Early Explorers of the Ohio River
While Native American tribes had lived along the Ohio River for thousands of years, Europeans saw the Ohio River and the lands west of the eastern seaboard as unexplored and unknown territory. As European began opening up the New World, explorers embarked on journeys to chart this new land. These trips into the heart of the North American continent were often dangerous, with disease and starvation plaguing many expeditions. But the efforts of these explorers ultimately opened up the west for settlement, forever changing the landscape of what would become the United States.
The French and Robert De La Salle
Much of early European exploration was driven by finding new trade routes with Asia. Silk and spices were extremely valuable in Europe, but the only known route to Asia was a long, dangerous journey around southern Africa. As a result a result, Europeans began looking for faster, safer trade routes in the east.
Born in France in 1643 and immigrating to Montreal in 1666, French nobleman Rene-Robert Cavalier, Sieur de la Salle hoped to discover new trade routes through the unexplored American frontier, connecting French colonies in the east with Pacific Ocean, for greater access to valuable Asian silks and spices. In the winter of 1668, local tribes told La Salle of a great river that flowed into the sea. Believing this to be the wester passage to Asia he was looking for, La Salle put together an expedition in 1669.
35 days after leaving Montreal La Salle and his expedition reached the southern shore of Lake Ontario. Travelling over land, La Salle and his men spent time with local Native American tribes before continuing to Lake Erie. While La Salle has long been credited as the first European to see the Ohio River, with some claiming his expedition traveled as far as modern day Louisville, KY, historians have found it difficult to find historical records confirming these claims. Regardless, La Salle’s expedition paved the way for further exploration of the lands of the Ohio River.
Like the French, the British sought a direct route to the Pacific Ocean. In 1673 Major General Abraham Wood sent his friend James Needham and Gabriel Arthur on an expedition westward, with the goals of
establishing trade relations with the Cherokee and finding a water route to the southwest. Two years before in 1671, General Wood sent Thomas Batts and Robert Fallam westward with the expedition reaching as far as modern West Virginia. While Needham and Arthur successfully secured a treaty with the Cherokee, Needham was killed by a member of a rival tribe returning to Virginia.
Meanwhile, Arthur remained with the Native Americans, traveling with them south to Florida and the Gulf of Mexico before returning up the Ohio River to Kentuck, making him one of the first Europeans to travel a significant length of the river. After being gone for nearly a year, Arthur returned to Virginia in 1674, providing General Wood with an account of his travels which General Wood later described in a letter to a friend in London.
Considered by many to be the first European to travel the full length of the Ohio River, Dutch explorer and Native American interpreter Arnout Viele’s experience negotiating with Native American tribes on behalf of Dutch interests made him the ideal person to lead a 1692 trading expedition into the Ohio River Valley.
Accompanied by native Delaware and Shawnee tribesmen, Viele left Albany, travelling south through New Jersey, Viele and his expedition travelled along the Allegheny and down the Ohio River as far as southern Kentucky where the Ohio River meets the Wabash. Becoming the first European to travel the majority of the Ohio River, Viele returned in 1694 to a hero’s welcome.
The work of early explorers opened up much the American continent for expansion and settlement. By the mid-1700s Britain and France were fighting over the valuable Ohio River Valley, culminating in the French and Indian War and an ultimate British victory.
JACKSON TWP. – Roll down U.S. Highway 50 and you’ll catch a glimpse of something new looking old.
Dylan McWhorter – a 17-year-old Eagle Scout candidate from Milford High School – recently completed his service project for the Clermont Park District.
He constructed a historically accurate split-rail fence along the road fronting the Hartman Log Cabin on the southeast corner of 50 and Aber Road.
With 19 posts and 54 rails, the fence covers nearly 200 feet.
“The negotiations for this project go back to November,” McWhorter said. “I spent a few hours doing the research and then making a plan on how to build it. I was really fortunate because in school we were learning about that period – the 1830s – in my AP U.S. history class.”
He planned to build the fence in early spring, but the COVID-19 pandemic threw him a curve.
There were some challenges scheduling people to help. Fewer than would normally participate in an Eagle project volunteered because of state restrictions on gatherings of more than 10 people. There were a few delays in having supplies delivered.
“You kind of have to expect that with the times we’re in,” McWhorter said. “I just had to be understanding.”
The build finally happened May 15 and 16.
