The Siege of the Old Indian Town of Piqua, August 8, 1780 *
From The History of Clark County, Ohio
Chicago: W.H. Beers & Co., 1881 - Page 214
The old Indian town of Piqua was situated about five miles west of the present site of the city of Springfield, Ohio, on the north bank of Mad River. In going there from the city named, you pass down the Mad River until you reach a point where the stream runs in a westerly direction out into a large basin or prairie, which gives some evidence of having at one time been the bottom of a small lake.
At the time the Indians occupied the place, the prairie was about three miles long and one mile wide. It is now fenced off into farms under the highest state of cultivation. At the upper end of this beautiful open landscape, the river gracefully bends round and silently flows to the south; then again toward the west, continuing in the latter direction until it reaches the lower end of the prairie, where it sweeps round to the northwest, and is soon lost to sight in the forest below.
At the time referred to, on the south side of the river was another prairie, bordered by the low hills in the distance. Over this prairie ran the road from the old Indian town of Chililcothe, about twelve miles south of Piqua, and reached the river on the south bank, nearly opposite the latter town.
About two-thirds of the distance down the prairie, on the north side of the river, and further progress was obstructed by what might be called a willow swamp, stretching across the prairie from the southwest to the northeast, stopping about one or two hundred yards short of a limestone cliff, rising out of the north border of the basin or prairie.
Behind the willow swamp was located the town of Piqua, and behind the town was a round-topped hill, rising up 100 feet from the level of the plain. From the crown of this hill the country might be overlooked for as much as five miles up and down the river. The general appearance of the locality, in its almost primitive wilderness, must have been of unsurpassed loveliness.
The rocks on the north side of the prairie rose up out of the same like a stone wall, twenty-five or thirty feet high, running down in the direction of the round-topped hill back of Piqua; before reaching which it was suddenly cut off, leaving an open space between the hills and rocks. This was covered with a thick growth of forest trees of a low and bushy growth. It was impossible to pass up over this wall of rocks in large companies, except in one or two places, where they inclined to drop to the level of the prairie.
At one point, there was an opening cut down from the point of the cliffs, and quite through them to the lowland by some natural force, and was so narrowed that not more than one person, certainly not more than two, could pass up or down through the cut at the same moment of time. This place was concealed from observation by a heavy undergrowth of timber, and could be easily obstructed, and could check the advance of a victorious army.
The approach to the lower part of the town was defended by a stockade fort, not common with the Indians as a means of defense. It included a space of about two acres. The hill, the wall of rocks, the open plain, carpeted with wild flowers of all colors; the silver line of the river, the hills far off in the distance, crowned with forest trees, and the long line of Indian wigwams, marking their location by curling wreaths of smoke, as it rose up from their fires, with here and there a corn-field, indicated that the Indians had selected this place not only for its natural strength, but as well for its fertility and beauty.
The Indian children of the town could play before the cabin doors in the lowland, free from the apprehension of danger, while the warrior on the hill-top might sweep the whole country on the lookout for an approaching enemy, and, by an agreed signal, warn the whole tribe in a moment.
In August, A. D. 1780, Piqua was quite populous. In addition to the Shawnees, 300 Mingoes were there as allies to aid in the defense of the place. Piqua is said to have contained, at one period, nearly four thousand Shawnees.
The town was built after the manner of French villages. The houses extended along the river more than three miles, and were in many places more than twenty poles apart.
The celebrated, hardened villain, Simon Girty, was the leader of the Mingo braves, as allies of the Shawnees. He had been educated in, and had adopted with savage delight all, the cruelties practiced by the Indians, and stood near, two years later, in the presence of his old friend Col. Crawford, and derived fiendish enjoyment from witnessing his agonies while burning at the stake. Perhaps he remembered, even in the presence of this awful event, that the hand of one of the daughters of Crawford had been denied to him before he deserted to the Indians. This would be dreadful revenge, but Girty was a dreadful savage. A prisoner among the Indians who met with the scoundrel described him as a man with dark, shaggy hair, low forehead, contracted brows, meeting above his short, flat nose, gray, sunken eyes, and thin, compressed lips, with a wicked expression of countenance that made him seem the picture of a villain. C. W. Butterfield writes that "all the vices of civilization seemed to center in him, and by him were ingrafted upon those of the savage state, without the usual redeeming qualities of either." He moved about through the Indian country during the war of the Revolution and the Indian war which followed, a dark whirlwind of fury, desperation and barbarity.
