By Charles Aubrey Buser
When dealing with a history largely oral there comes the moment when one must choose between fancy and probability. In the case of Tarhe, if one is to accept the eyewitness accounts of his contemporaries as truth, there is little need for fiction.
During the period 1789-1818 many famous Indians lived in the Old Northwest Territory. Such men as Tecumseh, Little Turtle, Captain Pipe, Black Hoof, Buckongehelas, Walk-in-the-Water and Round Head helped to shape the history of the region. But none was more distinguished than Tarhe, Grand Sachem of the Wyandot Nation.
There are literally dozens of names for the tribe known generally as Wyandot (its very tribal identity is debated by student of Indian history); and the great chief himself is variously referred to as Tarhee, Tarkee, Takee, the Crane or – by the French – as Le Grue, Le Chef Grue, or Monsieur Grue.
Further complicating an already involved story, a well-known and no doubt well-meaning novelist contributed his own romanticized version of tribal history and his version became widely accepted. Zane Grey, in his book Betty Zane, told of a young boy who was captured and raised by Indians and subsequently married the chief’s daughter. Much of the story was true.
The boy Mr. Grey wrote about was Isaac Zane, a member of the famous Zane family of Wheeling that helped lay out the National road and for whom Zanesville, Ohio is named. Since Zane Grey himself was related to that family, it all bore the stamp of truth.
Later generations of Wyandots came to accept the story in its entirety. After all, everyone would love to have an Indian Princess as an ancestor, and who could ask for a better princess than Myeerah, daughter of the famous Tarhe, Grand Sachem of the Wyandots?
Grey wrote that Tarhe was born in the beautiful Muskoka Lake region of Ontario, married a beautiful French captive, fathered a beautiful daughter and named her Myeerah, the name carried by his own mother and grand-mother.
Actually Tarhe was born very near Detroit, the son of a woman of the Porcupine Clan. The name Myeerah, belonged to one of the Turtle clans. His grandmother may have been named Myeerah. It is certain that his mother was not. (It does appear to be true that the young girl, Myeerah, was beautiful)
Tarhe’s own name is intriguing. The English meaning is unknown. The name is not believed to be a clan property name and it apparently died with the man. It may have been given to him because of some particular deed or attribute of the man or boy. Old-time Wyandots said the name meant “at him” or “at the tree”, or was perhaps the personification of “the tree”. Tarhe’s great height lends credence to the latter theory. He was six feet four inches tall in an era when few men reached six feet.
The name is now pronounced Tar-hee, but the earlier writers indicated that the accent was on the second syllable. (Pronounced more correctly, Tar-Hay)
Little is known of Tarhe’s early years. It is thought he served in all of his nation’s battles, possibly even the Braddock fight. (He would then have been no more than thirteen or fourteen years of age.) Some references are made to his going on war parties against the Cherokees as a young man. The first explicit mention of Tarhe as a warrior is in the account of Dunmore’s war. Tarhe was conspicuous at the Battle of Point Pleasant where he served under the Wyandot Chief, Chiyawee, and under the great Shawnee Chief, Cornstalk.
The Shawnee, Puckenskinwa, father of Tecumseh, was killed at this battle on the Kanwha. Forty years later Tarhe was in the immediate vicinity during the Battle of the Thames where Tecumseh himself was killed. The careers of Tarhe and Tecumseh ran somewhat parallel but there was often serious disagreement between the two men.
The Wyandots were prominent in the defeat of Braddock in 1755. A Huron/Wendat from Lorette, near Quebec, commanded all of the Indians in the battle. Although there was French support, not enough has been made of the fact that it was in truth an Indian victory.
If a youthful Tarhe actually did fight against Braddock it makes for additional conjecture. In that same battle the contingent of Ottawa warriors was led by Chief Pontiac. Since Tarhe supported Pontiac at Detroit eight years later it would be interesting to know if the older man noticed the young Wyandot at that early date.
Pontiac depended heavily on the Wyandots in 1763. The chieftain whom Parkman refers to as “Takee” was almost certainly Tarhe. Another Wyandots, Teata, went along (with some reluctance), but his group of Wyandots never exhibited the enthusiasm of Tarhe’s followers.
