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Re-evaluating “The Fort-Wayne Manuscript”: William Wells and the Manners and Customs of the Miami Nation



As part of my research for William Wells and the Struggle for the Old Northwest, I discovered that William Wells had written at least an essay and possibly a memoir about his life with the Miami Indians. In fact, I discovered three variations of his essay, which I collate and write an Introduction. Wells's essay is one of the most valuable primary sources we have on the Miami Indians of Indiana.
William Heath
Re-reading The Fort-Wayne Manuscript: William Wells and the Miami
Indians of the Old Northwest
In April 1882 Hiram W. Beckwith of Danville, Illinois, received an unusual
package: a manuscript of twenty-eight pages of foolscap sent to him by S. A. Gibson,
Superintendent of the Kalamazoo Paper Company. The sheets, which appeared to have
been torn from a larger manuscript, were part of a bundle of old paper that had been
shipped for pulping from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to the company mills in Michigan.
Gibson must have realized that the material was of historical interest when he sent it on to
Beckwith, who was known for his research into the frontier history of the Northwest
Territory.1 Indeed, the packet that Beckwith opened was filled with vital firsthand
information. It included speeches given by various Indian chiefs at two councils held in
the fall of 1811 at Fort Wayne and a letter from the great Miami war chief Little Turtle to
Governor William Henry Harrison on 25 January 1812.2 In addition, it contained a brief
historical account of the various battles the Indians had fought, starting with Pontiac’s
Revolt in 1763 and concluding with the battle of Tippecanoe in 1811. Finally, and most
importantly, the papers contained a description of the Miami Indians’ manners and
customs, including their vision quests, courtship and marriage rituals, adoption
1 Hiram W. Beckwith (1830-1903) was Abraham Lincoln’s law partner from 1856 to 1861 and a close
personal friend. He edited several volumes in the Fergus’ Historical Series and served, from 1897 to 1902,
as President of the Historical Society of Illinois. Fergus was Chicago’s first publishing company and their
35 volume series, begun in 1876, featured titles on the Old Northwest.
2 I have omitted these speeches from this essay for the purpose of brevity and because a scholarly version of
them is available on microfilm: The Papers of William Henry Harrison, ed. Douglas E. Clanin (Indiana
Historical Society, Indianapolis, 1999), Reel 3, 731-34, 756-67, 784-93, 833-36.
ceremonies, methods of warfare, religious beliefs, forms of entertainment, and burial
practices. In 1884 the material was published in volume 26 of the Fergus’ Historical
Series, a ninety-six page booklet that opened with a reprint of William Henry Harrison’s
Aborigines of the Ohio Valley, first published in 1838, followed by Beckwith’s edition of
the original manuscript sent to him, which began with a title page that read:
Indian Speeches
Treatise on the Western Indians
Edited and Annotated
By HIRAM W. BECKWITH, Danville, Ill.
Of the manuscript’s unnamed author Beckwith noted in his “Introductory Chapter” that
he must have been “a well-informed and candid writer. His statements of facts, dates,
names, etc., harmonize in the main with creditable works since in print…. He must have
had an intimate and long acquaintance with the Indians; and the information preserved in
his manuscript…is, for the most part, not only new, but valuable historical matter.”3
Despite Beckwith’s reluctance to speculate more specifically about who might have
written this valuable account of the Miami Indians, an enigmatic remark appearing in the
publisher’s advertisement on the brochure’s next-to-last page suggests a connection
between the FWM and one of the most important participants in Indian-White relations in
territorial Indiana: the add stated that the material in Volume 26 had come “from MSS,
3 Hiram W. Beckwith, ed., The Fort-Wayne Manuscript, Fergus’ Historical Series, vol. 26 (Chicago,
Illinois, 1884), 62. Hereafter abbreviated as FWM.
supposed to be in the handwriting of Capt. William Wells.”4 Who, then, was Wells, and
why would his connection to the FWM—which to my knowledge has gone unnoticed to
historians—prove valuable to students of Indian customs and Indian-White relations in
the Northwest Territory?
William Wells was born in 1770 beside Jacobs Creek in Western Pennsylvania,
the son of Samuel Wells and Ann Farrow Wells.5 In 1779 the family flatboated down the
Ohio to the Falls, present-day Louisville, and lived in various stations on Beargrass
Creek. Ann died after their arrival, and Samuel was killed in the Long Run Massacre in
September of 1781. Wells was placed under the care of William Pope, a prominent
figure in Louisville. In March 1784 Wells and three other boys were camping and
hunting at Roberts Pond, near the Ohio River, when the Indians captured them. Wells
was taken to Snake-fish Town (Kenapakomoko) on the Eel River, about five miles north
of present-day Logansport, Indiana. Wells, now named “Wild Carrot,” was adopted by
the village chief, The Porcupine. The boy was adept at languages, and this must have
helped him to become assimilated. Over the next few years, like other boys his age, he
learned to become a Miami: he blacked his face and fasted, experienced a Vision Quest,
received the name “Blacksnake,” became a skilled hunter, went on the warpath, took a
wife, and fathered a son. In October 1790 he may have participated in Harmar’s Defeat,
when Little Turtle’s Miami and their Delaware and Shawnee allies defeated Kentucky
militia and the U. S. Army first on the Eel River and a few days later at Kekionga. The
following August, General James Wilkinson attacked Snake-fish Town when Wells and
4 FWM, 97.
5 See Paul Hutton’s ground-breaking essay, “William Wells: Frontier Scout and Indian Agent,” Indiana
Magazine of History 74 (1978): 184-220, as well as Harvey Lewis Carter, The Life and Times of Little
Turtle (Urbana, 1987). The most complete account of Wells’s life is my historical novel, based on
extensive archival research, Blacksnake’s Path: The True Adventures of William Wells (Westminster, MD:
Heritage Books, 2008).
most of the other warriors were away, taking Wells’s wife and son captive. That fall,
Wells fought for Little Turtle in the greatest victory the Indians ever won against the
United States Army, St. Clair’s Defeat, 4 November 1791.6 At about this time, possibly
as a reward for his prowess in battle, he took as his new wife Little Turtle’s daughter
Sweet Breeze.7 The following summer Wells went to Cincinnati to try to free his first
wife and son, along with other captives. He accompanied General Rufus Putnam to
Vincennes, where the Indians signed a treaty that secured the release of the prisoners.8
A previous trip to Vincennes to sell furs led had led to Wells’s reunion with his
brother Sam, who encouraged him to switch sides and serve General Putnam and the
American interest. His first wife and his son remained with the Miami, but Sweet Breeze
and her children stayed with Wells, who went on several dangerous spying missions to
Indian councils in 1792 and 1793 before becoming head scout for General Anthony
Wayne. Wells recruited an elite group of men, many of whom had lived among the
Indians, and they ably performed their mission of scouting ahead, taking prisoners for
interrogation, and making sure Wayne’s army was not ambushed and destroyed as
Harmar’s and St. Clair’s had been. Wells was shot in the wrist on one daring exploit,
ending his spying activities shortly before the decisive battle of Fallen Timbers, 20
August 1794, but he did offer Wayne crucial advice about when to attack.9 The
6 The standard study of these battles is Wiley Sword, President Washington’s Indian War (Norman, 1985).
See also, Leroy Eid’s two essays, “The Slaughter was Repicrocal: Josiah Harmar’s Two Defeats,”
Northwest Ohio Quarterly, 65:2 (Spring 1992), 51-67, and “St. Clair’s Defeat,” The Journal of Military
History, 57 (Jan. 1993), 71-88. The premier overview of the period is Richard White’s The Middle
Ground: Indians, Empires, and Republics in the Great Lakes Region, 1650-1815 (New York, 1991).
7 Wells and Sweet Breeze had four children who survived them both; she died in 1805.
8 Rowena Buell, ed., The Memoirs of Rufus Putnam, (Boston, 1903); Paul A. W. Wallace, ed., The Travels
of John Heckewelder in Frontier America (Pittsburgh, 1958), 258-293.
