Countless stories of the native Americans of forgotten Bluffton
From a 1928 Bluffton News, history of the community – While Michael Neuenschwander, the first Swiss settler to this community, constructed a temporary hut as his family dwelling, a party of Indians came through and stopped. Neuenschwander gave them some salt and the next day their returned with gifts of venison and turkey. The peaceful relations thus began were never broken as long as the Indians remained in the Ohio territory.
Bluffton News story from the 1890s – Bluffton’s oldest inhabitant, Joseph Mumma, remembers many things of the community in the 1840s when he was a youth.
He tells of the time when friendly Indians would take him on a pony to their camp, a quarter of a mile away. These Indians were probably part of the Sandusky or Shawnee tribe that later emigrated west to the Mississippi, when these lands became more thickly settled.
Not all story have happy endings
The European immigrants and indigenous peoples' relationship was not always a happy one, like the stories above.
The plight of native Americans, in many ways ethnic cleansing, expelled from our part of the state in the 1830s, is one of our most tragic stories.
The two stories above are second- or third-hand almost fairy-tale accounts. One wonders if they actually occurred.
The only first-hand accounts from the Bluffton News of Europeans and native Americans tell a different story. These accounts mostly tell of settlers encountering graves. The stories raise questions including: • What did the early European settlers do with the remains discovered in their fields?
• Did these early settlers give any thought to the people they replaced?
• Would we, today, respond any differently than our ancestors’ responses?
This column’s focus shares several first-hand Bluffton News and area newspaper accounts of the discovery of native American remains and artifacts. In addition, it shares a contemporary discovery of remains.
From the Oct. 7, 1880, Bluffton News
A number of Indian bones were found on the farm of Peter Schumacher, Sr., west of Bluffton, on Riley Creek. The bones were found buried in a gravel bank buried about five feet underground.
From the Oct. 10, 1907 Bluffton News
Some interesting discoveries of Indian skeletons have been recently made in the Reuben Thut gravel quarry of which we hope to tell the News readers more later on.
A second encounter
Robert Kreider recalled a later Reuben Thut native American recollection. Thut, then an elderly man, said that “long ago” he met a Shawnee Indian who had walked from Oklahoma to see this land where he once camped.
That story, more personal and introspective, occurred near today’s swinging bridge over the Big Riley on the Bluffton University Nature preserve. It was the property that Thut owned at the time.
Kreider said that Thut told the story to Kreider’s school classmate, Gordon Alderfer.
From an 1880s Ada Record One day last week J. H. Quist, plowed up on a knoll on Roland Matthew’s farm, near Huntersville, a lot of Indian relics consisting of a dozen arrow points of different sizes and shapes; also a skinning stone, a mulet (sic) tube, some petrified and fossilized small bones, shells, etc. all were found within a few rods of each other.
From the Nov. 12, 1896, Bluffton News
A man chopping wood near Kenton recently split open a large block in which he found imbedded a stone arrow, supposed to have been shot into the tree by an Indian many years ago.
College farm mound
Corrine and Dick Boehr lived on what was called the Bluffton College Farm from 1953 to 1964. Today the house and barn are still there and the farm is part of the Bluffton University Nature Center on Augsburger Road, on the west side of Bluffton.
Up to that time, farms in Richland Township and across most of Ohio had drainage systems that were tilled directly into streams. The college farm was drained directly into Riley Creek. State and county health departments began requiring all farms to install septic systems.
The Bluffton College board of trustees followed suit by agreeing that the college farm needed updating. This action took place sometime in 1957.
Byron Steiner of Pandora, who had a backhoe, was hired to install the septic system on the farm. He began digging near the kitchen window of the house, which was on the east side of the building.
Boehr tells the story this way – I came home for lunch and discovered that he had stopped digging. There in the bottom portion of the hole he had created were parts of a skeleton, including two skulls. Byron had uncovered a gravesite, but at the time we had no idea of its age.
Eventually we discovered additional bones. This discovered was about four feet below the surface in an area ranging from 12 by 12 inches to about 18 by 20 inches.
We notified Bluffton College officials and took a box of remains to the college. From there, college officials contact officials in Columbus, probably from the Ohio State Historical Society.
The remains went to Columbus. From several local sources we learned that the skeletal remains were not those of native Americans who lived in Ohio when the Northwest Territories were opened in the early 1800s to settlers. Rather, these remains were believed to be early River Indians, which dates back 1,000 years.
These people placed their dead on raised stands and the bones were buried later. The original depth of the graves on the College Farm site was probably one foot. When the excavation for the septic tank took place there was a noticeable coloration of dirt on the top three feet above the bones. It is likely that this newer dirt was place there when the farm house basement was dug.
In other words, the European settlers dug a basement for a house and whether realizing a mound was next to the house, the soil from the basement dig was dumped unceremoniously
on the mound. Today we are not aware of the location of these skeletal remains.
Note: After inquiring with the Ohio Historical Society in Columbus, it was learned that the location of these remains is not known.
From the 1880 “The History of Hardin County”
The most remarkable of all mounds in the State was one in Hardin County, in which were found about three hundred skeletons. A doubt has, however, been expressed that these were all Mound Builders skeletons.