Skip to main content
Updated date:

The Ohio--Michigan Football Rivalry Began in the Long Toledo War (1835 - 1973)

Ms. Inglish has 30 years experience in medicine, psychology, STEM instruction, history; and aerospace education for USAF Civil Air Patrol.

TURTLE ISLAND - Only 1.5 acres in Lake Erie on the northern border of Ohio. Divided in half in the War of Toledo, no construction can be done on the island and several building projects lie in abandonment. See the old light house on the  left.

TURTLE ISLAND - Only 1.5 acres in Lake Erie on the northern border of Ohio. Divided in half in the War of Toledo, no construction can be done on the island and several building projects lie in abandonment. See the old light house on the left.

A Midwest Civil War

Long before the Michigan Wolverines/Ohio State Buckeyes football rivalry began, the Michigan Territory and the State of Ohio fought over a strip of land on Lake Erie.

The so-called Toledo Strip ran east and west approximately 80 miles and was about six miles wide, covering 470 square miles.

Leaders for Michigan and Ohio (which means "Big River") both wanted the land that was divided in half by an officially-surveyed but disputed border between the state and territory. Interestingly, a young Robert E. Lee was one of the lead surveyors of the disputed area.

The Toledo Strip: 80 miles by roughly 6 miles or 470 Square Miles.

The Toledo Strip: 80 miles by roughly 6 miles or 470 Square Miles.

Surveyor and Second Lieutenant Robert E. Lee (future General of the Confederacy) marked Michigan’s southern border south of the Toledo Strip in 1834.

A war of sorts broke out around the strip and the argument extended eastward into Maumee Bay to a small island about five acres in area at the time. It had once houses a military fort on seven acres of land, but erosion caused it to decrease n size. Erosion has reduced it in the 21st century to less than two acres.

The land dispute known as the Toledo War was not settled completely until the fate of little Turtle Island was adjudicated in 1973. Occasionally, I hear old timers around Toledo and Maumee jokingly discuss the "war on the high seas of Toledo."

Turtle Island was named for Chief Little Turtle, who was involved in the American Revolution. The island is in Maumee Bay, about five miles northeast of the mouth of the Maumee River and Toledo (formerly called Miami for the local Native American group). The northern half of the island sits in Michigan waters and the southern half is in Ohio.

Uninhabited and privately owned now, the small island features ruins of abandoned structures and the remains of the Turtle Island Lighthouse tower on the Ohio side of the island, dating back to the original building of 1831 and a makeover in 1866. A replacement lighthouse was built in Maumee Bay in 1904 and was placed on the National Registry of Historic Places in 1983.

The Turtle Island lighthouse was active during the years that ferry boats operated on major routes that crossed Lake Erie.

Little Turtle, Chief of the Miami Nation

Little Turtle, Chief of the Miami Nation

One of Many American Wars of the 1800s

The years 1812 - 1814 are those in which Britain tried to recapture the United States after the Revolutionary War. Many wars occurred during the American 1800s, including in the Great Lakes Region many of the wars were "Indian" wars, along with fights against the British, and even wars against other Americans. However, some Michigan Chippewa would later become code talkers for the USA in World War II.

The longest Midwestern war included very little actual combat, but lasted from 1835 through 1973, ended by a U.S. Supreme Court decision after 138 years.

Native North American wars had filled this region since at least the 1600s with 17th century European exploration and land claims. However, the Michigan-Ohio War - popularly called the Toledo War - was between American citizens and amounted to a Midwestern Civil War before the War Between the States decades later.

Today, Michigan is home to eight different Native American reservations. Ohio has none, all of its tribal peoples having been removed to the West along eight pathways now known as "Ohio's Eight Trails of Tears."

Great Lakes War

The years 2012 - 2014 brought out a grand set of celebrations across North America to commemorate the bicentennial of the War of 1812 - 1814. However, humanity has almost forgotten about the war in the Midwest that began in 1835.

