Shawnee Legend of Slaughter of White Indians at the Falls of the Ohio



Washington Post, October 27, 1912

Curse of Yellow Hair:  Recent Murder Recalls Strange Indian Legend of Prehistoric White Race on the Ohio River
Falls of the Ohio that according to Shawnee legends was the last bastion of the Giants in the Ohio Valley.St. Louis Globe-Democrat
      The last connecting link with a prehistoric race was destroyed when George Kelly murdered his poor old grandmother and then killed himself at Jefferville Ind., a few months ago. The aged woman had $75, and the eighteen-year old boy got it, spent it and then took his own life when his brother accused him of having committed the crime.
The victim was the widow of Valentine Kelly, who was run over and killed by a train many years ago, but she was known among the savants of Indiana as Mary Kelly, who direct descendant of Black Hawk Stewart, a famous Shawnee Indian Chieftain, whose title dated back to the conquest of the land from a prehistoric race that inhabited it.
The little farms that lie close to the banks of the Ohio Falls are to this day fertilized with the bones of these people, and the only clew to their identity was a fragment of song that Mrs. Kelly remembered to have heard her mother sing. Mrs. Kelly told the writer it had been handed down from generation to generation for hundreds of years and that she believed it to be true. In fact, there is much to this day to bolster up this belief.
At the time of the permanent peace established by General George Rogers Clark, Black Hawk, who was one of the most ferocious of all the Indian chieftains, washed the war paint from his face, buried the hatchet and resolved to devote his talents to the arts of peace. By an arrangement with General Clark, a deed of title from the United States Government was secured for him to a plot of land on the falls, and on the very land for 300 years the tepees of his forefathers and stood. He was born there and has bones are buried there. The land never passed out of the family, and it is still held under the original title. This, it should be explained, was not the Black Hawk who figured in the war in Northern Illinois.
“But there is a curse on the place.” said Mrs. Kelly to the writer, who knew her very well in the long ago, when her memory was much better than it was in her later years.
“Yellow Hair cursed it, and none of my people ever die a natural death. One after another I have seen them go, and I have always wondered if it will extend to me.”
“If there is anything in it,” said old Valentine Kelly, her husband, “it will reach me, too.”
“The next night he was walking on the railroad track when a train hit him and killed him. Several of the family has been drowned in the water of the falls, and now Mrs. Kelly is dead at the hands of her beloved grandson, who also slew himself. A few years ago the old house erected by Black Hawk himself, when he determined to adopt the ways of the pale face, was destroyed by fire of a mysterious origin.
There was apparently no way for it to have caught fire, and as she sat in the roadway at the front gate, viewing the smoldering ruins, Mrs. Kelly said, solemnly:
“It is the curse of Yellow Hair.”
And her sons believed her and the neighbors believed her-and it may have been as she said.
For three miles the Beautiful River (Ohio in the Indian tongue) makes a bend between Jeffersonville, Ind., and Louisville, Ky., and rushes westward with a terrific roar. Inspired by a fall of about 25 feet. In the center of the cataract is what has long been known as Corn Island.  On the Indiana side the big eddy whirls past Wave Rock, the graveyard of many proud steamboat. In low water the place is dotted with the dismantled hulks. And just below the whirlpool lies the Kelly property. There is a big spring bubbling out of the side of the path that leads down to the rocky shore that is said to have been dug by Yellow Hair. To the right of it, going up the bank, is a graveyard, where hundreds of prehistoric people lie buried, and to the left is the Kelly farm, on the river edge of which are 50 tombs of the same mysterious people. The first cemetery is undoubtedly that of the common people. They were of medium stature, and were all buried facing the rising sun. Their bones fertilize the cornfields of the farm of Edward Commines on land that was originally settled by William Beach. Occasionally a skull or a portion of a skeleton is dug up by the plow, but the matter-of-fact farmer tosses it back and the next furrow covers it from sight. Every man who has ever owned the Commines land has met with a violent death. Commines’s father was killed by a train a few years ago.
The other cemetery contains the bones of 50 dead Kings. The tombs are made of rough hewn stone and the occupants were all men, not one of whom was less than six and one half feet high. They were buried in sitting posture, with their faces turned toward the rising sun and their weapons must have been buried with them, evidently placed in their laps. But the peculiar coincidence is that the left temple of each had been crushed in by some blunt instrument. Whether it was as religious rite or a precaution against burying them alive is a matter of surmise. The writer, who opened one of the graves with Prof. Green, the eminent geologist and at one time State Geologist of Indiana, believes it was a religious rite. The school history of Kentucky says when the first white settlers arrived at Louisville they found piles of human skeletons on Corn Island and some are found there now. To the early settlers it appeared that there had been a great battle fought and that one tribe had been entirely wiped out. All of the skeletons were those of people of medium stature, save one, that of a man, and he must have been seven feet high. On the banks of the falls to this day are found thousands of Indian arrows and spear heads, with an occasional battle ax, and once a stone owl was found that had probably been fashioned by one of the prehistoric people. This description represents the concrete facts and is the corroborative evidence of the weird tale told by Mrs. Kelly and her ancestors in their mystic chant of the vanishing of a strange race of people. The story had better be given in her own words to the writer of this narrative.
