Everywhere the waters of the great stream were clear and pellucid. The plow-share of civilization had not as yet turned up the earth, nor the filth and sewerage of cities been discharged into the current. In places the gravelly bottom could be seen at a great depth and the forms of fishes of great size reposing at ease. "Schools of fishes--salmon, ba.s.s, red-horse and pike--swam close along the sh.o.r.e, catching at the bottoms of the red-bud and plum that floated on the surface of the water, which was so clear that myriads of the finny tribe could be seen darting hither and thither amidst the limpid element, turning up their silvery sides as they sped out into deeper water."
The whole valley of the Wabash abounded with deer, and their tiny hoofs wrought foot paths through every hollow and glen. The small prairies bordered with shady groves, the patches of blue-gra.s.s, and the sweet waters of the springs, were great attractions. The banks of the Mississinewa, Wild Cat, Pine Creek, Vermilion, and other tributaries, were formerly noted hunting grounds. George Croghan, who described the Wabash as running through "one of the finest countries in the world,"
mentions the deer as existing in great numbers. On the march of General Harrison's men to Tippecanoe, the killing of deer was an every day occurrence, and at times the frightened animals pa.s.sed directly in front of the line of march. Racc.o.o.ns were also very plentiful. On a fur trading expedition conducted by a French trader named La Fountaine, from the old Miamitown (Fort Wayne), in the winter of 1789-90, he succeeded in picking up about eighty deer skins and about five hundred racc.o.o.n skins in less than thirty days. He descended the Wabash and "turned into the woods" toward the White River, there bartering with the Indians for their peltries.
As to wild game, the whole valley was abundantly supplied. In the spring time, great numbers of wild ducks, geese and brant were found in all the ponds and marshes; in the woody ground the wild turkey, the pheasant and the quail. At times, the sun was actually darkened by the flight of wild pigeons, while the prairie chicken was found in all the open tracts and gra.s.s lands.
The bottom lands of this river, were noted for their fertility. The annual inundations always left a rich deposit of silt. This silt produced excellent maize, potatoes, beans, pumpkins, squashes, cuc.u.mbers and melons. These, according to Heckewelder, were important items of the Indian food supply.
To the Indian we are indebted for ash-cake, hoecake, succotash, samp, hominy and many other productions made from the Indian maize. The Miamis of the Wabash, with a favorable climate and a superior soil, produced a famous corn with a finer skin and "a meal much whiter" than that raised by other tribes. How far the cultivation of this cereal had progressed is not now fully appreciated. In the expedition of General James Wilkinson against the Wabash Indians in 1791, he is said to have destroyed over two hundred acres of corn in the milk at Kenapacomaqua, or the Eel river towns, alone, and to have cut down a total of four hundred and thirty acres of corn in the whole campaign. In General Harmar's campaign against Miamitown in the year 1790, nearly twenty thousand bushels of corn in the ear were destroyed. On the next day after the battle of Tippecanoe the dragoons of Harrison's army set fire to the Prophets Town, and burned it to the ground. Judge Isaac Naylor says that they found there large quant.i.ties of corn, beans and peas, and General John Tipton relates that the commissary loaded six wagons with corn and "Burnt what was estimated at two thousand bushel."
Of the many other natural advantages of this great valley, much might be written. Wheat and tobacco, the latter of a fine grade, were growing at Vincennes in 1765, when Croghan pa.s.sed through there. Wild hemp was abundant in the lowlands. The delicious pecan flourished, and walnuts, hazelnuts and hickory nuts were found in great plenty. The sugar maple existed everywhere, and the Indians, who were the original sugar makers of the world, made large quant.i.ties of this toothsome article. In addition to this the whole valley was filled with wild fruits and berries, such as blackberries, dewberries, raspberries, gooseberries, and the luscious wild strawberry, that grew everywhere in the open s.p.a.ces and far out on the bordering prairies.
This sketch of the Wabash and its wonderful possibilities may not be more aptly closed, than by appending hereto the description of Thomas Hutchins, the first geographer of the United States. It appears in his "Topographical Description," and mention is made of the connection of the Wabash by a portage with the waters of Lake Erie; the value of the fur trade at Ouiatenon and Vincennes, and many other points of vital interest.
