Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Land of the Moon-Eyed People

Book Cover: The Mothman Prophecies The Mothman Prophecies by John A. Keel (2002, originally published 1975) is part of Pocahontas County Free Library's "West Virginia and Appalachian Collection, donated by the West Virginia Library Commission and the Hollowell Foundation." The motto on their book plates is "To Know Ourselves." It turns out, knowing ourselves includes taking an interest in X-Files-like paranormalists.

I got a big kick out of this book. John A. Keel is not your average hobbyhorse-riding UFO chaser. He is literate, self-deprecating, and funny. For example, he opens the book with a description of a frightening late-night encounter in Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Eventually he reveals that he himself was the ominous apparition, walking for miles on rainy night, looking for a phone to call a wrecker for his stalled car. Here is how he places the Mothman in a West Virginia context:

The Indians must have known something about West Virginia. They avoided it. Before the Europeans arrived with their glass beads, firewater, and gunpowder, the Indian nations had spread out and divided up the North American continent. Modern anthropologists have worked out maps of the Indian occupancy of pre-Columbian America according to the languages spoken. The Shawnee and Cherokee occupied the lands to the south and southwest. The Monocan settled to the east, and the Erie and Conestoga claimed the areas north of West Virginia. Even the inhospitable deserts of the Far West were divided and occupied. There is only one spot on the map labeld "Uninhabited:" West Virginia.

Why? The West Virginia area is fertile, heavily wooded, rich in game. Why did the Indians avoid it? Was it filled with hairy monsters and frightful apparitions way back when?

Across the river in Ohio, industrious Indians--or someone--built the great mounds and left us a great heritage of Indian culture and lore. The absence of an Indian tradition in West Virginia is troublesome for the researcher. It creates an uncomfortable vacuum. There are strange ancient ruins in the state, circular stone monuments which prove that someone settled the region once. Since the Indians didn't build such monuments, and since we don't even have any lore to fall back on, we have only mystery.

Chief Cornstalk and his Shawnees fought a battle there in the 1760's and Cornstalk is supposed to have put a curse on the area before he fell. But what happened there before? Did someone else live there?

The Cherokees have a tradition, according to Benjamin Smith Barton's New Views of the Origins of the Tribes and Nations of America (1798), that when they migrated to Tennesee they found the region inhabited by a weird race of white people who lived in houses and were apparently quite civilized. They had one problem: their eyes were very large and sensitive to light. They could only see at night. The fierce Indians ran these "mooneyed people" out. Did they move to West Virginia to escape their tormentors? (Chapter 5, section II: pp 53-54.)

Cornstalk's Curse has been offered to me as the explanation of many unfortunate events and conditions in West Virginia, from poor economic conditions to bad weather. Keel seems to be offering it in much the same spirit.

1 comment:

Dave said...

There is only one spot on the map labeld "Uninhabited:" West Virginia.
And large parts of central and western Pennsylvania. Though I think they may have had a thin population around 1492 that died off in the early to mid-16th century when the first wave of European epidemics swept through, fa ahead of the actual Europeans.