On one of their emba.s.sies, however, the brothers were successful. One of the most influential of the tribes in council was the Wyandots or Hurons, now greatly reduced in numbers, but still of great prestige and power among the red men. Harrison always ranked their warriors among the best, and General Wayne at Greenville had delivered to them the original duplicate of the treaty. In a speech by Ma.s.sas, a Chippewa chief, to General Wayne, he referred to this tribe as "our uncles, the Wyandots,"
and this was the designation generally employed by all the tribes. It was plain that if the Wyandots could be won over to the new cause, a great diplomatic victory would be gained and the influence of the new movement greatly augmented. The Prophet accordingly sent a deputation to the Wyandots, "expressing his surprise that the Wyandots, who had directed the councils of the other tribes, as well as the treaty with the white people, should sit still, and see the property of the Indians usurped by a part," and he expressly desired to see the treaties and know what they contained. The Wyandots were greatly flattered by these attentions, and answered "that they had nothing nearer their hearts, than to see all the various tribes united again as one man--that they looked upon everything that had been done since the treaty of Greenville as good for nothing--and that they would unite their exertions with those of the Prophet, to bring together all the tribes, and get them to unite to put a stop to the encroachments of the white people." It seems that the Wyandots were also the keepers of the great belt, which had formerly been a symbol of the union of the tribes at the time of the war with Anthony Wayne. They now came in deputation to the Prophet's Town, carrying this great belt with them, and producing it among the clans of the Miami at the villages of the Mississinewa, accused them of deserting their Indian friends and allies. The tribes at Mississinewa sent for the Weas and accompanied the deputation to Tippecanoe.
Though thwarted on the St. Joseph and among the Shawnees, it was plain that a strict espionage would have to be maintained over the proceedings at the Prophet's Town, and especially over the Prophet himself. The heart of this priest was filled with plots of a.s.sa.s.sination and murder.
Grosble, an old Indian friend of the Governor, informed him that the Prophet had at one time planned a wholesale slaughter at Vincennes, and that it had been arranged that the Prophet should enter the Governor's house with ten or twelve of his followers and slay him. To the Prophet may be attributed most of the horse-stealing expeditions, the insults to messengers and agents, and the plans for the murder of the older Indian chiefs. While Tec.u.mseh either countenanced these transactions, or else was unable to control them, he seems, with strange sagacity for a savage, to have at all times realized that the a.s.sa.s.sination of Harrison, the stealing of a few horses, or the slaughter of a few white men on the border, would really never accomplish anything save to intensify the feeling between the races. While never comprehending the great forces of civilization and of the government which he was resisting, he seems to have steadily kept in mind that a handful of naked savages at the Prophet's Town would avail him nothing; that in order to effectively strike he must have back of him a substantial body of warriors recruited from all the confederated tribes, well victualled, armed and equipped, and equal in number to the armies of his adversary.
He knew the Indian character well enough to know that they would never long resist a superior force. If he could keep his rash and impulsive brother in leash long enough to form a permanent and powerful league, then he had hopes of ultimate success. But there was the great danger, in fact, the very peril that finally engulfed him. The Prophet with that fatal egotism of the fanatic, vainly imagined that he was more than a match for the Governor, and in the absence of his brother, let his vindictive hate and malice destroy the last dream of empire.
In the latter part of the month of June, Harrison sent Dubois and Brouillette to the Prophet's Town to take note of what was going on.
They reported that while the tribes of the Mississinewa, the Weas and Kickapoos were living in expectation of trouble, that there was no immediate danger, as the defection of the tribes at the St. Joseph had upset the plans of the brothers. Dubois requested the Prophet to state the grounds of his complaint, if he had any, against the United States.
The Prophet answered in the language of Brant, that the Indians had been cheated of their lands and that no sale was good unless made by all the tribes. On the fourth of July, four canoes, filled with the Prophet's followers, pa.s.sed the Wea village at Terre Haute, and Harrison sent out the militia to discover what had become of them. One of these canoes came down the river to a Shaker settlement sixteen miles above Vincennes. The Indians there attended meeting on Sunday, the Prophet professing to believe in the Shaker creed, (without, however, practicing celibacy), and then finished the day's proceedings by stealing five horses. They made no attempt to cover their tracks, but the Governor stopped any pursuit, as he "had been informed some time before, that one of their plans to bring on the war, was to send out parties to steal horses, and, if they were pursued, to kill their pursuers." This was plainly the work of the Prophet. More alarming stories came in. It was said that the Sacs and Foxes were awaiting the signal from the Prophet to take up arms; that a party of them had visited the British superintendent, and that Elliott had said to a Miami at Maiden "My son, keep your eyes fixed on me--my tomahawk is now up--be you ready, but do not strike till I give the signal." Harrison in the light of all these events, determined to send Barron, his trusted interpreter, to the Prophet's Town. The reception of Barron is thus dramatically related; "He was first conducted ceremoniously to the place where the Prophet, surrounded by a number of Indians, was seated. Here he was left standing at a distance of about ten feet from the Indian prophet. 'He looked at me,' said Barron, 'for several minutes, without speaking or making any sign of recognition, although he knew me well. At last he spoke, apparently in anger. 'For what purpose do you come here?' said he, 'Brouillette was here; he was a spy. Dubois was here; he was a spy.
