William Wells: Frontier Scout and Indian Agent

Paul A. Hutton


Indiana Magazine of History, Volume 74, Issue 3, pp 183-222

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William Wells: Frontier Scout and Indian Agent

Paul A. Hutton

William Wells occupies an important place in the history of Indian-white relations in the Old Northwest. First as a Miami warrior and then as an army scout he participated in many of the northwestern frontier's great battles; later as an Indian agent he held a critical position in the implementation of the United States' early Indian policy. He was what was known along the frontier as a "white Indian," a unique type often found along the ever-changing border that marked the boundary of the Indian country. As such, he was the product of two very different cultures, and throughout his forty-two years of life he swayed back and forth between them—never sure to which he truly belonged. Such indecision doomed him, for he could never be fully accepted by either society. When at last he perished in battle, it would be in defense of whites, but he would be dressed and painted as an Indian. Such was the strange paradox of his life.

Born near Jacob's Creek, Pennsylvania, in 1770, Wells was only nine when his family migrated down the Ohio River on flatboats in company with the families of William Pope and William Oldham to settle on the Beargrass, near what is now Louisville, Kentucky. His older brothers, Samuel and Hayden, had explored the region in 1775 and reported its richness to their father, Captain Samuel Wells, Sr., late of the Revolutionary army. No sooner had the old soldier settled his family in a fortified enclosure called Wells Station (three and one half miles north of present Shelbyville, Kentucky) than he was killed in the ambush of Colonel John Floyd's militiamen near Louisville in 1781. His mother having died earlier, the orphaned

  • Paul A. Hutton is assistant editor of The Western Historical Quarterly, Utah State University, Logan.
William Wells was taken into the home of his father's comrade-in-arms, Colonel Pope.1

While hunting near Pope's homestead in March, 1784, William and three other boys were surprised by a party of Miami Indians and carried north to the White River Indian villages. Although the other boys managed to make their escape, William was sent farther north to the Wea villages along the Eel River where he was adopted into the household of a village chief, Gaviahatte (the Porcupine). The fourteen-year-old captive evidently found the life of a Miami warrior much to his liking because he quickly adapted to tribal ways. Named Apekonit (wild carrot, on account of his red hair) by the Indians, he accompanied them on raids against the white settlements. He proved particularly adept at luring river travelers to their doom along the Ohio. By acting as if he were lost, he would get them to move to shore where his comrades would slay them.2

This auburn-haired, freckle-faced warrior came to the attention of Little Turtle, war chief of the Miami confederacy, and

  • 1 Samuel Wells, Sr., was a Virginian who had fought in both the French and Indian and Revolutionary wars, as well as Lord Dunmore's 1774 campaign against the Shawnee, before moving to Kentucky. He had five sons and a daughter, of whom William was the youngest. "William Wells Genealogy," William Wells Collection (Chicago Historical Society); Wells Family File (Filson Club, Louisville); especially valuable is Lyman C. Draper's interview with Darius Heald in Lyman C. Draper Collection 23S58–62 (The State Historical Society of Wisconsin, Madison); and Lewis Collins, History of Kentucky (2 vols., Louisville, 1924), II, 239, 550.
  • 2 The only reliable accounts of Wells' capture are in the Heald interview, Draper Collection 23S62–65; and Mann Butler, "An Outline of the Origin and Settlement of Louisville, in Kentucky," The Louisville Directory, for the Year 1832 (Louisville, 1832), 104. Almost all popular accounts of Wells' life claim that he was adopted by Little Turtle, but there is no evidence to support this contention. In 1792 Wells told John Heckewelder that his adopted father was Gaviahatte. See "Narrative of John Heckewelder's Journey to the Wabash in 1792," Pennsylvania Magazine of History and Biography, XII (no. 1, 1888), 45; and Edward Rondthaler, Life of John Heckewelder (Philadelphia, 1847), 112. There are no dependable accounts of Wells' early life. Sketches of him appear in the following works, but they must be used with caution: Calvin M. Young, Little Turtle: The Great Chief of the Miami Indian Nation (Greenville, Ohio, 1917), 179; Otho Winger, Last of the Miamis-Little Turtle (North Manchester, Ind., 1968), 17; Bessie Keeran Roberts, "William Wells: A Legend in the Councils of Two Nations," Old Fort News, XVIII (September-December, 1954), 7; Wallace A. Brice, History of Fort Wayne (Fort Wayne, 1868), 147. Somewhat more reliable, although brief, sketches are in Walter Havighurst, The Heartland: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois (New York, 1956), 78–85; Jacob Piatt Dunn, True Indian Stories (Indianapolis, 1909), 117; Bert J. Griswold, The Pictorial History of Fort Wayne, Indiana (2 vols., Chicago, 1917), I, 136; and Bert J. Griswold, ed., Fort Wayne: Gateway of the West, 1802–1813 (Indianapolis, 1927), 30–32. For Wells' activities along the Ohio River see John Johnston to William Eustis, November 6, 1810, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107 (National Archives, Washington).


Courtesy Indiana State Library, Indianapolis.

they soon became close friends. In time Wells married Little Turtle's daughter, Sweet Breeze (Manwangopath), and over the years they had three daughters and two sons. Wells could not have been more fortunate than to gain the protection of this chief. Born in 1751, Little Turtle had first battled the white man in 1780 when he wiped out a detachment commanded by Augustine de La Balme, a French soldier-of-fortune with his heart set on capturing Detroit from the British. From that time on Little Turtle led the Miamis in their conflicts with the whites to the east and south.3

As a member of the Miami tribe, Wells was free to come and go as he pleased, but he made no effort to return to Kentucky. He did, however, make contact with the American post at Vincennes, probably in the capacity of an interpreter, and was instrumental in securing the freedom of at least one white child held prisoner by the Indians.4 The commandant at Vincennes, Major John Francis Hamtramek, was acquainted with Carty Wells, William's older brother, and informed him of William's whereabouts. Carty made a dangerous but futile visit to the Eel River village but could not convince William that they were indeed brothers.5

Samuel Wells, who had already reached manhood when William was captured, also journeyed to Eel River to visit his Indian brother. This time the youth recognized his relative and agreed to return to Kentucky with him to visit the family homestead. Samuel had reached a position of wealth and importance in Kentucky society, and he attempted to impress William with the comforts and amenities of the white way of life. The youth was apparently not influenced, and, much to his family's surprise, after a few days visit he returned to his life with the Indians.6

  • 3 The Chicago Historical Society has a color miniature of Wells in its collections, and Thomas Hunt, who knew Wells at Fort Wayne, left a physical description. Draper Collection 21S57. Little Turtle's early career is covered in Bert Anson, The Miami Indians (Norman, 1970), 91, 104–105.
  • 4 Wells arranged the ransoming of Oliver Spencer. See Milo Milton Quaife, ed., The Indian Captivity of O.M. Spencer (New York, 1968), 58, 114. Wells is also mentioned in another famous captivity narrative—that of Frances Slocum. See Otho Winger, The Lost Sister Among the Miamis (Elgin, 111., 1936), 91–92.
  • 5 Carty Wells, who lived at Coxe's Fort near Bardstown, Kentucky, often carried dispatches for Major John Hamtramck. See Gayle Thornbrough, ed., Outpost on the Wabash, 1787–1791 (Indianapolis, 1957), 22, 40, 145, 160. For Hamtramck's part in reuniting Wells with his family see John Hamtramck to Secretary of War, November 1, 1801, enclosed in William Wells to William Eustis, June 25, 1809, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107.
  • 6 The Wells family passed down this story, and Darius Heald, the grandson of Samuel Wells, Jr., told it to Draper in 1868 and again to Joseph Kirkland in 1892. See Draper Collection 23S62–65; and Joseph Kirkland, The Chicago Massacre of 1812 (Chicago, 1893), 174–75.

Wells did not contact his Kentucky relatives again for several years, as the intermittent raids that had characterized Indian-white relations along the Ohio River for a decade erupted into full-scale war. To the government of the United States the question of who owned the land north of the Ohio River had been settled with the American victory over the British. The northwestern Indians had sided with the British in the Revolution and had thus been conquered. American officials were not swayed by Joseph Brant, the cultured Mohawk chief who led part of the Indian confederacy, when he declared that "nine-tenths of the Indians" had never heard of the Revolution, much less been participants in it. To chastise the recalcitrants the government sent General Josiah Harmar at the head of 1,133 Kentucky militiamen and 320 regulars to destroy the Miami villages at Kekionga (present Fort Wayne, Indiana), but Harmar's much-vaunted Kentucky frontiersmen collapsed in panic when they came into contact with Miami warriors. The expedition ended a dismal failure. The Indians, well-supplied by the British, stepped up their attacks during the winter and spring of 1791.7

Arthur St. Clair, governor of the Northwest Territory, was recommissioned a major general and instructed to invade the Indian country with a force so strong as to make defeat impossible. While recruiting his army, St. Clair sent General Charles Scott of the Kentucky militia with 750 mounted men to attack the Wea towns on the upper Wabash. Late in May, Scott destroyed four Indian villages, killed a few warriors, and took fifty-three Indian women and children prisoners back to Cincinnati.8

The Kentuckians next targeted the Miami town on the Eel River for destruction and sent Colonel James Wilkinson with

  • 7 Ernest A. Cruikshank, ed., The Correspondence of Lieut. Governor John Graves Simcoe, With Allied Documents Relating to his Administration of the Government of Upper Canada (5 vols., Toronto, 1923–1931), V, 4. The British hoped to establish an Indian barrier state between Canada and the United States. See ibid., I, 323, for the position of John Graves Simcoe, and for the operation of his policy consult Reginald Horsman, "The British Indian Department and the Resistance to General Anthony Wayne, 1793–1795," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XLIX (September, 1962), 269–90. General Josiah Harmar lost 183 men killed and thirty-one wounded while inflicting no tangible damage to the Indians. Good accounts of his campaign are in James Ripley Jacobs, The Beginning of the U.S. Army, 1783–1812 (Princeton, 1947), 53–63; and William H. Guthman, March to Massacre: A History of the First Seven Years of the United States Army, 1784–1791 (New York, 1970), 173–97.
  • 8 For differing opinions on the effectiveness of General Charles Scott's campaign see Jacobs, Beginning of the U.S. Army, 73; and Guthman, March to Massacre, 203–204.
five hundred militiamen to accomplish the mission. Wilkinson reached the Eel River village undetected on August 8, 1791, just hours after the Porcupine, his adopted son, William Wells, and all but eight warriors left for Kekionga to draw ammunition. With impressive military precision Wilkinson's men killed six of the eight defending warriors, as well as a number of women and children, took thirty-four women and children prisoners, and burned the village with the loss of only two killed and one wounded. Among the prisoners were Wells' Indian wife and mother. Fearful lest he meet with some real resistance that might tarnish his triumph, Wilkinson destroyed some crops in the area and hurried back to Kentucky.9

