American Indians

From Ohio History Central

American Indian is a term applied to a person descended from the original inhabitants of the land that is now the continental United States of America. Christopher Columbus, encountered the Americas and brought news of his explorations to Europe in 1492. He named the people whom he met "Indians," believing that he had reached India. Columbus was mistaken, but his name for the American Indians continued to be used.

Like the Europeans, American Indians migrated to the Americas. Historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists debate exactly how and when these people arrived, but most scholars believe that the American Indians migrated across the Bering Land Bridge (Beringia), now the Bering Sea, between 20,000 and 10,000 BC, or between twelve thousand and twenty-two thousand years ago. It is not known how many people migrated to the Americas, whether there was only one or many waves of migration, or if these people belonged to a single group or tribe of people. What is certain is that, once they arrived, American Indians spread across North, Central, and South America, developing into numerous distinct tribes and nations. The great diversity of languages represented in the dozens of language families seems to indicate that several waves of different people spread across Beringia into the Americas.

The American Indians evolved culturally, socially, economically, and politically upon arriving in the Americas. Historians, archaeologists, and anthropologists generally divided the history of American Indians in Ohio into five time periods.

These time periods are:

  • The Paleoindian Period (13000 BC to 7000 BC)
  • The Archaic Period (8000 BC to 500 BC)
  • The Woodland Period (800 BC to AD 1200)
  • The Late Prehistoric Period (AD 1200 to circa AD 1650)
  • The Historic Period (AD 1650 to Present)


During the Paleoindian Period, American Indians began to arrive in Ohio. They were hunters and gatherers, and they hunted now extinct animals, including mammoths. During the Archaic Period, American Indians hunted animals more similar to ones that exist today and spent more time gathering wild plant foods, such as nuts. They also lived in much smaller territories than earlier groups. During the Woodland Period, American Indians continued to rely on hunting and gathering, but agriculture also became increasingly important to the natives. In Ohio, groups such as the Adena and Hopewell began to create earthworks. In most cases, these earthen structures were for burials or for religious ceremonies. The Late Prehistoric American Indians saw the gradual decline of earthwork-building tribes. Most American Indians, including those in Ohio, continued to hunt and gather, as well as engage in agriculture. The natives' most important crops were maize, beans, and squash.

The Historic American Indians saw the arrival of the Europeans. Initially, the American Indians and Europeans engaged in the fur trade. American Indians received guns, iron cookware, and other desirable items from both the French and the British. In return, the American Indians provided the whites with animal furs, which Europeans desired. The natives also introduced the whites to the vast network of long-established trade routes between various American Indian nations. In time, wars took place between the tribes and the Europeans, especially as white settlers began moving onto the natives' land. In the case of Ohio, these tensions originated during the 1750s with the French and Indian War. For the next sixty years, the American Indians and Europeans struggled over what is now modern-day Ohio. With the conclusion of the War of 1812 and the death of the Shawnee leader Tecumseh, most American Indian resistance in Ohio came to an end. In 1843, the last American Indian tribe left Ohio for land west of the Mississippi River.

Hundreds of tribes of American Indians have lived in North America. The United States government recognized 593 different tribes within the United States in 2005. Numerous tribal groups have either lived in Ohio or claimed land in the state. Among the Historic Indian Tribes occupying or claiming land in Ohio were the Shawnee natives, the Chippewa natives, the Ojibwa natives, the Delaware natives, the Wyandot natives, the Eel River natives, the Kaskaskia natives, the Iroquois natives, the Miami natives, the Munsee natives, the Seneca-Cayuga natives, the Ottawa natives, the Piankashaw natives, the Sauk natives, the Potawatomi natives, the Seneca natives, and the Wea natives.

For additional information on the specific tribes that occupied Ohio and the American Indian lifestyle, please consult the specific entries on these topics in Ohio History Central.


See Also