There is your grave; look on it!' The Prophet then pointed to the ground near the spot where I stood."
No harm was done him, however. Tec.u.mseh interceded and the Governor's messenger was finally received with respect. Barron delivered a speech of Harrison's to the Prophet in the presence of Tec.u.mseh. The purport of this address was, that while the Governor said he believed that there had been an attempt to raise the tomahawk, that the old chain of friendship between the Indians and whites might still be renewed; that there were two roads open, one leading to peace, and the other to misery and ruin; that it was useless to make war against the Seventeen Fires, as their blue-coats were more numerous than the sands of the Wabash; that if complaint was made as to the purchase of the Indian lands, that the Governor was willing to send the princ.i.p.al chiefs to Washington to make this complaint to the President in person; that everything necessary for the journey should be prepared and a safe return guaranteed.
On this visit Barron held much personal converse with Tec.u.mseh and lodged with him in a cabin. He professed to be much pleased with Harrison's speech, observing that he had not seen him since he was a young man seated at the side of General Wayne. He disclaimed any intention of trying to make war, but said that it would be impossible to remain on friendly terms with the United States unless they abandoned the idea of trying to make settlements farther to the north and west, and unless they acknowledged the principle that all the lands were held by the tribes in common. Said he: "The Great Spirit gave this great island to his red children; he placed the whites on the other side of the big water; they were not contented with their own, but came to take ours from us. They have driven us from the sea to the lakes, we can go no further. They have taken upon themselves to say this tract belongs to the Miamis, this to the Delawares, and so on, but the Great Spirit intended it as the common property of all the tribes, nor can it be sold without the consent of all. Our father tells us, that we have no business upon the Wabash, the land belongs to other tribes, but the Great Spirit ordered us to come here and here we shall stay."
Tec.u.mseh now resolved on that famous meeting with the Governor at Vincennes. Harrison had long known that there were those in his midst who were inimical to his plans and who had opposed his purpose of the fall before, but he did not learn until afterwards the full extent of their treachery. It seems that Tec.u.mseh had been given to understand that about half of the population of Vincennes were friendly to his cause. An American had visited him during the winter of 1809-10 who informed him that Harrison had no authority whatever from the government to make the purchase; that the Governor had only two years more to remain in office, and that if Tec.u.mseh could prevail upon the Indians to refuse their annuities under the treaty until the Governor "was displaced, as he would be, and a good man appointed as his successor, he would restore to the Indians all the lands purchased from them." How far these representations may have deceived Tec.u.mseh into the belief that he was dealing with a man who was tottering to the fall, is not certainly known. He determined at any rate, to make a show of force. If the Governor was a weakling who sat insecurely in his seat, and was fearful of public clamor, here was an opportunity to display that fact. As he remarked to Barron, he had not seen the Governor since he was "a very young man," sitting at the side of General Wayne. The Governor was younger in years than Tec.u.mseh, and no doubt the Shawnee was disposed to regard him with contempt. To appear suddenly at the capital of the white man with a band of armed warriors; to openly and haughtily declare his purpose of resisting the pretensions of the Governor and to pour out his insolence upon the heads of the chieftains who had dared to sell the lands--what a grand culmination of all his plans this would be, if it had the desired effect! There was nothing to lose, everything to gain.
He resolved to try it. Accordingly, on the 12th day of August, there swept down the river to Fort Knox, eighty canoes, filled with naked savages painted in the most terrific manner. All of them were armed and ready for attack. At their head was the great war chief, described by Major George R. Floyd, commandant at the fort, as "about six feet high, straight, with large, fine features, and altogether a daring, bold looking fellow." The conference with the Governor was appointed for the morrow.
