Milepost 76.9 – Eastbound Between Exits 71 and 81
County: Sandusky How it got its name
Of the many tribes of Indians that once roamed the forests of Ohio, the Wyandots were the last to take reluctant leave of the beautiful and fertile country lying south of Lake Erie. For decades the Wyandots fought the white man fiercely in the area in which Wyandot Service Plaza is now located. Later they became good friends, but eventually they suffered the usual fate of the eastern tribes and were moved to reservations in the western plains.
The early French explorer, Jacques Cartier, first encountered the Wyandots living in Quebec in 1534. Although the Wyandots were of Iroquoian stock, it was the Iroquois confederation known as the “Six Nations” which periodically harassed them and drove them eventually from their Canadian homeland to a new haven south of the Great Lakes.
The tribe, however, found respite for a period in the Province of Ontario where a later French explorer, Samuel de Champlain, found some 10,000 of them living in 20 villages between Georgian Bay and Lake Simcoe.
At this time the Wyandots were a well-organized tribe. Oddly, all the mothers in the tribe elected the chiefs. They had legislative and judicial councils that were kept entirely separate from their military organization. Respect was practiced for the property, dignity and liberty of each other but not necessarily of other Indian tribes. Their religion embraced the worship of material objects, yet they received the Catholic missionaries with kindliness and Jesuit priests converted many of them to Christianity.
Subjected to continuing raids by the Iroquois, the Wyandots were forced to flee the Ontario area around 1650, after many of their tribe and the priests had been massacred and the settlements and missions destroyed. Part of the tribe went back to Quebec, but the rest migrated to Michigan. This latter group drifted from place to place, being driven from the Mississippi River region by the Sioux. They finally made their homes, in about 1750, south of Lake Erie in the Sandusky River valley. Later they fanned out south of the lake and established settlements in other parts of the Ohio country.
In the war between England and France (the French and Indian War of 1756-1763) Chief Nicholas of the Wyandots aroused the enmity of the tribe’s traditional friends the French by permitting the British to build a fort at the present site of Port Clinton (in present Ottawa County just north of the Wyandot Service Plaza.) After the war, the Wyandots were persuaded by Pontiac, chief of the Ottawas, to join with other tribes in raids on the remaining British outposts. In time all the British settlements west of the Alleghenies were overcome except Detroit and Fort Pitt. In the Revolutionary War, however, the Wyandots sided with the British.
The migration of the victorious Americans to the west after the Revolution put the Wyandots on the warpath once again. Chief Tarhe, called “The Crane,” joined other Indian leaders in attempts to stave off the white man’s invasion. Even during peaceful interludes, treachery and deceit were practiced by both sides, resulting in further revenge and bloodshed. Among the victims of this warfare was Colonel William Crawford, who after an unsuccessful attack in 1782 on a Wyandot settlement at Upper Sandusky was captured and at the instigation of the infamous white turncoat, Simon Girty, was burned in a slow fashion at the stake.
There was constant shifting both in location and in alliances of the Indian tribes of Ohio during the period of the conflict with the white man. At that time the Wyandots were located in north central Ohio, an area which they shared with their friends the Ottawas. The two tribes often lived together in the same villages. Most of the Maumee valley in western Ohio was occupied by a stronger tribe, the Miamis. In the Scioto Valley of central Ohio lived the fierce Shawnees and in eastern and southeastern Ohio the gentle Delawares.
Among the Delawares and farther north along the Ohio River lived an Iroquoian tribe, the Mingoes. A larger tribe of Mingoes, sometimes called the Senecas, occupied the shores of Lake Erie in northeastern Ohio. Still another Iroquois tribe, the Tuscarawas, lived in east central Ohio. Just west of them dwelled the fanatically brave Eries and a few Chippewas.
Ohio history is filled with the colorful names of many great Indian leaders. Pontiac of the Ottawas, an unrelenting enemy of the whites, was the great strategist of the chiefs in the 1760s. Among the famous chiefs of the Shawnees were Blue Jacket, Cornstalk and Tecumseh, the latter one of the bravest and most powerful of all the Indian leaders. Little Turtle was chief of the Miamis and, like Tarhe of the Wyandots, kept his word when he signed the Treaty of Greene Ville which ended the Indian wars in Ohio. Logan, chief of the Mingoes, was the greatest of Indian orators.
War was not the only occupation of the Ohio Indians. They raised corn and hunted and fished for food, and trapped animals for fur. They roamed over great distances, and many of the trails they followed provided the original routes for our modern highways.
After the defeat of the Indian confederation at Fallen Timbers, near present-day Maumee, Ohio, Chief Tarhe of the Wyandots realized that the power of the tribes had been broken and persuaded the other chiefs to cease their forays on white settlements until a formal peace had been made. Tarhe was first to sign the Treaty of Greene Ville and thereafter remained a steadfast friend of the Americans. When he died in 1818, he was mourned by whites and Indians alike, but there was no record of the location of his burial place.
In the years following the Treaty of Greene Ville, most of the Wyandots lived in Upper Sandusky, where the first Methodist mission for Indians was established by John Stewart. Born in Virginia to free parentage, Stewart was a Baptist of mixed European and African descent. In 1842, the remaining Wyandots were moved to Kansas and in 1867 to northeastern Oklahoma, were a few, mostly of mixed blood, remain.
The Ohio Turnpike runs through the heart of the Wyandot country. North of the Sandusky-Norwalk Interchange is Sandusky, first Ohio home of the tribe. South of the Maumee-Toledo Interchange is Fallen Timbers, where the Wyandots fought their last battle, and Upper Sandusky, their last Ohio home.