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Warren County Local History by Dallas Bogan

Native Americans Cleared Much Of Ohio For First Farmers

Dallas Bogan on 17 August 2004
original article by Dallas Bogan
Return to Index to see a list of other articles by Dallas Bogan

Many folks tend to think that the American Indians were primarily hunters, however, their livelihood depended basically on agriculture.
The early aborigines were a thickly populated people. It seems apparent that the plains had been opened and free of trees, which made way for the first farmers of Ohio.
However, as the tribes started to diminish the plains were turned into a forest again, thus covering much of their heritage.
Taking a quote from Lucien Carr, an early recorder of the Indian culture, he says:
"The testimony is so uniform that of the main fact the cultivation of corn in greater of less quantities by all the tribes living east of the Mississippi and south of the St. Lawrence and Great Lakes cannot be a shadow of doubt. All the writers agree upon the point and there is no room for a difference of opinion except perhaps in regard to the amount grown. Upon this point too the evidence is explicit. Instead of cultivating it in small patches as a summary luxury, it can be shown on undoubted authority, that everywhere within the articles of food both in summer and in winter that he cultivated it in large fields and understood and appreciated the benefits arising from the use of fertilizers. Indeed much was his proficiency and industry that even with the rude and imperfect implements at his disposal, he not only raised corn enough for his own use but, as a rule, had some to spare to his needy neighbors both red and white."
The first cultivators of the land performed a laborious task. Clearing the forest was indeed the first labor, both slow and toilsome work.
The forest trees were felled by the burning of the trunk, and then the stone axes would cut away the charred part, then a continuation of the process until the tree was down. Because of this expedient labor, the Indians of Ohio subsequently located their villages on or near the treeless plains, which served for their plantations of corn and vegetables.
The Indian woman was the laborer of the fields. The warriors were much too broad in their skills to do mere farm work. They set themselves up as being too brave and dignified to work at this occupation.
The cultivation of corn and vegetables fell definitely into the realms of the squaws. Accepting this doctrine was by all means positive.
At this time there were no plows or labor saving devices. The horse had been unheard of; the only domesticated animal being a wolf-type dog. The only tools the women had were a stack of wood, sharpened by fire, a seashell or a crude implement of flint of stone. The production of the Indian woman accounted for about one-half of the food consumed by her tribe.
The lack of a plow or horses or oxen to pull it with, thus no animal power, except the elk or buffalo, which were difficult to dominate, made agriculture completely dependent on hard labor. The Indian hoe was made from stones, shoulder blades of large animals, tortoise shells or mussel shells penetrated for the wooden handle.
Much of the knowledge of the Indians has come from the early white man who had lived with them, and had intelligence enough to record the early happenings. One such case was Oliver M. Spencer, who was captured by the Indians at Columbia at the age of eleven, and taken to the confluence of the Maumee and Auglaize Rivers in northwestern Ohio where he was held for ransom. After Spencer's ransom was paid he sometime later became a Methodist Minister. He says:
"The Indian women inhabiting the large villages, wherever it was practicable, cultivated portions of the same fields, separated from each other only by spaces of a few feet and varying in size according to the number and strength of the families, seldom raising corn as an article of commerce but merely to furnish for their own sustenance. Around these fields they made no enclosures, nor indeed, having no cattle, hogs or sheep, were fences necessary. As for their few horses they were either driven out into the woods or secured near their cabins and having bells on, were easily prevented from trespassing by the boys whose duty it was, by turn, while amusing themselves with their bows and arrows, to protect the fields."
James Smith, who as a youth was taken prisoner by the Delawares, tells of his adoption into the tribe. Scanning the fields one day, he sighted some women hoeing corn. He decided he would take it upon himself to help; grabbing a hoe he worked for an hour or two, and was honored for the fine job. Discovering this incident, the warriors cautioned him against helping the women, and that he was a young man and a warrior and he should never again engage in women's work. He said: "they never had occasion to reprove me for anything like this again as I never was extremely fond of work."
The early life of the American Indians was one of hardships, but adaptation through the centuries made it seem routine. The culture of the founders of our country, through archaeological investigations, and the recordings by the early white man have made this primitive life come alive.

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This page created 17 August 2004 and last updated 28 September, 2008
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