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ADVENTURES OF EARLY SURVEYING PARTIES


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Transcription contributed by Martie Callihan 24 November 2004

Sources:
The History of Warren County Ohio
Part III. The History of Warren County by Josiah Morrow
Chapter III. Explorations - Surveys - Land Grants
(Chicago, IL: W. H. Beers Co, 1882; reprint, Mt. Vernon, IN: Windmill Publications, 1992)
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The surveyors were early at work. The boundaries of Symmes' Purchase under his first contract were surveyed in 1789. East of the Little Miami, John O'Bannon surveyed lands in this county and near the stream that bears his name in March, 1792. And in the month of October in the same year, Gen. Nathaniel Massie, in the midst of the most appalling dangers from the Indians, surveyed and located land warrants to the amount of 30,000 acres in this county, and chiefly on Caesar's Creek and Todd's Fork. Such were the dangers and hardships under which the early surveys were made in the Virginia Military District, that one-fourth, one third, and sometimes one-half of the tillable land of the entry was paid the surveyor.

In the early surveys the winters were selected as the season most secure, the Indians being in winter quarters. Massie was the most extensive surveyor and land speculator in Ohio at this early day. In his surveys he usually had beside himself three assistant surveyors and six men with each surveyor. The parties all moved with great caution. First went the hunter looking for game and on the watch for the Indians; next, the surveyor, two chainmen and marker; then the pack-horse man with baggage, and, two or three hundred yards in the rear, a watchman, on the trail to guard against an attack from behind. In the spring of 1792, Massie surveyed the bottoms of the east side of the Little Miami as far as the site of Xenia without being molested by the Indians. Some of the foregoing facts are stated on the authority of John McDonald's Life of Gen. Nathaniel Massie. The following extract is from the same work:

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During the winter of 1794-95, Massie prepared at party to enter largely into the surveying business. Nathaniel Beasley, John Beasley and Peter Lee were employed as the assistant surveyors. The party set off from Manchester, well equipped, to prosecute their business, or, should occasion offer, give battle to the Indians. They took the route of Logan's trace, and proceeded to a place called the deserted camp, on Todd's Fork of the Little Miami. At this point they commenced surveying, and surveyed large portions of land on Todd's Fork, and up the Miami to the Chillicothe town, thence up Massie's Creek and Caesar's Creek nearly to their heads. By the time the party had progressed thus far, winter had set in. The ground was covered with a sheet of snow from six to ten inches deep. During the tour, which continued upward of thirty days, the party had no bread. For the first two weeks a pint of flour was distributed to each mess once a day, to mix with the soup in which meat had been boiled. When night came, four fires were made for cooking—that is, one for each mess. Around these fires, till sleeping time arrived, the company spent their time in the most social glee, singing songs and telling stories. When danger was not apparent or immediate, they were as merry a set of men as ever assembled. Resting time arriving, Massie always gave the signal, and the whole party would then leave their comfortable fires, carrying with them their blankets, their firearms, and their little baggage, walking in perfect silence two or three hundred yards from their fires. They would then scrape away the snow and huddle down together for the night. Each mess formed one bed; they would spread down on the ground one half of the blankets, reserving the other half for covering. The covering blankets were fastened together by skewers, to prevent them from slipping apart. Thus prepared, the whole party crouched down together with their rifles in their arms, and their pouches under their heads for pillows; lying spoon fashion, with three heads one way and four the other, their feet extending to about the middle of their bodies. When one turned the whole mess turned, or else the close range would be broken and the cold let in. In this way they lay till broad daylight, no noise and scarce a whisper being uttered during the night. When it was perfectly light, Massie would call up two of the men in whom he had most confidence, and send them to reconnoiter and make a circuit around the fires, lest an ambuscade might be formed by the Indians to destroy the party as they returned to the fires. This was an invariable custom in every variety of weather. Self-preservation required this circumspection. Some time after this, while surveying on Caesar's Creek, his men attacked a party of Indians, and the savages broke and fled.

After the defeat of the Indians by Wayne, the surveyors were not interrupted by the Indians; but on one of their excursions, still remembered as "the starving tour," the whole party, consisting of twenty-eight men, suffered extremely In a driving snow-storm for about four days. They were in a wilderness, exposed to this severe storm, without hut, tent or covering, and what was still more appalling, without provision and without any road or even track to retreat on, and were nearly one hundred miles from any place of shelter. On the third day of the storm, they luckily killed two wild turkeys, which were boiled and divided into twenty-eight parts, and devoured with great avidity, heads, feet, entrails and all.

The dangers of exploration and survey on the west side of the Little Miami were not less. John Filson, who was interested in laying out Cincinnati and who coined the word Losanteville as the name of the projected city, was killed in the winter of 1788-89. He had gone up the Miami Valley some thirty or forty miles with Judge Symmes and others, and, for some cause not now known, left the party for the purpose of returning to the Ohio, and was murdered by the Indians. In the same winter a surveying party was attacked and two men killed. A surveyor named Abner Hunt was killed in the season of 1790-91.


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