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I'm a woman entering "the third chapter" and fascinated by the journey.

Saturday, November 10, 2012

And then it changed

This started out to be a very different kind of post, one about the joys of an unexpected 70-degree November afternoon in northwest Ohio, and that post will probably eventually get written, the Maumee River being as lovely as it is.

But after a few hours of delighted trail-wandering with my spouse, we decided to detour past the Battle of Fallen Timbers monument on the edge of the Metropark where we'd spent the afternoon. Even before we left the parking lot, I felt a chill that had nothing to do with the wind off the river. The monument area is filled with spirits not yet at rest.

I have to confess that the history of battles has never been my thing. I love history and subject my students to lots of it in our literature classes, but generally ignore the "kings and wars" aspect of the subject. In today's Lucas County, Fallen Timbers is a mall, Ottawa a river, and Anthony Wayne a highway and a school district. In 1794, however, on that bluff overlooking the river, the Western Confederacy of Native nations made a desperate attempt to hang onto the rich territory that today is Ohio at the same time that a new nation was encouraging land-hungry immigrants to establish farms and schools. The earth we walked across to get to the monument was once drenched in the blood of members of Wayne's Legion of the United States and a group of 1500 Shawnees, Delawares, Miamis, Wyandots, Ojibwas, Ottawas, Potawatomis, and Mingos led by Blue Jacket and Little Turtle. Looking from the bluff to the rich river bottom below, the contrast between today's peaceful parkland and 1794's clash of cultures is nearly overpowering. So much beauty. So much suffering.

The development of the monument itself demonstrates cultural clash and shift. The first memorial on the site is a flat stone where offerings were once made to the spirits of the Native leaders who perished in the battle. Then in 1935, the Ohio Historical Society erected a white marble monument to the 33 members of the Legion of the United States who perished and the 89 wounded in the battle. A brass plaque lists the names of the officers but states that the names of the privates and musicians among the casualties are unknown. There is no mention of the Native participants in the battle. A contemporary statue on the site includes a Native warrior among the figures depicted, but gives more words to the settlers "massacred" between 1783 and 1794 than to the peoples who did not recognize British authority to sign away their territory. Only in 1994 was a monument--in white marble, matching the original 1935 slab--created to honor the Native participants in the conflict.

And yet--the National Park Service is making an attempt to commemorate the whole story. In a single human lifetime, our society has moved from the erasure of the original human inhabitants of the Maumee Valley to a recognition of their role in the history of the place. For the second time, a person of (mixed) African ancestry has been elected President of the United States, and we are discussing his policies on their merits, not simply as originating from a person of his particular ethnicity. Whether one supports this president or not, it is possible to discuss his ideas as ideas; such discussion would not have been possible in the years when abolitionist Frederick Douglass was described as "a representative colored man."

The monument park does not yet feel like a peaceful place to me, but it may be that some of the ghosts of our past are being laid to rest.

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