What happened to Indians that once inhabited Ohio?


President Andrew Jackson championed the Indian Removal Act of 1830

What happened to Indians that once inhabited Ohio? Chapter missing that traces events through 1840s when tribes were forced west of Mississippi River

Compiled by Jim Blount

What happened to the Indians that once inhabited Ohio? Most basic history textbooks ignore that question. There's an imbalance between intriguing accounts of more than six decades between 1750 and 1815 and the information void for the 30 years after the end of the War of 1812. The former period includes tales of the region's 1790s Indian wars, which involved building Fort Hamilton in 1791.

The phantom chapter -- covering Ohio Indian events through the late 1840s -- is not pleasant reading. That may be why an Ohio history junior high school textbook, in use in the state for about half a century, didn't mention the fate of Indians after the War of 1812.

The 1814 Treaty of Ghent -- concluding that U. S.-British conflict -- included a statement that seemed to restore to the Indians "all possessions, rights and privileges which may have enjoyed, or been entitled to in 1811."

That British attempt to stop or limit American expansion was unenforceable. Indians south of the Great Lakes and east of the Mississippi River didn't get their land back -- and lost what they had during the next three decades.

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A commonly known tragedy of the 1815-1850 period is "The Trail of Tears," a phrase capsulizing the fate of the Cherokee in southern states, especially Georgia. The 1838 forced 1,000-mile migration of more than 16,000 Cherokee claimed the lives of 4,000 to 6,000 tribe members. Discovery of gold in Georgia hyped the urgency to move them.

The Cherokee weren't the only tribe -- or the first -- to suffer as a result edicts of states and the federal government to push tribes east of the Mississippi to unfamiliar land west of the river.

Other tribes endured their own "Trails of Tears." Also involuntarily relocated were the Cherokee's southern neighbors -- the Choctaw, Chickasaw, Creeks and Seminoles, some after stiff armed resistance.

The Indian Removal Act of 1830 also applied to tribes north of the Ohio River. In Ohio that included the Seneca, Delaware, Shawnee, Ottawa and Wyandot. That story is ably told in a recent book by historian Mary Stockwell. The Other Trail of Tears, The Removal of the Ohio Indians was published in 2014 by Westholme Publishing. It is the prime source for this article.

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Gen. Anthony Wayne's army -- reliant on a chain of supply depots, including Fort Hamilton -- prevailed in the Aug. 20, 1794, Battle of Fallen Timbers, near present Toledo. The victory eliminated "the Indian menace" in what became the state of Ohio. The triumph led to the Aug, 3, 1795, Treaty of Greenville, defining the area reserved for Indian inhabitation.

Tribes were restricted to the area north and west of the Greenville Treaty line. The boundary extended northeast from the Ohio River opposite the mouth of the Kentucky River at Carrollton, Ky. At Fort Recovery, Ohio, it continued east along the southern part of Mercer and Auglaize counties to the Great Miami River in Logan County, then east to the Cuyahoga River and north to Lake Erie at Cleveland.

Closest points to the line from Hamilton were about 70 miles north at Fort Loramie, Ohio, and 25 miles west at Brookville, Indiana.

Israel Ludlow -- regarded as the founder of Hamilton -- headed the survey that "permanently separated white settlements from Indian villages and hunting grounds."

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The treaty squeezed the Indians into what became the northwestern corner of Ohio. At that time, no one wanted that uninviting land. Much of it was in the Great Black Swamp, a wetland of more than 1,500 square miles about 25 miles wide and 100 miles long. It stretched from present Toledo and Maumee Bay on Lake Erie west to almost Fort Wayne, Ind.

Eventually, Indians turned much of the swamp into fertile farm land, increasing its value and attracting the attention of white entrepreneurs. Evidence of its worth was the 1835 Toledo War, a boundary squabble between Ohio and Michigan Territory when the latter moved closer to statehood.

By the 1830s, two transportation projects of major significance in Butler County projected paths north through Indian land to outlets along Lake Erie.

The state-financed Miami & Erie Canal -- serving Hamilton and Middletown and other ports in the county -- began operating in 1829 between Cincinnati on the Ohio River and Dayton. Work started in 1833 on the northern extension from Dayton. It opened to Toledo in 1845, delayed by the nationwide Panic of 1837 (a financial depression).

Indiana started work in 1832 on the Wabash & Erie Canal, designed to link with the Miami & Erie near Maumee Bay. It also reached Toledo in 1845.

Railroad ventures were being evaluated and planned in the early 1830s, including routes through northwestern Ohio. Their development also was delayed by the 1837 depression.

The Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad -- connecting the cities in its name -- opened in 1851 with intentions to lay rail north of Dayton. The Dayton & Michigan Railroad incorporated in 1851 and began operating in 1858. It was acquired by the CH&D, providing access to Toledo and Detroit and Lake Erie shipping -- outlets for industrial and agricultural products from Butler County.

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Andrew Jackson championed the Indian Removal Act of 1830. He advocated what he called emigration -- not removal -- years before he was a presidential candidate.

