by Shawnee in November 1812
Mounted Kentucky Riflemen (likely the horsemen involved in the defeat)
As the young horseman looked up after being knocked to the ground by a musket ball and nearly knocked unconscious, the sound of dying men and horses filled the air. The screams of the wounded being scalped and tomahawked alive and the Indians screaming war whoops as they ran down the ravine sides to collect what booty they could carry. The young man looked around as his horse had fallen on top of him and lay motionless and he knew he could not escape. The scene in that small valley was chaotic and mass confusion. His thoughts ran at light speed through his head of his family back home in Kentucky and what they would think of him and how he died as he knew that his time on earth was nearly over. Then the scream of a Shawnee brave and he felt the tug of his hair as the brave pulled his head back and then it was over.
This is the story of a little known part of Indiana History called Spur’s Defeat. The War of 1812 is said to have been fought in many places but one of the main theaters of war was the Indiana, Illinois and Michigan Territories. General William Henry Harrison had two duties to perform as territorial governor then general of the Northwest military including militia. Tecumseh had built an Indian city on the Wabash near the Tippecanoe River. Harrison and his army attacked the city of Prophetstown in the winter of 1811 burning all he could find and scattering the many tribes that lived there to the wind but Tecumseh brought them back and many more Indians had arrived by the summer of 1812. War had been declared on England and Tecumseh had traveled far and wide to seek an alliance of sorts of the many tribes that inhabited the western United States. Many had traveled hundreds of miles to seek out and speak with the Prophet at Prophetstown.
There were times that the Indian residing there outnumbered the white settlers three to one. Harrison also knew that since Prophetstown was back in full swing, he must devise a plan respond to the Indian offensive that was occurring in the territory. Forts Wayne and Harrison were under siege in the late summer and news arrived that hundreds of British troops and artillery were coming down the Maumee River to assist the Indians with taking over those forts. The massacre at Fort Dearborn (Chicago) and the loss of Fort Michlimackinac sent hundreds of settlers out of the territories for safety. The Pigeon Roost Massacre in southern Indiana territory soon followed and every settler moved his family and livestock to the 30 or so blockhouses and forts for protection. Harrison’s plan was for troops to move north from Vincennes and west from Ohio. The troops from Vincennes were lead by General Sam Hopkins of Kentucky. His approach was to attack the Indian villages on the Wabash at Prophetstown and then burn every hut, cabin, and provisions left by the Indians. Hopkins and Colonel Russell wasted no time in getting to the area.
Tecumseh was gone on another mission to gather support for the cause and the Prophet not wanting a repeat performance of 1811, scattered his followers out of harm’s way. The Indians hid their winter stores and fled to the countryside for safety as the soldiers approached. The first village burned was that of the Potowatamis on the Wabash and Wildcat rivers. Russell ordered a number of reconnoiters into the surrounding wilderness as their spies and guides had never been on this ground before. One reconnoiters headed east along the Wildcat in search of any additional villages. The second or third night out, one of the sentries posted for the night was missing and presumed dead. Sixty mounted men then searched the land for their missing comrade named Dunn. Nearly ten miles out they spied a hunting party running north from the river to the steep banks of a valley. There in the middle of the trail leading to that ravine was the head of the missing soldier. The two captains in charge cold not curtail the anger that ran like electricity through his troops and they all dashed franticly towards that hunting party of Indians that now were at the ravine. The distance was less than a mile and the horses moved at breakneck speed across the frozen ground and snow. Sixty men prepared themselves by brandishing sabers and screaming revenge for their lost comrade.
As the horsemen entered the small valley, over one hundred Indians rose up and came out from behind trees at the tops of the ravine and opened fire. Many men fell on the first volley and several died before they hit the ground. The ravine sides were too steep for a horse to run up them and they were taking fire from all three sides. The men began to shoot back at their foes but it was no use. Several more men fell to the ground and their horses with them. In less than two minutes, both captains ordered a retreat. The men spurred their horses mercilessly to get away from that nightmare of an ambush. They continued as fast as they could ride back to the main camp over 17 miles away. Many of the horses were showing the red stains of the fight and where the spurs had dug into their sides to make them run faster. Each mount was covered in sweat and dirt and the men were ragged from the cuts and torn clothing running on horseback through the thickets. By the time the officers could count, they had lost eighteen men in less than two minutes. The loss must have been a bitter closing to that campaign as within a day or two, they were headed downstream to Ft. Harrison. The winter expedition was over. Hopkins would return to Vincennes a broken man and would retire from military service and return to his beloved Kentucky.
That small piece of the puzzle that is mentioned in over eight books on the War of 1812 has never been fully investigated. Those of us in the Hoosier state were taught in school about the sea and great lakes battles but never about the ones that occurred here. Spur’s Defeat was a major debacle for the military in the west but again forced the Indian population to move further north and seek refuge in either Canada or submit to the United States. Many historians question this small engagement and its whereabouts have never been researched nor found. A marker presented by the Tippecanoe Historical Society stood more than a half a mile from the site and many argue that the battle occurred in Pyrmount, Indiana. The true location has not been excavated or searched for clues of what really occurred there and who was involved and why did the military leave without recovering the victims. Many questions but little answers and mostly legend earmark a very small page in Indiana History. One book about Tecumseh stated that the ambush was designed by his youngest brother, Kumskauka under Tecumseh’s tutelage. The ravine where the battle took place is three sided with extremely steep sides and all measure nearly 60 yards to the center which made the location a prefect place to ambush any military column. There were large trees surrounding the hillsides and a small hunting village located on the north and east side overlooking the battlefield. There are no written records on who actually fought at Spur’s Defeat on the Indian side other than Kumskauka and his followers and maybe Potowatamis. The military record on the U.S. military side is just as sparse. The only real record is of the officers who fought there and a man named Dunn and most of the men lost were from Kentucky.
Hopefully in the future, there will be some type of proper investigation completed on the site and if there are any remains of the soldiers there, they be given a proper burial or possibly sent home to Kentucky. It has been almost two hundred years since this incident and there should be a proper marker and mention of this battle but today none exist.
Copyright: The Discriminating General 2008