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|Northwest Indian War|
|Part of the American Indian Wars|
This depiction of the Treaty of Greenville negotiations may have been painted by one of Anthony Wayne's officers.
| United States
|Commanders and leaders|
| George Washington
Arthur St. Clair
|4,000 colonial militiamen||10,000 Native American warriors|
|Casualties and losses|
The Northwest Indian War (1785-1795), also known as the Ohio War, Little Turtle's War, and by other names, was a war between the United States and a confederation of numerous Native American tribes, with support from the British, for control of the Northwest Territory. It followed centuries of conflict over this territory, first among Native American tribes, and then with the added shifting alliances among the tribes and the European powers of France and Great Britain, and their colonials.
Under the Treaty of Paris (1783), which ended the American Revolutionary War, Great Britain ceded to the U.S. "control" of the Northwest Territory, which was occupied by numerous Native American peoples. Despite the treaty, the British kept forts there and continued policies that supported the Native Americans in the Northwest Territories. In 1787, there were 45,000 Native Americans in the territory, and 2,000 French. President George Washington directed the United States Army to enforce U.S. sovereignty over the territory. The U.S. Army, consisting of mostly untrained recruits supported by equally untrained militiamen, suffered a series of major defeats, including the Harmar Campaign (1790) and St. Clair's Defeat (1791), which were resounding Native American victories. About 1,000 soldiers and militiamen were killed and the United States forces suffered many more casualties than their opponents.
After St. Clair's disaster, Washington ordered Revolutionary War hero, General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, to organize and train a proper fighting force. Wayne took command of the new Legion of the United States late in 1793. He led his men to a decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The defeated tribes were forced to cede extensive territory, including much of present-day Ohio, in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795.
In 1608, French explorer & founder of Quebec City Samuel Champlain sided with the (further east) Wabanaki Confederacy & their allies the Huron people living along the St. Lawrence River against the Haudenosaunee Confederacy ("Five Nations") living in what is now upper and western New York state. The result was a lasting enmity by the Haudenosaunee Confederacy towards the French, which caused them to side with the Dutch fur traders coming up the Hudson River in about 1626. The Dutch offered better prices than the French and traded firearms, hatchets and knives to the Iroquois in exchange for furs.
With these more sophisticated weapons, the Five Nations nearly exterminated the Huron and all of other Native Americans living immediately to their west in the Ohio country during the Beaver Wars, beginning in the 1640s. The Native American tribes were competing for hunting grounds for the fur trade. The western tribes had also been weakened by epidemics of European infectious diseases, against which they had no acquired immunity. The Five Nations's use of modern weapons caused the wars to become deadlier. Historians consider the Beaver Wars to have been one of the bloodiest conflicts in the history of North America.
The Five Nations enlarged their territory by right of conquest. The number of tribes paying tribute to them realigned the tribal map of eastern North America. Several large confederacies were destroyed or relocated, including the Huron, Neutral, Erie, Susquehannock and Shawnee. The Five Nations pushed several other eastern tribes to and even across the Mississippi River. The Ohio country was virtually emptied, as the defeated tribes fled west to escape the Five Nations warriors. After the Five Nations' warriors were defeated, they left much of the Northwest territory, Kentucky and Ohio almost unpopulated and with abandoned villages. They had claimed the entire Ohio Valley as their own exclusive hunting ground.
After about 1700, some remnants of the Native American tribes began returning to the Northwest Territory. They were often conglomerations of several tribes who paid tribute to the Five Nations (see also Mingo).
Throughout the 17th and 18th centuries, both Britain and France claimed ownership of the Ohio Country, in competition with the Five Nations (who became the "Six Nations" after the admission of the Tuscarora in 1722), and by the mid-18th century had sent merchants and fur traders into the area to trade with local Natives, the actual inhabitants of the territory. Violence quickly erupted. During the French and Indian War, an extension in North America of the Seven Years' War in Europe. Indian tribes allied with either the French or British, often depending on trading priorities, and warred with each other and the colonists. When it was defeated, France relinquished all its territorial claims to Britain in the Treaty of Paris in 1763.
