THE COPPACAW STORY, INDIANS OF OHIO AND THE WESTERN RESERVE AREA and CUYAHOGA RIVER
“Cayagaga” was the first name by which the Mohawk Indians designated the stream that sprang from the northern part of what is now Portage County and proceeded west and south through the gorge and over the falls called “Coppacaw” to the junction with the Little Cuyahoga, and then north again to enter into the lake later to be know as “Erie”.
This explanation of the word meaning “crooked” from which Cuyahoga Falls got its name, was given by James Smith. James Smith was captured by the Indians in 1755 and escaped in 1759. He writes of one of explorations of the area, “We turned up the Cayagaga and hunted for several days until we came to the junction in the Cayagaga. The upland is hilly and second - and third-grade land; the timber chiefly black oak, white oak, hickory, and dogwood.”
A bulletin by Cushing, Leverett & Horn states, “The Cuyahoga River is about 100 miles long, rising in the highlands of Geauga County, within fifteen miles of the lake shore, flows south and southwest sixty miles from the lake. It reaches the old pre-glacial valley in which it flows northward to the lake.” The river’s sources have an elevation of 1370 feet above sea level. It is but 570 feet at its mouth at Cleveland harbor.
The river had many spellings for its name which is translated into numerous meanings.
The Moravians, who in 1786 founded what has been called the first White Settlement in the present CUYAHOGA County near the junction of Tinker’s Creek and the Cuyahoga, wrote the name of the stream “Gajahaga”. Near their village was an old Indian trail crossing the river at the rapids south of the village.
An educated Seneca Indian claimed that the name “Cayohaga” meant to the Senecas “The Place of the Jaw Bone”, and was thus applied to the river and the locality of Cleveland, because in the dim past before the Whiteman came, the jaw bone and other portions of a mastodon were found near the river about five miles from its mouth.
An old European map shows the Cuyahoga River and its “carrying-place”, the Portage Path, with some Indian villages, one of them on the site of Akron being called “Caujahoga Town”.
The Delaware Indians had it as the “Diiohage”, while still another spelling was “Kayhoga”. The name is also written “Canahogue”, and once even “Tioga” And one writer claims that Cuyahog means “The Beautiful”.
Evans and Hutchins, early mappers of the Western Reserve, gave the spelling “Cuyahoga”, Heckwelder spelled it “Cujahoga”, other spellings included “Cayahoga””, “Kayahoga”, “Cajahages”, “Guahaga”, and “Gayahague”. The closest the English spelling can approximate the original Mohawk Indian dialect would be “Kaihoghha”.
The source of the Cuyahoga River is located in the center of a large field in Hambden Township, Geauga County. There is a large swamp roughly oval in shape covering perhaps half an acre. The land about the swamp on all sides except the south is cultivated so we can se quite plainly that no stream runs into the swamp. We assume that the swamp is the result of natural drainage and perhaps underground springs. There is a dense growth of vegetation in the swamp, many elder bushes, cattails, high weeds, a number of small trees and other swamp vegetation.
The swamp itself is of secondary importance as we are concerned mostly with the drainage ditch. It took considerable effort to find it as we had to work our way through tall weeds, reeds, briars, and other vegetation. The drainage ditch is very small. It is perhaps twelve to fifteen inches wide and about eight inches deep. There is only a trickle of water in the ditch in hot weather. It is a stream less in volume than could be made with a garden hose. It is hard to believe that this trickle of water is the Cuyahoga River.
Strangely, this source of the west branch is only about sixteen miles from Lake Erie, yet the river flows in a southerly direction, away from the lake, then west, then north, in a great “U” shape for about eighty-five miles to empty into Lake Erie at Cleveland. It is easy to understand why the Indians called it “Cuyahoga”, meaning crooked waters.
