By Stephen J. Hartzell
Seneca of the Sandusky
Before 1768 a mixed group of indians began to assemble on land along the Sandusky River. They eventually became known as the "Senecas of the Sandusky." Many historians have claimed that there were probably few, if any, Senecas among them. However, their presence, by name, at a 1768 Iriquois conference in New York suggests that their initial roots were probably in the Seneca tribe of New York, and the lines were blurred over time by intermarriage.
As a result of Lord Dunmore's War in 1774, the Mingo indians of the Scioto River, remnants of Logan's Mingo tribe, were scattered into several segments. One of these scattered Mingo segments, along with indians of other tribes, settled along the Sandusky River, north of the Wyandot settlement of Upper Sandusky & south of Lower Sandusky, and mingled with the existing Seneca tribe.
The Treaty Of Greenville of 1785 essentially ended the indian wars in the Ohio Country. A boundary was drawn to mark land reserved for the indians, which encompassed northwest Ohio. In the treaty it was stated that the indians would hold the land for "as long as the woods grow and waters run."
Some of the Cayuga sold their New York lands in 1807 and moved west to join the Seneca of Sandusky in Ohio. Other segments of the Senecas of Sandusky included Delawares, Wyandotts and several others. A number of marriages occurred between the Wyandots and Senecas with the resulting family units locating among one tribe or the other, thus solidifying the relationship between the two tribes.
Below is a letter written by Thomas Jefferson, then President of the United States.
From "The Writings of Thomas Jefferson Volume XVI"
WASHINGTON, April 22, 1808.
To the Chiefs of the Ottawas, Chippewas, Powtewatamies,
Wyandots, and Senecas of Sandusky:-
My Children,-I received your message of July last, and I am glad of
the opportunity it gives me of explaining to you the sentiments of the
government of the United States towards you.
Many among you must remember the time when we were governed
by the British nation, and the war by which we separated ourselves
from them. Your old men must remember also that while we were
under that government we were constantly kept at war with the red
men our neighbors. Many of these took side in the English war
against us; so that after we had made peace with the English, ill
blood remained between us for some time; and it was not till the
treaty of Greeneville that we could come to a solid peace and
perfect good understanding with all our Indian neighbors. This being
once done and fixed lines drawn between them and us, laying off
their lands to themselves, and ours to ourselves, so that each might
know their own, and nothing disturb our future peace, we have
from that moment, my children, looked upon you heartily as our
brothers, and as a part of ourselves. We saw that your game was
becoming too scarce to support you, and that unless we could
persuade you to cultivate the earth, to raise the tame animals, and
to spin and weave clothes for yourselves as we do, you would
disappear from the earth. To encourage you, therefore, to save
yourselves has been our constant object; and we have hoped that
the day would come when every man among you would have his
own farm laid off to himself as we have, would maintain his family
by labor as we do, and would make one people with us. But in all
these things you have been free to do as you please ; your lands are
your own ; your right to them shall never be violated by us; they are
yours to keep or to sell as you please., Whenever you find it your
interest to dispose of a part to enable you to improve the rest, and
to support your families in the meantime, we are willing to buy,
because our people increase fast. When a want of land in a
particular place induces us to ask you to sell, still you are always
free to say "No," and it will never disturb our friendship for you.
We will never be angry with others for exercising their own rights
according to what they think their own interests. . You say you
were told at Swan's Creek, that if you would not let us have lands,
we should be angry with you, and would force you. Those, my
children, who told you so, said what was false, and what never had
been said or thought of by us. We never meant to control your free
will ; we never will do it. I will explain to you the ground of our late
application to you for lands. You know that the posts of Detroit
and Macinac have very little lands belonging to them. It is for your
interest as well as ours that these posts should be maintained for the
purposes of our trade with one another. We were desirous
therefore to purchase as much land around them as would enable
us to have sufficient settlements there to support the posts ; and that
this might be so laid off as to join with our possessions on Lake
Erie. But we expressly instructed our beloved man, Governor Hall,
not to press you beyond your own convenience, nor to buy more
than you would spare with good will. He accordingly left you to
your own inclinations, using no threats whatever, as you tell me in
your message. You agreed to let us have a part of what we wished
to buy. We are contented with it, my children. We find no fault with
you for what you did not do, but thank you for what you did.
