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Buckeyes vs. Wolverines

Today, Michigan and Ohio are often rivals in the “world of sports.” It seems silly, though, to imagine Wolverines and Buckeyes engaged in an actual war. Yet, this – or something like it – actually occurred in 1835. The conflict’s origins begin as early as 1787.

North and South

The Northwest Ordinance of 1787 established the Northwest Territory and provided guidelines for carving new states from it. These states would ultimately be: Ohio, Indiana, Illinois, Michigan and Wisconsin. According to the Ordinance, there was to be a “northern tier” and “southern tier” of Northwest states. Ultimately, Michigan and Wisconsin would constitute the northern tier, and Ohio, Indiana and Illinois would constitute the southern tier. Of course, the names, specific boundaries and exact number of those future states were all undetermined in 1787. The Ordinance did, however, specify that a line running east from the southern tip of Lake Michigan was to form the boundary between those northern and southern tier states. By looking at a map today, you can see that this was not followed. If it had been, then Chicago would be in Wisconsin, and Toledo would be in Michigan. Why wasn’t it followed? Therein lies our tale.

The Mouth of the Maumee

Ohio wrote its state constitution in 1802. A special proviso set Ohio’s northern boundary, specifying that the entire bay of the Maumee River would be within the new state. The U.S. Congress accepted the constitution, although it did not approve – or disapprove – the boundary claim. Ohio became a state in 1803.

Thirty years later, Michigan Territory petitioned Congress for statehood. Michigan claimed the Maumee River’s mouth to be within its own boundaries, as per the Northwest Ordinance. Naturally, this did not sit well with Ohio.

Michigan and Ohio both had a good reason for coveting the mouth of the Maumee River. In the 1830s, many canal projects were being planned. The Maumee River, which connects to Lake Erie, seemed a likely outlet for many canals. It seemed equally likely that a major commercial center would develop by the River’s mouth. In the mid-1830s, such a center did not yet exist. Toledo, which would be located there, was still only a collection of villages. Yet, people anticipated great things.

The “Toledo War”

Tensions between Michigan and Ohio rose, resulting in conflicts that often seem comic today. The so-called Battle of Phillips Corners (April 26, 1835) provides one dramatic example. At Phillips Corners, an Ohio surveying party encountered an armed Michigan force. Guns were drawn, and the outnumbered surveyors retreated. The Michiganians either “fired a volley over the Ohioans’ heads” or fired directly at them, depending on which account you wish to believe. In any case, no one was injured. Nine Ohioans were arrested. Two of these were released for lack of evidence, and six others posted bail. The remaining Buckeye opted to remain in jail in Tecumseh, Michigan. One Michiganian later reported that deputies often had to spend time finding the man. It seems that the Ohio prisoner liked to take the jail keys and go riding with the sheriff’s daughters!

Another dramatic incident occurred in July 1835. Joseph Wood, Deputy Sheriff of Monroe County, Michigan, traveled to Toledo to arrest Two Stickney (He had an older brother named “One.”). Stickney was accused of forcibly resisting Michigan law officers. When an unarmed Wood tried to arrest Stickney, Stickney stabbed him and fled. Wood survived, but the stabbing made him the Toledo War’s only casualty. The incident greatly angered Michiganians, who raised an armed posse. The posse encountered an armed group of Ohioans, who fled across the Maumee River. The two groups exchanged gunfire, but were out of range of each other’s weapons. Later, Michigan Governor Stevens T. Mason demanded that Ohio arrest and extradite Two Stickney, who had fled the area. Ohio Governor Robert Lucas refused to comply.

The “War” is Resolved

Congress would not grant Michigan statehood until the boundary matter was resolved. Ohio, as a state, held electoral votes and seats in Congress. Further, Indiana and Illinois – also already states – feared a similar loss of territory should Michigan prevail. Ultimately, Ohio was awarded the disputed area. As a compromise, Michigan’s northern boundaries were extended to include most of the Upper Peninsula (Michigan had already laid claim to the easternmost section of the U.P.). With these boundary adjustments, Michigan became a state in January 1837.

In hindsight, one could argue that Michigan was the real winner of the Toledo War. The Upper Peninsula’s natural resources ultimately proved far more valuable than the City of Toledo!

Sources Consulted

Michigan: A History of the Wolverine State (3rd Revised Edition) by Willis F. Dunbar and George S. May

The Toledo War: The First Michigan-Ohio Rivalry by Don Faber

The Rise and Fall of Toledo, Michigan…the Toledo War! by Sister Mary Karl George

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