A Wyandot Chief
By Sallie Cotter Andrews
Wyandotte Nation Culture Committee
Walk-In-The-Water, whose traditional Wyandot name was Maera or “Awmeyeeray” or Mirahatha, was born in the late 1700s in the Great Lakes area. Along with Tarhe, Roundhead, Splitlog and Leather Lips, he was one of the prominent Wyandot leaders of that period of history. Walk-In-The-Water was one of the signers of the 1795 Treaty of Greenville and was a warrior in the War of 1812. His totem or mark was a turtle.
Walk-In-The-Water’s physical appearance was striking. He was nearly six feet tall, well proportioned and straight as an arrow. He was mild and pleasant in his deportment and was also a fearless fighter. Walk-In-The-Water was a commanding person. Although he could be ‘grave-faced’, he was very articulate and passionate in his vision for the Wyandot people. He was the leading man among the Detroit River Wyandots.
It is interesting that Maera’s name, “Walk-In-The-Water” is compatible with the name of Tarhe, called by some “The Crane,” a water bird. Tarhe’s name also meant “At-The-Tree” which was a Porcupine Clan name. In the early 1800s, Walk-In-The-Water lived on the Detroit River where about 1,300 Wyandots resided, and Tarhe lived in the Upper Sandusky area where the population was approximately 1,500. Wyandots had lived in the Sandusky area since 1747 when a band under Nicolas built a town in Lower Sandusky and the following year formed an alliance with the English. The Detroit River towns of Brownstown and Maguaga (pronounced ‘Mon-gon-gong’ – the present site of Wyandotte, Michigan) were developing economically, with orchards, fences, cattle and a substantial number of hogs. Maguaga, with about twenty houses, was under the leadership of Walk-In-The-Water.
During President Thomas Jefferson’s second administration (1805-1809), relations between American and Britain worsened rapidly, and the Indians of the Great Lakes region found themselves, as during the American Revolution, caught between two hostile white camps both of whom sought their allegiance. During this period, Indian nations were being overrun by American settlers who had little regard for what land they seized or how they went about it. Tecumseh (a Shawnee) and his brother, Tenskwatawa, gained a wide following among many tribes causing much apprehension among the frontier communities. Governor William Henry Harrison, the governor of the Northwest Territory, sought to learn the intentions of the Indians through commissioners sent to a council at Greenville in September 1807.
On September 30, 1809, the principal chiefs and warriors of the Wyandots delivered a speech to his Excellency Governor William Hull of the Michigan Territory, asking that the provisions of the Treaty of Greenville be kept in which the Wyandots were promised to be able to retain the land on which they lived. Instead, they were being offered a small tract of land near Brownstown for only a period of 50 years. In the speech they closed with this statement, “It surprises us that our Great Father, the President of the United States, should take as much upon himself as the Great Spirit above, as he wants all the land on this island. We think he takes the word out of the mouth of the Great Spirit; he does not consider that He is Master. He does not think of the Great Spirit above, that He is omnipotent, and master of us all, and every thing in this world. …Forward these, our wishes and sentiments, to our Father, the President of the United States.” Signed by nine Wyandots, including Walk-In-The-Water.
On February 5, 1812, a petition was signed by Walk-In-The-Water and seven others and was sent to President James Madison. President Madison forwarded it to Congress on February 28, 1812. In it the Wyandots set forth that they had peaceably cultivated the land they have lived on from time immemorial. They had built valuable houses and made improvements on the land and had learned the use of the plow. They pleaded for a title which would prevent their being dispossessed at the end of 50 years as provided by the Act of Congress.
That same year, Walk-In-The-Water said to the British, “We have no wish to be involved in a war with our father, the Long-Knife (Americans), for we know by experience that we have nothing to gain by it, and we beg our father, the British, not to force us to war. We remember, in the former war between our fathers, the British and the Long-Knife, we were both defeated, and we, the red men, lost our country; and you, made peace with the Long-Knife without our knowledge, and you gave our country to him. You said to us, ‘My children, you must fight for your country, for the Long-Knife will take it from you.’ We did as you advised, and we were defeated with the loss of our best chiefs and warriors, and of our land.”
