HUR HERALD'S BEAR FORK TALES - Native Americans Hunted Bear Fork Wilderness, Last Native American Killed In 1804

By Bob Weaver

Bradford W. Davis, in a college thesis, wrote about Native Americans in Gilmer County, including the Bear Fork wilderness area.

The area was a favorite hunting ground, Davis saying six or seven mounds mark the area with Indian trails and camp grounds.

"The true history, their pleasures, their hardships, their battles, the stories of their real lives will never be known and can only be made in the imagination of a few points of historic interest left by the first inhabitants," Davis said.

The most famous trail made by Native Americans was the Little Kanawha Trail. It followed the general course of the Little Kanawha River to Bulltown, and then crossed into the Elk Valley to Webster Springs.

A few traces of trails found by the early settlers of Gilmer County seem to indicate that from Bulltown, Braxton County, some came by way of Cedar Creek or one of its tributaries down the creek to the Little Kanawha River.

Davis says other evidence indicates that some crossed over from Cedar Creek to Steer Creek and followed it to where it came back to the old trail in the Bear Fork region, all indicating that Steer Creek and its tributaries were good hunting grounds.

On the Right fork of Steer Creek, about four or five miles from the mouth, on the Fetty Farm, is a group of three or four Native American mounds.

They are similar in shape, the typical circular base and round top, and range in size from about fifteen to sixty feet in diameter. They are believed to be the the burial places of some of the first inhabitants.

A mound opened in 1938 was about forty feet across, and five or six feet high. Rocks were set on edge around this circle. After the dirt and rocks were removed, in the center were found large, flat sandstones making a level base about ten feet across and twelve to fourteen feet long.

"It was unusual that these stones should be sand rock since there was little of that kind of stone near there. On these stones were pieces of charcoal and some small pieces of bones as the evidence that the bodies had been burned.

On each side of the sandstone base were three holes about two feet deep which would indicate that supports had been set around this base. These may have formed a crude building or covering for the bodies," wrote Davis.

Another mound about a mile up Steer Creek on the Blackshire Farm was similar to the others was opened. In it was evidence that two large men lay side by side. A Native American pipe and some arrow heads were found in the mound.

There are three mounds on a tributary of Steer Creek near Orton. One is in the cemetery about one hundred twenty five yards to the road, and the other two are near the head of Eliza's Run.

As the Native Americans left the Bear Fork Wilderness, then came white settlers in the early 1800s, several of those families living in the area remaining for several generations, including the Cottrells, Schoolcrafts, Boones, McCumbers and others.

The last Native American was shot and killed in Gilmer County in 1804 on the Huffman farm along Steer Creek by Michael Stump, Sr., the first white man to live along Steer Creek and the Bear Fork wilderness area. He moved there in the spring of 1804.

One morning he saw an Indian hiding in a tree not far from his home and believed he was waiting for a chance to kill him and his family. Mr. Stump did not take the chance.

Visitors to Fetty's Cave in the Bear Fork Wilderness, during much of the 20th Century, admired the image of a Native American carved into the cave wall. Later, a would be collector managed to remove the artifact. The dating of the image was never know.