Not so boring after all

In my foolish youth I believed I lived in a historical wasteland. All the good history happened in the East, South or West. The American Revolution was fought mostly in the original 13 colonies. Massachusetts has Lexington and Concord, New York has Saratoga, Philadelphia and Williamsburg saw the founding of independence, and North Carolina has Kings Mountain.
The Civil War was fought mostly in the South and in Pennsylvania, I thought. You can’t go anywhere in Virginia without tripping over a Civil War marker or reenactor, and Pennsylvania boasts the granddaddy of Civil War battles, Gettysburg, where Robert E. Lee made one of his few errors in judgment that perhaps cost the South the war.
Cowboys and explorers crossed the Great Plains and the Rockies, and the western states are always bragging about Lewis and Clark, towering mountains, gold strikes and train robbers.
Nothing happened here. What a boring state. Or so I thought.
My attitude about Ohio began to change in 1977, on a trip out west. Visiting the Badlands, the Black Hills and the Grand Canyon, crossing the Missouri and trails trod by Lewis and Clark and cowboys and Indians, I fell in love with Ohio’s frontier history. Occupying the long drives across flat landscapes reading Allan Eckert’s “The Frontiersmen,” I learned about Simon Kenton and the opening by whites of the northern Kentucky and southern Ohio frontiers and the violent conflict between whites and Indians, graphically and in great detail portrayed with no allowance for squeamishness. Kenton was a hero to me. He was a superb woodsman and outstanding athlete, besting the Shawnee at their own skills and running several gauntlets, a ceremony where the captive runs between two long lines of Indians wielding sticks, switches and clubs toward the council house. After three or four runs that would break a normal man, he broke for the woods and outdistanced his pursuers, being recaptured only because he encountered a small band of Shawnees returning to the town.
I began reading all of Eckert’s books on the eastern frontier, and I learned that the land across the Appalachians was the wild frontier 250 years ago, a land fraught with danger and drama equal to any found in the Wild West. For some reason, though, the trans-Mississippi West got all the publicity in recent times.
Next I began studying Ohio’s canal history, and I found that sites along the Ohio and Erie Canal and the Sandy and Beaver Canal lay within short drives of home. While not as dramatic, canal history appealed to my love of rivers, and I learned that many Irishmen built the canals and that many cities, including Massillon and Canal Fulton, owed their prosperity to the Ohio and Erie. Roscoe Village at Coshocton is a restored canal town and, along with Canal Fulton, Piqua Historical Area, and Toledo Metro Parks, offers a canal boat ride. I spent many hours playing music on the St. Helena II and III in Canal Fulton, and I got married on the Monticello III in Roscoe Village.
My mother grew up in Winona, a few miles from the site where John Hunt Morgan and his Confederate raiders were captured. The raiders created panic across Ohio as they rode northeast from Cincinnati in one of the South’s northernmost incursions during the Civil War. As a child, she knew an old man who when he was young saw Morgan during the raid.
Most recently I’ve become aware of our rich Underground Railroad history. Alliance has the Haines House, where escaped slaves were hidden in an attic; Spring Hill Home in Massillon harbored fugitive slaves; and Salem, home of the Western Anti-Slavery Society and its publication “Anti-Slavery Bugle,” offers a tour of several sites that sent escapees on their way to freedom. My Whitacre ancestors were Quakers and lived in New Garden, near Guilford Lake, which is marked on Wilbur Siebert’s UGRR map, and I like to think that they were secret conductors on the railroad. Helping slaves escape in the dead of night with bounty hunters and hounds at your heels is the stuff of high drama, the work of people dedicated to a great cause. You can’t get much more historical than that.

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