You complain, my children, that your annuities are not regularly
paid, that the goods delivered you are often bad in kind, that they
sometimes arrive damaged, and are dear,' and that you would
rather receive them in money. You shall have them, in money. We
had no interest in laying out your money in goods for you.
It costs us considerable trouble in the purchase and transportation,
and as we could not be everywhere with them to take care of them
ourselves, we could not prevent their being injured sometimes by
accident, sometimes by carelessness. To pay money therefore, is
more convenient to us, and as it will please you better, it shall be
I am now, my children, to address you on a very serious subject,
one which greatly concerns your happiness. Open your ears,
therefore, let my words sink deeply into your bosoms, and never
forget them. For be assured that I will not, and that I will fulfil them
to their uttermost import. We have for some time had a
misunderstanding with the English, and we do not yet know
whether it will end in peace or in war. But in either case, my
children, do you remain quiet at home, taking no part in these
quarrels. We do not wish you to shed your blood in our battles.
We are able to fight them ourselves. And if others press you to take
part against us, it is because they are weak, not able to protect
themselves nor you. Consider well then what you do. Since we
have freed ourselves from the English government, and made our
peace with our Indian neighbors, we have cultivated that peace with
sincerity and affection. We have done them such favors as were in
our power, and promoted their interest and peace wherever we
could. We consider them now as a part of ourselves, and we look
to their welfare as our own. But if there be among you any nation
whom no benefits can attach, no good offices on our part can
convert into faithful friends, if relinquishing their permanent
connection with us for the fugitive presents or promises of others,
they shall prefer our enmity to our friendship, and engage in war
against us, that nation must abandon forever the land of their
fathers. No nation rejecting our friendship, and commencing wanton
and unprovoked war against us, shall ever after remain within our
reach; it shall never be in their power to strike us a second time..
These words, my children, may appear harsh ; but they are spoken
in kindness; they are intended to warn you beforehand of the ruin
into which those will rush, who shall once break the chain of
friendship with us. You know they are not spoken from fear. We
fear no nation. We love yours. We wish you to live forever in peace
with all men, and in brotherly affection with us ; to be with us as one
family ; to take care of your women and children, feed and clothe
them well, multiply and be strong with your friends and your
My children, I salute you with fatherly concern for your welfare.
Jefferson may have been a little more sympathetic towards the tribes than were later Presidents, but his ambitions were similar, the need to extend the young nation farther west to create a more secure foothold in the new world. Later Presidents, such as Jackson, took more aggressive stands towards the Native Americans.
In 1817 the Treaty of the Miami of Lake Erie laid out the reservations along the Sandusky River, and other areas. Among the reserves laid out in the treaty were the Vanmeter, Seneca, Wyandot, Delaware and Big Springs, all in or near Seneca
Erastus Bowe, by all accounts, was first white permanent settler in Seneca County, Ohio. He settled here just after the signing of the Treaty of the Miami of Lake Erie, and built his cabin on land granted to Robert Armstrong in the treaty.
There were several white or partially white people living among the indians of the Sandusky River region before Bowe came, but most of them moved on with the indians when they were forced west. Among these were Elizabeth Whitaker, Robert Armstrong, William M'Collock, John Vanmeter, Isaac & Sarah Williams, Joseph Williams, Rachael (Williams) Nugent, Mrs. Walker, John H. Walker and William Spicer, as named in the treaty of 1817, and also Jacob Knisely. The reviled renegade Simon Girty also lived in the region for a number of years. (Vanmeter & the William's are buried at the Huron Cemetery, Kansas City, which is the Wyandot National Burial Ground.) These white captives were commonly taken from the east to replace one of the indians of the tribe who were lost at the hands of the whites by some percieved injustice, and placed under the care of the agrieved mother. Normally these captives were taken from far away, while the tribe was on a hunting trip, or etc., to avoid being tracked down. This was indian justice, an eye for an eye. Most of these white captives lived with the indians by their own choice later in life. They were considered, cared for and protected as one of them. They lived, spoke, acted and thought like indians.
