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Van Tassel Family History Homepage

"A Pedigree Partly Indian, Partly Batavian"

Historical Collections of Ohio: An Encyclopedia of the State: History Both General and Local

By Henry Howe
Published 1891, Henry Howe & Son

The Old Maumee Mission.—The Presbyterian Mission was established on the south bank of the Maumee, ten miles above Fort Meigs and eight below the head of the Rapids, in the year 1821 or 1822, about the time that my father and his two brothers moved to their lands at the head of the Rapids of the Maumee.

At the time of its establishment there was no settlement on the south side of the river above what is now the village of Waterville, and my father and his two brothers with the aid of the mission people cut the first wagon track, from opposite Waterville to the head of the Grand Rapids, winding up and over deep gullies, and across several considerable streams, such as the Tone-tog-a-nee (named from the great chief of the name, whose village was at its mouth), Kettle creek and Beaver creek, which had to be crossed by fording in order to reach their destination.

There were several  large villages in this vicinity.  Tone-tog-a-nee (at the mouth of the creek). Na-wash village on the Indian island immediately opposite the mission, and on the opposite side of the river Awp-a-to-wa-jo-win, or Kin-jo-a-no’s Town, on the Indian reservation (opposite my father’s at the head of the Rapids), San-wa-co-sack, on the Auglaize above Fort Defiance, and a large village at the mouth of the river and along the bay, with numerous smaller towns of less
note located on the banks of all the streams in the country.

Rev. Isaac Van Tassel was the principal of the mission; Mr. Sackett and Rev. Mr. Coe, assistants, with their wives and several maiden ladies as teachers, and together with a few mechanics and laborers forming the community of white people that established and carried forward the enterprise successfully for many years; in fact sustained it in its work of Christianizing and civilizing the Indians until the tribes were by degrees moved to their far-off homes in the West and Northwest, on the Missouri, the Kansas and the Osage rivers and on the bays and rivers of the Straits of Mackinack.

Mission Schools—I had a long acquaintance with these good missionary people and have no words but kindness for them.  While they may have accomplished but little in Christianizing the Indians, they did the best they could for them and with the best intentions.  Their work was one of great difficulty: white men and half breeds sold whiskey to the Indians, used all efforts against their patronizing the institution, and hired the Indians to keep their children from school.  It is easy for any one to appreciate the difficulty of establishing a school among these wild, fierce people—boys and girls who had never been restrained, or their freedom abridged in the least.  To gather together one or two hundred boys and girls of all ages, from six or seven to twenty years, was no easy task; to ask them to come in out of the free woods, to close their Indian sports of fishing and hunting and paddling in their canoes, of riding on horseback, running races and other pastimes, was of course requiring great effort on the part of these young savages, and after a few days’ experience in the school-room, with all its attendant restraints, it cannot be wondered that many of them took the trail back to their villages, having had enough of civilization.

I appreciate the situation, as I had the same experience and have not forgotten it to this day.

After the Indians became acquainted with the mission people, and knew that they were true friends, their children were sent to the school and most of the time they had from eighty to one hundred and fifty in attendance.

The society bought a large and valuable tract of land, including an island of about three hundred acres, upon which they opened a farm, built a large mission house, and a commodious school-room; where the teachers held forth to us for six long hours every day except Sunday, when we had two good long old-fashioned Presbyterian sermons.

I have said we, and I do so for the reason that I had (what I then thought) a sad experience at the old mission.  When I was between seven and eight years old my father placed me in the care of the Rev. Van Tassel, at the mission school.  I was taken like the Indian boys from the woods, away from my sports and associates at the Indian village opposite my father’s, where I had spent most of my time, as free as the Indian boys and like them, as wild as a partridge or wild turkey.
We spent the time at the village in summer, shooting bow and arrows, fishing or swimming in the river, and in many other plays and sports peculiar to young Indian boys, and you can imagine that it was almost death to shut us away from all these pastimes; and shut up to in a school-room (where the presiding genius was a sanctimonious old maid of the hard-shell, stiff-backed Yankee Presbyterian persuasion), where long prayers were said morning and evening, and not a smile or whisper allowed.

