Robert Armstrong

By Sallie Cotter Andrews
Wyandotte Nation Culture Committee

Robert Armstrong was born in 1775 and was captured in 1783 when he was eight years old by a party of Wyandots and Senecas on the Allegheny River about four miles above Pittsburgh. He was in the company of another white person when he was captured. The other was a grown man, and he was killed. Robert was taken by the Wyandots to the Lower Band and adopted into the Big Turtle Clan. He was named O-No-Ran-Do-Roh, meaning ‘hard scalp’, and he became a good hunter.

When Robert was about 20, an old chief told him about his real parents and told him where he could visit them. He decided to go see his mother and his father. He remembered once seeing his father kill a bear in a fight. A warrior guided him to their home. When he arrived, he found his father was dead and that his mother was an invalid. He let her know through an interpreter that he was her lost son. The shock was so great for her that she never recovered. He was still there when she died. He then returned home and married.

Robert married a Wyandotte woman and in 1801 had a son with her. They named him George. Robert later separated from his wife. Robert married a second time to Sarah Zane, a half-Indian daughter of Isaac Zane, and settled at Solomon Town (later known as Logan County, Ohio). Robert became a noted interpreter.

Robert and Sarah Armstrong had four children – Silas, Hannah, John and Catherine. Silas was born in January 1809 and died on December 14, 1865. Hannah was born in January 1810 and died in 1824 while attending the Mission School at Upper Sandusky. John McIntyre Armstrong was born on Oct. 7, 1813, and died March 31, 1852. John married Lucy Bigelow – daughter of a Methodist minister. Catherine married J. T. Dawson and had a son – Robert Armstrong Dawson.

During the War of 1812, Robert Armstrong was a courier for Wm. Henry Harrison. When his wife, Sarah, became the owner of a portion of the Isaac Zane land in 1817, Robert moved to Zanesfield, Ohio, and began building a large brick house. When the walls were completed, he became bankrupt and the house was never finished. After the loss of the land, the Armstrong family moved to the Wyandot Reservation at Upper Sandusky, Ohio. There Robert became one of the outstanding helpers in the Methodist missionary work among the Wyandots.

Robert died on April 20, 1825, in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. He was buried at a place known as “The Reber Farm” about two miles south of Upper Sandusky. Sarah was buried in the Municipal Cemetery in Bellefontaine, Ohio.

George Armstrong, Robert’s son from his first marriage, married Skah-mehn-dah-teh, the daughter of Mononcue, a famous Wyandotte preacher in the history of the Wyandotte Mission in Upper Sandusky, Ohio. Skah-mehn-dah-teh belonged to the Porcupine Clan of the Wyandottes. George was divorced from her on April 21, 1846. On Dec. 24, 1846, George married Hannah Charloe Barnett, the widow of John Barnett. George died in February 1853 and was buried in the Huron Place Cemetery in Kansas City.

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An Excerpt From: History of the Wyandott Mission,
At Upper Sandusky, Ohio,
Under the Direction of the Methodist Episcopal Church.

James Bradley Finley

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CHAPTER XIV.

Robert Armstrong–His capture when a child–Brief notice of his life–His characters-Usefulness–Death–Author appointed Sub-Agent for the Wyandotts–Correspondence on that subject–Discharges its duties gratuitously–Letter from a Juvenile Missionary Society–Reflections–Exhortation to the young–Condition of the mission–Efforts of traders to entice the Indians to intemperance–Severe reproof to makers and venders of ardent spirits–Scuteash seduced by the traders, and led into incurable drunkenness–Unsuccessful attempts of the author to reform him.

The mission suffered great loss this year in the death of Robert Armstrong, one of its best interpreters. This man was taken prisoner by the Indians about the year 1786, when a boy about four years old. His parents resided a few miles above Pittsburgh, on the bank of the Alleghany river. On one Sabbath morning, when nature was spreading forth her glory, and all the feathered tribes were basking in her zephyrs, and warbling their melodious notes in praise to the Father of mercies, a young man, with little Robert, took the canoe, and crossed the river to visit a camp of Corn-Planters, (Indians,) and then return. This camp was supposed to be four miles from the river, on a path leading farther into the forest. On their journey they were dubious of the wild Indians, (as they called them,) for they were constantly watching for their prey. But softly did they tread the path until they gained the camp. It seems that these friendly Indians, who resided on the Alleghany, were down at Pittsburgh, trading for flour and other articles, and the man that took Robert with him, had some, which he wished to trade. After they had made their visit, and were returning home, in passing a thick brush, through which the path led, they heard a noise, and stopped to look; and to

