Friday, July 14, 2017

Native Americans in Scioto -- Trails, Towns, and History

 Shawnee Mural by Robert Dafford

For the life of me, I don't understand why Scioto County doesn't do more to embrace its rich Native American heritage. More should be exposed and more should be taught about this early history. This land is rich with centuries of native lore, and, I venture, most residents know little about the significance of their homeland. Oh, the stories that still may reverberate through these hills and valleys.

We may find some highly visible traces of these native influences. Is it any wonder that Lucasville Valley Local's school mascot is an Indian? What could be more appropriate? Considering the importance of the Scioto River and the fertile farming and hunting grounds, Native Americans established many settlements in the river valley. Haystack Hill, the backdrop of the Lucasville community, is described as a centuries old lookout for native peoples such as the Shawnee.

The Shawnee were noble people fiercely protective of their land, and they believed the Master of Life made them superior to other people in natural and acquired qualities. They believed their people had sprung from the brain of the creator and that He had put them here on the island known as America.

Other groups lived here, too. Nearby Clay Township once housed a small Delaware town in which Chief Windaughalah dwelt. And, of course, the ancient Mound Builders lived throughout the immediate area.

 Ohio's Native Peoples -- 1600s-1700s

Some first-hand accounts can still be found such as Christopher Gist's Journals. Here is an entry from 1750 ...

(Went) S 12 M to a small Delaware Town of about twenty Families on the SE Side of Sciodoc Creek. We lodged at the House of an Indian whose Name was Windaughalah, a great Man and Chief of this Town, & Much in the English Interest. He entertained Us very kindly, and ordered a Negro Man that belonged to him to feed our Horses well; this Night it snowed, and in the Morning tho the Snow was six or seven Inches deep; the wild Rye appeared very green and flourishing thro it, and our Horses had fine Feeding.

Yes, Scioto County was once a hotbed of Native American activity. Strategically located on the waterways of the Scioto River and the Ohio River, the area was home to several tribes, primarily the Algonquian-speaking Shawnee, the Iroquois, and the Delaware (Lenape). The Shawnees had a special friendship with the Wyandots. They referred to the Wyandots as their “uncles.” 
The word Shawnee comes from the Algonquian word shawun, which means “southerner.”Allan Eckert in his book That Dark and Bloody River explains how in the early 1600s the Miamis – who at that time inhabited what is today Illinois, Indiana and Michigan – reached an agreement with the nomadic Shawnee which gave them temporary land rights to the uninhabited Ohio territory. This included land north of the Ohio River and its main tributaries including the Muskingum, the Scioto and the Miami Rivers.

Thanks to this agreement between the Miami and the Shawnee, the Shawnee established villages and hunting grounds throughout the Ohio Valley as early as the late 1600s. There were five divisions (or bands) of the Shawnee people: the Hathawekela, the Chalahgawtha, the Mekoche, the Kispoko, and the Pekowi.

The Iroquois – also in the area during this time – were unwilling to share these rich hunting grounds, so the Iroquois and its 5 Nations began increasing their pressure and pushing the Shawnee out of Ohio. Some went to Illinois; others went to Pennsylvania, Maryland or Georgia. However, as the power of the Iroquois weakened, members of the Shawnee nation moved back into Ohio from the south and the east. Many settled in the lower Scioto River valley.

The Shawnee were fierce warriors and allies of the French until British traders moved into the Ohio Country circa 1740. The French pushed the British out of Ohio and the tribe became allies of the French again until the British victory in the French and Indian War. As French trading posts turned into British forts, Ohio American Indian peoples, including the Shawnee, fought the British and their colonists.


Scioto Traces and Trails

Several major aboriginal trails crossed the Scioto County. Depending upon the geography, they ranged in width from a few feet to a mere trace. (See Map) These trails were important to the settlement and development of Ohio. Along these trails, natives traveled from one part of the state to another whether engaged in warfare, trade and barter, or migration. Trails throughout the county connected to other trails and villages in Ohio such as Lower Shawnee Town (now Portsmouth), Hurricane Tom's Town (now Piketon), Chillicothe.

