Ohio, 170 Years Ago...The Tragic Time Of High Sun And Thunder Moon...July 20, 1843
Some are unaware of their secret. Others learned their secret at an early age, but by now have either forgotten or repressed it. Some know it well, but couldn't care less. Some feel that revealing their secret would serve no purpose, or that it would be irrelevant in today's world. With the passage of time, some are even uncertain as to whether their secret is true or not.
Still, there are those who remember and honor their secret secretly. Sometimes, you can tell who carries their secret by subtle signs. Not wearing a watch could be such a sign. Yes, there are those among us who do not measure time as others do. There are those among us who still look to the skies, the lakes, the rivers, and the hills to mark passage of the natural cycles of life, because the strict precision measurement of western time simply does not fit into their life's cultural or spiritual paradigm. Those would be the ones who quietly (and among themselves of course) measure their lives in "Indian time." They would be the ones who still walk on what is known as "the Red Road."
There were hundreds, even thousands, of such people who lived in this state, who built homes, roads, and fine villages here. Perhaps surprisingly, in 1776, the year that the United States declared its independence from England, the land Oyo, now called Ohio, was inhabited almost exclusively by such people. Twenty-seven years later, by the time Ohio became a state in 1803, there were only a few groups of those people left. On July 20, 1843, during the time of High Sun and Thunder Moon, the last of them officially left Ohio after a forced march from Upper Sandusky to Cincinnati. Whomever remained here who were connected in any way to those people were forced into silence. If their secret would have been revealed, they too could have been forced to leave our state. Were those emigrants forced from our state for the commission of a crime? Was their land, property, farms, houses, cattle and sheep taken from them due to something they had done?
No dear reader, it was only because of their race. These were indeed the Native Americans, commonly and erroneously referred to back then as "Indians," and the brutal, inhumane, horrendous, relentless, and institutionalized subjugation and removal of those people here in Ohio would be the collective subject of this column.
A few years after Native Americans Squanto and Massasoit helped the Pilgrims to avoid starvation at Plymouth Rock in 1621 (at the time of that first collective Thanksgiving), other settlers were seen rolling Native American heads down the streets of a nearby settlement. Native Americans that musket balls did not shoot down often died as a result of smallpox and other European introduced diseases. Even before the term "biological warfare" was officially recognized and understood, smallpox-infested blankets were gifted to unwitting tribes. Large Mastiff dogs were brought in to hunt down and tear Native Americans to pieces. Native American survivors were pressed into hard labor slavery on the frontier. In an effort to escape all of this, many eastern tribes flooded into the Ohio wilderness.
While the British controlled the 13 colonies, the Alleghenies were considered the edge of settlement for colonists, so for awhile the Ohio country remained a highly developed and very eclectic Native American paradise, having Delaware and Seneca-Iroquois people mixing with the Shawnee, Huron, Ojibwa, Kaskaskia, Miami, Potawtomi, Mingo, Munsee, Ottawa, Wyandot, and many other such groups who built their homes, roads, and villages here.
After America gained her independence from England, settlers flooded over the Appalachians and across the Ohio River and into the Ohio Valley. Having already been pushed from their former homes, Native Americans fought back bitterly. For years, Ohio and Kentucky were bloody battlegrounds, building up to an 1811 uprising led by Shawnee leader Tecumseh. As America's 1812 second war with England began, many Native Americans sided with the British. American troops finally pushed Tecumseh into Canada where he was killed. From that day forward, there would be little love lost between many remaining Ohio Native Americans and the incoming settlers. In 1830, the United States Congress, by a razor-slim margin of only six votes, passed the Indian Removal Act. "Indians" living east of the Mississippi were told to move west. The Cherokee "Trail of Tears" was the best known of those removals, but there were others, including Ohio's removal of the Wyandots in 1843 from their reservation at Upper Sandusky. At that time, they were the last remaining Native American residents of this state.
I have an old book called the "Military History of Ohio Illustrated" (1885, Soldiers Edition) that has a chapter concerning "The American Indians." First, the book attempts to differentiate more modern "Indians" from earlier mound builders, referring to "Indians" as "invaders." (And I suppose the incoming settlers were not?) I will quote the following revealing passage from that book. It says much about the temperament of Ohio's settlers back then:
"These invaders are now being driven westward by the march of civilization and as years roll on they will doubtless be blotted from the face of the earth as their numbers are being rapidly diminished. Is it but a just act of retaliation, ordained by an all-wise Providence? One peculiarity of the Indians is that all attempts at civilization have proved abortive. Their nature cannot be changed."
On July 20, 1843, the remnants of the Wyandot (or Wyandotte) Nation, after their forced journey from Upper Sandusky, boarded two steamers in Cincinnati in order to complete their journey to new lands in the west. Those few of mixed blood who remained here in Ohio claimed to be White, for obvious reasons. Many living in Ohio today can claim Native American ancestry, although for personal, social, or cultural reasons, or perhaps simply because of fear...or perhaps, wisdom, there are those for whom that secret will forever remain... a secret.
During the last Sunday church service of the Wyandots on July 9th, a Wyandot leader, Squire Grey Eyes, rose to speak. Reportedly, this was his last paragraph:
"It remains only for me to say farewell. Yes, it is indeed farewell. No more shall we engage in the solemn feast, or the feast of rejoicing. No more shall Sandusky's plains and forests echo to the voice of song and praise. No more shall we assemble in our Temple to sing the sacred songs and hear the story of the Cross. Here our dead are buried. We have placed fresh flowers upon their graves for the last time. No longer shall we visit them. Soon they shall be forgotten, for the onward march of the strong White Man will not turn aside for the Indian graves. Farewell - Farewell Sandusky River. Farewell - Farewell our hunting grounds and homes. Farewell to the stately trees and forests. Farewell to the Temple of the Great Spirit. Farewell to our White Brothers, and friends, and neighbors. It is but a little time for us till we leave our earthly home; for here we are no continuing city, but we seek one that is to come, whose builder and maker is God. Let us remember the dying words of Brother Stewart: 'Be Faithful.' "
The Wyandot Mission Church stands today, and provides summer Sunday services in Upper Sandusky (and those graves are still there too!) thanks to the United Methodist Church, for which the Wyandot Church is a Heritage Landmark. John Stewart, referred to above, was the first Methodist missionary in Upper Sandusky.