9 A valuable early account of Wells’s spies is John McDonald, Biographical Sketches of General Nathaniel
Massie, General Duncan McArthur, Captain William Wells… (Cincinnati, 1938), 183-196. The most
detailed study of Wayne’s campaign is Alan D. Gaff, Bayonets in the Wilderness (Norman, 2004). For
Wells’s spying activities, see Heath, Blacksnake’s Path, 167-210. On Wells’s advice to Wayne before the
battle of Fallen Timbers, see the Lymon C. Draper Collection, Wisconsin Historical Society, 5U, 119-125.
following year Wells served as the translator between Little Turtle and Anthony Wayne
at the Treaty of Greenville, which ceded all but the northwest corner of Ohio to the
settlers.10 During these negotiations, and later when Wells took a delegation of Indians to
Philadelphia to meet with President Washington, various Miami chiefs expressed the
wish that Wells might become their Indian Agent.
For much of the rest of his life, Wells served as Indian Agent for the Miami at
Fort Wayne (formerly Kekionga). His career was an extremely controversial one; he
offended many people and made numerous enemies, several of them in high places.
Although he was the agent for the Miami Nation, clearly he favored the Little Turtle
faction, and this caused many resentments. He and Little Turtle wanted the Indians to
learn to farm under their leadership; this led to many difficulties with the Quakers, who
directed the government-funded program.11 Although Sweet Breeze died in 1805, Wells
and Little Turtle remained lifelong friends. Wells’s most confirmed enemy was John
Johnson, the Fort Wayne Factor, who accused him of various nefarious schemes, some of
which may have been true. It was Johnson who reported that Wells had gone on the
warpath as a young man with the Miami and used his white skin and red hair to lure
flatboats to the Indian side of the Ohio River where they could be ambushed. He also
said that Wells had boasted about how many soldiers he had killed at St. Clair’s Defeat.12
Since the Quakers were not having much success teaching the Miami men to farm, it was
10 Transcripts of the treaty can be found in, Frazer E. Wilson, Around the Council Fire (1975); John A.
Murphy, ed., The Greenville Peace Treaty (1994).
11 Gerald T. Hopkins, A Mission to the Indians…to Fort Wayne, in 1804… compiled by Martha Tyson
(Philadelphia, 1862). Wells’s difficulties are captured in his correspondence with Secretaries of War
William Eustis and Henry Dearborn, National Archives, Registered Series, Record Groups 75 (M15, M
271) and 107 (M 221, rolls 9-15). Joseph A. Parsons, Jr., “Civilizing the Indians of the Old Northwest,
1800-1810,” Indiana Magazine of History, LVI (September, 1960), 195-216.
12 Johnson to Eustis, 6 November 1810. Letters Received Secretary of War, Reg. Series, Record Group
107; 38: 4649. See, Leonard U. Hill, John Johnson and the Indians in the Land of the Three Miamis
(Piqua, 1957); Gayle Thornbrough, ed., Outpost on the Wabash (Indianapolis, 1957); Paul Woehrmann, At
the Headwaters of the Maumee (Indianapolis, 1971).
easy to blame Wells’s complaints about the program for its failure. At the same time the
Shawnee Prophet began his campaign to get Indians to return to their old ways, while his
brother Tecumseh planned a pan-Indian resistance to American incursions. Wells warned
of these developments before the Secretary of War wanted to hear of them, stating in
June, 1807, that the followers of the Prophet were “religiously mad.” These dire
predictions, along with accusations of corruption, further alienated him from his superiors
in Washington. The upshot was that Wells was fired as Indian Agent in March of 1809.13
Over the next three years Wells tried to regain his old position, but his efforts
proved futile. He found himself trapped between Tecumseh’s militant resistance and
Governor William Henry Harrison’s insatiable greed for more land concessions from the
Indians. Wells cooperated with Harrison on several treaties, gaining government support
for Little Turtle but offending many Indians in the process. He found himself hated by
the warriors and distrusted by the government, having pledged himself to serve policies
he questioned.14 A man of many loyalties, no wonder he was often seen as having too
few. He stood on a shrinking middle ground, torn by conflicting emotions, vacillating
between protecting the rights of the long-suffering Indians or supporting the land-hungry
rapidly advancing settlers. As the crisis deepened, Wells felt that his counsel was
increasingly ignored. It was probably for this reason that he helped organize the councils
held in Fort Wayne in the fall of 1811. The transcripts show him working for peace and
contain testaments to his usefulness. The Potawatomi peace chief Five Medals, for
13 See John Sugden’s two books Tecumseh: A Life (New York, 1998) and Blue Jacket: Warrior of the
Shawnee (Lincoln, 2000); the latter book cites Wells’s 1820 “Indian History” essay as well as Beckwith’s
FWM. Also, Bil Gilbert, God Gave Us This Country (New York, 1989), and R. David Edmunds,
Tecumseh and the Quest for Indian Leadership (Boston, 1984). Wells’s warnings about Tecumseh and his
brother to the Secretary of War are found in the National Archives, RG 75 and 107.
14 Robert M. Owens, Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer: William Henry Harrison and the Origins of American
Indian Policy (Norman, 2007); Andrew R. L. Cayton, Frontier Indiana (Indianapolis, 1996).
example, states “Father, if you should want to say anything to us, speak to us through our
old friend, Capt. William Wells, in whom we all have entire confidence, and then your
words will be attended to immediately.”15
It was at about this time that Wells must have begun to write down his memories
of Indian battles and the manners and customs of the Miami. Portions of this writing
appear to have been obtained, after Wells’s death in the 1812 Fort Dearborn Massacre, by
William Gibbes Hunt, editor of The Western Review and Miscellaneous Magazine, who
in 1820 published the material in two parts.16 The first, entitled “INDIAN HISTORY.
From the Manuscript of Mr. William Wells.”, presents a brief summary of the major
Indian battles fought from Pontiac’s Revolt (he is called “Pantaock” in the essay) to the
battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794. The article’s direct, unembellished language, its
uncorrected grammatical and spelling errors, and its general air of authority appear to
confirm Hunt’s attribution to Wells. Even the author’s disavowal of firsthand
information about certain events (“My knowledge of the actions that were fought
between them [the Indians against the French and British] is derived from the old Indians
whom I have conversed with on that subject, and is perhaps not to be depended on.”)17
suggests the perspective of a close observer such as Wells. Hunt himself defended the
accuracy of the second essay, “Indian Manners and Customs,” with an editorial paragraph
15 FWM, 75. First published in Liberty Hall (25 September 1811), Cincinnati, Ohio.
16 William Gibbes Hunt (1791-1833) came to Lexington, Kentucky, in 1815, and began publishing The
Western Review in 1819, which was closely associated with Transylvania University and its eccentric
polymath professor Constantine Samuel Rafinesque. Although the review lasted only 24 issues over two
years, it “stands out as the best thing of its time yet attempted in the West,” Earl L. W. Heck, “William
Gibbes Hunt,” The Lexington Herald (17 April 1932), 10. My thanks to Leroy V. Eid, an excellent military
historian of the American frontier, for first calling my attention to these essays, which I encountered during
my research for my historical novel, Blacksnake’s Path: The True Adventures of William Wells.
17 William Wells, “Indian History,” The Western Review and Miscellaneous Magazine (May, 1820), 25.
just below the title, stating that “The following account of the manners and customs
prevalent among the North Western Indians is taken from a manuscript of Mr. William
Wells, who was himself long among them, and who obtained from personal observation a
knowledge of most of the facts he communicates.”18
While Hunt expressed no doubts about the manuscript’s authenticity, he did not
explain how he had acquired it. One possible clue appears in a footnote included in an
essay entitled “Harmar’s Expedition,” which appeared in April, 1820—between the
publication dates of the two Wells pieces. The essay’s author, known only as “G,”
acknowledges receiving information from Wells, “who was with the Indians at the
time.”19 If G had been in direct contact with Wells before the latter’s death, perhaps he
was the person who passed Wells’s manuscript on to Hunt.
Wells may have intended his writings to form part of an autobiography. Certainly
he had a fascinating story to tell, and Hunt implied that the essays had been drawn from a
larger manuscript. John D. Hunter’s captivity narrative, published in 1823, combined an
account of the “Manners and Customs of Several Indians Tribes” along with the “Life of
the Author.”20 Perhaps Wells had a similar plan in mind for his manuscript. Except for a
year or so of schooling in Louisville before his capture, he was self-taught; but he had a
gift for languages and was capable of recording the story of his remarkable life. Indeed,
it would be a misfortune for American history and literature if he did complete his
autobiography and it was lost. Wells was a significant participant in most of the major
events of his time and place, and he had the rare ability to understand both the Indian and
18 William Wells, “Indian Manners and Customs,” The Western Review and Miscellaneous Magazine, vol.
II, ed., William Gibbes Hunt (February, 1820), 45-49, 110-12, 160-63.
