Monday, December 1, 2014

Pvt. Issac F. Cosbey - Typos and Typhoid

“We must disenthrall ourselves, and then we shall save our country. Fellow-citizens, we cannot escape history.....In giving freedom to the slave we assure freedom to the free--honorable alike in what we give and what we preserve. We shall nobly save or meanly lose the last best hope of earth.” 
- Abraham Lincoln's State of the Union message December 1st, 1862

While geocaching I see the graves of many soldiers. This one caught my eye since a new plaque was placed in front of it and I noticed that Pvt. Issac F. Cosbey died during the Civil War. Many times the soldiers that died during the Civil War were buried near where they died, typically far from Ohio, so this one seemed unusual.

Researching Private Cosbey was difficult at first. I thought he was in the 82nd because it says so on the newer plaque but I wasn't coming up with much.

The older original stone reads:
Aged 19y, 4m, & 8d
Died in the service of his country at Memphis, Tennessee.

The newer marker reads:

The 83rd Regiment Ohio Volunteer Infantry roster shows that an Isaac E Crosby age 18, was a member of the 83rd Co A. Issac entered the service on August 13th, 1862 and died on December 1st, 1862 at a hospital in Memphis TN. It then states Issac T Cosby as the name in the hospital. Aside from some typos on the middle initial and last name, this all seemed to fit.

I did some more checking on the 83rds movements to make sure things matched up.
Camp Dennison, six miles East of the grave
The 83rd was made up of seven companies and organized at Camp Dennison near Cincinnati OH August - September 1862. The 83rd left Camp Dennison September 3rd for the Defense of Cincinnati. After relocating to support other units and participating in minor skirmishes the 83rd was moved via the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers from Louisville KY to Memphis TN on November 23, 1862. Since Issac died December 1st, this fits in well with his whereabouts at the time of his death in Memphis. I have to assume at this point that the "82nd" in the newer plaque is a mistake since none of the 82nd history matched up with Issac.

So here we have this kid who volunteers for the Union cause, doesn't really take on any action, likely acquired some awful disease like dysentery or typhoid while being transported on the river journey and then died 110 days after joining up. His fate was not the exception either. The reality is 2/3rds of casualties in the Civil War were due to disease instead of glorious movie-like battle. In fact, during the 83rds service, 56 men died in battle while 163 men died of disease or accidents. A reminder of the grim reality of war in those older times.

Sycamore Township Memorial Cemetery
83rd Regiment Ohio Infantry History

Tuesday, November 11, 2014

Price Thompson - First veteran of America's first war

Price Thompson 1756-1842
I tend to make note of Revolutionary War veterans graves when I am out and about. It's amazing what hardships they faced, before, during and after the war.
I was in Carpenters Run Cemetery looking for some of my pioneer Denman ancestors when I spotted Price Thompson's gravestone with an old flag and new plaque attached to it. Not only did I later uncover some interesting history, it turns out I am likely related to Price Thompson since he married a distant Denman relative of mine named Molly Denman.
Born in New Jersey on March 20th, 1756, Price Thompson was 20 when he saw his first Revolutionary War action at the Battle of White Plains, October 1776, a British victory. Over the next six years, he fought in several important battles.
Price enlisted for the duration of the war on December 18, 1776, with the 4th New Jersey Regiment. A week later, the day after Christmas, he fought at the Battle of Trenton against the Hessians, a force of Germans hired by the British. This was the first major American victory of the war. Most people recall this battle from history class because of the famous Washington Crossing the Delaware event that preceded the battle.
Private Thompson was also at the Battle of Brandywine September 1777. This was an American loss that forced a retreat resulting in the British capture of Philadelphia that lasted until 1778.
Price then spent the harsh winter of 1777-1778 at Valley Forge where 2,500 of the 10,000 Americans camped there died of starvation, disease, and exposure.
In June 1777, the 4th New Jersey Regiment took part in the Battle of Monmouth, an American-British draw.
By March 1779, Price transferred to the 1st New Jersey Regiment commanded by Colonel Matthias Ogden.
Americans tend to think of warfare from this period as relatively honorable European style affairs where opposing forces square off neatly and engage in battle. That was generally true, but messy lesser known activities such as Sullivan's Expedition took place. Thompson's new regiment participated in this retaliatory campaign over the Summer of 1779. It was a scorched earth style of war against the Loyalists and British allied Iroquois that destroyed over 40 Indian villages and their food supplies. This led to a terrible winter with a death toll numbering in the thousands from exposure and starvation.
Thompson survived all of this. He eventually made it all the way to the Siege of Yorktown and the surrender of Lord Cornwallis in 1781, which would end the war. That hard life doesn't end here.

