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Native Ohio



Ohio comes from the Seneca (Iroquoian) ohiiyo’ ‘good river’ to refer to both the Allegheny and Ohio Rivers because they are linked by canoe portages.
Academic understanding at the moment is that from ancient times Native Ohioans spoke languages of varied language stocks. Along Lake Erie were Iroquoians, such as the later Erie, in central Ohio were Algonkians, such as Shawnee, and along the Ohio River were at least some Siouians, including those who later became known as Biloxi, Ofo, and Tutelo. In historic time, Ohio became a refuge for tribes speaking even more languages.


Every century, Ohio participated in major changes to American Indian Traditions, as well as providing the place for some key contributions and improved understandings.

2000 years ago, the earthworks aligned humans and all beings to the earth and sky. The Ohio River was a lifeline into the heart of the continent, though now less famous that the Missouri because devastation took place so much earlier here.

1500s Disease begins to depopulate the Ohio River Valley


Epidemics and massive slaving challenged native survival; Shawnees disperse by tribal division throughout the East, building alliances.

1680s The famous French explorer and trader, Robert Chavelier (1643-87), Sieur de la Salle, relied on a Shawnee slave, purchased at Lake Ontario in 1669, known only as Nika(na), Shawnee for “friend (my)”. He guided the French through the Great Lakes, and probably helped to congregate the Shawnees and others in 1683 at Fort St Louis (Starved Rock) on the Illinois River. Late that same year, Nika went to France with La Salle’s delegation, which included another Shawnee who died there. After their colony shipwrecked in Texas, he was murdered beside La Salle in March 1687.


1700s A French officer reported “the natives find it very strange that others should fight for a country where the author of life has, in their view, created them, where they have always lived & of which the bones of their ancestors have had possession from the beginning of time. They are unwilling to recognize any foreigner as their master, just as they have none among themselves.”
From: Brian Leigh Dunnigan, ed., Memoir on the Late War in North American between France and England by Pierre Pouchot. Michael Cardy, trs. Youngstown, NY: Old Fort Niagara Association, 1994, 57; quoted in Colin Calloway, One Vast Winter Count, The Naïve American West before Lewis and Clark. Lincoln: U of Nebraska Press, 2003, 338.

1700s late Native Schooling Begins: Native boys, such as the Delaware Killbucks living in Ohio, are sent to Princeton.
1800s A few natives from other regions are sent to Marietta College, most becoming Presbyterian ministers such as Edward Marsden (1869-1932) in Alaska. James Bouchard (Watomika, 1823-1889), a Delaware metis, graduated from Marietta, entered the cathedral in St Louis as a Protestant, but emerged as a Catholic convert. He became a Jesuit, advised the famous Fr Pierre-Jean De Smet, and went on to become a great orator in San Francisco. He was given special permission to grow a long beard to protect his voice.
Jay Miller, The Early Years of Watomika, 1989

1700s Native confederacies were led by some of the greatest native patriots, such as Blue Jacket, Pipe (Hopokan), Netawatawas (Newcomer), Tekumtha, Tenskwatawa, Blackhoof, Between the Logs, and more.

1782 Gnadenhutten massacre of 100 Christian Delawares by American militia, often called the worst atrocity of American Revolution. The militiamen were from Pennsylvania since this was before Ohio itself was founded. Col William Crawford burned at the stake near Upper Sandusky (now Crawford, Ohio) in revenge. The 100 victims have one tall marker, but Crawford has 4, though one of these is the town park filled with barbeque pits.

Northwest Ordinance; July 13, 1787. An Ordinance for the government of the Territory of the United States northwest of the River Ohio. Done by the United States, in Congress assembled, the 13th day of July, in the year of our Lord 1787, and of their soveriegnty and independence the twelfth. Section 14, Article. 3. Religion, morality, and knowledge, being necessary to good government and the happiness of mankind, schools and the means of education shall forever be encouraged. The utmost good faith shall always be observed towards the Indians; their lands and property shall never be taken from them without their consent; and, in their property, rights, and liberty, they shall never be invaded or disturbed, unless in just and lawful wars authorized by Congress; but laws founded in justice and humanity, shall from time to time be made for preventing wrongs being done to them, and for preserving peace and friendship with them. This document is the blueprint for US expansion, setting up territories and then turning them into states. The phrase "utmost good faith" was supposed to govern all governmental relations with native societies.

1791 crushing defeat of 1st US army under Gen Josiah Harmar by Ohio confederacy

1793 crushing defeat of 2nd US army under Gen and Gov Arthur St Claire by Ohio confederacy with Blue Jacket


1803 Ohio becomes a state.

1830 Indian Removal Act (of Andy Jackson the SOB), passed by one vote in Congress, banishes tribes to the west of the Mississippi. This same bill that send the Five Tribes on their Trails of Tears from Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi, also drove the Delawares, Wyandats, and Ottawas from Ohio, to what became bloody Kansas.