“I inspected the new fence and Dylan and his crew did an excellent job,” said Park District Deputy Director Tim Carr, who coordinated the project with McWhorter. “The new fence looks great. We thank him for this beautiful project.”
McWhorter said now that the project is complete, his favorite part was the opportunity to work on a historical site. He visited the cemetery adjacent to the park and saw where several members of the Hartman family are interred.
“It’s just beautiful land,” he said. “I’m glad to contribute to it. In the future I’ll be able to walk down there and say I was able to add something to it. It just brought joy to me to work on it. I’ve been a big fan of historic America. It just felt like my kind of project.”
“I think preserving (the Hartman) land honors their legacy. Being some of the first Ohio settlers and preserving their cabin for this long is important to share.”
McWhorter recently completed his junior year at Milford High School, but will be jumping right to the University of Cincinnati Clermont College next school year. He’s considering a major in political science.
He began his scouting career as a Cub Scout in kindergarten and has enjoyed his 12-year affiliation with the scouting program, more than half of which were with Troop 128 – led by Peter Jofriet – out of the First Methodist Church in Milford. His favorite scouting memory is his first summer camp out at nearby Camp Freelander.
“You were deep in the wilderness and away from technology,” he said. “You can just appreciate nature. That’s import to be able to preserve and respect the land.”
Native Tribes of the Ohio River
by Ben Morrill, Visitor Center Site Manager
Long before European settlers made their way westward the Native American tribes had been living near the Ohio River for thousands of years. In fact, the Ohio River gets its name from a Native American word meaning “great river.” Making use of the land and local resources, these tribes built self-sustaining settlements, farming the land and hunting local wildlife, resourcefully using the animals for food, tools, and clothing. Many different tribes lived in the area, with each one leaving its own unique impression on the land.
The First Tribes
Crossing over the frozen Bering Strait from Siberia, tribes of hunter-gatherers followed mammoths and other game at the end of the last Ice Age. Settling in Ohio around 13,000 B.C. and flourishing until roughly 7000 B.C., Paleoindian tribes, like the Clovis Culture, hunted wild
animals, fish, and gathered berries while traveling and living in homes constructed out of wood and bark or animal hides. As the Ice Age thawed, tribes began establishing more permanent settlements.
Around 8000 B.C. the Archaic culture emerged in Ohio. Like Paleoindians, the Archaic peoples were a hunter-gatherer society, but unlike nomadic Paleoindians, they established settlements with permanent housing and began practicing food storage. They also developed sophisticated trade methods, exchanging highly valued shells and copper.
By 800 B.C. tribes began forming permanent settlements, farming and cultivating crops in addition to continuing to hunt for food. Tribes like the Hopewell and the Adena grew beans, squash, which later tribes continued to cultivate. Additionally, tribes developed ways of making pottery out of nearby natural resources, providing them with food stores for cold winter months.
As settlements grew, tribes began building larger and more elaborate earthen works. Initially beginning as defensive structures for villages, they soon became elaborate ceremonial and burial mounds, which can still be seen today. Although the Hopewell and Adena cultures began declining around 500 A.D. the practice of ceremonial mound building would be continued by the Fort Ancient peoples.
The Fort Ancient Peoples
Appearing around 1000 A.D., the Fort Ancient peoples initially inhabited small villages, including an old Hopewell mound site that gives themtheir name. But as time passed, the size of the villages continued to grow from 40 to 50 people in 1000 A.D., to around 300 people 200 years later. By 1450 A.D., some villages were as large as 500 people. Like the Hopewell and the Adena, their diet centered on hunting and agriculture, with farming centered on the “Three Sisters.” While the Fort Ancient peoples thrived in 1450, by the time European explorers came to the region in 1650, they had all but disappeared.
The Shawnee and Miami
With the decline and disappearance of the Fort Ancient culture, new tribes moved into southern Ohio. Both settling in the area in the early1700s, the Miami moved south from Wisconsin and Michigan while the Shawnee were pushed westward from South Carolina by encroaching settlers. Hoping to protect their lands from further European expansion, both the Miami and the Shawnee allied with the French during the French and Indian War (1754-1763), but the resulting British victory further increased conflicts with settlers.
Following the Revolutionary War, Native Americans continued to fight against westward expansion from the east. Miami chief Little Turtle organized an alliance of local tribes, including the Shawnee, in an attempt to protect their land. Famously defeating American general ArthurSt. Clair at the Battle of Wabash in 1792, Little Turtle was unable to convince tribal leaders to negotiate for peace, ultimately stepping down as war chief. Without Little Turtle’s leadership the Native American alliance was soon defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, surrendering to General Anthony Wayne a year later and signing the Treaty of Greenville.
