Whenever the weather is nice, Jim Thompson makes his way to Shateyahronya’s gravesite, near the corner of Riverside Drive and Stratford Avenue in Dublin. Thompson brings flowers and tobacco leaves, which are traditionally used for ceremonial purposes within Native American culture, to place at the tombstone for the Wyandot chief, better known as Leatherlips.
Though he’s been buried at the same spot since his execution in the early 1800s, Leatherlips didn’t always have a tombstone. For nearly 90 years, the gravesite was nothing more than a pile of rocks covering a shallow grave on Thompson’s great-great grandfather’s property, until the local Wyandot Club installed the tombstone in the late 1800s.
Joseph Thompson and his family watched over the gravesite, protecting his friend’s final resting place. Today, the Thompson tradition of paying tribute to Leatherlips continues through Jim’s visits.
The gravesite isn’t the only location where locals go to remember Leatherlips. Less than two miles down the road, visitors to Scioto Park are greeted by a 12-foot-tall portrait sculpture of the chief.
Dublin Arts Council commissioned Boston artist Ralph Helmick to create the limestone sculpture that rests atop a hill, overlooking the park, in 1990.
“It was the very first public art piece in our collection,” says Janet Cooper of the arts council.
In addition to these two historical sites, Leatherlips’ story lives on through retellings, such as an outdoor stage production about the chief that was written by Dublin Coffman High School drama teacher Dan Stowell and performed by Dublin students at the monument in summer 2010.
And, of course, there’s the curse. According to local lore, when the Muirfield Village Golf Club was built near his gravesite, Leatherlips cursed the Memorial Tournament. The curse is said to be the cause of rain during the PGA Tour golf tournament known for inclement weather that stops play.
Admittedly, it may seem a bit strange for a community to latch onto the story of an execution. But Leatherlips’ tale is intertwined with the history of the area.
Resurrecting the Past
Jim Thompson began his historical research when his mother asked him to carry on her work as their church’s historian. Louise Thompson had been recording the history of Linworth United Methodist Church since 1940. “Before she passed away, she kind of convinced me that I should pick up the pieces she that had collected and do something with the history,” he says. “So we did.”
With the help of other church members, Thompson dug into the history of the church, which started with meetings in log cabins and brick schoolhouses until the first church was established in Linworth in 1889.
One of the founders of the church, Elias Lewis, was a witness at Leatherlips’ execution. The daughter of another witness, William Sells, was a founding member. Because of these connections, Thompson decided to include the story of Leatherlips in the church’s history.
“No one knows exactly when [Leatherlips] came here,” Thompson says. “But when he came here, Dublin had not been settled yet. … He was a friend of the white man, or what was known as the white man then—the early settlers.”
In 1795, Leatherlips signed the Treaty of Greenville, which ended the Northwest Indian War.
“The Wyandots had made peace with the settlers and the government,” Thompson says. “But the Indian Tecumseh had not yet settled, and he was still angry at the American government.”
Some historians, including Thompson, believe that Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa sent the group of five Native Americans who executed Leatherlips because he wouldn’t join their fight against the settlers.
Led by Roundhead, the group found Leatherlips and performed the execution in front of five witnesses.
“They formed a circle all around and danced his dance of death,” Thompson says. “And then at the proper time, one came through with a tomahawk and split his skull. And then after that, they rolled him into the grave. And then they just left.”
Keeping the Story Alive
Artist Hal Sherman depicted the scene of the execution, as well as Joseph Thompson, his son, Bill Moose (the last surviving Wyandot Native American in this area) and his parents paying tribute to Leatherlips at the gravesite, in a couple of paintings, which Jim Thompson bought for his historical collection.
Copies of the paintings adorn the walls of Thompson’s church, reminiscent of Pawnee City Hall’s murals on NBC’s Parks and Recreation.
“People come into our church just to look at the pictures of Bill Moose and Leatherlips,” Thompson says. “Then suddenly, things started to mushroom, and people wanted me to come out to speak to a group, not about our church, but about the history of Leatherlips or Bill Moose.”
A member of the Dublin Historical Society, Jim Thompson has become the local expert on Leatherlips and Bill Moose. In addition to presenting their stories to Cub Scouts and DAR groups, Thompson was consulted for the Dublin schools play and the portrait monument. He’s been able to piece together several details from his research, but some will continue to remain a mystery.
“It’s such an unbelievable story and so many parts to it that it’s really difficult,” he says. “But there comes a time when true facts aren’t as important as they used to be because they’re a legend. Bill Moose was a legend, Johnny Appleseed was a legend and Leatherlips was a legend. So all you can do is try to get it as accurate as you possibly can.”
—Emily Thompson (no relation to Jim Thompson)
Chief Leatherlips and the Memorial Tournament
Chief Leatherlips is said to have cursed the Memorial Tournament with rain. But who was Chief Leatherlips, and how did speculation about this curse begin? Follow WOSU producer Brent Davis as he investigates this story.