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Chief Leather Lips

The Wyandots had become decimated by disease and a long and disastrous war with the Five Nations of the Iroquois that forced them from their homeland near Lake Superior. During this migration south, the Wyandots began splintering into a number of different clans that spread out over northwest, central, and south central Ohio. At the time when Ohio was in the process of becoming a state, there were at least 3 clans of Wyandots in Ohio. All of these clans openly opposed the American settlers moving into the area. Having fought alongside the British in the past, a number of Wyandots hoped that another alliance with the British might protect their land from the Americans. This turned out not to be the case and in a final conflict, the Americans defeated the Wyandots along with a number of other Native American nations at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Here a number of the Wyandot chiefs who took part in the conflict were killed.

After the battle, all of the Native Americans in Ohio were summoned to sign a treaty with the American that not only declared an end to the conflict between everyone, but also defined specific boundaries that they would honor. Some Indians declined to attend. Regardless of that fact, the treaty became known as the Treaty of Greeneville.

One of those that did sign the treaty was Chief Shateyaronyah (known by American frontiersmen as Chief Leather Lips). After the signing in 1795 Leather Lips openly encouraged cooperation between the Wyandots and Americans. That change of heart and his willingness to give away land that others said he didn't have the authority to do, would ultimately lead to a conspiracy of revenge between him and two Shawnee brothers, Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa (The Prophet). At the side of Tecumseh, were two other brothers: Wyandot Chief Stiahta (Roundhead) and his brother John Battise.

After the treaty was finalized, Tecumseh became extremely upset with the direction his fellow Native Americans were taking. It became his life mission to unite all of the Indian nations into one organized nation that the Americans would be forced to deal with. However, there was a chink in his plan and that was several of the Wyandot Chiefs, namely Leather Lips and Tarhe, both of whom had signed the Greeneville Treaty, were both openly encouraging other Wyandots to accept the American settlers as well as the treaty they had signed. With both of these leaders openly defying Tecumseh, it became increasingly difficult for him to convince other nations across the country to unite. If he couldn't convince a few leaders in his own backyard so-to-speak to join him, why should others from even further away join him in this mission against the Americans.

In an effort to bring an end to this defiance, Tecumseh suggested that his brother the Prophet, bring charges against Leather Lips and Tarhe. The Prophet along with Chief Roundhead and some others held a council where false charges of witchcraft were brought against Leather Lips. The verdict of the trial came quickly and the sentence was death. Roundhead quickly dispatched 6 loyal Wyandot warriors to find Leather Lips and carry out the execution. Finding him was not difficult as he was living openly along with a few other Wyandots along the eastern side of the Scioto River in Delaware and Franklin Counties.

Leather Lips Trial

On the evening of June 1, 1810 the six Wyandots arrived at the Black Horse Tavern in Dublin. This new tavern was operated by the Sells family and was located along the Scioto River about 12 miles north of downtown Columbus. This is where historic Dublin is now located. The six indians told Benjamin Sells they were looking for the old Chief Shateyaronyah, known to the locals as Chief Leather Lips. They called him Leather Lips because when his word was given, it could be trusted -- his words were as strong as leather.

Leather Lips had become a local fixture at the new Black Horse Tavern which the Sells brothers had constructed the previous fall. The tavern was just below an old and well-traveled Indian trail (today the trail would have followed along Dublin's High Street. In fact, during that winter a number of Wyandots would gather at the new tavern and talk.

The following day Benjamin told his brother John about the visitors the night before. John Sells was a friend of Leather Lips and he immediately set off to find the chief who he knew was camped about 2 miles north along the west bank of the Scioto.

When John Sells arrived at the camp, which was in a copse of sugar trees close to the bend in the river, he found the six warriors seated around his old friend who had been bound with thin roping. There were also several other frontiersmen present as well as a companion of the Chief.

Sells learned the charge against the chief was witchcraft and the small group were conducting a trial. The entire council lasted about 3 hours. The six men were supposedly the men who had suffered from Leather Lips witchcraft. From Sells later written account of his conversation with the Wyandots, these men probably believed the old Chief was responsible for some calamities that had recently befallen upon them.

According to Sells, as he became more aware of the charges, it became even more clear that these charges were false, and based on what he thought was just superstition. At the time Sells wasn't aware of Tecumseh's plotting.

When Sells questioned the leader of the six warriors about the charges he replied that Leather Lips had made a "good Indian sick" and he had "made a horse sick and die." The leader said Leather Lips was a bad Indian. Sells then spoke with the other frontiersmen present and argued they could free the old chief from this mockery, but refused to join in, fearing a reprisal from the northern tribes if they interfered with the council. During this time in Ohio's history, this area was still sparsely populated and conflicts with the Indians were increasingly common.

