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Early Contact Period (400 - 250 Before the Present)

The Ohio Indians were using European trade items a hundred years before the two cultures met. European trade items such as brass, glass beads, and copper became important to Indian economies and drastically changed them as a result. Researchers believe that trade items from French explorers and colonists first came to Ohio and other Woodland regions through indirect trade with Native American groups along the southern shore of the Great Lakes and the Appalachian Mountains. In addition, influences from Spanish explorers and settlers to the south began to affect indigenous groups in Ohio and surrounding regions.

In the late 1600s, the first Europeans came to the Ohio River valley, initiating direct contact between the Ohio Indians and white explorers, traders, and settlers. Life for indigenous populations was altered dramatically in the coming century by European settlers and their goods. Similar to other Native American groups in North America, the Indians living in the Ohio River valley possessed no immunity to European diseases such as small pox. Although evidence suggests that the Ohio Indians were affected at a later date than American Indians living along the eastern seaboard and the Great Lakes areas, the results of the epidemic were no less devastating. In particular, young children and the elderly were heavily affected and population demographics for Ohio Indian groups were drastically altered.

The devastation of disease and conflict between Indian groups and colonizers split up and reconfigured many Native American societies. The powerful Iroquois Nation and the French engaged in a series of bloody conflicts over land for hunting and trapping. When the Iroquois gained headway against the French in these conflicts, they expanded their territory into what is now Ohio. Many local populations moved out of the area and other surrounding regions to escape the Iroquois warriors. However, when these conflicts subsided, Ohio slowly became repopulated by its original indigenous descendents as well as Native peoples who had been pushed from their homelands elsewhere. Indian societies in Ohio were described in early accounts as a mixture of different ethnicities and languages. By the historic period, American Indian groups inhabiting Ohio included the Erie, Mingo, Ottawa, Shawnee, Delaware, Huron, Wyandot, and Miami.