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MICHIKINAKOUA (Michikiniqua, Me-She-Kin-No-Quah, Meshecunnaqua, Little Turtle), Miami war chief; b. mid 18th century, son of Aque-Noch-Quah, a Miami war chief; rumoured to have Mahican or even French blood; m. secondly Polly Ford, a white captive; d. 14 July 1812 at Fort Wayne (Ind.).

Little Turtle first came to white attention at the time of the American revolution. Like other Miami chiefs an ally of the British, in 1780 he led his warriors in the destruction at the Miamis Towns (Fort Wayne) of a force under Augustin Mottin de La Balme, who was attempting to re-establish French control in the Ohio valley. The tribes south of the Great Lakes received their supplies from the British, who after 1780 encouraged the formation of a confederacy to oppose American expansion [see Thayendanegea]. When in spite of official promises American settlers moved north of the Ohio, war parties from the confederacy attacked them. Little Turtle led many such raids and by 1790 had become the leader of the united war parties of the confederacy.

After 1789 the stronger central government created by a new constitution in the United States made possible plans to retaliate against the confederated tribes. Little Turtle led the Indians in two of the three major battles that ensued. In October of 1790 he decimated the forces under Josiah Harmar which had come to attack the Miami, Shawnee, and Delaware villages at the Miamis Towns. Although Harmar burned 300 houses and 20,000 bushels of corn just at the onset of winter, and although smaller American attacks followed, the Indians were not demoralized. In November 1791 near the Miamis Towns Little Turtle inflicted on Arthur St Clair’s expedition losses of 630 killed and 264 wounded, the most casualties ever suffered by Americans in a single offensive against Indians. He is reported to have gone to the Montreal area following this victory in an effort to recruit more Indians for the spring’s campaigning.

British and Indian hopes were now high that the Americans would agree to limit their expansion and allow the formation of an Indian state south of Lake Erie, but the Americans, more determined than ever, were preparing another expedition. Bolstered by inflammatory talk from Lord Dorchester [Guy Carleton] and John Graves Simcoe, which seemed to promise military aid if needed, the confederacy braced itself to meet the army under Anthony Wayne which began advancing in the autumn of 1793. Many residents of the Miamis Towns and vicinity had moved to the Glaize (Defiance, Ohio), farther from the American frontier; Little Turtle himself had left his customary village on the Eel River (Ind.) to live there. After unsatisfactorily harassing Wayne’s lines of supply and communication for months and sounding out the British at Detroit (Mich.) about the possibility of aid, Little Turtle advised the confederacy that more would be gained by negotiating than by fighting. His advice was rejected, and he turned over command to the Shawnee chief Blue Jacket [Weyapiersenwah], retaining only the leadership of his Miami warriors. A few days later, on 20 Aug. 1794, Blue Jacket was outgeneralled in the battle of Fallen Timbers (near Waterville, Ohio). Losses on both sides were about equal, but the Indians abandoned the field. The who refused them aid and shelter at nearby Fort Miamis (Maumee).

Wayne remarked on the agricultural nature of the Glaize settlements, writing: “The very extensive and highly cultivated fields and gardens show the work of many hands. The margin of those beautiful rivers [the Maumee and the Auglaize] appear like one continued village for a number of miles both above and below this place; nor have I ever beheld such immense fields of corn in any part of America from Canada to Florida.” This area was not placed within the boundaries exacted by the Americans at the Treaty of Greenville the following summer, but the Indians, their confederacy in shambles, surrendered most of present-day Ohio, a portion of Indiana, and other tracts. Little Turtle made an eloquent though unsuccessful attempt to secure better terms and signed the agreement reluctantly. Yet he never broke the promises of peace it contained. In return the Americans built him a house in his old village on the Eel River, provided for the purchase of a black slave for him, and financed extensive travel to the east. At Philadelphia, Pa, in 1797 Gilbert Stuart painted his portrait. There also in 1798 he impressed the Comte de Volney, a French philosophe, with his wit and wisdom. During one of a series of interviews, Volney asked him what surprised him most about Philadelphia. “The extraordinary diversity of personal appearance among the whites and their great numbers,” he replied. “They spread like oil on a blanket; as for us, we melt like snow in the spring sunshine; if we do not alter course, the race of red men cannot possibly survive.” At Washington, D.C., in 1802 Little Turtle stirred officials with his pleas for prohibition of alcohol as well as training in farming and metal-craft for his people.

