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Battle of Fallen Timbers

Little Turtle relinquished control of the coalition to Blue Jacket, a Shawnee chief who, with 1,500 braves, headed north to a historical confrontation with Wayne at a site on the Maumee River that was strewn with fallen trees, the result of an earlier tornado. Blue Jacket lay in wait for General Wayne. His warriors, traditionally fasting prior to a battle in order to increase their ferocity toward the enemy, would wait, without eating, for three days. Wayne, the brilliant tactician, intentionally delayed his arrival until the primary concern of the Indians became food and nourishment.

It was a rain-dampened morning when the general marched his troops into a prickly thicket of woods along the banks of the Maumee River. The thick brush and thorny branches made it difficult for Wayne’s troops to stay in formation, but the Battle of Fallen Timbers, August 20, 1794, went in favor of the Americans. Retreating from the battlefield, the Indians sought refuge at the nearby British Fort Miami, but the British, not wanting a confrontation with the Americans, refused to open the gate. Before leaving the area, Wayne marched his entire army, in an extremely provocative manner, to the gates of the fort before returning to Fort Defiance.

Some military battle experts proclaim that this was one of the three most critical battles in U.S. history. The victory at Yorkstown achieved the country’s independence from Britain, the Union’s win at Gettysburg established that the states would indeed remain united and General Wayne’s victory assured that the league of 13 colonies would hold together as a country. The battle lasted only one hour and three-fourths of Wayne’s army of 3,700 never entered the skirmish because it was over so quickly.

Tom Lyons, a Delaware Indian, later dramatically told how he had run from the onslaught: "Wayne be great chief. He be one devil to fight. Me hear his dinner horn way over there go ‘Toot, toot;’ then over there go ‘Toot, toot.’ Then his soldiers go forward, shoot, shoot. Indians get out and run. Then come Long Knives with pistols to shoot, shoot. Indians run, no stop. Old Tom see too much fight to be trap. He run into woods. He run like devil. He keep run ‘til he clear out of danger. Wayne great fighter, brave chief. He be one devil."

Today, the destiny of the Fallen Timbers battleground is embroiled in a complicated and lengthy development dispute. What is now recognized as the battlefield is part of a 1,187-acre land tract owned by the city of Toledo. Unaware of its potential historical significance, the city bought the property in 1987 so that an auto plant or luxury mall might be built on the site. There is an ongoing legal argument between the developers, the city and historians as to the future of this battlefield. Heidelberg College’s Michael Pratt, an anthropologist, has assembled an impressive web site that tracks all the latest developments of the battlefield.  It can be seen at http://www.heidelberg.edu/FallenTimbers/.

'Indian' segment written in December, 1997 by David Lodge

 

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