In spring 1795, a young surveyor named Lucas Sullivant waited until the ice in the Ohio River had moved away, then crossed the river with a party of men.
His mission was simple to state but complicated to complete.
In the wake of the American Revolution, the newly formed United States found itself with a few problems. Not the least of these was an army that had not been paid in some time -- and there was no money to pay them.
Congress solved the problem by instead giving veterans land in the new empire won from Britain in the Ohio Country.
Virginia had claimed a huge swath of land in what is now Ohio as its reserve to pay its veterans and others to whom the state was indebted. But to make the land grants, the land had to be surveyed.
Enter Sullivant. Born in 1765, Sullivant was too young to fight in the Revolution. Trained as a surveyor, he was more than happy to help with the mapping of the Virginia Military District, which stretched from the Miami River in the west to the Scioto River in the east.
Taking his pay in land, Sullivant would end up owning more land than anyone in Ohio. But empty land makes no money.
To induce people to settle on his land, Sullivant laid out a number of towns. Most of them were never settled and were only shadows on maps of the territory.
There was one exception.
In 1797, Sullivant decided to place a town at the forks of the Scioto, where the great river met what we today call the Olentangy but then was known as Whetstone Creek.
An admirer of Benjamin Franklin, Sullivant called his town Franklinton. It was in Franklin Township in Franklin County.
Back then, life in Franklinton was on the slow side. The place had not seen any sort of military action since 1763 when William Crawford led a raid on a local Mingo village.
Franklinton would become a mobilization and training center during the War of 1812, but that war was years down the road.
Franklinton was a village of several hundred people living on the edge of the frontier, a community of log houses, frame buildings and a few brick structures. There were a few general stores, a few doctors, a few lawyers and a few tavern owners.
In all, it was a pretty quiet place -- until the bear came to town.
A local account written many years later tells us what happened next:
"In 1809, while some of Lucas Sullivant's men were plowing in the Dutch Prairie, a nearly grown black bear came along very leisurely, without apparently being in the least disturbed by the immediate vicinity of men and horses."
Driven by the men back toward the village of Franklinton, the bear was cornered near the home of Sullivant, where it was attacked by a local pack of dogs. Fighting its way to a strong corner, the bear defended itself well against the dogs who came to attack it, according to the history.
"The bear, standing on his hind legs in the corner, received the attack in this front from the eager but inexperienced dogs. Perceiving a drawn battle, a few local men found a rope to capture the bear and lead it away. The bear smartly resisted and cast the rope aside, and with a hearty hug and rip of his hind claw, sent one yelping cur after another out of the fight. ...
"At this juncture, a man by the name of Corbus made his appearance, and being pretty full of whisky, undertook to place the rope on the bear's head. When he got sufficiently close, the bear struck him a blow with its paw, whereupon Corbus dropped the rope and pitched in with fists and feet and a very exciting and famous rough and tumble bear fight took place; but the poor beast, being much weakened and exhausted from its previous efforts, the human brute came off best, and killed the bear. This exploit was long the talk of the village."
This was not the only "bear story" in frontier Franklinton. Native American Billy Wyandot had made the mistake of fighting with a bear after having a bit too much to drink. Both Billy and the bear ended up thrashing about in a pool along the river called Billy's Hole. Billy drowned.
Corbus wisely took care of bears on dry land.
Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.