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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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On September 12, 1760, the famous major, Robert Rogers,
received orders from Sir Jeffrey Amherst to ascend the lakes
with a detachment of tw^o hundred rangers in fifteen whaleboats
and take possession, in the name of his Britannic majesty, of
Detroit, Michillimackinac, and other western posts included in
the late capitulation. On November 7 they reached the mouth
of a river called by Rogers the Chogage. Weary with their long
voyage they determined to rest a few days, and were preparing
their encampment in the neighboring forest when a party of
Indian chiefs and warriors entered the camp.

They pi-oclaimed themselves an embassy from Pontiae, "King
and Lord of that country," and informed Rogers and his rangers
that their great sachem, in person, proposed to visit the English;
that he was then not far distant, coming peaceably, and that he
desired the major to halt his detachment "till such liiiu^ as ](c
could see him with his own eyes."

The major drew up his troops as requested, and before long
Pontiae made his appearance. He wore, we are told, "an aii-
of majesty and pi'incely grandeur." He saluted them, biil the
salutation, so far from being another "Welcome, Englishmen I"
was very frigid and formal. He at once sternly demanded of
Rogers his business in his territory, and how he had dared to


venture upon it without his permission. Rogers very prudently
answered that he had no design against the Indians, but, on the
contrary, Avished to remove from their country a nation who had
been an obstacle to mutual friendship and commerce between
them and the English. He also made known his commission to
this effect, and concluded with a present of several belts of
wampum. Pontiac received them with the single observation, ' ' I
shall stand in the path you are walking till morning," and gave
at the same time, a small string of wampum. "This," writes the
major, "was as much as to say I must not march farther without
his leave."

Such, undoubtedly, was the safest construction, and the sequel
shows that Pontiac considered it the most civil. Before departing
for the night he inquired of Rogers whether he wanted anything
which his country afforded ; if so, his warriors should bring it for

The reply was discreet as the offer was generous, that what-
ever provisions might be brought in should be well paid for.
Probably they were ; but the English were, at all events, supplied
the next morning with several bags of parched corn, game and
other necessaries. Pontiac himself, at the second meeting, offered
the pipe of peace, which he and Rogers smoked by turns. He
declared that he thereby made peace with Rogers and his rangers ;
and that they should pass through his dominions, not only
unmolested by his subjects, but protected by them from all other
parties who might incline to be hostile.

A cold storm of rain set in, and the rangers were detained
some days in their encampment. During this time Rogers had
several interviews with Pontiac, and v/as constrained to admire
the native vigor of his intellect, no less than the singular control
he exercised over Ms own warriors and all the Indians in the
lake regions. In the course of their conversation, Rogers informs
us that the great chieftain ' ' often intimated to him that he should
be content to reign in his country, in subordination to the King
of Great Britain, and was willing to pay him such annual
acknowledgment as he was able in furs, and to call him Uncle."


England was nnich in his thoughts, and he several times expressed
a desire to see it. He told Rogers that if he would conduct him
there he would give him a part of his country. He was willing to
grant the English favors, and allow them to settle in his domin-
ions, but not unless he could be viewed as a sovereign; and he
gave them to understand that unless they conducted themselves
agreeable to his wishes, "he would shut up the way and keep
them out."

"As an earnest of his friendship," continued Rogers, "he sent
one hundred warriors to protect and assist us in driving one
hundred fat cattle, which we had brought for the use of the
detachment from Pittsburg, by the way of Presque Isle. He
likewise sent to the several Indian towns, on the south side and
west end of Lake Erie, to inform them that I had his consent to
come into the country. He attended me constantly after this
interview till I arrived at Detroit, and while I remained in the
country, and was the means of preserving the detachment from
the fury of the Indians, who had assembled at the mouth of the
strait, with an intent to cut us off. I had several conferences
with him, in which he discovered great strength of judgment,
and a thirst after knowledge. He was especially anxious to be
made acquainted with the English mode of war, to know how
their arms and accoutrements were provided, and how their cloth-
ing was manufactured. ' '