The British still faced opposition from numerous Native American tribes, including in the Great Lakes region: the Ottawa, Ojibwa, Pottawatomi, and Huron; in the eastern Illinois Country: the Miami, Wea, Kickapoo, Mascouten, and Piankashaw; and in the Ohio Country: the Delaware (Lenape), Shawnee, Mingo, and Wyandot. The tribes were angered by the arrogance of British colonial officials who treated them like defeated subjects and concerned by the growing threat of British colonials moving to settle in their territories. They attacked during Pontiac's Rebellion of 1763-66, when the Indians burned several British forts on their land. They killed and drove many settlers out of the Ohio Valley and Great Lakes territory. In response, Britain sent troops to reinforce Fort Pitt, which ultimately succeeded despite an ambush by the Natives in the nearby Battle of Bushy Run. The war petered out without a clear winner. The Natives remained undefeated yet had not managed to drive British colonial forces out of their territory.
Britain officially closed the Northwest Territories to colonial settlement by the Proclamation of 1763, in an effort to create peace with the tribes west of the Appalachian Mountains. On June 22, 1774, the British Parliament passed the Quebec Act, which annexed the Northwest Territories to the province of Quebec. Some colonials, wanting to move to "new lands," described this as one of the Intolerable Acts that contributed to the American Revolution.
A faction of the Cherokee led by Dragging Canoe, as well as the Shawnee, were already at war with the "Long Knives" starting in 1776, in the Cherokee-American wars, which merged into the Northwest Indian Wars.
During the American Revolution, four of the Six Nations of the Iroquois League sided with the British. The Mohawk, Onondaga, Cayuga and Seneca fought against colonists in the Battle of Oriskany, aided the British in the Battle of Wyoming in Pennsylvania, and at Saratoga, Cherry Valley, and other raids throughout the Mohawk Valley in New York, as well as in numerous other actions on the frontiers of New York and Pennsylvania. As the British concentrated on the southern United States in 1779, General George Washington took action against the Six Nations.
He instructed General John Sullivan to attack and destroy Six Nations villages in upper New York. Leading about 5,000 troops, Sullivan defeated the Six Nations forces in the Battle of Newtown, then destroyed over 40 Six Nations villages and all their stored crops in the fall of 1779. Because of the social disruption and crop losses, some Six Nations men, women, and children died of starvation that winter. Many Six Nations families retreated to Fort Niagara and other parts of Canada, where they spent a cold and hungry winter. Their power in the present-day United States territory was lessened, and their claim to the Northwest Territories was challenged.
In 1778, American General George Rogers Clark and 178 men captured the British forts on the Mississippi and Wabash Rivers. This gave the United States control of the Ohio River and a claim to all the land north of the Ohio. In the Fall of 1779, Indians allied with the British attacked a company of men under Col. David Rogers and Captain Robert Benham near Cincinnati; only a handful of soldiers survived the attack. [Note 1] In 1780, a French officer named Augustin de La Balme led a volunteer militia from Vincennes on a raid of Kekionga, with a goal of capturing Fort Detroit. This marks the first known victory for Little Turtle, who gathered available warriors and destroyed La Balme's force.
As the war with the British came to a close, the young United States looked to secure their borders, exact revenge for Native American raids, and expand westward. In March 1782, a band of Pennsylvania militia entered Ohio Country and massacred a Christian Lenape village of Gnadenhütten. Two months later, Colonel William Crawford led 500 volunteers deep into Ohio Country and attacked Native American villages near the Sandusky River. Crawford's force was defeated with a loss of about 70 Americans killed, and several prisoners were executed in retaliation for the Gnadenhutten massacre. In August 1782, the last battle of the American Revolutionary War, the Battle of Blue Licks, was fought in Kentucky. On a hill next to the Licking River in what is now Robertson County, Kentucky, a force of about 50 British rangers and 300 Natives ambushed and routed 182 pursuing Kentucky militiamen.
