(Fort Wayne Monthly “Along the Heritage Trail” – September 2010 No. 70)
The year 2012 will mark the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812. An important event in the history of our newly formed nation the frontier community of Fort Wayne found itself a player in the events that led to this Second War with Britain. One hundred miles to the east near the Maumee River Anthony Wayne faced the forces of the Miami Confederation at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. Another confederation of Indian tribes in 1811 confronted William Henry Harrison at the Battle of Tippecanoe some 100 miles to the West on the Wabash. Midway, Fort Wayne stood on the passageway connecting the two.
Historian Harvey Lewis Carter’s account of these times helps trace the story. In 1805, the Shawnee brothers Tecumseh and Tenskwtana , later known as The Prophet, called a meeting of all the tribes but excluded the pro-American Miami and Delaware people. The meeting was held near Wapakoneta, Ohio, and Fort Wayne-based Indian Agent William Wells became aware of the meeting while noticing the many Indians passing through Fort Wayne. Although Chief Black Hoof of the Shawnee nor The Crane, a principal Wyandot chief, did not support Tecumseh and The Prophet, the brothers’ message to reclaim Indian lands appealed to a great many natives.
Under the Jefferson administration, Indiana Territory Governor William Henry Harrison had accumulated nearly 30-million acres of public lands for the United States through treaties with the Indian peoples. The two Shawnee brothers became alarmed at the loss of such extensive land masses. The Shawnee, having originated in Florida and Georgia, were essentially a landless tribe that depended on roaming over vast spaces moving north to Pennsylvania then forced by settlers into the present states of Ohio, Indiana and Illinois.
The Prophet declaring that he experienced a mystical encounter claimed that the Great Spirit had created the Indian, French, English and Spanish but not the “evil” Americans. He preached returning to the traditional lifestyle of their forefathers, and abstaining from alcohol. Conversely, he did not advocate refraining from using deadly reprisal against an enemy that took away their land.
At Fort Wayne in 1806 and 1807 William Wells urged the estimated 1,500 Indians passing through town not to continue on their travels and not to listen to The Prophet at Greenville. So preoccupied were the native peoples with The Prophet’s influence that for two years they failed to conduct their annual hunting expeditions or planting their fields as was their custom. To avoid starvation among his charges, Agent Wells found himself having to issue great amounts of food stuffs. Conditions in Greenville found food supplies were meager there as well. Desperate, The Prophet decided in 1808 to establish a new village on Potawatomi land near the mouth of the Tippecanoe River on the Wabash southwest of Fort Wayne, today celebrated as Prophetstown State Park.
All this was taking place in the west while back east Americans were agitated with news in 1807 of the Chesapeake-Leopard Affair the name given to the incident when a British naval vessel impressed seamen from an American naval ship into British service. War was deemed eminent and Britain could do no better than attract the American Indians’ confederation to their cause.
By 1809, William Wells the Indian Agent believed he was best suited for both the Indian people and the American citizens, but due to good ole fashioned politics was removed from his position and replaced by John Johnson. However, Wells was approved by Harrison to serve as an official government interpreter. In late Spring, The Prophet came to Fort Wayne to meet with Johnson. This and other meetings caused the Governor to begin building his militia forces that inadvertently served to enhance the Tecumseh/Prophet movement. Even the great Miami Chief Little Turtle said that the U.S. had no particular need to take the land at the time.
Harrison, later to become America’s ninth president, arrived in Fort Wayne in 1809 where 1,400 Indians had gathered to finalize the Fort Wayne 10 o’clock Line Treaty. In September of that year nearly three million acres, or an area equal to seventy square miles, was transferred to the United States for $10,000 or one-third of a cent per acre paid to the Miami. Although the Shawnee and Wyandot had no claim on the land, they threatened to kill any chief who might sign the treaty or murder the first white men settling on the purchased land.
Food supplies for the Indians continued to worsen and Tecumseh began assuming more of a leadership role. He preached that the land was owned by Indians in common and none could be sold without the agreement of all. Harrison retorted that if the Great Sprit looked upon the many tribes in common as a nation, he would have given them a common language instead of the scores that he heard spoken. Tecumseh called for a confederation of natives to resist the encroaching Americans and in 1810 made it clear to British officials that in one year his confederacy would be formed and ready for war. Tecumseh visited Fort Wayne to meet with the new Indian Agent Benjamin Stickney before moving on his way to acquire ammunition from the British at Malden near Detroit.
In the autumn of 1811, Harrison marched 700 troops into Indian Territory near Prophetstown. November 7th an Indian attack on the camp now known as Battleground ensued. Eight months later, the Second War for Independence erupted that today we know as the War of 1812.
Allen County Historian Tom Castaldi is author of the Wabash & Erie Canal Notebook series; hosts “On the Heritage Trail” which is broadcast Mondays on 89.1 fm WBOI; and “Historia Nostra” heard on Redeemer Radio 106.3 fm. Enjoy his previously published columns on the History Center’s blog “Our Stories” at historycenterfw.blogspot.com.