Later the trails served, together with navigable streams, as the only means of entrance for the white traders and settlers who pushed their way into the country west and north of the Ohio River.
Three trails transversed Scioto County. Here are the major trails in our immediate area:

Trail No. 2. 
The all-important Scioto Trail ran north and south through the state, between Sandusky Bay and the mouth of the Scioto River. Ascending the Sandusky river, crossing the portage and descending the Scioto to its juncture with the Ohio, the Scioto Trail crossed the latter river and joined the famous "Warriors' Path” or “Warriors' Trace” (said to have been used for 5,000 years by Native Americans), leading far into the south land. Together these trails constituted one of the greatest war paths of the western country.

The principal towns along the way included the Sandusky towns near the bay; the Pipe's towns, Half King's town, Wyandot town, in the vicinity of the upper rapids of the Sandusky river; Mingo and Delaware towns in Delaware county; Old Salt Lick town and Mingo town in Franklin county;
Towns in or near Scioto included Maguck and the Chil- lieothe (at Chillicothe) towns in Pickaway and Ross, Hurricane Tom's town (at Piketon), Wanduchale's town further south (closer to Lucasville), and Lower Shawnee town, at the mouth of the Scioto River (at Portsmouth). The northern portion of this trail was identical with the route of Trail No. 6.

Trail No. 10 
This trail connected Chillicothe on the Ohio with Trail No. 3 midway between Mad River and Pickawillany. It followed in a general way the watershed between Paint creek and the Little Miami river.

Trail No. 15 
The trail connected the towns at the mouth of the Scioto with Trail No. 3 near French Margaret's town in Fairfield county. It passed through the great salt region of Salt creek and Jackson county and doubtless played an important part in the aboriginal salt industry. The principal towns were French Margaret's town, Standing Stone town (Lancaster) and Lower Shawnee town.

Standing Stone (Lancaster)

* A note on Standing Stone. Standing stones (often referred to as "tea tables") are prominent erosional features that are most often developed on sandstone bedrock deposits of uneven resistance to erosion. These conspicuous natural features evoke interest from Ohioans today and some were undoubtedly used as landmarks, if not gathering places, by prehistoric Ohio natives.

With the exception of the massive Mount Pleasant standing stone at Lancaster,Ohio, there remains a considerable question as to the actual amount of prehistoric human activity associated with these geologic features, despite the frequent 19th C. legends to the effect that Indians frequently held councils at or on them and even had maidens dancing atop them in order to lure pioneers to their death.

The largest and best known undoubtedly is the Standing Stone at Lancaster, Ohio, in Fairfield County. It is now part of Rising Park, also known as Mount Pleasant. The Mount Pleasant Standing Stone is an erosional remnant of he resistant Mississippian Black Hand Sandstone. Of historic significance, Tarhe, the chief of the Wyandottes, camped here in 1797 and remained for some time after the coming of the first settlers. Wyandot Tarhe Town or Crane Town stood at the foot of this standing stone, at the juncture of two major Indian trails.

 It is also the site of the fictional encounter of early frontier scouts with the Wyandots and the equally fictional rescue of Forest Rose, eponymous heroine of he much reprinted novel by Emerson Bennett. Emerson Bennett (1822-1905) was in his day considered among the top fiction writers in America.

Chief Tarhe married the daughter of Chevalier Durante, a French Canadian. They had a daughter named Myerrah (White Crane). Myerrah became the wife of Isaac Zane who was the brother of Ebenezer Zane and the historically well-known Betty Zane. Isaac was the founder of Zanesville, Ohio, in Logan County.

Raven Rock

* Another note on Raven Rock. The famed Raven Rock, located approximately two miles west of Portsmouth on U.S. Rte 52, is an outcropping said to have been a lookout used by the Shawnee to watch for flatboats along the Ohio. Some believe Raven Rock was named for an Indian chief that was killed along the area. However, the Indians used the term as a description of the rock cliff because the form of the hill looks like a giant bird.

