Friday, August 15, 2014

Fortune Cookie Wisdom for Gehio

The perfect fortune cookie for an amateur field historian and geocacher! Maybe I should head to Orient OH?

Sidenote: at the bottom, I figured it was a typo and "kye" was "bye" or something but according to Google, yan-jiang means "magma" while "kye" is the plural of an archaic Scottish word for cows or cattle.

Saturday, July 26, 2014

Cincinnati Sioux and Botanical Garden

1896, Sicangu Lakota Sioux
at the Cincinnati Zoo
"Just four years shy of the 20th century, the Cincinnati Zoo kept one hundred Sioux Native Americans in a mock village at the zoo for three months."
That was the sentence I read. It sounded horrifying. I was intrigued by this (new to me) historical curiosity in Cincinnati, but something didn't sit right. Did the victors in this land grab display Sioux Indians along side wild zoo animals for people to gape at? I believe I saw this on a Twilight Zone episode. A Google search showed that same sentence repeated in many places, but more information was hard to come by. A forgotten atrocity perhaps? A zoo cover-up? Could it be true? Well no not really. It's not as deplorable as I thought but the story I found is is still interesting .

1895, Cree family at the Cincinnati Zoo
By the late 1890s the American Indians were a defeated enemy. They were forbidden to practice their traditions while living on squalid reservations dependent on meager government handouts. In most US states Indians were not even considered American citizens until the 1924 Citizenship Act. Oddly, a sense of nostalgia had been sweeping the nation for the "old west". Out of this longing was born the Wild West Shows. these were romanticized outdoor demonstrations that toured not only the US but the entire world. They had phony gun fights, mock Indian attacks and all the other sorts of things you would expect to see. They hired authentic American Indians as actors in these plays. The legendary Sioux Chief Sitting Bull toured in Buffalo Bill's Wild West Show in the 1880s. They were not forced to, but lets get real. Given the choice of rotting on a poverty stricken reservation vs getting paid to see the world, which would you choose? I'm sure there wasn't a lot of work for unemployed Indians back then. Letters and articles from that period gave a sense that Indians didn't see themselves as victims and were trying to make the best of a bad situation. They seemed to enjoy performing and showing off their skills. It was far better than "rez" life and maybe some good could come of it.

Sicangu Lakota Sioux 
resting up between acts
So back to the Cincinnati Zoo. In 1895 a band of Cree Indians from Montana were abandoned by a Wild West showman in Bellevue KY near Cincinnati. It's not as if Indians in the 1890s could just hop the next expensive train home. Whites still saw Indians as "savages". The last Woodland Indian tribe, the Wyandot left Ohio in 1843. Custer's Last Stand  happened 20 years earlier and the Wounded Knee Massacre occurred just a few years earlier in 1890. With the Wild West nostalgia fad was going strong, the zoo officials invited the Cree to camp on the zoo grounds for two months and live like historical Indians. A pretty easy gig considering how they were Indians and had all their stuff with them. It was a big hit and boosted zoo attendance. The Cree made $25,000 which funded their trip back home. Later in 1896, the zoo invited a group of the Sicangu Lakota Sioux  from the Rosebud Reservation in South Dakota to camp as well as put on reenactments like the Wild West Shows. The Bureau of Indian Affairs approved. 89 Sioux came to Cincinnati by train with their tee-pees, horses and other gear and put on two shows a day for spectators from June 6th to September 20th 1896. Along with horseback exhibitions and stagecoach attacks they re-enacted the massacre of Wounded Knee and the battle of Little Big Horn. Children earned $5 per month, female adults $15, male adults $25 and Chiefs earned up to $50 per month. No small sum at a time when the average US adult male earned just a dollar a day. Unfortunately the Sioux encampment and show didn't financially do as well as they hoped. There was  much rainy weather that summer along with competition from other travelling Wild West Shows.

