Ohio History Journal







The title may sound somewhat paradoxical, but there are

regions, which, owing to their geographical location, have had so

very little to do with the making of history, that they are spoken

of as of no historical importance, yet may not be devoid of

historical occurrences that may be of some interest. Such Van

Wert County may be said to be, situated in the northwest part

of Ohio, away from the regions where the important events in the

history of the state occurred.

The county has, however, a few noticeable features. One

that always attracts the attention of the stranger is the Ridge

running almost due east and west through the eastern part of the

county to the city of Van Wert, where it changes its direction to

one of north of west, and south of east, and extends to Fort

Wayne, Indiana. It can easily be traced from Seneca County,

through Wyandot, Hancock, and Putnam counties, to Van Wert,

and Fort Wayne, where it passes around to the north of the

Maumee river, thence it runs nearly parallel to the river, varying

from one to ten miles from its banks, until it is lost in the sandy

plains nearly north of Napoleon, Henry County. By some it is

considered to have been at one time the limiting line of Lake

Erie. The fact that it is highest near the south side of the ridge

seems to support this theory.

The Ridge is composed of gravel and sand, and contains

various small shells, which show its fresh water origin, and that

it was not formed by glacial action. It varies from a few feet to

eight or ten feet higher than the land lying on either side of it.

Its base averages a half mile in width.

Along the crest of the ridge is the Ridge Road, the main

thorough-fare through the county east and west. Owing to the

natural drainage afforded by it, the early settlers soon recognized

its value, and it became a trail, then a road. That part of the


Indians in Union County

Indians in Union County.             273


road from Van Wert to Fort Wayne was cut through by my

grandfather and two of his brothers. Over this road many

moving from the east to Indiana and Illinois, before the construc-

tion of railroads, passed in their quest for new homes.

The fore-runners of the white man also recognized the value

of this ridge as a well drained region for their homes, as shown

by the many indications that they had several villages along its

crest. At a number of places on this ridge, men, when digging

for sand or gravel, have found graves, probably of Indians.

Many stone implements, and the head of a sand-stone image, re-

sembling a gopher's head, have been found along the ridge. The

sand-stone image, evidently, came from a great distance, as no

sand-stone is to be found in this region.

The Indians may have taken advantage of the ridge, as a

trail, when passing from Ohio to Indiana.

To the east of the county the Big or Grand Auglaize river

flows northward, along which the Indians traveled on their migra-

tions between the lakes of the north and the Ohio. There is a

short portage between the sources of the Auglaize, the Wabash,

and the Miami rivers. On the south, crossing the southwest

corner of the county, on its way to join the St. Joseph at Fort

Wayne, to form the Maumee, flows the St. Marys river. On

the north flows the Maumee, at one time called the Miami of the

Lake. These rivers were the favorite routes of the Indians on

their migrations, and were also the routes followed by General

"Mad" Anthony Wayne on his expedition against the Indians.

In 1794 he came from Greenville, by the way of Fort Recovery,

to Fort Adams, near the St. Marys river in Mercer county. His

route was then north-eastward through Van Wert county to the

confluence of the Grand Auglaize and the Maumee rivers, where

he built Fort Defiance. After his victories over the Indians he

marched his troops up the Maumee to Fort Wayne, from there

he followed closely the St. Marys river to Girty's town, now the

city of St. Marys, from thence he found a direct route to Green-


Early settlers were able to recognize, easily, the trail General

Wayne followed through the county. It was especially plain

Vol. XXI- 18.

274 Ohio Arch

274      Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.


along the ridge east of Van Wert. The route through Van Wert

county was chosen by General Wayne to deceive and surprise the

Indians, who expected him to follow either the western route by

the way of Fort Wayne, by which he returned, or the eastern

route down the Grand Auglaize river, the middle route com-

pletely surprised them.

Tradition says that on this march, one of the horses pulling

one of the artillery pieces, died, which compelled General Wayne

to abandon the cannon, and that it was buried deep in the ground

somewhere in the north part of the county to keep it from fall-

ing into the hands of the enemy. Lieutenant Boyer, one of

Wayne's officers, says nothing of this incident in his journal of

the march.

A few years ago some boys while fishing on the banks of

the Little Auglaize, which flows through this county to the west

of the Big Auglaize, of which it is a branch, found a number of

small cannon balls, heaped up in a pyramidal pile. All were

much rusted. Can they have been abandoned by General Wayne?

It seems probable that General Wayne on his four days' march of

forty-four miles from Fort St. Marys (Fort Adams) to the

Grand Auglaize, in crossing Van Wert county, followed for a

time the Little Auglaize, and may have left behind some cannon

balls, and these may have been the ones lost.

