Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Opening Up the Old Northwest: Indian War Sites of Ohio and Indiana

**This is the first of three blog entries** about visits to sites where the US military fought Indians/Native Americans to open up the west for American expansion.  One caveat - Indian Wars, whether right or wrong, are a part of our country's history. I am interested in them for this reason alone. I don't want to spend time discussing how politically incorrect attitudes were back then, the attitudes were what they were and our nation is what it is as a result.   Okay, back to the blog, the first part of which will focus on a few sites in what was known as the Old Northwest, while the second will take a look at places in the Wyoming-Montana area.

Every year one or both of us drive out to our cabin in northern Idaho. It is a long drive of almost 2500 miles and takes about three days depending on how hard we push ourselves. Yes, 2500 miles is a serious amount of driving, and yes, the monotony of the Midwest states with their seemingly endless fields of corn and the vast emptiness of western South Dakota and eastern Montana can challenge any driver's ability to keep their eyes open. Thank goodness for audio books to help pass the time because radio stations across the country seem to all be the same—bad—except for perhaps KPND, the “Inland Northwest's Progressive Radio.” And don't get me started on the talking heads that proliferate—or shall I say pollute—the country's AM stations. To add a little something to the drive besides audio books and when we are not trying to get out there as quickly as possible, we try to hit a few stops along the way. One year, it was Laura Ingalls Wilder sites, while another was devoted to antique shops scattered along I-70 and I-90. This year, I (T) drove by myself (ok, I had a dog with me) and decided to hit a few Indian War sites along the way, first in what was known as the Old Northwest and then in the Wyoming-Montana area. 

I started with the town of Fort Recovery, Ohio, which is about 50 miles north of I-70 near the Indiana state line. It is a quaint little town smack dab in the middle of farming country. Check out the fantastic movie "Hoosiers," and you will get my drift.  It is named after a genuine Fort Recovery, built by the US Army in the 1790s. More importantly, the town is the site of General Arthur St. Clair's little-known defeat at the Battle of the Wabash in October of 1791 at the hands Chief Little Turtle of the Miami tribe. It is fascinating that the battle is so little known because St. Clair not only lost, his force was nearly wiped out in what continues to be one of the worst defeats in US military history; certainly the worst in the Indian wars, including Custer's much more well-known disaster on the Little Bighorn almost 85 years later. Out of his force of some 1,400 men, St. Clair lost around 900, and it could have been much worse had the Miamis pressed their victory. When then President George Washington read St. Clair's dispatches on the disaster, he said the general was “worse than a murderer.”

One of the consequences of St. Clair's defeat was an increase in the size of the federal army (a contentious issue in the late 18th century) with the formation of what was called the Legion. The Legion was placed under the command of the General “Mad” Anthony Wayne of Revolutionary War fame. To make a story going over a few years short, Wayne took the Legion back to the area of St. Clair's defeat, built Fort Recovery on the site of the battle, defeated a Miami attack on the fort, and launched a campaign against the Miamis to clear the Northwest Territory (largely the current state of Ohio and part of Indiana), culminating in the decisive victory over the Indians at the Battle of the Fallen Timbers near present-day Toledo in August of 1794.

In the town square is this well-maintained park and monument to both St.Clair's losses and a subsequent victory by Anthony Wayne when the Miamis unsuccessfully attacked Fort Recovery.

At the site of both St. Clair's defeat and the original Fort Recovery, there is a partial replica of the fort's stockade walls and a nice, impressive little museum recounting the battles and the history of the area's original inhabitants.  The museum also contains a considerable number of artifacts found in the local area.  Oh yea...special thanks to the lady running the museum that day.  It was a very hot day, and she let me bring the dog into the air conditioned museum.   I cannot imagine that happening on the east coast. 

Next on the agenda was the site of the 1811 Battle of Tippecanoe, just off I-65 in Lafayette, Indiana, another key battle in the effort to open up the area of the Old Northwest for American expansion. Prior to the War of 1812, a new confederacy of Indian tribes under the great Shawnee chieftain Tecumseh and his brother Tenskwatawa (“the Prophet”) resisted the efforts of Indiana Territory governor William Henry Harrison to secure title to Indian lands to provide room for more settlers. Harrison wanted enough settlers to qualify the territory for statehood and negotiated numerous land cession treaties with area Indians, including the Treaty of Fort Wayne on September 30, 1809, in which several tribal leaders sold 3 million acres to the US. The Treaty, however, was opposed by Tecumseh and Tenskwatawa and by 1811, they were preparing for war by trying to build a confederation of Indian tribes and discussing an alliance with the British, who were doing their own scheming with the Indian tribes against the US, including providing arms. Learning of Tecumseh's and Tenskwatawa's plans and hoping a show of force would make the Indians sue for peace, Harrison marched west with a strong force of US Army soldiers and militia against their main village, called “Prophetstown,” in the fall of 1811. With Tecumseh absent trying to recruit other tribes to the cause, the Prophet on 7 November preemptively attacked Harrison's camp at Tippecanoe and was defeated. The battle is often portrayed as a decisive Indian defeat, but while the Indian federation was severely damaged, it held together under Tecumseh and fought with the British against the US in the War of 1812. It would ultimately fall apart with Tecumseh's death at the October 1813 Battle of the Thames in Ontario, Canada. Tippecanoe also helped inflame public opinion against the British prior to the War of 1812. Meanwhile, Harrison would use the slogan “Tippecanoe and Tyler too” to remind people of his heroism during the battle when he ran for president in 1840.

The site of the battle is now a state park with a museum, monument, and markers honoring US military officers killed during the battle.  Unfortunately in this case, I was not able to visit the museum, it having closed about 15 minutes before my arrival.

Stayed tuned for part 2 of Indian War travels to sites in Wyoming and Montana.

No comments:

Post a Comment