Wiki WormholeWe explore some of Wikipedia’s oddities in our 5,664,405-week series, Wiki Wormhole.  

This week’s entry: The Toledo War

What it’s about: So, last week, we linked further down the wormhole to fauna of Australia. Then we remembered too late that last year, we covered the very similar Australian megafauna. So rather than cover two pages so similar in content, we’re going to push fauna of Australia further down our 5,034,686-week schedule, and, like a Wikipedia-based Dr. Sam Beckett, leap to a new topic.


That topic is the Toledo War, a rare armed conflict between American states. In 1835, Ohio and the then-territory of Michigan nearly came to blows over a strip of land bordering the two states that contained the bustling town of Toledo. President Andrew Jackson intervened, preventing a potential war between (only two) states before it started.

Strangest fact: The penknife is mightier than the sword. While thousands of men on both sides of the border were armed, organized into militias, and ready to fight for their state, there was only one injury. Angry citizens from both sides were crossing the border and causing trouble, and law enforcement targeted citizens of each others’ states for arrest. One such constable, a Michigan deputy sheriff named Joseph Wood, crossed over into Ohio to arrest Major Benjamin Stickney. Stickney and his three sons resisted, and Two Stickney (history does not record if he was the second son, but we feel like it’s safe to assume) stabbed Wood with a penknife and fled the scene. While Wood’s injuries were minor, they were the worst suffered in the “war,” and significant because, when Ohio refused to extradite Two Stickney, Michigan’s governor appealed to President Jackson, although he at first declined to intervene.


18th-century Americans had only a vague idea of what shape their new country was

Biggest controversy: The seeds of the conflict were sown decades earlier, when the poorly surveyed land known as the Toledo Strip was assigned to both Ohio and Michigan territories. When Ohio became a state in 1803, its northern border (and neighbor Indiana’s) was defined as a straight line extending from the southern tip of Lake Michigan. Trouble is, no one seemed to know exactly what latitude that was, and the border was set farther north than intended. When Congress organized Michigan Territory, in anticipation of future statehood, the border was again set to the southern tip of the lake, but surveyors now knew where the lake actually was. But at that point, the Toledo Strip—in between the assumed and real location of the lakeshore—was an established part of Ohio. By the time the discrepancy was noticed, 30 years later, the state was unwilling to let it go.

Thing we were happiest to learn: Things worked out in the end for both states. To settle the conflict once and for all, Jackson granted Michigan statehood, but only if it gave up its claim on Toledo. As a concession, the state was given the Upper Penninsula (Michigan territory only included a small piece of that land). At this time, this was seen as a bad deal for Michigan, as the Upper Penninsula was viewed as mostly worthless land, but eventually large deposits of copper and iron were discovered there, fueling a century-long mining boom in Michigan. The Toledo Strip ended up being worth fighting for, as the area was an important hub for river travel in the days before railroad, included very fertile farmland, and Toledo grew to be a city with a metropolitan area of 600,000 people.


Thing we were unhappiest to learn: Then, as now, people didn’t need much of an excuse to wave their guns around. While the Ohio-Michigan dispute began in the statehouse—with Ohio succeeding in blocking Michigan’s first bid for statehood, and “young and hot-headed” 24-year-old Michigan Governor Stevens Mason making the strip’s Ohio-affiliated local government illegal—it was fairly quickly armed. Mason formed a state militia, and sent them to patrol the Strip; Ohio Governor Robert Lucas responded in kind. In march 1835, Lucas personally led 600 armed men within 10 miles of Toledo, occupied by Mason and 1,000 men of his own, although the two forces didn’t meet directly.

The following month, Michigan arrested two Ohioans for voting in local elections. Lucas’ response was fairly measured; he sent out surveyors to re-establish the Ohio-favorable border. Those surveyors were attacked by Michigan’s militia in what was later called the Battle Of Phillips Corners, although “battle” may be an overstatement, as Michigan’s soldiers seemed to have merely fired a few rounds into the air and captured a few surveyors as the rest fled. Lucas showed Michigan he meant business this time, as, controversially, he established Toledo as the county seat of Lucas County, named after himself, which encompassed much of the strip and was the local government Michigan so objected to.

Finally, Lucas decided he needed another weapon in his arsenal besides polite bureaucracy, and expanded his militia to include 10,000 volunteers. One Michigan newspaper said the locals would “welcome them to hospitable graves.” That never came to pass, but each side arrested partisans from across the border, until a fed-up Jackson removed Mason from office, and signed a bill that would grant Michigan statehood only if the territory abandoned its claim on Toledo. Michigan agreed, but in one last act of defiance, elected as their first governor… Stevens Mason.


Also noteworthy: Echoes of the Toledo War can still be felt on playing fields. Some claim that both the Michigan-Ohio State college football rivalry, and the one between the Detroit Tigers and Cleveland Indians, can trace their beginnings to the ancient animosity between two otherwise mild-mannered Midwestern states that began nearly 200 years ago.

Best link to elsewhere on Wikipedia: While the Toledo War ended up being a more or less bloodless feud, American history is full of incidents of civil unrest. Wikipedia’s list goes from Shays’ Rebellion all the way through various Black Lives Matter protests from the past 18 months. The list is an odd mixture of legitimate political protests, labor demonstrations, and sports fans or college students being idiots.

Further down the wormhole: One reason river travel was so important in the Toledo Strip was that the area was a watershed leading into Lake Erie, and therefore the Erie Canal. A watershed is the area in which all rainfall eventually flows into the same body of water, and one of the world’s largest is that of the Ganges River. Roughly one year ago, the Ganges was the site of a shocking incident in which more than one hundred dead bodies, mostly children and young women, were found floating in the river. None were identified, and it’s believed they were dumped in the river for various reasons over a long span of time, until some shift in the river’s currents dislodged the bodies. Wikipedia places this gruesome tale in a long list of “unidentified decedents,” one of the most mysterious of whom is Somerton Man. We’re off next week for the holidays, and will delve into this mystery in the new year.