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Buckongahelas (c. 1720 - May 1805) was a regionally and nationally renowned Lenape chief, councilor and warrior. He lived during the days of the French and Indian War and when the young American republic began advancing westward. It is known that he moved his people from the American state of Delawaremarker westward eventually to the present-day city of Muncie, Indianamarker.

Buckongahelas is known to have lived some time in what is now the city of Buckhannonmarker in Upshur County, West Virginiamarker. He had a son named Mahonegon who was killed by Captain William White, a native of Frederick County, Virginiamarker. Local legend states that Mahonegon is buried under the current Upshur County Courthouse. White was never known to show mercy to Native Americans. He shot and killed the chief's son in the abdomen in the June of 1773. This local account is part of the 1927 historical romance novel The Scout of the Buckongehanon, written by the late Buckhannon judge, John Camillus McWhorter (1866 - 1937). This tragedy is also memorialized in a 650-pound bronze statue of Chief Buckongahelas and his son Mahonegon in Buckhannon’s downtown crown jewel: Jawbone Run Park. The statue sits atop a massive cube-shaped sandstone boulder depicting "Buckongahelas cradling the body of his just-killed son, Mahonegon."

Local legend suggests Buckongahelas took revenge on White after covertly trailing his son's killer for a period of nine years (1773-1782). The captain was in fact killed, within sight of Bush Fort, in the vicinity of the Buckhannon River, near a tree with upturned roots. History proves this story of revenge false due to the chief's physical presence in Ohio in 1781. It is highly unlikely he would return back east since his main ambitions were to travel west and eventually settle there. Captain William White was slain on the evening of Friday, March 8, 1782, coincidentally the same date as the Gnadenhütten massacremarker.

During the American Revolutionary War, Buckongahelas led his followers against the United States of Americamarker and again in the Northwest Indian War. In the latter war, he helped win the most devastating military victory ever achieved by American Indians. Buckongahelas in the Lenape language translates as a "Giver of Presents." He was also known as "Pachgantschihilas" and "Petchnanalas" meaning a "fulfiller" or "one who succeeds in all he undertakes." An American government official, who knew Buckongahelas, characterized him as the "George Washington" of the Delaware people. He stood at a height of 5 feet, 10 inches and was strong with powerful muscles. He apparently had a physiognomy resembling Benjamin Franklin.

Early in the American Revolutionary War, Buckongahelas broke away from the neutral and pro-American Delawares led by White Eyes, and established a town near the war leader Blue Jacket of the Shawnee. The two men became close allies.

During the war, a number of Delawares who had converted to Christianity lived in dangerously exposed frontier villages run by Moravian missionaries. In April 1781, at the Ohio village of Gnadenhütten, Buckongahelas warned these Delawares that an American militia from Pennsylvania would come execute any Indians in their warpath. He urged these Christian Delawares to follow him and move further west out of encroaching American territory. Moving westward "from the rising sun," these people could live where the land was good and his warriors would protect them. These Delawares did not heed the words of this concerned warrior and councilor. Eleven months later on Friday March 8, 1782, this horrible incident was fulfilled as Buckongahelas had thoroughly explained. This event is known as the Gnadenhütten massacremarker.

A Moravian missionary, named John Heckewelder, accounts that Buckongahelas' oration to these Christian Indians was told "with ease and an eloquence not to be imitated." He continues that "Eleven months after this speech was delivered by this prophetic chief, ninety-six of these same Christian Indians, about sixty of them women and children, were murdered at the place where these very words had been spoken, by the same men he had alluded to, and in the same manner that he had described."

The United States compelled a number of Indian leaders to sign treaties after the Revolutionary War, claiming the Ohio Country by right of conquest. In the late 1780s he joined a Shawnee-led confederacy that won several battles against the Americans (the Northwest Indian War), before ultimately being defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. When the British failed to support the Indian confederacy after Fallen Timbers, Buckongahelas signed the Treaty of Greenvillemarker on Monday August 3, 1795. In this treaty, the Delawares gave up much land in Pennsylvaniamarker and Ohiomarker.

On Tuesday, June 7, 1803, he signed the Treaty of Fort Wayne in Indianamarker; new boundaries were set for the Delawares and other nations. Salt springs were also ceded. Algonquian tribes ceded large land tracts to the United States. Lastly, he signed the Treaty of Vincennes on Saturday, August 18, 1804, in Vincennes, Indiana. The Delaware ceded lands between the Ohio and Wabash Rivers. This treaty helped open settlement to the Ohio and Indiana territories. Buckongahelas made "X" signatures on these three treaties.

Buckongahelas spent his final years living with his people on the White River near present-day Muncie, Indianamarker. He died at the age of 85 from smallpox or influenza in May 1805. It was believed by many local Native Americans to have been the work of witchcraft; a witch-hunt followed, leading to the execution of several suspected Delaware witches, and the rise to prominence of the Shawnee prophet and witch hunter Tenskwatawa / Tenskatawa.

See also


  • McWhorter, Lucullus Virgil. Border Settlers of Northwestern Virginia. McClain Printing, Parsons, West Virginia, 1915.
  • Blaisdell, Bob. "Great Speeches by Native Americans." Dover Publications, Inc., Mineola, New York, 2000. Pages 27 - 28.
  • Sugden, John. Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees. University of Nebraska Press, 2000.
  • ———. "Buckongahelas" in American National Biography. Oxford University Press, 1999.
  • Weslager, C. A. The Delaware Indians. New Brunswick, New Jersey, 1972.
  • White, Richard. The Middle Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815. New York, 1991.

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