Sells then proposed buying the chief's freedom by giving the leader his prize horse in exchange for the chief's release. The lead warrior first wanted to see the horse before considering this offer. After looking the horse over carefully, he consulted with the other warriors for a period of time. The offer was finally rejected. Noting how concerned Sells seemed to be over what was going to be the outcome for the old Chief, the lead warrior completely misread Sells interest in Leather Lips and said if Sells really wanted to execute the old man, it would be alright with them, but he couldn't accept the horse. Despite the negotiations, the efforts to free the old chief failed.

After clothing himself in his finest attire, Leather Lips, joined by his executioners, sang his death chant as they walked about 60 yards away from the camp. At one point, according to eyewitnesses, he knelt down in front of a shallow grave that the warriors had prepared earlier, and prayed, along with 5 of the Wyandots. After he completed his prayer, he remained bowed and one of the Wyandots pulled a tomahawk from his clothing and quickly struck Leather Lips in the head a number of times. Each of the others then took the tomahawk and struck him. When it was clear that he was dead, one of them touched the old Chief's neck and declared his neck was covered with sweat, an indication that he was guilty of witchcraft as charged. The body was quickly covered over and the 6 warriors departed.

From that time forward, the site of the execution became a shrine of sorts for the new citizens to the area. Most of them had only fear in their minds for the people they considered to be wild savages who only wanted to kill the settlers given any opportunity. Leather Lips was the exception and his life became one to celebrate. For many years after his death, the location was treated as sacred. However, as those familiar with the story began to die, the location and meaning of the story started to lose its meaning.

The Exact Location of Leather Lips Ordeal and Burial

According to the book This is Ohio by Grace Goulder, the execution took place at the entrance to the caves that are now known as the Olentangy Indian Caverns, located north of Dublin and south of Delaware County. It is not clear where Grace Goulder acquired this information, but there is no evidence to suggest this was the site. According to information from the Olentangy Indian Caverns, there was evidence found in the caverns that suggested they were used by the Wyandots over the years, perhaps as a shelter from the weather as well as a place to seclude themselves from other Native Americans. Both of these are probably incorrect as well since there has never been any indication that Native Americans ever tried to hide from one another. It was more than likely a place used as a warehouse for foods.

Today, there is a marker at the corner of Stratford Avenue and Riverside Drive indicating that location as the execution site. According to Sells, Chief Leather Lips was buried among the tall trees growing in the area, but at the time he wrote this information down, those trees had been removed and the land was being farmed by the Thompson family.


Chief Leather Lips Grave Marker

This monument was erected in 1889 by the Wyandot Club to honor Wyandot Chief Shateyaronyah (Chief Leather Lips). After the chief was killed, the site became of somewhat historic importance to the local settlers moving into the new community. It supposedly marks the site of his execution, June 1, 1810, although the eyewitness account of John Sells suggested the date was actually June 2, 1810.

The Wyandot Club was organized shortly after the end of the Civil War as a very small social club, but also as an organization of members that wished to preserve some of the historic locations that were quickly being lost to the growth of the community. In those efforts, the Wyandot Club purchased about 1 acre of land from J.C. Thompson, who was the first farmer to purchase the land in the 1830s. In 1889, the club purchased a Scotch granite monument to be erected on the site they believed to have been the location of Leather Lips execution. The granite for the monument was made brought over from Aberdeen Scotland specifically for this monument.

The monument reads:

Leather Lips


According to the eyewitness account by John Sells, one of the founders of Dublin, Leather Lips camp was located "about 2 miles" north of Sells home, "in a copse of trees close to the bend in the river." The marker, if measured from Bridge Street in Old Dublin, is about 3 miles north and is located at a bend in the Scioto River. That leads me to the conclusion that the grave marker is a relatively accurate location of Leather Lips grave site, but probably not 100%. At the time Sells described many years later, the location of the grave site had been cleared of trees, and had since been turned into farm fields. That would suggest that the grave was probably a little further east, and away from the road.

Leatherlips Sculpture in Dublin
Leather Lips sculpture in Dublin, Ohio overlooking the Scioto River.

Dublin's Leather Lips Sculpture

On River Road, south of the Columbus Zoo at Scioto Park is an abstract stone sculpture created as a memorial of Leather Lips.

Leather Lips Sculpture
7377 Riverside Drive
Dublin, Ohio 43016