Nelson Appleton Miles.

Personal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire online

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Online LibraryNelson Appleton MilesPersonal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire → online text (page 10 of 51)
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are mythical beasts monsters with many heads and many horns. Some
of them are presiding spirits of places, as the spirit of a certain mountain",
or river, or lake. Some of them are tutelar deities. Every family, clan
and tribe has its tutelar god. Indian theology is not a degeneracy either
from monotheism or from the polytheism of classical nations, or from that
earlier polytheism where the forces of nature and its phenomena were
deified. It is rather a development from fetichism.

In some tribes there are three classes of priests. The first are prophets.
The next are " medicine men," who take charge of the religious ceremonies,
practice sorcery and drive out evil spirits. The third and lower class con-
sists of witches. Old women are oftentimes thought to have been trans-
formed into witches. The Indians offer sacrifices of parts of animals
killed in the chase. They are slaves to religious observances, to times
and methods and absurd prohibitions. In every tribe there is a great
fund of story-lore, or tales purporting to be the sayings and doings of the
ancients, whom they now worship as deities. Every tribe has one or
more persons skilled in the relation of these stories. These are the


From all the indications we have, the Indians were not originally so
nomadic a people as they have been since they obtained horses from the
Spaniards. It was much more difficult for them to move about from place
to place when the only means of transportation was by boat and canoe
along the lakes and rivers, and on foot over the difficult forest trails. It is
probable., that some tribes cultivated the ground more a hundred years
ago than they do now. The cultivation of the Indian corn was one
of their principal industries, and in the early campaigns against them, this
product was the object of destruction and devastation by the whites as a
means of reducing them to poverty and subjection. This was so especially
in the campaigns against the Six Nations, the Miamis, the Cherokees, the
Choctaws and the Chickasaws.

Intellectually they have often displayed marked ability in their di-
plomacy, and in the combinations in which they made common cause
against the whites, or against other bodies of their own race. Combinations
offensive and defensive show great aptitude in statecraft as well as in the
art of war. The journeys made by the Prophet Elkswatawa, along the
lakes, penetrating to the south as far as Alabama and the Carolinas and
thence north through what is now Pennsylvania and New York, and which
resulted in forming that great confederation of tribes against the white
pioneer, was an achievement worthy of a statesman of the first order, and
the ability displayed by his brother Tecumseh marked him as a military
genius of great merit. The conspiracy of Pontiac in which he planned the
attack and capture of nine out of eleven English military posts stretch-
ing from Fort Pitt, where now stands the city of Pittsburg, Pennsyl-
vania, to Detroit, Michigan.was a military achievement evincing great ability.
In our own time, Sitting Bull, Looking-glass and Chief Joseph have exhibited
similar abilities, while Spotted Tail, Eed Cloud, Chief Joseph, Moses, Ouray
and others have met in council many of the brightest politicians, states-
men, soldiers and lawyers sent out to represent our government, and, by
reason, logic, argument and eloquence have proved a match for them in all
but the force of numbers.

This unequal contest has been going on for many generations between
millions of white civilized people on the one side, and less than three
hundred thousand natives on the other. Meantime, contemporaneous
events have been enacted in other parts of the world which make the
North American Indian stand forth by contrast as a marvel of patriotism,
heroism, self-sacrifice and fortitude. During the period of that long con-
test the English have subjugated three hundred millions of the natives of


India and all the natives of Australia, have dethroned the monarch of
Ethiopia and have taken the Egyptians under their sway, besides the entire
populations of innumerable islands of the sea. Russia has conquered all
Siberia, with other peoples aggregating more than twenty millions in
population. Spain and Portugal between them have subjugated all the
millions of natives of all the Americas south of a line extending in a gen-
eral way westward from Fernandina to the Tia Juana on the Pacific, and
even some of the races living far north of that line. The natives of the
south temperate zone far south of the equator appear to have been a war-
like people, similar to the North Americans and were not entirely sub-
jugated until within a recent period. France has pushed her conquests in
Africa, Madagascar, Asia and Oceanica. All these nations with one excep-
tion have one after another, or several at the same time, tried the metal of
the North American Indian, less than three hundred thousand strong, who
finally succumbed to the overwhelming odds only within the present decade.
Not the least notable characteristic of the Indian, when we reflect that he
was without a written language or alphabet, was the wonderful imagery
with which he embellished his oral speech. In this kind of eloquence he has
been a model for our own orators, and has thus contributed to enrich the
literature of civilization. The illustrations are abundant in the records of
our dealings with the Indians during the past two centuries and a half, but
I will instance only a few.

