Wednesday, October 22, 2014

Battle of the Pumpkin Fields

Little Turtle overlooking the Ohio
Today marks the anniversary of the end of a failed US campaign against Indians in the Northwest Territory. The goal was, as usual, to destroy villages and demoralize the Native Americans in the area to make way for white settlement. You may be thinking it was the infamous St Clair's Defeat but there was one before that. On this date October 22nd 1790 a final battle in Harmar's Campaign occurred in present day Fort Wayne Indiana. Referred to as Harmars Defeat by Americans, the Miami called it the Battle of the Pumpkin Fields. This was due to the steam rising off all the scalped skulls left on the riverbank. It reminded them of squash steaming in the autumn air. Just in time for Halloween.


General Josiah Harmar, commander of the U.S. army in the Northwest Territory, lost half of his 360 man force. Harmar was court-martialed for incompetence and acquitted. Indian casualty estimates vary from 40 to less than 200 out of 1000 men. There is no doubt this was a large Indian force but it is well known that when a US commander saw one Indian, he saw ten. In other words the military liked to inflate the numbers of the enemy to look better. By November 3rd 1790, the remaining Americans, some never firing a shot, fell back to Fort Washington in Cincinnati.  Up until then this was the worst defeat by the US against the Indians. Lucky for Harmar, St. Clair's overwhelming loss one year later in Ohio eclipsed this military blunder. Fool me once, shame on you; fool me twice, shame on me...The US would eventually rethink their tactics of frontier warfare. Several years later The Battle of Fallen Timbers would more or less drive Indians from the area.

sources:
-Saving Private Boone
-Lane Library - Butler County Place Names 
-Ohio History Central  - Harmar's Defeat
-Journal of the Indian Wars Volume 1, Number 2

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