Inverviewed by Charlotte Wangrin, April 2003
G. I’m going to read if you don’t mind?
C. That’s fine.
G. I am speaking today as Sweetgrass Eicher, a descendant of TARHE, THE CRANE, the Wyandot Chief. I am also a member of the Shawnee United Remnant 13 and of Ohio by tribal adoption. By paternal line I am also descended by five generations from my Cherokee ancestor, James Foreman, who came to what is now northern Ohio before 1800. My family line has been in Ohio for many years.
Before Ohio was a state the area of present Henry County was known as Indian country. It remained that for many years after the first white settlers arrived , and settlement was sparse until the 1830’s. Charles Gunn, father of Edward Mc Carthy Gunn, arrived and settled at Prairie Du Masque or our present Damascus on the Maumee River in 1814.
C. Is that where the Damascus Bridge is now?
G. Yes. It was approximately where the caretaker’s house is.
C. Where that restaurant is now?
G. No. It was across the road from there. He had a trading post and a log house that was an inn for whatever travelers passed through. And an interesting part of that was the Indian chief, Abonique; his lodge was within a stone’s throw of the trading post.
C. Is that the building that’s on the north side of the road now, then?
G. Next to the river? Yes. Just about the caretaker’s house, on the other side of Rt. 109, toward Toledo. That’s about where it was, and the Indian trail was about where the 24 is now. It followed the edge of the river.
Edward remembered that the camp of BAB-O-NEEK, an Indian chief, was within a stone’s throw of the Gunn trading post. Edward was born in 1821 at Damascus and often told of his early life living with the Indians at Damascus. Charles went to the Trading Post to buy furs from the Indians and Edward was named by a half-breed Indian fur buyer who worked for Charles Gunn. He showed up just as the child was born and he said he’d like to have the child named for himself and so that is how he got his name. Mr. Gunn would send him out all over the area and he would buy furs and so of course he would also bring them back.
And the interesting thing is that he would often bring back runaway slaves from the south because they followed the Indian trails north and when anyone of the Indians found them they took them along because the Black people knew they would be taken care of and they would be heading north toward Canada where they wanted to go and-uh-Edward made the remark that he had often seen Negroes climb out of the tents of the Indians early in the morning.
The Indians who lived at Damascus, according to Edward Gunn, journeyed to Fort Malden, Ontario, Canada to receive their pay for war service from the British government. This pay was usually old army tents, blankets and such stuff as the Indians could uce. When the Damascus Indians made their yearly trip they would take these runaway slaves with them and they would drop them off in Canada. And that’s interesting because the Underground Railroad did go through here but this is before the Underground Railroad. The Black slaves were traveling, and there’s a record in what was the county seat of Williams County in that time Defiance, Ohio that at that time the Blacks were passing through. This was in 1821 so they were passing through very early and so this is one way of proving that they did–when you have somebody who lived in that time and wrote down these things.
C. You would not be talking about this book Maumee River 1821 would you?
G. No. This is not written in a book. This is through Edward Gunn and other sources.
C. Now was he related to you or a friend of your ancestors?
G. No. When they went to the mill at Waterville my English adopted ancestors would go from this area and they would stay there at that trading post overnight.
C. A long trip in those days.
G. Yes. It took at least one day to go down and one to come back so they would stay two nights at the trading posts. But there was no affiliation otherwise because I am a Wyandot and these were Ottowa and Potawatomy. It was because they traveled through, and we discussed that that was next to the river. And in 1819 there was one white settler in what is now Independence in Defiance County and the Gunn family after that. The census of 1820 listed 387 white residents of Damascus Township, of which Henry County was part of that territory. It was a large township.
C. Is that the place along the river that is Independence still, the little town of Independence?
G. Yes. Before the start of the War of 1812 there were 67 families living between Lake Erie and the foot of the rapids at Grand Rapids. When the war broke out they left the area and returned after the war was over. I was told the Gunns also left and returned after the war. Although Charles came in 1814 it was after the war was over and he was living with his parents in Cleveland before that and they came after the war.
The period of 1820 to 1830 showed the largest increase of the white settlers and Edward Gunn, was one of the early settlers. They were scattered,. not close together. In 1820 In his memoirs listed early settlers at or near Prairie Du Masque as his father in 1814. In the 1820’s Samuel Vance, John Patrick, David Bucklin, Elisha Scribner, Judge Cory, David DeLong and Samuel and David Bowers settled near Texas and Prairie Du Masque, and Elijah Gunn who settled between Snaketown (Florida, Ohio) and what is now present Napoleon, Ohio. And of course Charles Gunn had his trading post at Damascus during that time. In 1831 Mr. Bowen, Mr Hunter and Mr. Carvin, and the families of Whipple, Wait, Cole Scofield and Morey moved into the Florida area.
At the site of present Napoleon Mr. Philips owned all the land that would become Napoleon. He gave Mr. Holliway a small piece to clear. Of course that’s where the first log cabin was built here close to the river. Holliway built a small log cabin to use as a traveler’s inn. Soon Holliway left and Mr. Andrews took over the inn. The Phillips’ land was all wilderness when he gave Holliway the ground.