Molly ThomPson 1763-1823
Notice the typo in the last same.
He was discharged from the army in 1783 as a corporal.
Thompson then married his first wife Mary (Molly) Denman in 1783 and had thirteen children.
As a reward for his service, he received Bounty Land Warrant #8788 for 100 acres on July 31st, 1789 from the Symmes Purchase in what would become Sycamore Township OH. This was just two weeks after the newly acquired Northwest Territory was formed by Governor Arthur St. Clair. In those days this part of Ohio was a violent and dangerous place due to ongoing hostilities with the British allied American Indians who still lived there. They didn't call it the Miami Bloodbath for nothing. Cincinnati/Losantiville was a brand new settlement, Ohio was not yet a state and the Treaty of Greenville was still six years away.
I never did discover Price's occupation but I found that sometime prior to 1824 he donated this acre of land to be used for a cemetery. In 1828 at age 72 he applied for his pension. He stated he served as a Drummer and a Corporal in the 1st NJ Line under Captain Holmes. US Pension Laws provided that every indigent person who had served to the war's close, or for nine months or longer, would receive a pension. Whatever his occupation was, he was unable to work at this point since the pension was essentially disability pay. Thompson being an enlisted man received $8 per month which equates to $200 in 2014 money. I thought it was worth pointing out that per the VA website, the amount of basic benefit paid in 2014 ranges from $127 to over $3,100 per month. Thompson would have received this meager pay with no other benefits in those days, until his death on March 1, 1842, at the age of 85. He served through nearly the entire Revolutionary War, into the 19th century, watched the US double from 13 to 26 states and lived through the first 10 US Presidencies!
There are thousands of "Price Thompson's" in old cemeteries across the US whose story is buried along with them. Remember their sacrifices and their stories, especially on Veterans Day.

other sources:
Battles of the American War of Independence - interesting site from the British perspective
Price Thompson at FindAGrave
Pension and land warrant information on Price Thompson
General info on Revolutionary War Pensions

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 Harmar's 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 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 back into the coffin for easy disposal. McGraw's 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 gravestones.
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 alongside wild zoo animals for people to gape at? I believe I saw this in 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 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 gunfights, mock Indian attacks and all the other sorts of things you would expect to see. They even 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 let's 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 traveling 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 somewhat 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 the 13th Amendment abolishing slavery in one of the last holdouts in the Western Hemisphere. It was a great leap forward for human 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 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 dashed that notion when they started a war which cost the lives of 750,000 people. The Ku Klux Klan and other white supremacist groups also dashed that notion when they used this flag to terrorize and murder African-Americans in post-Antebellum America.  The states of Mississippi and Georgia yet again dashed that notion when it was used as a protest against school integration in the 1950s. The Confederate flag flew over the Alabama 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 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 some Southerners are still mad about losing.

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 in town 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 a 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 Ripley. 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 pat, 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!
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 its 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 agrees 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

Saturday, March 1, 2014

It's Ohio Statehood Day! Now about that flag...

weirdo Ohio flag
I have to be honest. I used to hate the Ohio flag because it tried to be different than the other flags. Now I love it for its uniqueness.

The pennant shaped Ohio flag is called a burgee, also known as a guidon. Ohio is the only US state to have a silly flag like this. Because of its odd shape, there is also a specific procedure for folding the Ohio flag and since 2002 even has its own pledge:
“I salute the flag of the state of Ohio and pledge to the Buckeye State respect and loyalty”
Never in my life have I heard anyone recite that.

Now, on with the obligatory symbolism explanation...
15 star US flag
Sorry Ohio, you have to wait 15 years for a star

The 5 stripes for the 5 states that came from the NW Territory as well as the roads and waterways.

The 17 stars are for the fact that Ohio was the 17th state. It is interesting to note that while Ohio was the 17th state in 1803, there was never a 17 star US flag. Or 18 and 19. Or 16 for that matter. The 15 star US flag (the one that inspired the Star Spangled Banner) was used from 1795-1818 until the 20-star flag was created. What a ripoff!
at the McKinley Library in Canton OH

The blue field represents Ohio's hills and valleys. Um, sure!

The O seems obvious to most sane people, however, when Barack Obama ran for President and was doing a photo op in front of the Ohio flag, an ignorant radio host was outraged and alarmed that Obama had his own flag.
The white circle with red in the center is for the "O" in Ohio and symbolizes the "Buckeye", Ohio's nickname. It's not an Obama flag. It's not a Puerto Rican flag either.

