St. Marys
Featuring August Willich, International War Hero
& the
Mercer County Reservoir

Featuring Fishing & Destruction of Public Property

Reproduced From
Historical Collections of Ohio

Cincinnati, Ohio.


Vol. 1, Page 293


AUGLAIZE COUNTY was formed in 1848 from portions of Allen, Logan, Darke, Shelby, Mercer and Van Wert counties. It is at the southern termination of the Black Swamp district, and occupies the great dividing ridge between the head waters of Lake Erie and Ohio river. Only the northwestern part possesses the peculiar characteristics of the "Black Swamp;" by ditching the greater part has been brought under cultivation. The Mercer county reservoir, a great artificial lake of 17,500 acres and an average of ten feet in depth, is partly in this county; it abounds with fish, ducks and geese. The population is largely of German origin. It contains 400 square miles. In 1885 the acres cultivated were 131,205; in pasture, 14,997; woodland, 60,842; lying waste, 1,346; produced in wheat, 594,538 bushels, in corn, 1,330,471; barley, 18,795; tobacco, 7,600 pounds. School census in 1886, 9,566; teachers, 140. It has 39 miles of railroad.

Clay, 840 1,346 Noble, 309 1,303
Duchouquet, 905 4,971 Pusheta, 1,008 1,456
German, 1,470 2,239 Saint Mary's, 693 3,147
Goshen, 336 796 Salem, 400 1,160
Jackson,   1,991 Union, 1,008 1,590
Logan, 336 1,206 Washington, 688 1,515
Moulton, 450 1,436 Wayne, 672 1,288

Population in 1850 was 11,341; in 1860, 17,187, in 1880, 25,444, of whom 21,040 were Ohio-born.

In this county three specimens of the mastodon have been discovered as stated in historical sketch in the County Atlas - first, 1870 in Clay Township; second, in 1874 also in Clay; third, in 1878 in Washington. The mastodon differedfrom the elephant in being somewhat larger and thicker though in general not unlike it. Cuvier called it mastodon from the form of its teeth; the name is from two Greek words signifying "nipple teeth." The bones of the mastodon have been discovered over a large part of the United States and Canada; the bones of a hundred have been discovered at Big Bone Lick, Ky., and probably as many in different parts of this State.

The parts of skeleton No. 1 show it to have been an animal about fourteen feet high, eighteen feet long and with tusks probably twenty-seven feet. It was found while excavating a ditch through Muchinippi swamp eight feet from the surface, which for the first third was peat and the rest marly clay. The bones were discovered in a posture natural to an animal sinking in the mire. It is supposed it lost its life within 500 or 1,000 years after the deposition of the drift in which the marsh deposits rest. The remains of No. 2 were found in the same swamp. Only a few relics of No. 3 have been discovered. The ground being boggy there it is supposed that all the remainder of the skeleton awaits only search for its recovery, and in good preservation.

After the remnant of the powerful and noble tribe of Shawnee Indians were driven from Piqua, by General George Rogers Clark, which was in 1780, they settled a town here, which they called Wapaghkonetta, and the site of the now county-seat. Early in the century there was at the place a fine orchard, which from its being planted in regular order was supposed to have been the work of Frenchmen settled among the Indians. By the treaty at the Maumee rapids, in 1817, the Shawnees were given a reservation of ten miles square in this county, within which was their council-house at Wapakoneta, and also a tract of twenty-five square miles, which included their settlement on Hog Creek; by the treaty of

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the succeeding year, made at St. Mary's, 12,800 acres adjoining the east line of the Wapakoneta reserve were added.

From the year 1796 till the formation of the State constitution, Judge Burnet, of Cincinnati, attended court regularly at Marietta and Detroit, the last of which was then the seat of justice for Wayne county.

The jaunts between these remote places, through a wilderness, were attended with exposure, fatigue and hazard, and were usually performed on horseback, in parties of two or three or more. On one of these occasions, while halting at Wapakoneta, he witnessed a game of ball among the people, of which he has given this interesting narrative:

Blue Jacket, the war chief, who commanded the Shawnees in the battle of 1794, at Maumee, resided in the village, but was absent. We were, however, received with kindness by the old village chief, Buckingelas.