Robert Newell built his trading post at what is Florida, Ohio about 1832. That building is still standing and has received recognition as nan underground railroad station site.
C. Excuse me, but these people that came, where had they all come from? Did they all come from one place or different places?
G. No. Most of them came from New York, but not the same area of New York. There were people that came here that were the land speculators, and they would go back to the eastern states and sell, try to sell the land and that, wherever they travelled, that’s where they came from. If they came from New York they could very well have come from different parts of New York. Some of them would have been land speculators. For instance, Mr. -uh-Rev. B. Stow went to Defiance. He was a land speculator and he was a Presbyterian minister that was sent here by the society to start a Presbyterian church in the area. But he also was a land speculator. And he went back to Mexico a pseudocon of New York. He convinced young people that knew they would never inherit land in New York to come out here and settle. And I’m working on Ridgeville Township and there’s at least 15 to 20 families that came here because Mr. Stow talked them into moving.
C. Is that right? Now is that spelled the same as Dr. Stowe?
G. No. It’s Stow. But that’s—he–convinced many people, including himself, to settle along the Maumee. And-uh–my foster grandfather was one of them, and-uh-he said that he didn’t do a very good job of selling because he was under the impression that there would be some kind of civilization here, and when he arrived in Toledo he was going to settle in Toledo but when he saw it it was such a mud hole that he decided to go farther west and he came all the way to the Ridge–well, it’s called the Ridge because it’s the old [blank] left from when there were seas, left ridges that are in the ground. And so
C. Oh, so he came to the south of the river, do you think?
G. He came to the north side of the river. We know he came through what we now know roughly, Delta and Wauseon.
C. Oh, so the Ridge ran through there then?
G. It runs from Upper Sandusky to the southern part of our area, through Henry County, crosses the river at Independence , then goes northeastward, and ends up at Adrian, Michigan. The Black Swamp was included in that area. He came to Ridgeville Township and he settled what would be now where Becks have their establishment west of Ridgeville, yes, the west edge of Ridgeville. That was the farm that he first settled on, and then I don’t know why he moved. He lived there from 1836 to 1845 and then he went farther toward Defiance on the Ridge. He lived across from the Bethlehem Lutheran Church.
C. That’s right on the Ridge.
G. Yeah. And that’s where he died. That’s how he got here.
C. I’m trying to establish exactly where this ridge went because I know it goes through Defiance area and on to Ridgeville, which is where they got the name of ‘Ridge’ville, and on toward Wauseon and then where did it go from there?
G. Well, it starts for us. I’m working on the Underground Railroad following that trail and it’s called ‘The Old Independence-Ridgeville-Adrian-Pre-Turnpike.’ When it comes to us in Fulton County south of Wauseon it becomes County Road AC, and if you turn–there’s a big white house on that corner (the Ridge and 108). And if you turn to the right and go down to what used to be called Westbury. There’s nothing there now but farmland but it was a small town.
C. In other words you turned south at that corner?
G. East. You’re going toward Wauseon and you turn east and you go down to the first five-corners and there the road turns to the north.
C. That’s the way the Ridge went then?
G. Yes. It goes north and east and eventually ends up at Adrian.
C. O.K. I’ve got the picture.
G. (laughs) Yeah, and it was a very well-travelled road and it was the first road that came through the swamp and so it was an old Indian trail, and when he came that trail was perhaps three foot wide in places and other places as narrow as a man’s foot.
G. And so he said he always had to scout for a piece of wood to carry because if he should start to slip he couldn’t help himself because the mud and mire was up to a man’s waist. You get down in that and you might have trouble getting out.
C. Now is that the shoreline of old Lake Whittlesea?
G. Yes. And I drive that as you must have and you can’t imagine what it must have been like 200 years ago, but this was wild country and stayed wild country for years. And of course the population was scarce and when the first settlers came in they were [blank] the Indian and one of the things the Underground Railroad people don’t understand they think it was like we read that they were in constant danger and it wasn’t because there weren’t enough people here that they could easily hide and-uh–there was not a heavily travelled road and the settlers that came in really didn’t care because they were busy making a living for themselves. Most of them were anti-slavery but many of the housewives were afraid of the Negroes rather than the Indians because they lived with the Indians but they had never seen a black person. And-uh the reason the Indians helped the black people started way back in the 1700’s when the colonists bought black slaves and captured Indian slaves. So they learned that they had something in common, and it came down through their folklore. And so the black people knew that if they could find any Indians to travel with or they would have a place where they would be taken care of until they could go to the next place. And so it worked very well. Often on a plantation the news would travel and so the black people would get their things together, slip out at night and locate the Indians and then they would be gone.
C. Runaway slaves used to travel at night so they wouldn’t be detected.
G. Yes. And then of course the reason the white people here came involved the Indians were moved to the west, and then of course the white people became involved, taking care of the blacks that passed through and seeing that they were cared for and Mr. Tubbs told that after the Indians had moved to the west that it appeared they had more trouble getting them north.
C. I heard a talk about the underground railroad and one farmer used to have them lie down in the wagon and cover them with beets and potatoes and vegetables.
