Detail from "The Signing of the Treaty of Green Ville" painting, by Howard Chandler Christy, 1945
William Wells was one of the best known frontiersmen in the Ohio Country in the years after the American Revolution.
William Wells was born in about 1770. Wells was captured by the Miami when he was twelve years old, and a Miami leader named Little Turtle raised him as his own son. Wells also married Little Turtle's daughter, Sweet Breeze. During the late 1780s and the early 1790s, Wells assisted Little Turtle in stopping white settlers from encroaching upon American Indian land. He fought with the American Indians of the Northwest Territory against the army of General Arthur St. Clair in 1791. By 1794, Wells had a change of heart. Some people believe that he could no longer stand the bloodshed in the Northwest Territory in the late 1780s and the early 1790s. In any case, Wells joined the army of General Anthony Wayne in 1794. Wayne hoped to secure the southwestern portion of modern-day Ohio from the area's resident American Indian nations. Wells served as a scout and interpreter for Wayne. He eventually attained the rank of captain and was present at the negotiating and signing of the Treaty of Greeneville in 1795. Under this treaty, Ohio Country American Indians were made to give up all of their lands in what is now present-day Ohio except for the northwestern corner of the state.
Wells retired from the military after the Treaty of Greeneville and settled near Fort Wayne, Indiana, with his wife. He lived as a farmer and traded goods with the local American Indians as well. In 1802, President Thomas Jefferson appointed Wells as what was then called an "Indian agent". Wells served the United States government by negotiating further treaties with the American Indians He held this position until 1809. As a show of gratitude for Wells' work as an Indian agent and as an interpreter and scout for Wayne, the United States Congress gave Wells 320 acres of land near Fort Wayne in 1808. During the War of 1812, Wells returned to military service. On August 15, 1812, Wells led a force of American soldiers from Fort Dearborn near present-day Chicago. Potawatomi forces ambushed Wells' troops. Wells was killed in the ensuing battle.
- Anson, Bert. The Miami Indians. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1970.
- Hurt, R. Douglas. The Ohio Frontier: Crucible of the Old Northwest, 1720-1830. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 1996.
- McDonald, John. Biographical Sketches of General Nathaniel Massie, General Duncan McArthur, Captain William Wells and General Simon Kenton: Who were Early Settlers in the Western Country. Cincinnati, OH: E. Morgan and Son, 1838.
- Young, Calvin M. Little Turtle (Me-she-kin-no-quah): The Great Chief of the Miami Indian Nation; Being a Sketch of His Life Together with that of Wm. Wells and Some Noted Descendants. Greenville, OH: Calvin M. Young, 1917.