The victories at the Battle of Bloody Bridge, at Fort Sandusky, at Presque Isle and elsewhere could hardly have been won without the Wyandots’ contribution. Parkman was surely correct when he stated that the Wyandots were the premier warriors of the Midwest.
By 1763, when barely twenty years of age, Tarhe was regarded as a leading warrior, but he may not have become even a minor chief at that point.
The war chief carried the title of Ron-Tun-Dee, or Warpole. There is no record of Tarhe’s ever having become Ron-Tun-Dee. Although regarded as a very brave man, Tarhe was not considered a truly great warrior by his own tribe. The Wyandots loved and respected him but they believed Round Head, Zhaus-Sho-Toh, Khun, Splitlog and others to be superior warriors. In a nation of warriors excellence was commonplace.
The Sachem was the titular head of the Wyandot nation and held the title of Sastaretsi. There was no royal family as such, among the Wyandots, but since the title of Sastaretsi was in actual practice often inherited, there developed something of a hereditary line of chiefs. If Sastaretsi died without a suitable heir, the tribal council selected a successor.
Such an occasion arose in 1788 when Too-Dah-Reh-Zhooh died. he was better known by his many other names, such as Half-King, Pomoacan, Dunquad, Daunghuat and Petawontakas. (Care should be taken to avoid confusion with the Oneida Half-King and thee Seneca Half-King and with another Wyandot of lesser stature named Dunquad who was chief some years later.)
Tarhe was chosen to be the successor of Too-Doh-Reh-Zhooh. There is no record of any other member of the Porcupine Clan having become Sastaretsi up until that time. Sachems had always come from the Deer, Bear and Turtle clans. But Tarhe, a Porcupine, because of his unique abilities was selected by general consensus to guide the Wyandots in those desperate days. Although he assumed the duties and powers of Sachem it is not believed that Tarhe ever assumed the title Sastaretsi.
He had already gained the respect of the various tribes and of the French, British and Americans long before this time. In 1786 Tarhe and his son-in-law, Isaac Zane, were listed among the witnesses to a United States Treaty signing with the Shawnee. Both before and after this time, Wyandots were often invited to sit in on negotiations between the Government and various tribes.
Isaac Zane had come a long way since his capture at the age of nine. The tribe treated him very well and Tarhe took him into his own household to live. When he reached manhood, Isaac married Myeerah, Tarhe’s only daughter.
Isaac visited his Zane relatives many times. However he always returned to the Wyandots. Isaac acted as interpreter on many important occasions. He served under Anthony Wayne for a time and, upon his return, was welcomed into the Wyandot lodges where he was respected for having done his duty as he saw it.
A bit of mystery surrounds Tarhe’s first wife, the mother of Myeerah. It is generally believed that she was French of the Durante family. Some say she was captured as a child, raised by the Wyandots and subsequently married to Tarhe. One story claims that she was recognized by her blood father while at Detroit and that Tarhe took her away from the area and never permitted he to go back, fearing that he would lose her. This would appear to be romantic fiction. She may very well have been French and a Durante, but almost certainly she was not a captive. The Wyandots were on excellent terms with the French during those years and such a seizure would surely have been unthinkable.
Whatever the truth of the matter, Myeerah’s mother is rarely, if ever, mentioned again in writing. She may have died at an early age, or Tarhe may have been divorced from her. He married at least once more, and that marriage too d in mystery. He probably married Sally Sharpe. They had one son who was severely disabled and died at the age of twenty-five.
Sally Sharpe subsequently married another Wyandot, Between-the-Logs. She moved west with the tribe in 1843 and at some point married a man named Frost. She is most generally referred to as Sally Frost. She was said to have been captured at Greenbrier, Virginia in 1782, at the age of one or two. Another version says that Sally Frost was actually Caty Sage, who was captured in Elk Creek Valley, Virginia and died in Kansas at the age of sixty-six after having been married three times, etc. Caty’s brother is said to have visited her in Kansas in 1848, but she reportedly refused to return to Virginia with him. She said to him, “Though you may think my lot has been a hard one- and certainly it has- I have no reason to complain. I have always been treated tenderly in the way I have been raised.” It was generally considered that the Wyandots treated prisoners more kindly than did other tribes.)