Some stories hold that Daniel Boone and Tecumseh each stood at its edge, 500 feet above the Ohio River. Folklore relates that Daniel Boone escaped the Shawnee by taking a daring jump from the cliff onto a tree and climbed down to safety. A historical marker there notes, "Whether or not settlers died after having been first spotted from Raven Rock can never be known. However, it is almost certain that warriors stood in this very spot and watched the endless stream of settlers with a sense of foreboding over what it would mean for their families and their future."

Lower Shawneetown

Lower Shawneetown, also know as Sonnontio or Shannoah, was one of the earliest known Shawnee settlements within the boundaries of the present state of Ohio. Established in 1738, it was located at the mouth of the Scioto River where it empties into the Ohio River at present Portsmouth, Ohio.

Some accounts say that the Shawnee called the Ohio River Pelewathiipi and Spelewathiipi. Other historians say the Shawnee knew the river as Kiskepila Sepe because of the eagles that nested along the bank Whatever the Shawnee name, the river eventually took on an Iroquoian word, O-hee-yuh meaning “good” or “beautiful” river.

The river of the 1700s would certainly look different from the Ohio today. The Ohio River is a naturally shallow river that was artificially deepened by a series of dams. The natural depth of the river varied from about 3 to 20 feet (0.91 to 6.10 m).

Along the stretch of the Ohio River near Lower Shawneetown, Indians frequently attacked and killed American settlers as they attempted to float down river to the new settlements opening in Kentucky and around Ft. Washington. It became the most hazardous sections of the whole Ohio River. The Shawnee were receptive to trade with Europeans, but colonization was vigorously opposed.

The large community of Lower Shawneetown was less a village and more of a “district extending along the wide Scioto River and narrower Ohio River floodplains and terraces.” It was said to be a sprawling series of wickiups and longhouses.

The English referred to the village as “Lower Shawnee Town” and because the English came to conquer and settle this region (rather than the French), it is the English name by which we know it today. The word Lower in “Lower Shawnee Town” derives from its location down river from the other Indian villages that were established higher in the Upper Ohio Valley beginning in the 1730s.

Pressure from the growing European populations on the east coast of North America and in southern Canada had caused Native American populations to concentrate in the Ohio River Valley, and Lower Shawneetown was situated at a convenient point, accessible to many native communities living on tributaries of the Ohio River. Also, the town was near the Seneca Trail, used by Cherokees and Catawbas. It was well suited for this trade. And, it was surrounded by fertile, alluvial flatlands ideal for growing corn.

The founding of Lower Shawnee Town coincided with the return of the Shawnee, who had been expelled from their homeland by the Iroquois in the mid-1600s. Mainly a Shawnee village, it included members from most if not all five Shawnee divisions, as well as an assortment of other Native Americans including the Senec and the Lenape, Europeans, and Africans. During its peak it is estimated that the town had an estimated total population of 1,200 or more people.


Lower Shawneetown became a formidable threat to French ambitions. With a “fairly large number of bad characters from various nations,” Lower Shawneetown posed a significant challenge to France and Great Britain alike.

Both the French and British traders regarded Lower Shawneetown as one of two capitals of the Shawnee tribe – a place known as Chalahgawtha. Yet, native American history holds that when a village was called Chalahgawtha, a Shawnee word meaning "principal place," it meant that it was home to the principal leader. It then remained Chalahgawtha, the capital city of the Shawnee, until the death of that chief. Then the capital would move to the home village of the next person selected to lead. That village would then take on the name.

Historians believe Lower Shawneetown was such a “principal place.” Yet, Ohioans know the next Chalahgawtha today as Chillicothe – from 1758–1787, this settlement was one of seven Shawnee villages on the west bank of the Scioto River, near Paint Creek (the present Chillicothe, Ohio.)

