Friday, June 09, 2006

King Corn

Corn was the staple food of the pioneers. No other grain was raised for many years. Corn crops never failed, unless animals got into the field and distroyed the plants.1

It's hard to imagine a crop so reliable that it never failed, but the first record we have of a European traveling in the vacinity of of the future Confluence/Orlando reflects a pioneer's trust in corn's sturdiness. It was in 1770, 37 years before the end of the Indian Wars and 40 or 50 years before Orlando's settlers would begin clearing the land along Oil Creek, Road & Posey Runs, Clover Fork and the other streams that make up Orlando. John Hacker, outraged that buffalo had trampled the corn he had planted before bringing his family west of the mountains to (what would become) Hacker's Creek, tracked the buffalo down into (what is now) Braxton County and slaughtered the entire herd.

As to the idea that corn was the staple food, Joseph Doddridge, a very early pioneer, wrote "The Indian meal which my father brought over the mountains was expended six weeks too soon, so for that length of time we had to live without bread. The lean venison and the breast of wild turkey we were taught to call bread. The flesh of the bear was demoninated meat. This artifice did not succeed very well. After living this way for some time we became sickly, the stomach seemed always empty and tormented with a sense of hunger.2"

In the 20th century cornbread had moved from a necessity of survival to a cultural tradition, and corn remained "king of the hills". It seemed to me that every cultivatable field was planted in field corn, which was fed to the hogs, or hay, which horses and cows ate. While there may well have been some, I never saw a wheat field east of the Ohio River. Near each house a vegetable garden grew, and that included corn for the table.
The woman is demonstrating the use of a primative corn grater. This photo is from an Appalachian cultural web site.

1. A History of Lewis County West Virginia Edward Smith 1920 pg. 101.
2. Notes on the Settlement and Indian Ward of the Western Parts of Virginia and Pennsylvania from 1763 to 1783 Joseph Doddridge. 1824.


  1. Bernadette Skinner-HartsoughFriday, August 07, 2009

    Any information on Emily J. Posey? She was Homer Skinner's mother. I know her parents are Alfred Posey and Christina (Curtis?) from census records.

  2. We've received nothing about Emily Jane in particular, but we know some things about those around her that give some useful clues. E-mail me at if you'd like to dig a bit into Emily Jane's life & times.