In 1810 Tecumseh descended the Wabash, accompanied by four hun-
dred warriors, to keep an appointment for a council with General Harri-
son, whose headquarters were at Vincennes. Appreciating the character
and influence of his visitor, Harrison arranged to hold the conference on-
the portico of his own house, and there, attended by the judges of the
supreme court of the Territory, several army officers, and several soldiers
and citizens, he awaited the coming of the chief and his delegation. On
the morning of August 15, at the hour fixed, Tecumseh came supported by
forty of his warriors, the rest being encamped a short distance away.
When about a hundred feet away, Tecumseh stopped and looked inquir-
ingly at the throng on the portico. Harrison, through an interpreter
inquired what was the matter, and invited the chief and his party to join
him. Tecumseh replied that the porch of a house was not a suitable place
to hold the conference, which he said should be in a grove of trees, point-
ing at the same time to one near the house. The general assented, and
there the conference was opened by Tecumseh, who stated the irritating
question between the whites and his race. Referring to the treaty made



by Harrison at Fort Wayne the previous year, he boldly declared that he
was determined to fight against the cession of lands by the Indians unless
assented to by all the tribes. He admitted that he had threatened to kill
the chiefs who signed the Fort Wayne treaty, and launched out into an im-
passioned summary of the wrongs his people had
suffered from the close of the Revolution to that
day, declaring that the Americans had driven the
Indians from the sea coast and would soon drive
them into the lakes. It was plain that this appeal
"struck fire" in the hearts of his own
people, who would have followed his
commands to the death. Having fin-
ished his speech and turned to seat
himself, he was by direction of General
Harrison offered a chair by the inter-
preter who said, " Your father requests
you to take a chair."

"My father?" said Tecumseh with
great dignity, " The sun is my father and
the earth is my mother, and I will rest
on her bosom."

General Harrison's reply to his speech
was intended to have a pacific effect,
but the result was quite the reverse of that. Tecumseh in a towering
passion sprang to his feet, and spoke with great vehemence. In brief,
the whole forty warriors grasped their tomahawks, leaped to their feet,
and in a moment the spectacle was presented of the whites and Indians
confronting each other, arms drawn, and ready to spring forward into a
death grapple. Fortunately, forbearance on one side and a returning of
self-restraint on the other, averted the threatened catastrophe and the
council broke up for the time. The following morning Tecumseh sent an
apology for his hasty action.

The following remarkable coincidence is related in connection with
Tecumseh's tour among the tribes prior to the war during which there
seemed no resisting his persuasive eloquence.

At a Creek town he called upon Big Warrior, a famous chief, made his war
speech, and presented a bundle of wampum and a hatchet. Big Warrior ac-
cepted them, but Tecumseh read the timidity of the chief in his face and man-
ner. Fixing his blazing eyes upon him Tecumseh, pointing his finger, said :



" Your blood is white ; you have taken my talk, and the wampum and the hatchet,
but you do not mean to fight. I know the reason ; you do not believe the Great Spirit
has sent me ; you shall know. From here I shall go straight to Detroit. When I arrive
there I shall stamp the ground with my foot, and shake down every house in this village."

