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Lives of famous Indian chiefs from Cofachiqui, the Indian princess, and Powhatan; down to and including Chief Joseph and Geronimo online

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warriors, and the great council dissolved.

The plan was now ripe for execution, and with the sudden-
ness of a whirlwind, the storm of war burst forth all along the
frontier. Nine of the British forts, or stations, were captured.
Some of the garrisons were completely surprised and massacred
on the spot ; a few individuals, in other cases, escaped. In case
of most, if not all of the nine surprisals, quite as much was
effected by stratagem as by force, and that apparently by a pre-
concerted system, which indicates the far-seeing superintendence
of Pontiac himself.

In this storm of war, the most thrilling and tragic scenes
were enacted at Mackinaw, or Michillimackinac, and Detroit.
The former was the scene of a bloody savage triumph ; the latter,
of a long and perilous siege, in which the savage besiegers were
under the personal command of the great Pontiac. As it is the
only recorded instance of the protracted siege of a fortified
civilized garrison by an army of savages, we will tell the story in
detail, but will first briefly describe the successful stratagem
which resulted in the capture of Michillimackinac and the slaugh-
ter of the garrison.

The name Michillimackinac, which, in the Algonquin tongue,


signifies the Great Turtle, was first, from a fancied resemblance,
applied to the neighboring island and thence to the fort.

By reason of its location on the south side of the strait,
between lakes Huron and IMichigan, Michillimackinac was one of
the most important positions on the frontier. It was the place of
deposit and point of departure between the upper and lower
countries; the traders always assembled there on their voyages
to and from ]\Iontreal. Connected with it was an area of two
acres, inclosed with tall cedar-wood posts, sharpened at the top,
and extending on one side so near the water's edge that a western
wind always drove the waves against the foot of the stockade.

The place at this time contained thirty families within the
palisades of the fort, and about as many more without, with a
garrison of about thirty-five men and their officers, according to

Warning of the tempest that impended had been clearly
given; enough, had it been heeded, to have averted the fatal dis-
aster. Several of the Canadians least hostile to the English had
thrown out hints of approaching danger, and one of them had
even told Captain Etherington, the commander, that the Indians
had formed a design to destroy, not only his garrison, but all the
English on the lakes. Etherington not only turned a deaf ear
to what he heard, but threatened to send prisoner to Detroit the
next person who should disturb the fort with such tidings. Only
the day before the tragic 4th of June an Indian named Wawa-
tam, an Ojibway chief, who had taken a fancy to Alexander
Henry, a trader, who was in the fort, came over and first advised,
then urged, and finally begged Henry on his knees, to leave the
fort that night. But all in vain !

The morning of June 4, the birthday of King George, was
warm and sultry. The plain in front of the fort was covered
with Indians of the Ojibway, Chippewa and Sac tribes.

Early in the morning, many Ojibways came to the fort, invit-
ing the officers and soldiers to come out and see a grand game
of ball, or haggaifaivay, which was to be played between their
nation and the Sacs, for a high wager. In consequence of this


invitation, the place was soon deserted of half its tenants, and
the gates of the palisade were wide open. Groups of soldiers
stood in the shade looking at the sport, most of them without
their arms.

Sober Indian chiefs stood as if intently watching the for-
tunes of the game. In fact, however, their thoughts were far
otherwise employed. Large numbers of squaws also mingled in
the crowd, but gradually gathering in a group near the open
gates. And, strange to say, in spite of the warm day they were
tvrapped to the throat in blankets.

Baggattaway has always been a favorite game with many
Indian tribes. At either extremity of the open ground, from
half a mile to a mile apart, stood two posts, which constituted
the stations or goals of the parties. Except that the ball was
much smaller and that a bat or racket much like those used in
lawn tennis served instead of the kick, the game was identical
with our well-known football, and just as brutal.

The ball was started from the middle of the ground, and the
game was for each side to keep it from touching their own post
and drive it against that of their adversaries. Hundreds of lithe
and agile figures were leaping and bounding over each other,
turning handsprings and somersaults, striking with the bats,
tripping each other up, every way, any way, to get at the ball
and foil the adversary. At one moment the whole were crowded
together, a dense throng of combatants, all struggling for the ■
ball ; at the next, they are scattered again, and running over the
ground like hounds in full chase. Each, in his excitement, yelled
and shouted at the height of his voice.

