BLACKJACK, Ohio — To those he cared for as a nurse, he was Ron Hatten, a stout man with velvet-soft eyes, a long, gray ponytail and a gentle bedside manner.
But in his soul, he was Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah, a Shawnee of the Upper Kispoko Band who often visited the saltpeter caves etched out of the craggy hillsides in southeastern Ohio. This is where he felt closest to his heritage, and to the Shawnee hunters who roamed this rich forest land for millennia.
They sought the abundant deer, elk and buffalo in the region, while keeping a constant vigil because of the threat of the top predators present there — panthers, bears, and wolves.
Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah (pronounced Way-u-pa-shen-wa) was an authentic Native American historian and storyteller who considered it both an honor and an obligation to pass along the Shawnee heritage and traditions.
He died in his sleep recently, at age 64. With his unexpected passing, a great chasm has opened. Although many of his impassioned presentations have been captured and preserved on video, it will hardly be the same as sitting on an ancient slab of stone deep in a canyon in the Hocking Hills and sensing the emotion rippling from his voice as he recounted the way his Shawnee ancestors lived in union with the land and the creatures it housed.
“For 10,000 years, not a single ax touched a tree here,” he said several years ago. “They grew constantly and became immense in size, with some 300 feet tall that would rival the redwoods. And the streams were pure.”
His stories of the Shawnee history in this region recounted in great detail how his people maintained a very spiritual reverence for the game animals they harvested from the great herds of buffalo and elk. His people lived in a world where there were no hunting seasons, no licenses to purchase, and no limit on the amount of game you could harvest. It was often hunger that determined it was time to hunt, and in the Shawnee way a sacred pact with the Creator and his work determined the right to hunt.
“This was our homeland,” Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah said. “We only took what we needed. We did not kill for sport.”
His stories of the Shawnee merged legend with the intimate details he had received firsthand while being raised by his grandparents in a home where only Shawnee was spoken.
He learned from their words about how his people had migrated here and found a pristine land rich with game.
“This was a dangerous place, but still a wonderful place to live, if you knew how to live in that kind of environment,” he said. “My people, when they hunted, they perfected the least amount of effort, for the maximum amount of return.”
He said the Shawnee’s reverent approach to hunting came from a belief that all living things were equal.
“Life is giving to life in a constant motion. No one is below or above the other — plants, animals or man,” he said.
Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah recounted how the tales of lone Native American hunters off in the wilderness stalking large game animals was mostly a myth. Solitary hunts for deer or elk would take place only in the winter, or when extreme circumstances demanded it, he said.
“We learned from our brother, the wolf, how to hunt in packs. If we decided to go hunt the buffalo, not one person would go out, because if you struck just one buffalo, it would stampede the others. We would try and separate a small group, or run them into a swampy section and trap them.”
The Shawnee hunters used long spears equipped with atlatls, throwing devices, to hunt large game such as the buffalo.
Their weapons were tipped with flint, and the ends were rounded, not pointed, so they would not break off if they struck a bone. The Shawnee were proficient at napping flint, or chipping away at it to sculpt a razor-sharp edge.
One of his most impassioned accounts related to a story about a Shawnee hunter who saw the people of his village were sick and hungry, because their crops were not yet ready and their supply of meat was gone. So he went out into the forest to hunt for deer, but before the hunt he offered a prayer, not to the Creator, but to the deer.
“Many people mistakenly thought we worshipped the deer, but we did not,” he said. “But we understood that we are just a part of the web of life, as he is. We did not make the deer, and we do not have the right to take the deer. He is our brother.”
So they prayed to the deer, asking it to hear the cries of the sick and the hungry. They pleaded with the deer to take pity on them, and give its life so that many in the village might live. After he has harvested the deer and its spirit leaves the body, the hunter promises to not forget the sacrifice the animal has made so that the children of the village, the sick, and the elderly can have meat to eat.
Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah said that when the great hunter reaches the final moments of his life, he fulfills his pledge to the deer. As his body is lowered into the earth, a tiny acorn is placed atop his grave, and a huge oak will grow from that acorn, and its acorns will feed many deer. “Then my brother, your children will come, and they will eat the acorns from my tree, and they will live.”
Jim Stratton, a Columbus-based entrepreneur, hired Ron Hatten in 2012 to be part of Hocking Hills Adventure Trek, which has opened up this rugged and picturesque region with professionally guided rock climbing, rappelling, and naturalist-led hikes.
And soon Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah began sharing his tales of the rich history of the Shawnee people with school groups, scout troops, corporate outings and summer camps. Stratton said more than 7,000 people experienced the message firsthand.
“The longer I knew him, the more unique he was,” Stratton said. “He taught me so much, and he never candy-coated things a bit. I heard his presentation dozens of times, and it still fascinated me.”
Stratton is concerned that with his friend’s death, more pieces of the Shawnee history will wither away and be lost. There is no heir in line to take Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah’s place.
We can only assume that his spirit will nurture a giant oak somewhere, and the circle of life in this ancient land of forests and gorges will continue.
In his words: “It is life giving and life receiving, in the beautiful dance of creation.”
Contact Blade outdoors editor Matt Markey at: email@example.com or 419-724-6068.
Read more at http://www.toledoblade.com/MattMarkey/2015/08/23/Tales-of-ancient-Shawnee-hunters-sadly-go-silent.html#AFx1xctKPVUHhlCI.99
"Campers, staff and guests at Camp Aldersgate talked about our storyteller and his stories for weeks. He didn't simply entertain, he inspired creative thinking and encouraged everyone listening. As a Camp Director, I have no trouble finding people with entertainment and services to sell...the challenge is often finding someone I want to work with more than once. Hocking Hills Adventure Trek is a partner we look forward to working with again. The professionalism and personalization of service is refreshing, and to be honest, what I want and expect as a customer." - Eric Dingler, Camp Aldersgate
Welcome to Hocking Hills Adventure Trek We're a Trek Network company offering professionally guided rock climbing and rappelling, belly boat fishing, archery, naturalist led edible forest hikes, artist led activities and team building events in the Hocking Hills and across Ohio. Founded in 2011, our guides are far and away the most experienced in the business. Explore the Hocking State Forest with us and you'll discover hidden caves and waterfalls that you can return to free of charge forever! Winter Rappelling ~ Waterfalls and Icicles - 7 days a week starting at $85 each.
Ron Hatten, presented his "Circle of Life" to over 7,000 visitors and participants between 2012 and 2015. He left his mark on our hearts and minds and he will never be forgotten. In memory of Ron we'll leave his story here for all who visit to remember and enjoy his music and words.
Ron grew up in Jackson, Ohio where he lived until his passing on August 8th, 2015. His name was Wehyehpihehrsehnhwah
(Way-u-pa-shen-wa) and he was raised by his grandparents in a home where they only spoke Shawnee. His hand carved wooden flute played beautifully in tune with its natural surroundings. Fluent in the life, song and culture of his people, Ron's "Circle of Life" presentation linksed the stories that his grandfather taught him with the challenges of being a modern day Shawnee. His powerful, fascinating and evocative stories offered a way back to nature through humor, beauty and life lessons that resonate with all who had the pleasure to meet him.