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Our Rich History: The Wyandots — well assimilated — were sadly victims of Indian Removal Act

By Steve Preston
Special to NKyTribune

In 1843, Cincinnati’s public landing was a bustling place of business and human interaction. These ten acres of land were at the heart of the business district in the 1840s. Shopkeepers and their customers shared the landing with those loading or unloading cargo from docked boats. Other citizens embarked and disembarked from the boats as passengers. Over 5,000 steamboats moored here during a season. Two of those steamboats, the Nodaway and the Republic, were docked for a special purpose.

In 1830, the United States government passed the Indian Removal Act. The landscape east of the Mississippi was no longer wild. Manifest Destiny was starting to pull the nation farther west. Any Native-American tribes still east of the Mississippi were facing forced relocation to lands on the other side of the river. The Shawnee, Seneca, Ottawa, and Wyandots of Ohio were no exception.

The Wyandot Mission. Google image.

Many Shawnee had migrated out of Ohio during the American Revolution. In 1832, little more than 500 Shawnee remained in Ohio. The population was mostly split between Black Hoof’s Town, near Wapakoneta, and Quatawapea’s or Colonel Lewis’s, group in Lewistown. Colonel Lewis favored resettlement, while Black Hoof preferred accommodation and adapting to white culture. In the end, neither faction had control over their situation. They were both forced to settle on lands in present-day Kansas and Oklahoma. The remnant members of the Ottawa and Seneca accompanied the Shawnee westward.

By 1843, the Wyandot were the only tribe to remain within the boundaries of Ohio. To say the Wyandot successfully assimilated is an understatement. The tribe had grown prosperous in agricultural activities. Some were among the wealthiest landowners in and around their reservation in Upper Sandusky.

The Wyandot reservation on the Upper Sandusky was lined with over a hundred log homes. A grist mill also operated on the property. They had embraced Christianity, allowing for a Methodist mission to be built on their land. Names were changed to Christian names. Many began to dress in accordance with the white man’s fashion. A Federal Inspector to the reservation even touted them as a success in civilizing the tribes. Women of Steubenville, Ohio had gone so far as to use the only means at their disposal, the right of petition, to voice their displeasure with the federal government’s policy of removal. Yet all of these attempts were for naught, as the Wyandot lands were deemed, “too good for Indians.”

The Wyandot managed to stave off removal from 1831 to 1843 by outright refusal, by negotiating with the federal government for a better price for their land, and also by deliberating for their resettlement site west of the Mississippi. The final straw came in late 1841 with the murder of their beloved chief, Summundewat. The chief and his immediate family were murdered by whites while off reservation land.

Further, it became painfully obvious to the Wyandot that the federal government would not protect them on reservation land. In fact, after the murder, a government representative showed up and asked them to consider relocation once again. Timing was of the essence.

For the next 11 months of 1842, the Wyandot and the federal government went back and forth to try and reach an agreement for terms of relocation. In the end, the Wyandot agreed to leave their 100,000-acre reservation in Upper Sandusky. In return, the tribe received almost the going rate for land in Ohio, unheard of for “Indian land.” The Wyandot also received money to upgrade their new reservation land in the West, and an annuity of over $17,000 annually. Through their persistence and business acumen, the Wyandot received the largest removal package of any Ohio tribe.

Over 100 wagons and some 300 horses were collected so more than 600 Wyandots could begin their journey west. Plagued by alcohol peddlers morning, noon and night, and by unsatisfactory weather conditions, it took the tribe one week to reach Cincinnati. As they made their way, whites turned out in every town to behold the spectacle of the long line of Wyandots passing through. Despite the crowds and the weather, the Wyandots successfully reached Cincinnati.

The Cincinnati Public Landing. From: Charles Cist, Cincinnati in 1841.

At the Cincinnati public landing, the Nodaway and Republic awaited them, as did curious whites who had to be escorted off the boats so that the Wyandot could come aboard. The steamboats’ captains removed all refinements on ship and put them in storage, out of fear that the Wyandot would ruin them. Almost immediately upon boarding, a young child and a 103-year-old Wyandot died. On the last night at the landing, an inebriated Wyandot fell off one of the boats and drowned. These were not the harbingers of a peaceful journey ahead.

On July 21, 1843, the steamboats pulled from their moorings for the Wyandots’ journey west. As they reached North Bend and the tomb of William Henry Harrison, the engines were cut, the Wyandot lined the decks, and the Nodaway’s cannon fired a salute. The Wyandot chief, Henry Jacquis shouted; “Farewell Ohio and her brave.” The boats’ engines started and the steamboats churned west, as the Wyandots caught the last glimpse of what had been their home for over 100 years.

The story of Native-American removal from Ohio is one that is often overshadowed by the Cherokee and their “Trail of Tears.” The removal of the Ohio tribes, however, was just as tragic. Poor logistical planning, shortages of supplies, lack of suitable land in the West, and conflicts with the tribes native to the resettlement area, all proved deadly and disastrous for tribes removed westward.

Heritage Village Museum, and Public History students of Xavier University, have partnered to tell this sad story. “Exiled: Ohio’s Indian Removal,” is an exhibit that recounts the story of the Ohio’s tribes’ forced relocation west of the Mississippi River. The Village and exhibit are open Wednesday-Saturday, 10 a.m.-5 p.m. and Sundays, 1-4:00 p.m.

Steve Preston is the Education Director and a Curator of History at Heritage Village Museum. He received his MA in Public History from Northern Kentucky University.

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