[The Battle of Fallen Timbers, the final battle of the Northwest Indian War, took place on August 20, 1794, on the Maumee River (in present-day Maumee, Ohio, at the intersection of Hwy. 24 and Hwy. 475, not far from Toledo, Ohio). There, a stand of trees had been blown down in a storm, and the Indians thought that the fallen timbers could hinder the advance of the army. Before the battle, U.S. General “Mad” Anthony Wayne had advanced through Indian country building a chain of forts along his route. He delayed engaging the Indian forces (called the Western Confederacy) which assembled to meet him until their food supply had run short and several hundred had left to hunt or get food from the British post, Fort Miamis, about four miles away. He then launched his attack with an army (called the Legion of the United States) of about 2,000 regulars and 1,000 militiamen and dealt the 1,500 Indians a crushing defeat, aided in large part by the withdrawal of British support. General Wayne’s army then proceeded to lay waste to all the crops and property within several miles, breaking the back of the Indian confederacy. The defeat of the Indians led to the signing of the Treaty of Greenville in 1795, which ceded much of present-day Ohio to the United States.]
Walk-In-The-Water said, “And we still remember your conduct towards us, when we were defeated at the foot of the rapids of the Maumee. We sought safety for our wounded in your fort. But what was your conduct? At Fort Miamis, you closed your gates against us. British Major William Campbell told us, ‘I cannot let you in; you are painted too much, my children.’ It was then we saw that the British dealt treacherously with us. We had to retreat the best way we could. And now you wish us, your red children, again to take up the hatchet against our father, the Long-Knife. We say again, we do not wish to have anything to do with the war. Fight your own battles, but let us, your red children, enjoy peace.”
Some historians say that Walk-In-The-Water was friendly to the U.S. and desired to join them at the beginning of the War of 1812. But the instructions of the United States government received by then General William Hull not to employ savages would not allow General Hull to accept Walk-In-The-Water’s services.
Walk-In-The-Water and Roundhead (along with Splitlog and Lame Hand) thus allied themselves with Tecumseh and his philosophy of Indian unity, and with the British. Tarhe sided with the Americans, feeling strongly bound to the terms of the 1795 Treaty of Greenville which prohibited aggression against the United States.
Rev. James Finley in his book “Life Among the Indians” gave an account of a council including Governor Harrison (Governor of the Indiana Territory), Tecumseh and the chiefs of the Wyandotts, Kickapoos, Pottawatomies, Ottawas and Winnebagoes. At that council Tecumseh explained that he viewed the United States’ policy of purchasing lands from the Indians, as a mighty water, ready to overflow his people; and that the confederacy which he was forming among the tribes to prevent any individual tribe from selling without the consent of the others, was the dam he was erecting to resist this mighty water.
Tecumseh wanted President James Madison to give up the lands he had recently purchased, and to agree never to make another treaty without the consent of all the tribes. For this, Tecumseh pledged that he would be America’s faithful ally and assist them in the war, which he knew was about to take place with England. He stated that he preferred being the ally of the Seventeen Fires (16 tribes and the United States), but if they did not comply with his request, he would be compelled to unite with the British.
Governor Harrison stated that that he would make known Tecumseh’s views to President Madison, but that there was no probability of their being agreed to. “Well,” said Tecumseh, “as the great Chief is to determine the matter, I hope the Great Spirit will put sense enough into his head to induce him to give up this land. It is true, he (President Madison) is so far off he will not be injured by the war; he may sit still in his town and drink his wine, while you and I will have to fight it out.”