Up to this time Pontiac had been in word and deed the fast
friend and ally of the French ; but it is easy to discern the
motives that impelled him to renounce his old adherence. The
American forest never produced a man more shrewd, politic and
ambitious. Ignorant as he was of what was passing in the world,
he could clearly see that the French power was on the wane, and
he knew his own interest too well to prop a falling cause. By
making friends of the English he hoped to gain powerful allies,
who would aid his ambitious projects, and give him an increased
influence over the tribes; and he flattered himself that the new-
comers would treat him Avith the same studied respect which the
French had always observed. In this and all his other expecta-


tions of advantage from the English, he was doomed to disap-

There seems no reasonable doubt of the sincerity of Pontiac's
friendship toward the English at this time, and we can not
forbear thinking how different might have been the record of
the historian, had the English authorities pursued a friendly and
conciliatory policy toward the Indians in general, and this
mighty chieftain in particular. AVhat massacres and devastation
might the country have been spared.

Instead of "a work of love and reconciliation" toward the
Indians the exact opposite policy was' pursued by the English.
Flushed with their victory over the more formidable French,
they bestowed only a passing thought on the despised savages,
and greatly underrated their warlike prowess.

A number of things tended to enrage the Indians against the
English invaders of their land, for such they regarded them from
the first. It will be remembered that Pontiac, in his interview
with Major Rogers, made his overtures of friendship and alliance
with the English conditional. His whole conversation sufficiently
indicated that he was far from considering himself a conquered
prince, and that he expected to be treated with the respect and
honor due to a king or emperor by all who came into his coun-
try or treated with him. In short, if the English treated him in
this manner they were welcome to come into his country, but if
they treated him with neglect and contempt, "he should shut up
the way and keep them out. ' '

The English did treat him and his people with neglect and
contempt, and as a consequence the mighty chief was justly

From the small and widely separated forts along the lakes
and in the interior, the red men had, with sorrow and anger, seen
the fleur-de-lis disappear and the cross of St. George take its
place. Toward the intruders — victors over their friends, patrons
and allies— the Indians maintained a stubborn resentment and

The Indians were ever lovers of the French, and for good


reasons, for when, as Parknum says, "the French had possession
of the remote forts, they were accustomed, with a wise liberality,
to supply the siii-ronnding Indians with guns, ammunition and
clothing, until the latter had forgotten the weapons a.nd gai'-
ments of their forefathers and depended on the white nicii loi
support. The sudden withholding of these supplies was, there-
fore, a grievous calamity. Want, suffering and death Avere the
consequences, and this cause alone would have been enough to
produce general discontent. But, unhappily, other grievances
were superadded. When the Indians visited the forts, after the
English took possession, instead of being treated with politic
attention and politeness, as formerly, they were received gruffly,
subjected to indignities, and not infrequently helped out of the
fort with the butt of a sentry 's musket or a vigorous kick from an
officer. These marks of contempt were unspeakably galling to
their haughty spirits.

]\Ioreover, the wilderness was overrun with brutal English
traders, who plundered, swindled and cursed the warriors,
besides changing them into vagabonds by the rum traffic.

]\Ieanwhile the subjugated French, still smarting under their
defeat, dispatched emissaries to almost every village and council
house, from the lakes to the gulf, saying that the English had
formed a deliberate scheme to- exterminate the entire Indian i-aee.
and with this design had already begun to hem them in with a
chain of forts on one side and settlements on the other. King
Louis of France, they said, had of late years been sleeping, and
that, during his slumbers, the English had seized upon Canada;
but that he was now awake again, and that his armies were
advancing up the St. T^awrence and the Mississippi to di'ive out
the intruders from the country of his red childi-en. The French
trading companies, and, it is said, the officers of the crown also,
distributed with a liberal hand the mor-e substantial encourage-
ment of arms, ammunition, clothing ;iiid pf(i\isions.

The fierce passions of the Indians, excited by their wrongs
and encouraged by the representations of the French, wei'c
farther wrought upon by distui-bing intluences of another kind.