Many of the Indian boys brought to the school after a few days experience left between two days, and forever after kept at such a distance that they could never be caught or tempted back.  I would have gladly followed their example and hid in the Indian villages, among which I had many friends, but Indians were too honest and would not have kept me hid from my father and mother.

Every effort was made by these earnest missionaries, and always with the kindest manner, to induce these wild and untutored people to believe in the Bible and its teachings, but with limited success; they took education readily, but religion sparingly and doubtingly. Although the great end originally anticipated was not gained the mission did a good work; it educated many hundreds of the youths of these tribes, of whom many in after years in their new homes west of the Mississippi became good farmers and mechanics and some of them are still living in Kansas and Indian Territory.

Sports of Indian Children—We enjoyed our Saturday half-holiday.  In the winter season, when the river was frozen over, we skated on ice, both boys and girls, and when there was snow we enjoyed ourselves sliding down the long hill on the bank of the river.

The sled was made of a strip of white elm bark about one foot wide and six or seven feet long, with a bark rope or string fastened to the forward end, in order to raise it above the uneven surface and guide it down the steep and slippery path.  This was place smooth side down, giving us the rough outside bark for a foothold.  We would start this Indian shute  at the top of the hill with as many boys and girls as could stand upright on the bark and a leader on the front holding the string to guide it down the slippery track.  With lightening speed it would fairly fly down the hill and far out on the ice of the river if successfully guided; if not, you might be able to see a load of boys and girls piled up in the snow, or scattered along the hill.  It took a brave boy with a steady hand to ride this Indian sled down those steep hills, for after the snow was packed and the path beaten it became as slippery as glass.

Another Indian game was to take two pieces of freshly peeled bark, a foot wide and three or four feet long, place the two insides together and then place them on the ground.  Now the game was to run and jump on the bark, the feet striking the rough bark of the upper piece, and unless well practiced in the art, the upper bark would fly from under the moment the feet struck it.  I have seen many a novice in the art fly off when his feet struck the bark as if he had taken his departure for some other planet.  It took long and careful practice to be able to strike the slippery bark and not go down.  This exercise created a great deal of amusement in our summer sports.

Nut Gathering—But the great enjoyable seasons were the maple sugar making in the spring, and gathering hickory nuts in the fall of the year.  The latter always commenced in the Indian summer days in the fall, usually in November.  After the frosts had loosened the nuts, they were showered down by every wind, and the ground would be white with them, all free from the shell, lying ready to be gathered by the Indian children or the coon and bears, that were very fond of these rich thin shelled nuts.  These animals grew very fat on them, as there was always an abundance, it being a great hickory country.

The abundance of the “shellbark” hickory in the woods at that day (a very few of which still remain) was a source of profit as well as pleasure.  Many thousands of bushels were annually gathered by the Indians, purchased by the traders and shipped to eastern markets.

Rev. Isaac Van Tassel, the head of the mission, was one of the kindest and purest of men, always just and generous.  His wife, the daughter of Rev. Badger (one of the earliest missionaries of the West), was equally well fitted by her universal kindness of heart and manner to aid her husband in this noble work.  Elder Coe was one of the active workers and became a great friend of the Indians; they in return gave him their full confidence and from his exceeding kindness called him the “Tender Heart.”  Mr. Thomas Mackelrath, one of the teachers, was always kind to us; Miss Riggs, one of the “old maid” teachers was as kind to us as any mother could be, too good and noble a woman to remain an “old maid,” which I believe she did.

Mr. Van Tassel removed to a farm near Bowling Green, where he died about 1850.  Mrs. Van Tassel survived her husband many years, dying in Maumee City a few years ago, the last survivor of the mission teachers.  The kind-hearted old man, “Uncle Coe,” as my father called him, died many years before Mr. Van Tassel.  When the mission broke up, in 1835 or 1836, many of those still living returned to their homes in the East.

