Hopewell mica carving
"All the way is fine, rich, level land, well timbered with large walnut, ash, sugar trees, cherry trees, etc.; it is well watered with a great number of little streams or rivulets, full of beautiful natural meadows covered with wild rye, bluegrass and clover, and abounds with turkey, deer, elk, and most sorts of game, particularly buffaloes, thirty or forty of which are frequently seen feeding in one meadow: In short, it wants nothing but cultivation to make it a most delightful country.."
From the journal of Christopher Gist, February 17, 1751, regarding his travels through the wild Ohio territory.
Shawnee State Park is nestled in the vast Shawnee State Forest, one of Ohio?s last vestiges of wilderness. The rugged forested hills tower over both the Scioto River Valley to the east and the Ohio River Valley to the south.
These are "Ohio's Little Smokies," once home to the great Shawnee people who are their namesake. By modern standards, this unspoiled scenic area is pleasantly secluded and delightfully uncrowded. In ancient days, this prime real estate with excellent access to the Ohio River was a popular stop on a vital trade route. The fertile bottomland at the mouth of the Scioto and the surrounding forest teeming with wildlife have cradled and sustained human settlements since prehistoric times.
Two thousand years ago during an era dubbed the Middle Woodland Period, the Hopewell Indians who inhabited this area built elaborate ceremonial earthworks and burial mounds. Tremper Mound, on a high terrace along the extreme western edge of the Scioto River Valley, is just a few miles from today's northwest forest boundary. On the opposite bank of the Scioto River at the confluence with the Ohio, the Hopewell built a 20-mile chain of embankments and raised platforms that extended to the Ohio River and continued on the other side into what is now Kentucky. Today a small part of this sprawling earthwork is preserved in Mound Park in Portsmouth.
The Hopewell culture mysteriously faded away around 500 A.D., and was replaced by the Late Woodland culture referred to as the Fort Ancient civilization. The Fort Ancient people refined hunting and agricultural practices, and constructed villages of substantial houses arranged around a central courtyard. They thrived until the late 1500s, but like the Hopewell before them, the Fort Ancient people eventually disappeared from the area - probably from a combination of factors including the complications of overpopulation, disease and forced exile by hostile Iroquois war parties.
The Scioto Valley, like much of Ohio, remained largely unpopulated for a time in the 1600s. Far to the northeast, daring French explorer Robert de la Salle set out in 1669 from Canada's mighty St. Lawrence River to find the intriguing "Oyo" River described by the Canadian Indians who traded furs in Montreal. La Salle reached the Ohio River in 1670 and followed its winding course through the Ohio territory to the falls at present-day Lexington Kentucky. La Salle was impressed by the river's beauty, while the French King he represented was struck with the river's strategic importance for developing and controlling the untamed interior of the North American continent. In addition to the expansive Great Lakes region already dotted with French missionaries, trappers and traders, France now claimed the entire Ohio River valley as its own.
By the early 1700s, Ohio's rich resources attracted nomadic Native American tribes looking for fresh hunting grounds and a hospitable new home. Heedless of the hollow European claims to the indigenous peoples' ancestral homelands, the Shawnee migrated north from the Carolinas and Tennessee and established Lower Shawnee Town at the mouth of the Scioto River where it meets the Ohio River. No sooner had the Shawnee gotten comfortable than the French, the British and the American colonists began posturing to dispute the others' claims and pursue their own economic interests in the area. George Croghan, a renowned woodsman and frontier ambassador, arrived in the area in the 1740s to befriend the residents of Lower Shawnee Town, as well as the various other tribes settled along the Ohio River, and establish a trade network. Impressed with Croghan?s success and his popularity with the Native Americans, the governor of Pennsylvania (an agent of the British crown) recruited him to serve as a liaison with the Shawnee to hold council and negotiate treaties.
In 1749, French diplomat Celoron De Beinville arrived at Lower Shawnee Town to reclaim the Scioto River and the surrounding land for the king of France. His plan was to persuade the Shawnee to pledge their allegiance to France, and seal the deal by burying a lead plate inscribed with France?s claim near the riverbank, as he had done at the mouth of the Muskingum and other tributaries of the Ohio River.