THE COUNCIL AT VINCENNES
--_The dramatic meeting between Harrison and Tec.u.mseh.--Tec.u.mseh announces his doctrine of the common ownership of the Indian lands._
The great house of the Governor at Vincennes is situated inland from the Wabash river about six hundred feet, and there formerly stood in front of this house and next to the river a grove of walnut trees which afforded a gracious shade. It was here, that on a bright, sunshiny day in August, the dramatic meeting occurred between the Shawnee chief and Governor Harrison. Local tradition has preserved a tale that the Governor had secreted in the great parlor of his house a company of one hundred well-armed soldiers to provide against any treachery on the part of the red men, and computations, have been made to show that the room would accommodate that number of infantry, but this story must be regarded with suspicion.
Tec.u.mseh and his party seem to have arrived at the place of rendezvous in canoes and by way of the river. He appeared on the scene with a retinue of forty warriors accoutered in the elaborate costume of the ceremonial, with painted bodies and feathered headdress, and fully armed with war clubs and tomahawks. The chief himself, invariably wore a simple dress of Indian tanned buckskin, with a mantle of the same material thrown over the left shoulder. In his belt he carried an elegant silver mounted tomahawk and a hunting knife in a leathern case.
"Tall, athletic and manly, dignified, but graceful," he stood as the chosen exponent of his people's wrongs, ready to voice their plaints in the "musical and euphonious" accents of the Shawnee tongue.
A close observer of the savages of that day has stated that, "those who have been familiar with the Indians of the northwest, when they were Indians, and took sufficient interest in them as a race to study with care their customs, laws and usages, are aware that when attending councils with other nations or tribes, or with our agents, that they were always acting a part, a kind of diplomatic drama." To Tec.u.mseh the moment appeared propitious. The time had arrived to put the youthful Governor of thirty-seven years to the test. Harrison was attended by the judges of the supreme court; General Gibson, the secretary; Major G. R.
Floyd, and other officers of the regular army, and a guard of twelve men from the garrison under the command of Lieutenant Jennings; there was also a large a.s.semblage of citizens present, who had been invited thither to hear what Tec.u.mseh had to present. The stage was well set, and the bold and insolent heart of the savage rose high. "As he came in front of the dais, an elevated portion of the place upon which the Governor and the officers of the territory were seated, the Governor invited him, through his interpreter, to come forward and take a seat with him and his counsellors, premising the invitation by saying 'That it was the wish of the Great Father, the President of the United States, that he should do so'. The chief paused for a moment, as the words were uttered and the sentence finished, and raising his tall form to its greatest height, surveyed the troops and the crowd around him. Then with his keen eyes fixed on the Governor for a single moment, and turning them to the sky above, with his sinewy arms pointed toward the heavens, and with a tone and manner indicative of supreme contempt, for the paternity a.s.signed him, said in a voice whose clarion tones were heard throughout the whole a.s.sembly: 'My Father?--The sun is my father--the earth is my mother--and on her bosom I will recline!"
Thus the council opened. The Governor, with a short sword at his side, seated on the platform with his officers and advisers; the Indians in front of him seated on the gra.s.s; to the left, the Potawatomi chief, Winamac, with one of his young men, extended on the green, and all about the eager and curious faces of the crowd, now wrought up to a high state of tension by the sarcastic retort of the Indian chieftain. The speech that followed, "was full of hostility from beginning to end." Tec.u.mseh began in a low voice and spoke for about an hour. "As he warmed with his subject his clear tones might be heard, as if 'trumpet-tongued' to the utmost limits of the a.s.sembled crowd who gathered around him." The interpreter Barron, was an illiterate man and the beauty and eloquence of the chief's oration was in great part lost. He denounced with pa.s.sion and bitterness the cruel murder of the Moravian Indians during the Revolutionary War, the a.s.sa.s.sination of friendly chieftains and other outrages, and said that he did not know how he could ever be a friend of the white man again; that the tribes had been driven by the Americans "toward the setting sun, like a galloping horse," and that they would shortly push them into the lakes where they could neither stand nor walk; that the white people had allotted each separate tribe a certain tract of land so as to create strife between them, and so that they might be destroyed; that he and his brother had purposed from the beginning to form a confederation of all the tribes to resist any further encroachment of the whites; that the Great Spirit had given all the land in common to the Indians, and that no single tribe had a right to alienate any particular portion of it. He declared that the Treaty of Fort Wayne had been made with the consent of only a few; that it was largely brought about by the threats of Winamac, and that a reluctant consent had been wrung from the Weas because they were few in number. So fierce and vitriolic became his abuse of Winamac that that chieftain primed his pistols and seemed ready at any moment to take Tec.u.mseh's life. The speaker went on to declare: "that if the government would not give up the lands that were purchased from the Miamis, Delawares, Potawatomis, etc., that those who were united with him, were determined to fall upon those tribes and destroy them. That they were determined to have no more chiefs, but in the future to have everything under the direction of the warriors;" that the Governor would see what would be done to the village chiefs who had sold the land, and unless he restored it he would be a party to the killing of them.
