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Statue of Little Turtle at Headwaters Park in Fort Wayne, by local sculptor Hector Garcia.

Michikinikwa ("Little Turtle") (1752July 14, 1812) was a chief of the Miami tribe in what is presently Indiana. His name is sometimes spelled Mihsihkinaahkwa, Meshekunnoghquoh, or Mischecanocquah.


Early life

Born near present day Churubusco, Indiana, Michikinikwa was the son of a Miami chief named Acquenacque. Since his mother was not a Miami, but a Mohican, he was compelled to earn the trust of the tribe before coming into a leadership position in the Miami capital of Kekionga (present-day Fort Wayne). This he achieved through demonstration of military prowess; one example was his bravery in an attack on his village by a French force. Through demonstration of his military acumen, Michikinikwa gained not only the leadership of his tribe, but eventually that of a larger tribal confederation.

Struggle with the United States

The end of the Revolution and the creation of the Northwest Territory in 1787 led to strife as settlement west of the Appalachians, previously forbidden by the British, began to increase. The tribal confederacy in this Northwest Indian War (sometimes known as Little Turtle's War) was blamed for the deaths of 1500 white settlers in the region between 1783 and 1790, probably inflicted in what they saw as lawful defense of their territory under previous treaties. Additionally, the British, allied with the confederacy, were recalcitrant in abandoning their fortifications in the region.

This led to a "punitive expedition" in 1790 by the United States government, under the command of Gen. Josiah Harmar, about 1500 strong (but only 320 were regulars). Michikinikwa's forces defeated this expedition at the Maumee river. A similar expedition in 1791 by Gen. Arthur St. Clair was routed by Michikinikwa's forces at the St. Mary's River, with 900 U.S. fatalities.

A third expedition under the command of Gen. Anthony Wayne gave Michikinikwa pause; after having observed the rigorous training of U.S. troops and after an exploratory attack on Fort Recovery (June 30-July 1, 1794), Michikinikwa counseled negotiation rather than battle, remarking that Wayne "never sleeps." He was overridden by the confederacy, and ceded command to Blue Jacket (Weyapiersenwah), although retaining leadership of the Miami tribesmen. The confederacy was defeated at the Battle of Fallen Timbers, which led to capitulation via the Treaty of Greenville.

Later life

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Chief Little Turtle's burial marker, near his grave in Fort Wayne.

In later life, Michikinikwa continuously advised cooperation with the U.S., refusing an alliance with Tecumseh and meeting cordially with George Washington, who presented him with a ceremonial sword. He retired to a spot near present-day Columbia City, Indiana, where he lived for almost three years. He died in 1812 at the home of his son-in-law, Captain William Wells, not far from Kekionga, and was laid to rest in his ancestral burial ground. He was succeeded as chief of the Miami nation by Richardville (Peshewa).


In 1911, a very old grave was accidentally discovered by a homebuilder on Lawton Place in Fort Wayne. Research showed that the tomb was indeed that of Michikinikwa. The body was not disinterred, and the plans for the house were altered. A small memorial stone was placed there, which reads:

This site honors the great Chief of the Miamis, Meshekinoqua, "The Little Turtle," son of the great Chief Acquenacque. He is held in the hearts of his people, allies, and foes with the greatest of honor and respect for his courageous valor and peacemaking.

In 1959, the site was purchased by the Smeltzly sisters of Fort Wayne, with the express desire of holding up Little Turtle's peacemaking efforts "...as an example to future generations..." and donated to the city as a public park "...dedicated to the children of America."

In 1994, the memorial was improved with additional markers and a trust established for its maintenance.

Several institutions in northeast Indiana have been named for Little Turtle (as he is usually called in English) including Camp Chief Little Turtle, a Boy Scout reservation near Angola and the Little Turtle Branch of the Allen County Public Library. Turtle Island in Lake Erie is for him.

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