A final attempt to fight back against westward expansion was organized by Shawnee leader Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa in the early 1800s. But their defeat at the Battle of Tippecanoe in 1811 and Tecumseh’s death at the Battle of the Thames in 1813 marked the end of the last Native American alliance. By 1820, both the Miami and the Shawnee had been forced off their land and relocated to reservations.
Pirates of the Ohio River
by Ben Morrill, Visitor Center Site Manager
Often when you picture pirates, swashbucklers like Blackbeard and Captain Kidd, sailing the ocean plundering ships are usually what come to mind. But oceans aren’t the only place pirates can be found. As the American frontier opened up river pirates posed a serious threat to settlers moving westward down the Ohio River, lying in wait ready to relieve them of their valuable cargo.
Following the Revolutionary War, many pirates lived near sparsely populated frontier settlements, preying on settlers heading downriver in slow moving keel boats, flat boats, and rafts. Often heavily laden with goods and possessions, pirates often would conceal themselves along the river bank, ready to ambush travelers or use clever deception to get close enough to strike.
As traffic increased along the Ohio River, river pirates found a natural safe-haven in Cave-in Rock. Situated near the meeting point of the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers in southern Illinois, Cave-in-Rock provided pirates with shelter and natural concealment from unsuspecting settlers and law enforcement, as they pillaged and plundered unwary travelers. From 1790 to 1834, many well-known river pirates including Samuel Mason, the murderous Harpe Brothers, and the infamous Colonel Plug operated in the area.
One of the first river pirates on the Ohio, Samuel Mason served as a captain in the Revolutionary War before moving to Henderson, Kentucky in 1790 and turning to a life of crime. Moving down river in 1797 from his previous hideout on Diamond Island, Mason became the first pirate to operate out of Cave-in-Rock. Mason and his gang regularly used deception, including posing as river guides to run flatboats aground, to prey on travelers. Mason even briefly worked with the deadly Harpe brothers before he was killed in 1803.
Spreading fear across the newly opened western frontier, Micajah “Big” Harpe and his brother Wiley “Little” Harpe terrorized settlers, killing thirty nine people while some reports put the number as high as fifty. Beginning their criminal career as part of a Loyalist group specializing in harassing Patriot families, the Harpe brothers moved west following the British defeat at Yorktown in 1781. Continuing their crime spree, the brothers spent the next several years making their way west while robbing and murdering anyone who crossed their path. In 1797 the Harpes spent a brief period with Samuel Mason, but even he and his gang were disgusted by their ruthlessness. Their misdeeds eventually caught up with them and both Harpe brothers were tracked down by posses who delivered “frontier justice.”
Putting an End to the Pirate Menace
To combat the pirate menace, flat boats began traveling in small flotillas, often with an armed keelboat as an escort to fend off potential attackers. Meanwhile, newly invented steamboats proved too fast for slow moving pirates to target. With the army and law enforcement stepping up operations against criminals, river piracy on the Ohio began declining in the early 1820s. Although some pirates like James Ford continued operating into the 1830s, piracy on the Ohio was largely eliminated by the 1840s.
River Pirates in Popular Culture
While you won’t see any pirates looking to plunder their boats on the Ohio anymore you can still find them in film and television. Walt Disney’s 1955 Davy Crockett and the River Pirates centers on the “King of the Wild Frontier” facing river pirates loosely based on Colonel Plug and Samuel Mason. Similarly, Walter Brennan character Colonel Jeb Hawkins in the 1962 film How the West Was Won is portrayed as a Samuel Mason like gang leader, a reminder of the ruthless pirates that once raided the Ohio River.
Crossing the bridge in downtown Batavia last week, Clermont Park District Director Chris Clingman saw a handful of people looking at something. Then saw it himself.
An American bald eagle.
“I parked and went on bridge,” he said. “Turns out there were two of them; one was on the other side of the bridge.”
He snapped some photos with his phone and sent them to the Park District’s interpretive naturalists.
The resulting Facebook post – shared by Robin Green at 9:30 a.m. Saturday, April 25 – as of Wednesday morning has a reach of more than 27,000 people (and counting) with more than 6,400 engagements and 200-plus shares.
