Story type: Literature
In 1893 Jacob S. Coxey, a respectable citizen of Massillon, started a movement in favor of good roads which took the form of a pilgrimage to Washington to petition Congress for its object. Several armies, as they were called, from different parts of the country, met in Massillon, and under Mr. Coxey’s leadership, set out on a long and toilsome march over the Alleghanies to the capital, living by charity on the way. Many of the soldiers of these armies might well have been idle and worthless persons; there were doubtless others who were sincere and sane in their hope that the representatives of the people might be persuaded to do something for bettering the highways; but the affair was so managed as to meet with nothing but ridicule, and in trying to force a hearing from Congress Mr. Coxey and some of his followers were arrested for trespassing on the Capitol grounds, and were sentenced to several weeks in jail. This ended the latest crusade for good roads from Ohio; but there is no Ohio idea more fixed than that we ought to have good roads, and this was by no means the first time that Ohio men had asked the nation to lend a hand in making them. The first time they succeeded as signally as they failed the last time; but that was very long ago, and it may surprise some of my readers to know that we have a National Road crossing our whole state, which is still the best road in it.
Almost as soon as the Western people had broken into the backwoods it became their necessity to break out again, to find and to make roads between them and the civilization they had left. The ways of the different emigrations in reaching Ohio were: for the New Engenders, through New York state to Lake Erie, and westwardly along the shore of that water; for the Pennsylvanians, through their own state to the headwaters of the Ohio, and then down the river and inwardly from it; for the Virginians, Marylanders, and Carolinians, the valley of the Shenandoah and the mountain gaps to Kentucky, and so into Southwestern Ohio. At first the white men came by the streets, as the pioneers called the trails that the buffalo and deer had made; but they soon cut traces through the woods, and later these traces became wagon roads. Of course they used the rivers wherever they could and traveled by canoe, by flatboat, by keelboat, and by ark; and there grew up on the rivers a wild life which had its adventures and heroes like the Indian warfare. The most famous of the boatmen was Mike Fink, who drank hard and fought hard, and was a miraculous shot with his rifle. He was captain of a keelboat, which was the craft mostly used in ascending the river. The flatboats were broken up and sold as lumber when they had drifted down to their points of destination on the lower rivers, but the keelboat could make a return trip by dint of pushing with a long pole on the shore side and rowing on the other; sometimes even sails were used, and then the keelboat sped up stream at the rate of fifty miles instead of twelve miles a day.
But these means of traffic and travel soon ceased to suffice. Then the Ohio people felt the need of getting out with their increasing crops, their multiplying flocks and herds, and they made their need known to the nation, to which they were everywhere akin, and the nation answered through Congress by beginning, in 1806, the National Road, which was finished by 1838, from Baltimore as far as Indiana. This road first opened the East to Ohio; then in 1811 a steamboat made its appearance on the Beautiful River, and after that steam commanded all the Southern and Southwestern waters for us, as well as those of the inland seas on the North. Then, that all these waters might be united, the state began in 1825 to build a system of canals, from Cleveland to Portsmouth and from Toledo to Cincinnati. When these canals were completed, with their branches, they gave the people some nine hundred miles of navigable waters within their own borders. The main lines were built, not by companies for private profit as the railroads have since been built, but by the people for the people, and it may be said that the great prosperity of Ohio began with them. Wherever they ran they drained the swamps and made the land not only habitable but beautiful. They were dug by Ohio people, and the sixteen millions of dollars that they cost came back into the hands of the men who gladly taxed themselves for the outlay. The towns along their course grew, and new towns rose out of the forests and prairies.
The Ohio people had the impulse to this great work from the New York people, who had built the Erie Canal from Albany to Buffalo, and whose governor, De Witt Clinton, had urged forward that work. Now, when our whole state was ablaze with joy at the action of the legislature in providing for the work, Governor Clinton was invited to come and first strike the spade into the earth in digging the new canals. He arrived by steamboat at Cleveland, where the people received him and his train of distinguished New Yorkers with rejoicings worthy of the great event. He took stage for Newark, and on the 4th of July, 1825, when our state had just come of age, in the presence of all the Ohio magnates and dignitaries, and a mighty throng of citizens, he lifted a spadeful from the ground on the Licking Summit. Governor Morrow of Ohio lifted the second spadeful, and then followed a struggle among the distinguished men as to which should lift the third. New Yorkers and Ohioans vied in filling a wheelbarrow with successive spadefuls, and a happy citizen of Chillicothe had the honor of wheeling it away and dumping it over a bank. He was the captain of a company of militia, and the crowd was so great that a squadron of cavalry had to keep a space for the speakers in the midst of their hollow square. Thomas Ewing delivered the oration, and men all round him wept for joy.