When the earliest settlers first came to Summit County, they inquired of the Indians about legends and stories about the mound builders. The mound builders were gone before the Redman came, but they had left more than thirty mounds in Summit County. Many have disappeared, but one which remains is located at the enter of the Valley View Golf Course on Cuyahoga Street near the bank of the river. The mound contains many kinds of soil not found nearby. It is about forty feet high and covered with large oak trees. It remains as a monument to a little-known race of people who were first known to occupy our country.
As with all stories of the continent and this nation, the roots of our culture sink deep into the land and are nourished by the tales of Indian folk-lore. This area of the nation which we now call Cuyahoga Falls was property of no particular Indian tribe, but set aside by various tribes as a hunting ground. With the dawn of history in Ohio at the time of the landing of the Pilgrims at Plymouth Rock, we find the Cat Nation, or Eries, in this region; but before the arrival of the first settlers the Eries had been defeated by the Iroquois, in 1656.
After the annihilation of the Erie tribe, Ohio became an open country for all Indian tribes who cared to come here or were driven westward by the ever-increasing White Population. A few tribes traveled through Ohio on their way westward without stopping here. Many adopted Ohio as their home, being content to stay for a while, loafing and enjoying the easy life that our rich land afforded them. They moved on only as whim struck them. Other tribes found living so easy and comfortable that they decided to remain her in definitely.
Strangely enough, many Indian tribes which had continually warred against each other in their homelands of New Your and Pennsylvania now lived together in peace and harmony. One very popular place for incoming Indians was the valley of the Cuyahoga River. Senecas lived within a stone’s throw of Ottawas. Mingoes and Delawares built their villages close together. Chippewas and Wyandottes were neighbors. There was no tribal warfare, since the provided food and pleasure sufficient for all.
The Indians who lived in Summit County were peaceful and friendly to the Whites. In our history, there was never one instance of any Indian atrocities. There is no record of the Indians burning the cabins of the settlers or murdering our men and women. It was only when the Indians became intoxicated by the Whiteman’s firewater that they became troublesome; and they were sorry and apologetic later.
Near Boston, there was large Indian encampment. A number of Indian tribes lived in adjacent villages, the biggest being one of Chief Pontiac’s camps occupied by Ottawas. Nearby lived the Cuyagas and others. It is said by many historical writers that the Indians near Boston were most advanced gardeners and farmers. Rich land along the river was planted in corn, pumpkins, and tobacco. Mature apple trees were found here by the first settlers.
Nearby, in Northampton Township, on the present Herbruck farm, (1962) there was another village of Ottawas under Chief Pontiac. The site of this village on the Portage Trail Extension (W. Portage Trail) was, until recently, marked by a large stone that was used by the Indian squaws to grind grain. A few years ago the stone was moved to the front yard of the E.A. Herbruck home. (Herbruck’s no longer live there) The boulder with a mortar worn by the squaws grinding grain served the Herbrucks as a birdbath and ornament in the corner of their front yard on the southwest corner of Thirteenth Street and Chestnut Boulevard. About the early 1970’s it was moved to the Summit County Historical Society.
Prehistoric Indian mounds, campsites, and other landmarks indicate use of this area as a hunting ground. The trails and portages were used by early peoples as they journeyed from lake to river, portaging from the Cuyahoga to the Tuscarawus; and crossing from east to west, from the Great Salt Spring in the Eastern portion of the state to the hunting grounds that lay to the West. The Indian trail from the Great Lakes and Canada to the Ohio and Mississippi Rivers and thus to the Gulf of Mexico lay through the valley. All who wished to make the trip starred up the Cuyahoga River to the point at which it is a present crossed by Portage Path. From here the Redman and Whiteman alike carried canoes and cargo up the hill and then South along Portage Path, East Avenue, and Manchester Road to the location of Young’s Inn. The Inn is still located there but may not be used any longer. Here, at the crossing of the Tuscarawas River, the travelers could continue by water all the way to the Gulf of Mexico.
This trail of water and land marked the western limits of this new nation in 1800. All agreements for land and settlement rights at the time of the first pioneers in this area gave to the Thirteen Colonies the land East of this line and to the Indians all lands to the West.