Far from humbling the Indians, these raids only added vengeance to the redmen's reasons for warring on the Americans. They would not have to wait long to extract payment in full from the whites. In September, 1791, St. Clair led his army of nearly two thousand into the wilderness. On November 4, 1791, the expedition, reduced to around 1,400 men by desertions, camped near the east bank of the upper Wabash (present Mercer County, Ohio), still fifty miles from Kekionga. The Indians, however, had left that place seven days before and lay in concealment all around the white camp. Just as the troops settled down to breakfast, Little Turtle's one thousand warriors attacked. To Winthrop Sargent, secretary of the Northwest Territory, the Indian war whoops sounded like the ringing of a thousand horsebells, while to John McCasland of the Kentucky militia it resembled more the desolate howls of wolves. For over six hundred of St. Glair's men it was the last sound they ever heard.10

If the army was to be saved, the artillery would have to do it, for the militia were instantly panicked. Little Turtle, however, had made special plans to silence the eight cannons. Wells, with three hundred warriors, was positioned directly in front of the guns and ordered to pick off the artillerists. Within minutes the ordnance, around which lay all but one artillery officer and two thirds of the gunners, was in the possession of

  • 9 James Wilkinson's report is in American State Papers: Indian Affairs (2 vols., Washington, 1832–1834), I, 133–35. For the capture of Wells' wife see Draper Collection 8J180 and 11YY11; "Narrative of John Heckewelder's Journey," 45; and [C. H. More], "Engineer Recalls Romance of Captain and Princess," Wells Family File.
  • 10 Draper Collection 8J128–29; Jacobs, Beginning of the U.S. Army, 85–123; Guthman, March to Massacre, 220–44; Francis Paul Prucha, The Sword of the Republic: The United States Army on the Frontier, 1783–1846 (New York, 1969), 22–27.
the warriors.11 There was no choice for St. Clair but to retreat or face complete annihilation. The general therefore ordered his bleeding army back to Fort Jefferson, twenty-nine miles to the south. It is conceivable that had the Indians pursued not a man would have escaped, but Little Turtle sent out runners to call in his warriors, declaring that "they must be satisfied … having killed enough."12

As the remnants of the American army hobbled back to Cincinnati, the warriors of the Indian confederacy dispersed, returning to their villages in triumph. Although the Miami homeland was temporarily secure, young Wells was far from content because his family was still in the hands of the enemy. In March, 1792, he and the Porcupine accompanied a delegation of Eel River and Wea chiefs who visited Hamtramck at Vincennes to sign articles of friendship with the government in hopes of securing the release of their women and children.13 The prisoners, however, were held at Cincinnati, and Hamtramck was not empowered to order their release. The Indians would have to wait for the arrival of General Rufus Putnam who was being sent by the government to conclude a peace treaty with the Wabash tribes. While at Vincennes, Wells was again pressured by Hamtramck to return to his own race, and Samuel Wells soon arrived to second the argument. Determined to secure the release of his wife, Wells agreed to accompany Samuel to Louisville to await the arrival of Putnam.14

At some point during the month that he remained with Samuel in Louisville, William Wells decided to give up his Indian life. Many factors undoubtedly played a part in the decision, not the least of which may have been that Samuel had

  • 11 Wells gave his account of the battle to Gerard T. Hopkins when the Quaker visited Fort Wayne in 1804. Martha Tyson, A Mission to the Indians, From the Indian Committee of Baltimore Yearly Meeting, to Fort Wayne, in 1804. Written at the time, by Gerard T. Hopkins. With an Appendix, compiled in 1862 (Philadelphia, 1862), 65–66. Also see Henry Brown, The History of Illinois from its First Discovery and Settlement to the Present Time (New York, 1844), 309; Elmore Barce, The Land of the Miamis (Fowler, Ind., 1922), 203; and Johnston to Eustis, November 6, 1810, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107. Ironically, among those slain beside the artillery was Colonel William Oldham, a close friend of Samuel Wells, Sr., who had accompanied the Wells family to Kentucky in 1779.
  • 12 Tyson, Mission to the Indians, 133–34.
  • 13 Clarence Edwin Carter, comp. and ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States: The Territory Northwest of the River Ohio, 1787–1803 (2 vols., Washington, 1934), I, 374–75, 380–83.
  • 14 Hamtramck to Secretary of War, November 1, 1801, enclosed in Wells to Eustis, June 25, 1809, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107; Draper Collection 8J180; "Narrative of John Heckewelder's Journey," 45.
commanded a company of militia under St. Clair and thus might have been slain by his Indian brother. In an interview granted a few years later, Wells rationalized that he was impressed by the comforts and security of the whites at the very time that he was depressed over the insecurity of Indian life. Although he had been happy with the Miamis, Wells had been unable to "forget scenes and pleasures" of his white upbringing. Now he could find no comfort with a people who lived "almost wholly to the present" and gave "little or no remembrance to the past, and hope[d] nothing for the future." He wanted more for his wife than the harsh existence of a Miami squaw, who he felt was little better than a "beast of burthen." For his children he desired the order of white society instead of the "wild and lawless democracy" of the Indian that was so often punctuated by wars which he felt resulted from "a thirst of blood and of motion, common to wild men and wild beasts." White society offered him the chance to "get a comfortable living for the present … lay up something for old age … establish a farm, [and] bring up children, who, when we are worn out with age, will close our eyes."15

When Putnam finally arrived at Cincinnati, he needed an interpreter, and Wells was quick to offer his services for one dollar per day. Reaching Fort Washington (near Cincinnati) on July 13, 1792, Wells was immediately reunited with his family amid "many tears."16 The new interpreter soon proved to be an invaluable employee for Putnam, who felt him "to be a young man of good natural abilities and of an agreable disposition." Wells informed the general of the hiding place of St. Glair's captured cannons and also urged Putnam to open negotiations

  • 15 The quotations are from an interview in 1798 with the French philosopher Constantin François Volney in which Wells discussed his reasons for leaving the Indians. C. F. Volney, A View of the Soil and Climate of the United States of America (New York, 1968), 363, 372–74, 378–79. The Wells family contended that William Wells and Little Turtle hoped to bring peace between the races and that it was agreed between them that Wells would join the Americans and work for peace while Little Turtle tried to sway the tribes in that direction. This story is supported by the continuing friendship of the two and by the fact that they both advocated peace after 1792. H. W. Compton, "The Battle of Fallen Timbers," in Addresses, Memorials and Sketches. Published by the Maumee Valley Pioneer Association to be delivered at the Reunion at Delta, Ohio, Wednesday, August 30, 1899 (Toledo, 1899), 19–20; Dunn, True Indian Stories, 116–17.
  • 16 Hamtramck to Secretary of War, November 1, 1801, enclosed in Wells to Eustis, June 25, 1809, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107; Draper Collection 8J180, 11YY11; Rowena Buell, comp., The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam and Certain Official Papers and Correspondence (Boston, 1903), 296, 381; "Narrative of John Heckewelder's Journey," 45.
quickly with the Miamis because he was convinced that Little Turtle favored peace. Putnam decided to travel to Vincennes, release the prisoners, and open peace talks. On August 16, Wells, with the Indian captives and an escort of sixty men, started down the Ohio River. They were followed two days later by a barge containing Putnam and his assistant, the Moravian missionary John Heckewelder.17

Heckewelder was fascinated by Wells, who still retained many of the customs and habits of the Miamis. Constantly engaged in hunting during the trip, Wells on one occasion wounded a large bear. The animal cried in agony, and as Heckewelder watched in astonishment, Wells went up to the wounded beast and in "great earnestness, addressed him in the Wabash language, now and then giving him a slight stroke on the nose with his ram-rod." When Heckewelder inquired what Wells was doing, the young guide replied that he had upbraided the bear "for acting the part of a coward; I told him that he knew the fortune of war, that one or the other of us must have fallen; that it was his fate to be conquered, and he ought to die like a man, like a hero, and not like an old woman; that if the case had been reversed, and I had fallen into the power of my enemy, I would not have disgraced my nation as he did, but would have died with firmness and courage, as becomes a true warrior."18

Upon reaching Vincennes, Putnam released his prisoners to a delegation from the Miamis. Joined by the Kaskaskias and some Potawatomies, the Eel River Miamis then signed a peace treaty with the whites, although they made it clear that they would never agree to white settlement north of the Ohio River.19 Loaded with presents, the Indians then returned to their villages to join in the fall hunt and, later, to join the warriors opposing the white army.

Putnam was anxious to return to Pennsylvania, but he had one more mission for Wells. Convinced that his Vincennes council had neutralized some of the Miami and Potawatomie bands, Putnam sent his guide-interpreter to negotiate with the Kekionga Miamis and the Delawares in the hope that they would also join him in council. This was a risky business, for

  • 17Buell, Memoirs of Rufus Putnam, 296, 308–309; "Narrative of John Heckewelder's Journey," 45, 49–54.
  • 18 John Heckewelder, History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations Who Once Inhabited Pennsylvania and the Neighboring States (New York, 1971), 256.
  • 19 This treaty was never ratified. American State Papers: Indian Affairs, I, 338.
three envoys had already been murdered. While in Indian country Wells was also to ascertain the strength and mood of the tribes and then report to Putnam at Marietta. Although dangerous, the mission would prove profitable for the former Indian captive, who was to be paid three hundred dollars with a two hundred dollar bonus if he could induce the hostiles to negotiate.20 Wells had previously worked for the Americans only to secure his family's freedom; now he clearly became the agent of the expansionists.

