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Athens County, Ohio Indians

In 1769 the territory included within the limits of the present State of Ohio was an almost unbroken wilderness. The beautiful river that forms its southern boundary had, indeed, been threaded by a few eager explorers; but the white man had not yet established himself upon its banks. So too Lake Erie, on the north, had long before been furrowed by the adventurous craft of civilized men; but on all its borders there was not a hamlet nor a house. Over the whole region, now so thickly populated, brooded the silence of savage life. The rivers were ploughed only by the swift canoe of the Indian, the forests echoed no sound of productive industry, and the virgin earth waited for the race that was to develop its riches and its beauty.

Today (1869), in wealth and population Ohio ranks third among the states of the Union. Large cities, flourishing towns, peaceful hamlets, and smiling farms enliven and beautify the scene. Huge steamers, laden with passengers and with wealth, ply upon the rivers and lakes which, less than three generations ago, were silent and desolate. Railroads traverse the state in all directions; busy manufactories give employment to thousands; institutions of learning and charity abound, and, in all respects, the state ranks as a prosperous and powerful commonwealth.

History does not elsewhere record such an extraordinary case of rapid development, and the political philosopher finds abundant food for thought in tracing, from their first beginning, the causes that have contributed to so great a growth. We propose, in these pages, to chronicle some of the events and to sketch some of the individuals connected with the settlement and development of one small portion of this great state, viz: Athens County.

Before entering, however, upon matters purely local, let us take a general view of the country and its inhabitants prior to its first settlement by the whites, and thus enable ourselves more clearly to appreciate the wildness of the region to which the early settlers came.

Whatever curious speculations may be indulged as to the origin of the Indian races that once inhabited the northwestern territory, it is certain that we have no clear knowledge of them farther back than the middle of the seventeenth century. Beyond that, they disappear in the mists of the pre-historic period, and, even long after that, much that is written concerning them rests on vague tradition. Whether they were sprung from some of the oriental tribes, or what their origin and whence their travels, are. questions that will probably never be answered; they belong to the class of ethnological mysteries which will, in all times, furnish themes for the ingenious researches of learned men, but which will never be solved. It is not proposed to enter into this broad and interesting topic, but merely to glance at the condition of the country and the character of the aboriginal inhabitants of Ohio before its first settlement by the whites.

In 1650, Ohio was an unbroken forest, occupied principally by a tribe of Indians called the Eries, who had their villages and hunting grounds near the shores of the lake of that name, and whose wanderings were chiefly confined to the present northern portions of the state. The Wyandots (or Hurons) held the peninsula between Lakes Huron, Erie and Ontario, and their hunting excursions extended as far south as the regions about the mouths of the Maumee and Sandusky, while a tribe called the Andastes possessed the valleys of the Allegheny and the upper Ohio.

During the latter half of the seventeenth century, frequent and terrible incursions were made among these tribes of the west by the more warlike and powerful Iroquois, from New York. These Iroquois, so called by the French, were the noted Five Nations, viz: the Mohawks, Oneidas, Onondagas, Cayugas, and Senecas, and they formed the strongest confederation known in Indian history. Tradition relates with what relentless fury and unwearyingly tenacity the hostile Iroquois warred upon the western tribes until finally the latter were wiped out-either massacred, driven away, or merged into other tribes.

Thus, at the beginning of the eighteenth century, Ohio was almost unclaimed and uninhabited by human beings save as it was used as a hunting ground by the Iroquois, or crossed and recrossed by them in their long war expeditions. But they were not able to maintain complete supremacy over so vast a region, and between 1700 and 1750 Ohio again became occupied by different tribes of savages, which, the active warfare of the Iroquois having measurably ceased, took possession of the whole region as weeds take possession of a neglected field. They probably sprung from the surviving members of the tribes that had been overcome and dispersed by the Iroquois, and a mere enumeration of them will answer our present purpose. They were,

  1. The Wyandots, who were descended, doubtless, from the undestroyed remnant of the once powerful tribe of that name, which, half a century before, had been driven off by the Iroquois. Freed from the vindictive pursuit of their ancient enemies, this tribe returned to their old hunting grounds, and by the middle of the eighteenth century their right was undisputed to the northern part of the state.
  2. The Delawares, whose principal settlements were on the Muskingum river, where they flourished and became a powerful tribe, asserting a possession over nearly one-half of the state. – Deleware Indian History
  3. The Shawanese (written also Shawanoese and Shawnees), who are supposed to have come from the distant south-perhaps from the country bordering on the Gulf of Mexico. They occupied the Scioto and Miami country, and for a long distance eastward, including the present county of Athens and adjacent region, though the Wyandots and Delawares were also frequently found in this section on hunting or war expeditions. The Shawanese had four tribes, or subdivisions, two of which were the Piqua and the Chillicothe tribes; hence the names of those towns. Powerful and warlike, they were among the most efficient allies of the French during the seven years war, and subsequently took an active part against the Americans during the revolution and the Indian war which followed. Their hostility was terminated by the treaty at Greenville in 1795, by which they ceded -nearly the whole of their territory. A portion of them, however, again made war against the United States, having, with Tecumseh, joined the British standard during the war of 1812. – Shawnee Indian History
  4. The Ottawas (or as they were called by the early white settlers, the Tawas), who dwelt in the valleys of the Sandusky and Maumee rivers, and who, together with the Wyandots, occupied portions of northern Ohio. – Ottawa Indian History

The foregoing enumeration conveys an idea, sufficiently accurate for our purpose, of the Indian tribes that inhabited Ohio during the middle and latter part of the eighteenth century, and up to the time of the first white settlement, under the auspices of the “Ohio Company.” These tribes were roving and active, and in the power to make war by no means contemptible. The long and bloody struggle which they made to keep possession of the country, sufficiently attests their tenacity of purpose and their capacity for concerted action.

There is reason to believe that in some former age, though how remote can only be conjectured, what is now Athens county was a favorite resort of the Indians. Indeed, remarkable traces of their existence are still to be found here. In Athens and Dover townships, on the level plateau called “the Plains,” are several of those Indian mounds which, found in various parts of the Mississippi valley, have so long interested American archaeologists. A still more interesting Indian relic in the same township, is the remains of an ancient earthwork or fortification. Considerably more than an acre is included by an embankment which, though it has been ploughed over for a third of a century, is still very marked with its rude bastions, ramparts, and curtains. It is probable that on this spot, some hundreds of years since, a battle was fought between warring tribes of savages for the possession of the inviting plains of Dover and the lower valley of the Hockhocking. Numerous skeletons have been found in these mounds, together with Indian hatchets and other weapons of stone.

Such, then, were the occupants of Ohio in the middle of the eighteenth century, and such, at least, approximately, were the limits of their homes and haunts. During the half century that followed, while the white men were building up a civil society in the East, and events were slowly drifting toward the collision and war which resulted in American independence, the possessory rights of these savages were but little disturbed in Ohio. Here they roamed, and hunted, and made love or war at their pleasure, little conscious of their approaching troubles and doom. It is no part of the purpose of this narrative to treat in detail -of the history of this period, of the intrigues and wars of the French and English for the possession of this Western country, and of the fitful and treacherous alliances of the Indians now with one side and now with the other. Our aim is merely to call attention to the character of the Indian tribes that occupied the country by way of showing in some degree the dangers and the obstacles with which the pioneers had to deal; this being cursorily accomplished, we pass to events more nearly connected with our subject.

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