There were like scenes when the canals were completed. Multitudes gathered to see the water let into the channels which to their impatience had been so long in digging, and they took hopefully the disappointment of having it sink into the gravelly beds, before it could slowly fill the banks, instead of rushing like a flood to their brims. At Dayton, 1829, when the first fleet of three canal boats arrived from Cincinnati, it was greeted with the firing of cannon and the shouts of an immense crowd lining the canal banks. This was as it should be, and will be wherever a great work is done for the common good; and it ought never to be forgotten that the canals of Ohio were dug by Ohio men that all Ohio men might freely prosper more and more, and not that a few rich men might get richer.
After the National Road, which was our first way out, came the steam navigation of the lake and the river, and after that came the railroad, which will be our main reliance for getting back and forth over the state and to and from it, till some of the many schemes of travel through the air are realized. We cannot tell how far off the event may be; but in the mean time it is curious, if not very flattering to our Ohio pride, to learn that the first railroad enterprise within our borders was fostered by Michigan. The legislature of that state granted the charter of the Erie and Kalamazoo Railroad, which opened in 1836. The line ran from Toledo to Adrian, thirty-three miles, but when it was projected the matter was so far from serious with the legislature which authorized it, that it was granted because it was “merely a fanciful scheme that could do no harm, and would greatly please” certain citizens of Toledo; just as now a balloon line might be laughingly authorized. It was entirely successful, however, as far as the running was concerned, though the road was so hampered by the cost of fighting enemies and the expenses of building that it was seized for debt seven years later.
This has been the history of many railroads since in Ohio, and if we could read between the lines that now cobweb the map of the state, we should come to know many tales of broken fortunes and of broken hopes. The railroads are no different in this from other business enterprises, but they are different from the canals. These, as we have seen, were the work of the state for the advantage of the whole people, while the railroads were from the beginning private schemes for making money. Each kind of highway came in its time, and each in its way served the purpose of Ohio. At the time the companies began to build their railroads, the state system of canals was in its highest usefulness, and it is no wonder that the people should have regarded the railroads as fanciful schemes. No one could then have dreamed how rapidly they would increase and multiply, and that in less than fifty years they should so far surpass the canals in service to the public that some of these would be abandoned by the state, and become grass-grown ditches hardly distinguishable in their look of ancient ruin from the works of the Mound Builders. At the most there were once nine hundred miles of canals in Ohio, and now there are twelve or fourteen thousand miles of railroads. Yet the canals were a greater achievement for Ohio in 1837 than the railroads are in 1897.
The children of this day can hardly imagine what rude and simple affairs the earliest railroads were. Instead of the long smooth steel rails which now carry the great trains, with their luxurious cars, in their never-ceasing flight, day in and day out the whole year round, flat bands of iron, spiked to wooden rails, formed the path of the small carriages drawn by a locomotive of the size and shape of a threshing-machine engine. These amazed by a speed of ten or twelve miles an hour the gaping spectator whose grandchildren do not turn their heads to look at the express as it makes its sixty miles in sixty minutes. In the very beginning, indeed, the carriages were drawn by horses, and it was several years before steam was used.
Little by little the railroads began to be built on the easy levels of the state, and before a great while a line was projected from Cincinnati to Columbus along the course of the Little Miami River. This was completed piecemeal, from point to point, and at last carried through. In the mean time other lines were laid out, and then all at once the railroad era was at hand. It was a time of great excitement and expectation, if not of that public rejoicing which had welcomed the canals.
In a few years the magnificent fleets of the river began to feel the fatal rivalry of the trains that swept along its borders. Travel deserted them, and traffic sought the surer and swifter transportation of the shore. The great packets that had carried swarms of passengers to and from Pittsburg and Cincinnati and all the points between, disappeared or were converted into freight-boats, and then these began to fail for want of traffic, and the Beautiful River was almost abandoned to the stern-wheeler pushing a flotilla of coal-barges. A like change took place upon the lake; steamers which formed the means of communication between the towns and cities from Cleveland to Buffalo, and from Cleveland to Detroit, ceased to touch at the smaller ports, and became the pleasure-craft of the summer tourists, or the carriers of heavy freight, and the ports which did not become the feeders of the railroads dwindled to insignificance. But the railroads could not affect the navigation of the lake quite so disastrously as that of the river; the lake in such a rivalry had some such advantage as that of the sea from its mere vastness, and from the expanses where the railroads could not follow the steamer in the mere nature of things. The iron horse had his way with the canals, though, and these monuments of a former period of enterprise grow more and more like its sepulcher, where he drank them dry. or where he left their slow currents to stagnate unstirred by the keels of the leisurely craft once so jubilantly welcomed to them.
Except for the occasional breaking of an embankment, the history of the canals could hardly be marked by any incidents of exciting interest. It was not so with steamboating and railroading, which has each its long tale of disasters such as give times of peace almost as dark a record as those of war. The most tragical of these events took place at the opposite extremities of the state, in Cincinnati and in Ashtabula, and they occurred at the beginning and the end of an interval of nearly forty years.
