Starvation Camp

Tenth Stop: Starvation Camp

On March 8, after turning away from the river again and crossing two mountains, the pack train reached what was to become its furthest camp on the expedition.  Lt. Morton recorded the pitiable condition of the pack train men:

“Our case grew more and more lamentable as the way was now much worse than ever, and the Creek now impassable by Horses, and the mountains higher and worse than ever on all accounts and lying in larger Clifts on the river”

Hunting parties were sent out from this camp located at present-day Wharncliffe in Mingo County, WV.  To reach Wharncliffe, turn right in Wyoming City on McDowell CR-1/1 and follow up Fourpole Creek through the village of Isaban to the road’s junction with Mingo CR-13.  Remain right, following the combined routes to the head of Fourpole, then down Gilbert Creek on Mingo CR-13 to its junction with CR-10 (Right Fork of Bens Creek Road).  Turn left and follow CR-10 over Bens Creek Mountain and down Bens Creek towards Wharncliffe.  At the junction of CR-10 and CR-10/3, Spring Fork enters Bens Creek from your left.  This tributary is likely where the pack train first came onto Bens Fork after having crossed the mountain divide between Fourpole and Turkey Creek, and the divide between the latter stream and Bens Fork.  Watch for wider bottoms than you passed through on Fourpole Creek, for Lt. Morton recorded that this small creek:
“…made more low grounds than usual…”

A few elks and buffaloes were killed, but shared among 130 men over a period of five days, this merely kept the soldiers’ gaunt faces from becoming permanently frozen in death grimaces.  Both Preston’s and Morton’s journals have a tellingly large proportion of their words dedicated to the lack of food or the pursuit thereof. The Cherokees were under the same hardships, but such difficulties were part and parcel to the Indian manner of war in eastern North America, so the warriors were able to withstand them better than were the Virginians.

Mutiny reared its ugly head in the horse camp, so Capt. Preston and the other officers had great difficulty keeping the men together while awaiting the arrival of Major Lewis in the canoes.  On March 12, Major Lewis walked into camp after his canoe capsized and he nearly drowned.  Much of the food, tents, and ammunition in the overturned canoes were lost.

A few scouts had gone further down Sandy Creek (Tug Fork) on March 8 and returned a few days later to tell conflicting stories of the terrain and the game populations.  Andrew Lynam and William Hall apparently went the furthest, probably to the vicinity of present-day Thacker.  These two men reported the terrain eased and the game became abundant at the point they turned back.  They also had found an Indian hunting camp, a sure sign that game was more abundant further downstream.  Capt. Preston hoped this good report would encourage the men, but it had the opposite effect.  On the 13th, Major Lewis stepped off a few yards and asked those who were willing to continue on the expedition to join him.  All the officers and only 20 or 30 privates did so.  The remaining privates in four companies left for home.  Ostenaco was willing to continue, but he was disappointed that so many men had deserted.  Thus the Sandy Creek Expedition ended in failure—but let us not be so quick to judge before we have examined other outcomes of the campaign.

The importance of the Sandy Creek Expedition on the French-Indian War and our history cannot be understated.