[Ill.u.s.tration: The Wabash River at Merom Bluff, Sullivan County, Indiana, La Motte Prairie beyond.]
"Ouiatenon (Author's note: Just below Lafayette), is a small stockaded fort on the western side of the Wabash, in which about a dozen families reside. The neighboring Indians are the Kickapoos, Musquitons, Pyankeshaws, and a princ.i.p.al part of the Ouiatenons. The whole of these tribes consists, it is supposed, of about one thousand warriors. The fertility of soil, and the diversity of timber in this country, are the same as in the vicinity of Post Vincent. The annual amount of skins and furs obtained at Ouiatenon is about 8,000 pounds. By the river Wabash, the inhabitants of Detroit move to the southern parts of Ohio, and the Illinois country. Their route is by the Miami river (Maumee) to a carrying place (Author's note: Miamitown or Fort Wayne), which, as before stated, is nine miles to the Wabash, when this river is raised with freshies; but at other seasons, the distance is from eighteen to thirty miles, including the portage. The whole of the latter is through a level country. Carts are usually employed in transporting boats and merchandise, from the Miami to the Wabash river."
No less wonderful was the valley of the Maumee, directly on the great trade route between the Wabash and the post of Detroit. Croghan, who was a good judge of land, and made careful observations, found the Ottawas and Wyandots here in 1765, the land of great richness, and game very plentiful. It was a region greatly beloved by the Indian tribes, and the scene after the revolution, of many grand councils of the northwestern confederacy. In a letter of General Anthony Wayne, written in 1794, he a.s.serts that: "The margins of these beautiful rivers, the Miamis of the Lake (Maumee), and the Au Glaize (A southern tributary), appear like one continued village for a number of miles, both above and below this place, Grand Glaize, nor have I ever before beheld such immense fields of corn in any part of America, from Canada to Florida."
After General Wayne's army had defeated the Indians at the battle of Fallen Timbers on this river in 1794, they spent many days after that conflict in destroying the fields of grain. One who marched with the army, in August of the above year, describes Indian corn fields extending for four or five miles along the Au Glaize, and estimated that there were one thousand acres of growing corn. The whole valley of the Maumee from its mouth to Fort Wayne, is described as being full of immense corn fields, large vegetable patches, and old apple trees, and it is related that Wayne's army, while constructing Fort Defiance for a period of eight days, "obtained their bread and vegetables from the corn fields and potato patches surrounding the fort."
Is it any wonder that along these wonderful basins should be located the seats of power of the Miami Indians, the leaders of the western confederacy that opposed the claims of the United States to the lands north of the Ohio; that from the close of the Revolutionary war until Wayne's victory in 1794, the princ.i.p.al contest was over the possession of the Miami village, now Fort Wayne, which controlled the trade in both the Wabash and the Maumee Valleys, and that President George Washington, consummate strategist that he was, foresaw at once in 1789, the first year of his presidency, that the possession of the great carrying place at Miamitown would probably command the whole northwest and put an end to the Indian wars?
THE TRIBES OF THE NORTHWEST
--_A description of the seven tribes of savages who opposed the advance of settlement in the Northwest. Their location. Kekionga, the seat of Miami power._
We have now to consider those Indian tribes and confederacies, which at the close of the Revolutionary war, inhabited the northwest territory.
Chief among them were the Wyandots, Miamis, Shawnees, Delawares, Ottawas, Chippewas and Potawatomi. These were the seven tribes known in after years as the "western confederacy," who fought so long and bitterly against the government of the United States, and who were at last conquered by the arms and genius of General Anthony Wayne in the year 1794.
The Ottawas, Chippewas and Potawatomi formed a sort of loose confederacy known as the Three Fires, and Ma.s.sas, a Chippewa chief, so referred to them at the Treaty of Greenville.
The Miamis, the most powerful of the confederates, were subdivided into the Eel Rivers, the Weas, and the Piankeshaws. The Kickapoos, a small tribe which lived on the Sangamon, and the Vermilion of the Wabash, were a.s.sociated generally with the Potawatomi, and were always the allies of the English. The Winnebagoes of Wisconsin were of the linguistic family of the Sioux; were generally a.s.sociated with the confederates against the Americans, and many of their distinguished warriors fought against General Harrison at Tippecanoe. The decadent tribes known in early times as the Illinois, did not play a conspicuous part in the history of the northwest.