G. We’ve digressed, haven’t we, from Indians.
C. It doesn’t matter.
G. Mr. Tubbs did that. All the station masters had to cover their wagons. They had to explain why they were uncovered and so his was he raised produce and sold it in the Defiance, Wauseon, Delta area. As you could safely take his produce wagon which had a hidden compartment and put the slaves in, put the sacks of potatoes, bushels of apples and things, cover it and people were so used to seeing him going that they didn’t think much about it. And he was lucky. He never got caught. I haven’t found anyone yet that was caught here, for two reasons. One, they were very inventive and Mr. Tubbs said that the trick was that if you were stopped by a law officer you kept your mind on something totally different so you didn’t show any emotion and so they assumed that you had nothing to upset, you know, made you nervous. And the other reason was that many of the law officers were anti-slavery and so when they would be told that somebody was harboring one they would take the long way around to give them plenty of time for them to get rid of the slaves. And so when they arrived all was well. That’s a fascinating part of history.
C. Oh, it is! And-uh-I understand that the Sloans used to live in this house?
C. And my son said the Sloan boys told him that there was a secret passage way from this house to the river.
G. There was a tunnel. Yes. There were several tunnels underneath Napoleon and this was connected to the one beneath West Washington St. and the nephew of Governor Scott told me that when he was a child he played in that tunnel. All the neighborhood kids did. And I asked, “Why were they closed?” He said because it was beginning to fall in and it was dangerous so they started to [blank] And I said, “Can you show me where it was?” He said, “No. I was a kid and I was too young. They closed it up and it looks like the rest of the basement. I can’t tell you where it was but I can say I played in it.”
C. Who is this again?
G. The nephew of Governor Scott. J. F. Scott’s nephew and his wife, Rebecca Scott’s nephew. And-un-he was very interesting. He told a lot of things about the house. They had a dumb waiter they used to ride up and down in. (laughs) But it was never connected with the other. It was built too late.
C. I asked this question of the lecturer on the underground railroad and he said, “Every town has a rumor like that but there’s nothing to it.”
G. Well, you know when they tore the Wellington Hotel down they found the entrance of a tunnel.
C. I wonder what those tunnels were for?
G. Well one person not long ago told me that his father told him that one of the tunnels went to the railroad station. And that’s the only one I ever heard and I don’t say it’s true but that’s what my father told me. And-uh-they were used to go through business without being seen. And-uh-Scott belonged to a group that were wheelers and dealers and important people and they didn’t want their business known. And that’s the explanation that Mr. Whatever-his-name-was, the nephew told, that was the reason that he was told.
C. Well, it being a small town any stranger would be noticed right away.
G. It’s like in Toledo, during Prohibition they had tunnels under Oregon and they were used by people, the gangsters and like that that didn’t want to be seen on the streets. And so it must have been a fad to build them or something because you don’t hear of it now, but they tell me the tunnels are still there. You can’t find out anything. Nobody remembers much about them.
C. No they wouldn’t; it would be too long ago.
G. And the sort of things like underground railroad they wouldn’t write down anything because, well, it wasn’t of interest to anybody except the people using them. I tried to find out. I’d like to know the history of the tunnels underground. They are there. People who work with sewers say they’re there. But we don’t know anything else. Well all I come up with was, as I told you, they connected places. Am I talking clearly?
G. Well, let’s go back to the Indian encampment. Indian encampments were located at Damascus and along the banks of the Maumee River where Napoleon now stands, and along the creek waterways that fed into the river, beyond the old Tanner farm out south of town here and-uh that has a creek that goes through. And that was remembered as being . . Indians living there. There are graveyards of course along the river and-uh along the Maumee and the Auglaize and-uh Mr. Gunn listed the Indians at Damascus as Pottawatamies but a lot of people said they were Ottawas so I’ve tended to take his word for it since he lived there and played with them. The encampment where Wauseon is now sited was an Ottawa Indian camp. And of course Wauseon and Ottake were the Chiefs. in fulton County and Chief Tontoganie’s camp was located near the village of Tontogany in Wood County was also Ottawa. The Shawnee nation had summer encampments along the Maumee and Auglaize rivers in Defiance County. That was strictly summer encampments. They had winter homes. The only reservation in Henry County was located in Washington Township and the one at Damascus. Otherwise the Indians that camped here were simply summer camping.
C. They came to the river to plant sometimes?
G. Not up here. They came mainly to make maple syrup and to hunt and fish and dry meat for the winter, and of course in the bottom lands they could raise corn and other crops that they raised.
C. What’s the bottom land?
G. That’s the land along the river, rich land along the river, and they would camp there and have their gardens and Mr. Tubbs told that people had the impression that they lived where their garden was, but they didn’t. They’d have gardens different places because it was where the land was fertile and it would grow. And so they would go back to harvest their crops and sometimes like corn they’d find out that coons had gotten in and they didn’t have much of a crop so they would have various places where they would have more planted.
