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“The Print of My Ancestors’ Houses are Every Where to be Seen”: Little Turtle Balks at Giving Up Land to General Anthony Wayne, 1795

At the close of the American Revolution the British ignored their Indian allies and ceded all British lands from the Atlantic coast to the Mississippi River to the new United States. Increasing numbers of settlers in the Ohio Valley often skirmished with the many woodland Indian peoples who stayed on their ancestral lands. President Washington sent the first of three armies into the region in 1790. When the first two expeditions failed, Washington turned to General Anthony Wayne. After his victory in the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1795, Wayne staged an elaborate ceremony at Fort Greenville to recognize American sovereignty over the land and his paternalistic authority over the Indians. Little Turtle, a Miami leader integral to the first two Indian victories, balked at Wayne’s terms and was the last Indian participant to agree to cede two thirds of northern Ohio and southeastern Indiana. In exchange, the Americans agreed to Indian occupancy of the remaining lands. But this agreement was not to last for long.

In Council: Present as before.

The Little Turtle, a Miami chief, addressed the General as follows:

BROTHER: We have heard and considered what you have said to us. You have shown, and we have seen, your powers to treat with us. I came here for the purpose of hearing you. I suppose it to be your wish that peace should take place, throughout the world. When we hear you say so, we will be prepared to answer you. You have told me that the present treaty should be founded upon that of Muskingum. I beg leave to observe to you, that that treaty was effected altogether by the Six Nations, who seduced some of our young men to attend it, together with a few of the Chippewas, Wyandots, Ottawas, Delawares, and Pattawatamies. I beg leave to tell you, that I am entirely ignorant of what was done at that treaty. I hope those who held it may give you their opinion, whether or not it was agreeable to themů.

In Council: Present as before.

The Little Turtle, a Miami chief, arose and spoke as follows:

General WAYNE: I hope you will pay attention to what I now say to you. I wish to inform you where your younger brothers, the Miamies, live, and, also, the Pattawatamies of St. Joseph’s, together with the Wabash Indians. You have pointed out to us the boundary line between the Indians and the United States, but I now take the liberty to inform you, that that line cuts off from the Indians a large portion of country, which has been enjoyed by my forefathers time immemorial; without molestation or dispute. The print of my ancestors' houses are every where to be seen in this portion. I was a little astonished at hearing you, and my brothers who are now present, telling each other what business you had transacted together heretofore at Muskingum, concerning this country. It is well known by all my brothers present, that my forefather kindled the first fire at Detroit; from thence, he extended his lines to the head waters of Scioto; from thence, to its mouth; from thence, down the Ohio, to the mouth of the Wabash, and from thence to Chicago, on lake Michigan; at this place I first saw my elder brothers, the Shawanese. I have now informed you of the boundaries of the Miami nation, where the Great Spirit placed my forefather a long time ago, and charged him not to sell or part with his lands, but to preserve them for his posterity. This charge has been handed down to me. I was much surprised to find that my other brothers differed so much from me on this subject: for their conduct would lead one to suppose, that the Great Spirit, and their forefathers, had not given them the same charge that was give to me, but, on the contrary, had directed them to sell their lands to any white man who wore a hat, as soon as he should ask it of them. Now, elder brother, your younger brothers, the Miamies, have pointed out to you their country, and also to our brothers present. When I hear your remarks and proposals on this subject, I will be ready to give you an answer: I came with an expectation of hearing you say good things, but I have not yet heard what I have expected.

BROTHERS: (the Indians,) I expected in this council that our minds would have been made up, and that we should speak with one voice; I am sorry to observe that you are rather unsettled and hasty in your conduct....

The General arose, and spoke as follows:

BROTHERS, the Ottawas, Chippewas, and Pattawatamies, open your ears, and be attentive:

I have heard with very great pleasure, the sentiments delivered by Masass, as the unanimous voice of your three nations. When Mash-i-pi-nash-i-wish, your uncle, came to me last winter, I took him to my bosom, and delivered him the key of all my forts and garrisons; and my heart rejoices when I look around me, and see so many of your chiefs and warriors assembled here, in consequence of that happy meeting. It will give infinite pleasure to General Washington, the Great Chief of the Fifteen Fires, when I inform him you have thrown the hatchet with so strong an arm, that it has reached the middle, and sunk to the bottom of the great lake, and that it is now so covered with sand, that it can never again be found. The belt which was given to Wassung, many years since, establishing a road between you and the Fifteen Fires, I now return, renewed, and cleared of all the brush and brambles with which time had scattered it.

BROTHERS of the three great fires: You say you thought you were the proper owners of the land that was sold to the fifteen Fires, at the treaty of Muskingum; but, you say, also, that you never received any compensation for those lands. it was always the wish and intention of the Fifteen Fires that the true owners of those lands should receive a full compensation for them; if you did not receive a due proportion of the goods, as original proprietors, it was not the fault of the United States; on the contrary, the United States have twice paid for those lands, first, at the treaty of McIntosh, ten years ago, and next, at that of Muskingum, six years since.

YOUNGER BROTHERS: Notwithstanding that these lands have been twice paid for, by the Fifteen Fires, at the places I have mentioned, yet, such is the justice and liberality of the United States, that they will now, a third time, make compensation for them. [A large string to the three fires.]

