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July 15, 2015

Warfare in the Wilderness

Warfare in the Wilderness

By: David Heighway, Hamilton County Historian

Hamilton County is not usually thought of in terms of bloody combat, but during the War of 1812, Indiana was a major battle zone with clashes between United States soldiers and Native Americans at places like Mississinewa, Fort Wayne, and Terre Haute.  Spillover into this area would be expected, particularly with the crucial trail crossroads at Strawtown.   On June 11, 1813, Colonel Joseph Bartholomew of the Indiana Rangers set out from Fort Vallonia up the west fork of the White River with 137 men to deal with the rising number of hostile attacks by Miami and Potawatomi Indians.

1812 marker 1

In a letter addressed to Governor Posey, immediately after the return of the troops to the fort in southern Indiana[i], Colonel Bartholomew said:

We left Vallonia on the 11th inst., [June] and pursued a course between north and northeast, about one hundred miles, to the upper Delaware town on White River. We arrived there on the 15th, and found the principal part of the town had been burnt three or four weeks previous to our getting there. We found, however, a considerable quantity of corn in the four remaining houses.

We went from thence on the [16th?] down White River, a west course, and passed another village three or four miles below, which had been also burnt. At the distance of twelve miles below the upper town, we came to another small village, not burnt. Here we discovered the signs of Indians who had come to this village for the purpose of carrying off corn.

On the morning of the 17th, Captain Dunn, Lieutenant Shields, and myself, with thirty men, took the trail, and pursued it about a mile, when we met with three of the Indian horses, which we secured. The woods being very thick, we found it necessary to leave most of our horses under a small guard, and took with us only six mounted men, which were kept in the rear.

After following the back trail of the Indian horses two miles further, we discovered a camp of two Indians on a high piece of ground. In attempting to surround them, they discovered one of our flanking parties, and immediately broke and run. They were, however, fired on, and one killed. The mounted men were ordered to charge; but before they could come near the surviving Indian, he had got into some brush and hid himself. One of Captain Peyton’s rangers, being thrown from his horse, on returning, was considerably in the rear, and coming suddenly and unexpectedly on the Indian who had concealed himself, he was fired on and dangerously wounded through the left hip. The Indian then made his escape to a swamp, where he could not be found.

At the same time that we set out on the Indian trail, the main force moved on to the lower town. They found no fresh appearance of Indians there, but much of their having, some time previously, frequented it to carry off corn. The lower town had, from appearance, been burnt early in the winter. We found at all the towns from 800 to 1000 bushels of corn; and, discovering that the hostile Indians were making use of it, [we destroyed it?] We conceived it was the more necessary to, do this, as the corn would, if not destroyed, enable considerable bodies of the enemy to fall upon and harass our frontier. Having the wounded man to take care of, who we had to carry on a horse litter, it was thought prudent to return to Vallonia, at which place we arrived on the 21st” [June.]

One of Colonel Bartholomew’s soldiers, Sargent John Ketcham, later wrote his version of what happened.[ii]

We then went down the river to towns not interrupted, and come to Strawtown late in the evening, and discovered fresh Indian signs. Early next morning, General Bartholomew, Captain Dunn and Captain Shields and about twenty Rangers, went in pursuit of the Indians.

When we had proceeded about three-fourths of a mile we discovered three horses; we surrounded and secured them—two were hobbled. Following their back track, we came to their camp. General Bartholomew directed three mounted Rangers, namely, Severe Lewis, David Hays, and ——- (that is John Ketcham) to keep in the rear, but at the fire of the first gun to dash forward.

Captain Dunn went on the right under cover of the river bank, Captain Shields on the left, and General Bartholomew brought up the center division. The directions were to surround their camp and take them prisoners.

The Indians had a large brass kettle hanging over a fire, with three deer heads boiling, and were sitting near the fire.  Captain Shields slipped carefully through the bushes, and when opposite the camp, at 100 yards distance, the Indians discovered us, jumped to their guns and fled.

Shields fired his gun to notify the horsemen.  One of Bigger’s men, (to-wit, John Ketcham) immediately started in pursuit, ran two or three hundred yards, when he got into the path the Indians had run on. He was within thirty steps of his game, and shot down an Indian.

The other horsemen soon made up, but the other Indians were just out of sight. They were directed by (Ketcham) to where the Indian was last seen. Hays got separated from the other two horsemen, and unfortunately, met with the secreted Indian, who gave him a mortal wound.

The horses and kettle were sold to the highest bidder, on a credit, and the notes were given to Hays. His wounds were dressed by David Maxwell. He was carried on a litter to the mouth of Flat Rock, now Columbus, where we made two canoes and sent him and the guard by water to Vallonia where his wife and family were. He died in two or three days, after they had reached the fort.

On July 1, 1813, Colonel William Russell, of the 7th U.S. Infantry assembled a force of 573 men, (which included future president Zachary Taylor), to do a “scout” for hostile Indians.  The route went from Vallonia to the villages on White River to the Mississinewa villages, and then to the Wabash River and down through Prophetstown to Fort Harrison and ending at Vincennes, a trip which covered about 500 miles.  No Indians were seen and all of the villages were found to be deserted.[iii]

[i] A history of Indiana, from its earliest exploration by Europeans to the close of the territorial government, in 1816; comprehending a history of the discovery, settlement, and civil and military affairs of the territory of the U. S. northwest of the river Ohio, and a general view of the progress of public affairs in Indiana, from l8l6 to l856; John B. Dillon; Indianapolis: Bingham & Doughty, 1859, p. 524-525

[ii] Messages and letters of William Henry Harrison, Volume 2; edited by Logan Esarey; Indianapolis: Indiana Historical Commission, 1922, p. 282-283.

[iii] Dillon, p. 525-526.