Kuron (1812): Up Swan Creek, with a paddleWritten by Frank Kuron | | email@example.com
Once, as a youth, I got dumped out of my canoe. Not from standing up or hitting a rock, but from friends who thought it was a fun thing to do — yes, friends. Anyway, that incident didn’t diminish my love for canoeing. If you have never floated down a lazy river or even a bumpy one, I urge you to grab a paddle and row.
There’s just something about being near water, isn’t there? Why else would all the river and lakefront properties be the hardest real estate to acquire these days? Civilizations have settled at water’s edge since time began. The rivers and creeks in our Northwest Territory of 1812 were the highway system of that day.
Of course, various Native American tribes resided beside or near the rolling Swan and Ten Mile creeks, as well as the Ottawa, Sandusky, Raisin and Maumee rivers. The relatively few white men who had ventured into our area with the intention to settle long-term, quickly learned the advantage of quality transportation by observing these people already in residence.
Now, maybe it’s just me, but there is an irony in the fact that I’ll spend hours on a treadmill but later hop in my car to travel four blocks to the carryout! I suspect the Indians held a similar sentiment. Why hike 10 miles to the hunting grounds when they could take a swift float down the river? And so the canoe, an exquisite example of functional design to transport men and materials, appeared. Sure, strong waves or a long lean can tip them, but when handled properly they were, and are, graceful and easy to maneuver.
Lewis and Clark are credited with using the term “pirogue” to describe certain canoes they had taken on their famous 1804-06 expedition. Ironically, they used this moniker for both their large and small canoes. Today, at least throughout the Midwest, we simply call them canoes no matter their size. That’s except for Louisiana-area residents who use the term pirogue in distinct reference to a small, light, flat-bottom canoe that glides silently in extremely shallow water. Historically, the term pirogue is used to describe a very specific canoe design — one dug out of a single log.
I’ll bet many of you fell into the trap of pronouncing this word like my favorite Polish dumpling, the pierogi? That delicacy is pronounced pih-row-ghee. The canoe is a pee-rowgh. And now you know.
These smallest of canoes were literally hand-carved out of large trees and designed to hold only one or two men. In the making, the Native Americans were known to set fire to the halved, felled tree and scoop out the charred wood as it burned, repeating the process until it was shaped into a vessel worthy of keeping men afloat. Sometimes they added water to the partially hollowed-out canoe, then dropped in extremely hot stones which caused a brief boil, softened the wood and allowed for smooth carving.
These small pirogues provided swift transportation and were easily portaged, or carried, by one man when rapids or waterfalls had to be avoided. Maybe even more important, they were quiet when stalking wildlife — or enemies. Many a raid on frontier families was aided by the silent maneuvering of a pirogue.
Larger canoes were typically constructed of a cedar frame, then covered with more cedar sheathing and finished in birch bark. Pine roots were used like thread for stitching. Sap became natural glue. Can’t you just smell those fresh cedar and pine scents wafting through the air as they built these vessels? Up to 30 feet in length, these grander canoes were generally used for longer, more hazardous travel like trips from the mouth of our Maumee River on Lake Erie into the other Great Lakes.
Next time you go canoeing, and there are still plenty of canoe liveries along our rivers, remember that even though your vessel may be made of aluminum, it was the Native American who used what resources were available to him — tree trunks, bark, sap and roots — to create a design that has, and will, last indefinitely.
Bugle Call: Upcoming events
- Contrasting perspectives on the War of 1812 in Northwest Ohio will be offered by lecturers Jamie Oxendine and Larry Nelson at 6:30 p.m. March 2, in the Franciscan Center on the Lourdes University campus in Sylvania. Oxendine is the director of the Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation and a respected Native American speaker. Nelson is a history professor with Bowling Green State University and previously served as site director for Fort Meigs. A peaceful deliberation is expected!
- The Wolcott House Museum Guild is sponsoring free history lectures about our region every Thursday at 10 a.m. through March at the Maumee Branch Library auditorium.
- The Western Lake Erie Region during the War of 1812 will be the focus of the annual Friends of Pearson March Sunday Series, at 2 p.m. each week in Macomber Lodge at Pearson Metropark, according to a news release. The series begins March 4 with a presentation by Jeff Helmer, park ranger at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial on South Bass Island. The monument commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie. On March 11, staff from Fort Meigs State Memorial in Perrysburg will discuss the battles that took place at the War of 1812 battlefield on the Maumee River.
March 18, Daniel Downing, education and operations chief at the River Raisin National Battlefield, will talk about the famous battle at that Monroe, Mich., battlefield.
Local historian and author Larry Michaels will conclude the series with a presentation about Northwest Ohio’s best known explorer, Peter Navarre, who played a role in the war.
Macomber Lodge, which was recently renovated, is on Navarre Avenue, east of Lallendorf Road. The entrance to the lodge is separate from the entrance to Pearson.