The plan backfired; not only was De Beinville unconvincing, but the engraved plate he had brought from France as the pieces de resistance of his dedication ceremony was stolen by a Seneca Indian before his party reached the Scioto.
Though De Beinville's exploits served mostly to amuse the Shawnee, the next explorer to travel the Ohio River valley would lay the groundwork for the eventual conquest and resettlement of the area by the Europeans. Frontier explorer Christopher Gist arrived at the Lower Shawnee Town in January 1751. He had been sent by the Ohio Land Company, which had been recently formed by a group of prominent Virginians to initiate the settlement of the Ohio territory. On his way down the wild and uncharted Ohio River, Gist met George Croghan at Croghan's trading post near the Muskingum River. With Croghan as his companion, Gist enjoyed a friendly reception at Lower Shawnee Town as he conducted his survey of the area and reported back to his employers. Gist noted that
". . . The Shannoah Town is situated upon both sides of the Ohio River, just below the mouth of the Sciode and contains about 300 men. There are about 40 houses on the south side of the river and about 100 on the north side with a kind of state house of about 90 feet long, with a light cover of bark in which they (Shawnee) hold their council."
In the next few decades, as the trickle of traders, trappers and explorers floating down the Ohio River mingled with a steady of flow of land speculators and hopeful pioneer families, the newcomers were not so warmly received at the Lower Shawnee Town.
Tensions between the British and the French had reached a climax in the late 1750s with the outbreak of the French and Indian War. Although Great Britain emerged victorious in the struggle between the competing colonial powers in 1763, the Indians still held enormous influence over developments in the Ohio country. The British Royal Proclamation of 1763 formally prohibited settlement west of the Appalachians by the land-hungry colonists.
Growing ever more dissatisfied with British rule, the colonists ignored the proclamation and continued to send flotillas down the Ohio and the Shawnee continued to attack them. In 1774, the governor of Virginia, Lord Dunmore, disobeyed his boss across the ocean and headed west with the hope of making peace with the Indians and paving the way for Virginians to settle near the Ohio River. Chief Cornstalk, the powerful Shawnee leader in the Shawnee capital of Chillicothe (on the Scioto upriver from Lower Shawnee Town), organized several hundred warriors to attack Dunmore at Point Pleasant at the confluence of the Ohio and Kanawha rivers. After an intense battle, Cornstalk was forced to retreat and negotiate with Dunmore to allow the Virginians to settle on the south side of the Ohio River. A few years later, when Cornstalk and his son returned to the American fort at Point Pleasant to continue the peace talks, he and his son were senselessly murdered.
Through the chaos of the Revolutionary War, and still furious over the death of Cornstalk, the Shawnee renewed their attacks on the settlers. By the early 1780s, the emboldened new Americans, fresh from their revolutionary victory over the British, stepped up their efforts to settle the Ohio frontier. In 1786, the new United States government forced the Shawnee and other Native Americans populating the Ohio River valley to sign the Treaty of Fort Finney, which required them to leave southern Ohio. Some complied at the time, but it was ultimately the relentless campaign of General Anthony Wayne that drove the Shawnee from their Scioto Valley towns for good. After being soundly defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1789, the tribal leaders were forced to sign the Treaty of Greenville, which banished all Native Americans from southern and central Ohio. No longer threatened by Indian uprisings, pioneers flooded the Ohio River, and the town of Portsmouth was laid out in the Scioto River Valley by Henry Massie in 1803.
Portsmouth thrived, but the rugged hills to the west remained sparsely populated and untamed. One notable exception, however, was the enterprise of William J. Flagg in the 1850s. Flagg left his comfortable home in Cincinnati and purchased 9000 acres in the remote southwest corner of Scioto County to quarry huge blocks of sandstone from the outcrops in the hillsides. The sandstone was of exceptional quality for building stone, and in high demand. Flagg built a tramway to transport the enormous blocks down the hill to the Ohio River where they were shipped to Cincinnati and used in the construction of a number of the impressive stone buildings of the era. A worldly and wellread man, Flagg built his quaint home in the Shawnee hills in the style of an English cottage, and penned novels in his spare time. His book Wall Street and The Woods described the ruggedly beautiful landscape and colorful characters in the area. When Flagg?s beloved Buckhorn Cottage caught fire and burned to the ground a few years later, he abandoned the quarry and returned to Cincinnati.
