When solitude reigned and the banks of the Ohio were watered with blood

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As we move steadily into the new millennium let us pause a bit and reflect on the way it was 200 years ago, at the dawn of the 19th century, in the then western frontier that was Ohio.

It is a misconception to imagine the vast domain stretching westward from the Alleghenies as densely populated by Indians.

While many tribes occupied the Ohio country, Kentucky had not a single tribe of Indians in residence. The Catawba, Cherokee and Chickasaw tribes to the south, and the Delaware, Shawnee, and Huron tribes to the north used it as a common hunting ground and for their tribal skirmishes.

Immense tracks of wilderness in western Virginia and eastern Ohio presented itself as a green paradise for hunters, and offered utter solitude. Large areas of Michigan, Illinois, and Tennessee was home to wild creatures only.

In the whole vast area lying between the Atlantic and the Mississippi, the Cumberland and Lake Superior the entire native American population in the 1770s was barely 10,000 warriors, of which 2,000 were Delawares, Shawnees, Hurons or Wyandots, or Miamis.

Most of the Ohio Indians were undoubtedly late arrivals. The Delawares and Shawnees emigrated from Pennsylvania around 1720 to 1750. The Hurons migrated from Detroit and the upper lakes.

In the upper Ohio valley the Shawnees abandoned their villages in the mid-1700s. This area was found by early explorers with scarcely a village among its wooded margins to denote the presence of humans.

On the interior streams, however, on the Scioto, Muskingum, Wabash, Miami, and others, villages of the Native Americans were numerous and highly populated.

The Ohio shores were taboo to the natives. It was named “River of Blood,” and legend has it that many bloody battles were fought among the tribes for control of the beautiful Ohio shores.

When Virginia was first settled by European white men, the Massawomees, as they were called by the Indians of East Virginia who were constantly wary of neighboring Indians, were the most powerful western confederacy of tribes.

They fought many terrific, savage battles with the tribes of the Five Nations, an equally powerful confederacy of tribes in New York.

It was the normal procedure for the Iroquois who were settled about the York lakes to go down the Allegheny and Ohio in large numbers of canoes, moving rapidly and secretly.

They faced few barriers and were easily provisioned off the land. No trails were discovered, they came and went by water.

Raided by river. The river provided an effective avenue of retreat that allowed them to swiftly and without warning invade the towns and villages within easy distance of the Ohio.

Both shores of the river had long been abandoned for village settlements.

Various nations utilized the area for hunting, but their villages were usually 50 to 100 miles back from the Ohio on the various accessible tributaries.

The Six Nations named Iroquois by the French, Mingoes or Mengine by the Dutch, have also been referred to as the Romans of America. The territory they controlled was immense, stretching even into Canada.

They consisted originally of five nations – Mohawk, Oneida, Onondaga, Cayuga, and Seneca – to which the the Tuscarora was added when they migrated into Iroquois territory from the South.

They, like the Romans, added one domain after the other, subjecting every tribe that came within their reach to their authority, although with a much different style of tribute.

In the Ohio country, where the Iroquois mainly raided, it has been stated that each Indian village required an area of more than 50,000 acres just to subsist.

Game animals had to be hunted to almost extinction near the villages, causing hunting parties to venture out over great distances.

The migration of whites into native hunting grounds was just as much a threat as was any settlement near a village, and the Indians were unnerved by any encroachment of European settlement. They fought, literally, for the ancestral lands that made it possible for them to preserve their tribal existence.

But in the way of all things, the tribes that fought so brutally to repel European settlement had themselves been immigrants onto previously settled lands, with previous civilizations, like that of the Mound Builders, disappearing in front of an earlier movement of populations.

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