LITTLE TURTLE

( Michikinikwa, Meshekinoquah )

 

Miami / Mohican Chief

1752 -1812

 

Little Turtle was one of the principal chiefs among the coalition of Shawnees, Miamis, Delawares, Potawatomis, Ottawas, Chippewas, and Wyandots in the Old Northwest (Ohio Country).

This coalition defeated fourteen hundred soldiers under General Arthur St. Clair on November 4, 1791.

Little Turtle's twelve hundred warriors, aided by the element of surprise, killed roughly nine hundred of St. Clair's men, the largest single battlefield victory by an American Indian force in history.

The victory was short-lived, however; in 1794, "Mad Anthony" Wayne's forces defeated Little Turtle and his allies at the Battle of Fallen Timbers.

On August 3, 1795, the Indians gave up most of their hunting grounds west of the Ohio River following the defeat by signing the Treaty of Greenville.

Little Turtle was known as a master of battlefield strategy.

The son of a Miami chief and a Mohican mother, Little Turtle became a Miami war chief because of his extraordinary personal abilities; under ordinary circumstances, the matriarchal nature of the culture would have prohibited a leadership role for him.

In 1787, the hunting grounds of the Miamis and their allies had been guaranteed in perpetuity by the U.S. Congress.

The act did not stop an invasion of settlers, however, and by the early 1790s, Little Turtle had cemented an alliance that foreshadowed the later efforts of Tecumseh.

Little Turtle's principal allies in this effort were the Shawnee BLue Jacket and the Delaware Buckongahelas.

This alliance first defeated a one-thousand-man American force under Josiah Harmer during October 1790.

Harmer dispatched an advance force of 180 men, who were drawn into a trap and annihilated.

Harmer then dispatched 360 more men to punish the Indians; they were drawn into a similar trap, and about a hundred of them were killed.

The remainder of Harmer's force then retreated to Fort Washington, or present day Cincinnati.

Harmer's defeat stunned the army, whose commanders knew that the old Northwest would remain close to settlement as long as Little Turtle's alliance held.

General St. Clair, who dad served as president of the Continental Congress in the middle 1780s, gathered an army of two thousand men during the summer of 1791 and marched into the Ohio country.

About a quarter of the men deserted en route, and to keep the others happy, St. Clair permitted about two hundered soldiers's wives to travel with the army.

On November 4, 1791, Little Turtle and his allies lured St. Clair's forces into the same sort of trap that had defeated Harmer's smaller army near St. Mary's Creek, a tributary of the Wabash River.

Thirty-eight officers and 598 men died in the battle;242 others were wounded,many of whom later died. Fifty-six wives also lost their lives,bringing the total death toll to about 950-the largest defeat of a U.S. Army force in all of the Indian wars, a death toll higher than any inflicted on the United States by the British in the American Revolution.

After the battle, St. Clair resigned his commission in disgrace.

Dealing from strength, Little Turtle's alliance refused to cede land to the United States.

In 1794, "Mad Anthony" Wayne was dispatched with a fresh army, which visited the scene of St. Clair's debacle.

According to Wayne, "Five hundred skull bones lay in the space of 350 yards. From thence, five miles out, the woods were strewn with skeletons, knapsacks, and other debris."

Little Turtle had more respect for Wayne then he had for Harmeror St. Clair; he called Wayne "the chief who never sleeps."

Aware that Wayne was unlikely to be defeated by his surprise tactics, Little Turtle proposed that the Indian alliance talk peace.

A majority of the warriors rebuffed Little Turtle, so he relinquished his command to Blue Jacket.

On August 29, 1794, Wayne's forces defeated the Native alliance.

When the time to talk peace came a year later, the defeated Indians were forced to give up most of their lands.

For almost two centuries, local historians placed the site of the Battle of Fallen Timbers along the Maumee River floodplaint near U.S. Highway 24.

A monument was erected at the site, even as Native Americans contended that the battle had really occured a mile away in what is today a soybean field.

In 1995, to settle the issue, G. Michael Pratt, an antropology professor at Heidelberg College in Tiffin, Ohio, organized an archaeological dig in the soybean field.

He organized teams that included as many as 150 people who excavated the site, which yielded large numbers of battlefield artifacts, indicating conclusively that the Native American account of the site was correct.

In 1802, Little Turtle addressed the legislatures of Ohio and Kentucky, urging members to pass laws forbidding traders to supply Indians with Whiskey.

He said that whiskey traders had "stripped the poor Indians of skins, guns, blankets, everything - while his squaw and the children dependent on him lay starving and shivering in his wigwam."

Neither state did anything to stop the flow of whiskey, some of which was adulterated with other substances, from chili peppers to arsenic.

Little Turtle died on July 14, 1812, at his lodge near the junction of the St. Joseph River and St. Mary Creek.

He was buried with full military honors by army officers who knew his genius.

William Henry Harrison, who had been an aide to Wayne and who later defeated Tecumseh in the same general area, paid Little Turtle this tribute: "'A safe leader is better than a bold one.' This maxim was a great favorite of the Roman Caesar Augustus...who...was, I believe, inferior to the warrior Little Turtle."