1820s Caleb Atwater of Circleville mapped mound sites and pushed for public schools.

1848 Squier and Davis map mound sites published by the Smithsonian for posterity.

1848 October 10 near Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, the Wyandot rekindled the fire of the Confederacy among the nations driven from Ohio.

1882 Harvard works on the Serpent Mound, giving Ivy League respectability to Ohio.

1894 March  Sitting Bull gives a Lakota name to Annie Oakley (Phoebe Ann Moses Butler, born and raised in western Ohio) when both are visiting St Paul.  The press (wrongly) interpreted this kindness as her “adoption” by this Holy Man.


1911 Oct 12 Ohio State University and Columbus hosted the founding of the Society of the American Indian on 12 October 1911, involving key American Indian intellectuals, especially the Seneca anthropologist Arthur C Parker, who wrote
“The Indians at Columbus were most truly a superior class of men and women and ‘above the class of paleface invaders,’ I heard one visitor say. Headquarters were at the most exclusive hotel and every Indian had money to burn and used it as cultured people would. Columbus was discovered this time by Indians and the town was surprised.”

Fayette McKenzie, OSU professor of economics and sociology, advised these “progressive” natives. He was long an advocate for social reform, and later became president of Fisk University.
Hazel Hertzberg, The Search for an American Indian identy. Modern Pan-Indian Movements, 1971, 59.

1916-17 Herman Haeberlin (1890-1918), born in Akron, educated in Germany, and set to be heir to Dr Franz Boas, undertook the first systematic linguistic and ethnographic fieldwork among the Lushootseed peoples near Seattle. He contracted diabetes while there, died shortly after his return, and is buried in Akron.

1926-27 Thelma Adamson (1901-1983), born in Ohio, educated at Marietta College and Columbia University, undertook linguistic and ethnographic research at reservations south (Chehalis) and north (Nooksack) of Seattle. Shortly afterward she was institutionalized for the rest of her life. Only a carbon copy of her notes has survived, but it has served as evidence in several federal court cases.

1922 Babbitt by Sinclair Lewis

1948, Richard Morgan -- an archaeologist born in Ohio, graduated OSU, trained at the U of Chicago, and curator at the Ohio State Museum -- was accused of radical activity and subjected to J Edgar Hoover’s FBI scrutiny. Morgan’s wife Anna Rubio ran a bookstore on East Gooodale St that featured African American (“Negro”) and labor writers. The store was the site for a minor riot in March, and by the end of the month Richard was dismissed from the museum. The Morgans fought back with a mail campaign, and John Bennett of OSU acted as witness for the proceedings, but to no avail. Mention of his case at other universities, especially City College of New York, let to job loss by other anthropologists, most famously Maurice Swadesh, who pioneered the use of native languages in Mexican classrooms. Given his stature and location, Swadesh was became protected by academic freedom, but the Morgans ended up raising chickens in rural Ohio, before they moved to Mexico.
David Price, Threatening Anthropology, 2004

1950-53  Dillon Seymour Myer (1891-1982.), 1914 OSU grad and 1922-14 supervisor, Commissioner of Indian Affairs, after serving as director of Japanese Internment Camps during WW II.  His 1934-66 papers are at the Truman Library.  His biography is titled Keeper of the Concentration Camps.

1940s-60s August C. Mahr, OSU Professor of German and a native speaker of Moravian, translated the diaries and journals of the Ohio Moravian Missions of Mahikans and Delawares. By the end of his life, he was publishing major studies of comparative Algonkian linguistics, focused on the languages of the Great Lakes, see https://kb.osu.edu/dspace/simple-search?query=August+Mahr

Mahr’s Quest for Heckewaelder’s Toads

The consummate Germanic scholar, on 25 April 1952, Dr Mahr went to Luke Chute Dam along the Muskingum River to seek out what kind of animal Rev John Heckewelder meant by ‘toads’ at the place called ‘Toadtown’ in Delaware. Delawares moving to a new mission location camped there in 25 April 1773 and the terrain had remained the same.