During the War of 1812, he commanded U. S. forces in southern states. He was mostly responsible for the Creek nation yielding 22 million acres in southern Georgia and central Alabama in the 1814-1824 period. Jackson negotiated nine treaties that divested southern tribes of land in Alabama, Florida, Georgia, Tennessee, Mississippi, Kentucky and North Carolina.

As a presidential candidate, Jackson emphasized Indian removal would be a priority of his administration. He proposed tribes "exchange" their eastern land for comparable tracts in the West, described as between Missouri and the Rocky Mountains. The move west of the Mississippi, he said, would enable the tribes to resume their traditional ways, away from white interference.

In his first inaugural address in March 1929, Jackson asserted removal was necessary because efforts to civilize the Indians had largely failed. He also believed, despite treaties to the contrary, that eastern land didn't belong to the Indians, it was owned by the U. S. government.

Who supported Jackson? Stockwell writes that "people at the bottom of society had only one way up, and that was through the acquisition of property. For white men in the early 19th century who were farmers or who hoped to become farmers, this property was government land acquired from the Indians and sold in small parcels for a few dollars an acre. Jackson appealed to these voters, a fact that was clearly shown when he won every Midwestern and southern state in the election of 1828."

Some white citizens opposed removal (1) for humanitarian reasons and (2) because of its cost. And, there were those who hoped to gain from it, including employment. It would require people (1) to negotiate treaties with the Indians; (2) help Indians pack and move west; (3) guard them during the move; (4) guard them at least a year in their new locations; (5) sell land Indians were leaving in Ohio and other states; and (6) handle numerous other details involved in shifting thousands of people of all ages in various states of health.

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Feb. 22, 1830, Jackson supporters in the Senate introduced a bill for an "Exchange of Lands with the Indians Residing in any of the States or Territories of the United States and for Their Removal West of the River Mississippi."

It won approval in about three months -- 28-19 in the Senate April 24, and 102-97 in the House May 26. Two days later, Jackson signed the measure, which lacked specifics.

A recent census, notes Stockwell in her book, had counted about 2,350 Indians residing in Ohio, including 800 Shawnee, 551 Seneca, 542 Wyandot, 347 Ottawa and 80 Delaware.

["It is highly unlikely," historian George Knepper wrote, "that the historic Indian population of Ohio ever exceeded 20,000 persons, a population density of one person for every two square miles."]

Secretary of War John H. Eaton, working with different numbers, developed a plan to relocate 1,600 Indians from 370,000 Ohio acres to 435,000 western acres for $134,000. "With only $500,000 allocated for removal of all the tribes [east of the Mississippi] in the Indian Removal Act, Eaton had already granted close to 37% of the appropriated funds to send only 1,600 'souls' west from Ohio," noted Stockwell.

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Eaton wasn't around to complete the job. He was replaced in 1831 by Lewis Cass, whose resume included Ohio House of Representatives, 1805-1807; brigadier-general, War of 1812, 1812-1814; and Michigan Territory governor, 1813-1831, positions that had familiarized him with Ohio's Indian tribes.

As secretary of war 1831-1836, Cass was Jackson's choice to direct removal. [Later, Cass was U. S. ambassador to France, 1836-1842; a senator from Michigan, 1845-1848 and 1849-1857; and President James Buchanan's secretary of State, 1857-1860.]

The Cass management system placed the army's commissary general of subsistence as the officer in charge, supervising agents designated to set emigration routes, keep records, handle money, organize the moves and hire property appraisers, interpreters and collectors, the latter to help roundup stray Indians when moving was scheduled to begin.

The government was to provide wagons, carrying only 500 pounds of goods, or 10 pounds per 50 people. Only people too young or too infirm could ride a horse or in a wagon. Others walk. Only clothing, bedding and small cooking utensils could be taken; other items were to be sold at public auctions. Livestock (horses, cows, pigs, etc.) also was to be sold. Daily rations per person were supposed to be 3/4th pound of salted meat and a pound of flour or 3/4th quart of oatmeal.

Government handling the minute details of migration was a change. Before 1830, various Indian groups had voluntarily moved west. Those Indians had negotiated treaties and handled the terms and details on their own.

Under federal guidance, hired agents ranged from the capable and humane to those looking for ways to take advantage of both the government and the Indians.

From the government's perspective -- especially Jackson's -- the process was supposed to be quick and cheap.

Indians within a tribe were not all of one mind. Some favored migration, others wanted to stay on land where they had built cabins, barns, schools, churches and established farms and businesses. Opinions varied on details. In some cases, there literally were too many chief in a tribe.

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The Seneca -- who Stockwell writes were eager to relocate -- was the first tribe to leave Ohio under the 1830 removal act. After some disputes over terms and procedures, including if the trip would be via land or water, 398 people (340 Seneca and 58 Delaware) departed Nov. 5, 1831. the caravan stretched 75 miles alongside the Sandusky River.

Stockwell notes that progress was slow. The travelers stopped at every Ottawa and Shawnee village to "bid farewell to their friends." Costs mounted with the $12,500 allotted for the entire trip exceeded in one week.