1896, Some of the Sicangu Lakota Sioux
at the Cincinnati Zoo
So it looks like the zoo wanted to help out the Cree and make some money themselves in the process. Then they attempted to repeat it with the Sioux. Everyone was happy. That doesn't sound so bad I guess. It is difficult for us in this modern age not to look at history through our 21st century values. In those days this was considered a cultural program. These shows did have some detractors on both sides though. Some felt this interfered with "civilizing" the Indian which was the official policy in those days. Others felt this exploited them and exposed Indians to the bad elements of white society and reinforced negative stereotypes. Lakota Sioux Chief Chauncey Yellow Robe opposed the Wild West Shows and found them degrading and fraudulent. A participant, Pawnee Young Chief saw it as a way to make money and help those at home. It turns out that long before Hollywood Westerns gave us Indian stereotypes and bad history, these shows were doing it first. For example, mock attacks on Cincinnati's Fort Washington were re-enacted with the Indians in full regalia, war bonnets and all. The problem is, Indians never attacked Fort Washington. Woodland Indians didn't dress like that either. In fact, except for an occasional traveler, a Plains Indian never saw Cincinnati until the 1890s and they got there on a train.
 Blokaciqa or Little Stallion
AKA Arthur Belt, corresponded
with Meyer and other Cincinnatians
for many years
John Goetz Jr. , President of the Cincinnati Zoological Society justified the deal (in 1890s terms) saying "the presentation of wild people is in line with zoology, and so, when we exhibit Indians...or any wild or strange people now in existence, we are simply keeping within our province as a zoological institution." In short, he and many others felt it had educational value even if it was a bit off base. I still wonder if the Cree or Sioux fantasized about being more realistic and turning on those gawking white audiences just for old times sake? One last stand. Who could blame them? No one knows what went on in their hearts but sources show they struck up many friendships while they were in Cincinnati that lasted after they went back home. One such friendship several Indians made was with Cincinnati photographer and artist Enno Meyer. He corresponded with his new Indian friends for years afterward, exchanging notes and gifts. Letters still exist from Good Voice Eagle to Meyer where he inquires about coming back for more shows. Unfortunately by 1898 the zoo was having a financial crisis and could not afford to do so.
Draw your own conclusions but I feel that as usual the truth is in the middle somewhere and given the situation, none of this sounds as bad as I thought. These were human exhibitions but the conditions were not as bad as a dreadful and tragic the human zoos I'd read about. The participants had a choice, but just barely.

The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden: From Past to Present by David Ehrlinger 
Images of America: The Cincinnati Zoo and Botanical Garden by Joy W. Kraft
Cincinnati's Wild West: The 1896 Rosebud Sioux Encampment by Susan Labry Meyn*
*Many thanks to Dr. Mark Fischer from the College of Mt St Joseph for supplying me with a copy of this PDF. 
Enduring Encounters: Cincinnatians and American Indians To 1900 by Susan Labry Meyn
Photos by Enno Meyer (1874-1947)

Friday, June 27, 2014

Happy Birthday to Thee. Gehio Is Three!

Gehio is three years old today with over 20,000 page views. Thanks to all those who read (I look at my stats), leave comments and those who subscribe. I started this blog to help me remember the interesting history I encounter, mostly while out geocaching, but it's nice to know others enjoy it as well.
Speaking of stats, I noticed there have been 88 posts prior to today which is the same number of counties in Ohio. I love it when stuff like that happens.
Stats. The post with the most page views is Some quick Ohio history for September, a hodgepodge of This Month in Ohio History with some cartoon references. I had fun doing that one. In 2nd place is Going Underground on Hamilton Avenue about the Underground Railroad and in 3rd place is The death of Tecumseh. An historical sign about that Shawnee Chief started it all for me.

The most fascinating thing I've run across was the story I did on Ohio pioneer and land speculator John Cleves Symmes' nephew, also named John Cleves Symmes, who thought the world was hollow and inhabited. His odd theory indirectly led to the discovery of the Antarctica continent.

Another crazy but true story is how they carved up and boiled the remains of the American General Mad Anthony Wayne.
The recipient of the first Purple Heart is also buried in Cincinnati in a previously overgrown abandoned cemetery.
Along the way I've learned that our brief 9th president William Henry Harrison wasn't just some insignificant rube. He played a vital role in the development of our country but then had the misfortune of ending on a bad note. He also passed out free booze at campaign stops in log cabin shaped bottles. Huzzah!

These sort of things continue to remind me that interesting history is all around us waiting to be discovered. Past events are the story of  who we are and how we came to be. Also, the weird stuff is just pretty damn cool.