“Based on the supposition that, therefore, its fauna likewise has remained essentially unchanged, my expectations were fully borne out: starting at twilight (about 7:30 P.M. (EST) ), and ever increasing in both volume and shrillness as darkness deepened, there rose from the swamp a batrachian chorus nothing short of ear-splitting. Not a singe toad’s typical call was heard, however; it was a pure chorus of Hyla crucifera crucifera Wied., the Spring Peeper, a tree-frog, which by the way, is called a ‘toad’ by the people of the region. This misnomer confirms my belief that Heckewaelder, at least in the case at hand, likewise failed to discriminate between ‘toad’ and ‘frog’. It is certain that his Lenape Indian converts did not either since their language has but one word, tsquall [now spelled chahkol], for both ‘toad’ and ‘frog’; it appears in the name, Tsqualluténe, by which the place was known among them, presumably from former experience. Heckewaelder’s added explanation of the name, “das ist das Kröten Town” (he uses the English word ‘town’ in his German), clearly implies the meaning ‘town of the toads,’ which is likewise a connotation of the Lenape name. Were it meant to denote ‘a human settlement (town) named after toads,’ it would Krötenstadt (-town) in German, and tsqualluntén-unk (with place-name suffix, -unk [-üng, -ing]), in Lenape (Unami dialect).”

1998 Hachivi IV Edgar Heap of Birds (Cheyenne) installs public art “American Leagues, Smile for Racism” near the approach to the Cleveland Indians baseball park at Jacobs Field.


2000s Earthworks and Shawnees return to reclaim our attention.

“The earth guards the archaeological record, it can be collected from the ground with respect like any other medicine for the benefit of all“, though specialists know how to use it best and they can teach others.
Canadian Ojibwa elder translated by Grace Rajnovich in Rites of Conquest, Charles Cleland 1992, 34.

In Ohio, however, the singulars overpower the plurals of triumphs, victories, ignorance, and neglect.


Logan's (Tachnechdorus) Lament

"I appeal to any white man to say, if ever he entered Logan's cabin hungry, and he gave him not meat; if ever he came cold and naked, and he clothed him not. During the course of the last long and bloody war [the French and Indian War, 1755-1763], Logan remained idle in his cabin, an advocate for peace. Such was my love for the whites, that my countrymen pointed as they passed, and said, "Logan is the friend of white men." I had even thought to have lived with you, but for the injuries of one man. Col. Cresap, the last spring, in cold blood, and unprovoked, murdered all the relations of Logan, not sparing even my women and children. There runs not a drop of my blood in the veins of any living creature. This called on me for revenge. I have sought it: I have killed many: I have fully glutted my vengeance. For my country, I rejoice at the beams of peace. But do not harbour a thought that mine is the joy of fear. Logan never felt fear. He will not turn on his heel to save his life. Who is there to mourn for Logan?--Not one."

Buckongahala’s Warning

“I admit that there are good white men, but they bear no proportion to the bad; the bad must be the strongest, for they rule. They do what they please. They enslave those who are not of their colour, although created by the same Great Spirit who created us. They would make slaves of us if they could, but as they cannot do it, they kill us! There is no faith to be placed in their words. They are not like the Indians, who are only enemies, while at war, and are friends in peace. They will say to an Indian, ‘my friend! my brother!’ They will take him by the hand, and at the same moment destroy him. And so you (addressing himself to Christian Indians) will also be treated by them before long. Remember! that this day I have warned you to beware of such friends as these. I know the long knives; they are not to be trusted.”
April, 1781 – Delaware Moravian Mission
Reported by Reverend John Heckewelder

Eleven months after this speech was delivered by this prophetic chief, ninety-six of the same Christian Indians, about sixty of them women and children, were murdered at the place where these very words had been spoken, by the same men he had alluded to, and in the same manner that he had described.

Prayer to the Olentangy

During the winter of 1758, James Smith, a captive adopted to assume the famous name of Scoouwa, hunted with Wyandot inlaws in the modern vicinity of OSU. Much of what he has to say still has bearings on how we live our lives.

Oh, ho, ho, ho,

“Grant that rain may come to raise the Ollentangy about two or three feet, that we may cross in safety down to Sciota, without danger of our canoe being wrecked on the rocks:-and now, O great being! thou knowest how matters stand-thou knowest that I am a great lover of tobacco, and though I know not when I may get any more, I now make a present of the last I have unto thee, as a free burnt offering; therefore I expect thou wilt hear and grant these request, and I thy servant will return thee thanks, and love thee for thy gifts.”
During the whole of this scene I sat by Tecaughretanego, and as he went through it with the greatest solemnity, I was seriously affected with his prayers. I remained duly composed until he came to the burning of the tobacco, and as I knew that he was a great lover of it, and saw him cast the last of it into the fire, it excited in me a kind of merriment, and I insensibly smiled. Tecaughretanego observed me laughing, which displeased him, and occasioned him to address me in the following manner.


