The Discovery of Cook’s Fort on Indian Creek

Cook’s Fort was one of the larger Revolutionary War era frontier forts in the Greenbrier Valley of Virginia (now West Virginia), constructed around 1774, seeing active use from 1774 through the early 1780s. The general location of Cook’s Fort has always been known, though the exact location had been lost to history. A few years ago I tried to locate the fort via metal detector, to no avail. Recently however, archaeologists using ground penetrating radar were able to locate it and subsequently excavated the remnants of the old stockade walls, which are basically dark stains in the ground from the vertical stockade logs having rotted into the soil. The excavation has now been backfilled, and soon grass will once again hide the fort’s outline, so I recently flew my new drone over the site to photograph the actual fort’s outline on the ground.

Note the Cook’s Fort outline just above center right.

The same archaeologists who performed the excavation previously described what had been known about the fort’s physical characteristics in their research for the University of Kentucky, Frontier Defense of the Greenbrier and Middle New River Country:

Cook’s Fort has been described as an oblong structure with cabins joined by palisades forming the outer walls and having blockhouses at the corners. It supposedly covered one and a half acres, and provided shelter for 300 people in the summer of 1778 (Lewis 1906:223; Morton 1916:45).

Frontier Defense of the Greenbrier and Middle New River Country, W. Stephen McBride, Kim A. McBride, and J. David McBride, Report No. 375, University of Kentucky at p. 45.
Cook’s Fort on Indian Creek, Monroe County, WV.

Now we know for sure the shape and length of the stockade walls, as well as the fact that there were two bastians, at opposite corners, and two corners without bastians. As the below photos shows, the stockade was diamond shaped, with the upper and lower corners merely being right angled wall corners with no bastians. The right and left side corners had bastians, which would have been merely raised platforms for riflemen to stand on, rather than corner blockhouses, like you see in some of the later, larger, frontier forts – especially in Kentucky and along the Ohio river. Each wall of Cook’s Fort has been revealed to be 82.5 feet per side wall, which is 5 rods per side. Thus the estimation of one and a half acres was way too big, the actual size being only .16 of an acre. It seems awfully small to house 300 people for any length of time, as history records happened in 1778.

Cook’s Fort excavation.

I’ve previously written about “Indian Spies” stationed in the small frontier forts along the Greenbrier Valley, including the narrative of John Bradshaw, which included Cook’s Fort, as well as Byrnside’s Fort, as important links in that chain of protection. They were essentially the same thing as the frontier militia “rangers” of the French Indian War era. As I posted previously, most of what we know about the early forts and their spies comes from the pension application narratives of the veterans who served in that capacity. “Spies” from Cook’s Fort would range a certain territory, meeting up with the spies from other forts, such as Byrnside’s Fort, operating basically as an early warning system:

The use of “Indian spies” or scouts was another crucial element of the frontier defensive strategy. During the French and Indian War, spies functioned in an offensive capacity, gathering intelligence about the enemy and attacking them in their camps when possible. Spying parties often included hired American Indians as well.

By the 1770s and 1780s, spies had become more defensive, roaming over the landscape to look for enemy signs, especially in the warmer months when raiding was more of a threat, or they were given word of Indian activity. Given the widely dispersed nature of frontier farms and forts and the desire of most settlers to stay on their farms during the warmer months, only coming into the forts when absolutely necessary, this system was a critical aspect of frontier defense . . . .

Extra spies were often posted at known passes and advance areas during times of particular danger. Pensioner John Bradshaw reported that he “…watched the gaps and low places in the mountains for thirty miles, to a point where they met the spies from Burnside’s Fort.”

Frontier Defense: Colonizing Contested Areas in the Greenbrier Valley of West Virginia, Kim A. McBride, W. Stephen McBride, West Virginia Humanities Council, 2014. Note: Byrnside’s Fort is spelled interchangeably with Burnside’s Fort in period and contemporary records and writings.

I’ve previously posted about John Bradshaw’s pension narrative about meeting up with the spies from Byrnside’s Fort, which gives us a good indication of the route they were using, from both forts:

. . . performed the aforesaid services as an Indian Spy was in the gaps and low places in the chain of mountains between William Lafferty’s plantation on New River and the head waters of Laurel Creek where they met the Spies from Burnsides Fort; that they traversed the country which included the head waters of big and little Stony creeks the head waters of the Indian draft a branch of Indian creek and the head waters of Wolf Creek . . .

I’ve included a screenshot from Google Earth showing the distance between Cook’s Fort and Byrnside’s Fort, which establishes the likely meeting point between the two sets of spies.

