By C. A. Buser
The last tribe of Indians left Ohio in 1843. They were the Wyandots and their name will forever be tied to the state.
The Wyandots were not the largest tribe and had not lived here the longest, quite the contrary. They were the smallest tribe and were relative newcomers. Except for winter hunts or forays against some of the southern tribes, Wyandots did not spend much time south of Lake Erie prior to 1700. They were a Canadian people, of Iroquoian stock. Ohio Wyandots, for the most part, were descended from the Tionnontati who lived near the shores of Lake Huron. Their nearest neighbors were the Hurons whose fate they shared and whose name came to be used interchangeably with Wyandot.
A series of disastrous wars with their distant cousins, the Iroquois of present day New York State, led to a dispersion of the Hurons and related tribes in 1649. For fifty years the various bands wandered the Upper Great Lakes region. There they were on generally good terms with their more numerous Algonquian neighbors.
When Cadillac decided to build a fort at present day Detroit, he thought it wise, to have friendly Indians living close by so he invited two or three tribes to settle along the Detroit River. By 1701, most of the surviving Wyandots, together with some Ottawas and Potawatami, accepted the invitation. Those tribes had already established a working relationship with the French and a number of the Wyandot/Huron had accepted Christianity, at least nominally
It is considered likely that the Wyandots had absorbed into their community some survivors of the old Erie nation. The Eries had suffered defeat at the hands of the Iroquois and, being of Iroquoian stock themselves, would have had no trouble‑assimilating with the Wyandots. In any case, it was not many years before Wyandot communities were being extended along the southern shore of Lake Erie, even into Pennsylvania. In a relatively short time, the Wyandots then laid claim to substantially all of present day Ohio.
It is quite remarkable to consider that a tribe that could then put no more than three or four hundred warriors in the field would dare make such a bold claim. It is even more remarkable that the much more numerous surrounding tribes would accept such claim as valid. Even the old foes, the Iroquois, raised no objection and when, a few years later, considerable numbers of Iroquois decided to move to Ohio, they asked Wyandot permission. Permission was granted and those Iroquois came to be known as Mingoes. The most famous Mingo was Chief Logan, a lifelong friend of the Wyandots. Similarly, when the Delawares were forced from their home in the east, they asked the Wyandots for a place to “spread their blanket.” The Wyandots assigned land to them along the Muskingum. Years later, the Delawares repaid that kindness when the Wyandots needed land west of the Mississippi. The Shawnees, long time restless wanderers, finally decided to settle down and, with Wyandot permission, moved into southern Ohio. Ottawas settled near present day Toledo. To Wyandots in Ohio the west were the powerful Miamis in present day Indiana. They did not need or ask Wyandot consent but they were a welcome, friendly tribe. For a time, life was good for the Wyandots. They were happy in Ohio.
It was not to last. The ever-expanding white population created constant pressure from the east. A loose confederation of tribes was organized with the Wyandots named as Keepers of the Council Fire. With British support the tribes fought desperately to hold their Ohio lands. They won many battles but could not hold back the tide. At Fallen Timbers, near Toledo, the combined tribes were defeated by Gen. Anthony Wayne. The Wyandots fought well in that battle but suffered heavy losses. That was in 1794 and it was the last battle for most Ohio Wyandots but they continued to hold on for almost fifty more years.
Gradually, the Wyandots had to give up their villages around the state at such locations as Columbus, Lancaster and Zanesfield until they were reduced to some locations in and around Upper Sandusky. There they had a school, a church and neat farms. They had given up the longhouse and lived in cabins with glazed windows as did white people all around. It was not enough. White people wanted all the land. Finally every tribe had gone west except the Wyandots. In 1843 even they were forced to leave. They had fought the good fight but they had lost.
Even so, the Wyandots never forgot their years in Ohio and many still consider themselves Ohio Indians. Often individuals or small groups make the pilgrimage to the land they loved, where they visit the graves of those who were left behind.