While the limits of the various tribes may not be fixed with precision, and the boundary lines were often confused, still there were well recognized portions of the northwest that were under the exclusive control of certain nations, and these nations were extremely jealous of their rights, as shown by the anger and resentment of the Miamis at what they termed as the encroachment of the Potawatomi at the Treaty of Fort Wayne, in 1809.
The Wyandots, for instance, were the incontestable owners of the country between the Cuyahoga and the Au Glaize, in the present state of Ohio, their dominion extending as far south as the divide between the waters of the Sandusky river and the Scioto, and embracing the southern sh.o.r.e of Lake Erie from Maumee Bay, to the mouth of the Cuyahoga. Large numbers of them were also along the northern sh.o.r.es of Lake Erie, in Canada. Their territory at one time probably extended much farther south toward the Ohio, touching the lands of the Miamis on the west, but certainly embracing parts of the Muskingum country, to which they had invited the ancient Delawares, respectfully addressed by them as "grandfathers." Intermingled with the Wyandots south and west of Lake Erie were scattered bands of Ottawas, but they were tenants of the soil by sufferance, and not as of right.
The Miamis have been described by General William Henry Harrison as the most extensive landowners in the northwest. He stands on record as saying that: "Their territory embraced all of Ohio, west of the Scioto; all of Indiana, and that part of Illinois, south of the Fox river and Wisconsin, on which frontier they were intermingled with the Kickapoos and some other small tribes." Harrison may have been right as to the ancient and original bounds of this tribe, but Little Turtle, their most famous chieftain, said at the Treaty of Greenville, in 1795: "It is well known by all my brothers present, that my fore-father kindled the first fire at Detroit; from thence, he extended his lines to the head-water of Scioto; from thence, to its mouth; from thence, down the Ohio, to the mouth of the Wabash, and from thence to Chicago, on Lake Michigan." The truth is, that the ancient demesne of the Miamis was much curtailed by the irruption of three tribes from the north in about the year 1765, the Sacs and Foxes, the Kickapoos and the Potawatomi, who conquered the old remnants of the Illinois tribes in the buffalo prairies and divided the country among themselves.
Says Hiram Beckwith, in speaking of the Potawatomi: "Always on friendly terms with the Kickapoos, with whom they lived in mixed villages, they joined the latter and the Sacs and Foxes in the exterminating war upon the Illinois tribes, and afterwards obtained their allotment of the despoiled domain." The Potawatomi advancing by sheer force of numbers, rather than by conquest, finally appropriated a large part of the lands in the present state of Indiana, north of the Wabash, commingling with the Kickapoos at the south and west, and advancing their camps as far down as Pine creek. The Miamis were loud in their remonstrances against this trespa.s.sing, and denounced the Potawatomi as squatters, "never having had any lands of their own, and being mere intruders upon the prior estate of others," but the Potawatomi were not dispossessed and were afterwards parties to all treaties with the United States government for the sale and disposal of said lands. The Miamis also lost a part of their lands on the lower west side of the Wabash to the Kickapoos. Pressing eastward from the neighborhood of Peoria, the Kickapoos established themselves on the Vermilion, where they had a village on both sides of that river at its confluence with the main stream. They were, says Beckwith, "Greatly attached to the Vermilion and its tributaries, and Governor Harrison found it a difficult task to reconcile them to ceding it away."
To the last, however, the Miamis remained the undisputed lords and masters of most of the territory watered by the two Miamis of the Ohio, and by the Wabash and its tributaries down to the Ohio. The great head and center of their power was at Kekionga (now Fort Wayne), always referred to by President Washington as "the Miami Village." It was a pleasant situation in the heart of the great northwest, at the junction where the swift flowing St. Joseph and the more gentle stream of the Saint Marys, formed the headwaters of the Maumee. On the eastern side of the St. Joseph was the town of Pecan, a head chief of the Miami, and the same savage who had supplied deer and buffalo meat for Brigadier General Harmar on his mission to Kaskaskia in 1787. Pecan was an uncle of the famous chief, Peshewah, or Jean Baptiste Richardville, who after the death of Little Turtle in 1812, became the head chief of the Miami tribe, and was reputed to be the richest Indian in North America. The southern end of this town was near the point of juncture of the St.