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their great surprise and terror, four Indians rose up, and ordered them to stop. The young man attempted to make his escape by running, but had made a few steps only, when the Indians fired, and he fell dead. Robert said, that he ran a few yards, but one of the Indians overtook him, and picked him up. Said he, “I was so scared to see the young man tomahawked and scalped, that I could hardly stand, when set on my feet, for I expected it would be my lot next. One of the men took me on his back, and carried me for several miles, before he stopped. The company divided. Two men took the scalp, and the other two had charge of me. In the evening they met, and traveled until it was late in the night, and then stopped to rest and sleep. The next morning, I had to take it afoot as long as I could travel; and although they treated me kindly, yet I was afraid they would kill me. Thus they traveled on several days, crossing some large rivers, until they got to an Indian town, as I learned afterwards, on the Jerome’s fork of Mohickan creek, one of the branches of Muskingum river. Here they rested awhile, and then went on until they came to Lower Sandusky.”

This little captive was now disposed of according to the customs of war. He was adopted into the Big Turtle tribe of Wyandotts, and his Indian name was O-no-ran-do-roh. But little more is known of his history until he became a man. He learned to be an expert hunter. When he grew up, he married an Indian woman. He had become a perfect Indian in his feelings and habits of life; and had so far lost the knowledge of his mother tongue, that he could speak or understand but little of it.

After Wayne’s treaty he associated more with the whites, and conversed more in the English, and learned

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to talk the language as well as any of us. He became an excellent interpreter; and was employed in trading and interpreting the rest of his life.

He married a daughter of old Ebenezer Zane, a half Indian woman; and raised some interesting children. He settled at Solomonstown, and afterwards moved to Zanesfield, on Mad river. Thence he moved to Upper Sandusky, where he died.

Robert Armstrong possessed a good mind naturally, but his want of learning, exposed him to many impositions. He was easily misled by those he thought to be his friends. He had a strong inclination to be wealthy, and would devise many ways to accumulate property; and was frequently imposed upon and injured in his pecuniary circumstances, by buying goods, the remnants of old stores, then trading them off for peltry to the Indians, so that he was frequently involved. He also had to pay considerable sums of security money. Indeed, to my own knowledge, deep and ruinous schemes were laid by some of his white relatives, to strip him of all he had; but they did not quite succeed, being preserved by some of his other relations by marriage, who interfered.

He embraced religion in 1819. He had become alarmed at his condition by interpreting for John Stewart, and said the words he spoke to others, fell like lead into his own heart. He was so deeply convicted that he joined himself to the Church, in the then Mad River circuit; but he did not experience the witness of his acceptance with God until the fall of 1819, at a camp meeting; and he never doubted the genuineness of the work afterwards.

Brother Armstrong was a zealous Christian, and loved the work of God. He was one of the best interpreters; and when his soul was fired by the Spirit, he was,

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in the Wyandott tongue, a most powerful exhorter. Indeed, he was one of the instruments that carried on, and maintained the work of religion in the nation, and an immovable friend to the school. His usefulness in that station will not be known until the great day of reckoning. In making his new settlement at Upper Sandusky, he labored hard, and exposed himself much; and in the winter of 1824-5 he was very feeble. In the spring his disease more fully developed itself to be the consumption. It progressed rapidly; and although he was some times flattered with hopes of recovery, yet he looked on himself as winding up his course in this world. I attended him through all his illness, and we conversed frequently of the goodness and providence of God. He always was filled with gratitude to God, that he was taken by the Indians when a child, and providentially preserved in many instances from death, that he might be one of the humble instruments of conveying the word of salvation to the Indian nation, and had enjoyed such comfort as we had experienced together, when employed in this work. Sometimes clouds obscured his spiritual prospects for a short time; but they were soon dispersed, and the closing scene of his life was peaceful and triumphant. He died on the 20th of April, 1825, aged about forty-two years. I preached his funeral sermon from Cor. xv, 26, “The last enemy that shall be destroyed is death,” to a large and weeping congregation of Indians. We laid his body by the side of his beloved daughter, to rest until the resurrection of the just.

O, blessed day! the hope of which softens the bed of death, destroys the gloom and terror of the grave, and cheers the soul of man with the prospect of immortality and eternal life.

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Finley, Rev. James Bradley. History of the Wyandott Mission, At Upper Sandusky, Ohio, Under the Direction of the Methodist Episcopal Church. Cincinnati: E. P. Thompson, 1840. Print.

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