Dayton Riley.—Prominent in my memory of the characters of that time was Dayton Riley, a brother of the well-known William Riley, who was taken in Algiers and was a slave of the Arabs for a number of years.  This man Dayton Riley wandered into this wilderness country about the time of the founding of the mission, and being a carpenter and handy at all work, was employed and made his home at the mission until it broke up.  He followed the life of a trapper and hunter, and after a hard and weary season of trapping would find his way back to the mission to rest and recruit his failing strength during his declining years.  He became somewhat dissipated, as most of his occupation do sooner or later, but lived to quite an advanced age.

Waseon and Ottokee were noble red men.  Finer or ore perfect specimens of the human physique, or of natural mental ability, are seldom found anywhere.  Ottokee, the older of the two brothers (or half brothers, as they really were), was a man six feet high, weighing about two hundred pounds, and when speaking on the floor of the Council Lodge was as dignified and as noble in demeanor as a Clay or Webster, and had as much force and eloquence as their limited language would permit.

Wa-se-on (which signifies far off) was not so fleshy, but had a heavy frame and was quite as large a man as his older brother Ottokee, yet not so great an orator, but a very intelligent man and a good speaker.

There were tow other brothers of this family named No-tin-no (or the calm) and Wa-sa-on-quet.  The latter was at one time the head chief of the Ottawas of the Maumee valley, but through dissipation and debauchery, consequent upon his intercourse with the white traders, he was “broken” of his office and reduced to a private member of the tribe.  He was one of the most eloquent speakers I ever heard.  He died from the effects of whiskey soon after being removed west of the Mississippi.

No-tin-no, the oldest of the four brothers was living the last I knew of him.  He was a good speaker, but not as eloquent as either of his brothers.  These men were the son of the noted Ottawa chief, O-to-sah, if I remember correctly, by different mothers. No two of them, I think, were full brothers, polygamy being a legalized institution among all the Indian tribes with which I have been personally acquainted.

Aw-pa-to-wa-jo-win, or “half way,” was about half way from the mouth of the river to Fort Defiance, and also half way from Detroit to Fort Wayne, the then two principle trading points of the country.  The presiding chief of this village was an old man whose active life had long since passed but who was always received in the councils of the tribe with great respect.  His name was Kin-jo-a-no.  This chief had but one son, very intelligent young man, whose name was Muc-cut-a-mong. He was killed, however, while yet a young man, by the hand of his own cousin (Pe-way) at one of the corn dances held by this tribe.

There were many other noted chiefs of these tribes inhabiting at this time the valleys of the Maumee, Auglaize, St. Marie and St. Joseph.  Among them were Charlow, Shaw-wun-no, Pe-ton-i-quet, Nac-i-che-wa, Oc-que-nox-ie, the latter chief having his village on the Auglaize.  This man was a natural-born savage, and really the only Indian I was ever much afraid of when a boy, for he was ugly either drunk or sober, and always manifested a desire or disposition to take somebody’s scalp.  He had great influence with the tribe, especially in their councils of war.  All the other chiefs and head men that I came in contact with, without a single exception (when not crazed and maddened by whiskey, or “fire-water), were kind-hearted, generous and always honorable.

The very last speech made by an Indian in the country in council was made by Ottokee at a treaty or council with the United States governments agents, for the purpose of their removal West.  Many did not come into the council and consent to be removed, but remained in the deep forests of the Maumee and Auglaize valleys for a few years, wandering from place to place and camping wherever they found a white man who was kind enough to allow them to do so.

Ottokee and Waseon were among the last to remove from this county, having gone west in the spring of 1838.  These chiefs lived but a few years in their new homes and died comparatively young, Waseon being not over forty-five years old.

The lands which were assigned to these Indians, and to which they were removed, lie upon the Osage river in Kansas, about sixty miles south of Kansas City and not far from the flourishing village of Ottawa.

