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Little Turtle as a Traveler
Posted By Dennis Partridge On In Native American | No Comments
Little Turtle was really a great traveler for that day. Before he made peace with the white man he was familiar with every Indian trail in the Northwest Territory. From his home here on Eel River he made trips to almost every important Indian village. lie had gone as far northeast as Montreal and as far south as New Orleans. Beginning with the treaty of Greenville in 1795 he attended most all of the treaty meetings during the next fifteen years. He visited the capitals of Ohio and Kentucky and made at least three visits to the national capital.
Shortly after the treaty of Greenville, Little Turtle visited the national capital which was then at Philadelphia. Here he met President Washington himself who presented him with a handsome sword in recognition of his great genius and the high esteem in which he was regarded by the leading Americans of that day. President Washington also presented him with one of the best guns to be had at that time. Little Turtle prized this very much for he was fond of hunting.
While on his visit to Philadelphia he had many unique experiences. Here he met the philosopher, Volney, with whom he had many conversations. Here too he met the famous general, Kosciusko, who presented him with a brace of pistols and an elegant robe made of otter skin, worth several hundred dollars. While here the noted artist, Gilbert, painted the picture of Little Turtle at the arrangement of President Washington. Perhaps he painted two pictures, one showing the great chief in his Indian costume and the other showing him as a man of peace. In each he is shown with a necklace of bear claws and a medal said to have been given him by President Washington. .
The original painting was carefully kept by the government but was burned when the British burned the Capitol building at Washington in 1814.
Little Turtle visited President John Adams in Philadelphia and President Jefferson in Washington hoping to secure some laws that would protect his people from liquor. In 1807 he visited Baltimore to see about securing a mill for Fort Wayne. In all of these visits he was received with much respect and was entertained by some of the most noted persons of the day. As a rule he dressed in American fashion and always showed himself the equal of the best in good manners and gallant decorum. Gen. John Johnson said of him: “He was a man of great wit, humor and vivacity, fond of the company of gentlemen, and delighted in good eating.”
Many stories are told of his wit and repartee. When the philosopher, Volney, asked him what he thought of the theory that the Indians had sprung from the Tartars of Asia, Little Turtle replied with a question: “Why not think that the Tartars descended from us?” On one occasion a friend of Gen. St. Clair said in Little Turtle’s presence that St. Clair’s defeat had come because of a surprise attack. Quickly Little Turtle replied: “A good general is never taken by surprise.” In his later days he was troubled with gout. Some one jokingly said to him that gout was a gentleman’s disease, whereupon Little Turtle replied. “I always thought that I was a gentleman.”
From each of these long journeys, Little Turtle returned to his home here on Eel River. His home at the Eel River Post has already been described. Here he evidently lived in ease and comfort, but always concerned about the events of the day and the welfare of his own people. He made frequent trips to Fort Wayne and to other places where treaties were being made with the white men. His last days were saddened by the oncoming conflict, which he saw was inevitable. On the one hand he was true to the peace treaty’ of Greenville and refused to have anything to do with the attempts of Tecumseh and the prophet to stir up another war. In this way he incurred the displeasure of the Indians and lost much of his prestige as a leader among them. On the other hand he saw the selfishness and unfairness of many of the whites in their dealing with the red men. General Harrison in his letters to the war department often complained of Little Turtle and even doubted his integrity. But after the death of the great Indian chief, when Gen. Harrison had learned the full truth about the matter, be wrote in highest terms about Little Turtle, admitting his faithfulness and help to the American cause: “He continued to his last moment the warm friend of the United States and during the course of his life rendered them many important services.”
