The first human life that appeared in Ohio was probably none other than the Mound Builders, and they probably roamed our Mahoning Valley. They are considered a prehistoric Indian race and left some 6,000 to 8,000 earthen structures within the bounds of Ohio alone. This gave our state the distinction of being called "The Mound Builders State." The origins of these mounds or monuments are still considered quite mysterious.
It can be said that the Mahoning Valley is a result of a glacial plateau and is drained by the Mahoning River and its lower streams, the Big Beaver and the Little Beaver.
It seems that the Iroquois confederacy was in existence when the Europeans arrived and settled. They continued unbroken and very powerful until near the close of the French and Indian War. The Erie tribe was at one time located along the Mahoning River. They had a very strong presence between the Ohio River and Lake Erie. They were a strong war-like tribe. They were eventually conquered in 1655 by the Iroquois, which were known as the Five Nations or Iroquois Confederacy. This group was comprised of the Senecas, Onondagas, Oneidas and Mohawks. They were very powerful and made war on all other tribes, claiming many lands as their own, including the Mahoning River. They were feared by all other Ohio Indians. The Iroquois, being such a war-like tribe, were portrayed as fierce savages, especially the Mohawk sect of the confederation.
One big surprise about our valley is that some 100 years prior to the coming of civilization, it was not inhabited at all, and in fact was referred as "No Man's Land." What! I don't believe that! Can't be! We all seem to envision the old story of Indian tribes living on this land, and the coming of the white man and the many battles and much bloodshed after which the Indians are finally driven away. But here in the Mahoning Valley, it just didn't happen that way. Of course, there were Indians here, and they traveled through this area in great numbers. When the first white man penetrated this region, they found some scattered bands of Indians called Mingoes who were refugees from the Iroquois. There also were Senecas and Delawares in the area. The largest of these roving bands were located in present day Deerfield. They were devoutly hated but never really feared. They were best known for their thievery, especially of whisky. Another notable reason for the lack of settlers in "No Man's Land" was that Connecticut claimed the territory for itself and so-called squatters were deterred.
A very important part of the culture of these early tribes that did inhabit our valley was wampum. As told, wampum belts and necklaces were made from wampum beads that were usually white and purple shells. Wampum was used as money for transactions between the Indian and the white man. Wampum belts were also used as a form of communication between different Indian tribes. Wampum belts would be made into pictures showing the reason they were made. All Indian messengers carried wampum belts when going to other tribes.
The Iroquois mostly lived in what was referred to as long houses, which were made of frames built from saplings. Bark that was sewn together provided the covering for the long houses. Each dwelling had a long hallway with rooms on both sides, and several related families would live there. They also built log walls around the circumference of their villages with only one opening for protection.
Ultimately, the two most prized possessions by Indian and white man alike in those times were the Mahoning River and Salt Springs. Our famous Salt Springs were located close to present day Niles in Weathersfield Township. Salt was a very valuable commodity shared by both races in curing hides and as a food preservative. I believe that it is appropriate to say that Salt Springs was responsible for putting the Mahoning Valley on the map.