Chief Black Hoof Tombstone/Monument, St. John's, Ohio.
This week’s Tombstone Tuesday features a tombstone (or, more properly, a cenotaph) of a man you’ve probably never heard of who was part of a story that you’ve likely heard only one side of.
If I were to ask you to name a chief of the Shawnee during the early 1800s, I’m guessing most of you would respond with “Tecumseh.” While Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (The Prophet) are the most well-known Shawnee leaders, they were not the only ones. One of the other chiefs was Catahecassa — Black Hoof.
Black Hoof led a group of Shawnee in northwest Ohio and northeast Indiana that did not agree with Tecumseh’s idea of a pan- Native American alliance. Perhaps because Black Hoof was older and had dealt directly with the whites for a longer time than Tecumseh, he believed that fighting the Americans would be futile. He had fought against the colonists during the Revolutionary War and there is conjecture that he was present at Harmar’s Defeat in 1790. What may have turned the tide in Black Hoof’s mind was witnessing the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers, in which the Shawnee and other tribes were defeated by troops led by General “Mad” Anthony Wayne.
While Tecumseh and The Prophet denounced the white man’s influence and promoted a return to “traditional” Native American ways, Black Hoof reached the conclusion that the only way for the Shawnee in Ohio to survive was to adapt and become farmers like their white neighbors. He travelled to Washington in 1807 to urge the government to provide assistance toward that goal. The government authorized William Kirk to help them establish a farm near Wapakoneta.
The Wapakoneta farm was a great success. They had over 500 acres in crops and a sawmill and gristmill under construction. The residents of Dayton sent the War Department a letter praising the Shawnee for protecting them against other tribes.
Alas, the prosperity was short-lived. Through a series of bureaucratic blunders (namely, Kirk not filing all of the required reports) and some rumors placed by William Wells, the Indian Agent at Fort Wayne, Secretary of War Henry Dearborn ended the funding for the project.
After the Battle of Tippecanoe, the powder keg of white/Indian relations finally exploded. The War of 1812 saw Tecumseh and his followers siding with the British; Black Hoof and his followers tried to either side with the Americans or at least stay neutral.
With the British defeat, the War Department changed its method of procuring land from the Native Americans in the north. Rather than gaining land through treaties, it would be done by removal. Black Hoof tried for as long as possible to keep his band of 300 Shawnee in northwest Ohio, but the Indian Removal Act of 1830 was the death knell. Even though they could show that they were good farmers and that their children attended the Society of Friends School for the Shawnee and even though they had the support of Secretary of War Lewis Cass, it was to no avail.
The removal process (which began with a dubiously negotiated treaty in 1831) ended in the Shawnee removal to Kansas in 1832. Black Hoof stayed in Wapakoneta and died there just three months after his people moved west.
Black Hoof is buried near St. John’s Ohio. His monument shown here is located in Black Hoof Memorial Park/St. John’s Cemetery at the intersection of U.S. Route 33 and Ohio State Route 65.