Wells headed into the Indiana forests on October 7, and Putnam and Heckewelder returned to Marietta. Weeks turned into months, and nothing was heard from the envoy or the Indians. Putnam, although earlier convinced that peace was possible, now felt sure that Wells had been murdered. The general wrote Anthony Wayne, the new commander of the western army, that he was going to Philadelphia to convince "all the advocates for Treaties that nothing but a Sevear whiping will bring these proud Savages to a Sence of there interests."21

Although Wells had not been killed by the Indians, his mission had not been successful. The tribesmen had not been at Kekionga but had assembled at the confluence of the Maumee and Auglaize rivers, and Wells had presented Putnam's message in early January, 1793. Much to the satisfaction of the British, the Indians rejected the peace offer. Nor was Wells able to recruit any chiefs to return with him to Vincennes.22

When Wells finally reported to Hamtramck at Vincennes, the major recruited him for another important assignment. General Wayne, now encamped near Cincinnati with his new Legion of the United States, was ordered to halt offensive operations until a peace commission could meet with the Indians at Sandusky, Ohio. This irked the impatient general, who realized that the campaign must begin by midsummer to take advantage of good forage and dry terrain. Wayne thus requested that Hamtramck hire an agent to attend the conference and report its results to him so that he could quickly move his troops forward. Although Wells was worried that his mission for Putnam

  • 20 Rufus Putnam's instructions to Wells are in Buell, Memoirs of Rufus Putnam, 368–71. Also see ibid., 381; and "Narrative of John Heckewelder's Journey," 173.
  • 21 Buell, Memoirs of Rufus Putnam, 375–77.
  • 22 For a British account of Wells' mission see Alexander McKee to John Graves Simcoe, January 30, 1793, in Cruikshank, Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, I, 282–83.
had undercut his position with the Miamis, he agreed to go.23

The council, meeting in August, 1793, proved unproductive, with the Indians demanding an Ohio River boundary and the commissioners demanding adherence to the Fort Harmar agreement of 1789. Neither side was in a mood to compromise, and the disgusted commissioners returned to Philadelphia convinced that war was the only recourse. The order then went out for Wayne to advance.24

Wells, reporting directly to Wayne on September 11, 1793, warned that the Legion would face at least 1,600 Indians, mostly Shawnees, Delawares, and Miamis, fully armed and supplied by the British. Wells was convinced that "nothing prevented a peace taking place but the advice and influence of the British" and that war might soon erupt along the western border from Pennsylvania to Georgia. Wayne would have to strike the northern tribes quickly or face a "General Confederacy … among the Indian nations against America … that was ultimately determined … [to] destroy the whole of the frontier inhabitants."25

Impressed by the report, Wayne asked Wells to command a company of scouts in the upcoming campaign, and, after seeing his wife and children safely to his brother's home, the former Miami warrior agreed. His company, which varied in number as the campaign progressed, usually consisted of twenty well-chosen men and was to report to and take orders only from Wayne. Each member of the company was picked for his knowledge of the Indian and for his prowess in war. Among the elite contingent were William May, who had seen service as a spy for Wilkinson; Nicholas Miller and William Polke, both captured as youths and raised by the Indians; and Robert McClellan, a young giant from the Pennsylvania backcountry who served a Wells' lieutenant and astonished the entire command

  • 23 Hamtramck to Secretary of War, November 1, 1801, enclosed in Wells to Eustis, June 25, 1809, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107; Hamtramck to Anthony Wayne, July 16, 1793, Anthony Wayne Papers (State Historical Society of Pennsylvania, Philadelphia).
  • 24 The official records of the American commissioners are in American State Papers: Indian Affairs, I, 340–61.
  • 25 Wells' report to Wayne is in Dwight L. Smith, ed., "William Wells and the Indian Council of 1793," Indiana Magazine of History, LVI (September, I960), 217–26. Also see Wayne to Henry Knox, September 17, 1793, in Richard C. Knopf, ed., Anthony Wayne: A Name in Arms (Pittsburgh, 1960), 272–73.
with remarkable feats of strength. As the Legion moved north, this little group, dressed and painted as Indians, took the point.26

Wishing to avoid a winter campaign, Wayne marched his army only as far as the southwest branch of the Maumee River where he built Fort Greeneville. He also had a series of forts constructed at twenty-five-mile intervals from Fort Washington to Fort Greeneville, some ninety-eight miles inside Indian country. One of these outposts, Fort Recovery, was built on the site of St. Clair's defeat and was fortified with some of St. Clair's cannons, recovered by Wells from where the Indians had concealed them.27

Still hoping to avoid bloodshed, Wells released a squaw he had taken prisoner and sent her to the Indian chiefs with assurances that negotiations were still possible. As a result, the son of the Delaware chief Buckongahelas arrived at Fort Greeneville on January 13, 1794, to meet with Wayne. Although the audacious general was displeased that his war might end ingloriously, he agreed to a thirtyday truce so that

  • 26 For Wells' appointment as captain see Wayne to Wells, October 22, 1793, Wayne Papers. The best source of information on Wells' scouts is John McDonald, Biographical Sketches of General Nathaniel Massie, General Duncan McArthur, Captain William Wells, and General Simon Kenton, Who Were Early Settlers in the Western Country (Cincinnati, 1838), 183–96. McDonald participated in the campaign as a member of Ephraim Kibby's detachment of scouts, and his account is fairly reliable. All other accounts derive from McDonald's, but further original information is in the Draper Collection. Material on Wells from the Draper Collection must always be used with caution, however, for the interviews, held many years after the events, often contain errors. Wells was authorized to raise a force of sixty scouts, and although a number of detachments took orders from him, the following men formed the core of his detachment: Robert McClellan, Nicholas Miller, Christopher Miller, Paschal Hickman, Dodson Thorp, William Ramsey, Tabor Washburn, Joseph Young, William May, David Thomson, William England, Thomas Stratton, Fielding Pilcher, David Reed, Benjamin Davis, George Casterson, Chatin Dogged, James Elliot, and Charles Evans. "A List of the Mens Names of Capt. Wells Company of Spies," and "Pay Roll of the Spies selected by William Wells … ," Muster Rolls of Volunteer Organizations: War With Northwest Indians, 1790–95, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94 (National Archives).
  • 27 David Simmons, "Anthony Wayne's Forts," Old Fort News (Winter, 1973), 1–12. The details of Wayne's campaign are given in Jacobs, Beginning of the U.S. Army, 124–88. There were several journals kept during the campaign. Two of the best are Dwight L. Smith, ed., From Greene Ville to Fallen Timbers: A Journal of the Wayne Campaign, July 28-September 14, 1794 (Indianapolis 1952); and [Reginald McGrane, ed.], "William Clark's Journal of General Wayne's Campaign," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, I (December, 1914), 418–44.
the Indians might consider his demand for the return of all prisoners before negotiations could begin.28

At the end of thirty days the impatient Wayne had heard nothing from the Indians, but no depredations had occurred either. Fearing that the Indians hoped to delay his advance until the spring thaw made movement more difficult, Wayne sent Wells out to take a prisoner. From a Delaware warrior and his wife, captured by Wells near Grand Glaize, it was learned that the Indians had met in council and had decided to comply with Wayne's demands but needed more time to collect all the white prisoners. Wayne was unconvinced and again sent Wells out to gather intelligence.29

Taking McClellan and Nicholas Miller with him, Wells scouted north along the Auglaize River. On March 13, seeing a telltale wisp of smoke, they dismounted and crept up on a trio of Indians. Wells and Miller shot two of the warriors while McClellan subdued the third. To their amazement the prisoner turned out to be Nicholas Miller's younger brother, Christopher, who had willingly remained with his Shawnee captors. Interviewed by Wayne, Christopher declared that the Indians had decided to make peace; but before the prisoners could be gathered in, the British agents Matthew Elliott and Simon Girty had arrived at the council from Detroit with pledges of arms, ammunition, and provisions. Furthermore, as a show of their support, the British were to construct a fort at the Maumee rapids. Various chiefs had then gone to Detroit to confer with British Indian agent Alexander McKee and returned "determined to prosecute the war with the utmost vigor." At the solicitation of Wells the general set Christopher Miller at liberty, and he was added to Wells' detachment of scouts.30

  • 28 "Extract of a Letter from an Officer in the Western Army … ," in Cruikshank, Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, II, 132–33; Wayne's harshly toned letter to the Indian confederacy is in ibid., 131; also see Knopf, Anthony Wayne, 300.
  • 29 Knopf, Anthony Wayne, 308–309. The Indians had met in council and decided to surrender all prisoners to Wayne; however, they had reached this decision during British Indian agent Alexander McKee's absence. See Cruikshank, Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, II, 139, 141, 174.
  • 30 Draper Collection 33S20, 16U126; Knopf, Anthony Wayne, 311. Christopher and Nicholas Miller had been captured by the Shawnees in 1782 near Blue Licks, Kentucky. After the Indian war Christopher Miller settled in Hardin County, Kentucky, and eventually won election to the state legislature. In 1820 Congress voted him a pension for his service with Wells. Draper Collection 16S163; Collins, History of Kentucky, II, 309–10; and U.S., Annals of Congress, 16 Cong., 1 Sess. (1819–1820), pp. 898, 2140.