It’s the second-most popular post in in Park District history, behind only Green’s photo of a snake in a tree at Pattison Park earlier this year which reached more than 31,000 people.
At the end of January this year, the Ohio Department of Natural Resources Wildlife Division announced a citizen science project to help find every eagle’s nest in the state.
Once an endangered species, there were only four nesting pairs of bald eagles in Ohio in 1979. By 2007, they were removed from the federal list of threatened and protected species and Ohio followed suit in 2012.
The 2020 count marked the first such effort since eagles came off the list eight years before.
On April 22, the ODNR released its results; with 707 confirmed nests in 85 counties. Citizens reported about 2,500 nests to the Division of Wildlife, whose officers and biologists went on to verify the locations.
Ottowa (90) and Sandusky (50) counties led the state in nests. Clermont County officially has four nesting pair, as does neighboring Brown County to the east. To the west, Hamilton County has three pair. Nearby Butler County has eight, Warren County four and Clinton County two.
“I have seen one passing through before, but others have seen them in the area,” Clingman said. “There is an eagle nest on the East Fork, so we should be seeing them throughout the Batavia area.”
The Park District would love to see and share your local eagle photos. Please send your JPEG images to firstname.lastname@example.org, along with the date and location you saw the eagle.
OWENSVILLE – The annual Matt Maupin Memorial Fishing Derby For Kids – co-hosted by the Clermont Park District and East Fork Bass Anglers and scheduled for May 9 – became the latest event affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
Ohio Governor Mike DeWine stated in his April 27 daily briefing that the order prohibiting public gatherings of more than 10 people remains in place for the foreseeable future.
“Obviously we’re disappointed,” said Mark D. Motz, Park District community relations manager. “This event is one of the highlights of our spring. It’s wonderful to the see the Pattison Park fishing pond packed with kids and families from all over the county.
“We’re also proud to celebrate the memory of Matt Maupin – a fisherman himself – one of the heroes who paid the ultimate price so those of us back home could enjoy events like the Fishing Derby.
“However, the health and safety of our guests has been and will continue to be our first priority. We will comply with all state and local mandates to make sure people can avoid exposure to or the spread of the corona virus.”
Last year, about 60 children in three age groups – 7-and-under, 8 to 11 and 12 to 15 – participated. With parents, grandparents and volunteers, about 200 people ringed the lake. Alex Richey in the 12 to 15 age group hooked the largest fish of the day, a 5.39-pound bass.
While the COVID-19 crisis continues and the state of Ohio begins making plans to open up parts of the economy starting May 1, the Clermont Park District will postpone a community event scheduled for mid May.
“At this point, we don’t know enough about what the rules from the state and county will be for large gatherings,” said Park District Direct Chris Clingman. “We will always err on the side of caution to make sure our guests and our staff stay safe and healthy.
“It’s unfortunate. I know people are anxious to get outside and socialize again. We’re glad our parks have been open for hiking and exercise during the state’s stay-at-home order, but bringing so many people together in one place is more of a risk than we’re willing to take.”
As a result, a community picnic to celebrate the Park District’s 50th anniversary fell victim to the pandemic.
Originally signed into existence Feb. 5, 1970, by Clermont County Probate Judge Charles Jackson, it actually took a year for the fledgling organization to own any property – 23 acres along the East Fork of the Little Miami River – and two before that parcel opened to the public as Sycamore Park.
In the ensuing 50 years, the Park District grew from existing only on paper to managing nearly 1,000 acres of parks, nature preserves and green spaces.
Scheduled for May 16 at Chilo Lock 34 Park, the 50th anniversary picnic would have featured the musical talents of Wild Carrot, a Cincinnati-based American roots music combo.
“This would have been a terrific opportunity for us to begin thanking the people who enjoy the Park District,” said Mark D. Motz, community relations manager. “We’re sorry we won’t be able to do this particular thank you, but look forward to a time when we can celebrate together safely.”
The Clermont Park District recently revived its Twitter account after more than two years dormant. The Park District also added an Instagram account to its social media portfolio.
Interpretive naturalist Robin Green was the driving force behind the expansion.
“I’m just trying to reach out to people who might not be using Facebook,” she said. “I think Facebook will still be the main source for Park District information and announcements, but these other platforms can give people some different looks at what we’re doing.”
For now, all three platforms are sharing similar content.
