The Shenandoah Valley is probably most famous for its Civil War history. But to those who know and love the beauty and natural fertility of this area, it should come as no surprise that the Shenandoah Valley had human inhabitants well before Europeans arrived. In honor of these fascinating early peoples, we’ve rounded up six fun facts on the Native American History of the Shenandoah Valley.
1. There’s a Lot We Don’t Know about Native American History
This is more of a non-fact than a fact, but it’s important to keep in mind! Native Americans aren’t the easiest people to learn about. They lived quite a long time ago, and they left behind few remains for our historians to find. The Native Americans were often nomadic people whose relationship with the natural world seems to have been one of great respect. They made an effort to leave little impact on the natural systems of which they were a part. However, they did leave some traces of their presence, including pottery shards and burial mounds. Some of the more permanently settled Native American groups also left behind evidence of villages and food storage systems.
2. The Keyser People were among the more settled inhabitants of the Shenandoah Valley
The Keyser people were a group of Native Americans believed to have immigrated to the Shenandoah Valley from the Ohio valley. They seem to have enjoyed a more farm-based and stable culture than some of their hunter-gatherer counterparts, and left traces of large villages of up to 200 inhabitants. Artifacts of shellfish and quartz suggest that the Keyser people were also importing goods from coastal and other regions. It is believed that they exported deer hides from the Shenandoah Valley. Remains of a Keyser village have been discovered near Front Royal.
3. There were tensions between hunter/gatherer and farming tribes
It is believed that the Iroquois, whose culture was based primarily on hunting and gathering, may have been responsible for emptying the Shenandoah Valley of its Native American farmers and villages. These hunter-gatherers thrived in lands otherwise devoid of human settlers. They may have forcibly removed the villagers, whose settlements threatened their own way of life.
4. Native Americans blazed the trail for some modern day Shenandoah Valley roads
It was buffalo, and the Native Americans hunting them, who originally formed the trail that would become Virginia’s Route 11. Running north and south through the Shenandoah Valley, Route 11 closely parallels the busier and less scenic I-81. Whether on the highway or the byway, many modern travelers through the valley are following a Native American route more or less closely.
5. Native Americans formed a complex trail system in the Valley
Native Americans traveled the Shenandoah Valley for many purposes. Hunting, trade, warfare, and the search for the best seasonal forage areas were among their many reasons for travel. Their journeys eventually formed a system of trails known as the Great Warrior Path.
6. Visitors can see Native American Artifacts at the Strasburg Museum
The Strasburg Museum is found in Front Royal’s neighboring town of Strasburg. It’s a fascinating historic building, and a treasure trove of local history. You’ll find Virginia history since the time of the Colonial Era here. If you’re interested in finding out more about the first known human inhabitants of the Shenandoah Valley, you can see Native American artifacts too.
The story of the Native American inhabitants of the Shenandoah Valley is a fascinating, and often overlooked part of the Valley’s history. But exploring the Shenandoah Valley with these facts about its earliest human inhabitants in mind can provide a thrilling new perspective on one of Virginia’s most beautiful landscapes.
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