Beyond the Arrowheads
by Jessica Carney and Seth Swihart
Entering the basement of Glen Spray brings a visitor back in time by thousands of years. Lining the walls are dozens of boxes, each containing arrowheads, spear points, or knives; American Indian relics from long ago. One entire wall of points are Mr. Spray's personal finds. The overwhelming majority of these, "ninety-nine percent," says Mr. Spray, were found right here in Knox County. The exact function served by these points is unknown. Not all were arrowheads. Mr. Spray cautions: "There is a misconception among a lot of people that these were all points to be shot at something. They weren't necessarily. Smaller ones could be, but a lot of them were thrown as a projectile. Or they were just lashed onto a stick and used as a knife." If damage occurred to these points, they were reworked by their owners. The edges of the flint would be re-chipped to restore the points to their original working order. The points become smaller and more fragile in the process, making an intact point a rare find. The collection also includes a great number of other relics; hammers, pestle, and stones carved to sharpen flint or sticks, all of which show the high level of technological sophistication of early Native Americans.
Such an extensive collection was not gathered overnight. Glen Spray began collecting in earnest when his family moved to Ohio from West Virginia in 1940. As he says, "I found out they were laying all over the fields here, so I started hunting them." He has not stopped since. While working the land on his farm, Glen Spray keeps a keen eye on the ground. The weather can be a help, as Mr. Spray describes: "After it rains it washes them off a bit and then you can walk out. It is easier to find them that way." Other boxes contain purchases or gifts from family, friends, and neighbors; many of these originated in the area as well.
Evidence of early Native American culture can be found almost everywhere in Knox County. Others, besides Mr. Spray, collect Native American relics. George Schmidt*, who grew up in Fredericktown, states, "I don't think there's a fellow around here, or a boy, if they grew up in the area, that doesn't have an arrowhead collection of some kind. They're quite extensive." Another long-time resident of Mount Vernon, when asked about Native Americans in the area, describes finding arrowheads and seeing "a stone down by the river where they might have ground corn meal." Long before the first European settlers came to Knox County, Native Americans from the Delaware, Wyandot, and Shawnee tribes occupied the land. Even predating these were the Mound-Builders, who left their mark in the flint and stone they lost or discarded, and in the large mounds visible throughout the county. Braddock's Mound on Montgomery Road in Fredericktown, stands as one testimony to the work of Mound-Builders 1,200 to 2,000 years ago.
But what of contemporary Native Americans? According to United States census data, sixty-seven individuals living in Knox County in 1990 identified themselves as Native American, for a total of less than one percent of the county's population. Besides these sixty-seven listed in census records, there are many others in the county who have Native American heritage somewhere in their family tree. Harold Bower, a forester with the Ohio Department of Natural Resources, is someone who has this heritage removed by a few generations. "My people, originally on my father's side, came to Holmes County. My mother's people are from Pennsylvania, near where there was a war chief, the last war chief. My mother told me that we were descended from the Seneca Indians, who had lived among the corn planter's people."
Though Harold's heritage traces back a few generations, he feels strongly connected to his Seneca background. For others, like George and Anne Schmidt* of Fredericktown, the ties to Native American heritage do not pull as tightly. Both George and Anne have Native American ancestors, removed by three or four generations. Overall, George and Anne feel more connected to their White ancestry. The Native American part of their history is rarely discussed. "It was just something there, and it wasn't close up. Not that close that everyone would be aware of it, necessarily, just overlooked." While George's family has passed down stories of the Native American women, Anne knows only that she has a Wyandot ancestor. "I wish I knew more about it. Who my ancestor was, which area of the family it came from, you know."
In the absence of direct contact with a visible Native American population, Knox County residents do not have much knowledge about modern American Indian culture. Harold Bower sees this as a result of the distance from this area to a reservation. "Basically, Indians in this area would be a curiosity. There is no reservation here, there is no resident population of people who are obviously American Indians. So the people here do not grow up with them. They tend to keep to themselves." Most of the information which Knox County residents have about Native Americans comes from the relics they find in the fields, or stories passed down from early settlers. As a result, Native Americans within Knox County may find themselves the objects of interest or ridicule, depending on the circumstances.
Due to intermarriage with Whites, the Native American population of Knox County has become quite small. The large number of intermarriages contributes to the low number of individuals who identify themselves as being Native American. People who are not fully acquainted with their Native American heritage, like the Schmidts, often seem to be uncomfortable claiming it. When the heritage traces back a few generations, people may feel that they "don't have enough hard information" to talk about it. Even when the heritage is closer or more apparent, people may not feel they are Native American "enough" to make it part of their identity. As Harold Bower puts it: "See, I still don't check American Indian and White. I just check White when I am censussed. I should do either one or the other, but I am not pure American Indian, I am not pure White, although I pass for White."
Passing is often seen as the best way for a Native American to live in a predominantly White community. Old do not die easily. The 1881 history of Knox County, compiled by N.N. Hill, Jr., describes the Native Americans in the area as "usually friendly," but when intoxicated on whiskey "troublesome customers." Other stories in the Hill history detail "skirmishes" with the Native Americans, mentioning Native Americans in the same tone as wolves and bears. Conflicts over land use made the settlers and the Native Americans enemies from their first encounter. Few settlers took the time to get to know the culture of the Native Americans during the skirmishes, but assumed the worst of the stories were true.
