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The Indians of Delaware County

Indian Populations of Delaware County

Considerably more is known about the successors to the Mound-Builders. When the white man first came to the Ohio Valley he found a number of tribes inhabiting the Northwest Territory. Among those which are known to have been in the region which is now Delaware County there were the Delawares, Shawnees, Mingoes (after which Mingo Park is named), Wyandots (after which Wyandot Lake takes its name), Senecas, and perhaps others. Since the first of these gave Delaware County its name, and are known to have had a more permanent location here than some of the others, it is appropriate to give some accounts of their character and history.

The Delawares took their name from the Delaware River on the banks of which they were located when first discovered by the Europeans, and which, in turn, took its name from Lord De la Warre, who first explored it. Their real name, however, was Lenni Lenape. While this name is usually interpreted to mean "original men," the true meaning is "manly men".

According to the traditions of the Lenni Lenape, their organization antedated that of most of the other Indian tribes. They regarded themselves as having occupied in former ages a preeminent position for prowess, valor and wisdom.

In 1682 William Penn, the great Quaker, who believed that the rules of justice applied to dealings with the Indians as well as other races, came to America. Instead of seeking to eject the Delawares from their lands by sheer force, he met them on friendly terms and negotiated with them a treaty by which he bought their lands, and by which both parties agreed that the same moral law should apply to both races alike. This treaty was kept unbroken by the Delawares for 60 years. So favorable was the impression made upon them by Penn's fairness that the name "Quaker" came, with them, to be synonymous with "good men".

At the time of the treaty with Penn, however, or shortly afterwards, the Delawares were brought into subjection to the Iroquois. At the Lancaster Treaty in 1744, in the presence of a large assembly of tribes, the Iroquois denied the right of the Delawares to sell their lands. Canassatego, an Iroquois chief, upbraided them in public council. Speaking in a strain of mixed irony and arrogance, he told them not to reply to his words but to leave the council in silence. He peremptorily ordered them to quit the section of the country where they then resided and to move to the banks of the Susquehanna. Accordingly, the Delawares, cowed into submission, left the banks of the Delaware where their home had been for many years and turned to the West, from which, according to their traditions, they had formerly come. It is said that at the opening of the Revolutiony War the Delawares shook off the Iroquois yoke and that, a few years later, at a public council, the Iroquois admitted that they were "no longer women".

The Indians probably had several villages within the present limits of Delaware County. Two villages belonging to the Delaware Nation are said to have been located within the present limits of the City of Delaware. One of them occupied the ground near East William Street on the Delaware Run. It is probable that the site of the former Monnett Hall at Ohio Wesleyan University was once dotted with Indian wigwams. The other village was in the west end of the city. A corn field of 400 acres is said to have been cultivated. There is also a story that a battle was once fought on the Delaware Run between the Delawares and the Shawnees. It is known that the Indians were attracted to the vicinity of Delaware in vast numbers by the famous sulphur spring located on what is now the Ohio Wesleyan University campus. This spring was called "Medicine Waters" by the Indians. There was also a village belonging to the Mingoes located a short distance north of Delaware in Troy Township.

Relations Between Settlers and Indians

Delaware County was included within the territory ceded to the United States under the terms of the famous Greenville Treaty, made on the 2nd of August, 1795. It was not long after that time that the permanent location of the Delawares and other tribes in Delaware County ceased. With the coming of the white man and the alienation of their title to the land, they took themselves further north to the territory that was reserved for them. They often visited the county afterwards, however, to hunt and fish in its streams, and to trade with the white settlers, and many interesting experiences with them are related by the early pioneers. Their relationship with the whites was, almost without exception, of a friendly character, though it is said that many of the early settlers entertained towards them an inveterate hatred and did not consider it really criminal to kill them. They brought cranberries, maple sugar (sometimes mixed with meal) and molasses in coon-skins to sell to the whites. Cranberries were a great article of commerce with the Indians and a drove of fifty ponies, laden with fruit, was said to have passed through Delaware at one time going to Columbus and other points south.