After the disintegration of the confederacy in 1795 Little Turtle, like many of his contemporaries, surrendered hope for a pan-Indian movement and concentrated on the interests of his tribe alone. His opposition after 1806 to the new confederacy being created by the Prophet [Tenskwatawa*] and Tecumseh was based on several considerations. By its insistence that Indian land was owned by all tribes in common, the confederacy threatened Miami land claims, and by advocating the removal of those chiefs who had already sold land to the Americans, it endangered his leadership. Moreover he was convinced that the Americans could not be successfully opposed by any combination of tribes. He was more effective than most chiefs in preventing his warriors from joining the confederacy; yet the Americans never completely trusted him. His prestige among the tribes in general was revived somewhat when Governor William Henry Harrison of Ohio devastated the headquarters of the confederacy at Tippecanoe (near Lafayette, Ind.) in 1811.

Little Turtle died at Fort Wayne on 14 July 1812 following treatment by an army doctor for gout. As was customary with Miamis, he was buried wearing his silver jewellery, which included several pieces with the mark of Robert Cruickshank of Montreal. Lesser chiefs could not restrain the young Miami warriors from joining the new confederacy in increasing numbers after his death. In September the Americans burned his village on the Eel River but they spared his property as a mark of respect. He was, in his prime, a strong defender of native rights and was remembered as a hero among the Miamis.

Herbert C. W. Goltz

C.-F. Chassebœuf, comte de Volney, (Œuvres complètes de Volney (Paris, 1837), 715–17. Corr. of LieutGovernor Simcoe (Cruikshank). Fort Wayne, gateway of the west, 1802–1813: garrison orderly books, Indian agency account book, ed. and intro. B. J. Griswold (Indianapolis, Ind., 1927; repr. New York, 1973). Letter book of the Indian agency at Fort Wayne, 1809–1815, ed. Gayle Thornbrough (Indianapolis, 1961). Messages and letters of William Henry Harrison, ed. Logan Esarey (2v., Indianapolis, 1922). U.S., Congress, American state papers (Lowrie et al.), class ii, vols.[1–2]. S. G. Drake, Biography and history of the Indians of North America, from its discovery to the present time . . . (5th ed., Boston, 1836). Handbook of North American Indians (Sturtevant et al.), 15: 681. Bert Anson, The Miami Indians (Norman, Okla., 1970). C. M. Young, Little Turtle (Me-she-kin-no-quah), the great chief of the Miami Indian nation; being a sketch of his life, together with that of William Wells and some noted descendants ([Greenville, Ohio?], 1917). H. H. Tanner, “The Glaize in 1792: a composite Indian community,” Ethnohistory (Tucson, Ariz.), 25 (1978): 15–39.

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Cite This Article

Herbert C. W. Goltz, “MICHIKINAKOUA,” in Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5, University of Toronto/Université Laval, 2003–, accessed April 15, 2024, http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/michikinakoua_5E.html.

The citation above shows the format for footnotes and endnotes according to the Chicago manual of style (16th edition). Information to be used in other citation formats:

Permalink:   http://www.biographi.ca/en/bio/michikinakoua_5E.html
Author of Article:   Herbert C. W. Goltz
Title of Article:   MICHIKINAKOUA
Publication Name:   Dictionary of Canadian Biography, vol. 5
Publisher:   University of Toronto/Université Laval
Year of publication:   1983
Year of revision:   1983
Access Date:   April 15, 2024