When we went to his lodge he was giving audience to a deputation of chiefs from some western tribes. We took seats at his request until the conference was finished, and the strings of wampum were disposed of. He gave us no intimation of the subject-matter of the conference, and of course we could not, with propriety, ask for it.

Indians playing Football. -- In a little time he called in some of his young men, and requested them to get up a game of football for our amusement. A purse of trinkets was soon made up, and the whole village, male and female, were on the lawn. At these games the men played against the women, and it was a rule that the former were not to touch the ball with their hands on penalty of forfeiting the purse; while the latter had the privelege of picking it up, running with, and throwing it as far as they could. When a squaw had the ball the men were allowed to catch and shake her, and even throw her on the ground, if necessary, to extricate the ball the ball from her hand, but they were not allowed to touch or move it, except by their feet. At the opposite extremes of the lawn, which was a beautiful plain, thickly set with blue grass, stakes were erected, about six feet apart - the contending parties arrayed themselves in front of these stakes; the men on one side, and the women on the other. The party which succeeded in driving the ball through the stakes, at the goal of their opponents, were proclaimed victors, and received the purse.

All things being ready the old chief went to the centre of the lawn and threw up the ball, making an exclamation, in the Shawnee language, which we did not understand. He immediately retired, and the contest began. The parties seemed to be fairly matched, as to numbers, having about a hundred on a side.

The game lasted more than an hour with great animation, but was finally decided in favor of the ladies, by the power of an herculean squaw, who got the ball and in spite of the men who seized her to shake it from her uplifted hand, held it firmly, dragging them along, till she was sufficiently near the goal to throw it through the stakes. The young squaws were the most active of their party, and, of course, most frequently caught the ball. When they did so it was amusing to see the strife between them and the young Indians, who immediately seized them, and always succeeded in rescuing the ball, though sometimes they could not effect their object till their female competitors were thrown on the grass. When the contending poarties had retired from the field of strife it was pleasant to see the feelings of exultation depicted in the faces of the victors; whose joy was manifestly enhanced by the fact, that their victory was won in the presence of white men, whom they supposed to be highly distinguished, and of great power in their nation. This was a natural conclusion for them to draw, as they knew we were journeying to Detroit for the purpose of holding the general court; which, they supposed, controlled and governed the nation. We spent the night very pleasantly among them, and in the morning resumed our journey.

In August, 1831, treaties were made with the Senecas of Lewiston and the Shawnees of Wapakoneta, buy James Gardiner, Esq., and Col. John M'Elvain, special commissioners appointed for this purpose, by which the Indians consented to give up their land and remove beyond the Mississippi. The Shawnees had tat this time about 66,000 acres in this county, and in conjuction with the Senecas about 40,300 acres at Lewiston. The Indians were removed to the Indian Territory on the Kansas river, in the Far West, in September, 1832, D. M. Workman and David Robb being the agents for their removal. The removal of the Indians opened the country to the settlement of the whites. Therefore in 1833 the present town of Wapakoneta was platted; --

[Webmaster's Note: Howe here indulges himself in 8 pages of, for our purposes, irrelevent prattle about Wapakoneta, dominated by anecdotes about Indians and their "Belief in Witchcraft" and "Love of Whiskey," with which I shall not befoul the pages of Virtual St. Marys. You are welcome. We skip ahead to page 302, sixth paragraph...]

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St. Mary's, eighty miles northwest of Columbus, lies within the oil and gas belt. In June, 1887, its daily production of gas from six wells was 25,000,000 cubic feet. Its daily production of oil is also quite large. St. Mary's is on the line of the Erie and Miami Canal, and on the L. E. & W. R. R, at the junction of the Minster branch.

The town is on elevated ground, 398 feet above Lake Erie. A large canal basin is in the place and abundance of water-power is afforded by the Mercer County Reservoir. The town is supplied with light and fuel from natural gas owned by the corporation.