G. And of course we know that the Indian occupation of county land ended with the Removal Act and in 1838 most red men were gone from the county except those whe were considered Competent Indians who did not have to go west with their tribe. My family was such a family for they had dropped out of the Indian world and lived as their white neighbors did in Huron County. Other competency came from marrying into a white family who could assist the Indian family; having a white person take care of an Indian or Indian family, or an Indian who had accrued enough material possessions that he did not have to rely on government assistance for himself and his family. Dr. Kolbe in Defiance County had a graveyard on his land, a private cemetery. At the bottom of the cemetery along the river is a Negro and Indian cemetary because after the blacks were free they just kept on living where they were.
C. Now where was this?
G. If you go west of Defiance on 24 and you come to 127 where they join, there’s a restaurant, I can’t think of the name of it. You look to the right and there’s a bridge that goes to the right. This farm was along the river a mile west of that bridge you turn off of 24 and turn at the first road. Go down that road about a mile and that is where this farm was and the cemetery that he had set aside. Several Indian families lived with the black people on this land, I understand. And so those Indian people didn’t have to go, and Westbury, which is just on the Ridge Road as you go… (end of tape)
C. … do you know?
G. Just about a mile, east and it’s the five corners, you know. That was part of the Indian land. And there was one of the Indians who did not want to go west, and didn’t have to. He had his own cabin there and he was allowed to stay, and his name was Kickdogs, an English name. I didn’t remember his other name but his name was Kickdogs because he always had a bunch of dogs and when they would come tearing out he’d tell them to be quiet and if they didn’t they’d get a kick, so he got his nickname, and he did not have to go west. He lived there for some years and then he decided to go find his nation out by the Mississippi, but he didn’t like it and he came back. But before he died he went back and he died out there. But he was one of the last Indians in this area.
C. He probably had family out there.
G. He has descendants, yes. And he like a change of course because when they moved out more white people moved in and there were no more Indians and I could see where he’d get lonesome. So I don’t know what happened to him after he went, the last time that he died out there.
C. Now do you remember anything about your childhood?
G. I was not raised as an Indian.
C. Had you been captured as a baby?
G. No. My people lived in Huron County and they came to Toledo and they were business people and I was born in Lucas County and my mother died when I was a year and a half old and my father wasn’t able to take care of us, me and the four younger children, so we became wards of Henry County and I was adopted and my sister was never adopted but raised in Florida, Ohio.
C. So what was your adopted name then?
G. I was adopted by Dustin Alice Motter and I went to Ridgeville.
G. Motter. I don’t know whether you ever knew Gilbert Motter, who was the Debtor’s Administrator here for many years, was my foster brother. And that family came here early in Henry County and I guess I’m about the last one, but still I have a nephew living here yet. One other of the Motter family and the rest are all gone. These families die out. But I was raised–the lady that raised me, her father was an Indian interpreter and although I [blank] and he is my adopted grandfather he was born in 1810 and so that seems unbelievable to me that the history goes back that far on that close terms, and so I was always raised with a lot of knowing how to deed work along with cooking and things. Although she had [blank] and sold, this line behind her she had picked it up from her father.
C. Now did you have an Indian name when you were born?
G. My grandfather, when I was to be born, said that if I was a girl I was to be named Sweetgrass, and so I’m Sweetgrass.
C. That’s a pretty name.
G. It is. It’s one of the four sacred elements of the Indian world: tobacco and sweetgrass and cedar and sage. And he wanted me to be named Sweetgrass so I–that’s my name.
C. Does the Article sweetgrass have any use in their culture?
G. Yes. That is what baskets are made of.
C. Like reeds, a little bit like reeds?
G. I don’t have any. Did you ever see sweetgrass?
G. I’ll go get some, if you have time. The other was to sweeten the body in the corpse.
C. Oh, really! Does it have a scent? . . . Yes it does!
G. Oh yes, and that fragrance is very strong. This is probably a year old. Ordinarily it is braided.
G. Braided. They would braid it and then hang it in their place of living. It was placed between layers of clothing to keep them smelling sweet. It was used to sweeten up the lodge.
C. Well that is certainly worthwhile saving.
G. It grows about so high and they cut it off, harvest it about in–oh–July or August.
G. They try to keep it. This is old, but if I would soak this in water then the smell would come out again. I have some sweet little baskets but they’re packed away. It’s very expensive to buy them woven now. I have a little basket with a lid and I had to pay $20 for it because there aren’t that many that we–. It’s getting to be rather a lost art, and so those that do–it’s tedious.
C. And so your first name was ‘Sweetgrass” like this and did you have a family name?
G. No. Indians did not have a family name, and they had to take names then when the government took over they had to be–pegged, I guess is a good word to use. And so the rolls, the Cherokee rolls for instance, the first ones there would be people like–I would be listed still as Sweetgrass. But then in the next roll that was taken I was called Sweetgrass Eicher. I had to have that last name and -uh-all sorts of names, you know, and people would take whatever name they feel like and-uh-my daughter’s Savannah because her name is Lee Ann and Savannah is an English word meaning ‘meadow.” But it is also an Indian word meaning ‘meadow.’ So she took the name ‘Savannah’ and her two sons took their names and one of them wanted to be ‘great-eagle’ and the other wanted to be ‘great-owl’ and the other wanted to be ‘standing eagle’ and they picked their own names and because they admired the birds I guess. But there would be all sorts of names, whatever somebody feels like. You were adopted by the Shawnee and whenever you were adopted by the Indians in a tribal adoption if you become the same as 100 percent blood, and it doesn’t matter what you are before but tribally. Now if a family would adopt, if it was a family adoption then I could not have blood but if tribal I could have one hundred percent blood, by the Shawnee people.
