Ohio Map

Today, the University of Michigan and Ohio State are fierce rivals in football. The contest is considered ‘the game’ of the year for both teams. While this rivalry is intense, it doesn’t compare to the shooting war that nearly broke out in 1835 between the two states that involved a boundary dispute.

The origin of this dispute can be traced back to the Northwest Ordinance of 1787, which not only established the Northwest Territory but also spelled out the ground rules for carving out new states. According to the ordinance, there would be northern and southern tiers of states. In addition, the ordinance defined the boundary between north and south as a line that ran east from the southern tip of Lake Michigan. However, if this line had in fact been followed, Chicago would be in Wisconsin and Toledo in Michigan. So, what happened?

In 1802, Ohio specified in its state constitution that Ohio’s northern boundary encompassed the entire bay of the Maumee River. Even though Congress accepted Ohio’s constitution, that didn’t necessarily mean it also approved of Ohio’s boundary claim.

Thirty years later, the Michigan Territory petitioned Congress for statehood. Michigan also claimed the Maumee River’s mouth as part of its territory, based on the Northwest Ordinance. Naturally, Ohio saw things differently. Both Ohio and Michigan had good reasons for claiming the area around the mouth of the Maumee River. While at that time there was no substantial settlement situated there, it seemed very likely that a major commercial center would eventually develop in this area.

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As tensions heated up, the so-called Battle of Phillips Corners involving surveyors from Ohio and armed militia from Michigan occurred in April of 1835. Shots were fired and nine Ohioans were arrested. Six were freed either for lack of evidence or by posting bail. The others were detained in the jail at Tecumseh, Michigan. As the story goes, one of the Ohio prisoners liked to slip away and go riding with the Sheriff’s daughters.

A second incident happened three months later. Michigan Deputy Sheriff Joe Wood traveled to the Maumee River to arrest Two Stickney (he had an older brother named “One”). When the unarmed Wood tried to arrest Stickney, Stickney stabbed him with a penknife (Wood’s injury would make him the only casualty of the “conflict”). Enraged, Michiganians raised a posse to track down Stickney. As the posse neared the Maumee River, it encountered a group of armed Ohioans on the other side of the river. Shots were exchanged, but no one was injured since both parties were out of range of each other.

Back in Washington D. C., Congress was not inclined to grant statehood to Michigan until the boundary dispute was resolved. Two other states, Indiana and Illinois feared they could also lose territory if Michigan carried the day. Since, Ohio, Indiana, and Illinois held seats in Congress, there was no way Michigan was going to prevail. Michigan lost, but, as a compromise, it was awarded the Upper Peninsula. It seemed that Ohio had come out on top by winning the perceived potential of a commercial center. However, the natural resources of the Upper Peninsula would ultimately prove to be far more valuable than the City of Toledo. In fact, the Upper Peninsula’s mines produced more wealth than the California Gold Rush.