I wondered what flag designs were used before the "official" one but it turns out from 1803 - 1902 there was no official Ohio flag. I thought this was strange at first but it turns out that most States adopted their first official flags in the period between 1890 and 1925. Why? The same reason Ohio did it, to promote their State at various Expositions that occurred in those days. It was for PR to encourage new business which turned into jobs and taxes.
You see, the Ohio flag was created by John Eisenmann, a Cleveland architect, to fly over the Ohio Building at the 1901 Pan-American Exposition in Buffalo NY where it was flown for the first time. Ironically at this very event is where Ohio born US President William McKinley was assassinated on September 6th 1901.
The Ohio General Assembly officially adopted it as the state flag of Ohio on May 9th, 1902, known statewide as "Ohio Flag Day". No, not really, I highly doubt anyone observes this except people that have read this far.

For more about Ohio Statehood Day and how it's really not, read this excellent blog post.

ORC 5.224 Ohio Statehood Day.
The first day of March is designated as "Ohio statehood day," in recognition of the date in 1803 when Ohio became a state. In addition to those duties imposed on the Ohio historical society under section 149.30 of the Revised Code, and those duties imposed on the superintendent of public instruction under section 3301.12 of the Revised Code, the society shall, throughout the state, and the superintendent shall, in all school districts, encourage and promote the celebration of "Ohio statehood day."
Effective Date: 05-31-1988

Monday, February 17, 2014

Breaking Buckeye

Billy's Tomb in North bend OH
I've written a few posts about our Ohio Presidents including another general one for President's Day. Having a 50% mortality rate of the eight Ohio Presidents along with the poor showing of the survivors is not a great legacy but an interesting one at least. They were also all Republicans with one Whig. Draw your own conclusions there. Just kidding. Republicans in those days barely resembled the modern GOP and both the Republican and Democratic parties have produced fine Presidents. That is the closest I will get to modern political commentary on Gehio.

#9 William Henry Harrison died of pneumonia (and his treatment no doubt) 32 days into his 1st term. I have written about Billy (his friends really called him that) a few times on Gehio. OK, he is an adopted Buckeye (like me!). He was born in the colony of Virginia but spent nearly his entire adult life in the Ohio Valley when there was no opportunity for him in the failing Virginian planter class economy. He had an impressive political and military resume (Governor of the Indiana Territory and General in the Northwest Indian Wars and War of 1812) and decided to get back into politics late in life. At age 67 when he ran in 1840, they said he was too old and sickly to be President. They were right.

Now here comes the triple threat Civil War General, Ohio President domination from 1869-1881...

Grant's ironic sign near his birthplace
in Point Pleasant OH
#18 U.S. Grant was the only Ohio president to be elected to 2 (scandal-ridden) terms and sought a 3rd later (Garfield became the nominee in 1880 instead). The end of his life wasn't as grand as his deserved war hero status from the Civil War. Good warriors do not always make good Presidents.

#19 Rutherford B. Hayes chose not to run for a 2nd (a campaign pledge). It's a good thing I guess. Hayes actually lost the popular vote and there was a backroom deal to decide disputed electoral votes similar to Gore v. Bush in 2000. His presidential legacy will always be known for that rather than anything else he did.

Garfield preaching it
in Cincinnati OH
#20 James Garfield finished out the Ohio Presidential hat-trick but was shot by an angry office seeker named Charles J. Guiteau and died 6 months into his 1st term from infections caused by his poor medical treatment. This was standard at the time. In my opinion, he could have been a truly great President but who knows? Maybe he would be led down the path of power and corruption like many others. Read more about James' fascinating life in Destiny of the Republic by Candace Millard. It should be noted that this could have been Grant's 3rd term and he may have been killed by Guiteau himself. Grant did die in 1885 when he would have been finishing that 3rd term. So no matter what, I think #20 was doomed.

After that hot mess, we go in twos from 1889-1923...

#23 Benjamin Harrison, William's grandson lost re-election for his 2nd term. Another Civil War General. He was sandwiched in between the two Cleveland wins. I guess people felt they made a big mistake with Ben. The Harrison's just couldn't catch a break in the state they helped create.

#25 William McKinley was shot by an anarchist named Leon Czolgosz 6 months into in his 2nd term. he was a Major in the Civil War. Believe it or not, it wasn't until McKinley was President that Ohio got a state flag (1902) and the first place it was flown was where he was shot and killed. Coincidence?
McKinley's not so modest tomb
in Canton OH

#27 William Howard Taft of Cincinnati lost his re-election thanks in part to Teddy Roosevelt's 3rd party run that siphoned off votes. The first Ohio president to have no military service. He was appointed a Supreme Court Justice later so he did pretty well for himself compared to the other Ohio guys. I am obligated to point out that he was very fat.

