Celebrating (not) Mad Wayne Day
Mary Annette Pember
In case you missed it: Tuesday July 16 was the first General Mad Anthony Day in Fort Wayne, Indiana.
Not everyone was celebrating.
Members of the General Mad Anthony Wayne Organization joined the Daughters of the Revolution in a wreath laying ceremony at the foot of Wayne’s statue in the city’s Friemann Square, according to news reports. Reenactors Robert Jones and Andi Hahn portrayed Wayne and his wife Mary Penrose during the day’s celebration.
Absent were members of the Miami tribe of Oklahoma who consider the area to be their heartlands.
The Miami and other tribes were pushed out of the region by treaties and federal removal policies designed to steal lands in Ohio and Indiana for American settlers. It was General Mad Anthony Wayne who led the first wave of these actions.
More than 200 Miami tribal members still live in Fort Wayne, many descended from five families who remained in the area as part of the 1774 Treaty of Greenville. Before Mad Anthony Wayne, the city was known as Miami Town or Kiihkayonki, the Old Man’s Place.
Many members of the Miami tribe of Oklahoma as well as tribal leadership have voiced objections to Fort Wayne city council’s February 26, 2019 resolution declaring a day in honor of Revolutionary War General Anthony Wayne.
During his February 26, 2019, presentation in support of the day, councilman Jason Arp described Wayne as merciful towards Native Americans and crucial to the success of the American Revolution. Several Miami tribal members as well as three city council members disagreed with Arp’s depiction of Wayne as well as the council’s decision to enact a Mad Anthony Day. They maintain that celebrating Wayne glosses over and ignores his role in the genocide of Native Americans.
Miami Chief Douglas Lankford, in his March 18 letter to city council president John Crawford, expressed disappointment and disdain over historical inaccuracies upon which the resolution is based.
The episode in Fort Wayne is the latest in several national debates over decisions to honor historic figures and events that fail to include the long-overlooked perspectives of communities that may have suffered as a result.
Most recently Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee came under fire for declaring July 13 as Nathan Bedford Forrest Day. In addition to his role as a Confederate general, Forrest was also the first Grand Wizard of the KKK as well as a slave trader according to reports by CNN. In his proclamationLee writes that Forrest is a recognized military figure in America.
The CNN report, however, also notes a growing national debate over Confederate memorials and describes critics arguments that such symbols are racist depictions of America’s dark legacy of slavery.
Although not as well recognized, there have also been a number of debates regarding ongoing U.S. celebrations and memorials that celebrate defeat and subjugation of Native Americans. In June 2019 Rep. Debra Haaland, Laguna Pueblo, D-New Mexico, Rep. Denny Heck, R-Washington, and Rep. Paul Cook, R-California, introduced a bill to rescind the Medals of Honor awarded to soldiers participating in the 1890 Wounded Knee Massacre in which 300 peaceful Minicongou Lakota and Hunkpapa Lakota men, women and children were killed by members of the U.S. Army’s 7th Cavalry.
Tlingit tribe members and allies held a mourning ceremony during Sitka, Alaska’s extensive Alaska Day celebrations on October 18 in 2017. Alaska Day commemorates the 1867 Alaska Purchase Transfer in which Russians handed over land to the U.S. The Herring Rock Protectors, an alliance of Native and non-Native community members presented a proposal in 2018 to change Alaska Day to Reconciliation Day. According to the resolution, “the historic record demonstrates that ownership of Alaska was never transferred from Alaska Native peoples to the colonial Russian government.”
In 2017, the Westmoreland County Historical Society of Hanna’s Town, Pennsylvania faced public criticism over their decision to reenact a 1775 public hanging of a Lenape man.
“I don’t doubt that the reenactment was historically accurate or that the events they depicted actually took place but there doesn’t seem to be any educational value in depicting the hanging," said Kerry Holton, then president of the Delaware Nation.
Fort Wayne council member Jason Arp, sponsor of Mad Anthony Day, hopes that people will participate in historic reenactments during Tuesday’s celebration.
Historians say Wayne earned his nickname Mad Anthony due to his fiery temperament.
In his presentation about Wayne’s history to the city council, Arp described the general’s role in the July 16, 1779 Battle of Stony Point in New York as pivotal to the success of the American Revolution. He erroneously claims that 2019 would represent the 200-year anniversary of the Battle; it happened 240 years ago. Arp portrayed Wayne as merciful towards Native Americans during and after the Battle of the Fallen Timbers. Wayne was instrumental in negotiating the Treaty of Greenville in which the Miami and other tribes ceded nearly all of their lands within present day Ohio.
The beginning slide in Arp’s presentation included a quote from Wayne to President Washington after the Battle of Stony Point, “Our officers and men behaved like men determined to be free.”
“That quote gives me chills. As Americans we should all want to be free; it’s kind of an embodiment of what it means to be an American,” Arp said.
“We can thank Mad Anthony for the fact that we have a United States of America,” he said.
According to Arp, declaring a Mad Anthony Day will encourage people to learn more about him, his courage and the mercy he showed to the defeated Miami, Shawnee, Wyandot and other tribes at the Battle of Falling Timbers.
Arp and other supporters added that since Wayne was a veteran and founder of the city, he deserves honor and attention.
“Maybe we can have a float and reenactors,” he said.
Three of the city council’s nine members , however, voted against the resolution stating that it fails to consider the descendants of Native Americans who live in Fort Wayne today.
Before the vote on the resolution, Council member Glynn Hines noted that conquerors are usually the people who get to write history. “Instead of peaceful negotiation, Wayne embarked on war that contributed to the genocide of Native Americans. They were here first,” he said. “Everybody is seeking freedom. We have to be considerate of the Native Americans who still live in our community.”
