Kuron: Fearlessness on display during War of 1812Written by Frank Kuron | | email@example.com
Have you ever feared for your life? I have. It happens every time I climb past the fifth rung of a ladder. Or when a stray dog charges as I’m walking mine. And do I need to say anything more than the word “snake”? Now, when I tell you, ashamedly so, that I never volunteered for military service, are you surprised? There are enough irrational and real threats to my life that I don’t feel the need to seek out more. But some of you do, and thank God for you! None are more admired than military personnel, who seem to deliberately taunt death. I sincerely salute all of you, my son among you, for a mindset worthy of being aspired to.
This fearlessness is inherent to all military organizations and it was quite evident during the War of 1812. Eventually, we’ll discuss several champions of this era, many who have slipped through the cracks of history. Today, let’s consider the heroics of one of them, William Oliver.
Residing near Fort Wayne, Ind., when it was really just a small fort enclosing a mere half-acre, Oliver worked as a sutler, or trader, providing goods to the soldiers within. Unfortunately, the lack of genuine defense provided by this post became acutely evident as American Indians attacked it in August of 1812.
While in Cincinnati buying goods for Fort Wayne, news of this assault triggered Oliver’s enlistment into the army which was assembling in the area. He boldly requested Gen. Harrison’s permission to lead an advance group back to the fort to aid and encourage those meager troops to hold out until reinforcements arrived. Harrison, knowing the danger, hesitantly agreed, telling Oliver that he feared, “he shall not see him again”.
With 80 men, including such historic notables as Johnny Logan and future governor of Ohio, Thomas Worthington, Oliver advanced north through the wilderness from Cincinnati to Piqua and on to St. Marys. When they came within 20 miles of Fort Wayne, it became obvious they were seriously outnumbered, so only Oliver, Logan and two others moved on hoping to more easily escape notice. They found the fortress surrounded by hundreds of Indians. Surely they would be shot down if they dared to gain entrance, but they dared — that taunting death thing.
As they raced on horseback toward one of the gates, a band of five chiefs happened to be coming around the corner of the fort waving a truce flag. What uncanny timing! The gate was opening for them to discuss peace between the two forces when Oliver galloped into the scene. His yells and charge caused the Indian delegation to turn and flee, suspecting Oliver was merely the advance line of more troops. Oliver delivered his message of the approaching reinforcements to the American defenders and fought alongside these re-energized men. In five days Harrison arrived and dispatched the enemy.
Nine months later, Oliver found himself in Harrison’s newly constructed Fort Meigs, again under siege. This time Harrison was troubled that reinforcements from Kentucky hadn’t yet arrived. Recalling his daring actions at Fort Wayne, Harrison called on Oliver to deliver a verbal message to Gen. Green Clay, commander of the approaching Kentuckians, urging him to hasten their arrival.
Amidst a hail of gunfire and cannonballs Oliver exited the fort, outran Indian pursuers and followed the Maumee River until he found Clay at Fort Winchester in Defiance. Message delivered, death duly cheated again, Oliver returned with a few Kentuckians whose arrival at Fort Meigs stirred the spirits of its defenders. Clay hurried his troops downriver and was instrumental in the protection of the fort.
During his service in our area, Oliver must have liked what he saw, for in 1817, just a couple years after the war, he invested in property here. As a principal of a Cincinnati-based company, Oliver established the original town of Port Lawrence, now absorbed into Toledo. In 1859, Oliver built what was then considered the finest hotel in the area — the Oliver House. Today, in the spirit of sutler Oliver, goods in the form of great food and drink can still be enjoyed in his former guesthouse.
Bugle Call: Upcoming events
- Contrasting perspectives on the War of 1812 in Northwest Ohio will be offered by lecturers Jamie Oxendine and Larry Nelson at 6:30 p.m. March 2 in the Franciscan Center on the Lourdes University campus in Sylvania. Oxendine is the director of the Black Swamp InterTribal Foundation and a respected Native American speaker. Nelson is a history professor at Bowling Green State University and previously served as site director for Fort Meigs.
- The Wolcott House Museum Guild is sponsoring free history lectures about our region every Thursday at 10 a.m. through March at the Maumee Branch Library auditorium.
- The Western Lake Erie Region during the War of 1812 will be the focus of the annual Friends of Pearson March Sunday Series, at 2 p.m. each week in Macomber Lodge at Pearson Metropark, according to a news release. The series begins March 4 with a presentation by Jeff Helmer, park ranger at Perry’s Victory and International Peace Memorial on South Bass Island. The monument commemorates the Battle of Lake Erie. On March 11, staff from Fort Meigs State Memorial in Perrysburg will discuss the battles that took place at the War of 1812 battlefield on the Maumee River.
- March 18, Daniel Downing, education and operations chief at the River Raisin National Battlefield, will talk about the famous battle at that Monroe, Mich., battlefield.
- Local historian and author Larry Michaels will conclude the series with a presentation about Northwest Ohio’s best known explorer, Peter Navarre, who played a role in the war.
- Macomber Lodge, which was recently renovated, is on Navarre Avenue, east of Lallendorf Road. The entrance to the lodge is separate from the entrance to Pearson.