Newspapers: Argus, Democrat, D.A. Clark, editor; Sentinel,Independent, F.J. Walkup, editor. Churches: 1 Presbyterian, 1 Methodist, 1 Baptist, 1 German Protestant, 1 German Lutheran, 1 Catholic. Bank of St. Mary's, F. Dieker, cashier.

Manufacturers and Employees. -- R.B. Gordon, flour, etc.; C. Buehler, job machinery, 14 hands; L. Bimel & son, carriages, etc.; John Ladue, oars and handles, 20; St. Mary's Woolen Manufacturing Company, woolen blankets, etc., 141; Nietert & Koop, flour, etc. -- State Report.

Population in 1880, 1,745; school census in 1886, 761; C.F. Wheaton, superintendent.

St. Mary's was from early times a noted point, being a village of the Shawnees. Gen. Wayne on his campaign camped here and called the place "Girty's town," from James Girty, a brother of Simon, who lived here with the Indians and gave his name to the place; Harmar was also here prior to Wayne. In the war of 1812 there was a fort at St. Mary's, which for a time was the headquarters of Gen. Harrison. It was called Fort Barbee by the regiment of Col. Barbee which built it. Another fort was also built by Col. Pogue at the

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Ottawa towns on the Auglaize, twelve miles from St. Mary's, which he named, from his wife, Fort Amanda. The regiment of Col. Jennings completed the fort, which his troops named Fort Jennings.

There were four Girty brothers, Thomas, George, James and Simon. James was adopted by the Shawnees; George by the Delawares, and Simon by the Senecas. James was the worst renegade of them all and took delight in inflicting the most fiendish cruelties upon prisoners, sparing neither women nor children. Simon was the most conspicuous, being a leader and counsellor among the Indians. It was while at St. Mary's that General Harrison received his commission of major-general. The old Fort Barbee stood in the southeast corner of the Lutheran cemetery.

Elm Grove Cemetery Click for larger photo.
Click for larger photo.

St. Marys will long be memorable as the last home and final resting-place of that old hero AUGUST WILLICH. On his monument here is this extraordinary record: "Born Nov. 19, 1810, in Braunsberg, Prussia; died Jan. 22, 1878, at St. Mary's, Ohio. Commanding army of the Revolution in Germany, 1849; private 9th Regt. O.V.I; Colonel 32nd Regt. Ind. Vol. Inf.; Brig.-Gen. U.S. Vol., July 1862; Brevet Maj.-Gen. U.S. Vol., Oct. 21, 1865."

A friend in St. Mary's who loved him as a brother thus outlines for these pages the story of his heroic and noble life.

General August Willich was born in Braunsberg, Prussia, Nov. 19, 1810. When twelve years of age he was appointed a cadet at the military school in Potsdam, and three years later he entered the military academy in Berlin, whence in 1828 he was commissioned a lieutenant and assigned to the artillery.

Democratic sentiments were prevalent among the officers of theis corps and many were transferred to other commands. Willich, then a captain, was sent to Fort Kolberg in 1846; he resigned his commission, which a year later was accepted. Thereafter he became a conspicuous leader of the revolutionary and working classes, assuming the trade and garb of a carpenter.

In March, 1848, he commanded the popular assault and capture of the Town Hall in Colgne; a month later the Republic was declared in Baden, and Willich was tendered the command of all the revolutionary forces; on April 20, 1848,

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this force was attacked by an overwhelming force of the government troops, defeating and scattering them. Willich, with over a thousand of his followers, sought and found refuge in the young and hospitable Republic of France.

The next year, 1849, Willich again crossed the boundary and beseiged the Fortress of Landau, until it was relieved by an army under the Prince of Prussia, now Emperor of germany. After several other exploits, all revolutionary forces were defeated, and on July 11 the last column under Willich crossed the border to Switzerland.

Crossing France on his way to England, Willich was arrested in Lyons by order of the then president Louis Napoleon, to be surrendered to Prussia, but released in consequence of public demonstrations in his favor.

In 1853 he came to the United States, and found employment on the coast survey from Hilton Head to South Carolina, under Captain Moffitt, later commander of the rebel cruiser "Florida." In 1858 he was called to Cincinnati to assume the editorial chair of the German Republican, the organ of the workingmen.

