Ohio's First Peoples
As part of the Ohio Bicentennial Series commemorating the Buckeye State's two-hundredth anniversary, James H. O'Donnell III offers a concise overview of Native Americans in the Ohio region from pre-Columbian times to the era of removal. Ohio's First Peoples is an accessible work that includes many useful illustrations and maps to guide the reader through the complicated and tumultuous experiences of Ohio's earliest inhabitants.
O'Donnell organizes his work chronologically beginning with the Adena, Hopewell, and Fort Ancient Peoples who left a distinctive mark on the landscape with their earthen burial mounds. In the tradition of Neal Salisbury and other scholars who emphasize the significance of pre-contact native societies, O'Donnell evaluates archaeological interpretations of these ceremonial centers, noting that much of our understanding remains highly speculative. For reasons that remain unclear, much of the Ohio Valley had been abandoned by the eighteenth century, which subsequently attracted Wyandots, Delawares, Shawnees, Iroquois, and other natives seeking sanctuary primarily from intrusive British colonial populations in the East. Though fleeing European expansion, these diverse groups of Indians desired to maintain cross-cultural trade relations in order to acquire badly needed manufactured goods. Interestingly, O'Donnell stresses the importance of these exchanges involving Ohio Indians, yet his only source for documenting the fur trade in this region is Verner Crane's study of the southern frontier prior to 1732!
The bulk of O'Donnell's work centers on armed conflict between Indians and whites, which is expected since the Ohio Country was the scene of intense warfare for nearly sixty years beginning with the French and Indian War. Although a complex array of factors were involved in generating animosity between native and newcomer, the fundamental issue was land. Ohio's Indian peoples attempted to use every means possible to stem the tide of Euramerican expansion, including "withdrawal, resistance, diplomacy, accommodation, conversion to Christianity, and war," but the "zone of hatred" created on the western frontiers resulted in an endless cycle of suspicion, hatred, and outright hostility (109). Remnant populations who withstood repeated military invasions could not resist the massive influx of settlers and were accordingly forced from their remaining lands during the era of removal.
This is not a path-breaking study of Ohio Indians, but that is not the [End Page 97] intention of O'Donnell or the series' editors. Rather, Ohio's First Peoples is intended as a summation of Native Americans in the Ohio region and, toward that end, it is successful. To expect anything more from a work that covers two thousand years of indigenous history in less than one hundred and thirty pages (excluding footnotes and bibliography) is unrealistic. This book is generally well-written and easy to read, though we are reminded five times in chapter three that, indeed, Captain White Eyes was dead. O'Donnell 's strongest chapters deal with the American Revolution and beyond, which is reflected in a fluid narrative that demonstrates his familiarity with the primary sources, as well as his command of historical events and processes during the late eighteenth century. As no modern treatment exists of native peoples in Ohio from their arrival to removal, O'Donnell should therefore be congratulated for highlighting the experiences of the Buckeye State's indigenous populations.