At the beginning of 1790 George Washington made several more attempts at establishing a military presence at Kekionga (Fort Wayne). After War Chief Little Turtle totally defeated three of General Hamar’s armies, in four years, President Washington sent General St. Clair towards Kekionga with about 1,600 men and eight artillery pieces. Little Turtle’s scouts carefully monitored St. Claire’s army while him and his son-in-law, William Wells trained approximately 1,400 Native American warriors in the open fields south of Fort Wayne.
Chief Turtle, William Wells and his sharpshooters launched a surprise dawn attack on St. Claire’s encamped army at the site of current-day Fort Recovery, Ohio. The battle was a complete rout and lasted about 3 hours. The loss was devastating for the young American Army, they lost 680 men, most of their officers, their artillery pieces and St. Claire’s second in command General Richard Butler was scalped. Little Turtle lost fewer than 100 warriors and it was said the rest of the fleeing American Army would have been killed had not Little Turtle, in a humanitarian gesture, called off the pursuit. Others said the Indians failed to pursue because they were preoccupied with plundering.
It took three more years before a better-trained American Army with about 3,000 men advance toward Kekionga. The campaign of General Mad Anthony Wayne was thoroughly described in the work, “Winning of the West,” by Theodore Roosevelt then a student at Harvard University. Over time, Little Turtle came to believe that continued military resistance would prove futile. He had the wisdom not to oppose the vastly superior military force led by General Mad Anthony Wayne whom he characterized as the “one who never sleeps.” This position lost him favor among the allied tribes; command of the Indian Confederation and leadership was assumed by Chief Blue Jacket of the Shawnees. The American Army’s victory at Fallen Timbers, near present day Toledo, in a battle that lasted less than one hour with the deaths of approximately 30 Army soldiers and 100 warriors, was followed over the ensuing two months by burning Indian villages and food stores along the Maumee River to Kekionga and culminated in the building and dedication of Fort Wayne (across the river from the current Hall’s Gas House) on October 22, 1794. In the treaty of Greenville the following year, Little Turtle announced that he was true to his word and for the rest of his life, ending at age 65 in 1812, he counseled his people against participating in hostilities. Little Turtle traveled east and met with three different Presidents, he lobbied vigorously to prohibit the use of alcohol in trade, he brought smallpox vaccination back to his tribe and he was a strong advocate of assimilation of the Miami Tribe into white society through the adoption of agriculture. He was frequently cited for his wit, eloquence, courtesy, dignity and bravery. As a pragmatic military strategist he was very successful; as an idealistic peacekeeper his vision for acculturation of his tribe was one of striking contrasts. Was he a naked savage terrorist? A noble warrior freedom fighter, a visionary statesman, or simply a practical man reacting to changing circumstances not of his making with the resources available to him? I believe the truth is, he was all of these things at different times in his life.
It is interesting to compare Little Turtle to the Shawnee Chief, Tecumseh. The two men were contemporaries and most certainly knew one another, although the influence of the younger Tecumseh was to peak 15 years after that of Chief Turtle. Tecumseh rallied his followers to armed resistance against land acquisition; with British encouragement.
To be continued…