“I have somewhat to say to you, and I hope you will not be offended when I tell you of your faults. You know that when you were reading your books in town, I would not let the boys or any one disturb you; but now when I was praying, I saw you laughing. I do not think that you look upon praying as a foolish thing;-I believe you pray yourself. But perhaps you may think my mode, or manner of praying foolish; if so, you ought in a friendly manner to instruct me, and not make sport of sacred things.”
I acknowledged my error, and on this he handed me his pipe to smoke, in token of friendship and reconciliation; though at this time he had nothing to smoke, but red-willow bark. I told him something of the method of reconciliation with an offended God, as revealed in my Bible, which I had then in possession. He said that he liked my story better than that of the French priests, but he thought that he was now too old to begin to learn a new religion, therefore he should continue to worship God in the way that he had been taught, and that if salvation or future happiness was to be had in his way of worship, he expected he would obtain it, and if it was inconsistent with the honor of the great spirit to accept of him in his own way of worship, he hoped that Owaneeyo would accept of him in the way I had mentioned, or in some other way, though he might now be ignorant of the channel through which favor or mercy might be conveyed. He said that he believed that Owaneeyo would hear and help every one that sincerely waited upon him.
Here we may see how far the light of nature could go; perhaps we see it here almost in its highest extent. Notwithstanding the just views that this great man entertained of Providence, yet we now see him (though he acknowledged his guilt) expecting to appease the Deity, and procure his favor, by burning a little tobacco. We may observe that all Heathen nations, as far as we can find out either by tradition or the light of Nature, agree with Revelation in this, that sacrifice is necessary, or that some kind of attonement [sic] is to be made, in order to remove guilt, and reconcile them to God. This, accompanied with numberless other witness, is sufficient evidence of the rationality of the truth of Scriptures.
A few days after Tecaughretanego had gone through his ceremonies, and finished his prayers, the rain came and raised the creek a sufficient height, so that we passed in safety down to Sciota, and proceeded up to the carrying place. Let us now describe the land on this route, from our winter hut, and down Ollentangy to the Sciota, and up it to the carrying place.
Colonel James Smith’s Journal – 1755-59, published 1799 in Lexington, Ky.

A Very Special Buckeye From Truly Native Ohio

We plan to give visitors a Buckeye that is very much Native to Ohio. It grew on a tree rooted in the cemetery at Gnadenhutten, Ohio. Within it, nourished by blood and faith, is an important story that began over 200 years ago.
After death from diseases, disruptions from slaving raids, and increasing hostilities had scattered the aboriginal founders of Ohio, our region became a refuge for tribes from the Eastern states. Over a dozen tribes made up the “little republics” of Ohio in the 1700s.

Among them were Moravian native converts, who settled pacifist mission villages on the Tuscarawas River. Moravians were Protestants who trace their church to revolts and reforms (1457) in the Czech regions of Moravia and Bohemia sixty years before Martin Luther’s better-known Reformation. They regrouped in 1722 in eastern Germany, and started missionary work in 1732.

Founding Bethlehem (Pa) in 1741 as their American headquarters, they reached out to native peoples in New York and Pennsylvania. Increasingly threatened by hostile settlers, they moved to Ohio in 1772. The Delaware mission was at Schoenbrunn (Pretty Spring) and the Mahicans were at Gnadenhutten (Tents of Grace), founded 9 October.
During the American Revolution in Sept 1781 British forces moved the Moravians to Captives Town near Upper Sandusky, Ohio, without homes, food, or supplies. In February of 1782 starving Delawares were allowed to go back to Gnadenhutten to gather supplies and crops left behind. There, Pennsylvanian militia, fighting for the US, turned upon these hapless victims after frustrated attempts to avenge themselves against warriors. Delaware women (and children) were guarded in one cabin, the men in another.

After a night of praying and singing hymns, on 8 March 1882, these Christians, one at a time, were brutally clubbed to death. Their bodies – 40 men, 22 women, 34 children (by official count) – partially burned when the entire community was set ablaze as the murderers left. In 1798 Rev. John Heckewelder, once missionary to these same Delawares, gathered what remained into a common grave, and resettled a colony, which remains the oldest surviving American settlement in Ohio. By the end of the Revolution, the Moravian mission had fled to Canada, but, again, during the War of 1812, Moraviantown was attacked by US troops. Tekumtha, the Shawnee patriot, was killed nearby.
The Delawares, mourning the murder of a tenth of their number, sentenced Colonel William Crawford, a compatriot of George Washington, to death. He was tortured and burned at the stake at what became Crawford, Ohio, on 11 June 1782.

Today, far from Ohio and buckeye trees, Delaware tribal communities live in Oklahoma and in Ontario. All of this history, good and bad, helps constitute who Delawares are now and will be in the future.

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