The Time Michigan Won Big Over Ohio State


Michigan and Ohio both wanted a narrow strip of land. (

As the college football world focuses their attention on the biggest rivalry game of the season, the Michigan-Ohio State game that is traditionally held the Saturday after Thanksgiving, we will take this time to talk about the time that Michigan won big over Ohio State. No, this story has nothing to do with gridiron action. And the prize was much bigger than epic bragging rights and a chance to play in the Big 10 Championship. How big? About 10.48 million acres big. This is the story of how Michigan and Ohio went to war – actual war, not a gridiron war – and how the loser ended up with the bigger, better prize.

The Toledo Strip

When the territories of the Midwest were drawing up their boundaries in the late 1700s, someone made an error. Both Ohio and Michigan thought they owned a 450-square-mile strip of land, which became known as the Toledo Strip, that included the mouth of the Maumee River. It was fertile land that was ideal for farming. Who wouldn’t want it? When Ohio was granted statehood in 1803, it included the Toledo Strip as part of its land.

Fast forward about two dozen years to when it was Michigan’s turn to apply for statehood. On their application, they also listed the Toledo Strip. Although it was not a large plot of land, it was still considered valuable, therefore Michigan wanted it. 

Stevens T. Mason was the youngest governor in U.S. history. (

The “Boy Governor”

The territorial governor of Michigan at this time was Stevens T. Mason. The 24-year-old was referred to as ‘Michigan’s boy governor’ because of his youth. As a side note, he remains the youngest governor in U.S. history. Anyway, Mason was young and a bit hot-headed. When Ohio refused to give up its claim on the Toledo Strip, he passed the Pains and Penalties Act. This act made it a criminal offense for Ohioans to conduct ‘governmental actions’ in the disputed Toledo Strip. Anyone caught breaking the new law could be fined and imprisoned for five years of hard labor. To enforce this law, Mason sent the state militia, led by Brigadier General Joseph W. Brown, to the Toledo Strip. Ohio’s governor, Robert Lucas, responded by sending his own state militia to the area.

The War’s One and Only Battle

President Andrew Jackson tried to intervene to prevent bloodshed and offered up a compromise. But it was an election year and Ohio was a key battleground state. Jackson wanted to keep the Ohio voters happy so the compromise he offered was a bit one-sided. Even the young and inexperienced Mason knew that this was a political ploy. He rejected the offer and continued to ready his militia for battle.

On April 26, 1835, a group of land surveyors sent by Mason were in Phillips Corners when they encountered about 50 men from the Ohio militia. The Ohioans advised the surveyors to leave immediately. The details of the encounters are murky. The Michigan surveyors claimed they never fired their weapons … and then later said they did, but that they only shot them in the air as a warning. They claim, however, that the Ohioans shot at them, which the Ohioans stated was false. Either way, this was the only incident during the Toledo War, as the conflict became known, in which shots were fired.

The Battle of Phillips Corner, as lame as it was, angered both sides and it seemed as though Michigan and Ohio were in danger of escalating violence. 

Tahquamenon Falls is just one of many jewels in the Upper Peninsula. (puremichigan)

The Boy Governor Got the Boot

President Jackson was getting really annoyed with Michigan over the Toledo War. He removed Stevens T. Mason from his role as Michigan’s territorial governor and appointed John “Little Jack” Horner in his place. Little Jack Horner was a disaster. The people of Michigan hated him so much that they actually burned him in effigy and threw rotten tomatoes at him … literally, not figuratively. He did, however, push for Michigan’s statehood application, which was stalled at this point, to be pushed through.

The Frostbitten Convention

In the summer of 1836, President Jackson signed the bill to make Michigan a state, but there was a stipulation to statehood. Facing financial troubles and in need of federal money, Horner and the territorial government met on December 14, 1836, in Ann Arbor during a frigid bout of winter cold to discuss Jackson’s latest compromise. The meeting was jokingly called the Frostbitten Convention. As per the statehood agreement, Michigan would have to cede the Toledo Strip and end its conflict with Ohio. In exchange, it would be granted possession of more than 10 million acres of land that we now call the Upper Peninsula. Michigan really wanted to reject the compromise. After all, everyone knew that 10 million acres in the rocky, wild, unfarmable Upper Peninsula was not worth nearly as much as the 450 square miles of the Toledo Strip. But Michigan needed money from the U.S. Treasury that it could only get if it was a state. Reluctantly, Little Jack Horner agreed to the compromise.

Ohio Won the Toledo War … But Did They?

Ohio won the Toledo War. They got to keep the 450-square-mile Toledo Strip and they got to feel superior (pun intended) to their neighbors to the north. Michigan was left to lick its proverbial wounds. But they got the last laugh when, in the 1840s, great deposits of copper and iron were discovered in the Upper Peninsula which caused a mining boom that lasted a century and brought new-found wealth to the state. Today, Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the gift that keeps on giving. It is tourism mecca that is still rich in natural resources. Ohio, on the other hand, got to keep Toledo. So, who, really, was the winner?

As for the big Michigan-Ohio State football game this weekend, the outcome can go either way. Ohio State might be the clear winner … or Michigan might get the last laugh.