C. Now did you have any sisters or brothers that had done this?
G. I had nine. I was the youngest of nine. My mother died carrying a child that would be ten, and I have one sister yet that is at Grand Rapids, Ohio that is still living yet. The rest are all gone but the only one active in the Indian world is myself because my brothers said, “Oh no, we’re not [blank].” They didn’t want to claim it and my sister will claim it but she doesn’t care. She’d just as soon be white, and I’m white too, I have to admit that the Indian is where my people were, and I’m active in the Indian world. But if you would say, “What are you?” I’d probably say “White”. It’s easier. It’s always been a surprise to people that didn’t know I was Indian. This one woman said, “Well how come you suddenly became an Indian?” And I said, “I was always an Indian.” She just didn’t know it. It’s a different world. We enjoy it and we’ve learned a lot but yes, I was raised white. My interest in history and all, white history.
C. Now both your parents were Indian?
G. Yes. Um-hm.
C. And then you were adopted by the white family?
G. Yes. And the man that adopted me, his family going back to the late 1700’s his paternal ancestor married a Mohawk and so this summer there was a young man who came who would be my great-nephew. I knew who he was but I’d never seen him and I spoke to him about the Indians, being Mohawk his ancestors and he said, “Oh I shall tell my aunt. She wants so badly to prove that.” And he said, “That just thrills me all to pieces.” And I said that’s a nice reaction, wasn’t it.
C. It’s about time, you know.
G. He asked me, “Do I have any characteristics?” And I said, “Yes. Your build and you short [blank], certain characteristics, Oh yeah.”
C. Yeah. You would recognize them when other people wouldn’t.
G. You learn to recognize people as you sit in a restaurant.
C. Is that right?
G. And I’ve had people in traffic come over and say, “What nation do you belong to?” Because you recognize it. I don’t have anything bad to say about the Indian people at all and I don’t have–we do not get into that controversy of what happened in the past. No point. That the black servants are fighting for recognition: I don’t understand that. That was their ancestors several generations back. And I said to one woman, “You know my ancestor way back in the early 1800’s was an Indian, an indentured servant. I said, “Well, she was about two years old when she was indentured.” She grew up, was indentured to a family and she would clean the tavern. And she was married when she was 14 because she married an older man because he was a blacksmith and he travelled a lot so he would see her, saw her growing up and he became concerned when she became 13, what was going to happen to her, and so he asked the tavern keeper if he could buy her indenture. And he asked him why and he said, “Because I want to marry her. Give her a change.” And he said “No. But you come back next year and if you still believe you want to do this you can buy her indenture.” So he bought her indenture and then took her up to the church and married her. They served their life together, a very good life together. But that’s …
C. Did she object to the marriage?
G. I have no idea but apparently not. It must have been a wonderful waiting it out in a way and apparently not because I’ve done quite a bit of history on her. They lived in Florida, Ohio. I looked into her history after she was married and there’s no indication but what everything was just fine. Apparently it was a good marriage and she was beloved by her family and all, but that’s the same as slavery, when you’re indentured, and she wasn’t paid. She remembers that when he bought her indenture she wore the–she always called it a ‘shift’ which would be just a straight top, you know, a long dress, nothing fancy, and had no shoes. And so she didn’t get anything for the hard work she did, except the food and the housing. Her clothing–well, she was two and she was 13, so 11 years and that’s like slave labor too. One of the reasons the man said she wanted to agree to this was because his wife did not want her there as she grew up, and he said, “I did learn to love her as a child,” and he said, “I had no feelings for her other than she was practically my child because I had raised her, but my wife never did, so I have none–uh–” I say, you think of slavery you know as the black slaves. We forget there’s slaves in the world today that are living under the same conditions. We just don’t know about them.
C. Man’s inhumanity to man. Pretty bad.
G. One of the reasons that so many of the people in this area were station masters was because they had been either indentured servants or they had been captured by Indians. And so they knew what captivity was. You don’t have any freedom. You take whatever they give you whether it’s good or bad. So that is the reason they were willing to risk their life and their property, the blacks.
C. Well now, station masters, were those the ones that ran the free houses for the Underground Railroad?
G. But they understood why they wanted to do it. They felt they had to. They knew what the conditions were and it was to them a moral duty, that God–that they were religious and God wanted them to do this. And they all–most all of them told their children, “Yes, we would have done it again.” Some of the times it was a very very hazardous undertaking, and I think of Mr. Tubbs’ son. He was [blank] when the station called up that year and he grew up with it. When he was 14 he became very active in the underground railroad, transporting slaves and at 16 he went to Adrian to live with relatives to be what they called a runner. He would escort slaves. Oftentimes they escaped on horses and he would go, ride a horse up and pick up the horse and bring it back. He’d do jobs like that, do errands. But when you think about sending a 16-year-old now with that type of responsibility, you wonder, don’t you.