Suddenly the ball rose high, and descending in a wide curve,
fell near the gate of the fort. This was no chance stroke, but a
part of a preconcerted stratagem to insure the surprise and
destruction of the garrison. The players instantly bounded
toward the ball, a rushing, maddened and tumultuous throng,
but just as they neared the gates, the shouts of sport changed
suddenly to the ferocious war-whoop. The squaws threw open
their blankets, exposing the guns, hatchets and knives, and the


Courtesy of Smithsonian Institution. See page 584.


players instantly flung' away llicii- bats antl sei/A'd the weapons,
before the amazed Enjilisli bad tinu' lo lliiiik or act. Tbey at once
fell upon the defenseless garrison and traders, butchered fifteen
on the spot, captured the rest, including the commander, while
ever^'thing that had belonged to the English was carried otf or
destroyed, though none of the French families or their property
was disturbed. It is said that these captives were aftei'ward
ransomed at Montreal, at high prices.

As Ave have seen, it was a part of Pontiac's plan that each
tribe should attack the fort or English settlement nearest to
them. For this reason, and because it was the largest and best
fortified place, he took personal command at the siege of Detroit.

This settlement was founded by La Motte Cadillac in 1701,
and contained at this time, according to Major Rogers, about
twenty-five hundred people. The center of the settlement was
the fortified town or fort, which stood on the western margin of
the river, and contained about a hundred houses, compactly built,
and surrounded by a palisade twenty-five feet high, with a
bastion at each corner, and block-houses over the gates.

The garrison of the fort consisted of one hundred and twenty
English soldiers, under the command of Ma,jor Gladwyn. There
were also forty fur traders, and the ordinary Canadian inhab-
itants of the place, who could not be trusted in case of an Indian

Two small armed schooners, the Beaver and the (iladwyn,
lay anchored in the river, while the ordnance of the fort con-
sisted of two six-pounders, one three-pounder and three mortars;
all of an indifferent quality. Th(^ settlement outside the fort,
stretching about eight miles along both sides of the Detroit river,
consisted of the dwellings of Canadians, and thive Indian vil-
lages, the Ottawas and AVyandots, on the east, and the Pottawat-
omies on the west side of the stream.

"Such was Detroit— a place whose defences could have
opposed no resistance to a civilized t'nemy ; and yet. siluatcd as it
was at a strategic point on the bank of a broad navigable river
far removed from the hope of speedy succor, it could only


rely, in the terrible struggle that awaited it, upon its own slight
strength and feeble resources, ' ' as Parkman well says.

On the afternoon of May 5 a Canadian woman, the wife of
St. Aubin, one of the prominent settlers, crossed the river to the
Ottawa village to buy some maple sugar and venison. She was
surprised at finding several warriors engaged in filing off their
gun-barrels, so as to reduce them, stock and all. to the length of
about a yard. Such a weapon could easily be hid under a
blanket. That night the woman mentioned the circumstance to
a neighbor, the village blacksmith. "Oh," said he, "that
explains it." "Explains what?" "The reason why so many
Indians have lately wanted to borrow my files and saws."

It is not known whether this circumstance reached the ears
of the commander; if so, it received no attention at his hands.
But, in the hour of impending doom, the love of an Indian
maiden interposed to save the garrison from butchery.

In the Pottawatomie village, it is said, there lived an Ojib-
way girl, Avho could boast a larger share of beauty than is com-
mon to the wigwam. She had attracted the eye of Gladwyn, who
had taken great interest in her, and as she was very bright, had
given her some instruction. AVhile she, on her part, had become
much attached to the handsome young officer. On the afternoon
of May 6, Catharine— for so the officers called her— came to the
fort and repaired to Gladwyn 's quarters, bringing with her a
pair of elkskin moccasins, ornamented with beads and porcupine
work, which he had requested her to make. But this time the
girl 's eyes no longer sparkled with pleasure and excitement. Her
face was anxious, and her look furtive. She said little and soon
left the room ; but the sentinel at the door saw her still lingering
at the street corner, though the hour for closing the gates was
nearly come.

