© 2024 WYSO
Our Community. Our Nation. Our World.
Play Live Radio
Next Up:
0:00 0:00
Available On Air Stations

'Nothing About Us, Without Us' - new Fort Recovery exhibit explores historic battle from Native perspectives

 The exhibit St. Clair’s Defeat Revisited: A New View of The Conflict debuted on the 232nd anniversary of the historic battle.
Adriana Martinez-Smiley
The exhibit St. Clair’s Defeat Revisited: A New View of The Conflict debuted on the 232nd anniversary of the historic battle.

On November 4, 1791 – approximately 232 years ago – the most successful defeat of the U.S. military by Native American troops took place in Fort Recovery, Ohio. Known as St. Clair’s Defeat, nine tribal nations in the Northwest Territory banded together to defend their land. Through their notorious crescent formation, the Native troops were able to take down 650 soldiers.

Fast forward to the present, historical accounts of this battle from the tribal nations involved are slim to none.

A new exhibit at the Fort Recovery Museum, called “St. Clair’s Defeat Revisited: A New View of the Conflict” attempts to contextualize the extended effects of this battle, and reveals where the tribal nations involved are today.

Unexplored perspectives

Diane Hunter, Heritage Preservation Specialist for the Miami Tribe of Oklahoma, said the brilliant strategy of the Indigenous military leaders such as Little Turtle and Blue Jacket wasn’t recognized, and that American propaganda skewed tribal perception of the victory.

“In newspapers, they talked about the ‘wild Indian savages’ and called us bloodhounds,” said Hunter, who is also a citizen of the Miami nation. “On the other hand, there were the gallant American officers, brave, youthful soldiers who fell gloriously fighting for their country. That's what was put out about that battle.”

Even people local to the area have little knowledge of the military events that took place here.

New Bremen resident Bob McDaniel who viewed the exhibit said it offered additional understanding to Ohio’s history that he’d never been exposed to.

“Growing up around here, we hear the American side of things,” McDaniel said. “To hear firsthand that perspective on how that affected their society, not just back in that time, but how it continues to affect them—it was a sobering account of what they still continue to deal with today.

How the exhibit came to be

Planning for the exhibit started back in 2016, at a 90 minute meeting organized between 11 scholars from ten tribal nations and faculty from the Applied Anthropology Labs at Ball State University.

Initially the meeting was for Ball State staff to present the results of an archaeological survey the department conducted at Fort Recovery.

But as the meeting proceeded, each of the 11 scholars shared out on the erasure of their culture through broken treaties, separation from their homelands and admittance to boarding schools that contributed to their lack of knowledge of the battle.

Director of Applied Anthropology at Ball State, Kevin Nolan, said this meeting made the exhibit what it is today.

“All of the stuff we brought and prepared was useless, and it should be useless,” Nolan said. “What we [had] learned, what we just went through, that's what everybody needs to know.”

At this meeting is also where they decided the exhibit should be divided into four sections – going over the background, battle, aftermath and persistence of the tribes today. However, it took another seven years and multiple day-long meetings, interviews and forms of correspondence to reach its current arrangement.

Diane Hunter, speaking, one of 11 tribal scholars involved in creating the exhibit.
Adriana Martinez-Smiley
Diane Hunter, speaking, is one of the 11 tribal scholars involved in creating the exhibit.

To kick off the exhibit opening, two tribal scholars also gave talks titled “Nothing About Us, Without Us” this weekend to discuss the tribal collaboration and planning process.

Hunter, who was one of the speakers, said it was most important to the tribal representatives involved that the recovery of culture for these nations is portrayed in the exhibit.

“We needed to show that we are a persistent people. We needed to show who we are today. We are revitalizing. We are surviving. We are thriving. And we are still here.”

The exhibit will be available to view at the Fort Recovery Museum on select dates until January 7.

Adriana Martinez-Smiley (she/they) is the Environment and Indigenous Affairs Reporter for WYSO. They grew up in Hamilton, Ohio and graduated from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism in June 2023. Before joining WYSO, her work has been featured in NHPR, WBEZ and WTTW.

Email: amartinez-smiley@wyso.org
Cell phone: 937-342-2905