Marys and St. Joseph, and the village extended north along what is now known as Lakeside, in the present city of Fort Wayne, a pleasant drive revealing at times the rippling waters of the river to the west. To the south of this village lay the Indian gardens, and east of the gardens the extensive corn fields and meadows. On the northern side of the town more corn fields were found, and north and west of it extended the forests. The banks of the Maumee just below the junction, and south of this old village, are quite high and steep, and along the northern side now runs the beautiful avenue known as Edgewater. Traveling down Edgewater to the eastward one comes to a great boulder with a bra.s.s tablet on it. You are at Harmar's Ford, and at the exact point where the regulars crossed the river just after sunrise of October 22nd, 1790, to attack the Indians. Here it was that Major John Wyllys fell leading the charge. Along the southern bank of the Maumee the ground is elevated and crowning these elevations were the forests again. It was through these forests that Hardin's forces approached the fatal battlefield.
On the western bank of the St. Joseph was a mixed village of French and Indians known as LeGris' Town, and it in turn was surrounded by more corn fields. LeGris was also an important chief of the Miamis, and named in Henry Hay's journal as a brother-in-law of the Little Turtle. He signed the treaty of Greenville under the Indian name of Na-goh-quan-gogh. Directly south of this village ran the St. Marys, and to the west of it was a small wooded creek known as Spy Run.
To these villages in August, 1765, came George Croghan on his way to Detroit. He describes the carrying-place between the Wabash and the Maumee systems to be about nine miles in length, "but not above half that length in freshes." He reported navigation for bateaux and canoes between the carrying place and Ouiatenon as very difficult during the dry season of the year on account of many rapids and rifts; but during the high-water time the journey could be easily made in three days. He says the distance by water was two hundred forty miles and by land about two hundred ten. Within a mile of Miamitown he was met by a delegation of the Miami chiefs and immediately after his entrance into the village the British flag was raised. He describes the villages as consisting of about forty or fifty cabins, besides nine or ten French houses. He entertained no very high opinion of the French and describes them as refugees from Detroit, spiriting up the Indians against the English. He describes the surrounding country as pleasant, well watered, and having a rich soil.
Recently another account of these villages has been given to the world by the publication of the diary of one Henry Hay, who, as a representative of certain merchants and traders of Detroit, visited these villages in the winter of 1789-1790, while they were still under the influence of the British agents at Detroit, although the soil was within the jurisdiction of the United States government. It was then one of the most important trading places for the Indian tribes in the northwest, and in close proximity to the great council grounds of the northwestern Indian confederacy in the valley of the Maumee. Le Gris, was there, and Jean Baptiste Richardville, then a youth; also the Little Turtle himself, about to become the most famous and wily strategist of his day and time.
Let there be no mistaken glamour cast about this scene. Already the disintegration of the Indian power was setting in. The traders among them, both English and French, seem to have been a depraved, drunken crew, trying to get all they could "by foul play or otherwise," and traducing each other's goods by the circulation of evil reports. Hay says, "I cannot term it in a better manner than calling it a rascally scrambling trade." Winter came on and the leading chiefs and their followers went into the woods to kill game. They had nothing in reserve to live upon, and in a hard season their women and children would have suffered. The French residents here seem to have been a gay, rollicking set, playing flutes and fiddles, dancing and playing cards, and generally going home drunk from every social gathering. The few English among them were no better, and we have the edifying spectacle of one giving away his daughter to another over a bottle of rum. The mightiest chieftains, including Le Gris, did not scruple to beg for whiskey, and parties of warriors were arriving from the Ohio river and Kentucky, with the scalps of white men dangling at their belts.
