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Battle of Fallen Timbers Memorial

Battle of Fallen Timber Memorial (


The Battle of Fallen Timbers Memorial was constructed to honor the American and Native soldier that died in the aforementioned battle. This battle had great significance, for it was the means, by which, the United States was able to lay claim to the territory ceded by the British in the Revolutionary war. The territory, specifically, was Michigan, Indiana, Illinois, and Wisconsin. The land was inhabited by Native Americans and still had British forts scattered throughout. As a new nation, the United States had issues regarding self-governance due to the lack of control over their territory. Also, the United States had issues of debt specifically from the Revolutionary War. Control over these territories was seen as an effective means to increase the wealth of America to pay off those debts. However, the Americans had to deal with the Native Americans who lived in the area[5].

American and Native Interaction:

The American Post-Revolutionary policy towards the Native Americans was a desire to gain the land from Ohio to Mississippi. The Treaty of Paris was interpreted by the Americans to mean that the sovereignty granted by the treaty over the territory eliminated any native claim to the land. The Native Americans of this area lacked any representation at the signing of this treaty, of course. Furthermore, it became apparent to the Americans that the Natives did not recognize the British right to give away Indian lands. With the English leaving the territory, the Natives were in a poor position, for they were left on their own to decide their own individual peace with the United States. This was a complicated issue in the sense that the Native tribes desired a halt to hostilities with the American government; however, the frontiersmen had been pushing further west, and they had their eyes set upon the Ohio valley. The desire to settle this area came from the fact the Ohio Valley is a fertile region, which would bring a great deal of wealth to those who could settle it. In general, the territories west of the 13 states were seen as a means to extinguish the Revolutionary War debt[6].

The first steps in acquiring the land came from Congress on October 15, 1783, by James Duane who was the chairman of the committee on Native Affairs. Congress decided that there would be a convention between representatives of native tribes and the United States. The sentiments of the federal government are summarized well in George Washington’s letter to James Duane,

that after a Contest of eight years for Sovereignty of the Country G: Britain has ceded all the Lands of the United States within the limits discribed by the arte of the Provisional Treaty.[2].

The argument by America was that the Natives fought alongside the British in the revolutionary war and lost. Therefore, they could be rightly removed from the lands since the treaty gave the lands to the United states. What followed from this were a series of treaties that dictated further terms to the Natives. The treaties of Fort Stanwix, Fort McIntosh, and Fort Finney pushed the natives into lands west of Pennsylvania. The attitude at the time was that the Natives were not ceding their lands, but America was taking what was rightfully its own territory.  The three aforementioned treaties created a great deal of tension between the United States and the Natives due to the attitude and dictated terms. The final treaty, the Treaty of Fort Finney, showed the opposition brewing within the Native Tribes. Only the Shawnee tribe attended the signing of the treaty and Chief Kekewepellethe demonstrated a great deal of resistance to the treaty. He told the American Commissioners, “as it the lands, God gave us this country, we do not understand measuring out our lands, it is all ours.” General Richard Butler, a revolutionary general, responded with “this country belongs to the United States – their blood hath defended it, and will forever protect it”[6].

America went to negotiate with Native tribes under the assumption that their taking of lands was retribution for the Native’s role in the Revolutionary War. The Natives, however, were used to having their fertile parts of their lands bought, not completely taken by European powers. Thus, the American policy created serious opposition from the Native tribes such as Miami, Wyandot, Ojibwa, Ottawa, Potawatomi, Mingo, and Shawnee. By 1786 the Shawnee tribe began showing hostility and, with British assistance, they strove to unite Northwestern tribes. The Western Confederacy was formed between these tribes in response to continued white settlement within the Ohio Valley [5].

American Response to Native Resistance:

The federal government found it necessary to wage a war with the Native Americans in order to maintain their claim upon the territory. The Americans made a severe miscalculation of what kind of resistance they would be facing from the Native Confederacy. The Native army was thought of something very small and only capable of conducting small raids against settlers. However, this native force was successful against the federal forces. Thus, early fighting came at a great cost for the United states due to their arrogance. In addition, the defeats only compounded the federal debt problem[6].

The leader of the Miami tribe, Michikinikwa (Little Turtle), led the confederation against the United States. Brigadier General Josiah Harmar was the first to be selected in a series of unsuccessful battles against the Natives. Congress allowed General Harmar’s forces to be close to four hundred men to combat the Natives. Also, Harmar possessed a collection of around 1,200 men from militias around the United States. The next to be chosen to fight the Native Confederacy was Major General Arthur St. Clair who tried to establish a line of forts along the Maumee River and the Auglaize River. Both of these Generals took significant casualties of around eight hundred men in total between the two forces. These two expeditions represented poor military planning on the part of the United states for, the American forces were ill-equipped and poorly trained. Since most of the soldiers primarily consisted of militias and frontiersmen, they had little discipline. This was crucial in the battles because many started with ambushes from Native forces [8].

The early years of this fighting lead to the native Confederacy and the American government to begin peace talks. However, the natives won the series of battles and felt they had an upper hand in dealing with the Americans. The natives were encouraged by these victories to attack settlers leading to an extended period of frustration for the United States. In addition to the native problem, the United States had to factor in that Europe still had interests in the colonies, especially Britain. If the United States could not defeat native forces, then the British might have been emboldened to actively fund resistance against the Americans. This could have led to the United States losing control over the land granted to them by the Treaty of Paris. Congress was especially determined to prevent the British from gaining control over the ceded territories. In early 1792, General Anthony Wayne, a revolutionary war hero, was tasked to build an army and effectively dismantle Native resistance in the region [8].

