Northwest Indian War Information

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Northwest Indian War
Part of the American Indian Wars
Treaty of Greenville.jpg
This depiction of the Treaty of Greenville negotiations may have been painted by one of Anthony Wayne's officers.

United States victory

US occupation of the Northwest Territory
  United States
Western Confederacy
  Great Britain
Commanders and leaders
United States George Washington
United States Josiah Harmar
United States Arthur St. Clair
United States Anthony Wayne
United States James Wilkinson
Blue Jacket
Little Turtle
Kingdom of Great Britain Alexander McKillop
4,000 colonial militiamen 10,000 Native American warriors
1 British company
Casualties and losses
1,221 killed
458 wounded
1,000+ killed
Unknown wounded

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 what were known as the Ohio Country and the Illinois Country, which were occupied by numerous Native American peoples. Despite the treaty, the British kept forts there and continued policies that supported the Native Americans. With the encroachment of European settlers west of the Appalachians after the War, a Huron-led confederacy formed in 1785 to resist usurpation of Indian lands, declaring that lands north and west of the Ohio River were Indian territory. President George Washington directed the United States Army to enforce U.S. sovereignty over the territory. The U.S. Army, consisting mostly of untrained recruits and volunteer militiamen, suffered a series of major defeats, including the Harmar Campaign (1790) and St. Clair's Defeat (1791). 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 1792. After a methodical campaign up the Great Miami and Maumee river valleys in western Ohio Country, he led his men to a decisive victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers near southwestern Lake Erie in 1794. Afterward he went on to establish Fort Wayne at the Miami capital of Kekionga, the symbol of U.S. sovereignty in the heart of Indian Country. The defeated tribes were forced to cede extensive territory, including much of present-day Ohio, in the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. The Jay Treaty in the same year arranged for cessions of British Great Lakes outposts on the great U.S. territory.

Indian Country

Settlement west of the Appalachians brought about a collision of differing notions of land usage and ownership between Indians and whitemen. To the Indians, land belonged to all, and anyone could hunt or use it. Attempts to avoid conflict resulted in a succession of boundary lines being defined between Indian Country and whiteman's settlements.

Formation of the confederacy

Map of Native tribes in the Northwest Territory

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.[ citation needed] 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 confederacy was a loose association of primarily Algonquin-speaking tribes in the Great Lakes area. The Wyandot (Huron) were the nominal "fathers," or senior guaranteeing tribe of the confederacy, but the Shawnee and Miami provided the greatest share of the fighting forces. Other tribes in the confederacy included the Delaware, Council of Three Fires (Chippewa, Ottawa, and Potawatomi), Kickapoo, Kaskaskia, and Wabash Confederacy (Wea, Piankashaw, and others). 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.

Some warriors of the Choctaw and Chickasaw tribes from the southeast, which had been traditional enemies of the northwest tribes, served as scouts for the United States during these years.

British influence

Still opposed to the US, some British agents in the region sold weapons and ammunition to the Indians and encouraged attacks on American settlers.

British Lieutenant Governor John 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. [1] 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. [2] Simcoe treated the United States commissioners - Benjamin Lincoln, Beverly Randolph, and Timothy Pickering - cordially when they arrived at Niagara in May 1793, [3] seeking an escort by way of the Great Lakes in order to avoid the fate of John Hardin and Alexander Truman in 1792. [4]

Course of the war

Map of the Northwest Indian War

Logan's raid

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.

Harmar's campaign

Hardin's defeat

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. [5] [6]

St. Clair's defeat

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. [7] [8]

Fort Jefferson

In January 1792, Lieutenant Colonel James Wilkinson assumed command of the Second Regiment United States Army at Fort Washington, [9] and constructed Fort St. Clair to improve communications and logistics between Fort Hamilton and Fort Jefferson. [10] The three forts were garrisoned with less than 150 men each, including infirmed soldiers and servants. [11] 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. [12] On 29 September, several soldiers were killed while guarding cattle at Fort Jefferson. [12]

Failed peace emissaries

In the summer of 1792, after the discovery of United States espionage operations, [13] Washington's sent out Peace emissaries; one was Major Alexander Truman, [14] his servant William Lynch and guide/interpreter William Smalley. Truman and Lynch were killed; Truman was apparently killed prior to April 20, 1792 at what later became Ottawa, Putnam County Ohio. [15] A similar mission in May 1792 under Colonel John Hardin also ended in Hardin and his servant Freeman being murdered in Shelby County on the site of Hardin, Ohio when they were mistaken for spies.

Councils on the Auglaize and Sandusky

Seneca Chief Cornplanter was a leader of the moderate faction at the 1792 Grand Council on the Auglaize River

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 in Sept. 1792. [16] 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. [17] 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. [18] The United States received the demands of the Grand Council with indignation, but Henry Knox agreed to send treaty commissioners to the 1793 council and suspend all offensive operations until that time. [19]

The 1793 Sandusky River council was delayed until late in July. At the council, 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. 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. [20] 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. [21] The council ended with discord among the confederacy, and the commissioners wrote[ when?] to Henry Knox that they had failed to secure a peace in the Northwest.