There was still a considerable activity at this place, however, in the fur trade, and the English thought it well worth holding. Racc.o.o.n, deer, bear, beaver, and otter skins were being brought in, although the season was not favorable during which Hay sojourned there on account of it being an open winter. Constant communication was kept up with Detroit on the one hand and the Pet.i.t Piconne (Tippecanoe) and Ouiatenon on the other. La Fountaine, Antoine LaSalle, and other famous French traders of that day were doing a thriving business in the lower Indian country.
That these Miami villages were also of great strategical value from the military standpoint, and that this fact was well known to President Washington, has already been mentioned. The French early established themselves there, and later the English, and when the Americans after the Revolution took dominion over the northwest and found it necessary to conquer the tribes of the Wabash and their allies, one of the first moves of the United States government was to attack the villages at this place, break up the line of their communication with the British at Detroit, and overawe the Miamis by the establishment of a strong military post.
To the last, the Miamis clung to their old carrying place. Wayne insisted at the peace with the Miamis and their allies, at Greenville, Ohio, in 1795, that a tract six miles square around the newly established post at Fort Wayne should be ceded to the United States, together with "one piece two miles square on the Wabash river, at the end of the portage from the Miami of the Lake (Maumee), and about eight miles westward from Fort Wayne." This proposal was stoutly resisted by the Little Turtle, who among other things said: "The next place you pointed to, was the Little River, and you said you wanted two miles square at that place. This is a request that our fathers, the French or British, never made of us; it was always ours. This carrying place has heretofore proved, in a great degree, the subsistence of your younger brothers. That place has brought to us in the course of one day, the amount of one hundred dollars. Let us both own this place and enjoy in common the advantage it affords." Despite this argument, however, Wayne prevailed, and the control of Kekionga and the portage pa.s.sed to the Federal government; that ancient Kekionga described by Little Turtle as "the Miami village, that glorious gate, which your younger brothers had the happiness to own, and through which all the good words of our chiefs had to pa.s.s from the north to the south, and from the east to the west."
Returning to the Potawatomi, it will be seen that this tribe, which originally came from the neighborhood of Green Bay, was probably from about the middle of the eighteenth century, in possession of most of the country from the Milwaukee river in Wisconsin, around the south sh.o.r.e of Lake Michigan, to Grand River, "extending southward over a large part of northern Illinois, east across Michigan to Lake Erie, and south in Indiana to the Wabash." The Sun, or Keesa.s.s, a Potawatomi of the Wabash, said at the treaty of Greenville, that his tribe was composed of three divisions; that of the river Huron, in Michigan, that of the St. Joseph of Lake Michigan, and the bands of the Wabash. In the year 1765, George Croghan, Indian agent of the British government, found the Potawatomi in villages on the north side of the Wabash at Ouiatenon, with a Kickapoo village in close proximity, while the Weas had a village on the south side of the river. This would indicate that the Potawatomi had already pushed the Miami tribe south of the Wabash at this place and had taken possession of the country.
Far away to the north and on both sh.o.r.es of Lake Superior, dwelt the Chippewas or Ojibways, famed for their physical strength and prowess and living in their conical wigwams, with poles stuck in the ground in a circle and covered over with birch bark and gra.s.s mats. The Jesuit Fathers early found them in possession of the Sault Ste. Marie, and when General Wayne at the treaty of Greenville, reserved the post of Michillimacinac, and certain lands on the main between Lake Michigan and Lake Huron, Mash-i-pinash-i-wish, one of the princ.i.p.al Chippewa chieftains, voluntarily made the United States a present of the Island De Bois Blanc, at the eastern entrance of the straits of Mackinac, for their use and accommodation, and was highly complimented by the general for his generous gift. A reference to the maps of Thomas G. Bradford, of 1838, shows the whole upper peninsular of Michigan in the possession of the Chippewas, as well as the whole southern and western sh.o.r.es of Lake Superior, and a large portion of northern Wisconsin. One of their princ.i.p.al sources of food supply was wild rice, and the presence of this cereal, together with the plentiful supply of fish, probably accounts for their numbers and strength. In the beginning of the eighteenth century, they expelled the Foxes from northern Wisconsin, and later drove the fierce fighting Sioux beyond the Mississippi. They were the undisputed masters of a very extensive domain and held it with a strong and powerful hand. One of their chiefs proudly said to Wayne: "Your brothers' present, of the three fires, are gratified in seeing and hearing you; those who are at home will not experience that pleasure, until you come and live among us; you will then learn our t.i.tle to that land." Though far removed from the theatre of the wars of the northwest, they, together with the Ottawas, early came under the British influence, and resisted the efforts of the United States to subdue the Miamis and their confederate tribes, fighting with the allies against General Harmar at the Miami towns, against St. Clair on the headwaters of the Wabash and against Anthony Wayne at Fallen Timbers on the 20th of August, 1794.