By February 1812, the U.S. was openly talking about and making plans in Congress for war with Great Britain, including an invasion of Canada. The British responded by recruiting American Indian tribes to form part of their defense in the Michigan and Canada area in case the Americans attacked Canada.
On June 18, 1812, Congress made a formal declaration of war against Great Britain. The War of 1812 is sometimes called the “second war of independence” or the “forgotten war.” It was fought until 1815. The conflict was initiated mainly because of British naval harassment of U.S. ships. The British were already at war with France. They seized American ships and took seamen from them, some of whom were U.S. citizens. The British also attempted to keep U.S. ships from reaching French ports. The War of 1812 could be called the “war of poor communication.” Two days before the declaration of war, Great Britain agreed to repeal the naval laws which were chiefly responsible for the conflict. Speedy communication would have also eliminated the greatest battle, the Battle of New Orleans, that occurred 15 days after a peace treaty had been signed.
The United States, still a fledgling country, risked national disaster by again going to war with powerful Great Britain. Support for war in the U.S. was divided with the West and South ‘hawkish’ for a fight, but people of the New England called for cooler leadership and strongly opposed war. It was also strange that this war over ‘freedom of the seas’ began with an invasion of Canada. On July 12, 1812, General Hull led an invading American force of about 1,000 untrained, poorly equipped militia across the Detroit River and occupied the Canadian town of Sandwich (now a neighborhood of Windsor, Ontario).
At that moment, Tecumseh was at Fort Malden (site of Fort Amherstburg near Detroit), the principal encampment of the British, at the head of his warriors. He was ready for the conflict. With him were Wyandot warriors including Walk-In-The-Water, Splitlog, Lame Hand, and Roundhead. On August 5, at the head of his Indians, Tecumseh crossed over to Brownstown, where he suddenly fell upon a small detachment of troops under Major Van Horne that was carrying the mail. Tecumseh dispensed his troops into the woods and cornfield. At 50 yards or less, the warriors raised a terrific yell and fired, trying to pick off the mounted men and officers first. Finding the Indians too great a force, Van Horne ordered a retreat, and succeeded in bringing off his force. Van Horne lost 20 men and the mail.
Major Richardson wrote of the warriors going from Brownstown to Maguaga, that their “bodies, stained and painted in the most frightful manner for the occasion, glided by us with almost noiseless velocity, without order and without a chief, some painted white, some black, others half black and half red, half black and half white, all with their hair plastered in such a way as to resemble the bristling quills of the porcupine, with no other covering than a cloth around their loins, yet armed to the teeth with rifles, tomahawks, war clubs, spears, bows and arrows, and scalping knives, uttering no sound, and intent on reaching the enemy unperceived.” The Indians met defeat on August 9, 1812, at the battle of Maguaga. Both Major Muir and Tecumseh were wounded there. Other battles followed, including the Battle of Fort Dearborn (today, Chicago), with Indian victories.
When the surrender of Detroit was made on August 16, 1812, by American General Hull to British General Isaac Brock, Tecumseh was back at the head of his Indians. August was traditionally a time of Indian celebration, and Tecumseh thoroughly enjoyed the Shawnee “Moon of Plums” celebration. His mood was high. General Brock publicly took off his sash and placed it around the body of Tecumseh. Not wishing to wear such a mark of distinction when an older, and, as he said, abler warrior than himself was present, he transferred the sash to Wyandot Chief Roundhead.
At the Battle of Thames (in Ontario just north of Lake Erie) on October 5, 1813, General Harrison, General Cass and Commodore Perry defeated the combined force of British and Indians. A charge was made and Tecumseh fell along with his friend and brother-in-law, Wasegoboah. Tecumseh was 44 years of age when he died. Tecumseh’s reward was seeing Mackinac, Chicago, Detroit and the fortifications at the River Raisin and the Maumee rapids taken from the Long-Knives. In six weeks, every American post on the upper Great Lakes west of Cleveland had been eliminated and Tecumseh’s philosophy of a united Indian frontier was triumphant although short-lived.
