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Captain William Wells

William Wells (c. 1770 – 15 August 1812), also known as Apekonit ("Carrot top"), was the son-in-law of Chief Little Turtle of the Miami. He fought for the Miami in the Northwest Indian War. During the course of that war, he became an United States Army officer, and also served in the War of 1812.

Apekonit of the Miami[]

Wells was born at Jacob's Creek, Pennsylvania, the youngest son of Samuel Wells, a captain in the Virginia militia during the American Revolutionary War.[1] The family moved to Kentucky when William was a small child, and his mother died soon after. Wells' father was killed in an Indian raid on Beargrass Creek at what became Louisville, and the young boy was sent to live with a family friend. Three years later in 1782, he was taken captive by Miami while on a hunting trip. Wells was 12 years old.

Wells was adopted by a chief named Gaviahate ("Porcupine"), and raised in the village of Kenapakomoko, on the Eel River in northern Indiana. His Miami name was "Apekonit" (carrot), perhaps in reference to his red hair.[2] He seems to have adapted to Miami life quite well, and accompanied war parties- sometimes as the decoy.

Wells was located and visited by his brothers around 1788 or 1789. He visited Louisville but remained with the Miami, perhaps because he had married a Wea woman and had a child. His wife and daughter were later captured in a raid by General James Wilkinson in 1791, and presumed dead.[3] Enraged, Wells organized a 300-man "suicide squad" that fought with distinction against the U.S. Army at St. Clair's Defeat in northern Ohio, having been responsible for directly attacking and destroying the artillery squadron.[4][5]

Wells attracted the attention of war chief Little Turtle. He eventually married Little Turtle's daughter Wanagapeth ("Sweet Breeze"), with whom he had four children.[6] He served the tribe as a scout during his new father-in-law's wars with the United States.

At Vincennes in 1793, Wells met with his eldest brother, Samuel, a survivor of St. Clair's Defeat two year before.[7] The two travelled to Fort Nelson, where they met with General Rufus Putnam. William Wells warned Putnam that the British had been inciting Native American tribes to violence against the United States and negotiated a release of prisoners as a goodwill gesture. General Putnam wanted to organize a grand council of tribal chiefs to discuss peace terms, but the Native Americans- still undefeated by the Americans- rejected his offer.[8]

Later, with Little Turtle's permission, Wells became a captain in the Legion of the United States, acting as a scout and interpreter for General "Mad Anthony" Wayne. Captain Wells led the First Sub-Legion to the battleground of St. Clair's Defeat (which he had fought in), and located abandoned U.S. cannons, which the American Indians had buried. General Wayne ordered the Legion to bury the bones found, and then build Fort Recovery on the battlesite.[9] When Native American forces under Blue Jacket attacked the fort on 30 June 1794, Wells led a scouting mission that discovered British officers who had brought cannonballs and powder, not knowing that the United States had already recovered the buried cannons.[10]

Wells was wounded in the Battle of Fallen Timbers.[11] He went on to act as an interpreter in treaty negotiations[12] and state visits by Indian chiefs.

William Wells, U.S. Indian Agent[]

A sculpture on Chicago's Michigan Avenue Bridge shows William Wells fighting in the Battle of Fort Dearborn.

Following the Treaty of Greenville, Chief Little Turtle asked that Wells be appointed as a US Indian Agent to the Miami. The U.S. built an agent's house in the newly renamed Fort Wayne, and William and Sweet Breeze, with their children, moved from Kentucky to resettle with the Miami. At the suggestion of General Wayne, Little Turtle and Wells traveled to Philadelphia to visit President George Washington.[13] They were warmly received. Washington presented Little Turtle with a ceremonial sword, and Wells was given a pension of $20 a month, in compensation for his wounds at Fallen Timbers.[11] The two traveled east again in 1797 to visit the new president, John Adams.[11]

When Thomas Jefferson became the United States' third president, Wells requested that he establish a trading post at Fort Wayne to encourage friendly relations with the area natives. Jefferson did establish the post, but appointed John Johnston as manager. Johnston and Wells did not work well together, and each quickly came to resent the other. Territorial Governor William Henry Harrison at first favored Wells, and appointed him a Justice of the Peace.[14] Wells was also charged with establishing a mail route between Fort Wayne and Fort Dearborn. Well's good standing with Harrison would soon sour, however, when he sided with his father-in-law, Little Turtle, in opposition to the Treaty of Vincennes, which gave large amounts of land to the Americans for settlement.[14] Harrison responded by accusing Wells of opposing the Quaker Agriculture missions to the Miami. Wells appealed to General James Wilkinson, but Wilkinson sided with Harrison and Johnston.

In 1805, Governor Harrison sent General John Gibson and Colonel Francis Vigo to investigate Wells and Little Turtle on suspicion of fiscal corruption and instigation of the Miami against the United States. Their report concluded that Wells "seems more attentive to the Indians than the people of the United States."[15]

After Sweet Breeze died in 1805, William sent his daughters to live with his brother, Samuel Wells, in Kentucky. He and Little Turtle traveled to Vincennes, where they gave a "friendly disposition ... toward the government," Harrison wrote. "With Captain Wells, I have had an explanation, and have agreed to a general amnesty and act of oblivion for the past."[15] William and Little Turtle signed Harrison's Treaty of Grouseland. In 1808, however, Wells led a group of Indian chiefs from different tribes, including Miami Chiefs Little Turtle and Richardville, to Washington, D.C. to meet directly with President Jefferson. This infuriated Secretary of War Henry Dearborn, who fired Wells and replaced him with his rival, John Johnston.[16]

In 1809, William married his third wife, Mary Geiger, daughter of Colonel Frederick Geiger.[17][18] They and Wells' four children returned to Fort Wayne, where he received a discharge from the new U.S. Indian agent John Johnston.