The bold and defiant att.i.tude of the speaker, and the tone of insolence that pervaded all his words, astonished even the Governor. A weak or corrupt man would have trembled in his place and been at a loss how to answer. Not so with Harrison. All who knew him, says John Law, were willing to acknowledge his courage, both moral and physical. He knew that the treaty of Fort Wayne had been concluded under the instructions of government; that his dealings with the tribes had been open-handed and fair, even with the insignificant Weas of the lower waters; that the "unwarranted and unwarrantable" pretensions of Tec.u.mseh were made largely for their effect upon the audience, and after Tec.u.mseh's remarks had been openly interpreted by Barron, he arose without tremor or hesitation to deny the chief's a.s.sertions. He spoke no doubt with some degree of force, for he undoubtedly understood by now that Tec.u.mseh would never have given utterance to many of his charges, without entertaining a belief that they would meet the approval of some traitorous faction of the a.s.sembly. He answered: "That the charges of bad faith against our government, and the a.s.sertion that injustice had been done the Indians in any treaty ever made, or any council ever held with them by the United States, had no foundation in fact. That in all their dealings with the red men, they had ever been governed by the strictest rules of right and justice. That while other civilized nations had treated them with contumely and contempt, ours had always acted in good faith with them. That so far as he individually was concerned, he could say in the presence of the "Great Spirit" who was watching over their deliberations, that his conduct, even with the most insignificant tribe, had been marked with kindness, and all his acts governed by honor, integrity and fair dealing. That he had uniformly been the friend of the red men, and that it was the first time in his life that his motives had been questioned, or his actions impeached. It was the first time in his life that he had ever heard such unfounded claims put forth, as Tec.u.mseh set up, by any chief, or any Indian, having the least regard for truth or the slightest knowledge of the intercourse between the Indians and the white men, from the time this continent was first discovered. That as to the claim of Tec.u.mseh that all the Indians were but one nation, and owned the lands in common, that this could not be maintained; that at the time the white men arrived on the continent they had found the Miamis in possession of the Wabash; that the Shawnees were then residents of Georgia, from which they had been driven by the Creeks; that the lands in question had been purchased from the Miamis who were the original owners of it; that if the Great Spirit had intended that the tribes should const.i.tute but one nation, he would not have put different tongues in their heads, but taught them all to speak a language that all could understand; that the Miamis had been benefited by the annuities of the government and that the Seventeen Fires had always been punctual in the payment of them; that the Shawnees had no right to come from a distant country and control the Miamis in the disposal of their own property."
An event now took place, that but for the quick presence of mind and decisive action of the Governor, might have terminated in bloodshed.
Harrison had taken his seat and Barron had interpreted his reply to the Shawnees, and was turning to the Miamis and Potawatomi, when Tec.u.mseh excitedly sprang to his feet and told Barron to tell the Governor that he lied. Barron, who as a subordinate in the Indian department, had great respect for his superiors, was seeking to mollify the harshness of this language, when he was again interrupted by Tec.u.mseh, who said: "No!
No! Tell him he lies!" The Governor noticed Tec.u.mseh's angry manner, but thought he was seeking to make some explanation, when his attention was directed to Winamac, who was c.o.c.king his pistol, and a moment later, General Gibson, who understood the Shawnee language, said to Lieutenant Jennings: "Those fellows intend mischief; you had better bring up the guard." In an instant all was confusion. The warriors on the gra.s.s sprang to their feet brandishing their war clubs and tomahawks; Harrison extricated himself from his chair and drew his sword to defend himself; Major Floyd drew a dirk, and the Methodist minister Winans ran to the Governor's house, got a gun, and stood by the door to protect the family. Such of the citizens as could, armed themselves with brickbats.
In the midst of this turmoil the guard came running up and were about to fire on the Indians, when Harrison quickly interposed and commanded them not to do so. He now demanded a full explanation, and when the intemperate words of Tec.u.mseh were explained, told him he was a bad man and that he would hold no further communication with him; that as he had come there under the protection of the council fire, he might go in safety, but that he must immediately leave the neighborhood. The firm stand and commanding att.i.tude of the Governor at once quieted the storm, and Tec.u.mseh and his followers leisurely withdrew and retired to their camp. That night two companies of militia were brought in from the country, but no trouble occurred, and the time pa.s.sed quietly until morning.
