By Jared Olar
Following the conclusion of George Rogers Clark’s Illinois Campaign in 1779 during the Revolutionary War, peace would reign over the wider Illinois Country for the next three decades.
During that period, off to the east the Ohio Country was the theater of numerous battles during the Northwest Indian War, and while Native Americans from Illinois joined in the fighting in Ohio, Illinois itself was not a field of battle.
That long peace, during which several Ohio tribes began cultural accommodation with white Americans, would be broken a mere three years after the 1809 formation of the Illinois Territory, with the outbreak of the War of 1812, at which time war returned to Illinois.
But given the state of affairs in the territories of Indiana and Illinois in the years leading up to the United States’ declaration of war against Britain, it was inevitable that Illinois would also be caught up in bloodshed.
Illinois was caught up in war at that time as a consequence of an important treaty that Indiana Territorial Gov. William Henry Harrison had negotiated with a number of Indian tribes of Indiana and Illinois in 1809 – the same year that the U.S. Congress separated the Illinois Territory from Indiana and erected it as a separate territory.
Throughout his time as territorial governor of Indiana, Harrison had pursued a consistent policy of negotiating treaties to open up more Native American land for European-American settlement. One of the most important of his treaties was the Treaty of Fort Wayne (also known by the nicknames of the Ten O’Clock Line Treaty or the Twelve Mile Line Treaty), initially signed Sept. 29, 1809, only seven months after the Illinois Territory was separated from Indiana.
Through this treaty, the U.S. acquired 3 million acres of land in Indiana and Illinois – but the treaty caused great unrest among the Native American tribes of these territories, soon leading to war. The difficulty was that at the outset, three important tribes, the Kickapoo, the Wea, and the Miami, were absolutely opposed to selling any more of their land near the Wabash River. Contrary to President James Madison’s wishes, Harrison adopted a divisive strategy of making an agreement with tribes who were willing to sell their land, then using their agreement to pressure unwilling tribes to sign the treaty.
Harrison’s strategy was successful – the Pottawatomi persuaded the Miami to sign, Miami Chief Pacanne then persuaded the Wea to sign, and the Wea then persuaded the Kickapoo to sign. Thus the Treaty of Fort Wayne was finalized by the spring of 1810.
However, many of the Shawnee as well as members of different tribes rejected the treaty. In August 1810, a Shawnee chief named Tecumseh, who opposed any further Indian accommodation with white encroachment and aspired to bring about an independent Native American nation in the Old Northwest, brought 400 warriors to a meeting with Gov. Harrison at Vincennes, Ind. At the meeting, Tecumseh pronounced the new treaty to be illegitimate and warned that any attempt by whites to settle the newly acquired lands would be met with war, in which Tecumseh said he would seek an alliance with Britain.
This led to the outbreak of Tecumseh’s War in 1811, a two-year conflict that overlapped with the War of 1812. The most memorable – and first regular battle – of the war was the Battle of Tippecanoe on Nov. 6, 1811. In response to Tecumseh’s plans to wage war, Harrison led an army on a mission to destroy Prophetstown, Ind., capital of Tecumseh’s confederacy. Tecumseh’s brother Tenskwatawa, an influential Indian holy man known as “the Prophet,” then attempted a surprise attack on Harrison’s camp, but Tenskwatawa was defeated, and Harrison’s men destroyed Prophetstown the following day. Harrison’s victory gave him his nickname of “Tippecanoe” – a reputation he would ride all the way to the White House in the presidential election of 1840.
With the aid of British arms, Tecumseh maintained the struggle until he was finally defeated and slain during the War of 1812 at the Battle of the Thames on Oct. 5, 1813, near present-day Chatham, Ontario, Canada. One of the United States’ chief purposes for declaring war on Britain in 1812 was to conquer and annex Canada – the American victory at the Battle of the Thames temporarily gave the U.S. control of western Ontario, and also destroyed Tecumseh’s Indian confederacy. (A warrior who fought alongside Tecumseh at this battle was an Ottawa-born Pottawatomi named Shabbona, who would live for a while at Pekin, Ill., in the latter 1820s.)
With the outbreak of war against Britain and Britain’s Native American allies, Illinois Territorial Gov. Ninian Edwards became convinced that the Indian tribes of Illinois would enter the war on Britain’s side. Edwards came to that conviction following the massacre at the Battle of Fort Dearborn (Chicago) on Aug. 15, 1812, where the Pottawatomi and Winnebago obtained a complete victory and burned down the fort. Among the slain at Fort Dearborn was well-known Indian agent and scout William Wells, an adopted member of the Miami tribe (in which he had the name “Apekonit”), son-in-law of Miami chief Little Turtle who had fought the U.S. during the Northwest Indian War.
Aiming to prevent Native American alliances with Britain, in 1812 Edwards personally led a small force from southern Illinois north to Peoria Lake, attacking and destroying a few Kickapoo and Pottawatomi villages, including villages of Pottawatomi chiefs Gomo and Black Partridge (the latter’s village being located on Peoria Lake in present day Fondulac Township, Tazewell County).
In a second attack, Edwards sent Capt. Thomas Craig to Peoria Lake, where Craig attacked the French settlers and their Native American neighbors and relatives living at La Ville de Maillet (Peoria). Even though the French were U.S. citizens, because they were on good terms with the Pottawatomi Craig claimed they were supplying the Indians with guns – so he set fire to La Ville de Maillet, slaughtering many inhabitants and taking the survivors prisoner, taking them downriver to Alton. These atrocities were later condemned by Congress and the French survivors were compensated for their losses.
Edwards’ unprovoked attacks angered the U.S. government because the Indians of Peoria Lake were considered to be friendly, their chiefs having declined to join Tecumseh’s confederacy (Black Partridge had even helped the Kinzie family escape at the Battle of Fort Dearborn). As a result, the native tribes of this area became hostile to all white settlers, and Gov. Edwards, now out of favor with President James Madison’s administration, found it advisable to move to Kentucky until the end of the war.
The following year, Illinois militiamen and U.S. troops returned to the ruins of La Ville de Maillet, where they drove out all Native Americans and built Fort Clark (named for Revolutionary War hero George Rogers Clark) at what is now the corner of Water and Liberty streets in Peoria. Fort Clark was the nucleus of the present day city of Peoria.
As for Gov. Edwards, once the War of 1812 had ended, he managed to get himself reappointed as Illinois Territorial Governor in 1815. In the next three years, Edwards oversaw the process of turning Illinois from a territory into a state. We’ll tell that story next time.