On the breaking out of the war he joined the 9th Regt. O.V.I. [Ohio Volunteer Infantry], and as private, adjutant and major organized and drilled it. After the battle of Rich Mountain he was commissioned a colonel by Governor Morton of Indiana, and organized the 32nd Regt. Ind. V.I., with which he entered the field and participated in the battle of Mumfordsville, Ky., Dec. 16, 1861. A few days later occurred the brilliant fight of the regiment with the Texas Rangers at Green river, under Col. Terry, who was killed, and totally routed.

General Willich's history thereafter is part of the history of the Army of the Cumberland. His memorable exploit at Shiloh was followed by a commission as brigadier-general. At Stone River, by the unfortunate fall of his horse, he was taken prisoner. At the battle of Chickamauga he held the right of Thomas' line, and with his brigade covered the rear of our forces on its retreat to Rossville. At Missionary Ridge his brigade was among the first to storm the rebel works, resulting in the rout of the enemy. His career in the Atlanta campaign was cut short by a serious wound in the shoulder, received at Resaca, Ga.

He was then placed in command of the post at Cincinnati until March, 1865, when he assumed command of his brigade and accompanied it to Texas, until its return and his muster-out as brevet major-general.

In 1867 he was elected auditor of Hamilton county; after the expiration of his term in 1869 he revisited Germany, and again took up the studies of his youth,philosophy, at the University of Berlin. His request to enter the army in the French-German war of 1870 was not granted, and he returned to his adopted country, making his home in St. Mary's, Ohio, with his old friend, Major Charles Hipp, and many other pleasant and congenial friends.

In those few years he was a prominent figure in all social circles, hailed by every child in town, and died Jan. 23, 1878, from paralysis of the heart, followed to his grave in the beautiful Elmwood Cemetery by three companies of State militia, delegations from the 9th Ohio and 32nd Ind. Vols., the children of the schools, and a vast concourse of sorrowing friends.

August Willich in battle. August Willich.

In his "Ohio of the War" Whitelaw Reid gives Willich extraordinary commendation. He says:

In the opening of Rosecrans' campaign against Bragg in 1863 General Willich took Liberty Gap with his brigade, supported by two regiments from another command. Rosecrans characterizes this as the finest fighting he witnessed in the war. The manoeuvering of the brigade was by bugle signals, and the precision of the movements was equal to a parade.

His services at Chickamauga under the direction of Thomas were gallant in the extreme. He was finally left to cover the retreat and maintained his position until the whole army arrived safely at Chattanooga. But it was at the battle of Mission

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Ridge especially that his military career was crowned with one of the grandest feats of the war. Says Reid:

In the action on the third day, when Sherman had made all his unsuccessful charges and Grant gave his well-known order for the centre to take the enemy's works at the foot of the Ridge and stay there, Willich's and Hazen's brigades were in the front with Sheridan's and other divisions in the echelon to the rear. The whole line moved in double-quick through the woods and fields and carried the works -- Willich's brigade going up under the concentrated fire of batteries at a point where two roads met.

At this point General Willich said that he saw to obey General Grant's orders and remain in the works at the foot of the Ridge would be the destruction of the centre. To fall back would have been the loss of the battle with the sacrifice of Sherman. In this emergency, with no time for consultation with the division general, or any other commander, he sent three of his aides to different regiments and rode himself to the Eighth Kansas and gave the order to storm the top of the Ridge. How brilliantly the order was executed the whole world knows.

[Willich was an interesting character; in addition to his exploits on the battle field, he was also one of the original Marxists! For more on Willich and his life see the links at the bottom of this page. ~ Here ends Howe's description of "St. Mary's." However, some mention is made under the heading "MERCER COUNTY" of St. Marys and the lake which may be of some interest, and is therefore included below. We take up our perusal of Howe in Volume 2, page 236, paragraph four... (Webmaster)]

Vol. 2, Page 222


Mercer County was formed from old Indian Territory April 1, 1820...

Vol. 2, Page 236

The old county-seat was St. Mary's, described on page 302, where stood the old fort St. Mary's, built by Wayne...

