The Miami Nation was presented to the “Fort Wayne Quest Club,” by William R. Clark on October 29, 1993: The Revolutionary War and the years that followed created a new and more serious threat to the Miami Nation’s welfare. The issue was no longer the fur trade; the issue now was land. The rapidly expanding “new” America Government’s expanding population looked westward, and settlers impatiently diffused across the frontier. Eastern land speculators, politicians, promoters, lawyers and human greed fueled a mass migration. Young American military officers sought new foes to conquer in order to promote their careers. The new American federal government viewed the expansion of its domain as strengthening its position in relation to European countries and the land sales as a source of badly needed revenues. All of this occurred in an atmosphere of near religious zeal to bring civilization to the wilderness, a divine mandate, it seemed.
The seriousness of the threat was of such magnitude that it solidified Native American opposition and caused a formerly loose confederacy of Miami warriors and their Great Lakes neighbors to unite. The upper Wabash and Kekionga were quite distant from the southern line of the frontier along the Ohio River and were sheltered geographically on the east by large areas of marshlands that existed at that time. That area was thus a “safe haven” and served as a refuge for displaced tribes, such as the Delaware and Shawnee, and provided a more secure food source to support a military operation against the ever encroaching white-man. George Washington, who was a veteran military campaigner against Miami warriors, knew the necessity of occupying the Miami heartland. He gave the order to build Fort Kekionga (Spy Run Avenue just north of St. Joseph River), to secure the frontier and permit expansion of the new nation to the Mississippi River.
Skilled juggling of their alliances between opposing factions against the white-men or convenient neutrality were no longer options for Native American tribes and especially Miami warriors. Thus by virtue of strategic location, this relatively small tribe was again thrust into the lime-light, and Chief Little Turtle, evolved as leader of the Native American confederacy. The era from 1780 to 1794 was characterized initially by spectacular Native American military success with victories of magnitude unequaled in any subsequent engagements of American Indian forces against the New American Government. The U.S. Army suffered its worst defeat (up to that time) at Fort Kekionga.
One of the early Miami military encounters of this period involved a small force under command of French opportunist Col. Auguste de la Balme who had accompanied Lafayette during the American Revolution. The La Balme massacre of 1780 in which he and all but one of his men were captured, or killed by Little Turtle seven miles west of Fort Wayne; launched the career of the then 28-year-old war Miami War Chief. Little Turtle and other Indian chiefs led numerous forays of small raiding parties against settlers along the Ohio River during the next decade. Captives collected on such raids were sometimes adopted, tortured, scalped, or burned at the stake. Among the captives was a 12-year old boy named William Wells, who ultimately, because of his intelligence and bravery, came to the attention of Little Turtle. Wells became Little Turtle’s adopted son, confident and, upon his marriage to Little Turtle’s daughter, Sweet Breeze, his son-in-law.
To be continued…