The name Cuyahoga means ‘crooked river.’ The Native Americans gave the river this name when they claimed the land in 1000 A.D. Native Americans used the river for trade and transportation. Hopewell Indians arrived in the Cuyahoga Valley first. This group of Indians was known for mound building. They grew crops and lived in very plentiful areas.
European settlers began interacting with Native Americans during their expansion in the late 1600s. Several historians believe that the Indians and European settlers were at odds with each other because they competed for beaver pellets in the Beaver Wars. Whittlesey Indians never interacted with Europeans, but their reason for departure from the Cuyahoga Valley is not known. Their tribe used to eat river mollusks. From 1650 to 1730 no one lived in the Cuyahoga Valley and some people speculate that Europeans spread diseases when they began trading with the Native Americans.
In the 1700s, Native American families returned and lived near the Cuyahoga River. They build communities in Boston, Brecksville, and Mingo. During the springtime, Native American families would canoe in the river to get from place to place. However, several treaties and agreements forced the Native Americans out of their coveted lands and the Native American population was scarce by 1805.
However, Native American culture is still strong in Northeast Ohio. On June 19 there was an Xtinguish Torchfest where the Lake Erie Native American Council performed dances at the Geauga County headwaters of the Cuyahoga River. Marlys Rambeau is excited because this performance allows them to talk with community members about Native American culture. Cleveland Museum of Natural History archaeologist Dr. Brian Redmond explained that this kind of globalization is necessary for community growth.
“People were able to thrive in this area, again, for thousands of years, and it’s only in the most recent time that that’s changed, and I think we’re finally getting back to something a little more like it was in nature,” Redmond said.
Here is a video from News 5 Cleveland with more about Native Americans being honored for their culture.
I will be traveling to the same Geauga County headwaters next weekend to examine that part of the Cuyahoga River. I hope that there are some Native American artifacts there that provide context to this era of the Cuyahoga River.