mount Vernon.

Nov, 26, 1770 .– Reached Killam’s, on George’s Creek, where we met several families going over the mountains to live; some without having any places provided. The snow upon the Allegany Mountains was near knee deep.

Nothing was going to stop these people.

Dickens saw the westward parade of pale faces continuing even a century later.

He watched a large family leave the riverboat, placing themselves and all their possessions on an isolated bank of the Ohio as darkness closed in.

. . . They all stand where they landed, as if stricken into stone; and look after the boat. So they remain, quite still and silent; the old woman and her old chair . . . the engine is put in motion, and we go hoarsely on again. There they stand yet, without a motion of a hand. I can see them through my glass (telescope), when, in the distance and increasing darkness, they are mere specks to the eye; lingering there still: the old woman in the old chair, and all the rest about her; not stirring in the least degree. And thus I slowly lose them.”

Did I get something wrong? Want to add a point? Please leave a comment below.
NEXT: Diplomacy on a Sea of Rum, the Local Jack Sparrow.

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