Born to Anglo-American parents on the Appalachian frontier, captured by the Miami Indians at the age of thirteen, and adopted into the tribe, William Wells (1770–1812) moved between two cultures all his life but was comfortable in neither. Vilified by some historians for his divided loyalties, he remains relatively unknown even though he is worthy of comparison with such famous frontiersmen as Daniel Boone and Davy Crockett. William Heath’s thoroughly researched book is the first biography of this man-in-the-middle.
A servant of empire with deep sympathies for the people his country sought to dispossess, Wells married Chief Little Turtle’s daughter and distinguished himself as a Miami warrior, as an American spy, and as an Indian agent whose multilingual skills made him a valuable interpreter. Heath examines pioneer life in the Ohio Valley from both white and Indian perspectives, yielding rich insights into Wells’s career as well as broader events on the post-revolutionary American frontier, where Anglo-Americans pushing westward competed with the Indian nations of the Old Northwest for control of territory.
Wells’s unusual career, Heath emphasizes, earned him a great deal of ill will. Because he warned the U.S. government against Tecumseh’s confederacy and the Tenskwatawa’s “religiously mad” followers, he was hated by those who supported the Shawnee leaders. Because he came to question treaties he had helped bring about, and cautioned the Indians about their harmful effects, he was distrusted by Americans. Wells is a complicated hero, and his conflicted position reflects the decline of coexistence and cooperation between two cultures.
“One of the most important but shadowy characters from the story of the Old Northwest is William Wells, the ‘white Indian,’ who lived and died between two worlds in conflict. William Heath brings a novelist’s graceful style and a historian’s impeccable research to this fascinating biography.”—Paul Andrew Hutton, author of Phil Sheridan and His Army
“William Heath has given us a thoroughly researched, detailed, and comprehensive account of the life and times of one of the most interesting and enigmatic figures on the early American frontier.”—Colin G. Calloway, author of Pen and Ink Witchcraft: Treaties and Treaty Making in American Indian History
“The truth-is-stranger-than-fiction remarkable life of William Wells has found an ideal biographer in novelist-turned-historian William Heath. This deeply researched reconstruction of Wells’s side-shifting odyssey brilliantly illuminates the confusing choices and challenges that confronted Indians and pioneers as they struggled against one another and with themselves on the early American frontier.”—Stephen Aron, author of How the West Was Lost: The Transformation of Kentucky from Daniel Boone to Henry Clay
This superbly researched and written book, places William Wells back into the historic limelight he so deserves…a must read for anyone interested in our nation’s formative years. —The Journal of America’s Military Past
Heath’s remarkable research about William Wells is a must-read, a detailed and fully documented account of a remarkable life. —Michigan Historical Review
This book is the best accounting of Wells’s life available... Heath impressively pieces together evidence from nineteen archives, the abundant published primary sources, and scholarly treatments. —Western Historical Quarterly
Wonderfully written, a must read for anyone interested in the relationship between Natives and settlers and the Ohio Valley frontier. —Northwest Ohio History
Recreates the life and times of a fascinating liminal yet wholly representative figure whose story is essentially the story of Ohio and Indiana between 1790 and 1812… Well’s story is well worth knowing, and Heath is certainly the person to tell it…. Heath depicts Wells as a figure increasingly split between his Miami and white identities. —Ohio History