[Ill.u.s.tration: Racc.o.o.n Creek, Parke County, Indiana. The north line of the New Purchase. Photo by Heaton]
It was a part of the local tradition of later years, that when Tec.u.mseh called the Governor a liar, that quick as a flash he arose to his feet, drew his sword and was about to resent the insult, when his friends interfered and prevented the blow. This story seems improbable, from the fact that the Governor was aware that many unarmed citizens were present, and that any rash or inconsiderate action on his part would precipitate a conflict that could only end in blood and carnage. He knew, moreover, that Tec.u.mseh, by all the rules of civilized intercourse, even among open belligerents, was ent.i.tled to protection while engaged in council, and it is not probable that as brave a man as Harrison would violate these rules by becoming the aggressor. Instead, by quick word of command, he recalled the excited chief to his senses, dismissed him at once, and averted a catastrophe.
In the solitude of his camp that evening Tec.u.mseh was forced to acknowledge defeat. The young Governor instead of quailing had remained firm--it was plain that he was the chosen plenipotentiary of his government in all the treaties that had been effected. Moreover, in his reply, the Governor had not only emphatically repudiated all insinuations of unfairness toward the red man, but he had put the chief himself on the defensive by showing that he was an interloper who sought to control the rightful possessions of others. At last, it was the stolid savage who lost his self control, and the Governor, who by his respect for the laws of the council fire had brought the flush of shame to the chieftain's cheek. That night, as he afterwards admitted at Fort Meigs, he felt a rising respect in his breast for the first magistrate of the territory. He was doomed in after years to a.s.sociate with the cowardly and contemptible Proctor, whom he called a "miserable old squaw," but from the day of this council he paid the involuntary tribute to Harrison that one brave man always pays to another, though ranged on a hostile side.
Thoroughly convinced that his conduct of the day previous had been highly impolitic, the chieftain, at the dawn of day, sent for Barron, and said that he desired a further interview, declaring that he had no intention of attacking the Governor on the day before, and that he had been advised to pursue the course he did on the counsel of certain white men; disclosing to Barron the circ.u.mstances heretofore related as to the visit of certain persons at the Prophet's Town, who had said that the Governor had no right to make the purchase of the lands on the Wabash; that he was unpopular and would be removed from office, and that then the lands would be restored. The Governor would not receive Tec.u.mseh, however, until due apology had been made through the interpreter, and ample provision had been made for the protection of the citizens by ordering the local company of Captain Jones to parade morning and evening, and hold themselves ready for instant action. The Governor also took the precaution to be well armed, as did several of his friends.
At this second council, Tec.u.mseh's whole demeanor was changed. While remaining "firm and intrepid, he said nothing that was in the least insolent." He now disclosed in open council what he had theretofore told Barron as to the visits of the white men, and again declared that he had no intention of harming the Governor. Harrison now informed the chief that he was about to cause a survey to be made of the New Purchase, and he desired to know whether this process would be attended with any danger. Tec.u.mseh at once replied that he and those affiliated with him were determined "that the old boundary line should continue, and that the crossing it would be attended with bad consequences." His words were severally confirmed by a Wyandot, a Kickapoo, a Potawatomi, an Ottawa, and a Winnebago, who each openly avowed that their tribes had entered into the Shawnee confederacy, and that Tec.u.mseh had been chosen as their leader and chief.
This second council does not seem to have been of great length. In it, Tec.u.mseh entirely abandoned any attempt at bl.u.s.ter, but firmly and positively stated to the Governor that he would not consent to the sale of the Indian lands, and that any attempt to survey them would be met with resistance. This frank and open statement, elicited a response equally frank from the Governor. He told Tec.u.mseh that his claims would be transmitted in full to the President of the United States, and the reply of the President at once communicated to him when received, but that he was convinced that the President would never admit "that the lands on the Wabash, were the property of any other tribes, than those who had occupied and lived upon them," and as these lands had been fairly and openly purchased at Fort Wayne, that the right of the United States would be "supported by the sword." With these words the interview terminated.
