Hundreds of years ago, the quiet hills of Highland County were home to hundreds of Shawnee Native Americans. One of these Native Americans, Chief Waw-will-a-way, was a noble and generous man who lived near Hardens Creek with his wife and two children. Unlike many Shawnee chiefs of the time, Waw-will-a-way advocated for peace between white settlers and Native Americans and was well respected by both settlers and Shawnee. Unfortunately, despite the chief’s friendly reputation, he became the victim of a crime that became infamous in Southern Ohio folklore.
Before the tragic death of the beloved Shawnee chief, the unsolved murder of Captain Herrod was weighing heavily on the minds of Highland County pioneers. The victim had been scalped and attacked with a tomahawk, supposedly by a Shawnee villager. Though the murder was most likely the work of a political rival, settlers cast suspicion upon local natives and hostilities intensified in the weeks leading up to the murder of Chief Waw-will-a-way.
It all came to a head one summer day as three white settlers — Wolf, Williamson and Ferguson — travelled down a lonely path through the wilderness of Southern Ohio. David Wolf was a wealthy old hunter who lived on the north fork of Paint Creek in a small community known as Old Town. He travelled with Williamson and Ferguson, two young men from a neighboring village. On their trek back to Old Town, the posse spotted a lone Native American man. They greeted each other warmly, exchanging pleasantries. Wolf and the chief were good acquaintances, often doing business together. The pioneers questioned Waw-will-a-way about the rumors stating that Native Americans planned to attack the white settlers. Chief Waw-will-a-way, oblivious to the recent killing of Captian Herrod, was taken aback by this startling accusation. He denied that an attack was coming and that any of his people had killed Captain Herrod.
Perhaps unnerved by the allegations against the Shawnee, Waw-will-a-way soon ended the conversation with a brief goodbye and wished the men well on their journey.
As Chief Waw-will-a-way turned and walked away, Wolf leveled his rifle at the kind old Shawnee chief and fired a shot into his back. The chief, though mortally injured, did not fall. He refused to die without avenging himself, and with as much vigor as the dying man could exert, he raised his own weapon and fired back. Williams was struck and killed, and with his remaining strength, the chief plunged his knife deep into Wolf’s thigh, breaking off the wooden handle and implanting the metal firmly into Wolf’s leg.
The dying chief finally fell to the ground, bleeding intensely from his wounds and exhausted with his struggle with Wolf. He lay in a field of wildflowers and the murderer and what remained of his posse rode away on their horses.
The Shawnee people were devastated when the news reached Hardens Creek in modern-day Leesburg. Chief Waw-will-a-way’s funeral was held at the junction of Hardens and Lees creeks. In attendance were white settlers and Shawnee villagers alike, both joined in grieving for the cherished chief.
Meanwhile, Wolf was in hiding. A well-known Shawnee tradition stated that the brother of a murdered man must seek revenge on the killer, and Wolf had no intention of facing the wrath of one of Chief Waw-will-a-way’s family members. Fortunately for Wolf, the family of Waw-will-a-way shared the belief that Native Americans and white pioneers should be peaceful and understanding of one another. Despite the terrible betrayal of Chief Waw-will-a-way, the incredible forgiveness of his brothers allowed Wolf’s life to be spared.
The story of Chief Waw-will-a-way is one of tragedy and betrayal, but the forgiveness shown by the Shawnee people after the death of their esteemed leader is remarkable. The peaceful life of the old chief and the dramatic tale of his untimely death make Waw-will-a-way’s story an incredible account of Highland County history.
The local chapter of the Daughters of the American Revolution is named for Chief Waw-will-a-way.
Information for this story came from: https://books.google.com/books?id=2P5Uo4C0H30C&pg=PA137&lpg=PA137&dq=waw+wil+a+way&source=bl&ots=m83W7YpUq4&sig=ACfU3U2FJ61dGOvCEsp7F8baj1bucY_zyQ&hl=en&sa=X&ved=2ahUKEwigrPXZ1pXoAhVpmHIEHdLpBMwQ6AEwB3oECAoQAQ#v=onepage&q=waw%20wil%20a%20way&f=false
Isabell Warner is a stringer for The Times-Gazette.