When asked by City Council President Dr. John Lawford if there might be negative reactions to his resolution, Arp said. “There are lots of people who don’t care for America or American history. There are people who are unpatriotic. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t move forward with our celebration.”
Hines objected to Arp’s depiction of those who disagreed with his resolution as unpatriotic. “There are a lot of Native American veterans who wouldn’t’ be supportive of this resolution; that doesn’t make them unpatriotic,” he said.
The discussion ended with Council person Paul Ensley remarks cautioning against viewing historical events through a lens of modern morality. “The right of conquest has long been viewed as a viable way of acquiring land,” he said.
Arp did not respond to Indian Country Today’s request for comment.
George Ironstrack, assistant director of education for the Myaamia Center at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, said during an interview with Indian Country Today, “Conquest doesn’t make one immune from interrogation. If you’re truly comfortable with your victory, why can’t you get your facts straight.”
The Myaamia Center is an initiative led by the Miami tribe of Oklahoma to assist educators in preserving Myaamia language and culture; it is located on the campus of Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.
Ironstrack, a Miami tribal member and longtime tribal history researcher, pointed to several important inaccuracies in Arp’s presentation and written resolution.
For instance, according to the resolution’s text, Wayne defeated British-led Native forces at the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers not far from present day Fort Wayne.
“Most historians agree that Miami tribal members were not led by the British. Rather they were directly fighting the Americans in order to defend their homeland,” said Ironstrack.
Nor did Wayne demonstrate mercy towards Native Americans after the Battle of Fallen Timbers. Wayne was carrying out American leaders orders to erase Native Americans from the region and force them south of the Ohio river according to Ironstrack. “They wanted us out.”
“As part of his campaign, Wayne’s forces systematically burned Miami villages, food stores and crops,” he said.
Wayne took over control of the ongoing Northwest Indian War, a war between the U.S. and confederation of tribes for control of the Northwest Territory, in 1792. His strategy of starvation culminated by the 1794 Battle of Fallen Timbers forced the Miami to the negotiating table resulting in the 1795 Treaty of Greenville in which the Miami and other tribes such as the Shawnee ceded most of their lands in Ohio.
According to Ironstrack’s research, many Americans of the day opposed Wayne’s strong-arm tactics against tribes during the Northwest Indian War. Ironstrack is the author of a detailed Miami community blog describing the history, culture and language of the tribe.
The Treaty of Greenville began an era of land cessions by treaty that further diminished and fragmented the Miami tribe until they were removed from their homelands to Kansas and finally to Oklahoma during the 1830 Removal Act.
Several hundred people were forcibly confined to concentration camps near Peru, Indiana prior to their final removal from their heartland according to Ironstrack.
“They were told to only bring what they could carry,” he said.
Unfortunately, Arp’s inaccurate presentation to the Fort Wayne city council leaves out many of these important facts according to Ironstrack.
“The failure of the city council to correct these inaccuracies is very disappointing; Arp’s unchallenged presentation is now a part of historic record,” he said.
Neither Arpn or other members of the city council reached out to the Miami tribe seeking their input about history surrounding Wayne nor their feelings about the resolution according to Diane Hunter, Tribal Historic Preservation Officer for the Miami tribe. Hunter is a resident of Fort Wayne; she is descended from one of five families who remained in the area, the Godfroy family, after the Treaty of Greenville. About 200 Miami tribal members live in Fort Wayne today according to Hunter.
“We have provided them with correct historic information and pointed out the inaccuracies of Arp’s presentation,” she said.
Indeed, even the Fort Wayne Historical Society was not consulted in creating the resolution according to a report by the Associated Press.
The article quoted a press release from the historical society in which executive director Todd Pelfrey wrote that the society would eagerly consider a request from the city council to discuss the accuracy of historical events quoted in the resolution.
Cameron Shriver, assistant professor of history at Miami University and Myaamia Research Associate disputes Arp’s characterization of the Battle of Stony Point, led by Wayne as, crucial to the success of the American Revolution.
“Certainly it was important but it was hardly a pivotal point in the war,” he said.
“They (city council members supporting the resolution) can’t claim they don’t have access to accurate information about Mad Anthony, they simply didn’t look for it,” said Hunter.
Since passing the resolution, city council has reached out to tribal leaders seeking their input in planning celebrations for Mad Anthony Day.
“They’re not interested in our genuine input; they want us to offer up language in support of their resolution as a means to fix their mess,” Ironstrack said.
Hunter won’t be attending the Mad Anthony Day celebration. “He destroyed our villages and food supplies; it was his intention to wipe us out. I’m not going to honor someone who did that,” she said.
Many non-Native people in Fort Wayne have expressed their discomfort and disagreement with celebrating Mad Anthony Day, Hunter said.
“If inaccuracies of city council’s resolution had been corrected, we still wouldn’t support it but at least the information would be correct," she said. "They are promoting false information. They want to whitewash the truth.”
Mary Annette Pember works as an independent journalist focusing on Indian issues and culture with a special emphasis on mental health and women’s health. Winner of the Ida B. Wells Investigative Journalism Fellowship, the Rosalynn Carter Fellowship for Mental Health Journalism, the USC Annenberg National Health Fellowship and Dennis A. Hunt Fund for health journalism she has reported extensively on the impact of historical trauma among Indian peoples. She has contributed to The Atlantic ReWire.News, The Guardian, and Indian Country Today. She is an enrolled member of the Red Cliff Band of Wisconsin Ojibwe, based in Cincinnati, Ohio. www.mapember.com twitter @mapember, instagram maryapember