That night the Governor reflected. If the words of Tec.u.mseh as uttered in council, were sincere and genuine, they amounted to an open declaration of war--the government must either entirely recede from the ground it had taken, and restore the lands, or prepare for the coming conflict. Concerning this issue there must be no doubt. The Governor therefore resolved to repair to the headquarters of Tec.u.mseh in person, and there, removed from the atmosphere of a council, hold private intercourse with the chieftain and read his intentions. He had hit upon this expedient once before in the proceedings at Fort Wayne, and the experiment had proven successful. Accordingly, the following morning, throwing aside all considerations of personal danger, he suddenly appeared at the tent of Tec.u.mseh, accompanied only by the interpreter Barron. He was most politely received. Proceeding at once to the main point, he asked the chief if the declarations he had made in his two public interviews were his real sentiments. Tec.u.mseh answered that they certainly were; that he had no grievance against the United States except the matter as to the purchase of the Indian lands, and that he would go to war with very great reluctance; that if Harrison would prevail upon the President to give back the lands, and promise never to consummate any more purchases, without the consent of all the tribes, that he would be the faithful ally of the Americans and a.s.sist them in all their wars with the British. "He said he knew the latter were always urging the Indians to war for their own advantage, and not to benefit his countrymen; and here he clapped his hands, and imitated a person who halloos at a dog, to set him to fight with another, thereby insinuating that the British thus endeavored to set the Indians on the Americans."
He said further that he had rather be a friend of the Seventeen Fires, but if they would not accede to his demands that he would be forced to join the English. The memory of Wayne, the commanding figure and dauntless courage of the present Governor, had had their effect; compared to the vile and sneaking agents of the British government, who, in the security of their forts, had formerly offered bounties for American scalps, and urged the Indians to a predatory warfare, the American leaders stood out in bold relief as both men and warriors.
Tec.u.mseh recognized this, but the die was cast and his purposes were unchangeable. Stripped of all its savage propensities, the heart of the Shawnee was really of heroic mould. Concerning that great principle of the survival of the fittest, he knew nothing; of the onrushing forces of civilization and progress he had no just comprehension; but as the rising sun of the new republic appeared, he saw the light of his race fading into obscurity, and patriotically resolved to stand on his lands and resist to the last. Misinformed, misguided, he sought an alliance with the British to stem the tide; instead of delaying, this but accelerated the decline of the tribes. Tec.u.mseh, when it was too late, discovered that the promises of the British agents were false, and soon after his death the feeling engendered against the tribes, on account of their alliance with the English and the many atrocities they had committed, drove them beyond the Mississippi. But he who fights for his native land and from devotion to principle, however wrong, must always be ent.i.tled to the respect of the brave.
If coolness and courage had had their effect on the one hand, the candor and honesty of his adversary, when met face to face, had also moved the Governor. In after years, in an address before the Historical Society of Ohio, Harrison said: "I think it probable that Tec.u.mseh possessed more integrity than any other of the chiefs who attained to much distinction." He now repeated again that he would forward to the government all the propositions of the chief, but that there was little probability that they would be accepted. "Well," said Tec.u.mseh, "as the great chief is to determine the matter, I hope the Great Spirit will put sense enough into his head, to induce him to direct you to give up this land. It is true, he is so far off, he will not be injured by the war; he may still sit in his town and drink his wine, whilst you and I will have to fight it out." The conference ended with an appeal by Harrison, that in the event of war, no outrages should be committed on women and children and those who were unable to resist. This, the chief manfully acceded to, and said he would adhere to his promise.
Thus ended this remarkable conference partic.i.p.ated in by the two greatest figures then in the western world. The one representing the advancing tide of immigration that was to build the cities and plow the fields of a new empire; the other representing the forlorn hope of a fast decaying race that was soon to be removed from the pathways of civilization.
Those who have vainly sought to make it appear that Harrison afterwards wrongfully pa.s.sed over the northern boundary line of the New Purchase to provoke a fight and bring on a conflict, have certainly scanned the records of this council at Vincennes with but little care. The truth is, that the two princ.i.p.al figures in that affair parted each other's company fully realizing that hostilities were at hand. To say that Harrison was bound to sit helplessly in his capital while his enemies gathered a force sufficient to overwhelm him, and all without a move on his part to avert a calamity, but ill.u.s.trates the foolishness of the whole contention. Immediately on the breaking up of the council, Tec.u.mseh departed with a portion of his braves to organize and cement a federation of the tribes; Harrison, in the meantime, ordering an additional body of troops under Captain Cross at Newport, Kentucky, to come to the relief of the settlements, and redoubling his vigilance to avoid the surprise of a sudden attack. Without hesitation however, he wrote the surveyor-general to make a survey; the lines to be run under the protection of the militia.