With the end of the war, the Treaty of Paris (1783) with Great Britain gave the United States independence and control of the Northwest Territories, at least on paper. The Six Nations' allies were forced to cede most of their land in New York state to the United States, and many Six Nations families moved on to land reserves in old Quebec Province (now southern Ontario).
The Ohio Territory was subject to overlapping and conflicting claims by the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, New York, and Virginia, and to those by the Shawnee, Mingo, Lenape and other actual inhabitants, who were no longer considered tributary to the Six Nations. While the British had suffered a major defeat at the Battle of Yorktown (1781), there had been no decisive defeat for their Native allies in the Northwest Territories. The Native tribes in the Old Northwest were not party to the treaty. Many leaders, especially Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, refused to recognize United States' claims to the area northwest of the Ohio River. The British remained in possession of their Great Lakes forts, through which they continued to supply Native American allies with trade items and weapons in exchange for furs. Some in the British government wished to maintain a neutral Native territory between Canada and the United States, but most agreed that immediate withdrawal was not possible without sparking a new war with Natives. The lingering British presence was not formally ended until their withdrawal from the Great Lakes forts pursuant to the Jay Treaty negotiated in 1794, and it would continue informally afterward until the War of 1812.
Through the public sale of western lands, the Confederation Congress sought to stabilize the dollar and pay down some of its war debt. The Land Ordinance of 1785 gave encouragement to land speculators, surveyors, and settlers who sought to gain new land from the Native Americans who may or may not have had a claim to it. To acquire most of the eastern portion of the Ohio Country, Congress negotiated the Treaty of Fort McIntosh in 1785 with several Indian tribes. Settlers from Connecticut were already streaming into the Western Reserve, which extended into part of a reservation set aside for some of the tribes.
The Northwest Ordinance of 1787, passed by the US Congress under the Articles of Confederation, gave Native Americans title, under U.S. law, to enjoy whatever lands they lived on. It also encouraged the influx of U.S. settlers north of the Ohio River. Localized ambushes and engagements between those settlers and natives continued. The failure of the 1789 Treaty of Fort Harmar to address underlying grievances between the two sides only exacerbated the problems. Fort Washington was built in 1789 to protect United States settlements in the Symmes Purchase. The new fort added security for settlers, but unsettled the Native American nations living North of the Ohio River. Fort Washington became the first of a line of forts advancing North into Ohio, and the combined Native American tribes would soon demand their destruction as a condition of peace.
Co-operation among the Native American tribes forming the Western Confederacy had gone back to the French colonial era. It was renewed during the American Revolutionary War. The confederacy first came together in the autumn of 1785 at Fort Detroit, proclaiming that the parties to the confederacy would deal jointly with the United States, rather than individually. This determination was renewed in 1786 at the Wyandot (Huron) village of Upper Sandusky. The confederacy declared the Ohio River as the boundary between their lands and those of American settlers. The Wyandot were the nominal "fathers," or senior guaranteeing tribe of the confederacy, but the Shawnee and Miami provided the greatest share of the fighting forces.
The confederacy included warriors from a wide variety of peoples:
In most cases, an entire tribe was not involved in the war; the Indian societies were generally not centralized. Villages and individual warriors and chiefs decided on participation in the war.
Nearly 200 Cherokee warriors from two bands of the Overmountain Towns fought alongside the Shawnee from the inception of the Revolution through the years of the Indian Confederacy. In addition, the Chickamauga (Lower Town) Cherokee leader, Dragging Canoe, sent a contingent of warriors for a specific action.
Still opposed to the US, some British agents in the region sold weapons and ammunition to the Indians and encouraged attacks on American settlers. War parties launched a series of isolated raids in the mid-1780s, resulting in escalating bloodshed and mistrust. In the fall of 1786, General Benjamin Logan led a force of Federal soldiers and mounted Kentucky militia against several Shawnee towns along the Mad River. These were defended primarily by noncombatants while the warriors were raiding forts in Kentucky. Logan burned the native towns and food supplies, and killed or captured numerous natives, including their chief Moluntha, who was murdered by one of Logan's men. Logan's raid and the execution of the chief embittered the Shawnees, who retaliated by escalating their attacks on American settlers.