C. Yeah, I’d say. Well, I’ve often wondered about this Colonial Inn in Waterville. It has in this one place walls that are about four feet thick and has doors in the passageway that goes from one room to another but it opens into this four-feet thick place and it’s empty. I’ve often wondered if that wasn’t a place where they hid the slaves?
G. I’m sure it kept slaves because all kinds of businesses did, and they would carry on their own business of whatever their work was; with an Inn it would have been cooking and feeding and so on, with slaves hiding on the other side of the wall. And I’m sure they must have, but how do you know? Nothing’s been written. Y’know, I had a man and wife that lived in Defiance. The wife couldn’t work; she had arthritis, and so my parents always went with their relatives and helped can, and they lived in a house that I always was told was an underground station.
You can’t say this now, but they would run out of cans and she would say to me, “Genevieve, go down to the nigger hole and get so many cans.” And that was where apparently the negroes stayed, and she used it as a storage area for cans and lids and so forth, stuff that would go for canning. And there were all sorts of places that–we have a house that under the stairway is a place built in and it was supposed to have been an underground station but I’m not sure it was because I didn’t know that.
C. You mean this house here?
G. No. It was out on the farm outside of town, and there was a place in the attic that I was told was used, but there’s never been anything written down. Looking up other people’s houses and putting them in I have never included that one because I have no proof. It’s only what somebody told me. And it was–many times, you know the first inhabitants–when they came here and built a cabin, and then they built a log cabin, a better cabin. Then they just left that. That would be used by the Indians.
There were several known Indians’ graveyards in Henry County. Most have disappeared but were located near Shunk, Napoleon and Damascus and near Girty’s Island, and along the Maumee River. It is considered trespassing to hunt Indian artifacts on land that is not your own and the artifacts found should remain in the custody of the person owning the land. It has been good that those who kknow where there are Indian burials do not tell. That allows the bones to stay in the grave where they were placed so many years ago.
Our Henry County area was home to several tribes during the summer for it was good for hunting and agriculture. There were roaming Indians who passed through going on after staying a while and returning to their winter homes in the fall. There were very few camps that could be considered permanent in the whole area. Mainly the Indians who roamed our county land were Ottawa, Shawnee, Pottawatomie. Other tribes such as Miame, Mingo, etc. came to hunt, to make maple candy, catch and dry fish and wild game meat and then return to their permanent camps for the rest of the year.
C. Is that the place along the river that is Independence still, the little town of Independence?
G. Yes. Before the start of the War of 1812 there were 67 families living between Lake Erie and Defiance. When the war broke out they left the area and returned after the war was over. Although Charles came in 1818 it was after the war was over. He was living with his parents in Cleveland before that and then they came here after the war. The period of 1820 to 1830 showed the largest increase of the white soldiers and Edward was one of these earliest settlers in 1820.
C. Did he list all of your names or something?
G. Yes. And they were scattered, didn’t live close together, and in 1820 Samuel Vance who was an Indian trader and John Patrick, David _____, Elisha Scribner, Judge Cory, David Bowers lived near Texas in Prarie Du Mascus and Elijah Gunn was then living at what was then called Snaketown, near Florida and of course, Charles Gunn had his trading post at Damascus at that time. In 1831 Mr. Bowen Mr. Hunter and Mr. Carven and the families of Whitfield, Scoven and moved to the present sight of Florida. At the time Mr. Phillips owned all the land that would become Napoleon and he gave Mr. Holloway a small piece of land that he would clear and that was where the first log cabin was built here in Napoleon down close to the river.
C. Excuse me, but these people that moved into Florida, where did they come from? Did they come from one place or different ones?
G. No. Most of them came from New York but not the same area. But there were people that came here that were the land speculators and they would go …
C. Would you for this tape state the name of the man and his condition.
G. Yeah. I can do that. I can give you a little bit about him, if you would like that.
G. These are the words of Edward McCartney Gunn. He was born 1821 in Damascus, Henry County, Ohio. His father Charles Gunn was an Indian trader and farmer and was the first permanent farmer in Prairie du Mask, or Damascus. Edward wrote a number of articles about his early life in Henry County. He is considered one of the best sources of county history for he was in his 80’s when he wrote the article. His memory and mind were completely accurate until his death. In his article he named the early settlers in the county, the settlers along the Maumee River and he tells of the time when our area was part of old Damascus Township and his articles explain about the pioneer life and the Indian life. He tells of the Indian homes, the language, the weddings, their papooses, their deaths, the trading, hunting and the making of bows and arrows, the Indian doctors, the graveyard and the type of people in the tribes. He was a rather, Charles Gunn, Edward’s grandfather, was a brother of Elijah Gunn Junior, and a son of Elijah Gunn Seniior who came from Massachusetts to Cleveland and then to Waterville, Ohio.
