Tourists From Out West Murdered at Virginia Party; Strange Smoke Involved.

          What appears to be a modern drug-induced crime in this headline, actually happened 338 years ago.  The witness was the first European to enter what is now Campbell and Pittsylvania Counties.  The frightened witness to the event thought he was in Carolina.   There will be more about this incident later in this article.           
          I stumbled on the site of the village where I believe the killing occurred in 1966.  Most of the Native American artifacts shown here were found at this site.  The first Virginians were Native Americans who were named Indians by Europeans who thought they we in India when they sailed here about 400 years ago.  It is not clear or agreed upon by experts when Virginia was settled by humans, where they came from or when they arrived. 
          The first artifact that I found was from our family farm in the Blairs community of Pittsylvania where I was born.  Although the point is missing, it is very large and an unusual find from this area.  The width is about two inches and what remains is almost four inches long.
                                          Large spearpoint 2″ x 4″ from Blairs, Pittsylvania Co.

There are some who believe that Native Americans were here as many at 10,000-15,000 years ago, but everything in that area is a guess, as far as I am concerned.  Because they wee here for so long, you might find a random arrowhead on any plot of ground in Virginia.  Once when carrying mail, I spotted a nice point in a bank next to a city street.  My son Bobby found a white quartz arrowhead in a little branch near Colquhoun Street in Danville.
          Most of my collection which is shown here was collected after I returned to Danville in January 1965 and when I married in 1968.
          One day, I found several nice Palmer points just across the line in North Carolina at the top of a hill near the site of Dix Ferry, which is just down Dan River from Danville.  The arrowheads were in the small rocks of a drainage ditch and found just a few feet from each other.  

                                              Palmer Point, Hogan’s Creek N.C. 

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          In the summer of 1966, I worked at Corning Glass Co. in Danville, Virginia as a laboratory technician.  Some co-workers took me to an Indian site on Staunton River about a mile below Smith Mountain. The view of the nearby mountains was beautiful.  Before my first trip to the site, some one had destroyed the site for the archaeologist-at-heart.  I later found that a Dr. Sherman Dutton of Martinsville had brought in a small bull dozer to make trenches across the island some time before.  I have been told that he is now deceased.  Even 40 years ago, it was difficult to find a place where the sand had not been turned.  I spent much of my time off work that summer sifting through the sandy mud.  The reward was a nice collection of Native American artifacts.  Everything that I found at this site would have been before 1675 and probably much older. This is the year that the site is thought to have been abandoned.   


Note the two islands here on a modern topographical map.  The area is just below Smith Mountain Dam before the mouth of Pigg River.


On one trip to this Staunton River site, I was searching the south bank of Staunton River about a mile below the gouge (dam) when I spotted this bowl, which was almost half of the entire original vessel.  The inside was blackened by the open fire.  To harden the sand-tempered clay, the bowl was place upside-down over the fire.    Note the indentations around the rim which were created by the maker more than 300 years ago.    


         The Gaston Lake Site 

Not so long afterwards, during 1966, we visited a site about a hundred miles downstream on the Roanoke River.  My nephew Jim Lynch, Jr. and I were a part of an excavation in the upper Gaston Lake area of Staunton River downstream near the North Carolina border.  To encourage volunteers, laborers were allowed to keep their findings after they were recorded by the leader.  Col. Howard MacCord of Richmond was in charge of the Achaeological Society of Virginia sponsored dig.

          In our five-foot square at the Gaston Site, at a depth of about three feet, we found 22 pieces of very similar pottery in one area of the sane.  We placed these pottery shards in a paper bags together.  At home we jig-saw-puzzled the pieces and glued them togethre with the following results:

                                                        Clay pot from the banks of the Roanoke River below Occaneechee Island.  Reconstructed from 22 separate pieces.  (size: about 9 ½” across by 9”).  Note the fingernail-mark design around the shoulder of the bowl.

Inside view of the Gaston Site bowl                                             

Near the bowl we found this soapstone artifact which was probably a pendant.  Col. MacCord said that this was the most significante and unusual find of the excavation.  The outside diameter is just under one inch.

          Although no arrowheads were found in our square at the Gaston Site, those found there by other volunteers appears to be identical with those which I found near the Smith Mountain/Staunton River site.  Following are some of the artifacts found at the Smith Mountain site:



Arrowhead makers were usually careful to make each wing of the arrowhead the same.  This one was probably broken and reworked. 


