COLUMNS

As It Were: Remnants tell stories of natives

ED LENTZ
Ed Lentz

People have been living in central Ohio at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy rivers for at least 10,000 years.

We know people were not here much before that time, since most of central Ohio was covered with the ice composing the last glacier in the area.

Most of the people who had lived in central Ohio those years were American Indians. We do not know a lot about many of them.

Some of them passed through and left little trace of their presence. Others stayed for centuries and left behind impressive evidence of their stay.

But for most of these years, the presence of these people is lost in a sort of historical mist. Because they had no written language and left no direct heirs to tell their story, the early people of central Ohio are mostly understood by the artifacts they left behind.

The first American Indians to live in central Ohio after the glaciers departed came to be called the Archaic People. They were hunter-gatherers, and there were not many of them.

They followed the great animal herds of bison, elk and deer moving across the grasslands of the Darby and Pickaway plains and through the old-growth forests. They relied on the animal herds for food and clothing.

The only evidence of their presence is the occasional arrowhead or campsite.

The people who followed the hunters stayed longer and left more behind. Called the Woodland People by scholars and researchers, the diverse cultures of the years from 400 B.C. to about 1000 A.D. created massive earthen structures. Some were burial sites, others were ceremonial and some were defensive. The people who built them came to be called the Mound Builders.

In central Ohio, they left a large number of mounds. One of them, 40 feet tall and 300 feet in diameter, stood in the intersection of Mound and High streets. It was removed in the 1830s, and clay from the mound was used to help build the first Statehouse. Many of the other mounds in the area were removed, as well, with only a few remaining today.

The Mound Builders had no real contact with European colonists, who could and did leave written records of the native people they encountered. These later groups of people often came to tell their own stories, too.

In the wake of the Mound Builders, the Ohio country came to be the hunting ground of a confederacy of people from the east who called themselves the Haudenosaunee but were called Iroquois by their enemies. Concerned by English and French movement toward their homeland, the Haudenosaunee left most of Ohio by the early 1700s.

Several other tribes took their place. From the east came the Delaware, who had been pushed across Pennsylvania. From the south came the Shawnee, who claimed to be the direct heirs of Mound Builders. And from the north came the people who called themselves the Wyandot.

Many villages occupied by many different people had existed at the forks of the Scioto and Olentangy. The last of them was described by a man who had been captured as a boy and taken there.

Jeremiah Armstrong remembered his capture at age 8 in 1794:

"After our adoption, the family to which I belonged came back to Columbus and camped near where the penitentiary now stands (the Arena District). There we raised corn in what is now called Sullivant's Prairie. My home while with them was back and forth from there to Lower Sandusky (Fremont). ... After parting from my brother and sister, I heard so little of my own language that I forgot it entirely, and became attached to them and their ways. In fact, I became a very good Indian. ...

"In the month of August 1794, when I had been a prisoner about four months, General (Anthony) Wayne conquered the Indians in that decisive battle on the Maumee. Before the battle, the squaws and children were sent to Lower Sandusky. ... Wayne, instead of molesting us, withdrew his forces to Greenville, and we returned to Franklin and encamped below the dam, where there is a deep hole, called Billy's Hole from Billy Wyandot. The only war dance I witnessed was near where the penitentiary now stands, when a party of them were preparing to leave for Kentucky in quest of prisoners and scalps. They returned with three prisoners and five scalps. ..."

This was the last American Indian camp at the forks. In 1797, frontier surveyor Lucas Sullivant established the village of Franklinton nearby.

Repatriated to his family, Armstrong came back to central Ohio and the new capital of Columbus in 1813. He opened a tavern and inn called the Red Lion on High Street. By all accounts, he was a successful innkeeper until his death in 1862. Armstrong is buried in Green Lawn cemetery.

Local historian and author Ed Lentz writes the As It Were column for ThisWeek Community News.