Ohio History Journal






We have a few original sources of information about the

Indians of the Northwest in and about Kekionga, now Fort

Wayne, at the time of Harmar's expedition in the fall of 1790.

George Croghan in 1765 traveled the length of the Wabash to

Kekionga and gave an excellent report to his superiors in the East.

In the winter of 1789-90 Henry Hay, representing British mer-

chants in Detroit, visited Kekionga and kept a diary of his stay

in the Miami village, and of his visits roundabout. In the spring

of 1790 Colonel Hamtramck, commander at Vincennes, sent

Antoine Gamelin, a Frenchman, with a message of good will to

the Indians along the Wabash and to Kekionga. One of the finest

of recent histories reviewing all this and adding much information

is the book, The Land of the Miamis, by Judge Elmore Barce.

The leading tribe was that of the Miamis, with several divi-

sions. Their chief town and capital, if it may be so called, was at

Kekionga. There were strong divisions of this tribe along Eel

River and the Mississinewa, called Eel Rivers and Mississinewas,

the Weas at Ouiatenon near the present Lafayette, and the Pianka-

shaws near Vincennes. The Miamis, who once claimed all of

Indiana and western Ohio as their ancient domain, still held the

Wabash and the strategic center here at the junction of the St.

Mary's and the St. Joseph. To the north in the Michigan penin-

sulas were the tribes composing "The Three Fires," the ancient

Chippewa with their kindred, the Ottawa and the Potawatomi.

The Potawatomi had spread over northern and western Indiana,

where they were closely connected with the Kickapoo from Illinois.

The Ottawa had spread over northwestern Ohio, north of the

Maumee. The Hurons, or Wyandots, were masters of the land

east of the Auglaize and south of Lake Erie. South of them were

the ancient Delawares. The Shawnees, having been driven from

their former homes in the South, had settled chiefly in southern





Ohio, where their great chief, Tecumseh, was born on Mad River

about 1770. There were general, but not absolute, boundary lines

between the tribes. At one time or another various tribes had

villages around Kekionga.

Antoine Gamelin, on his visit in the spring of 1790, found

much opposition to the Americans and much sympathy for the

British in all the villages. Here at Kekionga, besides the Miamis,

he found both Shawnees and Delawares. The Shawnee chief,

Blue Jacket, and the renegade Girty brothers among the Delawares

prevented any friendly response. The number of warriors in these

villages was not given. The secretary of war, General Knox,

estimated that the number of warriors on the Wabash would be

more than fifteen hundred, but some think that number was too

large. One writer, James Smith, said there were not more than

three thousand Indian warriors in all, west of Pennsylvania.

Gamelin's report of conditions here in Kekionga was about

the same as George Croghan reported twenty-five years earlier,

and similar to the conditions reported by Hay the year previous.

There were a few French and British traders here, among whom

was John Kinzie, noted for his connection twenty years later with

Fort Dearborn and the massacre there. Trade was at a low

level. Whiskey was already beginning to have its terrible effect

upon the Indians.

H. S. Knapp, in his history of the Maumee Valley, tells of

seven villages here at the time of Harmar's expedition. First of

all, there was the main Miami village at Lakeside at the junction

of the St. Joseph and Maumee. There was another Miami village

across the river between St. Mary's and the St. Joseph with thirty

houses. Two miles down the Maumee was the Shawnee village,

Chillicothe, with fifty-eight houses. Across the river was another

Shawnee village with eighteen houses. There were two Delaware

villages two miles up the St. Mary's with forty-five houses and

another Delaware village three miles up the St. Joseph. The total

number of houses, or cabins, in all these villages was given at one

hundred eighty-five, although the original number was not known,

for the Indians had burned many of their houses before Harmar's

army arrived.




From all these accounts, it would seem that the number of

Indians here varied from time to time and was never very large.

Those who fought Harmar were largely the Miamis in and about

Kekionga and from Eel River.