The likely path between Cook’s Fort and Byrnside’s Fort, utilizing Laurel Creek, looks to be about 11 miles approximately. This places the probable halfway, or meeting point, between the two sets of spies at around the present-day Laurel Creek Covered Bridge, where the creek enters from the steep mountains to the north (thus probably the “headwaters” location).

It’s believed that the fort was most likely built in 1774 by one of the local militia companies who were subsequently garrisoned there:

Cook’s Fort, generally deemed the largest of the forts, was on the property of Valentine Cook and he served in both [militia] companies of [James] Henderson. Moreover, Jacob Cook, the son, states in his Pension Application that Cook’s Fort was built in 1774, so it seems evident that Henderson’s companies built this fort and possibly others in the adjacent settlements.

The Settlement of the Greenbrier Valley, West Virginia, Fred Zeigler, at p. 58.
Note the Cook’s Fort outline, lower center. Indian Creek in the distance.

Captain James Henderson also oversaw the garrison of militia at Byrnside’s Fort, 11 miles away. He lived on Dropping Lick Creek, near its confluence with Indian Creek, showing up on the local tithables list in 1774. Henderson commanded two companies of militia in the expedition and ensuing battle at Point Pleasant in October of 1774. Interestingly, the militia pay records appears to document the logistics of building the fort:

The Cooks and three others were credited with 36 days pay, and 22 others with 22 days pay, so this gives an idea of the manpower needed to build a fort capable of holding 300 settlers.

The Settlement of the Greenbrier Valley, West Virginia, Fred Zeigler, at p. 88.
Greenville, Monroe County, WV.

At other times, pension narratives suggest that militia there was under the command of Capt. Archibald Woods and Lt. John Woods (Bradshaw, Ellison, Hutchison and Swope pension applications). Indian Spy Michael Swope described his ranging activities from 1776 to 1779 in his pension narrative, which described departing from Cook’s Fort:

The nature of his services as an Indian Spy – in each of the aforesaid years was to leave Cooks Fort on Indian Creek, descend said creek to its mouth where it empties into New River and thence down New River to the Mouth of Blue Stone, thence to Van-Bibbers Fort on Greenbrier River, and thence to Jarrett’s Fort on Wolf Creek, making a distance in going and returning of from thirty to thirty five miles….

Michael Swope Pension Application Narrative.

Here’s a few of the spots Swope would have passed by on his route:

Mouth of Indian Creek at the New River

Indian Spy James Ellison gave another account of his ranging activities:

….That he would leave Cooks Fort on Indian Creek go through the mountains and the passes on New River and up Lick Creek and cross over to a Fort on Muddy Creek (a branch of Greenbrier River) which was called Kenney’s Fort (probably Arbuckle’s Fort on Muddy Creek) and then home….

James Ellison Pension Application Narrative.
Arbuckle’s Fort on Muddy Creek, Greenbrier County, which was also known by the name of Keeney’s Fort, or as Ellison referred to it, Kenney’s Fort.

As the McBrides noted, other spies took alternate, including much longer, routes:

At least one spy volunteered at Lafferty’s Fort, located at the mouth of Indian Creek on the New River, reconnoitering between the mouths of the Bluestone and Indian Creek in 1781, following the attack on the local Meeks family, while James Gillilan ranged “up and down the Greenbrier River” from Renick’s Fort at the forks of Spring Creek, in northern Greenbrier County.

Frontier Defense of the Greenbrier and Middle New River Country, W. Stephen McBride, Kim A. McBride, and J. David McBride, Report No. 375, University of Kentucky at p. 33.
The probable site of Renick’s Fort at the forks of Spring Creek, in northern Greenbrier County, WV.

Indian Spy John Bradshaw stated in his pension narrative that their “practice was for two men to leave Fort Cook, Monroe County, and e out three or four days each week, others taking their places on the return.” McBride at 33. Local historians over the years have provided some of the historical recounts of Indian attacks, and other drama, around Cook’s Fort during this era:

When in 1778 the settlers on Indian were beleaguered in Cook’s fort, Jacob Mann volunteered to go out after food. He shot a buck in the Flatwoods, but being seen by the Indians on his return, he threw his game into a cavern at the bottom of a sinkhole, and then went in with his dog. He pulled weeds over the entrance and held the dog’s mouth.

After nightfall he regained the fort with his venison. It is related that on another occasion he was chased while he had three deerskins strapped to his back. There was no time to get them loose, but he succeeded in reaching the fort. He had just shot a bear and the savages had observed the circumstance….

In 1780, Steel Lafferty, living at the mouth of Indian, was killed and so was a wife of a Bradshaw. On this or another occasion, one of the Laffertys heard what seemed to be a turkey, but found the noise came from an Indian peering from behind a tree that is yet standing. Lafferty shot the Indian and trailed him by his blood to a deep pool in Indian Creek. William Meek, who lived near by, saw the Indians, mounted a horse, and rode to a neighbor’s house. No people were there except two women. They opened the door for him, and he fired on two Indians crossing a cornfield, wounding one of them. On the third day of the following March, eight of the Indians and two of the Canadian French burned Meek’s house and corn, killed the parents and infant child, and carried away the other two children.