Although the rejection of his offer to negotiate came as no surprise to Wayne, he was still not ready to advance further into Indian country because of delays in the receipt of supplies. Instead he sent out occasional raiding parties of friendly Chickasaws as well as constantly employing Wells and his band. By May, 1794, Wells' depredations had become so damaging that the Delawares, Shawnees, and Miamis petitioned McKee to do something about them.31

By June, 1794, Little Turtle had two thousand warriors assembled at the Glaize awaiting the Americans, and, with hunger dissipating his forces, he decided to move south to attack Wayne's supply lines. Accompanied by Girty and Elliott, the Indians marched toward Fort Recovery in twelve open files. American scouting parties noted this movement, and a squad commanded by Wells clashed with a part of one file, killing five Miamis. Wells also provided Wayne with a talkative prisoner who declared that the Indians hoped to isolate the advanced forts from supply convoys. The general ordered Hamtramck to send a large convoy from Cincinnati to Fort Recovery before the Indians could cut off the outpost. The convoy safely deposited supplies on June 29, but as it left the fort on the following day, Little Turtle's warriors struck from ambush, pillaging the convoy and overwhelming a relief column from the fort. Overjoyed by this initial success, the warriors disregarded Little Turtle's advice and attacked the stockade, only to have the cannons that Wells had recovered blast them apart. After two days of costly, futile assaults the disheartened Indians gathered their dead and returned north.32

McKee was enraged that the Indians had so easily thrown away a possible victory, and the only good news he could send his superiors was that Wells and May had been killed in the battle. Even this he had to retract a few days later. The Indians, victorious for so long, were thrown into depression. Little Turtle journeyed to Detroit and demanded to know how much assistance from the British could be relied on. Colonel Richard G. England, the British commandant, made some grand promises,

  • 31 Alexander Gibson to Wayne, April 24, 1794, Wayne Papers; "The Three Nations at the Glaize to Colonel McKee," in Cruikshank, Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, II, 230.
  • 32 The Indian march to and attack on Fort Recovery is described in "Diary of an Officer in the Indian Country," in Cruikshank, Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, V, 90–94. For Wells' vital role in the affair see Hamtramck to Secretary of War, November 1, 1801, enclosed in Wells to Eustis, June 25, 1809, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107; Draper Collection 33S232.
but the chief remained skeptical.33 Upon his return to the Indian camp Little Turtle urged conciliation with the United States. He was rebuked for his counsel by his fellow chiefs and lost his preeminent position among the tribes to Blue Jacket and Turkey Foot.34

It was at this time of Indian disunion that Wayne led his Legion, augmented by 1,600 mounted Kentuckians under General Scott, forward. Instead of marching toward Kekionga as had the other American armies, Wayne drove straight for the Indian camps below the newly constructed British Fort Miami. At the Glaize he paused long enough to construct Fort Defiance on the former site of many Indian councils.

Wayne called on Wells to scout Fort Miami and bring back a prisoner for interrogation. On August 11 Wells, with Christopher Miller, McClellan, May, and Dodson Thorp, all dressed and painted as Indians, inspected the British fort and nearby Indian camps. After surveying the post and its environs for a day, they captured a Shawnee warrior and his wife and headed back to Fort Defiance. About twenty miles from the American post they came upon a small camp of Delawares, and Wells decided to inspect it. Taking May and McClellan with him, Wells rode boldly into the camp and dismounted before the fire. The Indians, suspecting nothing, talked at length with the disguised Americans about their plans. However, one of the warriors recognized May and whispered his suspicions to a companion. Overhearing this, Wells ordered his men to shoot, and each killed a nearby Indian. Drawing their tomahawks, they fought their way to their horses and galloped away from the surprised Indians, but not before McClellan was shot in the shoulder and Wells in the left wrist. As soon as they outdistanced any pursuit, Christopher Miller hurried to Fort Defiance for aid, and Wayne dispatched a company of dragoons to bring in the wounded scouts.35

From Wells' Shawnee prisoners it was learned that the Indians, about 1,500 strong, were camped at McKee's trading

  • 33 Cruikshank, Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, II, 305, 334, 341.
  • 34 Brice, History of Fort Wayne, 148–49.
  • 35 William Clark was impressed with this remarkable adventure and the "enterprising young man" who led it. [McGrane], "William Clark's Journal," 424–25. The escapade is also noted in Smith, From Greene Ville to Fallen Timbers, 276; McDonald, Biographical Sketches, 192–95; and Draper Collection 9BB56, 9BB64, 9J211, 3S172, 14U132–33. A British account is in Cruikshank, Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, II, 371; and John Bricknell, "John Bricknell's Captivity Among the Delaware Indians," American Pioneer, I (February, 1842), 52.
house about a mile from Fort Miami. McKee had gone to Detroit to gather more British militiamen to aid the Indians, who planned to fight at the Maumee rapids. Wayne decided on one final overture of peace and on August 13 sent Christopher Miller forward with a message offering to open negotiations and warning the Indians not to be "deceived or led astray by the false promises and language of the bad White Men at the foot of the Rapids …. " On August 16 Miller returned with the Indians' reply that they desired ten days to consider the offer. Realizing that the tribesmen were stalling in order to gather more warriors, Wayne advanced to within five miles of Fort Miami, burning abandoned Indian camps and crops along the way.36

Between the Legion and the British fort lay an eerie forest where some ancient tornado had tossed about the trees, leaving a tangled mass of twisted limbs. Here the warriors of the confederacy gathered to meet the American army. On August 17 Wayne sent May forward to inspect the fallen timbers, but the scout fell in with a party of Indians and was captured. Overjoyed at taking one of the hated scouts, the Indians tied May to a tree near Fort Miami, placed a mark on his chest, and riddled him with over fifty bullets.37

This act of provocation did not stampede Wayne into action. He now played a waiting game with the Indians, delaying his advance for two days. On the third day a heavy rain fell, and Wells, realizing that the warriors had been fasting before battle, urged Wayne to attack while the Indians took advantage of the storm to slip back to their camps for food. As soon as the rain abated, Wayne sent his Legion forward, and it quickly shattered the ranks of the remaining Indians. While the infantry put those who stood their ground to the bayonet, the cavalry chased retreating warriors almost to the British fort. The Indians who managed to reach Fort Miami found the gates closed and the faithless British deaf to their pleas for help.38 The battle was not particularly costly for either side, with Indian losses numbering less than a hundred and Wayne's

  • 36 Quotation from Philadelphia Gazette of the United States, October 2, 1794; and Cruikshank, Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, II, 372, 387; see also [McGrane], "William Clark's Journal," 425–26.
  • 37 Draper Collection 9BB56, 9J212; Bricknell, "John Bricknell's Captivity Among the Delaware," 52; and Milo M. Quaife, ed., "General James Wilkinson's Narrative of the Fallen Timbers Campaign," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XVI (June, 1929), 83.
  • 38 For Wells' advice to Wayne see Draper Collection 5U124. Details of the battle are in Jacobs, Beginning of the U.S. Army, 174–76.
losses under fifty, but it destroyed Indian confidence in their own military power, proved British promises worthless, and secured peace on the frontier until 1811.

To hold the newly won territory Wayne ordered a fort constructed at the vital Maumee portage, near the great Miami town of Kekionga. By the fall of 1794 the post was completed and named in honor of the general. Leaving a detachment at Fort Wayne the general returned the bulk of his army to Fort Greeneville while Wells, Christopher Miller, and other messengers went out to call the chiefs to a great council in the summer of 1795.39

By June, 1,100 chiefs and warriors had assembled at Greeneville, and with Wells acting as chief interpreter Wayne negotiated with the Indians for nearly a month. On August 3, 1795, a treaty was completed by which the tribesmen transferred to the United States twenty-five thousand square miles of territory in return for $20,000 in goods and an annuity of $9,500 in trade goods to be divided among twelve tribes. The bargain price averaged out to less than one sixth of a cent per acre.40

After the treaty settlement Wells' scouts, who had been employed since Fallen Timbers with the disagreeable duty of hunting army deserters, were disbanded. Wells remained with the army as an interpreter, accompanying Hamtramck to Detroit in July, 1796, to take possession of that place from the British. Arriving at Detroit in August, Wayne dispatched Wells and Christopher Miller with a delegation of Indian chiefs, including Little Turtle, to the capital at Philadelphia. At the same time he wrote Secretary of War James McHenry in praise of Wells and urged that on account of the scout's "very essential services" and disabled arm a liberal pension should be awarded him. Upon Wells' arrival at the capital in November, 1796, a pension of twenty dollars per month was given him.41

  • 39 Wayne to Wells, March 19, 1795, Wayne Papers; and Griswold, Fort Wayne: Gateway of the West, 14–15.
  • 40 The minutes of the treaty proceedings are in American State Papers: Indian Affairs, I, 566–78. A British account is in Cruikshank, Correspondence of John Graves Simcoe, IV, 71–72.
  • 41 Wayne to Wells, November 20, 1795, Wayne Papers. The government rewarded Wells liberally. Between September, 1793, and August, 1795, he was paid nearly two thousand dollars in wages and subsistence, an enormous amount of cash on the frontier. "The United States Account with William Wells," and "Subsistence account of William Wells from 13 Sept. 93 to 30 June 1794," Northwest Territory Collection (Indiana Historical Society, Indianapolis). For Wayne's pension recommendation see Knopf, Anthony Wayne, 532–33; and Draper Collection 4U145, 11YY11. In 1808 Congress granted Wells a preemption of 320 acres of land near Fort Wayne. Valley of the Upper Maumee River (2 vols., Madison, 1889), I, 199.

Howard chandler Christy's painting of "The Treaty of Greenville" hangs in the Capital Building at Columbus, Ohio

Reproduced from Dwight L, Smith, Wayne's Peace with the Indians of the Old Northwest, 1795 (Fort Wayne, n.d.), 10–11.



Reproduced from Dwight L. Smith, Wayne's Peace with the Indians of the Old Northwest, 1795 (Fort Wayne, n.d.), 12.

On November 29 Wells and Little Turtle met with President George Washington, who presented the chief with several gifts, including a ceremonial sword, as tangible proof of his "esteem and friendship." Little Turtle quickly became a celebrity in the Quaker City. He sat for a portrait by Gilbert Stuart, was inoculated for smallpox by Benjamin Rush, and met with the Polish patriot Thaddeus Kosciusko, who presented him with a brace of pistols and the belated advice to use them against "the first man who ever comes to subjugate you."42

While in Philadelphia, Wells pressed Secretary of War McHenry for an appointment in the Indian department, and upon his return to Fort Wayne he wrote Hamtramck that he "was encouraged and hopeful" of obtaining a position. In the winter of 1797 Wells and Little Turtle returned to the capital to meet with President John Adams, who found the chief to be "a remarkable man" and sought to make him "happy here and contented after his return" home. One of the means employed to insure the chief's contentment was the appointment of Wells as interpreter and deputy Indian agent at a salary of three hundred dollars per year. His future seemingly secure, Wells returned with his Indian benefactor to Fort Wayne, stopping first at Louisville to obtain a half dozen slaves from his brother. At Fort Wayne he established his family across the river from the post and began raising hogs, planting corn, and laying out orchards on the large acreage he owned in conjunction with Hamtramck.43

Wells' appointment as agent came under the 1793 trade and intercourse act which authorized the president to appoint "temporary agents, to reside among the Indians." With the establishment of the Indiana Territory in 1800 Wells temporarily lost his position until reappointed by President Thomas Jefferson as of January 1, 1802, at a salary of six hundred dollars a year, plus rations. As agent for the Miamis, Delawares,

