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Native Americans in Ohio

Before I began doing some intense research into the subject I had this general impression that before the early settlers came into Ohio, the land was teaming with Native Americans that had lived here peacefully for thousands of years before the Europeans came and forced them out. Although I am many years removed from our public schools, I doubt that our history classes have changed that much in the intervening years.

The pre-historic Mound Builders were here for centuries, and then they disappeared, for whatever reason. For about a 100 years give or take, Ohio was mostly uninhabited. From around 1500 - 1600 the Mound Builder's Culture was ending. Once they left their villages were taken over by vegetation and forests. The fields once farmed went unplanted. By 1650 the French explorers were wading ashore around Lake Erie and exploring the land south. They found a few isolated tribes in the north.

About this time the groups from the Iroquois Confederacy located in New York, began a organized effort to control the land south. All but the Erie fled from the Iroquois threat, but they decided to take a stand and they paid the price for this decision. They were virtually non-existent after this bloody war. The Iroquois now controlled most of Ohio. The few peoples still here had to obey their wishes. However, the Iroquois were not strong enough to control all of the area. If they had, our entire country may have turned out quite differently.

By 1700 there was increasing pressure being put on the Iroquois from the French and English in the east. They had to concentrate their forces there, leaving Ohio unregulated. Numerous neighboring Native Americans soon realized there was good hunting in Ohio, and with the absence of the Iroquois, the land was there for the taking.

The Miamis moved in taking control of what is western Ohio today. The Wyandot Hurons began moving in from above Lake Erie, taking control over the central region of Ohio. Along with them came the Ottawas, Chippewas and Potawatomis who moved further south. Along the Scioto River came the Shawnee from the southeast. They exerted the strongest influence with their fierce warrior culture allowed them to obtain the most influence of all the coalescing groups of Native Americans.

The Delaware, a group of Native Americans that had lived along the eastern coast, were being forced westward from their home land. They too came to Ohio looking for refuge and they settled around central Ohio as did a small group of Mingos.

So this was the state of affairs when the early frontiersmen came down the Ohio. They saw the remains of the mighty Mound Builder settlements. They encountered numerous Native American groups that always seemed to be in motion from one place to another and there was no organized authority in the land, no one to rally the people to fend off an invader. Had the Iroquois been able to stay, to exert their influence and unite the Native Americans as one force in Ohio, then things may have turned out dramatically different.

Ohio's Historic Native Americans

The following is a rough estimate of these Nations. Some where large and consisted of multiple villages found throughout the territory, while others consisted of a single small village.

  • Chippewa. The name Chippewa is adaptation of Ojibwa which meant 'to roast till puckered up,' referring to the puckered seam on their moccasins. The Chippewa were one of the largest tribes in North America, and they ranged from along the shores of Lake Huron and Lake Superior and extending across Minnesota, and North Dakota. Although strong in numbers and occupying an extensive territory, the Chippewa were never prominent in history, owing to their remoteness from the frontier during the period of the colonial wars. While the Chippewa were present in Ohio and representatives of this tribe appear as parties to the Treaty of Greenville, and to treaties concluded in 1807 and 1817 by which lands in Ohio were relinquished to American settlers, they were never a major population within the confines of the state.

  • Delaware. The Delaware lived in Ohio for a considerable period in the course of their migration west under White pressure. The Delaware consisted of a confederacy, formerly the most important of the Algonquian stock, and occupying the entire basin around the Delaware River in eastern Pennsylvania and southern New York, together with most of New Jersey and Delaware. They called themselves Lenape or Lenilenape, equivalent to 'real men,' or 'native, genuine men'. The first English speaking immigrants to North America called them Delaware based on the name of the principal river flowing through the area. French settlers called them Loups, 'wolves,' a term probably applied originally to the Mohican on Hudson rivers.

    The Delawares came from the region of the Delaware and Susquehanna Rivers in Pennsylvania and settled for a time along the Muskingum and later upon the Auglaize in northwestern Ohio on territory claimed by the Miamis and Wyandots. Later still, they moved from the Auglaize to the White River in Indiana, which is a branch of the Wabash. They were at one time before they came to Ohio conquered by the five nations of Iroquois and called women and reduced to the grade of women; but after their arrival in Ohio they showed themselves to be brave in war and skillful in the chase and in part redeemed their reputation and standing with the other tribes.

  • Erie. Meaning in Iroquois, "long tail" the name refers to the panther and they are sometimes referred to as the Cat Nation. They lived across all of northern Ohio (except the upper northwest corner) and southeastern Ohio, perhaps as far south as the Ohio River. Little is known of this tribe except what was related by Iroquois tribe in the a final struggle between the Erie and Iroquois Nations. This bloody conflict resulted in the Erie Nation's complete destruction. The war lasted from 1653 to 165. Some of the so-called Seneca of Oklahoma may have been descendants from Erie refugees that fled Ohio as a result of this extermination.

