The Toledo War or How Michigan Came to Have the Upper Peninsula*

Guest Writer Willard W Glazier

“What is this you call property? It cannot be the earth, for the land is our mother, nourishing all her children, beasts, birds, fish and all men. The woods, the streams, everything on it belongs to everybody and is for the use of all. How can one man say it belongs only to him?” ~Chief Massasoit

[Willard W Glazier, a Cavalryman, veteran of the Civil War, and successful author, was a decade later, at age thirty-three, traveling cross-country, ocean to ocean, on horseback. His horse was a large Kentucky Black Hawk or Morgan stallion whom he had named Paul Revere. “His color was coal black, with a white star in the forehead and four white feet; long mane and tail; height fifteen hands; weight between ten and eleven hundred pounds, with an easy and graceful movement under the saddle.”

[I] ordered Paul and saddled him myself at Elmore, [Ohio,] on the morning of July seventeenth [1876]. fact, it was my usual custom, while riding through the rural districts, to personally groom, feed, and care for my horse, as I learned soon after leaving Boston that, unless I attended to his wants myself, he was most likely to be neglected by those in whose hands he was placed, and from a selfish standpoint, knowing also the importance of keeping him in the best possible condition, I never overlooked anything which was likely to add to his comfort.

On my way from Elmore, I stopped for lunch at a country grocery, hotel and saloon, four miles from this city. A small piece of bread, a bowl of milk, and a few crackers covered my refreshment at the “Jack of All Trades” [general mercantile] as upon asking for a second piece of bread I was informed that I had just eaten the last in the house. There being no further appeal, I remounted and rode off in the direction of Toledo, where I lectured in the evening at Lyceum Hall, under the auspices of Forsyth Post, being introduced by Dr JT Woods, a surgeon of our Volunteer Army during the late war [Civil War], and now an active comrade in the GAR [Grand Army of the Republic: the North].

Dr Woods and I had a long and animated talk at the Boody House over old times … our conversation turned upon Toledo, [Ohio] …

The city, after having survived many reverses of fortune, is now on the eve of rapid development, and can hardly be said to have a rival in Northern Ohio. The long and hard battle fought for the soil on which it now stands is almost forgotten, and instead of arousing the interest of the stranger with thrilling tales of massacre and war, the Toledoan now points to the emblems of peace.

Not so far away but that the patriotic citizen may become familiar with the place is the old battlefield of “Fallen Timbers” [1794], where [General] “mad Anthony Wayne” brought the Indians to bay, and having conquered, pursued them for ten miles along the Maumee, until he reached Swan Creek, now in the center of the town.

This battle is one of the most dramatic in the records of Indian warfare. It was at a time when the Wabash and Miami tribes had refused to accept any overtures from the Americans, and when they were determined to fight out their cause with the help of the British.

Knowing that pacific measures were then superfluous, and that the matter must be decided by war, Wayne at the head of a splendid support, marched to the Maumee, erected Fort Defiance at the junction of the Au Glaize, and then proceeded to a point where he knew the forces of the enemy were concentrated. The place was in every way favorable to the party in possession—the river on the left, heavy thickets on the right, and in front natural breastworks formed by fallen timbers, the result of a tornado. Into this trap it was necessary to march in order to meet the foe. Wayne’s simple plan of attack was this: to rouse the savages from their lair with an irresistible bayonet charge, “and when up, to deliver a close and well-directed fire on their backs.”

The result was a victory for the Americans. The Indians and their white allies, completely routed, made a precipitous retreat, leaving the battlefield covered with their dead. Hotly pursued, their cornfields and wigwams destroyed on the way, they were finally ready to acknowledge that peace was better than war. So ended the great battle of the Maumee, one of the most fatal in its effect upon the destiny of the red race.

It was after this, when actual contest was over, and the Indians had been provided for west of the Mississippi, that the Cincinnati Company laid out a town on the present site and called it Port Lawrence, after the famous flagship in which [Commodore Oliver Hazard] Perry met the British on Lake Erie [War of 1812]. Later, Major Stickney, a historic pioneer, whose sons, “One” and “Two” Stickney are equally immortal, laid out Vistula, which afterward joined Port Lawrence, under a name destined to become a power in the State—Toledo.

The fortunes of the new town were fluctuating as April weather, and the faith of property-holders must have grown weak through wavering. Most of these hard times were due to malaria, which was bred in the neighboring swamps and forests, and which was an ever-present menace; yet when the cloud of contention lowered over the tract of land lying between the territory of Michigan and the State of Ohio, Toledo, the very center of the trouble, being claimed by both, was animated enough, although her neighbor, Monroe, [Michigan,] was wont to vex her with such taunts as this:

The potatoes they grow small, on Maumee,
And they eat them, tops and all, on Maumee.

Potato-tops must have possessed singular virtue, for there was no want of spirit when the test came “On Maumee.”

The “Toledo War,” much talked of and laughed over in its day, is passing slowly into oblivion, and now only an occasional grey-beard brings its scenes back with amusing reminiscence. The cause of the trouble lay in a mistake of Congress, which established an impossible boundary line between Michigan and Ohio, so that the “bone of contention” was a tract of land eight miles wide at the western end, and five at the eastern, which both claimed. The people living in this tract were, therefore, between two fires, some preferring to be governed by the laws of the territory, and the others giving their allegiance to Ohio. The respective governors were the principals in the quarrel, and showed a strong disposition to fight, while the chief executive at Washington [Andrew Jackson], being unable to interfere, was obliged to assume the role of a spectator, advising, however, that the interested parties defer action until the convening of Congress.