The old block-house is gone!  It took fire from the chimney on Monday, May 20, 1879, and was burned down.  One by one the relics of a past generation pass away, and this was almost the last one of any note in northwestern Ohio.

The land was purchased of the United States government, and the post established in the year 1831 or ’32.  It was put up as an Indian trading house, used as a magazine, or in the French trader’s parlance a store and fort, for the safety of the trader and the protection of his furs and goods.  They were usually built of hewn logs of great size, as this one was, and when completed with heavy split puncheons for the roof, made a building that was a perfect protection against the assault of any ordinary band of drunken Indians or their more vicious associates, renegade white men and half-breed Indians, who were often ugly from a too free use of the white man’s Schoo-ta-ne-be or fire-water, which was always furnished them by the less sensitive or unscrupulous trader.

Indian Trading House—In the spring of 1832 my father engaged two white men, whose names I have forgotten, to build an “Indian Trading House,” as such buildings were called at that day on the frontier.  The house was located near the site of the village of the chief Winameg, furnished a stock of Indian goods early in the winter, and a regular Indian trading establishment opened.

A young man by the name of Wilkinson, nephew of old Capt. Dave Wilkinson, the veteran of the Lakes, was put in charge, as the French frontiersman would say, the Boorzwa of the concern, my father judging that I was a little too wild to be at the head, and might shut up the block-house, mount my pony and ride away to some Indian village where a big dance was going on, and say, as my old friend Frank Holister said on such occasions, that it was a poor store that couldn’t tend itself sometimes.

Indian Goods—The stock of Indian goods mainly consisted of red and green blankets, with the pure white marked with broad black stripes across the end, and always of British manufacture, Turkey red calicoes and Merrimac blue, with a few light patterns, blue and green English broadcloths, large cotton handkerchiefs and shawls (used almost entirely for the head as turbans), guns, tomahawks, butcher-knives, powder, lead shot and lead balls, brass trinkets, rings, beads, wampum, small bells to ornament the sides of leggings, silver brooches, rings for the nose and ears, with Turkish vermilion to paint the face.  Fine saddles and highly ornamented bridles, trimmed with silver-plated bits, tinsel and colored leathers, were great articles of trade.

The Fur Trade—Manny of the roving traders sold whiskey to the Indians; but as a rule the principal traders did not sell it to them, for it destroyed the ability of the Indians to make much of a hunt, and of course was not in the interest of the trader whose aim was the procuring of furs and skins, which mainly constituted the trade.

Bear, wolf, otter, mink, muskrat, raccoon, fisher, the red cross and sliver-gray fox were the principal furs taken, the beaver having nearly all disappeared.  The last beaver caught in the county was taken on the Little St. Joseph, near the present village of Pioneer; in 1837, by a Pottawatomie chief named Me-te-ah, for which I paid in goods twenty dollars, it being a very large one, and the last that had been taken for many years.

The prices of these furs at that time were $3 to $4 for bear, the same for otter, 40 cents for rat, 30 cents for mink, 50 cents for fox, $2 for fisher, coon 25 cents, deer-skinds 75 cents to $1.25, wolf 25 cents, silver-gray fox from $25 to $75.  In exchange for these we sold blankets (according to size) from $ 2 to $6, Turkey calicoes 75 cents to $1 per yard, blue 50 cents to 75 cents, and all other goods at about the same rates.  Lead was 50 cents and powder $1 per pound.

We had a very good trade for a year or two at the post, and then the general government began to agitate the removal of the Indians.  The business of the old house was changed to a country tavern, and was patronized solely by the white man.  The dusky from of the Indian was seen no more about the spring and the camping ground, and his familiar whoop and drunken song were no more heard passing the old post, for he had taken up his line of march toward the setting sun.

The Old Council Elm—This noble old tree, a monarch of the forest, has a history connected with the incidents of the Maumee.  The tree was a white elm, standing in a beautiful spot on the north bank of the river measuring four or five feet in diameter, and [missing word] to the first limb.  It was crowned with an immense top that covered with its [missing word] a number of square rods of beautiful [missing words].  The spot where it stood being a point very near and overlooking the “Grand Rapids” (the grandest of the entire succession of rapids from Fort Meigs), and [word missing] sound of its never ceasing murmur, it selected long ago by the Indians as a rite council ground, and consequently the tree became known in the early days by the traders and settlers as the “Council Elm”.

