The Red Men
STIGWANISH (or Stigwamish) walked into Carter’s Tavern, paused at the door for his eyes to accustom to the gloom, and looked for Major Carter.
Carter, on his account, looked up to see what caused the lull in the tavern voices. Then he smiled. Stigwanish, the Seneca, was a more commanding presence than Judge Samuel Huntington, who worked at it.
A seaman off Captain Thong’s boat, in a binge of sentimentality because of the big announcement, walked over and offered the Indian a mug. The Indian shook his head preoccupied, and moved toward the bench where Major Carter talked to Captain Thong. The affronted sailor called to others to witness the Indian’s misprizing his generosity. But the locals knew that Stigwanish had greater responsibility than the sailor, and that he had not tasted liquor since he had killed his own child in drink.
Stigwanish did not wait for a pause in the major’s conversation, nor allow himself to enjoy Thong’s surprise at his excellent English.
He merely announced to the major that he was going to go British.
Carter could not leave Captain Thong at the moment; but he knew that if Stigwanish went British, so would all the Senecas, Ottawas, Chippewas, and probably the Delawares along the river.
Stigwanish turned to leave.
“Wait for me, Seneca!”
But he did not.
On the 28th of June 1812, a man who had a hut along the Cuyahoga had to decide what nationality he was. And it was often difficult.
Survival by Englishmen, Frenchmen, Indians, and colonists on the Cuyahoga frontier had not been a matter of nationality. It depended rather on hunting, trapping, growing corn, and procuring ammunition.
But when the rider arrived from Washington to announce the Republic had declared war on the King of England, the scattered handfuls of settlers along the Cuyahoga stared at each other and helped each other decide what they were - British or American.
Major Carter in his log tavern at the mouth of the Cuyahoga was having trouble enough getting settlers to stay here. And he couldn’t bear to let anyone leave. He poured another jolt of Monongahela for Captain Thong, master of a Canadian vessel, then told the captain he could not let him sail out ... it would aid the enemy.
Thong drank the drink and realized the major had spent time in Canada previously, and suggested Carter come to Canada with him.
Carter declined, pointing out that he was in command of the militia in Cleveland.
Thong poured one for Carter and guessed that he was expected to pull hook and clear harbor today.
Carter said no, he did not think he could let Thong leave legally. Carter countered that since Thong called on three American ports and only one British, that made him American.
Thong asked if he could use Carter’s warehouse. Carter said he was happy to have the business and asked if the skipper could haul some ammunition in from Erie.
When Carter went to his warehouse to clear space, Stigwanish was waiting there, as Carter had hoped. While Carter’s code was direct and decisions were simple to him, for Stigwanish the decision was complex, because he was a complex man, with a complex constituency. The white men called him Seneca because he was acknowledged head of the Senecas and one of the finest leaders on the Cuyahoga. Some members of the fragmented Ottawas and Chippewas also acknowledged his leadership. He moved up and down the river, but he had a hut on the west bank near the mouth.
Between the major and Seneca was something quite beyond their official relationship. Each lonely, each unrelaxed in toughness, Seneca and the major paid each other the compliment of insulting candor. Carter told Stigwanish he thought he had more sense than to let his men persuade him to go British. Carter told Indian he should talk more wisdom into his men.
The Seneca replied that he could if the major’s actions matched his word.
Carter disliked an argument with Seneca. Only Judge Huntington could win a debate with the chief. But it sounded as though Seneca was still open-minded. Carter knew that Seneca still wanted retribution for the profane hanging of the young Indian, John O’mic, by white men. So he proposed, “Ho ma yen de zin, O’mic.” Carter always addressed Seneca in his own language. It was part of what was between them.
Seneca addressed the major in English better than the major’s command of the Seneca language. “Perhaps, Major. But how could you fix that? O’mic is dead. I told all the Senecas and Ottawas Major Carter promised to bring Darrow and Williams to trial. Now they ask when.”
Carter did not look away, but he smarted inside. He told Seneca not to go British and throw away the protection the Indians had earned under the American flag. “Protection?” Seneca smiled. “Remember the Moravian Indians?”
Carter walked to the edge of the Cuyahoga and stared into it. Suddenly he snapped erect and pointed at Seneca, “But remember the Eries? The British did that! And now you want to join them? They’ll leave you nothing. He genno latreta!”
Seneca also stared into the river. The surface was turgid, but beneath it a strong undercurrent pulled.
And between the major and the tall Seneca flowed an angry undercurrent of history that began with the Eries and ended with the hanging of John O’mic.