This was a wild threat, but Big Warrior and his people were supersti-
tious and began to dread Tecumseh's arrival at Detroit. They often met,
talked over the strange affair and carefully estimated the time it would
take Tecumseh to reach the town. At length the time arrived, and sure
enough, there came an awful rumbling of the ground, the earth shook, and
the frantic Indians ran to and fro, shouting : " Tecumseh has got to
Detroit." The threat had been fulfilled and the warriors no longer hesi-
tated to go to war with the great leader. All this was produced by the
great earthquake which destroyed New Madrid on the Mississippi. The
coincidence lies in the fact that it occurred on the very day that Tecumseh
reached Detroit and in exact fulfillment of his threat ; but perhaps the story
was concocted just after the earthquake, to meet a "felt want" of the

The British historian, James, in closing his description of the death of
this famous chief and the battle in which he lost his life, observes :

" Thus fell the Indian warrior, Tecumseh, in the forty-fourth year of his age. He
was of the Shawnee tribe, five fee't ten inches high, and with more than the usual stout-
ness ; possessed of all the agility and perseverance of the Indian character. His carriage
was dignified, his eye penetrating, his countenance, which even in death betrayed the
indications of a lofty spirit, rather of the sterner cast. Had he not possessed a certain
austerity of manners he never could have controlled the wayward passions of those who
followed him to battle. He was of a silent habit ; but when his eloquence became
aroused into action by the repeated encroachments of the Americans, his strong intellect
could supply him with a flow of oratory that enabled him, as he governed in the field, so
to preside in the council. Consider that in all the territorial questions the ablest
diplomatists of the United States are sent to negotiate with the Indians, and one will
readily appreciate the loss sustained by the latter in the death of Tecumseh. Such a man
was this unlettered savage, and such a man have the Indians lost forever."

The Black Hawk War is famous as that in which Abraham Lincoln
won such military distinction as has been accorded to him in early life.
It was a losing war to the Indians, their power being completely broken
in the final battle on the east bank of the Mississippi about forty miles
above the site of Prairie du Chien. Black Hawk managed to make his
escape, but a few days later voluntarily gave himself up to the whites with
the characteristic announcement that they were welcome to kill him if
they chose to do so. On the 27th of August. 1833, shortly before noon, he


and " The Prophet " were taken into the presence of General Street,
whom he addressed as follows :

" You have taken me prisoner with all my warriors. I am much grieved, for I expected,
if I did not defeat you, to hold out much longer and to give you more trouble before I
surrendered. I tried hard to bring you into ambush, but your last general understands
Indian fighting. The first one was not so wise. When I saw that I could not beat you
by Indian fighting, I determined to rush on you and fight you face to face. I fought
hard; but your guns were well aimed. The bullets flew like birds in the air, and whizzed
by our ears like the wind through the trees in winter. My warriors fell around me ; it be-
gan to look dismal. I saw my evil day at hand. The sun rose dim on us in the morning
and at night it sunk in a dark cloud, and looked like a ball_ of fire. That was the last
sun that shone on Black Hawk. His heart is dead, and no longer beats quick in his
bosom. He is now a prisoner to the white man ; they will do with him as they wish. But
he can stand torture and is not afraid of death. He is no coward. Black Hawk is an

"He has done nothing for which an Indian ought to be ashamed. He has fought for
his countrymen, the squaws and papooses, against white men who came year after year to
cheat him and take away their lands. You know the cause of our making war. It is
known to all white men. They ought to be ashamed of it. The white men despise the
Indians and drive them from their homes. But the Indians are not deceitful. The white
men speak bad of the Indian and look at him spitefully. But the Indian does not tell
lies ; Indians do not steal.

"An Indian who is as bad as the white men could not live in our nation ; he would be
put to death and eaten by the wolves. The white men are bad schoolmasters ; they carry
false looks and deal in false actions ; they smile in the face of the poor Indian to cheat
him ; they shake them by the hand to gain their confidence, to make them drunk, to deceive
them, and ruin our wives. We told them to let us alone and keep away from us ; but
they followed on, and beset our path as they coiled themselves among us like a snake.
They poisoned us by their touch. We were not safe. We lived in danger. We were
becoming like them, hypocrites and liars, adulterers, lazy drones, all talkers and no

"We looked up to the Great Spirit. We went to our great father. We were encour-
aged. His great council gave us fair words and big promises ; but we got no satisfaction.
Things were growing worse. There were no deer in the forest. The opossum and beaver
were fled ; the springs were drying up, and our squaws and papooses were without vict-
uals to keep them from starving. We called a great council and built a large fire. The
spirit of our fathers arose and spoke to us to avenge our wrongs or die. We all spoke be-
fore the council fire. It was warm and pleasant. We set up the war-whoop, and dug up
the tomahawk. Our knives were ready, and the heart of Black Hawk swelled high in his
bosom when he led his warriors to battle. He is satisfied. He will go to the world of
spirits contented. He has done his duty. His father will meet him there and commend

