By Jim Blount
There was a cautious optimism on the Ohio frontier in 1794 as Gen. Anthony Wayne patiently built and honed his American army in preparation for a showdown with the Native Americans in the region.
Fort Hamilton -- completed in September 1791 during a previous offensive -- remained an important supply post as the Pennsylvanian readied his forces.
Wayne feared that the Indians, at the urging of the British, would attack his army before he could launch an assault. To lessen that threat, he organized a scouting system which constantly observed Indian villages and positions.
Many of his spies or rangers had learned Native American ways as captives of the Indians. His chief scout after September 1793 was William Wells, who typified the group.
Wells was born in 1769 or 1770 in western Pennsylvania. He moved with his family to Kentucky, building Wells Station about 30 miles east of Louisville, in 1779. His father was killed there by Indians in 1781, and three years later Wells was captured, taken to the interior of what became Indiana and was adopted by the Miami.
Eventually, he became the son-in-law of Little Turtle, a Miami chief who masterminded the defeat of two U. S. armies in 1790 and 1791. Wells, fighting as an Indian, had distinguished himself in both campaigns.
Sometime after defeating Gen. Arthur St. Clair's army in November 1791, Wells and Little Turtle agreed that Wells would join the American army and work for peace while Little Turtle did the same among the Native Americans.
When Wells became Wayne's chief scout, one of his colleagues was Henry Miller, who had a similar background.
Henry Miller and a brother, Christopher Miller, also had been captured near their Kentucky home and became adopted Shawnee. Henry Miller, at about the age of 24, decided to leave and return to white culture, while his brother remained with the Shawnee.
Wells and Miller were joined in a 1794 mission by Robert McClellan, who later resided periodically in Hamilton with his brother, William McClellan, operator of Hamilton's first tavern and Butler County's first elected sheriff. In 1794, William McClellan was a packhorseman working primarily out of Fort Hamilton.
Wells, Miller and McClellan were ordered to advance near the enemy's villages and take a prisoner who could provide information on Indian intentions and movements.
Their opportunity came on the banks of the Auglaize River - in what is now west-central Ohio. There they observed a trio of Indians preparing a meal, unaware they were being watched.
Wayne's scouts devised a plan -- kill two of the men and take the third prisoner. Their first shots were effective. But the survivor wasn't immediately subdued, and attempted to escape.
Wayne's scouts gave chase. When the Indian jumped off about a 20-foot embankment, McClellan followed and wrestled with him in the water and mud. When he drew a knife, McClellan countered the threat with a tomahawk.
Then Wells and Miller tied the uncooperative captive, placed him on a horse and headed toward Fort Greenville.
As they rode, Miller thought the Indian looked familiar. On impulse, he called the man by his brother's Indian name. The surprised prisoner responded and the Miller brothers were reunited.
Christopher Miller, the captive, subsequently gave Wayne the information he wanted about the Indians. Within a few days he joined his brother Henry in the productive scout detachment commanded by Captain Wells.
After Wayne's victory over the Native Americans later in the year at Fallen Timbers, Christopher Miller served as an interpreter for the Shawnee during the negotiations which led to the Treaty of Greenville in 1795.