Battle of Miami

Battle of Miami

As settlers pushed further and further into the Pacific Northwest territories, clashes with American Indians increased. On January 2, 1791, the most exposed settlement in Ohio, Big Bottom, was attacked; and all of the settlers, including women and children, were killed. In response, General Washington appointed St. Clair to lead forces to pacify the Indians. The Miami Indians attacked St. Clair and his militia on the banks of the Wabash River. The Indians routed the government forces, who were forced to flee..

The Indians of the Northwest Territory were emboldened at the end of the War Independence by the retention of by the British of their forts in Northern Ohio. The Americans felt that the Indians had lost all their claims to land  thanks to their support for the British.  The Americans however, attempted to reach agreements with the tribes but not all of them were willing to come to an agreement.  Among those who opposed any agreement were the Miami Indians who were determined to drive the White settlers from what they considered their lands.  Throughout the spring and summer of 1790 the Miami Indians partook in scattered attacked throughout Northern Ohio.   The governor of Ohio sent Major John Hamtramck to investigate and gauge the plans of the Miami and the other tribes.  He returned and warned that the tribes were planning to go to war against he settlers. 

The governor of the Ohio territory sent out expeditions under the command of Colonel James Hardin and James Trotter.  The expeditions achieved  little.  The Americans showed themselves to be incompetent and the only thing they accomplished was to burn down some of the tribe’s villages further inflaming the tribes.

The one result of the military action was providing the settlers with a false sense of safety.  As a result they continued to settle.  The most exposed settlement was the settlement of Big Bottom that was 40 miles further upstream then any other settlement.  Eleven families had begun the process of settling the area.  On the night of January 2, 1791 the Miami attacked the settlers, destroyed the settlement and killed all the settlers; men, woman and children.  The massacre became known as the Big Bottom Massacre.

The massacre forced the US government to respond.  President Washington appointed St Clair the governor of the territory to take a force and defeat the Native Americans.   In late September St Claire set off from Cincinnati.  St Claire had twenty three hundred regulars and militia with him.  Along the way St Claire first built Fort Hamilton.  Then forty miles down the Ohio River he built Fort Jefferson.  Finally, after a further ten-day march in which St Claire lost almost half his men through attrition he reached what he thought was the St Mary River.  It was in fact just a branch of the Wabash.  There he spread out his men in search of the Native Americans.  His men reported that the woods were full of warriors.  On the morning of November 4, 1781 the warriors attacked.  The American regulars who outnumbered the Native Americans when the battle began attempted to use conventional tactics, which were not very successful in a battle with Native Americans in the woods.  The Indians were slowly overcoming the Americans and every time they would capture an American they would scalp him in view of those fighting, thus spreading fear among the Americans.  Finally St Claire decided the only American option was to fight there way out of the battle.  St Claire’s forced managed to fight clear of the Indian warriors leaving behind their equipment and their wounded and began a headlong retreat to Fort Jefferson.  They covered in ten hours what had taken them ten days cover the week before.  It was an inglorious defeat for the American Army.