The curse of Chief Leatherlips


Whether you are a golfer or not I’ll bet you know that the Memorial Tournament was played last week at Muirfield, the course Jack Nicklaus built and owns in Dublin. You may have followed the daily activities or just heard about it occasionally on the evening news. Either way it’s an event in central Ohio that draws thousands of people every year.
Once again this year, rain and lightning plagued the tournament, but this time not until the very end. There were two rain delays on the last day each lasting approximately an hour. The final one occurred with only six golfers left on the course. They were all within a few strokes of each other and that last delay gave them an hour to think about their play as rain came down hard on the course and lightning created an unsafe situation.
The rain may have affected the play of Ricky Fowler, who ended up tied for second, but had been in the lead. Jason Duffner won. We don’t know if the storm affected either player, but it has been a constant problem for the tournament since it’s inception. Why is that?
Maybe it was the famous curse of Chief Leatherlips, a Wyandotte Indian who lived in the late 1700s in the Dublin area. He was called Leatherlips by the local settlers because he was known for never breaking a promise.
The story goes that the Wyandotte tribe was riddled by disease and suffered from a disastrous war with the Iroquois Indians near their home on Lake Superior. They were forced out of that homeland and moved to the Ohio country just before Ohio became a state.
Later, Leatherlips, who was a very important leader, along with eight other chiefs of local Indian tribes signed the Treaty of Greenville, which increased cooperation with the white settlers. You may remember from your Ohio history days that the Treaty of Greenville gave land to the white settlers with the boundary beginning near the Cuyahoga River and included many portions of the future state clear down to the Ohio River. It provided that the Indians could still hunt on the land and the white settlers could establish safe trading posts.
Leatherlips real name was Shateyahronya, which means same size as blue (whatever that means). He maintained a calm voice attempting to help both settlers and Indians live peacefully. A number of his tribesmen thought he was selling out and giving away Indian lands.
In 1810, a few tribal chiefs, including Shawnee Chief Tecumseh, banded together against him and condemned him to death for signing away native lands and for witchcraft. White settlers in the area of Dublin, led by John Sells, pleaded for the old chief and attempted to bribe the death squad, but the trial and sentencing were swift. It is said the chief clothed himself in his finest attire and joined by his executioners, sang the death chant and prayed as he was killed by a tomahawk. Oh, that must’ve been awful.
According to historians, that execution took place at the entrance to the caves that are now known as the Olentangy Indian Caverns located north of Dublin and south of Delaware.
Not far from all this would, one day, be the Muirfield Village Golf Club. It has been said, and this is strictly folklore, that there was an old Indian burial ground somewhere on the property that is now the beautiful golf course. Leatherlips may have even been buried there and it is believed that the tournament brings too much noise and too many people and it disturbs him, so he brings rain and bad weather nearly every year to the tournament, and has done so for over the 40 years.
Even though the date of the Memorial Tournament has been moved several times, the rain continues to come. This year it came at a really bad time – the last day … in fact the last hours.
Changing the date didn’t stop the rain, so desperate measures were attempted. In 1993 a very interesting suggestion came from Winnie, the wife of Arnold Palmer. It went like this – why not offer up a glass of gin during the tournament to the supposed burial place of Leatherlips, to appease the spirit with spirits. It has been reported that Barbara Nicklaus placed such a glass in the trees beyond the practice fairway in an attempt to mollify any angry spirits. But, of course, you know such supposed craziness would have been just in fun and nothing changed. The curse may still be in place as the rains still come! Maybe next year will be different, but probably not.
(Melanie Behrens –

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