Leatherlips

By C. A. Buser

Leatherlips was a Wyandot Indian. He would have asked for no finer title.

According to those who knew him best, Leatherlips was a kindly man and a good friend to Indian and white man alike. That may very well have contributed directly to his death. And, sadly, it is his death that has made Leatherlips’ name live on in Midwest history.

By now, few would remember anything about Leatherlips were it not for an article written by Otway Curry, describing an execution near the Scioto River a few miles north of Columbus, Ohio, in 1810. Unfortunately, that account included a number of errors but it did make the name “Leatherlips” live on, especially as it appeared in modified form in Volume I of Howe’s Historical Collections of Ohio.

Leatherlips had three Wyandot names. The one most often used was SHA‑TE‑YAH‑RON‑YA but he was sometimes referred to as THA‑TEY‑YAN‑A‑YOH. In later years he was called SOU‑CHA‑ET‑ESS, which means “Long Gray Hair”. He was of the Porcupine Clan as was his great friend, Chief Tarhe, and he was related to Roundhead, Splitlog and Battise, noted Wyandot warriors of that period.

As for errors in the oft quoted account, some are serious and some are trivial. One error in particular angered some of the old time Wyandots who pointed out that Roundhead, Splitlog and other relatives of Leatherlips would have had no part in the execution.

Of lesser note, Wyandots pointed out that “wigwam” was not Wyandot. Wyandots were people of the Longhouse as were their cousins (and sometimes foes), the New York Iroquois.

Although the stated charge against Leatherlips was that of “witchcraft”, the tribe understood that the real cause was political. Of course, witchcraft was something that could neither be proved nor disproved so it served its intended purpose.

The political problem was very real and very serious indeed. It was a time of extreme tension in the Midwest. The War of 1812 was to be underway in a scant two years. The Shawnee leader, Tecumseh, was already trying to unite the tribes in a last effort against the Americans and was having some success. The problem was that most Wyandots had reconciled themselves to the fact that their last great effort had been made at Fallen Timbers where they suffered severely. Furthermore, Tarhe, Leatherlips and others had pledged at Greenville in 1795 that they would never again take up arms against the United States. (None of the Indians who signed that treaty, of any tribe, broke that pledge.)

The picture was clouded by the fact that Tecumseh and his brother, The Prophet, maintained that, since they and such warriors as Roundhead had not personally signed the treaty, they were not bound by it. What followed were serious splits in a number of the tribes.

Canadian and many Michigan Wyandots eventually went along with Tecumseh. Most Ohio Wyandots followed Tarhe. A notable exception was Roundhead who had been War Chief under Tarhe. Roundhead resigned that position to join Tecumseh and the British.

Thwarted in his efforts to win over all of the Indians, Tecumseh sought to discipline the holdouts. Tarhe was beyond his reach as was Tecumseh’s own chief, Black Hoof, but there were others who, although they lacked that stature, had reputations in the Indian community. If enough pressure could be applied to men such as Walk‑in‑the‑Water and Leatherlips, it might improve the chances greatly.

The result was that Leatherlips was charged with witchcraft following his refusal to join the great Shawnee. Four Michigan Wyandots, led by Peter Gould, were sent to Ohio to carry out the execution. Most accounts indicate there were six in the party but old time Wyandots said there were but four Wyandots. The assumption is that two may have been Shawnee. That is an assumption only and will likely never be proven.

In any case, a good man died rather than break his written pledge, and it is good that later generations have seen fit to honor his name and his memory.

Comments are closed.