A great prophet arose among the Delawares, preaching the recov-
ery of the Indian's hunting grounds from the white man, and
claiming to have received a revelation direct from the Great
Spirit. Vast throngs, including many from remote regions,
listened spellbound by his wild eloquence. The white man was
driving the Indians from their country, he said, and unless the
Indians obeyed the Great Spirit, and destroyed the white man,
then the latter would destroy them.

This was the state of affairs among the Indians in 1761 and
1762. Everywhere was discontent, sullen hatred and dark fore-
boding passion.

Pontiac saw his opportunity; he maintained close relations
with the great Delaware prophet, and, like Philip before and
Tecumseh after him, he determined to unite all the tribes he
could reach or influence in a gigantic conspiracy to exterminate
their common enemy, with the help of France, whom, he
intended, should regain her foothold on the continent.

' ' The plan of operation, ' ' says Thatcher, ' ' adopted by Pontiac
evinces an extraordinary genius, as well as courage and energy
of the highest order. This was a sudden and contemporaneous
attack upon all the British posts on the lakes— at St. Joseph,
Ouiatenon, Green Bay, Michillimackinac, Detroit, the Maumee
and the Sandusky — and also upon the forts at Niagara, Presque
Isle, Le Boeuf, Verango and Fort Pitt. Most of the fortifications at
these places were slight, being rather commercial depots than mil-
itary establishments. Still, against the Indians they were strong-
holds, and the positions had been so judiciously selected by the
French that to this day they command the great avenues of com-
munication to the world of woods and waters in the remote North
and West. It was manifest to Pontiac, familiar as he was with
the geography of this vast tract of country, and Avith the prac-
tical, if not the technical, maxims of war, that the possession or
the destruction of these posts— saying nothing of their garri-
sons — would be emphatically 'shutting up the way.' If the sur-
prise could be simultaneous, so that every English banner which
waved upon a line of thousands of miles should be prostrated at

^ I







the same moment, the garrisons woiihl l)e iinahlc lo exchange
assistance, while, on the other hand, the failure of one Indian
detachment would have no effect to discourage another. Cer-
tainly, some might succeed. Probably the war might begin and
be terminated with the same single blow ; and then Pontiac would
again be Lord and King of the broad land of his ancestors."

But it was necessary, first of all, to form a belligerent com-
bination of the tribes, and the more extensive the better. To
this end, toward the close of 1762, dark mysterious messengers
from this Napoleon of the Indians, each bearing a war belt of
wampum, broad and long as the importance of the occasion
demanded, threaded their w^ays through the forest to the farthest
shores of Lake Superior, and the distant delta of the Mississippi.
On the arrival of these ambassadors to a tribe, the chief warriors
would assemble in the council house. Then the orator, flinging
down the red -stained tomahawk before his audience, would
deliver, with energetic emphasis and action the message from his
lord. The keynote Avas irar! On a certain day in May, after so
many moons, the Indians, from lakes to gulf, were to take the
war-path siiuultaneously, destroy the English fort nearest, and
then throw themselves on the unprotected frontier.

"The bugle call of such a mighty leader as Pontiac," as
]\Iason says, "roused the remotest tribes. Everywhere they
joined the conspiracy, and sent lofty messages to Pontiac of the
deeds they would perform. The ordinary pursuits of life wei-e
given up. The warriors danced the war-dance for weeks a1 a
time. SquaAVS were set to shai-pening knives, moulding ])ullets
and mixing war paint. Children caught the fever, and practiced
incessantly with bows and arrows. For the one time in their his-
tory, a hundred wild and restless tribes were animated by a
single inspiration and purpose. That which was incapable of
union, united. Conjurors practiced their ai'ts. ]\Tagicians con-
sulted their oracles. Prophets avowed rev(>lations from tlie I\Iost
High. Warriors withdrew to caves and favStnesses, where, with
fasting and self-torture, they wrought themselves into more fear-
ful excitement and mania. Young men sought to raise their


courage by eating raw flesh and drinking hot blood. Tall chief-
tains, crowned with nodding plumes, harangued their followers
nightly, striking every chord of revenge, glory, avarice, pride,
patriotism and love, which trembled in the savage breast.

