ACE has been taking people down the Keninskeha River for more than three decades now. Well over 500,000 people have rafted with us in that time! Wow, that’s something.
The Shawnee considered the Kanawha and New River as one great big river. They called it the Keninskeha, which supposedly translates to the “River of Evil Spirits,” or as some claim “The River of Death”!
The New River Gorge, also known as the “Grand Canyon of the East,” is more than 1,200 feet deep in areas, and more than a mile wide in some places. Huge sandstone cliffs line the lower gorge, with house-size boulders along the river; it must have been a very dangerous place to explore until1873, when the C&O Railroad was built through it.
If the Native Americans did try to canoe the New River in a birch bark canoe without a lifejacket I might believe “The River of Death” idea. Also, this area was considered a no-mans land that separated the Shawnee and the Cherokee Nations. There was fierce competition between the two tribes – when the different hunting parties met, it was often a fight to the death. Not to mention the fierce white man tribe I talked about in my “Armstrong Mountain” blog.
The “River of Evil Spirits” makes a little more sense to me. The New River is the second oldest river in the world. It was here before the Appalachian Mountains (the oldest mountain range in the world – which was much higher than the Rockies at one time) and it has carved a deep, meandering trench, the only natural passage through the mountains. This is why they built a railroad through it in 1873 and why it is one of the greatest migratory bird routes in North America.
It’s so big, it creates its own weather system. The surrounding area can be totally clear but as you cross over the famous New River Gorge Bridge in the morning you may see a river of white clouds rolling through the gorge under the bridge. It really is something to see!
In fact the gorge is full of micro-climates. Wisps of little white clouds appear and disappear all the time in the morning and at night. Some claim that the Native Americans thought these were spirits flying through the gorge.
Other names associated with the New River are Mon-don-ga-cha-te; Le-we-ke-o-mi; Kinhaway; Pi-que-me-ta-mi; Chinidashhichetha and many other variations.
My next blog will talk about how the New River got its name.