Ancient Footpaths

Native American Indian Trails

Emmett with map

This Ancient Footpath, located on the "Great Indian Warpath" from SE Us to midwest via Scioto Salt Springs, is called Virgin Trail by The Olde Forester as it never became a road for European settlers. It is located in northwest Jackson County on Mead Corp property. The trail is believed to be an unimproved portion of the "Road from the Highbank Prairee" (Pickaway Plains, long an Indian village site south of Circleville, OH) to Salt Lick Town (now Jackson, OH). Photo by Emmett Conway about 1978 when first exploring ancient trails.


By Emmett A. Conway, Sr., The Olde Forester

“Only the streets remember.” This was the laconic reply of the German farmer in Waldkirk, Black Forest, Germany, when I asked him if there had ever been charcoal iron blast furnaces in the village. His remark reminds us of how soon we forget. The good part is that it reminds us that the names of roads are often a clue to historical sites.

When our species of bipeds appeared on earth in that dim and unknown past, they used their feet to find places to supply their needs. Supplying the primary wants of food and shelter required moving around the territory in which one found oneself. Hunters and gatherers would travel from places of nightly repose to seek a food supply of berries, roots, nuts, fish, insects or animals. In doing so they packed the earth proportionally to the continuity of use and condition of the terrain. Thus ANCIENT FOOTPATHS were established wherever people lived. Footpaths etched the habits of the ancient people on the earth.

Animals, particularly grazing animals, created traces for similar reasons. Mammoths, mastodons, extinct bison, deer, elk and other migratory animals probably were the originators of the main trails followed by early Indians in North America. They found the fordings of the streams and rivers, the low gaps in a hill or mountain range and the unerring direction to places of importance to them. Points of intense concentration, like the prime salt springs where Jackson, Ohio, is now located, were approached from all important directions. The modern road map shows this site to be a veritable hub of roads--many on the same locations as the ANCIENT AND GAME PATHS recorded before settlement in 1796. Portions of these "Buffalo Traces" can still be found cut to the depth of eight feet below the surrounding terrain. One thrills to the thought that mammoths and other Pleistocene vertebrates helped cut them on their way to the licks and that Paleo Indians followed them there.

Some frontiersman said, "The Indian Trails were laid out by the Buffaler, the Injin and the Injineer."

Geography and common observation teaches us that the environment is a varied and changing habitat for mankind. We have oceans, rivers, lakes, swamps, deserts and wetlands, and various elevations above sea level. Different weather conditions are brought about by latitude, longitude and elevation. There are natural resources which the people found useful such as salt, flint, various kinds of rocks (for hammerstones, etc.), and metals (copper, silver, lead, etc.) which they learned to make into tools and ornaments. People have adapted to these natural conditions and resources in a myriad of ways. Topography and the natural resources had a great influence on the locations of the many primary ANCIENT FOOTPATHS.

The late Dr. Paul A. W. Wallace made a lifetime study of Pennsylvania Indian paths which was published in 1965 by The Pennsylvania Historical and Museum Commission entitled, Indian Paths of Pennsylvania. He characterizes Indian paths as being DRY, LEVEL AND DIRECT. A locational engineer would be proud of the placements and alignment.

THE ANCIENT FOOTPATHS OF ATHENS COUNTY have been located with little doubt because of documentation by The Ohio Company pioneers. Federal law dictated that the specifications of THE RECTANGULAR SYSTEM OF LAND MEASUREMENT be adhered to by The Ohio Company of Associates. In surveying the lines of the six mile square townships and the mile square sections and subdivisions, the surveyors were required to record geographic conditions along the lines including roads and streams. The original survey notes and plats are located in the archives of the Marietta College Library and were not in the custody of the State Auditor of Ohio as are all other original surveys.

The surveyors were the elite scientists of the pioneer days, and generally the leaders, for example, Rufus Putnam. Their notes and plat maps are in the archives of the Marietta College Library, Marietta, Ohio. Their specific notes on the locations of existing traces and roads before or just after the time of settlement are vital to relocating the Indian Paths.

Indian Paths and Ancient Footpaths around the world have proven to be the easiest routes to walk from place to place for very long distances--hundreds and thousands of miles. The portions crossing the present Athens County are part of the continental system and similar to ANCIENT FOOTPATHS the world around. The characteristics mentioned by Paul A. W. Wallace of DRY, LEVEL AND DIRECT fits the portions of the trails in Athens County. He also states, "These Indian Paths of Pennsylvania continue to be important Indian sites in Ohio and elsewhere."

The odd curve in the river which the Indians had named "HOCKHOCKING" and which was chosen as a seat of higher learning, had long been popular with the Indians. See James L. Murphy's book entitled, An Archeological History of the Hocking Valley, Ohio University Press, Athens, Ohio, 1975. Two prominent Indian village sites are mentioned along with many mounds and the spectacular Wolf Plains Complex of earthen circles and many mounds. It is not surprising that the first state-wide map of the original survey, THE HOUGH MAP OF 1815, (a copy of a portion of it was given to the Special Collections Division of the Alden Library) clearly shows five long distance roads coming together at the City of Athens. The Hough Map shows each square survey township and its subdivisions into thirty-six sections, or in the Ohio Company Tract, sections and fractional sections. The belief of the author is that the politicians had not yet had time to modify the Indian Paths to the settlers' demands; and therefore, indicate the typical Ancient Footpath characteristics.

Another map which shows the principle roads, presumed to be ancient footpaths, is THE MAP OF THE STATE OF OHIO drawn by A. BOURNE, and dated 1820. The title states, "INCLUDING THE INDIAN RESERVATIONS."

The Olde Forester hopes to document all he knows about the ancient footpaths. To date I have the following entries:

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