  • Honniasont. This tribe occupied parts of the eastern fringe of Ohio after they were incorporated into the Iroquois.

  • Illinois. The Illinois were a confederacy of Algonquian tribes, that primarily occupied southern Wisconsin, northern Illinois, and sections of Iowa and Missouri. While not part of Ohio's Native Americans, representatives of the Illinois were parties to the Treaty of Greenville.

  • Iroquois. After the destruction or dispersal of the Erie and other native tribes of Ohio, many Iroquois settlements were made Ohio, particularly by the western most tribe, the Seneca.

  • Kickapoo. Representatives of this tribe were parties to the Treaty of Greenville by which Ohio lands were relinquished to the Whites.

  • Mingos were but a small tribe, a branch of the Iroquois which formerly occupied the eastern portion of the State near Steubenville, and later settled upon the banks of the Scioto where Columbus now stands. They only had 3 small villages, one in front of and south from where Nationwide Arena is now located. Another was at the west end of the Harrisburg bridge is now located and the other was near the east side of the Green Lawn bridge. Logan was their most noted chief and at one time possessed great influence not only over his own but all the other tribes northwest of the Ohio River.

  • Miami. After the original tribes of Ohio had been cleared away, some Miami worked their way into the State, particularly into the western and northern parts, and they gave their name to three Ohio rivers, the Miami, Little Miami, and Maumee.

  • Mosopelea. When the French first heard of them, they were in southwestern Ohio.

  • Ottawa. In the eighteenth century, Ottawa worked into the northern part of Ohio and established settlements along the shore of Lake Erie.

  • Potawatomi. Representatives of this tribe were parties to the Treaty of Greenville in 1795 and to treaties made in 1805, 1807, and 1817 by which their Ohio land were relinquished to the Whites.

  • Seneca. (see Iroquois)

  • Shawnee. It is probable that some Shawnee were in Ohio at very early periods. After they had been driven from the Cumberland Valley by the Chickasaw and Cherokee shortly after 1714, they worked their way north into Ohio and, as were joined by the former eastern and southern bands. Ohio became the Shawnee center for a considerable period, until the Treaty of Greenville.

    The Shawnees, wandered over a wide swath of southeastern United States including Florida, Georgia and Tennessee before being driven out out by the Creeks and Seminoles and a few other Southern tribes. They eventually made their homes in Ohio along the lower Scioto River in what is now Pickaway and Ross counties and sought protection of the Miamis and Delawares. At this time Black Hoof was their principal chief, but later at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, in August, 1794, Blue Jacket became the chief authority of the Shawnee. They were exceedingly restless and aggressive, and constantly annoyed with the early settlers in Virginia and Kentucky. It was these conflicts that the military expedition of Lord Dunmore in 1774 was particularly directed. When Lord Dunmore's forces reached the Scioto about 7 miles south from Circleville, the Indians sued for peace and the celebrated conference took place by which the Shawnees agreed not to again hunt or conduct marauding expeditions south of the Ohio.

  • Wyandot. Meaning perhaps "islanders," or "dwellers on a peninsula." Occasionally spelled Guyandot. At an earlier date they were commonly known as Huron, a name given by the French from huré, "head," and the deprecating suffix -on, meaning rough head probably because the men would often wear their hair in what we call today, a Mohawk. The Wyandot were mostly friendly with the other tribes, and in particular with the Shawnee and Mingo. The exception to this were the Iroquois. It was the Iroquois that forced the Wyandot out of Canada and into the Ohio territory.

    Generally, the tribe lived in a number of longhouses that made up the village. Each longhouse could be up to 150' in length and might house an entire clan. The Wyandot woman were exceptional farmers and the men usually provided meat from hunting and trapping.

    At the beginning of the 1800s, there was a strong contingent of Wyandot from around what is today known as Upper Sandusky all along the Sandusky River up to Lake Erie. During the next 20 years their land would be confined to just around the Upper Sandusky area.

These were the main Native American groups in Ohio from 1650 - 1800s. Over this time period there was also increasing influence in the area first by the French, then the English, and finally the Americans after winning their freedom during The American Revolution.

All of these parties had one thing in common: they knew that the land that would one day become Ohio, was important real estate. Bloody conflicts, battles, and wars would be fought here to control this land. The fact that Native Americans were divided between alliances, made them weaker both as a force and as a political entity that must be recognized. Except for a few leaders, they had no common vision to unite themselves, and so chose sides, more often than not, the losing side.