Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 3, 1999
Howells saw Indians leave Ohio
By Jim Blount
In the early 1840s, William Dean Howells recalled, "I myself, when a boy living in Hamilton, saw the last of the Ohio Indians passing through the town on the three canalboats which carried the small remnant of their nation southward and westward out of the land that was to know them no more forever."
The event was a memorable one for the writer, editor and social critic who was regarded as the "Dean of American Letters" in the closing decades of the 19th century.
Howells -- who literary experts say ranks with Mark Twain and Henry James as the greatest American novelists of their era -- spent eight years of his boyhood in Hamilton. He was 11 years old when his family moved away.
His recollections on Indian removal -- via the Miami-Erie Canal through Middletown and Hamilton -- were included in his Stories of Ohio, a book published in 1897.
After the War of 1812 -- the last conflict in which Indians were considered a menace to settlement of Ohio -- some tribes "remained in the country which they had lost, and in a few cases they tried to take on the likeness of civilized men," Howells explained.
"But oftener they only took on the vices of civilization; they were the drunkards and the vagrants of their neighborhoods, living by a little work and by the contemptuous charity of the settlers. In them the proud spirit of their race was broken," Howells observed.
"But although their friends could teach the Indians to plow and sow, to build houses and barns, to make tools and mend them, to sing and to pray, and to wear clothes and to lead decent and sober lives, they would not uproot all their old customs and superstitions."
Howells said "in 1831 the Senecas ceded their lands, 40,000 acres on the Sandusky, to the United States, and were removed to the southwest of the Missouri. Each of the other reservations was given up in turn for lands in the Far West . . . ."
Howells said "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."
In 1830, Congress approved the Indian Removal Act, aimed at opening more land for white settlement east of the Mississippi River. That was followed by a series of controversial treaties with the tribes.
In about 10 years, more than 70,000 Indians were uprooted and relocated to Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma.
Probably best known of the tragic incidents is the plight of the Cherokee, whose trek from southern states has been labeled "The Trail of Tears." They were forced to leave despite a U. S. Supreme Court decision that said they could stay.
Under the direction of Gen. Winfield Scott, a hero of the Mexican War, the Cherokee -- variously estimated to number from 12,000 to possibly more than 15,000 -- were driven off their land and forcibly marched to Indian Territory. About 4,000 died of disease and exposure before ending their journey.
George W. Knepper, in his 1989 book, Ohio and Its People, said "the last Indians to be forced out by federal policy and state neglect were the Wyandots of Upper Sandusky, who left for the West in 1842."
Howells recollection, it is believed, was of the 1846 removal of the Miami from their land in northeast Indiana.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 10, 1999
Howells noted loss of wildlife
By Jim Blount
In recalling the forced removal of Indians from Ohio in the 1840s, William Dean Howells noted that "Ohio was no longer a good hunting ground" for the native people who had inhabited the region. The prominent author, editor and critic said "all the larger game was fast vanishing before the rifle and shotgun."
Howells -- regarded as the "Dean of American Letters" for about three decades before his death in 1920 -- didn't blame the Indians for the reduction in Ohio wildlife.
"As if its destruction by gunners singly was not rapid enough, it was the custom in somewhat earlier days for whole neighborhoods to meet together for the wholesale slaughter of the sylvan creatures which still abounded," said Howells, who spent eight years of his boyhood in Hamilton before moving away at age 11.
The hunts weren't sporting events; their organizers considered them essential to their survival as farmers. Their aim was to reduce the damage done to their crops by roving animals. Their premise was simple: if there were fewer animals, their loss would be lessened. They would have enough to feed their families, plus commodities for trading.
"One of these great hunts took place in Medina County, in 1818," Howells wrote, "when the region was as yet very sparsely settled. The drive, as it was called, was fixed for the 24th of December, and at sunrise, 600 men and boys drew up their far-reaching lines."
Howells said "they were armed with rifles, shotguns, old muskets, pistols, knives, axes, hatchets, bayonets fastened to long poles, and whatever other weapons they could lay hands on, to shoot, strike, or stab with, and they began to draw their vast circle together with a hideous uproar of horn, conchshells and voices."