In the refinements of torture inflicted upon helpless prisoners, as compared with the Indians', theirs seemed to be merciful. In treachery, he stood unrivaled. The prisoner who became his captive must abandon all hope of pity, and yield himself to the club, the scalping-knife and the indescribable agonies of the stake. No Indian, drunk, was a match for him. He swore horrid oaths. He appeared like a host of evil spirits. He was called a beast, and a villainous, untrustworthy cur dog. This savage, compounded of all the meaner qualities that could or might disfigure the life of a human being, it has been affirmed, had some rare moments of better emotions. He met with his former acquaintance, Simon Kenton, while a prisoner of the Indians, under sentence of death, and called him his dear friend, and interfered and saved his life. He looked the scoundrel, with a gloomy stare, while "o'er his eyebrows hung his matted hair."
The celebrated chief of the Shawnees, Catahecassa, or the Black Hoof, was born in Florida, and had bathed and fished in salt water before he settled on Mad River. He was present at the defeat of Braddock, near Pittsburgh, in 1755, and was engaged in all the wars in Ohio from that time until the treaty of Greenville, in 1795. He was a man of sagacity and experience, and of fierce and desperate bravery, and well informed in the traditions of his people. He occupied the highest position in his nation, and was opposed to polygamy and the practice of burning prisoners. He was a man of good health, and was five feet eight inches in height. He died in Wapakoneta at the age of one hundred and ten years, A.D. 1831. Without being able to find it so stated, after some investigation, in so many words, I believe that this Indian was the chief leader in the defense of Piqua when the place was invested by Gen. Clark. To prevent, if such a thing could be possible, almost continual depredations of the Indians upon the border population, and expedition was organized to march against their towns on the Mad River. This army rendezvoused at the place where Covington, in the State of Kentucky, now stands. It ascended the Ohio River from Louisville in transport boats, which also brought provisions and stores.
On the opposite of the river they built a block-house, in which to store provisions and form a base of supplies. This house was the first one built on the site where the city of Cincinnati now stands.
On the 2d day of August, A.D. 1780, Gen. George Rogers Clark moved, with an army of 1,000 men, from the point named to the Indian towns on Mad River, located in and near to the territory which is now included in Clark County, Ohio. The distance to be marched was about 80 miles, through an untracked forest, over which, with great labor, the soldiers cut and bridged, when found necessary, a road for the passage of horses and pack-mules, and one six-pounder cannon.
The soldiers marched without tents, beds or personal baggage. Their rations for a thirty-days campaign were six quarts of corn, one gill of salt, with what green corn and wild game they might pick up on the march. Any meat they obtained was cooked on sticks set up before the fire. Sometimes green plums and nettles were cooked and eaten by the men.
The impression obtained, not only in the settlement, but with the soldiers, that if the army was defeated none of the men would escape, and that in such events the Indians would fall on the defenseless women and children of Kentucky and massacre them, burn their towns and villages, and lay waste the country. It seemed to be a choice either that the white settlers or the Indians must be destroyed, and both parties regarded it in the same light, and acted with the calmness and bravery usual to forlorn hopes, formed of soldiers commanded to encounter some desperate exigency. Daniel Boone, the pioneer Indian fighter, acted as a spy for the expedition. The skill and vigilance which entered into the campaign will be demonstrated by a presentation of the manner, form and conduct of the army while on the march.
It was separated into two divisions. Gen. Clark commanded the first and Col. Logan the second. Between these two columns marched the pack mules and the artillery.
The men in each division were ordered to march in four lines, about forty yards apart, with a line of flankers on each side, about the same distance from the right and left lines. In the event of an attack from the enemy in the front, it was to halt, and the two right lines would wheel to the right, and the two left lines wheel to the left, and the artillery would advance to the front, the whole forming a complete line of battle. The second division would form in the same manner, and advance or act as a reserve. By calling in the right and left flanking parties, the whole force would present a line of battle in the form of a square, with the pack mules and the baggage in the center. An attack on either flank, or the rear, the same maneuver would put the army in the most favorable position for defense or assault.
On the 6th day of August, A.D. 1780, the army arrived at the Indian town of old Chillicothe, only to find it burned and the inhabitants gone. On the 7th, some days sooner than the Indians had expected, it drew up in front of Old Piqua. A solder had deserted to the Indians before the army arrived at the mouth of the Licking, and gave notice of the approaching expedition. The attack commenced about 2 o'clock P.M. on the 8th day of August, and lasted until 5 in the evening. The assaulting forces were divided into three separate commands. One, under the command of Col. Lynn, was ordered to cross the river and encompass the town on the west side. To prevent this move from being successful, the Indians made a powerful effort to turn the left wing of the assaulting party, which Col. Lynn successfully defeated by extending his force a mile to the west of the town. Col. Logan, with 400 men under his command, was ordered to march up the south side of the river, concealing, if possible, the move from the observation of the Indians, and cross over the stream at the upper end of the prairie, and prevent their escape in that direction. Gen. Clark remained in command of the center, including one six-pounder cannon. He was to assault the town in front.
