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250 years after her famous journey, everyone is honoring Mary

250 years after her famous journey, everyone is honoring Mary

The Shawnee Indians and the Ingles family made their peace. The local government proclaimed a "Mary Draper Ingles Day." Novelist James Alexander Thom, whose best-selling "Follow the River" was about Mary, gave a talk, and a singer/songwriter named Lynne Reif sang a song called "Mary's Hope."

Was it Radford, where Mary Ingles spent the last half century of her life? Or maybe Blacksburg, on the site where she was kidnapped by Shawnee Indians on July 30 or 31, 1755?

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Follow along with the lyrics.


Actually, it was a two-day event centered around Big Bone Lick, Ky. - one of many places in this anniversary year that have adopted Mary as their own.

Two hundred and fifty years ago this weekend - accounts differ on the exact day - the 23-year-old Virginia pioneer was snatched from her cabin during what is often called the Drapers Meadow Massacre. At least four people died in the attack. Drapers Meadow has long since vanished; as near as anyone can tell, it is now the Virginia Tech duck pond.

Two months later, Mary escaped from an Indian camp and made her way back home through hundreds of miles of uncharted wilderness. Improbably, she survived.

Mary's odyssey has been celebrated in books, a movie, plays, a documentary and a song. But it has never been celebrated like it is right now.

In the next few months, there will be an outdoor drama at Winfield, W.Va. There will be a second festival honoring Mary at Big Bone Lick, site of the American Indian village she was taken to (the first festival was two weekends ago). Come November, folks will gather at the Giles County hollow known as Clover Nook - where Mary is said to have been found, more dead than alive, at the farm of a man named Harmon.

But the heart of Mary mania beats this weekend. The Tamarack cultural center in Beckley, W.Va., began three days of events Friday.

Here in Southwest Virginia, meanwhile, Ingles heir Lewis "Bud" Jeffries will open up his historic farm at Ingles Ferry - where Mary and her husband, William, grew prosperous in later life - to visitors Saturday and Sunday.

Costumed interpreters will show curious viewers around Mary's rebuilt cabin and lead them down the ancient Wilderness Road to the site of a ferry that once carried the likes of Daniel Boone across the New River.

"I've tried to do a lot to preserve it," Jeffries, a retired Army colonel, said of his farm. "Sharing is part of it. ... We're trying to make it nice."

Oddly enough, Virginia Tech is letting the anniversary pass unremarked.

"No, there aren't any events or commemorations or designations of any kind to note the 250th anniversary of that particular event," said Tech spokesman Mark Owczarski when asked about the Drapers Meadow Massacre. One reason: "Historically we don't really know if it actually occurred here on our campus or out in Hethwood or Smithfield or wherever."


Few others are quibbling about a mile or two. Though little is certain about Mary's story, from the location of her cabin to the exact route she took coming home, people in three states are celebrating the 250th anniversary of her exploit this summer and fall.

Karen Vuranch knows. The West Virginia storyteller makes a living telling stories and acting the part of historic figures. This year, there's something about Mary; Vuranch estimates by year's end she will have portrayed her 25 times. Vuranch will perform as Mary at the Tamarack center Sunday and tonight at the Fayette Theater in Fayetteville, W.Va. Both performances are free.

West Virginia, it seems, loves Mary Ingles - whose long journey home would have traversed much of the state. "She's so much a part of the lore of the New River," Vuranch said. "People are fascinated by her story."

Earlier this month, the national park at West Virginia's New River Gorge sponsored a two-day event putting Mary's story in the context of the French and Indian War. Some 2,000 people came, said district ranger Lizzie Watts.

"The park wanted to highlight her for her strength, number one, and the fact that she did 'follow the river,'" Watts said of the event. "I can't imagine, personally, walking 450 miles back in the woods in November and surviving."

And speaking of "Follow the River," West Virginia has chosen Thom's 1981 novel for this year's "One Book, One West Virginia" program - a statewide discussion group sponsored by the West Virginia Center for the Book. The page-turner, which has sold more than a million copies, is already on the recommended reading list for many West Virginia schools.

The historical drama at Winfield in September, meanwhile, will be featuring not one but two Marys, young and older, as well as Daniel Boone's wife, Rebecca. Audience members will encounter the historical figures along a mile-long trail, said Brenda McBrayer, a teacher from Hurricane, W.Va., who has played Mary in the drama for years.

The event is sponsored by the Mary Draper Ingles Trail Associates. It is performed annually. This year, in honor of the 250th anniversary, the group is also working on a cookbook, member Amy Fairchild said.

One of the most interesting anniversary celebrations has already happened. That was the gathering of Ingles descendants and others two weeks ago around Big Bone Lick State Park in Kentucky.

The two-day event included talks by the busy Thom and his Shawnee wife, Dark Rain, and a mock American Indian village. It also included performances of St. Louis singer/songwriter Lynne Reif's song, "Mary's Hope," from her CD "Against the Muse."

Reif, who belongs to the group Salt of the Earth, said she wrote the song in a burst of inspiration after reading Thom's novel. "Follow this river - please let it take me home," goes the refrain.

Several who were present then praised the song. "It was kind of the icing on the cake," said Ingles descendant Patty Hons.

Reif performed for free. "It was awesome and big and exciting. I got paid in so many ways."

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