You can probably surmise that I am a bit of a history buff. Before I started studying my genealogy, I thought I knew American history pretty well, but being able to place an ancestor within the timeframe of a particular historical event enhances my understanding of both the generations and the era in which they lived.
Our school history books took us from one war to another in a matter of pages, churning through presidents quickly and sometimes without much explanation. By reading books written by residents of a particular area who were much closer generationally to the conflicts and challenges of pioneers, I’ve learned so much more…and it’s not all pretty.
I’ve read/skimmed two books called “The History of Posey County”, one written in 1886 and the other in 1916. Both tell the stories of the families who settled in the area, and both begin with the larger conflict between them and the Natives who had been living in the area for hundreds of years.
I grew up with playing Cowboys and Indians, with TV and movies influencing my perception of “indians”, though I never thought Anybody was as stupid as the people on F Troop… I pictured only tribes west of the Mississippi, thought they were brutal killers except for the occasional Tonto sidekick, and that John Wayne and his ilk had saved America from them and their primitive ways.
Now I know better, of course, and shudder at the brutal way the Natives were/are treated (not trying to say they didn’t retaliate in kind). Still, it wasn’t until I read those particular books that I got a real feel for the Natives of Indiana Territory. I vaguely knew that the Jesuits had set up missions from what is now Canada down to Vincennes way back in the 1600s to christianize the inhabitants, but despite the fact that I’ve visited the George Rogers Clark Memorial several times, I didn’t comprehend his role with the Natives. Even though I went to William Henry Harrison High School and knew he had been a General as well as President, I mostly remembered that he died six months into his presidency from pneumonia he contracted at his inauguration.
My son went to Purdue University in Lafayette, IN and on one of our visits we drove to nearby Prophetstown State Park, at the confluence of the Tippecanoe and Wabash Rivers. I confess, I knew nothing much of the battle, but finding out that my 4x great-grandfather, Alexander Barton, led a troop of Posey County solders in the battle definitely perked up my interest.
After the Revolutionary War and the Treaty of Paris, Great Britain gave the US all of the land called the Northwest Territory. The government wanted the land to be settled and were selling it cheap, so pioneers flocked to the area to homestead, among them my ancestors. The Natives had already moved and moved again and now they were running out of room.
Tecumseh was born around 1768 in what is now Ohio. He became a leader of his tribe and as such he envisioned the establishment of an independent Native American nation east of the Mississippi under the protection of the British. He and his tribe moved for what they hoped was the last time in 1808, when he and his brother, Tenskwatawa, aka The Prophet, founded the village of Prophetstown. The village grew into a large, multi-tribal community, the capital of Tecumeh’s confederacy. From there, Tecumseh sought to recruit more tribes to joining with them (and the British backers) to fight the Americans, believing that the sheer numbers of warriors would stop the westward expansion.
William Henry Harrison, governor of the Indiana Territory, was alarmed by the numbers at Prophetstown, and moved 1,200 troops (many from Southern Indiana) to the site while Tecumseh was south gathering additional support. Wanting to avoid a fight, yet fearing an attack, The Prophet decided to strike first in the early morning hours of Nov. 7, 1811.
Here’s part of how it’s told in “The History of Posey County” by John Leffell, 1916, speaking of the troops from Posey County: (the night before the battle) “They encamped on a spot of dry land which rose about ten feet above the marshy prairie in Prophets Town. As the place was easily accessible, the order of encampment was the order of battle and each man immediately opposite his post. The single file formation of troops was adopted in order to extend the lines as far as possible. Here they stayed without action until November 7 when about 4 in the morning, when the governor had just arisen, the left flank was charged by Indians. The first notice that the troops had that the flank was under attack was the yells of the savages a short distance from the line. However, they met the situation with much courage. Those who were quick enough seized their arms and took their posts and those who slower had to contend with the enemy in their tent doors. The storm center at the beginning was in Captain Barton’s company of the United States regiment and in Captain Geiger’s company of riflemen, which formed the left angle of the rear line. As soon as governor could mount he rode to the angle that was attacked and saw that Barton’s company had suffered severely and that Geiger’s had been cut to pieces. Some of the Indians had passed into the near angle and two had penetrated the line before they were killed.”
Somehow, Harrison and his troops held their ground until the Shawnee ammunition ran low. The battle lasted two hours. As darkness faded, the villagers withdrew through the marsh back to Prophetstown, then fled to Wildcat Creek. Harrison’s men unearthed graves of the Natives and burned Prophetstown to the ground.
And that was the Battle of Tippecanoe, for which WH Harrison was widely acclaimed and nicknamed “Tippecanoe”. Shortly after the battle, the settler-soldiers returned to their homes.
And that’s how my 4x great-grandfather, Captain Alexander Barton, received a Land Grant for his services as a Captain during Tecumseh’s War and his later service in the War of 1812.
Grandpa Alexander Barton was 24-years-old at the time of the battle, but had already homesteaded and patented a section of land in Posey County. Upon his return from war, he married Elizabeth Lowell, a fellow North Carolina native whose family had pioneered to Posey County around 1810. They set about having a family.
While it’s likely that there were other ancestors, both Barton and Stallings, involved with the War of 1812, the Stallings brothers stand out for another mention in the Posey County history books…
P.S. I am mystified that my alma mater, Wm Henry Harrison HS, chose as their mascot a Warrior of the Native-American type…but downright weirded out that the name of our newspaper was “The Prophet”… Very absurd…