In the late morning I drove toward Springfield Ohio. The recent fire in Oakland California was a major news subject. I saw a few Trump signs in peoples’ lawns. I saw a single Confederate flag beside an American flag positioned on a jeep beside a yard littered with lumber. I drove in somewhat of a circle seeking my destination: George Rogers Clark Park. I then drove up a slight hill as I listened to Tom Ashbrook interview Evan McMullin about the dangers that populism pose to the Constitution. I parked, finished my coffee, ate my croissant, and walked outside.
There was one other person walking across the park, but besides that I was in solitude. There was a plaque on a nearby stone that had been installed by the Daughters of the American Revolution which was dedicated to the Battle of Piqua (or Pickaway). This battle on August eighth, 1780, was, as I learned: “the largest Revolutionary War battle West of the Alleghenies.”
I continued walking, this time down through a narrow tree-walled dirt trail with little brown signs signifying their names. It reminded me of the Greenwood cross-country course in Melrose. I emerged at the other end at this Shawnee camp reconstruction, which I decided to explore for a while
I then went down the road to where the hill slopes down and looks over an intersection of roads near the highway. A sign advertised volunteering opportunities. Empty cars were parked near idle buildings. There sat the stone foundation of a house built in 1924 century for a man named John Keifer (1802-1863), the cousin of successful general and Ohio politician J. Warren Keifer (1836-1932). There was also a larger plaque exalting the victory in the Battle of Piqua; for this was the site of the battle.
It was here that General Clark, for whom Clark County is named, and a thousand Kentucky militiamen fought a British-aligned enemy comprised of Shawnee, Delaware, Mingo, and Wyandot Indians. They suffered fourteen deaths and thirteen injuries, whilst delivering at least three times as many casualties to their enemy. It was also here that Shawnee chief Tecumseh was born in 1768. In 1780 he would have been of course just twelve years old.
Clark chose not to pursue the Indians when the fled, and instead burned the settlement, corn, and vegetables. The Northwest territory was then expanded, and the National Road made its way to Springfield in 1839. I saw several statues and paintings at various spots in Springfield depicting Clark “as he may have looked” as an idealized twenty seven year old general.
The best representation in my view was in the center of Springfield near another sculpture marking The National Old Trails Road.
Clark stands here on this rock looking over the heads of passersby and into the distance, as if seeing the future. Future wars, future enemies, future harsh winters, and long marches.
Nearby is a similar and imposing statue by the same artist of H. A. “Harry” Toulmin Sr., the patent attorney for the Wright bothers’ flying machine. Not too long after the first humans flew did a famous Ohioan make the first step onto the moon.
I don’t suppose the choice of these two figures, each a frontiersman of sorts, is accidental. Whereas one is a visionary, the other is a soldier. They are the twin halves of power standing resolutely beside the road, daring us to expand; either Westward across the untrod landscape, or upwards into the sky…and the stars.