The forest is reclaiming Flagg's quarry operation, but observant hikers in the far corner of Shawnee State Forest can still see the jumbled blocks of leftover sandstone, and trace the bed of the tramway through the trees. Today's explorers can also discover evidence of woodland homesteads deserted long ago. Here and there are the ruins of debris-filled cisterns, 20 feet long and several feet deep, dug into the ground and laid up with sturdy stone walls. Remnants of a secret enterprise also remain in the heart of the forest. During the prohibition era of the 1920s, manufacturing illicit moonshine became a popular cottage industry, and the remains of a few moonshine stills dot the secluded hollows.
Shawnee State Forest was established in 1922 as part of a statewide movement to promote reforestation and conserve dwindling forest resources. The first 5,000-acre tract to be purchased by the state had been cleared and burned for a failed cattle ranching operation, and was in need of rejuvenation. The same year, lushly forested land surrounding the state forest plot was purchased to create the Theodore Roosevelt Game Preserve. Land purchases continued, but the modern state forest really began to take shape with the establishment of Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) camps in the early 1930s. The hardworking young men and women of the CCC carved roads through the forest, planted trees on the denuded lands, and created five small recreation lakes.
The conservation measures were clearly successful; in 1943, the Roosevelt Game Preserve and surrounding Shawnee State Forest hosted the first white-tailed deer hunting season in Ohio in 30 years, since the deer had been declared "extirpated" from Ohio in 1911. When the Ohio State Park system was formally created in 1949, the recreation facilities at Roosevelt Lake were designated as Shawnee State Park. Soon after, the Roosevelt Game Preserve was incorporated in Shawnee State Forest. In 1972, 8,000 acres in the southwest corner of the forest, including the Vastine and Cabbage Patch hollows, were set aside as a wilderness area to minimize human influence and heal the scars from the historic mining and logging operations. In 1973, a 20-mile backpack trail through the forest was opened to the public. The trail has since expanded to 60 miles.
In the 1970s, the modest recreational amenities at Shawnee State Park were gradually replaced with exciting world-class resort facilities. Twenty-five vacation cottages were built in 1972, and the resort lodge, with its handsome rough-hewn Douglas fir timbers and decorative stone face, was opened for business in 1973. In 1975, the eagerly anticipated full-service marina on the Ohio River was unveiled. The nine-hole golf course was improved and expanded to 18 championship holes, with an incredible view of the Ohio River.
A scenic gem, luxurious resort, naturalist's paradise?Shawnee already had it all, but the park keeps finding ways to make the best even better. The modern campground offers 104 electric sites and all the conveniences campers appreciate, plus Rent- A-Camp and Rent-A-Tepee. Campers can also enjoy a miniature golf course, bike and boat rentals, volleyball and basketball courts, and a handy campers? beach. The park offers a variety of special events, including the annual trout derby at Turkey Creek Lake in April, and an evening whippoorwill walk and guided tree hike in May. In June, the park hosts the "WHO" bicycle tour through the "worst hills in Ohio." See the calendar of events for details. To the west of the Shawnee forest, Adams Lake State Park and State Nature Preserve in central Adams county are home to more rare plants and surprising habitats' pockets of dry prairie surrounded by cool, moist relicts of the Ice Age. Adams Lake is a day-use only park offering picnic areas, fishing, boating (limited to non-motorized craft or boats with electric motors), and an accessible hiking trail in the nature preserve. Nearby, the Edge of Appalachia preserve system boasts National Natural Landmarks including Lynx Prairie and Buzzardroost Rock. The Edge of Appalachia preserves are owned and managed by The Nature Conservancy and Cincinnati Museum of Natural History. Information is available at: www.cincymuseum.org/research/ living_collection.asp. Jean Backs, Editor
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