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Source: NMHS Newsletter Nov 2002


Little Turtle, the Great Eel River Chief

One of the first references in American history to the Miamis is 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 on the Eel. 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 ambush 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 born 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.

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 described in a previous issue of this Newsletter. This

   
 

     

battle brought the Eel River Indians into a determined conflict with the Americans who after the end of the Revolutionary war were moving in great numbers to the Northwest. 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 revenge for what they considered injustice, they began a long series of attacks upon the whites. Our view of Indian atrocities should be considered in light of their love for and the 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 place, and perhaps some 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 Clark 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 area.

Washington realized that the strategic point in all this Northwest territory was the Miami capitol, 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 were described in the last

 
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issue. 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 explanations other than the real one. Washington, however, realized that he had a great task on his 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 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 be 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 his men killed more than half of the force and sent the rest in wild flight back to the protecting forts. Some nine hundred 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.

The defeat of St. Clair 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 he collected and drilled an army for the struggle with the Indians. He spent two years getting his army in readiness before he started

 
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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 unaware 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, on 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 at the place where St. Calir had been defeated. The first work of these men was to gather up hundreds of skulls and many bones of those who had been killed 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, overconfident because of the 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 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 then

 
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marched up the Maumee, destroying Indian towns and cornfields on the way 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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From NMHS Newsletter Feb 2003--

Little Turtle at the Treaty of Greenville

by Otho Winger in The Kenapocomoco -

The Home of Little Turtle

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 head waters of the Scioto; from thence to its mouth;

   
 

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 treat 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.

Little Turtle and Works of Peace

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 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 for 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 smallpox.

 
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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 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 worse of all scourges among the Indians, greater than war or smallpox, 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 best 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 man 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 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.

Little Turtle as a Traveler

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. He 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 capitols of Ohio and Kentucky and made at least three visits to the national capitol.

Shortly after the treaty of Greenville, Little Turtle visited the

 
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national capitol 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 there 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 Asis, 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

 
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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."

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From NMHS Newsletter May 2003--

Little Turtle's Last Years

from The Kenapocomoco by Otho Winger

Continued from February 2003 Newsletter

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, he 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 where once their great chief reigned supreme.

 
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