Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Battle of the Pumpkin Fields

Little Turtle overlooking the Ohio
Today marks the anniversary of the end of a failed US campaign against Indians in the Northwest Territory. The goal was, as usual, to destroy villages and demoralize the Native Americans in the area to make way for white settlement. You may be thinking it was the infamous St Clair's Defeat but there was one before that. On this date October 22nd 1790 a final battle in Harmar's Campaign occurred in present day Fort Wayne Indiana. Referred to as Harmars Defeat by Americans, the Miami called it the Battle of the Pumpkin Fields. This was due to the steam rising off all the scalped skulls left on the riverbank. It reminded them of squash steaming in the autumn air. Just in time for Halloween.

General Josiah Harmar, commander of the U.S. army in the Northwest Territory, lost half of his 360 man force. Harmar was court-martialed for incompetence and acquitted. Indian casualty estimates vary from 40 to less than 200 out of 1000 men. There is no doubt this was a large Indian force but it is well known that when a US commander saw one Indian, he saw ten. In other words the military liked to inflate the numbers of the enemy to look better. By November 3rd 1790, the remaining Americans, some never firing a shot, fell back to Fort Washington in Cincinnati.  Up until then this was the worst defeat by the US against the Indians. Lucky for Harmar, St. Clair's overwhelming loss one year later in Ohio eclipsed this military blunder. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me...The US would eventually rethink their tactics of frontier warfare. Several years later The Battle of Fallen Timbers would more or less drive Indians from the area.

-Saving Private Boone
-Lane Library - Butler County Place Names 
-Ohio History Central  - Harmar's Defeat
-Journal of the Indian Wars Volume 1, Number 2

Wednesday, October 1, 2014

Life of Reily - The Deneen Family Pioneers

Father (background) and Son
It's a real thrill finding these old cemeteries when I geocache. There always seems to be a history lesson waiting to be uncovered. On a beautiful March day in 2012 I found a marker at Bunker Hill Pioneer Cemetery in Reily Township OH that caught my attention.
It was for Samuel Deneen, a Private in the War of 1812. I noticed that his his father James Deneen, who fought in the Revolutionary War as a Private (Hunterdon Co NJ Militia), and several other Deneen's were nearby.

I wasn't able to find much more about younger Pvt Deneen's unit, Samuel Ashton's Co. of Ohio Militia but I did find an online roster. It confirms Sam Deneen served from February - August 1814. He is listed along with his brother Corp. Elijah Deneen (also buried here) and Private John M. Deneen another brother.
I also attempted to cross reference their service with known War of 1812 battles but I wasn't able to come up with anything solid. By 1814 most of the American Northwest land battles were occurring around Lake Erie on the Canadian side. Based on what I've seen they didn't keep or retain good militia service records from this period. These Deneens all survived the war and ended up here to start new lives in Reily Township.

This property was once all owned by the Deneen Family who I found were Huguenots that first fled religious persecution in France in the late 17th century. They later settled in Northern Ireland, eventually emigrating to the US in the early 18th century. They were one of the first pioneer families to settle in Butler County OH, The area around the cemetery is now Pater Wildlife Area.
In further research of the Deneen Family I found some other interesting but tragic history unrelated to their military service. Samuel had another brother named Alexander who also lived on this land. In 1826 while building a house he threw a wood plank out of the 2nd story which accidentally landed on their 2 year old daughter Mary and killed her instantly. Alexander became so distraught he never finished the house and eventually moved, selling the one acre cemetery to the local Universalist Church. Mary, along with Alexander are buried in nearby Springdale Cemetery.

-James Deneen at
-Deneen Family Document at
-Ohio Genealogy Express
-Butler County MetroParks

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Lt. Joseph Catterline - Miami Chapel Cemetery

In March of 2011 I was geocaching near Fairfield OH and spotted this replacement grave marker for Lt. Joseph Catterline in a tiny roadside cemetery called Miami Chapel. The original stone, like many from this period had been either stolen, vandalized or obliterated by the elements. In 2010, the Fairfield Historical Society, the Fairfield City Parks Department, and Tom Stander a Butler County Historian, placed new gravestones here. So thanks for that.

Like the marker says, Catterline fought in the Revolutionary War. In case you didn't know, the first United States national army was known as the Continental Army led by George Washington as opposed to the less disciplined and less equipped state militias. The New Jersey Line was a formation of infantry from NJ and made up part of the Continental Army along with other state lines.

Most don't think of Ohio as having much connection to the War of Independence but many vets settled in the Ohio frontier afterward since they were given parcels of this newly acquired land instead of cash payment for their service. It was a new start for many but also a hostile place in those days since the local Shawnee and Miami didn't quite agree on the terms of the 1783 Treaty of Paris that ended the war without their input.

I did a bit of research and found that Joseph Catterline (sometimes spelled "Catterlin") was a Lieutenant in the Army from 1777 to 1783 and engaged the enemy several times, most notably at Fort Lee NJ. When Thomas Paine wrote the famous line in The American Crisis, "These are the times that try men's souls" he was referring to events at Fort Lee.

Catterline had also been in charge of Signal Beacon No. 7 in New Jersey. In 1779 There were about two dozen Signal Beacons throughout the state. The types of beacons varied from tar barrels on top of poles, to pyramids, to wooden towers filled with dried grass or hay that could be ignited to warn others of a British attack.

Miami Chapel Cemetery is also the resting place of a War of 1812 soldier and four Civil War veterans.


Friday, August 29, 2014

Confederate Spies in Kentucky

On March 12th 2012 near Mentor KY in Campbell County, while geocaching I ran into something I never see in SW Ohio, the grave of a Confederate Officer.

Confederate officer Lt. Thomas Jefferson McGraw was arrested by Union troops as a spy for actively recruiting men in KY for the Confederate Army. He was taken to Cincinnati on April 23 1863, tried and found guilty. He expected to be taken as POW but was instead sent to Johnsons Island on Lake Erie for execution on May 15th 1863. Abraham Lincoln himself rejected a family plea for a pardon. McGraw was blindfolded and sat on the edge of his coffin so that the gunfire would push him backward into the coffin for easy disposal. McGraws body was then returned and buried at Flagg Spring Cemetery in Kentucky.
The monument here was placed by the United Daughters of the Confederacy in 1914.


Thursday, August 28, 2014

Exploring Almost Forgotten Gravesites in Ohio

Cemeteries are a big part of history and I find myself in them frequently while geocaching.
You can learn much from reading the stones from at various eras in American history and get a good idea of what people thought was important to remember. It's also interesting to see trends such as different types of materials and styles of grave stones.
Sometimes I just stop at those little roadside cemeteries and have a look around. Many times places such as this are literally falling apart and quite neglected since ownership is in dispute. Sadly, sometimes it is due to vandalism.
Please have a look at a fine website dedicated to cemetery preservation in the state of Ohio by Linda Jean Limes Ellis.

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.