Native American raids on both sides of the Ohio River resulted in increasing casualties. During the mid- and late-1780s, American settlers south of the Ohio River in Kentucky and travelers on and north of the Ohio River suffered approximately 1,500 casualties. Settlers retaliated with attacks on Indians.
In 1790, President George Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox ordered General Josiah Harmar to launch the Harmar Campaign, a major western offensive into the Shawnee and Miami country. In October 1790, a force of 1,453 men under Harmar was assembled near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana. Harmar committed only 400 of his men under Colonel John Hardin to attack a Native force of some 1,100 warriors, and Hardin was handily defeated in Hardin's Defeat. He lost at least 129 soldiers.
Washington ordered Major General Arthur St. Clair, who served as governor of the Northwest Territory, to mount a more vigorous effort by Summer 1791. After considerable trouble finding men and supplies, St. Clair was somewhat ready, but the troops had received little training. At dawn on 4 November 1791, St. Clair's force, accompanied by about 200 camp followers, was camped near where Fort Recovery, Ohio is now, with weak defenses set up on the perimeter. A Native American force of about 2,000 warriors, led by Little Turtle and Blue Jacket, struck quickly. Surprising the Americans, they soon overran the poorly prepared perimeter. The barely trained recruits panicked and were slaughtered in St. Clair's Defeat, along with many of their officers, who frantically tried to restore order and stop the rout. The American casualty rate was 69%, based on the deaths of 632 of the 920 soldiers and officers, with 264 wounded. Nearly all of the 200 unarmed camp followers were slaughtered, for a total of about 832 deaths--the highest United States losses in any of its battles with Native Americans.
The 1791 harvest had been insufficient in the region, and the warriors needed to hunt in order to complement their food stores. A grand council was held on the banks of the Ottawa River to determine whether to continue the war against the United States or negotiate a peace from a strong position. The council delayed the final decision until a new grand council could be held the following year, and the Native Confederacy disbanded for the Winter.
In January 1792, Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson assumed command of the Second Regiment United States Army at Fort Washington, and constructed Fort St. Clair to improve communications and logistics between Fort Hamilton and Fort Jefferson. The three forts were garrisoned with less than 150 men each, including infirmed Soldiers and servants. On 11 June 1792, a force of about 15 Shawnee and Delaware attacked the northern-most outpost, Fort Jefferson, while the detachment there was cutting hay. Four Soldiers were killed and left in the hay and 15 were captured. Eleven of the captives, including the Sergeant in charge, were later killed, and the four remaining Soldiers were sent to a Chippewa village. On 29 September, several Soldiers were killed while guarding cattle at Fort Jefferson.
That same year, after the discovery of United States espionage operations, Washington's emissaries John Hardin and Major Alexander Truman were killed on separate peace missions in Shelby County and Ottawa, Ohio when they were mistaken for spies.