19 G, “Harmar’s Expedition,” The Western Review and Miscellaneous Magazine (April, 1820), 181.
20 John D. Hunter, Manners and Customs of Several Indians Tribes Located West of the Mississippi (New
York, 1975).
settler point of view. On the other hand, his untimely martyrdom may have robbed him
of the chance to write a full account of his adventures.
And yet, as the passing note in the back of the FWM suggests, more of Wells’s
work may have survived than historians have generally acknowledged. In spite of the
tantalizing hint contained in the publisher’s advertisement, few scholars of the period
have made significant use of the FWM; none to my knowledge has linked it to Wells.
The most recent study of Miami history and culture, Stewart Rafert’s The Miami Indians
of Indiana, for example, makes no mention of Beckwith’s book, although Rafert briefly
refers to Wells three times and makes extensive use of another reliable account from this
period, Meearmeear Traditions, compiled by C. C. Trowbridge for Governor Lewis Cass
in 1825.21 Harvey Lewis Carter’s The Life and Times of Little Turtle, the standard
biography of the Miami chief and his son-in-law William Wells, also overlooks the
On the other hand, Carter does cite a source entitled A Discription of the
Emigration, Habits, etc. of the N. Western Indians, As Received from the Most Intelligent
and Ancient Indians, written in 1817 by an author who called himself William Turner of
Wellsington; this appears to be a revision of Wells’s essays of 1820 in the Western
Review.23 Further, the typescript of Turner’s manuscript, which is held at the Newberry
21 Stewart Rafert, The Miami Indians of Indiana: A Persistent People 1654-1996 (Indianapolis, 1996). For
Wells, see, 53, 70, 74. Vernon Kinietz, ed., Meearmeear Traditions by C. C. Throwbridge (Ann Arbor,
1938). Hereafter abbreviated as MT.
22 Harvey Lewis Carter, The Life and Times of Little Turtle (Urbana, 1987). Paul Hutton, “William Wells:
Frontier Scout and Indian Agent,” Indiana Magazine of History (1978): 184-220, does not cite the Turner
manuscript or the FWM. An earlier history, Bert Anson, The Miami Indians (Norman, 1970), uses
Trowbridge but not Turner’s 1817 manuscript or the FWM.
23 Newberry Library, Chicago, Illinois, the John Howard Payne Papers, vol. 10, # 2, MS 689, which is part
of the Ayer Collection. I am grateful to the Newberry Library for awarding me a fellowship in 2002, and to
JoEllen Dickie for sending me a copy of the hand-written original in 2008.
Library in Chicago, is similar but not identical to the FWM.24 There are minor changes
throughout. In general, Turner is verbose while the published version is succinct.
Turner’s first paragraph, for example, begins “The Miami Tribe or Nation of Indians
were the first inhabitants of the Country North west of the Ohio River. From whence
they emigrated is not known,” while the FWM reads “The Miami Nation are the oldest
inhabitants of this country. From whence they emigrated is not known.” The Turner
manuscript then locates “the principle towns” of the various tribes, while this information
is cut from the FWM, possibly because during the turmoil of the early 19th century these
locations were often changing. A few revisions suggest Victorian prudery; Turner refers
to the “menstrual discharge” of Indian women as a “call of nature,” while the revised
version changes these words to “disease.” It would appear that the author of the FWM, as
well as A Description, was William Turner and not William Wells, but that both versions
were merely variants of an earlier manuscript by Wells published in the Western Review.
Who, then, was William Turner and what was his relationship to William Wells?
In 1810 William Turner arrived at Fort Wayne as a Surgeon’s Mate; during the
Indian councils of 11 September and 2 October 1811, he served as a witness and made a
faithful transcription of William Wells’s translation of the Indian speeches at the council
as they were given. The year after Wells was killed, Turner resigned his commission and
began a campaign to obtain Wells’s old job as Indian Agent for the Miami at Fort Wayne.
In 1815 Turner married Wells’s daughter Anne, whose mother Sweet Breeze was the
daughter of Little Turtle. He began to style himself William Turner of Wellsington, thus
24 The hand-written original Hiram Beckwith received from S. A. Gibson is on file at the Chicago
Historical Society. The Fort Wayne Manuscript, Indian Documents 1811-12, Box 197.
giving a fancy name to Wells’s extensive land holdings in Fort Wayne. Turner’s brother,
Robert, married Wells’s widow, Polly Geiger Wells, two years later. William Turner’s
wife Anne, in letters to her sister, expressed dissatisfaction with her life, lamenting
Turner’s frequent absences, his excessive spending, and his drinking. Nevertheless,
Turner managed to be appointed secretary to the Treaty of St. Mary’s in 1818 and Indian
Agent for the Miami shortly after. But this long-sought position was short-lived; in 1820
he was fired for “unsatisfactory conduct” and he died, probably as a direct result of his
heavy drinking, in 1821.25 Like many frontiersmen of his time, Turner was a man on the
make, determined to get what he wanted by whatever means necessary. But did he have
the inside knowledge to write in detail about Miami life and customs?
Based on my study of the documents I believe that, following his marriage to
Anne Wells in 1815, William Turner must have come into possession of a copy of the
Wells manuscript from which the 1820 Western Review articles were drawn. In 1817,
probably in order to enhance his qualifications as Indian Agent, he claimed authorship for
himself, revising phrasing, correcting diction, and changing details for the purpose of
publication. Then, some time between 1817 and his own death in 1821, Turner,
apparently made a few further revisions, cutting and tightening the prose, and it was this
manuscript that, some sixty years later, was rescued by S. A. Gibson, sent to Hiram
Beckwith, and published as The Fort-Wayne Manuscript.26
25 Maryilyn V. Wendler, The Kentucky Frontiersman, The Connecticut Yankee and Little Turtle’s
Granddaughter: A Blending of Cultures (Maumee, 1997) has information on William Wells’s children,
including William Turner’s marriage to Anne, 40-63. Wells Family Papers, Fort Wayne Historical Society,
and the Wolcott Family Files, Maumee Valley Historical Society, Maumee, Ohio.
26 A comparison of the hand-written versions of the Turner manuscript and the FWM yields inconclusive
results. In my amateur opinion, the calligraphy is similar but not exactly the same; and neither provides a
perfect match with Wells’s handwriting in his letters to the Secretary of War, circa 1812. The essential
issue, of course, is to establish that Wells was the author of the original manuscript published in The
Western Review and that he knew a great deal about the Miami Indians.
My goal in the pages that follow is to make available Wells’s original manuscript,
which contains historically significant information and should be of value to anyone
interested in the Miami Indians and early Indiana history. To this end, I have copied
Wells’s two essays that appeared in The Western Review. When they add useful
supplementary information, which may also have come originally from Wells, I have
included selected paragraphs from the Turner manuscript of 1817 (indicated by { }
marks) and the FWM (within bracket [ ] marks), and inserted explanatory footnotes for
Reading these materials together, and tentatively ascribing their common source
to Wells, improves our understanding of Indian-White relations in early Indiana in
several ways. The first part of Wells’s account is illuminating in relation to Indian
battles, especially those of the 1790s that Wells participated in; the second part on
“Manners and Customs” richly supplements C. C. Trowbridge’s seminal document,
Meearmeear Traditions, by providing first-hand observations of how the Miami lived in
the late 18th and very early 19th centuries. Wells’s knowledge was based on his life
among them from 1784 to 1792, as well as on his subsequent twenty years of service
mainly at Fort Wayne. Trowbridge’s account relied almost exclusively on his interviews
with two elderly chiefs, Le Gros (Le Gris?) and Jean Baptiste Richardville (Peshewa, the
Wildcat), during the winter of 1824-25. Therefore, when the two accounts conflict,
Wells’s statements might be more dependable than those found in Trowbridge, since the
Miami were suffering considerable dissolution at the time of his interviews and his
informants were very old. Le Gros, for example, says that nowadays “Children abuse
27 References in the footnotes to Turner refer to the 1817 version, not the FWM, although he is the assumed
“author” of both versions, which were based on Wells’s original manuscript. I do not attempt a study of all
the variants between the two Turner versions, since that is of secondary importance.
their parents and very often when intoxicated, beat them,” and “now nothing is more
common, particularly when they are drunk, to abuse & sometimes beat their wives.”28 On
the other hand, Meearmeear Traditions has much more information on women than does
Wells’s account; it includes details on the role of women chiefs, females going on the
warpath, mourning rituals, adoption ceremonies, the naming of children, courtship rituals
and marriage practices, women’s work, as well as the men known as “White Faces,” who
assumed the roles of women—material covered only sketchily by Wells.29 On the other
hand, unlike Trombridge, Wells’s provides a brief discussion of the various battles the
Indians fought against the Americans. He estimates the Indians killed in each combat
and emphasizes the importance of Little Turtle’s military leadership. Obviously, the
advantage of a recovered and more accurate version of what was known, if at all, as The
Fort-Wayne Manuscript, is that scholars of the period now have these two invaluable
sources to consult when they study Miami history and culture during this fascinating
period. William Wells was there, and he knew what he was talking about.
