Of all the histories written about the American Revolution, not one mentions a British fort that once stood on the eastern slopes of the soft green hills of the upper Mad, River Valley, at the spot now occupied by the town of Zanesfield in Logan County, Ohio Nor do any of these sources mention the treasure of the forgotten fort.
The fact that this fort existed, and was garrisoned by British soldiers for almost three years after the official close of the Revolution, is one that has been established beyond a doubt.
Fort Wapatomica, as it was called, never served the purpose for which it was built, but it did play an important role in the Indian wars of the Northwest frontier. Why, then, was it all but forgotten by history?
The Ohio Revolutionary Memorial Trails Commission explains it this way:
The contemporary record of the Revolution was written by men of the Atlantic seaboard, and to them, this wild, trackless region beyond the Alleghenies hardly existed. Communication was so difficult and slow that news of events transpiring in the scattered pioneer settlements of the Northwest Territory did not reach the eastern centers of population for months, and when it did get through, its importance suffered from the apparently more vivid occurrences at home. No matter how important any campaign in that wilderness country might be, they were either unknown or unappreciated by the new nation and the historians of that time.
Furthermore, the settlers in the western Indian lands were not greatly given to making written records; and even their letters to the East were few and far between. They were simply too busy trying to hold their wilderness possessions against British inspired Indian raids.
Although tales of a British fort near the Indian village of Wapatomica were handed down by word of mouth from descendants of the earliest pioneers in Logan County, the only actual written record of it appeared in the report of General Benjamin Logan, after whom Logan County is named. In 1786, General Logan and his forces marched against the Shawnee villages in Mad River Valley and destroyed this fort, which he described as being immense in size and thickness.
To clearly understand why the British buried gold at Fort Wapatomica and walked away from it, it is necessary to review some of the turbulent events of the Northwest frontier period. And it should be pointed out here, as the Ohio Revolutionary Trails Commission emphasizes, the dates in this period of history, when meager records were kept, are frequently conflicting and confusing.
In 1782, a preliminary peace treaty was agreed upon between Great Britain and the American Colonies. By the terms of this agreement, the English were required to withdraw all troops and garrisons stationed west of the Alleghenies, but this they completely and stubbornly ignored.
Even after the Treaty of Paris of September 3, 1783, officially ended the Revolutionary War, the British remained on United States soil another 13 years, actively engaging in warfare against the American frontier settlements in what was to become, in 1787, the Northwest Territory.
With headquarters in Detroit, British governor Henry Hamilton sent agents into the Ohio country to recruit Indian allies. These agents, mostly renegade whites and Tories who had fled from the war along the Atlantic coast, had little trouble in persuading the Ohio tribes to join the British causeespecially when they were showered with gifts of guns, ammunition, food and red handled scalping knives, and the promise of a cash reward for each white scalp delivered to Detroit. Pointedly, there was no reward for prisoners.
Already aroused over the encroachment of, white men into their favorite hunting grounds, the Ohio Indians became staunch British supporters and started one of the bloodiest campaigns against white settlers in American Indian history. Before long, Henry Hamilton was known throughout the Ohio settlements as Hair Buyer Hamilton of Detroit.
Inhabiting the Miami, Scioto and Mad River Valleys of Ohio at this time were great numbers of Indians Wyandots, Delawares, Ottawas, Miamis, and the most feared of all, the Shawnees. Known as the Bedquins of North American Indians, the Shawnees were wanderers without parallel among eastern tribes ranging from Canada to Florida, but maintaining their principal villages in Ohio. They were noted for their extreme cruelty to prisoners, their executions by slow burning at the stake, and for the ferocity of their attacks upon prisoners forced to run the gauntlet.
The main town of the Shawnees in Ohio was Wapatomica, located near the headwaters of the Mad River. The Indians for its streams in an area particularly cherished it many springs, abundance of game, and for the rich bottomlands where they grew corn. To this village the Shawnees brought their many prisoners to be tortured and executed. To the pioneers, Wapatomica became known as the slaughter pen of the Shawnee. Here, too, were held their most important councils and ceremonial dances.
