This article was found in a clipping scrapbook once owned by Rosella and had the heading “For the Cleveland Plain Dealer.” There is no date, but other clippings are from the 1850s. This is her version of a tale told often on the Ohio frontier. See below for more information on the old Indian, who was a real person, and his fate.
‘I know there’s not a lovelier nook in all Richland County than this is,” said Lua Norton, one soft moonlight evening in October, as we stopped in a dell just below the school house where her brother Ned had taught his first school the preceding winter.
We were a merry group of ten or twelve girls and had rode seven miles that autumn morning to attending a quilting party at dear Annie Miles. Annie was an old school mate whom we all loved dearly and were glad enough when we received invitations to her quilting party and to attend singing school in the evening at her district school house.
Lua was right – the remembrance of that charmed dell with the surrounding hills that held it in a loving fold, the sweet brook, chattering along through to the mossy old logs and the viny clumps and queenly draped rocks – oh, they all live in my memory, crowned with the same fresh sylvan beauty as when I gazed on them years agone.
How beautiful is nature in her summer mood, away in the holy quiet of the leafy woods, where only is heard the rustling leaves and birds and bees and brooks.
While we stood there admiring the beauty of the silent dell with the moonlight shimmering and falling brokenly upon every object, a young gentleman and lady came up to us from the road that wound around the hill, and as they were acquaintances of Annie’s she introduced them to us.
The gentleman instantly divined the reason of our tarrying there and remarked that aside from the beauty of the spot, it was a place of interest to him on account of an incident that transpired there long ago.
“I’d like to hear what it was, cousin,” said his lady companion.
“Oh, it is nothing that accords with the beauty of the dell – nothing good or romantic,” replied he, “but if the ladies wish to listen to it, I will willingly relate to you all, although I have never related it to any strangers and never told it but once before.”
“Do tell,” said half a dozen voices anxiously, and seating him on an end of the mossy log that we occupied, he related his story:
“Just as long ago as I can remember an old Indian chief lived up there between those hills in a little bark shanty, hung around inside by the skins of wild animals. He was very old, but his form was athletic and straight and his arms strong and muscular, and his eyes had a peculiar penetrating, snaky shine to them that made me cower away from his and hide my head in my mother’s apron. He was friendly with us, except when thirsting for strong drink, and then his old cracked voice would swell out into terrific yelps, and he would sometimes mutter oaths and imprecations and plans for revenge.
Old Red Lion, the Last of the Delawares
He wore on the little finger of his left hand a beautiful ring, and if questioned about it, his brow would lower and his lips grew white and compressed and he would turn away as if memories were stirring up the deep fountains of his soul, and he would fain forget the spectre past. Gossip did say that he once wed a fair captive white girl who had been many years among the Indians of his tribe – that she was beautiful, with long golden curls and eyes of melting blue and a heart as gentle as a dove; and that a young American officer saw, loved, wooed and won her away from her lordly chief – that they were overtaken in their flight and both slain by the avenging hand of Red Lion. Rumor further said that he swore vengeance against the whites and sought to obtain as many scalps as he could to gloat over in his poor recluse life.
I remember one night Red Lion came to father’s house and begged for a drink of whiskey and when refused, raised his hatchet over my father’s head. And I verily believe would have sunk it to the helve into his brain had not my mother poured out a tin full and handed it to him with kind words. While he drank it off, she stood behind his chair and signed to my father to let him drink all that he could and then she pointed toward his gun. My father took the hint and laughed and joked and soon made the old chief feel perfectly happy and welcome to as much as he could drink. He pretended to drink with him but only touched the tin to his lips. Red Lion soon grew garrulous and they plied him with whiskey and pretended great friendship and good feeling for him. His vice grew loud and unsteady, and he began to tell of his exploits and of the portion of the past which confirmed all that gossip had told of him and his.
“I have,” he said, “in my cabin just ninety-nine scalps, and my tomahawk craves one more. When I have it, I can die happy for my vow will be fulfilled and I can sleep in peace with my fathers.” And then he leaned over and whispered to my father, “If you had not given me the whiskey, you would have made the number complete.” And he laughed drunkenly and cunningly while my father slapped him on the shoulder and said, “Eh, old fellow, I hope we drink together for many years to come, and be good friends too. Shan’t my wife get a supper of fried chicken and warm biscuit and tea, just for you and me, and then a good smoke to together, and away to bed for one good sleep before morning. It’s not often you come visit with us at night, and let’s have a jolly time when you do come.”
“Oh, no,” said the old chief, rising and flinging the blanket about his shoulders,” I will come tomorrow night, may be, but I must one good drink before I start,” and his body swayed while he poured out another half the full.
“We’ll save the balance for you father Lion,” said my mother, as she kindly fixed the blanket over his broad breast and shoulders, and bidding us good night, he started home.
His tottering step had scarcely died away in the path down past the spring toward his cabin until a significant look passed between my parents, and my father said, “poor old man, how can I?” “This is the last whiskey we shall be able to get for a long while to come,” said my mother, “when it is gone then” – and a painful struggle passed over her sweet face.
