Legendary Lancaster:
Tarhe vs. Tecumseh

Prior to 1795, the majority of Native American tribes in the Ohio area considered the Ohio River as the border between white settlers and Natives. Tribes were desperate to keep them from encroaching further west and for years the area seemed to be in a constant state of war. Natives would cross the Ohio River and raid villages in Pennsylvania and Virginia. Likewise, settlers would cross into Ohio and raid Native villages. This back and forth continued and not even women and children were spared.

Oil painting of Chief Tarhe, Wyandot Chief.Following the American Revolution in 1783, the situation became even worse. Many American soldiers that served in the war were paid for their services with land grants in Ohio. In 1787, the Northwest Territory was established and open for settlement. Native Americans would respond with the establishment of the Western Confederacy, a collection of native tribes determined to stop the settlers. One of the members of the confederacy was the Wyandots and their Chief, Tarhe.

Tarhe had become chief in 1788 and his principal village was located in current day Lancaster. Known as ‘Tarhetown,’ the village contained around 500 natives, could be found on the south side of town and was considered to be well-governed. Standing at 6’4” tall, Tarhe stood over the rest of the natives and was recognized as a great warrior. He would lead his Wyandots in the Western Confederacy to try and prevent the Americans from settling in Ohio.

The Western Confederacy included several tribes such as the Wyandot (led by Chief Tarhe), Miami (led by Little Turtle), Delaware (led by Buckongehelas), Shawnee (led by Blue Jacket), along with the Chippewa, Mingo, Ottawa, and Potawatomi. Their combined forces were very formidable and actually quite successful. They won several battles in 1790 and 1791. President George Washington finally sent General “Mad” Anthony Wayne to subdue the natives. This led to the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794.
The Battle of Fallen Timbers was an absolute disaster for the Western Confederacy, especially for the Wyandots. The Wyandots had a policy of not retreating during a fight. In this instance, that policy led to the death of every Wyandot chief except one: Tarhe. Although his arm was severely injured, Tarhe survived the battle and escaped. He left the battle with a new mindset and approach to the Americans. Tarhe would choose peace.

Chief Tarhe along with most members of the Western Confederacy determined that they would not be able to stand toe-to-toe with the Americans. Doing so would cause the complete destruction of their people. So, Tarhe, Little Turtle and other chiefs would sign the Treaty of Greenville in 1795. Among other things, this treaty removed natives from the southern and central portions of Ohio. This meant that Tarhetown would need to be vacated. Tarhe and other chiefs were willing to make this sacrifice to save their people. However, there were some that disagreed. Their leader was Tecumseh.

Oil painting of Tecumseh, Shawnee warrior, wearing feather cap and colonial jacket.Tecumseh was a Shawnee warrior that was opposed to signing the Treaty of Greenville. He wanted to build a coalition of tribes from the west and south to make a stand against the Americans. Although Black Hoof, a Shawnee and lifelong friend of Tecumseh, tried to convince him to choose peace as Tarhe and Little Turtle had done, he would not be convinced. The two paths were clear. Natives had to decide whether to accept peace with Tarhe or join the resistance with Tecumseh. The choice caused a split between and within tribes.

Tecumseh would go further by trying to have prominent natives such as Tarhe executed. He claimed they were practicing witchcraft but he was actually trying to punish those that sided with the Americans. Tarhe evaded execution because he was always surrounded by loyal Wyandots. Another prominent Wyandot and friend of Tarhe, named Leather Lips, was not so lucky. Leather Lips was a follower of Tarhe and agreed with his call for peace. Roundhead, the brother of Leather Lips, became a follower of Tecumseh. He actually carried out the execution of his own brother.

During the War of 1812, the two groups would find themselves on opposing sides of the battlefield. Tecumseh and his followers had joined with the British while Tarhe and his followers took the side of the Americans. At the Battle of Thames in 1813, British General Henry Proctor and Tecumseh would face American General William Henry Harrison and Tarhe. Even at age 71, Tarhe entered the battlefield ready to fight. When the battle was over, the Americans had secured a major victory and Tecumseh lay dead. Tecumseh’s death caused his confederacy to fall apart and opened up the west to the Americans.

Memorial for Chief Tarhe, Wyandot Chief standing next to corn field in Ohio.Tarhe passed away at Upper Sandusky in 1818. As a recognition of his loyalty, his monument reads “Distinguished Wyandot Chief and loyal American.” Noble, honest, and known to be a man of his word, Tarhe left his mark everywhere that he went, including Lancaster.

If you want to learn more about Chief Tarhe, join the Fairfield County Heritage Association and receive their latest Quarterly magazine which details the life of Tarhe. You can join by going to FairfieldHeritage.org or by calling (740) 654-9923.

Filed under: Histories & Mysteries, Life, News
Michael R. Johnson, marketing director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association based in Lancaster, Ohio.

By Michael Johnson

Lancaster native Michael Johnson is the Marketing Director for the Fairfield County Heritage Association and serves as editor of the Heritage Quarterly – a magazine highlighting local history. Michael is a member of the Sherman Rotary and the Lancaster Fairfield Chamber of Commerce’s Diversity, Equity, Inclusion and Belonging Committee. His bachelor’s degree in history education was earned at Ohio University. Michael is married to Tara Johnson and has two children, Isaac and Mia.