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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Indian Cornfields

Contributor:
Dallas Bogan on 6 August 2004
Source:
"The Pioneer Writings of Josiah Morrow" by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Extent of Their Fields on Little Miami and Mad River, and on Maumee and Auglaize in Ohio And in The East and South. --The Indians Were Largely An Agricultural People.

June 15, 1908

There were no Indian towns on either side of the Ohio River below the Scioto when the country was first seen by the whites. The Indians who roamed over the region of the lower Miami's and crossed the Ohio into Kentucky lived in villages on the upper waters of the Miami rivers and on the Maumee.
The early historians of Kentucky agree that no Indian towns were known to exist in that territory nor on the lower Tennessee. Some writers have thought that Kentucky was a common hunting ground for the Indian tribes and had been purposely kept bare of habitation.
General William Henry Harrison came to the Miami country in 1791. He fought against the Indians and afterward negotiated many treaties with them and was well acquainted with many of their chiefs. His opinion on the history of the tribes northwest of the Ohio is entitled to more weight than that of any other man who has written on the subject, and he was emphatic in declaring that no Indians had lived on either side of the Ohio in an extensive region about the site of the arrival of the white men.
The Indians lived in villages often large and populous. These villages were located on the Miamis where treeless plains or prairies could be found. They thus secured the double purpose of keeping vast hunting grounds undisturbed by scattering residences and of uniting their efforts in the growing of corn and other vegetable foods. The product of their fields was as essential to their subsistence as their hunting grounds.
The agriculture of the North American Indians was much more extensive and important than is generally supposed. Nothing is more incorrect than the idea of an Indian habitation as a lonely wigwam in the forest, the master of which sought his livelihood solely by hunting and fishing and gathering wild herbs and fruits. It has already been explained that the chief object of the expeditions against the Indians northwest of the Ohio, was the destruction of their crops. Left without vegetable food, the warriors would be compelled to devote more time to hunting to obtain subsistence, and thus marauding expeditions against the white settlements would, in some measure, be prevented.
Yet the destruction of property, even in the war against savages and when a military necessity, was often almost as sad as the destruction of human life. A white boy, adopted by the Indians and living comfortably with them, has given a description of the destruction of the little village in which he lived by a detachment of troops from the army of Mad Anthony. All the warriors were gone, the aged men, women and children only were left, and they fled in terror, abandoning everything. The torch was applied; every house was burned; every field and garden was laid waste; every orchard tree was destroyed. The melons were just beginning to ripen, and squashes lay thick on the ground; the vines were torn up by the roots and the fruit fed to the horses or trampled under their hoofs.
Gen. George Rogers Clark in his expedition against the Indians on the Little Miami and Mad rivers in 1780 reached the first Indian town, called Old Chillicothe, about four miles north of the site of Xenia, about 2 o'clock on August 6 and found that the savages had set fire to their own town and fled. The army encamped on the ground for the night and spent the next day in cutting down several hundred acres of growing corn. On the 8th the army reached the Indian town on Mad river and found the Indians concealed in the high grass of a prairie adjoining the town. The Indians were defeated and their town and growing crops destroyed. The day following the battle was taken up with the burning of the town and cutting down the corn. The Notes on Kentucky estimates that at the two towns of Old Chillicothe and Piqua more than five hundred acres of corn and every eatable vegetable were destroyed. It was in August and the fields were green with the growing crops. At the first town the army had left one field for the use of the men and horses on their homeward march.
In Clark's second expedition in 1782 he burned the towns in Miami county and destroyed great quantities of corn and other provisions. This was in November.
General Harmar's expedition against the Indians of the Maumee in 1790 was a failure but he reported that he had burned the Indian towns and destroyed about 20,000 bushels of corn.
General Wayne's victory was in August, 1794. Will-George George Will, who was in Wayne's army kept a journal and under the date of August 6, 1794, he wrote: "We are in six miles of the Auglaize river, and I expect to eat green corn tomorrow." Two days later the army had reached the Auglaize and he writes: "We have marched four or five miles in cornfields down the Auglaize, and there is not less than 1,000 acres of corn around the town."
The same journal discloses the fact that Wayne's large army, while building Fort Defiance, obtained subsistence for eight days from the cornfields and potato patches of the Indians, and it is filled with growing descriptions of the immense cornfields, numerous vegetable patches and old apple orchards of the Indians along the Maumee. General Wayne himself reports that his victorious army had laid waste and burned the Indian towns and cornfields extending for fifty miles on both sides of the Maumee, and that there still remained a great quantity of corn to be destroyed on that river and on the Auglaize.
That the Indians could raise good crops is shown by the following extract from a letter written by Gen. Wayne to the Secretary of War while Fort Defiance was being built: "The very extensive and highly cultivated fields and gardens show the work of many hands. The margins of those beautiful rivers--the Miami of the Lake (or Maumee) and the Auglaize--appear like one continuous village for a number of miles both above and below this place, nor have I ever beheld such fields of corn in any part of America from Canada to Florida."
General Charles Scott in an expedition against the Indians on the Wabash, destroyed their villages and their corn about June 1st, 1791. In the month of August, of the same year, Colonel Wilkinson marched against the same Indian tribes, and found the corn in the same fields growing and in a high state of cultivation. The Indians had returned and replanted their corn after the 1st day of June. Col. Wilkinson reported that he cut down and destroyed at least 430 acres of corn, chiefly in the milk.
The classic ground of the Indians in Ohio was the celebrated Pickaway Plains, supposed in the first settlement of the country to be the richest body of land in the State. Here were the Indians, against whom Lord Dunamore marched in 1774. Here in one town lived Cornstalk, the Shawnee chief; in another the Grenadier squaw, his sister and in another Logan, the Mingo chief. The plains were destitute of trees when first seen by white men, and on them, I doubt not, corn was grown in vast quantities by the Indians centuries ago, and by their predecessors, the Mound-builders, who made the wonderful works at Circleville perhaps a thousand years ago.
If we look outside of the Northwest Territory we will still find existence of a wide spread and extensive aboriginal agriculture. DeSoto and his followers, in the marvelous expedition from Tampa Bay to the Mississippi, would have starved without the supplies of Indian corn they found on the journey.
In 1687, one hundred years before the settlement of Ohio, a French army, under the Marquis de Nonville, invaded the country of the Senecas, a powerful tribe of the five nations of New York, and burned or destroyed 400,000 "minots" of corn, that is, 1,200,000 bushels. These are the figures given in the Documentary of New York. One writer suggests that the amount of maize destroyed may be somewhat exaggerated, but that the figures show that much attention was given by the Senacas to corn growing. Perhaps the soldiers did not accurately measure the corn before destroying it.
Ramsay, in his History of the Revolution, describing General Sullivan's destruction of the Mohawk towns in 1779, says: "To the surprise of the Americans, they found the lands about the Indian towns well cultivated and their houses both large and commodious. The quantity of corn destroyed was immense. Orchards in which there were several hundred fruit trees were cut down. Gardens which were enriched with great quantities of useful vegetables of different kinds, were laid waste. The supplies obtained in the country, lessened the inconvenience of short rations. The ears of corn were so remarkably large, that many of them measured twenty-two inches in length.
I give the remarkable statement concerning the length of some of the ears without further remark than that there is no mistake in the citation and that Dr. David Ramsey was a reputable historian.
Without going into further details, it may be said that the consensus of opinion among students of American ethnology seems to be that agriculture and not hunting was the chief dependence of the greater portion of the North American Indians, their growing crops furnishing more than one-half of their food, and Indian corn standing first among their crops in importance.


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