Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Local Indian Drowns, Hit By Pontiac

Emily and the Fernbank Indian
In the area known as Sayler Park along the Ohio River west of Cincinnati at the intersection of Gracely & Thornton Avenues is the City of Cincinnati’s smallest park, Thornton Triangle. So they have that going on for them.
In addition to that bit of tiny trivia, in this same park stands the J. Fitzhugh Thornton Memorial. The statue, locally called "Tecumseh" is also known as the Sayler Park Indian, the Fernbank Indian and its catalog name, Indian Chief No. 53. Just like the saga of the American Indian, this effigy has an unusual history which evokes a paradox of civic pride in Sayler Park's modern residents.

Dedicated 100 years ago on January 15, 1912, the memorial was given by Eliza Thornton in memory of her husband John Fitzhugh Thornton who died in 1907. Thornton was an early and prominent resident of the Village of Fernbank, which became part of Sayler Park when the area was incorporated into the city in 1912. I'm not sure why an Indian image was selected by Eliza to memorialize her dead husband. Maybe he just liked Indian history like me. Please make a note of that.

civic pride
The figure was originally cast as Indian Chief No.53 by the J. L. Mott Foundry after a design by Samuel Anderson Robb and was zinc with a cast iron base. It is not on the National Register, however, it is a Cincinnati Historic Landmark.

In the Flood of 1937, the statue was partially submerged and damaged. In 1940 it was hit by a car and then sold as scrap to an antique dealer for $10 before the community raised funds to repair it and bring it back. It was again hit and damaged by a car in 1965 and repaired. Full disclosure, I am not sure if either of these cars were Pontiac's but it made an amusing title for the post. The Fernbank Indian was extensively repaired yet again in 2002 and re-cast in bronze. The "new" statue was re-erected in late 2002 and re-dedicated in 2003. Technically this statue is a bronze reproduction of the cast iron/zinc1912 original.

Indian Chief No. 53
As long as I am on the subject of full disclosure, one thing for certain is that the statue in no way resembles the very non-Woodland Shawnee Chief Tecumseh who lived from 1768-1813 CE and owned a gun. The Late Woodland Indian period ended years prior to Tecumseh and goes back to the pre-Columbian times in 500 BCE. This likeness seems to resemble how Native American Indians may have dressed in this area during the 17th century French LaSalle explorations of Ohio, however, the facial features look very European to me. Ah well, at least they didn't perpetuate the image of a 19th century Plains Indian, you know, the ones you usually see in movies with the big war bonnet fighting cowboys that say "how". Those guys never set foot East of the Mississippi despite what movies, sports logos and bad drawings in history books might lead you to believe. I am in no way disparaging this fine statue. I am just being a stickler for details. It is, in fact, a very dignified representation of an American Woodland Indian from the Ohio Valley.

Short Woods Mound
Also noteworthy and very historically significant are the two nearby and well preserved Adena period mounds.
The Short Woods Mound, now on the edge of the local golf course measures 38 feet high by 150 feet wide. It has been excavated and radiocarbon dated to 800 BCE.
Another mound from that era known as the Story Mound is on the property of Sayler Park Elementary. Both mounds were listed on the National Register of Historic Places in the mid 1970's.

I wish I had better pictures of the statue. The sun was not cooperating during my visit in the Summer of 2011 and some of the pictures were lost due to a corrupt memory card. More full disclosure...a geocache brought me here!


  1. Is the big Indian mound where the church of Christ is now located? (Parkland and Cherokee)

    1. Yes it was at that corner. UC did a exploration in the 1960

  2. Short Woods mound is on the golf course but can be seen from the road that runs next to it. Here is a link to Google maps for the exact location