LaBalme’s Massacre - 225 Year Commemoration
The Seven Years’ War ostensibly began as a group of skirmishes in the Ohio Country of North America in 1754. It spread to Europe in 1756, when Great Britain declared war on France. The French and Indian War, as it was known on this continent, was “practice” for many British, French and Colonials. George Washington, Horatio Gates, Benedict Arnold, William Howe, Charles Cornwallis and countless others began or enhanced their military experience during this period.
The battle of Minden, Germany occurred 1 Aug 1757, involving 10,000 British allied with 31,000 Prussians against 51,000 French and Saxons. The British forces were under the command of Lieutenant General Lord George Sackville. The French Cavalry were defeated by the Allied forces. During this engagement, two year old Gilbert du Mottier became the Marquis de Lafayette, upon the death of his father, Colonel Lafayette. The French forces may have completely destroyed at Minden, but defying orders, General Sackville failed to engage. One of the surviving French Cavalry officers was Augustin Mottin.
Augustin Mottin was born 28 August 28 1733, in the French Alps near Saint-Antoine. The son of a tanner, he served as a trooper in the distinguished “Scottish” company of the Gendarmerie de France during the Seven Years War.
Following the war, he studied horsemanship, eventually becoming master at the Gendarmerie’s Riding School in Paris. Mottin was promoted to Fourrier-Major in 1766, and retired with a pension in 1773. Using the assumed name “Mottin de LaBalme,” he wrote a book on horsemanship in 1773, followed with a book on cavalry tactics in 1776.
The Lafayette, LaBalme and Sackville names would literally cross paths again in a remote faraway wilderness neither family had probably ever heard of.
Along the Eel River, a few miles northwest of Fort Wayne, Indiana, is a little known, yet important historical site. A brass and stone marker placed by the Colonel Augustin de LaBalme Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution in 1930, reads: "In memory of Col. Augustin de LaBalme and his soldiers who were killed in battle with the Miami Indians under Little Turtle at this place, Nov. 5, 1780."
With a letter of recommendation from Benjamin Franklin, LaBalme, the former French Cavalry officer, came over a few months before Lafayette to assist in the American Revolution. In 1777, the Continental Congress appointed him as the Colonial Army’s “Inspector General of Cavalry” with the rank of Colonel. Learning that Casimir Pulaski was to command the Colonial Cavalry, LaBalme unexpectedly resigned in October, 1777.
Beginning in 1778, LaBalme approached General Horatio Gates, and repeatedly lobbied Congress to organize an expedition against Canada. Documents from the French settlers near Detroit indicated they were on the verge of rebellion. On this premise, LaBalme unsuccessfully argued that Canada could be taken with the help of the French Canadian locals.
In 1780, LaBalme was known to be in communication with George Washington. Rumored to be under secret orders from the General, but most likely acting on his own, LaBalme traveled down the Ohio River to Kaskaskia. George Rogers Clark’s success in capturing Fort Sackville suggested and inspired LaBalme to attempt a similar feat against the British fort at Detroit.
Another Frenchman, Charles Beaubien, British agent to the Miami, operated the stores at Kekionga (present-day Fort Wayne). He acquired weapons and supplies from Detroit to support the Miami, who were attacking homesteaders in Kentucky and southern Ohio. In addition to being a British agent, Beaubien married Taucumwah, the sister of prominent Miami Chief Pacanne. He therefore possessed considerable influence in the region.
With the ultimate objective as British controlled Detroit, LaBalme and 41 men, mostly French-Americans, departed Cahokia, Illinois on 3 October 1780. Recruiting enroute, the expedition numbered 103 men when they arrived at Ouiatanon (modern-day Lafayette) 20 October. It isn’t known why, but approximately forty men left the group. A few days later, the remaining sixty or so, advanced upon Kekionga, finding the village virtually deserted. The Indians and the white traders apparently fled at his approach. Expected reinforcements from Vincennes and friendly Indians failed to meet LaBalme at Kekionga.
