March 2012 Issue
My Ohio: Treaty City
Three young Southwest Ohio residents find history in their back yard.
One balmy spring Saturday, I found my three children lounging in front of our television and decided it was time for some exercise and a history lesson.
“C’mon guys. Put your shoes on. I’m going to show you a surprise.”
Luke, a shrewd kindergartener, was skeptical. “Is it cool or is it stupid?”
“It’s cool, Luke, I promise. It has to do with Indians. You’ll like it.”
“What Indians? Will we see Indians?” asked Daniel, a first-grader.
“No, not likely. But I’m going to show you a place that’s very important to American history, and it’s just a five-minute walk away. Let’s go.”
We walked across a slice of the municipal park, crossed the pedestrian bridge that traverses the Greenville creek, and scrambled down the bank. The kids love to explore the area below the bridge and pretend there are trolls lurking there. After a 10-minute diversion of abusing the mythical creatures with sticks and stones (and words, too), we continued our journey.
We marched another hundred yards or so west, past a pond and up a gentle slope that serves as a sledding hill in the winter. As we approached a humble stone foundation, Daniel pressed.
“What’s this? I don’t see Indians. There aren’t any Indians. Where are the Indians?”
“They aren’t here any longer, Daniel. But a long time ago Indians lived all over this area, and they fought many battles with white men over lots of disagreements, including who had a right to settle here. When George Washington was president he wanted to expand the size of the country, so he sent generals and soldiers to fight the Indians who wanted to keep the land they felt was rightfully theirs.”
At the mention of battles and soldiers, Luke grew interested.
“Who won? Did people die? Was there bleeding?”
“Yes, Luke, lots of people died on both sides and there was plenty of bleeding. I suppose you could say the Indians won some battles and the United States army won some.”
“What’s this?” asked 9-year-old Abby, pointing to a raised cylindrical slab of stone and mortar next to where we were standing.
“It’s called the Altar of Peace, Abby. More than 200 years ago there was a large battle north of here called The Battle of Fallen Timbers, where the U.S. army defeated the Indians. Have you heard of Anthony Wayne?”
“Yes!” Daniel exclaimed. “That’s where I went to preschool!”
“Me, too!” added Luke.
“Yes, that’s right. Your preschool was named after Anthony Wayne, the American general who defeated the Indians in that battle. A year later he came here and met with some Indian leaders who represented over a dozen different tribes living in this territory then. Anthony Wayne, the Indians and others signed a document in 1795 called the Treaty of Greenville. The treaty was a written agreement that was supposed to end the fighting between the Indians and the white people and open up a large chunk of land in this area for white settlement.
“It was a very important event and it happened right here,” I said, pointing to the ground and narrowing my eyes for effect, “exactly where you’re standing, just a few hundred yards away from our house! That’s why Greenville is known as the ‘Treaty City,’ and this altar helps us remember that history.”
“Cooool,” Luke stammered, clearly impressed. “So they stopped fighting then?”
“Well not exactly, Luke. It slowed down for a while, but there were still fights and disagreements and killing, sorry to say.”
“That’s bad,” said Daniel, who despite being moderately autistic usually knows the difference between good and bad.
“Yes, Daniel, it is bad. Sometimes fights last longer than they should and promises are broken. Know what I mean?”
The children nodded, exchanged knowing glances and followed me down the hill to the bridge where more trolls awaited.
Timothy Swensen lives with his wife and three children in Greenville. He is an assistant dean at the University of Dayton School of Law.