Little Turtle did not live to experience the events of the War of 1812, though he was preparing to help the American cause. At least he would have done all possible to keep the Indians faithful to the treaties with the Americans. He had long been afflicted with the gout, though it developed into what we know as Bright’s disease. In order to receive medical treatment he went to Fort Wayne where he died at the home of his son-in-law, Capt. William Wells, in July of 1812. He was buried with great honors by the officials of that day, but his grave was unmarked and was almost unknown for a century. It was discovered in 1912 near the west bank of the St. Joseph River. In his grave were found the sword and gun presented to him by President Washington also many other relics, all of which are now in the Fort Wayne Historical Museum. Only a small slab marks the place of his burial. In Fort Wayne there should be a suitable monument to the greatest chief of a vanishing race. The fitting inscriptions on the beautiful monument erected on the battlefield of Fallen Timbers gives to Little Turtle due credit and honorable mention along with Gen. Wayne and the brave pioneers of the west. A memorial equally fitting should be erected in the former capital of the great Miami Nation of Indians where once their great chief reigned supreme.
While we are still here in the Land of Little Turtle, we should say something about the family of the great chief. He was twice married. His first wife was the sister of his Indian friend, Chief Makwah. His second wife was Makwah’s daughter. By the first wife he had four children of whom we have record. The names of his two sons were Mak-e-shen-e-quah and Kat-e-mong-gwah. The former was the father of the well known Indian woman, Kilsoquah, who lived near Roanoke, Indiana, dying in 1915 at the age of 105. The younger son was the father of the Indian chief, Coesse, after whom the village of Coesse has been named. One daughter, Ma-cute-mon-quah, married the Indian chief, White Loon, whose home was on the Aboite river near the Allen and Whitley county line, on what is now U. S. road 24. Another daughter named Sweet Breeze became the wife of the famous Captain William Wells.
Here we must pause to say something about this remarkable man who was also a member of this famous family. During the Revolutionary war when Little Turtle was on one of his raids in Kentucky, he captured a boy by the name of William Wells. Struck by the boy’s bravery, Little Turtle would not allow the Indians to kill him, but brought him to the Turtle village here on Eel River and adopted him as his son. Here the boy grew to manhood and tradition says that here he often played with Frances Slocum, the Pennsylvania girl who was captured and raised by the Indians. When he grew to manhood he married Sweet Breeze and raised a family. He accompanied his foster father and father-in-law on many of his expeditions against the whites. He helped to defeat both Harmar and St. Clair. Then he began to think seriously that perhaps he was fighting and killing his own relatives. After talking the matter over with his father-in-law he went back to Kentucky to visit his relatives. When he returned he reported to Little Turtle all that he saw of the great immigration of white people from the east to the west. By agreement with Little Turtle he joined Gen. Wayne and was with him at the battle of Fallen Timbers. After the treaty of Greenville, he returned to his Indian family and friends and continued to the end the trusted friend of Little Turtle. He went with the great chief on his visits to the national capital and acted as his interpreter. He attended many treaty councils where he usually acted as secretary and interpreter. He was the general Indian agent through which the government conducted Indian affairs at Fort Wayne and other places. It was at the home of Captain Wells, across the river from Fort Wayne, in July 1812, that Little Turtle breathed his last. A few months later this foster son, son-in-law and friend of the great chief was slain in the massacre at Fort Dearborn, Chicago, where he was trying to protect the men, women and children of that ill fated fort. Through Captain Wells, Little Turtle left a number of descendants. After the war and in later treaties, these heirs were well cared for by government grants.
We have spent much time dealing with the home site and the events of the life of Little Turtle. But where in Indian history has there been another so great? This Eel River-Miami Indian was a native born American, our first great Hoosier. He was the conqueror of three American armies. He was as valiant in peace as he was in war, becoming a firm friend of his conquerors and loyal to his new government. He was a great orator and statesman, attempting to lead his people in the ways and arts of peace. He was the first great temperance and prohibition worker in Indiana. He was a great traveler, making many trips to state and to the national capitals. He was personally acquainted with President George Washington and the leading men of his day who gave evidence of their high esteem of him. He died respected and honored by all who knew him, receiving some of the finest tributes from those who had formerly met him in battle. Considering both his early leadership among his own people, and his later friendship and co-operation with the American people, it is not too much to claim for him first place among the leaders of his race.
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