Both men knew that the Cuyahoga valley was an Indian story, but a sad one. After the annihilation of the Cat Nation of Eries by the Five Nations, the conquerors occupied the Cuyahoga country under no pronounced geographic pattern. Small groups of the conquering tribes settled haggle-straggle up and down the valley. Small bands from other tribes westerning through found this river good and stopped to camp, then stayed. After the Eries’ last stand, the Indians of the Cuyahoga were migratory. One week you’d find certain clans up at the mouth, another week, down at the head of the Tuscarawas.
They were mostly Ottawas and Senecas with quite a few Delawares and Mingoes, and a straggle of Oneidas, Cayugas, Massanges, Shawnees, and Chippewas. This cosmopolitan population was partly assembled by the fact that within the big U of the Cuyahoga, three great Indian trails crossed. One was the Central Trail (these were white men’s names) from Old Portage to Fort McIntosh by the way of Big Falls to Fish Creek, where the trail divided and went up the Cuyahoga to the source and down it to the mouth. Second was the Fort McIntosh, Muskingum, and Sandusky War Trail. The third was the northern trail along the lake shore from Buffalo to Detroit (U.S. 20).
Despite the proximity of villages, the Indians got along quite peacefully. One reason was the stature and wisdom of the Ottawa and Seneca chiefs. Mingoes and Delawares also built very close.
These scattered villages would often be as small as three to six huts. Others would be 50 or 100. Every sizable tributary had a village at the confluences. And they were peaceful, despite constant Indian nervousness about the white settlers from Connecticut.
But there were many white settlers who knew how to get along with Indians. Lydia Wetmore of Cuyahoga Falls was not the nervous type, and she understood how lucky the settlers were to have Senecas, Ottawas, and Delawares as neighbors. She understood, too, that diplomacy was required.
But she would have owned to a touch of real concern when spring burned through in the year the youngest of her three boys turned 12 and her eldest 16. As she scrubbed their work trousers, she watched out her real glass window at Silver Lake.
The three Seneca girls bathing in Silver Lake were handsome and lively. The sun glinting off their coppery limbs painted the beautiful kind of picture which would haunt any young man’s nights. And the trousers Lydia was scrubbing were definitely long pants now.
A boy was a man at 16 out here, if he was going to be one. But Lydia and her husband, William, cofounders of Cuyahoga Falls, felt that serious trouble could break out if settlers’ sons coveted Indian daughters in this girl-scarce land.
Three times this spring the Seneca girls had bathed here, splashing and laughing with the light-footed joy of emerging from winter boots. Lydia watched them dry off in the sun, and with a woman’s heat lightning awareness, she linked it to the sudden cessation of ax blows from up on the rise where the boys were clearing. The Indian girls dressed, but their short, open-sided summer manteaux were far from Connecticut fashions. She saw that they were headed now not back to their village, but up to her own house to visit, as they often did.
Lydia Wetmore was a woman of understanding. For white settlers to tell Indians to wear Connecticut dress would be clumsy. And Silver Lake, she felt, belonged more to the Indians than to her. Suddenly she reached down a bolt of blue-dyed sacking, scissored off seven feet, folded it, cut an interesting neckline at the fold, and sat down with needle and thread, composing herself as one not in a hurry.
“Come in,” she called casually to the knock.
Lydia Wetmore was a favorite with Seneca girls. They smiled with pleasure at sight of the crisp clean sacking. They crowded close, inquiring with soft Seneca exclamations. Lydia Wetmore smiled around a mouthful of pins and nodded them to be patient.
Intently they watched her work, and they argued pleasantly in Seneca about what she was making. She kept them in suspense, until she finally unfurled it with a flourish. Then it all came clear. Lydia nodded to the tallest girl who gasped and snatched the cloth. She put it on right over everything else, and looked down at herself with pleasure. But the short girl laughed and spread her arms wide, “H-a-a!”
Mrs. Wetmore laughed, too. She cut off a narrow band from the bolt, wrapped it around the tall girl’s waist and tied a bow.
The short girl folded her arms and cocked her head, “Ah-h!”
And she stared involuntarily at the bolt of cloth. Mrs. Wetmore unrolled the bolt and handed her the scissors. Then she threaded three iron needles.
The Seneca girls ran across the trail to their Silver Lake village. They had not been gone long when their smiling mothers suddenly appeared at Mrs. Wetmore’s door. One held out a blue sacking waist sash and nodded with aggressive geniality.
Inside the hut, Mrs. Wetmore held up the diminished bolt against the nodding mother. There was a problem of girth. But she told them to get hides and pelts and come to meet her at the trader’s cabin. A negotiation was made for yard goods.