  • 42 John Alexander Carroll and Mary Wells Ashworth, George Washington: First in Peace (New York, 1957), 420; George W. Corner, ed., The Autobiography of Benjamin Rush (Princeton, 1948), 240; Young, Little Turtle, 147.
  • 43 Charles Robert Poinsatte, "A History of Fort Wayne, Indiana, from 1716 to 1829: A Study of its Early Development as a Frontier Village" (M.A. thesis, Department of History, Notre Dame University, 1951), 68; James Wilkinson to James McHenry, November 27, 1810, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107; McHenry to Wells, November 28, 1810, James McHenry File (Chicago Historical Society). By 1812 Wells owned eleven slaves. "An Inventory and appraisement of the slaves and personal estate of William Wells … ," Jefferson County Inventory and Settlements, Book 3 (March, 1812-May, 1815), pp. 31–33, Jefferson County Courthouse, Louisville, Kentucky.
Weas, Eel Rivers, and some Potawatomies, Wells was responsible for distributing annuities, granting trade licenses, holding councils, promoting civilization, and ensuring harmonious relations between the Indians and the government. He was responsible to both the governor of the territory and the secretary of war. To complicate jurisdictional matters further, as of July, 1802, he had to share authority with the manager, or factor, of an Indian trading house who could also grant trading licenses, distribute goods, and conduct trade with the Indians.44

Wells had hoped to secure the lucrative position of factor for himself, and his relationship with John Johnston, an Irish immigrant with political connections who had failed as a storekeeper and law clerk before obtaining the appointment as factor, was frigid from its inception. Johnston had little use for a crude frontiersman like Wells. His conviction that an ill-educated, uncouth squawman could not honestly rise to a position of wealth and power such as Wells possessed preyed on his mind until it became an obsession. Wells, who resented any interference with "his" people, returned Johnston's hatred measure for measure. Their corrosive relationship dominated the operation of Indian affairs in northern Indiana until 1812.45

With William Henry Harrison, the young governor of Indiana Territory, Wells could hope for a warmer relationship. They had become close friends during the Indian war when Harrison had served as Wayne's adjutant, and after Fallen Timbers Harrison had helped to educate Wells in the customs and manners of white people. In 1801 Harrison had described Wells to the secretary of war as "a sober, active and faithful public Servant [whose] knowledge of the Indian language and manners, is much greater than that of any other person." At the same time he had secured Wells a profitable appointment as justice of the peace.46

  • 44 Gayle Thornbrough, ed., Letter Book of the Indian Agency at Fort Wayne, 1809–1815 (Indianapolis, 1961), 10–11. The mechanics of federal Indian policy are described in Francis Paul Prucha, American Indian Policy in the Formative Years: The Indian Trade and Intercourse Acts, 1790–1834 (Cambridge, 1962), 41–101, while the intellectual background is discussed in Bernard Sheehan, Seeds of Extinction: Jeffersonian Philanthropy and the American Indian (Chapel Hill, 1973).
  • 45 A highly favorable biography of Johnston is Leonard U. Hill, John Johnston and the Indians in the Land of the Three Miamis (Piqua, Ohio, 1957).
  • 46 Moses Dawson, A Historical Narrative of the Civil and Military Services of Major-General William H. Harrison … (Cincinnati, 1824), 467; William Henry Harrison to Henry Dearborn, September 1, 1801, enclosed in Wells to Eustis, June 25, 1809, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107; William Wesley Woollen, Daniel Wait Howe, and Jacob Piatt Dunn, Executive Journal of Indiana Territory, 1800–1816 (Indiana Historical Society Publications, Vol. III, No. 3; Indianapolis, 1900), 103.

The Harrison-Wells friendship would falter, however, when Harrison's ambitions clashed with Wells' allegiance to the Miamis. Harrison was, above all else, an ambitious man. A political gadfly, he had been appointed to office by the Federalists but after the election of Thomas Jefferson had diligently labored to convince the new president of his loyalty. Jefferson was convinced that the salvation of the Indians rested upon their adaptation to agricultural pursuits, and to secure this end he felt it essential to deprive them of the lands that allowed the continuation of their hunter-gatherer economy. Harrison promised to do everything in his power to "contribute toward the success of [the] administration by my humble exertions to place upon a better footing the affairs of the wretched Indians." Toward this end he negotiated six treaties between 1803 and 1805 which secured for the United States millions of acres of valuable land.47 These treaties, however, also contributed to the rise of Tecumseh and the collapse of Indian relations prior to the War of 1812.

Wells' concern over Harrison's machinations led to his first severe clash with the government. Wells, working closely with Little Turtle, was committed to retaining as much land as possible by presenting a united Indian front in all negotiations with the whites. Retention of Miami lands was a point of honor for Wells, for he had transmitted a government promise to the Miamis that whites would never settle north of the White River, and he intended to keep that pledge.48

Although Harrison had successfully acquired title to over a million acres of land around Vincennes through the Treaty of Fort Wayne on June 7, 1803, he was plagued by the opposition of Little Turtle and surprised by the reluctance of Wells to be of help. When Harrison negotiated a treaty with the Delawares and the Piankashaws in August, 1804, for land which the Miamis claimed was jointly owned, Wells' opposition became obvious. Enraged, Harrison asked Secretary of War Henry Dearborn to reprimand the agent, complaining that "Wells has certainly not exerted himself to pacify the Indians who have taken offence at the late Treaties … " The territorial governor felt that Wells was lying about the depth of Indian dissatisfaction and warned Dearborn that "when Wells speaks of the

  • 47 For a defense of Harrison's actions see Dorothy Burne Goebel, William Henry Harrison: A Political Biography (Indiana Historical Collections, Vol. XIV; Indianapolis, 1926), 89–127. Quotation is from ibid., 930.
  • 48Dawson, Historical Narrative, 26.
Miami Nation being of this or that opinion he must be understood as meaning no more than the Turtle and himself." Harrison was perplexed as to why his friend had turned on him and, unable to comprehend Wells' loyalty to the Miamis, could only imagine that Wells was jealous of his position.49

Harrison decided to visit Fort Wayne and confront Wells, but before he could leave Vincennes, he received two letters from the agent relaying messages from the Delawares expressing dissatisfaction with the Vincennes treaty. The governor now began to see a grand conspiracy forming, with Wells at its center. "This man," he warned Dearborn, "will not rest until he has persuaded the Indians that their very existence depends upon rescinding the Treaty with the Delawares and Piankeshaws. My knowledge of his character induces me to believe that he will go any length and use any means to carry a favorite point and much mischief may ensue from his knowledge of the Indians, his cunning and his perserverance." Fearing that his appearance at Fort Wayne might give Wells and the Indians an exaggerated sense of their importance, Harrison sent his secretary, John Gibson, and Colonel Francis Vigo as his emissaries.50

Gibson and Vigo found the Indians divided between factions supporting the Vincennes treaty and factions following Little Turtle—with most of the young warriors opposed to the treaty. From what evidence they could gather the emissaries became convinced that Wells was allied with Little Turtle, that he had urged the Miamis to unite and protect their rights, and that he obviously was "more attached to the Indians than to the people of the United States." After a frigid meeting with Wells, the two men met with a number of local Indians and then returned to Vincennes to report to Harrison.51

Frustrated in his hope of using Wells as a tool to dispossess the Indians, the governor now decided to destroy the agent's reputation by accusing him of dishonesty. Wells, Harrison wrote Dearborn, made more money than any man in the territory, and he quoted Johnston as saying that Wells had cleared over six thousand dollars in 1804. Harrison, without evidence, accused Wells of making this money by defrauding the Indians

  • 49 Anson, Miami Indians, 146–48; Harrison to Dearborn, March 3, 1803, in Logan Esarey, ed., Messages and Letters of William Henry Harrison (2 vols., Indiana Historical Collections, Vols. I, II; Indianapolis, 1922), I, 76–84. This letter is misdated in Esarey; it was actually written in 1805.
  • 50 Harrison to Dearborn, April 26, May 27, 1805, in Esarey, Messages and Letters, I, 125, 133.
  • 51 John Gibson and Francis Vigo to Harrison, July 6, 1805, ibid., 141–46.
of their annuities and by giving favorable government contracts to friends. If Wells could not be brought into line, Harrison wanted him removed, not only from office but from the territory as well.52

Wells and Little Turtle realized that if they hoped to thwart Harrison they would need powerful allies and so sought the aid of Wilkinson. Little Turtle, through Wells, wrote to Wilkinson and accused Harrison of contradicting the benevolent policy of Jefferson. Harrison, the chief declared, was creating new chiefs and investing Indians with land titles in order to facilitate the acquisition of the same lands. Little Turtle had hoped that the Indians could hold onto their lands until a time when they could get a better price for them, but their future welfare had been sacrificed so that Harrison could "make himself a great man at the expense of the Indians." If only Wilkinson would convey these facts to the president, Little Turtle felt certain that Jefferson would rectify the injustices. Wells added that he was "certain that the Indians would wish a war with the United States rather than sell the lands" if they could secure foreign aid.53

By including a threat of war Wells overplayed his hand because the government knew the Indians did not then possess the resources for an uprising. Although Dearborn agreed to give the Delawares "a small sum to quit their pretended right & Title," he would not budge on the Miami claim, warning Wells that the government would "not be driven by threats into any measures of accomadation." He further warned the agent to confine his correspondence to the War Department and Harrison and added that if Wells' attitude did not change he would be removed.54

Pressure from Harrison's office was forcing many of the Indians to comply with the Delaware-Piankashaw treaty of 1804 so that Wells and Little Turtle became increasingly isolated. It was also clear that Jefferson's sympathy with the Indians did not run as deep as they had supposed. These facts, combined with the danger of Wells losing his job, led the agent and Little Turtle to meet with Harrison at Vincennes in August, 1805, and to assist him in negotiating a treaty by which

  • 52 Harrison to Dearborn, July 10, 1805, ibid., 147–49.
  • 53 Wells to Wilkinson, October 6, 1804, enclosed in Wilkinson to Dearborn, December 13, 1804, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107.
  • 54 Indian Office Letter Book B, pp. 22, 35, 438, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War, microfilm (Indiana State Library, Indianapolis).
most of southeastern Indiana was ceded to the government. Wells and Little Turtle managed to secure all the annuities from this sale for the Miamis in exchange for agreeing to the disputed Delaware-Piankashaw treaty. An elated Harrison wrote Dearborn that he and Wells had "agreed to a general amnesty and act of oblivion for the past" and that the friendly disposition of the agent was now assured. Dearborn was not yet convinced that Wells could be trusted but found Harrison's report of a rapprochement "not uninteresting."55