Indian History
From the Manuscript of William Wells30
The French was the first nation of white people that ever was known among the
north western Indians. When the British and French commenced a war against each other
28 MT, 40, 47.
29 MT, 14-15, 17, 26, 29, 32, 36, 37-8, 44-45, 46-48, 68.
30 This title appeared at the head of the essay; The Western Review and Miscellaneous Magazine (May
1820), pp. 201-04, edited by William Gibbes Hunt and published in Lexington, KY.
in North America, the north western Indians joined the French, and several of the six
nations joined the British.31 My knowledge of the actions that were fought between them
is derived from the old Indians whom I have conversed with on that subject, and is
perhaps not to be depended on.
After the British got possession of this country from the French, a Tawway chief,
by the name of Pantaock,32 renewed the war against them, and took in one day all the
posts that were occupied by them on the Lakes and their waters, Detroit excepted, by
stratagem. After this, in 1774, the war broke out between the north western Indians and
the Whites. The principal action that was fought between the parties was at the mouth of
the Great Kanhaway.33 There were three hundred Shawanees and Delawares, and a few
Miamies, Wyandots, and Mingoes, commanded by the celebrated Shawanee chief, called
Comstock. This was the war which ended at the treaty of Greenville.34 Although, at
different times, individual nations of Indians would treat, or pretend to do so, with the
Americans, it was only a temporary thing, for it frequently happened, while a party of
Indians was treating with the whites, that some of their own people would be killing those
with whom their chiefs were treating.35
31 The Six Nations, or Iroquois, whose territory covered upstate New York west of the Hudson, consisted of
the Mohawk, Onondaga, Oneida, Cayuga, Seneca, and Tuscarora.
32 Pontiac was an Ottawa chief and the coordinated Indian attacks in 1763 on British frontier posts were
largely a response to Indian resentment that their principle partners in the fur trade would no longer be the
French, who understood their customs better than the British. White, The Middle Ground; Gregory Evans
Dowd, War under Heaven: Pontiac, The Indian Nations & The British Empire (Baltimore, 2002).
33 Lord Dunmore’s War of 1774 had its origins in the cold-blooded killing of Chief Logan’s relatives near
Mingo’s Bottom on the Ohio River. In retaliation, Logan’s men raided the settlers in the area. At the battle
of Point Pleasant, 10 October 1774, the Shawnee Chief, Cornstalk, was heard urging his warriors to “Be
strong! Be strong!” This hard-fought struggle, which lasted much of the day, was decisive in terms of the
settlement of Kentucky. The site of the battle is near where the Kanawha empties into the Ohio. Reuben
G. Thwaites and Louise P. Kelley, eds., Documentary History of Lord Dunmore’s War (Madison, 1905).
34 The Treaty of Greenville was signed in the summer of 1795; Wells apparently saw the war for the West
as a sustained twenty-year struggle, which, following a period of peace, was then renewed by Tecumseh.
35 The Treaty of Paris, 3 Sept. 1783, which marked the end of the American Revolution, considered the
Indian allies of the British as defeated peoples, although no chiefs were consulted or present. When they
learned the terms, the Indians of the Midwest took great offense, because they had more than held their
own against the Americans during the war. Following the war, a series of treaties relating to land along the
The Indians, who opposed General Sullivan, in 1799, were the combined forces of
the Six Nations. Their numbers, and by whom they were commanded, I do not know.36
The Indians that defeated general Crawford at Sandusky were the Wyandots, Delawares,
Shawnees, and a few of the Six Nations or Senecas, Potawatamies, and Ottaways, said to
be eight hundred in number.37 I never heard who commanded them. As the Indians
always keep the number of their killed and wounded as much secret as possible I shall not
undertake to say what number fell in either of the actions above mentioned.
Bowman’s campaign was against the Shawanees, on the Little Miami river. I am
not acquainted with any of the particulars of the action that took place between him and
the Indians.38 My knowledge also of the different campaigns carried on against the
Shawanees on Mad River and Big Miami by general Clark is not to be depended on.39
When general Harmar arrived at the Miami town he sent Colonel Hardin in search
of the Indians with a body of men.40 When he met three hundred Miamies on the head of
Ohio River at forts Stanwix (1784), McIntosh (1785), Finney (1786), and Harmar (1789) were signed by
peace chiefs who often did not speak for the warriors; the Miami did not sign any of the treaties. They did
agree to a treaty with General Putnam at Vincennes in 1792, which recognized the right of individual
Indian nations to sell or not sell their lands, but it was rejected by the United States Senate.
36 The campaign of General John Sullivan of New Hampshire in the summer of 1779 mainly attacked the
Cayuga and Seneca along the Chemung and Genesee Rivers. Captain John Butler of the British Indian
Department and Chief Joseph Brant tried to ambush the Americans and fought several skirmishes with
them, but in their relentless campaign the Americans burned every village they could find and destroyed a
huge quantity of Indian corn. This was a severe blow to the Six Nations, who had for some two-hundred
years often controlled the balance of power between British and French settlers in the Northeast. Colin C.
Calloway, The American Revolution in Indian Country (New York, 1995).
37 Although not present, Colonel William Crawford paid the price for the cold-blooded slaughter of at least
90 Moravian Indians at Gnadenhutten, Ohio, 8 March 1781, by David Williamson’s militia from Western
Pennsylvania; Crawford was his superior officer and George Washington’s land agent in the Ohio country.
Crawford was captured and then tortured to death on 11 March 1782. Frederick Drimmer, ed., Scalps and
Tomahawks (New York, 1961), 119-141.
38 John Bowman and three-hundred Kentuckians attacked Blackfish’s village, Old Chillicothe, on 29 May
1779. The Shawnee chief was mortally wounded in the battle; the Americans lost ten men.
39 George Rogers Clark, born 19 Nov. 1752 in Albermarle Co., VA., led two attacks against Shawnee
villages in Ohio. In August 1780 Clark’s men burned Old Chillicothe and then sacked Pekowi and
Kispoko Town on the Mad River. In November of 1782, Clark’s Kentuckians attacked and burned New
Chillicothe on the Big Miami River and several other Shawnee towns in the vicinity. John Bakeless,
Background to Glory: The Life of George Rogers Clark (Philadelphia, 1957).
40 Wells’s account of Harmar’s Defeat, 19-22 October 1790, is especially valuable; he probably had first-
hand knowledge of what happened. When General Harmar and over 1,000 men arrived at Kekionga on
Eel River, commanded by the celebrated Miami Chief, Little Turtle, an action took place,
the whites were defeated, and the Indians had one man killed and two wounded. The
Indians that fought the troops under the command of colonel Harmar, in the Miami
Town, were the three hundred above mentioned, and commanded by the same chief; also
a body of five hundred Indians, composed of Shawanees, Delawares, Chippeways,
Potawatamies, and Ottaways. The Shawanees were commanded by their own chief, Blue
Jacket; the Delawares by Buckingeheles; and the Ottaways and Chippeways by
Agaskewah, an Ottaway chief. The Indians say they had fifteen killed and twenty five
wounded.41 General Scott’s campaign was against the Weas’ Town on the Wabash,42
where he met with little or no opposition, as the warriors of the Weas expected that he
was going against the Miami Town, and had all left their own village to meet him at that
place. Eight men and two women were killed by the troops under General Scott. The
number of women and children, taken prisoner by him at the Weas, I do not remember.