After that, the Seneca women met in increasing numbers every Sabbath in the Wetmore cabin. She taught them how to keep the stitches very small. They kept coming.
There were a few other whites, men like Major Carter and Kingsbury, who understood the tenderness of the Indian’s pride and took pains to protect it. But the sad part of the Indian story on the Cuyahoga was that while the Indians had arrived at a resigned, peaceful attitude toward living with the white encroachment, the white population still contained a few of the oldstyle Indian killers like Simon Girty, Captain Brady, Captain Delawn Mills of Portage County, Jonathan Williams of Deerfield.
How were the other Indian settlements located along the Cuyahoga? The remnants of southern Ohio nations were withdrawing north. So we find pockets of tribes here and there along the Cuyahoga. Old Cuyahoga Town, north of Akron was a sizable village. Big Falls had two villages as did Silver Lake at Cuyahoga Falls. There were believed to be a thousand Indians in these two villages.
On Turkeyfoot Lake, Chief Wam-te-kek had a Delaware village. Captain Pipe, King of New Portage, had a village in Coventry where Louis Young’s famous roadhouse was. At Apple Orchard in Medina County, Chief Beaver Hat had a village of Chippewas on Chippewa Lake.
On the upper Cuyahoga, near Streetsboro, Chief Big Son, brother of Stigwanish, had a village of Senecas before he moved. Prominent in its leadership were his two sons John Hanur and John Mohawk and his three sons-in-law, George Wilson, Nickshaw, and Wabmong.
Traces of many villages have been found along the Indian trail which ran across the northern border of Windham township in Portage County to the Seneca village near Streetsboro on the Cuyahoga.
Bath had a Mingo village which considered Logan its chief.
A half mile north of Boston on the west bank was a village called Ponty’s Camp. These were Ottawas who looked to Pontiac and Ogontz. These Indians in Boston were believed to be fairly good farmers. Mature apple trees were found here by the first white settlers. The valley had some little-known, but sophisticated English-speaking chiefs. Net-a-wat-wees of the Delawares was a chief of high stature here and was included in every major treaty meeting. Ogontz of the Ottawas was a plain chief, but a man of great responsibility. He was educated by the French in Canada and became a prominent churchman.
Polemic Hopacan, better known as Captain Pipe, was less educated. Tough, wily, predatory, he was important to the Indian communities in making gentlemen of some whites.
The valley tends to overclaim the two great chiefs, Pontiac and Logan. They spent little time on the Cuyahoga, but they did leave faint marks on it.
Pontiac, tiger of the Northwest, spent much time in early manhood at Ponty’s Camp on the Cuyahoga. On Lewis Evans’s map of middle British colonies, it is called “Tawas.”
Pontiac later became chief of vengeance for his race and was little seen on the Cuyahoga. But his son, Blackbird, the Ottawa chief, was educated with money paid by Mr. Bissel of Twinsburg, Ohio, and was seen a lot in the villages on the Cuyahoga before he became busy as Indian diplomat, scholar, and author.
Blackhawk, born prior to 1772, was reared on the Cuyahoga, but moved to larger Indian affairs in the west. Captured at the end of the Black Hawk War, he was being brought to Washington through Cleveland. There he asked permission to visit his mother’s grave on the Cuyahoga, which was granted.
Mingotown on the Cuyahoga considered Logan its chief, though he was seldom there. He was an Indian of national importance and one of the best Indian friends of the white man, up until Colonel Cresap murdered all Logan’s relatives. When Logan turned on the white man, he started the second bloodiest war in the Ohio country. And when it ended, Logan made his famous speech under the Logan Elm which shamed Lord Dunmore’s staff and nearly every thoughtful white man who has ever read it.
Wabmong is the object of some funny stories by casual historians who have him cavorting around like a chicken thief, unaware that he was heading 500 Senecas, and personally prevented the massacre of the white population of Stow Township at the outset of the War of 18l2, when the Indians in the Cuyahoga valley had to decide between the Americans and the British.
Wabmong’s village of Senecas was just south of Silver Lake. Like Stigwamish, this chief had complex loyalites and elected to move his Indians under the British flag. But his people had been bribed by the British to wipe out the village of Stow upon departure. Wabmong learned of it and advanced the removal date by a surprise announcement. He moved them out in a single night.
In the evening gloom beside the mouth of the Cuyahoga, Carter and Seneca discussed these things. Seneca expressed concern about Moravians still wandering from river to river in search of ground they could keep. More importantly ... Seneca needed and sought Carter’s word that Williams and Darrow would be brought to trial.