Friday, June 13, 2014

Garfield documentary coming in February 2015

Who knew a book on an obscure Ohio born US President could be so excellent? Even I had my doubts. However, "Destiny of the Republic" by Candice Millard turned out to be one of my favorite history books. I wrote a blog post about President James A. Garfield after I read her NY Times best selling book last year and I was blown away by her engaging and gripping style that really brought these characters to life like a novel without any speculative padding. That's tough to do with history, which we all know can be a bit dry and tedious at times. Anyone could enjoy this book, not just history nerds. Needless to say I was ecstatic when I  learned a PBS American Experience documentary is being filmed for a scheduled release of February 2015. How exciting is that?

Even though her first book "River of Doubt" regarding Teddy Roosevelt's trip to the Amazon has nothing to do with Ohio history, I highly recommend that one as well. It is written in the same colorful and suspenseful style as her Garfield book. As I understand it Candice Millard is currently working on a book about Winston Churchill. I will definitely be looking forward to that. Now I wonder if I can talk her into a book about William Henry Harrison?....

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Something rank in Ripley

Ripley OH: an abolitionist stronghold.
This is the restored home of John P. Parker,
a noted African-American abolitionist
I agree that the American Civil War was about States rights, but one must remember that the main right the Southern states wanted to preserve was the right to own black people as property while the Northern states were making progress to end the practice. If the South had won the war, we would have had a separate country to the south of the US called the Confederate States of America where slavery remained legal for at least several decades longer. The end result of this war was preserving the Union and the13th Amendment abolishing slavery in one of the the last holdouts in the Western Hemisphere. It was a great leap forward for equal rights in the US, which we all know is supposed to be the land of the free.

top to bottom:
1st (Stars and Bars),
2nd, 3rd National flags
of the CSA. The rebel
battle flag is last.

So too bad about the Confederate flag. This is a good time to point out that this flag was never the official national flag of the CSA, it was the the battle flag used by the Army of Northern Virginia under General Lee and the Army of Tennessee, the largest CSA field army. The first national flag was the Stars and Bars. The second national flag did incorporate the more familiar rebel flag as did the third.
People that display the rebel flag in modern times like to say "it's about heritage, not hate". Maybe the flag had noble origins to some but that doesn't really matter now. The Southern states ruined that notion when they started a war which cost the lives 750,000 people. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups dashed that notion when they used this flag to terrorize and murder African-Americans in post-Antebellum America.  The states of Mississippi and Georgia ruined that notion as well when it was used as a protest against school integration in the 1950s. The Confederate flag flew over the state capitol from 1961-1993. On June 11th 1963 the University of Alabama was desegregated by Federal force while Gov. George "segregation forever" Wallace, protested in front of the school doors and 5 years later used the Confederate flag in his Presidential bid. Wow, that's some heritage! I hate to invoke Godwin's Law but the swastika was a perfectly acceptable symbol to many cultures for centuries until the Nazis appropriated it. Same thing. No one is walking around with a swastika on their shirt or truck unless they want to be known as a white supremacist. So Mississippi, follow Georgia's lead and get the rebel battle flag of oppression off your US State flag. Oh also, enough with the passive aggressive license plates, 10 US States offer the flag as an option. I realize you think that this is the good old days but please stop. It's embarrassing y'all.

Rankin House
So what does this have to do with Ohio history?

On a beautiful sunny Easter weekend in April 2014 I visited the Ohio towns of Point Pleasant, Ripley and Georgetown. My main objective was geocaching but the route I planned had an unplanned common thread. In the 19th century, Southwest Ohio and the towns along the Ohio River were a hotbed of Underground Railroad activity, there are signs and markers everywhere and many of the structures still stand or have been restored. This was also the area that future President US Grant was born and raised. You've probably heard of him. He helped win that Civil War that the Southern states started.

from KY across the Ohio to freedom
The Rankin House in Ripley is probably the most famous stop on the Underground Railroad. For 40 years, Reverend John Rankin, at risk of imprisonment himself due to the 1850 Fugitive Slave Act, helped over 2000 slaves flee the US to Canada. One of these escaped slave stories inspired Harriet Beecher Stowe's Uncle Toms Cabin, about which Lincoln famously remarked upon meeting the author, "So you're the little woman who wrote the book that made this great war!" A nearby marker states that a Confederate General wanted to burn this "abolitionist hell hole of Ripley" to the ground. Everyone knew what happened in Ripley. So the town bought a cannon as defense against any Confederates who decided to invade. It turns out that they didn't have to use it since the infamous Rebels known as Morgan's Raid only got within a mile of of town. They still have the cannon proudly displayed in front of their library. The town of Ripley has built up quite a heritage tourism industry around its role in abolition and they should be proud of it. America should be proud of it. Everyone that lives or passes through Ripley surely knows these things.