The Indians would resort to any device to satisfy their native thirst for "firewater". It is related that an Indian came late one evening to the house of Colonel Byxbe, Delaware's founder, and demanded that a keg which he had with him should be filled with whiskey. Mrs. Byxbe was the only occupant of the house at the time. She went to the room used as a bar (the house itself being a tavern), struck a light and suddenly discovered that she was surrounded by about twenty natives of the forest. On the promise of the Indians that they would leave the place quietly, however, when the purpose of their coming had been accomplished, the fearless woman led the way to the cellar where she filled their keg, after which they departed in accordance with their promise.

While Delaware County was never the scene of any of the great battles fought with the Indian tribes, while it was never so much as invaded by the Indians with hostile purpose, after the coming of the white settlers the inborn savagery of the Indian nature was a source of constant apprehension to the pioneer ao long as these natives of the forest remained in close proximity to the white settlements. The relationship of the whites was, for the most part, friendly; but, should circumstances arise, there was always the danger that the white man might become the prey of the Indian's uncurbed savagery. An incident is related in the early history of Troy Township illustrative of the dangers which might arise. The Delawares and Wyandots, who frequented the locality, sent a war party into Pennsylvania to commit depredations among the inhabitants. Among others, they captured a young white girl and started for their camp on Clear Run in Troy Township. A party of whites, among whom were two brothers of the captured girl, organized to pursue them. They followed the Indians to a point on the Olentangy River north of Delaware, where the old stone mill was located, but there they seemed to lose all trace of the Indian band. They were about to give up their pursuit as hopeless when one of the party happened to notice smoke ascending above the trees a mile or two further north. Cautiously approaching the spot they suddenly came upon the savages and drove them into the woods, rescuing the captured girl unharmed.

When the War of 1812 broke out, there was great apprehension on the part of the settlers lest the county would be invaded by the Indians. The county itself, being just south of the Greenville Treaty line, was one of the border counties. Accordingly steps were immediately taken by the inhabitants for its protection. There were at least four block-houses erected within the limits of the county. One of these was in Norton, one in Kingston Township, another in Berlin Township and another in Delaware. Inasmuch as it was the nearest border, the one in Norton was, perhaps, of most importance, and was the largest of any. It was known by the name of Fort Morrow, and was built in a dense forest unbroken for miles around.

The block-house in Delaware was located on the northeast corner of Sandusky and William Streets. The structure was not originally intended for a block-house, being a one-story brick building which had been used for a store. Around this a high palisade of strong puncheons was constructed.

While it was no more than a matter of reasonable precaution that these various strongholds of defense were constructed, there seems never to have been any real occasion for their use. The known hostility of certain tribes, however, and their sympathy with the British, were amply sufficient to give ground for the apprehensions of the early settlers during the War of 1812. The dangers were, nevertheless, real, and their as great as that ever put forth by human kind. Delaware County was never actually invaded and with the termination of the "second war for independence" the fear of Indian incursions, for the most part, ceased.

Can't 'Ya Take a Joke?

After Hull's surrender in the War of 1812 there was nothing to prevent the Indians from making hostile raids on the northern frontier. Inasmuch as Delaware County was directly on the border, there was ample occasion for dread on the part of the settlers. Lower Sandusky was threatened with attack, and a company was organized by Captain William Drake, in the northern part of the county, to march to its assistance. On their first night out they encamped a few miles north of the settlement in Norton. Captain Drake was something of a practical joker. It is probable, too, that he wanted to test the courage of his men. After the men had all gone to sleep he quietly stole out into the bushes. Here he suddenly discharged his gun and came running frantically into the camp crying, "Indians! Indians!" at the top of his voice. A plat of ground had been designated the night before on which the company would form in case of attack. Here the more courageous of the band attempted to draw themselves up in battle array to resist the coming onslaught, the sentinels having taken up the cry of Indians, supposing that the original alarm proceeded from one of their own number.