Although Kentucky was rapidly filling with settlers, only a handful occupied Ohio. As a result, the Ohio Indians repeatedly crossed the Ohio River and raided the Kentucky settlements, sending scalps to Detroit for the British reward. The Kentuckians struck back through George Rogers Clark and his seasoned Virginia militiamen. So successful were Clarks expeditions into the Ohio Valley that the Indians of that region finally agreed to accept the Ohio River as their southern boundary. Nevertheless, occasional raids into Kentucky continued.
Fearing other American raids into the Ohio Indian lands which they hoped to hold, and annoyed by Clarks taking of Fort Vicennes (where Hair Buyer Hamilton himself was captured), the British sent a Captain Caidwell and a party of 40 British Rangers from Detroit to the Ohio country for the purpose of arousing the somewhat subdued Shawnees to further raids against the Americans.
Caidwell arrived at the village of Wapatomica, where there was assembled some 1,300 Indians of several tribes, together with a large number of white renegades and Tories who had escaped the prison at Fort Pitt, Pennsylvania. Living here at the time was a single white man, Isaac Zane, who had been stolen by the Wyandot tribe when nine years old and had been adopted into the tribe. Zane married the daughter of a chief and became one of the lusty characters of the Ohio frontier, and it was through his descendants that much of the early history of the Ohio Valley was handed down.
Soon after his arrival at Wapatomica, Caidwell heard through Indian sources that George Rogers Clark planned to march with another force of Americans on the Indian towns along the Mad River, destroying villages and crops, and to continue on north to attack the British post at Detroit.
Caidwell was thrown into consternation, for Clarks previous successes had made his name one to be taken seriously. In order to stop the Americans advance, he immediately ordered the construction of a large stockade fort with a blockhouse at each of its four corners. This was now the only British outpost south of Detroit. It became known, whether officially or not, as Fort Wapatomica.
In Detroit, nothing was known of Clarks rumored attack when Captain Andrew Brandt and 40 additional Rangers were dispatched to join Caidwell at Wapatomica. He carried orders instructing the combined forces to march against Fort Pittthis in open defiance of the temporary treaty with the Americans which was then in effect.
In the meantime, Fort Wapatomica was completed and garrisoned. It was an imposing structure which stood near the banks of the Mad River. Caidwell, tiring of his wait for the arrival of Clark, decided to march out and find the bothersome Americans.
When all was in readiness to depart from the fort, to which they fully expected to return, all valuables of the British were collected and placed in a large iron pot, which was then buried within the stockade, or just outside. This is presumed to have included the gold coin which was used to pay the British troops, reward money to pay to the Indians for American scalps, and the personal wealth of some of the renegades.
When Caidwell reached the Indian village of Piqua, on the Miami River to the southwest, be found it completely burned out and empty. Clark bad been there two years before, and strangely, this news had never reached Caidwells ears.
Infuriated, Caidwell brashly decided to strike the Kentuckians at the feebly defended outpost of Bryan Station, about six miles from present-day Lexington, Kentucky. At this point, many of the Shawnee warriors, feeling that the British had tricked them and still smarting over their recent losses to the Kentuckians, deserted and returned to their villages. But the Wyandots and renegade whites remained loyal, and the march started.
Caidwell found no easy victory at Bryan Station, as he had anticipated. Numbers of alarmed settlers bad gathered for a stubborn defense, and the British retreated toward the Ohio. They returned to Fort Wapatomica, where Captain Brandt and his contingent of Rangers were camped.
Immediate plans were made for the joint march on Fort Pitt, with the officers adding a diversion of their own devisingan attack on Fort Henry (where Wheeling, West Virginia, now stands) en route. Before marching out, Brandt and his men added their own valuables to the cache at Fort Wapatomica.
