200 Years in the Wrong Place: Fallen Timbers State Memorial in Maumee, Ohio
Today I visit the site of the Fallen Timbers State Memorial, a park thought to be the battlefield site for 200 years before archaeologists determined the Battle of Fallen Timbers took place a quarter mile to the north.
I talked about the Fallen Timbers Battlefield over here, and now I’ll talk about parcel two of the three-parcel land that makes up the Fallen Timbers Battlefield and Fort Miamis National Historic Site. A quarter mile to the south of the Fallen Timbers Battlefield is the Fallen Timbers State Memorial, a park, monument site, and network of walking trails that leads from the Anthony Wayne Parkway down to the Maumee River, bordered by River Road, Jerome Road, and the Side Cut Metropark (named for the former side-cut extension of the Miami and Erie Canal that connected the main line of the canal with the city of Maumee, Ohio, and containing three of the original six locks preserved in the park). For 200 years, this spot was believed to be the main hotbed of the fighting action during the Battle of Fallen Timbers.
The nine-acre park consists of a grouping of monuments set on high ground overlooking the river valley and the floodplain. The central statue is the Battle of Fallen Timbers Monument (sometimes called the Anthony Wayne Memorial, though that’s shortsighted) created by American sculptor Bruce Wilder Saville (1893-1938) in 1929. Saville was a member of the National Sculpture Society and a World War I veteran of the French Ambulance Corps and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers, and he later moved to Columbus, Ohio, where the statue was most likely created, then to Santa Fe, New Mexico, where he resided until his death.
The Battle of Fallen Timbers Monument has a 15-foot (conflicting measurements, as the kiosk on site says 10-foot) stone base topped by a bronze statue of three figures: The middle figure is definitely General “Mad” Anthony Wayne, whose Legion of the United States troops claimed the decisive victory on the battlefield. Flanking Wayne is a figure of a Native American; some have speculated that it is Ottawa chief Turkey Foot (Me-sa-sa), but I would think it more likely to be Shawnee chief Little Turtle (Michikinikwa), so I think it’s neither one of them and is instead just a generic “Indian.” (It was created in 1929, after all, when distinguishing between Native Americans and individual tribes and cultures was not a high priority.) The kiosk, however, calls the figure “an American Indian guide,” which is even worse than generic, because that would indicate that the monument doesn’t actually acknowledge the Indians who died on the other side of the battle. The third figure is a representative of General Charles Scott’s Kentucky Militia, volunteers who fought alongside Wayne, although the kiosk again oddly calls this figure “a settler,” as if the dude who wrote the kiosk just made it up as he went along. Three bas reliefs—one of which alarming says, “Indian Warfare: In memory of the white settlers massacred 1783-1794”—decorate three of the four sides of the stone base. The monument was featured at the unveiling on a 1929 United States postage stamp nicknamed by collectors as “the 2-cent reds.”
On facing sides of the central statue are two large stone monuments to the fallen fighters. The first one is a monument to “the brave soldiers” of General Anthony Wayne’s Legion of the United States and the Kentucky volunteers who were killed and wounded in action during the August 20, 1794, “victorious conflict.” The monument says the soldiers “rest in unmarked graves on the battlefield,” so I assume that they are not resting near the stone marker, but rather are in the ravine, woods, and meadow of the battlefield site that was correctly surveyed in 1995 as being a quarter mile to the north.
The second facing stone monument is one placed much later, in 1994, on the 200th anniversary of the battle, in memory of all the Native Americans who gave up their lives “at this place,” which the erectors would find out a year later was really not “this place,” but the battlefield to the north. Beneath this monument is the famed Turkey Foot Rock, a giant boulder that has moved from location to location over the centuries, but which is marked with a carved turkey foot and is supposedly the place where Ottawa chief Turkey Foot was slain in the battle. Being that the rock’s earliest recorded locations that I can find are 1.) on the bank of the Maumee, on the other side of River Road, and 2.) at the base of Presque Isle Hill, four miles south of the site of Fort Miamis—neither of which falls within the boundaries of where we now know the battle actually took place—I’m skeptical about its authenticity, but I love myth and legend as much as the next history fan, so I’m intrigued by its ancient plaque and the tobacco offerings that visitors have left on top of the boulder, even as freshly as the morning I arrived at the site.
But the legend and tradition of Turkey Foot is itself a deeper mystery. All easily available common accounts call the Ottawa chief by the exonym Turkey Foot, but Ohio’s historical accounts call the chief Me-sa-sa. There is no known contemporary documentation of Me-sa-sa being called Turkey Foot, though some speculate that this is the name that local whites might have given him. But the tradition goes like this: As the Indians were retreating from the Battle of Fallen Timbers, Chief Me-sa-sa jumped on top of a boulder at the base of Presque Isle Hill, trying to rally his forces. We know now that this site is not within the battlefield, but it’s close enough to Fort Miamis that I’ll entertain it for now. At the time of the battle, the rock was supposedly over five feet in length and over three feet high, though the rock that sits in the memorial site today doesn’t seem quite so huge (but I admit that I didn’t measure it). Me-sa-sa was shot on the rock, according to surviving accounts, and he died on top of it or beside it, his attempts at rallying the retreating Indians having failed. Regardless of whether or not the legend is true, the rock became a shrine to his memory and bravery, and offerings ranging from beef and corn to trinkets and tobacco were left on the boulder. At some point, the boulder became known as Turkey Foot Rock, though it is unclear when or why, or whether this is what it was called in its contemporary time. Perhaps the whites called Me-sa-sa “Turkey Foot,” or perhaps the rock was named for the carvings it contains, engravings in the shape of a turkey foot. Some accounts claim these carvings were there before Me-sa-sa’s death, and some claim that Natives made the carvings to honor their dead chief. Regardless of which story is actually true, the rock remains at the memorial site, still called Turkey Foot Rock, and Chief Me-sa-sa has gone down in modern history with the name of Chief Turkey Foot.