It was destroyed by a severe storm in July, 1879.  While the canal basin and dam were being constructed at Grand Rapids, young Jackson, at that time a very young man, was the Assistant Engineer of the Public Works of Ohio, in charge of this part of the public work.  He was somewhat acquainted with the tradition and more recent history and was a great admirer of the noble old tree, and loved to sit under its cooling shade and enjoy the cool breeze during his leisure hours.  On one occasion one of the workmen kindled a fire on the roots of the old tree; the young engineer, highly incensed, first put out the fire, and then calling up the man who had built it, gave him to understand that any future aggressions upon the old elm would cause the perpetrator such chastisement as he would not readily forget. 
This Jackson was well able and ready to give, for he had without doubt some of the “Old Hero’s” blood in his veins, as I have often heard him express himself in strong language, using “By the Eternal” with the variations, and woe to him who fell under his displeasure, for cause.

The once large and populous village of Kin-jo-a-no, or Ap-a-to-wa-jo-win, was situated at the foot of the Grand Rapids, nearly a mile below the old elm, and as the tree was isolated from the noise and turmoil of an Indian village, it was frequently selected as the council-ground for many important gatherings of the chiefs and head men of the Ottawas and Pottawatomies.

The great council which impressed me most was the last council of any importance ever held under its spreading branches.

Bad White Men.—It was some time after the lands had been ceded to the general government, the Indians still retaining possession of the lands.

After the treaties had been made the valley renegade white hunters and trappers, whiskey-sellers, and bee-hunters (for the hollow trees were filled with wild honey) destroyed the Indians’ traps, often stole their horses, and run them far out of the reach of their owners.

I was then a mere boy, but all my sympathies were with the much abused Indians, and I was rather in hopes that some dark night these intruders and renegades would be wiped out.  But the better and wiser counsels of Wa-se-on, Ottokee, Pe-ton-i-quet, Nac-i-che-wa and other noted chiefs prevailed, and the Indians bore their wrongs with a grace and patience unparalleled among civilized people.

Uncle Peter Menard, my father, and Col. George Knaggs, being great friends of the Indians, were importuned to intercede for them with the government agent, that these abuses might be stopped and redress made for losses already inflicted.

The Indian Council—Col. Jackson, the kind-hearted agent, was ready to co-operate with his friends in giving the redress asked for, promised that the matter should be laid before the authorities at Washington, and called a council to be held under the big elm.

Some days previous to the day set for the council the Indians began to arrive; by the morning of the council-day the chiefs and head men were nearly all present in the village, and at ten o’clock the assembled braves were ready for the grand smoke and talk with the white chief, O-ke-maw-wa-bush-ke.  It was a warm day, and all enjoyed the shade of the old tree.  Seated upon a log sat the dignified Col. Jackson, and on his left Uncle Peter Menard and my father.  The Indians composing the council sat on the ground in a semicircle in front of the white men, and the younger warriors and hunters not admitted to the charmed circle sat in groups under the shade of the old elm, silent but interested spectators.  Although a boy, I had been chosen by Col. Jackson to act as interpreter.

Speech of Ottokee—At a signal from the agent that the council was convened the head chief, Ottokee, lit the pipe of kinnekanick; it was passed from mouth to mouth, the white men participating in the ceremony, and it was not until several pipesful of the fragrant weed had been exhausted that the council was ready to proceed with the “big talk.”  Col. Jackson then said that “his ears were open, and he would listen to the words of the chiefs.”  After a few minutes of perfect silence Ottokee rose to his feet—a noble specimen of a native orator—and, with the dignity of a prince, his arms folded across his breast, he commenced the delivery of the great speech of the occasion.  He portrayed in glowing colors the situation of his people, the faith they had kept with their white brothers and with their great father, the President of the United States; that they believed his words when he said he would protect them in their rights while remaining in their old homes from the intrusions of white men until he should be ready to move them to their new homes west of the great river (Mississippi), but he was so far away that he could not see or hear his red children when they called to him in their distress.  They had called many times to have him drive away the bad white men, but he did not hear them.