“But we’ll be differentiating as it grows,” Green said. “Instagram is obviously photo oriented, so we’ll be providing some behind-the-scenes photos or just cool things we see in nature when we’re out in the parks hiking around.”
The Instagram account (www.instagram.com/clermontparks) has 25 followers in its first week of operation. So far the most popular post is a short video of Michelangelo, a turtle who is the Park District’s oldest animal ambassador.
The Twitter account (www.twitter.com/clermontparks) already had about 150 followers and has added a couple dozen more since coming out of hibernation April 1.
“I haven’t really heard much specific feedback yet,” Green said. “And this early, I haven’t really looked at the analytics.
“But what we’re learning in this COVID-19 crisis is the entire interpretive community has to be more digital,” Green said. “We’re trying to find ways to get and keep people interested in nature. This is a way to do that.
“An Instagram post or a tweet doesn’t have to be too in depth. Don’t overthink it; just do it. I’ve been trying to practice that strategy, even though it goes a little against my nature.”
One thing we know about the new interpretive naturalist on the Clermont Park District team, he’s pretty good at understatement.
“It’s been a weird time for onboarding,” said Joe Scharf, who was hired last month just as the coronavirus threat began to affect wide swaths of the population.
The cancellation of Park District programs and events, office closures and stay-at-home orders conspired to keep him largely out of sight of the nature-loving public he will be serving.
“I guess you would consider me a generalist,” Scharf said. “But I do love talking about parasites. Those are kind of my favorite things.
“Mosquitoes and tics are kind of the main ones we see in this area. Liver flukes. This is the part of my work that I enjoy. How do I make parasites palatable for the general public? That’s the challenge.”
To that end, Scharf has developed a trailside kit hikers can use to assist in their understanding of local parasites. It includes information on Lyme disease and the role of parasites in the food chain.
Originally from Dayton, Joe is the middle child of three boys. He came to Cincinnati after high school, earning a degree in biology from Xavier University in 2017.
“I was in pre-med and prepping for the MCAT (medical school entrance exam),” he said. “I could do all the science, but it didn’t really appeal to me. I started looking at another direction.”
Which he found via an internship and fellowship at Cincinnati Nature Center. There he got to spend time outdoors and hone his interpretive skills. (He also got to meet his future colleague, Park District interpretive naturalist Robin Green.)
Scharf went back inside for a while – he served as manager of guest services and membership at the National Underground Railroad Freedom Center in downtown Cincinnati – but always had an eye on getting back to the outdoors and doing programs.
He is working on his master’s degree in biology at Miami University through Project Dragonfly with an expected graduation date in December 2021.
Meantime, you might find Scharf practicing his other passion – yo-yos.
He’s been internationally recognized for his talent, coming in 77th in the 2019 World Yo-Yo Competition in Cleveland.
He has more than 60 of the stringed toys – his favorite is a titanium model from a now-defunct Canadian company – and Park District guests can expect to see him use yo-yos in his work.
“I always have at least one in my backpack,” he said. “You can make pictures with the strings and I can make a bunny. That’s something I can do in my job as a naturalist, bring that out to show the kids.”
As the COVID-19 pandemic moves forward, the Clermont Park District continues adjusting its services to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
On April 2, Ohio Governor Mike DeWine announced a new order to take effect April 7, extending and revising the state’s previous stay-at-home order through May 1.
“This is a difficult time for everybody,” said Chris Clingman, Park District Director. “We are sorry about the uncertainly, but are grateful so many people choose to make the Park District a part of daily lives, even in a pandemic.
“However, we have to comply with the state and do what we can to slow down the spread of this disease. We need your help to keep the parks a safe place for you to get some fresh air and exercise, so please maintain the social distancing standards when visiting a park.”
The Park District has already suspended all public programming and events – a policy that will now continue through May 1 – closed the visitor center at Chilo Lock 34 Park, closed offices to the public, ceased yurt rentals, shut down playgrounds, tennis courts, basketball courts and picnic shelters. Permanent restroom facilities are also closed, but port-a-potties are available.
“We’ve made these closures to comply with the state and county and to protect the safety and health of our guests and our staff,” Clingman said.
Parks and nature preserves – including walking paths, hiking trails and river accesses – remain open for the public to enjoy with proper social distancing. Hours are sunrise to dusk seven days a week.
Park District naturalists Robin Green and Joe Scharf created a brief video to illustrate just how far six feet is to maintain social distancing standards. Check it out right here.
For questions about the Park District, please write to email@example.com.