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William Wells - The White Indian

Updated on March 8, 2015
William Wells
William Wells | Source

Wells County in northeastern Indiana is named for William Wells, the "White Indian." Wells was born in Pennsylvania in the year of 1770. Wells and his family moved to Kentucky, and his parents died shortly thereafter. He was captured by Miami Indians at the age of 14 while hunting by Indians. He was taken to an Indian village near present day Logansport in northern Indiana. He was adopted into a Miami Indian tribe and given the name "Wild Carrot." He married Sweet Breeze, daughter of Miami war chief Little Turtle. Wells was located by his brothers who visited him in 1788-1789, but he continued to live with the Miami Indians.

Little Turtle's War

Little Turtle's War is also known as the Northwest Indian War. After the American Revolution, the present day states of Ohio, Indiana, Michigan, Illinois and Wisconsin were known as the Northwest Territory. By the Treaty of Paris, which ended the Revolutionary War in 1783, the British ceded the territory to the United States. The Indians living there had no intention of ceding the territory to anyone. At the start of this war, William Wells sided with his father-in-law and fought with the Indians.

Initially things went well for the Indians. The campaign by General Josiah Harmar in 1790 was a disaster for the United States. Harmar had about 300 regular troops and 1,100 militia, who were poorly trained. After his defeat, President Washington ordered General St. Clair to attack the Indians. St. Clair started out in 1791 with about 2,000 soldiers, including 600 regulars. Desertion and disease took their toll, and his troop strength dropped to about 1,000. Near present day Fort Recovery Ohio, which is very close to the Indiana state line, they camped without constructing any defensive barriers.

The Indian warriors included Miami led by Little Turtle, Shawnee led by Blue Jacket and Delaware led by Buckongahelas. They totaled about 1,000. After the Americans stacked their muskets for breakfast, Little Turtle then led the initial attack. Many of the militia simply fled, while the regulars formed a battle line. General St. Clair tried to rally his troops, and three horses he was riding were shot. Eventually the American position collapsed and the remaining troops fled. Over 600 soldiers were killed or captured, and over 250 were wounded, During the fighting William Wells led a successful attack on St. Clair's artillery.

Little Turtle, Miami War Chief
Little Turtle, Miami War Chief | Source

Battle of Fallen Timbers

After St. Clair's defeat, he was fired by President Washington, who ordered General "Mad" Anthony Wayne to build an army that could crush the Indians. Washington realized that training was needed before any more campaigns were initiated. In 1793, William Wells met with his brother, who survived St. Clair's Defeat. He decided to switch sides, and became a captain in General Wayne's new army. Due to his knowledge of the Indians, he was primarily a scout and interpreter.

Wayne moved north from Cincinnati in 1794 to confront the Indians. In the Battle of Fallen Timbers (named for trees that were toppled by a storm), his forces outnumbered the Native Americans two to one. Casualties were relatively light as the battle was short and the Indians quickly fled. Wells was wounded during the battle. In 1795 the Treaty of Greenville was signed, which relinquished most of Ohio to the United States.

General "Mad" Anthony Wayne
General "Mad" Anthony Wayne | Source

Fort Dearborn Massacre

After the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Little Turtle concluded that war with the United States was not a good idea. He requested William Wells as the United States Indian Agent to the Miami tribe, which was granted. There were some complaints that Wells was more concerned about the well-being of the Indians that with the interests of the United States. He did, however, keep the Miami from joining Tecumseh's Indian confederation. The Miamis did not participate in the Battle of Tippecanoe.

Once the War of 1812 started, the British quickly captured Fort Mackinac. After the loss, General William Hull thought it would be impossible to hold Fort Dearborn (present day Chicago) and ordered the garrison to abandon it. Captain Wells assembled a group of 30 Miamis to travel from Fort Wayne to Fort Dearborn and aid in its evacuation. The Americans left the fort on the morning of August 15, 1812. They were ambushed by a much larger force of Potawatomi Indians. 38 soldiers were killed and 28 were captured. Captain Wells was among the dead.


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