"The deer fled inward from all sides; bear and wolf left their coverts in terror; foxes and raccoons joined the panic rout, and the air was full of the flight of wild turkeys," Howells explained in an 1897 book, Stories of Ohio.
"Then the slaughter began," he said, "and before it ended 300 deer, 21 bears and 17 wolves were killed; of the turkeys and the smaller game no tale was kept."
"Later these drives were common in the years whenever game was abundant in any neighborhood" (including Butler County). "They were called squirrel hunts because the squirrel was the unit, and larger or smaller game counted so many squirrels, or went to make up the value of a squirrel.
"I knew of one of these hunts during the late '50s in Northern Ohio," Howells wrote, "when the wild pigeons were still in such multitude that their flight darkened the sky, where now one of them is rarely seen."
Soldiers at Fort Hamilton (1791-1795) salivated as they watched deer and other animals cavort within range of the frontier outpost. They also marveled at the amount of fish in the Great Miami River. Although on reduced rations, they usually weren't allowed to hunt or fish to supplement their meager diet because of shortages of powder and ammunition and the danger of Indian attack.
Writing more than 90 years after Howells, George W. Knepper also reported the "abundance of Ohio's wild creatures" in the early years of settlement.
In Ohio and Its People (1989), Knepper wrote that "the fact that Indians were present in such limited numbers" meant the "land was not overhunted nor the streams and lakes overfished."
"It is highly unlikely," Knepper said, "that the historic Indian population of Ohio ever exceeded 20,000 persons, a population density of one person for every two square miles."
By 1980, He said, there were 524 people for every two square miles in Ohio.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 17, 1999
John W. Erwin's work changed Hamilton
By Jim Blount
"No man perhaps was more prominently identified with the history of this city for over half a century than John W. Erwin," said the Hamilton Daily News upon his death in 1889. The rival Hamilton Democrat agreed, noting that Erwin's name "was synonymous with works of progress and advancement" in Hamilton.
Among his many public service projects was Greenwood Cemetery. In 1847, Erwin took the lead in the movement to create a new cemetery in Hamilton. Erwin, John M. Millikin and Gov. William Bebb examined potential sites and recommended the Bigham property as the location for Greenwood Cemetery in March 1848.
The first burial in the cemetery was in October 1848, more than 150 years ago. Sadly, an Erwin daughter was among the first burials.
He was an original trustee and served Greenwood until shortly before his death, but most of his varied contributions were related to transportation and industrial development.
Erwin was born Sept. 8, 1808, in New Castle County, Delaware. In 1828 he moved with his family to Richmond, Ind. His career began there with a five-year stint as an assistant engineer on the National Road, helping to build the segment between the Ohio border and Indianapolis.
Construction on the National Road (also called the Cumberland Road) had started in 1811 at Cumberland, Md. The road (later U. S. 40) reached Vandalia, Ill., in 1850.
Erwin didn't attend college. Instead, his work on the National Road was his engineering education. He did whatever was required, "laboring in subordinate positions, wielding the ax or carrying the chain, as occasion demanded."
While working on the National Road, Erwin married Anna Eliza Chadwick of New Jersey May 12, 1833. They became the parents of five children, who grew up in the family home on North Third Street in Hamilton.
In the winter of 1835-1836, Erwin came to Hamilton to work as a surveyor on the Hamilton, Rossville and Eaton Turnpike. In 1838, he was hired to locate the route for the Hamilton, Rossville, Darrtown, Oxford and Fairhaven Turnpike. He was paid $125 a month, including expenses, while completing the 20-mile road within two years.
He participated in selecting the routes for several other roads, including the Venice and Scipio Turnpike. In these and other projects, Erwin often teamed with two Hamilton colleagues, John C. Skinner and Henry S. Earhart, in the engineering and construction work.
From 1837 to 1839, Erwin was the resident engineer on the portion of the Miami-Erie Canal that passed through Hamilton. In 1842, he became the resident engineer of the entire canal between Toledo and Cincinnati, holding that post for nearly 40 years.