Concerned that Lower Shawneetown would be readily influenced by trade goods supplied by the British, the Governor of New France, Charles de la Boische, Marquis de Beauharnois sent emissaries to Lower Shawneetown in 1741 to try to persuade the Shawnees to relocate to Detroit, but the proposal was rejected.

In April 1745, Peter Chartier and about 400 Shawnees took refuge in Lower Shawneetown after defying Governor Patrick Gordon in a conflict over the sale of rum to the Shawnees. Chartier opposed the sale of alcohol in Native American communities and threatened to destroy any shipments of rum that he found. He persuaded members of the Pekowi Shawnee to leave Pennsylvania and migrate south. After staying in Lower Shawneetown for a few weeks they proceeded into Kentucky to found the community of Eskippakithiki.

 Mural by Robert Dafford

In the summer of 1749, Pierre Joseph Celoron de Blainville moved down the Ohio River on his “lead plate expedition,” burying lead plates at six locations where major tributaries entered the Ohio. The plates were inscribed to claim the area for France. Céloron also sought out British traders and warned them to leave this territory which belonged to France.

Hearing that a French military force was approaching, the inhabitants of Lower Shawneetown hastily erected a stockade and fired three shots at a delegation, which had reached the gates bearing a French flag. The Shawnees reluctantly opened the gates and invited Céloron to enter; he summoned the five Pennsylvania traders who were then living in the town and ordered them to leave, but they refused. Céloron considered plundering their goods, but as he was confronted by a large and well-armed Shawnee force, he desisted and continued on his way.

Lower Shawneetown continued to grow to be a major trading hub in the years leading up to the French and Indian War. Between about 1735 and 1758 Lower Shawneetown became a center for commerce and diplomacy, "a sort of republic populated by a diverse array of migratory peoples, from the Iroquois to the Delawares, and supplied by British traders.”

In January 1751, woodsman and surveyor Christopher Gist and British traders Andrew Croghan and Andrew Montour, accompanied by Robert Callender, visited the town to strengthen alliances with the Britich. Gist's journal entry from January 29-February 11,1751:
"Tuesday 29.— Set the Mouth of Sciodoe Creek opposite to the Shannoah Town, here we fired our Guns to alarm the Traders, who soon answered, and came and ferryed Us over to the Town — The Land about the Mouth of Sciodoe Creek is rich but broken fine Bottoms upon the River & Creek. The Shannoah Town is situate upon both Sides the River Ohio, just below the Mouth of Sciodoe Creek, and contains about 300 Men, there are about 40 Houses on the S Side of the River and about 100 on the N Side, with a Kind of State-House of about 90 Feet long, with a light Cover of Bark in which they hold their Councils."
Thursday 30-Monday February 11. – Stayed in the Shawane town. While I was here the Inidans had a very extraordinary festival, at which I was present, and which I have exactly described at the end of my journal. In the evening a proper officer made a public proclamation, that all the Indian marriages were dissolved, and a public feast was to be held for the three succeeding days after, in which the women (as is their custom) were again to choose their husbands.
The next morning early the Indians breakfasted, and after spent the day in dancing, till the evening, when a plentiful feast was prepared; ater feasting, they spent the night in dancing.
The same way they passed the next days till the evening, the men dancing by themselves, and then the women in turns round fires, and dancing in their manner in the form of the figure '8,' about 60 or 70 of them at a time. The women, the whole time they danced, sung a song in their language, the chorus of which was.
I am not afraid of my husband; I will choose what man I please.
“… The women standing together as the men danced by them, and as any of the women liked a man passing by, she stepped in, and joined in the dance, till the rest of the women stepped in, and made their choice in the same manner, after which the dance ended and all retired to consummate.”
The journal terminates with a detailed description of a festival Gist witnessed during his stay in Lower Shawneetown ...