In response to the defeats of St. Clair and Harmar, General Anthony Wayne noted there was a distinct lack of disciple and experience in the soldiers utilized in the expeditions. Thus, he spent the next few years during the peace talks training an effective fighting force. Once peace talks fell apart, the Natives now faced an army of around 4,500 professionals forming the Legion of the United States.  Wayne’s forces were lead into the Ohio Valley where they defeated Native forces at Fort Recovery, which was where St. Clair was defeated only a few years prior. General Wayne led his forces onwards leading to a series of victories against the Native Confederacy. On August 20th, 1794, General Anthony Wayne marched from his forces from the fort at Roche De Bout towards Maumee, Ohio. In the previous week, a tornado went through that area of Ohio leading to a large amount of fallen timber strewn about the area[4].

The Battle of Fallen Timbers:

After a five-mile march, a small volunteer force of mounted men was sent forward. These volunteer men faced an army of around one thousand five hundred warriors from the Native Confederacy. The Natives took up defensive positions behind the fallen trees from the previous week’s tornado, which lead to the battle being called the Battle of Fallen Timbers. The volunteers withdrew facing an overwhelming force and retreated behind the legion’s front line. The natives pursued the retreating volunteers[1].

At the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Wayne commanded a force of around 2,000 professionals along with a small group of Choctaw scouts and militia volunteers. The front guard of Wayne’s forces faced significant fire while concealed natives pressed an attack on Wayne’s right flank. The Right flank broke the Native’s attack, and Wayne’s left flank pressed into the Native forces leading to a large amount of casualties for the Indians. In addition, Wayne’s cavalry rallied and outflanked the Native forces leading to a retreat of the Indians [1].  The battle was fairly short since it lasted under an hour. The Native confederacy lost around 200 warriors, while General Wayne lost only 33 men. Thus, the Americans gained a decisive victory over the Native Confederacy [7].

The Aftermath

Following the Battle of Fallen Timbers, major confrontations between the United States and Western Confederacy significantly decreased. No other major battles were fought between the two parties. However, sporadic incursions by small Indian war raids continued even though many chiefs attempted to halt such attacks on white settlements. Nevertheless, these attacks did not influence any of the later negotiations between Americans and Natives. In 1795, all of the hostile tribes in the Western Confederacy came to seek peace with General Anthony Wayne, for the will of the native confederation was broken at the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Two important treaties followed the Indian defeat – Jay’s Treaty, and the Treaty of Greeneville. The British possessed multiple forts in the Ohio valley that inhibited the expansion of the United states into these lands. From Article two of the Treaty of Amity, Commerce and Navigation (Jay’s Treaty):

His Majesty will withdraw all his troops and garrisons from all posts and places within the boundary lines assigned by the treaty of peace to the United States. [3].

Jay’s Treaty forced the British to give up these forts and the Americans soon occupied them granting American control over Ohio. Furthermore, General Wayne used the signing of Jay’s Treaty in his negotiation of the Treaty of Greeneville. Jay’s Treaty was crucial for this because it demonstrated to the natives that they would no longer have any sort of British backing in any further engagements with the United States. It was apparent to the Indian tribes that without European ammunition, food, and other goods they stood no chance against the United States.  In addition, those forts acquired by the United States grant vast control over the Native’s homeland. Thus, any resistance by Indians would be met with ease by soldiers from the forts. Therefore, the natives gave into the demands at the signing of the Treaty of Greeneville fairly easily. The Natives gave up large portions of Ohio, southern Michigan, and large areas around modern Chicago.

The Impact

Ultimately, the Battle of Fallen Timbers proved crucial to the United States. The battle confirmed the dominance over the area ceded by the British in the Revolutionary War. This halted any European ambition into the territories owned by America. Furthermore, the United States was able to combat the debt problem they faced through the settlement of the territory. Finally, the United States was able to weed out a large amount of Native resistance to the settlers in this region. This caused the boundaries of what Natives could defend to be pushed even further westward. Thus, the victory at the Battle of Fallen Timbers allowed for the United States to continue to push westward. In addition to pushing westward, the United States could also push the boundaries northward into western Michigan. With these territorial claims, the United States gained an effective control over a large portion of the Great Lakes.

Primary Sources

1.Clark, William. “William Clark’s Journal of General Wayne’s Campaign.”, Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 1 (1914), pp. 418-444.

2.“From George Washington to James Duane, 7 September 1783,” Founders Online, National Archives, last modified October 5, 2016.

3.Miller, David Hunter. Treaties and Other International Acts of the United States of America. Vol. 2. Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1931.

Secondary Sources

4.Branstner, M. C. (2012). General “Mad” Anthony Wayne and The Battle of Fallen Timbers,4(1), 23-37.

5.Bergmann, W. (2012). The American National State and the Early West,2(1),97-150

6.Horsman, R. (1961). American Indian Policy in the Old Northwest, 1783-1812. The William and Mary Quarterly, 18(1), 35-53.

7.Quaife, M. (1929). General James Wilkinson’s Narrative of the Fallen Timbers CampaignThe Mississippi Valley Historical Review, 16(1), 81-90.

8. Seelinger, Matthew(2014). The Battle of Fallen Timbers, 20 August 1794. The Campaign for the National Museum of the United States Army.

Further Reading