Another story of an Indian captive that concerns Tarhe tells something of his personal character.
Peggy Fleming, a white girl, was brought as a captive to Upper Sandusky, a Wyandot town, by a small group of Cherokees in 1789. The party camped about one-quarter mile from Tarhe’s village. Word soon spread that there was a white captive nearby.
A white man named Whitaker who had himself been captured and raised by the Wyandots went to visit Peggy. Whitaker had by this time achieved a position of influence in the tribe. He had frequently gone on trading missions to Pittsburgh where he had often stayed at a tavern owned by Peggy’s father. Whitaker recognized the girl immediately and she begged him to help her escape.
He returned to Upper Sandusky and told Tarhe the prisoner was his sister. Tarhe believed Whitaker and went to the Cherokee camp asking for Peggy’s release. The Cherokees refused. Tarhe then offered to purchase the girl and again they refused his request. He was determined to secure her release and returned to the Wyandot town, telling Whitaker to raise a fair sum of money or a quantity of silver brooches. Early the next morning Tarhe and eight or ten other warriors returned to the Cherokee camp and found them asleep. Peggy was naked and painted black, an indication that she was to be killed. Tarhe cut her bonds, secured her clothing and then awakened the Cherokees. He told them Peggy was now his prisoner and tossed the money and brooches at their feet. The Wyandots took Peggy to Upper Sandusky and delivered her to Whitaker. After a few days she was escorted back to Pittsburgh. Whether Tarhe ever learned Peggy was not related to Whitaker is not know.
Among the close friends of Tarhe was the great Mingo chief, Logan. They lived near each other for a time and the Mingo felt very close to the Wyandot nation. It is believed the Wyandots buried this famous chief when he died.
Tarhe lived at various locations in Ohio including present day Lancaster, Columbus, Solomonstown, Zanesfield, Upper Sandusky and Cranetown (named for him).
Tarhe helped negotiate many treaties during the time he was Grand Sachem. Throughout this time he attempted to hold his tribe together, to serve the other tribes in the area and to relinquish each parcel of land only after the pressures had become unbearable.
He fought against Clark, Bouquet, Harmar, St. Clair and Wayne. Although Tarhe was eventually defeated, both his enemies and his friends knew he was dedicated first and last to the welfare of his people.
It is believed the last battle Tarhe fought in personally was in 1794 at Fallen Timbers. That action was a brief but devastating one for the allied tribes. The only tribe to fight with distinction that day was the Wyandots. They were pinned down near the river and lost heavily. The Wyandot chiefs were decimated. Of the thirteen chiefs who entered the battle, only Tarhe survived and he was severely wounded in the right elbow.
Most Indians realized their cause was lost after Fallen Timbers. The British had failed to support tem and the tribes could assemble no force capable of opposing Wayne. When he summoned the tribes to Greenville, almost all of the Indian leaders in the Midwest responded. A notable exception was Tecumseh.
In July 1795, nearly a year after Fallen Timbers, a great assemblage of Indians met with Wayne at Greenville, Ohio. The acknowledged leader of the Indians was Tarhe, and a principal interpreter was Isaac Zane.
During the lengthy negotiations Tarhe made several speeches. The following example of his eloquence gives some measure of his intellect:
“Elder brother! Now listen to us. The Great Spirit above has appointed this day for us to meet together. I shall now deliver my sentiments to you, the fifteen fires. I view you, lying in a gore of blood. It is me, an Indian who caused it. Our tomahawk yet remains in your head- the English gave it to me to place there.
“Elder brother! I now take the tomahawk out of your head; but with so much care you shall not feel pain or injury. I will now tear a big tree up by the roots and throw the hatchet into the cavity which they occupy; where the waters will wash it away to where it can never be found. Now, I have buried the hatchet, and I expect that none of my color will ever again find it out. I now tell you that none in particular can justly claim this ground- it belongs in common to all. No earthly being has an exclusive right to it.” (Spoken on a blue belt.)