Meanwhile, Native American tribes debated whether to continue the war or sue for peace while they had the advantage. A grand council was called, and several nations met at the confluence of the Auglaize and Maumee Rivers.Alexander McKee represented British interests and arrived in late September. For a week in October, pro-war factions, especially Simon Girty, the Shawnee, and Miami, debated moderate factions, especially the Six Nations represented by Cornplanter and Red Jacket. The Council agreed that the Ohio River must remain the boundary of the United States, that the forts in the Ohio Country must be destroyed, and that they would meet with the United States at the Lower Sandusky River in Spring 1793.[Note 2]
In November 1792, following the decision of the Auglaize Grand Council, Little Turtle led a force of 200 Miami and Shawnee past Fort Jefferson and Fort St. Clair, and reached Fort Hamilton on 3 November in time to attack close to the United States settlements on the anniversary of St. Clair's Defeat. They captured two prisoners and learned that a large convoy of packhorses had left for Fort Jefferson and was due back in a matter of days. Little Turtle moved North and found the convoy, nearly 100 horses and 100 Kentucky militia led by Major John Adair, camped just outside Fort St. Clair. Little Turtle attacked at dawn, just as Major Adair recalled his sentries. The militia conducted an organized retreat to the fort, losing six killed and four missing, while another five were wounded. Major Adair later criticized Fort St. Clair's commandant, Captain Bradley, for his failure to come to their aid. Little Turtle's force lost two warriors, but captured the camp and all provisions. All horses were killed, wounded, or driven off; only 23 were later recovered. Wilkinson considered the horses to be a loss that would make the advanced forts un-defendable.
The United States received the demands of the Grand Council with indignation, but Henry Knox agreed to send commissioners to the 1793 treaty and suspend all offensive operations until that time. British Lieutenant Governor John Graves Simcoe, a veteran of the American Revolutionary War, was delighted with the United States' failures, and hoped for British involvement in the creation of a neutral barrier state between the United States and Canada. In 1793, however, Simcoe abruptly changed policy and sought peace with the United States in order to avoid opening a new front in the French Revolutionary Wars. Simcoe treated the United States commissioners - Benjamin Lincoln, Beverly Randolph, and Timothy Pickering - cordially when they arrived at Niagara in May 1793, seeking an escort by way of the Great Lakes in order to avoid the fate of John Hardin and Alexander Truman in 1792.
At the 1793 Sandusky River council, however, disagreement broke out between Shawnee and the Six Nations. The Shawnee and Delaware insisted that the United States recognize the 1768 Fort Stanwix Treaty between the Six Nations and Great Britain, which set the Ohio River as a boundary. Joseph Brant countered that the Six Nations had nothing to gain from this demand and refused to concede. Many of the council members doubted whether the United States commissioners even had the authority to negotiate these terms. Further disagreements erupted over Alexander McKee's influence and Simon Girty's translations. The U.S. commissioners argued that it would be too expensive to move white settlers who had already established homesteads North of the Ohio River. On 13 August, the council (without the Six Nations) sent a declaration to the U.S. commissioners, contesting U.S. claims to any lands above the Ohio since they were based on treaties made with nations that did not live there, and with money that had no value to the Native tribes. The council proposed that the U.S. relocate white settlers using the money that would have been used to buy Ohio lands and pay the Legion of the United States. The council ended with discord among the confederacy, and the commissioners wrote to Henry Knox that they had failed to secure a peace in the Northwest.
After St Clair's disaster, Washington ordered General "Mad" Anthony Wayne to form a well-trained force and put an end to the situation. Wayne accepted the appointment in 1792 and took command of the new Legion of the United States later that year, taking time to train and supply the new Army while the United States negotiated terms of peace. As the Native American confederacy and United States commissioners debated at the Grand Council on the Sandusky River in 1793, Wayne moved the Legion from Pennsylvania downriver to Fort Washington, at a camp Wayne named Hobson's Choice because they had no other options. On 11 September 1793, William Wells arrived at Fort Jefferson with news of the Grand Council's failure, and with a warning that a force of over 1500 warriors was ready to attack Fort Jefferson and the Legion of the United States.
Wayne advanced his troops North into Indian held territory. In November, the Legion built a new fort North of Fort Jefferson, which Wayne named Fort Greeneville on 20 November 1793 in honor of General Nathanael Greene. The Legion wintered here, but Wayne dispatched a detachment of about 300 men on 23 December to quickly build Fort Recovery on the site of St. Clair's defeat and recover the cannons lost there in 1791. By June 1794, the Legion at Fort Recovery had recovered four brass cannons (two six-pound and two three-pound), two brass howitzers, and one iron carronade.
