DAVIS – History buffs, those who appreciate art and those who love historical performances packed a classroom at Canaan Valley Resort State Park recently to learn more about a renowned West Virginia artist and author – David Hunter Strother, better known as Porte Crayon.
Don Teter of Monterville portrayed Crayon during the History Alive! Program, sponsored by the West Virginia Humanities Council. Teter’s performance was aided using many reproductions of Crayon’s illustrations featuring well known sites from Tucker County and around the state including Blackwater Falls, Douglas Falls, Pendleton Falls and Seneca Rocks.
“I served the Union as a topographic mapper, and I thought I would begin the evening by showing you an example of the work we topographers did,” Crayon said. “This is a sketch I prepared of an area behind the rebel lines. We were in the vicinity of Culpepper, over in Eastern Virginia. Not to be confused with Western Virginia, now our proud young state of West Virginia.”
Crayon said some of the best information from mapping work and also for intelligence came from free blacks or slaves behind the rebel lines.
“For whatever reason, these people were allowed markable amount of freedom to move back and forth between the lines of the Unions and Confederates,” Crayon said. “Apparently, their Confederate masters did not believe these enslaved peoples, who they viewed as merely livestock, had the intelligence or the foresight or ability to convey to us any useful information. So they were a very valuable source for us.”
From Charles Town he reported and illustrated John Brown’s capture, trial and execution for Harper’s Weekly in 1859. During the Civil War, Crayon served as a Union officer and topographer who saw action in several major battles. He was one of the founders of the West Virginia Historical Society and spoke at the first commencement at West Virginia University.
Crayon said his name came from a common artist tool containing both soft and hard lead.
“The brass stem is split and the little ring slides back so the lead can be advanced or changed and tightened back up,” Crayon said. “This is familiar to most artists of this time period. It has been used since colonial times. George Washington kept his survey notes with a Porte Crayon.”
He said when he reports, he uses his real name, but when he writes with a pen name, it frees him up a little bit to blend some stories and add a little extra life and color to them.
Teter said he enjoys portraying Porte Crayon.
“His name kept coming up in research I was doing,” Teter said. “I have fun with it. It is a great opportunity to read material I had always wanted to read.”
Teter said he has been working on reprinting Crayon’s travel stories.
“I want to work on the Blackwater and Canaan travels first,” Teter said. “His stories are full of biblical references, Roman and Greek mythology, classical literature and language usage that is unfamiliar to readers today. I am trying to make his stories more readable and understandable.”