To a large extent, these long established ideas prevail about what it means to be Native American. At times, this makes "Native American" an undesirable label to have. Harold Bower found himself the center of some unexpected attention when his daughter mentioned the family heritage to an acquaintance. "And this woman just started in on me, with all the invectives about the American Indians: how they're lazy, they're dirty, they're drunken, they're thieving, they're lying, all those things."
Many ill feelings about Native Americans center upon the reservations on which many live. Though there are not any reservations in Knox County, Harold has talked to people who believe that Native Americans do not deserve to be given any lands by the United States government. The woman who "started in" on him was adamant about this. "‘Well,' I said when she finally slowed down a little bit, ‘the government didn't give them any lands. A reservation is land that the people reserved, they held back for themselves when they agreed to give up their land claims to the other land, to the treaty.' I said, ‘You didn't give them that land. It's theirs, it was theirs in the beginning.' Well, I thought she was actually going to hit me." Another Knox County resident said to him that he should just stay away from "those people", that they don't deserve anybody to help them.
As soon as pioneer settlers from the eastern United States moved in, they began moving the Native Americans out. Anne Schmidt says that the early settlers "wanted those valleys, that rich, fertile ground." The Fort McIntosh Treaty of 1785 ceded the majority of Knox County to the United States government. "I think the treaties were just a way to get what [the Native Americans] had. And it was a good way to get them to stop killing you or stop stealing your livestock until you gained enough firepower or money or whatever it took to get rid of them. Then you shipped them to the world's worst areas." The American Indians living in the area, from the Delaware, Wyandot, and Shawnee tribes, were not forcibly moved out, but were not given legal land holdings, either. This began the official dealings of Knox County with Native Americans. Over time, after more treaties and compromises, the Native American population dispersed, with few staying permanently in the area.
Wherever the ill feelings originate, they still adversely affect how Native Americans behave within a community. Some Native Americans are so affected by these stereotypes that they do not take interest in their heritage. Many will not get involved in powwow celebrations, like those held last spring at Kenyon College or annually in Loudonville. Harold Bower often tries to encourage people to express themselves in this way since the "powwow is a good gathering, when you have good thoughts and good things happen and you visit with your friends and your relatives." Yet, despite his efforts, he still finds that "some of them are embarrassed about their Indianess; they are just sensitive about it." Where a person's Native American background is recognized in Knox County, it is rarely celebrated.
The Schmidts have some insight as to why Native American heritage might be a sore spot for some people and their families. They believe it is a result of the emphasis that was placed on marriage within the community in the early 1800s. At this point in time, there were still settlements of Native Americans in the area, though marriage between the Native Americans and the settlers was almost unheard of in social circles. According to George Schmidt, intermarriage "wasn't a very proud thing to do at the time. It was an interracial mixing and they were not looked favorably upon. They were more rogues than anything." It was even frowned upon, for example, for a person of German descent to marry a person of English heritage, let alone for someone to marry out of their race. "You have to remember, you were either all Irish or all German or all English, and you stayed that way."
Most churches at this time refused to recognize marriages between Whites and Native Americans. This further decreased the likelihood of Whites and Native Americans pairing, due to the importance of religion in the lives of the people. Marriages which were not recognized as genuine under an established religion would not be accepted by the social circles of the time. As George describes: "If you weren't married in a church, you weren't married. If you had children, they were bastards. And who wants to be a part of that?" When these matches did occur, typically between a Native American woman and a man of European descent, much was done to downplay the ethnicity of the Native American. They were even given "white" names so that their Native American background would not be revealed and associated to the family. Native American wives of these interracial couples were usually not even recognized by name on their gravestones. George has seen examples of these stones throughout the county. "If someone married an Indian, they're always a ‘consort.' What's really interesting is they never have the Indian name, they always have ‘Mary' or ‘Jane, Consort of' buried with the individual. It was easier to explain, to set aside." The community could understand a "consorting" relationship with a Native American, but not a marriage.
Today, feelings of embarrassment and sensitivity about the stereotypes cause many Native Americans to downplay their heritage and to avoid coming together. There is no formal organization or group in Knox County that brings together Native Americans. There are American Indian centers established in Columbus, Cleveland, and Akron, but the distance to these locations prevents Knox County residents from being able to participate in center activities on a regular basis. Even if the interest is there, the time it takes to reach the centers makes it difficult for individuals with Native American heritage to meet others like themselves.
At the same time, there are few cultural ties which bind Native Americans from Knox County together. One of the reasons for the lack of a community, according to Harold Bower, is that no one speaks the language of their people anymore. Language can do a great deal to connect people of similar origins. Harold believes that, "language as a cultural event is no longer practiced." He encourages people to "learn as much of the language as possible, make tape recordings and to study the language, and teach it to the young people, because that is what maintains culture."
There are Native Americans within Knox County today, though they may seem difficult
to find, elusive as the bits of flint arrowheads which poke out from Knox County soil. Without a community to provide
an example of what it means to be Native American, Knox County has not had the chance to discover the full experience
of Native American culture. In the Knox County Historical Society, there is a glass case which contains Native
American artifacts; arrowheads, stones, and dolls. It is likely that little information about the place of these
items within their original culture is known. In fact, this statement could be applied to the place of Native American
people within Knox County. It is strange that so little is known about the oldest residents of this locale. Though
few Native Americans remain, there are stories to be told. Harold Bower would like to find the people with these
stories. "I thought about getting together a group, just putting an advertisement in the newspaper. Basically,
just have a sit down meal, corn soup, fry bread or something. Potluck, just have everybody come together and see
what came up."
* Names have been changed at the request of the subject
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