That same month, a Native American force of over 1,200 warriors under the nominal command of the Odawa Bear Chief and British officers arrived at Fort Recovery with powder and shot, intent on recovering the same cannons. The force destroyed an escort and captured or scattered several hundred pack horses used for supply convoys, but failed to capture the fort, which was defended by artillery, dragoons, and Chickasaw scouts.[Note 3] The British officers recovered one cannon, but were unable to utilize it; one later stated that "had we two barrels of powder, Fort Recovery would have been in our possession with the help of St. Clair's cannon." Those defending the fort suffered 23 killed, 29 wounded, and three captured. Estimates of the Native Nations casualties range from 17 to 50 killed, and perhaps 100 wounded, some of whom later died of their wounds.
Wayne's well-trained Legion advanced deeper into the territory of the Wabash Confederacy. Blue Jacket assumed overall command, but the Indian forces were defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794. Blue Jacket's warriors fled from the battlefield to regroup at British-held Fort Miami. However, they found themselves locked out of the fort. Britain and the United States were by then reaching a close rapprochement to counter Jacobin France during the French Revolution.
In 1795 the United States ratified two treaties that recognized the changes in power. By the Treaty of Greenville, signed by President Washington on 22 December 1795, the northwest Native American tribes were forced to cede most of Ohio and a slice of the Illinois Country; to recognize the U.S., rather than Britain, as the ruling power in the Old Northwest; and to surrender ten chiefs as hostages until all American prisoners were returned. Also that year, the United States negotiated the Jay Treaty with Great Britain, which required British withdrawal from the western forts while opening up some British territory in the Caribbean for American trade.
General Wayne supervised the surrender of British posts in the Northwest Territory, but suffered a severe attack of gout and died on 15 December 1796, one year after the ratification of the Treaty of Greenville.
After the end of hostilities, large numbers of United States settlers migrated to the Northwest Territory. Five years after the Treaty of Greenville, the territory was split into Ohio and Indiana Territory, and in February 1803, the State of Ohio was admitted to the Union. The border between Ohio and the Indiana Territory closely followed the line of advanced forts and the Greenville Treaty Line.
Future Native American resistance movements were unable to form a union matching the size or capability seen during the Northwest Indian War. In 1805, Tenskwatawa began a traditionalist movement that rejected United States practices. His followers settled at Prophetstown in Indiana Territory, leading to Tecumseh's War and the Northwest theater of the War of 1812.
The war has no widely accepted name; other names include the "Old Northwest Indian War", the "Ohio War", the "Ohio Indian War", and the "War for the Ohio River Boundary". In U.S. Army records, it is known as the "Miami Campaign". Many books avoid the problem of what to call the war by describing it without putting a name to it, or ignoring it. Similarly, the battles and expeditions of the war do not have "standard" names in U.S. history books, except for the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
Although this war was the first major military endeavor of the post-revolutionary United States, and a major crisis of President George Washington's administration, historians have sometimes overlooked it. The 19th-century Indian Wars became more famous in American popular culture, however, the Northwest Indian War resulted in more casualties of the United States military and noncombatants than the combined battles of Geronimo, Crazy Horse, Sitting Bull, Cochise, and Red Cloud. In the Battle of the Wabash (St. Clair's Defeat) Indians achieved their highest rate of casualties against the U.S. Army.
The Northwest Indian War was part of a long frontier struggle in the Ohio Country, which included the French and Indian War (1754-1763), Pontiac's Rebellion (1763-1764), Lord Dunmore's War (1774), and the American Revolutionary War (1775-1783). Many Native American communities perceived the wars as a kind of endemic warfare with European and American settlers that spanned several generations. For example, historian Francis Jennings suggested that the Northwest Indian War was, for the Lenape people, the end of a "Forty Years' War" that began soon after the Braddock Expedition in 1755. For some Indians, the conflict resumed a generation later with Tecumseh's War (1811) and the War of 1812 (hence their term Sixty Years' War). Conflict with the U.S. continued into the 1830s' era of Indian removals from east of the Mississippi.