The rudest of all the tribes of the northwest were the Ottawas, those expert canoemen of the Great Lakes, known to the French as the "traders," because they carried on a large trade and commerce between the other tribes. They seem to have had their original home on Mantoulin Island, in Lake Huron, and on the north and south sh.o.r.es of the Georgian Bay. Driven by terror of the Iroquois to the region west of Lake Michigan, they later returned to the vicinity of L'Arbe Croche, near the lower end of Lake Michigan, and from thence spread out in all directions. Consulting Bradford's map of 1838 again, the Ottawas are found in the whole northern end of the lower Michigan peninsula. Ottawa county, at the mouth of Grand river, would seem to indicate that at one time, their towns must have existed in that vicinity, and in fact their possessions are said to have extended as far down the eastern sh.o.r.e of Lake Michigan as the St. Joseph. To the south and east of these points "their villages alternated with those of their old allies, the Hurons, now called Wyandots, along the sh.o.r.e of Lake Erie from Detroit to the vicinity of Beaver creek, in Pennsylvania." They were parties with the Wyandots and Delawares and other tribes to the treaty of Fort Harmar, Ohio, at the mouth of Muskingum, in 1789, whereby the Wyandots ceded large tracts of land in the southern part of that state to the United States government, and were granted in turn the possession and occupancy of certain lands to the south of Lake Erie. The Ottawa t.i.tle to any land in southern Ohio, however, is exceedingly doubtful, and they were probably admitted as parties to the above treaty in deference to their acknowledged overlords, the Wyandots. Their long intercourse with the latter tribe, in the present state of Ohio, who were probably the most chivalrous, brave and intelligent of all the tribes, seems to have softened their manners and rendered them less ferocious than formerly.
Like the Chippewas, their warriors were of fine physical mould, and Colonel William Stanley Hatch, an early historian of Ohio, in writing of the Shawnees, embraces the following reference to the Ottawas: "As I knew them, (i. e., the Shawnees), they were truly n.o.ble specimens of their race, universally of fine athletic forms, and light complexioned, none more so, and none appeared their equal, unless it was their tribal relatives, the Ottawas, who adjoined them. The warriors of these tribes were the finest looking Indians I ever saw, and were truly n.o.ble specimens of the human family." The leading warriors and chieftains of their tribe, however, were great lovers of strong liquor, and Pontiac, the greatest of all the Ottawas, was a.s.sa.s.sinated shortly after a drunken carousal, and while he was singing the grand medicine songs of his race.
But the wandering Ishmaelites of all the northwest tribes were the Shawnees. Cruel, crafty and treacherous, and allied always with the English, they took a leading part in all the ravages and depredations on the frontiers of Pennsylvania and Virginia during the revolution and led expedition after expedition against the infant settlements of Kentucky, from the period of the first pioneers in 1775, until Wayne's victory in 1794. These were the Indians who kept Boone in captivity, made Simon Kenton run the gauntlet, stole thousands of horses in Kentucky, and who for years attacked the flatboats and keel boats that floated down the Ohio, torturing their captives by burning at the stake.