This disposition of the forces, with a simultaneous assault made by the separate commands, promised, if well executed, the capture of the town and a complete rout of the Indians, with the death of a great number. According to the custom of the times, no prisoners were made. All that were captured were put to death.
The Indians, according to their plan of defense, could not safely retreat, if defeated, over the round-topped hill, for the elevation would bring them within sight and range of the American rifle, and the cannon, with the command of Gen. Clark; which, in appearance and sound, created more fear than it did harm.
Neither could they escape out of the upper end of the prairie, for Col. Logan and his 400 men had been sent to intercept them there, nor to the north, for this route was too much obstructed by the rocks; nor to the west or lower part of the town, the location of the stockade fort, for at this point the battle raged with the greatest fierceness, under the command of Col. Lynn. The constant crack of the rifle in its deadly work, the shouts of the white soldiers, the yells of the Indians, the screams of the wounded and dying, the distant roar of the cannon, disclosed this to be the point where defeat was to be accepted or victory won.
Simon Girty, who never was a constant friend to any party, "gnashing his teeth in impotent rage," ordered his 300 Mingo Indians to withdraw from what may have appeared to him an unequal fight.
This moment of time, near the same hour of the day one hundred years ago, was a dark and doubtful crisis in the history of that part of our country which is now regarded as the most beautiful, fertile and thickly populated part of Ohio.
If Clark's army had been defeated, we cannot doubt but that every white soldier would have been put to death, and the State of Kentucky invaded by the Indians; and what would have followed on the border can only be conjectured by what we have been told in the history of Indian wars.
The Shawnees, disheartened by the withdrawl of their allies, and pressed by the fierce, rather desperate fighting of the whites, which they denominated "madness," or fate, so reckless were the soldiers in exposing their lives. Against "madness," the Indians never contend. They gave up the fight and slowly fell back up the prairie, partly concealed by the tall grass, the wigwams, and the trees in the willow swamp. They fought as they retreated, not vor victory, but for their lives, until they reached the rocks, beneath which they had concealed their women and children.
Their situation was now worse than it had been at the commencement of the conflict, for they had passed all the low ground, making a retreat to the north pracitcal, with the exception of the opening cut down from the top of the cliff already described, and up through this, tradition claims, they marched out into the hills. If Col. Logan had executed his part of the plan with greater rapidity, the Indians would have been cut off from this place of retreat, and a great number of them put to death. Some persons assert that Col. Logan marched to a point where Mad River meets with the waters of Buck Creek before he crossed the river, and then marched down the east side thereof to execute his part of the general plan. He marched about three miles, according to all the authorities, and that is the distance from the site of the Old Piqua to the mouth of Buck Creek.
It follows that, if he did go so high up the river as the point named, that he would have traveled six miles before he could bring his men into action.
This view of the maneuvering, after looking over the location of the battlefield, seems so unmilitary that I cannot accept it. I presume that he made a detour from the river, that his force might not be observed, as secrecy was one of the conditions of success. To accomplish his part of the general plan, he may have marched three miles, but certainly not six. Let this point be settled as it may, there is no dispute about the fact that when he got his men into position, the battle had been fought and won, and the Indians gone. The loss was about equal — twenty men on each side.
On the 9th of August, the stockade fort, the shot-battered cabins, and the corn-fields, were destroyed. On the 10th, Gen. Clark, with his army, left for Kentucky. this campaign left the Indians without shelter or food. They had to hunt for their support and that of their families, leaving them no time for war, and the border settlements lived in peace and without fear.
This once powerful nation of the Shawnees had resided near Winchester, Va., then in Kentucky and in South Carolina, after that on the Susquehanna, in the State of Pennsylvania. From this last-named point they emigrated to the banks of the Mad River, and remained until driven from Piqua by Gen. Clark.
The Shawnees are now no more. The nation which gave birth to the great chiefs so intimately connected with the early history of Ohio, such as Blue Jacket, Black Hoof, Cornstalk, Captain Logan, Tecumseh, and the latter's vagabond brother, the Prophet, has gone out of history.
Thomas L. McKenney, late of the Indian Department, Washington, says: "Finally a remnant of about eighty souls, to which this once fierce and powerful nation had dwindled, removed, in 1833, to the western shore of the Mississippi."
* By Thomas F. McGrew
Battle of Piqua
Early Clark County
George Rogers Clark
Education in Clark County
Indians in Clark County
The National Road
Springfield in 1852
Springfield in 1863
SHS 1951 Yearbook
Then & Now