The Governor was informed by the Weas, that during the progress of the proceedings, they had been urged by four persons at Vincennes, whose names they furnished, to join the Prophet and insist upon a return of the lands. False representations were also made to the chiefs of this tribe that the purchase at Fort Wayne was made without the consent or knowledge of the President, and that a council of the Miamis had been called on the Mississinewa, to make full inquiry. The treasonable designs of this coterie came to naught. Whether British agencies were actually at work within the town, or whether the actions of this clique were prompted by the jealousy of the Governor's political enemies, will probably never be fully known. Be that as it may, like all cravens of their kind when the danger became imminent they slunk out of view, and Harrison found himself surrounded by the brave and valorous of every settlement, both in the vicinity of Vincennes and on the borders of Kentucky.
Much conjecture had been indulged in, as to whether Tec.u.mseh actually meditated an attack at the time of the first council. That his impulsive action might well have led to disastrous consequences, but for the cool, quick command of the Governor, may well be conceded, but that he formed any premeditated design before coming to the council, must admit of some doubt. The reasoning of Drake possesses cogency. He states that Tec.u.mseh's probable purpose in attending the meeting with a considerable force was to "make a strong impression upon the whites as to the extent of his influence among the Indians, and the strength of his party. His movement in the council may have been concerted for the purpose of intimidating the Governor; but the more probable suggestion is that in the excitement of the moment, produced by the speech of the Governor, he lost his self-possession and involuntarily placed his hand upon his war club, in which movement he was followed by the warriors around him, without any previous intention of proceeding to extremities. Whatever may have been the fact, the bold chieftain found in Governor Harrison a firmness of purpose and an intrepidity of manner which must have convinced him that nothing was to be gained by any effort at intimidation, however daring."
THE SECOND AND LAST COUNCIL
--_The last meeting between the two leaders before Harrison marched into the Indian country._
What strange fatality directed the minds of the Shawnee brothers to repel all friendly advances on the part of the American government, and to listen to the poisonous council of Matthew Elliott and the other British agents who had so often deceived their race, may not easily be divined. Brant had been bribed, Little Turtle and the Blue Jacket basely deserted in the hour of defeat, and two English treaties negotiated without a line in either to the advantage of the red man, but notwithstanding all these facts, both Tec.u.mseh and the Prophet were now in full and constant communication with Malden, Canada.
Rapid strides were made by the brothers in the closing months of 1810.
Not only were the village chiefs and sachems shorn of all their old-time authority, and the power of determination lodged in the hands of the warriors, but the belt of union circulated by the Prophet among the tribes "to confine the great water and prevent it from overflowing them," brought many accessions both to the confederacy and to the Shawnee influence. It was reported that when this belt was exhibited to Elliott and he saw that so many tribes had united against the United States that he danced with joy. About the first of November, Tec.u.mseh himself arrived at Malden on a visit to the British agency. He remained there until some time after the twenty-fourth of December. The nature of his conferences with Elliott may be inferentially arrived at from the following. An Indian council had, during the preceding autumn, been convened at Brownstown, near Detroit. A resolution had there been entered into to prevent the sale of any more lands to the United States and this step had been taken at the suggestion of Elliott. According to the report of the Wea chiefs, the British agent had informed the tribes that England and France had now made peace, and would soon unite their arms "to dispossess the Americans of the lands they had taken from the Indians." The Shawnee land doctrine had become popular. "The Indians,"
writes Harrison, "appear to be more uneasy and dissatisfied than I ever before saw them, and I believe that the Prophet's principle, that their land should be considered common property, is either openly avowed or secretly favored by all the tribes west of the Wabash." The tribes of the Lakes looked upon the Wabash as the land of promise. The Winnebagoes were already present in considerable numbers at the Prophet's Town, and the Wyandots had formed a camp in close proximity to that place. The Six Nations were reported to be in motion and demanding the privilege of settling in the Wabash valley. Could all these tribes be a.s.sembled in the face of the advancing American settlements, they would serve the double purpose of checking this advance and furnishing a protective barrier to Canada in case of a war between Great Britain and the United States. Tec.u.mseh and Elliott were joined in the fellowship of a mutual interest.
The Miami chiefs looked upon this presumptuous conduct of the Shawnee leaders with high disapproval. Their tribes were the rightful proprietors of the soil, and the establishment of the Prophet had been effected without their consent. But much of their ancient authority had pa.s.sed away. Many of their young warriors were carried away by the mad fanaticism of the Prophet and vainly imagined that they could drive the white man back across the Ohio. Unless the hands of the Miami leaders were upheld, they could not long resist the pressure of the surrounding tribes and must give their sanction to the Prophet's scheme.