despicable display
As I approach one of the many signs pointing the way to the famous Rankin House perched 300 feet high upon a hill overlooking the Ohio River, something catches my eye. It's a Confederate flag flapping from the front porch of a tiny home not 200 feet from the only road up the hill to the house. In this context, this is not about heritage, the person that lives here is clearly making a statement. I started thinking of all the African-Americans that have passed by here to see the land where their ancestors first saw hope for freedom... and this is what they will see when they arrive. This mocking display thumbs its nose at the bloody struggle that occurred over 150 years ago. What else is anyone supposed to think when they see this well defined symbol of racism fluttering on this hallowed ground? So get the rebel Confederate battle flag off your porch, it's embarrassing.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Ohio's Aunt Jemima

Rosa Washington Riles 1901 - 1969
File under: "Cool stuff you learn while geocaching"

I almost didn't stop at this old cemetery on my April 19th 2014 trek through Ohio's abolition country. I was headed from Ripley toward the boyhood home of US Grant in Georgetown. But it's so hard to resist the lure of geocaches in old cemeteries as I nearly always find something interesting. This was no exception.

At first I thought this was an impostor buried along U.S. 68/62. Maybe someone who had the head bandanna look down and cooked a mean stack of flapjacks and got a cool nickname out of it. I even called my wife and she confirmed via Google that the original Aunt Jemima was Nancy Green, a former slave born in KY who died in 1923. Oh well. I kind of forgot about all this until I went through my photos from that day and decided to Google the name on the gravestone.

I learned there were multiple Aunt Jemimas through the years and Rosa Washington Riles was one of them. Born (and buried) in Red Oak OH, Rosa was recruited by Quaker Oats in the 1950s and traveled around the country making public appearances portraying Aunt Jemima. Every year a pancake breakfast is even held at the early 19th century Presbyterian church on the same property. The proceeds are used for the upkeep of the old part of the cemetery next to the church where several Revolutionary War veterans are buried.
AJ: Buckeye version

She isn't officially acknowledged as one of the Aunt Jemimas by Quaker Oats I suppose because by the 1950s multiple people were portraying her, but this article on Jim Crow Propaganda (warning: old timey racist imagery ahead) has a copy of a 2001 article in the comments section with some more information on Ohio's very own Aunt Jemima. Also, check out this article on the history of the old church and cemetery and its role in abolition and the Underground Railroad.

Geocaching and history, my chocolate and peanut butter as I always say! In this case, my pancakes and syrup.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Giving back at the CHM

In January I decided to become a volunteer at the Cincinnati History Museum at Union Terminal. I figured it would be nice to share my existing local history knowledge with interested folks as well as learn some new things myself.
I already went to the volunteer program orientation, got my badge, ordered a shirt and shadowed a few shifts. I also helped out with Ohio History Day on March 1st for high school students competing in the National History Day competition, which is basically like a Science Fair but for history. To be honest I never knew such a thing existed. I got to talk to a few very bright kids while escorting them to their interviews about papers they wrote.

I will mostly be working the AM shift on the 2nd and 4th Sundays of the month and will likely be in the Early Settlement and Regional Capital sections. They are also going to start up their guided tour program again and I may look into that but right now I'm just learning the ropes.
They are always looking for volunteers so check that out on the CHM website. If you happen to be there on a Sunday morning stop by and say "Hi!".

Friday, April 4, 2014


On this date, April 4th 1841, William Henry Harrison, an adopted Buckeye like myself, died one month after taking office as President. At 68, his detractors said he was too old and sickly to be President. That IS pretty old by 1841 standards so I suppose they were right. It's too bad he is mostly only remembered for this event as he had an impressive resume and life.
I kind of hate how folks list him as a "worst President". He was consumed by office seekers lining up and looking for jobs in the new administration for the first three weeks and then the fourth week he was bedridden, filled with opium and brandy. He didn't even have a chance at a Presidential legacy.
The doctors said he died of "bilious pleurisy", an archaic term for pneumonia. Recently a new theory has emerged that he died of typhoid due to the poor Washington DC sanitation in those days. Who knows. Life was rough back then and medical treatment in the early 19th century sometimes killed you faster than if they just left you alone.