General William Henry Harrison, in speaking of the migrations of this tribe, says: "No fact, in relation to the Indian tribes, who have resided on the northwest frontier for a century past, is better known, than that the Shawnees came from Florida and Georgia about the middle of the eighteenth century. They pa.s.sed through Kentucky (along the c.u.mberland river) on their way to the Ohio. But that their pa.s.sage was rather a rapid one, is proved by these circ.u.mstances. Black Hoof, their late princ.i.p.al chief (With whom I had been acquainted since the treaty of Greenville), was born in Florida, before the removal of his tribe. He died at Wapocconata, in this state, only three or four years ago. As I do not know his age, at the time of his leaving Florida, nor at his death, I am not able to fix with precision the date of emigration. But it is well known that they were at the town which still bears their name on the Ohio (Shawneetown, Ill.), a few miles below the mouth of the Wabash, some time before the commencement of the Revolutionary war; that they remained there some years before they removed to the Scioto, where they were found by Governor Dunmore, in the year 1774. That their removal from Florida was a matter of necessity, and their progress from thence, a flight, rather than a deliberate march, is evident from their appearance, when they presented themselves upon the Ohio, and claimed the protection of the Miamis. They are represented by the chiefs of the latter, as well as those of the Delawares, as supplicants for protection, not against the Iroquois, but against the Creeks and Seminoles, or some other southern tribes, who had driven them from Florida, and they are said to have been literally sans provat et sans culottes."
[Ill.u.s.tration: Location of the Indian Tribes of the Northwest. Drawing by Frank Morris]
Later writers have mentioned that while they originally dwelt in the south, that one division of the tribe lived in South Carolina, while another and more numerous division lived along the c.u.mberland river, and had a large village near the present site of Nashville. The c.u.mberland river was known on the early maps preceding the Revolution as the Shawnee river, while the Tennessee was called the Cherokee river. This c.u.mberland division is said to have become engaged in war with both the Cherokees and Chickasaws, and to have fled to the north to receive the protection of the powerful nations of the Wabash.
Notwithstanding the magnanimous conduct of the Miamis, however, they, together with the Wyandots of Ohio, always regarded the Shawnees with suspicion and as trouble makers. The great chief of the Miamis told Antoine Gamelin at Kekionga, in April, 1790, when Gamelin was sent by the government to pacify the Wabash Indians, that the Miamis had incurred a bad name on account of mischief done along the Ohio, but that this was the work of the Shawnees, who, he said, had "a bad heart," and were the "perturbators of all the nations." To the articles of the treaty at Fort Harmar, in 1789, the following is appended: "That the Wyandots have laid claim to the lands that were granted to the Shawnees, (these lands were along the Miami, in Ohio), at the treaty held at the Miami, and have declared, that as the Shawnees have been so restless, and caused so much trouble, both to them and to the United States, if they will not now be at peace, they will dispossess them, and take the country into their own hands; for that country is theirs of right, and the Shawnees are only living upon it by their permission."
From the recital of the above facts, it is evident that the Shawnees could never justly claim the ownership of any of the lands north of the Ohio. That, far from being the rightful sovereigns of the soil, they came to the valleys of the Miamis and Wyandots as refugees from a devastating war, and as supplicants for mercy and protection. This is recognized by the Quaker, Henry Harvey, who was partial to them, and for many years dwelt among them as a missionary. Harvey says that from the accounts of the various treaties to which they were parties, "they had been disinherited altogether, as far as related to the ownership of land anywhere." Yet from the lips of the most famous of all the Shawnees, came the false but specious reasoning that none of the tribes of the northwest, not even the Miamis who had received and sheltered them, had a right to alienate any of their lands without the common consent of all. "That no single tribe had the right to sell; that the power to sell was not vested in their chiefs, but must be the act of the warriors in council a.s.sembled of all the tribes, as the land belonged to all--no portion of it to any single tribe." This doctrine of communistic ownership was advocated by Tec.u.mseh in the face of all the conquests of the Iroquois, in the face of the claim of the Wyandots to much of the domain of the present state of Ohio, and in the face of all of Little Turtle's claims to the Maumee and the Wabash valleys, founded on long and undisputed occupancy and possession. It never had any authority, either in fact or in history, and moreover, lacked the great and saving grace of originality. For if any Indian was the author of the doctrine that no single tribe of Indians had the power to alienate their soil, without the consent of all the other tribes, the first Indian to clearly state that proposition was Joseph Brant of the Mohawk nation, and Brant was clearly inspired by the British, at the hands of whom he was a pensioner.