Little Turtle, the Miami, was by far the most important op-

ponent of Harmar. The Little Turtle village was on Eel River

about sixteen miles northwest of Kekionga. Here his father, the

great Chief Aquenacque, had made this an important Indian

center. Here Little Turtle was born. Two miles up the river

from this village was the famous Eel River trading post, where

furs were collected by the traders to be transported to Fort Wayne

by portage.

The first battle with Harmar's forces occurred on Eel River

eleven miles northwest of Fort Wayne on the old Indian trail that

led to Fort Dearborn. It is now known as the Goshen Road, or

U. S. Route 33. While some of Harmar's men thought the forces

were very large, others had put the number of Little Turtle's army

at only about a hundred. But whereas Hardin's division of

Harmar's army was poorly made up and poorly equipped, they

were opposed by some of the finest of all Indian warriors, com-

manded by the greatest Indian general who ever opposed the

white man. Although outnumbered two to one, Little Turtle

annihilated Hardin's forces by strategy unequaled for cleverness

of conception and efficient execution. Thomas Irvin, one of the

soldiers in that expedition, wrote that Little Turtle had prepared

the ambuscade "as neatly as one sets a trap for a rat."

Three days later Little Turtle and these same Indians set a

similar trap at the Maumee and annihilated the regulars under

Captain Willys and so crippled the entire force of Harmar's army

that he returned at once to Fort Washington. Although Harmar

reported victory over the Indians, most historians believe he was

defeated by the superior generalship of the Miami chief, Little

Turtle. Theodore Roosevelt, in Winning of the West, Vol. I,

page 91, wrote, "The net result was a mortifying failure." It is

true that the troops were poor specimens of soldiers and poorly

equipped and that the brave but rash Hardin was at odds with the

inefficient Colonel Trotter, but Roosevelt criticizes Harmar for



allowing divisions among his men and subordinate generals and for

keeping his main army inactive only seven miles away while the

brave Willys and other brave men were being cut to pieces in

small, uncoordinated divisions.

These conflicts with Harmar gave excellent training for Little

Turtle and his Indians to meet the combined forces of St. Clair

one year later on the Wabash at what is now Fort Recovery, Ohio.

Harmar's expedition plainly showed Little Turtle that a large

army would soon be sent against Kekionga, "the glorious gateway

of the West."  Warriors came from all the chief tribes of the

Northwest to be trained by Little Turtle for the coming conflict.

With a thousand warriors, well trained, this "Napoleon of the

Red Men" met a much larger force under St. Clair on November

4, 1791. Little Turtle outgeneraled and outfought St. Clair, who

had the largest and best equipped army ever sent against the In-

dians, and inflicted upon them the greatest defeat the white men

ever suffered at the hands of the Indians.

After all, Little Turtle, with his genius and greatness, was

worth a whole army of either whites or Indians and was the

chief explanation of the defeat of Harmar and St. Clair. He de-

feated more white armies than any other Indian, but his greatness

is not shown by that alone. After he had done all he could to

protect the land of his fathers, he made peace with Wayne at

Greenville and spent the remaining seventeen years of his life as

the friend of the Americans and tried to get his people to adopt

the best ways of the white man's civilization.

At Wayne's suggestion, he visited President George Washing-

ton, who received him as a great warrior and patriot and conferred

upon him the highest honors possible. Little Turtle later visited

Presidents John Adams and Thomas Jefferson in the interests of

the Indians. He endeavored to introduce among his people tem-

perance, agriculture, vaccination for smallpox, and the arts of

peace. That fine monument on the battle field of Fallen Timbers

has a worthwhile suggestion for us all. While it gives due credit

to General Wayne for his great ability and his service to the

Northwest and similar praise to the hardy pioneers who supported

General Wayne in his conquest, there is also generous praise for




Little Turtle, who bravely defended the land of his fathers against

the conquering white men. We shall all be glad to see a fine

monument erected here in Fort Wayne to that great general after

whom the city is named. But some day we shall also recognize the

greatness of Little Turtle and either here or somewhere along his

native Eel River, the Ke-na-po-co-mo-co, we shall erect a suitable

monument for him also.