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Ohio's Native American Wars

Much of the conflicts that occurred in Ohio were continuations of conflicts that occurred early in the first encounters between Europeans and Native Americans. Many of these conflicts were the results of either misunderstandings or of one side trying to take advantage of the other during trading.

Early traders between Native Americans and Europeans on the Ohio frontier were primarily between the French simply because they were the first to explore the area and had over the years, set up numerous trading posts throughout the Ohio country. The French had long been exploring North America which they had laid claim as a result of this exploration dating back to the early 1500s.

For a long time, the French represented the only traders with the Native Americans in Ohio. But everyone was not happy with that situation. An early rebellion against the French traders happened in Ohio in 1747 when the Miami Chief Memeskia led an organized rebellion against the French that led to the burning of a French trading post just south of where Toledo is located today and where years later the British would build Fort Miamis.

Ohio's first noted conflict between Europeans and Native Americans happened in 1752. This was just before the French and Indian War (known as the 7 Year War in Europe). A French military expedition from Canada laid claim to the entire Ohio Valley. Leading up to this French claim of ownership happened at a place near where the present day Piqua is located and on the property now known as the Piqua Historic Area.


Miami Indians had settled the town of Pickawillany 5 years before the conflict between the English and French forces. Pickawillany was located on a low bluff on the west side of the confluence of the Great Miami River and Loramie Creek, just north of Piqua in Miami County. Pickawillany had become a major trading center. In fact, in it's first 5 years, the village had become the largest gathering of Miami in the Ohio country.

The Miami had been one of the earliest Native American groups trading with the French. Exchanging deer skin, beaver pelts and other Native American products in exchange for French made goods like firearms, ammunition, gun powder, and cooking utensils. Despite this extensive trading arrangement, the Miami felt the French traders treated them poorly.

In time, this resentment grew to such a fevered pitch that the Miami refused trade with the French. The Miami leader Memeskia, invited the British to set up a trading post in Pickawillany. This appeared to be a good deal for both the British and the Miami, but the French were not so pleased with the loss of trade. More importantly was the loss of French influence in that part of the Ohio frontier.

The French made a final attempt in 1750 to convince Memeskia to re-establish trading with the French, but Memeskia refused. The following year, the French decided to use stronger tactics. In 1751, the French sent an armed force that attacked the village. During the brief encounter 2 Miami were killed and 2 British traders were captured.

Despite this attack and further threats from the French, Memeskia still refused to change his position. The next year the French returned to Pickawillany with a larger militia force that included Ottawas and Ojibwa warriors who had sided with the French. This time the conflict ended with Memeskia's execution and the the capturing of 5 British traders and the destruction of the town. After this the Miami permanently abandoned Pickawillany and moved further west into what would become Indiana. A few years later, a band of Shawnee laid claim to the area and built a village they called Piqua.

Today, archeologists continue excavating the Pickawillany site.

Indian Wars Continue

Many Native Americans welcomed the new "white" settlers moving into their hunting grounds. Perhaps assuming that these new people would hunt and fish and then move on, they were perhaps dismayed when they started building cabins and staying. The whites began clearing large swatches of land and planting crops, nothing like they were expecting.

Then too, some of the settlers moving in were exceedingly distrustful of the Native Americans. Unable to distinguish between friendly and unfriendly Natives, some settlers reacted out of fear and killed approaching Indians without knowing their intentions. Word spread through the Indian villages that the white men could not be trusted.

Agreements between the whites and Native Americans quickly became meaningless. Settlers began moving into areas where agreements specifically set as being off limits to settlers. However, without law enforcers on the frontier, the terms were meaningless. Homesteaders were attacked, their cabins burned and their fields destroyed. In retribution, Indian villages would also be attacked and destroyed.

George Rogers ClarkNear the end of the Revolutionary War, George Rogers Clark led an attack against a Shawnee village living in the Miami River Valley. Although Clark's forces (which included Daniel Boone) completely destroyed the Shawnee Village, the fight that later took place near present day Springfield, was without resolution. This was called the Battle of Piqua.