I suppose the grand part of what I have to tell will seem like an old story to old people who remember the colony in the early days but the young growing up now know nothing about the pioneer or Indian life except what they were told and many never lived in a log house. . . . . . (He jumps, so we have to.) The Indians of course did not have fine houses as the white man. They could not see any use to work and build them when the weather was good and when it was bad they couldn’t do the work anyhow. Their idea of a house was a place large enough to crawl into, sit down on the ground and lay down to sleep. They did not get far enough in house building to have a fire inside but the fire was on the outside instead. The poles were leaned together at the top of the circle, leaned against another pole and then they were covered by bark from any kind of tree that could be peeled off easily. Sometimes they used skins. The fire for cooking or warming the food was built in front of the wigwam. For sleeping they spread blankets over fine brush and leaves. They liked to get straw from the white man for beds because they were much softer. At night they curved together just like pigs to sleep. I remember some of them had tents which they had got from the British soldiers and they were very proud of them. It will be seen that they were poorly protected against cold and in extreme cold weather they sometimes froze to death or were badly crippled by the freezing. Many times I remember their coming to my father’s house on winter nights and say, “Chicksenaw chicksenaw” which meant “Oh so cold!” And shivering and teeth chattering they would gather round the fireplace and say, “Pasheck, pasheck” which meant “Good, good!” They warmed up, and they would wrap the blankets around them and lay on the floor and sleep until morning when they went away muttering, “Ochicksenaw” when the keen morning air struck them. How sorry I used to feel for them!
And that, I am sure, was quite true.
The Indians as we surmise did not fare as well as we did for food. At times they had more than enough yet they were lazy and lacked the foresight to lay up enough for the future. They ate plenty when they had it. Other times they went without food for days at a time. When winter came and food was scarce they starved to death, or death was caused by loss of sufficient food and protection from the severe weather. They depended on meat more than the white man did. They ate deer, coon, fish and it is said that they ate every living thing from grasshoppers up to bear. And they did not throw away any part that could be eaten. They would wind entrails of the game around their necks that were filled with food and bite them off when they got hungry, especially when going on a long hunt when this way of carrying food was convenient. They had all the wild fruit which we use and they made maple syrup and robbed the honey bees of their store of sugar. The squaws raised potatoes and corn, a small blue tender variety of corn but they didn’t raise much garden stuff. The corn was put in a hole burned or cut in a log and pounded with a stick until it was cracked or a coarse meal The most common dish was a thick soup made in a heavy sheet-iron kettle that they had been given by the British. Almost everything you could think of, animal or vegetable that would help people’s life and strength, was thrown in to make up these soups and we fear that some of our folks nowadays would not think it was cooked in a very clean manner. The women knew nothing about keeping things clean although if things smelled awful bad they did not use it. Meat was roasted before the fire but it was never cooked very good. It was apt to be burned on the outside and raw in the middle. Meat was stretched over a fire high enough so it would cure by drying and laid away for future use. When Indians were ready to eat they did not wash their hands or faces and they could never see why white men did. They would (dog barks)
C. They probably didn’t have water.
G. No they didn’t and water would dry up their skin too you know and they kept their fats for cooking and for medicinal salve rather than waste in on making their skin feel good. They would sit around the kettle and eat with wooden spoons which they carved for themselves. Once my brother Lucian stayed all night with some Indian friends and all they had for breakfast was grease which they ate with great relish, and surprised because he did not eat it.
C. You know, Randy Buchman, History Professor at Defiance College, says that in the fall the Indians would put bear grease or whatever kind of grease they could find, then spread it on themselves, then roll in the dirt to protect them from the cold. Two or three layers of this would insulate them from the cold.
G. Hey, I never heard that! It could be. My Indian people don’t tell that but they probably don’t know either. (laughs) I would think that they probably did whatever they could to stay warm because they didn’t have much unless they were good hunters, you know, and they had furs and blankets from the British they didn’t have much to protect themselves. Their clothing was made out of furs and-uh out of leather and when you see the Indian clothes they make now they always have the skin showing on the outside, the pretty side, but our Indian people say we should wear our suede with the fur part next to our body to keep warm. And I don’t know–the skin in the summer keeps you cool and I think that maybe the fur on outside would keep the cold off better than being next to your skin. I don’t know because I’ve never tried that but–let’s go on to–uh–
G. Well, how about an Indian marriage? When an Indian couple were married they did not have a license or a preacher but they were usually faithful to each other. They always had a grand time at the wedding. The Indian gave the woman a piece of meat and she gave him an ear of corn, which meant that he must provide the meat and she raise the crops. Then games would be played and they would sing and tell stories and get drunk if they could get the firewater. When they carried babies on their backs
[The following is a continuation of Mrs. Eicher’s interview, conducted on October 10, 2003. Parts of it were extracted and incorporated into the material above, but it is presented here exactly as it was given to me – Editor]
III. Oct. 10, 2003
G. … And there were graveyards here in Henry County. There’s supposed to be one at Shunk, a graveyard. And I know that …
C. Now let’s locate Shunk for someone who doesn’t know it because it’s rapidly dying out, isn’t it?
G. It is just south of the intersection of US 6 and 109.
C. Yeah. And it is on 109.
G. It’s on 109 and the sign is still there, the last I saw. It’s along the creek but I don’t know where it is. Somebody told me the other day that they could find out for me. If I really wanted to know I could find out but I would like to know where that was, and then it’s written that Randal’s Creek, which is outside of Napoleon on County Rd. Z, that creek that comes through there and joins the river, was an Indian graveyard. And a few years ago remember when the boy had the skulls? There was an article in the paper. I don’t remember who he was but he had some Indian skulls and they came from that area and I was always amazed that he didn’t get in trouble for it because you’re not supposed to have that type of artifacts. And it was clearly in the paper. I thought there might be some repercussion on that but there wasn’t. So those two I know.