Harrison was fully convinced that the old village chiefs would willingly place themselves under the protection of the government, and surrender their claims for a suitable annuity, rather than submit to any domination on the part of their neighbors. The Governor was plainly in favor of forming an alliance with the Miamis, of dispersing the followers of the Prophet, and paving the way for further extinguishment of the Indian t.i.tle. He urged that the narrow strip on the west side of the Greenville cession, in the eastern part of the Indiana territory, would soon be filled with new settlers; that the backwoodsmen were not men "of a disposition to content themselves with land of an inferior quality when they see in their immediate neighborhood the finest country as to soil in the world occupied by a few wretched savages;" that the Territory was fast advancing to statehood, and that the members of the Territorial legislature were heartily in favor of smoothing the way to further purchases.
The Governor also earnestly pressed the government to establish a strong post on the Wabash in the upper portion of the New Purchase. The citizens of Vincennes had been thoroughly alarmed by the presence of so large a gathering of red men at the council in August. Murders were frequent, and horse-stealing was an everyday occurrence. To adopt a policy of vacillation with a savage was to confess weakness. The Prophet was openly declaring to Brouillette, the Governor's agent, that no survey of the new lands would be permitted. Immigration was ebbing, and the selling and settling of the newly acquired territory was wholly out of the question so long as the purchasers could not be a.s.sured of protection. The display of a strong force of regulars and mounted militia, the establishment of a strong position on the borders of the Indian country, would not only dishearten the followers of the Prophet and discourage further accessions to his banner, but strengthen the hands of those Miami chieftains who still preserved their allegiance to the United States. Any expeditionary force to be employed was to be headed by the Governor himself, who had taken a very active part in the training of the frontier militiamen, and who now offered his services voluntarily and without compensation.
The Federal authorities moved slowly. It was evident that the old indifference as to the welfare of the western world still prevailed.
Some strange hallucination led the Washington authorities to believe that friendly relations might be sustained with a band of savages who were carried away by a religious frenzy, and who were daily giving ear to British whisperings. The consequences were that a party of mounted dragoons organized by Judge Benjamin Parke to protect Vincennes and who made a demand for pistols and swords, did not receive their equipment until late in the following spring, and then the swords were found to be of iron; that no orders were issued to form a friendly alliance with the Miami chiefs, and hold them steadfast; that the small detachment of one hundred and twenty or one hundred and thirty regulars under Captain Cross did not arrive until the third of October, and that no instructions were received from the government, until all forage for the horses had disappeared from the woods, and it was too late in the season to undertake an expedition.
With the opening of the spring of 1811, the insolence and effrontery of the Shawnee leaders measurably increased. About the first of April twelve horses were stolen from the settlement of Busseron, about twenty miles above Vincennes. The pillaging bands of the Potawatomi, directly under the influence of the Prophet, were committing robberies and murders on the Illinois and Missouri frontiers. In the issue of August 18th, 1810, of the _Western Sun_, of Vincennes, appeared this paragraph: "Extract of a letter from a gentleman at St. Louis, to his friend in this place, dated August 3rd, 1810. 'On my return from the garrison up the Missouri, I stayed at Captain Cole's, who just returned from the pursuit of some Indians that had stolen horses from the settlement--they came in view of the Indians on the prairie, and pursued on until night, and encamped, made fires, etc., in the woodland, and not apprehending any danger from the Indians, lay down to sleep--some time after midnight, they were fired upon by the Indians, and four men killed."
What had happened was this: There is a grove about three or four miles southwest of Morocco, in Newton County, Indiana, named Turkey Foot grove, and another of the same name about forty miles south of it, and two or three miles southeast of the town of Earl Park. In this region dwelt Turkey Foot, at the head of a lawless band of the prairie Potawatomi. They had kept the frontiers of Illinois in terror for months and had caused considerable anxiety both to Governor Harrison and to Governor Ninian Edwards of the Illinois Territory. In a spirit of devilish mischief and led on by the hope of plunder, the chief and his followers had ridden hundreds of miles across the grand prairies of Indiana and Illinois, had forded the Mississippi, and pierced to the outposts of Loutre island in the Missouri river, below the present town of Hermann, and from fifty to seventy miles west of St. Louis, had stolen a bunch of horses there, and made good their escape, after committing one of the foulest murders recorded in the early history of that territory.
« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»