BROTHERS, the Miamies: I have paid attention to what the Little Turtle said two days since, concerning the lands which he claims. He said his fathers first kindled the fire at Detroit, and stretched his line from thence, to the head waters of Scioto, thence, down the same, to the Ohio; thence, down that river, to the mouth of the Wabash, and from thence to Chicago, on the southwest end of Lake Michigan, and observed that his forefathers had enjoyed that country undisturbed, from time immemorial.

BROTHERS: These boundaries enclose a very large space of country indeed; they embrace, if I mistake not, all the lands on which all the nations now present live, as well as those which have been ceded to the United States. The lands which have been ceded have, within these three days, been acknowledged by the Ottawas, Chippewas, Pattawatamies, Wyandots, Delawares, and Shawanese. The Little Turtle says, the prints of his forefathers' houses are every where to be seen within these boundaries. Younger brother, it is true, these prints are to be observed; but, at the same time, we discover the marks of French possession throughout this country, which were established long before we were born. These have since been in the occupancy of the British, who must, in their turn, relinquish them to the United States, when they, the French and Indians, will be all as one people. [A white string.]

I will point out to you a few places where I discover strong traces of these establishments; and first of all, I find at Detroit a very strong print, where the fire was first kindled by your forefathers; next, at Vincennes, on the Wabash; again at Musquiton, on the same river; a little higher up that stream, they are to be seen at Ouitanon; I discover another strong trace at Chicago, another on the St. Joseph’s of Lake Michigan; I have seen distinctly the prints of a French and a British post a the Miami villages, and of a British post at the foot of the rapids, now in their possession; prints, very conspicuous, are on the great Miami, which were possessed by the French, forty five years ago; and another trace is very distinctly to be seen at Sandusky.

I appears to me, that, if the Great Spirit, as you say, charged your forefathers to preserve their lands entire for their posterity, they have paid very little regard to the sacred injunction: for I see they have parted with those lands to your fathers the French, and the English are not, or have been, in possession of them all; therefore, I think the charge urged against the Ottawas, Chippewas, and the other Indians, comes with a bad grace indeed, from the very people who perhaps set them the example. The English and French both wore hats; and yet your forefathers sold them, at various times, portions of your lands; however, as I have already observed, you shall now receive from the United States further valuable compensations, for the lands you have ceded to them by former treaties.

YOUNGER BROTHERS: I will now inform you who it was who gave us these lands, in the first instance; it was your fathers the British, who did not discover that care for your interest which you ought to have experienced. This is the Treaty of Peace, made between the United States of America and Great Britain, twelve years ago, at the end of a long and bloody war, when the French and Americans proved too powerful for the British; on these terms they obtained peace. [Here part of the treaty of 1783 was read.]

Here you perceive that all the country, south of the great lakes, has been given up to America; but the United States never intended to take that advantage of you, which the British placed in their hands; they wish you to enjoy your just rights, without interruption, and to promote your happiness. The British stipulated to surrender to us all the posts on their side of the boundary agreed on. I told you some days ago, that treaties should ever be sacredly fulfilled by those who make them; but the British, on their part, did not find it convenient to relinquish those posts as soon as they should have done; however, they now find it so, and a precise period is accordingly fixed for their delivery. I have now in my hand the copy of a treaty, made eight months since, between them and us, of which I will read you a little. [First and second article of Mr. Jay’s treaty, read.]

By this solemn agreement, they promise to retire from Michilimackinac, fort St. Clair, Detroit, Niagara, and all other places on this side of the lakes, in ten moons from this period, and leave the same to the full and quiet possession of the United States.

BROTHERS: All nations present, now listen to me!

Having now explained those matters to you, and informed you of all things I judged necessary for your information, we have nothing to do but to bury the hatchet, and draw a veil over past misfortunes. As you have buried our dead with the concern of brothers, so I now collect the bones of your slain warriors, put them into a deep pit, which I have dug, and cover them carefully over with this large belt, there to remain undisturbed. I also dry the tears from your eyes, and wipe the blood from your bodies, with this soft, white linen: no bloody traces will ever lead to the graves of your departed heroes; with this, I wipe all such entirely away. I deliver it to your uncle the Wyandot, who will send it round amongst you. [A large belt, with a white string attached.]

I now take the hatchet out of your heads, and with a strong arm throw it into the centre of the great ocean, where no mortal can ever find it; and I now deliver to you the wide and straight path to the Fifteen Fires, to be used by you and your posterity for ever. So long as you continue to follow this road, so long will you continue to be a happy people; you see it is straight and wide, and they will be blind indeed, who deviate from it. I place it also in your uncle’s hands, that he may preserve it for you. [A large road belt]

I will, the day after tomorrow, shew you the cessions you have made to the United States, and point out to you the lines which may, for the future, divide your lands from theirs; and, as you will have tomorrow to rest, I will order you a double allowance of drink; because we have now buried the hatchet, and performed every necessary ceremony, to render propitious our renovated friendship.

Source: U.S. Congress, American State Papers. Indian Affairs, 1789–1815 (Washington, D.C.: Gales and Seaton, 1832), Vol. 1: 567, 570–71, 576.