On a September day in 1782, while Britain and the United States were ostensibly at peace, Caidwell and Brandts Rangers, supported by a force of 300 Indians and renegade whites, attacked Fort Henry in a two-day siege that proved indecisive. Western historians refer to this struggle as the last battle of the American Revolution.
At this time, the British became concerned that the United States might return the land west of the Alleghenies to its former owner, France. In the belief that it would be easier to recover the territory from the Americans later on, they called off their offensive activities in Ohio. Both Caidwell and Brandt were recalled to Detroit, leaving behind the treasure at Fort Wapatomica to be recovered at a later date. The British never doubted that the Ohio country would eventually be theirs.
Even with the Ohio campaign called off and the official treaty of peace signed by England and the United States, the British continued to occupy Detroit, giving as their excuse the argument that the American government had not fulfilled its agreement to reimburse the Tories for the losses they had suffered as a result of the Revolution. When they finally relinquished their outpost in Detroit in 1796, the war had officially been over for 13 years.
Although they were no longer under pressure from the British, the Ohio Indian tribes, particularly the irascible Shawnees, continued their raids on white settlements. In order to punish the Indians for the continual violation of their agreement to stay north of the Ohio River, General Benjamin Logan led a force of 800 Kentuckians up Mad River Valley in 1786, while George Rogers Clark simultaneously swept up the Miami. Logan laid waste to Shawnee villages, one after another eight or ten in all. He devastated their cornfields and scattered the red men in all directions.
The last of the villages destroyed was Wapatomica, and just north of the village itself Logan discovered the fort, which the British had somehow managed to keep a secret. Other than Isaac Zane, who lived nearby, and the white renegades in the employ of the British, these were the first white men ever to see Fort Wapatomica. Logan must have stared in amazement, marveling that such a secret could have been kept so long. But he didnt stare long before ordering the torch put to the fort. When his forces marched away, Fort Wapatomica was in complete ruins, burned to the ground.
According to the earliest settlers, the British treasure now reposed under the forts ashes.
The power of the Indians was broken once and for all, and settlers came across the mountains in veritable swarms. On March 1, 1778, there was not a single permanent white settlement in Ohio. Fifteen years later, on March 1, 1803, Ohio had reached a population of 60,000, necessary to become a state of the Union.
Nothing was known officially of a British fort at Wapatomica until General Logans report appeared years after its destruction. Nor was the important part it played in the Revolution in the Northwest Territory realized.
The man most responsible for gathering much of the almost forgotten history of Wapatomica and the old fort on Mad River was the late 0. K. Reames, noted Ohio historian and specialist in the history of Logan County, the Mad River Valley and the Indians who once lived there. Reames was born near Zanesfield in 1873 and lived there most of his 94 years. The Ohio State Archaeological and Historical Society, of which he was a director, long ago recognized his great contribution in collecting the historical facts that would have been bypassed but for his efforts.
The writer of this treasure story has drawn freely from the scrapbooks and writings of 0. K. Reames, which are in his possession by virtue of having married one of his daughters.
Today, a marker indicates the site where the Shawnee council house once stood at Wapatomica, and a flagpole rises from the exact spot where the execution post once claimed its victims Nearby can still be seen the circular depression in the ground, once packed hard by moccasin feet that danced in countless ceremonials. All of this can easily be found and seen, just off the Zanesfield-West Liberty Road about two and one-half miles south of Zanesfield.
So far as it is known, no real search has ever been made for the Fort Wapatomica treasure, although the site of the village of Wapatomica was thoroughly searched for artifacts in the early 1930s. Almost in the middle of Zanesfield, a small boulder bearing a plaque marks the nearby site of Fort Wapatomica This was erected in 1953 through the efforts of 0. K. Reames, who worked to preserve historical sites in this section of Ohio.
As this monument points out, the old fort stood in parts of the backyards of the David Hess and Warren Cushman residences. This is private property, of course, and permission must be obtained from the owners before any search is made for the treasure of the forgotten fort.