WHHs Cincinnati funeral was here
His death was officially at 12:30 AM on April 4, 1841 just 30 days, 12 hours, and 30 minutes after taking the oath of office.
On April 7th, an Episcopalian funeral service took place in the East Room of the White House. Lying on a table in the middle of the room was the glass-covered open casket of William Henry Harrison.
Other memorials and funerals took place across the country on the same day. One was at the Methodist Wesely Chapel on 5th Street between Broadway and Sycamore in Cincinnati OH where the P&G Garden Pavilion is now.

WHH's eternal view in North Bend OH
Following the White House funeral he was loaded up and the funeral procession, led by Whitey his riderless horse, took him down Pennsylvania Avenue to the Capitol Building where he laid in state for mourners to see. WHH spent the Spring of 1841 in the public vault of the Congressional Cemetery in Washington, D.C. Later in June 1841 after Winter had passed, a train carried him to North Bend, Ohio where he was laid to rest overlooking the Ohio River near Cincinnati.

Here are a few previous Gehio posts on William Henry Harrison:
Tippecanoe and Trivia too!
WWWHH Do? Free Booz!
Straight Outta Tippecanoe

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Pyromania pays

battling a fire in Cincinnati 1854 style
On April 1, 1853, Cincinnati, Ohio, established the first professional and fully paid fire department in the United States. The same year, Cincinnati was the first city in the world to use steam fire engines too.
You might think this was a swell gesture to properly compensate hard workers for a dangerous job well done. Nope. It was arson. Firefighters were paid on an as needed basis. No fires meant no pay and only the first team of firefighters that arrived on the scene got paid. It seems fireman started setting fires to get work and on top of that rival fire companies were sabotaging each others equipment to be the first responders. And the professional US firefighter was born. Don't get me wrong, modern firefighters do a fantastic job but they certainly have come a long way since the mid 19th century.

Click here for more info on Cincinnati's firefighting history.

Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Happy Birthday Tecumseh!

in Old Town, North of Xenia OH
I've written a few things about the Shawnee War Chief Tecumseh, the Pan-Indian Confederacy leader and William Henry Harrison's adversary in the 18th and 19th centuries. There are some links at the end of this post or you can use the search box to your right. This post will just focus on his date and place of birth, both of which are somewhat speculative.
Since American Indians of this time period had no written records, historians have to rely on statements and observations by whites who interacted with them and deduce from there.
It is generally agreed upon that Tecumseh was born in the Spring of 1768. The month of March is derived from Stephen Ruddell, a captured white who was an adopted brother of Tecumseh for 17 years that had the Shawnee name Big Fish. Ruddell was born on September 18th 1768. In later years Stephen told his son that Tecumseh was 6 months his senior which would be about March 1768. This is also backed up by a letter that Ruddell wrote where he refers to Tecumseh being the same age as he when they met at age 12 in 1779. Putting all this together let's just call it March 18th 1768.

possible Tecumseh birth locations in 1768
There is also a question of the specific location of his birthplace in Ohio. I have read several books and articles on Tecumseh and historians don't all agree on this. Many agree that it was probably a Shawnee town called Chalahgawtha. The problem is, this band of Shawnee called their "principal village" Chalahgawtha and the town was relocated at least six times and the same name was used each time. Incidentally, modern day Chillicothe OH derives it's name from the Shawnee town so that adds to the confusion. This means his place of birth could have been in present day Springfield, Piqua, Xenia or Chillicothe. It turns out that the Ohio Historical Society thinks his place of birth is in Old Town just north of Xenia OH. The Absentee Shawnee of Oklahoma agree and have placed their own marker there too. That works for me.
So Happy Birthday to Tecumseh or perhaps in Shawnee/Algonquin, Minowaazon Tibishkaman Tecumtha!

Additional Gehio posts about Tecumseh:
The death of Tecumseh
Tecumseh! - the play
The War to End All Indian Wars
How It All Began