The life of ‘Injun George’ Ash: adjusting again to life as a white man

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PART 2

FROM WHITE DOG TO WHITE MAN

Included in Rick Allen’s package of George Ash memorabilia was a description of “Injun George” before he returned to the white man’s world — a description that appeared in the 1829 Turner’s Traits of Indian Characters and that supported George Ash’s statement about being truly Shawnee:

“He (Ash) had adopted their dress and all their modes of life. His right ear was fixed in a peculiar way for the purpose of wearing of jewels…. He was painted and wore a hundred dollars worth of silver ornaments. In his nose, he wore three silver crosses and seven half moons, valued from five to six hundred dollars.”

After the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, however, Indian warfare in Switzerland County came to a close, and George Ash concluded that he would have an easier time surviving as a white than as a Shawnee.

He worked as a guide and interpreter for a while, and he even found his father, John Ash, alive and well in Kentucky. John would have nothing to do with his long-lost son, however, and George eventually settled on land given to him by the Shawnees near Lamb. Although he lost much of that land in a dispute with the government, he and his Native American friends built a house of hand-made bricks on what the property he was able to retain — a house that still stands overlooking the Ohio River at the western edge of Switzerland County.

According to a note by William Patton in the Reveille Enterprise of December 9th, 1937: “It was easy for George to revert to the white man’s ways again, and he became an exemplary, public spirited citizen. He joined the Methodist Church and donated the ground for at new Methodist church at Union (now Lamb).”

George Ash became a successful ferryman and ended up living more than half a century after the Treaty of Greenville, dying at the age of 95. He passed his trade down through generations of his family, and his great grandson, Leon Ash, became a well-known riverboat captain on the Ohio.

WE’RE ALL INTERCONNECTED

Rick Allen’s story came to a close with words that suggested the difficulties George Ash experienced as he made his transition from warrior to ferryboat operator:

“And so, here I am. Trying to live out my days among you as a white man. It’s not easy. Few can forget what happened during those early years. Fewer still can forgive. Just last week, a passenger on my ferry tried to kill me with my own boat hook. His wife recognized me as the man who, years ago, had take a piece of her scalp.

“I did not choose the life I have been given. It was chosen for me. There is nothing I can do to change the past. But the fighting has ceased, and you have nothing to fear from me now. I am but an old man who wishes to end his days in peace. So judge my words as you see fit, for now you have heard the truth about ‘Injun George.’”

*

A truck drove slowly up Rick Allen’s house on Fishing Worm Ridge and disappeared around a curve.

For a long while, Rick said nothing. Then he started talked about the hand-made bricks of the old Ash residence, and he suggested a visit to that landmark.

“Take a walk along the riverbank near Green Valley Creek,” he said. “That’s where the house is. It’s just a few minutes from here.”

Some think that George Ash’s home is the oldest structure on the Indiana side of the Ohio River. Behind it in the hills, its builder now lies under a worn tombstone in a small family plot with his wife, a daughter who drowned in the backwater when she was seven years old, and a few other relatives.

Several people who investigated the Ash story found that graveyard to be too full of memories and ghosts for comfort. “The lonely atmosphere there is indescribable,” wrote T. A. Langstroth about the place. He called it “spooky” and said that if you stand there, listening to the murmur of the river, “a real graveyard chill will possess you!”

But to Rick Allen, everything just seemed to fit together — his own ancestry, his love of stories, his affinity for Native Americans, his attraction to Switzerland County and Craig Township, his interest in reenactments. It may have been mysterious, but it was not spooky. The pieces of his life and the life of “Injun George” fit together too well to be the only result of chance.

“So, did I come here to do George Ash?” he asked.

After a long pause, he answered his own question, suggesting, perhaps, that nothing really happens in a vacuum or without purpose: “Apparently so — Divine Providence. Once we do anything it’s written in history. We’re all interconnected.”

— Bill Felker