My father understood it, and saying “for the sake of my wife and children, I must,” and taking??? and gun and ammunition and bidding my mother to keep the dog in the ??? he stole slyly out. I was sitting in my little chair in the corner, and I fell asleep watching my mother, who was pacing the floor with pale face and clasped hands.
I awoke before daylight the next morning, lying in the trundle bed beside my little sister, and there were my parents before a dim fire, my father was smoking and my mother looking into the ashy embers and settling with one hand on my father’s shoulder, neither speaking a word.
Red Lion did not come that night or the next or ever again.
When I grew old enough to take care of this farm, and my father was a tottering old man, we were one time passing this spot when he asked me come farther up to the brook and he would show me something. When we stopped, he asked me if I remembered Old Lion, the Indian, and replying that I did, he pointed down at our feet and said there is his grave.
He then told me that on the dreadful night I remembered, he followed him down into this dell and shot him in the head and buried him before morning. In the corner of the cabin in a rough box he discovered many things of interest. Sure enough, there were the ninety-nine scalps, some taken from hoary heads and some from sweet innocent loving children, and only ninety -seven could be found at first, but in a bit of soft deer skin in the bottom of the box he found two others that he suspected were Red Lion’s wife and her American lover. Hers had long, shiny, golden curls, heavy and lustrous even then, and the other was a rich brown that still clung in waves and curls to the hard dry scalp.
I though what a pity it was that they could not have eluded the pursuit of the chief and been happy together, as they were beautiful and doubtless good.
Some business papers of the lovers and a miniature of a sister or his mother, may hap, and two or three letters were found in with the treasures of barbarian warfare.
The ring on Old Lion’s finger was given to my mother and on her death is to be given to my oldest sister, to be handed down to a future generation with the sad story connected to it. My father said nothing but fear and the insolent manner of the old Indian tempted him to the bloody deed.
Belle Grove inquired, as she wiped her tearful eyes and wished the beautiful captive had met a happier fate, what became of the miniature and letters and scalps?
The reply was that they were buried in the box, just there before us, where the moonlight shone unbrokenly in the bend of the sparkling brook, and on the opposite bank, where in summer time the ??? is all aglow with nestling violence and where the glossy leaves of the creeping myrtle vines lie heaviest, as if to drape in beauty the memory of ill-starred love and untimely deaths.
© 2011 Peggy Mershon Contact at firstname.lastname@example.org
The real ‘Red Lion’
Rosella’s “Red Lion” is a variation of a popular tale of the Ohio frontier, but all are based on a real man, the Delaware Indian Tom Lyons or Kaschates.
He probably came to Ohio from Pennsylvania near the end of the Revolutionary War and is mentioned as one of the residents of Helltown, a Delaware village on the banks of the Clear Fork in what would become Worthington Township in Richland County. along with other English-allied participants of the Wyoming Valley massacre.
He later told settlers he was on the Sandusky Plains in 1782 when Col. William Crawford was captured and burned at the stake and also participated in the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers. He liked to brag about past exploits.
These bloody stories did not endear him to early settlers although when they arrived in the first decade of the nineteenth century, he was very old — and looked it.
He was described as tall, thin, wiry, dark, wrinkled and extremely ugly. He often was mentioned in connection with Greentown, which Helltown Indians and others founded in 1782 on the Black Fork in what was to become Green Township, Ashland County. It was regarded as a more defensible location in the face of Crawford’s march against the Ohio Indians and the massacre of the Moravian Indians of Gnadenhutten.
But not all about Tom Lyons was negative. he was a frequent and often welcome visitor to the Moravian missions, although he never converted. He was married, according to some reports, to a beautiful, much younger Indian woman, and often was seen with two grown sons, George and James, as well as his long-time friends from Helltown and Greentown. He was openly fond of some of the settlers, especially a young man he had taken under his wing while he had been an Indian captive.
He was never a chief but he was one of the Greentown elders who signed a petition to President James Madison just before the War of 1812, asking him to receive a delegation from the village. After the war and the burning of Greentown by members of the Ohio militia, he returned and often visited old acquaintances in the area. He lived in a log cabin and carved and sold wooden ladles.
When the treaty was signed in 1817 giving up the Delaware reservation around Greentown, he was listed among those granted land in the new reservation just below the Wyandots in Marion County. There are reports he was living there as late as the mid-1820s although still seen traveling with his old friends throughout the area. He almost certainly died there — of very old age.
But these reports didn’t stop the people writing their counties’ histories many years later of repeating stories that Tom Lyons had met violent deaths in at least 13 different places at 13 different times — mostly acts of vengeance for his long and bloody career fighting the white man — and with the addition of Rosella’s very romantic although somewhat sympathetic version, it comes to 14.
In 2003, Bob Carter of Mansfield compiled all those stories in an excellent book, “Tom Lyons, the Indian Who Died 13 Times.” It was republished in 2011 and is available for $15 through the Greentown Preservation Association. Contact the email address below for details.