Wells' troubles with his employers, however, were far from over. He and Little Turtle had long been convinced that Indian survival depended upon their adoption of an agricultural way of life. When they had visited the capital in the winter of 1801, Little Turtle had asked that "ploughs and other necessary tools" be placed in Wells' hands so that he might teach the Indians "to reap the advantage of cultivating the Earth." During the same trip they met with Quaker delegations in Philadelphia and Baltimore to request aid in teaching the Miamis to farm.56 As a result, a delegation of Baltimore Quakers visited Fort Wayne in 1804 and left a young volunteer, Philip Dennis, to spend the summer with the Indians teaching them to farm. Dennis found the Indians fascinated by his labors but unwilling to share in them. Every day groups of warriors would find seats along the fence or in the trees around Dennis' farm and watch him plow and hoe, but they steadfastly refused to help. In the autumn the frustrated philanthropist harvested his crops, turned them over to the chiefs, and returned to Maryland.57

Little Turtle realized that his proud people would never accept the teachings of white strangers; thus, he devised a plan by which the Miamis would set aside a portion of their annuities for a civilization project if the government would also contribute funds. Before this plan could be put into operation, the Baltimore Quakers sent out another such project under William Kirk, who also received a six-thousand-dollar grant

  • 55 Harrison to Dearborn, August 10, 26, 1805, in Esarey, Messages and Letters, I, 161–63; Dearborn to Harrison, October 11, 1805, ibid., 169–70; Anson, Miami Indians, 147–48. It is interesting to note that Wells' counterpart in the British Indian service, Matthew Elliott, was also distrusted by his superiors because of his marriage to an Indian and sympathies for the Indian's plight. See Reginald Horsman, "British Indian Policy in the Northwest, 1807–1812," Mississippi Valley Historical Review, XLV (June, 1958), 60–61.
  • 56 Hill, John Johnston, 17. For Little Turtle's views on agriculture see Volney, View of the Soil, 384–85.
  • 57 Tyson, Mission to the Indians, 75–76, 182.
from the government. Although Wells was displeased at not being entrusted with the project, he called a council in May, 1807, and attempted to reconcile the Indians to Kirk. It was useless, however, for Little Turtle and the friendly chiefs were convinced that Kirk, who had visited Fort Wayne in 1806 and had learned of Little Turtle's plan, had presented the project to the Quakers as originating with himself. Not only had Kirk stolen their project from under them, but he had spent over half the allocated funds before reaching Fort Wayne.58

Those Indians not near Fort Wayne, and especially those who were falling under the spell of the Shawnee Prophet's call for a rejection of white culture, were adamant in their dislike of Kirk. "We do not need anyone to teach us how to work," a Delaware warrior declared. "If we want to work we know how to do it according to our own way and as it pleases us."59 In the face of such opposition Wells urged Kirk to delay his plans to set up model farms at various villages, but the Quaker refused to listen. Since he could not set up operations at Fort Wayne, Kirk set out for Five Medals' Potawatomie village on the Elkhart River. Kirk, with a number of wagons, had proceeded about sixty miles when he was surrounded by warriors and forced to return to Fort Wayne. The warriors demanded of Wells that no more wagons traverse their lands, declaring them to be symbols of Indian slavery to the white man. Wells was greatly relieved when Kirk, soon after his abortive wagon expedition, moved his project to the relative safety of the Shawnee villages in Ohio where he hoped to meet with more success.60

Kirk, before moving, sent a blistering attack on Wells to the secretary of war and was backed up by Johnston, who now saw an opportunity to destroy his old enemy. In a private letter to Dearborn, who was a personal friend, Johnston claimed that "the civilizing plan has been a source of much profit to Mr. Wells." He also asserted that the agent had sabotaged Kirk's

  • 58 Clarence Edwin Carter, comp. and ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States: The Territory of Indiana, 1800–1810 (Washington, 1939), 469–70. For an overview of the civilization projects see Paul Woehrmann, At the Headwaters of the Maumee: A History of the Forts of Fort Wayne (Indianapolis, 1971), 105–41; and Joseph A. Parsons, Jr., "Civilizing the Indians of the Old Northwest, 1800–1810," Indiana Magazine of History, LVI (September, 1960), 195–216.
  • 59 Quoted in Lawrence Henry Gipson, ed., The Moravian Indian Mission on White River: Diaries and Letters, May 5, 1799, to November 12, 1806 (Indianapolis, 1938), 450.
  • 60 Draper Collection 11YY22; Woehrmann, At the Headwaters of the Maumee, 127.
work in order to secure those funds for himself. Johnston wrote to Harrison at the same time, pointing to the Kirk affair as further evidence that Wells had "so long travelled in the crooked, miry paths of intrigue and deception, that he never could … pursue a straight, fair, and honorable course …. "61

Johnston's accusations found a receptive audience in Dearborn who rudely brushed aside Wells' explanation of the affair, warning the agent that "no subterfuge [would] be admitted to extenuate the evident impropriety of your conduct … At all events, one or two things must be a fact, either that you possess no kind of useful influence with the chiefs in your agency or that you make improper use of what you possess. In either case you cannott be considered as well qualified for the place you hold."62

While it seems evident that Wells did not overly exert himself to promote Kirk among the Indians, it is also clear that he had good reason for his action other than his usual jealousy of anyone who interfered with his agency. From the first he doubted Kirk's honesty, and indeed Kirk was dismissed by Dearborn in 1808 for misuse of funds. More important, however, was the precarious state of Indian affairs resulting from the rising influence of the Shawnee Prophet and his brother Tecumseh. Kirk's activities only agitated an already sensitive situation, for by April, 1807, the brothers had assembled over four hundred Indians at Greeneville, Ohio, causing considerable consternation along the frontier. Wells' demand that the Indians disperse was met by Tecumseh's haughty reply that he would have no dealings with a man of such low rank as Wells. The agent's requests for instructions from the War Department were dismissed by Dearborn, whose judgment was so distorted by his dislike of Wells that he could perceive no danger from Tecumseh.63

  • 61 Johnston to Dearborn, May 31, 1807, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107; Johnston to Harrison, June 24, 1810, in Esarey, Messages and Letters, I, 432. For Wells' defense see Wells to Eustis, June 25, 1809, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107. In a letter to historian Benjamin Drake in 1840, Johnston agrees entirely with Wells that Kirk failed because of Indian hostility engendered by the Prophet. Draper Collection 11YY22.
  • 62 Dearborn to Wells, August 5, 1807, Indian Office Letter Book B, p. 326, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War.
  • 63 Benjamin Drake, Life of Tecumseh, and of his Brother The Prophet (Cincinnati, 1841), 91–93; Dearborn to Wells, May 15, 1807, Indian Office Letter Book B, p. 313, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War; Wells to Dearborn, July 14, 1807, in Carter, Territorial Papers: Indiana Territory, 1800–1810, p. 465.

Getting no satisfaction from Dearborn, Wells turned to Harrison, warning the governor that "something must be done [and] it cannot be done too soon for the Indians are certainly forming an improper combination … " Even some of the Miamis were being won over, and Wells reported that "we are all allarmed at this place [Fort Wayne] my self excepted as I can see no danger as yet at our doors." Harrison, in complete agreement with Wells, went before the territorial assembly to warn that "at no very distant period we shall be involved in hostilities with some of the Indian tribes."64

The Shawnee brothers, however, had no plans to attack the whites in 1807 because they needed time to gather strength. Along with the Prophet's call for cultural purity, Tecumseh added a more ambitious plan for tribal unity. In order to achieve this Indian confederation the brothers and their followers used rhetoric, strongarm tactics, and assassination to quell Indian opposition. For over a decade the British in Canada had attempted to disrupt Indian relations to the south, and Tecumseh, who had not forgotten Fallen Timbers, now allied himself with them. He allowed the British to believe that they had him under control while he milked them for weapons and supplies. Both Wells and Harrison were as duped as the British, for they both underrated Tecumseh's independence and considered the British at the bottom of Indian dissatisfaction.65

The crisis ended abruptly in the fall of 1807 when most of Tecumseh's followers returned to their agencies to gather government annuities and spend the winter. Wells, through the careful manipulation of friendly chiefs, encouraged the Indians to desert Tecumseh. Thus, by the spring of 1808, when the Shawnee brothers moved from Greeneville to a camp on the Tippecanoe River, their following had dwindled to less than one hundred. The winter of 1807–1808 was hard on the tribes since so many of the warriors had spent the summer with Tecumseh instead of hunting, but when Wells requested extra supplies for them, he was reprimanded by Dearborn. The secretary felt that

  • 64 Wells to Harrison, August 20, 1807, in Esarey, Messages and Letters, I, 239–43, 247–48; Gayle Thornbrough and Dorothy Riker, eds., Journals of the General Assembly of Indiana Territory, 1805–1815 (Indiana Historical Collections, Vol. XXXII; Indianapolis, 1950), 151.
  • 65 For British policy in this period see Horsman, "British Indian Policy," 53–59. Wells, Harrison, and the Chicago agent Charles Jouett were convinced of British complicity. See Wells to Dearborn, August 14, December 31, 1807, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107; and Jouett to Dearborn, December 1, 1807, in Carter, Territorial Papers: Indiana Territory, 1800–1810, pp. 496–97.
if the Indians had been idle "they ought to suffer" for it, and to insure that Wells did not feed them he instructed the agent to consult with Johnston on all agency matters. Dearborn cautioned Johnston to supervise Wells closely for he had lost "Confidence in his Integrity" and now feared that the agent calculated "on making money by supplying the Indians."66

Wells had no choice but to comply with Dearborn's wishes, although he reminded the secretary that only "a liberal treatment" would keep the Indians friendly to the United States. Realizing that his position was becoming untenable, Wells asked for permission to bring a number of important chiefs to Washington. He hoped to be able to clear up matters with Dearborn and at the same time to impress the chiefs with the power of the government. Wells also requested a few months' leave to visit with his daughters in Kentucky, where they had been living with Samuel Wells since the death of Sweet Breeze. Although the agent had kept his two sons with him, one had been killed in an accident in March, which fact made Wells all the more anxious to leave Fort Wayne for a while.67

