It was the land on the other side of the mountains.
To America's colonial settlers -- largely French, English and Spanish -- living on the Atlantic coast and in and among the hills and valley stretching away to the west, the Appalachian Mountains seemed to pose an almost insurmountable barrier to further settlement.
Yes, there were passes, such as Cumberland Gap, that threaded pathways through the mountains. But travel was treacherous, and large numbers of Native Americans did not look with favor on interlopers.
Over the course of time, the population of the United States began to grow. In fact, before Europeans' arrival, it already had a substantial population. Evidence left by the ancient civilizations of the Aztec, the Inca and the Ohio Valley mound builders support the view that Native Americans were many in number.
But the Europeans brought more than horses, guns and missionary zeal to America; they also brought disease. And the diseases they brought -- measles, diphtheria and smallpox -- moved across the country even more rapidly than the newcomers themselves, killing thousands of Native Americans. By the time colonial settlement was well underway, Native America's population was a shadow of what it once was.
England saw America as a place that might become well-populated indeed, as whole colonies began to be bought and sold. By 1750, the English colonies in North America supported populations numbering in the hundreds of thousands.
Eventually, some of those people set their gaze over the mountains.
In 1750, a group of wealthy Eastern landowners hired veteran frontiersman Christopher Gist to cross the mountains and report back to them as to what he found. Other French, English and Spanish explorers had been on the other side of the mountains, but their reports were fragmentary and often episodic.
Gist was different. He was observant and descriptive. American author Washington Irving later recounted what Gist found in central Ohio:
"It was rich and level, watered with streams and rivulets, and clad with noble forests of hickory, walnut, ash, poplar, sugar maple and wild cherry trees. Occasionally there were spacious plains covered with wild rye; natural meadows with blue grass and clover; and buffaloes thirty and forty at a time grazing on them as in a cultivated pasture. Deer, elk and wild turkeys abounded. 'Nothing is wanted but civilization,' said Gist, 'to make this a most delightful country.' "
It would be some time before a significant number of people would make the long difficult journey Gist had made to the Ohio Country. But within 10 years, a daring group of men would begin to make that journey on a continuing basis.
Recognizing the wealth that was up for grabs in fur trade in the Ohio Valley, these men came to be called the long hunters.
One of them was a man named Daniel Boone. In the company of other frontiersmen, such as Simon Kenton, Boone returned again and again to the Ohio Valley. In 1769, he was captured by the Shawnees and marched into central Ohio. He later remembered central Ohio, as well:
"A considerable way up the Ollentangy (today's Big Darby Creek) on the southwest side thereof or betwixt it and the Miami, there is a very large prairie, and from this prairie down Ollentangy to Sciota, is generally first-rate land. The timber is walnut, sugar tree, ash, buckeye, locust, wild cherry and spice wood, intermixed with some oak and beech. From the mouth of the Ollentangy on the east side of the Sciota, up to the carrying place (near what is now Upper Sandusky), there is a large body of first and second-rate land, and tolerably well-watered. The timber is ash, sugar tree, walnut, oak, locust and beech ... We proceeded from this place down the Sandusky, and in our passage we killed four bears and a number of turkeys."
Boone escaped and found his way home. He returned to settle in what is now Kentucky and brought many other settlers into the Ohio Valley with him.
The broad prairies and dense forests of central Ohio would find favor with a number of newcomers to Ohio, as well. In 1797, Lucas Sullivant founded the town of Franklinton at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers. Columbus, the new state capital of Ohio, would follow in 1812.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.