Walk-In-The-Water, with 60 of his warriors, surrendered to General Harrison.
General Brock received knighthood for his capture of Detroit. He was killed on
October 13, 1813, at the Battle of Queenston Heights near Niagara in Ontario.
The conclusion of the War of 1812 was accelerated with the Americans’ victory of Lake Champlain, followed by their defense of Baltimore. Treaty negotiations began as early as 1813, but the military stalemate accelerated the tempo of bargaining. Since neither side had won the war, a compromise was reached.
The Treaty of Ghent, negotiated in Belgium and signed on December 24, 1814, ended the war, restored territories to pre-war status and established a commission to settle Northwest Territory boundary disputes. Both sides claimed victory. According to the treaty, tribes were to have their possessions, rights and privileges restored to their 1811 status, and tribes were required to cease all aggression against the United States and Great Britain. All of the First Nations warriors who fought for the British were given a medal bearing the image of King George III.
There is a legend that Walk-In-The-Water was so disenchanted with the British that he threw his medal into the Detroit River. In recent years, a person found a King George III medal on the shore of the Detroit River; it was sold at auction to a private collector. Whether this was the one given to Walk-In-The-Water, we will never know.
Tarhe, the Grand Chief of the Wyandots, died at Sandusky in about the year 1816. Walk-In-The-Water died about the year 1817. His comfortable home and farm was near the bank of the Detroit River, a short distance below the present village of Trenton. In 1818, just one year after his death, the first steamboat built on the upper Great Lakes was named the “Walk-In-The-Water” in honor of the great chief. In 1833, sixteen years after his death, there yet remained evidences of the cultivation of his land. Governor and General William Henry Harrison, who had often met in council with the tribes, became the 19th President of the United States. He was inaugurated on March 4, 1841; on March 27 he became ill and died on April 4, 1841.
In 2010, Steve Gronda, Chief of the Wyandot of Anderdon Nation, said, “The War of 1812 holds no honor to what was done to indigenous peoples with the outcome of the Treaty of Ghent, of which we had no part. It was used to denude native society, steal the land and repress native tradition and culture. The genocide that was brought about by it is a very dark and shameful period in which both the coffers of the Canadian and U.S. governments profited by selling the land and repressing natives. It is a bitter pill yet today when we see pristine environments destroyed for not just natives lands, but all people repressed by actions by our own governments. This has looming consequences in bringing disease and hardships for profit. We call that ‘Waschiu’, or greedy one that takes all the fat.”
Treaty of Peace Between the United States of America and the Tribes of Indians…, 1795 (known as the Treaty of Greenville)
Excerpts – From the C. Aubrey Buser files:
Notes from the 12th Congress, No. 134. The Wyandots, February 28, 1812.
Indians of Michigan, Annual Meeting, 1888 and 1894.
Pictorial Field Book of the War of 1812, Page 279.
Chronicles of American Indian Protest – the War of 1812.
Snyderman, “Behind the Tree of Peace.”
Hunt, “Wars of the Iroquois.”
Moquin, “Great Documents in American Indian History.”
McAfee, Robert Breckinridge, “History of the Late War in the Western Country.”
Goldthwaites, Reuben and Kellog, Louise Phelps, “The Revolution on the Upper Ohio, 1775-1777” – Wisconsin Historical Society, 1908.
McAfee, Robert Breckinridge, “History of the Late War in the Western Country,”
Buffalo (NY) Historical Society, 1865, the Steamboat “Walk-In-The-Water.”
Howard, James H., “Shawnee!” 1981, Page 17.
Bowes, John P., “Exiles and Pioneers,” Page 28.
Excerpts from the files of Chief Steve Gronda:
Warren, Mark, information on legends
Gronda, Chief Steve, email dated May 15, 2010
Andrews, Sallie Cotter, online research, June & July 2010