History of Western Ohio and Auglaize County
James M'Dowell's Account of the Battle
The following interview of James McDowell by John S. Houston, of Celina, Ohio, March 20th, 1847, appears originally in "Howe's Historical Collections of Ohio:"
"Mr. McDowell states that on the morning of the battle he and several others had just gone out to look after and guard their horses, when suddenly they heard the most hideous yells from the opposite side of the river, with discharges of musketry. He instantly rushed to camp, found his regiment preparing for action, joined them, and was with the party who so gallantly charged the enemy in the bottom. On the retreat he was among those who defended the rear, and kept the enemy in check for several miles. The ground was covered with a slushy snowy which much retarded their progress; and, after a while, many of them were so dispirited and hungry — having eaten no breakfast — that they threw down their arms and made the best of their way, pell-mell, among the retreating crowd.
"About this time Mr. McDowell saw a female carrying her infant, a year old. She was so tired that she was about to fall by the way-side, when he took the child and carried it some distance. Afterward, to save her own life, the woman threw away the child in the snow. The Indians took it up, carried it to the Sandusky towns and raised it. There were two hundred and fifty women in the army, following the fortunes of their husbands, of whom fifty-six were killed in battle, and the remainder were made prisoners, except a small number who reached Fort Washington.
"Soon after the woman cast her child aside, McDowell overtook a youth, some eighteen years old, wounded in the leg, hobbling along, and dispirited. He gave him a drink of spirits and a little bread (he himself had not had time to eat), which refreshed and encouraged him. Soon after a pony came dashing by. This McDowell caught, and mounting the youth upon it, he safely reached the fort.
"At Stillwater creek, twelve miles from the battle-ground, the Indians, who were no longer numerous, left them and returned to share their booty. 'Oh!' said an old squaw who died many years ago on the St. Mary's, 'my arm was that night so weary scalping white men.'
"Some years ago, said the old man to me — and here his cheeks were moistened with tears — I was traveling in Kentucky to visit a sister I had not seen in many years, when I arrived at Georgetown, and entered my name on the ledger with the place of my residence — Recovery, Ohio.
"After I had been sitting some time at ease before a comfortable fire, a gentleman who had noticed the entry of my name and residence, opened a friendly conversation about the place and country. He soon remarked that he was at the battle of St. Clair, and that if it had not been for the assistance of a young man of Butler's regiment, he would have been there yet.
"After a few more questions and replies both parties recognized each other. The gentleman was the youth who had been shot, in the retreat, and whose life — as previously stated — was saved by the interposition of McDowell. At this discovery their surprise and consequent mutual attachment may be imagined. The gentleman insisted upon taking him to his house and introducing him to his wife and daughters. He had become wealthy by merchandising, and, on parting with McDowell, gave him a new suit of clothes and other presents, which he has carefully preserved to this day."
The number of Indians engaged in the defeat of St. Clair, according to the best accounts obtainable, did not exceed one thousand. They, however, fought with desperate valor, and from the nature of the ground, they had a great advantage over the scattered and panic-stricken troops of the Americans. They were commanded, too, by Little Turtle, the greatest chieftain of the confederated tribes. Joseph Brant was, also, present with one hundred and fifty Mohawk braves.
Butterfield, in his "History of the Girtys," states that the "Wyandots fought courageously, and none with more bravery than their leader, Simon Girty, who was presented with three of the captured cannon; but the present proved of no value to him, as he could not remove them. He afterwards told a prisoner (William May) that there were twelve hundred Indians of the whole force (?), three hundred of which were not in the battle, but were left in the rear to take care of the horses." It is also known that the old men, women and children of Wapakoneta and Girty's town were sent to a point down the Auglaize river to await the issues of the battle. It was probably the point referred to by Girty.
"Among those who fought with the savages on that occasion were considerable numbers of Canadians, mostly young men, and particularly such as were born of Indian mothers. There were also some refugees present. Girty was not the only one who, on that day, fought against his countrymen. After the action, he found General Butler on the field, writhing from the agony of his wounds. The general spoke to him and requested him to end his misery.
"Girty refused to do this, but turning to one of the Indian warriors, told him the wounded man was a high officer; whereupon the savage planted his tomahawk in his head, and thus terminated his sufferings. His scalp was instantly torn from his crown, his heart taken out and divided into as many pieces as there were tribes engaged in the battle."
General Wilkinson visited the battlefield about three months after the action, and reported that "the scene was truly melancholy. In my opinion, those unfortunate men who fell into the enemy's hands, with life, were used with the greatest torture — having their limbs torn off; and the women have been treated with the utmost indecent cruelty, having stakes as thick as a person's arm, driven through their bodies. Believing that the whites, for many years, made war merely to acquire land, the Indians crammed clay and sand into the eyes and down the throats of the dying and the dead."
We refrain from a further recital of the horrors of the great defeat, or the consternation that spread throughout the country.
There is a plaintive ballad of the time which long hung on the walls of the log cabins, and serves not only to show the popular grief, but as a specimen of the primitive literature of the West.
From "History of Western Ohio and Auglaize County with Illustrations and Biographical Sketches of Pioneers and Prominent Public Men" by C. W. Williamson, W.M. Linn, Pub, Columbus, 1905.