                                                                                                                                                                                       This is a beautiful point of translucent quartz


This is a very small “bird point”

This is a bead made of animal bone

This tobacco pipe stem of sand-tempered clay has a passage way for smoke

             It is rare to find an intact Native American tobacco pipe.  This one of sand-tempered clay with only a small part of the stem missing.  It was found in a Staunton River/Smith Mountain trash pit.









This arrowhead is refered to as a Palmer.  The base is usuall ground smooth for some reason. 

Because of the unusual shape, I believe this is a knife or cutting tool

This is a rare and unusual pentaganal point which was found on the south side of White Oak Mountain in Pittsylvania County in 1965.  It was in sandy tobacco grounds.

This is called a Guilford point, typical of those found in North Carolina.


          The Roanoke River begins flowing west in the mountains of Virginia, not so far from the New River whose waters eventually flow into the Gulf of Mexico.  The Roanoke flows around through the City of Roanoke and down through the gorge of the Smith Mountains.  The river becomes the Staunton until its confluence with the Dan River, and then is called the Roanoke again until it empties into Currituck Sound.  These waters enter the Atlantic Ocean near Roanoke Island.

          The sites below Smith Mountain and the former islands of the Occoneechees at present-day Clarksville are about 75 miles apart (the Gaston Lake site was another 25 miles below), but the Native Americans traveled widely and communicated with their relatives and friends. The Roanoke/Staunton River made a convient highway for traveling.  Travel by water was much faster than by land, especiall down stream. Their canoes were described by early explorers as being very large and holding over 20 rowers. 

          With continual harassment by the hostile Iroquois and white settlers, the Saponi Indians of northern Pittsylvania and their relatives in Campbell County, along with the Tutelo in the area which is now Salem, moved down to join with the Occoneechee Indians at present day Clarksville, Virginia.  There were three islands, the central and largest occupied by the Occoneechees.  The Tutelos and Saponis took up residence on the two smaller islands nearby when they abandoned thier villages up stream.  All three islands were just below the junction of the Dan and Staunton Rivers.  The language of these tribes was that of the Sioux.  There was a pocket of tribes, including these called the Eastern Sioux, who spoke the same language of the Sioux out west beyond the Mississippi River. 

          Thesse Saponi Indians at the Smith Mountain site are beleived to have traveled downstream in 1675 to join with their relatives, the Occaneechees downstream.  On May 10, 1676, Nathaniel Bacon and a band of 211 volunteer Indian fighters attacked and killed almost all the friendly Occoneechees on the islands at the confluence of the Dan and Staunton Rivers (now Clarksville, Va.).  Colonial Governor Berkeley was outraged and publicly proclaimed Bacon an outlaw.  He probably would have had him hanged if he was not his wife’s cousin.  Berkeley had a thriving business in trading cheap trinkets for beaver pelts and other furs with the Occoneechees.   On July 30, 1676, Bacon issued a “declaration of the people” stating that Gov. Berkeley was corrupt, played favorites and protected the Indians.  Berkeley fled just before Bacon burned Jamestown to the ground on September 19, 1676.  Berkeley regained control and had 23 of the conspirators hanged.  Bacon died abruptly the next month before the governor had to deal with his cousin-in-law.  Bacon’s Rebellion was a sad incident in American colonial history. 

          This area below Smith Mountain separates the counties of Pittsylvania and Campbell today.  The river here was called the Shawan by Saponi Indians who lived here.  Up stream, near the present city of Salem, was a large village of the Tutelo Tribe.  All the tribes along the Roanoke and its tributaries spoke the same language, although different dialects.  All were a part of the Eastern Sioux and basically spoke the same language as the Sioux who lived west of the Mississippi River.

          The settlement here on these islands is the site of what I think may have been called Akenatzy.  The first European explorer to come to this area was Dr. John Lederer of Germany traveled here in 1670 and in 1671 published a map and description of his trip.  From Lederer’s map, it appears that he thought that all of Virginia south of the James Rivers was a part of Carolina. 


Lederer’s Map published in 1671 with his description of his trip

Anothe old map shows the indefinite line between Virginia and Carolina.  The line was believed to be near the upper branches of the Roanole/Staunton River near the mountaint (Smith Mountain and the Appalachian Mountains).