The rise of steamboating on the Western rivers was perhaps all the more rapid because of the daring and reckless spirit of the Western people, who took almost any risk in order to carry a point in their rivalries or to gain an end of their ambition. It is certain at any rate that the builders and the crews of the popular boats joined in contriving and urging them to a speed that should leave all competitors behind. There was frequent racing between the packets on the Ohio and Mississippi, and the frightful calamities from bursting boilers continued for a long time before public opinion quelled the boyish love of victory which tempted not only the steamboatmen but their passengers too. These joined with the captain in forcing the boat to the top of its speed, at the risk of a swift or agonizing death to all on board; and it was no doubt with their full approval that the master of the beautiful new steamer Moselle took the chance that resulted in the loss of more than two hundred lives on the 26th of April, 1838. She had just left her moorings at Cincinnati for her trip to Louisville, and had run up to take on a family from a raft a little way above the city. In order that she might show her speed before the crowd on the landing, and pass a rival boat in sight of all as she returned, the captain held to the full head of steam with which he had started. Her wheels had scarcely turned, after she parted from the raft, when her boilers burst with a roar like thunder. The air was instantly filled with the flying fragments of the wreck, and with the bodies and the heads and limbs of men, women, and children. These fell, strewing the shore and dropping into the river, where what was left of the Moselle sank within fifteen minutes. Cries of anguish, groans and shrieks from the sufferers, followed the awful sound of the explosion. Many of the victims whom the accident had spared were drowned before boats could reach them. The mangled body of the captain was hurled into the street; the pilot was thrown a hundred feet into the air and fell back into the stream.
In 1876, on the evening of December 29, an express train of the Lake Shore Railroad, broke through the bridge at Ashtabula, and plunged seventy-five feet down into the bed of the creek below. The train was of eleven cars with a hundred and fifty-six passengers on board, and the bridge was further strained by the weight of the two massive locomotives which drew it. The night was extremely cold, and a blinding snow storm was raging, while the freezing wind blew a gale. The wreck at once took fire, and with the cries of the wounded were now mingled the agonized prayers of those who saw themselves doomed to death in the blazing ruins which imprisoned them. Nearly every one on the train was hurt more or less severely; eighty persons perished in the fall or the fire, and five died after they were rescued.
There were other paths which the Ohio people had to open before they could reach a yet wider world than any that lay to the east of them, or the south of them. Their course to civilization lay not only through the woods and down the rivers and over the mountains, but it ran also through the great realm of books, and every log schoolhouse was a station or a junction on it; or rather, as they had things in these days, a milestone or a finger-post.
The great glory and strength of the Ohio people, as I have hinted before, came from their varied origin.
They have shown themselves among the first of the Americans, not because they were born in Ohio, but because they were born of the Massachusetts and Connecticut men, the New Yorkers and Pennsylvanians, the New Jerseymen and Marylanders, the Virginians and Carolinians and Kentuckians who made Ohio what it was to be by the mixture of their characteristics and qualities here. It is of no use to pretend, however, that it was their virtues alone which got into the Ohio people; their foibles got in too, and their prejudices and their vices. A traveler in our state, just after it had become a state, believed that we were destined to be more like the people of the North and East than the people of the South, whom he then found, in Kentucky at least, much livelier in mind and manner than the Pennsylvanians, fond of public life and society, very hospitable and courteous, but dissipated, restless, and reckless. Our public spirit did not come from our Southern ancestry, but from our New England ancestry. The South gave Ohio perhaps her foremost place in war and politics, but her enlightenment in other things was from the North. It was the aristocratic indifference of the South to public schools that for twenty-four years after Ohio became a state kept her from profiting by the magnificent provision of school lands made for her by the whole nation through Congress. It was not until almost a generation after Ohio became a state that she began to have schools partly free, and it was still a generation later before the men of New England blood framed the present school law, and got it enacted by the legislature. This was in 1853, but in 1825 the first great effort for public schools was made. There was then a party in favor of canals in the legislature, and another party in favor of schools, and these two parties fought each other a long time. At last they united, and together gave the people canals and schools, the two ways out of the wilderness.
Our canals are no longer the great avenues of commerce, because the modern needs and means are different from those of former days, but our schools are still the royal roads, the people’s roads, to and from the world of letters and arts. Ohio is now second to no other state in her public school system: and well-nigh three-quarters of a century ago, when General Lafayette visited Cincinnati in his tour of the Republic which he had helped to found, nothing surprised and charmed him more than the greeting which the children of her public schools gave him. It spoke to him of a refined and graceful life, such as he could never have imagined in the young city so lately carven out the forests; and such proofs of the general culture must have done more than all the signs of material prosperity, all the objects of industry so proudly shown him, to make him regard Ohio (to use his own words) as the eighth wonder of the world. Six hundred boys and girls from the public schools met him at sunrise, on the morning of his arrival, and scattered flowers under his feet and made the air ring with their shouts of “Welcome to Lafayette!”