*'As the orator approached his climax he would leap into the
air, brandishing his hatchet as if rushing upon an enemy, yelling
the war-whoop, throwing himself in a thousand postures, his eyes
aflame, his muscles strained and knotted, his face a thunderstorm
of passion, as if in the actual struggle. At last, with a tri-
umphant shout, he brandishes aloft the scalp of the imaginary
victim. His eloquence is irresistible. His audience is convulsed
with passionate interest, and sways like trees tossed in the
tempest. At last, the whole assembly, fired with uncontrollable
frenzy, rush together in the ring, leaping, stamping, yelling,
brandishing knives and hatchets in the firelight, hacking and stab-
bing the air, until the lonely midnight forest is transformed into
a howling pandemonium of devils, from whose fearful uproar the
startled animals, miles away, flee frightened into remote lairs."

The time for the bursting of the storm drew near. Yet at
only one place on the frontier was there the least suspicion of
Indian disturbance. The garrisons of the exposed forts reposed
in fancied security. The arch conspirator, Pontiac, had breathed
the breath of life into a vast conspiracy, whose ramifications
spread their network over a region of country of which the north-
western and southeastern extremities were nearly two thousand
miles apart. Yet the traders, hunters, scouts and trappers who
were right among the Indians, and were versed in the signs of
approaching trouble, suspected nothing wrong. Colossal con-
spiracy ! Stupendous deceit !

Pontiac arranged to meet the chiefs of the allied tribes, from
far and near, in a grand war council, ^vhich was held on the
banks of the Aux Eeorces, or Etorces, a little river not far from
Detroit, on April 27, 1763. Parkman has given us the best
description of what occurred at this council. Said he, "On the
long-expected morning heralds passed from one group of lodges
to another, calling the warriors in loud voice to attend the great


council before Pontiae. In accordance with the summons they
came issuing; from their wigwams— the tall, half-naked figures of
the Avild Ojibways, with quivers slung at their backs, and light
warclubs resting in the hollow of their arms ; Ottawas, wrapped
close in their gaudy blankets; Wyandots, fluttering in their
painted shirts, their heads adorned with feathers and their leg-
gings garnished with bells. All were soon seated in a wide cii-cle
upon the grass, row within row, a grave and silent assembly.
p]ach savage countenance seemed carved in wood, and none could
have detected the deep and fiery passion hidden beneath that
immovable extei'ior.

"Then Pontiae rose; according to tradition, not above middle
height. His muscular figure was cast in a mold of remarkable
symmetry and vigor. His complexion was darker than is usual
with his race, and his features, though by no means regular, had
a bold and stern expression, while his habitual bearing was
imperious and peremptory, like that of a man accustomed to
sweep away all opposition by the force of his imperious will. On
occasions like this he was wont to appear as befitted his power
and character, and he stood before the council plumed and
painted in the full costume of war.

"Looking around upon his wild auditors- he began to speak,
with fierce gesture and loud, impassioned voice ; and at every
pause, deep guttural ejaculations of assent and approval
responded to his words. Said he : 'It is important, my brothers,
thiat we should exterminate from our land this nation, whose only
object is our death. You must be all sensible, as well as myself,
that we can no longer supply our wants in the Avay we were accus-
tomed to do with our fathers, the French. They sell us their
goods at double the price that the French made us pay, and yet
their merchandise is good for nothing; for no sooner have we
bought a blanket or other thiiig to cover us, than it is necessary
to procure others against the time of depai-ture for our wintei'ing
ground. Neither will they let us have them on credit, as our
brothers, the French, used to do. When I visit the English chief
and inform him of the death of any of our comrades, instead of


