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The Shawnee of Kinniconick
A Painting by N. C. Wyeth
The French canoe described in Chapter One entered the creek known as Connoconoque back in 1750, and perhaps the white men who paddled the craft entered a quiet pool and came upon a red man fishing. If so, the fisherman was Shawnee and his home was Lower Shawnee Town on the Ohio River, at the mouth of the Scioto. His tribe had existed for hundreds of years and had been forced from their villages a thousand times, but in 1750 the Shawnee were secure in their Ohio Valley homes.
Kinniconick country was a hunting and fishing ground for the Shawnee. It was an easy one- day paddle down the Ohio from their town. Indian artifacts have been discovered in several sites along the creek, where summer encampments were probably located, and I remember visiting one of those places about fifty years ago. A farm on Liles Eddy was then owned by Field Stafford, and I had his permission to launch my canoe there. We walked together on the meadow below his house and he told stories about the earliest cultivation there, and about the many traces of Indian habitation. He was convinced that the place was used by Shawnee families as a vacation spot where the fishing was good. The fishing was good for me every time I visited, but most memorable were the day dreams, dreams about the Shawnee braves who floated there before me.
I would like to think that the great Shawnee chief, Tecumseh, camped there. He was born in Lower Shawnee Town in 1768, and in his boyhood years he may have speared a big fish in Liles Eddy. He would have called it maskinonge, “great fish” or “long mask”, and it may have been six feet long when the story was told and retold by his family and friends, gathered around the campfire on summer nights.
Tecumseh had little time for fishing later in his life. He led a confederation of tribes against the United States in an attempt to save his people and their heritage. It was a war he could not win, but in the face of defeat he spoke eloquently about death when he said, “Sing your death song and die like a hero going home.” The white men called him “savage” but he was more than their equal, an intellectual and a great orator. In a speech to his warrior braves, Tecumseh spoke of life and death:
“So live your life that the fear of death
can never enter your heart.
Trouble no one about religion;
respect others in their view,
and demand that they respect yours.
Love your life, perfect your life,
beautify all things in your life.
Seek to make your life long and its purpose
the service of your people.
“Prepare a noble death song for the day
when you go over the great divide.
Always give a word or a sign of salute
when meeting or passing a friend,
even a stranger when in a lonely place.
Show respect to all people and bow to none.
When you arise in the morning, give thanks
for the food and for the joy of living.
If you see no reason for giving thanks,
the fault lies only in yourself.
Abuse no one and nothing,
for abuse turns the wise ones to fools
and robs the spirit of its vision.
“When it comes your time to die,
be not like those whose hearts
are filled with fear of death.
Sing your death song
and die like a hero going home.