Editor’s note: in conjunction with the 200th celebration of the establishment of Shelby County, the Sidney Daily News will be publishing a year long series about the county’s history.
SIDNEY — The area now known as Shelby County was not a safe place for settlers in the years before our county was formed in 1819. After the Revolutionary War, the British paid the Indians in this area $5 for every white person’s scalp. Around 1780, British Col. Byrd recruited 600 Indians who then moved through part of Ohio and Kentucky. They captured then slaughtered about 300 settlers.
Everyone wanted revenge against the Indians. Col. George Rogers Clark assembled 1,000 soldiers in 1782 and moved into this part of Ohio. They defeated the Indians at Pickiwillany and destroyed their town. Clark’s men then traveled north to the present site of Ft. Loramie, demolishing Peter Loramie’s store and adjacent Indian village.
Our government in Washington did not favor settlement of the Ohio territory until after Virginia gave up claims to the area and the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 was passed. The important law allowed the development of what is now Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. An area could apply for statehood after it had a population of 60,000 people.
The Indians living in Ohio realized their way of life was threatened. After conducting a council of war in the Chillicothe area, they began raiding white settlements in 1789. General Joseph Harmar led an expedition against the Indians in 1791. As he approached what is now Fort Loramie, he dispatched Col. John Hardin with 30 men to pursue some Shawnee braves whom he sighted in the distance. The Indians led Hardin straight into an ambush. Hardin escaped with his life but only 7 of his men survived.
General Harmer was defeated by the Indians in two separate battles. He eventually retreated. General St. Clair assembled a much larger army, filled with experienced fighters from the Revolutionary War. The men traveled through what is now Shelby County (along the same route General Harmer used earlier). St. Clair’s men were soundly defeated in what is now Mercer County in a battle near what is now the Indiana state line.
President Washington accepted St. Clair’s resignation and decided to try peaceful negotiations. He made plans to send Col. John Hardin on a peace-keeping mission to what is now Shelby County. Hardin was not in favor of the plan, as he knew the Shawnee considered him a fighting man and not a peace negotiator. However, Washington was his commander and Hardin would do his duty. The Shawnee ambushed the men near what is now the Village of Hardin. Col. Hardin and one of the men were killed. The other escaped.
President Washington had enough of failure. He ordered General “Mad Anthony” Wayne to take care of business. Wayne raised an army of 5,000 veterans. They started for this area in September 1793. They followed the old Indian trail (present day State Route 66) and headed north. His men built forts at the site of Pickawillany and Loramie’s store as well as a fort and command center at what is now Greenville, Ohio.
Wayne’s tactics against the Indians reminds one of General U.S. Grant during the Civil War. Little Turtle, the great chief of the Miami, had this to say about General Wayne:
“The Americans are now led by a chief who never sleeps-
the night and day are alike to him. Think well of it. There is
something which whispers in me it would be prudent to
listen to his offer of peace.”
Blue Jacket and his Shawnees did not listen to Little Turtle. General Wayne crushed the Indians at the Battle of Fallen Timbers on August 20, 1794. The Treaty of Greenville was then negotiated and signed a year later in August 1795. The Ohio frontier was ready for settlement.
Ohio became a state in 1803. Montgomery County was one of eight counties initially created. It included the area which is now Shelby County. Four years later, in 1807 Miami County was formed- again containing what is now Shelby County. It would be 12 more years before Shelby County came to be.
James Thatcher wanted to be alone. The first settler in this area tried to move as far from civilization as he could. Thatcher left Kentucky in 1805 with his family, looking for a new place to live. They traveled up the Great Miami River to its junction with Loramie Creek. These intrepid souls followed Loramie Creek about 3.5 miles before deciding to make a temporary home there. the family camped about 100 yards west of Loramie Creek. They would eventually move on, but what is now Shelby County had its first inhabitant.
Being pretty much a wanderlust, Thatcher moved on after a period of time. Early records show his family were residents of Turtle Creek Township around 1818.
Other families were not far behind the Thatchers. The next family in our area was the Mellingers. They settled near Lockington. By the War of 1812, about 50 families lived in what is now Shelby County. Virtually all of them participated in local government.
A closer look at the early families will be taken in another article in this series.
Wilderness to Prosperity, published by the Shelby County Historical Society (1970)
The writer is a local attorney and partner with the firm of Elsass, Wallace, Evans and Co. LPA in Sidney. He has authored two books and numerous articles on local history. He has been an officer of the Shelby County Historical Society since its reorganization in 1993. He is also on the Bicentennial Committee for the county and city bicentennial celebrations.