These clashes escalated the hatred between the cultures making it impossible for either side to ever trust the other. Eventually, this distrust would lead to major conflicts until one side or the other gained control through force Realizing that the settlers were becoming too numerous for any one Native Nation to resist, the Nations began to unite. They also received support from British and Canadian forts that had been built in northwest Ohio. These forts provided arms and supplies to the Native Americans and in return, the British gained allies in the struggle for this land.

After the Revolution, America began focusing its attention on the western territories, which included Ohio. In 1790 President Washington decided something must be done to settle this conflict with the Native Americans, force out the British influence and make the land safe for further development. This decision led to 3 military campaigns that would ultimately decide the fate for everyone in Ohio.

Josiah Harmar's Expedition

Josiah HarmarThis was the first expedition to try and gain control. The organization of this force was based on some misguided information. General Josiah Harmar and Governor Arthur St. Clair (governor of the Northwest Territory which included the lands now known as Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin) assumed the Native Americans were nothing more than fearful savages and they would be convinced to surrender when faced by an organized military force. Instead, the military force was anything but organized.

The expedition led by General Harmar amounted to about 1500 mostly untrained men, plus many of the men brought their wives and children along for the march. In September 1790, the group left Cincinnati and headed north. The Native Americans decided the best tactic was to withdraw from their villages and pull back. Harmar's force found the deserted villages and destroyed them, but no warriors to fight. Bolstered by these easy victories, the force moved further north, eventually extending some 200 miles. With little or no support supplies, the force found themselves near present-day Fort Wayne, Indiana, when the force ran into the trap the warriors had set.

Arthur St. Clair's Expedition

Arthur St. ClairIn 1791, attacks on settlers in the Northwest Territory increased in intensity. Reacting to outcries from people living in the new frontier, the United States Congress voted to spend $300,000 for a 2nd expedition to attempt to bring order to the area.

Governor St. Clair decided to personally lead this expedition and like Josiah Harmar, this force had little experience fighting in fighting Native Americans. However, so he wouldn't fall into the same trap that Harmar ran into with extended supply lines, St. Clair decided to build a string of forts about 25 miles apart that would stretch from Cincinnati all the way to Lake Erie.

The problem with this plan was that it took time to build these forts, and, after they were built, they had to leave precious fighting men to man the forts. St. Clair started out with an army of 3,000 men, but by the time they reach present day Mercer County, in November their force was down to just 1400. It was then that a force of Native Americans led by Miami chief Little Turtle and Shawnee chief Blue Jacket launched a surprise attack on Nov. 4. Many of the militia fled from the battle field without ever engaging the warriors. Over 900 were killed or wounded, although St. Clair showed extreme bravery during the rout, it wasn't enough to stop the onslaught.

After 3 hours of fighting, the American force retreated to Ft. Jefferson. With not enough supplies to maintain the remaining forces, they retreated further back to Fort Washington. As a result of this defeat President Washington demanded St. Clair's resignation from the army, which he did, but he retained his governorship of the territory.

Anthony Wayne's Expedition

Anthony WayneIn 1794, President Washington dispatched General Anthony Wayne to succeed where St. Clair had failed. Wayne defeated the a confederation of Native Americans at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in August 1794 during a battle that lasted only about an hour and resulted in 100 casualties.

In 1795, most Native Americans in modern-day Ohio signed the Treaty of Greeneville, relinquishing all of their land holdings in Ohio except what is now the northwestern corner of the state.


Tecumseh's Final Fight

In 1811, Tecumseh created a confederation of Native Americans. His main goal was to force the Ohio settlers out of Ohio and south of the Ohio River through a show of force. During his organization efforts, Tecumseh went west in an attempt to bring more Native Americans into his confederation. But while he was gone, William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Indiana Territory, attacked Tecumseh's Shawnee camp and destroyed it. When the Shawnee were defeated in their own village, this ultimately doomed Tecumseh's plans at creating the confederation.

After the fight, Harrison found British weapons and supplies in the village confirming suspicions that the British were arming the Indians and encouraging them to fight against the settlers. This would be one of the tipping points that would cause America to declare war against Great Britain the following year.

During the War of 1812, Tecumseh would be killed. After the war, the final remnants of Native Americans would be forced to resign their lands and be moved onto reservations. But even there, they would not be allowed to remain for very long and would eventually be forced out of Ohio entirely never to return as a nation.