Excerpts from The Defiance Democrat Newspaper
Defiance Democrat - March 1, 1917
INDIANS WERE GOOD PATRONS YEARS AGO
by U. G. FIGLEY
Robert SHIRLEY, Sr., his wife, Rachel, and six children, moved from near Chillicothe, O., to Ft. Defiance, in 1822. The children were James, Elias, Robert, Mary (who afterward married Thomas B. AUSTIN), Nancy, Ruth (who married Rev. James B. AUSTIN, a prominent Methodist pastor formany years), and John Gilbert. The oldest son, Nathan, will be spoken of hereafter.
The trip occupied three weeks. The first place they saw Indians was at Wapakoneta. They were Shawnee, partly civilized. At what had been Ft. Amanda, a man named Russell lived. One family lived in Ft. Jennings, and were the only white people till Ft. Defiance was reached.
A man had to go ahead with an ax to clear the trail of brush and fallen timber, and find proper places to ford the streams tributary to the Auglaize. At. Ft. Jennings, James and Robert, (the latter 13 years old), took the cattle and the hogs on to Ft. Defiance, Robert remaining and James returning to help with the remaining 15 miles. After helping across the Auglaize, he, with his gun, ammunition, flints, punk, blankets and compass, started on foot for Ft. Finley, where after journeying safely through the wilderness, he bought a pirogue, loaded it with provisions and poled it down Blanchard’s fork to the Auglaize and thence safely to Defiance. The provisions had been raised at Ft. Finley, the year before with the intention of settling there, but James’ trip to Defiance, before returning to Chillicothe, decided them to move to Defiance.
Early Day Scenes.
In the meantime, after James left the party, they came to Occonoxee’s village, on the Auglaize, 13 miles above Defiance, where Charloe afterwards was located. The Indians called the horses ‘pashekoxee.’ They were having their feast at the close of the sugar-making season. They roasted a bear with is hind feet on the ground and the forepaws supported by upright poles. Elias and Mary went into the Indian village to ‘see things.’ The cornfields were on the opposite side of the river from where Robert, Jr. afterward located.
They went one whole day then without fire, supper or breakfast because all the bread had been given to the Indian children and the flints had been given to James, except what had been packed in one of the wagons, an oversight, both ways. At noon, after a 30 hours fast, the wagon with the flints was unloaded until the box containing them was reached. A fire was quickly built and the first cooking by Mary was given to the mother, on account of the little 10 month old John Gilbert. With the aid of a friendly Indian, they found a good camp for the night and the next forenoon, reached the old fort ground, where Robert was waiting them, and they moved into one of the block houses of old Ft. Winchester, the other being occupied by Mr. Preston.
Bank Was Steep.
The fort was standing in good preservation, except the barracks on the bank of the Auglaize. The bank was very steep and gave a fine view. The block-houses, the four large gates with sentinel boxes over them, were good, and the pickets or palisades in good order, and strong enough to protect even then. The blockhouse in the northeast corner had a good cellar that had been used for a magazine during the war. This is the block-house referred to in another article as being moved into in 1816 by Montgomery EVANS.
From the cellar, an underground way of tunnel led to the river by which soldiers could get water without being seen by a possible enemy. In the block-house at the end of the barracks, facing
the southeast, were several iron-bound chests containing written documents concerning the war, left by the officers.
In this block-house was a hand mill, with buhr mill stones, that ground good meal if the corn was hard and ripe. There was also a large grater like a horseradish grater, on which corn just out of the ‘milk’ stage could be grated to make mush or griddle-cakes. This fort was about 200 yards up the Auglaize from Wayne’s old fort, and some of the remains of which yet stood.
Some Early Settlers.
Four French families lived along the Maumee, above the point, two American families lived a mile up the Auglaize, named DRIVER, one a silver-smith, the other a shoemaker. Six miles below Defiance on the Maumee at Camp Number Three lived John PERKINS, Montgomery EVANS, and John HIVELY. Two of these families had looms and wove flax and tow linen-linsey. There were no sheep to get wool till Jas. SHIRLEY brought three sheep from Urbana in 1824.
A trading post was just outside the fort, kept by a Frenchman, and another was on the north side kept by a Mr. RICE. Calico was only 50 cents per yard. Indians bought it and made it into very long shirts reaching below the knees; the more loud the color, the better it pleased them. I have seen Indians thus attired, wearing broadcloth breeches under their shirts.
At that time there were no white people between Defiance and Ft. Wayne. Travelers planned to go with the mail carriers from Piqua to Ft. Meigs (afterward Maumee City). There was a great deal of travel from Detroit to Ft. Wayne, Green Pay and Ft. Dearborn (Chicago), all of which passed through Defiance.
Indians Traded Here.
The Ottawa Indians traded mostly at Defiance – skins of otter, beaver, bear, raccoon, fox, mink, muskrats, wild cat, deer, also beeswax from wild honey, ginseng and various berries were articles of commerce.
The squaws made beautiful mats in different colors. Because James Shirley made a pole covering over the grave of a son of a Miami chief who died and was buried at Defiance, the chief, Occonoxee, solemnly, with Indian rites, adopted him as his son.
James and Elias, and several other whites, not long after this, joined the Indians to run down a half-breed who had shot his squaw in the back. While this was going on, there was great excitement; the Indians moved camp entire to near the Shirley house and took rails from the fence to make a fire, hooked a pig to eat, and otherwise behaved badly that night, making the air shudder with their yells and screeches. The half-breed was not captured.
Chief Lost Control.
Occonoxee seems to have had little control over his Indians, being something of a hard drinker himself, and in a drunken frolic, got into a quarrel when his son-in-law and treacherously killed him, and his own little grandson as he sat on his mother’s knee. The Indians held a three days council and decided he must die, and the news was brought to Defiance that he was to be beheaded the next day.
Messrs. Wm. PRESTON, Thomas WARREN, Samuel KEPLER, and a few others, went down the Auglaize to see the execution. The Indians made room for them in the circle around the council fire, the condemned chief and his wife sitting within the circle. Three chiefs came from a separate tent and by majestic ceremonies, divested him of his office and set aside the death verdict. But it did not make much difference in his behavior. Finally, these Indians were removed to the reservation west of the Mississippi.
For several years, the Shirley family lived in a double log cabin built farther up the Auglaize, and entertained travelers that chanced along – they and the Prestons. There were no churches, ministers, schools, doctors, roads, carriages or mills. Mail was received from Piqua or Ft.
Meigs, the carrier getting their letters at those places and paying the postage, and collecting when delivered.”
(For more of the story, continue reading in the next Defiance Democrat.)