Born in 1720, most likely in western Pennsylvania, and destined to become a chief of the Shawnee tribe.
Little is known of Cornstalk's early life until the 1750s, when he aided the French against the English and their colonial settlers. He led an expedition in 1763 against settlers in present day Greenbrier County, West Virginia. For the next decade he continued resistance to white encroachment throughout the Ohio River Valley.
By the early 1770s Cornstalk had risen to lead a confederacy of tribes which included the Shawnee, Mingo, Delawares, and Wyandots. In 1774 he led a powerful war party against white troops from Virginia. They fought an engagement near the confluence of the Kanawha river and Ohio river at present day Point Pleasant, West Virginia. Losses were heavy on both sides, and Cornstalk was to eventually sign a peace treaty with Virginia's Lord Dumnore.
During the American Revolution Indian aid was sought by the British. Cornstalk alone refused the British, believing the future of his people lay in cooperation and coexistence with the Virginia colonists. Many of his peers were of a different mind, and a coalition of Indians was forming to fight the Americans. Cornstalk and a small contingent went to Point Pleasant in early 1777 to warn the garrison there of the forces assembling against them. The garrison sent for reinforcements and held the Indians hostage until the help arrived. When other Indians killed a white man outside the fort the soldiers slaughtered Cornstalk, his son and the other Indians.
The last words of Cornstalk as he lay dying were supposedly a curse on the land surrounding the site of his murder.
Some officers and men at the fort had tried to stop the massacre of Cornstalk and his companions, but under threat of their own deaths were silenced. When reinforcements arrived no actions were taken against the killers of Cornstalk and when the garrison was sent back home no civil judicial action was ever taken by the courts. It remained to the assembled tribes united with the British to exact payment for the murder of their much revered chief, a payment made by the blood of many, soldier and innocent alike.