Quoted below is the section of the treaty of 1817 that deals with the whites that lived amongst the indians. The intermarriages mentioned also help to illustrate the close relationship between the Wyandots and Senecas.
At the special request of the said Indians the United States agree to grant, by patent, in fee simple, to the persons hereinafter mentioned; all of whom are connected with the said Indians, by blood or adoption, the tracts of land herein described.
To Elizabeth Whitaker, who was taken prisoner by the Wyandot's, and has ever since lived among them, twelve hundred and eighty acres of land on the west side of the Sandusky river, below Crogansville, to be laid off in a square, as near as the meanders of the said river will admit, and to run an equal distance above and below the house, in which the said Elizabeth Whitaker now lives.
To Robert Armstrong who was taken prisoner by the Indians, and has ever since lived among them, and has married a Wyandot woman, a section to contain six hundred and forty acres of land, on the west side of the Sandusky river to begin at the place called Camp Ball and to run up the river with the meanders thereof, one hundred and sixty poles, and from the beginning down the river with the meanders thereof, one hundred and sixty poles, and from the extremity of these lines west for quantity.
To the children of the late William M'Collock, who was killed in August 1812 near Manguan and who are quarter-blood Wyandot Indians, one section to contain six hundred and forty acres of land, on the west side of the Sandusky river, adjoining the lower line of the tract hereby granted to Robert Armstrong, and extending in the same manner, with and from the said river.
To John Vanmeter who was taken prisoner by the Wyandot's, and who has ever since lived among them and has married a Seneca woman and to his wife's three brothers Seneca's, who reside on Honey Creek, one thousand acres of land to begin with, forty five degrees west one hundred and forty poles from the house in which the said John Vanmeter now lives, and to run thence south, three hundred and twenty poles, thence and from the beginning east for quantity.
Sarah Williams, Joseph Williams, Rachael Nugent, late Rachael Williams, The said Sarah having been taken prisoner by the Indians and has ever since lived among them and become a widow and the said Joseph and Rachael being the children of the late Isaac Williams half blood Wyandot, one quarter section of land to contain one hundred and sixty acres, on the east side of the Sandusky river, below Crogansville and to include their improvements at a place called Negro Point.
To [illegible] Walker, a Wyandot woman, and to John H. Walker, her son, who was wounded in the service of the United States at the battle of Manguagon in 1812, a section of six hundred and forty acres of land each, to begin at the northwestern corner of the tract hereby granted to John Vanmeter and his wife's brothers and to run with the line thereof south, three hundred and twenty poles, thence and from the beginning west for quantity.
To Wm. Spicer who was taken prisoner by the Indians, and has ever since lived among them and has married a Seneca woman, a section of land to contain six hundred and forty acres, beginning on the east bank of the Sandusky river, forty poles below the corner of the said Spicer's corn-field, thence up the river on the east side, with the meanders thereof one mile thence and from the beginning east for quantity.
Also, the following section of the same treaty refers to some of the Senecas by name.