General Wilkinson’s campaign was against the Eel-River town,43 where there
were but a few women and children, ten old men, and three young ones who made no
defense; four men and one woman were killed, the number of women and children taken
October 18th, they found the extensive Miami settlement abandoned and the log buildings on fire.
Assuming that the Indians had fled in panic, on the next day John Hardin led 150 Kentucky militia and 50
regulars toward the Eel River in search of stragglers; instead they were ambushed by Little Turtle, whose
small village was nearby, and lost about 60 men. Three days later Harmar stopped his homeward march to
send 400 men to attack the Indians who had returned to Kekionga, but he was outsmarted once again by
Little Turtle, reinforced by Blue Jacket’s Shawnee and Buckongahelas’s Delaware warriors. In this even
larger defeat Harmar lost at least another 120 men. Wells’s account reaffirms that Little Turtle was a
master at improvising on the spot. Sword, Washington’s Indian War; Eid, “Two Defeats.”
41 Turner’s account expands the Indian casualties to 25 killed and 50 wounded.
42 On 1 June 1791, General Charles Scott and his Kentuckians attacked Ouiatenon, the main Wea town near
present-day Lafayette, Indiana, and the Kickapoo village on the opposite bank of the Wabash; they killed
about forty Indians in all and took many women and children captive.
43 On 7 August 1791, a Kentucky force led by the notorious General James Wilkinson attacked
Kenapakomoko (Snake-fish Town) where Wells was brought as a captive in 1784 and adopted by The
Porcupine, peace chief of the village. Among the thirty some prisoners taken captive by Wilkinson were
Wells’s Indian wife and his young son. Wells helped negotiate their release at a treaty, arranged by Rufus
Putnam in Vincennes in 1792; this ultimately resulted in Wells deciding to return to the American side.
not recollected. In the autumn of 1790, an army of Indians, composed of Miamies,
Delawares, Shawanees, and a few Potawatamies, three hundred in number, commanded
by Little Turtle, attacked Dunlop’s Station, on the Big Miami River. This Post was
commanded by lieutenant Kingsbury.44 The Indians had ten killed and the same number
There were eleven hundred and thirty three Indians in the army which defeated
general St. Clair in 1791. The number of different tribes is not recollected. Among them
were Miamies, Potawatamies, Ottaways, Chippeways, Wyandots, Delawares, Shawanees,
and a few Mingoes and Cherokees.45 Each nation was commanded by its own Chief, and
the Chiefs appeared to be all governed by Little Turtle, who made the arrangement for the
action and commenced the attack with the Miamies under his immediate command. They
had thirty killed, and, it is believed, fifty wounded.46
In the autumn of 1792, an army of three hundred Indians, under the command of
Little Turtle, composed of Miamies, Delawares, Shawanees, and a few Potawatamies,
attacked colonel John Adair under the walls of fort St. Clair, where they had two men
44 Dunlap’s Station was a ten-cabin settlement defended by a low palisade and blockhouses. Lt. Jacob
Kingsbury commanded fewer than forty able-bodied men. On 8 January 1791 the Indians captured Abner
Hunt, but failed to set the station on fire with flaming arrows. After a siege of some twenty-four hours the
warriors tortured Hunt to death and left. Whether Little Turtle or Blue Jacket or someone else was the
commander during this failure to take such a small fort is in dispute. Sugden, Blue Jacket, 110-111.
45 The site of St. Clair’s Defeat is present-day Fort Recovery, Ohio. St. Clair’s force camped for the night,
mistakenly thinking they were a day’s march away from Kekionga. Wells participated in the battle; his
sharpshooters concentrated on killing the army’s artillerymen. At dawn on 4 November 1791, Little Turtle
attacked the Kentucky militia, who fled in panic into the main camp, causing general confusion. The rest
of the Indians, led by their war chiefs, attacked from all sides, throwing back various counterattacks before
overrunning the American position. Remnants of St. Clair’s men broke through a thin place in the Indian
encirclement and retreated pell-mell to Fort Washington in Cincinnati. Official casualties were 632 killed
and 264 wounded, which represented two thirds of St. Clair’s more than 1,000 regulars and 200 militia. An
estimated one-hundred wagon men and female camp followers were also killed. This is the biggest victory
the Indians ever won against the United States Army. Sword, Indian War; Eid, “St. Clair’s Defeat.”
46 Turner expands this figure to 40 killed and 75 wounded.
47 On 6 November 1792, Colonel John Adair and about 100 men were ambushed near Fort St. Clair; most
of Adair’s men fled back to the fort, and Little Turtle’s men captured over 150 horses. Six soldiers were
On the 30th of June 1794, an army of Indians, composed of Ottaways,
Chippeways, Miamies, Wyandots, Pottowatamies, Shawnees, and Delawares, with a
number of French and other white men in the British interest, attacked Fort Recovery.48
The Indians were commanded by the Bear Chief, an Ottaway. The white men attached to
the Indian army, it is said, were commanded by Elliott and M’Kee, both British officers:49
the garrison was commanded by captain Gibson, of the fourth sublegion. The Indians
have told me repeatedly that they had between forty and fifty killed, and upwards of one
hundred wounded, a number of whom died. This was the severest blow I ever knew the
Indians to receive from the whites. The Indians that fought general Wayne on the 20th of
August were an army of eight hundred, made up of Wyandots, Chippeways, Ottoways,
Delawares, Shawnees, Miamies, and Potawatamies, with a number of white traders from
Detroit. The Indians were governed by British influence, and had no commander of their
own; consequently they made but little resistance. It is said they had twenty-four killed
and fifteen wounded.50 This battle was what may be called the finishing blow, as no
action of consequence has taken place between the whites and Indians since that time.
killed, including Colonel Richard Taylor, father of Zachary Taylor. Years later Little Turtle met Adair in
Frankfort, Kentucky, and Little Turtle jokingly reminded him, “A good general is never taken by surprise.”
Calvin M. Young, Little Turtle: The Great Chief of the Miami Nation (Greenville, 1917), 67.
48 Following their great victory of 4 November 1791, the Indians hid the cannon they had captured nearby.
When Wells switched sides and became a scout for General Anthony Wayne, he pointed out where several
of the cannon were hidden; these became a crucial part of the defenses of Fort Recovery, which was built
on the site of the battle and placed under the command of Capt. Alexander Gibson. In spite of Little
Turtle’s advice to ambush only wagon supply trains traveling between American outposts, the Lake Indians
led by the Bear Chief of the Ottawa insisted on attacking the fort, 30 June 1794, and suffered a costly
defeat that undercut the entire Indian effort to resist the advance of Wayne’s well-trained Legion.
49 Matthew Elliot and Alexander McKee, both of whom were married to Shawnee women, had great
influence with the Indians of the Northwest Territory and encouraged them to resist the Americans.
Larry L. Nelson, A Man of Distinction Among Them: Alexander McKee and the Ohio Frontier, 1754-1799
(Kent, 1999); Reginald Horsman, Matthew Elliott: British Indian Agent (Detroit, 1964).
50 Wells, as head spy for General Anthony Wayne, played a prominent role in this campaign. Blue Jacket
had replaced Little Turtle as the commander of the Indian force, and he made the decision to place his
warriors among fallen timber left by a tornado. This fortified position limited the Indians’ ability to
maneuver against Wayne’s bayonet charge, and support from British troops in nearby Fort Miami never
materialized. Although Indian losses were low, the defeat was decisive. Sugden, Blue Jacket, 172-187.
