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The Early Life of Little Turtle
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One of the first references in American history to the Miamis is in a treaty made by them and other Indians with the English at Lancaster, Pa. in 1748. One of the chiefs to sign that treaty was Aquenackque, whose home was at this very place. In 1760 this Eel River chief and others had a conference with Gen. George Washington at Philadelphia. Some say that Aquenackque was part French and that he married a Mohican squaw. Others declare that both he and his wife were full-blooded Miamis. Tradition says that Aquenackque won his fame and leadership among the Indians by his bravery in the war with the Iroquois. When that fierce tribe from the east made war upon the Miamis of the west and had all but driven them from their homes, it was Aquenackque who planned an ambuscade of the enemy and so decisively defeated them that they came no more on their marauding expeditions.
Here on the bend of Eel River, the Kenapocomoco, Aquenackque raised a remarkable family. Me-she-kin-no-quah, the Little Turtle was horn here in 1751. Aquenackque had a number of daughters. One of these, Tacumwah, became the wife of the French trader, Joseph Richardville and the mother of the famous chief, John B. Richardville. Here on the bend of Eel River Aquenackque made his home and raised his family though no doubt he spent much time at Kekionga and other Indian centers.
We do not know the exact date of the death of Aquenackque nor when Little Turtle was recognized as chief of the Miamis. Inheritance alone would not have made him chief. Some great deed of valor must commend him to this position. This he performed in the defeat of La Balme in 1780. His part in that conflict has already been described. But the conflict with La Balme did much more for Little Turtle and his Eel River Indians. It brought them into a determined conflict with the Americans who after the close of the Revolutionary War were moving in great numbers to the North West. Little. Turtle and all Indians began to see what the inroads of the whites would mean. Unless they could check the white man and keep him out of this Northwest Territory the time would come when they would lose their hunting grounds and their ancestral homes. So with true patriotism, as well as for revenge for what they considered injustice, they began a long series of attacks upon the whites. Our view of Indian atrocities must be considered in the light of their love for, and desire to hold, their own country.
From 1780 to 1790 there was a constant series of raids upon the white settlements in Kentucky and wherever the whites attempted to settle north of the Ohio river. While many tribes and many chiefs participated in these attacks, no one was more active than Little Turtle who led his Eel River Indians on many successful expeditions. No doubt many white captives were brought back to this very place; perhaps some of them were executed here though most of this terrible work was done at the main Miami Town, Kekionga. Tradition records that Little Turtle himself was always inclined to mercy. His capture of the young boy, William Wells, in Kentucky, adopting him as his son, and their life long friendship is one example.
When George Washington became president of the United States he at once recognized the importance of the territory north and west of the Ohio River. Due to the conquest of George Rogers Clarke this territory had been granted to the United States by the treaty of 1783. However the British continued to plot how they might secure it and annex it to Canada. They no doubt were back of many Indian attacks upon the Americans. Washington realized that if the Americans did not occupy this territory soon it would be lost to the British. So he urged congress to support him in his effort to confirm the ownership of the United States to this great land.
Washington realized that the strategic point in all this Northwest Territory was the Miami Capital, Kekionga, where Little Turtle, the Eel River Miami, was the acknowledged chief. To capture this place he sent Gen. Josiah Harmar with an army in 1790. The two defeats of Gen. Harmar at the hands of Little Turtle have already been described. It was a sad thing for the American cause that the American generals did not realize the military genius of this great Indian chief. But humiliated by their defeat they gave some excuses or explanations other than the real one. Washington however realized that he had a great work on hands and the next year sent Gen. Arthur St. Clair with the largest army ever sent against the Indians. It was so large that when it marched north through the wilderness from Fort Washington, Cincinnati, Gen St. Clair and his men never dreamed that the Indians would attack an army so large. So sure were they that they would capture Kekionga that some two hundred women accompanied the expedition so they would he there to start new homes at the new settlement to be established in the wilderness. But Little Turtle was watching the approaching army every mile of the march. He collected a large body of Indians, from many tribes, trained them thoroughly and calmly waited for the best time and place to strike. This came at what is now the site of Ft. Recovery, Ohio, in the early morning of November 4, 1791. With fewer men he attacked the army of St. Clair and within a few hours he massacred more than half of the force and sent the rest in wild flight back to the protecting forts below. Some nine hundred men out of a force of about fourteen hundred were killed, besides many of the women. Little Turtle had completely destroyed the army of Gen. St. Clair. This was the greatest defeat ever inflicted upon the whites by the Indians.
This terrible defeat had a great effect upon President Washington and the American people. Many now favored surrendering completely this great Northwest Territory, making the Ohio river the boundary line between the United States and the Indian Country. But Washington would not listen to such proposals. With great difficulty he persuaded congress to vote more money for another army to conquer the Indians. He made a careful study of all American generals that he might get the best for his hazardous enterprise. He finally chose the hero of Stony Point, General Anthony Wayne.
General Wayne did not underestimate the difficulty of his work nor the military genius of the great Indian chief. With great care and skill did he collect and drill an army for the great struggle with the Indians. He spent two years in getting his army in readiness before he started northward from Fort Washington, October 7, 1793, over the same route taken by Harmar and St Clair in their disastrous attempts. Wayne moved cautiously, determined that he would not be taken unawares as had the generals before him.
Little Turtle knew Gen. Wayne and had great respect for his ability. He was ever ready to harass the American army wherever possible. While Gen. Wayne was at Fort Greenville, Little Turtle attacked a baggage train near where Eaton, Ohio, now stands, October 17. He inflicted great damage but could not long prevent supplies from reaching Wayne’s army. During the winter Gen. Wayne sent men to build a fort on the place where St. Clair had been defeated. The first work of these men was to gather up hundreds of skulls and many bones of those who had been massacred two years before and bury them. The new fort out here in the wilderness was called Fort Recovery, indicating that the lost ground had been reclaimed. Here on June 30, 1794, Little Turtle led a large body of Indians and British sympathizers in an attack, but he was disastrously defeated. He now began to see the futility of further resistance by the Indians. During all of these months he had been trying to surprise Gen. Wayne but he could not do it. And now since Wayne was offering honorable terms of peace, Little Turtle advised his people to listen to favorable overtures, for, said he, “The Americans are now led by a general who never sleeps.” But the Indians, over confident because of their previous victories, and, encouraged by the British, refused to consider.
In the meantime Gen. Wayne was advancing northward, building forts at Greenville, Fort Recovery, St. Marys and Defiance. The Indians were retreating down the Maumee to some favorable place where they hoped to inflict another serious defeat upon the Americans. They also had hopes of help from the British who had built a fort on the Maumee some ten miles from its mouth. In a final conference of the Indians Little Turtle again advised peace, but the Indians accused him of cowardice, deposed him from leadership and elected Blue Jacket as their leader. They would not listen to Little Turtle’s advice as to the plan for the battle. He, however, as a brave and true soldier, fought with his people in the battle of Fallen Timbers, August 20, 1794. The Indians were completely defeated. Gen. Wayne now marched up the Maumee, destroying Indian towns and cornfields on the way. He came to Kekionga where he erected the fort that bears his name, Fort Wayne. It was completed October 22, 1794. Little Turtle accepted the Indian defeat as final and was ready to make peace.
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