C. George Rafferty used to find Indian arrowheads and spearheads and things on his farm and he said it was because he was on the second rise from the river. That’s where he would, after a rain, he would go out and look.
G. Well we only owned [blank] farm and every once in a while we’d find things. And a couple years ago, several years ago, a tenant farmer brought me a necklace, a pendant, a slate pendant, and he said, “Here’s something I think you want.” Every once in a while we’d find something, arrowheads. I haven’t walked it this spring, but every six or seven years they come up. It’s just a little rise in the ground but there’s things that wash up.
C. Now is that on the second rise from the river?
G. No, that would be the first rise, because Yarnells live right next to the river and our farm’s across the road along the Ridge. But there’s a lot of those things still there.
C. Makes you wonder, with this Ridge being so heavily travelled how much material there is on there. I’ll bet there’s a lot of history in that ground.
G. There certainly must be. But I know that-uh we find ours more or less area. It’s always that Ridge area, where they must have camped there or something. Now I find at Ridgeville there is a Flint Ridge. They would work their flint, and it’s a circle that’s bigger than, almost as big as this house, but many years when the frost is just right it throws up stone. You can see walking by that flint in the circle where they sat around the campfire and worked it.
C. They fashioned arrowheads, didn’t they?
G. Arrowheads and spear points and axe heads and all sorts of things. They-uh–We had a deer killed on the road, oh, about seven or eight years ago, and my daughter lives on a farm and she called. On U. S. 6 of course they don’t have much chance. She said, “I just can’t let him lay there.” I said, well, we’d be out soon. The boys at Wayne buried it and we walked a little bit in the field and found the stones and some tools that had been there that had washed up. But there were two stones, petroglyph, and one of them shows very clearly a hunting area and it show the Auglaize and the Maumee junction.
C. What, a map or something?
G. He had drawn this little map on it. It shows a little Indian figure with his bow and his spear and a little animal. It’s marked where he could find the hunting area out here. And that was in this pouch and-uh then there was another.
C. What was it made of, leather or something?
G. No. That was stone.
C. Carved into the stone.
G. And there was another one that, I don’t know what it was but it had, like a map. A dot here and a dot there, a location and then other things on it. It is interesting to find things and look them over, and I had picked them up in a bucket here and I just dumped them out by the driveway. So, later, maybe a year or two and I decided I’d pick ’em up and do something else with them because they were just piled. And the rain had washed them. When I picked ’em up and I thought, “What in the world do I have?” So 1 brought them in and cleaned them up and here I had something rather rare and precious.
C. There a lot of Indian artifacts in the Grelton Museum. Have you ever been in that one?
C. And-uh-of course they’re happy to get anything like that. You might be interested in donating. You might consider that.
G. I will but I think I can safely say my things will all be taken.
C. I would too, if they were in my family I’d want them to stay there.
G. It probably wouldn’t matter but I think we’ll probably keep them. And I had an interesting week. We went up to Harrison Lake and we were cleaning up an area and I dug down and I brought up a stone which was about as big as my fist. It apparently was an engineer’s surveyor stone. And I’ve read since they mark them, their sightings, you know, to keep track instead of paper they put them on a stone. And apparently that’s what I found. It had the date of 1835. I haven’t had time to work on that one but I want to go a civil engineer’s and see what I can find out.
C. Or, I wonder if the courthouse? Of course that would be Fulton County. Would they have any record?
G. No, they wouldn’t have anything, but a surveyor would know what I had, for sure, and I read a little article somewhere in some magazine or something that said the biggest numbers are the ones closest to them and the little bitty ones are far off. And some of those numbers, I don’t know how you could put them on, they’re so tiny. You have to have a magnifying glass to see them.
C. They carved those into the stone?
G. Carved, yes. And I’m curious on that; that’s one I’m going to have to see. We’ve had those lots since 1960 and apparently it was only 3 or 4 inches under the ground but I’d like to know the story of it. And there are some names on it, carved in.
C. How big is this?
G. With all this carving, it’s only about this big.
C. How could they manage?
G. I’d show it to you but I don’t know where it is right now. It’s in a box. I haven’t had it out. But that’s something that was interesting because we think of stones for building, stones for walking on, and all this, not for keeping track, and instead of paper on that. Probably better than on paper, but when you record on stone it stays, I guess. That was a fun time last year. (laughs)
C. Do you have any more [blank] here?
G. You might like to see, this is a tribal picture. Yeah. I have about Edward. He tells a little. You might like to hear some of that because he covers all sorts of things. One of the things is I’m going to read if you don’t care?
My father was an Indian trader and was known for a long distance around both by the white and Indian people. He was constantly bartering and trading with the savages but never had any trouble with them because he used them well. He had many strong personal friends among them who were always ready to do him favors. From my own recollection of what he told me…
(end of tape