By Tammy Watts
GREENVILLE — More than 200 people witnessed Tecumseh’s return to Shawnee Prairie Preserve on Friday, June 17, 2022. The unveiling of Tecumseh’s statue was a three-fold celebration honoring the intrepid Shawnee warrior, and his influence on local history, the launch of the Darke County Center for the Arts (DCCA) public Art Trail, and the 50th anniversary of Darke County Parks (DCP).
DCP Director Roger Van Frank, who will retire in December, emceed the event, taking special pride in introducing representatives from all three federally recognized Shawnee tribes: The (Loyal) Shawnee, the Eastern Shawnee, and the Absentee Shawnee (so named because they did not attend the signing of an 1854 treaty for a Kansas reservation). They traveled from Oklahoma to attend the ceremony, marking the first time all three Shawnee Tribes have been back in Ohio, at the same time, since the Indian Removal Act of 1832 forced them westward.
Chief Glenna Wallace of the Eastern Shawnee Tribe, spoke of her ancestors, who, together with the Seneca, were known as the “mixed band.” U.S. soldiers planned to load them onto watercraft for the journey west. They refused, fearing the rafts would be set on fire, or the blankets would be laced with cholera. Determined to leave Ohio the same way they came: by horseback, or on foot, the Shawnee walked 800 miles to a reservation in Oklahoma.
“Our first return to Ohio was in 2007, and there was a gentle rain for three days,” Wallace recalled. “We know our ancestors were crying for joy that we had returned.”
Quoting Tecumseh, Absentee Shawnee Governor John Johnson stated “A single twig breaks, but a bundle is strong.” He added that Tecumseh, whose name means “falling star,” spent his whole life fighting for independence and unity.
“We are the warrior group, we know our language, and we practice our culture,” said Absentee Shawnee Tribal Secretary Alicia Miller.
“We’re all related,” added Shawnee Councilman Kenny Paul Hood, referring to the other two Tribes.
Van Frank responded, “We learned a lot in your words today, and I hope we listened well.” He explained the significance of unveiling Tecumseh’s statue at Shawnee Prairie: “We know Tecumseh was here,” he said, citing Shaker accounts dating back to 1807 that describe their visit to Tecumseh and his brother, Tenskwatawa, The Prophet.
It is therefore fitting that Tecumseh’s statue was chosen as the first stop on the new Darke County Art Trail. “We are proud to be unveiling the initial installation, and offering new and unique arts experiences, as well as celebrating art that is already here in the county,” stated DCCA Executive Director Andrea Jordan. Other stops along the Art Trail include Greenville’s Annie Oakley statue, St. Clair Memorial Hall, the Maid-Rite Gum Wall, Ansonia’s Annie Oakley Barn Mural, and Union City’s Mural.
Tecumseh sculptor Joshua Shepherd, a self-taught artist, said, “It was a hobby that accidentally grew into a career. I’ve always been interested in history, so this is a dream job.” Shepherd takes all types of commissions, but prefers historical figures such as his rendition of Miami Chief Little Turtle (also part of the Art Trail), located at Greenville City Park, and Tecumseh.
Tim Wells, of Michigan, served as coordinator between DCP and the DCCA on the Art Trail. Wells spent a year as an artist-in-residence in Darke County, advising students at Mississinawa Valley on the Union City Mural. He is starting a podcast on Spotify, and will feature Van Frank, Jordan, Shepherd, and Marilyn Delk. “Roger (Van Frank) and Andrea (Jordan) make my job easy,” said Wells, noting their dedication and thoroughness with regards to every aspect of the project. Twenty artists will be included in the Art Trail, with new commissions located along the Tecumseh bike trail.
“I couldn’t ask for a better collaboration than DCP and DCCA,” stated Darryl Mehaffie, DCCA chairman. “There hasn’t been one iota of a problem.” He credited Ohio Senator Matt Huffman’s 2020 proposal, and subsequent securing of $40,000 in the state budget, as being the impetus for the statue. The 2021 state budget included $180,000 for future Art Trail projects. “We’re small compared to other communities, but they saw that we were important enough to get the funding,” Mehaffie stated.
“Not everyone has people as dedicated as Darryl Mehaffie and Roger Van Frank,” stated Huffman, remarking that Mehaffie has advocated for Darke County on every state budget with which the senator has been involved.
Proclamations were sent to mark the occasion by Governor Mike DeWine’s office, as well as that of Lieutenant Governor Jon Husted. U.S. Senators Sherrod Brown and Rob Portman, Congressman Warren Davidson, along with State Representatives Susan Manchester and Jena Powell, sent commendations via senior staff members.
In conclusion, Van Frank turned to the Shawnee leaders, saying, “You’ve honored Shawnee Prairie, you’ve honored me. I hereby proclaim, Tecumseh has returned.” After a round of applause, and a standing ovation, Van Frank presented the Tribes’ officials with framed copies of Tecumseh’s Teachings.
For more information on the Darke County Art Trail, visit www.DarkeCountyArts.org, email [email protected], or call 937-547-0908.
Contact Daily Advocate Reporter Tammy Watts at [email protected].