Dearborn agreed to the request, and in September, 1808, Wells traveled to Washington with his son, William Wayne Wells, and seven chiefs—Little Turtle and Richardville of the Miamis, Marpock and Raven of the Potawatomies, Black Hoof of the Shawnees, Beaver of the Delawares, and Captain Hendrick of the Stockbridges—whom he considered "the commanding trumps of this country."68 The delegation spent most of December in the capital visiting with officials and philanthropists. The Indians received no satisfaction from the government regarding their complaints of white encroachment upon their lands. Jefferson sanctimoniously declared that he had "always believed it an act of friendship to our red brethren whenever they wished to sell a portion of their lands, to be ready to buy whether we wanted them or not …. " He warned

  • 66 Dearborn to Wells, March 10, 1808, Indian Office Letter Book B, p. 362, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War; and Dearborn to Johnston, March 10, 1808, ibid., 361. Wells had been reprimanded before for providing too generously for the Indians. See Arthur St. Clair to Wells, August 13, 1800, Northwest Territory Collection; and Dearborn to Wells, March 7, 1803, Indian Office Letter Book A, p. 334, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War.
  • 67 Wells to Dearborn, April 2, 20, 1808, in Carter, Territorial Papers: Indiana Territory, 1800–1810, pp. 540, 555–58; Wells to Dearborn, June 5, 30, 1808, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107.
  • 68 Wells to Dearborn, September 30, November 19, 1808, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107.
the chiefs to avoid war, gave them a few presents to insure their loyalty, and sent them on their way.69

Although the trip proved unfruitful for the Indians, Wells was hopeful that he had convinced Dearborn to continue him as agent. He had also pointed out to the secretary the many extra services he had rendered the department without pay. With his affairs thus seemingly in order he proceeded homeward with the chiefs. The trip was not an easy one for Marpock who was constantly drunk and who on one occasion attempted to kill and eat his wife. To make matters worse the Delaware chief, Beaver, fell behind the party. The behavior of Marpock made it impossible for Wells to wait on the Beaver, and he hurried the delegation back to Fort Wayne.70

The Beaver had purposely lagged behind. He was soon back in Washington complaining to Dearborn that Wells had often defaulted on the Delawares' annuities and that during the visit he had repeatedly refused to translate complaints about his agency to officials. Although most of the Beaver's complaints related to money withheld by order of the government for horses stolen in 1796, his accusations were the final straw for Dearborn. As one of his last acts as secretary of war he discharged Wells and replaced him with Johnston.71

Wells did not receive his letter of discharge until April 12, 1809, as he had visited Kentucky to see his family and renew his courtship of Mary Geiger, the daughter of an illustrious family. The two were married on March 7 and soon journeyed to Fort Wayne, accompanied by Wells' son and three daughters. Upon their arrival at the fort, Johnston, who must have relished the occasion, gave Wells his letter of dismissal.72

Even after the dismissal Johnston kept up a steady barrage of criticism of Wells in letters to his superiors. He proclaimed the surrounding Indians happy with Wells' discharge and more peaceful than ever. Rumors of Indian hostilities, he told the new secretary of war, William Eustis, were falsely planted by Wells in order to promote his importance in the territory. He

  • 69 Albert Ellery Bergh, ed., The Writings of Thomas Jefferson (20 vols., Washington, 1907), XVI, 441, 443.
  • 70 Wells to Dearborn, December 24, 1808, January 16, 1809, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107.
  • 71 Tyson, Mission to the Indians, 192–93; Dearborn to Johnston, January 27, 1809, Indian Office Letter Book B, p. 428–29, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War; Dearborn to Wells, ibid.
  • 72 "Jefferson County, Va.-Ky. Early Marriages Book I, 1781-July 1826," p. 70, typescript (Filson Club); Wells to Eustis, April 29, 1809, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107.
gave as his source for this startling information none other than the Prophet himself. Johnston warned the new secretary not to believe any endorsements of Wells by "officers taking sides with him against their government," for "there does not exist a worse man." As the hostile intentions of the Prophet soon became obvious, and as Wells received endorsements from Harrison, Wilkinson, and Fort Wayne commandant Nathan Heald, Johnston's statements quickly became a source of embarrassment to him.73

Wells was determined to regain his agency and conspired with various chiefs to discredit Johnston and counteract the measures adopted by the new agent. This sorry state of affairs, whereby the two most influential men with the Indians in northern Indiana attempted to vilify each other before the natives, could not have happened at a worse time. Increased pressure from white settlement, Harrison's treaties, and a depressed fur trade had aided the plans of Tecumseh and his one-eyed brother, and by the spring of 1810 they had collected a sizable force at their Tippecanoe village. The Wells-Johnston feud compromised the vital Fort Wayne agency just when a display of governmental strength and competence was essential. For the first time a large number of Miamis allied themselves with the brothers. They were particularly unhappy with the 1809 Treaty of Fort Wayne which forced them to share payment for land in western Indiana with several other tribes although the Miamis claimed sole ownership. They were also displeased to learn that land they had sold one year for two cents an acre was being sold by the government the next year for two dollars an acre. By June, 1810, Harrison was convinced that Indian "envy and jealousy" had ripened into hatred and that war was possible at any time.74

In his effort to regain his agency Wells had made it a point to secure the support of Harrison and had rendered the governor "essential services" during the negotiation of the Treaty of Fort Wayne. As a result, he received an appointment as government interpreter at $365 a year. In securing the job for Wells, Harrison warned Eustis that "if he is not employed and

  • 73 Johnston to Eustis, July 1, 1809, November 6, 1810, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107. Endorsements for Wells can be found enclosed in Wells to Eustis, June 25, 1809, and in Wilkinson to Eustis, November 27, 1810, ibid. Harrison was surprised by the dismissal and urged Eustis to give Wells a hearing. Harrison to Eustis, October 3, 1809, William Henry Harrison Collection (Chicago Historical Society).
  • 74 Esarey, Messages and Letters, I, 434–35. For the proceedings of the 1809 Fort Wayne treaty see ibid., I, 362–78.
remains where he is every measure of the Government will be opposed and thwarted by himself and the Turtle." Wells also had powerful friends in Kentucky, most notably Senator John Pope, who applied pressure on Eustis and Harrison. An exasperated Eustis finally turned the whole matter of Wells' reinstatement over to Harrison.75

In April, 1811, Harrison brought a libel suit against an Indian trader, William McIntosh, who had accused him of defrauding the Indians. Wells' testimony in Harrison's behalf was instrumental in securing the governor four thousand dollars in damages. This put Wells securely in Harrison's good graces, and the governor immediately informed Eustis that Wells' "activity and talents need not be doubted" and that he could now be trusted to resume the Fort Wayne agency. As one politician to another, Harrison candidly informed Eustis that "Wells has a number of respectable connections in Kentucky whom I am anxious to oblige & Mr. Pope and others of the Delegates from that State to Congress have also interseded themselves warmly in his favor." When a frustrated Johnston resigned the agency in September, 1811, Harrison appointed Wells as subagent for the Miami and Eel River tribes along with Johnston's former assistant, John Shaw, as subagent for the Potawatomies.76

Wells had little opportunity to reflect on his triumph. The influence of Tecumseh was creating havoc among the tribes, with the Miamis evenly divided between the followers of Little Turtle and the Shawnees. The dissident Miamis, under the Wea chief Lapoussier, threatened to kill Little Turtle if he continued to accept American annuities. The old chief, although quite ill, faced his enemies in a council near Fort Wayne. "Kill me as soon as you please," he declared, "I can't calculate on living many winters more; but rest assured, kill me when you will, I

  • 75 Harrison to Eustis, October 3, 1809, Harrison Collection; Harrison to Eustis, December 3, 1809, William Henry Harrison Miscellaneous Collection (Indiana Historical Society); and Carter, Territorial Papers: Indiana Territory, 1800–1810, p. 708. For Senator John Pope's role in securing Wells' appointment see John Pope to Eustis, January 21, 1811, 623W1811, Letters Received, 1805–1889, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94 (National Archives); and Eustis to Harrison, February 12, 1811, Indian Office Letter Book C, p. 62, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War.
  • 76 For the McIntosh trial see Cincinnati Western Spy, May 4, 1811; Dawson, Historical Narrative, 175–76; and Harrison to Eustis, April 23, 1811, Harrison Miscellaneous Collection. Also see Harrison to Eustis, January 21, 1811, 623W1811, Letters Received, 1805–1889, Records of the Adjutant General's Office, Record Group 94; and Eustis to Harrison, September 23, 1811, Indian Office Letter Book C, p. 99, Records of the Office of the Secretary of War.


Courtesy Indiana Historical Society Library, Indianapolis.

will not die alone." The dissidents then withdrew to Maiden where they received arms and ammunition from the British.77

It was now evident to Wells that war was inevitable. In April, 1811, he and John Conner had traveled to the Prophet's town on the Tippecanoe to secure evidence concerning murders on the Missouri River. Tecumseh denied any part in the killings but made it clear to Wells that he meant to stop the white advance. When Wells scoffed at such a dream, Tecumseh retorted that he would live to see it. Wells' report on the affair, and on subsequent Indian depredations, convinced Harrison that a show of force was necessary. When he learned that Tecumseh had gone south to recruit allies, he decided to strike.78 Harrison's army was composed largely of Kentucky militia under the joint command of Wells' new father-in-law, Colonel Frederick Geiger, and his brother, Colonel Samuel Wells. In the ensuing Battle of Tippecanoe on November 7, 1811, the Indians were driven from the field and their village destroyed, but the whites suffered heavy casualties. Although the Prophet's prestige was damaged, the strength of the Indians was not materially diminished, and frontier raids increased as a result of the battle.79

Wells found Harrison's claim of victory to be ludicrous. He knew that the governor's thousand men had faced no more than 350 Indians instead of the seven hundred claimed by Harrison. When Tecumseh returned from the South in January, he declared his intentions to be peaceful, but Wells correctly foresaw that the chief was "determined to raise all the Indians he can, immediately, with an intention, no doubt, to attack our frontiers."80

In the midst of this crisis Little Turtle died of the gout at Wells' home, silencing the most powerful voice of moderation among the tribes. The chief's death cut an important bond holding Wells to Fort Wayne. He decided to resign the appointment he had worked so hard to obtain and return with his

