Wednesday, July 6, 2011

a visit to Chalahgawtha

one of the many fine murals in town
For Christmas, I received from my wife a gift card to see the award winning 30 year running "Tecumseh!" outdoor stage play in Chillicothe OH. The play is based on the Alan Eckert book The Frontiersman. I must admit that I am not a big Eckert fan for his narrative docudrama writing style and I've only read part of his book "A Sorrow in Our Heart: The Life of Tecumseh" for this reason but I was still pretty excited to witness the epic life story of the legendary Shawnee leader as he struggles to defend his sacred homelands in the Ohio country during the late 1700’s.  It just so happened that opening weekend was on my birthday, so on June 11th, Tricia and I ditched the kids and we drove up and over to Chillicothe located along the Scioto River.
We arrived in the afternoon to grab a few geocaches first (it was my birthday after all) and visit the historical section of town where there are several markers and murals showcasing the city history. I like it when my hobbies merge. You can see the photo album here. I was having some battery issues and I didn't take as many pictures as wanted so I'd have some power for later.

1858 Ross County Courthouse
Columbus OH has been the the state capital since 1816 but Chillicothe was the capital of the entire Northwest Territory as well as the first...and third Ohio state capital. Once from1803-1810 until it was moved to Zanesville for two years and  then moved back to Chillicothe from 1812-1816. It seems some political monkey business had a hand in that shuffle in order to wrestle some party control over eastern Ohio from the Federalists to the Democratic-Republican party.
The name Chillicothe is the anglicized version of the Shawnee word Chalahgawtha, meaning "principal town". There were in fact several Shawnee "Chillicothes" since the Shawnee were semi-nomadic and re-used the name as they moved the town from place to place in the region. When a village was called  Chalahgawtha, it meant that it was home to the principal chief so it was also decided to be used for the name of the new state capital of Ohio when it became the 17th US state in 1803. Many people at that time just loved co-opting Indian words while at the same time they seemed to fear, loathe and look down upon them them and want them all gone. It's a strange love/hate paradox in American history.

St Clair and I meet once again in Chillicothe
While grabbing a geocache in the downtown area, my now highly trained eye spotted a plaque attached to a stone across the street. It turns out that my favorite inept gouty frontier general and Old Northwest Territorial governor Arthur St Clair had his headquarters here from 1800-1802 before President Thomas Jefferson fired him. That was the second time a President dismissed poor ol' St Clair. The first time was when George Washington asked him to resign from the Army after handing the US the worst defeat ever at the hands of the Native Americans in 1791 near present day Fort Recovery, OH. 25% of the entire U.S. Army had been wiped out. The disaster known as St Clair's Defeat was even worse than the later more infamous Custer's Last Stand yet many people have never heard of it. I think the site of him and his gout yelling orders from a litter because he couldn't sit on a horse would make a great scene in a movie. I'll bet Arthur never lived that one down at the Society of Cincinnati meetings over brandies and bonbons.

perhaps Tecumseh himself touched this stone
The impressive looking Ross County Courthouse was also nearby where the original Ohio statehouse stood until it was torn down in 1852. In 1807 Tecumseh himself, escorted in by Ohio Senator and future Governor Thomas "Father of Ohio" Worthington, gave a speech in the original building that was meant to ease tensions between the Native Americans and the nervous Ohio populace. The mission was considered a success and tensions did ease for a while. That would soon change.

There is a road named Nancy Wilson Way and I assumed at the time it was named for the rock musician in Heart. I have since learned that it is named for a different Nancy Wilson, a jazz singer who was from Chillicothe.

There is much more to see here such as the Adena State Memorial and the Hopewell Culture National Historical Park so I will have to come back another time. This day had a greater purpose ahead...

Coming up next...Tecumseh! - The Play


  1. Hi! I too have seen Eckert's play and have read his book, "A Sorrow In Our Heart". In fact I still have the book. Don't know why Eckert received so much criticism. There were scenes from the book that I knew exactly where Tecumseh traveled along the Wabash River as I have been on that road(once a trail)many times and could probably find the exact spot described in the book. I have also been to the Hopewell Museum and have seen the mounds. Incredible. And it might be interesting to know that I do believe that the name St. Clair was also spelled Sinclair in some families. I am related by marriage to a Sinclair from that region. Thanks for the blog.

  2. Hi, thanks for reading. I wrote this up a few years ago and and have since become a fan of Eckert's books and have read read several including A Sorrow In Our Heart". I think I was a such a purist on history and Eckert does take some liberties, at least with the dialog but now I feel it makes the history more engaging to the reader. I've seen the play a couple of times now too. I was sorry to hear of his passing in 2011

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