Chief Topinabee was born around 1758 in his father’s village on the Saint Joseph River, in what is now southwest Michigan. He probably died on 29 July 1826 near present-day Niles, Michigan. A complicated leader of his village, he may have fought at the Battle of Fallen Timbers in 1794, certainly was a signatory to the Treaty of Greenville the next year, appears to have become an ally of Tecumseh and his intertribal confederacy at Prophetstown, may have been a participant in the Battle of Fort Dearborn in 1812, and served as a leader of strategic resistance to settler domination. The usual narrative is that Topinabee was a great warrior and leader of his people who in the last years of his life degenerated into a hapless drunkard and accommodationist. But is that a fair depiction of him? This essay is a celebration of ethnohistory and the paths it has cleared for the use of nontraditional sources of information. The article is based largely on access to a family archive that provides a counternarrative to the usual biography of Topinabee and allows for a fuller understanding of him as a leader and a person.

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