The thirty thousand acres for the Senecas upon the Sandusky River, is to be equally divided among the following persons namely; Syuwausautaw, Nawwene, Joseph, Iseumtaugh or picking up a club, Oranhaotodee or turn over, Tandauraus or split the river, Tahowtoorains or Jo Smeech, Ismonduare Yellow-boy, Dashowrowramowramou or drifting sand, Aaceautounasquas, Hamvautuhou, Tahocayn, Howdantauyear, or King George, Standing Bones, Cyahaga or Fisher, Suthemeore, Red Skin, Mentawtuhoore, Hyanaskraman or knife in his hand, Running About, John Smith, Carrying the Basket, Canwaury or striking, Rewauyeato or Carrying the News, Half up the Hill, Trowyoudoys or G. Hunter, Spike Spke Buch, Congooshow or Clearing up, Mark on his Hip, Captain Harns, Isetaune or crying often, Taunerayea or two Companies Handorwonays or stripping the river, Isohanharsay or tall chief Iahoumandoyan, Honyonsay or paddling, Clouding up, You want on to you or burnt his body, Stetonyowner or sweet foot, Tanhangainstoany or holding his hand about, Oharrawtodee or turning over, Hancanmarout, Sawrowranismatare or striking sword, Saducto, Yourmocay or Isaac, Yontradonweree, Newtonyaro, Tayoranonte or old foot, Tanosahetee, Syumout or give it to her, Doonstough or bunch on his forehead, Kyandushout or Joshua Hendricks, Kayshanshanrow or cross the arms, Henry, Youmaydanyea or the Island, Armstrong, Shake the ground, His Neck down, Houkeno, Towotayoudo or looking at her, Captain Smith, Tobacco, Standing Stone, Ronunais or wiping stick, Tanduhate or large bones, Homanchagave, House Fly or Maggot, Rundowma or sap, running, Big Belt, Cast Bone, Sammy, Toangauats or round the point. Ramnye or hold the sky, Mentondudu, Hownotant, Slippery Nose, Konslowquousay or twenty rivers, Hooganron or mad man, Coffee House, Long Hair.
The white Seneca County pioneers of the 1820's lived a rugged and challenging life in the wilderness that was the Sandusky River region. Many of them found temporary shelter within the 1812 fortress, known as Fort Ball, living for a time in the Block Houses which faced the high banks of the Sandusky River on the Harrison Trail, which was an old army road. Their cabins in the "Sandusky Country" were hastily raised with the help of all nearby neighbors, often in a day or two. As very few had locks on their doors, it was not unusual for these people to awaken in the morning to find several indians sleeping by the fireplace. These indians simply walked in unannounced, took their places for the night and left in the morning without disturbing anything.
By and large, the indians & whites in this area co-existed peacefully with few incidents. In fact, most of the indians of the Sandusky Country were allies of the United States during the War of 1812, and they held General William Henry Harrison in very high regard.
Sardis Birchard related the following to his nephew, R. B. Hayes.
"Good Hunt was a humorous, witty Indian chief (a lower chief) of the Senecas. No Indian could understand interest. They could not see how money would produce money, how it would grow. I tried to make them understand it, when I would furnish them money on their assignment of an annuity before it was due. But they couldn't understand it. Once I sold Good Hunt a shilling's worth of tobacco. He took it, and in payment he placed on the counter a sixpence. I said that is not enough. With a queer twinkle in his eye he replied, 'It will grow; you know how money grows.'
"The Indians, the Senecas, were far more honest than white men. I have had my store full of them all night, no one awake to watch them, and never lost anything. The chiefs always saw that their debts were paid. If an Indian died, it was believed he could not enter the happy hunting-grounds until their debts were paid on earth."
In Lang's History of Seneca County, and also in Butterfield's History of Seneca County, General Henry Brish relates an interesting story. I will summarize it here.
Gen. Brish was in charge of the Agency for the Seneca Indians of the Sandusky. The Seneca Reservation was located on the east side of the Sandusky River, in the northeast quarter of the county, and extending well into Sandusky County, as laid out in the treaty of 1817.
About 1825, 3 of the Seneca chiefs set out west to investigate potential new homelands & new hunting grounds for their people, as indian removal was an up-and-coming topic in Congress. The 3 chiefs were Cornstick, Steel & Cracked Hoof. Cornstick & Steel were brothers, and they left brother Comstock, head chief of the tribe, and younger brother Seneca John behind. The 3 returned about 3 years later to find that Comstock was dead, and Seneca John had assumed the duties as head chief. The 3 charged that Seneca John must have killed Comstock by the use of witchcraft, or poisoning. John strongly denied the charge stating that he loved his brother more than his own life. Cornstick & Steel concluded that Seneca John must die, and that they should be his executioners. Seneca John replied, "I am willing to die. I ask only that you will allow me to live until tomorrow morning, that I may see the sun rise once more. I will sleep tonight on the porch of Hard Hickory's lodge, which fronts the east. There you will find me at sunrise."
