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Little Turtle at the Treaty of Greenville
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During the summer of 1795 Gen. Wayne met the Indians in a great peace council at Fort Greenville. Several hundred Indians from many tribes, led by their greatest chiefs, were present. But the greatest of all these chiefs was Little Turtle, the Eel River Miami Indian. Most eloquently and fervently did he plead the cause of his people. When it became apparent that Gen. Wayne would demand the cession to the United States of much of the present state of Ohio, Little Turtle made this memorable speech:
“The prints of my ancestors’ houses are everywhere to be seen in this region. It is well known to all my brothers present that my forefathers kindled the first fire at Detroit; from thence he extended his line to the headwaters of the Scioto; from thence to its mouth; from thence down the Ohio to the mouth of the Wabash and from thence to Lake Michigan. I have now informed you of the boundaries of the Miami nation where the Great Spirit placed my forefathers a long time ago and charged him not to sell or part with his lands but to preserve them to his posterity. This charge has now been handed down to me.”
No one can read this passionate appeal without high regard for this Indian who with patriotism for the land of his fathers had done his best to preserve the sacred trust. But the onward march of civilization was against him and he knew it. He could not move the great American general from his purpose to demand large cessions of land in Ohio and some in Indiana, including the ancient capital (of the Miami nation, Kekionga. Little Turtle signed the treaty reluctantly and as he did so remarked: “I have been the last to sign the treaty; I shall be the last to break it.” And he never did. He left the treaty grounds with no bitter resentment but really proud to have as his conqueror a hero so great as General Wayne.
From the treaty ‘of Greenville, Little Turtle returned to his home on Eel River, the Kenapocomoco. Realizing that the Indians were bound to lose their hunting grounds before the onward march of the white people, he saw that they must depend on something else besides hunting for a living. The United States government was friendly to him and ready to help. It made him a gift of a thousand dollars with which to build him a house more in keeping with the new life that he was to live. There is some question whether Little Turtle built this house at his old village or at the Eel River Post. Evidence rather favors that the latter place for it is certain that there he spent his last years. The government also made him a grant of twelve hundred dollars with which he attempted to teach his people the art of agriculture. With the money he received he had cleared some two hundred fifty acres of land, but the enterprise was doomed to failure. The braves were not inclined to work and the squaws complained that the cleared land about their village made it necessary for them to carry their wood too far. In this work in agriculture Little Turtle likely received help from the Quakers who also made an attempt at an agriculture school on the Wabash, but likewise failed to induce the Indian men to work.
The greatest scourge of disease among the Indians was small pox. Its ravages among them at times had been frightful. In some cases whole villages had been wiped out. This had been one of the causes why the Indians could not muster a greater force of fighting men. Little Turtle had heard of vaccination. When on a visit to Philadelphia he learned more about it from white physicians, submitted to it himself, learned how to vaccinate and returned to his people to help them fight off this terrible disease by the white man’s method.
Little Turtle is entitled to great praise in another and unexpected effort to help his people. The worst of all scourges among the Indians, greater than war or small pox, was the curse of drink. Unscrupulous white traders had been active in selling the Indians bad whiskey at outlandish prices. The Indian was fascinated with the white man’s firewater, but under its influences he degenerated into a brute, ready to slay his beet friend, or continue in drunken brawls until he died or met violent death. Little Turtle declared that whiskey had killed more of his people than all the wars that they had had with the white men or with one another. In vain did he plead the cause of total abstinence among his people. He was the first great prohibition worker in Indiana. He visited the state legislatures in Kentucky and Ohio, beseeching them to prevent unscrupulous white men from selling his people intoxicating liquors. He visited the national capitol, calling on President Adams and later on President Jefferson, pleading that laws should be passed to protect his people. President Jefferson received his petition kindly and recommended to congress some favorable action on restricting the sale of liquor among the Indians. But in all of his efforts to secure reform, he received very little help from the government. His later years were saddened by seeing his people degenerate under the influence of drink.
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