At length she attracted the attention of Gladwyn himself.
The major at once saw that the girl knew something which she
feared yet longed to tell. Calling her to him, he sought to win
her secret, but it was not for a long while, and under solemn
promises that she should not be betrayed, but rather protected,


should it become necessary, that the dusky sweetheart spoke.
"To-morrow," she said, "Pontiac will come to the fort wilh
sixty of his chiefs, and demand a council. Each will be armed
with a gun cut short, and hidden under his blanket. When all
are assembled in the council-house, and after he has delivered
his speech, he will offer a peace belt of wampum, holding it in a
reversed position. This will be the signal of attack. The chiefs
will spi'ing up and fire upon the officers, and the Indians in the
street will fall upon the garrison. Every Englishman will be
killed, but not the scalp of a single Frenchman will be touched."

Gladwyn believed the maid, and the words of warning spoken,
she went back to her people. The guards that night were
doubled. At times the watchers on the walls heard unwonted
sounds, borne to them on the night wind from the distant Indian
villages. They were the steady beat of the Indian drum and the
shrill choruses of the war-dance.

The next day, about ten o'clock, the great war chief, with his
treacherous followers, reached the fort, and the gateway was
throAvn open to admit them. All were wrapped to the throat
in colored blankets, their faces smeared with paint, and
their heads adorned with nodding plumes. For the most part,
they were tall, strong men, and all had a gait and bearing of
peculiar stateliness. The leader started as he saw the soldiers
drawn up in line, and heard the ominous tap of the drum. Arriv-
ing at the council-house they saw Gladwyn, with several of his
officers, in readiness to receive them, and the observant chiefs
did not fail to notice that every Englishman wore a sword at his
side and a pair of pistols in his belt, and the conspirators eyed
each other with uneasy glances.

"AVhy, " demanded Pontiac, "do I see so many of my father's
young men standing in the street with their guns?" Gladwyn
replied through his interpreter, La Butte, that he had ordei-ed
the soldiers under arms for the sake of exercise and disciplin(\
Pontiac saw at once that the plot was discovei-ed. He did not
lose control of himself, however, but made the customary speech,
though the signal for attack was not given. After a short and


uneasy sitting he and his chiefs withdrew with marked discom-
fiture and apprehension.

Gladwyn has been censured for not detaining the chiefs as
hostages for the good conduct of their followers. "Perhaps,"
as Parkman says, "the commandant feared lest should he arrest
the chiefs when gathered at a public council and guiltless as yet
of open violence, the act might be interpreted as cowardly and
dishonorable. He was ignorant, moreover, of the true nature or
extent of the plot."

Balked in his treachery, the great chief withdrew to his vil-
lage, enraged and mortified, yet still resolved to persevere. That
Gladwyn had suffered him to escape, was to his mind ample proof
either of cowardice or ignorance. The latter supposition seem-
ing the more probable, he determined to visit the fort once more
and convince the English, if possible, that their suspicions against
him were unfounded.

Accordingly, on the following morning he repaired to the
fort, with three of his chiefs, bearing in his hand the sacred
calumet, or pipe of peace, the bowl carved in stone, and the stem
adorned with feathers. Offering it to Gladwyn, he addressed
him and his officers as follows : ' ' My fathers, evil birds have
sung lies in your ear. We that stand before you are friends of
the English. We love them as our brothers, and, to prove our
love, we have come this day to smoke the pipe of peace." At
his departure, he gave the pipe to Major Campbell, second in
command, as a further pledge of his sincerity.

That afternoon, the better to cover his designs, Pontiac called
the young men of all the tribes to a game of ball, which took
place in a neighboring field, with great noise and shouting. At
nightfall the garrison was startled by a burst of loud, shrill yells.
The drums beat to arms and the troops were ordered to their
posts; but the alarm was caused only by the victors in the ball
game announcing their success by these discordant outcries.
Meanwhile Pontiac spent the afternoon consulting with his chiefs
how to compass the ruin of the English.