“When I was a wee bit of a girl,” said Mrs. Kelly, “my mother sang me to sleep with the words of this song. It was a sort of a chant in the Indian tongue, and I do not remember it all. Translated so you will understand it, it was to the effect that a white people lived here on the falls and that they were mighty. A tall Chief with yellow hair ruled over them and four ages they fought off the reedmen and held the fisheries of the falls and the hunting grounds for their own. The sun was the god they worshipped, and he appeared to have blessed them with peace and plenty. Yellow Hair our people called the Chief, who was a giant. The Chiefs or Kings must have maintained the great stature by intermarrying in the royal family, probably killing all the females except just enough to perpetuate, the race. My mother thought they saved the best developed girls for the wives of the Chief in order to perpetuate the governing race. I did not ask her why she formed this opinion, and it may have been part of the legend. But our people had long viewed the land from afar and they determined to possess it. The Chief at that time was Hawk Wing, the line through which I come. He sent spies to make overtures to the strange white people and they visited Yellow hair and told him the Shawnees wanted to share with them the fisheries and the hunting grounds. Yellow Hair listened to their statements and then told them that there was just enough for the white people and that he and his people preferred to live by themselves. Then the Ambassadors of the Shawnees said that if the white people would not submit peacefully to having then fir neighbors they would slay them and take their possessions. At this Yellow Hair laughed disdainfully and said the sun god would destroy his enemies with fire from heaven and that every man who took part in such a bloody and unprovoked massacre would die a violent death and that the curse would have the effect as long as one of the offending race remained on earth.
But Hawk Wing had faith in the Great Spirit, that he and his tribe worshipped, and he collected his warriors and set out for the home of Yellow Hair. In some way, the scouts of Yellow learned of there near approach, and he and his people leaped into their canoes and went to Corn Island. The dangerous whirlpools and the treacherous eddies, with which they were familiar, they thought would protect them from the less skilled Shawnees. But they did not know Hawk Wing. He and his braves had been accustomed to the water from infancy and they were almost as much at home in the torrent as Yellow Hair and his people. So that night while Yellow Hair was peacefully sleeping in fancied security. Hawk Wing and his braves were making canoes and getting ready for battle. Just as the sun was breaking through the murky sky of the east the canoes of Hawk Wing reached the shores of the island. Yellow Hair and his people were awakening from sleep and were falling on their knees in prayer to their sun god. They were in this position when the yells of my people burst upon them. Many were slain as they knelt, but Yellow Hair was a warrior, and though taken by surprise, he seized his battle-ax and valiantly defended his subjects. With his single-hand he slew more than a score of our people. Then when he was weary from fighting Hawk Wing confronted him. Behind Yellow Hair were his wives and children kneeling in prayer and in front of him were Hawk Wing and his warriors. The two chieftains sprang at each other with their battle-axes. My ancestor was used to war and familiar with all the tricks. As a result, after a terrible encounter, during which both were covered with wounds, Yellow Hair sank exhausted and hawk Wing’s battle ax was buried in his brain.
“Maddened by the conflict, Hawk Wing turned upon the kneeling women and children and slew them. He and his men kept up the slaughter until not one of the white race remained. Every single one of them had been killed and the scalp lock of Yellow Hair dangled at the belt of Hawk Wing. Till his death he kept it and it was buried with him.
“Then the Shawnees took possession of the houses and lands of the vanquished people and the Kelly’s are the last of the victims, for the Shawnees have all gone to the happy hunting grounds, and they have but a remnant of the original blood in them.
Shawnee Photo Gallery
“There is one other little bit of information I can give you on the subject, but I do not know how I learned it. On the island in the falls is a small cave, which was once known as ‘Yellow Hair’s Bath,’ but which is now always referred to as the Crystal Bath,’ It is said Yellow Hair bathed in this every day after he prayed to the sun. The cave is of solid stone and a small stream of water trickles through the top, making a natural, shower bath, where the fisherman to this day often bathes.
“Finally, the last of the habitations of the strange people was torn down and 300 years later, when General Clark came here and found Black Hawk in possession, nothing remained save the bones of the murdered people on the island.
One after another I have seen my people killed in some manner and misfortune has stricken them from the face of the earth. Do you blame me for thinking that the curse of Yellow Hair is upon us?”
Valentine Kelly, who was a Spiritualist, told the writer that he was once standing in a shed near the royal tombs when a gigantic white man with yellow hair peered in at the window. He said he saw him, as clearly as could be, for it was broad daylight and he could not have made a mistake. However, Mr. Kelly was a firm believer in ghost and hobgoblins, and it may be that he did not actually see Yellow Hair, but he believed to the time of his death that he had seen him. He permitted Prof. Green and the writer to open two of the graves on his farm, but stopped further excavating, as he said the scientist would soon dig up the best part of his farm if he permitted them to do so. But there were originally 50 of the tombs and now more than 40 remain. The high water washed away some of them, and two were opened by man.
One of the best-known archaeologists of Indiana, Dr. W. F. Work, of Charlestown, Ind., found seven similar stone tombs 13 miles from the scene, and he noticed that the left temple of each dead man was crushed in and that the bones were those of men of gigantic stature. Dr. Work spent much time in exploring the habitations of the cliff dwellers of Arizona and has written much on the subject. He believes Yellow Hair’s people were the Mandan Indians. Orlando Hobbs, also an archaeological authority of Indiana and a man known widely for his learning and research, holds this opinion.
There is a rich field for science on the falls of the Ohio, and may be that when the distant fields are thoroughly explored those at home will be given the attention they deserve. In this connection it may be stated, by way of parenthesis, that adjoining the farm of the Kelly’s are 1,000 acres of land that are still in Virginia, although it is surrounded by Indiana and cut off from the state to which it belongs by Kentucky. Yet Virginia gave this land to George Rogers Clark and his heirs forever with-out taxes in reward for his services in ridding the section of the Indians.” And it is not on the map of Indiana, through a mistake in drawing the outlines. It is governed by three trustees, one appointed by Clark County, another by Floyd County, and the third perpetuates himself by naming some one who is to succeed him when he dies. But this is another story.