The failure to bring two white men to trial would prove to be crucial in Seneca’s thinking. In 1807 a David Diver in Canfield was shot by an Indian. Two men from Canfield, Darrow and Williams, set out to track down the murderer.
In midwinter, an Indian, close friend to Seneca, was shot. His name was Nickshaw or Nicksau, and he was rather well known along the Cuyahoga, being impressive in appearance.
The Indians suspected Darrow and Williams of killing Nickshaw in the belief that he had murdered David Diver. Darrow and Williams claimed self-defense. Meanwhile it became strongly possible that the man who killed Diver was an Indian named John Mohawk. Seneca presented his conclusion to Major Carter - Darrow and Williams were murderers and the killing of Nickshaw was a not needed murder.
Carter knew Darrow and Williams were claiming self-defense but Seneca did not believe them and told Carter he too would be convinced if he would accompany Seneca to bury Nickshaw.
Carter and Seneca went up onto the escarpment together. Nickshaw lay in the snow. The wound was in the back of his head. He had fallen face down. There were no scuffle marks in the snow, and no new snow on top of Nickshaw.
Carter conceded. There was no fight. No self-defense.
General Elijah Wadsworth of Canfield wrote to Judge Samuel Huntington at the mouth of the Cuyahoga:
Dear Sir: Since I last wrote you, we have information from your quarter that Nickshaw was killed instead of John Mohawk. If this be true, and as Mohawk was the one shot Mr. Diver, ought not Mohawk be demanded of their chief, Ogontz, and delivered up for trial?
To General Wadsworth, Canfield:
As the deceased was not one of Ogontz’s nation, he said he would not like to lead in obtaining redress, but would be satisfied with whatever Seneca agreed to.
Seneca said he wanted the same measure of justice dealt out to Indians as white men. He said he was not content to see all the exertions of our civil authority used against those who had shot the white man while we were asleep as to the murder of an innocent Indian. He concluded by saying that he would be satisfied if both the Indian and white aggressors could have a fair and equal trial. And only then.
I gave him assurances that the law would be put in force equally against both, and persuaded him to remain peaceful until court should meet at Warren. My expectation was, and still is, that the Court of Common Pleas would issue a bench warrant for the apprehension of Darrow and Williams.
But it is said that the magistrates of Hudson have been deterred by threats from securing the offenders. I hope for the honor of the country that the majority of the people there do not countenance such atrocities, and that some of the civil authorities will have firmness enough to put the law in force.
But Mr. Allen Gaylord told me that the first man to arrest Darrow or Williams will be shot, and the constables do not dare issue a warrant against them, and that if Seneca wants war they were ready for it.
Major Carter agrees with me that the best way to give the Indians satisfaction in this is to do them justice.
On the same day I saw Seneca again, who said he had been threatened by some Hudson (Ohio) people. But he told me he did not wish to start war, and would deliver over John Mohawk for trial voluntarily, but only when Darrow and Williams were secured for trial.
He and Major Carter agree. They went up to the place where Nickshaw was killed and buried him. There was no appearance on the snow of a fight or scuffle and no club near. Nickshaw appears to have been shot in the back as he was running, and fell dead in his tracks.
Seneca observed, “The Indians might lie, and the white men might lie, but the snow could not lie.” He is well convinced it was an unnecessary murder” ... under this conviction justice demands and our own interests require that he should be gratified.
In case it should be necessary to force the delivery of John Mohawk under the treaty, the regular course is to get affidavits to the facts, transmit to the governor and request him to make the demand, using militia.
But Major Carter and I believe this unnecessary ... We have no doubt that Seneca will deliver John Mohawk when we can assure him that Darrow and Williams are arrested for trial.
Meanwhile, I think you can assure your friends that for the present none of the Seneca nation among us will harm your citizens of their property.
I am sir, respectfully
However, Carter charged Seneca had never delivered John Mohawk.
Seneca countered - since the hanging of John O’mic, Seneca could no longer trust the whites. He would only deliver Mohawk after the arrest of Darrow and Williams.
Carter quickly reminded Seneca that he had seen the trial and its result - O’mic was found guilty of murder.
While Seneca agreed, he knew Carter missed the heart of his concern - dignity was very important to a defeated people and the white men had made of a feast of the hanging.
There was no question in Carter’s mind that the trial had been fair. John O’mic, a fine-looking young Indian, had been one of three Indians who had murdered a family of three whites and stolen their property. Two Indians escaped.