The advantages were pretty evenly divided, except that Michigan, as a territory, in attempting to prevent the State from enforcing her supposed right, aroused a strong State pride among the “Buckeyes.” The militia was called out on both sides and Michigan threatened with arrest those who should attempt to remark the boundary line—the compliment being generously returned by Ohio.

In the midst of these hostilities the Legislature of Ohio created a new county, calling it Lucas, after the Governor, which included a portion of the contested territory, and had for its seat the town of Toledo. To hold court at this county-seat without the intervention of the authorities of Michigan would virtually decide the case in Ohio’s favor, but how this bold coup d’etat was to be accomplished, and on the date appointed—the seventh of September [1835]—was a question that puzzled the Governor himself. General Brown, in charge of the Michigan militia, was reported to be in Toledo at the time, with a force twelve hundred strong; while Colonel Vanfleet, the Ohio warrior, was to rely upon the stout hearts of a hundred men, who were to act as posse for the protection of the court.

When the judges, sheriff, and attendants met at Miami [Ohio] to perfect their plans, on Sunday the sixth of September, they were somewhat fearful of the issue, and finally left the decision of the matter in the hands of Colonel Vanfleet. This intrepid Leonidas immediately assumed the championship of his State with admirable skill, and, walking up and down, sword in hand, in front of his hundred followers, for a moment’s meditation, turned at last to the judges with these impressive words:

“If you are women, go home; if you are men, do your duty as judges of the court. I will do mine. If you leave this matter entirely with me, I will be responsible for your safety and insure the accomplishment of our object; but if otherwise, I can give you no assurance!”

In the light of present knowledge, the reader of these words, while he respects and admires the spirit in which they were uttered, and the man who spoke them, cannot avoid a mild sense of amusement. But this is not to the point. Matters proceeded seriously on that sixth of September, 1835. Vanfleet called for twenty volunteers, and these having quickly responded to the call, the Colonel then informed his protégés, probably not to their surprise, that the seventh of September would begin immediately after midnight; that the law did not specify any time for the opening of court, and that if they would rely upon his protection, they could accomplish their purpose in the face of the foe.

“Governor Lucas wants the court held,” he added, “so that by its record he may show to the world that he has executed the laws of Ohio over the disputed territory in spite of the vaporing threats of Governor Mason. Be prepared to mount your horses to start for Toledo at precisely one o’clock in the morning. I will be ready with my escort.”

The appointment was met, and Toledo was reached at three o’clock. The party proceeded directly to a school-house, and there court was held in due form of law, its proceedings written out on bits of paper being deposited in the tall crown of the clerk’s hat. When business was over, the entire party went to a tavern near by for refreshments. Just as the men were about to indulge in a second cup of cheer, some one called out that General Brown, with a strong force, was on his way to arrest them. Glasses were dropped, the little matter of indebtedness to the saloon-keeper was waived without ceremony, and a moment later not a sign of the Ohio dignitaries remained.

When they had placed a sufficient amount of the contested soil between themselves and General Brown, they halted upon a hill to fire a salute, but at that time it was learned that the clerk’s hat, containing the all-important papers, had been knocked off his head by the limb of a tree during the retreat. To return might mean capture and the failure of their plan. To abandon the recovery of the missing hat would be equally deplorable. Vanfleet accordingly sent back a small detachment to search the road; “the lost was found,” and, at last triumphant, a loud salute was fired. To say that the men did not then let the grass grow under their feet is but a mild assertion. It has been said by good authorities, that if the retreating party had charged General Brown’s regiment with half the force they employed in getting away, they could have routed a force twice its size.

When [the US] Congress convened, however, they had the satisfaction of having a favorable verdict pronounced upon their “unlawful act, lawfully committed,” [Andrew] Jackson had previously expressed himself in sympathy with the cause of Michigan. The defeated party, to even up matters, was given the northern peninsula between Superior and Huron, now her richest section.

During the course of the “war” Toledo was full of Michigan troops, who left many anecdotes behind them and whose generally harmless behavior raised many a laugh among the townspeople. As one of these stories goes, Major Stickney, walking out into his garden one morning, noticed something that looked like a human figure in his potato vines. He called out to the mysterious object and asked what was going on there? The call brought to his full length a soldier in uniform, who stretched up and replied:

“Drafting potato-tops to make the bottoms volunteer, sir!”

And so, half in jest, and half in earnest, the affair continued and ended ….

“Humans wanted the last bit of ground which supported Indian feet. It was land—it has ever been land—for which the White man oppresses the Indian and to gain possession of which he commits any crime.” ~Luther Standing Bear

Copyright © 2011 Alexandra Lee

Photo Credit: Wildwood Preserve Metropark

* Willard W Glazier, Ocean to Ocean on Horseback / Being the Story of a Tour in the Saddle from the Atlantic / to the Pacific; with Especial Reference to the Early History / and Devel (Philadelphia: Edgewood, 1899), Chapter 15. Photos, quotes added.

About Christseekerk

Minister, Editor, Writer, Senior Citizen, Grown Children, Grandchildren. Interests travel, writing, reading, walking, golf.
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