Captain Drake, soon perceiving the consternation and confusion into which his ruse had thrown the company, and fearing that they might all disgrace themselves by a precipitate flight, quickly proclaimed the hoax and attempted to quiet the panic which he had created. There was a lieutenant in the company, however, who, not waiting for any future developments or willing to risk even the chance of the most hasty investigations, took to his heels with all the expedition which the fear of being completely scalped would naturally occasion. In his mad flight the shouts of his companions attempting to recall him were transformed by his imagination into the blood-curdling warwhoop of Indian savages. As he increased the distance between himself and the others who endeavored to restrain him, the sound of their voices died away, it was only so much evidence that they had all succumbed to the tomahawk and scalping knife of the Indians. This, at any rate, was the story which he brought to the Radnor settlement [and he's sticking to it?] at which he arrived at daybreak, his flight having taken him in this direction, although he had intended to make for his home south of the place where the compaany had encamped for the night.

The horrible tale of wholesale massacre soon had its effects on the settlers at Radnor. The community was thrown into a panic and preparations were begun for immediate flight. The story was communicated by each to his neighbor, and, no doubt, lost nothing of its gruesome details in the telling. On foot, on horseback, in wagons, by any method that offered the easiest and quickest means of escape, the people fled from their impending doom. The same scene was repeated in most of the other settlements to which the news of the "massacre" was communicated. The mob of frenzied fugitives struck Delaware just a little after sunrise. In their mad haste they did not take time to stop for the communication of details but simply cried out as they rushed along, "The Indians are upon us!" While great alarm was immediately manifested in the village, it is said that not a great number of the villagers joined in the flight. [Delawareans were a sharp bunch even back then...] They at once took themselves to the fortifications, however, and took immediate steps to put the community in a state of defense. Scouts were sent out to ascertain the truth of the reports. In Norton they found the people quietly engaged in their usual occupations. It was too late, however, to reach many of those who had fled.

The demoralization spread to the eastern part of the county. Most of the settlers, not stopping to question the truth of the reports, prepared for flight. Swollen streams and various other obstacles, that, under ordinary circumstances would have seemed insurmountable, apparently offered no impediment to escape. Women, ordinarily timid, under the excitement of the hour, became brave as lions. Many ludicrous stories are related of incongruities on the part of the panic-stricken settlers in the preparations they made for flight. Articles of clothing and food were indiscriminately jumbled together. A family named Penry drove so fast that they bounced a little boy, two or three years old, out of the wagon, near Delaware, but did not notice it until they proceeded five or six miles further in their flight. They decided it would be an unjustifiable risk to return for him, however, and left him to his fate. Another woman, in her hurry, forgot her babe, and returning, grabbed a stick of wood from the chimney corner, leaving the babe quietly sleeping in its cradle.

Meanwhile, Captain Drake and his company proceeded quietly on their way to Lower Sandusky, altogether unconscious of the widespread demoralization and disaster of which the Captain's joke had been the innocent cause. The whole incident would seem to us now, perhaps, to savor more of the character of a huge joke than as being of the nature of a great calamity. A calamity, however, it really was. In the hurried preparation of the settlers for flight everything was left in the wildest confusion. When they returned from their mad stampede they found everything in a disorder that required much time and patience for its restoration. Door and gate had been left open, and thus free access to field and larder had been given. Waste and devastation everywhere were the result and a burden placed upon the settlers, ordinarily hard pressed for even the necessities of life, which they could ill afford to bear.

Moreover, so panic-stricken had many of those who participated in the flight become and so thoroughly frightened by the possible dangers of living on the extreme frontier, that they never even returned to the homes which they had so hastily deserted. The larger portion of those who "escaped" had fled to Worthington or Franklinton, but many kept on even so far as Chillicothe. The incident itself gives us a striking illustration of the terrors of border life and the strain which anyone who had the bravery to face them must have endured. It is easy to see only the ludicrous side of the occurrence and to forget, in the security of our civilized life, that the danger, while only fancied in this instance, might as easily have been real. Had there been no reasonable possibility of an actual Indian massacre, no report of that character could ever have created such a panic.

Parts of this text are adapted from 20th Century History of Delaware County, Ohio and Representative Citizens by James R. Lytle, published by the Biographical Publishing Company of Chicago in 1908.


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