          In his description, Lederer mentions Sapon The Town of the Saponi,” and nearby PintahaeThe King’s residence near Sapon.”  I believe these villages were on the Otter River in today’s Campbell County.  When he left Sapon, Lederer said that “I directed my course to Akenatzy, an island south by southwest about 50 miles distance on a branch of the same river from Sapon.” All of Lederer’s distances are estimates and often exagerated.  Walking through dense woods and around hills and streams would make it difficult to measure miles.    


          Lederer describes the village of Sapon as “situate upon a branch of Shawan, alias Rorenock River (Roanoke/Staunton).”  Many are misled by his mistaken belief that “Sapon is within the limits of the Province of Carolina.”  He reached the island of Akenatzy to the southwest on June 12, 1670.  “The current of the river is here so strong, that my horse had much difficulty to resist it; and I expected every step to be carried away with the stream.” 

          Lederer said that “The island, though small, maintains many inhabitants, who are fix’d here in great security, being naturally fortified with fastnesses of mountains.”  This statement would preclude any site lower downstream on the Roanoke/Staunton River.  This river heads up west of the mountains southwest of the present Roanoke and eventually flows into the Atlantic in the area of Roanoke Island on the Outer Banks of North Carolina.  The section of the river between Campbell and Pittsylvania counties is called the Staunton River.

          “On my arrival here, I met four stranger-Indians, whose bodies were painte in various colours with figures of animals whose likeness I had never seen; and by some discourse and signes which passed between us, I gathered that they were the only survivours of fifty, who set out together in company from some great island, as I conjecture, to the northwest; for I understood that they crossed a great water, in which most of their party perished by tempest, the rest dying in the marishes and mountains by famine and hard weather, after a two-months travel by land and water in quest of this island Akenatzy.”

          “The most reasonable conjecture that I can frame out of this relation, is, that these Indians might come from the island of new Albion or California, from whence we may imagine some great arm of the Indian Ocean or Bay stretches into the continent towards the Apalataean (sic Appalachian) Mountains into the nature of a mid-land Sea, in which many of these Indians might have perished.  To confirm my opinion in this point, I have heard several Indians testifie, that the Nation of Rickohockans, who dwell not far to the westward of the Apalataean Mountains, are seated upon a land, as they term it, of great waves, by which I suppose they mean the sea-shore.” 

          Here they are probably referring to the Great Lakes.  In south side Virginia, there was said to have been tribes of Saponis who spoke the same language as the Sioux of the far west.  The Cherokees to there west and south and the Powhatans to the east were of a different language group.  It is not clear whether the western Native Americans migrated here or if the Virginia tribes found their way past the Mississippi River.

          Lederer went on to say that “The next day after my arrival at Akenatzy, a Rickohockan Ambasadour, attended by five Indians, whose faces were colored with auripigmentum was received, and that night invited to a ball in their fashion; but in the height of their mirth and dancing, by a smoke contrived for that purpose, the room was suddenly darkened, and for what cause I know not, the Rickohockan and his retinue barbarously murdered.  This struck me with such an affrightment, that the very next day, without taking my leave of them, I slunk away with my Indian companion.  Though the desire of informing my self further concerning some minerals, as auripigmentum, &c. which I there took special notice of, would have persuaded me to stay longer amongst ehem, had not the bloody example of their treachery to the Rickohockans frightened me away.”

          Lederer and his guide continued on south-southwest to the settlement of Sara.  The large settlement of Saura Town is known to have been in the area now Eden, North Carolina. 

          An earlier town of the same name was more toward the area not Winston-Salem, just south of the Virginia-North Carolina border.


The old Indian trail is shown here connecting Sapony Town and Winston (Salem).

I believe that they traveled down the old Indain trail which is now the Berry Hill Road, west of Danville to Eden, North Carolina.  This road, which pre-existed, was made a public road in the 1740s, as part of a road leading to the courthouse at Lunenburg.  There was likely a ford across the Dan River, in the area of Perkins Ferry, which was established in the 1750s. 

*****************************************************************************                                 After continual harassment by raiding Iroquois from the north and impending threats from white settlers, these villages were abandoned about 1665.   The friendly Occanneechee Indians occupied the middle island and the two tribes from the northwest took up residence on the other two. 

Here is a detail of the 1671 map:.  Note the river passing between the mountains.  I believe that this is where the Smith Mountain Dam is located today.  Lederer continued down into today’s North Carolina and back up to the area of Petersburg. 

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Copyright 2008 Danny Ricketts 


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