The weather in November was already bitterly cold and rain often made roads nearly impassable, occasionally limiting wagons to only five miles a day.

An old issue resurfaced as the Seneca approached Dayton. The group split into a land party of 168 people and a water party of 230. The dissenters chose to head west through Indiana and Illinois to St. Louis.

Government agents agreed to the change, believing the Indians were good hunters and could support themselves on the road without extra supplies. But Indiana and Illinois were no longer territories in a wilderness loaded with game. Instead, those states were organized into towns and farms. The Indian way of life had ended.

The land party -- lacking necessities -- headed to St. Louis without instruction. At Dayton the water group switched to the Miami & Erie Canal, traveling through Middletown and Hamilton to Cincinnati, where it boarded a steamboat for the 11-day river trip to St. Louis.

There had been no communications with the land group. Its location was unknown when an agent headed east. It was found camped outside Muncie, Indiana, about 80 miles from the Ohio border. It had stopped because of bad weather, lack of food and illness. An interpreter had used his money to buy them food. The stragglers waited until spring to resume trip west.

July 4, 1832 -- nearly eight months after leaving Ohio -- first group officially removed from Ohio arrived in its new home on the Neosho River. The site is now in the extreme northeast corner of Oklahoma.

Thirty people died during the trip. The 352 Seneca and Delaware, plus some other Indians, arrived to find the government had plotted their reserve on land promised to the Cherokee. They had to move again.

Meanwhile, back in Ohio, the former Seneca reserve -- about 40,000 acres -- was being sold. Stockwell wrote that a sub agent enriched himself, renting vacant Seneca property and keeping the payments. Others dismantled empty cabins and took windows, doors, brick, boards and other materials.

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Other migrations from Ohio, detailed by Stockwell, include (1) the 1832 Shawnee, Ottawa and Seneca removal, (2) the 1837 and 1839 Ottawa removal and (3) the 1843 Wyandot removal, none following standard plans and routes and all involving unique circumstances.

The Shawnee in 1832 requested to travel by land. Their reasons included (1) fear that their children would fall overboard and drown; (2) objection to travel "by fire" because steamboat boilers were known to explode; and (3) because of their modesty, they were repelled by the thought of using public toilets in front of others on the deck. They also resisted leaving their more than 500 horses behind, a condition if they agreed to a water route.

Secretary of War Cass questioned the motive for the land trip. Could the Shawnee be attempting to join the 1832 uprising led by Chief Black Hawk in Illinois and Michigan Territory? President Jackson supported the Shawnee land decision.

Before leaving their Ohio reserve, the Shawnee went to the graves of their dead, took down wooden fences and leveled the ground around them. When they left, there was no sign they had ever been there.

Government employees didn't understand why the Indians spent so much time dancing.

For the tribes, it was the most important way of expressing their beliefs. "What churchgoing was to the whites, dancing was to the Indians, and all ancient dances must be performed one last time before leaving Ohio," Stockwell explains.

The 800-mile journey began Sept. 18, 1832, with 250 Seneca, 100 Ottawa and 530 Shawnee. In Indiana, they were warned of the national cholera epidemic that had reached St. Louis. That led the group to alter its route to avoid St. Louis.

The 1837 and 1839 Ottawa removal proceeded east from Maumee over Lake Erie to Cleveland and then south over the length of the Ohio & Erie Canal to Portsmouth. There the tribe boarded steamboats for the remainder of the transfer.

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The 1843 Wyandot removal followed more than 10 years of negotiations by the tribe and government representatives. It differed from previous expeditions. The Wyandot tribe took total control of the removal process. Chiefs organized preparations and the journey; sold their own Ohio property and sold or took their horses with them.

They departed from Upper Sandusky, Ohio, July 12, 1843, traveling on the Miami & Erie Canal through Butler County before boarding steamboats in Cincinnati. Men tending horses and ponies headed west by land.

The original group numbered 644 people, including 609 from Ohio and other Wayndot from Michigan and Canada. They reached their destination (Westport, Missouri) July 28.

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There's at least one brief mention of an Indian migration moving through Hamilton. It was by William Dean Howells, regarded as the 19th century Dean of American Letters, who spent his boyhood years in Hamilton. It doesn't identify the tribe.

In the early 1840s, "I myself, when a boy living in Hamilton, saw the last of the Ohio Indians passing through the town on the three canal boats which carried the small remnant of their nation southward and westward out of the land that was to know them no more forever."

Howells wrote "I cannot say how far they had been civilized, and for all I know they may have been tame farmers and mechanics, but in their moccasins and blankets, with their bows and arrows, they looked like wild hunters; and Ohio was no longer a good hunting ground. All the larger game was fast vanishing before the rifle and the shotgun."


Jim Blount's local history books are available in Hamilton at the Butler County Historical Society, 327 N. Second Street, and the Ross Avenue Barber Shop, 907 Ross Avenue. His history columns are posted periodically on the Lane Libraries web site and are also available via email subscription. A searchable archive of these columns, including Mr. Blount's columns from the Journal-News dating back to 1988, is available at www.lanepl.org/blount.

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