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. [22]

Raid on camp St. Clair

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. [23] 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. [24] 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. [25]

Legion of the United States

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. In the spring of 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. [26] In the meantime, peace negotiations were scheduled to resume at the Sandusky River, but the Indian delegation did not arrive until late in July.

Upon news of the Grand Council's failure in September, 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. [27] 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. [28] By June 1794, the Legion at Fort Recovery had recovered four copper cannons (two six-pound and two three-pound), two copper howitzers, and one iron carronade. [29]

That same month, an American Indian force of over 1,200 warriors under the nominal command of the Odawa Bear Chief [30] 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. [31] [Note 1] 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." [32] Those defending the fort suffered 23 killed, 29 wounded, and three captured. [33] Estimates of the Native Nations casualties range from 17 to 50 killed, and perhaps 100 wounded, some of whom later died of their wounds. [34]

Battle of Fallen Timbers

Wayne's well-trained Legion advanced deeper into the territory of the Wabash Confederacy and arrived in the Maumee Valley early in Aug. 1794. Blue Jacket assumed overall command, but the Indian forces were defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers August 20, 1794. The battle was very short, only an hour. Blue Jacket's warriors fled from the battlefield to regroup at British-held Fort Miamis. 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. Wayne's army encamped for three days in the area, during which time they destroyed Indian villages and crops in the region of the fort.

Treaty of Greenville and Jay Treaty

The border between Ohio and the Indiana Territory closely followed the Greenville Treaty Line.

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, [35] the northwest Native American tribes were forced to cede southern and eastern Ohio and various tracts of land around forts and settlements in 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 Great Lakes forts while opening up some British territory in the Caribbean for American trade.


Most of the western forts were abandoned in 1796; Fort Washington, the last, was moved across the Ohio River to Kentucky in 1803 and became the Newport Barracks. 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. [36]

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. [37] The border between Ohio and the Indiana Territory closely followed the line of advanced forts and the Greenville Treaty Line.

Several veterans of the Northwest Indian War are known for their later achievements, including William Henry Harrison, William Clark and Meriwether Lewis, [38] and Tecumseh.

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.

Key figures

United States

Little Turtle
Little Turtle (Michikinikwa)
Anthony Wayne
Major General Anthony Wayne, 1795
  • Henry Knox, Secretary of War
  • Josiah Harmar, Brigadier General in command during the 1790 Harmar Campaign
  • Arthur St. Clair, Governor of the Northwest Territory and Major General at St. Clair's Defeat
  • Anthony Wayne, Major General in command of Legion of the United States at the Battle of Fallen Timbers
  • Charles Scott, Brigadier General commanding the Kentucky militia during Wayne's campaign
  • James Wilkinson, Lieutenant Colonel in command of Fort Washington and Wayne's second in command

Indian Confederacy

British Empire

See also


  1. ^ An unknown number of Chickasaw and Choctaw warriors got behind the Native American at Fort Recovery and shot a number of Chippewa and Ottawa in the back. They escaped without being identified, which caused a considerable amount of distrust between the various nations within the Native American confederacy. See Gaff (2004) pp. 247–248.


  1. ^ Sword (1985), p. 229.
  2. ^ Sword (1985), p. 231.
  3. ^ Sword (1985), p. 238-40.
  4. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 105.
  5. ^ "Harmar's Defeat". Retrieved 20 January 2009.
  6. ^ Drake (1901), p. 173-5.
  7. ^ Edel (1997).
  8. ^ Roosevelt (1806).
  9. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 9.
  10. ^ Sword (1985), p. 218.
  11. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 13.
  12. ^ a b Sword (1985), p. 219.
  13. ^ Sword (1985), p. 211-12.
  14. ^ Heitman, F.B. (1914). Historical Register of Officers of the Continental Army During the War of the Revolution, April 1775, to December, 1783. Rare book shop publishing Company, Incorporated. p. 549. Retrieved 6 December 2014.
  15. ^ Find a grave memorial for Alexander Truman
  16. ^ Sword (1985), p. 223.
  17. ^ Sword (1985), p. 226-7.
  18. ^ Sword (1985), p. 227.
  19. ^ Sword (1985), p. 228.
  20. ^ Sword (1985), p. 240-45.
  21. ^ Sword (1985), p. 246.
  22. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 149-50.
  23. ^ Sword (1985), p. 220.
  24. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 86.
  25. ^ Sword (1985), p. 221.
  26. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 109-110.
  27. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 173-175.
  28. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 184.
  29. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 234.
  30. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 241.
  31. ^ Gaff (2004), pp. 242-250.
  32. ^ Sword (1985), p. 276.
  33. ^ Winkler (2013), p. 53.
  34. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 250-2.
  35. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 366.
  36. ^ Gaff (2004), p. 367.
  37. ^ An act to provide for the due execution of the laws of the United States, within the state of Ohio, ch. 7, 2  Stat.  201 (February 19, 1803).
  38. ^ "Meriwether Lewis". Virginia Center for Digital History. Retrieved 29 November 2015.


Further reading

External links