Spinning by Firelight, Henry Tanner (American artist, 1859–1937)

Oh, the ongoing joys of research! Recently I spent several hours by the fire reading about the early settlers in what is now West Virginia – The History of Randolph County, West Virginia by Dr. A.S. Bosworth. I actually prefer these older accounts because I find not only are they closer to the time period, they have no agenda or political correctness nor have they been whitewashed by modern historians. Granted, their perspective is very different than ours today and dated in language and their references to minorities, but I still feel these sources are invaluable. Often these accounts start off with, “Tradition says…” meaning the oral history of the area passed down through generations. Yes, stories can be embellished over time but usually they are founded on a kernel of truth. Here’s one I find absolutely fascinating…

Tradition says that the Indians twice visited the Wil-
moth settlement on Cheat. On one incursion they killed
James Wilmoth and on another raid all were absent from
the house except Mrs. Wilmoth. They searched the house
and premises for the men, occasionally throwing their toma-
hawks into the logs of the cabin, at the same time giving vent
to savage exclamations of threat and anger, as much as to say
what they would do if the men could be found. In the mean-
time Mrs. Wilmoth had prepared a pot of corn meal mush,
putting it in a sugar trough with milk and maple syrup,
giving each Indian a spoon. The half famished savages par-
took of the repast with evident signs of delight and gratifica-
tion. When one of the company would violate a rule of Indian
table etiquette, he was punished by a stroke on the head with
a spoon, accompanied by words of admonition with violent
gesticulations, not to repeat the indecorum. After finishing
their meal, the Indians fastened their eyes on Mrs. Wilmoth
in a studious and penetrating gaze for several moments, evi-
dentlv debating in their own minds what should be her fate,
then giving a warwhoop they continued on their marauding
expedition. Mrs. Wilmoth’s diplomacy saved her life and
established the fact that things more material and prosaic
than music hath charms to soothe the savage breast.

Can you imagine Mrs. Wilmoth maintaining her composure in the face of threats and imminent death, stilling her shaking hands long enough to make mush and feed her unlikely company? Having read accounts that treaties were usually made after the Indians had eaten, wise settlers knew it was not good to talk or treat on an empty stomach, Mrs. Wilmoth seems to have understood that the way to a man’s heart is truly through his stomach! And I had to chuckle at the Indian’s own table manners. What a delightful description of a very tense moment in time! How I would love to know the rest of the story and the particulars about Mrs. Wilmuth. Was she young or old? Did she like living on the frontier? Whatever she was or was not, she was very brave and resourceful and her courage has been handed down the last two hundred years or so.

Now to work it into a book. If you read this scene in future, you’ll know the inspiration behind it:) Hats off to history like this!