Battle of Olentangy: women, children slaughtered by American troops

For generations little boys have played army and fought Indians in their own backyards. But 225 years ago, grown men battled Indians and many lost their lives in what has become our backyards.

This weekend it will be grown men who face off again in Crawford County at the 225th Anniversary of the Battle of Olentangy.

"It happened right here. We don't have to go any place for history. It's right here," Colonel Crawford superintendent Ted Bruner said. "This is the American Revolutionary War in your backyard. You never know what's there. Out there are remnants of the war. I think that's important."

So do battalions of re-enactors who will engage each other on the actual battle site, still pristine ground much like it was 225 years ago.
Bruner received a grant from the Bucyrus Area Community Foundation to under-

write the weekend's activities. He calls the battle the last of the American Revolutionary War even though it was fought eight months after Britain's General Cornwallis surrendered at Yorktown.

It would be another five months after the Battle of Olentangy before the final treaty between the American colonies and Britain was signed in Paris.

While the Battle of Olentangy was between American volunteers under the direction of a European nobleman, and Native Americans supported by regular British troops, it's root cause goes back to a case of misjustice and mistaken identity in western Pennsylvania.

A female settler and her young baby were killed by a band of roving Indians and her two sons taken, never seen again. When her bloody blue dress was found with Indians at Gnadenhutten, near New Philadelphia in eastern Ohio, it was assumed they had been in the raiding party.

But those Indians, pacifists converted to Christianity by Moravian missionaries, had unwittingly traded food in return for the dress. Nevertheless, 90 defenseless Indian men, women and children were slaughtered by American troops in March of 1782 as revenge.

Stirred by British insurgents from Canada, the Indians began retaliating against American settlements. Political pressure from settlers in Ohio and Pennsylvania led George Washington to ask a childhood friend and fellow soldier, Colonel William Crawford, to come out of retirement and lead an expedition to quell the uprising.

"There were to be 469 men on horseback 11 days behind enemy lines," Bruner said. "They had to be self-supported for 30 days. They were going to attempt an attack on enemy villages with no way to re-arm, no way to get more food. It was quite an undertaking."

Bruner said the expedition traveled west through what is now Crawford County and on to the Upper Sandusky settlement. To that point they found only empty deserted Indian villages. Crawford actually planned to turn back if they hadn't found any Indians by the following day when they were ambushed north of Upper Sandusky.

"The Battle of Sandusky was larger (than Olentangy) from the standpoint of a military campaign," Bruner said.

The American troops managed to survive the attack by taking refuge in a wooded area, but knew they couldn't hold out indefinitely.

"The trees at Upper Sandusky saved them," Bruner said, noting the sanctuary of burr oaks threatened to become a stockade when they were surrounded by Indians. "Every time they took a shot, it was one less bullet they had. They had to leave."

In the retreat's confusion, Crawford left the safety of his company to search for his missing son and son-in-law. Colonel Gustav Von Rose, a Russian nobleman, actually commanded the American troops a few days later at the Battle of Olentangy.

Crawford, trying to reconnect with them, may have been close enough to hear the guns.

The American troops made it back to the area near what is now the Bucyrus airport where they were again ambushed by Indians, British regulars and a company of Butler's Rangers.

Knowing they couldn't survive a fight in the high prairie grass that dominated the landscape, they again found cover in a grove of oak trees on high ground near what is now Parcher Road north of County Road 35.

Bruner said the Indians may have won the Battle of Sandusky in that the Americans were stopped from attacking their villages. But the Battle of Olentangy should be remembered for the Americans' survival against overwhelming odds.

"The amazing thing is they should have been annihilated down to the last man," Bruner said. "There are so many reasons they should have been wiped out."

A few days later Crawford, who never rejoined his troops, was captured with a few companions near what later became Leesville at the origin of the Sandusky River. He was taken back to the Upper Sandusky area and burned at the stake.

But Crawford accomplished with his death what he couldn't in life. Outraged by stories of his torture, American troops and settlers steadily pushed west until the Indians were driven from the Northwest Territory.

Bruner says American history has been pretty much "gutted out of education by the state." He believes that shortcoming makes events like this weekend even more important for people to understand the earliest years of our country's existence and their own roots.

Many current residents of Crawford and Wyandot counties are descendants from soldiers who survived the Battle of Olentangy.

"People from that expedition eventually settled here," Bruner said.

American Revolutionary War