SOME HISTORY FROM AN UN-HISTORICAL REGION.
BY A. B. GILLILAND.
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. 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. 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
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
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. 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
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. 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.