Some hunters brought the news next morning to Jacob Mann. He at once set out in pursuit with Adam Mann, Jacob Miller, and three other men of Woods’ company. After going 50 miles, they overtook the foe, killed one, wounded several, and recovered the children and “plunder.” The pursuers were “extremely scarce of lead,” a common handicap during the Revolution. The account we have given is from the official report. A tradition in the Miller family has it that the six whites pursued the foe to the bank of the Ohio, arriving there at dusk and waiting till dawn to attack. Their six shots laid low six of the seven Indians. The seventh took the river, but one of the assailants swan after him and inflicted a fatal knife wound.

GLEANINGS OF MONROE COUNTY WEST VIRGINIA HISTORY, Written and/or Edited by Charles B. Motley, 1973, Commonwealth Press, Inc., Radford, VA 24141 pp 111-112; A History of Monroe County, West Virginia, by Orem Morton, p. 50-51

Indian Spy Michael Swope discussed Cook’s Fort in his pension narrative, indicating that settlers near the fort generally resided there, at least in the bad years, from Spring to Fall:

[H]e entered the service as an Indian Spy in the spring of the year 1776: that at the time he entered the Service as a Spy he was enrolled and mustered in a company of Militia commanded by Captain John Henderson and raised in that part of the State of Virginia which is now Monroe on Wolf Creek about sixteen miles from where he now resides; that at the termination of the cold weather and when the first signs of approaching spring and the putting forth of vegetation appeared some signs of Indians having been seen, the people becoming much alarmed in the neighborhood betook themselves to Cook’s Fort which was situated on Indian Creek about eight miles from where he now resides in about the same distance from where he then resided.

The Settlers betook themselves to Cook’s Fort on the 1st of May in that year and he entered on the duties of an Indian Spy on the same day – and continued in Service the first of November following when cold weather coming on in all signs of Indians disappearing – the Settlers left the Fort and returned to their habitations. He was discharged from service during the winter having continued in service six months. 

Pension application of Michael Swope R10366;
Michael Swope was remarkably accurate, stating that Cook’s Fort on Indian Creek was about 8 miles from the spot where he lived on Wolf Creek.

Swope gave some specifics:

The nature of his Services as an Indian Spy in each of the aforesaid years was to leave Cook’s Fort on Indian Creek descended said Creek to its mouth where it empties into New River and thence down New River to the mouth of Blue Stone, thence to Van-Bibbers Fort on Greenbrier River, and thence to Jarretts Fort on Wolf Creek, making a distance in going and returning of from thirty to thirty-five miles.

[T]hat he was generally out from three to four days in each week, and sometimes longer if the danger or the intelligence from the Indians seemed to require it and some times when they saw signs of the Indians they would fligh [sic, fly?] from Fort to Fort and give the alarm so that preparations might be made for defensive operations by the people that were forted and that those who had ventured out to work their corn might betake themselves to the Fort before the Indians would attack them. That he had for his companions, his two Brothers Joseph and John Swope who were both older than himself, who are both dead and James Givin (Gwinn probably) who has also been dead for a number of years; that their manner of spying was for two to go together and to meet at some point designated.

Pension application of Michael Swope R10366;

The below satellite view shows the general path described by Swope, though as plotted, it equals out to 47.3 miles, much more than the 30 to 35 miles estimated by Swope. Following creeks and rivers there would be numerous obvious shortcuts, only a couple of which I took the liberty of assuming. I’d say he definitely used some shortcuts, because that’s a long walk and efficiency would be key. Then It would be about another 11 miles from Jarrett’s on Wolf Creek back to Cook’s Fort on Indian Creek, for a grand total of almost 50 miles.

Looking at the change in elevation of Swope’s route, following the creeks and rivers, there actually would be very little. The first large spike was just my mistake, so it wouldn’t be there. The second large spike is an obvious shortcut on the section leading to Van Bibber’s Fort, where the Greenbrier winds off out into a large horseshoe bend. It would have made sense to hump this ridge and save a lot of time and walking. You can also see, looking at the bigger picture of the lower Greenbrier Valley, that Cook’s Fort was central to many of the other important forts and settlement areas. It was obviously a good starting and ending point for the spies.

1 thought on “The Discovery of Cook’s Fort on Indian Creek

  1. Excellent, as usual, John! Absolutely fascinating article. Inspires the imagination to no end. So well done. Thank you!

Comments are closed.