The state memorial was designated a National Historic Landmark in 1960 when it was still believed to be the main area of the battlefield, based on a map drawn by a British soldier who was not at the battle and on misinformed oral histories that had been passed down for centuries. It is plausible that some of the battle did take place in this location, at least during the retreat toward Fort Miamis directly to the east, but archaeological digs led by anthropologist G. Michael Pratt in 1995 uncovered artifacts that prove the main arena of the battlefield was actually located .25 miles to the north, where the Fallen Timbers Battlefield and visitor center now stand. A faculty member at Heidelberg University, Pratt correctly surmised that the battlefield was above the floodplain, rather than on it, after considering firsthand documentation that described a ravine (of which there is none on this location), then being allowed to conduct metal detection and dig surveys that turned up musketballs, uniform buttons, bayonets, and gun parts, proving the correct battlefield area.
Because of Pratt’s archaeological work and the advocacy of the Fallen Timbers Preservation Commission, the newly found battlefield was granted National Historic Site status in 1999, followed by a federal grant in 2001, and the Ohio Historical Society (now called Ohio History Connection) took over the main control of the small memorial park that had been placed at the original monument site. The monuments have remained in this location, disconnected from the main arena of the battlefield, but there is a lengthy walking path that now connects the two sites across the freeway that splits them. The battlefield, monuments, and Fort Miamis to the east were collectively designated Fallen Timbers Battlefield and Fort Miamis National Historic Site in 1999, and operate jointly as a partnership between the National Park Service, Toledo Metroparks, and the Ohio History Connection. An updated landmark nomination is currently being prepared to correct the boundaries to include the actual battlefield site.
There are no visitor center, gift shop, restrooms, fountains, nor staff at this state memorial park. There are restrooms located down one of the long trails, closer to the Maumee River, sharing the boundary of Side Cut Metropark, but it’s a trek to get there, and the trails are rough and not disability accessible, being somewhat narrow, steep, rocky, and grassy in some areas. The pathway around the monuments that connects to a small parking lot, however, is completely paved and accessible, and there’s a trail map kiosk. The trails are lengthy, with large parts of them out in the open sun, but it’s a pretty area that takes you along the banks of the Maumee amid thorny honey locusts and plenty of poison ivy. The parking lot can be accessed at 5601 Anthony Wayne Trail, Maumee, Ohio 43537, and the grounds are free, self-guided, and open seven days a week from dawn to dusk.
As previously mentioned, the area is a floodplain, and on June 22, 2019, the day I visited the memorial park, the Maumee was high and raging, swallowing trees on its banks, and it had just flooded, unseating several-hundred-year-old gravestones and burial sites in the neighboring Riverside Cemetery, including those of Revolutionary, War of 1812, and Civil War veterans, to the point that the cemetery area was toxic and contaminated, requiring special cleanup crews and public closure. There are 1,300 burials in the cemetery, and although most of the newer gravestones were intact, the delicate Civil War-era sandstone and limestone grave markers were heavily damaged, flattened, broken, and displaced throughout the cemetery. Everyone who knows me has heard my constant rant about how manmade climate change is going to destroy huge chunks of our history, landmarks, and carefully curated historic sites. Here we are, with a prime example; we can repair, replace, restore, and reconstruct all we’d like, but we can never get the original product back once it’s gone. We can only duplicate it, but there’s very little magic in duplication. Old headstones that are broken can perhaps be fixed, but they can never be original again, and we may not even know where some of those original bodies are buried. Fire, flood, hail, and hurricane: our history is in danger of disappearing. Even when I visited on a blisteringly hot, oppressively humid day in the summer, the neighboring cemetery was still closed because it was too contaminated for humans.
But we walked down the Fallen Timbers Trail anyway, toward the high, raging Maumee River. I didn’t see a soul on the path as we headed down the Red Trail at 10 in the morning on a Saturday, aiming for the corner of River Road and Jerome Road. I was told on the phone by a Metroparks employee that I couldn’t access the corner of Jerome Road and River Road, despite what the Google satellite map showed me, but I was able to get from the Red Trail to Fallen Timbers Trail to the Blue Trail. The Blue Trail is paved, and it had tons of bicyclists, but it did take us down to the banks of the Maumee, where I was able to walk west on the paved River Road to the point that it met up with Jerome Road at the original site of Turkey Foot Rock when the park had extended down to the banks (around 1930, when Ohio was investing in their Ohio Revolutionary Memorial Trail) and to the original site of Hull’s Crossing, though it no longer has its 1930 historical marker.
Across the swiftly moving rapids was the place where General William Hull marched his troops to Detroit during the War of 1812 (yeah, you’ll notice that skipping through wars and decades without any warning is kind of a theme of mine) en route to an attempted capture … pardon, I mean cowardly debacle … of the British-held Fort Amherstburg. But, you’re right … that’s another war. Yet, here it is, showing how intertwined and interconnected it all is, and how our lands hold the stories of many past encounters in the same place.