#29 Warren G. Harding ran and won against another Ohioan, a Democrat named James Cox. I believe that was the first Ohio vs. Ohio match-up. Then he died of congestive heart failure 2 years into his 1st term. Harding also had no military service.  My Great Grandfather sent a telegram of congratulations on his win in 1920. They were both from Marion OH. There are lots of weird things about Harding's Presidency and death.

Eight Buckeye's to a plate
Then that’s it. The end of the Ohio Presidents.
Americans gave up on Ohio after that. Too risky. Other Ohioans such as Dennis Kucinich have sought their party nomination and there has been talk of Senator Rob Portman or current Governor Kasich having a go but there has never been another major party nominee from the Buckeye State since 1920.  Ohio still plays a key role in modern presidential politics and her electoral votes are much coveted as no Republican has ever been elected President without winning Ohio. If I were a politician from Ohio thinking about a Presidential run, I would take a deep breath consider the legacy thus far.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

shameless plug for the Best of Cincinnati 2014

I mean, why not?

After filling in your name and such, choose the Public Eye link and write in "Gehio -" for the Blog award and click Save after making your other choices. Thanks!

Monday, January 13, 2014

Get to Know A River Part 1: The Mill Creek

There are four main rivers in and around Southwest Ohio that provided the main reason for the rapid growth and settlement of the region. This was the old highway system used by Native Americans, early explorers and settlers long before canals, railroads or paved highways. The Great Miami and Little Miami flank Cincinnati respectively to the West and East while the Mill Creek basically runs down the middle. These are all tributaries of the Ohio River. That's over 1200 miles of waterways in total which is the equivalent of going from Cincinnati OH to Denver CO.
In the 18th century, the land between the two Miamis was a dangerous area for settlers and known as the Miami Bloodbath due to constant Indian skirmishes and battles. Dotted along the banks of all these rivers from 1788 to 1795, over 40 stations and forts were built as protected settlements for Americans rushing in to claim land after the victory in the American Revolution.

Now let's get to know a river...or a large creek in this case.

a non-urban portion of The Mill Creek
The Mill Creek runs North to South for 29 miles from Butler County OH to the Ohio River just West of downtown Cincinnati.
Now technically it's not named a "river" but there really is no official distinction between rivers and creeks. A loose definition is that a creek is a minor tributary of a river. Basically, it got called a creek by John Cleves Symmes and the name stuck. More on that in a bit.

The average depth of this waterway is only about 3' in most places and averages about 60' wide in the Cincinnati area making it 1/4 the size of the Little Miami, in length, width and depth. Flood stage is at 12'. Much of the urban portion of the Mill Creek has fortified concrete banks and is what most folks see as they speed down I-75 aka The Mill Creek Expressway. Yes, sadly it looks like a big cement ditch in those places which happens to also be a graffiti canvas for vandals.

Mill Creek Barrier Dam Pumping Station 
The 1937 Flood left thousands homeless in Cincinnati because of water from the Ohio River backing up into the Mill Creek. The Mill Creek Barrier Dam Pumping Station project was completed in 1948 as a result of the '37 flood. When the Ohio River is flooding, the gates of the Mill Creek Barrier Dam Pumping Station and Dam close preventing the Ohio River from backing up into the populated Mill Creek valley aka Cincinnati. The water in the Mill Creek is then pumped back into the Ohio. Despite this safety measure there was still flooding in '59 that left 50,000 homeless.

Before settlers came, the Shawnee called the Mill Creek "Maketeewah" which meant “it is black” because of the dark rich soil that made up the bed of the creek that at the time was rich in wildlife.
city life for the Mill Creek
The name "Mill Creek" was coined in the 18th century by John Cleves Symmes as a marketing move to attract land buyers and millers to the area at a time when it was very dangerous to live in the area. Symmes needed to sell land so the river needed a name that wasn't so ethnic as well. Folks didn't want to think they were going to be killed by Indians. It did indeed attract much industry and growth but this once lush body of water was quickly transformed into an open sewer from all of the waste being continually emptied into it and eventually became known as "the most endangered urban river in North America".
Today, the Mill Creek, after 100 years of neglect has seen a revitalization due to efforts by several organizations such as the Mill Creek Watershed Council. People even canoe on the Mill Creek! As far as the name goes I'd like to see the boring Mill Creek name revert to the more poetic Makateewah, but you know me...

Approximate course of the Mill Creek

View Mill Creek in a larger map

For more about the Mill Creek history and it's ecology I highly recommend the book The Mill Creek: An Unnatural History of an Urban Stream