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By the formation of Auglaise county in 1848, St. Mary's was embodied in it, although Celina, then as now, was the county-seat. It had but few inhabitants. Celina was surveyed and laid out by James Watson Riley, for himself, Rufus W. Stearnes, Robert Linzer, 2d, and Peter Aughenbaugh, joint proprietors of the land, and the plat recorded September 8, 1834. The name Celina was given after that of Salina, N.Y., because, like that place, it stood at the head of a lake. The name was changed in spelling from "Sa" to "Ce," to prevent confusion of post-offices. The town slowly got a start, and when the Harrison campaign ensued in 1840, the county officers had removed here from St. Mary's, and got domiciled in log huts, and the court-house had received its roof.

After the excitement of the Harrison campaign was over, a chopping frolic or "bee" was held to cut down the timber on the town site, and give the sun a chance to dry up the mud. So, on a beautiful Indian summer day about seventy experienced choppers from all the country round came to Celina with their sharp, glistening axes; women, too, came with them to do their cooking; and, after a great day of work, they partook of a generous supper of substantials, and then ensued a grand dance, kept up by many until daylight did appear. When they cleared the woods they adopted the method described on page 468. [No mention of wood-clearing is made on page 468 in either Vol. 1 or Vol. 2. (Webmaster)]


This is Thursday evening, December 9, and I am in Celina, county-seat of Mercer, and the southernmost of the wild counties of Ohio on the Indiana line. I got here by rail from Paulding near sunset, in a freight train with a caboose attached, and through the woods nearly all the way. This entire wild region of woods and swamps of Northwestern Ohio fill one with an indescribable emotion of coming greatness from its fertility when cleared and drained. In the meanwhile its wood crop yields full reward for manly toil.

Celina, with its effeminate, soft-sounding name, is small and has the aspect of newness as though the place itself was but newly arrived. From its name we should look for a refined and gentle population. Its main street is very broad, and I walked in the beautiful crisp air and in the bright moon to its foot where lies the great artificial lake. Boys and girls were there skating - their glad voices rang in the air.

Lines of fish-houses are on the banks. The old picture which I took in 1846 of the lake was at the St. Mary's end, ten miles east. In it are shown dead forests standing in the water. These have now disappeared everywhere and in their places stand decayed and decaying stumps, projecting a few inches above the water, their many miles of black heads showing where the forests had been a singular appearance for the surface of the lake. Under the water the wood is preserved from decay by its continuous immersion. By the rise and fall of the water the exposed part of the stumps decay. The decayed vegetable matter when the water is low fills the air with a horrible odor, which I am told is some summers so sickening as to almost drive the people away. In time this will be remedied by a systematic clearing away of the stumps, or sawing them off below the lowest water-line.

Several small islands are in the lake, one of which -- Eagle's Island -- is the abode of a professional fisherman; another is a pleasure resort for pic-nic parties, hunting and fishing, which is reached by a small steamer and various other boats. The fish are largely caught by nets, as black and rock bass, catfish, roach, bull heads, ring perch, etc. During the spring and autumn of each year wild fowl gather here in incredible numbers, and as a fishing and hunting resort it is very attractive, and large parties come here for that purpose from all parts of the State...

[We mercifully bypass two pages wasted on Celina founder Riley, who is also blamed with founding Van Wert and Paulding in cookie-cutter fashion, and land at the bottom of page 239... (Webmaster)]

Vol. 2, Page 239


The largest artificial lake, it is said, on the globe, is formed by the reservoir supplying the St. Mary's feeder of the Miami extension canal, from which it is situated three miles west. The reservoir is about nine miles long and from two to four broad. It is on the summit, between the Ohio and the lakes. About one-half in its natural state was a prairie, and the remainder a forest. It was formed by raising two walls of earth, from ten to twenty-five feet high, called respectively the East and West embankment, the first of which is about two miles and the last near four in length. These walls, with the elevation of the ground to the north and south, form a huge basin to retain the water.