In addition to the stores there, Kekionga was also an excellent strategic target. The eight mile portage between the Maumee and Wabash Rivers was the shortest and most efficient route connecting the Atlantic Ocean with the North American interior. Control of the portage allowed the British access to the Wabash Valley and protected Detroit from American forces attacking from the south.
Raiding the Beaubien stores, LaBalme seized a large quantity of blankets, clothing, lead, guns, 100 horses and as much as 1,000 pounds of gunpowder. On, or about 27 October, leaving some twenty men to guard the captured stores at Kekionga, he started out over the Eel River trail (the same trail Colonel John Hardin followed ten years later) to capture a second trading post to the northwest.
The Indians, stirred up by Beaubien, were literally up in arms about this intrusion. Presumably destroying the small group of men left at Kekionga, they attacked LaBalme near the Eel River Trading Post. A few days later, surrounded by a large body of Indians under Little Turtle, LaBalme negotiated with the white traders to leave the place and return all captured materials. He even offered his own supplies and equipment to the traders and the Indians. The Indians, however were determined to punish the intruders. A few hundred yards from the trading post, LaBalme was attacked by Miami warriors. LaBalme and his men fortified themselves along the banks of the Eel River. They were besieged for several days before being completely defeated by an overwhelming Indian force.
In a log entry dated 13 November, Captain Arent Schuyler de Peyster, in command of the British garrison at Detroit, recorded:
“A detachment of Canadians from the Illinois and Post Vincennes arrived [Kekionga] about 10 days ago, and entered the village, took the horses, destroyed the horned cattle and plundered a store I allowed to be kept there for the convenience of the Indians, soon after assembled and attacked the Canadians, led by a French colonel.”
"… The Miami resisting the fire of the enemy, had five of their party killed, being, however, more resolute than savages are in general, they beat off the enemy, killed 30 and took LaBalme prisoner with his papers ... I expect the Colonel in every hour …”
It was later learned Colonel de LaBalme was not captured, but died with his men.
The Spanish Governor at St. Louis, Francisco Cruzat wrote,
"… I am very sorry for what has happened to Monsieur LaBalme ... [he] having, perhaps, attempted with imprudence an undertaking which needed more time, more strength and better circumstances ... "
Although LaBalme’s expedition resulted in failure, it did cause the British considerable concern. Captain de Peyster subsequently deployed a detachment of British Rangers to protect Kekionga.
There is evidence that suggests LaBalme was defeated by Beaubien ‘s brother-in-law, Pacanne near a Miami settlement along Aboite Creek, a second body a water a few miles south of the Eel River. However, many historians believe the location of the trading post and the subsequent discovery of several relics and human bones, provides credence that the massacre actually happened at the Eel River location.
LaBalme's watch, double barreled gun, spurs, regimentals, and some papers now reside in the British Military Museum.
225th Anniversary Commemoration
During the summer of 2004, several Clarence A. Cook Chapter (Indianapolis) compatriots discussed the prospect of creating a greater awareness of Indiana’s “other” Revolutionary War battle. Realizing the remains of forty four militiamen were scattered along the Eel River, the chapter felt placing an SAR Patriot grave marker was appropriate.
When initially approached on 17 November 2004, the Colonel Augustin de LaBalme Chapter, Daughters of the American Revolution was not very enthusiastic about the prospects of placing a marker where they had already, 75 years earlier, erected one. The idea of a 225th anniversary event was later presented to INSSAR National Trustee, Roger Barnhart. Roger, who lives near the site, immediately set out to involve several local officials and area residents. Largely due to the efforts of Roger, and his wife Martha, the Indiana DAR soon endorsed the project.
5 November 2005 marked the 225th anniversary of the LaBalme’s Massacre Representing the over 600 compatriots of the Indiana Society Sons of the American Revolution, the Clarence A. Cook Chapter contributed an SAR Patriot grave marker which was placed next to the existing DAR monument. Compatriots from several Indiana SAR chapters, the Indiana Society Daughters of the American Revolution, the Miami Nation of Indians of the State of Indiana and Bugles Across America contributed to the success of this historical event, attended by over 120 spectators and participants.