  • 77 Quotation is from Cincinnati Western Spy, September 28, 1811; see also Esarey, Messages and Letters, I, 574.
  • 78 Harrison to Eustis, June 6, October 29, 1811, Harrison Miscellaneous Collection.
  • 79 Harrison's report on the battle is in Esarey, Messages and Letters, I, 614–15, 618–30. Also see Prucha, Sword of the Republic, 41–42.
  • 80 Esarey, Messages and Letters, I, 27; Thornbrough, Letter Book, 111–12. For once Wells and Johnston agreed. Johnston wrote Eustis that Harrison had been "outgeneraled" and that "the late battle has … not conveyed to the natives any great idea of our prowess in war … " Johnston to Eustis, November 28, 1811, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107.
pregnant wife to Kentucky. When informed of this by Geiger, Harrison requested Wells to remain at his post since he could accomplish "more than any other person" during the crisis.81

Agreeing to Harrison's plea, Wells sent his children to the relative safety of Piqua, Ohio, under the guidance of his Shawnee friend James Logan. His wife refused to leave, however, and remained with him at Fort Wayne. Soon after the children's departure Indians began to gather in force around the fort, until by August there were over four hundred in the vicinity. Fearful of an attack, especially after news of the declaration of war on Britain reached them, the whites moved into the stockade for safety.82

The nervousness of Fort Wayne's white population was shared by the commander of the Army of the Northwest, General William Hull. When, in late July, 1812, Indian scouts brought Hull word of the fall of Fort Michilimackinac, the general dispatched a runner to Fort Dearborn (Chicago) with orders for the post commander, Captain Nathan Heald, to abandon the fort and march to Fort Wayne or Detroit. A copy of Hull's order was sent to Fort Wayne, and Wells read it with alarm. Since Heald's wife, Rebecca, was his niece, Wells had more than a casual interest in Fort Dearborn's safety. "Affairs in this quarter are rather gloomy," Wells wrote Harrison on August 4. The fall of Michilimackinac and the defeat of a detachment of Hull's troops near Detroit had greatly emboldened the Indians. Wells urged Harrison to gather as large a force as possible and march to Detroit or the Indians would overrun the settlements. Although he feared it was too late to evacuate Fort Dearborn, if indeed it had not already fallen, Wells hoped to cover the garrison's retreat. On August 8, 1812, Wells, with Corporal Walter K. Jordan and thirty Miamis, rode northwest to aid Heald as best he could.83

Arriving at the tiny post on August 13, Wells found the situation to be critical. A number of whites had already been murdered, and several hostile chiefs were camped with their

  • 81 Esarey, Messages and Letters, II, 33–34, 68–70. Eustis appointed Benjamin F. Stickney as Indian agent at Fort Wayne in March, 1812, and instructed Harrison to employ Wells elsewhere. This the governor refused to do, believing it vital for Wells to remain at Fort Wayne. Clarence Edwin Carter, comp. and ed., The Territorial Papers of the United States: The Territory of Indiana, 1810–1816 (Washington, 1939), 171.
  • 82 Griswold, Fort Wayne: Gateway of the West, 54–55.
  • 83 Wells to Harrison, August 3, 1812, William Wells Collection; Milo M. Quaife, Checagou: From Indian Wigwam to Modern City, 1673–1835 (Chicago, 1933), 122; Prucha, Sword of the Republic, 104–107.
warriors nearby. Tecumseh had sent runners to inform the Indians, mostly Potawatomies, that Hull had been defeated at Brownstown and was besieged at Detroit. From friends among the Potawatomies Wells learned that warriors under Mad Sturgeon and Black Bird planned to attack the whites as soon as they left the fort. At a council of officers Wells joined his old friend, the Indian trader John Kinzie, in urging Heald to make a stand at Fort Dearborn. But the young captain had his orders, and he would not disobey them. He would abandon the post on August 15.84

In desperation Wells called a council with the Indians. He and Heald promised to distribute the fort's stores among them in exchange for a guarantee of safe passage. The Indians, numbering over five hundred, agreed to this, and on August 14 they received all the post goods except arms, ammunition, and liquor, which were destroyed. Many of the warriors were enraged when they realized that the most coveted goods would be denied them, and they met again in council that night to decide on a course of action. At the end of the council, a friendly chief, Black Partridge, met with Wells and Heald at the fort and returned his government peace medal, sadly declaring that he could not restrain his warriors from attacking the whites.85

It was too late to attempt to hold the post even if Heald would agree to it, and at nine in the morning on August 15 the garrison marched out of Fort Dearborn. In the lead rode Wells, dressed as an Indian, his rifle cradled in his arm and a tomahawk and brace of pistols in his belt. Under no illusions, he had painted his face black as was the Miami custom when facing certain death. Half the Miami escort rode behind him, followed by Nathan and Rebecca Heald with the garrison, the women and children who could walk, and the Chicago militia. Next came a train of wagons containing baggage, provisions, and the smaller children. Immediately behind the wagons marched a squad of soldiers and the remaining mounted Miamis. The entire company numbered less than one hundred.86

  • 84 Milo M. Quaife, Chicago and the Old Northwest, 1673–1835 (Chicago, 1913), 217–19; and Mentor L. Williams, "John Kinzie's Narrative of the Fort Dearborn Massacre," Journal of the Illinois State Historical Society, XLVI (Winter, 1953), 347–49.
  • 85 Quaife, Chicago and the Old Northwest, 219–21.
  • 86 This account of the Fort Dearborn battle is based primarily on the story Darius Heald told Draper and Kirkland. See Draper Collection 23S62–65 and Kirkland, Chicago Massacre, 31–35. Also useful are Draper's interviews with Alexander Robinson and Joseph Bourassa. Draper Collection 21S285–87, 23S194–95. The best known account of the battle is Mrs. John H. Kinzie,

After a march of about an hour, Wells, riding in advance, suddenly halted. On a rise of sand to his right hundreds of Potawatomies were forming in ambush. Jerking his horse around Wells rode furiously back toward the column, waving his hat in a circle above his head. No sooner had Wells shouted his warning than the Indians opened fire, killing many of Heald's regulars with the first volley. The soldiers then charged in among the warriors, who scattered before them. But while the soldiers drove the Indians from the dunes, another band attacked the civilians around the wagons. Wells' Miamis deserted the field, and within minutes all the militia were killed, leaving the children in the wagons defenseless. Rebecca Heald's slave, Cicely, was hacked to death in a futile attempt to save her infant, who was one of twelve children butchered.

Wells, seeing this slaughter, spurred his horse back toward the wagons. He never made it, for an Indian bullet crashed into his chest. Bleeding from the mouth and nose, he managed to reach the side of his niece before another Indian volley caught them both, wounding Rebecca and killing Wells' horse. Pinned underneath the animal, Wells brought down one more warrior with his pistol before they were upon him. As Rebecca stared in horror, one warrior chopped off Wells' head and placed it on a lance while another cut open his chest and removed his heart. Hoping thus to gain the dead man's courage the warriors divided the heart among themselves and ate it.87

The tragedy of Wells comes not from his heroic death, however, but rather from his inability to use his unique position to achieve peace and to implement Little Turtle's plan to retain Miami unity and power by the wise sale of some of their lands. Wells' failure resulted from factors beyond his control for, ultimately, he was but the recalcitrant pawn of an expansionist government. During the Indian war he had been a useful tool, and various government agents had utilized his

  • Wau-bun, the "Early Day" in the Northwest (Chicago, 1932), 233–87. The account of Corporal Walter K. Jordan is in John D. Barnhart, ed., "A New Letter about the Massacre at Fort Dearborn," Indiana Magazine of History, XLI (June, 1945), 187–99. A number of personal narratives appear in appendixes to Quaife, Chicago and the Old Northwest, which is also the best account of the Fort Dearborn story.
  • 87 Kirkland, Chicago Massacre, 31–35. This account of Wells' death was told to Darius Heald by his mother, Rebecca Heald. The Kinzie family passed down a somewhat different version of Wells' death, but it was not based on eyewitness testimony and seems an unlikely version of what might have happened. See Kinzie, Wau-bun, 266–67. Captain Heald surrendered what was left of his command, and, with the help of Black Partridge, he and Rebecca eventually reached safety.


Courtesy Indiana Historical Society Library, Indianapolis.

skills to implement policy and crush resistance. By 1812, however, Wells had outlived his usefulness. Although he had adapted to the white style of living and had made a small fortune, he could not discard his notions of honor and loyalty to the Miami tribe. He was unable to practice the subtle deceit so effectively employed by successful federal functionaries like Harrison and Johnston. His reaction to problems was too straightforward and open. When Tecumseh's power reached a critical stage, Wells offered to raise a company of scouts and give battle while Johnston offered to hire an assassin to murder the chief.88 It is an important difference.

Wells attempted to compromise his beliefs in order to keep his government position for, besides being profitable, it gave him some influence over Indian policy. But the divergent goals of Harrison and Tecumseh, either of which spelled doom for the Miamis, undercut any hope for peace at the very time that Wells' position in the Indian service was in jeopardy. The government, although willing to exploit Wells' talents, rightly perceived that he was not in tune with the ultimate goal of dispossessing the Indians and refused to follow his advice. Faced with the dilemma of using Wells, who knew and had great influence over the Indians but who refused to deal falsely with them, or of appointing agents of lesser talent but more loyalty to federal policy, the government chose the latter course. Saddled with agents who were adversaries rather than defenders, the Miamis soon lost their lands and were removed to the West.89

Wells had, by 1812, become a disposable asset. Harrison had already suggested banishing the agent from the territory after the military crisis had ended. The Potawatomies neatly solved the government's problem. In his death Wells displayed the very characteristics that made him both so useful, and so dangerous, to the government. At Fort Dearborn, dressed and painted as a Miami brave, he was little changed from the youngster who, in 1792, had upbraided a wounded bear for "playing the part of a coward," and who swore never to disgrace his nation but to die "with firmness and courage, as becomes a true warrior."90

  • 88 Johnston to Eustis, December 4, 27, 1811, Letters Received by the Secretary of War, registered series, Record Group 107.
  • 89 For Miami removal see Grant Foreman, The Last Trek of the Indians (Chicago, 1946), 125–32; and Anson, Miami Indians, 213–33.
  • 90 Heckewelder, History, Manners, and Customs of the Indian Nations, 256.

Published by the Indiana University Department of History.