“As a community of 300 men, the town may have had a total population of between 1,200 and 1,500. The town consisted of 40 houses on the Kentucky side and 100 houses on the Ohio side, including a 90 feet (27 m) long council house. The Shawnee had relocated part of the village on the east bank of the Scioto River and on the Kentucky side of the Ohio River after a flood destroyed much of the original village which had been situated on the Scioto River's west bank.”
Lower Shawnee Town was abandoned after the fall of Fort Duquesne in 1758. The town was eventually destroyed by floods in November, 1758, and the population relocated to another site further up the Scioto River.

Charles Augustus Hale states that in about November, 1758 …

"...a very extreme, if not unprecedented, flood in the rivers swept off a greater part of the town, and it was never rebuilt at that place; but the tribe moved its headquarters...up the Scioto and built up successively the Old and New Chillicothe, or Che-le-co-the Towns. There remained a Shawnee village at the mouth of the Scioto, which was then built upon the other side, the present site of the city of Portsmouth.” 
The Story of Mary Draper Ingles

There's need to include one more incredible story related to Lower Shawneetown.

Mary Draper Ingles was only twenty-three and pregnant when Shawnee Indians invaded the peaceful Virginia settlement where she, her husband and children lived. Taken captive, she lived with the Shawnee for months until she finally escaped at Big Bone Lick, Kentucky by following a thousand mile trail to freedom.

Read this entry for the dramatic tale of Mary Ingles: Jane's Saddlebag –


  • Sharp, William E. (1996). "Chapter 6:Fort Ancient Farmers". In Lewis, R. Barry. Kentucky Archaeology. University Press of Kentucky. pp. 170–176. ISBN 0-8131-1907-3.
  • Stephen Warren, Worlds the Shawnees Made: Migration and Violence in Early America, UNC Press Books, 2014. ISBN 1469611732
  • Henry F. Dobyns, William R. Swagerty, Their Number Become Thinned: Native American Population Dynamics in Eastern North America, ACLS Humanities E-Book; Native American historic demography series; Newberry Library. Center for the History of the American Indian, University of Tennessee Press, 1983. ISBN 0870494007

  • Andrew Lee Feight, PhD. Belli's Town: Alexandria and the Virginia Military District” Lower Scioto Blog

  • Lower Shawnee Town” The Full Wiki.

  • Shawnee Indians.” Ohio History Central.

  • Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996. 
  • Shawnee Indians.” 2017

  • James. L. Murphy. Archaeological Potential of Standing Stones in Eastern Ohio. Ohio State Library. 
  • Andrew Lee Feight, Ph.D., “Lower Shawnee Town & Céloron's Expedition,” Scioto Historical, accessed July 12, 2017, 
  • Henderson, A. Gwynn. "The Lower Shawnee Town on Ohio: Sustaining Native Autonomy in an Indian 'Republic'" in Craig Thompson Friend, ed., The Buzzel About Kentuck: Settling the Promised Land. Lexington: U of Kentucky P, 1999. ISBN 0-8131-2085-3

  • Sugden, John. Tecumseh: A Life. New York: Holt, 1997. ISBN 0-8050-4138-9 (hardcover); ISBN 0-8050-6121-5 (1999 paperback).

Words of Wisdom From a Wise Native American Leader

So live your life that the fear of death can never enter your heart. Trouble no one about their religion; respect others in their view, and demand that they respect yours. Love your life, perfect your life, beautify all things in your life. Seek to make your life long and its purpose in the service of your people. Prepare a noble death song for the day when you go over the great divide. Always give a word or a sign of salute when meeting or passing afriend, even a stranger, when in a lonely place. Show respect to all people and grovel to none. When you arise in the morning give thanks for the food and for the joy of living. If you see no reason for giving thanks, the fault lies only in yourself. Abuse no one and no thing, for abuse turns the wise ones to fools and robs the spirit of its vision. When it comes your time to die, be not like those whose hearts are filled with the fear of death, so that when their time comes they weep and pray for a little more time to live their lives over again in a different way. Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.”

Chief Tecumseh, Shawnee Nation

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