lamenting, as onr brothers, the French, used to do, they make
game of us. If I ask him for anything for our sick, he refuses,
and tells us he does not want us, from which it is apparent he
seeks our death. We must, therefore, in return, destroy them
without delay; there is nothing to prevent us; there are but few
of them, and we shall easily overcome them — why should we not
attack them ? Are we not men ? Have I not shown you the belts
I received from our Great Father, the King of France ? He tells
us to strike — why should we not listen to his words? What do
you fear ? The time has arrived. Do you fear that our brothers,
the French, who are now among us, will hinder us? They are
not acquainted with our designs, and if they did know them,
could they prevent them ? You know as well as myself, that
when the English came upon our lands, to drive from them our
father, Bellestre, they took from the French all the guns that
they have, so that they have now no guns to defend themselves
with. Therefore, now is the time ; let us strike. Should there be
any French to take their part, let us strike them as we do the
English. I have sent belts and speeches to our friends, the Chip-
peways of Saginaw, and our brothers, the Ottawas of Michilli-
macinac, and to those of the Riviere a 'la Tranche (Thames
river) , inviting them to join us, and they will not delay. In
the meantime, let us strike. There is no longer any time to lose,
and when the English shall be defeated, we will stop the way,
so that no more shall return upon our lands. ' '

He also assured them that the Indians and their French
brothers would again fight side by side against the common foe,
as they did in other years on the Monongahela, when the banners
of the English had been trampled in the bloody mire of defeat.

The orator, having lashed his audience into fury, quickly
soothed them with the story of the Delaware prophet, already
mentioned, who had a dream in which it ^vas revealed to him that
by traveling in a certain direction he would at length reach the
abode of the ' ' Great Spirit, ' ' or Master of Life.

"After many days of journeying, full of strange incidents,"
continued Pontiac, "he saw before him a vast mountain of daz-


zling whiteness, so precipitous that lie was about to turn l)ack in
despair, when a beautiful woman arrayed in white appeared and
thus accosted him : ' How can you hope, encumbered as you are,
to succeed in your design ? Go down to the foot of the moun-
tain, throw away your gun, your ammunition, your provisions
and your clothing; wash yourself in the stream which Hows there,
and you will then be prepared to stand before the i\Iaster of
Life.' The Indian obeyed, and again began to ascend among
the rocks, while the woman, seeing him still discouraged, laughetl
at his faintness of heart and told him that, if he Avished for suc-
cess, he must climb by the aid of one hand and one foot only.
After great toil and suffering, he at length found himself at the
summit. The woman had disappeared, and he was left alone. A
rich and beautiful plain lay before him, and at a little distance
he saw three great villages, far superior to an}^ he had seen in
any tribe. As he approached the largest and stood hesitating
whether he should enter, a man, gorgeously attired, stepped
forth, and, taking him by the hand, welcomed him to the celestial
abode. He then conducted him into the presence of the Great
Spirit, where the Indian stood confounded at the unspeakable
splendor which surrounded him. The Great Spirit bade him be
seated, and thus addressed him : 'I am the JNIaker of heaven and
earth, the trees, lakes, rivers and all things else. I am the ]\Iaker
of mankind; and because I love you, you must do my will. The
land on which you live I have made for you, and not for others.
Why do you suffer the white man to dwell among you? INIy
children, you have forgotten the customs and traditions of your
forefathers. Why do you not clothe yourselves in skins, as they
did, and use the bows and arrows, and the stone-pointed lances,
which they used? You have bought guns, knives, kettles, and
blankets from the white man, until you can no longer do without
them ; and what is worse, you have drunk the poison fire-water,
which turns you into fools. Fling all these things away; live as
your wise forefathers lived before you. And as for these Eng-
lish — these dogs dressed in red, who have come to rob you of
vonr huntincr-grounds and drive awav the game— vou must lift


the hatchet against them. M^ipe them from the face of the earth,
and then you will win my favor back again, and once more be
happy and prosperous. The children of your great father, the
King of France, are not like the English. Never forget that they
are your brethren. They are very dear to me, for they love the
red men, and understand the true mode of worshipping me. ' ' '

Such is the tale told by Pontiac to the council, quoted by
Parkman from statements recorded both by Indians and Can-
adians who were present.

Before this vast assembly dissolved, the great chieftain
unfolded his wide-laid plans for a simultaneous attack on all the
forts in possession of the English. The 7th of May, 1763, was
named as the day of destruction, and his schemes, which were
constructed with the white man's skill and the red man's cun-
ning, met the hearty approval of all the assembled chiefs and

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 9 of 53)