The next day, about eleven o'clock, the common behind the


fort was again thronged with Indians; Pontiac, advancing from
among the multitude, approached the gate, only to find it closed
and barred against him. He shouted to the sentinels, and
demanded why he was refused admittance. Gladwyn himself
replied that the great chief might enter, if he chose, but the
crowd he had brought with him must remain outside. Pontiac
rejoined that he wished all his warriors to enjoy the fragrance
of the friendly calumet. But Gladwyn was inexorable, and
replied that he would have none of his rabble in the fort.
Instantly the savage threw off the mask of deceit he had worn so
long, and, casting one look of unspeakable rage and hate at the
fort, he turned abruptly from the gate and strode toward his
followers, who lay in great numbers flat on the ground beyond
reach of gunshot. At his approach, they all leaped up and ran
off "yelping," in the language of an eye witness, "like so many
devils." They rushed to the house of an old English Avoman
and her family, beat down the doors and tomahawked tlie
inmates. Another party jumped into their canoes, and paddled
with all speed to the Isle of Cochon, where dwelt an Englishman
named Fisher, formerly a sergeant of the regulars. Him they
also killed and scalped.

That night, while the garrison watched with sleepless appre-
hension, the entire Ottawa village was removed to the west side of
the river. "We will be near them," said Pontiac. The position
taken l)y the Indians was just above the mouth of Parent's

During the night a Canadian, named Desno^'ers, came down
the river in a canoe, and landing at the water gate, informed the
garrison that two English officers, Sir Robert Davers and Cajv
tain Ro])ertson, had been murdered on Lake St. Clair, and that
Pontiac had been reinforced by the whole war strength of the
Ojibways. If the Indians had pi'ior to tliis, as it is claimed, a
force of from six hundred to two thousand, tliese accessions wmild
make them quite formidable.

Every Englishman in the fort, whetlier Iradt-r or soldier, was
now ordered under arms. No man lay down 1o sleep, and the


commander walked the ramparts all night. Not till the blush of
dawn tinged the eastern sky did the fierce savages, yelling with
infernal power, come bounding naked to the assault.

The soldiers looked from their loopholes, thinking to see their
assailants gathering for a rush against the feeble barrier. But
in this they were agreeably disappointed. For though their
clamors filled the air, and their guns blazed thick and hot, while
the bullets pelted the fort with leaden hail, yet very few were
visible. Some were sheltered behind barns and fences, some
skulked among bushes, others lay fiat in hollows of the ground ;
while those who could find no shelter were leaping about with the
agility of monkeys, to render it impossible for the marksmen at
the fort to hit them. Each had filled his mouth with bullets, for
the convenience of loading, and each was charging and firing
without suspending these swift movements for a moment.

At the end of six hours the assailants grew weary and with-
drew. It was found that only five men had been wounded in the
fort, while the cautious enemy had sustained but trifling loss.

Gladwyn, believing the affair ended, dispatched La Butte, a
neutral interpreter, accompanied by two old Canadians, Chape-
ton and Godefroy, to open negotiations. Many other Canadian
inhabitants took this opportunity of leaving the place.

Pontiac received the three ambassadors politely, and heard
their offers of peace with seeming acquiescence. He, however,
stepped aside to talk the matter over with the other chiefs, after
which Pontiac declared that, out of their earnest desire for a
lasting treaty, they wished to hold council with their English
fathers themselves, and they were especially desirous that Major
Campbell, the veteran officer, second in command at the fort,
should visit their camp.

When the word reached Campbell he prepared at once to go,
in spite of Gladwyn 's fears of treachery. He felt, he said, no
fear of the Indians, with whom he had always been on the most
friendly terms. Gladwyn, with some hesitation, gave a reluctant
consent. Campbell left the fort accompanied by Lieutenant
McDougal, and attended by La Butte and several other Cana-


dians. A Canadian met them and warned the two British officers
they were entering' the lion's den, but the brave men refused to
turn back.

As they entered the Indian camp a howling multitude of
women and children surrounded them, armed with clubs, sticks
and stones. But Pontiac, with a word and a gesture, quelled the
mob, and conducted them to the council-house, where they were
surrounded by sinister faces. Campbell made his speech. It was
heard in perfect silence, and no reply was made. For a full hour
the unfortunate officers saw before them the same concourse of
dark faces bending an unwavering gaze upon them. At last
Campbell rose to go. Pontiac made an imperious gesture for him
to resume his seat. "My father," said he, "will sleep to-night in
the lodges of his red children." The gray-haired soldier and his
companion w^ere captives.

i\Iany of the Indians were eager to kill the captives on the
spot ; but Pontiac protected them from injury and insult, and
conducted them to the house of M. Meloche, near Parent's creek,
where good quarters were assigned them, and as much liberty
allowed as was consistent with safe custody. The peril of their
situation ^vas diminished by the circumstance that two Indians
had been detained at the fort as prisoners, for some slight oft'ense,
a few days prior to this, and it is quite possible Pontiac designed
to effect an exchange.