51[The Indians that fought the troops under the command of Governor Harrison,
on the 7th of November, 1811, were composed of Shawanoes, Puttawatamies, Kickapoos,
Wyndbagoes, Taways, and a few Muscoes, amounting in all to one hundred and fifty,
agreeable to the most correct information that could be procured from the Indians that
were in the action. The Indians lost twenty-five men killed in the action. The number of
wounded has not been ascertained. This is the last action that was fought between the
Indians and the whites.52 The Indians and whites lived in peace and friendship from the
treaty of Greenville, which was held in 1795, until the first raising of the Shawanoe
Prophet, which was in 1807, from that time until the 7th November, 1811, the time that
the Prophet’s followers fought the troops under the command of Governor Harrison; that
treacherous and nefarious scoundrel has been fostered by the British Government, and
caused a considerable number of the North-Western Indians to be unfriendly toward the
United States, and occasionally committed depredations of murder on our Western
There was not always a separate cause for each campaign of the Indians against
the whites. The war, which began in 1774, caused by the ill-treatment the Indians
received from the whites on the frontiers of the white settlements, was continued by the
Indians owing to the great influence the British had among them. This influence was
kept up by the large supplies of arms and ammunition the Indians received from the
51 This paragraph appears in Turner and the FWM, but not Wells’s published account of 1820. The
heightened rhetoric and different spellings of tribal names suggest that Turner embellished a sketchy
account left behind by Wells, perhaps as an addendum to his original manuscript. Wells was not present at
Tippecanoe, but his brother Sam led the Kentucky militia. The statement of 150 warriors involved, while
lower than most estimates, is supported by some Indian testimony. Sugden, Tecumseh, 231-232.
52 When Tecumseh went South to recruit more men, Harrison moved against Tippecanoe, or Prophetstown,
where the Shawnee Prophet held sway. Although Tecumseh had instructed his brother to avoid hostilities,
when Harrison’s force of about 1,000 men arrived, the Prophet told his men that they would be victorious if
they attacked at night and killed Harrison. After several hours of fierce fighting in the dark, the Indians
were defeated and dispersed and Harrison burned the town. It is revealing of Turner’s limited expertise
that he made no effort to up-date Wells’s manuscript by adding information about the War of 1812.
British Government every year. From this it is evident that if the United States had got
possession of the posts on the Lakes, which the British Government agreed to deliver up
to them in 1783, there would have been no Indian war after that time.53
Indian Manners and Customs
The Miami Nation is composed of the oldest inhabitants of this country. Whence
they emigrated is not known. The Eel River tribe, the Weas, Piakishaws and Kaskaskias,
are branches or tribes of the Miami nation, and all speak one language.54 The Delawares
emigrated to this country from the east and are called by the other Indians Elinohbah, or
people from the sun rise. The Shawnees came from the west or from Florida. The
Wyandots, Chippewas, Ottowas, Pottawatamies, and Kickapoos emigrated from the north
and north west. The Winnebagoes and Melomanees, who inhabit the west side of Lake
Michigan, emigrated from the west, the Sacks, Foxes, Jawwees, Emassalees, and
Nawtowessees, also from the north West.
Though there is a great difference in the languages of these Indians, there is but
little difference in their customs and manners. They are warm friends and determined
enemies: they will go great lengths to serve their friends, and equally far to punish their
53 According the Treaty of Paris, the British were to cede their frontier forts and the Americans were to
compensate the Tories for their lost property. Both sides reneged on the agreement. For the tendency of
Americans to blame all their troubles with the Indians on the British, see Owens, Mr. Jefferson’s Hammer.
On 14 September 1793 Wells reported to Wayne that the Indians would have sought peace that summer had
it not been for British Agent Alexander McKee. During his period as Indian Agent, Wells’s letters to the
Secretary of War frequently cited “the intrigues of British agents.”
54 Turner says, “…with a slight variation speak the same language,” 39. He also identifies where the
various tribes are located, circa 1817, although he mistakenly places the Miami on the Wabash and
Mississippi, when he probably means the Mississinewa River. Trowbridge in his prefatory letter to
General Lewis Cass notes that, “the Miamies understand perfectly the Kaskaskias, Peorias, Weas &
Piankeshaws, because these tribes have all descended from them,” 2.
enemies. The men are trained to hunting and war, whilst all the menial work is left for
the women.
Each nation is divided into villages, and each village has one or more chiefs
according to its size, who keep their servants in order by persuasion, as arbitrary power is
never used except in cases of murder.55 There are but few chiefs whose influence extends
farther than among the people of their respective villages.
The bodies of the children, both male and female, are early inured to hardships by
their being compelled to fast and to bathe their bodies every day in cold water. The time
a child must fast is regulated by age. Thus a child of eight years old will fast half a day
and one of twelve or more will go without food and drink all day. The child, while it is
fasting, has its face blacked and is made to wash before eating. The face of the male is
blacked all over; that of the female on the cheeks only. The male quits this practice at the
age of eighteen years, and the female at the age of fourteen. When the boy arrives at the
age of eighteen, it is said by his parents that his education is complete and that he is old
enough to be a man. His face is then blacked for the last time; he is taken a mile or two
from any house, where he has a small hut built for him out of bushes or weeds. After this
he is addressed by his father or guardian in the following words: “My son, it has pleased
all the great spirits that dwell above the skies and those that dwell on the earth that you
should live to see this day, they have all seen your conduct since I first blacked your face:
they know whether you have at all times strictly adhered to the advice I have given you;
and I hope they will reward you accordingly. You must remain here until myself or some
other friend shall come for you.” The man then returns home, takes his gun, and goes
55 I don’t think Wells is referring exclusively to slaves here, although he once brought Little Turtle a slave
from Kentucky. Trowbridge mentions that prisoners were sometimes given to chiefs as slaves, MT, 24.
hunting while his son is left five or six, and sometimes eight days without any thing to eat
or drink. When the father has procured meat for a feast, he invites some of his
neighbours to come and partake of what he has: they accompany him to where his son
has been for days; the boy is taken home and bathed in cold water, his head shaved all
over except a small part on the top. Food is then given him which had been prepared in a
separate vessel for that purpose. After he has done eating, a looking glass and a bag of
vermillion or paint are given him.56 He is then told by the company that he is a man and
he is ever afterwards considered as such by the people of the village. Immediately after
an Indian boy’s face is blacked, which is at day break, he takes his bow and goes to the
woods and does not return until the usual time for him to wash his face and get something
to eat.
I have frequently accompanied Indian boys when their faces were blacked and I
never knew a single instance of their eating or drinking while they were in that situation
or without the knowledge of their parents. Their minds are operated on by fears: they are
made to believe that if they should eat or drink with their faces blacked it would be
followed by immediate punishment from the great spirits who watch strictly over their
57{When a female arrives at the age of puberty, which is generally from thirteen to
fifteen years after birth, and her monthly discharges or cattenenia commences, she is
separated from the family, and a small hut is built for her some distance from the house
56 Trowbridge discusses face painting and vision quests in less detail than Wells, MT, 56, 67-8, but he does
concur that “This change of the paints is considered an important era in the life of an Indian,” 68.
57 The next four paragraphs are from Turner’s 1817 manuscript; they also appear, with variations, in the
FWM, but not in the version published in 1820. It’s possible that this material was in Wells’s original
version, but was omitted by his publisher, or that it was added later by Turner. Whatever the source, it is
worth including because it appears to offer relatively valid information about Miami female customs.
Trowbridge provides no comparable information on the taboos related to the menstrual cycle.
where her parents reside. She is put in the hut prepared for that purpose where she
remains until the menstrual discharge ceases, during which time but a small quantity of
nutriment is allowed, and no person is permitted to visit or associate with her.
During this state of nature call, her provisions are prepared in a separate dish at a
fire made for that purpose. Her clothing and cooking utensils during this time are
considered unclean, and after this call of nature ceases, she is directed to bathe herself in
cold water; after which a sweat house is prepared; she is taken into it by her mother, or
some female friend, and is scarafyed on her legs and arms with a sharp flint; after this
operation is over they conceive her system perfectly purified, she is then admitted into
the family as purified for association. This practice prevails and is strictly adhered to by
the females of all ages.
It is from these early habits, that the system of the Indians are prepared to endure
the fatigues, hardships, and inclemencies to which they are always subject.
If a female is pregnant when traveling, and her time of parturition comes on, she
will at the call of nature stop at the first convenient stream or pool of water, where she
will be delivered; she will then wash her child in cold water, and wrap it in her blanket, or
any old cloths she may have: she will then wash herself, and in two hours, be prepared to
proceed on her journey.}
Polygamy is permitted among the Indians.58 A man may have as many wives as
he pleases, and young men are instructed by their parents to get as many as they can, but
by no means to involve themselves or friends in any quarrels with their neighbours. The
marriage ceremonies observed among the Indians are of three different sorts. 1st. When
58 Trowbridge discusses courtship and marriage, MT, 41-46, noting that “An Indian is allowed to have as
many wives as he can maintain,” 43, adding that one of his informants, Le Gros, “once knew a woman to
have two husbands at the same time and to live with them both happily,” 44.
the parties can agree, no farther ceremony is necessary. 2nd, when a young man is fond of
a young woman, and she will not consent to have him unless he first obtains the consent
of her parents, which must be attempted by a present suited to the character and condition
of the girl. If the present is received the marriage is completed; if it is returned, it is
understood that they will not consent to a match. But the third mode is considered the
most honorable, and most binding upon the parties concerned. When an Indian has a son
whom he wishes to see married to some good woman, he assembles his friends and
relations and advises with them what woman his son shall marry. When a choice is
made, the relations of the young man collect what presents they think sufficient for the
occasion, go to the parents of the intended bride, make their wishes known, leave the
articles they take with them, and return without waiting for an answer.
