The Black Fork River joins the Clear Fork to form the Mohican River just south of Loudonville, Ohio, before heading on into the Ohio River via the Walhonding and Muskingum Rivers.
By Yukon standards the slow-moving, muddy Black Fork would not attract much attention from our riverine sport enthusiasts at all. It flows through a dense corridor of mixed cottonwood, beech, maple and other eastern deciduous trees often shielding the corn and soybean fields behind them from view. An occasional riffle, sharp bend or jams of flood debris can provoke a few extra paddle strokes, though, as you float down its course.
However as a professor friend from Kent State University and I found out at the livery where we rented our canoe the proximity of this stream to major population centres like Cleveland and Columbus, Ohio, attracted literally hundreds to this river on summer weekends. The parked buses needed to ferry renters plus the canoe trailers and stacks of waiting canoes and kayaks at the various rental operations in Loudonville attested to the obvious vitality of their business.
Mercifully three Mondays ago when we set out, no one else could be seen taking to the river. I could fortunately, only imagine the weekend bumper canoe density of folk who probably spent more time avoiding each other than enjoying the meander downstream. On our 20-kilometre paddle, even though passing under eight road and rail bridges, we glided through enough stretches of thick second growth woodlands to actually see local wildlife like deer and heron.
It had been over four decades since my friend and I had canoed clear, spring-fed Ozark rivers together back in our scouting days. Getting back into a canoe and dipping our paddles into the water even for just a few hours on the Black Fork was worth the effort. In a quiet moment on a forested stretch of that river we could briefly be freed from the constraints time imposes on us all. In that momentary space an unscarred land and first peoples could be imagined, bloody pasts forgotten and world healing futures dreamed.
The Mohican State Park and Forest occupies much of the surrounding rolling hills. The land for it was reclaimed from spent, eroded farmland. Much of the managed forest originated from Depression era Civilian Conservation Corps tree planting. No one could tell me why the Mohican name came to be associated with it.
The Mohicans, originally a Hudson Valley Eastern Algonquian people, first pushed eastward by pressure from European settlers and the Iroquois Confederacy eventually migrated west under government pressure to present day Wisconsin. Did they pass through this region of Ohio on the way?
Certainly Ohio has a rich first people’s history. The ancient Hopewell and Adena culture mound sites like the famous Serpent’s Mound serve as physical reminders of their long occupation of the region. Ohio place names are another. Cultural events like pow-wows and the summer theatre also look back on this history. One outdoor play Trumpet in the Land recalls the massacre of the Lenape people at a Moravian mission settlement, Gnadenhutten, Ohio, in 1782 by militiamen during the Revolutionary War. President Theodore Roosevelt, an historian of some note, called that tragic episode “a stain on the frontier character that time cannot wash away.”
The original Lenape and Mohican territories overlapped in Hudson River valley. Both had links to Moravian missionaries. Today’s Mohican community in Wisconsin is shared with Lenape descendants as well. Maybe there is the connection. The Mohican’s and their cousins did survive. Their resilience offers us and the land hope as well.
A Truth and Reconciliation Commission member, Marie Wilson, will speak at the Whitehorse United Church at 7:30 p.m. on Saturday, September 11. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission of Canada has been mandated to learn the truth about what happened in the residential schools and to inform all Canadians about its’ findings. All are welcome.
Michael Dougherty is co-chair of the social justice committee of Sacred Heart Cathedral of Whitehorse. Contact firstname.lastname@example.org.