" Black Hawk is a true Indian and disdains to cry like a woman. He feels for his wife,
his children, and friends. But he does not care for himself. He cares for his nation and
the Indians. They will suffer. He laments their fate. The white men do not scalp the


head ; but they do worse they poison the heart. It is not pure with them. His country-
men will not be scalped, but they will, in a few years, become like the white men, so that
you can't trust them, and there must be, as in the white settlements, nearly as many offi-
cers as men, to take care of them and keep them in order.

" Farewell, my nation ! Black Hawk tried to save you and avenge your wrongs. He
drank the blood of some of the whites. He has been taken prisoner and his plans are
stopped. He can do no more. He is near his end. His sun is setting and he will rise no
more. Farewell to Black Hawk."

Black Hawk at this time was about fifty years of age, six feet in height
and finely formed. He, the Prophet Naopope, and five other distinguished
chiefs among the prisoners were sent to Washington the following year.
On the day after their arrival. April 23, Black Hawk had a long in-
terview with President Jackson, during which he gave his version of the
cause of the war in which occurs the following :

" We did not expect to conquer the whites ; no. They had too many houses, too many
men. I took up the hatchet, for my part, to revenge injuries which my people could no
longer endure. Had I borne them longer without striking, my people would have said,
Black Hawk is a woman ; he is too old to be a chief ; he is no Sac.' These reflections
caused me to raise the war-whoop. I say no more of it ; it is known to you. Keokuk
once was here ; you took him by the hand, and when he wished to return to his home you
were willing. Black Hawk expects that, like Keokuk, we shall be permitted to return

The President assured him that he was acquainted with all the facts of
the war, and that the chief need feel no uneasiness about the women and
children whom they had left at home. A few days later they were sent
to Fortress Monroe, where he and his companions were treated with great
kindness and gentle consideration. But no matter how well treated, the
Indians pined for the free air of their forests, for their rude wigwams, and
their families. Fortunately an order was received on the 4th of June for
their return to their homes and their release. They were taken back by
way of the larger cities, and their progress was attended with much
excitement on the part of the citizens. They were lionized, taken to the
theatres, dined and wined, and probably would have been killed with kind-
ness had the thing been allowed to continue long. In reply to an address
to the Indians at the Exchange Hotel, in Broad Street, New York City, Black
Hawk, who was much pleased with it and the handsome present accom-
panying it, made answer :

' BROTHER : We like your talk. We will be friends. We like the white people ;
they are very kind to us. We shall not forget it. Your counsel is good ; we shall at-
tend to it. Your valuable present shall go to my squaw ; it pleases me very much. We
shall always be friends."


No better opportunity could be presented for exhibiting the various
phases of Indian eloquence, than is found in accompanying Black Hawk
and his companions to the West, and his meeting and reconciliation with
Keokuk. One of the most interesting incidents of what may be properly
termed their triumphal tour was their call upon the Seneca Indians, at
the council house, on their reservation in New York. The Seneca chief-
tain, Captain Pollard (Karlundawana), an old and respected man, expressed
his pleasure at meeting them, urging them to go to their homes in a peace-
able frame of mind, to cultivate the earth, and nevermore to fight against
the white men.

Black Hawk said, in reply :

" Our aged brother of the Seneoas, who has spoken to us, has spoken the words of a
good and wise man. We are strangers to each other, though we have the same color, and
the same Great Spirit made us all, and gave us this country together. Brothers, we have
seen how great a people the whites are. They are very rich and very strong. It is folly
for us to fight with them. We shall go home with much knowledge. For myself, I shall
advise my people to be quiet, and live like good men. The advice which you gave us,
brother, is very good, and we tell you now we mean to walk the straight path in future,
and to content ourselves with what we have, and with cultivating our lands."

