EDITOR’S NOTE: This is the first part in a two-part series on Native American Heritage Month and the history of Native Americans in this area.
MIAMI COUNTY — November is Native American Heritage Month, and the history of Native Americans residing in Miami County goes back to before the first recorded histories in this area.
Andy Hite, site manager of the Johnston Farm and Indian Agency, explained that this area’s ties to indigenous people began approximately 13,000 years ago. “There’s evidence of occupation from that time on,” he said.
Hite said that evidence revealed several different pre-historic era cultures, like Paleo-Indians, residing in the area at different points in history.
“Those are all names our ancestors gave them, because as far as we know, they had no written language,” he said, adding that Paleo-Indians were mostly big game hunters.
“As climates changed in Ohio, as things warmed up, that gave way to another culture that archaeologists refer to as Archaic,” Hite said. “They became hunters and gatherers because they were living in an Ohio pretty much like we see today. Same climate, same plants and animals.” According to Hite, they also began caring for their dead a little more than other cultures had in the past.
“About 3,000 years ago, a new culture emerged that we call Adena,” Hite said. He said that those in that culture became the first traders with other groups and that they also began gardening and farming. “This is when mound-building started in Ohio. We’ve got a lot of evidence of Adena culture in this area. Here on the farm, we’ve got an Adena mound and earth work, so we know that they were here.”
Hite said that Adena culture gave way to the Hopewell culture, but they don’t have a lot of evidence of Hopewell Native Americans of living in this area. He said that the Hopewell culture was flourishing in Ohio at about the time of the first Christmas.
“Something at the end of Hopewell happened, and we sort of went into a … sort of cultural dark age for a while,” Hite said, noting that period of time is referred to as Late Woodland and that they don’t have a lot of names for cultures during that time.
“That’s at about the time that we see our ancestors starting to come into North America,” he said. “We start to get the switch from pre-historic culture to historic.” Hite added that the difference between pre-historic and historic cultures is that historic includes written histories.
“The difference is us because we start writing down the history. We bring written history to Ohio,” Hite said, explaining that, in Ohio, written history began sometime around 1654, as that was when French traders began coming into Ohio, bringing Jesuit priests who started writing down their history.
One of this area’s more well-known connections to Native American history is the former Pickawillany village, which was located near Loramie Creek and the Great Miami River.
“Where people think about the Native American history here, they tend to think about it in relationship with the Pickawillany village,” Hite said. He added that some of the first recorded history about the Pickawillany village happened in 1747, which was around when there was a movement of the Miami tribe into this area.
“A group of Miami came down from northeastern Indiana and began a relationship with English traders for the first time, and we start to see an influx of English traders coming into here,” Hite said. He said that the English traders and their products drew a lot of the Great Lakes people into this area.
During this time in 1747, this area was still considered French territory. Hite said the French were claiming everything down to the Ohio river. In the global picture, the British and the French were vying for more world control at this point and the Pickawillany village played into that as a gateway to the northwest territory and trade with the native population.
A French official, Celeron de Bienville, went to Pickawillany in the fall of 1749 to advocate for stronger French ties. When that failed, the French raided the town in 1751 and then attacked Pickawillany with their allies of Ottawa Indians in June 1752, according to the Ohio History Connection.
The attack was led by Charles Michel de Langlade, a Great Lakes fur trader and war chief.
“He was half French and half Ottawa Indian,” Hite said.
Hite noted that it looked like a family feud between Ottawa and Miami Native Americans.
The Miami tribal leader of Pickawillany was Memeskia, known as “Old Briton” by the British and as “La Demoiselle” by the French, who was killed during the attack in June 1752.
“He (Langlade) was successful in expelling the few traders that were here. There weren’t a lot here that day when they attacked,” Hite said. “I think he had been watching this place because most of the men were gone. They were out on a hunting trip.” Hite said that they had some evidence that this village was approximately 400 families and growing at that time, making it approximately 1,200 to 1,600 people.
“That was a big village,” he said.
Hite said that the attack was successful. It not only expelled the British traders, but the members of the Miami tribe who were living there went back to the Great Lakes area. Hite added that a couple of the traders were hidden and protected by the Native Americans.
Hite also added that Native Americans from the Miami tribe were not the only Native Americans to have come to this area and left their mark here.
“We talk about this being Miami County, we talk about Piqua, we talk about Pickawillany, and we look at the Miami heritage, but both of those two names — Pickawillany and Piqua — don’t exist in the Miami vocabulary,” he said. “They’re not Miami terms. They’re Shawnee.
“So when Memeskia brought his people to this place and you look at some of the writings, there’s very little contemporary primary source stuff about that… they talk about Memeskia coming to Pickawillany. So this is a place that I think had existed at least until the very tail end of the pre-historic era,” Hite said.
Hite said what determined the history of the Pickawillany village went back to that point was that field schools from Hocking Hills excavated the site and found evidence of those pre-historic cultures, such as different tools.
“This was a place that people had occupied for a long time,” he said.
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