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The reservoir was commenced in 1837 and completed in 1845, at an expense of several hundred thousand dollars. The west embankment was completed in 1843. The water filled in at the upper end to a depth of several feet, but as the ground rose gradually to the east it overflowed for several miles to the depth of a few inches only. This vast body of water thus exposed to the powerful rays of the sun, would, if allowed to have remained, have bred pestilence through the adjacent country. Moreover, whole farms that belonged to individuals, yet unpaid for by the State, were completely submerged. Under these circumstances about one hundred and fifty residents of the county turned out with spades and shovels and by two days of industry tore a passage for the water through the embankment. It cost several thousand dollars to repair the damage. Among those concerned in this affair were persons high in official station some of whom here for the first time blistered their hands at manual labor. They were all liable to the State law making the despoiling of public works a penitentiary offense, but a grand jury could not be found in Mercer to find a bill of indictment.

The Legislature, by a joint resolution, passed in 1837, resolved that no reservoir should be made for public canals without the timber first being cleared; it was unheeded by officers in charge of this work. The trees were only girdled and thus thousands of acres of most valuable timber that would have been of great value to the Commonwealth in building of bridges and other constructions on the public works wantonly wasted.

The view of the reservoir was taken from the east embankment, and presents a singular scene. In front are dead trees and stumps scattered about, and roofs of deserted cabins rising from the water. Beyond a cluster of green prairie grass waves in the rippling waters, while to the right and left thousands of acres of dead forest trees, with no sign of life but a few scatterd willows bending in the water, combine to give an air of wintry desolation to the scene. The reservoir abounds in fish and wild fowl, while innumerable frogs make the air vocal with their bellowings. The water is only a few feet deep, and in storms the waves dash up six or eight feet and foam like an ocean in miniature. A few years since a steamer twenty-five feet in length, called the "Seventy-six," with a boiler of seventy gallons capacity, a pipe four feet in height, Captain Gustavus Darnold, plied on its waters.

The foregoing account of the reservoir is from our original edition [1847 (Webmaster)]. The Mercer County Standard of April, 1871, has a fuller description, from which we take some items:

Justin Hamilton, of Mercer county, introduced a resolution into the Legislature, which was unanimously adopted: "That no water should be let into the reservoir before the same should be cleared of timber and the parties paid for this land." The Legislature appropriated $20,000 for this purpose, but it was squandered by the officers and land speculators.

When the water was let in, growing crops of wheat belonging to various owners and other farm property were submerged. The people, indignant, held a public meeting at Celina, May 3, 1843; chose Samuel Ruckman, County Commissioner, President, and sent Benjamin Linzee to Piqua to lay their grievances, with an address, before the head of the Board of Public Works, Messrs. Spencer and Ramsay, etc., who returned with the sneering answer, "Help yourselves if you can."

On the 12th the meeting returned Mr. Linzee to Piqua with the answer, that if they did not pay for the land and let off the water, they would cut the bank on the 15th. The reply came back, "the Piqua Guards will be with you and rout you on that day."

At seven o'clock on the morning of the 15th more than one hundred citizens, with shovels, spades and wheel-barrows, were on the spot. The place selected was the strongest on the bank in the old Beaver channel, and, careful not to damage the State, the dirt was wheeled back on the bank on each side. Next day at noon the cutting was complete, and was dug six feet below the surface of the lake with a flimsy breastwork to hold back the water.

When the tools were taken out and all ready, Samuel Ruckman said, "Who will start the water?" "I," said John Sunday; "I," said Henry Linzee, and in a moment the meandering waters were hurling down fifty yards below the bank. It was six weeks before the water subsided.

Warrants were issued for all engaged in the work, and this included all the county officers, judges, sheriffs, clerks, auditor, etc. As stated the grand jury refused to find a bill and it cost the State $17,000 to repair the damage.

John W. Ervin, the old canal engineer, in a recent newspaper publication, states: This reservoir often feeds sixty miles or more of canal and discharges into the Maumee, at Defiance, 3,000 cubic feet of water per minute, after having been used over a fall of thirty-five feet for hydraulic purposes. The water which escapes at the west bank of the Grand Reservoir (by the Wabash river) finds its way into the gulf of Mexico, and that which escapes at the east end finds its way into the Gulf of St. Lawrence.

[End Excerpts]
Historical Collections of Ohio