I want to warn you right up front that there is a kind of stupid joke at the end of this story, but I swear I wouldn’t tell it if it were not true.
This is the story about the Legend of Mohawk Hill. If you’re traveling out of Lucas on the Perrysville Road, before you get to Pinhook you’ll have to cross over Mohawk Hill; and you’ll know you’re there when the road ascends through a mountainlike pass with sandstone cliffs on one side and a forested steep dropoff on the other.
In different seasons it is a scenic and romantic landmark, and so it has acquired an appropriately romantic and intriguing set of legends as if to validate its unique character.
According to one of the early county histories, Mohawk Hill was the site where warriors from the nearby 18th century tribal village of Helltown came to hunt, and to die, and to lay their dead into the earth.
These tales were being told in the 1870s by a county historian who was descended of a well-known and long-established local family. People who knew him were grateful for his efforts to preserve local lore, however the better they knew him they were not unaware that sometimes he was known to add color to a story that might otherwise seem somewhat pale.
His name was AJ Baughman, and among his assembled legends was the notion that a great chief of the Mohawks was laid to rest in a cave halfway up the mountainous heights of Mohawk Hill where the sandstone cracked open to reveal a narrow passage. This cave served not only as a sacred tomb, but also as a “receptacle for their treasures.”
The sacred grave, he said, was protected from intruders by some kind of curse, or perhaps an aboriginal magic spell.
The Fact Check
Everybody from Lucas to Perrysville knew Mohawk Hill very well, having traversed it their entire lives, and though it was perhaps fun to think the unique landmark had an exciting historical and even supernatural aura, they knew AJ well enough to know that the tale may well have sprung up in Monroe Township by way of a James Fenimore Cooper action novel.
Yet there was enough reasonable doubt to wonder, so the neighbors between Lucas and Pinhook took their query to a reliable authority—a doctor in Newville who had been intimately involved in Richland County archaeology for nearly 40 years. If anyone knew for sure it would be JP Henderson because he had dug prehistoric mounds, sorted out tribal villages, and paced a thousand plowed fields picking up arrowheads. He had—by far—the most comprehensive collection of relics in the county.
So the Mohawk Hill neighbors asked Dr. Henderson if this Mohawk legend had any basis in truth.
The Search & Research
Dr. Henderson went to Mohawk Hill and spent a day wandering around turning over rocks, and then he went back and spent two more days digging in with a shovel. He came away with a satchel full of flints, and his field notes indicate that he discovered a burial mound somewhere on the heights.
The burial mound, however, was not of historic tribal origin—clearly not from Mohawks—but from prehistoric times. He noted that his findings on Mohawk Hill covered a broad range of artifacts from a span of distinctly different cultures: including the Hopewell, Adena—mound builder people—clear back to the Paleo hunters who roamed these hills after the ice age.
Without a doubt Mohawk Hill was a well-known site to folks passing through the pages of prehistoric Richland history for the last 15,000 years.
As to actual Mohawks…that was hard to say for sure. This Richland/Ashland County area is associated with the Mohican tribe because of a small village where a Mohican John lived, and it was well documented that the Mohicans and the Mohawks didn’t socialize particularly well and were, in fact, sworn enemies.
On the other hand it was also well documented that the nearby villages of Helltown and Greentown were composed of folks from many different tribes including Wyandots, Lenape, Mingo and even Shawnee. So it is not unreasonable to think that all the local tribepeople had risen peaceably above factional resentments. So the Mohawk element of the story could well be true.
As to the big chief of the Mohawks and his magical grave…that was, uh, shall we say, not verifiable.
Fast Forward: 1930s
All this happened before Doc Henderson died in 1889, and it only takes a couple generations of new children become old codgers before all that meaningful information and careful documentation fades away out of the farmlands and local memory.
No one really gave the legend any thought in the 1930s when a truck from the county highway department coming down the Mohawk steep hill tried to downshift too late and roared out of control off the curve into the upper limbs of beech trees in the hollow. That curve is halfway up the hill, at the sandstone cliffs where the sacred grave is supposed to be.
Fast Forward Redux: 1961
Ancient Lore: Sacred & Profane
The man who explained all this to me, and drew together the connections so I could understand, was named Hicks, and when I was a boy he took the time to show me hundreds of arrowheads, birdstones, pipes, pot shards, copper beads and disintegrating relics that he had once salvaged from Doc Henderson’s fabled museum.
Listening to him speak so earnestly it was clear to me that he wasn’t used to having someone young as me actually pay attention to him, so he made use of the rare opportunity to pass along the part of the story he found most fascinating, the significance of which he alone had grasped.
“That 1961 wreck,” he said, “took place at the same curve in the road where the 1930s Highway truck crashed…which is the same place where the Mohawk Chief is buried. The boy in the sports car lost control of his wheels because his tires were treadworn and bald, and I swear to you on my father’s grave—because I was there and witnessed it all—the tires on that boy’s sports car were Mohawks: 1957 Mohawk Super Chiefs.”
So does all this mean anything? If it makes you drive more slowly and mindfully when going up or down Mohawk Hill I guess it doesn’t really matter whether it is because you’re pondering the supernatural mysteries of local history, or simply trying to stay on the road.