The aftermath of War of 1812 in the Great Lakes Region included 10, 000 American soldiers, civilians, and merchants imprisoned in Great Britain's Dartmoor Prison through 1815, a year after that war was finished. The war of 1835 was not so far reaching. Who was this new enemy? - Michigan.

Long before the Michigan Wolverines/Ohio Buckeyes football rivalry, the Territory of Michigan and the State of Ohio fought over a narrow strip of land and an island for their resources.


A Tall Ship At Toledo.

A Tall Ship At Toledo.

State Militias Meet on the Maumee River

In 1835, Michigan and Ohio Governors gathered militias to fight over the Toledo Strip and to enforce heavy fines and jail time for any citizens submitting to the opponent's laws in The Strip. Michigan actually collected a lot taxes there in the Toledo Strip.

The two militias and some civilians lined up on either side of the Maumee River near Toledo.

The ensuing battle consisted of name calling and other insults between the two military units (much like the Korean DMZ with its military units on either side showing off their martial arts today). There were no official uniforms for either side.


1836 proceedings of the Michigan Territorial Convention, called the Frost-Bitten Convention. Michigan was compelled to accept the terms dictated by Ohio in giving up the Toledo Strip.

1836 proceedings of the Michigan Territorial Convention, called the Frost-Bitten Convention. Michigan was compelled to accept the terms dictated by Ohio in giving up the Toledo Strip.

The Drawn Out Truce

The Toledo War, or War of Toledo, or Michigan-Ohio War lasted two years, although it was largely bloodless and mostly a court case and surveyors' battle. In fact, the only human casualty was a surveyor that died in an actual short battle called the Battle of Phillips Corners on April 26 of 1835. A legend in Northwest Ohio holds that a chicken was killed in the skirmish as well.

In 1835, a new Ohio survey team was sent out and one of the men was shot by the Michigan Militia (who denied it), while nine Ohioans were captured and taken into Michigan. In fact, Toledo was invaded by Michigan soldiers several times, while Ohio and Michigan raised troops and passed laws against each other ad infinitum.

With an action by U.S. President Andrew Jackson in 1836, Michigan gave up the Toledo Strip except for half of Turtle Island in order to gain land in the Upper Peninsula (UP). Michigan was afforded two state conventions in 1836 to put the Toledo Strip matter to a vote.

The spring vote failed to solve the matter, but a December convention during an unusually cold year (The Frost Bitten Convention) succeeded. Unhappy at first, the leaders of Michigan later found heavy natural resources on the UP, like copper and the timber that helped make the state famous for its timber barons' wealth. On January 26, 1837 Michigan finally became an official State of the Union.

Battle of Phillips Corners

Battle of Phillips Corners

Art and Design in 1835

What were these disciplines like in the Toledo area in the 1830s?

First off, the Northwest sector of the state was home to many Native American Nations that plied their fine arts and crafts. Their designs encompassed longhouses, clothing, utensils, religious artifacts, weapons, pipes, ,musical instruments, and many more. Examples can be found in both Ohio and Michigan historical museums and at Pow Wows in both states.

Examples of white settlers' arts and design productions can be seen in museums as well, including household furniture (some of the cribs are very interesting), hand crafted weapons, wooden toys, kitchen utensils, farming or garden implements, other equipment used in farming (these decorate some restaurants as well), and many others. Handmade quilts were a big needlework design production, along with some of the handmade clothing and shoes or slippers.

Functional Art

Functional Art

"Toledo, MI" is lettered at the bottom of this wooden ammunition box shown above. The box may have been used by militia in the Toledo War and is now kept at the Michigan Historical Museum as an example of both tool and art piece. Toledo was not incorporated in Ohio as a city until 1837, after the Toledo War.

Historic Oliver House Inn.

Historic Oliver House Inn.

Fashion And Beauty in 1835

White settlers, mostly French at first, began trapping for furs, many hats and coats of which are considered fiber or fur arts. Period clothing and hair styles can be seen in the slide show to the right, including those of two governors.