Wells had the support of the Miami chiefs and of Kentucky Senator John Pope and went to Washington, D.C. to challenge Johnston's decision. Ultimately, Well's position was left in the hands of territorial Governor William Henry Harrison who, though distrustful of Wells, sided with the Miami out of fear that they could join Tecumseh if provoked.[19] William Wells continued to act as United States Indian Agent in Fort Wayne, and was able to keep the Miami out of Tecumseh's confederacy. He was the first to warn Secretary Dearborn in 1807, of the growing movement led by Tecumseh and his brother.[20] William's eldest brother, Colonel Samuel Wells, and his father-in-law, Frederick Geiger, were both at the Battle of Tippecanoe; Geiger was wounded in the initial attack.[21]

Wells also established and managed a farm in Fort Wayne, which he jointly owned with his friend Jean François Hamtramck.[22] He petitioned Congress for a 1,280-acre (5.2 km2) tract of land at the confluence of the St. Joseph and St. Mary rivers in 1807, which was granted and signed by President Jefferson.[23] Little Turtle died in his home in 1812, and was buried nearby.

During the War of 1812, Wells led a group of Miami Indians from Fort Wayne, Indiana, to aid the evacuation of Fort Dearborn, the tiny beleaguered settlement that eventually became Chicago. Among the Americans under siege at Fort Dearborn was his niece Rebekah Wells, wife of Nathan Heald. Wells' intent was to offer protection to the garrison and their families as they abandoned the post and walked east to Fort Wayne. Negotiating with the Pottawattomi, who surrounded the fort along the Chicago River, they were allowed to leave the fort, but the destruction of whiskey and guns enraged the Pottawattomi, who then attacked once they had marched south from the fort, a massacre known as the Battle of Fort Dearborn. Nathan and Rebekah Heald were both wounded, but were taken into captivity by the Pottawattomi and eventually ransomed to the British.

Wells, who was acting as a scout in advance of the party, knew the Indians would attack and had painted his face black: a sign of bravery, a sign to the Pottawattomi that he knew their intentions, and as a sign that he knew he was going to die. As the evacuated garrison walked down the beach, Wells rode in advance to keep an eye on the Pottawattomi, and he was one of the first to go down when they attacked. The "battle" took place in the dunes along Lake Michigan about a mile south of the Chicago River, in what is now downtown Chicago. Wells was shot and killed by the Potowatamis, who decapitated him and ate his heart.[24] His opponents, although considering him a traitor to their cause, nonetheless sought to gain some of his courage by consuming his heart.


File:Fort Dearborn Plaque.jpg

Plaque under Michigan Avenue bridge, Chicago

The following are named for William Wells:

  • Wells Street in Chicago, Illinois
  • Wells County, Indiana
  • Wells Street in Fort Wayne, IN


  1. Allison, 100
  2. Carter, pg 84.
  3. Carter, pg 102
  4. Allison, 102
  5. Winkler, 65
  6. The children of William and Wanagapeth were Anne, wife of Dr. William Turner of Fort Wayne; Mary, who married James Wolcott; Rebecca, wife of James Hackley of Fort Wayne; Jane Turner, who married John H. Griggs, and William Wayne Wells, the grandson of Little Turtle who graduated from the United States Military Academy at West Point. Poinsatte, 31
  7. Winkler, 68
  8. Allison, 104
  9. Allison, 106
  10. Allison, 110
  11. 11.0 11.1 11.2 Allison, 120
  12. William Wells is listed on the report for the Treaty of Greenville as the interpreter for the Miamis, Eel Rivers, Weeas, Piankshaws, Kickapoos, and Kaskaskia Indians.
  13. Allison, 119
  14. 14.0 14.1 Allison, 121
  15. 15.0 15.1 Poinsatte, 46-47
  16. Allison, 123
  17. Carter, 205
  18. William and Mary had three children: Samuel Geiger Wells, Yelberton Wells, and Julia Ann Wells. Poinsatte, 31
  19. Carter, 207
  20. Poinsatte, 50
  21. Carter, 216
  22. Poinsatte, 36
  23. Journal of the Senate of the United States of America, 1789–1873. See the bill reported on 26 November 1807. It was reported signed by the President of the United States on 18 March 1808
  24. Birzer, Bradley J. "Miamis". Encyclopedia of Chicago.


  • Allison, Harold (1986). The Tragic Saga of the Indiana Indians. Turner Publishing CompanyPaducah. ISBN 0-938021-07-9. 
  • Carter, Harvey Lewis (1987). The Life and Times of Little Turtle: First Sagamore of the Wabash. Urbana, Ill.: University of Illinois Press. ISBN 0-252-01318-2. 
  • Poinsatte, Charles (1976). Outpost in the Wilderness: Fort Wayne, 1706–1828. Allen County: Fort Wayne Historical Society. 
  • Winkler, John F. (2011). Wabash 1791: St. Clair's Defeat; Osprey Campaign Series #240. Oxford: Osprey Publishing. ISBN 1-84908-676-1. 
  • Encyclopedia of Chicago. 2005 Chicago Historical Society.
  • William Wells at
  • The U.S. Library of Congress has a 10 May 1801 letter written by William Wells to Meriwether Lewis—then secretary to President Thomas Jefferson, requesting a meeting between Little Turtle and President Jefferson.

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