Whether it’s history or the stuff of folklore and legend will never be known. Generations
have Upshur County residents have been told the story of Delaware Native American Chieftain Buckongahelas and the early white
settlers in the area now known as Buckhannon. The heart of the story is that the Buckhannon River and the city of Buckhannon
were named for the great chieftain.
That Indian chief did, in fact, exist and gained a certain amount of prominence regionally and
even nationally as Indian tribes and the young American government began to sign treaties. It also is known that he passed
through this area as he moved his people from Delaware westward, eventually to the city now known as Muncie, Indiana. He died
in May 1805 at age 85.
Buckhannon artist and sculptor Ross Straight has been fascinated with the story since boyhood
days, after hearing it from his grandmother, whose family was among the original settlers here. And the story of Buckongahelas
and the local settlers were immortalized in an historical novel, The Scout of the Buckongehanon, by the late Judge
J.C. McWhorter, a book Straight read as a child. Thus, the genesis of Upshur county’s first public art: Straight’s
statue to Buckongahelas cradling the body of his just-killed son, Mahonegon.
The 650-pound bronze sculpture- Buckongahelas and His Son Mahonegon- now graces Buckhannon’s
downtown crow jewel, Jawbone Park. It was Straight’s first major work, and he had plenty of skeptics when he first announced
his dream and presented a terra cotta maquett (*model) in December 1997. Much of that skepticism centered on whether Straight
would be able to raise the $21,500-plus required for the statue. The statue itself is worth considerably more, because he
made no money on the project.
Straight presented the model to Buckhannon’s late Mayor Elizabeth Poundstone and members
of the city council. A resolution of support was quickly passed, supported construction of the statue and installation in
As Ross continued his work on the sculpture, he also did his own fund-raising. The end result
was a marvelous piece of community art. Not only has it enhanced the community, it owes its existence, in addition to Straight’s
vision and tenacity, to community support- financial and otherwise. Local realtor French Armstrong donated the huge block
of sandstone for its base. Local residents and businesses contributed cash and in-kind donations.
Sutton sculptor Bill Hopen waxed the mold for Straight, and George Houston’s Xcel-Premet
Foundry in Huntington did the bronzing. Hopen welded the pieces together, and in June, Hopen, Straight, local stone sculptor
George Brown, and Kathy Brunt of Charleston installed the statue.
When the statue was dedicated in 2000, representative of three Native American tribes, including
the Delawares, who once lived and hunted in this area, participated in the ceremony. Buckongahelas is one of only two sculptures
of a Native American in the state. The state embodies the local folklore popularized by McWhorter, that Buckongahelas and
the area’s white settler at least tolerated each other much of the time. But historical records, some by McWhorter’s
historian brother, also establish that there was sporadic, or even consistent, conflict between them.
The legend has it that Captain William White shot and killed Mahonegon, for whom the area’s
Boy Scout Camp is named, in June 1773. The statue depicts a grief-stricken father holding the body of his dead son, with a
bullet hole in the abdomen. The legend also holds that Buckongahelas accomplished revenge, killing White about a decade later.
Historians will continue their research, seeking information and documents to confirm or deny
portions or all of the legend. But the community and region are the beneficiaries of Straight’s vision and artistry.