The savage warriors of the northwest were not formidable in numbers, but they were terrible in their ferocity, their knowledge of woodcraft, and their cunning strategy. General Harrison says that for a decade prior to the treaty of Greenville, the allied tribes could not at any time have brought into the field over three thousand warriors. This statement is corroborated by Colonel James Smith, who had an intimate knowledge of the Wyandots and other tribes, and who says: "I am of the opinion that from Braddock's war, until the present time (1799), there never was more than three thousand Indians at any time, in arms against us, west of Fort Pitt, and frequently not half that number."
Constant warfare with the colonies and the Kentucky and Virginia hunting shirt men had greatly reduced their numbers, but above all the terrible ravages of smallpox, the insidious effects flowing from the use of intoxicants, and the spread of venereal disorders among them, which latter diseases they had no means of combating, had carried away thousands and reduced the ranks of their valiant armies.
Woe to the general, however, who lightly estimated their fighting qualities, or thought that these "rude and undisciplined" savages, as they were sometimes called, could be met and overpowered by the tactics of the armies of Europe or America! They were, says Harrison, "a body of the finest light troops in the world," and this opinion is corroborated by Theodore Roosevelt, who had some first hand knowledge of Indian fighters. The Wyandots and Miamis, especially, as well as other western bands, taught the males of their tribes the arts of war from their earliest youth. When old enough to bear arms, they were disciplined to act in concert, to obey punctually all commands of their war chiefs, and cheerfully unite to put them into immediate execution. Each warrior was taught to observe carefully the motion of his right hand companion, so as to communicate any sudden movement or command from the right to the left, Thus advancing in perfect accord, they could march stealthily and abreast through the thick woods and underbrush, in scattered order, without losing the conformation of their ranks or creating disorder.
These maneuvers could be executed slowly or as fast as the warriors could run. They were also disciplined to form a circle, a semi-circle or a hollow square. They used the circle to surround their enemies, the semi-circle if the enemy had a stream on one side or in the rear, and the hollow square in case of sudden attack, when they were in danger of being surrounded. By forming a square and taking to trees, they put their faces to the enemy in every direction and lessened the danger of being shot from behind objects on either side.
The princ.i.p.al sachem of the village was seldom the war chief in charge of an expedition. War chiefs were selected with an eye solely to their skill and ability; to entrust the care and direction of an army to an inexperienced leader was unheard of. One man, however, was never trusted with the absolute command of an army. A general council of the princ.i.p.al officers was held, and a plan concerted for an attack. Such a council was held before the battle of Fallen Timbers, in which Blue Jacket, of the Shawnees, Little Turtle of the Miamis, and other celebrated leaders partic.i.p.ated. The plan thus concerted in the council was scrupulously carried out. It was the duty of the war chief to animate his warriors by speeches and orations before the battle. During the battle he directed their movements by pre-arranged signals or a shout or yell, and thus ordered the advance or retreat. The warriors who crept through the long gra.s.s of the swamp lands at Tippecanoe to attack the army of Harrison, were directed by the rattling of dried deer hoofs.
It was a part of the tactics practiced by the war chiefs to inflict the greatest possible damage upon the enemy, with the loss of as few of their own men as possible. They were never to bring on an attack without some considerable advantage, "or without what appeared to them the sure prospect of victory," If, after commencing an engagement, it became apparent that they could not win the conflict without a great sacrifice of men, they generally abandoned it, and waited for a more favorable opportunity. This was not the result of cowardice, for Harrison says that their bravery and valor were unquestioned. It may have been largely the result of a savage superst.i.tion not to force the decrees of Fate. Says Harrison: "It may be fairly considered as having its source in that particular temperament of mind, which they often manifested, of not pressing fortune under any sinister circ.u.mstances, but patiently waiting until the chances of a successful issue appeared to be favorable." When the Great Spirit was not angry, he would again favor his children. One tribe among the warriors of the Northwest, however, were taught from their earliest youth never to retreat; to regard "submission to an enemy as the lowest degradation," and to "consider anything that had the appearance of an acknowledgment of the superiority of an enemy as disgraceful." These were the Wyandots, the acknowledged superiors in the northwestern confederacy. "In the battle of the Miami Rapids of thirteen chiefs of that tribe, who were present, only one survived, and he badly wounded."
« Previous My Bookmarks Chapters Next»