Published on February 1, 2011 by Amy
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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.