However, all this was probably simpler and utilitarian in the Toledo area, considering the hard pioneering work of the the 1830s. However,

Toledo was and is a major water port and updated styles eventually arrived by ship, as had the British boats of the War of 1812 - 14. Curling Irons were popular for hair styling, as were heavy clothing irons heated in a wood stove. Local plants and fruits provided dyes and tints.

Examples of Ohio and Michigan people and fashions in the 1830s:

Rivalries: Sports and Recreation in 1835

Who had time for sports and recreation during a long period of settlement and war that lasted from Ohio's 1803 Statehood through 1837?

Canada was already enjoying curling, while Ohio farmers were cutting ice from their ponds to sell for winter income. Boxing and hunting were big sports in Northwestern Ohio, though (hunting more likely needed for food), and unfortunately, so was bear baiting here and there. The boxing was likely bare-fisted. Phrenology became a parlor game. The barn dance or square dance was indelibly part of the Ohio culture of the time.

the-hubnuggets-mingle-at-the-war-of-toledo-oh

The States on Lake Erie are Still at War...in Football

The Toledo discord and opposition carried through to modern times and the Michigan-Ohio football rivalry that often becomes violent on High Street in front of The Ohio State University Campus.

Reports have been that violence has deceased since the 1980s car burnings, but the truth is that violence still occurs. Bricks and chunks of broken sidewalks go through the windshields of cars with Michigan plates and as alcohol intake increases throughout the day and night, any blue car becomes a target. As late as 2014, I witnessed many bricks hitting their targets and police pursuing the brick tossers.

Further, when I rent a vehicle to drive up to the UP in the summer, I refuse any red automobile. The one time I accepted a red car, a van of twenty-somethings with Michigan plates in Ann Arbor ran me off the road, interrupting my trip. How many more decades will this animosity continue?

Formal opening of the new Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on 10/22/1927 with Ohio State University vs. University of Michigan. Now we fight over football and have competing blood drives before the annual game!

Formal opening of the new Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor on 10/22/1927 with Ohio State University vs. University of Michigan. Now we fight over football and have competing blood drives before the annual game!

Soldiers from the 16th Engineer Brigade practice their "trash talk" at Camp Liberty, Nov. 16, 2009  in Iraq.

Soldiers from the 16th Engineer Brigade practice their "trash talk" at Camp Liberty, Nov. 16, 2009 in Iraq.

Sources

  • Driscoll, K. 5 things to love about the Ohio State-Michigan rivalry, even if you don’t like sports. Dayton Daily News; 2017.
  • Faber, D. The Toledo War: The First Michigan-Ohio Rivalry. University of Michigan Regional Press; 2009.
  • National Museum of the Great Lakes. 1701 Front Street; Toledo OH 43605. inlandseas.org Retrieved October 20, 2018.
  • Ohio History Connection: Ohio-Michigan Rivalry. 17th Avenue at I-71 N. ramp; Columbus OH 43211. ohiohistory.org Retrieved October 19, 2018.
  • Rowland, K. Toledo the home of the Wolverines? It almost happened. The Toledo Blade; November 22, 2018.
  • Faber, D. The Toledo War: The First Michigan-Ohio Rivalry. The University of Michigan Press; 2008.


This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2012 Patty Inglish MS

Comments

FloraBreenRobison on January 20, 2012:

Yes, it was very subtle. All the references to Paris France were in Gigi in code. :) (To those who haven't seen it, I am kidding)

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 20, 2012:

So entertaining was GiGi, blaming Canada too! I always thought Terrence and what was his name - Peter?- Anyway, TP = toilet paper.

Patty Inglish MS (author) from USA and Asgardia, the First Space Nation on January 20, 2012:

And it's beautiful up there as well. Great place

FloraBreenRobison on January 20, 2012:

oh, yes the song "Blame Canada" in the South Park movie. I remember it well (that of course is another song from a different film.....Gigi)

WebscapeOutdoors from Michigan, USA on January 20, 2012:

As a Michigan Sportsman I'm glad we ended up with the U.P.! Great Hub!

Related Articles