In 1839, he was hired by the state to supervise land reclamation in the Big Swamp in Fairfield and Union townships, south of Hamilton. He succeeded in converting the health hazard into productive farm land.
In the summer of 1840, Erwin surveyed and mapped the route for the Hamilton and Rossville Hydraulic. He also prepared cost estimates for the hydraulic, a project largely responsible for Hamilton becoming a major industrial city. Erwin collaborated with John C. Skinner -- a frequent associate, a close friend and neighbor -- as engineers in building the Hamilton water-power system.
Erwin also took part in building successful hydraulic canals in Middletown, Franklin and Troy in Ohio; Goshen, Elkhart and Bristol in Indiana; and Constantine, Mich.
More of Erwin's accomplishments will be covered in a future column.
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Journal-News, Wednesday, Feb. 24, 1999
John Erwin promoted first railroad
By Jim Blount
John W. Erwin was instrumental in bringing the first railroad to Hamilton and establishing the paper industry in Hamilton and Middletown. Those accomplishments were in addition to his roles in building roads in Butler County, hydraulic systems in Hamilton and Middletown, and Greenwood Cemetery in Hamilton and maintaining the Miami-Erie Canal in the region.
He also converted a health hazard into productive farm land by reclaiming the Big Swamp in Fairfield and Union townships, south of Hamilton.
There is hardly a part of Butler County that didn't benefit from Erwin's varied career. Projects with which he was associated were completed about 140 to 160 years ago, but most remain vital to the region's transportation system and economy.
The 28-year-old Delaware native moved to Hamilton in the winter of 1835-1836. Previously, he had worked for at least five years on construction of the National Road (also called the Cumberland Road) in the Richmond, Ind., area.
The self-educated engineer built a paper mill and a flour mill along the Hamilton hydraulic, and two paper mills beside the Middletown hydraulic. He had taken part in constructing the water-power systems in both cities.
When the Erwin brothers paper mill opened in 1852, it was the first in Middletown. It eventually became part of the Sorg Paper Company. Brothers Samuel and Edwin joined John Erwin in the 1852 venture.
Earlier, Erwin had been a pivotal figure in bringing the first railroad to Hamilton. He was one of the original incorporators of the Cincinnati, Hamilton & Dayton Railroad. Local investors in 1846 included Gov. William Bebb, Lewis D. Campbell, O. S. Campbell, Charles K. Smith, Samuel Snively, S. Wurmser, William Hunter, James McBride, E. R. Ruder, John Woods, Alex P. Miller, and Erwin
Erwin joined Bebb, Woods and Lewis D. Campbell in donating 16 acres for a depot and other railroad buildings in Hamilton.
He participated in surveying the CH&D route between Cincinnati and Hamilton.
Except for some track relocation in Hamilton in the 1980s associated with the building of the High Street Underpass, the CH&D route remains as Erwin laid it out in the late 1840s and early 1850s.
The CH&D -- which opened in September 1851 -- was later acquired by the Baltimore & Ohio and the Chessie System, and is now the CSX mainline between Cincinnati and Toledo.
Erwin, with assistance from Henry S. Earhart, also laid out a second CH&D line. This one extended from Hamilton northwest through Seven Mile, Collinsville, Somerville, Eaton and Richmond to connect with other companies that eventually provided rail service to Chicago.
It was built as the Eaton & Hamilton Railroad, headed by John Woods. Later, it became part of the Pennsylvania Railroad, Penn Central, Conrail, Norfolk & Western and most recently the Norfolk Southern.
Because of his opposition to slavery, Erwin also ventured into journalism. He was editor of the Free Soil Banner, a local abolitionist newspaper, during the 1848 presidential election.
Erwin -- a lifelong student of astronomy, navigation and other sciences -- died April 17, 1889, at the age of 80. He is buried in Greenwood, the cemetery he helped to found and design.
In reporting Erwin's death, the Hamilton Democrat said "there is scarcely a work of a public nature" in Hamilton "which does not bear the imprint of his brain tissue and handiwork upon it."
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