Ohio Wars

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OHIO WARS. Though the Paris Peace Treaty of 1783 officially ended the war between Great Britain and the United States, fighting continued in the Ohio country. Operating under the illusion of conquest, the United States conducted Indian treaties at Fort Stanwix with the Iroquois (1784), at Fort McIntosh with the Wyandots, Ottawas, Delawares, and Ojibwas (1785), and at Fort Finney with a faction of the Shawnees (1786), and through them claimed most of Ohio. Most Ohio Valley Indians rejected these coerced treaties, and with British encouragement continued to resist the Americans. Americans retaliated with raids on Indian towns.

In October 1786, an army of 1,200 Kentucky "volunteers" (many had been impressed) led by Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark marched into the Wabash country. Low on provisions, the ill-fated Clark could only garrison Vincennes while hundreds of his men deserted. Meanwhile, his second-in-command, Benjamin Logan, led 790 men on a more devastating raid into western Ohio. They destroyed the Shawnee town of Mackachack, home of chief Moluntha, the Shawnee who had worked hardest to maintain peace with the United States. Logan's men killed over ten Indians, including women, a visiting Ottawa chief, and some delegates from the Iroquois. Against orders, one of Logan's officers murdered Moluntha. Logan's men also destroyed 15,000 bushels of Indian corn, but the attack galvanized, rather than terrorized, Ohio Indians fighting the United States.

Raids and retaliation continued through the late 1780s as white settlers continued to pour into Ohio. In 1789, with the executive powers granted him under the new Constitution, President George Washington authorized a punitive expedition against the Ohio Indians. Led by General Josiah Harmar, a veteran of the Revolution, the army was 2,300 strong, but poorly disciplined. Harmar intended to attack the cluster of Miami towns at Kekionga (now Fort Wayne, Indiana). Harmar did destroy three Indian villages in October of 1790, but ambushes by the Miami war chief Little Turtle and Shawnee war chief Blue Jacket (assisted by British Indian Agent Simon Girty), resulted in 183 Americans killed or missing. Harmar's failure led to his resignation and another American expedition in 1791.

General Arthur St. Clair, also a veteran of the Revolution, took about 1,400 men, a third of them army regulars, to the upper Wabash (near modern Edgerton, Ohio) on 4 November 1791. An attack by some 1,200 Indians under Blue Jacket and Little Turtle routed them, inflicting roughly 900 casualties, including 630 killed. This was the worst defeat an American army ever suffered at the hands of Indians. President Washington and Secretary of War Henry Knox abandoned their conquering pretensions and now sought to negotiate a peace, but the Ohio Indians, flushed with success, refused to end the war until Americans abandoned all of Ohio. This demand was politically and socially unthinkable for the United States, and Washington appointed General "Mad" Anthony Wayne, yet another veteran of the Revolution, to suppress Indians in the Ohio Valley.

Wayne took his time, meticulously training his troops (called "Wayne's Legion") until they were supremely disciplined. With over 2,000 men, Wayne attacked only 500 to 800 Indians led by Blue Jacket and Little Turtle, and a few Canadian militia, at Fallen Timbers (near modern Toledo, Ohio) on 20 August 1794. Wayne suffered about 130 casualties, including forty-four killed, while the Indians lost less than forty men killed. Many of the Indian dead were prominent chiefs and the Indian forces retreated. Wayne's victory, and Great Britain's growing reluctance to support Indian war leaders, proved enough to bring the tribes to the Greenville Treaty council in August of 1795.

The Greenville Treaty gave the United States most of Ohio and ushered in a general peace in the region that lasted until the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. After Greenville, most of the Indians who remained on reservations in northern Ohio declined to fight against the United States again, and some even served as scouts for America in the War of 1812. There were no large-scale Indian-white military conflicts in Ohio after 1815.


Kappler, Charles J., ed. Indian Treaties, 1778–1883. New York: Interland Publishing, 1972.

Sugden, John. Blue Jacket: Warrior of the Shawnees. Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 2000.

Sword, Wiley. President Washington's Indian War: The Struggle for the Old Northwest, 1790–1795. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1985.

Robert M.Owens

See alsoIndian Land Cessions ; Indian Policy, U.S., 1775–1830 ; Indian Treaties .

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