By. W. Taylor Moyer
Photography by W. Taylor Moyer
The old oak tree standing outside of Texas, Ohio in Henry County was simply known as the Oak Tree. However those in the American Indian community knew this tree as the Odawa Indian Oak Tree. The tree was planted in 1836 in honor of the first white child born in Washington Township, Henry County, Ohio. Martha Edwards, the daughter of early settler David Edwards and Cynthia Ann Meek.
Martha was born on the site on April 1, 1836. At that time the Odawa today most commonly called the Ottawa were residing near the Edward’s family farm on the Ottawa Indian Reservation which extended from outside Maumee, Ohio into Henry County roughly at County Road 4. The Ottawa were forced onto this reservation through the signing of the Treaty of Detroit in 1804. From roughly 1804 through 1839 the Ottawa lived peacefully on their Henry and Lucas County reservation.
The Ottawa made friends with the new settlers in Northwest Ohio including the Edwards family and the Howard family who lived near Grand Rapids, Ohio. When Martha was born in 1836 the Ottawa were already being relocated to reservations in Kansas through President Andrew Jackson’s Indian Removal Act of 1830. At this time there were 3 Ottawa Chiefs living on the Henry and Lucas County reservation; Oxinoxica, Wauseon, and Myo. Head Chief Oxinoxica was excited about the birth of Martha and in honor of her birth along with some of his band they planted a young oak tree sapling as this was cultural tradition in their tribe.
Oxinoxica and his band also provided gifts to baby Martha and her parents upon her birth. By 1839 the majority of the Ottawa were removed to their reservation in Kansas. A few tribal members stayed in Henry, Lucas, and Wood Counties however they were required to assimilate, have a white family to serve as their care taker, and they had to give up their cultural values, beliefs, and traditions.
One Ottawa tribal member who remained was Tee-Na-Beek who was taken in by the Howard family. Today Tee-Na-Beek is buried in Howard Cemetery in downtown Grand Rapids, Ohio. Today there are residents in Henry County with direct ties to the Ottawa who remained behind. Please do not think that American Indians do not live in Henry County or that none of their descendants remain. In fact there are descendants of the Ottawa, Miami, Cherokee, and more living in Henry County!
For 185 years the old Ottawa Indian Oak Tree stood as a silent witness to history. It saw the going of American Indians from Henry County, the coming of European settlers, the digging of the Miami Erie Canal in 1843, the development of the Indian trail into the wagon root to Texas, Ohio, and eventually the canal was transformed into U.S. Route 24 and then Old U.S. Route 424. After 185 years the tree was cut down and became history. The property recently sold and the new land owners built a home on the site. However the tree also suffered from years of neglect. Farmers cutting to close to the truck, tilling the roots up, natural land erosion, and a lack of maintenance have taken a toll on this historic tree.
Remember trees have a life just like humans and this oak tree has lived a long and storied history. If a home wasn’t being built at the site would the tree remain? Yes it would. But for how long? After calling in two professionals both agreed the tree is dying and could have 5 – 10 years perhaps at best 15 years and would collapse or be blown down. The current land owners have worked diligently with the HCHS and did not want to cut the tree down without working together. The land owners have offered a section of the tree to the HCHS, offered our marker back to us, and have been open in communication. The HCHS has also contact the Wyandot and Ottawa Nations and worked with the Black Swamp Intertribal Foundation.
If you want to photograph the tree, visit the tree, and enjoy this amazing party of Henry County and Northwest Ohio’s American Indian history the tree is slated to be taken down May 15, 2021. EDIT: The tree removal was delayed and was cutdown on June 20, 2021.
The marker was returned to the HCHS and many remains of the tree were collected. The future of those tree pieces is in the works and will be disclosed at a later date.
For more information about the Ottawa please visit either of their websites at the provided links.
Ottawa Tribe of Oklahoma
Grand Travers Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians