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William WellsWilliam Wells

William Wells was one of Ohio's best known frontiersmen after the American Revolution. Born around 1770 in Jacob's Creek, Pennsylvania as the youngest son of Captain Hayden Wells, William Wells would grow up in 2 different worlds dynamically opposed to each other. As an adult, he fought for and against both sides of the conflict and some even suggest that he was a spy. He would meet with 2 Presidents of the United States and would be present at the final conflicts between his nation of birth and his adopted nation. With his help he would help start the peace process in a territory that had never seen any lasting peace.

While William was still just a child, the Wells family moved to Kentucky and Hayden Wells established Wells Station, which was located about 30 miles east of Louisville. Shortly after this move, his mother died, and in 1781 his father was killed in an Indian raid, leaving William and his brothers orphaned. A friend of the family, Colonel William Pope, took the young boys into his home.

In March 1784, the 14-year-old Wells and 3 companions were captured by Indians and taken to Kenapakomoko, a Miami village on the Eel River, near its confluence with the Wabash River located in north central Indiana. There Wells was adopted by Kaweahatta (the Porcupine), a Miami chief and William Wells was renamed Apekonit (Carrot). A few years later, William’s brothers found him, and tried to convince him to return to Kentucky, but by then he had married an Indian woman and fathered a child with her.

In 1791, Arthur St. Clair was appointed to Major General by President Washington and ordered to prepare a 2nd expedition to quell the threat from Indian warriors attacking settlements along the Ohio River. As St. Clair was preparing for this new expedition, he urged some Kentucky militia to conduct some raiding parties of their own to keep the Native Americans off balance. On one of these raids by the Kentuckians, they destroyed several Miami villages, including the village where Wells and his family had been living. Wells, like many of the warriors, had left the village and were gathered elsewhere preparing their campaign against the new threat that would soon be coming from St. Clair. Wells' wife and child, and Little Turtle's wife, were captured by the Kentuckians and Wells never saw them again.

After this attack Wells and Little Turtle moved. Over the years, the two men became great friends and Wells eventually married Little Turtle’s daughter, Wanangepeth, meaning Sweet Breeze. They would eventually have 4 children.

As he matured under the guidance of Little Turtle, William Wells became a strong believer and supporter of the Miami Nation, taking part with the Miami warriors in raids against the Americans. With the encroaching American settlers, conflicts between the Miami and the settlers became more frequent, resulting in the American government sending military expeditions into the Northwest Territory to secure the safety of the settlers.

As these confrontations increased during the late 1780s and early 1790s, Wells increasingly assisted Little Turtle in attacking the small settlements they found in what is now southern Ohio.

In 1792, General Arthur St. Clair led a poorly trained expeditionary army against the Indian Nations in Ohio and in a battle that lasted less than 3 hours, the army was defeated by Little Turtle’s Miami warriors including Wells, and Chief Blue Jacket’s Shawnee warriors. In that short exchange, 900 of St. Clair’s forces were either killed or wounded. Besides St. Clair's men being poorly trained and equipped, the main reason for the defeat was Little Turtle's assessment that the American's artillery needed to be neutralized quickly.

According to a biographer of Chief Little Turtle, he had one man whom he trusted and regarded as capable of carrying out a well-laid plan against the artillery. That person was Apekonit, his son-in-law, was then about 21 years old.

Wells was given a hand-picked force of his own Miami warriors with instructions they should concentrate their fire upon the gunners who manned the artillery and should not stop until the last of the big guns were silenced, noted Harvey Lewis Carter in his 1987 biography of Little Turtle.

William Wells Switches Sides

It was perhaps at this battle that William Wells began to sense the futility of the war against the Americans after seeing so many slaughtered. When word reached the Miami Village where Wells was living, that a new military force was being trained for another engagement, William Wells, after having gone through what I imagine were some heart wrenching sessions, told Little Turtle he could no longer fight on the side of his adoptive father.

His argument was that it was time for the Miami people to make peace with the Americans. Despite the seemingly easy victory over the last 2 military expeditions, the fighting could not continue. Wells knew the Americans would not stop and that more and more military expeditions would come. It was then that Wells and Little Turtle made a fateful decision: Wells would join the American forces and try to bring peace between the Americans and the Miami, and Little Turtle would work with the Miami and other Indian cultures to do the same.

In 1794 Wells joined the military expedition being assembled by Anthony Wayne. Wayne hoped to secure the southwestern portion of modern-day Ohio from the natives. Wells served as a scout and interpreter for General Wayne and took part in the Battle of Fallen Timbers. He eventually attained the rank of captain and was present at the negotiating and signing of the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795. Under this treaty, the Indians had to give up all of their lands in what is now present-day Ohio except for the northwestern corner of the state.

Wells developed a good, but short lived relationship with General Wayne. Together they both worked hard at creating a lasting peace between the Americans and Native Americans represented at the Treaty of Greeneville. In 1796 William Wells accompanied Little Turtle on a trip to Philadelphia to meet with President George Washington to discuss how the Native Americans were going to be settled. However, future discussions with the government ran into problems when General Anthony Wayne suddenly died later that year. Without Wayne's input in the coming years, the Native Americans found it extremely difficult to maintain the provisions granted in the Treaty of Greenville, and they soon found that no one in the government was much concerned about it.

After Wayne's death, Little Turtle continued work on stopping the sale of liquor to the Indians, constantly asking the federal government to prohibit sales. But again, these requests were ignored. In January 1802, Little Turtle, again accompanied by Wells, had a second presidential audience. This time it was Thomas Jefferson in Washington, DC.

William Wells left the Army and settled at Fort Wayne, where he farmed and served as the United States Indian Agent. He petitioned Congress for a tract of land at the confluence of the St. Joseph and St. Mary Rivers in 1807, which was granted and signed by President Jefferson. Little Turtle died in his home in 1812, and was buried nearby.

When the War of 1812, Wells again returned to military service and on August 15, 1812, he led an American force from Fort Dearborn near present-day Chicago. Potawatomi Indians ambushed Wells' force he was killed in the ensuing battle.

Life summary

  • 1770 Born

  • 1770 Mother Dies

  • 1781 Father killed in Kentucky

  • 1784 Captured by Miami

  • 1787 Marries Miami woman and has 1st child

  • 1789 Contacted by his brothers

  • 1791 Kentucky militia attack a mostly deserted village and captures Wells' wife and child, and Little Turtle's wife.

  • 1791 Wells joins Little Turtle

  • 1792 Forces under St. Clair are attacked and defeated by Little Turtle and William Wells

  • 1792 Marries Little Turtle's daughter

  • 1794 Wells joins forces with Anthony Wayne

  • 1795 Wells is interpreter for Indian Nations and Wayne in the signing of the Treaty of Greeneville

  • 1796 Little Turtle accompanied by Wells, go to Philadelphia to meet with President George Washington

  • 1796 Anthony Wayne dies suddenly, and Little Turtle and Wells lose their biggest advocate

  • 1802 Little Turtle, again accompanied by Wells, had a second presidential audience. This time it was Thomas Jefferson in Washington, DC

  • 1812 June US declares war against Great Britain

  • 1812 July Little Turtle dies a few weeks after the U. S. declared war on Britain. He died in William Wells' residence on the site of the former Miami village of Kekionga.

  • 1812 August Wells is killed when attacked by Indians near Fort Dearborn (Chicago).

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