Late the same night La Butte returned with anxious face to
the fort. Some of the officers suspected him, no doubt unjustly,
with a share in the treachery. Feeling the suspicion, he spent the
remainder of the night in the narrow street, gloomy and silent.

Thatcher informs us concerning these two prisoners that
McDougal effected his escape, "but INIajor Campbell Avas toma-
hawked b}^ an infuriated savage named Wasson, in revenge for
the death of a relative. One account says 'they boiled his heart
and ate it, and made a pouch of the skin of his arms!' The
brutal assassin fled to Saginaw, apprehensive of the vengeance of
Pontiac; and it is but justice to the memory of that chieftain to
sav that he was indignant at the ati-ocious act and used every


possible exertion to apprehend the murderer. Doubtless had he
been captured the chief would have inflicted the death penalty. ' '

It is said that the wily chieftain found out in some manner
that the Ojibway maiden, Catharine, disclosed the plot to
Gladwyn, and ordered four Indians to take her and bring her
before him. The order was promptly obeyed, according to the
diary of a Canadian who was contemporary, and having arrived
at the Pottawatomie village, they seized Catharine "and obliged
her to march before them, uttering cries of joy in the manner
they do when they hold a victim in their clutches on whom they
are going to exercise their cruelty ; they made her enter the fort,
and took her before the commandant (Gladwyn) , as if to confront
her with him, and asked him if it was not from her he had
learned their design; but they were no better satisfied than if
they had kept themselves quiet. They obtained from that officer
bread and beer for themselves and for her. They then led her to
their chief (Pontiac) in the village."

It will be remembered that before the girl imparted her
secret, which was destined to save the lives of all in the fort,
Gladwyn solemnly promised that she should not be betrayed, but
rather protected should it become necessary. And now the
exigency has arisen ; Catharine and her captors are in the fort.
But when did a white man ever keep his sacred word to an
Indian 1 Gladwyn did not betray her, it is true, for he made no
ansM^er to the questions asked him. But he afforded her only
such protection in this, her hour of peril, "as the wolf shows to
the lamb, or the kite to the dove." He gave beer to the four
Indians, who were already angry, to enrage them still more, and
also supplied Catharine with beer, which may have been the
starting point of her ruin, as we shall see.

But he did not lift a finger to save or protect the one to whom
he probably owed his life, but permitted her to be dragged from
the fort into the presence of the enraged Pontiac, who, according
to another Canadian tradition, seized a bat or racket used by the
Indians in their ball game, and flogged her until life was almost
extinct. An old Indian told Henry Conner, formerly United

After an old steel cn^aving. Sec page 147.


States interpreter at Detroit, that Catharine survived her terrible
punishment and lived for many years; but havin^!: contracted
intemperate habits, she fell, when intoxicated, into a kettle of
boiling maple sap, and was so severely scalded that she died in
■ consequence.

Pontiac proceeded to redistribute his forces. One band liid
in ambush along the river below the fort. Others surrounded
the fort on the land side. The garrison had only three weeks'
provisions, and the Indians determined that this scanty store
should not be replenished. Every house in Detroit was searched
for grease, tallow, or whatever would serve for food, and all Ihe
provisions were placed in a public storehouse.

The Indians, with their usual improvidence, had neglected to
provide against the exigency of a siege, thinking to have taken
Detroit at a single stroke. The Canadian settlers were ruthlessly
despoiled of their stores, and the food thus obtained was wasted
Avith characteristic recklessness. Aggravated beyond endurance
they complained to Pontiac. He heard them, and made the fol-
lowing characteristic reply :

"I do not doubt, my brothers, that this war is very trouble-
some to you, for our warriors are continually passing and repass-

Online LibraryBowker A&I PublishingLives of famous Indian chiefs from Cofachiqui, the Indian princess, and Powhatan; down to and including Chief Joseph and Geronimo → online text (page 10 of 53)