Rivers help tell the story of the Ohio frontier

(Posted Feb. 11, 2021)

The tranquil waters of the Scioto River were once anything but placid.

The Scioto River and its tributaries, such as Big Darby Creek, Big Walnut Creek, and the Olentangy River, were once hot beds of activity as Prehistoric and Woodland Native Americans used them as major transportation routes.

A new book by Janet Shailer, “Trouble on Scioto’s Waters – Soldiers, Frontiersmen & Native Americans: 1725-1815,” explores the Native American history surrounding these waterways.

“From 1754 to 1814, fighting raged within the state between Native Americans and their adversaries,” Shailer said. “Those years are vital to understanding the history of Ohio. By 1843, the last of the Native Americans left the state after the signing of the Treaty with the Wyandots. A mere 18 years later, the Civil War would start.”

The importance of the Scioto River watershed to Ohio’s early history cannot be underestimated. This river was a transportation artery for the Shawnee, Wyandot, Delaware, Ottawa, Seneca and Miami on their way to camps in the Pickaway Plains and beyond.

Janet Shailer, a former editor with the Columbus Messenger Newspapers, is the author of “Trouble on Scioto’s Waters – Soldiers, Frontiersmen & Native Americans: 1725-1815.”

The area between the Scioto River and Big Darby Creek was once a cradle of Prehistoric and Woodland activity. This area alone has artifacts from the Paleo-Indian, Adena, Hopewell and Fort Ancient cultures. Battelle Darby Metro Park along Big Darby Creek, for one, is continuously studied by archaeologists for its numerous mounds and Native American artifacts that are still being discovered there. Later the European fur trappers and frontiersmen understood their significance, followed by soldiers from three different countries.

“I have included chapters on five men who were important figures in central Ohio’s early history,” Shailer said. “They include Col. William Crawford, Simon Girty and Jonathan Alder plus Native Americans Blue Jacket and Tecumseh. The Indian Removal Act of 1830 began to drive the Native Americans out of Ohio permanently.”

Shailer said the Native Americans knew the Ohio country was a special place and they helped to make it so.

“I believe that to understand the history of a great people, we must thoroughly study them, including walking the ground where they once lived,” said Shailer. “Part of this book is a guide to visiting some of those sites. Native Americans entered what is now central Ohio about 9,000 to 10,000 years ago.”

For people interested in both Prehistoric and Eastern Woodland Indians, the Middle Ohio Valley is an archaeologist’s gold mine.

“The Ohio Historical & Archaeological Society estimated in the 1880s there were once 10,000 mounds and earthworks in Ohio alone,” said Shailer. “Unfortunately, urban development has left us with few remaining sites to see and explore.”

The Ohio History Connection has documented dozens of Prehistoric and Eastern Woodland sites all along the edges of the Scioto River.

“In Jackson Township/Franklin County, archaeological maps show dozens of Native American sites along the edges of this waterway,” said Shailer. “Other creeks in the Scioto River basin were also important for development. On the western side of Franklin County lies Big Darby Creek, another important transportation artery for several tribes. In the eastern part of Franklin County, Alum Creek runs south from Mount Gilead and joins Big Walnut and Blacklick creeks in (now) Three Creeks Metro Park. The Adena built at least seven mounds in the Alum Creek Valley.”

The book includes a guide to those who would like to visit sites once occupied by these First Ohioans. Books may be ordered online from the publisher, Orange Frazer Press, at www.orangefrazer.com or via Amazon.com.

“Janet Shailer has captured a long-overlooked portion of Ohio’s history, a past era that we are still feeling the effects of today,” said Rick Palsgrove, managing editor of the Columbus Messenger Newspapers and director of the Groveport Heritage Museum. “The stories she tells of the Native Americans, military and frontiersmen who helped shape Ohio are fascinating. Her listing of pertinent historical sites that help tell the story of those times is helpful to those who wish to see the places where this history took shape.”

Janet Shailer is a former editor with the Columbus Messenger Newspapers and has written two other history books: “Images of Grove City” and “Images of Modern America: Grove City.” She wrote the novel, “The Austerlitz Bugle-Telegraph: A King, A Goddess and a Chronicle of Deception,” as well as three children’s books.

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