The relations of the girl then assemble and consult on the subject, and, if they
agree to the match, they collect suitable presents, dress the girl in her best clothes, and
take her to those who made application for the match, when it is considered that the
marriage is completed. If on the contrary she or her friends disapprove the match, the
presents from the friends of the young man are returned, which is considered a refusal.
When an Indian wishes to go to war, he informs one or two of his most intimate
friends of his intention, and asks them if they will go with him. The party is then made
up by their informing as many as they wish. Their intentions are kept a secret from all
others, as the man who is to command wishes to have those only who will at all times
cheerfully obey his orders. The party always leaves the villages in the night secretly.
When they encamp the captain places the oldest in front and the youngest in the rear.
The former do all the hunting for the party and keep a strict watch for the enemy: the
latter cook, make fires, and mend the moccasons of the party.59
Every war party has a small budget called the war budget,60 which contains
something belonging to each of the party, and representing some animal, as for example,
a snake’s skin, a buffalo’s tail, a wolf’s head, a mink’s skin, or the feathers of some
extraordinary bird. This budget is considered sacred, and is carried by some person
chosen for that purpose, who always marches in front, and leads the party to the enemy.
He is never passed on the march by any of the party, while he has the budget on his back.
When the party halts, the budget is laid on the ground in front of them, and no person is
permitted to pass it without orders from proper authority. No one is allowed to lay his
pack on a log, nor is any one suffered to talk about home or about women while the party
is going towards the enemy. When a four-legged animal is killed by the party, the heart
is carefully preserved by a person appointed for that purpose. When they encamp, a fire
is built by the side of the war budget, and the heart of the animal slain is cut up into small
pieces and burnt. The sticks intended to roast meat on are formed with a slit, in which the
meat is placed: the other end being sharpened for the purpose of sticking them in the
ground.61 No person is allowed to step across the fire: every one must go round it and
always in the same direction with the sun.
59 Wells went on the warpath with the Miami in the late 1780s. Trowbridge adds that the elder men camp
on the south side of the fire and are called “Those who are respected,” while the young men sit on the
opposite side and are called “Those who respect,” 20.
60 Turner says “a war budget is formed of a leather bag,” p. 51. Trowbridge states that “They always march
in single file and never pass the carrier of the medicine bag,” 20. He even cites rare instances where a
female seeking to avenge the death of her friends is allowed to carry the war bundle, 26.
61 Turner elaborates, “The stick is pealed, sharpened at one end only, it is then split half its length, in which
split the meat is placed and the sharp end of it stuck in the ground for the meat to cook. They never cook
the meat entirely done on their march towards the enemy; as they conceive that more blood they eat, the
more heroic and vicious they will be in battle,” p. 52.
When the enemy is to be attacked the war budget is opened, and each man takes
out his emblem and ties it to that part of his body directed by his ancestors. An Indian
when he attacks his enemy is generally nearly naked, and his body is painted with
different colours, commonly red. After the action is over, each person returns his war bag
to the commander of the party, who wraps them all up carefully and gives the budget to
the man who has taken the first prisoner or scalp and he is entitled to the honor of leading
the party home in triumph. The war budget is then hung in front of the door of the person
that carried it on the march against the enemy, where it is left hanging for thirty or forty
days, and some one of the party sings and dances near it. When the man who
commanded thinks proper, he assembles the party and a feast is prepared for the people
of the village, who sing and dance all night. Those of the party who injured the enemy
most serve out the feast to the people. The war budget is then opened by the man that
commanded, each of them takes his war bag, and the party is dissolved.
Every Indian has one or more of the skins or images, which are called in Miami
Corpennah,62 and which they continually worship. They say that when the creator
formed them he gave them those things, and told them that if they would worship them,
they would live to an old age and be happy. Some member of every family therefore
worships these instruments regularly every month, sometimes oftener, by preparing a
kettle full of victuals and a few pipes of tobacco, and singing all night the songs he has
been taught by his ancestors, which may be called religious songs. He invites his
neighbors to come and eat the victuals, and when they are assembled states the cause of
his calling them together, after which they proceed to eating with a great deal of
ceremony. Each person throws a little of the victuals into the fire before he puts any in
62 Turner spells this word “Corpenyomer”; it is also spelled that way in the FWM.
his mouth. Few Indians will give an opinion respecting a future state of existence. They
say that those things are only enquired after by fools and white men. Some of them have
told me that there were two other worlds to which the ghosts of this world go; one the
place of residence of the great and good spirit, and the other that of the bad, that the
ghosts of good men live with the good spirit and the ghosts of bad men with the bad
spirit.63 When asked what qualities are necessary for a good man, they would reply, to be
a good father, a good husband, a good warrior, and a lover of his nation.64 The Indians
generally appear to care but little about a future state of existence and only appear to be
anxious to live to old age. When an Indian dies, his relations black their faces and fast
for a certain time fixed by the head of the family. The neighbours assemble and bury the
dead, after which the heads of those families who are friendly towards the family of the
deceased take some article of clothing and go and address the friends of the deceased in
the following words: “Friends, we are sorry that it has pleased the great spirit to call one
of your family from you, but this is not uncommon among us people of this world. Our
friend is only going on his journey a few days before us. We have come therefore to
invite you to mourn no longer, and to cover the body of our departed friend.”65 They then
return, and the articles of clothing they left are preserved for the person that is to be
adopted in the place of the deceased.66
63 Trowbridge states that “They do not universally believe in the existence of a Supreme and ordinary
deities, as do the other Indians,” MT, 53. As to the afterlife, he finds that “They entertain no doubt of a
future state of rewards and punishments, correspondent to their good and evil conduct on this life,” 51, but
he later adds that “They have no ideas respecting a final judgment,” 56.
64 Turner: “I once asked a distinguished chief (the Little Turtle) what he supposed was necessary to
constitute a good man,” p. 44. The FWM adds a “very” distinguished chief without naming him.
65 The phrase “to cover the dead” generally refers to appropriate gifts and rituals at the time of a death.
Trowbridge quotes a similar speech that says the dead go on a journey to the west where they will be joined
“at an appointed time” by the people who are still living, 30-31. On Miami burials, see MT, 30-34.
66 As a captive himself, Wells would know this at first hand; probably he was expected to replace a son of
The Porcupine. Wells would have participated in an adoption ceremony such as he describes.
When an Indian loses one of his friends by death, he believes that if the place is
not supplied by adoption, more of his friends will die.67 Should the deceased be a male,
the most intimate male friend is chosen to fill his vacancy: if a female, her most intimate
female friend is chosen. If the deceased be a person of respectability it frequently
happens that two persons are chosen to fill the vacancy.
When every thing is ready, the person or persons are sent for, and the ceremony
begins. If the deceased were a warrior, the adoption is exhibited by the warriors of the
village who assemble at the house of the deceased, dance the war dance, and sing the war
song in rotation. The warrior goes through all the actions he performed when he was
engaged with his enemy, after which he repeats to the assembly the number of actions he
has been in and the number of scalps he has taken, occasionally giving the same yells and
using the same words he uttered when he was in battle. During all the time there is a
constant yelling of the war whoop by the assembly. When the warrior has gone through
such of his war exploits as he thinks proper, he hands the war club to some other warrior,
and sits down: the other rises and repeats as many of his war exploits as he thinks proper
in the same way, and thus the dance is continued until each warrior of the village is called
on two or three times. The assembly is then dismissed by the speaker of the friends of
the deceased, who declares that their hearts are glad. The person adopted, who during the
dance sits among the relations of the deceased, is then moved by his new relations to a
private room, where he receives every thing that belonged to the deceased, as well as the
articles of clothing that had been received from the neighbours. He is then told that he is
one of the family and is considered as such, and that he is entitled to the same authority in
the nation as the person whose place he fills.