The boats used in the transportation of men and goods from the mouth of the Cuyahoga to the “old Portage” were long and narrow vessels, frequently called “dugouts”. They were from twenty to forty feet long, and from three to five feet wide and were propelled by poles when going against the current. They could carry from ten to twelve barrels of pork salt, four, or whiskey. At that time, salt sold for $20.00 per barrel and whiskey for $5.00 or less.
In a report dated 1771, Thomas Jefferson said, “The Muskingum is 280 yards wide at its mouth and 200 yards at the lower Indian town. It is navigable for small batteaux to within one mile of a navigable part of the Cuyahoga River which runs into Lake Erie”.
It is felt the Indians liked hills and valleys more then the comparatively level land in the lakes region; but, whatever the reason, most Indian life was centered about our northern townships. The Big Falls of the Cuyahoga and the Old Maid’s Kitchen, was the site of a large village of Delawares under Chief Net-a-wat-wees. One historical writer says that the land on the south side of the river was a large field of corn and vegetables, on of the largest in the country. The area of northern North Akron was always a plateau without trees.
Stigwanish was a Seneca chief who had cornfields at the river fork at the lower end of the gorge. Stigwanish built and erected a totem pole, the only one of record in Summit County. Before going on hunting trips, the Indians decorated the totem pole with tobacco, which was promptly stolen by the Whites.
Another interesting Indian chief was Ogoontz, a chief of the Ottawa tribe in the Cuyahoga Valley. Ogoontz was educated by the French in Canada and became a prominent church man. He alternated between White and Indian customs and could wear a coat or paint and feather with equal ease.
The largest Indian village was at Silver Lake, about 500 Senecas under Chief Wabmong. Wabmong, from the beginning a great friend of the early White settlers, supplied them with food, nursed them in sickness, and helped them generally. His greatest feat was the prevention of the massacre of the entire White population of Stow Township during the War of 1812. The British bribed the Indians and tried to persuade them to murder all whites. Chief Wabmong was able to control his drunken “braves” and caused them to leave for the West without harming the Whites. Here the Indians lived quietly and peacefully for many years.
William R. Lodge in his letter of May 11, 1941 wrote, “The well-known Goose Egg Island which has a good-sized channel of the river on each side of it is located at the Southwest corner of my sanctuary property. The well-known knoll was the site of the cabin of Chief Wabmong of the Senecas, who had a village of 500 Indians on the roadway south of Silver Lake. These Indians lived there prior to joining the British and Tecumseh in the battle of the Maumee Valley and those near Detroit in 1812. They all left here in a single night, taking everything except their shakes and tepees, according to old settlers that we knew when father moved his family from Cleveland to “Stow Pond, Silver Lake, in April, 1876”.
The early settlers told interesting stories of peaceful, as well as warlike, encounters with the Indians. Mrs William Wetmore never tired of telling a story of an Indian sewing circle. Her husband had come to this area from Connecticut to claim, survey, and sell land owned by Joshua Stow. The Indian girls from the families who camped each summer along the shore of Wetmore’s Pond, later called Silver Lake, visited the Wetmore home frequently. Mrs. Wetmore, concerned with the lack of the girls’ clothing, set about making dresses for them. The Indian squaws were impressed by her kindness and skill and came to her, asking to be taught to make dresses. Mrs. Wetmore encouraged them to bring animal skins and furs to be traded for cloth, needles, and thread. Then she taught the squaws to cut and sew dresses for themselves and their families. So it can be said that the women’s sewing circle was the first gathering of people in the land of Cuyahoga at the headwaters of the Coppacaw, Cuyahoga Falls.
“The above history was obtained from”THE COPPACAW STORY” published for the Cuyahoga Falls Sesquicentennial 1812 to 1962. It was prepared by Calvin W. Heintz”............. Courtesy of Gary Kinsey Collection.