They accepted his request. Cornstick & Steel passed the night in a lodge nearby. In the morning they proceeded to the hut of Hard Hickory (who himself told this story to Gen. Brish.) Just as the sun was rising, Hard Hickory heard the approaching
footsteps of the brothers, and he peeked out the door to see them coming. Seneca John was still asleep on the porch wrapped in his blanket. His brothers awoke him and he rose to his feet. He removed a large handkerchief from his head, which he had wrapped around it, and his long hair fell to his shoulders. Seneca John calmly took a last look around, and observing the rising sun, told his brothers that he was ready to die.
Another warrior by the name of Shane had come with the brothers. He and Cornstick each took Seneca John by the arm and led him about 10 steps in front of the lodge. There Steel struck John a heavy blow on the back of the head, and the blood gushed from the dreadful wound. Assuming him to be dead they dragged him behind a nearby tree, where Seneca John again showed signs of life. Steel then drew his knife and slit his brother's throat from ear to ear. They buried him near Hard Hickory's lodge. John had chosen this as the site of his execution so that Hard Hickory could witness that he had "died like a man".
With the election of Andrew Jackson as President in 1829, the issue of indian removal became an increasingly heated topic in Congress. Finally on May 28, 1830, over bitter opposition, Congress did pass an indian removal act. The balance of the decade was spent negotiating treaties with the various tribes in Ohio to effect their removal.
The first of these was signed in Washington with the Senecas of the Sandusky on Feb. 28, 1831. The Senecas were promised land west of the Mississippi, compensation for their improvements and government assistance in their removal.
Six days later, while they were still in Washington, the leaders of the tribe wrote a letter to the Washington Globe in which they expressed some of their frustration and appealed to their white "brothers and sisters" to respect their right to worship and live as they chose. (SEE RELATED ARTICLE)
In the fall of 1831 as the Senecas were preparing for their move to the west, Gen. Brish saw Cornstick & Steel remove all traces of the grave of Seneca John. (This was near the present town of Green Springs.)
The last of the Ohio tribes to sign a removal treaty were the Wyandots of Upper Sandusky. That tribe was divided into 2 parties, the Christians and the pagans. The Christians were very resistant to removing from the land they loved so dearly. The Wyandot treaty was fanally settled on March 17, 1842. The Christians then proceeded to carefully organize the graves of their fallen loved ones at the old Wyandot Mission Church in preparation for their departure. It was on July 21, 1843 that the Wyandots, the last of the indian tribes in Ohio, bade a sad farewell to their beloved Ohio home. The Wyandot's head chief expressed his feelings by exclaiming, "Farewell Ohio and her brave!" as the steamers upon the Ohio River left it's boundaries.
At the time of the Senecas of Sandusky's removal in the fall of 1831, a move led by Gen. Henry Brish, there were about 510 Senecas remaining. Upon their arrival in Kansas they found that their land overlapped the Cherokee land. After some time they were moved onto 76,000 acres of land in northeast Oklahoma. In 1838 the indian agency reported their number to be only 210. By August of 1845 their number had been dwindled to 143, according to Lang's History of Seneca County, Ohio.
Obviously the United States government had failed the tribe in a big way. Many promises were never kept, or were lax in their maintenance. The promised "compensation for their improvements and government assistance in their removal" did not prevent the death of over half of the tribe's number before they were finally settled in their new home.
During the Civil War, the Senecas of the Sandusky were alligned with and under the protection of the Confederate government.
Today the tribe is part of the combined Seneca-Cayuga nation of Oklahoma.
By Stephen J. Hartzell
All Rights Reserved