Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Learn About the Dead Guys Our Streets Are Named After, Part 1: Harmar Street

This title is one of my favorites from the "10 Worst Slogans" published below. It's one of those things where, the more you laugh about it, the more you like it. There are so many interesting stories behind our streets. So my first Dead Guy to honor is Josiah Harmar.

Harmar Street is tucked back in the East Central neighborhood. Only 9 blocks long, it ends at the train tracks running along the river. But two centuries ago, a footpath in that area led to a ford across the Maumee, north into the great Miami village of Kekionga, now Lakeside.

Even today the river, flanked by a bike path and quiet tree-lined streets, looks peaceful. But in October of 1790 it was the site of a bloody massacre that became known as Harmar's Defeat.

Josiah Harmar was the U.S. General commissioned by President Washington to pacify the Indians in the wilds north of the Ohio River. In fall of 1790, Harmar's troops came to Kekionga. The village was hastily abandoned, and the troops proceeded to destroy cows, more than 20,000 bushels of corn, and 185 buildings.

Tracks of women and children were discovered leaving the village, so Harmar sent Col. Hardin to "pacify" the Indians once and for all. Hardin's troops were soon ambushed by the great war chief Little Turtle in an attack "planned as neatly as a rat sets a trap"* in the words of one soldier, and many members of the company were massacred. (The historical marker is on Carroll Road near Madden Road.)

Harmar's army began to leave the region in disgrace, but Hardin convinced the general to turn back and fight one more time, in order to salvage his own reputation. They would have done better to leave.

Major John Wyllys drew up a brilliant battle plan as Little Turtle's warriors returned to Kekionga. But a variety of tactical mistakes ensued after a militia member shot at a lone Indian before the order to attack, thus betraying their position. Wyllys, unsupported by neither cavalry nor militia, was then forced into an immediate frontal assault across the Maumee with his regulars. He was one of the first men to die in the river, which was soon choked with the bodies of men and horses.

It was a disaster. The army slunk back to Fort Washington in Cincinnati, looking back fearfully over their shoulders. By the end of the campaign, 183 U.S. troops were dead and 31 were wounded. Little Turtle, LeGris and Bluejacket paraded the American scalps in the streets of Detroit, and the fighting and atrocities in the region escalated until the conquest under General Anthony Wayne.

The photograph above shows Harmar's Ford in the Maumee from the Tecumseh Street Bridge; it is roughly marked by the bare stretch of bank. Fragments of flintlocks and bayonets have been found at this site and others associated with Harmar's Defeat, and are part of the collection of the History Center.

*Griswold, A Pictorial History of Fort Wayne Indiana, 1917.

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