Yet it seemed to Carter that Samuel Huntington or Sheriff Baldwin or Alfred Kelley or some of those being paid for law execution in 1812 could assume the responsibility for the prisoner. But they felt the Indians might mobilize to free O’mic, and no one had the respect of the Indians as Major Carter did. So O’mic was in chains in Carter’s house.
O’mic asked Carter to explain how it would be tomorrow on execution day. Carter did not feel he should have inherited that job either, but explained it forthrightly.
Afterward, O’mic asked if Carter would accompany him up to the platform. Carter explained someone else would do that but O’mic pleaded and Carter agreed.
The Indian voiced one final request, that he not be blindfolded, “I will show the white faces how an Indian dies.”
Major Carter poured the Indian some whiskey and sat with him the night. The next day on the way to the execution, young O’mic sat on his coffin on a wagon.
An eyewitness account by the Honorable Elisha Whittlesey describes the scene in Cleveland:
He was a fine looking young Indian and watched everything that occurred with much anxiety. The gallows was erected in the Public Square in front of where the old courthouse was erected.
After the religious services were over, Major Jones attempted to form a hollow square of militia so the prisoner would be well guarded. He rode back and forth with drawn sword, epaulets an scabbard flying, but he didn’t know what order to give.
Carter said to Sheriff Baldwin, “Get that damn fool off that horse and out of the way.”
Arriving at the gallows, Mr. Carter and the sheriff and O’mic ascended the platform by a ladder.
A rope was put around the prisoner’s neck with a loop in the end. Another was let down through a hole in the top piece, on which was a hook attached to the rope around the neck. The rope with the hook was brought over to one of the posts and fastened near the ground.
As the sheriff brought down the cap, O’mic was the most terrified being I have ever seen. Seizing the cap with his right hand ... he stepped to one of the posts and put his arm around it. The sheriff approached him to loose his hold, and for a moment, it was a question if O’mic would throw him to the ground.
O’mic asked for Major Carter. (Again) Carter ascended the platform and a negotiation in regular diplomatic style was had. It was in the native tongue, as I understood at the time. Mr. Carter appealed to O’mic to display his courage, narrating what he had said about showing the white faces how an Indian could die ... Finally O’mic ... said that if Major Carter would get him a pint of whisky he would consent to die.
Carter sent to his tavern for a full glass tumbler of the fine Monongahela ... O’mic drank the whisky in as little time as it took him to pour it out of the glass.
Mr. Carter came down, and the sheriff again drew down the cap and the same scene of terror was reenacted. Again he asked for Mr. Carter.
Mr. Carter ascended the platform, and O’mic gave him the honor of an Indian pledge that he would no longer resist the sentence of the court if he could have another half pint of whisky.
Carter sent for the whiskey and stood with O’mic. When the whiskey came, he held it to John O’mic’s mouth while he drank. The sheriff tied the Indian’s arms back and tied the rope to prevent the prisoner from going to the side post again, avoiding the trapdoor.
Humanity at its worst - people who had known O’mic and his father - stood and watched.
The execution took place. To quote Elisha Whittlesey again:
At that moment a terrific storm appeared suddenly and came up from north north-west with great rapidity, to avoid which, and it being doubtful the neck was broken ... the rope was drawn down with the design of raising the body ... so that it would fall several feet and thereby dislocate the neck. The body was put into the coffin and the coffin into the grave.
The storm came on heavy and all scampered away but O’mic.
The real disgrace occurred later that night. A doctor and a group of medical students barely waited for dusk when they converged on the grave, dug up the body and carried it to a dissecting table.
Although through many decades the raising of bodies for study by medical students has seemed a fit subject for jokes among thick-skinned, thin-souled doctors, this particular grave robbery was to cost the Cuyahoga communities.
Once again Americans abused Indian trust.
“So I’m leaving, Major, and taking them all with me, Ogontz, Big Son, Mohawk, Pipe ... the Ottawas, Senecas, Chippewas, Andastes.”
Seneca put out his hand, “But, Major, if you ever want to join us, you could be ... you could be ... a Seneca.”
While the local militia companies were arming to fight the British, the chiefs on the Cuyahoga marshaled all their men and marched them off to join the British. Not one remained.
After the war, five came back to the Cuyahoga valley. Four of them were shot by Captain Delawn Mills’s men. After that, a handful came back for a short time. But by 18l7, it was hard to find an Indian in the Cuyaboga valley. And today, if you stand looking at the massive signal tree on the Goudy farm on Peck Road in Cuyahoga Falls when the wind is blowing through its branches ... it sounds like a sad a cappella Amen.
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