As for the Indians, who fought so long and so hard here for the graves of their fathers and the homes of their children, they had to find their ways out too. But it would not be easy to say what became of them all, for they went such various ways out of Ohio and out of the world. Some remained in the country which they had lost, and in a few cases they tried to take on the likeness of civilized men. But oftener they only took on the vices of civilization; they were the drunkards and the vagrants of their neighborhoods, living by a little work and by the contemptuous charity of the settlers. In them the proud spirit of their race was broken; they suffered insult and outrage from their conquerors without resisting; a small white Titian might knock a stalwart Indian down with his fist, and the Indian would not attempt to revenge himself. For a while, the settlers feared the lingering red men, but they soon learned to despise them, and it was seldom that they troubled the whites by theft or violence.
A good many of the tribesmen followed the British into Canada, after the War of 1812, where it must be owned to our shame as Americans that they had wiser, kinder, and juster treatment than we gave those who remained with us, and who followed westward from their old hunting grounds in Ohio the buffalo, the elk, the beaver, and the deer. Several nations, or parts of nations, were gathered on reservations in Seneca, Lucas, and Wyandot counties, where they were given land and taught farming and other trades. Missionaries came to dwell among them and try to make them Christians, and many were converted. The Quakers seem to have done the best work in this way, for the Indians always trusted and loved the men of peace.
But although their friends could teach the Indians to plow and sow, to build houses and barns, to make tools and mend them, to sing and to pray, and to wear clothes and to lead decent and sober lives, they could not uproot all their old customs and superstitions. The superstition that seemed to last longest was the belief in witchcraft, which was indeed very common among their white neighbors. Nearly all forms of sickness were treated as the effect of witchcraft by the Indians, and the afflicted were carried into the woods and left alone with none near them except the medicine man whose business it was to expel the witch.
A suspected witch or wizard might be safely killed by any kinsman of the sufferer; and it is said that Indians were known to walk all the way from the Mississippi to the Ohio reservations in order to shoot down persons accused of witchcraft, and then return unmolested. In 1828, the Mingo chief Seneca John was put to death by two of his tribesmen as ruthlessly as Leatherlips in 1812. He was accused of having bewitched the chief Comstock, and though he protested, “I loved my brother Comstock better than the green earth. I stand upon; I would shed my blood, drop by drop, to bring him back to life,” yet he was sentenced to die, and Comstock’s brothers, Coonstick and Steel, carried out the sentence.
In 1831 the Senecas ceded their lands, forty thousand acres on the Sandusky, to the United States, and were removed to the southwest of the Missouri. Each of the other reservations was given up in turn for lands in the Far West, and in the early forties I myself, when a boy living in Hamilton, saw the last of the Ohio Indians passing through the town on the three canal boats which carried the small remnant of their nation southward and westward out of the hind that was to know them no more forever.
It was quite time. I cannot say how far they had been civilized, and for all I know they may have been tame farmers and mechanics, but in their moccasins and blankets, with their bows and arrows, they looked like wild hunters; and Ohio was no longer a good hunting ground. All the larger game had long been killed off or driven away, and the smaller game was fast vanishing before the rifle and the shotgun. As if its destruction by gunners singly was not rapid enough it was the custom in somewhat earlier days for whole neighborhoods to meet together for the wholesale slaughter of the sylvan creatures which still abounded. One of these great hunts took place in Medina County, in 1818, when the region was as yet very sparsely settled. The drive, as it was called, was fixed for the 24th of December, and at sunrise, six hundred men and boys drew up their far-spreading lines. They were armed with rifles, shotguns, old muskets, pistols, knives, axes, hatchets, bayonets fastened to long poles, and whatever other weapons they could lay hands on, to shoot, strike, or stab with, and they began to draw their vast circle together with a hideous uproar of horn, conchshells, and voices. The deer fled inward from all sides; bear and wolf left their coverts in terror; foxes and raccoons joined the panic rout, and the air was full of the flight of wild turkeys. Then the slaughter began, and before it ended three hundred deer, twenty-one bears, and seventeen wolves were killed; of the turkeys and the smaller game no tale was kept.
Later these drives were common in the years whenever game was abundant in any neighborhood. They were called squirrel-hunts, because the squirrel was the unit, and larger or smaller game counted so many squirrels, or went to make up the value of a squirrel. I knew of one of these hunts during the late fifties in Northern Ohio, when the wild pigeons were still in such multitude that their flight darkened the sky, where now one of them is rarely seen.