“Brothers, the fifteen fires, listen! You now see that we have buried the hatchet. We still see blood around, and in order to clear away all grief, we now wipe away the blood from around you, which together with the dirt that comes away from it, we bury with the hatchet in the hole we have made for them, and replace the great tree, as it stood before, so that neither our children, nor our children’s children can ever again discover it.” (Spoken on a blue string attached and both delivered.)
“Brothers, listen! I now wipe your body clean from all blood with this white, soft linen (a white wampum) and I do it with as much tenderness as I am capable of. You have appointed this house for the chiefs of the different tribes to sit in with you, and none but good words ought to be spoken in it. I have swept it clean- nothing impure remains in it.
“Brothers, listen! We are both placed on this ground. I now wipe the tears from your eyes and open your ears. I see your throat is so stopped that you are nearly suffocated- I now open your throat and make it quite clean, that whatever the Great Spirit may think proper for you to swallow may go down without any obstruction. I see also that your heart is not in its true situation- I now place it in its proper position, that anything you may hear from us, your brothers, may descend directly to it, and what you shall say may come with truth and ease from it.
“Brother! I clear away the hovering clouds that we may enjoy a clear, bright day; and easily see the sun which the Great Spirit has bestowed on us, to rise and set continually.” (A white string.)
“Brother! Listen to us Indians, who now speak to you. The bones which lie scattered of your ancient warriors who fell in defense of the present cause, we gather all together, and bury them now, and place this white board over the, that they may never again be seen by our posterity.” (A white belt and string.)
“Brother warrior! Listen to us. The great chiefs are about to speak to you. Your chiefs and warriors present, listen also.
“Brother! We speak not from our lips, but from our hearts, when we are resolved upon good works. I always told you that I never intended to deceive you, when we entered upon this business. It was never the intention of us Indians to do so. I speak from my heart what I now say to you. The Great Spirit is now viewing us, and did he discover any baseness or treachery, it would excite his just anger against us.
“Brother! Listen to me. We are all of one mind, who are here assembled. This is a business not to be trifled with- it is a matter of the utmost concern to us. We happily so far agree in handling our ancestors’ records, who always worked for peace.
“Brother! You have proposed to us to build our good work on the treaty of Muskingum. That treaty I have always considered as formed upon the fairest principles. You took pity on us Indians- you did not do as our fathers, the British, agreed you should. You might by that agreement, have taken all our lands; but you pitied us, and let us hold part. I always looked upon that treaty to be binding upon the United States and us Indians.
“Brother! Listen to us Indians- I told you just now that we were upon business of the greatest moment. I now conclude the great work we have been employed in, and with this, I cover the whole earth, that it may appear white, and shine all over the world. I hope the Great Spirit will have pity on us, and make this work lasting.” (Four large mixed belts presented.)
“Brother! I am going to relate to you the treaty made at Muskingum in a few words. I have not forgotten that treaty; neither have you. At that time we settled a peace between the Delawares, Six Nations, Ottawas, Chippeways, Potawattamies, and us Wyandots. It is very true there were not so many different nations then assembled as are now present. We now establish a general, permanent, and lasting peace, forever.
“Brother! We are all sensible that when you struck the boundary, at that time, it ran from Tuscarawas to a little way below Loramie, where the fort stood, which was destroyed in 1752. I understand the line has since been moved a little toward us. Be strong, brothers, and fulfill your engagements.
“Brothers, listen! I have told you that I speak from my heart- you see the speeches I have delivered. Peruse them and see whether or not I have spoken with sincerity. This is all your brothers of the different nations present have this day to say to you.”
Chief Tarhe died in November 1816, at Cranetown near Upper Sandusky Ohio. The funeral for this 76 year old man was the largest ever known for an Indian Chief. Among the Indians coming from great distances was Red Jacket, the noted leader and orator from Buffalo New York. The mourners were without paint or decorations of any kind and their countenance showed the deepest sorrow.