67 Trowbridge discusses adoption ceremonies, MT, 34-37, especially “the Discovery dance,” 34-35.
When a common man, woman, or child dies, the adoption is exhibited by a few
people of both sexes playing some favourite game of the deceased.
When an Indian goes to the grave of his friend or relation he addresses himself to
the grave as though the corpse were living, and relates every misfortune that has
happened in the family since it was buried. He then leaves there a piece of tobacco, some
victuals or spirituous liquors, if he have any, and departs.
The Indians are an indolent people, and are therefore fond of any kind of
amusement that may serve to pass away time and make them merry. They have a variety
of games too tedious to mention,68 and are remarkably honorable in paying their
gambling debts.69 They have a variety of dances. The morning dance begins in the
evening and continues until morning when the feast is served up to the company.
Another dance is performed by a certain society: each member of the society is supposed
to possess secret arts by which he can destroy the life of his neighbours when he pleases,
without its being known to them or any one else. Persons of both sexes are adopted into
this society with a great deal of ceremony.70 When they dance it is common for each
person to have an otter skin. The oldest members place themselves in the middle of the
floor, and the dance begins by their singing the songs of the society: a circle is formed
around the singers and each person commences dancing with his otter skin in his hand.
After a few minutes some one of the company makes a noise like an otter, shakes his skin
68 Turner adds “Their games are cards, Moccasin, shooting, sliding a crooked stick on the snow or ground
throwing a small stick out of the hand, and a variety of others too tedious to mention,” 53-54; and the FWM
notes that “the game of Moccasin is most generally practiced among them,” 94. Trowbridge describes the
moccasin game in detail, which involves competing teams guessing which moccasin hides a bullet, MT, 61.
69 Trowbridge provides descriptions of various Indian games, MT, 59-65, but he does not agree with Wells
that Indians were “honorable” when it came to gambling: “They often bet so high & lose so much that
quarreling & bloodshed are consequences of this game [Bowls], simple as it is,” 60.
70 Trowbridge’s informant, Le Gros, gives an elaborate account of a Medicine Society, sometimes referred
to as a Man-Eating Society, which formerly flourished among the Miami, MT, 77-90.
and walks or dances round the inside of the circle, suddenly making a motion with his
skin at some one of the company, who screams out and falls as if he had been shot. In a
few moments he recovers and in his turn loads his otter skin, pretending to cough up the
ball he was just shot with. When it appears that the ball is in his mouth, he puts the nose
of the otter skin to his mouth and his piece is loaded. He then goes round the circle as
was before done, and shoots any one he pleases.71 In this way the dance is continued for
such a length of time as the managers think proper. No person can quit the dance until it
is broken up by them. The members of this society were formerly much feared by their
neighbours, but are now treated with great contempt.
The begging dance is performed by young men and boys, who dress like warriors
and go about through the village singing war songs and dancing. It is customary for the
heads of families, at whose house they dance, to give them something. This is the dance
they generally exhibit among white people. There are a number of other dances, such as
the bear dance, the turkey dance, the new corn dance, and pipe dance, etc.
72When business of importance comes before an Indian chief, he calls a council of
the heads of each family of his village, and lays the business before them on which he
means to deliberate. An orator then rises, and after stating the importance of the
business, gives his opinion to the council. Should the council concur with him, nothing
more is said, but the council is adjourned by the chief. Should a difference of opinion
prevail among the counselors, the subject is debated by the different parties, if a chief
gives his final answer to any thing that is thought of importance, it is done in the presence
of his councellors. No business is done by him privately. No crime among the Indians is
71 Trowbridge also describes this curious custom, stating that “they go through the ceremony of shooting
each other with skins of animals, as has been seen,” MT, 22.
72 The next three paragraphs are completely missing from Turner and the FWM.
punished with death, excepting murder; in which case the chiefs and old men assemble
and inquire into the nature of the act, and if, after they are informed of the particulars of
the transaction, they are of opinion that the accused acted in his own defense or that there
was something that authorised him to kill the other, they make a present to the friends of
the deceased and tell them they have wiped away the blood, but that if they are the cause
of spilling more blood, the vengeance of the village will fall on them. If, on the contrary,
they find the person has been murdered without cause, they say nothing to his relations,
but leave them to punish the murderer as they think proper, which is generally with death.
The Indians live in villages from April to November, during which time the
women cultivate corn, beans, potatoes, pumpkins, and other common vegetables. The
men seldom assist their women in farming. Little Turtle and a young Weas chief are the
only two Indians that I know of that use the plough. The remainder of the year is spent in
hunting. The Indians appear to decrease in number, particularly those who live nearest
the white settlements, perhaps in consequence of the scarcity of game and their continual
intoxication. The Indians divide the time as the whites do, by moons, and into four
seasons, autumn, winter, spring and summer.73 January is called Buck moon, February
the Bear, March the Young Bear, April the Crow, May the Crane, June the Whippoorwill,
July the Cornhilling moon, August the Roasting Ear, September the Hard Corn, October
the Little Fire, November the Big Fire, and December the Young Buck moon.
The Indians hold property individually, but are not so fond of it as the whites are.
They are much kinder to their neighbors and to strangers than the whites are.
73 Wells and Trowbridge generally agree on the Miami moons, although Trowbridge calls September “Elk”
instead of “Hard Corn” and November “Running moon—for Deer” rather than “Big Fire,” MT, 50.
The Indians have no laws, no coercive power, nor any kind of government. Their
only contracts are their manners and customs, and that moral sense of right and wrong,
which, like the sense of tasting and feeling in every man, makes a part of his nature. An
offence against them is punished with contempt and exclusion from society, Etc.
The Indians believe that the thunder and lightning and other disturbances of the
natural world, are independent and distinct powers or beings, and worship them
The Powwowers or Priests were formerly in high estimation, as it is believed that
they are the agents of the different powers, or great spirits that govern the universe, and
that they have power to kill or cure as they think proper. They generally act as doctors,
and sometimes go through the village early in the morning preaching, and tell the people
what to do during the day.74 They are not so much respected now as they formerly were.
I have never understood that the North Western Indians buried their dead in any other
way, than as at present. Some lay the dead body on the top of the ground, make a crib or
pen over it, and cover it with bark. Others dig graves and lay the corpse in, and cover it
first with bark and then with earth. Others still make a coffin out of strong boards in
which they put the corpse and hang it up in the top of a tree. It is customary to bury as
much of the deceased’s property with the body as can conveniently be put into the grave
with it. [They frequently put a piece of bread or meat and a carrot of tobacco under the
head of the person to be interred, as they believe they will be in need of some refreshment
on their journey. They generally celebrate the death of a distinguished chief or warrior
by drinking, feasting, dancing, and singing.
74 The FWM adds “These supposed inspired beings generally act as doctors, and it is not uncommon for
them to extract a hair ball or the whisker of a bear, a wolf, or a panther, from the body or joint of their
patients (or at least make them believe so)”, 95.
The Indians are subject to all the different diseases that the whites are (the gout
not excepted).]75
75 The bracketed material is in the FWM, but not the 1820 version. Wells may have added this material
following the death of Little Turtle, 14 July 1812, who suffered from the gout. Or Turner, who was a
doctor, may have added it. When told that gout was a gentleman’s disease, Little Turtle replied, “I have
always believed that I was a gentleman.” Young, Little Turtle, 150. A century later, in July 1912, the
grave of Little Turtle was discovered at 634 Lawton Place in Fort Wayne. His grave goods, now on display
at the Fort Wayne History Center, included a dress sword, which was sent to him by President Washington,
and the following items of silver: eight armlets, two anklets, three medals, six pendants, two bead
necklaces, twenty-three crosses, four brooches, and a pair of large ear hoops. Trowbridge notes that “it is
not common to see large quantities of silver works placed in a grave,” MT, 33. Other grave goods included
a pocketknife, a clasp knife, a drinking cup, a spoon, a pair of scissors, a hammer, a gun, a bullet mold, a
pistol, a flint lock, an axe, a tomahawk, a pair of steel spurs, three large skinning knives, a copper kettle, a
flask, and a bottle of vermillion paint. Carter, The Life of Times of Little Turtle, 228-29.
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