The Journal Gazette
Sunday, June 13, 2021 1:00 am

Heritage trail

Evidence of city's early battles still evident - if you know where to look

Bob Hunter

Governor William Henry Harrison came to Fort Wayne in September, 1809, to negotiate what proved to be his final treaty with the Indians in the territory. On the one side sat the governor with his servant, his secretary, four Indian interpreters, and the officers of the fort; on the other sat the painted warriors of the Miamis, the Potawatomis, the Delawares, and the Weas. On the third day of the council, 892 warriors were present. On the day of the treaty signing 1,390 were present, the largest number of Indians ever assembled to meet a representative of the United States.

A collection of government buildings and sutler establishments sprouted to the immediate west of the fort at the meeting place of two roads, Wayne's Trace to Fort Washington and the old Maumee-Wabash portage path. In time, these resembled a small village, which became the plat of the town when platted in 1824. A marker placed at the corner of Wayne Trace and New Haven Avenue by the D.A.R. (Daughters of the American Revolution) in 1906 commemorates the old Indian trail (Gen. Josiah) Harmar and (Gen. Anthony) Wayne used between Fort Wayne and Cincinnati.

The fort played a critical role during the War of 1812. During the summer of 1811, it became the central point between the Prophet's Town on the Tippecanoe River and Malden, the British post across from Detroit where they distributed arms and ammunition to the Indians.

After the American forces under Harrison defeated the Indians at Prophet's Town in November, 1811, Tecumseh (who was not in the battle) visited Fort Wayne in December. The loss had severely damaged his plans, and he railed against Harrison, asked for and was denied ammunition and left, still believing he could achieve success with the help of the British.

On August 28, 1812, warriors from the Potawatomi and Miami tribes led by Chief Winamac gathered around Fort Wayne and began a siege. Chief Winamac's forces assaulted the fort from the east side and burned the homes of the surrounding village.

Kentucky Governor Charles Scott had just appointed Governor Harrison as Major General of the Kentucky Militia and authorized him to relieve Fort Wayne. Harrison quickly organized a militia force of 2,200 men and marched north from the Newport (Ky.) Barracks to the fort. While en route a scouting party reported that a force of 400 Native Americans and 140 British regulars under Tecumseh was also marching towards the fort, so Harrison now raced to beat Tecumseh.

Winamac attempted one last attack on Fort Wayne on September 11, suffered several casualties and broke off the attack. Harrison's troops moved to within 17 miles of Fort Wayne that night and expected a battle the next day. The Indians had prepared to give battle at a swamp five miles southeast of the fort, but finding Harrison's army too strong to attack, they withdrew and allowed Harrison's troops to march to the fort uncontested. Three days later, Harrison ordered two divisions from Fort Wayne to destroy any Native American village they found as punishment for the siege.

An American army under Harrison routed the British and Indian forces at the Battle of the Thames on October 5, 1813. Tecumseh died in the battle, and in effect, the Indian power was broken forever in the Old Northwest.

Although Fort Wayne had withstood the siege, the destruction of the village and its trade proved to be major setbacks. A new fort replaced the old one in 1815 and the military left it in 1819. Many of the families who left the area in 1812 to escape the Indian attacks never returned, causing visitor Thomas Teas to write that “the village before the late war was much larger than at present.” Indiana became a state in 1816, but until 1818, all of northern Indiana was still considered Indian territory.

Two hundred years later, the Indians' fate is evident in a neighborhood of century-old houses in the Spy Run section of Fort Wayne. A tiny park is squeezed between two houses on the south side of Lawton Place, a long half-block west of the St. Joseph River and almost directly across from the site of the second Fort Miami. At the end of a narrow path lies a bronze plaque and a few story-telling markers that reveal this as the final resting place for legendary Miami chief Little Turtle, whose grave was unearthed during the building of a house in 1912, one hundred years after his death.

A ceremonial sword given to him by George Washington and other artifacts buried with him were given to the Allen County Fort Wayne Historical Society for display, construction plans were altered and he was reburied on the site, which also contains the graves of other Miamis.

Eleanor and Mary Catherine Smeltzly donated the land there for a memorial park to Little Turtle in 1959.

It would be interesting to know what the Miami chief would have thought of his need for such generosity.

Author facts

Bob Hunter is the author of 11 books, including a collection of some of his past columns from the Columbus (Ohio) Dispatch, where he was a sports columnist for the last 24 years of his more than 40 at the newspaper. A native of Hamilton, Ohio, and a graduate of Ohio University, he has been a member of the board of trustees of the Columbus Historical Society since 2011.

The excerpt published here is from “Kekionga-Fort Wayne,” a chapter of his new book.

Book facts

“Road to Wapatomica: A Modern Search for the Old Northwest” by Bob Hunter (Culloden Books) 452 pages, $32.95

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