The Great Father is good, but the white men fill his ears, and he cannot hear the red men call.  My white brother sitting before me is the half-brother of the Great Chief at the Big House, and he has heard us and now listens to what we say.  The bad white men have killed our deer, trapped our otter and mink, have stolen our horses and abused our women, have camped on our land and call it their own, and when we tell them to go they hold up their rifles and say they will shoot.  What must we do?  We have waited many, many moons, very long, for our Great Father to drive these bad men from our land, but he has not done it, and if we drive them he will be angry with us.  He has women, he has children; will he let bad men abuse them?  No!  he will not!!  Our Great Father is a great chief; he is brave; will he protect his red children?  I have spoken,” he concluded; “my brother will speak.”

Col. Jackson answered this speech by saying that his heart was good and his ears were open, and he would let the President hear all the words of the great chief, Ottokee.  “Let the other chiefs speak,” he said.  “I will listen.”

Speech of Nack-i-che-wah.—One after another the chiefs rose in their places and spoke much in the same spirit as Ottokee, some more vehement than others, some with moderation; all, with one exception, counseling peace.  Nack-i-che-wah, the most active of the chiefs, and the greatest orator of his tribe, or his nation, or in fact of the neighboring tribes, was more bold and outspoken.  He said they had listened to the sweet words of the Great Father and believed them, but they were like the singing bird:  sweet while you listened, but it flew away; it did not come back, and you heard its voice no more, and did not answer when you called it to come back.  Our Great Father had sent his chief to tell us his words of honey; our ears were open, we heard what he said, and we believed them, but our Father has forgotten his words, and his red children are sorrowful.  Shall we, too, forget that we signed the paper, ton-ga-nun-me-gwan, and draw the tomahawk and drive these dogs of pale-faces from our hunting-grounds?

We have called to the Great Father many times and he does not hear us.  Are his ears closed to the complaints of his red children?  I have done.
So earnest the manner of speaking and so deep the interest that all felt on this momentous occasion, no one had taken notice of time, and it was late in the afternoon when the last speaker took his seat amid the monotonous guttural sounds of acquiescence in the arguments presented by the chiefs in their defence of the rights of their usually quiet people.

Col. Jackson, the agent, then arose to his feet and in a very dignified manner spoke to the Indians.  He said the President, the Great Father, had a big heart and he loved his red children, that his ears were open and he heard the complaints of his people, but the pale faces were as many as leaves upon the trees, and he must listen to all, and he could not answer all at the same time.  He had many, many more red children to listen to, who must be heard, his ears were open and all should be heard in their time.

“My white brother,” he said, referring to my father, who was acting secretary for the council, “has taken the words of the Great Chiefs and put them on the paper; they will be sent to the Great Father and he will answer his red children.  He will pay them for the losses of their horses and their traps and the killing of their game.  I will call the chiefs together when his word comes back and tell them what he says.  Have my brothers anything more to say?”

A murmuring sound of satisfaction.  “Waho.” Went through the council, and Ottokee answered that his people were satisfied with their brother’s words and that they were done.  Col. Jackson took his seat, the tomahawk pipe of kinnekanick was again lighted and passed around, and after all, both white men and Indians, had participated the council broke up and the Indians repaired to the adjoining village where they partook of a bountiful feast of beef, pork, and corn prepared for them by the order of the agent, a custom always adopted by the government, when holding treaties or councils with the Indians.

The council broke up with perfect understanding and good feeling among all the Indians present, with a perfect reliance that government would remunerate them for the losses they had sustained and drive the intruders from their lands, and for once the government kept its word with the Indians.




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