The Miami Nation was presented to the Fort Wayne Quest Club on October 29, 1993 by William R. Clark: Tecumseh’s power peaked perhaps 15 years after war Chief Little Turtle vowed to make peace. The British allied themselves with Tecumseh, but making war against a vastly superior military force proved to be an exercise in futility. On the other hand, Little Turtle more narrowly focused on the wellbeing and future of his Miami tribe and did not buy into Tecumseh’s view of a collective Native American sovereignty. Tecumseh’s brother, the prophet, was largely responsible for the mystical-religious idea of a collective Indian sovereignty, but that dream ended at the 1811 battle of Tippecanoe and with the British defeat in the war of 1812.
We have no photography or direct portraits of Little Turtle, but the following are excerpts of comments describing him.
The first is by Secretary of War Dearborn in 1809: The Little Turtle exceeds all his brother chiefs in dignity or appearance—a dignity which resulted from the character of his mind. He was of medium stature, with a complexion the shade of pale copper, and did not wear war paint unless at war. His hair was full, without any admixture of gray. His dress was completed by a long red military sash around his waist and his hat was ornamented with a red feather. Immediately upon entering the house he removed his hat and carried it under his arm during the rest of his visit. His appearance and manners, which were admired graceful and agreeable in an uncommon degree, were admired by all who made his acquaintance.
And Indian agent John Johnson: Little Turtle, I consider him the superior to Tecumseh in all essential qualities of a great man—a distinguished orator, councilor and warrior, … as a public speaker I thought him the most animated, graceful and wise of his peers. I had heard his knowledge of the migrations, history, and government, customs, territorial rights of the various tribes was accurate and extensive. In a Council with the commissioners of the U.S., he had not an equal among his people. Governor Harrison often admitted his great tact and talent and the trouble he gave him during the acquisition of Indian lands. His person was of medium size, graceful and well formed, had a peculiar squint of the eyes, when speaking, they flashed with fire, energy and zeal, his gesture was natural, noble and dignified; words flowed like torrents, never embarrassed, or at a loss for words.
It is difficult to leave the story of Little Turtle without further comment regarding the colorful figure of William Wells. Born to white settlers and later raised as a Miami Indian, his life was one of extraordinary contrasts. His activities ranged from that of a war painted warrior engaged in tomahawking white settlers on the frontier to his role of interpreter for Little Turtle in the parlors of three different U.S. Presidents. William Wells was indifferent about his participation in the Miami’s overwhelming victory against St. Claire’s Army at Fort Recovery Ohio that included members of his original Kentucky family. Not long after that Miami victory, he sought and was granted Little Turtle’s approval to become General Mad Anthony Wayne’s chief of scouts in the campaign leading up to battle of the Fallen Timbers and Tecumseh’s defeat. Thereafter he returned to reside in Fort Wayne and worked with his father-in-law (Little Turtle), for peaceful U.S.-Miami coexistence. He was known as a man of action and courage, traits that helped set the stage for his violent end two week’s after Little Turtle’s death. General Harrison asked him to assist the evacuation of Fort Dearborn, site of current day Chicago, back to the relative safety of Fort Wayne.
To be continued…
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