Owing to this peculiar geographical position, the region being

bounded by the rivers, was the peaceful and happy hunting

grounds of the Indians. History and tradition informs us that

many Indians kept their families within this region, making it

their permanent home, feeling that their dear ones were secure

from marauding parties of the Indian and of the white races,

who would follow the usual easy routes, the rivers..

When the early white settlers took up their homes in this

county they found many Indians in this secluded region. With-

in the city limits of Van Wert have been found many fragments

of sunbaked clay vessels, many of which can still be found in

favorable places.

About sixty years ago, there was dug up on the residence lot

situated just north of the Public Library, in Van Wert, about a

half bushel of bullets that seemed to be made of some other

Some History From an Un-Historical Region

Some History From an Un-Historical Region.    275


metal, in addition to lead, which made them so hard that they

ruined the bores of the guns of the early settlers who tried to

use them.

On the same lot, many years ago, some workmen, while mak-

ing an excavation, came upon a piece of bark sixteen feet square,

cut from a walnut tree, and buried several feet below the surface

on the rising ground some distance east of the banks of the

creek that flows through the center of the city. Removing the

bark, a fine spring of water was found. The writer has, in his

boyhood days, enjoyed drinking of its pure water. This spring

continued to flow until extensive sewerage drained its source.

Evidently the Indians had covered up the spring to prevent those

who drove them out from enjoying the sparkling water that

flowed from it.

Along the ridge bordering the banks of the creek were deep

worn trails made by the Indians.

Two mounds are known to have been in the county. One

was evidently erected by the Indians, as evidenced by the con-

tents. Some fifty years ago it was opened and found to contain

a human skull, the two femur bones, a few smaller bones, a gun

barrel, a copper kettle of about a gallon capacity, a few flint

arrow heads, stone tomahawks, a steel tomahawk, the bowl of

which was hollowed out for use as a pipe, and a few pieces of

silver ornaments. The other mound stood where the Hotel Marsh

now is in Van Wert. There is no information as to what in con-

tained, if anything.

The county was covered with large timber, oak, ash, hickory,

beech, and elm predominating. This made it an ideal hunting

ground for the Indians and their immediate successors, the early

white settlers. The region to the north of the city of Van Wert

was at one time called the "Black Bear Swamp," by others, the

"Hoop-pole region." The latter name was given to it owing to

the fact that many hoop-poles were cut from the hickory thickets.

This heavily wooded region was, some thirty years and more ago,

the favorite rendezvous for horse thieves, who stole horses in

the region to the southeast, towards Columbus, and drove them

to these woods where they were easily concealed. As there were

no paths through the woods it was practically impossible to follow

276 Ohio Arch

276       Ohio Arch. and Hist. Society Publications.

them. After those in pursuit had dropped the trail, and the ex-

citement attending the loss and hunting had subsided, the horses

were driven to Indiana and sold.

A strange duel occurred in the eastern part of the county

about seventy years ago that illustrates Indian characteristics.

Two Indian braves were in love with the same Indian maiden.

As she would not make a choice, it was decided to settle the af-

fair, as to who should have her, by a duel "to the death." The

Indians repaired to a place on the farm in Ridge Township long

known as the "Billy" Martin farm, on the bluff along the creek.

An Indian blanket was placed on the ground, the left hand of

each duelist was tied behind him, a sharp knife was placed in the

right hand of each. They then crouched down on the blanket,

which they were not to leave during the duel. The tribe assembled

about them with the maiden in the foreground. Round and round

the duelists moved on the blanket, first one then the other inflict-

ing severe wounds.  Thus the fight kept up until both were

covered with wounds, but there was no cessation until both suc-

cumbed to their injuries. Their bodies were buried on the spot

where they had fought and died. Over the grave was built a

log pen about twelve feet long, north and south, eight feet wide,

east and west, and four feet high. Upward from the south end

stood a staff, like a flag pole, about ten feet high and five inches

in diameter. This was at the head of the grave. Near the center

of the north and south walls of the pen, and about half way up,

were cut, opposite to each other, round holes, one-half being

notched out of the log above, the other half out of the log

below. The Indians said the holes were to let the spirits of the

dead duelists out. Until the Indians left this region they an-

nually, on the anniversary of the duel, came to the hut and painted

the flag pole and the two holes red.

From the foregoing it will be seen that regions that are often

considered as of little importance, historically, may yet have had

events of interest, if we but look around us.

Van Wert, Ohio.