When Henry Church carved Squaw Rock in 1885, he was a progressive thinker who believed the story of the American Indians needed to be told. Just over a century later, a new outcry against his work deemed it culturally insensitive, derogatory and anachronistic.
Next to the quietly-flowing Chagrin River and tucked inside of deep foliage, the Squaw Rock has been a well-known picnic area for 125 years. Carved by Church, a local blacksmith and self-taught rock carver, the rock depicts an Indian woman, the four phases of the moon, a serpent and a few other images. In 1885 when he first created his work, he titled it “The Rape of the Indians by the White Man.” Clearly condemning American policy toward Indians, Church hoped to tell a story many were unable to tell.
The carving features a life-sized nude woman encircled by a snake, intended to symbolize the rape of the American Indian by the white man. Reportedly, Church carved the Indian woman by lantern light. Also included with the grouping, but without apparent connection, is a child in a crib, a Tomahawk, a skeleton, a mountain lion hanging by its tail, and an eagle with its wings spread, perhaps readied to rescue the woman from the snake. On certain days, Church would stand on a pulpit he had carved from the rock overlooking the valley and would preach sermons the spirits of the thousands of natives the settlers had massacred.
Amidst a wave of modern-day name changes, some have called for the rock and picnic area to be renamed from Squaw Rock. Although Squaw is rooted in an Algonquian word meaning “young woman,” it became a derogatory term over years of Indian oppression. Over the last two decades, 167 monuments and geological features using the term have changed their names, though another 750 still exist across the United States, including Squaw Rock. Today, the area is referred to by the Cleveland Metroparks as Henry Church, Jr., Rock and Picnic Area, but still known locally as Squaw Rock.