From Buffalo the Indians were conveyed by water to Detroit. They
were now approaching the section which had lately suffered at the hands
of their people, and the citizens showed a less friendly spirit toward them.
They looked at the dusky visitors askance, and, it is said, they were burned
in effigy. No violence, however, took place.

From Green Bay they had to pass through the country of the Menom-
onees and Winnebagos, who were their bitter enemies. To guard
against molestation, a detachment of troops accompanied them to Chicago.
Passing up Fox River and down the Ouisconsin, Black Hawk, with much
depression of spirits, pointed out the favorite spots where once stood the
flourishing villages of his people.

The captives arrived at Fort Armstrong, on the upper Mississippi,
about the first of August. They were gloomy and taciturn on entering
their own forests, the reminder of so many sad occurrences to them, but
soon rallied, and showed considerable vivacity in recalling some of their
amusing experiences among the whites.

Fort Armstrong, Rock Island, had been selected as the most appropriate
place for the dismissal of the Indians. The latter were disappointed at not
meeting friends to tell them of their families. While waiting for some of
them to come in, they undid their bundles and examined their presents.



They were many and valuable, and were distributed with a generous hand
to their old comrades when they put in an appearance with good news of
the loved ones.

Keokuk was away on a buffalo hunt when Black Hawk arrived, but
about noon the following day a great din and shouting announced his

approach. He was seated in one of two large
canoes, lashed side by side, and followed by a
score of others, each carrying eight warriors,
who awoke the echoes with their weird songs.
Ascending the river, they encamped on the
opposite side from Black Hawk's camp.

Devoting a couple of hours to their toilets,
they resumed their wild singing and paddled
across the river. Keokuk was the
first to step ashore. He and his com-
panions were decorated with all their
medals and ornaments, and made a
striking picture. Turning to his party,
as the last landed, Keokuk said :

" The Great Spirit has sent our brother
back ; let us shake hands in friendship.".

Black Hawk was seated in front
of his tent with his party. He was
leaning on his cane and looking down
at the ground in gloomy meditation.
Walking up to the fallen chieftain, Keokuk extended his hand, and Black
Hawk returned the pressure. Then Keokuk saluted the rest of the party
and sat down. His companions did the same and all remained silent,
waiting for the fallen chieftain to speak.

Fifteen minutes of oppressive silence followed, during which strange
emotions must have stirred the breasts of the red men.

Seeing that Black Hawk was waiting to be addressed, Keokuk turned
to him and inquired how long he had been on the road. He answered,
and then pipes were brought out and lighted, all smoking and talking
freely for an hour. Then Keokuk arose, shook hands all around, and de-
parted with the promise to return on the morrow, when the grand council
was to be held.

A large room in the garrison was prepared for the reception of the two
parties. About ten o'clock Keokuk appeared at the head of a hundred



warriors, and seated himself among several of his chiefs, directing the rest
to place themselves behind him. This was done, and profound stillness
prevailed until the arrival of Black Hawk and his companions. As they
came in, Keokuk and his brother chiefs arose and shook hands with him
and his companions. They moved around and seated themselves opposite
Keokuk. Black Hawk and his son showed in their looks their dejection
and humiliation, for they felt that after years of rivalry between him and
the younger chief, the hour of triumph for the latter had come.

Major Garland was the first to break the silence. He said that he was
glad to find so much good feeling in the tribe toward Black Hawk and his
party. He was confident from what he had seen and learned that they
would have no more trouble among themselves. He had but little to say,
as the President's speech to Black Hawk said all, and it would be read to
them. This speech was interpreted to the Indians, who responded at the
end of each sentence.

Keokuk then said impressively:

"I have listened to the talk of our great father. It is true; we pledged our honors, with
those of our young braves, for their liberation. We thought much of it; our counsels
were long; their wives and children were in our thoughts. When we talked of them our
hearts were full. Their wives and children came to us, which made us feel like women;

Online LibraryNelson Appleton MilesPersonal recollections and observations of General Nelson A. Miles embracing a brief view of the Civil War, or, From New England to the Golden Gate : and the story of his Indian campaigns, with comments on the exploration, development and progress of our great western empire → online text (page 10 of 51)